This sucker isn't going to be attached to the forums, if only because it's not in the formal style of my other blogs and is more just a stream of consciousness-type ordeal. Also because I am offering you stuff and I don't want those forum plebs to know about it.
Kickstarter-funded development is definitely going to blow itself up at some point. There's just no way that something this feel-good (despite a surprising number of naysayers) can last. Because the remake/reimagining/generally maligned object of The Bard's Tale is the daily deal on steam, I've decided to educate myself on what exactly the hell InExile's previous work has been, since I've seen enough of Hunted to know that I never want to play it ever. I think Brian Fargo talks big, and I still put my $15 behind Wasteland 2, but he was in high administration by the time that stuff like Fallout and Baldur's Gate started coming down Interplay's pipeline and cannot be lumped in with the likes of Tim Cain and Chris Avellone. If not anything else, I'm at least expecting an Arcanum-style interesting failure as opposed to a Lionheart uninteresting failure.
Speaking of that, I reinstalled Arcanum. That probably will go nowhere, but if it does, maybe I'll write something up about it. Icewind Dale II is slowly being worked on in between me getting distracted by things that matter and things that don't.
I am done with school in a month. Not having spring break has its perks, though this is kind of bad since most of my classes seem to be bottom heavy as far as multi-hour projects are concerned. On an entirely unrelated note, I've found that I occasionally have trouble concentrating. I say this, not because I'm an attention whore and like talking about my personal life (that's what Facebook is for, and quite frankly I value my internet privacy for as paranoid as it makes me seem at times), but more likely than not it means I'll be able to actually sit down and blaze through some vidya games (and that means hella old RPGs) when I'm done for the day with whatever horrific manual-labor based job I end up getting for the summer. Most of my friends will be gone anyways, and it's not like my parents can get on my case when I'm making money. Summers past have yielded some blogs on some lengthy games, so we'll see what happens here.
I have reached the threshold of League of Legends where I am now playing against people who know what they are doing, and thus am unable to mess around with champions I suck with but think are fun, instead having to resort to champs I am good with. Currently I enjoy rocking Vladimir and Shyvana, though it seems like my AP carry of choice changes with the seasons. Also, my roommate is now level 30 while I am only level 26. I guess him always staying up later than I do adds up.
Now for free stuff. And by free stuff, I mean I will give you the opportunity to purchase a game for only $25 as opposed to $50. Because, for some reason, I got these 50% off Might and Magic: Heroes VI coupons in my inventory. Maybe it's because I pre-ordered the game? I haven't played it since October, but for all its faults I think Heroes VI is at the very least an interesting game and I think it's worth $25.
I'd like to make an interesting contest out of this, but since I'm attaching it to the forums and the number of people who want Heroes VI, or even know what it is is miniscule. Thus, it's first come first serve. If I don't already have you on steam, put your account in the post or whatever.
It only took me 3 months of on-again, off-again playing to do it, but I've finally manged to finish one of the more egregious black spots on my RPG backlog. I've been meaning to do this for some time now, as my impressions blog from mid January shows, but silly things like "School" and "Other Video Games" got in the way and helped contribute to my personal assumption that I am horribly inefficient at actually finishing games. With Midterms out of the way and no other immediate concerns I finally managed to sit down and finish The Witcher, giving me the almighty privilege of writing about it for my tens of adoring fans. This is also good because I can finally attempt to start writing semi-regularly again. But first, let me give you a brief summary of my video game playing from the last two months.
Things that are not The Witcher
Of all the other games I have played recently, aside from the always present League of Legends, the major ones of note seem to be Shadows of the Damned and Dead Space 2. They're both third person shooters with a strong "horror" element, with the difference being that they are practically inverses of each other. Dead Space 2 is, in fact, a game that is very similar to Dead Space. Similar enough that at some point I really couldn't tell you if it was better or not. Much like the first game, it's super polished, it drags something fierce around the middle before coming around at the end, and the actual art of murdering fake "The Many" is still incredibly enjoyable. The story is also still "Isaac! Go here! Uh oh, there's something in the way, so now you have to go here!" Having Isaac talk actually adds nothing to the experience since he is the most generic actionBro you could possibly put in a role like that and in fact I preferred it when he kept his mouth shut (on the plus, he curses whenever he stomps corpses). All in all, a great game and one I heartily recommend... but not on the PC. I experienced the shittiness of EA's DRM firsthand with this one and was unable to play the game until it randomly decided to work. It did look really good on my computer though, so there's that to be glad about.
On the other hand, Shadows of the Damned is not a great game. It's hilarious, bizarre and juvenile in the way that Suda 51 games apparently are (I wouldn't know, though I really want to play No More Heroes now). But the shooting is kind of bad. It's floaty in a way that is frustrating, making precise shots impossible and ensuring that you will kind of just fire wildly (missing far more than you should) instead of focusing on headshots. Which is weird, since Resident Evil 4 and 5 were, among other things, fairly tight as far as shooting went. I also watched all of Gurren Lagann on a particularly self-destructive bender. If we ever want to talk about tonal dissonance in an admittedly great work of fiction, that show is a textbook example. I also watched like 10 episodes of Fruits Basket because I was sick and my roommmate was goading me into it. I do not recommend that course of action unless you are a 14 year old girl who thinks that people turning into animals when they get hugged by Laura Bailey is in any way hilarious.
Things that are The Witcher
With that rather unfortunate revelation out of the way, we turn our internet heads towards the actual subject of what will obviously be a lengthy write-up. The Witcher is a great game with great characters and a great story. It's also about 10 hours too long for its own good and doesn't really show its true colors until halfway through, although when it does it's one of the better RPGs I have played since Dragon Age Origins.
But maybe I should slow down a bit. The Witcher is a RPG released in 2007 by CD Projekt Red, with much hulabaloo on the internets how it is supposedly super rad and is basically proof that you can release a full-on RPG in this modern era capable of achieving financial success. In the current climate of “Hating on Bioware is cool guys”, it is seen as a beacon against games that are dumbed down shooters full of pandering fanservice. To which I respond: Kinda. Saying that The Witcher is some sort of hardcore RPG is like saying that Halo Wars has the depth and complexity of Starcraft. Saying that The Witcher is free from pandering fanservice is a terrible lie, one that can be exposed the second one realizes that cards of naked women are a collectable, which may or may not be equally offensive to me as Bioware's weirdly obsessive focus on your dude romancing non playable characters. And let me tell you: there are a lot of cards. I still maintain that the combat is dull, the mechanics simplistic and needlessly obfuscated (you could finish the entire game without ever realizing that the secondary components of ingredients can be used to make better potions) and the actual quest designs are either based around the Planescape caveat of running back and forth between multiple NPCs or the excessively dull “kill X monster for money and experience that you really don't need”.
In general, I'd compare it to Planescape in that way, although every quest in Planescape was filled with that delicious, delicious writing that made it so great. In general, The Witcher is about 45% fetch quests that act as padding between story segments. It's one of the reasons that I think it would be a better game if it was shorter, and the not amazing minigames of fist fighting (which I never figured out, despite doing all the quests for) and dice poker (It's poker. With dice.) don't really serve as the interesting diversions one would think they are.
But these broad generalizations don't reveal what makes The Witcher great. While it fails to present a great impression until midway through the second act, once it starts rolling it gets a lot better. The grey morality at work is always interesting, with the game usually showing you the consequences of your actions, often in a real gameplay sense. While Geralt is a fixed character whose responses are clearly within a certain range, his choices and moral compass are within the hands of the player. Does one side with the terrorist Scoia'tel, who are trying to fight for their freedom (by murdering all the humans), or does one side with the zealous Order of the Flaming Rose, who may or may not be racist zealots. Or does one just say “Screw both of you guys, I'm not taking a side!” Because you can totally do that too. Giving any more specific examples would spoil the fun, since (like Planescape) the gameplay isn't good enough to hold up on its own. Similarly, the game does a surprisingly good job of establishing a supporting cast that can be helped or screwed over in a menagerie of ways. None of this would be as effective as it is without great writing, which The Witcher definitley has. The voice acting is less consistent, with Geralt's delivery being the kind of hilariously forced emotionless gravel that I find ironically endearing. Still, it never dips into “Early CD Game” territory, so at least we have that to be thankful for.
Other than that, I have to say that I'm pretty sure that the game still looks acceptable (especially considering that it's running on a heavily modified version of the Neverwinter Nights engine), but I wouldn't know from personal experience, as I had to do some out of game tinkering to get it to run on my laptop (which far exceeds the minimum specs) which in turn made me unable to improve texture quality or anti-aliasing. The anisotropic filtering was totally bitchin though, so at least the character models looked nice.
So thus, in order to prevent me from stealing any more of your time (then again, you are browsing a forum, so you clearly don't have much else you need to be doing), I will say this: I think you should play The Witcher. I don't think I personally will give it another playthrough, for as much as the choices make it viable to do so, but I think it's worth at least one of them. And thus, now I leave myself with another RPG out of my backlog completed... which means another one to start playing again. I'm thinking Vampire the Masquerade, or perhaps finishing up the last third of Icewind Dale II. So you can expect a blog on either of those... in 1-3 months.
Believe it or not, I have a half-written blog on my computer that was originally going to be on Might and Magic VIII, which I totally started and finished over Christmas Break, with the hypothetical blog being posted on January 1st. However, after realizing that most of it would involve me ranting about how easy, bland and uninspired the entire affair is, I stopped, since that can be conveyed in only a paragraph or so. It would take something like the sheer mediocrity of Might and Magic IX to end up as blog material, and I'm not sure I have the fortitude to play that game for any extensive length of time. Believe me, I've tried.
Oh wait. What was this blog about again? Oh right.
People tell me that I would like this game, and a good 10 or so hours in, I think they may be right. When/if I finish this game it will get the full length blog it deserves, but I might as well write down my thoughts so far. You know. Page views and all that.
I'm going to start off by giving a less than popular opinion, namely that The Witcher gives a pretty bad first impression. While it still looks good, especially considering that it's running on a heavily modified version of the Neverwinter Nights engine, the opening prologue does a pretty bad job of explaining why you should care about anything that is happening and the actual makeup of the world is only vaguely explained, forcing me to check the codex about what a Witcher actually is. After that prologue (complete with a "this is obviously an important choice" choice) and a few hours in the initial area though, I started liking the game a lot more. Geralt shares a trait with Deus Ex HR's Adam Jensen in that every line he gives is in monotone, but unlike Jensen he isn't an angsty prick. No, Geralt is actually enjoyable in a non ironic way thanks to his "don't take shit from no one unless they're paying you a ton" attitude and I'd like to see how he responds throughout the rest of the game. Sure, I still don't understand how that gets him as many porno trading cards as he does, but I guess in a "Gritty mid-fantasy" world like his not being able to catch syphillis or impregnate someone is a pretty big draw.
Indeed, it is the tone and content of the world of the Witcher that impresses me the way it does. While I could do without the voyeuristic trading cards, mostly because I find them juvenile and just kind of silly (If she has a name and a pair of breasts you can probably bang her for a card that no doubt contains nakedness. Oddly enough, the naked nymph with a boob job you persuade to sex for health reasons is covered up on her card, which I found mildly amusing) I do like the plot so far with its investigation team quality as well as the phiosophising about the role of Witchers in a world where there are fewer monsters to hunt. The writing is good and the voice acting is mostly good, almost in a Planescape Torment kinda way.
What I don't like is pretty simple, as it is what I didn't like with Planescape. I find the combat exceptionally boring and I find the RPG mechanics to be shallow. While CD Projekt should be praised for releasing an actual RPG in a world where only Bioware and Bethesda still matter, I don't find rhythmically clicking the mouse to be challenging or entertaining in the slightest, nor do I think that a skill tree where I will obviously be able to max out pretty much everything is of much import. Maybe I'll warm up to it, but from what I understand it doesn't get great until The Witcher 2 anyways. It's a pity that unlike aforementioned PS:T, there is a decent amount of it.
In any case, I will be playing more of the Witcher, as much as my school work and my crippling League of Legends addiction (which I have managed to rope 3 other guys in my hall into as well as another one who has already been playing for a while) will allow. While I won't make any promises, I will say that I am liking what I have seen so far and am interested to see more. While the much vaunted "grey morality" actually isn't that prevailent, when it does appear it is significant. Do I save this Witch who obviously killed some people or do I defend her from a village of rapists? I figured since I slept with the witch, it'd be pretty dickish to kill her like that. I hope there's more like that in the hours to come.
WIN FREE STUFF?!?!?
Oh yeah. Want a free Steam copy of Disciples II Gold? If you do, write in your response what you think Disciples II actually is and I will give it to the person with the best answer. If you actually know what Disciples II is, you obviously own a copy and therefore know that Disciples III is crap. I would've given it to @CharlesAlanRatliff's giveaway, but I already pledged a copy of X-COM and that's good enough for my karma this month.
[EDIT] Contest Closed. But you can still tell me what you think Disciples II is if you want.
As someone who until recently had a totally garbage computer and not much spending money, I had to make due with whatever old games would come my way. Thanks in no part to Good Old Games, as well as that shady Gamestop downtown, I have been able to play more stuff than I used to, both new and old. That's not to say anything about my free time though, which I probably abuse more than I should.
List is in a particular order, but as always should be taken with a grain of salt because whatever man they're all good. Stuff marked with Asterisks have extra comments below, assuming you are reading the blog and not the list.
This was the year I finally got into Team Fortress 2, and thanks to it I managed to avoid the temptation to spend money on any other First Person Shooters. Even if you are bad at shooting rockets or totally dislike being a heavy because everyone immediately starts shooting you, there are plenty of other classes that one can have fun with and still contribute to the team effort. Plus, now there's loot!
Two F2P games right next to each other? Yep. I have not reached level 30, so I cannot comment on the high level play (and high level douchebaggery) that exists. Otherwise, this game is what sold the DotA formula to me, even if all my memories of DotA are traumatic experiences mostly related to being yelled at back when I was into Warcraft III.
Deus Ex is not without its problems, but honestly those don't detract as much by the end of the game as they do at the start. The shooting is straight up bad, the stealth is similarly questionable, but the ability to approach any situation in any given way and be rewarded for doing so is not something that many other games can claim to have accomplished.
(Tie) As someone who started with SFIV, I can tell you that Third Strike is a very, very slick fighting game and well deserving of the praise it gets. You haven't lived until you have experienced the majesty that is a Sean vs Sean or a Twelve vs Twelve mirror match.
(Tie) I couldn't decide between these two, so they both tie. Don't like it? Too bad. I like CvS2 because of its roster, not necessarily because the fighting itself is super great. It's perfectly fine, with the way you can pick your super meter and subsystems, but its more the part where I can beat up people as both Kyo and Vega that makes me approve this thing
What? You think I'm joking? I'm not. While my enjoyment of this game is around 70% irony and 30% the combat system, it's still enjoyable. Assuming you approach it as flippantly and cynically as I do. If I cared one bit about FFX, I'd probably consider this game to be a travesty the same way you guys do.
Consider this a spot for King's Bounty: The Legend as well, considering they're pretty much the same game. *
Best old game of 2011: Planescape Torment
Honestly, I'd consider this to be a pretty weak number one, as I could switch it with ToEE and feel comfortable with doing so. Unlike Dark Souls, which at some point demanded that it be number one or else it would gank me, Planescape has its share of problems, namely the mediocre combat or the part where on some basic level most of what you are doing amounts to fetch quest after fetch quest. Those detract, certainly, but they don't overshadow the part where the writing is amazing, the characters are likeable, the world is well fleshed out, and the situations you find yourself in are incredibly unique. The game also does a pretty good job of allowing you to play as a neurotic asshole if you so choose, which is different than the standard "murderous psychopath" that seems to show up in games like these as an evil option. (Original Blog)
Second best old game of 2011: Temple of Elemental Evil (assuming fan mods are installed)
You see those parentheses? Those are the caveat that this game has, and the ultimate reason why I decided it couldn't be number one. And specifically, I'm talking about the vanilla version of the Circle of Eight mod as opposed to the new content one, as the New Content actually serves to break the game's vaunted difficulty at a certain point. Hilariously, sure, but once ToEE loses its edge it becomes a kind of shitty D&D game with ho-hum story and generally awkward pacing. The genuine reason this game (almost) wins is the combat, which manages to be pretty great most of the time even when your party is being slaughtered en masse. Whatever. I've written enough. Mento has written enough. Video_Game_King has written enough. If you like older RPGs you should play this game. (Original Blog)
Most annoying minor quirks: Sid Meier's Civilization V
On any level, be it a purely objective level to a more subjective one, Civilization V is the best game in the series by a wide margin, streamlining without really dumbing down and having a technology reader guy who somehow tops Leonard Nimoy. Indeed. What singularly brings this game down is the way it encourages a military victory, pretty much over anything else. At some point in Civ V, you are going to have to go to war. The AI is too erratic to be your friend for any real length of time, and science and culture require a game-wide active attempt at obtaining them. Thus, I feel like even when I'm someone non-militaristic, I figure I might as well go the whole way with an enemy civ and wipe them out before they can attempt to attack my culture cities again, which leads to other civs denouncing me and eventually declaring war on me. A minor complaint yes, but one I feel the need to express one year later.
Most awesome major quirks: Mount and Blade Warband
Mount and Blade, in general, has a lot of serious issues. It's ugly, janky, and the singleplayer is far too bare-bones and open for its own good. And yet, there's a certain charm to it all. I'm not going to pretend that the game couldn't use a more effective interface, perhaps have a bit more direction in how to progress your character, or not look at home among many of 1999s top releases, but the combat is good enough that its easy not to care. The kind of game that can consume a weekend, only for you to realize that you screwed up somewhere along the way and have to reload a previous save.
Most caveat-filled inclusion: King's Bounty series
I say series, because they're basically the same game. Armored Princess has some minor mechanical differences from The Legend, mostly in terms of pacing and character building, but they use the same engine, a lot of the same assets, and still have that enjoyably derivative gameplay. If you haven't figured it out by my icon of the evil skeleton wizard, I am a huge fan of the Might and Magic series and its spinoff Heroes of Might and Magic. King's Bounty blatantly steals a lot of concepts of those games (and more specifically the DOS game King's Bounty, which was basically the precursor to Heroes) and runs with them. And its pretty fun, for the most part. Where King's Bounty gets me is the way that your progression through the game is pretty much artificially tied to your character's leadership stat, as that allows you to field bigger armies. Thus, most of the game is spent going between the different areas, surgically eliminating the monster armies that your army can handle, battle after battle, until you level up and can recruit enough troops to deal with the next largest stacks of enemies. It's a bit of a slog sometimes, but it's also an enjoyable slog. Assuming one experiences it in short bursts.
Stuff that didn't make it on the list but deserves mention
Best Games I haven't finished and therefore will possibly include on next year's list: SMT Nocturne and Icewind Dale II
Really, both of these could be on the main list. I just figured I would make this special category as a way of making it less hard to whittle down to my top 10 (or 11, as the case may be). Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne seems like the kind of JRPG explicitly designed for me. Its astoundingly difficult, especially in comparison to stuff like Final Fantasy X-2. It has a very distinct visual aesthetic, which is backed up by a great soundtrack by the guy who does all the Persona music before he was way into J-Pop and engrish lyrics. It's also astoundingly difficult, which is one of the reasons it has yet to be finished. Ironically, I kind of tossed that fact aside when I was talking about Dark Souls, soooo.... whatever. It's great.
Icewind Dale II is about half-finished at the moment, but I can already tell you that it is probably not as good as the first game. This is for several reasons, the implementation of 3rd edition rules being among them. Listen, I think 3rd edition is way better than AD&D 2nd ed. Temple of Elemental Evil proves that. But the way it's implemented here is awkward. The Infinity Engine clearly was not designed for it, and the actual character building options are somewhat slim. There aren't a whole ton of useful feats or skills, and being that this is regular 3rd edition and not 3.5 a lot of special abilities are of questionable use. Its still fun though, with all the subraces available (guess what guys: Drow Magic Resistance is actually somewhat useful, even if it doesn't compensate for the fact that my Drow Wizard is on average 2 levels behind my sorceress.) and that combat that forces you to micromanage or die. Just perhaps not paced as well as it should be. The reason this game was unfinished was Skyrim, and with that game currently being taken a break from, I will probably try to finish this sucker over the break. We'll see.
Most Civilization-esque game: Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri.
I'm just going to stop here and tell you guys: Yo, this game is like Civ II, but in space. I really appreciate the way the factions are based on philosophy, rather than nationality, as well as the way that you get a quote read to you every time you research something. It still has the things that annoy me about older civ games though, such as the glacial pace, the demanding AI, and the rather un-informative interface. I didn't even know you could change government types until around halfway my second game. Enjoyable nonetheless, especially when you get planet buster nukes, but not something that would crack my top 10.
Most Inoffensively Bland Game: Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader
Never heard of it? Doesn't that video make it sound great (or "great")? Of course you haven't. Lionheart was the last game to be published (not developed) by Black Isle before it went under and spawned Obsidian, which is basically has the same level of talent without the same budget. But I digress. Lionheart is hilariously deceptive about what kind of game it is. The first hour or so can be likened akin to something like Fallout, but in an alternate history version of Spain where there are monsters 'n stuff, even going as far as having the same stats and the same kinds of skills as Fallout. After that hour though, your speech skills will be worthless, your pickpocket skills will be worthless, and from what I understand the rest of the game is pretty much a straight linear hack-n-slash with a generic save-the-world-chosen-one type plot that doesn't capitalize on the unique setting. Ok. I've posted that video like a dozen times already, but I had to do it again. It's just that good. The actual gameplay isn't terrible. It's just not great either.
Seemingly best D&D game that I should possibly play more of: Dark Sun
Once again, I get into some obscure stuff on my internet travels, and that includes Dungeons and Dragon games from the DOS era. While Eye of the Beholder and the Gold Box stuff is arguably pretty well known as far as old games went, its the stuff in the interim between EotB and Baldur's Gate that seems to be forgotten, usually for a reason. While I have yet to play the absolute worst in terms of D&D games, I would need a 3DO for that apparently, I have messed with some of the less good stuff, Menzoberranzan included. What surprised me though, was the Dark Sun game, which features the same kind of tactical turn-based combat reminiscent of what Temple of Elemental Evil does. Also there are bug people who get twice as many attacks per round. That's pretty ballin'. I should really print out a walkthrough or something and actually sit down and play through it, because it actually seems quite good.
Best Open World-ish Diablo Clone: Divine Divinity
Once again, this is more a matter of not playing enough to make a comprehensive judgement than a qualitative assertion. Divine Divinity is far, far better than Divinity II. The Skills actually do things. The soundtrack is great, and yet the open world aspect is somewhat defeated by the fact that it's also really hard. Still, an interesting game to check out. It's half off on GOG, so that means its like $3. So is Lionheart by the way. Sure, you could spend your money on quality products, like all the D&D games or maybe Fallout 1, but why do that when you can buy the RPGs that time has understandably forgotten about. Hell, you should pick up Arcanum while you are at it, because I haven't smack talked that game nearly enough in the present it seems.
EDIT: Most worst baddest not good entirely terrible game of the year. That I beat: Deus Ex Invisible War
Hey guys. What if they made Deus Ex, but then made it for the original Xbox and made it totally terrible? Well, that's what Invisible War is. While it is competent from a basic mechanical level, at least as compared to the first game's dice roll shooting, it's designed way worse. The level design is atrocious, the plot is somehow more laughable than the overly-earnest conspiracy theory mumbo jumbo that the first game consisted of, and the actual character progression is pretty much over halfway through the game. (original blog)
And thus, it ends. Until next year. Or perhaps not?
Alright. I figure now is as good a time as any to put out my GOTY list for this year, as I probably won't be playing any more new stuff for the remainder of December. Unlike last year, I actually played an acceptable amount of actual console releases this time, and not just the downloadable stuff either. List is in order, but as always take it with a grain of salt. I'm particularly bad at numbering things in any specific order, and most of these could probably switch places with one another with very little disagreement.
Anything marked with an asterisk has additional comments below, assuming you're reading the blog and not just the list.
As you may expect, the competition between these two was fairly fierce. Skyrim is, in essence, everything one would want out of a new Elder Scrolls game, without most of the stuff that one wouldn't want out of a new Elder Scrolls game. *
The gunplay may be mediocre, the stealth may be somewhat artificial, but Deus Ex Human Revolution represents a rather logical progression to update the first game into the modern era, without sacrificing what made it good (i.e. The ability to approach any given situation how you would like.) As someone who has played all 3 games in the series this year, this is easily my favorite. Loses points for having perhaps the singular worst Boss Fights this side of Alpha Protocol.
Portal 2, while not some sort of messianic title you people seem to claim it is, is (once again, like practically everything else on this list) more of the previous game, but done better. Indeed, this game is as high as it is thanks to Cave Johnson and Cave Johnson alone, who is by far the best new character this year. Now let's do some science!
I like Fighting games. King of Fighters is a good fighting game. Less crazy than Marvel vs Capcom 3(or indeed, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3), more sophisticated than MK, it is different enough from Street Fighter to be interesting but close enough to be comprehensible.
It took these forums to remind me that Ghost Trick did come out this year. Other than perhaps having too much melodrama for my tastes, Ghost Trick succeeds at being both a puzzle game and having a totally crazy story in the vein that you would expect from the Phoenix Wright team.
Because everyone needs a Dark Horse pick, this one will be mine. Even when I'm not being TOTALLY AND UTTERLY DESTROYED by British people (because the UK servers are the only ones with life in them), I still totally enjoy Frozen Synapse's unique brand of asynchronous Turn Based Strategy. If anyone wants to play, I'd be down.
And now... explanations and special mentions for games that didn't make it on the list:
My 2011 Game of the Year: Dark Souls
It's only been a week since I posted my impressions blog, but yes, this beat Skyrim. Dark Souls is the kind of game that rewards caution when it isn't constantly smacking you across the face. I can't tell you if From Software is genius or batshit insane for making a game where, clearly, everything is the way it is on purpose, but I'm ok with that. The measured feel of the combat, the surprisingly consistent difficulty curve, and the totally bonkers multiplayer all come together to make something that is more enjoyable than frustrating... even if its still hella frustrating. As I said though, have yet to finish it all the way through (because its hard and I can only take so much at any given time). My opinion may change, but I doubt it at this point.
Oh yeah. If someone came up with a theory that this game is a commentary on repetition and failure in the human existence, I'd totally believe them.
My not-2011 Game of the Year: Skyrim
In essence, Skyrim is everything I wanted it to be. A progression from Bethesda's previous works, taking what worked and tossing what didn't, it is at least a few steps above Oblivion and Fallout 3 mechanically, if not structurally. However, since nitpicking things people really like is the cool thing to do, I might as well mention that it doesn't peak as high as Oblivion in terms of quest design. Certainly, the Daedric Shrine quests are all some variation of amazing, but the questlines themselves are noticeably shorter and filled with more procedurally generated stuff than the previous title. There are like what, 3, Dark Brotherhood missions that aren't the generic "Kill dude here" stuff? Then there's my problems with the difficulty, and how remarkably easy the game gets once your stealth is high enough, even on Master. These are just small things though, and don't really detract from how amazing and impressive this game is.
Best Downloadable Title: Bastion
If there wasn't a narrator, Bastion would still be a very good character action game type thing with an isometeric perspective and a great visual aesthetic. What brings it up however, is the inclusion of the Narrator, who's very pronounced style of speaking and narration actually contributes to a story that, above all else, surprised me with how much I cared by the end, not to mention that ending, which actually caused me to agonize over which choice to make. I look forward to seeing what Supergiant puts out next for sure.
Most Apologetically Present Game: Dragon Age II: Dragon Harder
It must say something about me and my tastes that I'm willing to put my least favorite Bioware game (that I've played mind you. No Sonic RPG here) since Jade Empire on this list, even if I still don't like Jade Empire more. But whereas the internet was on Bioware's side back in 2005, it isn't here. Dragon Age II is the sequel to my favorite game of 2009, a game that I straight up consider to be Bioware's best work since Baldur's Gate 2. But whereas Origins will likely be remembered as a classic, DA2 will likely be remembered as a disappointment, rightfully so.
Then why the fuck is this even on this list, if I still admit to it being a screw up on most levels? Because I still like the parts where it isn't a screw up, perhaps more than I should. I consider most of the supporting cast in DA2 to be some of Bioware's best, and they do a good job of making them interact with the world, your current situation, and each other. I also find the combat to be just as good, even if it is more blatantly MMO-ish in its structure and enjoys making the combat hard by throwing waves of reinforcements at you rather than making the initial wave super challenging. Those aside, the main story is a trainwreck. Not because of the presence of Hawke, something that I have no problem with, but more the way it doesn't exist for the first 15 hours, then gets crazy, then gets incredibly, utterly, entirely stupid and not in a FFX2 way of something I can get behind. I feel like I could go on and on discussing the faults, but I'll suffice to say: This game is on my list and I like it more than I probably should. Sorry internet.
Most personally conflicting game: Might and Magic Heroes VI
Like Dragon Age II, I probably like Heroes VI more than I should. It has a lot of interesting ideas that shake up the game in some major ways, and they work quite well for the most part, but I'm not sure if they actually make the game more fun or not. After writing that Heroes VI blog, I went back to the previous games, namely III and V, and realized that yep, they're probably more fun. That's not to say that this game doesn't still have its chance. Mind you, Heroes V didn't become great until its second expansion, so I'm hoping that something like that happens here. Maybe they can fix the AI while they're at it too.
Stuff that didn't make it on the list, but is still worth mentioning
Game number 11: Mortal Kombat
After deciding that I really did like Frozen Synapse that much, MK had to be axed, unfortunately. It deserves its kudos for being the only fighting game with a single player worth playing for reasons other than "unlocking everyone", having something resembling an interesting story that is miles ahead of the crazy nonsense stuff like King of Fighters or Blazblue seem to vomit out on regular occasion. It's not art, by any means, but it's still better than most video game stories, which is sad in a way. Where it falls apart is the actual fighting, which I find perhaps a little too stiff for my liking, but I guess its still enjoyable overall. As a bit of a sidenote, I bought this game to distract myself from a rather malicious rejection that I had suffered from a girl I liked at the time. It worked. Mortal Kombat > Female Companionship?
Most inoffensively bland game: Divinity 2 The Dragon Knight Saga
Divinity 2 has its heart in the right place. It wants to be an epic adventure of epic proportions. It just lacks the budget, the talent, and the design to get it there. What you get instead is something that feels rather Singleplayer MMOish in its quest design, with skills that don't really feel any more powerful when you put points into them and enemies that always seem to be a little stronger than they should be, not to mention somehow making being a dragon the least exciting part. It also tries very hard to be funny on occasion (it isn't), and tries to convey a story that the player might ostensibly care about (nope). Personally, I'd rather play its poorly named predecessor: Divine Divinity instead. Or maybe Two Worlds 2. I didn't play enough to make any sort of serious judgement, but it seemed better than this from what I played of it.
Most Minecraft-like game to not actually be Minecraft: Terraria
I have no real interest in playing Minecraft. I'm sorry. If I wanted to play with Legos, I would go back home and get out the tupperware bin containing all of them. That being said, Terraria offered a similar experience for a lower price, in addition to being slightly more game-y. Still, I had my fill after about a week, so I'm totally cool with never playing it again.
Best game to be like a game that is on my other GOTY list, but is less deserving and therefore not on this one: Mount and Blade With Fire and Sword
When I eventually release my other GOTY list to the public (Best of 2011 that didn't come out in 2011), Mount and Blade Warband will probably be on it. But, being the fool that I was I bought the entire series even though they're literally all the exact same game. What makes With Fire and Sword worse than Warband however, is the inclusion of muskets. Muskets suck all the way, both from a giving and receiving end and manage to make the otherwise chaotically enjoyable multiplayer significantly less fun when you are being one-shotted by some german dude halfway across the map, not to mention the singleplayer where a single lucky shot to you can ruin the entire battle. Still fun, and probably would be on this list otherwise if it were not for the presence of a superior title that already exists.
Most Pokemon-ass Pokemon Game: Pokemon Black and White
You people. You people. How can you justify this game? I had my fill after around 5 hours, because apparently that's all I can take without the nostalgia of Gold and Silver keeping my interest. I'm not interested in any of the metagame shit, because I'm not crazy and because I apparently am not on a college campus where people are way into pokemon for semi-ironic reasons. Without that, all I find is a game that is disgustingly similar to previous games. Very little, if none at all effort has been made to streamline or otherwise mix up the mechanics from the structure established 17 years ago (because Japan got Red and Green in 1995). I'm totally cool with Skyward Sword being another Zelda game (if only because the general consensus is that its better than Twilight Princess), and may even ask for it for chirstmas. But these games? Nuh uh. No. Why. Why do you do these things.
Oh yeah. 5 Internet Dollars this is the paragraph I get the most crap for. Not the Dragon Age II one
That's it for now. I guess. You can expect my other list next week, when I am done with finals and am heading home for the holidays. Until then.. bye?
I play old games sometimes. But this blog isn't about those. We could discuss how I find Lands of Lore surprisingly decent from what I've played so far, or how Icewind Dale II continues to be a game that I probably should complete. Or even how that "Mod the everliving hell out of Oblivion" project will actually be put into effect (man, installing those things is a hassle) maybe at some point sometime. But no. We're talking about the thing that's been distracting me from both school work and those other things, that being of course... King of Fighters XIII. And Banjo Kazooie Nuts and Bolts. Oh. And that Dark Souls game too. But since I've already said my fair share about N&B on these forums, and also how the last time I talked about Fighting Games it ended in horrible disaster, we'll talk about the super hardcore RPG type thingy from the people who brought you Lost Kingdoms and its sequel, games I'm pretty sure only I remember. Honestly, if I ever were to track copies down, I'm sure I could do a pretty good "Ruining my Childhood" on those. They were probably terrible, weren't they? Alas, to be the kid who only had a Gamecube and who's selection was limited by what Blockbuster had in stock at the time.
So Dark Souls is pretty cool.
When Demon's Souls came out, I was fairly intrigued by the game everyone called "The most hardcore punishing hardcore RPG bro!" But, not having a PS3 I never got to experience what many considered to be one of the best games of 2009. Thus, I was fairly excited when Dark Souls was announced, because that meant I too could get my fair share of sadi-masochistic RPG grind. And thus, after borrowing my friend's copy and playing for around... 7-8 hours, I can probably write what I've been experiencing so far. I've gotten to the Darkroot Basin, by the way, so don't think I'm still in the opening area.
The internet is a big help.
Believe it or not, but watching the Dark Souls Quick Look and the second half of the "Welcome Back Tricaster" party was absolutely paramount for my success so far. As far as I can tell, the real difficulty in this game comes not from the way enemies can totally work you if you let them, but from the flow and restriction of information. Those videos helped me with some pretty fundamental stuff, like how you should have your shield up at all times or how rushing into things is a great way to die. They also help in another way, those Tricaster videos in particular being a great showcase of the game through the Undead Burg. Knowing the way to get through that gives one a general idea of how to approach the rest of the game, without giving away any specifics. In other words, I appreciate the hand-holding the interwebs has afforded me.
That being said, I think I'm going to be relying on the internet sparingly from now on. Now that I know the fundamentals, I figure I should experience what the rest of the game has to offer through the game itself rather than slavishly devoting myself to a walkthrough or wiki, and that means taking my information through the (mostly) helpful messages left by fellow players. Oh, certainly I'll still check occasionally to figure out where I actually have to go, but knowing exactly what I'm in for doesn't seem nearly as exciting as getting beat up by enemies far too strong for me to handle.
As of this writing, I have only had 3 separate encounters with other players, all with generally positive outcomes. The addition of other players significantly mitigates the difficulty, as someone you are going with will hopefully know where to go and what to do. Indeed, those Gargoyles are hilariously easy when you have 3 separate dudes whaling on them with Drake Swords (the Drake Sword is kind of broken, by the way). However, because of the way the multiplayer works, in that you need to be in close proximity to other players regardless if you are the host or the helper, it clearly seems like a rare benefit rather than a crutch, or indeed a mechanism to play the entire game co-op with other people.
In addition, on my roommate's game I used a cracked red eye orb to invade some other guy's world. This was also satisfying, because he clearly didn't know what he was doing and mostly rolled around while I hit him a bunch. After killing him and stealing his humanity, he sent me a message saying “Suck my Dick”. I responded with a smiley face. Oh Xbox live. You never fail to impress. Now I need to find those orbs in my game, because I want to do horrible things to other people through invasion of force. I have yet to be invaded myself obviously, mostly because staying human for any given length of time is an accomplishment unto itself, and I accidentally attacked the merchant who sells humanity.
Dark Souls is also frustrating.
It's true. Even knowing what to do in certain circumstances does not prepare one for the raw amount of hate From Software has produced in this particular game. There is nothing quite as demoralizing as losing a large amount of souls or hitting a brick wall like I have with the hydra in the Darkroot Basin (My current solution to this problem? Grind safer areas to get arrows, find safe spot that isn't hit by hydra's water blasts, then kill the majority of the heads with the bow). Dying, and knowing that for the most part your death was clearly because of a mistake you made is an interesting sensation. I've already been dealing with plenty of frustration in my real life, and yet in some way the pettiness of this, this video game made for amusement, is so much more tolerable than it might otherwise be. Bah. Enough philosophizing. Me gusta el Videojuego. That's spanish.
Believe it or not, I may be starting to burn out on Skyrim. This is not the game's fault, by any means. It's great, if the internet hadn't told you already. No, it's clearly my problem, and in order to avoid total overexposure, I might as well try something different. And by something different I mean "Mod the everliving hell out of that copy of Oblivion I bought during the Midweek Madness sale and write something up about it". The intent here is to install as many dumb/awesome mods that don't conflict as possible, and then write a blog comparing that experience with my vanilla Oblivion experience as well as the 45 hours I have sunk into Skyrim so far.
This is where you come in. I totally hate navigating these mod sites and figuring out what may be worth messing with and what may not, not to mention the level of paralysis involved with choosing between so many of them. What I want as an end result is a game that only barely resembles regular oblivion every way shape and form. I figure if some of you can stop playing Skyrim for a second and help me out, you to can feel the happiness of knowing you have condemned me to some sort of awful mish-mash of great and terrible nonsense all for the sake of internet journalistic expression. I may take your suggestions, I may not, and instead just finish up Icewind Dale 2, but in any case I'd like to see what the internet can help me with.
Oh yes. This is what I spent my time doing, during my wait for Skyrim. While, as a full disclaimer, I have not finished Final Fantasy X-2, I'm currently distracted by school work and Skyrim (oddly enough, those things don't mix especially well), and therefore figure I should write what I have done, and I think after around 20 or so hours, I have seen most of what this game has thrown at me from a mechanical perspective, and any or all remaining story points have been discovered through the use of youtube and wikipedia. Honestly though, I'm writing this blog for no other reason than to justify the time I have spent with this game, time that could've been spent doing the essay that I am currently blowing off by writing this piece, ironically enough.
People who have been following my writing on this site know that JRPGs are not my forte, with most of my favorite titles in that genre being well-known SNES-era stuff, like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger. While I have mined the deepestdarkestdepths of obscurity as far as CRPGs are concerned, the last JRPG I beat was Persona 3 FES when the endurance run was going on 2 years ago. I've played other stuff more recently, obviously. Pokemon Black is still pokemon to its own detriment, and Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne is still hard (but yes, I will finish that at some point too), but I have oddly never had much interest in ever playing any of the games in the Final Fantasy franchise from the PS1-forward for any length of time. Chalk it down to me not having a PS2 until 2 years ago, my extreme aversion to Nomura's character designs, the obnoxious, unlikable characters that inhabit those designs, or this, but that has always been a series that has never seemed like it was for me... until now?
In some way, yes. Final Fantasy X-2 is the perfect, post-SNES Final Fantasy game for me, and I like it far more than I honestly should, given that its extremely stupid. While I think that the stories of all FF games are, on some level, excessively stupid self-pleasuring melodramatic nonsense that would only appeal to 13 year old wannabe otakus*, the general stupidity of FFX-2 extends beyond even that in a manner that I still have trouble deciding how self aware it actually is. It's an odd thing, whereas everything about Final Fantasy X makes it seem like something I would rather shoot myself in the foot than actually play*, Final Fantasy X-2 goes so over the top that it devours itself and instead becomes a gold mine of ironic enjoyment, and being the sad, cynical young adult I am, this stuff is like candy. Irony candy. Mmmmm...
*: The prior statements were hyperbolic in nature and used for literary effect. Please don't hurt me.
For the uninformed, I am of course referring to the game's blatant use of delicious, pandering fan service in favor of anything resembling a coherent plot. The protagonist in this one is Yuna, who I am to understand was the "Tragic Love Interest" of the last game. Except now she wears hot pants and searches for magical spheres that change clothing! Did I mention that the game starts with her singing a nonsensical J-Pop song at a concert? Joining her is resident jailbait Rikku and "She wears black if you're into that kind of thing" emo lady Paine. While people who actually like Final Fantasy X weren't a fan of how some of the returning characters are portrayed in this game, I am not one of them and therefore cackle with sociopathic glee every time one of the characters acts stupid or does something stupid that no actual rational human being would actually do. This is reflected in the plot, which doesn't actually reach its main thread until a little less than halfway through, and even then the length of the game seems (so far) entirely dependent on how much side stuff you can deal with. This side stuff, consisting of such dramatic moments as "Catching a chocobo" and "Scalping for concert tickets" basically comprises half the length of the game from what I understand. I could really go on about this forever, as there is far too much in this game to mock or deride. Needless to say, if you want the long and short of it, either play the game yourself or watch some of the cutscenes on youtube. Really, it speaks for itself.
Of course, what also speaks for itself is the actual gameplay. Final Fantasy X-2 basically uses a modified version of the job system from Final Fantasy V, a game that I am an apologist for (in that I apologize that you don't like Final Fantasy V as much as I do). Hell, I'd probably play the international version of Final Fantasy XII for that reason because it has the same thing. It's perhaps irrational, considering that the job systems in those games are never balanced especially well and as a result are easily min/max-able with worthless jobs like Bard and Dancer thrust to the wayside in favor of your Ninjas and your Blue Mages. Same goes here, in that you want your three ladies to basically fulfill the roles of Support, Magic, and Attack and the various permutations thereof, but really only have to use half of the jobs presented. The battles themselves are fast paced and enjoyable in that JRPG fashion, though coming off of SMT nocturne there isn't a ton of strategizing actually needed most of the time. However, the delicious fanservice creeps in here with the various (often revealing) outfits that our protagonists wear depending on their job. Perhaps most deliciously though is the unskippable 30 second clip of your ladies changing their clothes, Sailor Moon style, EVERY TIME you change a sphere in combat. Yep. EVERY TIME. Maybe if I watched more creepy harem anime I would be used to this kind of nonsense, but since I haven't I can do nothing but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.
So, in conclusion, Final Fantasy X-2 is trash. What kind of trash is it? Well, for me it is the best kind of irony: Nonsensical girly fanservice combined with a battle and character progression system I actually enjoy. Kind of like how I feel about Kingdom Hearts Obviously, if you were an actual fan of Final Fantasy X and weren't approaching this in the most flippant way possible, I could see why you find it to be the other kind of trash. Once again, I enjoy this game far more than I have any right to, despite the fact that it's full of dumb, pandering ass shots, an aimless plot, and some of the more egregious examples of pointless mini games in any video game. Oh snap, I never did mention the Massage mini game, did I? Well, there is one. And there's also an entirely optional, entirely pointless hot spring scene complete with lesbian undertones.
What have I learned from all of this? I clearly need to go on more dates. Oh well. Skyrim awaits!
At the end of the day, if you had to make me nail down any given franchise as one I could talk endlessly about with no real rhyme or reason, it would have to be... Fire Emblem? Yes, oddly enough, Intelligent Systems' hardcore strategy franchise is one I would probably internet murder you for talking shit about while also having far more to say than you, despite the fact that as a fan of the series I am far too aware of the flaws of each individual game. Not far behind that however, is New World Computing's Might and Magic series, as well as its spinoff: Heroes of Might and Magic, a series of titles that are no doubt partially responsible for my tastes in hardcore CRPGs and Turn Based Strategy respectively, not to mention being the source of two of my user icons. That being said, one could make an argument for both Might and Magic properties taking a steep turn downward around the turn of the century, which of course was compounded by 3DO's dire financial situation. While I made an appeal for Heroes IV earlier this year as "An interesting game with interesting ideas that are executed reasonably well", I don't think anyone is going to be surprised that I consider Might and Magic IX to be an unfinished bland mess of a game with very few redeeming qualities other than the fact that on a basic level it's still the same kind of game as VI and VII... just done rather poorly. Then 3DO went out of business and Ubisoft bought the rights.
And so here we are... 8 years later and Video Games are in a much different place. So too is the Might and Magic series. After getting off to a shaky start with the vanilla version of Heroes V and Orc Kicking Simulator 2006, it is my opinion that the expansions for Heroes V made it a much more interesting game and helped it establish its own identity instead of just being a prettier Heroes III. Even Clash of Heroes and that F2P MMO (recently given an excellent write up by our very own party cleric, Ahoodedfigure) are probably a lot better than they have any right to be, as things that were no doubt thought up in a marketing session. That being said, we're now talking about Heroes VI, which in addition to being victim to a questionable rebranding on Ubisoft's part as well as being featured on a TNT segment only a crazy person like me would like, also perhaps makes some of the most radical changes to the "lead armies of dudes around a map and kill things in tactical fashion" formula since previous RUINED FOREVER candidate Heroes IV. Except all the changes are pretty much the exact opposite. Is it worthy of its place in the franchise? Or is it as terrible as dark corners of the internet would have you believe? Well, assuming you weren't scared away by either of these paragraphs, let me tell you!
The answer is... complicated. Even after 25 hours of play, I'm still not entirely sure where I stand on certain aspects of MMH VI (Somehow, that abbreviation seems wrong to type. It's still HoMM to me dammit!). However, since I need to play through 3 more faction campaigns before finishing the main story, I figured now is as good a time as any to write down my thoughts. On it's own merits, Heroes VI is probably a pretty good strategy game, bordering on great. Ok. That was easy. In a lot of ways, it's clearly trying to be a far more strategic game than it has been in the past. You can now build your hero pretty much however you want within the restrictions of their class with none of the randomness inherent in the previous games, which is probably for the best, since in Heroes V all it took to prevent your campaign heroes from getting their ultimate skill was one bad level up. This actually works pretty well, especially in the context of a consistent profile that lets you bring your heroes into one-off skirmishes against AI or other players. There's also the concept of "Controlled Zones" where if you want to obtain the resources in a particular area, you have to capture the fort or town controlling it. Again, an interesting change that seems directed at the entirely viable tactic of using scout heroes with no purpose other than to steal opponents' mines. This, along with the increased importance of each resource (the count lowering from 7 to 4) and the way you can convert towns and forts to your factions all give the impression that Heroes VI would be a pretty great competitive multiplayer game...
But of course I haven't actually played any MP, so I wouldn't know. There's an extremely small 1v1 map that seems tailored for quick >1hr matches, so maybe I will have to check that out at some point with a friend over hotseat, but, like Heroes V I haven't made an earnest effort to try the Online Multiplayer. Unfortunately, I'm still using the same e-mail address that I had when Heroes V came out, and thus is still tied the exact same stupid username I used back in the far flung year of 2006, before ArbitraryWater showed up as one of the "recommended" Xbox Live profile names and I started using that for everything. Want to know what it is? Deadguy 118. If that doesn't scream "I am an underage user if my typing didn't give it away", I don't know what does. And that hearkens back even further than that, considering I remember using that name for Warcraft III and Diablo II back when I was just getting into playing games online. I must've been... 11 at that point. Wow. I am old.
So anyways, getting back on track, the AI in this game is not very good. Not the "Mentally Handicapped to the point of hilarity" AI of Heroes IV, but there is a certain predictability to the way that the AI acts, even moreso than Heroes III and V. They'll try to sneak up on your unguarded forts and towns, but the second you town portal to get them, they town portal away like the cowards they are. Thus, I found it pertinent to always have a hero with a decent sized army just sitting around to detract any stragglers while my main hero murders everyone else. This is even more clear in the actual battles (especially siege battles), where with the right spells and manuevering, it's easy to crush a superior force without many losses. Of course, it's also way easier to obtain reinforcements, due to the abundance of healing units and spells (seriously. Necropolis is the worst/best in this regard. Regeneration, Life Drain and their racial healing ability make dealing with their otherwise lackluster troops far more difficult) and the way you can just recruit all creatures in one lump group. This, once again, favors an aggressive player, since the AI doesn't go after your territories unless it has an abundance of superior numbers. It still does its job, but it doesn't do its job especially well. Consider me underwhelmed in that regard.
At least the campaigns are designed in such a way as to not always immediately showcase these AI inadequacies, because the campaign missions are quite good. Unsurprisingly, the story is exceptionally dumb, but it's a testament to Ubisoft's dumb lore that I recognized callbacks to the rest of their games that also use their dumb lore. It's at least a step above Heroes V, who's campaign was tragi-comedically stupid in the way that a game developed by Russians and published by French people can only be. The missions themselves are varied and interesting enough that I want to finish the other campaigns after finishing the Inferno and Necropolis ones. It also goes without saying that the voice acting is hilariously bad. Especially in the Naga campaign, being that the Naga are the token "Generic Asian Mysticism" type race. Only with Snake People.
So I guess, the last question is: What do I think of any of this? I actually like Heroes VI. I'm not sure if it will hold a place in my heart the same way that the other games in the series do (ok, not Heroes 1. That game is lame), but it's a game that could potentially fix a lot of my misgivings in any sort of expansion. And hey, it's at least not the horrible trainwreck that Disciples III is. Ugh... oh geez. Icewind Dale II blog coming soon. Oh, and the soundtrack is pretty great too.
So it's fair to say that I've played enough of Temple of Elemental Evil to blog about it. Again. This most recent playthrough was obviously spurred on by the silly faux competition I started when I gifted Video_Game_King and Mento copies of ToEE because "It was dirt cheap and I wanted some entertainment". Obviously, that $5 that I spent on two copies of the game has already reaped dividends in that regard. Being that this isn't any sort of serious review blog (Icewind Dale II blog. Coming... soon-ish?), I figure we can all chillax and I'll just tell you about the weird stuff that stood out to me the second time around with the fan content version of the Circle of Eight mod. But first: A diatribe.
On D&D Paladins
Of all the classes in basic D&D, my least favorite would have to be the Monk. They're meant as some sort of hit-and-run DPS style class, except that they have lower HP, Lower AC, and generally lower damage output than just a fighter with a stupid big sword. Bards are also pretty lame, but the BG2 blade kit was cool so I will give them a pass. However, that being said, I think the weakest class in regular 3rd edition D&D is the Paladin, easily. While other non-fighter combat classes, such as the Ranger and the Barbarian, are known for their specialization (the Ranger becoming a much more interesting class in the transition from 3.0 to 3.5 and the Barbarian being the "Hit things really hard" class), the Paladin just feels like a concept of a character class that someone forgot to make powerful. Their abilities stink, to say the least, especially in the context of a video game. Detect Evil is generally pointless, and Lay on Hands is something that a low-level cleric can do better just by casting a spell. Thus, they are left with their Charisma based skills (Smite Evil basically being a milquetoast way to inflict like 3 extra damage per hit, although the bonus to saves is certainly nice). From a multiclassing perspective, they're not really allowed to do so, and from a Roleplaying standpoint they have a fairly strict, fairly lame code of morals to follow. Thus, you are left with a fighter type class that, while still competent at hitting things, doesn't have much else to offer besides some rather gimmicky abilities. They certainly pale in comparison to their Video Game counterparts, that's for sure. The Diablo II Paladin was the best.
"But how does this apply to CRPGs?" you might ask. Well, let me tell you. Generally speaking, the only reason to have a paladin in your party in any given D&D game is because the best weapon in the game (inadvertently a longsword), will always be of use only for paladins. So, while you may have to deal with leveling up slower (in the case of 2nd ed), or not having any of the extra feats or multiclassing abilities of a vanilla fighter (3rd ed), you can at least have a pretty cool sword that you find 3/4ths through the game that is like +7 or something (seriously. Pale Justice in IWD1 was a +7 sword). However, that said, in both of the 3rd edition D&D games I have played recently, the game decides to heap roleplaying restrictions on the player as a way to make choosing a paladin that much less appealing. Specifically, in Icewind Dale II, Paladins will refuse quest rewards (along with monks, so screw those guys too), and there is a sequence in the game that is apparently that much harder when you have a pally in your party. Similarly, in ToEE there are several ways to make your paladin "fall", which makes them lose all their abilities and literally just become a fighter without the cool feats. These include: participating in drinking contests, doing interesting sidequests for the various Temple factions, and recruiting morally dubious party members. So basically all the cool stuff. If you couldn't tell, I had a Paladin in my party this time around. I didn't make that mistake for IWD2 though.
On Fan Content and Item Creation Feats
I also played Temple of Elemental Evil with the New Content mod, which features several additional sidequests meant to be more exciting and varied than the game's general fare. Indeed, the first one of these actually has the virtue of bringing your party up to level 2 so you don't have to do as many dumb fetch quests in the initial town. However, this has one major, major, major drawback that I don't think the creators entirely intended: You get far more items and XP than should probably be allowed. This leaves your party at a higher level (my group being level 7 or 8 when entering the titular temple, when in the base game you'd be lucky to be level 5 ish), and when combined with generally broken Item Enchantment (You can enchant overpowered weapons and will totally have the spare cash and XP to do so), actually has the weird side effect of turning the endgame of a CRPG I previously deemed "Really, really, really hard" into something resembling a hilarious steamrolling massacre. Rest after every encounter? Poppycock! How about I just clear out the entire 4th floor of the temple without resting instead? My +3 Holy Flaming Freezing Keen *insert character weapon here* can murder a few more bugbears today. I admit, I have yet to finish it, but if I can deal with the high priest and a couple of giants, I can deal with that Balor in the fire node. I don't need to keep playing to tell you that.
The fan content itself is well made, for what that's worth. Obviously they're using modified versions of assets that are already in the game, but some of the things they have done are quite impressive. One of the later areas is the entire city of Verbobonc, which while an unfortunate amalgamation of fetch quests and "Not especially hard" battles against drow, is impressive enough in scale, at least for a game that has exactly two dungeons. It's a pity that this nerfed difficulty actually makes the game worse, since that was such an integral part of the base game in the first place. It's not even funny.
I'll keep this brief, but I do like what I've seen of the Persona 4 Anime. While the first episode was fairly, but understandably rushed, considering they're condensing 90 minutes of exposition into a 25 minute episode of TV. The second episode fares much better however, as Charlie Yu actually talks more than 3 times and the pacing is notably less harried. I'm interested in seeing where this series goes, even if as a fan of the game, I can't really tell how it would be perceived by someone who doesn't have any understanding of the source material.
On a related note, I saw Evangelion 2.0 yesterday. Enjoyed it, and the way it goes off the rails in a potentially even more insane direction. Honestly, I don't even understand why I enjoy a franchise as self-indulgent (if not straight up pretentious) and oft incomprehensible as EVA, but there's something about the batshit insanity and strangely nuanced characters that appeals in a bizzare way. Whatever. This blog isn't about anime. If I wanted to talk in great detail about that, I would've made an account on AnimeVice.