Welcome, one and all, to the latest, greatest Sparky's Update since... well... the last Sparky's Update! I'm all hopped up on a pumpkin spice cappuccino, so before the caffeine and sugar rush gives me a heart attack, let's jump in and bullshit about dem games, huh? Huh?!? I can't hear you! Sound off like you've got a pair!
That's more like it. OK, for the last couple of weeks, I've been dividing my time between Wild ARMs 3 (which you can read about in last week's Retrospective), Torchlight II (surprisingly meh), and SolForge (oh my God, I can't quit, someone help me). I've also been playing the shit out of a delightful little gem on the iPad called Giant Boulder of Death, which I'm going to tell you right now is one of the best little wastes of time you can find on there. And it's free!
I posted this and forgot to add a section regarding Forza Horizon's 1000 Club. Whoops! Let's do some editing magic and get that wedged in here somewhere. Now where would be a natural fit? Hmmm.
Horizon's Neat But Utterly Pointless Experiment
A while back, Forza Horizon added a free DLC pack called the 1000 Club. Essentially, it adds some small, optional challenges you can complete for every car in the game. Sounds neat, and it is. Sort of. Except it's not. Mostly.
The problem isn't so much with the challenges themselves. They test small bits of your skill in regards to speed, handling, drifting, or the like. That's all fine and good, and some of them are even fun. But aside from achievements and potential rewards from the too-little, too-late Forza Rewards that was just launched a couple of weeks ago, there's absolutely no point in doing them. They don't reward you with more money, experience, or fame (aside from the fame you'll gain from doing tasks already associated with building fame, such as drifting or attaining a certain skill score). And continuing in the vein of the game's appalling DLC (which featured cars ripped directly from Forza 4, most of which were openly available sans DLC in that game), you actually need to have purchased most of the game's DLC in order to gain the achievements for the 1000 Club portion of the game.
So, there you have it. A continuation of the evils of DLC in a Microsoft-backed game. Who would have guessed, right?
SolForging a Pretty Awesome Game
I've mentioned SolForge numerous times, and I'm fairly active on its boards here on Giant Bomb. Feel free to skip this if I've gushed on too much about it already. I never got into collectible card games as a kid. I live in a tiny, backwoods community where stuff like Magic and D&D is still pretty much frowned upon as too geeky, too devil-worshippy, and too weird. Games of Magic were limited to a couple of guys in my high school playing in a computer lab at lunch - and trust me, they weren't the sort of guys you wanted to be caught with if you wanted to get in the pants of anything female in that school. And so, I never joined them, content to, you know, have awkward underage sex instead of getting into a new hobby. I did collect pen and paper Rifts RPG books, but only to read rather than play.
Fast forward into adulthood. I met a few great people along the way who loved CCG's, but I never really sat down with them to play. I was certainly interested in the games (Magic's artwork sure was purdy), but cost and the intimidation of starting a game people had been playing for years were prohibitive. Of course, this is slightly hypocritical, since I would continue to buy Rifts books (and still do).
Now, hit the super-fast forward button to my thirty-somethings, when a little gem called SolForge hit the iPad. I saw a bit about it on Giant Bomb dot com (home of pimps and players everywhere), and I was thoroughly intrigued, particularly since it seemed to be generating a lot of interest from people new to CCG's like me. The gravy was the price point - it's a free game, with a modest pricing scheme if you want to buy more cards.
What's particularly cool about SolForge is that I haven't had to buy a single pack yet - you start off with some basic cards, but you can add to your collection by logging in and winning your first and third games of the day, regardless of your opponent. That means you don't necessarily have to play a human to win - you can blow through your three wins of the day by playing the computer on easy, something that really helps when you're still struggling to grab some rare cards. Now, I'll probably throw in five bucks at some point, because I like to support the free games I really enjoy, particularly if I don't have to pay to win, but for now, I've played for about three weeks, have a competitive deck, and can make more when I get around to it.
What makes the game so special is that it's really easy to get into and understand. While some of the terminology is a little obtuse (understanding what constitutes a lane threw me at first), I never felt overwhelmed by any of it. It's just a matter of paying attention to what different card types do in order to learn how to better shore up your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses. There are about 180 cards in total in the beta phase of the game, meaning that deck varieities aren't the greatest at the moment, but the developer has promised more further down the road, so that's promising. It has the potential to be a hell of a long-running game if they can start scheduling regular releases of new cards.
There's a handy bit of cross-play to the game, too. Your decks and cards transfer from your iPad to your Steam account, and vice versa. SolForge was a bit unstable on the iPad at first, which meant playing online games on Steam was a much more viable option, but the font size on Steam is atrociously small. Now that the iPad online issues have been ironed out, it's much more fun to play it on that platform.
Anyways, check it out if you're looking to get into the CCG world. The art is cool as hell, the game's accessible, and I think it's got some potential to be a really long-lasting, delightful experience. Give it a shot - after all, it isn't going to cost you anything.
Torchlight II - When Copycatting Goes a Bit Too Far
Let's get this clear - I really like the gameplay of Torchlight 2. Hammering my mouse button to kill enemies, grabbing better and better loot, and fleshing out expansive skill trees gets my juices going. I love loot-and-skill driven games, as evidenced by the absurd amount of hours I've put into games like Diablo 2, Borderlands 2, and the original Torchlight.
It's a shame then that Torchlight 2 single-mindedly drives itself into mediocrity by adhering strictly to what Diablo 2 did a decade ago. This isn't so much a case of imitation so much as it is a remake, and that's a bit unfortunate. Everything from the plot to the overarching design of each act closely mirrors that of Diablo 2, so much so that you wonder if the developers have had any original thoughts of their own since releasing the original Torchlight.
There's a Dark Wanderer copycat in the Alchemist. There's a green world area followed by a desert. The music sounds almost exactly alike (not surprising, considering who composes it). It's all designed to bring Diablo 2 to a modern age, but in trying to do so, it loses any sort of Torchligh flavor in the process. It's grits without butter or added topping. It's a sandwich without condiments. It's just sort of there.
On a technical level, I suppose it deserves five stars for the sheer polish of the loot-based RPG experience. It's got skill trees and loads of ways to customize each character class (there are four in total) to your liking. The loot is plentiful and looks fantastic on your character. Everything animates well, the enemy design (when not stuck mirroring Diablo 2's) is excellent, and the pet mechanics from the first game have seen light, positive tinkering. It runs well on my laptop on igh settings, which means it should run on computers from the last few years without too many problems. The access to mods is easy as pie, and the community has helped bolster it with some fascinating ideas.
So much like Diablo 3, it merits five stars on getting everything technically right, but renders itself a little bland in trying too hard to be like its chief competitor. If the Torchligh team hires on a writer to craft an original story with original characters, this could be a long-lasting franchise. But if they continue to draft in Diablo's wake, all the series will ever be is a Diablo wannabe. For some, that's going to be enough. Me, I hope they reach for more.
The iPad Corner
Giant Boulder of Death is as simple as its name. You're a boulder, tasked with running downhill, crushing people, animals, and buildings in your wake while avoiding spike traps, giants, and mine-firing tanks. It's essentially an endless runner, but with an interesting twist. The world starts off as basically a blank slate, with only a few items to destroy. As you complete progressively more difficult objectives, you unlock bits and pieces of the world, such as larger houses, animals, and vehicles. This allows you to gain higher scores faster, and also leads to you charging up your invincibility boost, which lasts only seconds but allows you to blow through any obstacle with ease. The whole thing is complemented by boosts, which you get every ten minutes for free, or you can spend a form of in-game currency to gain the boosts quicker. You can also spend another form of in-game currency on improving your boulder and your boost effects.
It's produced by the Adult Swim people, who have brought a few truly great gems to the fray. You really can't go wrong with any of their games on the iPad, but Giant Boulder of Death is far and away my favorite from their stable.
-I finished up the released Blackwell games. My thoughts haven't changed much since the first, though the voice-acting becomes much more bearable by the last game of the bunch. The games get progressively better and better, and I really look forward to delving into Gemini Rue sometime soon.
-My progress through Final Fantasy IX is sluggish, but not through any fault of the game. I just need to sit down and polish it off one of these days. I'm at Ipsen's Castle, one of my least favorite dungeons of the PS1-era Final Fantasies, and I'm dragging my feet in getting through it. But get through it I shall, and after I've finished hunting down Chocographs and polishing off the last disc, I'll report on it soon.
-I've played a fair bit of Serious Sam 3, enough to know I really don't care much for it. It has a certain sort of charm, but I think I'm done with generic ass shooters without some sort of hook to keep me coming back. And that game doesn't have one. Bland as hell to boot. That's likely all I'll ever mention about the game in my blogs, which goes to show you how little I think of it.
And that's about it for this week. I don't know if there will be a blog next week, as I'll likely be up in Grand Theft Auto V's business, loving it strong. But if I manage to come up for air, I might go ahead and write up that Retrospective for FFIX. I'm slightly reluctant because I don't really remember what the hell happens near the end of the game, but if I make huge strides in it (fingers crossed), I'll see if I can't work it out. Other than that, maybe I'll jump back into Tales of Xillia and see how that post-game content feels. I've also been thinking about getting into Radiant Historia. Whew. Time will tell!