Sunday, April 29, 2012

Impressions of Risen 2: Dark Waters

This past Friday, Piranha Bytes released Risen 2: Dark Waters, a pirate-themed action adventure role-playing game and sequel to Risen from 2009. Piranha Bytes are best known for their previous work on the Gothic series, with Gothic 2 considered by many to be one of the greatest RPGs of all time. I've been a longtime fan of Piranha Bytes, loyal through the missteps of Gothic 3 and their recovering process with Risen, and was optimistic for a brighter future with Risen 2. Now that I've played about six hours of it, I almost fear that Risen 2 may be a case of "one step forward, two steps back."

From what I can tell, Risen 2 seems to have all of the core elements I've come to expect from a Piranha Bytes game; primarily, a rich and organic world that's rewarding to explore, and decisions with concrete consequences and role-playing options. The dialogue this time around is especially enjoyable, and many of the new features (like "dirty tricks" in combat) are welcome additions. But even ignoring some of the more glaring superficial issues, there are still a number of questionable design elements that really seem to detract from the game's potential, leaving me with mixed opinions. Continue reading for the rest of my quick impressions.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Please Get Off the Life Support

I've been seeing Resident Evil 6 advertisements lately, and knowing very little about it besides what's been mentioned in marketing, I can't help but feel like the series is desperately crying out for attention. After the lackluster fan response to Resident Evil 5, it seems like they're carefully backpedaling into Resident Evil 4 territory, as if to catch people's attention with "Look! It's Leon! The guy from the one you guys really liked! Please buy this game!" Other forced elements, like the inclusion of Albert Wesker as the main villain again (wasn't he killed off at the end of RE5?) make me even more skeptical.

It seems to me like a lot of these established, long-running series are going onto life support, with the developers making surgically precise tweaks (sometimes read as "manipulations") to try to draw audiences back with promises of returning to the series' prior glory. More often than not, these attempts prove to be uninspired, derivative rehashes that neither capture the original magic of the series, nor provide anything new or exciting. This bothers me. I'd really prefer for these companies to push their series into bold new directions, or perhaps even try their hand at some new IPs. More commentary after the jump.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Introducing my New PS3

I'd been wanting to get a PS3 for a while now, with certain exclusives taunting me from the other side of the fence. Demon's Souls was always one of the main games I wanted a PS3 for, but I could never justify the cost of a new console when I already had a gaming PC and such a vast backlog of unplayed PC and PS2 games. But with my recent birthday and news of the Demon's Souls servers going offline on May 31st, I finally bit the bullet and bought the console. Six years later, I've finally entered the current generation of console gaming.

The icing on the cake is that GameStop had just started a sale period for the PS3, which got me a $50 discount on a new console and a free copy of Batman: Arkham City. These were some very nice surprises, since I wasn't even expecting them and the timing was absolutely perfect, so the sale helped validate the purchase a bit (or at least alleviate some potential buyer's remorse). Demon's Souls, here I come.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Impressions of Nehrim: At Fate's Edge

If you haven't heard already, Nehrim: At Fate's Edge is a free total conversion mod for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It's a completely stand-alone game with its own original world, characters, and quests so impressive in ambition that it rivals the scale of the vanilla Oblivion experience. And in most ways, it's actually better than Oblivion, which is either a heaping bit of praise for Nehrim's developers, SureAI, or a scornful derision of Bethesda. I'm going with both. After all, it's kind of sad when a group of volunteer modders can make a better game than a multi-million dollar studio of (supposedly) industry-leading professionals.

I'm somewhere between 20 and 30 hours into Nehrim and I've only just finished the first of (I believe) five chapters. I'll be writing a full review once I've finished the game, but since I'm still only a fraction of the way through it, and I'll almost assuredly be distracted by Risen 2 when it launches, I figured I'd go ahead and publish my early impressions of the game. So far, I've been really enjoying it. It feels far more like Gothic 2 with an Oblivion skin, which makes it a far more compelling experience, even though Nehrim can't quite escape some of the inherent problems of Oblivion. More of my impressions after the jump.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The End of a Lineage 2 Chronicle

Dear Diary: Nostalgic for the good old days, I decided to reinstall the Korean MMO Lineage 2 after a few years of absence, in order to see how the game has changed, especially in light of it recently going free-to-play. I logged in and found all of my characters completely stripped of their gear, items, and money. Anything that could be traded or sold from my characters was gone, leaving with me with nothing but useless junk items. So I submitted a support ticket to customer service, and eventually received a full set of equipment for each of my characters, which averaged out to being about as good as what I had before.

Except I was still left with zero money, which is as much a termination sentence as the previous lack of gear, since I can't afford to teleport or buy any of the supplies one needs for ordinary gameplay, and I have no way to gather an income without already having some money to invest in the first place. I couldn't even farm money the old-fashioned way (by killing enemies for random item drops) because all of my characters are too high of a level to get drops from the low-level enemies surrounding the towns in which I was left stranded.

I've learned, however, that the various changes have made it quicker and easier than ever before to reach the end-game content from a new character. Supposedly you can go from level 1-85 in the span of a month with only casual play, or within one week of hardcore sessions. In contrast, it took me 2-3 years to get from 1-79 on my primary character. So I'm pretty pissed that all the time and effort I put into my characters has now been rendered obsolete. Even if I hadn't lost all my stuff, I still would've been better off rolling a new toon from scratch, thanks to the unique benefits new characters get these days. 

I think that puts the final nail in the coffin of my Lineage 2 chronicle. I just don't have the motivation to get my original characters back into the game, and I'm not very pleased about essentially scrapping all the work I put into them in favor of starting up fresh. If I were to start from scratch, I'd rather just play an entirely new and different game. Hell, I'd probably have more fun with Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game I didn't enjoy very much, than I would lingering on in L2. Here's hoping Guild Wars 2 will be worth the wait. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

PC Game Series Ruined by Consolization

As an ardent player of PC games, I've noticed that longtime PC-exclusive series tend to get ruined the moment they make the cross over to the console market. There are over a dozen cases where an established, successful PC-exclusive franchise turned south almost as a direct result of console limitations, or for changing their design philosophies to match a new target audience. The end result is usually that intelligent, sophisticated, complex game series become simplified and lose a lot of their original appeal.

Consoles are also more prevalent among gamers, so producers can garner higher sales figures with the console market, which entices them to continue catering to the console audience with the next sequel. Which disappoints me, because even though a lot of these series continue to be released on the PC, they often just aren't as good as they once were. So in the full article I'll be taking a look at some of the PC-exclusive series that eventually broke onto the console market, and describing how the transition affected the integrity of the series.

Friday, April 6, 2012

(GGYNP) Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is one of the greatest RPGs ever, sharing many of the same gameplay elements that made the original Fallout games great. This should come as no surprise, considering that a good portion of VTMB's development team were the key designers behind the first two Fallouts. Developed by Troika Games in 2004 using Valve's Source engine, Vampire Bloodlines is a classic role-playing game with a unique gothic-horror setting.

Bloodlines begins just as you're embraced and join the ranks of the blood-sucking undead. As a new vampire, you learn the rules of the Masquerade -- a self-regulating system vampires follow in order to survive unnoticed in the mortal world -- and quickly become the new errand boy for the head of the Masquerade, Prince LaCroix. As LaCroix sends you on a mission to recover the sarcophagus of an ancient vampire lord, you become the focal point in a faction war to seize (or maintain) control of the Masquerade while preventing the vampire Armageddon.

As an RPG, it shines with a heaping serving of available side-quests and countless ways to customize your character. Choosing which vampire clan to be during character creation is one of the biggest choices you'll make, as each one has its own unique playstyle. Lots of quests have different ways to complete them, depending on your skills and how you want to role-play your character, and most of the decisions you make have some kind of tangible consequences. The dialogue is well-written and well-acted, and the atmosphere is just so rich and immersing.

Bloodlines is such a good game that people still talk about it on messages boards, eight years after its release. Fans love it so much that the community has pieced together an unofficial patch that's made it up to a whopping version 7.9. Bloodlines was Troika's last game, as they sadly went out business following production issues and poor sales. So if you've never played VTMB, then you owe it to yourself (and to Troika) to play this instant classic.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ocarina of Time Sucks

Before getting any further into this article, please note the date that this was published, and use that to inform yourself as you read through the following text.

Of all the popular games I'd never played, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was probably my most onerous omission. I tried playing it once when I was younger, but got stuck somewhere in the Deku Tree (I think in that room where you get the slingshot -- I couldn't figure out how the hell to get out of that room), quit out of frustration, and never went back. When I mentioned this to a friend recently, he immediately thrust a GameCube disc into my hands and told me to play it.

Now that I've finally played through it, I have to say I don't get what the big deal was all about. This game is so crude and primitive that it was a struggle for me to find any enjoyment in it, and many aspects of its design are just downright bad. How did this game leave such a big legacy behind? Is this really what people have wanted every subsequent Zelda game to be like? Because I gotta tell you, the newer Zeldas are a hell of a lot better than this one, and even the ones that came before it were better. More of my thoughts on this overrated game in the full article.