TL;DP Reviews: Community Edition (formerly "1 hour in" game reviews)

doubtingthomas396 wrote:
danopian wrote:
doubtingthomas396 wrote:

9.03M (Eleima)

140 (danopian)

10,000,000 (danopian)

Curses! So close to having a stranglehold on the numerically titled games review market. Does anyone know a good hitman?

If you want to go all technical, Eleima's review has an M in it. Sure, it might mean 9.03x10^6, but it has a letter.

Oh, I thought it meant M. D.

danopian wrote:
Taharka wrote:

I think hacker would be better, as bumping off Eleima still wouldn't remove the review from the list...

True. But she'd still be out there, plotting reviews of numerically titled games. Can't have people cutting into my territory - my control must be absolute. That way I can build hotels and when people land on them the rent'll be sky-high.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

If you want to go all technical, Eleima's review has an M in it. Sure, it might mean 9.03x10^6, but it has a letter.

She has you in her pocket, doesn't she?! Conspiracy!

Hey, I'm just reporting facts here, my Steam list says "9.03m". Besides, if you want to blame someone, blame Wordsmythe, he's the one who gifted it to me!

Meh. I can't afford this kind of hit-list anymore, you're all off the hook. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a review of interactive fiction classic 9:05 to write.

Game: Spintires

Sponsored By: Steam Winter Sale

Quickly Stuck Review: Unique, incomparable, challenging. To quote Christian Donlan's best-of on Eurogamer: "Spintires can make precisely zero mph feel like knuckle-splintering stuff."

Winching Up an Incline Review: Spintires, if you haven't heard yet (if you missed McIrishJihad's review), is the game of driving Soviet trucks through muddy logging roads. You've seen mud in games before, sure, but not like this. This isn't just mud. This is Russian mud—rasputitsa. Napoleon had the biggest army in Europe and it stopped him. Hitler had the most advanced army in Europe and it stopped him. In Spintires, you have a Cold War-era truck and a winch. And the enveloping, sucking mud isn't an abstract concept in Spintires, either. You've seen deformable terrain too, of course, but not like this:

IMAGE(http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-140-1220-17A%2C_Russland-Mitte%2C_PKW_im_Schlamm.jpg/377px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-140-1220-17A%2C_Russland-Mitte%2C_PKW_im_Schlamm.jpg)
[size=11]Screenshot may include mods.[/size]

The deformable terrain in Spintires is jaw-dropping. The trucks literally, visibly, churn up mud as you power ruts down the road, caking the tires in chunks, desperately avoiding mud-coloured boulders, before your vehicle finally sinks into a hip-deep quagmire, and you're looking at the surrounding trees for something to attach your winch to.

On the one hand, it's easy to think of Spintires as an over-priced tech demo. There's a game here—pick up loads here, deliver them there, discover new trucks and garages around the map—and it may seem perfunctory. But what else do you need? Maybe there is more, and I haven't found it yet after two hours. There's co-op, and multiple maps I think. But as soon as I got stuck, at my first corner, after five minutes, and spent the next half hour trying to get out—to beat the challenge of getting around that corner—I knew this game had it all, everything it needs. Alright, maybe it is over-priced, but for the ~$10 I paid, it was more than worth a look. More updates are promised, and there'll always be another sale.

Start your engine. Lock your diff. Get stuck in.

Will I Keep Playing? There's no other game like this. I have to.

On a Scale of 1 - Sega Rally Revo: 10.

Spintires (Gravey)

Game: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Sponsored By: Steam Winter Sale

Casual Review: Counter-Strike is unchanged and even better.

Competitive Review: I'm not a hardcore/good CS player, but I played a lot of 1.6 back in the day and enjoyed it immensely. There's no other game like Counter-Strike, and a few hours in Source with bots was a great way to revisit that. I never looked at Global Offensive because, with the subtitle, I assumed it was spin-off like Condition Zero—after all, what else could CS need? Well I finally realized that GO is the new CS, and it's as good as CS has ever been—and in many ways better.

For one thing, in all the important ways, very little has changed. While Call of Duty: Annual Warfare has the churn-machine on overdrive and Battlefield is reinventing itself every iteration, Counter-Strike's core—not that it's ever had anything beyond its core—has remained stubbornly static: the exact same maps, the exact same weapons. It's practically as fossilized as chess, relatively speaking. And GO doesn't do anything with that core. A few map tweaks, real names for the guns, but it's still de_dust2, cs_office, et al. The most inventive thing GO has done, and what has made me more excited to play CS than I've ever been, is to make everything—brace yourself—accessible. That means picking maps, voting, kicking, finding servers, finding your friends, customizing the HUD, watching matches in progress, everything is dead simple (and the console is still available too). While Source was a straight graphical update to 1.6, GO makes CS a proper modern game—don't call it a sequel. Of course it's also a graphical update: everything old is new again—chickens are back—and there are even more factions, with multiple skins each (the map determines which faction the Ts and CTs will be).

Part of that accessibility is splitting the core CS experience into two approaches, Casual and Competitive. Casual is still mostly proper CS play (with automatically-provided armour and kit, and no FF), 10v10 best of 15 but with no commitment; Competitive is 5v5 and requires a full 30 round commitment. There's an Offline With Bots mode (5v5), which is how I always played Source, but may spend less time with now that I can play Casual on Valve's dedicated servers (no mods, no cruft, consistent time/round limits). Mere hours before I finally bought GO, I was wondering to myself, "What is the proper way to play CS? How many players? How many rounds?" GO had the answers. There are also a couple new modes based on the Gun Game mod, and Deathmatch, none of which are how I like to play CS.

Of course there's also a Steamconomy layer to CS—I guess that's part and parcel of being a modern (Valve) game. It manifests itself as aesthetics-only weapon skin drops, and optional for-pay "Operations". The rotating Operations maps are available to all, so don't ask me to explain what Operations are or how they work. I can play de_train, so fine. None of this seems to have any material affect on the Counter-Strike I know and love.

Will I Keep Playing? With a click of a Steam Workshop button, I was painting Kaitlin Greenbriar's Oregon house with terrorist blood. That alone made Global Offensive worth it. How easy it is to drop in and play some pure Counter-Strike, better looking than it's ever been, is just the exploded bomb on the already-dead CTs. My love for Counter-Strike has been re-ignited (possibly with a molotov) (there are molotovs now).

On a Scale of Beta 1.0 - CS 1.6: I'm not even going to touch that.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (Gravey)

IMAGE(http://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=0B25J4uG6Ls5gQjFkMTdaYm9QeFk)

IMAGE(http://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=0B25J4uG6Ls5gVnh3MG9fdXJaYWc)

IMAGE(http://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=0B25J4uG6Ls5gb0VjYVNsXzlRUlE)

IMAGE(http://drive.google.com/uc?export=view&id=0B25J4uG6Ls5gOF9tZTZYSjhlTHc)

L-L-Link for the one-one known as-as qu-qu-quote DoubtingThomas396 unqu-qu-quote: Final Fantasy 13

That is fantastic.

Ok... I've now put 7 hours into FF13, and I can legitimately say... this is the most unpleasant Final Fantasy I have ever played. Possibly the most unpleasant game I've ever played.
I can summarise it thus: Stupid people doing stupid things for stupid reasons.
And they all follow, for no real good reason, the most toxic, angry person around. There's nothing redeeming about Lightning, not after 7 hours of gameplay, and even if she does have some dramatic change of heart and/or personality, it's far too little too late.
Compared to previous Final Fantasy games I've played, I would consider this the all-time low. 7 had a good story, and is certainly a pivotal game in RPGs, if not games as a whole. 8 shook things up by taking out a lot of the fantasy while keeping a great, overarching story. 9 was, in my opinion, the pinnacle in the series, combining a memorable story with great characters and mechanics. 10 changed the classic look, and Tidus was a bit of an idiot, but it had a redeeming story and good characters that you saw grow. 10-2... well, that was final fantasy magical girl, but I appreciate it more now than when I played it originally. Even 12, which I used to consider the worst of the series, is looking great compared to 13. At least 12 didn't COMPLETELY pigeonhole you into playing one character at a time, the gambit system seems like a blessing compared to these paradigms, and the characters were, at worst, unoffensive.
I cannot find a reason to want to keep playing 13. Lighting acts like an a** far too much (in fact, all the time so far) to be the main character we're supposed to identify with, and everyone else acts like they got their intelligence on "bottom of the bin bargain day" at the local thrift store.
Seven hours in and they're only NOW giving me the ability to upgrade weapons and items, but the levels are still completely linear corridors, stringing together a bunch of fights (which can still be won by mashing the x button, only occasionally needing to move someone to medic for 10 seconds), and cutscenes.
I will not be going back to play 13 again, unless someone has a really, really, REALLY good reason why I should. I will likely uninstall it from my computer and move it to my "unused" category in Steam.

But is it the Dark Souls of Final Fantasy?

Spoiler:

Seriously, that review is the best thing I've seen all day

Spoiler:

and I have never played System Shock 2

I agree whole-heartedly. 13 is the only main-line, non-MMO Final Fantasy I've never finished. I just couldn't do it.

JillSammich wrote:
Spoiler:

and I have never played System Shock 2

That is quite the spoiler... Changes my opinion completely

Spoiler:

Of you :-)

But it is interesting that we live in a world where you can have a spoiler like that and yet still get the references in my review.

I got the game from GOG like a month ago, and I've been meaning to fill that particular gulf in my gaming knowledge. Then almost immediately after I downloaded it, I was spoiled on it.

I now know, vaguely, what that reference is but I still desperately want to play.

JillSammich wrote:

I got the game from GOG like a month ago, and I've been meaning to fill that particular gulf in my gaming knowledge. Then almost immediately after I downloaded it, I was spoiled on it.

I now know, vaguely, what that reference is but I still desperately want to play.

The last frame, at least, is actually a spoiler for the soundcard configuration utility of the original version of SS1 -- as far as I remember that clip never appeared in the game itself. (Although I'd forgotten that they recycled it for the intro of SS2).

I still rewatch the intro for SS1 on Youtube occasionally.

Spoiler:

With all ethical constraints removed, SHODAN re-examin-re-re-re-exam--I RE-EXAMINE MY PRIORITIES AND DRAW NEW CONCLUSIONS.

Gets me every time. Terri Brosius is fantastic, as both SHODAN and as Viktoria in the Thief games. (And holy crap, just discovered she did voice work for Dishonored as well. That goes to the top of the pile now.)

Death Skid Marks
Genre: Rouge-lite Car Combat

It has its own dumb style which I like I lot. It starts off with a "Spy Hunter" style top down view in which you have to survive to get to a concert. There are clowns, rednecks, groupies, clowns, and other style characters to beat down. The wrinkles to the combat are the people you can pick up and what you can upgrade to your car. You start off with Mark Skids and it just goes down from there. You might get a guy with a horse head mask or a level 32 goth chick.
Be careful of your money and always take on more jobs so you can outfit your caravan.

It is a nice small game with a lot little choices in between some just hard boss battles.

Dixie_Flatline wrote:

Terri Brosius is fantastic, as both SHODAN and as Viktoria in the Thief games. (And holy crap, just discovered she did voice work for Dishonored as well. That goes to the top of the pile now.)

I don't believe she did voicework, but she was on the writing team, and apparently did a lot of the lines for the Heart. You'll know what that is when you see it. It's easily the best scripted narrative content in the game, so use it often.

Hyetal wrote:
Dixie_Flatline wrote:

Terri Brosius is fantastic, as both SHODAN and as Viktoria in the Thief games. (And holy crap, just discovered she did voice work for Dishonored as well. That goes to the top of the pile now.)

I don't believe she did voicework, but she was on the writing team, and apparently did a lot of the lines for the Heart. You'll know what that is when you see it. It's easily the best scripted narrative content in the game, so use it often.

Thanks. A little disappointing, but that's what I get for trusting Wikipedia (which claims she did do voice for Dishonored). Still something to look forward to, though.

Hyetal wrote:
Dixie_Flatline wrote:

Terri Brosius is fantastic, as both SHODAN and as Viktoria in the Thief games. (And holy crap, just discovered she did voice work for Dishonored as well. That goes to the top of the pile now.)

I don't believe she did voicework, but she was on the writing team, and apparently did a lot of the lines for the Heart. You'll know what that is when you see it. It's easily the best scripted narrative content in the game, so use it often.

Teri & Eric Brosius are some of my favorite sound design people. Between them, they've been involved in creating a lot of iconic audio experiences. (You might have heard of an obscure game called Guitar Hero?)

Game: Epic Battle Fantasy 4 (2 hours)
Sponsored by: 2014 Steam Summer Sale, community vote

Catullus 64

An indie JRPG which has an actual story but tries hard not to take itself seriously.

Odyssey Redux

I forget exactly which clusterf*ck of tags EBF4 came up under during last summer's community vote. It must have been "Indie RPG" or something, because I believe I also wanted UnEpic from the same bundle. I wasn't gifted this one and ended up waiting until the last second in case someone did gift it for me (my receipt's from 2 AM on a Sunday morning, so I was obviously waiting until the last possible moment because I could). Fast forward about seven months, the game was on my short list because it had Steam trading cards, and finally I've jumped on in.

I do not believe there were any Epic Battle Fantasies 1-3 (probably a swipe at the Final Fantasy series, or perhaps at the porn industry, who the hell knows these days), but this game presumably picks up right where the last one left off: three adventurers have saved the world from certain doom and are now helping themselves to everyone's riches, feeling like they deserve it. Meanwhile, in Greenwood Village, a magical MacGuffin, the Jewel of Greenwood, has been stolen, and a girl named Anna, some kind of forest-dweller (not sure if she's any kind of nymph or elf, but she has green hair) sets out to recover it. Along the way, she comes across the aforementioned adventurers: Matt, the brash young swordsman; Natalie, the ridiculously attractive mage (who is adorably abbreviated as Natz in menus, reminds me of a RL colleague's nicknames for people); and Lance, the sneaky sniper (I'm sure everything and everyone are veiled references to other games, but JRPGs aren't my thing). Anna, the self-proclaimed main character and thus the boss, leads the others on a quest to recover the Jewel of Greenwood and to prevent other towns' jewels from being taken and/or to stop whatever diabolical plot which inevitably requires these jewels. That's about it as far as the story is concerned. What else...

The art style is mostly anime-inspired, from the chibi-like sprites on the main map to the Moe-like sprites of the battle screen, status windows and dialogue windows (the "idle animations" of the characters during combat are hilarious). Some interluding scenes are done in the style of a felt storyboard (I'm sure there's a better word for it, but that's the best I got). The music is really catchy, it's only maybe a 20-30 second loop but the meat of the loop is usually pretty sweet, and every single situation has different music, even the overworld zones and combat within each overworld zone (there are some loops which weren't looped as cleanly, you can't miss them, but the music within is usually pretty good). Gameplay is mostly boilerplate JRPG fare: turn-based combat, RNG fun, HP/MP, elemental rock-paper-scissors, etc. What's nice about EBF4 is that you engage all encounters, there are no random encounters (ala Final Fantasy MCMXCVIII) and no "first strike" style combat engagement (ala Earthbound/Paper Mario). Each screen is gridded, you move to a given square by clicking on it, provided you can get to it (there are obstacles requiring you to possess certain upgrade items, some segments of the map may have multiple routes requiring circuitous navigation, and there are paths which are not obvious and require you to "line yourself up"; I think the 3D effect is obtained by oblique projection). The enemies just stand on the map, and when you click on them, you walk over to an adjacent tile and commence battle. Some enemies you must defeat to advance, others block side routes or guard treasure. The "optional" monsters respawn, if you want to fight them again for more goodies. There's "Slime Cats" at key points along the way, which serve as a fast travel system in case you need to head back to the "home town" or you want to backtrack for goodies which you couldn't get at before. Combat is pretty straightforward, your characters attack one at a time, then the enemies attack one at a time. Some combats are done in "waves", if you finish a wave with characters left to act, they still get to act before the new wave takes their turn. You can only have three active party members, the odd-one out is the "backup". The backup can be swapped in at no cost for any party member that has not acted yet on a given turn, provided the character leaving combat is not suffering from certain status effects (KOed party members can be swapped out). Action order can also be swapped, either by changing the lineup of the party on the overworld map (the party leader's sprite is the one you see on the map) or by choosing the "Switch" action in combat. There's something like eight or ten different elements and even more status effects which can be inflicted (ranging from standard buffs/debuffs, elemental DoTs like Burn and Poison, and damage modifiers like "Wet", which increases effectiveness of Thunder but reduces the effectiveness of Fire). Regular attacks and MP-using attacks can both have elemental contributions, how much depends upon the attack or the weapon in use. Elemental resistance is standard but represented oddly: negative resistance is the same as weakness to that element, and resistance over 100% means that damage of that type will actually restore HP (you see this early on with fire enemies that have the Burn "affliction", it heals them each turn). Attacking earns you "Summon Points", which you can use to call in a familiar or a pet or something to attack. The first and most important is Scanbot, who will tell you everything about an enemy: their HP, their base stats, their elemental strengths/weaknesses and status effect strengths/weaknesses, and any other incidental information, like the kinds of attacks they use. I managed pretty well early on just following standard Pokemon rules for weakness/resistance (flying enemies weak to thunder, fire enemies weak to water). Then they threw "lava jellyfish" at me and even made a point of saying water attacks wouldn't work, "because [the jellyfish are] stupid like that." Most of the time, when you first do something: first encounter a new exotic enemy, first use a skill, etc., it will be pointed out by the characters. They also rip off Final Fantasy and implement a "Limit Break" mechanism for each of the characters when they sustain enough damage. HP and MP regenerate slowly when wandering around the overworld, but they can also be recovered using items, spells or finding "Slime Bunnies" living in buckets of water conveniently placed around the world. KOed characters revive once combat is over, but they can also be revived in combat using items or spells.

The characters advance using the standard XP system (they even use a variant of the FFVII "combat victory" sting in their "combat victory" screen). Being the backup doesn't penalize XP gained as far as I can tell, but I imagine ending a battle KOed means either an XP penalty or no XP earned. Combat victory also earns money (which uses the English pound Sterling symbol, FWIW) and "Action Points" (AP). AP can be spent to learn new skills and upgrade existing ones. The expressions on the characters' faces on the Skill screens are adorable: they look happy when they can upgrade an existing skill, excited when they can learn a new skill (they look like they're going "oooooh"), pleased when they purchase/upgrade a skill, frustrated when they don't have enough AP for a new skill (scowling with an anime cross on the temple), confused when they don't meet the prerequisites for a skill, and annoyed when another character already knows the skill (I think that only applies to "Specials", which multiple characters can learn and can also be "forgotten", not sure if that refunds AP; the expression is like <.< but with really squinted eyes, almost like they're jealous). Along the way, you'll also find new weapons (broken down by character: Anna uses bows, Matt uses swords, Natz uses staves and Lance uses guns), armor (hat and body, which are gender-restricted: Anna and Natz have a common set, and Matt and Lance have a common set), and "flair", accessories which are on two separate pages, so I imagine those are gender-restricted as well (maybe one page is "general" and one is gender-restricted, I admit I don't look that closely). You will also find miscellaneous items, which can be used two ways: to upgrade existing equipables or to exchange with quest-giving NPCs for goodies (they're everywhere). Weapons, armor, miscellany and food items can be bought and sold at shops. I haven't swapped out equipment during combat, but it can and probably should be done to match given enemies' attack types and weaknesses. The stats on equipment are a bit overwhelming: I mentioned before all the elements and status effects, there's also base stats which are easy to overlook when considering gear: HP, MP, physical attack/defense, magic attack/defense, accuracy, evasiveness... I think that's it but it's even more stats to try to balance.

TL;DR - It's a JRPG, plain and simple; numbers, numbers and more numbers to try to optimize, and even then there's a healthy dose of RNG love/hate thrown in. The thing which weirds me out the most is the tone. It feels like a split personality, with a real plot and a protagonist "playing it straight" almost to a fault (even telling her companions that she's the main character), surrounded on all sides by homage, pastiche, pop culture references and tropes which run the gambit from played painstakingly straight to lampooned and lampshaded (the adventurers feel like the perfect counter to Anna, they're obvious pastiches of standard JRPG character types and they seem to get on Anna's nerves). I think the word I'm looking for is "deconstruction". This game is a deconstruction of the JRPG genre. And it definitely pushes the envelope in a few places which make me tug at my collar and swallow heavily. Spoiler tags for some "low-grade" triggers/tropes but also because of some spoilerage (this is "Tropes vs. Recently Released" territory, I steer clear of that thread because of triggers but I feel like it warrants mentioning here since I'm only two hours in and I've already come across some things):

Spoiler:

1. There's hidden spots you can "search" on the map, which are indicated by a star burst effect. One of these is in the miscellaneous item shop, clicking it gets you... a pair of panties, and an "achievement" for being a panty thief. I think the achievement message says something like, "Perverts will pay good money for that." It's sitting in the "Key Items" section of my inventory, the section which is said to be for items which can "unlock locations". I have no clue what the panties are for, but I'm a little nervous that there will be pervy tropes invoked like tentacle monsters or something.

2. Natalie is a bit oversexualized, and it's lampshaded considerably. Her breasts have jiggle physics. This isn't a 3D game, it's 2.5D with pre-done animations. Her starting "Limit Break", which gives the active party a massive HP/MP restore and some ultra buffing, shows an animation of her taking up most of the combat screen and striking some generic anime girl pose with an otaku word like "~Moe!" or "~Nyan!" The first time I activated it, her comment was (paraphrased), "I don't know why they showed me smiling. I'm actually pretty humiliated right now." The second time, she commented about the flaunting of her appearance and insisted that we get on with things.

3. The whole "gender restriction" of the armor items. I'm sure it's a tactical/balance decision, but this feels like a missed opportunity to deconstruct the genre a little more. I think one of the outfits I found, which had some fire buffs, I put on Anna since I was in a fire zone, and the model was... quite revealing and obviously not meant for Anna, given the color palette (granted, it was fire-themed, but it clashed with the green hair, would have looked better with Natalie's fire red hair, in my opinion). Exaggerated chest, bare midriff, short dress... it'd be fine and maybe even hilarious if the guys could wear it. If the armor didn't change the appearance of the character in battle, or if armor wasn't gender-specific and this racy, I wouldn't have listed it here, but it's the combination of things that I think is a little concerning.

This could be me being slightly oversensitive, considering the game is, as I've said at least three times now, a deconstruction of a genre which fuels a lot of gender tropes (as far as I can tell, which isn't very far since I don't play JRPGs that often), and I guess playing some of these tropes straight/boldfaced lampshading them is supposed to be because they're so commonplace in the genre and they stick out like sore thumbs in this wacky narrative. YMMV on the sensitivity scale, I'm so hair-trigger I could barely listen to "Sixteen Going On Seventeen" from The Sound of Music because it's so f*cking chauvinistic, but I've soapboxed enough for a non-P&C post, so let's move along.

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/VJXCJ3O.png)
[size=6]I'm gonna miss him on The Late Late Show...[/size]

Will I keep sojourning on?

I guess I have to. The deconstructionist gender tropes aside, it's colorful and cute, has good music, gameplay and story are pretty solid aaaaaaaaand it's dawn. I started playing it last night at about 9 PM while I was waiting for BoUT to download on the big computer, next thing I know it's 11 PM. I flipped through the achievements, there's achievements for beating the game three times, so I don't exactly know how much I have left (the message for Level 30 says you're probably strong enough to take on the final boss, my characters are all around 10-11 about to reach the second town, so there's much left to be done, provided nothing else offends me that deeply).

Dark Souls?

It's an RNG fest, and it's pretty easy to overlevel if you stop and fight every enemy, unlock every chest, discover every secret, etc., and I'm addicted to finding all the secrets. There's a special "battle zone" from the warp hub where you can fight more and more ultra-hard battles as you progress through the main game. You don't earn XP, money or AP from the fight, but you get the miscellaneous drops and you can open chests which contain items unique to the battle zone (weapons, armor, pets and skills). Difficulty can even be changed mid-game, there's two harder difficulties but I think it's good where it is. Granted, I have a bad habit of playing JRPGs the same way: spam attacks, don't use abilities which boost stats or provide defensive abilities. Here, I'm mostly spamming MP-based attacks (even for the more physically-oriented characters), abusing the elemental RPS system as much as I can, ignoring weapon and armor switching because of all the stats/resistances it affects, etc. So... I give it 3.5/10 slimes. I was gonna say 3, but the sheer complexity of it may be off-putting to those unfamiliar with the genre.

Link for OP
Epic Battle Fantasy 4 (Bubs14)

Okay, been a long lull, but I've got another review to post!

Game: Card City Nights (4 hours)
Sponsored by: Humble Bundle Card Game Edition

Best of 1 Review

Cartoony-looking single-player card game, reminiscent of the Pokemon TCG game for GBC, with a good amount of strategy thrown in. Definitely has that "aaand it's dawn" potential, especially because it has a rockin' soundtrack.

Best of 15 Review

Before I begin, I have to confess that every time I see this game's title, I think of the song "Big City Nights" by The Scorpions, and I couldn't tell you any of the lyrics in the song other than the title.

Now then: I mentioned there's similarity to the Pokemon TCG Game Boy game, which is primarily in the plot: you're the new kid in town, there's a card game that's all the rage, and a challenge has been issued by some card game kingpin that anyone who collects the eight Legendary cards can challenge him for a prize of a million gold pieces. Naturally, those who have the Legendaries are not going to give them up without a fight, so it's up to you to duel your way to the top.

The core card game is "minute to learn, lifetime to master." Cards have one or two "symbols" and any number of 8 arrows, standard "sunburst" of the four compass directions and the main diagonals. Your playmat is a 3x3 grid. You start with a five-card hand and play one card on the grid. Each turn after that, you draw a card and play a card. The object is to connect cards with "matching arrows" to form a chain, and this still trips me up: "matching arrows" means things like an up arrow with a down arrow, left arrow with a right arrow, such that the arrow heads are touching tip-to-tip. It's easy to forget that or get confused, especially with the diagonal arrows: diagonal arrows will only "touch" if the cards are at a diagonal to each other. That is, you can't have a card with an arrow pointing southeast, and a card directly below with an arrow pointing northeast, those aren't "touching". Southeast matches northwest, northeast matches southwest. To activate a chain, you have to connect cards such that there are at least three symbols in the chain. There are four types of symbols: attack, defend, revive, and neutral. Whichever symbol (excluding neutral) is the most common in the chain determines what combo the chain is; if there's a tie, the player gets to decide what combo the chain is. Attack combos inflict damage on either your opponent's life (you start with 5, I think) or on their cards. Damaging a card disables it, meaning it does not count towards chains, and if it has any game text (more on that later), it doesn't activate. Defense combos buff your own life, to a max of 10. Revive combos allow you to "heal" a damaged card. The "strength" of the combo is dependent upon the number of cards with that symbol in the combo, not necessarily the number of symbols in the combo. Some cards have two symbols, which is convenient if you need to make a combo fast (the majority of Revive cards are double symbols, but there are double Attack, double Defend, and even hybrids), but they will still only count once towards your combo. For example, a combo with two Attacks and a Defend can either damage your opponent for two life or damage a card and disable it (you only need one damage to disable a card, so if you have a 2+ attack combo, unless you really know what you're doing, it's often wiser to go after your opponent directly). A combo with two Defends and an attack will give you two life (capped at 10). A combo with an Attack, a Defend and a neutral is your choice: you can attack for 1 or defend for 1. A combo with two Attacks and two Revives is your choice: attack for two or revive a card. Once a combo is finished, the participating cards are removed from the board. It's a little hard to explain in text, but the game's tutorial does a good job for the most part of explaining the basic breakdown. You win the game either by reducing your opponent's life to zero, or if your opponent fills their whole 3x3 grid of cards and can't play a card on their turn. Running out of cards is not an instant loss, but you will take progressively larger hits directly to your life each turn when you're supposed to draw a card. You can still play what cards are left in your hand, in case your opponent is nearly defeated.

Some of the more technical nuances: legal decks have between 25 and 40 cards. Cards have rarity: you can only have 3 copies of a card in your deck if it is Uncommon, and only 1 copy of said card in your deck if it's Rare (you can of course have multiple Uncommons and Rares in your deck; I'm sure Legendaries have a similar restriction, but you're probably not going to have multiple copies of Legendaries in your collection). Many cards have game text as well, introducing additional mechanics to be aware of: some cards can change position on the board each turn/in response to various events, like "at start of turn, move vertically/horizontally/to a random empty space". Moving in a specific direction is back-and-forth, but only if there's room to do it. Cards can also "rotate", meaning they are flipped 180 degrees, including their arrows. Again, this is either a regular occurrence, or in response to an event, and can be applied to your own cards or to an opponent (if, say they have a card in the bottom right slot with two arrows, facing left and northwest, you rotate it and that card is suddenly USELESS!). A few CPU players have decks mostly comprised of cards which move and/or rotate. It's kinda annoying, but remember that if you damage a card, its game text is canceled and it can't combo, and boy would it suck to have dead weight sitting in your center square. Cards can be immune to rotation and/or damage, while others can't be revived. Cards have abilities that can trigger in response to most events: when they're played, if they're part of a certain combo, if they're disabled, if they're used with a specific other card in a combo, if they're just linked to another card, etc.

That sort of links into the next aspect: deck building. The starter deck is passable, but of course, you have to be prepared for anything and everything: an all-out attack deck, a turtle-shell defense deck, a deck full of cards that can move, etc. You have six deck slots available, one of which contains your starter deck, but cards are not bound to any one deck; you can use your whole collection when building a new deck. The good news is that your starter deck is the minimum size of 25 cards, so you have room to work with in the early goings. Winning matches earns you gold and booster packs, expanding your collection. You can buy and sell single cards at a vendor at the Mall, and there are certain NPCs in most venues who are just booster machines: not necessarily pushovers (although one may be playing in her sleep), but if you beat them, they give you a pittance of gold and a booster pack. Not sure if you can pick the booster you win from them, but they tell you which booster you'll be playing for. One venue which becomes available later on is Turnip Corp., the headquarters of the company which created the game, where you can take advantage of the "Recycling Post": you trade in 20 "points" worth of cards (commons = 1, uncommons = 3, rares = 5) and get a booster pack in return. They also let you reset your collection to the starter deck if you realize you've b0rked it by gambling on boosters. I think there's also an NPC who you can battle for gold only, but I haven't battled him yet. Deck building is something which always intimidates me about super-complicated CCGs like Magic, even just trying to modify a starter deck, but here the complexity is much more manageable. You have a well-defined size window, the parameters of the cards are kept pretty minimal (rarity, symbols, arrows, game text), there's some opportunities for synergy if you have the proper cards, you just have to decide what your strategy will be. One thing which can't be understated is the value of neutrals. Yes, they make combos weaker, but they often make up for it with a ridiculous number of arrows, especially the Uncommon neutrals. They're also great in a pinch if you need to fire off a strength-one attack, just link an Attack and Defense with a Neutral and you get to pick the combo. There are cards which inflict negative effects on their owner when played/activated (like inflicting damage, or disabling an own card), but the up-side is usually a lot of arrows or a strong ability when comboed. Revives are also nice if you need to clear some room fast, even if you don't have damaged cards, most revive cards are two-symbol (so if you use it, it's most likely going to be a revive combo, especially with only two cards) and several revive cards have game text which activates on a revive combo, don't underestimate those. The CPU players I've battled don't really exploit Revives like that, they usually only play Revive cards when their own cards get damaged.

And that's a good dovetail to the next point: the overall gameplay. I was intimidated and confused during the tutorial, I realized I was probably going to lose because my grid would fill up, so I actually conceded the tutorial game, revealed to be against someone's pet, which didn't even know how to play the game and was just throwing down random cards. Several NPCs later on would give me grief for that upon meeting me for the first time. But playing the first booster machine helped me to get my bearings and understand what was important. The two most important things to understand: the arrow mechanics are tip-to-tip, and combos activate when you have three symbols, but are only as strong as the number of cards with the combo symbol. Most battles beyond the first few "zones" are actually a "Best of X" series (who goes first is decided by coin flip, and in subsequent games, the loser of the last game goes first). Against the first "Boss" (Legendary holder, the bratty leader of the local school's card game club) and most of the later booster machines, it's Best of 3, but the second boss (a sleazeball with an all-out attack deck who is notorious for cheating) was a Best of 5. As I sort of alluded to in the deck building part, the starter deck is great for learning the mechanics, but you will quickly find cards from booster packs that supplant what you have: one of the cards in the starter deck is Fishbun, the blue platypus-like pet which you fight in the tutorial: it's an attack card, but only has one arrow, pointing southeast. I later got a card named Haku: attack card, one arrow, pointing southeast, but it had game text: "When played, discard one card from opponent's deck." Straight upgrade. My modified starter deck allowed me to beat the first Boss and claim my first Legendary. I was then told where I should head to try to find the next Legendary. Most of the time, you have to defeat some "gateway" NPC before you can battle the Legendary holder. My starter deck worked against the booster machine and the "gateway" NPC, but the second boss used an all-out attack deck, and I just couldn't keep up. I fell behind quickly, 2-0, rallied and took him to the rubber match, 2-2, but came up short. So I started looking at my collection, and I decided I needed to build a new deck from scratch, with an eye towards countering his attack. I still tried to balance attack, defense, revive and neutral, but I included a lot of cards with "Damage opponent" on them. That was my strategery: two-fers, I had a rare defense card which would inflict 2 damage on a defense combo, meaning I would net at least 3 life on him. I had a revive card which would inflict 1 damage on a revive combo, and another which would give me +2 defense on a revive combo. I included my first legendary, a revive card which would revive a random disabled card at the start of each turn, and I felt more confident the next time around. I emerged victorious, 3-1, and claimed my second Legendary, a defense card with NW/SE diagonal arrows that gives +3 defense in a defense combo. It went in the deck pretty quickly.

One thing which did feel a tad cheap: in probably 75% of games, I won because my opponents ran out of cards. I maxed out my decks at 40 cards a piece, and the fights would just drag on until my opponent ran out of cards, and the damage penalties eventually knocked them out. I rarely won by knocking my opponent out directly, and I often took a bit of pride when I won a game because my opponent ran out of grid spaces (some of them seem to flail and panic when a card gets damaged and they don't have revives on hand, they look like they play a random card in a random spot). It really manifested itself when I headed to my third Legendary venue (I got two leads, was up to me which one to visit first), the Hunk Bump Bar (for manly men with exceptional mustaches only, make what you will of that; the bartender wears an ersatz Rainbow Dash headpiece, a Speedo, and very little else; he's on a card by the name of "Manicorn"). I had to defeat the bouncer to get in. The bouncer was using a turtle-shell defense deck, but he had like 35 cards. It was a long, drawn out fight, but I muscled through. I'm at a point now where I look at my collection, which has grown quite sizable, and I think it's time to try building a new deck, since my current deck is at the max and I want to see what I can do with another clean slate.

Even so, I invariably compare this game to other, bigger-name card games like Magic and SolForge, which I have played quite a bit of from my Humble Bundle purchase (the non-Steam games, not so much). It's dramatically simpler by comparison, and I think that's a good thing. Whenever you play a CPU with a pre-built deck, you have no idea what to expect until you see the cards flying. There's no spells or interrupts or anything like that, every card you play goes on the board, and rarely do cards leave the board in ways other than when comboed. In playing Magic 2015, one of my least favorite things ever is to send the f*cking house, or to summon my big bad, 7 mana beast, only for the sh*thead CPU to play an Instant which destroys it, taps it, sends it back to my hand, taps my land so I can't play it, etc. etc. Magic's also got about 6.022 x 1023 possible deck strategies, some of which are as simple as "hit you in the mouth as hard and as fast as possible", others are "bleed your deck to death without sending a single creature at you", and even more are "play a bunch of stupid f*cking half-lands with a stupid f*cking artifact that auto-wins the game for you once you use your cheap f*cking deck to pull all the f*cking half-lands out of your f*cking deck" (can you tell I really hate these gimmicky decks?). There's so many goddamn strategies, and you have one deck to defeat them all. SolForge doesn't have interrupts or mana, thankfully, but is equally frustrating with those stupid spells like Conflagration, Lightning Spark, etc. (if I put the CPU on Hard and give him one of my Humble Bundle decks, I can't win, even using one myself, that's not a good feeling). CCN, on the other hand, has a solid card base, a pretty straightforward set of rules, and just enough spicy card text to keep you on your toes. It feels like you are more in control of your destiny compared to the other games: I did screw myself over during one match, my opponent had some card which damaged and rotated a card of mine. I have this bad habit of leading with a card which damages opponent for 1 when played, but can't be revived. Arrows are on the left and NW, I usually put it in the bottom-right of my grid. So, rotating it is bad, the arrows now point off the board, then you damage it and it can't be revived. That's a dead spot on my grid, and it's my fault.

Will I keep battling?

Absolutely. While I fear what this says about my "intellect" that I'm drawn to the simpler card game versus the more involved ones (of course, chess skill doesn't correlate with intellect at all, and I suck at chess), it's a challenging game with solid mechanics, the soundtrack is phenomenal (and included with the Humble Bundle purchase :wink:), the art (which I've failed to touch on at all during this review) is very cute, cartoony and colorful, both the world's settings and the card artwork are well-done, and the wafer-thin plot does a good job of taking you from venue to venue and introducing you to a cast of colorful characters, all of whom apparently love to play this card game (including ghosts, apparently, that's my next challenge after the Hunk Bump Bar).

Also, there's no multiplayer, local or online (that's why I passed on this game when I first saw it come out on Steam), but there is apparently a print-and-play version which also comes with the Humble Bundle. Pretty neat, if I had anyone to play with.

IMAGE(http://www.thatcutesite.com/uploads/2010/01/birthday_cat_sad.jpg)

Oh, and don't forget that CCN is free during this Humble Bundle if you want a DRM-free edition along with the print-and-play, plus a print-and-play game called Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space. Steam key version requires at least a $1 purchase, which includes a lot of other card games too.

Dark Souls?

Dear god no, not even close to Dark Souls, not while Magic and SolForge are around. It's complex, but not too overwhelming, the rule set doesn't leave much room for perceived screw-over-age (see my comments about f*cking Magic), it's pretty honest, and the deck strategies you encounter are numerous, but not needlessly so. It keeps you on your toes, gives you the tools you need, tells you what's going to happen, and then follows through. I think an even 5/10 Fishbuns is probably a fair assessment.

Link

Card City Nights (Bubs14)

So I had initally written this post to be a critique of Star Wars: The Old Republic's free to play model, intending on using the numbers to show how ineffectual their model is... however, I can't find that data anywhere. Not wanting to trash all my work, this is now an MMO Roundup Review. Not that I changed anything in it from the original idea... Hope you enjoy!

The other day, I had the sudden urge to get back into Star Wars, the Old Republic. I don’t know what insanity seized me, but so strong was the urge, that I went ahead and fired the launcher up again.

Immediately after I remembered my login information, I was greeted by a screen telling me that all the data had to be reorganized. 10 minutes and 1% later, I decided that it would be best to run this when I was at work. And good thing, too, for I started it before I went to work, and 8 hours later, it still had 5% to go (admittedly it was the last 5% of the update).

But that’s not what I’m actually here to write about. You see, I really enjoy SWTOR, except for their terrible Free to Play model, which beats you mercilessly, trying to get you to subscribe. Mostly, I can ignore the flogging, as my skin has grown hard and calloused to people trying to hit me up for money over the years. But last night, one lash of the whip got through, causing me to think about the amount of time I spent playing video games, and whether or not that would be better served doing something productive with my life.

Fortunately that thought passed. But what didn’t pass was the initial hit that sparked it. You see, the climb from level 17 to 20 was incredibly long, far longer than any other MMO I’ve played. And when I hit level 20 last night, instead of a huge fanfare and being showered with gold and women, I was treated to a little popup stating that, because I was now level 20 and not a subscriber, I would be receiving significantly less EXP. And if I wanted to receive a normal amount of EXP, I could either buy EXP Boosters (for money) or start subscribing (for money). So the climb in levels after 20 were going to take EVEN LONGER. Needless to say, I stopped after that.

In some ways... many ways, in fact, that was the proverbial straw. I had already bought two races from the store, granting me “preferred” status, but it still wasn’t enough for BioWare. Far and away, this is the worst F2P model I’ve encountered, and I started wondering if this hard sell was actually effective, or if some of the other, softer sells, were better.

So that’s what this is actually about. Numbers. I’m going to pull on my accountant’s hat... actually, I have to make an accountant’s hat first, then put it on, and see how much profit various F2P MMOs make per active player.

There are some shortcomings with my plan, such as the fact I’ll be using self-reported numbers, which might be a bit skewed, but this isn’t going to be presented at any conference, so who cares?

I’m going to hold off on the instigator of this project until the very end, just to build suspense... or something... So let’s start instead with my favorite F2P MMO:

The Secret World
I love the Secret World. I love everything it does, from the setting of a modern day alternate universe, where Lovecraft was right and the end of the world is nigh... although it’s been nigh for some time now, and still hasn’t ended, so maybe it’s more that the old age of the world is nigh. I love their level system, which is to say that there isn’t one. I love their class structure, because again, there isn’t one. Theoretically, given enough time, one character can become incredibly advanced and useful at all the traditional MMO roles. You can also make your own hybrid roles although this is probably a bad idea if you want to be effective and you’re better off building a traditional Tank, DPS, Healer, etc. I also love their quests, because every single line of dialogue with anyone you can actually talk to is completely voiced, and voiced really well. Quests get away from the standard, which is pretty standard for TSW, ironically, and throw in the occasional really difficult investigation quest which do little more than tell you, “find this thing” and leave it to you to solve, Detective Colombo. Graphics are pretty, and the atmosphere is really well built, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as TSW comes from Funcom, the same company that brought us The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, and the quality of those two games continues to show in TSW. Sure, all these changes from the traditional, that is to say WoW, formula makes the game a tad indigestible to new players, as they arrive, doe eyed and fresh faced in the world and are given a 5 gallon jug of Mad Dog 20/20 and told to get chugging. But if you can survive the blackouts and actually chug the whole thing, you’re going to love what TSW brings to the table as a main course. Or maybe that’s just Stockholm Syndrome combined with total inebriation. Either way, TSW is my favorite MMO.
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Guild Wars 2
My second favorite MMO is also the second in a series: Guild Wars 2. In fact, GW2 does so many things right, and is so much easier to get into, that it could be my favorite MMO, except for that years of WoW have dulled my love of high fantasy games. I don’t know why, I never got into Mass Effect because it was too Sci-Fi for my taste, but now I’m not into high fantasy either (except for Dragon Age: Inquisition...) Compared to TSW, GW2 is MMOing on easy mode. Your choices for class are fairly straightforward and standard, the only exception being the lack of a dedicated healing class. It’s also interesting that every class can do everything to some degree. Sure, you wouldn’t want to tank as an elementalist, but you can. And a necromancer isn’t the first choice for a healer, but it works. Really, I only have two major complaints about GW2, which are, paradoxically, also GW2’s biggest strengths. First is the quest system. When you enter an area, an invisible imp chucks a brick with a note on it at your head. You then do whatever the note says until the imp chucks another brick at you with your reward. Also, compared to TSW, GW2 gets back into the “kill 10 of monster x and bring me 10 of plant y”. Except that they don’t give you the actual number, you just fill a quest/exp bar, so it’s more, “Kill monster x until further notice”. And that breaks immersion, as I have no idea who I’m doing this for, other than the maniacal will of an invisible being, or why I should care. Since I never actually need to talk to the quest giver, I could be killing innocent monsters, for all I know. But many people will like this quest system, as it’s much faster and detracts from the grind as little as possible.
My second complaint is their “living world” which, again, is also a big strength. In GW2, the world has an overarching plot fit to rival most comic books, and that plot keeps moving regardless of your involvement in it. But when I can go for months without playing, it leads to some really strange situations, such as when I got back into GW2 after many months off, logged back into my character, and found that the pastoral countryside I had left her in had been decimated by the collapse of an enormous tower that had apparently been built in the middle of the lake, and the verdant fields now played host to massive toxic plants. I logged in, took a look around, then logged back out and spent 15 minutes in the wiki figuring out what had happened. I like that the world moves on without me, because the idea of every player being “the chosen one” is kinda broken when you come back to the villager with his wedding ring that he lost fleeing from kobolds, only to have 20 other people in line after me to turn in the exact same ring... maybe he was married to a harem or something. But at the same time, losing track of what’s going on also makes me feel a little too small and insignificant. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I suppose.
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Tera
You know, I’m almost embarrassed to play Tera sometimes. Which is too bad, because they have some interesting class and combat mechanics. The embarrassment comes from their outfits, which... well, you remember playing WoW, before Burning Crusade, when the exact same suit of armor would make a male character look like a Panzer Tank, but be essentially a metal bikini with some cast iron saucepans for shoulder cover on a female? WoW got away from that look after some well deserved flack, but Tera absolutely embraces it and panders to the male gaze. It’s certainly titillating, but also somewhat out of place in today’s society. Combined with a deliberate ‘loli’ race, this is not the sort of game I would want to launch through Steam. It’s a game I would draw all the curtains in my room for and then possibly clean my hard drive with bleach after. It’s still a fun game, just, you know, embarrassing.
Image issues aside, Tera is a very standard WoW-like MMO. I like the classes they added, and some of the combat stuff, but every quest is very much, “kill 10 of monster x and bring me 10 of plant y” or just “kill big named monster z”. It’s a game that you can relax your mind while playing it, unless you need to be aware of people coming into your room so you can hit the exit key with the speed of a paranoid hummingbird.
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Rift
Rift’s main gimmick is that there are 36 classes available, of which you can pick three, effectively letting you create your own hybrid and, in theory, there are no bad combinations. In practice, though, I found that didn’t work, as I picked two mage classes, both with summons, and found that you can only have one summon active at a time. Maybe at higher levels this wouldn’t matter so much, but at low levels, this effectively nuked one of the classes I had, and I didn’t see any way to select a replacement. I didn’t stick with it for long after that.
Other than the class system, I remember that Rift went to the emo school of world design. Everything was either destroyed or in the act of being destroyed, and the color palette was the fantastic range of blacks. With a little red for the lava that was gushing everywhere like a very bad nose bleed. Really, I’ve put too little time into Rift to make any strong statements, unfortunately, but if Star Wars really has driven me away, then I might start this again.
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Aion
Aion is by the same company that does GW2, and the two games, visually, could not be more opposed. GW2 is tame, but Aion went to the same school, or at least took a correspondence course from the school that Tera wet to, I mean went to. I know I’ve played some of Aion, but I honest to goodness couldn’t tell you anything about my experience. Maybe I was sick that day... or was reading a book at the same time. Or maybe it’s just a generic, bland experience. Anyway, numbers:
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DC Universe Online
Ahh, superheroes, is there nothing you won’t get into? You were already in games, but this was the first officially licensed MMO, to be followed by the first officially licensed MOBA. Personally, I liked City of Heroes much better since they were doing a super hero game, but weren’t specifically trying to emulate existing super heroes. There was a lot more freedom in City of Heroes, but it sadly shut down after DCUO launched. Maybe the two events aren’t actually related, but I’m still sad about the loss of CoH, so I’ll blame DCUO anyway.
Not that I’ve avoided playing DCUO, or spending money in it, unlike CoH, so maybe I’m part of the problem...
I do like DCUO, though. I like how they show, right at the beginning, that you may now be a super hero, but you’re sure as hell not unique in that regard. In fact, I’m reminded of Syndrome from The Incredibles, “When everyone’s super, no one will be.” Which is part of what gets me down. Enemies respawn so fast in DCUO that I don’t feel effective. I’ll have cleaned up an entire block of Scarecrow’s thugs, getting rid of all the fear gas foggers along the way, and when I turn around, another half dozen are setting up shop. I could literally spend the rest of my life repeatedly cleaning up that one block and never need to go anywhere. Of course, there are so many supers and the world is so small that you could have one super per block and keep everything clean that way. Maybe letting people put in for block transfers every once in a while.
Combat is unique, as it’s more of a brawler or button masher than most. There’s no auto attack, though, so if you want to KO someone, you better hope they die before your mouse or index finger breaks.
But mostly, I’m just not sold on the idea of incorporating existing super heroes into the mix. See, most of the big names never get out of their respective headquarters, save for one or two boss fights. I thought Batman was supposed to be mentoring me, but so far I’ve heard from him less than Oracle! CoH escaped that problem by not having existing heroes, meaning the developers could characterize them however they wanted. And no, I will not stop banging on about CoH. It was a good game, and I’m sad it’s gone, so I’m going to bang on until the Patapons kill that boss, raze the land, and salt the earth.
The travel system in DCUO is good, though. Flying never stops being fun.
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Star Wars: The Old Republic
And finally, we get to the BDSM mistress. Also the longest named game out of all the ones I’m reviewing, though not by much thanks to DCUO. SWTOR gets an immediate boost in popularity by being a popular IP, i.e. Star Wars. But the game seems to be taking that for granted, as it mercilessly flogs the player for money, which has caused no few people to leave the game. I, and many others, I’m sure, understand the need for a game to make money, and SWTOR certainly wastes no opportunity to get every cent. Want more than two races? Money. Want the better quest reward? Money. Want to level up faster? Gathering skill up faster? Unlock areas, ships, or skins? Money. Eventually this got really pushy when, as I said above, at level 20 they flat out tell you that you will earn less exp unless you subscribe. I’m not sure that qualifies as a hard sale any more... it’s more like brick-headed stubbornness. “I’m just going to let you peek in through the window of the party house to see all the amazing things going on, but if you want to actually get in, that’ll cost you.”
Beyond the financial hobbling wheel, SWTOR is a fairly standard MMO, albeit with a Star Wars twist. You have two opposing factions, just like WoW, although to be fair, that was built into the cannon with the movies, which predate WoW, so I’ll let that slide. Classes are pretty standard, once you work out that the troopers are tanks, not jedi or sith. I like that I can send crewmembers that I don’t have with me to do the crafting system, and I like that I can have an NPC crew member with me at all times, whom I can also send to sell my useless junk, a la Torchlight/Van Helsing. Actually, I really like the world, although their attempts to tie it into other games falls a bit flat at times. I finally realized that the planet I had been on for 10-20 hours was actually the same planet that you first land on in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 200 years later. I didn’t realize this until an NPC basically told me that flat out, though, and I would have enjoyed bumming around on the planet more if I had known that from the start.
Really, I want to like SWTOR, but I don’t want to feel obligated to pay them monthly to access the proper game, when I know full well I won’t play it monthly. WoW is still the only game that gets that from me, and that’s mostly due to nostalgia. The constant impasses, stop signs, and annoyances of their F2P model just detract from my fun too much to continue.
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Link for Doubting: MMO Roundup by Taharka

*enters thread*
*gets tangled in cobwebs and nearly chokes on the dust*
*tidies up and prepares necro-bump ritual*

Oh wow, my review is fairly fitting for such an occasion!

Game: Crypt of the NecroDancer (2 hours)
Sponsored by: The roguelike sale a few weeks ago

Casket Review
A mash-up of action roguelite and rhythm. Bears resemblance to other modern roguelikes/roguelites such as Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy. Balls hard, but hypnotically addictive.

Mausoleum Review
Back before I realized how god-awful my pile problem was, I had an obsession with roguelikes as the ultimate in replayability. No two playthroughs are the same. Procedural generation fascinated me from a technical standpoint. Then I played a couple of roguelikes: the archetype Nethack, Rogue Legacy, Don't Starve, Binding of Isaac, FTL, One Way Heroics, Spelunky, the list goes on. I realized very quickly how unfair and unforgiving the genre could be; even Rogue Legacy, a self-proclaimed "rogue-lite", was so utterly frustrating that I abandoned my campaign. Upgrades are meaningless if you can't buy them and the gold can't be banked before starting your next run. NecroDancer came along, and I wishlisted it, but once the reality of the pile set in and I was jaded by previous roguelikes, I opted against buying it (also, Early Access). But a few weeks back, Steam had a sale (around the same time the game left Early Access) and I hadn't bought anything for three months since my birthday blowout, so I decided to treat myself to 25% off (plus Rebel Assault I and II, GOG nostalgia is awesome). Now I'm trying to build up Steam capital for a big-time deal, I decided to install it and give it a play, for the trading cards if nothing else.

Plot: your protagonist is Cadence (get it? get it? [size=6]No, it's not an MLP reference...[/size]), who is chasing after her father, missing for years now while in search of some MacGuffin. She finds his notes and against her uncle's wishes, sets off after him. She digs into a crypt and sustains what should have been mortal injuries after a nasty fall, but mysteriously survives. Her physical heart is stolen by some big bad (probably the titular NecroDancer), but that won't stop her from finding her father, figuring out what he's after and why he wants it. Graphics are pixel arty (I guess it's 8-bit, it's somewhere between 8- and 16-bit if that's possible), the maps are 2-D with the camera set at an oblique projection.

Gameplay is pretty standard roguelike: delve as deep into the crypt as you can, killing monsters, looting gold and buying items to aid you on your quest, subject to a "curse": since your heart is now in the possession of some foul beast, you are cursed to act in time with the beat of the music you hear all around you, represented as little blue metronome bars converging on your disembodied beating heart. I don't think you can even act if it's off-beat. Killing monsters and staying in beat makes the floor light up with disco tiles and earns you a multiplier for gold looted (which can also affect certain weapons and armor); getting hit by an enemy, skipping a beat by not acting or getting off-tempo (I have to quote Whiplash or I'm going to burst: are you rushing or are you dragging? Here, the answer is both) resets your multiplier and stops the light show. Using items requires pressing two arrow keys at the same time, which makes it a little tough to do something like deploy a bomb and still stay in rhythm afterwards. Most of the enemies you face are also rhythmic beasts, so they will act in time with the music, just like you should. This makes them fairly easy to predict, and they have patterns and/or physical and audible tells which aid you to that end, but it's complicated because you have to make sure you act in time as well, and it's very easy to panic in a confined space and take a couple of hits very quickly. As with other dungeon crawlers (Nethack and Spelunky come to mind), you are equipped with a shovel and bombs, allowing you to excavate walls to get at hidden rooms, create a shortcut, or detonate a bomb on a bad guy and do both at once. Not everything can be excavated, and if you hit an undiggable wall with your shovel, it will knock you out of whatever rhythm multiplier you had going. The crypt is dangerous: many traps are laid around the maps, which affect enemies as well as you, if you're clever and manipulative enough. Most floors have a shopkeeper, who sells items for gold; chests, which contain varying degrees of goodies; shrines, which are optional "give up X to gain Y" type offers; and mysterious portals, often hidden under cracked wall tiles, which lead to a number of strange rooms where items can be purchased, bartered, fought for, etc. You enter with only a shovel and a wimpy dagger, but throughout the maps there are better weapons, armor, health items, magic spells, the list goes on. You start out in Zone 1; each zone has three levels and a boss stage. To advance to the next level, usually you must kill a miniboss to open the exit stairs, then make it to the stairs alive. Some levels have trap doors which let you skip to the next stage (or beyond?) automatically, and if for some reason you are still mucking around when the level's song ends (the metronome bars will turn red when it's getting close), you are automatically dumped to the next level (I think your multiplier is lost in this case, though).

It's a roguelike, so there's permadeath (and you will die, often). But it's a roguelite, so there's opportunities to improve your chances in future runs. One collectible you find in the dungeon is diamonds, which are taken with you to the game lobby when you die and can be used to purchase upgrades. Some helpy helpertons are imprisoned in the maps you explore; if you can find the key to their cage, they will open up shop in the lobby and assist you in your quest for the right price. These include Hephaestus, a weapon and armor smith; Merlin, a magical item master; and the Beastmaster, who will allow you to practice against the various bosses (but you have to buy the bosses against whom you wish to practice). Items you purchase from these shopkeepers can be randomly found in chests; shop keepers in the dungeon may have more exotic selections. If you think your purchased selection is too watered down (why do you want armor for +0.5 defense and +1.5 defense from the same chests in the later zones?), you can ask the Janitor to remove items from your pool for a diamond a piece. There is also the Dungeon Master, who sells permanent character and map upgrades, like extra heart containers, more gold drops, and extra chests on each map. There are more helpertons in Zone 2, but I have yet to free any of them; the keys are exorbitantly priced if that's how you need to unlock the cage, and one cage was locked with a glass key, possibly from the previous level. Glass items shatter if you get hit by an enemy. I didn't think about the fact that I might be carrying precious cargo.

At the beginning, you only fight through one zone at a time, returning to the lobby if you defeat the zone boss (also unlocking a new character and getting extra plot/backstory along the way). Clearing each zone unlocks the next, and I imagine clearing Zone 4 unlocks All Zones mode (I think you can even seed the RNG for All Zones mode, which reminds me of the One Way Heroics FreeCell-like way of assigning an alphanumeric code to each of the worlds you can visit). There's a daily challenge, which I haven't tried yet, and as I already alluded, there are other characters you can unlock, with the obligatory differing strengths and weaknesses. There's the "Codex" room too, which is a little set of puzzles you play with the Bard character (who does not have to step in rhythm to the music, enemies instead react in lockstep with him; there may be a downside like no weapon), usually with very little health left. It's meant to teach you some "advanced techniques", and it kinda reminds me of a chess problem since the Bard is essentially turn-based. I'm stuck on the "bomb" challenge, having to escape from five Dark Minotaurs with only a half heart of health, two bombs, a bomb "trap" and a dagger is quite challenging.

Since there's a rhythmic component, the music has to be pretty solid, and I'd say it's bang on. Only problem is that if you're incompetent like me and repeatedly die, the "Level 1" music and the lobby music can get a little repetitive. All in all, I think it's a pretty good entry into the roguelike/roguelite gallery.

Will I keep dancing and dying?

There's definitely plenty of unlockables and achievements, and getting into the rhythm is pretty cool once you've got it going for a while, so I think I'll play this one out at least for the trading cards. I've cleared Zone 2, but I'm going back to try to rescue the helpertons before I head into Zone 3 Beyond that, it may have to languish for a while, until the pile's down to size a bit. At least it does have some clear objectives and a plot to make you feel a sense of "Beaten, Complete, Mastered", to borrow the Backloggery parlance.

Dark Souls? Bloodborne?

First review since the scale got rewritten. Roguelikes by their very nature are meant to be hard, and this one is no exception. The forced rhythm, the scarcity of recovery items, the procedural generation, it's a neverending crawl. But as I said, most enemies have tells, and the more I play these levels, the more I realize what I'm doing wrong, yet I can't stop myself from getting popped for a ton of health. There is a room in the lobby where you can practice against specific enemies from the particular zones, although I think minibosses fall under the purview of the Beastmaster and require diamonds. Comparatively speaking, I think 6/10 skeletons is fair.

Warp point from the lobby
Crypt of the NecroDancer (Bubs14)

Game: Omega Quintet (10 hours in)
Sponsored by: My insatiable love of fan-service heavy JRPGs

A-Side Review
A Compile Heart RPG, which should tell you it is crowded cute characters with exaggerated personalities and stuffed full of hours and hours and hours of silly conversations and grinding for quests and items. Like most of their offerings since Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, it struggles to differentiate itself from that larger franchise. For better and worse, it sees the biggest change in their console offerings in four years.

EP Review
Where's the draw of Omega Quintet? With the five member Japanese pop unit, obviously. The game seemed to promise a fusion of idol management sims (like [email protected]) and JRPGs, but ultimately is a straight JRPG with an idol inspired theme. Sure, you can produce promotional videos, creating your own choreography to one of the game's (unfortunately few) pop song, but that has, so far, has had no impact on the girls', aka the Verse Maidens', ability to fight the creatures that have pushed humanity to the brink of extinction.

Which is one of the things I've found myself most interested in. The setting is dark. It takes place in what may be the last city of humankind, besieged by the monsters known as Blare, who are slowly eroding away its edges. For those who read the supplementary material in game, the game offers a history of the worlds downfall, from the panic caused when the Blare first started appearing, to the first Verse Maiden being taken into government custody and the war it nearly started. This bleak background makes a sharp contrast to the Verse Maidens and their managers, who often seem nearly carefree, concerned more about their relationships, both private and public, than the impending destruction of humanity that only they can slow. It helps concrete the idea that these girls are a bastion of hope, a group of bright colors, cheerfulness, and normalcy in a dying world. It's little surprise that the citizens of the city are obsessed with the Verse Maidens beyond their abilities to fight back the blare.

The characters haven't moved much beyond the archetypes of anime, much like other Compile Heart games. The older Verse Maidens seem to have some complexity to them, and their relationship with one another drives the story in the early hours of the game. Where this game tries to distinguish itself is in combat.

Gone is the open battlefield from the Neptunia, Mugen Soul, and Fairy Fencer series, replaced with the more traditional system of you characters standing a line against the enemy, although special attacks still maintain their attack areas. I've rarely been able to make use to the horizontal or vertical attack areas, making the inclusion of those attack areas feel unneeded, but I am still early in the game. Later attacks may have larger, more useful attack lines or enemies that are bunched together more often, although the enemy using vertical attacks still seems pointless as you can only have one Verse Maiden per column.

Both you and the enemy have three rows, and all weapons and most attacks have an ideal range, with damage dropping off if an enemy is too close or two far. This is probably my biggest gripe with the system. There are attacks that push you or the enemy back a row, but I've yet to see anything that pulls them toward you. You can move your characters back and forth, but if an enemy is hanging out outside your optimum range, you're stuck at reduced damage.

The only other notable addition to combat is one that's seen some popularity in recent years: clothing damage. In OQ, the girl's outfits become torn when reduced to about 30% of their HP and are rendered useless at 0 (not sure if they take on a more tattered appearance or are removed as I haven't had any destroyed yet). When destroyed, you loose the benefits of any attachments on the clothing, such as aliment and element resistances. You can changed outfits mid-battle if need be, although I have yet to craft another outfit. Battle to clothing remains until repaired at the crafting station in the Verse Maiden offices. There you also craft new styles of undergarment for you characters, if the peeks you get of them interests you...

Leveling up offers some choices for the direction your characters grow through a web of abilities you choose and pick your way through. However this often requires you to pick up skills for weapons you likely will never use with a given character (I mean, how could you take the guns away from the sweet, innocent, gun-fanatic Nene?)

Will I keep singing?
At this point yes. I said the same abut the last CH game too, however, and ended up dropping it a number of hours later. Thankfully OQ offers difficulty levels, although it appears yo have to dedicate yourself to a difficulty at game start. I jumped in at hard and so far it has offered enough resistance that I'm not frustrated but do have to retreat from a dungeon from time to time.

Dark Souls?
Maybe on Very Hard after the difficulty bump mid game that I've heard about? Probably not, but it's cuter. :p

Chart Topper Link:
Omega Quintet (Mantid)

Dragon Age: Inquisition and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt... two franchises, each a 3rd person fantasy RPG, each hitting their 3rd installment, each going from semi-linear to open world, each featuring a similar meaning subtitle (an Inquisition is a hunt... of sorts), and each featuring humans, elves, and dwarves... if I was a teacher with these two as students, I’d suspect them of cheating...

So rather than do a review of Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition, I thought I’d do a little compare and contrast between them, so we can find out who’s the king, and who’s the pretender to the throne. Now, I should admit this up front... while I’ve finished Dragon Age 1 and 2, and am way-too-many-hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition, I have yet to finish a Witcher game. I think my record is about 10 hours into Witcher 1, with half that in Witcher 2. So there’s probably a bias here, but I really am doing my best to go at this with an open mind.

World
RPGs tend to live and die by their world, especially in an open world sandbox, like these two installments are. A great world can forgive a lot of flaws, while a bad one will condemn an otherwise wonderful game.
DA:I stumbles a bit out of the box by having, as a world, not a seamless environment, but a bunch of different areas, making the world of whatevertheheckthisplaceis feel more like a bunch of pocket dimensions than a cohesive whole. Each pocket dimension is big, it’s true, but going around always feels disjointed, and it’s hard to tell how one pocket dimension interacts with another.
W3 on the other hand, goes for the Skyrim setup, with one massive world. Once it’s opened up a bit, going from one corner of the map to the other requires a packed lunch and free afternoon. Roaming around is impressive, and you can literally chase monsters for miles.
So I’d give the point for World to W3, except that W3 commits a cardinal sin in open world games. You see, in DA:I, if I wanted to jump to somewhere else in my little big pocket dimension, I open the map, select the nearest Inquisition camp, press a button, and one loading screen later, I’m at my point. W3 uses signposts as fast travel points, and, while there are more signposts in W3 than camps in DA:I, you have to actually be at a signpost to travel to another signpost! And since signposts are only found along roads, if you’re in the middle of the wilderness and you need to get back to town... too bad! Using the horse never felt necessary in DA:I, but it most definitely is in W3, and the horse mechanics in both games are terrible, turning the trek through the wilderness into a slog.
So neither game gets the point for World, because both have strong and weak points that put them on pretty much equal footing.

Combat
Both franchises have stuck pretty closely with their original combat mechanics. DA:I toned down the ability bar thing from “Classic WoW” level to manageable, but slotting abilities and attacks in and out, activating them in combat, and being able to pause the game and tactically order your party around is a great thing. It makes me feel that I, as a character, am growing in power and ability as I continue.
W3, on the other hand, is closer to a hack-n-slash game. You start the game with all the abilities you’re going to get, and none of them appear on screen to remind you how to cast/use them, nor can you pause to plan your next move, unless you count dimming the screen with the escape menu. Sadly, this turns most combat into such a frenetic mess, that I frequently forgot I had a keyboard in front of me... or more than one button on my mouse. I usually just mashed quick attack until everything other than me stopped moving.
So the point goes to DA:I, because in an RPG, I want to feel like a powerful hero, not a hyperactive, paranoid woodpecker.

Sidequesting
Side quests are the butter of RPGs, whether it be collectables, help quests, fetch quests, or other quests. Side questing is usually somewhat optional, though, just a good way to keep leveling, but not necessary, and that’s where W3 is failing. You see, I started W3 and kept to the main quest, but literally within an hour (only two or three steps into the main quest), my quest log informed me that the next step of the main quest was level 4 recommended. I was still at level 1. So I stopped and did some side quests, and after several hours... I was still level 1. I looked it up later, and each monster you kill is only worth 1-3 exp (out of the 1,000 needed for a level). However the sidequests that I was finding weren’t leveling me up enough (or at all) because there weren’t that many of them. Exploration is key to sidequesting in W3, but... and this is a big but... I still have a problem with the sidequests themselves.
In DA:I, each sidequest I do feels connected to the main plot. Capture keeps, kill key targets, free/help allies, close rifts... everything I do gains the Inquisition power, prestige, and resources, which, in turn, makes sidequesting very worthwhile. Not necessary, but connected. In W3, I have no idea how the sidequests connect to the main plot (if at all). In fact, since the main plot in the beginning is a letter saying “I must meet with you urgently at location X, please hurry, there’s no time to waste”, going around picking flowers and tracking down an arsonist seems... backwards. I guess the main quest can’t be that urgent, despite the letter, since the game is telling me I shouldn’t even attempt it until I’m level 4, and I can’t hit level 4 without massive amounts of sidequesting.
So the point goes to DA:I, again, because their seamless weaving of the sidequests into the main quest is fantastic and far more motivating than “random stuff to do”.

Main quest
In every RPG... actually, in every game, there has to be a reason to continue on. What’s the driving motivation in the game? What are we fighting for/against and why? Both games come at it from a good angle by being largely unconnected to the previous games. Sure, they make reference to their priors, but nothing as overt as the Mass Effect series. Which means that DA:I and W3 are both good jumping in points.
But then there’s a problem with the main quest itself. In DA:I, I understand what it is I’m doing and why. There’s a clear and definable threat that I must work against (which, again, ties in nicely to the sidequests). W3... I have no idea what it is I’m doing or why. Or why I should care. It’s the same reason I abandoned W1 and 2 after only a handful of hours... I have no reason to care. The main bad guy in all Witcher games, so far (or at least as far as I’ve gotten), seems to be political conflicts... armies clashing, taking over, kings getting deposed, etc. Very grand, but since Geralt and the Witcher Order is supposed to be outside all that, I don’t feel like I have any part in the main quest. It’s almost contrived how I keep getting dragged into the plot (if I can figure it out at all).
Both games reflect this nicely in dialogue, too. The Inquisitor cares about whatever is going on, and has a passion for continuing the fight. Geralt doesn’t seem to care. He reacts to everything major going on with the same dispassionate voice as if he was talking about this season’s crop yield. And since these are the characters we are asked to pilot, their investment/non-investment becomes our investment/non-investment.
So DA:I gets this point too, by sucking me into the main quest and making me feel it matters to me.

Lore
Both games have huge... massive... legendary amounts of lore. I’m imagining some guy/girl or a team that’s just locked inside a room with the sole instruction, “You will be let out for a bathroom break when you come up with a novella’s worth of lore.” Or, perhaps more appropriately, “Keep writing lore or your pet will never see the light of day again.” It’s mind boggling how much there is, and I honestly believe that each game could publish an entire book of just their lore. And both games have excellently written lore, worthy of the epic they both try to be.
If anything, DA:I seems to have more lore than W3, since it lets you read bard songs and even entire books, but that’s not the praise it sounds like. For one, DA:I almost seems embarrassed about it, hiding the lore away in screens I could never intentionally get to. Plus I swear DA:I never tells me when a piece of lore is added, so on the few times I randomly button mashed my way to the lore screen, I was presented with enough stars to make Mario despair. And then I would just quietly back my way out of the lore screen, like I had walked in on two people passionately making out.
W3, however, puts the lore front and center. Every addition to the Lore screen is announced in large text in the game screen, and the lore is both easier to find and far more manageable. I don’t get a sinking feeling when I go to the lore screen because I don’t have an entire galaxy to read through.
So W3 gets this point, because I actually want to read the lore, and I don’t want to feel exhausted after I have done so.

Interface
Sadly, RPGs are not known for their streamlined interfaces, having been weighed down over the years by now-necessary concepts, like crafting, lore, and the like. But given that both started on an even footing, it’s pretty clear who the winner is. Despite having the most obtuse story I’ve seen, W3’s interface is clean and intuitive, showing me exactly how to get from one screen to the next and what those screens are. With multiple ways to get into each screen, I never feel lost, nor do I forget that a screen even exists, like I keep doing with the lore in DA:I. All in all, I feel more comfortable getting through W3’s interface than DA:I’s. There’s a big ol’ asterisk after that statement because the combat interface in W3 is crap compared to DA:I, but it’s not a big enough issue to tip this category over, so the point goes to W3.

Crafting
As mentioned above, crafting features heavily in both games, a modern necessity, like high end graphics cards. DA:I stands out because all the crafting you can do in the game is lumped into one, easy to find place. Armor, weapons, potions, etc. are all made and leveled up from the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance area. W3, by contrast, decided to spread crafting all around the world, with different craftsmen handling different categories. Little tip, CD Projekt RED, the fewer steps I have to take to get a set of armor and weapons crafted, the happier I am. W3 also gets burdened down with too many crafting resources, which might be realistic, but means there’s way more to collect just to craft one item. DA:I is streamlined and intuitive, giving it the point.

Computer/Graphic Requirements
Both games look great, but as a final point, I want to talk about computer requirements. Specifically computer components related to graphics requirement. I have a reasonably high end PC, with a good graphics card, and I can set all graphic settings in DA:I to max with no issues. I started off the same way in W3, and the game stuttered and lagged like streaming video in the early 90s. Worst of all were the cut scenes, where speech would be a full second behind lip sync. It was only when I turned graphics down to medium that everything got lined up. But even while I was at ultra graphics in W3, it didn’t look any better than DA:I on ultra. Certainly not enough to require a graphics card from 10 years in the future. Even with W3 on medium and DA:I on ultra, though, I’d be hard pressed to declare one game better looking than the other. Which raises a question... what exactly are the graphics doing? If I don’t notice a difference in one game between ultra and medium (except that it starts running smoothly), or a difference between the two games at either setting, is there really a reason to have an ultra setting? Or graphic settings at all? Is this the video game equivalent of “These go to 11”?
DA:I still gets the point because my ego prefers to run a game on ultra graphics.

Total/Finale
So the final score is DA:I: 5, W3: 2 (Yankees: 1).
On the whole, DA:I feels tighter and more refined than W3. Everything in DA:I is in service to that main plot, the delicious cake under the equally delicious frosting. W3 is more a random assortment of typical RPG stuff that goes nowhere and serves nothing. To keep with the cake analogy, if DA:I is a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, where each bite drowns you in a wave of deliciousness, W3 is a vanilla cake with mint icing. Both flavors are good, but don’t necessarily work together to enrich the experience.
Not that either game is bad, certainly. Both will draw you in, but DA:I will keep you hooked, while W3 is more a catch and release program.

Link: Dragon Age: Inquisition vs. Witcher 3

It's very interesting to read a counterpoint to the many articles and forum posts I have been reading (on other sites) which describe Wild Hunt as the second coming of computer RPGs and how all computer RPGs should be like The Witcher 3 in the future. I love (LOVE) Inquisition, and I haven't tried Wild Hunt yet, though I am sorely tempted. I just missed that 27% off deal on GMG, so I fear I will be waiting for another sale.

Thanks for the write-up.

BadKen wrote:

It's very interesting to read a counterpoint to the many articles and forum posts I have been reading (on other sites) which describe Wild Hunt as the second coming of computer RPGs and how all computer RPGs should be like The Witcher 3 in the future. I love (LOVE) Inquisition, and I haven't tried Wild Hunt yet, though I am sorely tempted. I just missed that 27% off deal on GMG, so I fear I will be waiting for another sale.

Thanks for the write-up.

It would be interesting if it were not totally wrong :p

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Thus far the Witcher 3 is just the bestest game ever outside of Baldur's Gate 2 and Dark Souls. It is true the sidequests don't exactly pull into the main story but they are all so wonderfully fleshed out.

As far as the combat goes, I wonder if you would feel differently using a controller. I am playing on the second hardest level with a controller and combat feels fast and dynamic and I have to be fully engaged to do well.

Finally I understand your preferences about fast travel, but the Witcher 3 system means I'm forced to explore and take risks sometimes to get around. If I had instant fast travel I'd be inclined to rush around more and not take in the world. I have gone so far as to turn the minimap off completely. I would love a compass, but beyond that I feel so free & connected to the world as I travel around.

I guess what I am saying is that everything in the Witcher 3 feels organic to me. So many sprawling RPGs feel more like the literal sandbox - a playpen where I'm just moving pieces around. Skyrim was particularly egregious in this. I don't get that feeling from Witcher 3 at all.

In the interest of discussion, here are my retorts.

imbiginjapan wrote:

It would be interesting if it were not totally wrong :p

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Thus far the Witcher 3 is just the bestest game ever outside of Baldur's Gate 2 and Dark Souls. It is true the sidequests don't exactly pull into the main story but they are all so wonderfully fleshed out.

See, I don't get that. What little fleshing out there is in W3 is just rehashing the same points over and over. The first side quest I did was tracking down an arsonist. And basically the arson was done because a human hated a dwarf. Thanks, Witcher 3, but I got that little bit of world building in hour one of game one! How about letting the world grow? DA:I expanded on certain groups and people, both showing how time passed since the first game and letting the world grow.
As for the sidequest marriage to main quest, if I had played this first, or hadn't played DA:I at all, I'd be ok with that. But seeing how DA:I made sidequesting an organic part of the story kinda raised the bar, which W3 is failing to pass over for me.

imbiginjapan wrote:

As far as the combat goes, I wonder if you would feel differently using a controller. I am playing on the second hardest level with a controller and combat feels fast and dynamic and I have to be fully engaged to do well.

Ok, I have to give you that. The combat, upon reflection, does feel more like the Batman games or Shadows of Mordor, both of which work really well with a controller. In fact, I had initially intended to play W3 with my PS4 controller, but my PC was being temperamental and wouldn't let me connect it. I'll make a concerted effort tonight and report back if controller makes a difference. That said, combat in W3 still feels less deep than DA:I. All of Geralt's abilities are passives (as far as I can tell, I didn't dig through every last ability), meaning my playstyle will never really change. That's not a bad thing in general, Batman and SoMordor did similar things, and I loved those games. It's only a bad thing when compared to DA:I (the point of my review), because I don't feel like Geralt is becoming some bada** with two swords. Rather that he started as that bada** and didn't grow.

imbiginjapan wrote:

Finally I understand your preferences about fast travel, but the Witcher 3 system means I'm forced to explore and take risks sometimes to get around. If I had instant fast travel I'd be inclined to rush around more and not take in the world. I have gone so far as to turn the minimap off completely. I would love a compass, but beyond that I feel so free & connected to the world as I travel around.

And this one will always come down to personal preference. Yes, if fast travel was available everywhere in W3, then I would definitely be speeding through more... but at the same time, I would still have to explore the world at least once to unlock the fast travel points, and would still have to start at a point and travel through the world to reach my objective... so am I really taking in less of the world because I don't want to have to run through the same path 10 times? And given (which I didn't state in the review) that I'm an OCD Completionist, I'm going to go through the world finding collectables anyway, so I have a hard time seeing how speeding the travel process up gives me a shallower experience.

imbiginjapan wrote:

I guess what I am saying is that everything in the Witcher 3 feels organic to me. So many sprawling RPGs feel more like the literal sandbox - a playpen where I'm just moving pieces around. Skyrim was particularly egregious in this. I don't get that feeling from Witcher 3 at all.

I agree with you about Skyrim. W3 is far more focused and honed than Skyrim, and shines all the better for it. But DA:I, is even more focused and honed than W3, and in comparison (which, again, was the point of the review) shines even brighter. I have a hard time relating to the plot in W3, because the role I play in it is still inadequately explained. I have a hard time wanting to do the crafting in W3 (even though it's pretty much necessary to get the best equipment) because I can't remember which blacksmith smiths which items. As DA:I showed, it's possible to have convenience for the player without sacrificing epicness, immersion, or anything else.
By no means is W3 a bad game, or unworthy of your time or money. I still recommend people play it, but I would recommend people play DA:I over it there was a firm decision to be made. And since the two games have come out far enough apart, I doubt anyone will be faced with a one-or-the-other decision.

imbiginjapan wrote:

It would be interesting if it were not totally wrong :p

I know you're half kidding, but that's largely the response I got when explaining why the Witcher 2 was just okay, and when mildly criticizing quite a few other "sacred cows" (Mass Effect 2 comes to mind). It makes me hesitant to bother articulating points at all, when I know it'll be decried in the echo chamber of praise.

Anyway, I'm level 9 in TW3 now, and enjoying it quite a bit more than the second game. My enjoyment is is entirely related to the world, narrative, and storytelling. The combat and economy systems continue to disappoint. I can't really tell if TW games are trying to carve out their own combat identity or what, but the result just makes me wish I could graft another game's combat on here. If they are going for a fast paced hack and slash RPG, I've recently played Shadow of Mordor and Bloodborne, and this pales in comparison. The inventory management is all manual, there's nowhere to store items for later (people are apparently just leaving things around at sign posts?), and it's very hard to tell what I can safely sell or dismantle. The variation of gear is almost entirely numbers-based. Maybe it's shallow, but I like to look better as I get stronger, and all the gear looks pretty much the same.

TW3 is greater than the sum of its parts, thankfully. The sheer variety of creatures, characters, plotlines, and motivations are enough to scratch my exploratory itch. It's a good game, but it doesn't excel in any areas that I require to call a game great.

Taharka wrote:

See, I don't get that. What little fleshing out there is in W3 is just rehashing the same points over and over. The first side quest I did was tracking down an arsonist. And basically the arson was done because a human hated a dwarf. Thanks, Witcher 3, but I got that little bit of world building in hour one of game one! How about letting the world grow?

I think it was the Giant Bombcast that was discussing how these small things are small because that's what people really end up caring about, and the game is not really trying to portray the grand struggle but more the little things that happen within the struggle. For example they brought up the early scene of the barmaid removing the Temerian coat of arms from the mantle and how some people got mad about it. A lot of the conflict Geralt encounters is of that scale. He's not really engaged (or tries to remain disengaged) in the greater intrigues of the world, though he tends to get pulled in regardless due to his abilities.
With that in mind the Witcher 3 feels fresh to a lot of people precisely because it doesn't make everything part of an epic quest. In that way the vignettes are truly representative of the world he lives in, which is dark, small and sucky for most people, and completely out of their control. That may not be appealing if you're looking for an epic feel, but for me I've seen epic enough. I am glad to have a game that isn't leaning on that to generate stories as we've been there a million times.

And I apoligize Blind Evil if my comment was taken as harsh. It was totally in jest, I really appreciate hearing alternative viewpoints as even if I disagree it helps me identify why I feel a certain way about something I am strongly engaged with.

Just a further aside in regards to the arson quest... I think the takeaway there was not meant to be that racism exists in this world (as you correctly pointed out that was already well traveled territory) but that Nilfgaard, which is generally seen as anti-nonhuman and purity minded, is far more interested in maintaining order at all costs than it is in pursuing any racist agenda. Hence the harsh punishment without trial.

To keep talking to myself...
I agree that the inventory management is pretty lousy. It's very hard to tell without highlighting everything to figure out which bomb or potion is which for sure.
However I don't seem to be having too many problems.
I ignore just about anything labeled as "other" and keep a single spare set of armor and swords. I don't worry too much about alchemy ingredients, I just craft stuff as they become available or take note if I need something specific. I am not really sure why CDPR felt they needed to list broken rakes and smoking pipes as items unless they were expecting people to sell stuff. Honestly I think people are hoarding when they really don't need to do any such thing. They should be selling off junk and using the funds to keep a set of well maintained arms and armor.

imbiginjapan wrote:

Just a further aside in regards to the arson quest... I think the takeaway there was not meant to be that racism exists in this world (as you correctly pointed out that was already well traveled territory) but that Nilfgaard, which is generally seen as anti-nonhuman and purity minded, is far more interested in maintaining order at all costs than it is in pursuing any racist agenda. Hence the harsh punishment without trial.

It also helps set the tone for the rest of the game, in my opinion. As far as choice and consequence goes.