Before we begin this list I think it's fair to mention that I spent at least 50% of my time this year playing two games not released in 2008: Team Fortress 2 and World of Warcraft. I do not regret time spent in either even though there were a lot of great games released this year. I also will mention that as an engineer first and a game commentator second, I have the awesome ability of not having to worry about finishing every game I play. I also missed out on Dead Space, which everyone tells me I'd love. I also did not take part in any of the official game of the year picks so don't look for any insights here. Take my list with a grain of salt.
Metal Gear Solid 4 was hands down the game that totally robbed a full week away from my life earlier this year. Although I have not picked it up since, and likely will not anytime soon, it left the biggest impression on me and like Call of Duty 4 last year stunned me with it's cinematic storytelling. Playing through it was more like witnessing an event then playing a video game.
Left 4 Dead is my favorite multiplayer game this year. Slightly hampered by the silly match-matching the PC version has and my inability to ever find a good team, the is without a doubt the most original take on run and gun multiplayer that I have played in years. It is the only game on this list other then Warcraft that I know I will be sinking a large amount of time on a year from now.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King is a substantial improvement to my favorite game of all time. Looking at my /played time in Warcraft always makes me rethink my game addictions, but then I remember that I do build a game site for a living, so at least it's not infringing on my job :)
Saints Row 2 is my popcorn pick for a year that tried to pull off too many super-serious stories. I'll admit to not being a huge fan of sandbox games in general as I think they trade quality for quality in game play modes but the tight controls in this one took away my normal frustration with the genre. I know this is crazy, but I think it was a better game then GTA4, which was good for other reasons.
Fable 2 is the game that I'm guessing will be higher on this list once I get more time to play it. Let's be honest, RPGs have been getting toned down from their hardcore roots over the past 3 years. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not happy about it. However, if RPGs are gonna get dumbed down, let's hope they go the Fable route rather then the Mass Effect / KOTOR route. Fable 2 has a world that works, is hilarious and makes me want to poke around. At the heart of it, that's what I love about RPG games and it's what Fable 2 did better then any other game in the genre this year.
Gears of War 2 is predictably awesome. It's as good as I expected it would be and a little more. However, where MGS4 was a Metal Gear game that blew my mind, Gears of War 2 was a Gears game that didn't do anything radically different. A slight dig on an obviously awesome game.
The Witcher: Extended Edition is the one game I'm gonna cheat on for this list. Yes, the original was released in 2007, but I never really got around playing it till the updated version came out this year. With an epic story, fun but complicated combat and a huge cast of characters the game is everything that I love about PC RPGs . The sadness in my heart that I don't have a true RPG to point to this year other then expansions or re-releases makes me worrisome for my favorite genre of games in the years to come.
Grand Theft Auto 4 was a great game that I've got a grudge against for some reason. I know this is gonna sound really lame, but the more accurate driving controls really bummed me out. It just felt tedious actually doing things in Liberty City. I loved the story and overall think the game in general was a huge improvement and needed change for the series. Somehow though, either because of the driving or the more methodical gun battles I just didn't have much fun actually playing GTA4.
Chrono Trigger DS is the game I will be playing the hell out of on my trip to Australia. I played through the SNES version years ago and have very fond memories. The UI improvement for the dual screen are great and I'm pretty excited to fall in that time warp again.
Castle Crashers is the most colorful, witty and fun beat-um-up I played all year. I would have easily paid a full $60 bones to witness Dan Paladin's goofy visuals. It's the game I throw in whenever relatives or non-gamers are around.
Despite these great releases 2008 will stand out for me as the first time my list wasn't RPG heavy. That is not due to my tastes as a gamer changing, but due to a lack of solid games in the genre. Fallout 3 was without a doubt the most disappointing game experience I've had since Deus Ex 2. It's a beautiful game with an awesome world that I'll never experience because of my utter dislike and hate of the combat. Don't mistake me for an old-school, turn-based disciple (of which i am, just not in this case) who doesn't like change, it's just that I hate VATs. I think it's the worst game mechanic to come out of modern RPGs.
2008 for me is the year I started to get really worried about the future of deep, complicated RPGs. I hope BioWare, Blizzard or Obsidian swoops in to the save the day, because things are looking grim right now.
I have started to love the japanese philosophy of Kaizen which focus on continuous improvement using small steps. Unlike most big sites, the Giant Bombs dev team likes to push code on an almost daily basis, with a new feature once every two weeks or so.
Today I was looking at the forums and realized that they pretty much looked horrible on lower resolutions (1024 or so). Jeff and I had also previously talked about how many peeps who weren't used to our board style probabaly didn't know we had sub boards because they were looking at the topic names and not noticing the board names on the right.
The solution? Move the board names under the topic itself so you are forced to know where the topic exists. I also removed the underlines on all the links there which in general tends to make a page with lots of links less busy.
In any case I know peeps usually freak out when forums are changed up, so please give me some feedback on the change. If you didn't even notice a difference, even better.
Today was the first day I comitted and pushed code on 4 different sites. It wasn't a hugely busy day, but I figured some people are interested on what it's like working on sites like GB so I thought I'd make a post about it. Here was my day:
9:00 - Leave the house and stop in at 7-11 for coffee. Then proceed to walk to work (I like 5 blocks or so away) whilst thinking about how much work I need to do on the new site we're launching.
9:30/10:00 - Arrive at said office, check my emails and browse my RSS feeds. Attempt to decipher PMs usually sent while I sleep from a country that starts with "The".
10:00/10:30 - Check in with Coonce and brainstorm on his new project, which people here will love.
10:30/11:00 - Check in on ad delivery and make sure our ads are hitting their targets. Test some code Andy wrote yesterday for new ads to be run later in the week.
11:00/11:30 - Fix a bug on GB that caused the video page promos to wrap funny because of a long title name. Fix a bug on Comic Vine that causes the home page to load all funky. It only shows up on one computer in the office, but it happens to be the guy who runs it, so that means it's a real bug.
11:30/12:00 - Realize that it's too close to lunch to start working on the new site, and instead go get some awesome egg/sausage scramble at the local diner. Read a copy of Wizard and lement about my comic book reading habits of late.
12:00 - 12:30 - Put out a fire on political base and blind push a bunch of code I'm not sure about since I haven't edited that site in forevs. Stop in downstairs after and give the dudes the scoop on our dev schedule. Use the oppurtunity to talk with Jeff and Ryan about how excited I am Cammy is going to be in Street Fighter IV.
12:30 - 6:30 - Spend a lot of time trying to lay out a single page on the new site. It's a complicated one similar to the main game page here so it takes some thought.
6:30 - 7:00 - Go downstairs to hang with the guys and marvel that Ryan edits every bad sound spike in the podcast. Chat with Jeff about ways we can make ads not suck for users, but that publishers will still like, then go into the usual routine where he reports hyper-specific bugs or feature requests and I immediately feel guilty I haven't fixed them yet. Attempt to cheer up Jeff by throwing a couple crazy ideas at him instead.
7:00-730 - Chat up Ethan about the new site and feel guilty that I'm not able to work on it as much as I should.
7:30-10:00 - Go home, play some TF2 and catch some election drama whilst drinking a beer or two. Remove a bunch of porn some asshole put on the site (thanks MB), respond to more PMs.
10:00-12:30 - Realize I'm kinda bored and really should be working on that new web site and head back to the office, where I find that Ethan is online doing the same thing from home. We trade compliments/insults at each other over our respective work and I get another big page laid out. I jam the tunes super hard-core since no one else is around.
12:30-1:00 - Watch an episode of Samurai 7, which I'm strangely very much enjoying.
1:00-2:00 - Check the traffic stats for the previous day, which are good. Check GB before I go to bed, get lost on the boards, then decide to write this blog because it might be interesting and I always feel guilty for the Euros that get second dibs on the boards.
Giant disclaimer: I've only played an hour and a half or so of Fallout 3. This is just a quickie impression.
There is little in the way I can describe my absolute love for the Fallout games. For a turn-based RPG nut like myself there are very few moments in gaming where I was more happy then when I was messing with my pip-boy. I loved the setting, the humor, the story and the general breadth of the game. What I loved the most about the series though at the end of the day was the combat. So much so that I consider Fallout: Tactics, the combat focused later game in the series, one of my favorite games of all time. Yes, you heard me right, I love Fallout: Tactics.
So, as you can imagine I've had some big expectations of the game. I was actually very pleased Bethesda got the rights to the brand because I very much enjoyed Morrowind and Oblivion. Morrowind specifically gave me goosebumps when I'd walk into a new town for the first time. Things couldn't be any better...
Today I purchased Fallout off Steam even though I knew I couldn't really play the game heavy until the weekend. The intro level is ok, it reminds me a lot of Oblivion, and to be honest everything about this game feels like Oblivion. That's ok I guess, we knew that coming in. Then I got to the combat... and the cockroachs (are you serious Bethesda, just make them fucking rats why don't you)!
... ... ...
VATS is horrible. Real time aiming with real time missing, even though you are pointing at something is horrible. I know it's an RPG, remember, I'M THE RPG GUY, but sheesh, this is just a tad silly. I'm very very afraid not only will I not like Fallout, but I'm worried this combat system will bother me so much, that I'll become an old man and bitch about the better days of gaming. The days when PC games were released with PC interfaces, not consolified, dumbed down, big font style menus. And the days when an AP system was for... you know... deciding how many things you could accomplish in a turn.
What this game needed if it HAD to be in 1st-Person was a combat system ala Wizardry 8. For those that didn't play that game (many did not) you moved your party of players (all 6 of you I believe) as if you were 1 person in a FPS view. When you'd encounter an enemy, the game would switch to turn-based mode and would play the same as any other TBS game, with the action taking place in the view of that character.
This mish-mash in between shit is very bad. The real time version sucks, and the paused version sucks.
On a positive, the world is obviously Fallout and I could see myself playing through the game even if the combat continues to be this horrible, but right now I'm pretty scared I'm witnessing my worst fears.
I'll report more later, but if you're looking for an RPG vet's opinion... right now I'm a little worried.
No, not Baraka, but Barack Obama. We checked it out and it looks legit. I also noticed when I checked out the page that it had been vandalized (uncool dude). This also brings up the question of whether or not people should be attached to games simply because they show up in ads. My vote would be no, but I'll let the community fight this one out. What do you think? Should a dynamic ad in a game count as a reference in a game?
As an aside, check out Political Base, Whiskey Media's political site / blog. Before Jeff came over, most of us were working on that site. It's got some cool functionality like the ability to view how people in your area contribute to campaigns. For web geeks, you can also see how much our editing system has progressed since those days.
It's funny, I was asked on Bomb Should Have a Face the other week what my favorite game was. I of course copped out and said my favorite game was the Infinity Engine in general and not any specific game. I realize now that I forgot that I do in fact have a favorite game... Freedom Force. Made by the dudes at Irrational Games, Freedom Force is a comic nerds dream. Essentially, realizing they couldn't get a license to Marvel or DC characters the chaps over there instead built the best satire/homage game they could. With characters like Man-Bot and Ant-Man (assume the easy homages) Freedom Force tells the pseudo-story of a wanna be avengers crew circa the golden age of comics. It hosts some of the best on purpose hammy dialogue in video games and enough origin stories to fill a giant-sized annual.
Anyways, that's just the story. The game itself is a squad-based strategy RPG featuring pause-and-go combat similar to the Infinity RPGs but with a way simplified leveling system. Although the game allowed you to create your own hero, I had a lot more fun with the built-in characters that came with their own unique dialogue and abilities. To this day I think Man-Bot is my favorite character ever in video games.
One of the best parts of Freedom Force was the over the top score that liberally stole from 80s cartoons while immediately making fun of the genre. Running through the icy tundra of "Nuclear Winter" with it's Rocky IV style bravado is one of my favorite moments in gaming.
Some peeps have been asking if Andy, Jeff or I plan to finish up our Warhammer series. I'll leave the official answer or review to Jeff if he so decides, but the short of it is that Andy and I quickly dropped warhammer and "went back to wow" (we never really left). I'll try to wrap up the reasons why in a few points for those who are curious.
I will, as in the videos, use WoW as a reference point. I believe this to be fair since the game not only shares a similar playstyle and world, but was directly marketed as a Warcraft killer. Anyone who thinks it's not a fair fight is correct, it's not, but that doesn't mean it's not a directly relevant centerpiece for comparison. I'll also make note that the opinions I have are coming from a person with a fairly unhealthy MMO addiction. Your enjoyment of Warhammer is likely far higher if it is your first serious forray into the genre, or if you havin't experienced what WoW became in a post Burning Crusade world. Warhammer is a perfectly capable MMO and still has the trappings of what makes the genre in general great. Now on to my points...
WoW is inherently a better game due to its 4 year existence. This has allowed it to amass an insane amount of polish that Warhammer can not compete with in its current state and likely never will. Yes, Warhammer has some great new ideas and is being patched regularly and COULD potentitally become a better game. For the moment though, it isn't and is playing a game of catch-up with a much larger development team. It's an uphill battle against a stronger, faster foe.
The combat animations in Warhammer are unpolished and distracting. Put simply, the fighting animations, be it casting a spell or swinging a sword do not match the timed actions a user initiates. This is turn throws off combat tremedously and is not tolerable to hardcore MMO players who are used to polished, quick-response controls in PvP settings. This is something that can be fixed and is a trait far less noticable to people who haven't gotten into high level MMO content. For the moment, this is my current major gripe with the game and the reason I gave up on it so quickly.
Wait times for scenarios are too long. In a game that touts its pvp system and pick up and play ability, having to wait 15-30 minutes for a scenario just isn't very fun. I can pop a BG in WoW pretty much immediately for any of the BGs I choose. Has that always existed? No. It used to be like Warhammer. Does that make me feel any better about Warhammer? No, because at the heart of it, these games are already time sinks and the last thing I want to do is wait around till I can fight. While this might vary server by server, it's just a major turnoff given the alternative of WoW.
Scenarios, and PvP combat in general, seems pretty erratic and boring atm. This one could be due to the fact that players don't have a full grasp of the abilities of other classes yet, but most of the pvp I've experienced in Warhammer scenarios seems all over the place. The maps are almost always semetrical affairs with two groups jousting over a single center position. This means that you have people essentially dying, spawning and running to the middle of the map. To put in WoW terms, scenarios in Warhammer essentially force the incorrect and boring middle ground fights of WSG. By placing your control points on the center of the map, you essentially reward this playstyle. WoW for the most part puts it's capture points at the edges of the map, with spawn points existing on top of the areas you want to control (WSG, AB, AV and EotS all have this) which forces more strategic gameplay. You essentially don't rush to the center of the map, but have to choose to spread out and inherently can't overtake those points unless you are organized because the enemy spawns there. When people just rush to the center on semetrical battlefields you do nothing but force people to the same point EVERY game.
Warhammer has too many classes and it clutters the battlefield. Mythic had this same problem with DAoC. The reality is that a smaller amount of classes lowers the barrier for people to learn how to react in group pvp settings and provides a shared understanding of roles when fighting with strangers. This is something that can obviously be counteracted with time, but I found the sheer amount of classes, looks and styles of the toons I was looking at daunting. Add some unpolished spell effects and it was very hard to tell what characters were doing what. More isn't always better, sometimes more is just noisey. Give me a game like TF2 with a small amount of balanced classes vs. Warhammers variety of unpolished ones.
I personally prefer WoW's art direction and lore. Warhammer looks great. WoW looks great. Both use the same mythology because hey, let's be honest, Blizzard ripped it off a dozen years ago. That doesn't change the fact that Blizzard out Warhammer's Warhammer. The Warcraft world is colorful, bright and filled with variety. The Warhammer world is way more serious. Me, I'll take the laugh-at-itself world of WoW with it's goofyness and cartoon-like atmosphere. I think it's very hard to pull off serious in high fantasy worlds without a very detailed story, which is inherently a weakness of the genre in general.
The mod community is not as mature as it is in WoW. Is this a fair criticism? Well, look at it this way, I play games on PCs whenever I have the oppurtunity over their console counterparts mostly so that I can enjoy post-launch, fan-made content. WoW mods have become a very big part of my effectiveness in that game. Specifically, I would not play WoW if certian mods did not exist and in fact take breaks from the game when major patches break said mods. While Warhammer has a bugeoning community of mod authors, there are modifications that I've grown so used to that not having them in Warhammer severely limit my fun with the game. This obviously has nothing to do with either development company, but I still feel relevant in my own play experience.
WotLK looks to be amazing, Patch 3.0 already is. Whatever good original ideas Warhammer had were quickly shadowed by the 3.0 patch and will in turn be over-shadowed by the full Wrath launch. Fanboyism? Possibly, but that was one hell of a patch. The achievement system alone that was added is possibly the best implementation we've seen in a video game.
Holy shit, where did those 2 hours go? Remember, I'm just a webdesigner, not a professional writer, so don't take this as any sort of review. It's just the opinion of a nerdy MMO player with a lot of experience in MMOs. Flame-suit on!
When we built the guides section we had the hope that users could build better guides if they could work together, add images, photos and tables. Looks like user Lies, pyromaniac and systech proved that to be true. Check out their AWESOME Force Unleashed Mega-Guide.