So I’ve been on a bit of a Star Wars gaming binge lately thanks to the big Star Wars package recently offered on Steam. I’ve played through Knights of the Old Republic, some of the Jedi Knight series, and have even been giving Star Wars Galaxies a try. I’m definitely starting to feel more than a little burned out though, not on Star Wars mind you, rather I’m getting tired of lackluster games and frustrating bugs. I’ll say it right now, the ports for some of these games, especially for the Jedi Knight games, have been pretty abysmal.
But let’s start with the good: KotOR. This game well deserves its sterling reputation, it is just an enjoyable experience through and through. Oh sure, it’s not perfect, but it does a great job of capturing that Star Wars feel that so many other games have failed at. This was not my first playthrough of this classic RPG, though it was the first time I went full on Dark Side. I have tried to go through KotOR as a Dark Jedi many times in the past but I always ran into a host of technical issues that impeded my progress, fortunately I was able to get through the entire game this time though my experience was hardly bug free.
Now, many people complain about good and evil systems in games today with the chief complaint being that you just don’t feel evil at all, you feel more like a complete sociopathic asshole as opposed to some terrifying villain. I will say this for KotOR’s alignment system though, it’s damn fun being bad. More than once I found myself letting out an evil cackle as events found themselves transpiring against those around me. It really makes me interested in seeing how Bioware handles alignment in their upcoming MMO.
As Victor has been letting everyone know lately, Steam is currently putting on a massive sale which will end on July 4th. This was a deal far too good to pass up despite my not really having the financial stability to justify such purchases at the moment and so I found myself taking advantage of the big Star Wars package on offer. Every title in that package was highly desirable to me, chief among them being the Jedi Knight series and KotOR. Secreted away amongst the bevy of FPSes however was a little MMO by the name of Star Wars Galaxies, well known for its exceptional misstep in the release of its New Game Experience. Well now I had no excuse for ignoring this venerable title and so I took the plunge and am now going to give you my first impressions.
Right off the bat: fuck alarm klaxons! Seriously, when I first drop into a new game, especially an MMO, I like to take my time checking out all the various windows and mucking about with the game’s configuration. This becomes an exponentially more painful process when there are alarms going off and I’ve got C-3PO constantly nattering at me to get moving. Dear SOE, this is the worst MMO intro I have ever experienced, you should be ashamed.
Backing up a bit though, character creation was okay, you get to adjust your features with some sliders and it doesn’t look half bad. What’s strange though is that you choose the outfit that your character starts out with before adjusting your features and when it comes to working on your character’s body choosing a baggy outfit makes things a little difficult so I don’t see why we couldn’t have the outfit selection afterward so you can work on a simple canvas from the outset. It’s a minor nitpick I know, but the next one is a little less so. When it comes to choosing your race and class in MMOs there’s never quite as much information to help you along as you might want, some manage this better than others (LotRO has done the best job I’ve seen with WoW in a close second) but SWG tells you practically nothing about your options. The vagueness wouldn’t be so bad but they don’t even tell you what MMO role any of the classes fall into and that’s just sloppy.
But this is no hobbit’s tale by Bilbo Baggins, no, this is simply a story about my brief return to the world of Azeroth and my subsequent journey back to the lands of Middle-Earth. I started up WoW again so I could play with a friend, only that intention ultimately fell through and I found myself simply going through the same motions I went through every time I gave World of Warcraft a shot, going back all the way to its launch. In fact, my feelings for WoW mirror that of most other MMOs, even Lord of the Rings Online (in the beginning, that is) and I rarely found myself subscribed to one of these overwhelming time sinks for more than a month before I grew weary of the grind. LotRO changed all that with the release of the Mines of Moria and unveiling of the Warden class, single-handedly revitalizing my interest in the genre, and so I’m here to talk about the differences between WoW (now that it’s fresh in my mind) and LotRO and why the latter still has my loyalty.
I should probably get one thing right out of the way, while I’ll harp on World of Warcraft as much as the next guy I do not consider it to be a terrible game, far from it. It should go without saying that many of the best features of the modern MMO stem from the design philosophy over at Blizzard, though these features are often mishandled, and as such WoW is at least owed some grudging respect. Still, having not played the game for a couple years my memories were fuzzy and with the looming Cataclysm on the horizon now seemed as good a time as any to give it another go. Why then have I given up after a short month, without having even broken the low 30’s? Well, I always thought it was because I didn’t like the setting and the story, but I now know it is far more than that.
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing any games. So, in the spirit of this past week of E3 and all the big news bombshells that got dropped I am going to review a game that came out months ago. What game is that you ask? Why none other than the interactive drama Heavy Rain.
Heavy Rain is a very polarizing title. I’m not speaking in terms of the split between its fanbase and those who loathe the title’s very existence, rather I’m referring to just how engaging an experience Heavy Rain manages to be while at the same time existing as an extremely bad game. Now whenever a game like this comes out and naysayers attempt to bring it down those who love it tend to defend their obsession with the accusation that “You just don’t get it.” And maybe that’s true, maybe I don’t “get it”, but I don’t think that is the case with Heavy Rain because I can certainly appreciate what David Cage and the rest of the folk over at Quantic Dream tried to pull off here. Unfortunately, that appreciation does not mean that I can overlook some of the truly abysmal design decisions and implementations in Heavy Rain.
Let’s start with the good however, with a bit of a backhanded compliment. Once you complete the first major sequence of the game you unlock a trophy. This trophy’s description thanks you for supporting interactive drama. Needless to say, it came across as horribly pretentious and made me gag. That being said however, Quantic Dream really did succeed at creating an interactive drama. Heavy Rain was, at times, incredibly suspenseful, emotionally gripping, and thoroughly immersive. There are moments in this game that make you feel like you’re watching an episode of 24 or actively participating in one of the Saw movies and those moments truly make this game worth trying out at least once. They even did a good job of making you really care about the characters and what they’re going through and what could happen to them if you don’t make the right decision (assuming you let yourself care about them in the first place that is, something many people might have a hard time doing).
Well, it’s certainly been awhile since I’ve made my presence known on here hasn’t it? As is usually the case real life has been my nemesis of late and while I haven’t stopped playing video games certain factors contributing to my emotional stability (i.e. a breakup) made it difficult to compose my thoughts. Don’t worry though, I’m not quite ready to annoy everyone with my meandering musings quite yet, but there is something I’d like to bring to your attention if you didn’t already know about it.
At this moment there is the deal of the century taking place at http://www.wolfire.com/humble. Okay, maybe it’s not the deal of the century, but it’s pretty darn close I think. What I am referring to is the Humble Indie Bundle. What is it you ask? Are you really that lazy that you can’t be bothered to click a simple link? Well, fine then, I’ll tell you.
It is a collection of indie game titles, many of which received critical acclaim when they were first released (I have yet to play any of them so I can’t really judge for myself yet) and they’re all being sold for the price of: whatever you want! That’s right, you actually get to choose how much these games are worth to you (I believe they normally amount to somewhere around an $80 value), but that’s not all.
You get to choose how your money is spent as well! To a small extent, anyways. Basically you get to choose between giving it all to the developers or giving it to charity. The charities you can select from are Child’s Play (which should be well familiar to anyone who follows Penny Arcade) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which is essentially a lobby group that fights the good fight for people who would prefer not being screwed over by corporations and the government all the time when it comes to the digital age). You can also choose to split your money between them all if it so please you.
Unfortunately, there are definitely some assholes out there who think it’s okay to spend nothing or a cent, and while I’m not here to judge (except to say that you’re an asshole if you do that) it is still important that people take advantage of this offer while it lasts and repay the exceptionally generous gesture on the part of these developers in kind. Now, one person actually donated $1000 but you needn’t go that far, just do what you feel is right, you’re sure to get some bang for your buck regardless.
This sale isn’t going to be up for much longer. In fact, as I type this out there is currently only just over 1 day and 16 hours left before it ends. So be sure to snatch up this opportunity fast. Who knows, they might even reach a million if enough people swarm right now (apparently the source code for some of the games will be released if that milestone is hit). In any case, this isn’t just about a great deal to gamers everywhere, it isn’t just about paying back some truly dedicated game developers for being so generous, it’s about showing just how effective alternative pricing models like this can be. After all, we vote with our wallets.
I recently succumbed to the urge of playing through the classic Gabriel Knight adventure games. There are many reasons for this, some of which shall remain unknown for the time being, but having had it recommended by a very close friend was certainly chief among them. It also helped that Tim Curry and Mark Hamill are voice actors in the first game (though it will be strange hearing Curry voice a non-villain). This article isn’t so much about Gabriel Knight as it is about the vendor from which I purchased it though.
Rather than pirating the games I opted instead to acquire them through Good Old Games’ online store. As this was my first time using the site I had to create an account with which to track and download my purchases. So I went through the motions of punching in my pertinent info when I came across something that seemed a little… off.
GOG.com certainly appeals to a large number of demographics now doesn’t it?
“Perhaps they’re from the future,” I thought, “and in this future we failed to homogenize ourselves into a gender neutral species and instead branched off into a myriad of gender distinctions, each one a product of attitude honed to a fine edge along the evolutionary precipice. What a world that would be! So many new peoples to encounter… and hate! Where would we draw our figurative lines in the sand in that faraway time? Already we throw fits over gays and lesbians, what derogatory labels would these futuristic bigots apply to homosexual Breddas or Xippies? Would Jedi from Britain be referred to as Sith (you know, ’cause the accent automatically makes them evil)? And what the hell is a Bad bwai?!”
Well, whatever the case, so long as I can be a Funky Monkey it’s all the same to me.
… As if millions of bank accounts suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.
Now if you follow the MMO blogosphere closely you’ll likely have noticed a bit of a kerfuffle recently with regard to a little incident involving Warhammer Online and its billing practices. For those not in the know many accounts with active (and inactive) subscriptions to the flagging MMO were recently charged well in excess of their agreed upon frequency. Just to give you an idea of what that means, there have been reported cases of accounts being charged for several years in advance!
In some cases these charges resulted in overcharges on people’s credit cards which naturally resulted in a great deal of misfortune for those burdened with the unfortunate necessity of paying one’s bills. I could go on but suffice to say that Mythic has a major PR mess on their hands here, not to mention a serious legal problem. But I haven’t played WAR since its first month of release so why is it I am bringing all this up?
So I was browsing through Destructoid just before heading off to bed (as I am wont to do) and I stumbled across a little story that had me shaking my head in bewilderment. For those of you who don’t wish to follow that link I’ll save you the trouble. There’s going to be a new XCOM game! And it’s going to be a first-person shooter… Ugh.
Now why is that such a bad thing? I’ve got nothing against FPSes personally, in fact I quite enjoy them from time to time. No, my problem is simply the IP that is being given the FPS treatment. For those of you who aren’t familiar with XCOM (and that is probably a large number of you) I’ll fill you in as to what XCOM is all about.
XCOM started out as an unforgiving strategy game broken up into a macro-scale world management component and a micro-scale squad battle system. The story was something about aliens attacking the Earth so the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit or XCOM has to save the day, blah blah blah. If you couldn’t already tell there was nothing special about its story or setting. What was special was its game play. Now, if you’re interested in what the game was all about feel free to look it up online (the wikipedia entry isn’t half bad) but suffice it to say that the game was very complex, extremely deep, and it had no qualms about kicking your ASS!
Special events are nearly as common in MMOs as they are in real life and in the case of Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online the most prevalent events are the seasonal festivals. During these festivities players are able to participate in activities ranging from simple fetch quests and opening random gift boxes to special minigames such as horse races and bar brawls. For those players interested in the cosmetic side of LotRO there are also plenty of housing decorations and outfits to claim, as well as an assortment of appropriately themed mounts, assuming of course that you gather enough festive tokens to purchase them.
On top of that there are also usually some Deeds available with each festival, urging the completionists just a little deeper into their obsessions. Most of the time these deeds are readily apparent, either revealing themselves as soon as the festival begins or manifesting as soon as you start participating in that particular festival’s main event. In the Spring Festival that is currently underway there are deeds for completing all of the new content at least once, as well as deeds for participating in the new Shrew Stomping event, but there are some deeds that many players may very well be unaware of.
There is an item available at any of the Spring Festival Rewards Vendors scattered throughout the festival areas in Eriador called the Extra Deliciously Tasty Biscuit. You can get two of them if you trade in three Spring Fest barter tokens, only most players probably won’t bother with them when they could instead be purchasing housing items or other cosmetics. What’s so special about these biscuits then? Well, they open up a small cluster of deeds that unlock a few titles for your character.