This week it was Halloween! Sadly, I was unable to get any time with my holiday-standby series, Castlevania. However! I still got plenty of Halloween gaming in with DOOM, and DOOM II.
Not much to report; they’re DOOM. If you’ve ever played a game in the series, you know what you’re getting into: frenetic demon blasting, monster closets, and massive guns. I was surprised at just how well the experience holds up. It harkens back to a time where first person shooters were much more goofy, over-the-top, and self aware. They were about gameplay and just being all out nuts rather than linear, overly-cinematic light shows centered around set pieces and “realism.”
Anyway, I beat both Halloween night. Took me a few hours, but was well worth it. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, that I’m considering picking up the recently released Painkiller HD pack from Steam. Very similar in terms of gameplay, atmosphere, and setting. Look for more on that in the weeks to come.
The Elder Scrolls IV: The Shivering Isles
As mentioned last week, I have been feeling the black hole-like pull of Bethesda’s RPGs trying to rope me back in now that I’ve knocked out Dark Souls. To quench this thirst, I re-installed The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion last weekend. Now, I love The Elder Scrolls series, and I love Fallout 3; but Oblivion feels so drab and boring compared to Morrowind and Skyrim. Hell, even Daggerfall feels more dynamic in terms of environments, quests, and things to do and see.
That’s not to say I don’t like Oblivion, it’s a gorgeous game still to this day, and having a PC that can play it on entirely maxed out settings is great. But it’s just one big green forest. There are some planes here and there, some coastal hills and a few big rivers and lakes, but it’s just kinda meh to look at. So instead of wondering around Cyrodiil, I opted to play through The Shivering Isles expansion instead. I have never completed the main quest in Isles, so this felt like an entirely new TES experience for me.
The landscape is far more varied and interesting — at times being very reminiscent of Morrowind at times. The characters and dialogue are FAR more interesting than the somewhat cliche fantasy tropes of Oblivion. I completed the main quest and enjoyed my time in the realm of Sheogorath, but overall the gameplay, music, and world design of Oblivion are nowhere near as good as the other TES games I’ve mentioned. As it stands, it’s probably my least favorite of the series, even with the enhancements from The Shivering Isles. I’m thinking I’ll give Fallout 3 a go sometime over the Holidays, then return to Skyrim once I’ve returned peace the the Wasteland…
But none of the really matters seeing as how Halo 4 comes out in four days, and is getting ridiculously great review scores.
Anyway, that was my week’s worth of gaming. What did you guys play?
Games Played This Week: DOOM; DOOM II: Hell on Earth; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion/The Shivering Isles
Oh hey look — Brendan’s talking about RPG’s again. I can’t help it, there’s just too much to be excited about these day. Thanks to things like free 2 play, indie development, and Kickstarter, the gaming industry has seen an influx of fresh, creative minds as well as the return of legendary game creators, able to finally create the worlds they’ve been wanting to for years, but that have been pushed aside in favor of the cash-cow, AAA first person shooters and action games we’ve been buried under for the past couple console generations.
Look I know: RPG’s have been around for ages and have evolved with the times to remain relevant while still providing the types of experiences people have come to expect from the genre…
…err, sort of. I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series — arguably the biggest RPG franchise of the current console generation — but it’s not really an RPG. It’s a great, great series — truly — but compared to even some of its contemporaries it’s not much of an RPG. It’s also not the only series shifting away from role playing game’s origins.
While I’m not a big fan of JRPG’s, I can’t deny that the Final Fantasy XIII series (that sounds weird) has been a major departure not only from the roots of past FF games, but from JRPGs in general. And I recently vented my frustration with Blizzard, but it’s worth noting that Diablo III, despite remaining true to much of what’s great about the Diablo series, is missing that “RPG” quality. When I say “RPG’s are coming back,” I mean the old-school, hardcore RPG’s of yore.
To be fair, there’s still a fair amount of Old-School RPG DNA in some of the biggest games today. Besides the few games still adhering to the old school formulas (Dungeons of Dredmor, The Dark Spire, Etrian Odyssey series), there are several titles that appeal to those who were gaming in the 80’s/90’s, or appreciate their legacy. The Witcher 2 is a great example of a game that balances the cinematic, character-based story of games like Mass Effect, with deep combat, skill systems, and character building of true old-school RPGs; Bethesda’s games offer massive worlds filled with quests, dungeons, and NPCs to create your own story — not to mention games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim prove you can evolve character building without sacrificing depth. And, of course, it wouldn’t be an article about RPGs if I didn’t mention Dark Souls, and it’s predecessor Demon’s Souls: truly hardcore RPGs of the modern era.
But when it comes to real old-school RPGs utilizing the same design of classic titles like Wizardry and Ultima, the industry has been in a bit of a drought. There’s always been a small, cult following around a few underground niche titles, but now there are a few projects brewing that will hopefully usher in a new surge of old-school RPGs.
Legend of Grimrock
Developer: Almost Human
Released: April 11, 2012 Website
We reviewed this game back when it was released earlier this year. It remains one of my favorite indie games of the year. Despite middling reviews from some critics, for many gamers like myself Legend of Grimrock was a great throwback to the dungeon crawlers of the 19980’s/90’s, tweaked and modernized for more accessibility. More importantly, it set the ground work for future sequels, and opened the door for new games in the genre to flourish.
Being developed by Tom Hall (co-founder of id Software), and Brendan Brathwaite (Wizardry, Train, Dungeons & Dragons), Shaker is currently being funded on Kickstarter. The duo started the studio Loot Drop Games, and together with a highly qualified team, are looking to create a game in the same vein as the classic CRPGs of yore a la Wizardry, Lands of Lore, Ishar, etc.. Personally speaking, this is probably one of the few currently funding Kickstarter projects I’m really, really excited about. Check out their Kickstarter page and please back it! We need more games like this.
Project Eternity Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Estimated Release Date: April 2014 Website
Obsidian games are a studio well known to any RPG fan. Recently, the company was able to fully fund a brand new party-based RPG in the vein of Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate. This is another project I’m super excited for, and I’m really happy to see that they exceeded their goal and will be making this game. There is quite an impressive pedigree here, and some of the ideas being talked about remind me a lot of Planescape: Torment, one of my personal favorite games of all time. The success of this project gives me high hopes for the future of the genre.
Before there was Fallout, there was Wasteland. In the wake of the massive success of Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, Brian Fargo decided to reboot his post-apocalyptic RPG Wasteland, and launched the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter. The project has been fully funded, and work is underway. Check out the video above for a small glimpse of what we can expect from this project. I never got a chance to play the original Wasteland, but as a huge fan of Fallout and Fallout 2 (games directly inspired by Wasteland) the footage has me jonesin for some top-down, post-apocalyptic roleplaying insanity.
Ultima Forever Developer: Bioware,
Estimated Release Date: Winter 2012 Website
Speaking of well known developers, Bioware is resurrecting one of the oldest and most influencial Role Playing series with Ultima Forever. Essentially a remake of Ultima IV, this new title is going to be entirely free to play (or, as Bioware calls it “Play4Free”) and will be playable on PC, as well as iPad. According to Bioware, the game will feature many of the old mechanics of the Ultima series, while combat will be positional and action-oriented, comparing it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Definitely on my list of need-to-play games — I mean c’mon, free Ultima!
That list almost sounds too good to be true. So many great names and developers are behind these projects, and my hopes are high. And these are just classic RPG’s; we’re also seeing the return of point and click adventure games (thanks to Tim Schaefer and Double Fine’s highly successful Kickstarter campaign), mech games (MechWarrior Online, Hawken), turn-based strategy (The Banner Saga, XCOM: Enemy Unknown), and of course Chris Robert’s return to gaming and the long-forgotten space-combat sim with Squardron 42. It’s almost too much to handle! With such bright prospects like these, it’s hard to argue we’re not in a new golden-age of videogames. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a basement to return to.
How often in a role playing game do you actually feel the decisions you make affect the narrative in truly sweeping ways? More often than not, it seems like we’re selecting between two hallways that ultimately lead to the same room, the only difference between the two is that one is painted red and the other blue (when you play the muppet’s party cruise).
In CD Projekt RED’s The Witcher 2, the differences between those hallways would be one is painted red, and the other is a freeway.
The Witcher 2 is unlike many games in the RPG genre for many reasons. The game is set in a rather realistic world, where monsters are rare and truly monstrous, and where casting a powerful magic spell can leave even the most adept sorceress exhausted for days. You take the role of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. Witchers are genetically modified humans, able to ingest alchemical potions and utilize magic — things that would lead most normal humans to a gruesome death — and are tasked with hunting down dangerous creatures.
Geralt is suffering from the all-too-common RPG affliction, amnesia, something he’s had twice now over the series’ two games. Geralt is wrongly accused of killing a king for whom he was sworn to protect, after it is discovered the king was assassinated by a fellow witcher. Geralt is let free, under the sole provision he help hunt down the assassin and his cohorts, now known as the “Assassin of Kings.” The assassination couldn’t have come at a worse time — the the land is being torn apart by numerous warring kingdoms and rebel factions.
Each aspect of the game’s scenario comes into play in some form or another in the gameplay in ways that go beyond just plot devices.
For example: Geralt’s amnesia explains his need for a skill tree to expand his combat abilities. The skill tree works just as any other, with players unlocking new skills and bonuses after each level gained. These make a surprising difference in the difficulty of the game, as early on, some of the most basic enemies can kill you if you’re not careful. This does create a rather steep learning curve for the first couple hours of the game, but thankfully with the Enhanced Edition updates, many of the random shifts in difficulty — both harder and easier — have for the most part been eliminated. Still, by the middle of the game I was practically invincible in even the toughest fights.
Geralt’s ability to use potions and alchemy is also a strong point of the gameplay. Geralt is armed with a magic pendant that shows pickable plants and herb, as well as hidden items and secrets. By collecting ingrediants found in the wild, you can bring up a menu where Geralt can meditate, make potions, or take potions. Potions vary wildly in terms of stat bonuses and buffs, and give a much needed leg up in combat. They also come with a toxicity level — the more toxic a potion is, the higher your toxicity level rises. I was usually able to take between 2-4 potions before my toxicity was maxed. It’s both an interesting mechanic, and provide some realism to the RPG trope of potion taking.
You also have special magical abilities, called signs, which can aid you in combat in both offensive and defensive capacities, adding yet another layer onto the combat system. There is even a sign available for use in conversations, which acts as a sort of “Jedi mind trick,” persuading others to see things your way.
The conversations play out a lot like Mass effect or Dragon Age’s would, but without a dialogue wheel informing you of the “good” or “bad” options. In fact, every choice in the game has its own pros and cons, forcing you to listen to what others have to say and weigh your options, instead of simply clicking on the one that matches your alignment. There were many times I sat back in my seat and took several minutes to really think about the choices the game was giving me. They are all wonderfully complex shades of gray, never black and white or simple. While I certainly have my issues with overly-cinematic games and the illusion of control most RPGs give you, in The Witcher 2 I felt my decisions were not only hard to make, but were extremely important. When I went back to see how other options may have turned out, I found that I missed out on entire chunks of the game that other players saw, and vice-versa. It’s one of the few times a game has given you options with real consequences on the story’s path.
The world the game takes place in is very gritty and realistic, bringing to mind George R.R. Martin’s A song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), with all its political intrigue, mature sexual themes, violence, and a setting that feels grounded and relatable. The landscapes look like real places, the people and clothing — even the Elves and Dwarves — look more medieval than fantastical. That realism is boosted by the game’s gorgeous graphics. Truly, it’s one of the most beautiful PC games to come out in several years. Even at the lowest settings, the game’s animations, lighting, and texture rival even the sharpest console titles. The high graphics fidelity only add to The Witcher 2‘s immersiveness. While not entirely open like Besthesda’s RPGs, the world is still massive and filled with things to discover and quests to undertake in each of the game’s 3 acts. I never felt at a loss of things to do, though some quests did randomly fail when I completed others, but with the number you’ll have active at any particular moment, it’s a non-issue.
The Witcher 2 is complex, beautiful, and deep. The story is mature, and despite the largely cinematic presentation, provides the player with hard choices and real consequences; the combat is layered and dynamic, even if the difficulty is inconsistent. Overall, The Witcher 2 is a prime example of the RPG genre, the PC version is a strong reminder of the power PC games can hold. I very much recommend to any RPG fan, or gamers looking for something a little more mature and grounded, but nontheless fun to play.
Pros: Gorgeous graphics; deep gameplay and combat; the story and setting are much more mature and interesting than most fantasy RPGs; choices are important and never black and white.
Cons: Steep learning curve; inconsistent difficulty; requires powerful machine to run a higher graphical settings; some story elements are cliched or contrived.
Hey all. It’s list time again! Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to hear from all the Power Cords contributors on which games of 2011 totally rocked their socks. To get the ball rolling, I’ll start us off! So here are the titles that really stuck with me this year.