Wheel of Dubious RPGs Episode 005: Nox

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ArbitraryWater

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Edited By ArbitraryWater

Nox

A video game that didn't make me say
A video game that didn't make me say "I could be playing the new Total Warhammer DLC right now"

Developer: Westwood Studios (RIP)

Release Date: January 31, 2000

Time Played: About 3 hours

Dubiosity: 1 out of 5 (I’m like EDGE Magazine, I use the whole scale)

Number of times I made comparisons to the classic 2001 Dreamworks Film Shrek during my streams: 2

Would I play more? Yeah.

Of all the games I’ve played for my cursed wheel of RPGs thus far, Nox is probably the least “dubious” of any of them. It definitely falls into the “weird and novel” end of the spectrum rather than the “disastrous” or “janky” ones, much to my own benefit and much to the detriment of anyone who wanted to watch me suffer live on the internet. For as much as I love Two Worlds’ scrappy ambition and think Rise of the Argonauts might eventually get a full playthrough for sheer curiosity’s sake, Nox is the one game that I can point to and say “This feels like a video game that one could’ve played and enjoyed without any compunctions in the time and context that it came out” Or maybe just “hey, this seems alright”

Because, as it turns out, Nox is actually much more interesting than just “The Command and Conquer people’s attempt to make a Diablo” if you take one look at when it was released, a full five months before Diablo II. While Blizzard North’s Diablo is one of the most influential games of all time, I’d argue Diablo II contributions are what solidified the genre into what it is now, for better or worse calcifying everything afterward in its image. It’s hard to see it now, but multiplayer in Diablo 1 was initially an afterthought, and the game’s structure has as much in common with classical roguelikes and dungeon crawlers as it does with clickers where “the numbers keep going up.” Diablo II is the game that introduced things like “class-specific skills” and was even more precision-tuned towards the loot grind that its predecessor had only partially embraced.

The game does have a light, goofy sense of humor with a little 90s snark, even if the amount of writing is so perfunctory it's almost not worth mentioning
The game does have a light, goofy sense of humor with a little 90s snark, even if the amount of writing is so perfunctory it's almost not worth mentioning

It’s in this 3 ½ year gap between the Diablos that we find Nox, which feels less like an endless parade of ever increasing numbers or insane endgame character builds and more like a failed evolutionary branch of the genre. Yes, like Diablo you pick one of three classes for your t-shirted goober from the real world to inhabit (wait is Nox an Isekai) and click on things until they die, the things it emphasizes could not be more different. It’s an ultra-linear game with hand-crafted levels and encounters (including an emphasis on dungeon traps and hidden secrets) that happen in different orders depending on which class you picked. Loot is present, in a sense, but it also seems hand-placed mostly comes in the form of gold and consumables. You do level up, but there’s no stat allocation. Instead of using the left mouse button to do everything, you hold down the right mouse button to move and click the left to attack and pick stuff up (with ASDFG being your hotbar of spells) which gives the click murdering a slightly more direct feel and cadence. It started to feel a little more in the vein of something like Gauntlet than Grim Dawn, less in terms of wandering mazes and fighting endlessly respawning enemies and more in the sense that you’re constantly moving forward and never stopping while you bulldoze all in your path.

How about that Greenskin rework tho
How about that Greenskin rework tho

If I have a complaint, it might actually be that the game is too streamlined and straightforward to be called an “RPG” on anything other than the barest technicalities. This is an isometric action game, complete with a jump button to avoid traps and big ol’ magic crystals just hanging out in a dungeon to recover your mana if you’re nearby. The game might also be a little too simple for its own good, with my biggest grand strategy for most of the difficult encounters being “kite the enemies until I can drop 5-10 meteors on them.” Still, it’s something I would hypothetically play again, especially in a multiplayer context, even if it’s not nearly cursed enough to be a recurring part of this feature.

An Announcement

I'm sure it all holds up perfectly well. Especially the Fade.
I'm sure it all holds up perfectly well. Especially the Fade.

So hey, since the next game is Dragon Age II, easily the highest profile game on “The Wheel,” I’ve decided that it’s time to do something a little different for next week. Instead of going straight to Bioware’s first major misstep*, I thought it would be a good refresher for me (and everyone involved, honestly) if I took some time with Dragon Age Origins beforehand. It’s been more than a decade since Origins came out and almost as long since I’ve done an extensive playthrough, so for the next couple of streams I will be playing an actual good RPG. Well, I hope it’s as good as I remember it being. Probably won’t play through the entire thing (at least not over the internet) but it’s going to be a decent amount. Honestly, I need a pick-me-up before I go back to something like Realms of Arkania III; the 90 minutes I played of it felt disorienting in the state I’m in right now. Also it maybe was a bad idea to start on the third game in a series of notoriously obscure German CRPGs, but that’s what I get for remembering a positive time with it a decade ago.

Follow me on Twitch, won't you?

*: I'd argue that Jade Empire is Bioware's first truly bad RPG, but apparently that's a controversial take.

PreviousCurrent State of the WheelNext
Two WorldsNo games added or removedDragon Age II
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SethMode

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Really enjoyed this, thanks for sharing... Also, I will somewhat proudly say I like Jade Empire even though it is pretty gross in retrospect. The twist in it actually surprised me.

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SethMode

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Also, fuck the Fade.

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Efesell

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I dunno, I guess it became controversial but the only misstep I find with Dragon Age II is that they were forced to make it so quickly and it's amazing how good of a game they were able to make in spite of it.

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SethMode

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#4  Edited By SethMode

@efesell: I think DA2 is great despite its kind of bad ending. I love it and wish it had more time because conceptually it is my favorite.

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I stand by you on Jade Empire as I find it to also be a racist piece of shit of a game.

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doughnutwarlord

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I remember I watched my neighbor friend play Nox at his house one time when I was a wee lad. I always kinda wanted to check it out, since I’ve never heard it referenced or talked about ever until right now.

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Efesell

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I remember liking Jade Empire well enough too, though every time I've tried to look at it again it has taken one glance at my modern PC and told it to fuck off so who knows. Doubt it holds up all that well since it was such a weird game to play even at the time.

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ArbitraryWater

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@sethmode said:

Also, fuck the Fade.

I BET IT'S STILL REAL GOOD AND DEFINITELY NOT AS ANNOYING AS I REMEMBER IT BEING IN 2009.

@efesell said:

I dunno, I guess it became controversial but the only misstep I find with Dragon Age II is that they were forced to make it so quickly and it's amazing how good of a game they were able to make in spite of it.

A lot of Dragon Age II is... understandable when you throw in the massive caveat of "This game was made in like 18 months from start to finish." I definitely remember liking it at the time for some of the weird stuff it does with its small-scale setting, and for the way it's (unintentionally or not) a send-up of the entire Bioware RPG power fantasy. But it's been almost exactly nine years since I've played it, and I'm sure the most egregious parts of the writing and the endlessly copy-pasta'd dungeon layouts are somehow even less fresh than they were in 2011.

On the other hand? I bought all the additional content, so I hope you're ready for "That DLC where Felicia Day is an Elf" and "That DLC that unceremoniously introduces the main villain of Inquisition." Don't forget the part where they did the same thing as Mass Effect 3 by locking away a full party member behind a pre-order wall. (admittedly Javik is way more crucial than Sebastian, but it's still ridiculous that was a brief trend)

I believe the GOG version of Jade Empire works out of the box, but you have to do some weird Hex Editing shit to make the steam version work with an OS newer than Windows XP.

I stand by you on Jade Empire as I find it to also be a racist piece of shit of a game.

I think the high-concept idea of a "Wuxia Martial Arts Action-RPG" is a really strong one, but man I think if people took one or two looks back on what that game actually was it wouldn't be as fondly remembered. It takes almost all of its playbook straight from KotOR, but does most of it worse while also being half as long with the most busted combat imaginable.

I remember I watched my neighbor friend play Nox at his house one time when I was a wee lad. I always kinda wanted to check it out, since I’ve never heard it referenced or talked about ever until right now.

ArbitraryWater: "Referencing and talking about things you hadn't thought about in decades since 2009"

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Humanity

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I don’t remember anything about Nox except for A) playing it on the early 2000’s and B) thinking it was pretty cool at the time.

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Relkin

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I think the idea of Nox being a failed evolutionary branch of the genre is really interesting; now I can't help but wonder what this style of game would be like if Nox had lit the world on fire instead of D2. If Nox had been the game by which all other games of this kind were compared to.

Hope Origins is still good; and count me among those that think well of DA2 despite it's problems, applying the same sort of caveats mentioned in the comments above.

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Genessee

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Fade is a good dungeon in a game hurting for those; Deep Roads a decent one.

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BladeOfCreation

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Nox is a game I've always heard of and remembered the box art for, but never actually knew anything about. Thanks for the informative and entettaining write-up! I'll check out the video when I get a chance!

Dragon Age: Origins is the first BioWare game I ever pre-ordered. I also have an oddly specific memory of reading a preview about it in PC Gamer before it came out. I had just played Mass Effect and loved it, and decided to take a chance on it despite not being a huge fantasy fan at the time. My other very specific DA memory is finishing the first Borderlands and being incredibly disappointed. DA:O arrived in the mail that same day and I got really into it.

My less-than-common BioWare opinion is that the first games of both Mass Effect and Dragon Age are the best in their trilogies, while the second game in each trilogy has the best endgame sequence.

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SethMode

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#13  Edited By SethMode

On the other hand? I bought all the additional content, so I hope you're ready for "That DLC where Felicia Day is an Elf" and "That DLC that unceremoniously introduces the main villain of Inquisition." Don't forget the part where they did the same thing as Mass Effect 3 by locking away a full party member behind a pre-order wall. (admittedly Javik is way more crucial than Sebastian, but it's still ridiculous that was a brief trend)

Genuinely upset that you made me remember this.

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