Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Week In Gaming - 1-27-13


This is definitely one of the more creative puzzle platformers I've seen in a while, and I really dig it. It came up with a really interesting concept, and sticks to it, doing all sort of interesting things. I'm roughly a quarter of the way through it, and I've only played like an hour, maybe an hour and a half, so it seems short, but the puzzles are fairly challenging so far, so I kinda dig it.

Recettear: An Item Shop Tale

I really think this is a fun spin on the typical RPG ideas. For those who don't know, the spin is that instead of it being the typical RPG story, you're the person running the item shop, which makes it a sort of blending between a JRPG and a Tycoon game.

It's a bit unpolished, but I really like what I've played so far.

Super Hexagon


I've beaten the first two settings, Hexagon (Hard) and Hexagoner (Harder), and it's probably my favorite Android release to date. PLAY IT. NOW. THROW YOUR MONEY AT THE PERSON WHO MADE IT, HE ALSO MADE VVVVVV!

The Secret World

Finally an MMO which isn't just completely World of Warcraft, and is instead just mostly World of Warcraft. I kid, I kid. The comparisons are actually more apt to games like Champions Online than they are to WoW, and even then there's a lot of stuff that truly makes the game unique.

I picked it up for $10 on sale, since I've been wanting to try it ever since the abolished the monthly subscription, and I've played a little bit of it. I really like it! It's not perfect, but it's enough of a breath of fresh air that I'm willing to overlook it's shortcomings.

The first thing I really like about The Secret World which sets it apart from other MMO's I've tried (and I've tried a lot) is their "horizontal, not vertical" approach to character building. There are (technically) no character levels. Instead, after you gain so much XP you are awarded with either a skill or ability point which you can use to purchase abilities, or increase your skills. Due to the way this works, it doesn't take very long to max a skill out, but eventually you'll be able to max out everything (as best I can tell). That's a really interesting approach to take, and one which seems pretty well done.

The flip side to this though is probably the game's biggest weakness I've encountered so far. Because of the lack of a simple "level" system, it becomes a lot more difficult to figure out exactly where you should be, and how hard things around you are at a glance. In a game like WoW, for example, I can easily tell how much stronger than me a monster is simply looking at a number. That monster is level 26, I'm level 30, so I know I can kill it easily. That monster is level 50 and I'm level 13, so I should RUN AWAY. The Secret World indicates this with more... Abstract icons. Oh, so that monster is three blue dots. Well that doesn't help. That monster is one white skull. Does that mean I shouldn't fight it? There is an order to it, but it's kind of hard to figure out. I even looked at an FAQ about it, and I'm still confused. What missions are actually your level and when you're ready to do things like take on a new dungeon or go to a new area are equally difficult to decipher, especially since the recommended scale (missions will be labeled very easy, easy, normal, hard, very hard, or devastating  is based on both the skills you currently have equipped, and the gear you currently have equipped, which means that the scale just seems sort of wonky and unreliable. At some point I wonder if it wouldn't have been better suited to simply assign arbitrary level numbers based on how many skills you've acquired, similar to Skyrim.

A non-combat related thing which sets the game apart is that some of the missions are actually adventure-game style puzzles, and really difficult ones at that. Just the fact that they put something like that into the game to break up the monotony of combat (not that the combat is monotonous) makes the game a million times more interesting, in my opinion. That said, I'm kind of torn about their lack of inclusion of some sort of notebook into the user interface (especially when they already have an internet browser in it). On the one hand, it would be a great utility, and one which seems like a no-brainer to include. On the other hand, the game actually demands that you take notes yourself, and have a notebook on hand at all times, which is something I haven't seen a game do since Myst, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty cool way to engage the player, and get them more into the conspiracy theory setting.

I really enjoy the tone of the game. The first area (which I'm, admittedly, not very far into) actually has a quite eerie atmosphere, and it's fun to see an MMO which isn't either medieval fantasy, or sci-fi. The writing seems pretty competent so far, though the main character being mute while others are talking to him makes me appreciate The Old Republic that much more. Their kitchen sink attitude of "EVERYTHING is true" makes for an interesting world, because it really does seem to mean that no kinds of monsters, from the typical zombies, to ancient golems, to Lovecraftian nightmares, are off limits.

With that said, I do find it kind of disappointing that the very first things you're fighting in the game with all these exotic monster in it is... Well, zombies. They're kind of interesting zombies, and eventually they're SEA MONSTER ZOMBIES, but when I first got to the zone, excited to see the cool creatures they had for me to fight, my initial response was... Oh. Great. And I say that as someone who likes zombies!

The game limits you to being able to use a certain number of skills at once (though you can swap them out on the fly when you're out of combat), so you need to think carefully about which ones you're actually slotting in at a given time. The game has recommended "decks" (builds) which give you some idea of how to build, but you don't need to follow them. Right now my guy is a blood mage with a shotgun and nothing to lose.

Oh and also, you get your powers because a magic bee flies into your mouth while you're sleeping. I'm not making that up, that's true and accurate.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Week In Gaming - 1-20-13

The Witcher 2 (PC)

So I finished The Witcher 2. It's a really good game! I'd recommend it in a minute to any RPG fans.

There are a few caveats, of course. The stealth sections, for one thing, are really, really terrible. Geralt can't seem to decide whether he wants to jump into cover, or dance around cover for a few seconds, which can lead to you getting screwed over pretty badly in certain sections. The save system is also very strange. You don't get access to any files of any kind, you just get the option to save, and it makes a new file. I'm a little unclear on just how it works, sometimes it would save over old files, other times it wouldn't.

Also, the game gives you some items early on, gives you no indication that they'll be important (beyond one of them being a really nice upgrade for the point you get it), and then if you hold onto them until near the end, you get the best items in the game. So that kinda sucks.

But overall it's got an interesting, fun combat system, a really good storyline with lots of political intrigue (although it can sometimes be hard to keep all the kingdoms and empires straight, I imagine having read the original Polish novels would probably help with that). One thing I like about it is that, for the most part, the monsters you encounter aren't the typical orcs and goblins you'd expect from a fantasy RPG, they're weird things I've never heard of, like Nekkers, or a Kayran. I don't know if those are inventions of the series, or monsters I'd just never heard of (possibly from Polish fiction?), but it's an appreciated change.

So yeah. Bring on The Witcher 3, I'm ready to see what's next, especially with such a cliffhanger ending.


This game is pretty cool. It's a 2D indie platformer (I'm surprised no one ever thought of that before), with the "hook" being that you can take pictures of items within the environment, and move them to different places to solve puzzles. It seems pretty awesome so far, I'm about halfway through the first world.

Life Is Magic (Android)

So this is a pretty neat phone game. It's a lite-RPG, but it uses the GPS on your phone to map the area you can explore, and fight monsters in, as the real-world area where you are. You also buy items and gain "influence" with nearby real-world shops (for example, I have a nearby weapon store which is a Wal-Mart). If you get enough influence with a store to be the top person, you get a discount on it.

What makes it work though, is that it's actually a really fun game. It has a turn-based combat system, and you can earn mana by casting spells, in order to use more powerful spells (or power up ones you can cast). This is a slightly different take on turn-based combat, closer resembling something like Magic the Gathering than Final Fantasy, which is a very nice choice.

That said, there are negatives to it. It features a Farmville-style "play for so long, then pay a dollar to play more now, or wait an hour for energy to recharge" system (though it's not nearly as bad as Farmville or Mafia Wars), and I do wish it explained a bit more of how it works, as a lot of what I've figured out about what makes the game fun is, well, stuff I had to figure out. I also wish it leaned more heavily into the actual RPG mechanics, as thus far "levels" only seem to be arbitrary barriers on what spells you can cast, and what items you can equip. I would really have liked a talent system, or some sort of point-allocation system, to give you more interesting choices.

With those minor complaints out of the way, this seems like an incredibly solid phone game so far. I quite like it.

Dead Rising 2 (PC)

Man, there is some truly outstanding stuff in this game, it's just a shame there's so much awful mixed in. A mediocre, by the numbers zombie story, some of the worst boss battles this side of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and an absolutely grueling endgame all make it hard to enjoy the genuinely fun bit where you're running around, duck-taping things together and cutting through large swathes of zombies to get through them, and saving all the crazy survivors around the Fortune City strip.

Look, I'm not looking for every game to make the same choices. There are plenty of games out there, and there's plenty of room for games to take chances. I actually love the 3-day-cycle idea (and for that matter, Majora's Mask), and how it's implemented here, but a lot of the things they do in this game just don't work. The psychopath battles are terrible, and not because they're hard, because they're unfair. Most of the psychopaths have abilities which straight-up stunlock you. I appreciate that they're there to be fought at higher levels, on your third or fourth cycle, but even then they just don't work very well. They aren't fun, they're unfair.

That said, the stuff that I like about that game, I really really like about that game. The combo weapon designs are all delightfully crazy (IT'S A WHEELCHAIR, BUT THE CHAIR PART IS A LAWNMOWER!) and there's just something delightful about all the various things you can kill zombies with in the game. The good stuff is good enough for me to overlook the bad stuff, but if the bad stuff weren't there, or were actually well done, then this game would be outstanding.

Super Hexagon (Android)

And as a counter to those who may think that I dislike the psychopath fights in Dead Rising 2 simply because they are hard, I give you Super Hexagon, a game which is extremely hard, and at the same time, fair. This game is outstanding. It's incredibly simple, but exceptionally well executed, and unlike Dead Rising's fake difficulty, when you lose, it's because you screwed up. It's a skill based game, and an extremely well done one at that.

Also, the music is pretty great.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Week In Gaming - 1-13-13

I thought I'd write a bit about what I've been playing this week. So here we are.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

You know, while at first glance, the free-to-play option for SWTOR looked like a pile of garbage, I've actually taken a closer look, and found that it is, in fact, a pile of garbage. But a slightly less trashy pile-of-garbage.

Most of the features of the game which you have to subscribe to get, or buy separately  are actually achieveable through gameplay in an interesting way. When you buy the unlock off of the in-game real money store, you actually get an item which you can use to unlock stuff. The trick is, these items are not bound to you, so you can sell them to other players for in game money. That means that, if you're willing to grind out some credits on a level 50, you can actually unlock most of the stuff you'll want through normal gameplay. Of course, the one thing you can't unlock without subscribing is an unlimited credit (or other currency) cap, which means you can't buy anything worth more than 350,000 credits. It's not perfect, but it works.

I did actually get my second level 50 in the game over the course of a few weeks. It was an Imperial Agent, and let me just say... Wow. The gap in quality between the storylines is never more evident than when you play the IA storyline. That content is absolutely the best stuff I've seen in that game, and I've played a whole lot of it. The Consular story (my other 50 is a consular) is... Well, it's not very good. It's ok, but none of the companions are particularly interesting, and the story itself doesn't feel very consequential, or interesting. The IA storyline, by contrast, is awesome, and all the companions are super interesting.

It's a really rough problem. The IA storyline is absolutely great, it's just kind of a shame that the best parts of it are hidden behind hundreds of hours of middling-to-good world content. Perhaps I'm just tired of that style of MMO, I don't know.

The Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition

I played 11 hours of the first Witcher, which sounds like a lot, but is actually hardly anything, considering the game could reach something like 50-60 hours if you were trying to complete all the side quests.

So now I'm a good way into The Witcher 2, and aside from a weird crash-to-desktop issue I'm having (I think it has something to do with the memory in my computer, I'm not sure), it seems to be a better game across the board. The overall storyline is actually something I care about, the voice acting on Geralt isn't intolerable this time, the graphics are outstanding, the game feels more cinematic, it plays better... It's not all that dissimilar from the jump from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2.

I'm very fond of the first Mass Effect for a lot of reasons, but none of them are the part where I have to actually play it. The shooting had some good ideas (which I wish they hadn't dropped for the sequels) but poor implementation, the interface was godawful, and the conversations all had a very going through the motions feel to them, and even though the story was outstanding (I still think the reveal about Sovereign is the best twist in the entire series), it felt very rough. Then Mass Effect 2 came along, made the shooting better, gave us a usable interface, and actually had the conversations and cutscenes animate something other than a person shaking their hands forward, or rubbing the back of their neck, and it was amazing.

So yeah. The Witcher 2 ain't half bad.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Oh Professor Layton, you're just so charming. There's just so many things to love about you. From your gorgeous art style, to the way you always talk about being "a true gentleman," to, of course, the way everyone in your universe is completely crazy about puzzles.

This game features a mob who rules London with an iron fist, by making anyone who crosses them solve puzzles! That's not something I made up! That happens! There is a line of dialog which literally says "I'm going to have to teach you a lesson the old fashioned way, by forcing you to solve this puzzle!"

Least intimidating street gang since the Jets and the Sharks.

Super Mario 3D Land

Yep, that sure is a Mario game all right. Turns out they can still make a pretty good one of those.

So that's what I've been playing this week, and a few brief thoughts on everything. I hope you enjoyed hearing my insane ramblings, and maybe I'll do this again sometime.