ArbitraryWater versus generic fantasy games

OR: I stop playing a game that I stopped enjoying, both to my own shock and that of others.

Well, now I've done it.

Oh hi internet. Short-term unemployment has its benefits, especially when you’re living at home and don’t have to pay for anything. One of these benefits is the ability to spend far too much time on dumb nerd stuff, like the video games, when your parents aren’t getting on your case about where direction you want to go in with one’s life. I’ve also started reading books again (The Emperor’s Soul is a nice, short story that exhibits Brandon Sanderson’s strengths as a writer. The Rithmatist does as well, but it also is dragged down by all of the dumb stuff that is part and parcel with Young Adult novels) and using the money I got from my previous job I’ve made poor life choices in regards to cheap Ebay purchases. I bought a copy of Soul Calibur 2 for the Gamecube, because Link is in it, and also that Bioware-developed Sonic RPG so I could write another blog where I mercilessly make fun of something. I’ve similarly come close to pulling the trigger on $30 copies of Suikoden V, a game that taunts me with its rarity despite the part where I’m intimidated by lengthy JRPGs and still haven’t finished Chrono Cross. Money is a dangerous thing. That I know for sure. But hey, video games that I’ve owned for a while!

Kingdoms of Amalur is an ok fantasy game

Not generic at all!

And not much more. You may recall me giving it an honorable mention in my GOTY blog of last year, but that was only 15 hours in. Now, at around 40 hours and nearing the end of the main questline (to not even talk about the dozens of side-quests that I’ve deliberately ignored and also The House of Sorrows), I think I may have reached my limit. It’s a mechanically solid game with a lot of smart ideas regarding combat and character building but it doesn’t execute on them well enough to last for its entire length, and the other aspects of the game (i.e. the world and the writing in general) don’t pick up the slack well enough to make me want to slog through another dozen or so hours of tediously easy button mashing just so I can claim to have finished a game I think ran out of steam a dozen hours previous. In essence, it would be better if it were 2/3rds as long, had better loot, more nuanced combat and wasn’t as easily exploitable. All things that a sequel could fix, but… well… you know the likelihood of that. Thanks Obama Curt Schilling.

Definitely not a single-player MMO!

But I’ll back up a bit. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is the only game that was ever put out by 38 Studios (developed by the also defunct Big Huge Games) and will probably be the only true legacy of all the insanity that studio went through last year. It is one of two open-world RPGs with heavy emphasis on combat that came out in 2012, but unlike Dragon’s Dogma and its indefinite cross between Dark Souls, Monster Hunter and maybe the Elder Scrolls, the influences of KoA are far more distinct and easily recognizable. The game is basically a single-player MMO with God of War-esque combat and color-coded loot with prefixes like it was Diablo. The world is split into zones, all full of individuals with exclamation marks above their heads indicating that you should go to X and kill X or otherwise be someone’s glorified errand boy, but there are also some elder scrolls-like guild questlines and a main story that you’ll probably forget exists most of the time. On paper, all of this sounds alright. On paper. In actuality, the world is sort of boring and generic and at some point I started to ignore most of the extraneous dialogue that the game offered to me. While there were a few quests here and there that I found to be interesting and well-written, the vast majority of them are pretty forgettable tasks from lazy peasants who can’t bother to do anything themselves. I didn’t necessarily take this as an issue, since story is probably the most ignorable part of this game, and unlike something like say… Valkyria Chronicles II, it was never aggressively bad enough to earn any sort of major reprimand from me.

Something that I appreciated about the otherwise middling Jade Empire was that the “evil” solutions often revolved around telling people to solve their own goddamn problems instead of making you do all their busy work. Amalur could’ve really used some more of that.

For me, a bad story isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, and initially Reckoning’s gameplay is pretty neat. You have a pretty flexible character development system that allows for easy respec-ing and a combat system that allows for combo-based enemy beating. And, early on, it worked for me. Playing on hard with a Finesse/Magic hybrid character, I was better off dodging attacks and throwing chakrams than directly engaging against enemies capable of taking off chunks of my health and stunning me out of attack animations. But at some point around that 20 hour mark the tables started to turn and I started to steamroll most of what opposed me. This is partially because the game overlevels you with all of the various quests it throws at you, but also because you can start socketing “+2 health regen per second” gems in most of your armor and become virtually unkillable as a result. It also didn’t hurt that I switched my character over to the “Jack of All Trades” hybrid archetype and enjoyed all of the damage-boosting and survivability benefits that came with it. And that was pretty fun, for a while. But around today I… finally just got bored of it. I’ve been using the same weapons for the last 4 or so hours because the loot drops are sort of bad, I have an inordinate amount of gold because there’s rarely anything to spend it on and I can sort of win all of the combat by pressing X a bunch, possibly with my eyes closed. I’ve proven that I will finish games for the sake of finishing them, but you know what? I think I’m good. While excessive grinding is sometimes cathartic for me, I still have Bayonetta and Devil Survivor to finish and I’d much rather spend my time on those then deal with whatever excitement no doubt awaits me at the end of Kingdoms of Amalur. Will I defeat the Tuatha? Will I defy fate? Will I possibly press X a bunch after using that ability that makes it so I ignore hitstun? Who knows? Not I. Not I.

But, to not end this blog on a downer, here’s something that I did like:

Quest for Glory is a surprisingly decent fantasy game

Just remember to type FEED BEAR and you'll be good. Oh wait, I played the VGA version because text parsers are scary.

I finished (the VGA version of) Quest for Glory with some mild cheating involved, which is to say that I sometimes used a guide because old adventure games sure do love them some obscure and retarded puzzle solutions, especially when Sierra is concerned. That being said, as far as Sierra games go, it’s actually pretty straightforward and logical in the way it presents its puzzles (which makes me assume that Roberta Williams had no real hand in this title) and the addition of RPG elements and different classes actually makes the game far more interesting than it otherwise would be. It still trades a lot on deliberately bad puns and a decidedly goofy sense of humor, but I’ll admit that some of the parts of the game got a chuckle out of me for as antiquated as any sort of reference to Monty Python or that Jim Henson puppet dinosaur show could be. The way the classes are laid out seems rather clever, and playing as a Thief, I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of the puzzle solutions involved sneaking past things or stealing junk. Oh sure, I still skimmed a guide because my time is valuable and I don’t feel like drawing a map, but if there was a Sierra adventure game series that holds up the least poorly, QFG may be it. We’ll find out… once I finish the other 4 games in the series, which thankfully is mostly relegated to the DOS era and only the final game in the series looking like it fell out of 1998. I’m going to see how long it takes before I resort to a guide for (the VGA version of) QFG2. I’m guessing like an hour, given the way that the streets are laid out.

But to really not end this blog on a dour note, here's a speedrun of Temple of Elemental Evil done in 4 minutes. You're welcome.

24 Comments

A blog about some random games

Oh hi there. How’s it going? Pretty well for me, having just finished up a temporary job with the IT guys at my dad’s work, with another job opportunity lined up in the future.Ah, sporadic, temporary employment. As long as I don’t have to regain my job of the previous summer (Starts with “Frozen-Dairy Associate”, ends with “Worldwide retail chain ending in –Mart”) I’m pretty content to do whatever, as long as human contact is minimal. But oh right, I’m home and therefore have access to an Xbox again. Thus I played games on something other than my computer! Huzzah.

Shadowrun Returns

Mages can throw hadoukens, and that's pretty awesome.

I’ll get this out of the way first. I’ve written exactly two formal reviews on this site. The first is for the exceptionally abysmal Oblivion DLC “The Orrey”. The second is for the XBLA version of Banjo-Kazooie. Both were written years ago back before I did this blogging thing, and both are kind of poorly-written. But for some reason, I felt the need to write a formal review for Shadowrun Returns. You can read it, if you want. I didn’t feel the need to throw in pictures, so I hope you like reading. I’ll just throw in some additional commentary here. I gave it 3 stars because I didn’t find the main game all that impressive, and I think it unfair to judge a game based on what it potentially could be, based on things the developer had no hand in creating. I understand that Harebrained Schemes is working on another campaign set in Berlin (it’s teased as much) with a more open ended structure, and I’m interested to see how that ends up, perhaps being the Hordes of the Underdark if we want to continue this Neverwinter Nights analogy. You should probably wait for a sale though. For $10, I’d say this game is something of a steal (though I feel the need to mention that you could get say… Fallout or Baldur’s Gate for the same price) and if the toolset is robust enough I can see a great future for this game. Also, the soundtrack is pretty great, as is the art design.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked

Atsuro and Yuzu aren't exactly the brightest of teenage companions, so I'm eagerly anticipating the point in the story where I betray them or something. Also boobs.

I grabbed a copy of this game on the cheap, figuring that I could get my Shin Megami Tensei fix without having to pay the full $50 for SMT IV or feel the continual guilt of having never finished Nocturne (I WILL SOMEDAY. Really.) You know, for as much flack as Capcom gets for re-releasing improved versions of their games that I unapologetically purchase, Atlus is arguably just as bad in that regard. In fact, the reason why I bought this game instead of playing the copy of Devil Survivor 2 that I already own is because I found out they’re making an “enhanced” version of DS2 as well and I am a bad person. Also, you may recall Devil Survivor as one of @Video_Game_King’s least favorite things in the universe and I figure if he can take forever to play that copy of Might and Magic VII I gave to him, he can deal with me playing this and enjoying it so far. The story of you and your asshole friends being trapped in Tokyo but also Demons seems intriguing, and as a hybrid of turn-based tactics games and the typical SMT combat, Devil Survivor already seems sort of awesome. Between building optimal teams capable of covering most elements to taking advantage of passive abilities, I’ve enjoyed the 8 or so hours I’ve messed with so far. Keep in mind that I haven’t gotten to the parts of the game that people call “Absurdly, unfairly hard with just a splash of too much grinding”, so it’s very possible that I’ll change my mind. Or I’ll go for the bad ending because it’s the easiest. We’ll see.

Bayonetta

I feel like any actual screenshot would be incomprehensible.

For some reason, I hadn’t played this game until now. This was a serious mistake, and I have now rectified it. Bayonetta is basically a crazier, sassier Devil May Cry and given my love of DMC 3 (and the new one, to a lesser extent) I’m enjoying it. The story seems like complete nonsense, but that’s ok because it’s aware of how nonsensical it is? I dunno. I thought I could take the Japanese brand of crazy after watching all of Excel Saga, but apparently my tolerance is still pretty low as I see how over-the-top this game goes. I had always heard spectacular things, and thus far I think those people are probably right. It’s a bit less technical and brutal than DMC3, but it still rewards skillful play, and the part where time slows down if you dodge an attack is a nice touch and makes the game a lot more forgiving and less rage inducing. Will I like it more than New Devil May Cry? MAYBE YOU’LL FIND OUT AT SOME POINT.

FTL

The Zoltan Cruiser seems alright

I also played a bunch of FTL since ere I last blogged. Did you know that game is still awesome? I’d been playing here and there since it came out last year, but I think my breakthrough came when I unlocked a few more of the ships and finally beat the stupid, stupid, stupid Rebel Flagship with the Crystal Cruiser. I still hate it, but I think knowing it was defeatable was enough to incentivze more play. I’m still missing the mantis and slug cruisers, but once I get those I think I’ll start consistently playing on normal. The idea of someone beating the game with either variant of the Stealth Cruiser or Engi Cruiser B seems rather foreign, but if people on youtube can do it, it’s clearly possible.

Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny.

The remake that someone had to ask for, at some point. Probably in German.

No, the remake. The one that came out this week apparently? The one that didn't have a page until I submitted it? I forgot that I bought it, but it already seems alienating and confusing, so I can conclude that it is a faithful remake. More to come?

And that’s it for now folks. Remember that winners don’t use drugs, speedruns for charity are the best thing ever, and apparently Bubsy 3D was a game that existed at some point in time. Also Sonic 2006.

8 Comments

I play modern games and apologize thusly (Resident Evil 6)

As of June 29th (which coincidentally happened to be when I posted my previous blog) I have been doing this for 4 years. What. I… what? Man. Starting from a rather basic write-up about how Goldeneye was ok despite having aged rather poorly, to that time I accidentally talked about fighting games and it blew up in my face, to that time (last week) where some prick said I came off as an “over-privileged teenager” because I didn’t especially like Jade Empire, I’ve written a lot of these, guys, and I’m not stopping yet. Blogging has been a reliable constant between me being in high-school, starting college, doing poorly in college and now taking a break from college so I can figure out what I want to do with my life. I’d also like to express my appreciation for Ryan Davis, another constant in my life whose presence has sadly been cut short, leaving a hole in Giant Bomb, like a cake without someone to sit on it, or a metaphor without a comparison that makes sense. Other people have said it better and more eloquently than me, so I’ll stop there. I'll miss you Ryan Davis, for as much as I can miss someone I've never met.

Also video games:

Yes I have moved on to playing Chrono Cross, no that blog isn’t going to be for a while. The only thing I can say for certain at this point is that I like it so far, but I’m also clearly not that far in. I get the impression that Chrono Cross isn’t incredibly long the way some PS1-era JRPGs are (it’s no Dragon Quest VII, for example), but I still fully expect to spend more time than desired on this particular game.

I'll give you a hint: Pick Autocracy. No one has ever gone wrong with that philosophy, no siree.

Unlike Gods and Kings, whose biggest additions were two mechanics from previous Civ games and some small but important tweaks to combat and diplomacy, Brave New World seems to be more interested in fundamental changes aimed at making the endgame more interesting as well as adding civilizations that benefit from these changes, such as Brazil being geared towards the new cultural victory (double tourism output during a golden age) and Morocco getting larger bonuses from trade routes. Venice is probably the most interesting civ, since they can’t settle new cities and can only expand through puppet states. While this would seem a crippling handicap, they also get double the number of trade routes and have unique great merchants who get double bonuses from trade missions and are also capable of annexing city-states. Between these and the ability to purchase units in puppet states, I had an inordinate amount of money by the end of my game, allied with every city-state and capable of pumping out armies for absurdly low prices. Between all of these things, I think it safe to say that I’ll be putting a couple dozen more hours into Civ V in the near future.

But that’s not what you came for.

I attempt to explain my thoughts about a video game:

Much like me giving Dragon Age 2 the light of day, I feel the need to preface this with "Sorry?"

I don’t hate Resident Evil 6. Despite everything that convinced me to wait for the price to drop to $20, despite its blatant, overbearing problems, I’ve mostly enjoyed my time with it. Hell, I’ll go one step further and say that I liked it more than Dead Space 3, a mediocre slog that will only be remembered as a footnote to the first two games, and also that part where the moon was a necromorph.At least when Resident Evil 6 is bad, it’s not from a lack of trying. And try it does. Oh, it’s misguided both from what influences it takes from big-budget western games and from what it takes from the Resident Evil franchise as a whole, but as an expensive, big dumb action game I had my moments with it.

Despite being touted as the first Resident Evil game with both Chris and Leon... they have exactly two scenes together

And that’s really what it should be called. Resident Evil 4 may have brought the series into the realm of modernity, but it was still a very deliberately paced title that still used a lot of series hallmarks and had a gloomy atmosphere on top of that. Resident Evil 5 added co-op and thus removed a lot of the slower, quieter moments with only one real puzzle to speak of, but the shooting still created tension and encouraged a slow, deliberate style of play. Resident Evil 6 says “Eff that noise, here are explosions. Also you can roll?” Ok, that’s a bit reductive, because of the way that the stories are split. Leon’s campaign is probably the closest to the older Resident Evil games, Chris’ campaign wants to be Gears of War, Jake’s campaign has a bunch of poorly-conceived set-pieces and Ada’s campaign is more puzzle focused. All of them have explosions and QTE sequences at some point.Jake and Sherry probably have the worst lot of the bunch, with some particularly terrible forced stealth and vehicle sequences sandwiched in-between them being chased by a guy who definitely isn’t Nemesis and those parts were probably my least favorite… until I started Ada’s campaign and realized that her stuff was probably the worst. Leon and Chris have it relatively better in that department, a rather hilarious and out of place sequence where Chris fights a giant invisible snake notwithstanding (the only way that would've been ok is if Chris mentioned his previous experience fighting giant zombie snakes). Still, the game loves itself some insta-death QTEs in a world where games have finally, finally started moving past “press X to not die”. I should probably note that they made QTEs easier at some point than they were at launch, but that doesn’t mean that some of them weren’t a bit too much.

The part where you're stuck in a snowstorm? Probably the worst part... until you get to the rest of that chapter. I'll go as far as to call Jake chapter 2 the worst part of the entire game.

The combat is sort of bad but I like it anyways? Oh, it’s still Resident Evil inasmuch as melee attacks and aiming for the head are incentivized, but you can still dump like a madman and get away with it for the most part. The real problem comes from the part where the camera is too close to your character. While from the outside this seems like a rather superfluous thing, not being able to see enemies behind you is rather crippling. Add the swimmy camera and the non-laser sight based aiming and you can understand why my initial reaction to this game was unflinchingly negative. But then I got used to the controls and the way the shooting worked and I will fully admit to sort of liking it. At least Capcom tried something different, between the larger focus on recoil, the way you can defensively roll and the quick shot. Does it necessarily work out all the way? No. No it does not, for reasons any given negative review can tell you about. Melee attacks will sometimes miss despite the prompt showing, zombies love to jump on you for a guaranteed one damage and the part where you sometimes have to take cover is sort of crummy.

The story is well produced with motion-captured actors doing far better performances talking about B.O.W.s and similar insanity than RE6 probably deserved. Between Leon being snarky, Chris being incredibly angry, Jake being Troy Baker and Ada being mysterious and sassy… I have to admit that it works. Better than Revelations’ bizarre story at any rate. Not exactly Oscar-winning material, but this is proof that raw money can make something inherently dumb into something watchable. I don’t even care that some crucial plot details are hidden away as bonus content. Resident Evil stories have always required a bit of irony to enjoy and the absurdity involving a clone of Ada and Jake being Wesker’s son are just par for the course in my book. Neo Umbrella. Just saying.

And that’s about it. I’m not going to pretend that RE6 is a good game by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s a certain elegance to its badness that I’ve latched onto. That, or I subconsciously conditioned myself to not hate this game because it has the Resident Evil name, which also seems quite possible at this point. Either way, with that RE 1.5 restoration project moving ahead quite nicely, it’s safe to say that even those who disliked this game have something with that name to look forward to again.

25 Comments

I play old games (Jade Empire) OR: The Consequences of Democracy

This is the face of unemployment crossed with a lack of friends in town. Oh well, going home for the 4th will be good.

No preamble this time. I did it. I played the game you people voted for. After the 12(!) hours it took me to beat this game, I can confirm that Jade Empire is indeed a RPG of questionable quality. Ok, that's maybe a little harsh. It's fine, and I might even go as far as to say that certain aspects of it are great: It has an unique setting as far as video games are concerned with some pretty great art direction and some well-done supporting characters. However, in the grand pantheon of Bioware games it's nothing special. Oh, I'm sure that Sonic RPG is still a piece of work (and now I feel the sudden urge to play that and mock it relentlessly), but as it stands now Jade Empire is my least favorite Bioware game*. And that's... fine. Not every game has to be a winner, and I'm still glad I played it.

This can partially be blamed on simple perspective. Had I played this game in 2005 when it came out and KotOR was still my favorite game of all-time, I bet I would've liked it a lot more than I did now. But I was a Nintendo kid, and thus did not have an "Xbox The First", leaving me with nothing but KotOR II to sate my need for RPGs. By the time the PC version of this game came out (two years later) I had moved on to being really obsessed with Oblivion and sort of regretting the purchase of my Wii. Oh, and Mass Effect came out. While that game wasn't the second-coming of RPGs for me the way it was for some people, it still stands that my opinion has been colored by the story-focused RPGs that have come since, be they from Bioware, Obsidian or CD Projekt RED. Doesn't help that I just played Mask of the Betrayer too, if we're just going to throw in everything.

Who doesn't love a villain that never really shows up and doesn't ever earn his menacing reputation on-screen?

Stop me if you've heard this before: You are an individual of humble origin thrust out of your home after violence occurs. You are the only one who can save the Jade Empire because you are special (the last of the spirit monks) and because of that you are hounded by the forces of (obvious) evil. Along the way you pick up a group of colorful companions who are probably romance-able (bonus points here for being the first Bioware game with homosexual romances and also you can apparently have a threesome?). Sounds familiar? Yeah. Jade Empire's world is what stands out more than its main story, borrowing heavily from Imperial China and a bunch of other Asian mythologies that don't get their just due in Video Games and for that I will give it points. Also to its credit, the late-game twist in Jade Empire subverts this to a degree: Your life, up to that point, was all part of an orchestrated plot by your master to get revenge on his brother, the emperor and gain the throne himself. And then he kills you (but of course you don't stay dead). I'd say that's about on-par with "You are Darth Revan", and maybe just as obvious in hindsight.

Apparently there are good demons in the world of Jade Empire. My character didn't take so kindly to this one.

I played the game "Closed Fist", which the game tries to pretend is motivated self-interest instead of just Chaotic Evil, but yeah, it's still binary moral choice with all the subtlety of an anvil and significantly more interesting than playing the role of the Lawful Good "Open Palm" character. Much like KotOR, perhaps suspiciously so, there comes an end-game moment where all of your party members realize that your murderous psychopathic behavior actually meant something and you can force them into your service against their own wills. Also you can poison the waters of the empire and seize the godlike power of the Water Dragon for your own evil ends! Because you're evil. I feel like there are some companions you can convince to your way of thinking, but I guess I didn't talk with them enough for that, or any romance, to happen. Your companions are interesting on their own merits if a bit one-dimensional (the sacrifice of one party-member feels rather unearned, to be honest), though I appreciate the little girl with two demons inside her. That's pretty great.

I'll give you a hint: It's not the elephant.

You'll notice that I haven't even mentioned the gameplay. That's because it's terrible but also easy. As long as your character has a decently fast attack style you can get through 90% of Jade Empire's combat by mashing the A button and occasionally pressing X when you need to break someone's block. There's no real nuance to be found. Just pick the handful of styles that allow you to keep your enemies constantly hitstunned and go from there. It's also a pity that you get some of the more interesting styles, like Viper and Red Minister, near the end of the game when you've already put points into the same styles you've been using since the beginning of the game. Similarly, there's no subtlety to stat building. All three stats are important enough that you might as well keep them evenly balanced, unless you really didn't care about using Chi strikes, or whatever. Your party members aren't capable of doing any sort of appreciable damage, which is why you should keep them set to "Support" at all times, where they can constantly restore your health/spirit/focus. I also need to mention the Storm Dragon style, the description of which implies that it does damage over time, but really just stuns the enemy for an absurdly long time, allowing you to beat them with impunity. It works on the final boss too, which is probably the saddest/most hilarious part. You can also equip gems, but most of them just add to your stats or conversation skills, with only a few having really interesting effects.

I am being entirely serious when I say that the game would be way better if John Cleese was in it for longer

And then there's the thing where the game is short. I beat it in 12 hours, with only a few passing glances at walkthroughs to see if I missed anything super-important. There are only two major hub areas in the game, the imperial city and Tien's Landing, both feel tiny and constrained, though still packed with their fair share of Bioware-esque sidequests (The best of which is probably a debate about whose culture is superior with a stereotypical european white-male conqueror voiced by John Cleese.) Once you get past those two areas, the game is pretty much over and is soul-crushingly linear from then on. It doesn't surprise me at all that the game can be beaten in 2 1/2 hours if you were to critical path everything. Then again, I'm not sure if making the game much longer would actually make it much better, given the combat. But of course, if I wanted more Bioware writing, I could find better writing in most of their other games.

Because that's the thing: Everything that Jade Empire does has been done better in most other RPGs, those made by Bioware and otherwise. I don't think it's terrible by any means, but no game exists in a vacuum. I'd like to hear arguments from the people who voted for this game why it's so special, because I'm really not seeing most of it, though I do see enough potential that I would be very interested if Bioware ever made a sequel (unlikely). Hopefully my next blog won't be for a while, either because Chrono Cross is long or because I find a job. Either would be acceptable to me, the latter moreso than the former. And that's it. Don't do drugs! Unless you have to in order to not die/hate yourself, like me. Then... do them. Also, before I forget: The steam version of this game is messed up and if you don't want to do a bunch of tinkering with permissions and have to run steam in administrator mode, probably get it from GOG.

*: A case could be made to me that Neverwinter Nights is secretly the worst game Bioware has made, given its atrociously boring original campaign, but I feel like it earns a better spot in my mind between Hordes of the Underdark, the multiplayer and the wide number of fan modules that have been released.

40 Comments

I play sort of old games (Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer)

I also played Costume Quest, but that game is too shallow and brief to deserve more than this passing mention

Oh hi there. Didn’t expect me to come back so soon, did you? Well, guess what. Expansion packs are short and I still haven’t found a job in the last… 5 days since I wrote that other NWN2 blog. As you may have seen on the forums, I have an ongoing poll about which questionable console RPG I should play next after finishing this one. While Jade Empire has maintained a strong lead since the poll’s inception, it’s apparently not very friendly with 64-bit Windows and thus doesn’t recognize steam. If any of you want to give me a straight answer on how to fix it, or gift me a copy of the GOG version I’ll still play it,(EDIT:Fixed) but as for now the real battle is between Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy XII international since those are games I know will work.

If the original campaign for Neverwinter Nights 2 was the archetypical D&D fantasy adventure (done well, I might add), then Mask of the Betrayer is pretty much the opposite of that on all counts while still clearly being a D&D game. It doesn’t take place on the Sword Coast, you aren’t fighting a great evil, andthere are no gruff dwarves to be seen. Instead, it takes place in the eastern Viking/Mysticism nation of Rashamen (I’d really just have to read the Forgotten Realms handbook to figure out what its deal is), you’re trying to figure out why you’re halfway across the world and also why you really need to devour all of these spirits, and your party members are all pretty unconventional (Red Wizard, Hagspawn, Half-Celestial, Spirit Bear or totally evil hive-mind of spirits inhabiting the husk of the spirit bear). If this is starting to sound a bit like Planescape or KotOR 2, you’d be right. It’s a more thoughtful, contemplative game and while it doesn’t straight up dissect tropes of the source material the two games previously mentioned, it’s still subversive in the way it handles them.

If you're a good guy, Okku the spirit bear joins your party. If you're not, you devour his soul and use his remains to host a group of clearly evil spirits

But unlike Planescape, Mask of the Betrayer still remembers that it’s a game and not an interactive novel (and unlike KotOR 2, it has an ending and I don’t kind of hate it). It’s far darker and gloomier than any D&D game in recent memory and at no point are you indulging the crazy gnome in your party to form an alliance with invisible giants who live in the sky. This is seen in the soundtrack and the visuals, but is most present in the opening premise: You wake up disoriented on the other side of the world, most of your party members from the first game are implied (then explicitly stated) to be dead (removing the suspension of disbelief that death actually matters in a world where the True Resurrection spell exists) and all you feel is an endless hunger for souls. It’s a great way to start off, and like Planescape the majority of the game revolves around investigating what happened to you and why you need to devour all of the delicious souls you come in contact with. To be honest, it treats its connections with the base game rather loosely, and other than some brief cameos of and references to your old party members there’s not much of a connection between them (so basically, just like KotOR 2). Ergo, you could play this expansion without playing the base game and not miss much, though my opinion still stands that the Original campaign is still worth playing…once. This? I feel like I should do another playthrough of this game because it’s shorter and because the choices are far more pronounced. I didn’t get to see much of Kaelyn the Dove because I played my chaotic-neutral character in such a way that she quickly became chaotic-evil (which I assumed a half-celestial being would be less than cool with) and then there’s the choice between the noble spirit bear Okku and the clearly evil One-of-Many and so on and so forth.

Have I mentioned the companions yet? Because they’re the clearest example of how much better the writing generally is than regular NWN2. Because there are only 5 of them, they’re all fleshed out and have active roles in the places you go as opposed to say… Grobnar or Casavir. It’s also much easier to gain influence with them and get whatever backstory-relevant information you want without having to open the console and cheat. There’s sadly not a whole lot of interplay between them like there is in vanilla NWN2, but that’s the price I’ll pay for all of them being interesting. It’s not just the companions either, I’d go as far as to say that Mask of the Betrayer is one of the best-written CRPGs ever made. There’s a reason why the project lead on this game (George Zeits) was a stretch goal for both Project Eternity and Torment: Tides of Numenera. It’s the kind of thing where I don’t want to give examples because it’s really worth looking at for yourself and because then I’d be spoiling the best part of the game.

It’s still a game, by the way. I still think the Neverwinter Nights engine can’t handle group tactical combat with any sort of precision the way the Infinity Engine or Temple of Elemental Evil could, and much like the Original Campaign, not much precision is required. Since your characters are at epic levels they have more than their fair share of level 9 (and epic) spells on hand to deal with everything, which is also a good thing since resting is finally penalized in a way it wasn’t before. Since your character is constantly hungering for souls, they need to constantly devour them or suffer pretty significant penalties. Consuming too many souls increases your craving for them which increases the depletion of your soul meter which requires you to devour more souls to keep it topped off. It’s an annoyance and an inconvenience, but since you can eat the souls of almost any enemy you encounter if you’re evil (or suppress your hunger if you’re good) it’s not game-breaking in any sense. But seriously, the camera is inexcusably terrible and along with D&D fatigue is one of the reasons I’m asking the internet to recommend me questionable JRPGs instead of moving on to Storm of Zehir.

Alright. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to seriously think about playing Chrono Cross. I would've put more screenshots in, but this editor is being uncooperative.

9 Comments

I play sort of old games (Neverwinter Nights 2)

It’s been… like a month? Good news: I’m done with school for at least another semester. Bad News: I still don’t have a job lined up for this downtime. I could really use a job. Hopefully one of the applications I’ve filled out will go through, but if not… that means even more time for stupid video games than I anticipated, which is probably a bad thing since I’d like a social life and sitting alone on a computer for several hours a day is a great way of convincing oneself that getting into Pathfinder is a good and not terrible idea (though I guess I’d have a social life of some sort if I did that, albeit a twisted dark reflection of one). Regardless, when I wasn’t studying for my one final of note, I played some vidja games. I beat Baldur’s Gate and imported my character into BG2, so that will eventually be a blog, but before that happens I’ll tell you about a different, not-seminal D&D game: Neverwinter Nights 2.

Easily twice as good as the first Neverwinter Nights. Probably?

I should preface this by saying this blog is only about the Original Campaign for NWN2. I haven’t started Mask of the Betrayer yet and everything on the internet seems to point towards it being Obsidian doing the things that it does best and that this base campaign is only decent by comparison. On its own merits, the original campaign for NWN2 is an enjoyable, straightforward D&D adventure that isn’t especially difficult or subtle. Oh, it’s still leagues better than what I played of the original campaign of Neverwinter Nights the first, perhaps the most boring and generic Bioware single-player ever made, though I feel like it’s common knowledge that the best things about that game were the abundance of fan-modules and the multiplayer (also: Hordes of the Underdark, apparently).

Is it as good as anything on the Infinity Engine? Probably not, though it is the most expansive incarnation of D&D 3rd edition in video games*. This is an advantage that cannot be overlooked, since it’s the only game to use 3.5 and contain both Subraces and Prestige Classes. That means you can have your chaotic good Drow Ranger multiclass to a wizard and maybe take a few levels of Arcane Archer while you’re at it. When compared to the last 3rd edition game I wrote about, it’s a definite step up from Icewind Dale II’s incredibly limited selection of feats and skills.

Fire Gensai. Not quite worth a +1 level adjustment despite being on fire.

But I really should get on to the game itself. You start from humble origins, darkness comes in search of plot mcguffins and eventually you find out the that an ancient evil has awakened and only you can stop it. Along the way you pick up a cast of colorful characters with their own distinct personalities and you solve their personal problems in addition to the problem threatening the entire Sword Coast. Obviously I’m simplifying it a bit, but it still stands that the story of Neverwinter Nights 2 is something of a roller-coaster, in that even though one can see most of the twists ahead, the ride itself is still enjoyable. This is in part to the game being made by Obsidian, a developer capable of quality writing and characterization even when forced into recognizable archetypes.

Hey, remember that time I tried to do a let's play blog series on this before getting tired of my old computer's awful load times? Yeahh....

Indeed, the supporting cast of NWN 2 is quite strong, mostly because they all kind of hate each other. Even getting past the axiomatically opposed pairings of Qara and Sand, Casavir and Bishop, Ammon Jerro and Zhjaeve, there’s a general sense that pretty much everyone in your party would murder the others in their sleep if not for your presence and that’s something I like in RPGs (incidentally, Dragon Age II is another great example of this trope). Your party members themselves are a bit inconsistent in how they’re fleshed out. Some, like Khelgar, have entire subquests devoted to them while others, like Grobnar, get at most a few influence checks. I imagine this stems from a KotOR 2-esqe amount of cut content, and while this game actually has an ending it’s not hard to see where stuff could be missing (also the ending is deliberately vague, but I imagine that gets addressed in Mask of the Betrayer). Also the influence system is dumb and it seems like some dialogue options are clearly not available without a very specific guide or cheating.

Important moral choices

The combat is… not demanding. That’s not to say that you can close your eyes and expect the game to do everything for you (due in part to the rather… challenged AI scripting), but on the Core Rules difficulty (which makes fireballs have friendly fire) you can get by without a ton of pausing and micromanaging like you would in an infinity engine game, partially due to the scads upon scads of buffs you can cast on your party members to make them kill things more effectively and partially due to the way death is handled. Being knocked down to zero hp only knocks party members unconscious, thus you can get away with playing sloppy since there’s no penalty for resting either. Despite that, there are a few solo sequences I would imagine would be hard if you made your character a Deep Gnome wizard, or whatever. I guess I’ll have to see if Storm of Zehir delivers on being that tactical party-based iteration of NWN that it claims to be, so we’ll see how that one goes when I get to that point.

The actual dungeoneering is decent, though you’ll have more than enough money by the end of the game to both fully upgrade your stronghold and buy whatever absurdly expensive items you fancy, though the crafting and enchanting systems are powerful enough that you could just make whatever powerful items you preferred (though it bears mention that the crafting system is just awkward and cumbersome enough that it may be motivation for the player to stick with the premade stuff instead of say… a +5 flaming Bastard Sword made of Cold Iron.) Also, having played enough Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2 to remember how open those games are, NWN 2 is pretty linear. You always know what you’re supposed to be doing and the only difference that is made is in what order you do them. There are also a few sidequests here and there, but not a whole ton in general. Kind of a bummer on that front though I imagine that makes for pretty decent multiplayer, actually.

It also bears mentioning that Neverwinter Nights 2 is not a very pretty game. While some of the spell effects are nice, the character models are not. Just the hair selection alone is reason enough to either make your character bald or constantly wearing a hat of some sort. The soundtrack is good, though it’s not quite Jeremy Soule (who did the soundtrack for the first game, funnily enough) and the voice actors deliver their lines well. All in all, what one would expect from Obsidian. Speaking of what one would expect from Obsidian, the game randomly crashed a few times and failed to give me a bonus feat granted by my class (favored souls are supposed to get proficiency in their deity’s favored weapon), which meant I had to add it in with the console instead. All in all, I enjoyed my time with this game quite a bit, but what I’m really interested in is Mask of the Betrayer, the game everyone calls “A really good RPG”. So you can expect that in a time-frame. Until then: don’t die, eat your vegetables and keep on playing games that came out like 6 years ago.

3 Comments

ArbitraryWater vs Sea Zombies

Hey, how's it going? I beat a video game and in celebration of that momentous occasion I wrote about it. But, as per usual, other games.

Baldur's Gate

This game was a big deal. Considering that the last D&D game that interplay put out before this was Descent to Undermountain, there was nowhere to go but up.

I wrote about Baldur's Gate a little over two years ago (which frightens me quite a bit), but for some reason felt compelled to play it again despite the half-dozen other lengthy RPGs that I should theoretically be playing through. Sure, on that playthrough I kind of bum-rushed through the last third of the game, ignored all of the Tales of the Sword Coast content and never actually beat Sarevok, but I'd still count it as beating the game... technically. Nope. It is my intent with this playthrough to make a character worthy of importing into Baldur's Gate II, which I haven't played in years and never actually beat either. With the rest of the infinity engine now conquered I should probably get back to the one I started with and possibly ruin my childhood memories in the process. Also because it's almost summer and I'm not taking any classes next semester, though hopefully I'll at least get a job.

As for the game itself, I think I like it more than when I played it last time. While everything I said in that last blog is still valid, I think the wilderness exploration aspect is kind of great at encompassing the tone and style of low-mid level D&D. The personalities of your party members aren't as fleshed out as they would become in later Bioware games (starting with BGII) but that fits with the deliberately generic tone they're going for. You aren't doing anything particularly epic, progression is significant enough that a level-up is a noteworthy occurrence and +2 items are extremely useful. I'm not done yet, but don't expect anything more in regards to this game until I finish BG2 and make some sort of comparison blog between the two games (and Throne of Bhaal). Bonus points for having my main character be far more useful than I expected, even as a Fighter/Mage/Thief, a class I've set as a target of ridicule in the past. Second edition backstabs are also absurdly powerful if you can get them off. Triple damage against a wizard who just got all of his protections dispelled is an effective and viable tactic with only a few points in hide (or an opportune use of the invisibility spell).

Resident Evil Revelations HD Remix Turbo Arcade Edition Dark Arisen

What exactly is being revealed?

As the best Resident Evil game to be released in 2012, it begs the question "Arbitrary, we know you're a crazy person who has played all of the old Resident Evil games why has it taken this long for you to play this one? You bought the $90 RE5 collector’s edition for goodness sake!" Well, first off I didn't own a 3DS until a few months ago (and at that point I knew this version was coming out) and second of all I was stupid when I was a sophomore because I bought collector's editions of video games (still have that Fallout 3 lunchbox somewhere). That stuff aside, I think I've soured a bit on the Resident Evil franchise since those heydays, even without having played RE6. In the original draft of this blog I had a lengthy rant explaining why, but I decided to cut it because it was incoherent. The gist of it was that Resident Evil has a weird identity crisis and doesn't know what it wants to be and even though I still like all of the newer games (that I've played) I question the draw that the franchise has anymore.

Nothing like a bit of gratuitous cleavage to really emphasize that the new characters are all sort of silly. Did I mention that she turns into a monster and still has all of that sideboob?

With that out of the way, Resident Evil Revelations is an alright game. While aspects of it being a portable game still show through, most evidently in the graphical department, it's a solid entry in the franchise and a decent way to spend one's time. Before I get to the gameplay, It should be mentioned that the title itself is absolute nonsense. Taking place a little before Lost in Nightmares (and thus a couple of years before RE5), it should be said that the plot of this game is nonsensical even by the standards of the series, with my central caveat being the ultra high-tech eco-city that gets destroyed by a Satellite laser as the central driving force of the story. Most of the new characters are laughably annoying (most of the new character designs are... something else) Chris doesn't really do much (i.e. no boulder punching) and the end boss kind of looks like a fishy tyrant. It all washed over me and even having just finished it I struggle to remember some of the story beats, though if I wanted to I could watch all of the recaps that precede every chapter (and also every chapter ends with a pointless cliffhanger or stinger before immediately being resolved).

The final boss also looks really goofy. Fishy cyclops tyrant.

That being said, the core gameplay is decent. The controls aren't as tight as RE4 or 5, enemy variety is a bit lacking (though I appreciate the return of hunters as a thing I can shoot) and the camera is a bit too close to your character for comfort, but taking it slow, aiming for the head and avoiding attacks are all encouraged (also there is an unwieldy dodge mechanic that I can do consistently against some enemy attacks but not others). It's also the modern Resident Evil game that comes closest to doing more than just paying lip-service to the old games, inasmuch as you can explore around in some instances instead of following the linear path and there is a decently tense early-game sequence where you don't have your weapons on you. It also seems quite obvious that Co-Op was going to be implemented at some point because you always have a partner with you, even when the game switches around with its characters (you still play as Jill for most of it). The structure of the game is very much in line with RE4 and 5, but with fewer set-piece moments and exactly zero sequences where you have to mash buttons for an extended period of time. The set-piece moments that do exist are pretty terrible however, with the turret and underwater sections of the game being longer than they should and the bosses all being bullet sponges.

HUNK confirmed. GOTY.

I've been told that the true draw of this game is the Raid Mode, and I can already see why. It's a series of challenge levels drawn directly from the story with a RPG progression system, loot, several different characters and co-op. While I'm partial to The Mercenaries myself, what I've played of this so far is interesting enough that I will continue to play it. There haven't been a ton of people playing thus far, but I imagine that's because they're all not crazy and didn't blow through the story in a few days like I did. It works better as its own mode than The Mercenaries, though I wouldn't necessarily call it superior. If you want to play with me, my Steam ID is the same as my username.

Thus, we get to the crux of my blog. Is this game worth $50 when you can get the 3DS version for less than half of that? I'd imagine that this version is significantly superior, both visually (though you can still tell most of the assets weren't originally made for HD resolutions) and in terms of controls, but I wouldn't say that Revelations is great enough to warrant a purchase at full price. For my part, I got it on Greenman Gaming for like $35, and that seemed like a fair price to me, so if you want to take advantage of that deal I think it's still going on. And with that, I end this train. Expect something on something within the next few weeks. I never did finish The Last Express....

12 Comments

ArbitraryWater vs a bucketload of random games

It's been a few weeks, has it not? In that span of time I finished winter semester, went home for like a week and came back to start spring, with the intention of hopefully getting my GPA out of the toilet and into the realms of academic success. That being said, I chose a deliberately light load of general classes so that shouldn't be a problem... hopefully. I also played video games, because of course I did. Let's talk about a few, shall we?

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Tis Weak to Fire!

I'm not entirely sure if you've noticed, but my gaming focus has been rather PC-centric as of late. This is probably because my parent's won't let me bring my Xbox down with me to school, because my brother needs something to play Fifa or... Minecraft on. Or something. Despite knowing that I would only be home for a limited time, I still bought Dark Arisen for the hell of it and because I really liked Dragon's Dogma despite its myriad of weird problems. Being that I had less than a week to play it, I can confirm that Dragon's Dogma is still awesome and Magick Archers are a really fun class. I got up to the point right before fighting the dragon, so I clearly played a lot of it (it's not quite as hard when you have an infinite ferrystone and remember where to go). I intend to find someone in my housing complex to let me mooch of their Xbox, but until then I can't say anything about the new content and if it's any good, but what's still there is still good and it still justifies its place on my GOTY list of last year (and gives me an excuse to put it on this year's list as well.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Quad-barrel shotguns. Such a stupid idea, but so fitting for this game.

I never did write about what I thought of vanilla Far Cry 3, did I? Well, I think it's an excellent, well-made game (much better than Far Cry 2) that goes on for a bit too long, has a bad story that gets worse as it goes along as well as perhaps one of the most unsympathetic and unlikeable protagonists in recent memory. Blood Dragon fixes all of these problems by being intentionally stupid, compact and still having the same gameplay, but retro-futuristic. I won't say that all of the humor works (I'll share the bombcrew's stance that there is a dichotomy between the dumb-but-played-straight humor of the game and the snarkiness of the loading screens and codex entries), but when it does it's pretty hilarious, even for someone who never spent a day of his life in the 1980s. What really seals the deal is the aesthetic, which is both awesome and distinctive and leads to perhaps one of the better last 30 minutes of a game I've played in a while. It's also really stupid. Considering that most DLC is kind of terrible (to use the above example, the DLC that is thrown in as a bonus in Dark Arisen is really bad and really lazy) it's nice to see something that both justifies its price and isn't just a level pack or something equally regrettable. I recommend it, especially since it doesn't wear out its welcome the way real Far Cry 3 does.

Two Worlds II

And now we start reaching more. When it comes down to it, Bethesda is the king of making open RPGs with a variety of character build options and things to do. I'd go as far as to say that no one does it as well as them, for the various mechanical and stability problems that plague The Elder Scrolls and friends. Below that however is a B tier of games that do enough things well enough that they're worth looking at. While I have yet to get back to Amalur for reasons previously mentioned, another good example of this level of game is Two Worlds II, a game I think is shockingly good, at least so far. I'm not going to lie: Most of my favorite RPGs aren't made in Europe, especially once we get into former Soviet Bloc nations. For as many of my favorite strategy games originate from those areas, when I think of European developed RPGs, I think of Divinity II or Gothic; the former of which I played far too much of before deciding that I had played enough and the latter of which gave me no incentive to want to play past the first hour.

The mighty hero on his majestic steed... Not exactly the best looking or most polished game out there. But it has... heart?

With that context in mind, Two Worlds II is actually quite good. Oh, it's still janky and sort of broken in the way that these kinds of games are, and the voice acting is quite bad, but once I got past the opening area of the first few hours I was impressed with the breadth of content available. Where this game shines is in its customizability. The spell system in particular encourages a mix-match philosophy of mixing different cards with different effects to produce markedly different spells. There's also melee combat, which as far as I can tell is "Block until you counterattack, use potions when you're low on health, rinse and repeat. There's also crafting and alchemy, similarly extensive and that's not even getting into the various sidequests and guilds one can join. I'm not going to definitively call it good yet, as I haven't finished it or its expansion yet, but so far this game is easily the best janky open RPG to have been developed in Europe and released a few years ago. Suck it Divinity 2.

Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth

Inspector Lang is a suitable and worthy replacement for the Prosecutors you usually spend most of your time screwing with in these games

There are some game franchises that I would be entirely ok with being the exact same for the rest of time eternal. Ace Attorney is one of them. And indeed, on a cursory superficial level it seems like they changed things around for the spinoff featuring everyone's favorite Prosecutor and his faithful sidekick. But let's be honest. Not really. Sure, there are no separate court segments in this game and you occasionally use logic to connect things, but the gameplay is still pretty much the same... except instead of being a hapless defense lawyer with spiky hair you're the far more straight-laced Edgeworth who treats all of the crazy, ace attorney-esque, characters around him with the appropriate amount of contempt and confusion. I hadn't played this until now, and I can confirm that it's a really good "one of those games". The cases rely far less on pixel hunting and the absurd logic leaps that categorize some of the latter cases in any given AA game are less present here, though not entirely gone. These small tweaks actually make the game a lot more enjoyable since the evidence that needs to be presented is usually pretty obvious. The cases themselves are well done, though not quite at the same heights as some of the crazier ones in the other games of the series, but I very much enjoyed my time with this one and am now in the mood for some Ace Attorney 5... because Ace Attorney Investigations 2 never came out over here, much to my chagrin. It's like Fire Emblem Shin Monshou no Nazo all over again. Grrrrrr....

Speaking of Fire Emblem (and other things)

I'm playing Path of Radiance right now. It's pretty good. Surprise. Hard mode is also tougher than I remember. That, or the infinite grinding and crazy high-level conflicts that define Awakening have softened me. Not going to write a whole blog on it. I also speedran the Claire B scenario of Resident Evil 2 in one sitting and finally unlocked 4th survivor. Feeling euphoric about my victory I planned on going on to conquering Resident Evil 3 in under 2 hours... only to find that the Resident Evil 5 disk was in the case instead and my copy of Resident Evil 3 was nowhere to be found. I'm sure it's somewhere at home, but I'm still vaguely pissed and somewhat confused as to why the RE5 disk was in there. Also, the Gamecube version of Resident Evil 3 isn't exactly common, Y'know? Hopefully my parents or brother haven't eaten it by now. I'll be going home a few weekends from now, so hopefully I'll find it then.

16 Comments

Four times 4X = ? (X > 3)

Finals are over for me, and with only a few make-up assignments left I’m almost ready to close the book on this semester. In-between study sessions and periods of self-loathing I found that Expansion, Exploitation, Exploration and Extermination were a decent way to relieve stress, allowing me to mess with junk I had laying around in my steam library that I hadn’t really touched. In this case, I’ll talk about a quartet of 4X titles that I sunk around 6-10 hours into each over the past few weeks, all of which have come out in the last 2 years. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the old game playing soon enough (Final Fantasy XII International probably), but for now these games and League of Legends have taken up most of my non-studying time. I also played the Dishonored DLC, and it does a great job of being more Dishonored. If you liked that game then you will like this DLC, straight up.

Also, The Last Express exists and seems crazy. Expect more on that eventually.

Endless Space

The Tech tree in all of its glory.

I mentioned Endless Space a bit in my World of Xeen blog, but after a bit more playtime I can indeed confirm that it’s pretty awesome and probably one of the best Space 4X games since Master of Orion 2, not that that particular sub-sub-genre has had much competition as of late (aside from the excellent, albeit dry Galactic Civilizations II, which came out in like 2005). Endless Space takes most of its cues from the former, though there is a bit of the latter as well. Movement is restricted to star lanes until you research technology that allows your ships to go wherever, wormholes act like chokepoints, and each star system has multiple planets of varying types and qualities (i.e. Terran, Lava, Arctic, Desert, Gas Giant, etc.), stuff you’d all expect from a game with “Space” in the title. Why Endless Space works for me as well as it does comes down to the elegance of its execution, rather than any sort of mind-blowing mechanical innovations. The interface is efficient and minimalistic, giving you most of the information you need in the lower right corner every time you press the “next turn” button, your production is segmented into Food, Industry, Dust (money), and Science and everything tells you exactly what it does in plain terms. The tech tree has 4 branches and is designed in a way that forces you to explore each one instead of min-maxing (which is kind of how I feel GalCiv could be at times, with its ultra-segmented tech tree). Combat is a rock-paper-scissors style affair, where picking tactical cards that counter other tactical cards is the only direct interaction you have, which is fine. The Space Battles certainly look pretty. If there’s one qualm I’ve had from Endless Space thus far, it’s that the AI is a brutal mo-fo. Even on easy, I found myself surrounded and outgunned on one of my (aborted) games. I like to turtle in these kinds of games, so aggressive, expansive AI is basically going to crush me unless I do the same. It’s a learning experience, if nothing else.

Warlock: Master of the Arcane

It bears mention that the DLC for this game is kind of gross because of how piecemeal it all is, but I'm sure it'll all be dirt cheap once a steam sale comes around.

Moving from Space to Fantasy, Warlock: Master of the Arcane takes many of its cues from the other Simtex developed 4X game Master of Magic, but for some reason takes place in the same fantasy world as the Majesty games, the most obvious benefit of which is the Sean Connery soundalike telling you whenever you’ve run out of money or whatnot. Warlock is also probably the lightest of these games. You choose from a wizard of your choice commanding 3 factions (Humans, Monsters and Undead, each with their own quirks but still playing relatively the same). Towns have limited building capacity based upon population, which means everything takes the same amount of time to build regardless. This forces you to more directly focus your towns on specific goals (i.e. making money, research, food) and also very much goes against the concept of turtling. Combat is similar to Civ V (also the hex map is uncannily similar to Civ V) and the way troops work encourages quality (high level) over quantity because every single one of your troops can level up to become insane powerhouses. There’s also an abundance of neutral monsters to facilitate this leveling up, and apparently one of the victory conditions is kill an epic monster… though I feel like if you had the military strength to do so you could probably conquer the rest of the world instead. Diplomacy is also pretty simple and straightforward. You can trade resources, make alliances and declare war. That’s about it. No “Hey buddy, you should declare war on this fellow and also here is some cash”, which I guess is fine, considering Majesty is also very much a combat-oriented 4X game. The real thing that makes it great however, is the plethora of spells available, with one of my favorite ones being the ability to raise land, allowing for travel across places that would otherwise require your troops to embark (also works similarly to Civ V in that they can fight back against proper naval units, but not well). It’s that kind of mechanic in particular that echoes Master of Magic so specifically, and since I liked it in MoM I like it in here. Figures.

Fallen Enchantress

I should take screenshots for this game, as the wiki only has concept art. It's butt ugly, and the world needs to know.

I find it more than a little hilarious that this game doesn’t have the words “Elemental: War of Magic” anywhere on it, despite basically being a direct sequel/version of the game that isn’t a complete mess. As you may remember, the original Elemental was apparently a complete trainwreck of half-finished brokenness, and anyone who bought it got a copy of this game for free. As it stands by itself, Fallen Enchantress is a pretty neat game. Anyone who played Gal Civ 2 will notice an abundance of similarities, from the way that diplomatic negotiations are handled to the powerful unit creation tools to the way the AI is really stupid on lower difficulties. However, while Gal Civ had cool spaceships and junk, Fallen Enchantress has a bunch of really ugly looking humans/monsters. For a game that came out in 2012, it looks more at home among 2002’s top releases. Ok, that’s a bit reductive, but my point is that it isn’t a looker. Gameplay wise it fares much better, once again encouraging aggressive expansion and military prowess (though you can still beat the game without declaring war on anyone, as I did at one point). The tech tree is pretty simple, and I found myself at the end of it playing on a small map. The spells aren’t quite as crazy as those of Warlock (or even something like Age of Wonders), but rest assured that you can make a single broken unit with like 50 buffs on at once. The combat is a tactical affair, aping Heroes of Might and Magic, though I wouldn’t call that a bad thing. That being said, it isn’t as tactical as something like heroes would be, but at least it’s better than Disciples III, not that there aren’t many strategy games worse than Disciples III. If you’ve been on the fence for a while, I’d say it’s worth a look if you like the way Stardock makes these kinds of games, though it bears mention that Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes is coming out next month and is a standalone expansion that is probably worth buying instead of the vanilla game.

Civilization V: Gods and Kings

The Celts get more faith in the early-game... which is about the second least useful ability in this expansion, behind the Dutch.

Civ V is still pretty great, but I think I’ve fallen upon what about that game annoys me so, besides the oft unpredictable and flighty AI: The endgame drags. The last two hours of a Civ game if you aren’t going for raw military conquest fall into the pattern of “press the end turn button to make the numbers go up”. This is obviously something that Firaxis has noticed, since that appears to be the focus of their next expansion, but I’ll have to wait and see. Also, like Civ IV, religion seems so ancillary and separate from every other mechanic that focusing on it, even in the early-goings, seems especially useful. Regardless, I think Civ V is still awesome and for this blog title to make sense I had to throw in a 4th game, because if @mento knows anything, it’s that clever wordplay for the title should determine what said blog should contain.

Bonus game: Syndicate (the 2012 commercial failure, not the Bullfrog classic)

There's no reason why this game had to be called what it is. Also, it deserved more success.

Since I bought and finished it today, I figure I might as well throw some Syndicate in for good measure. As far as First Person Shooters that I bought for $5 are concerned, it pulls its weight incredibly well. That’s not to say that the 5 hour campaign doesn’t have a sort of dumb story (One of the things that appeals to me so much about the original game is the complete amoral nature of what you’re doing. There’s no bright light, you’re just murdering hordes of civilians with your drugged up cyber-agents because corporations, something that this new game plays with before making your character moral). On its own merits, it’s a very well made game with nice feeling weapons and a pretty awesome hacking mechanic that allows the game to justify the hordes of enemies it throws at you. I haven’t tried the co-op because I’m sure no one is online (a pity, since Jeff considered it the high point of the entire experience), but I found Syndicate an enjoyable experience that didn’t overstay its welcome. Also, the way your dude holds the pistol when running is absurdly cool

6 Comments

I play old, bad games (Dark Messiah of Might and Magic)

I used to be good at writing long essays. Not anymore. DAMN YOU LEAGUE OF LEGENDSSSSSSS

Ah, here I am, sitting in the library not writing the essay on Che Guevara I’m supposed to be writing. It is my intent with this blog to, if nothing else, get me in the mood and mindset for writing about something serious and meaningful (like an essay worth roughly 25% of the grade in my Modern Latin American History class) by writing about something stupid and frivolous. Like a questionable video game that came out 6 years ago that I only played at all because it’s attached to a name I identify with. But before I regale you with tales of the Dark Messiah, let’s talk about other games. Because finals are in like 2 weeks and I’m not going to have an opportunity to talk about them then.

Other games

It's a Kart Racer that came out after 2002 that I enjoy. Huh.

I say with very little irony that Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing Transformed is probably one of the better Kart Racing games I’ve played. While the actual roster of characters isn’t necessarily one I can identify with, having never owned a Sega console in my life and finding the inclusion of everyone’s favorite NASCAR driver/Lady who almost gets naked in every Go Daddy commercial Danica Patrick to be hilarious, it’s at least comprehensive and (I assume) has the people you’d want in a Sega kart racer (but also Danica Patrick and Team Fortress, for some reason). The track design is suitably over-the-top in a way that Mario Kart isn’t and the part where you are a boat, a car, and a plane like it was Diddy Kong Racing (easily my favorite Kart racer of my N64-based youth) is icing. Then I could talk about how Football Manager is a britishy british man who says “Red Card” whenever he gets hit or that there isn’t a crummy blue shell equivalent and I’d pretty much say most of what I need to say. Haven’t played online yet, but I assume that there are people playing it, as it seems to go on sale on steam often enough. Either way, it’s a pretty great game to play in short bursts and if I knew other humans/had more wired xbox controllers I could hook up to my laptop It’d be a pretty awesome party game.

I am still playing through Final Fantasy XII International Zodiac Job System, and my physical copy of actual regular Final Fantasy XII arrived in the mail, so that guilt has been (somewhat) alleviated. I think. Not much new to say about that, other than that I think the Gambit system is pretty cool and also see how it will eventually result in the game playing itself like a more powerful version of the scripting found in Dragon Age. More on that eventually.

Organ Trail is neat and kind of funny, especially if you played the original version of the game like I did. It’s also a game clearly made for touch devices and not a mouse and keyboard, so aside from the part where it’s “Yo, it’s like the Oregon Trail for the Apple II but instead it’s a zombie apocalypse lol” I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you get it. I played it for like 90 minutes and you know what? I’m good. It’s a funny joke that is funny for about that long, but has all the depth of an elaborate flash game.

League of Legends continues to exist. I continue to enjoy it and do alright for myself if forced to play jungle. It’s a pity everyone always calls mid first, because I always thought that was my best position. I’m competent enough at whatever I end up as, in any case.

The main game

Orc Kicking Simulator 2006

But now, let’s talk about the main event, the reason why you voluntarily clicked on this thread, unless you are cool/weird and found it through the blogs tab on my profile page. Dark Messiah of Might and Magic was released in 2006 and was the second Might and Magic game released by Ubisoft, following Heroes of Might and Magic V, a game I think is pretty great despite the weird dislike it gets from dark corners of the internet. Whereas Heroes V was received pretty well, the reception to Dark Messiah was a bit more… mixed, with a console port coming out a few years later that I’m pretty sure no one liked. I for one, bought this game out of a sense of morbid curiosity, both because of my well-documented love of the Might and Magic series as well as me liking Dishonored far too much and wondering how Arkane’s previous games fare (yes, that means that at some point, somewhere down the road I will write about Arx Fatalis). The short answer is that Dark Messiah is not a good game, but I kind of like it anyways, saying something or other about my tastes. The long answer is that you should keep reading.

This part where you have to escape from a giant worm is bad and frustrating, but look at the obnoxiously bright lighting effects on those lightning daggers! Daggers are the second best weapon in this game, behind your foot.

Dark Messiah is a first person action game with an emphasis on melee combat. It is not, as I first suspected, a more open Deus Ex-like title where I could approach any given situation in whatever manner I chose. The game seems to imply as much, with a simple skill tree allowing you to emphasize in stealth or magic or melee combat. Not really. While I imagine playing through as a mage is viable, inasmuch as the game throws mana potions at you en-masse and the telekinesis spell being sort of overpowered, Dark Messiah is not a stealth game, despite clearly having a place to put points in called “stealth”. As I found, at best, putting points into stealth allowed me to wield the best daggers and occasionally backstab someone when I felt like it. It’s a pretty binary “hide in the shadows” thing, but it’s not great at saying what are shadows and what aren’t, though it’s also worth mention that with all 3 points into stealth and equipping the master thief armor does make stealth almost viable, though by that point the game is almost over and you have since specialized in the secret 4th skill tree: kicking.

Sadly, you can't kick this Paokai to death. You can, however, shoot it with a ballista that I didn't find until after I shot it full of arrows and killed it the hard way.

In 2006, physics in games were still a cool and novel thing, courtesy of Half Life 2. Dark Messiah takes this to hilarious and goofy extremes, running on the Source Engine and deciding throughout “This game has physics damn it and you’re going to notice them”. And notice them you will, with the constant and endless opportunities to press the F key to win. Spikes on the walls? Kick your enemies into them for instant death! Fire on the ground? Kick them into the fire! A section of the game conveniently taking place on the side of a cliff? Kick the suckers right off! It’s ridiculous and is the reason why I kind of like this game despite the actual melee combat consisting of “Use power attacks over and over and occasionally block”. There’s occasionally some bad first-person platforming and some rope arrows straight out of Thief (another plus in my book), but I still spent the vast majority of my time with the game murdering foes with the power of my mighty boot. And really, that was enough to entertain me and my shriveled, cynical heart. It’s not even a Dragon Age 2 scenario where there are a few specific things that I think the game does well in the midst of mediocrity, it’s a scenario where this game is kind of middling all-around and is unintentionally redeemed by one stupid mechanic that is absurdly overpowered. I… I just don’t even know. What does this say about me?

But to close out, the story bears mention as well, once again for the wrong reasons. Ashan, the world that all Ubisoft M&M games take place in, isn’t exactly what I’d call “original” or “interesting”, which is why Dark Messiah playing its plot as deathly straight as it does allows for some unintentional comedy. The game telegraphs its twist so blatantly that if you didn’t guess it you weren’t paying attention, which I will admit is a perfectly viable option. Along for the entire ride is Xana, who is basically a sassier, eviler, far more obnoxious Cortana. Every suggestive quip she makes is groan-inducing and your main character’s comebacks are equally as lame. Maybe I came in with low expectations, but somehow those expectations were met, inasmuch as I found the plot and the accompanying voice acting to be bad and goofy in a way I could get behind, the two words I use to describe this game in a nutshell.

It bears repeating: if you are a regular human you probably shouldn’t play this game, because it isn’t good. The combat is simplistic, the story is hilariously bad and you kind of kick everything to death. However, I'm still okay with playing this game, but only because my heart is black and withered and only capable of feeling things in ironic terms. Well then Comrades, may we meet again at our final victory. All hail Marxist Leninism!

27 Comments