For those keeping track I have forbid myself from ever playing games on Steam, by Relic, and EA (although that’s going to be hard with Spore coming). Yet another recent test of my resolve came when learning about Team Fortress 2. Since Steam is required to play it, I wiped it from my mind but I recently ran across the ” Meet the…” videos on Valve’s website. Just watching them has really hurt my stance and I’m really tempted to install Steam just for this game (yeah I know Portal supposedly rocks but that is for another entry).
I love it when a game truly has style , such as Okami or Killer 7 and Team Fortress 2 has it in spades. I really want to shake the hands of the designers and artists who came up and went with the less realistic look. I’ve been saying for years that aiming for a perfect realistic look to your games is the wrong way to go as a benchmark for if a game looks good or not. The style of Team Fortress 2 helps the game out in many ways not just on the visual side.
Lets face it designing and showing a tree that has perfect textures, and now showing a park made of all those trees requires alot of system resources and one very expensive computer to be able to run it. Lag in online games can be a killer, even more so in first person shooters where a split second can make all the difference. Using a less detailed style allows Valve to create a game that doesn’t kill your computer and let people who haven’t spent over 2k on a computer play.
Moving to aesthetics, Valve has made something that is both visually different and appealing compared to other games on the market. There is a sense of having a brand in Team Fortress 2 thanks to the look. It’s hard to tell the difference between one muscle bound soldier to another in realistic FPS games, but here you can easily see the difference between the heavy weapons guy and the soldier for instance. I still can’t imagine this game using a more realistic look now that I’ve seen this. The animation on the videos and style is so good I wouldn’t mind them making more videos once they’ve covered all 9 classes. One other aspect Valve nailed is giving their characters a personality whether it’s the smooth talking engineer, to the speak quietly and carry a huge mini gun of the heavy weapons guy.
Game play in Team Fortress 2 is based on the original which is team vs team matches where each person chooses a class that affects health, attack strength,and skills available. Valve has been supporting the game well with new weapons and achievements for classes by retouching the classes as time goes on. You can check out their blog here: www.teamfortress2.com . Unfortunately I don’t have it so this is as far as I can really talk about the game play.
One common theme of the best video games is to have everything about it harmonize with one another. Where every part of this game belongs with everything else and you can’t even think about the game missing any of these elements. I personality think that Team Fortress 2 nails this goal and I feel it’s going to be harder to resist as more videos are released
Well that was my dramatic entrance for the day. Anyway since my recent entry on Diablo 2 and the recent release of a patch that removed the cd requirement, I once again hopped on the train to Sanctuary to do a routine cleaning of hell. First off from my first entry some of my impressions were behind the rose tinted glasses of the past, but that doesn’t mean Diablo 2 is in anyway bad.
As I updated in the entry, purple colored or super rare items don’t exist anywhere in Diablo 2, so you’ll just have to settled for gold color. Also being stuck at 800×600 resolution does take the sheen out of all that uber loot. One thing that I really miss from Titan Quest is the ability to auto sort your inventory so it’s back to tetris again.
Yet the game play still hits that perfect blend of great classes, and rewards for players. In Diablo2 I know that at anywhere at anytime I could stumble across something amazing such as a rare item, or a new rune. In Titan Quest I was always left wandering hoping for a drop at a boss fight. The item variety is just staggering to behold, with new items added in by Blizzard and new rune words for ladder play. I would love to know the total number of rare,magic, and unique items in the world of Diablo 2 as just from playing with a few friends I’ve seen a huge variety.
Then we have the classes which are as diverse and amazing as they were 7 years ago, and I still think no one else has managed to create classes as great in that time. Building up my necromancer has been fun,as I watched my army lay waste to the minions of Diablo while my curses assist. Each skill point in Diablo 2 can have an huge effect on your skills and sets up a variety of diverse characters.
The only nitpick I have with Diablo2 is that re running the game on the higher difficulties does get boring after awhile, but with the amount of loot plus the randomization of the maps keeps things from getting too repetitive.
With the supposed (and hopefully true) announcement of Diablo 3 this week I know that I may have to call up the show “intervention” for my friend as he’s already been obsessed with D2 for all these years. I’m not going to tell him this in game however as his character with all the best loot will wipe the floor with any of mine.
Crap I was going to use that joke for my horror analysis entry, but it fits here as well 🙂
Today I’m going to be looking at Etrian Odyssey 2 (or EO2 for this entry) for the Nintendo DS, at the time of this entry I’m about 30 or so hours in and finished the second stratum(group of floors)and on my way to finishing the third. In my entry on CRPGS and JRPGS I mentioned playing it and being a fan of EO1, and I think I’m far enough in to render a verdict.
For those that missed EO1, the EO series is about old school CRPGS, where its you, a team of adventurers, and a map that you created to get through the dangers of the dungeon. You were able to make a group of 5 out of the 9 classes available to take on the 30 floor dungeon. It bears mention again that this game is old school meaning the difficulty is on the high side, expect your team to die fast starting out and even faster when you run into FOES. The FOES are the highlight of the EO series, enemies that are visible on the map that move when you move, these powerful enemies are basically mini bosses throughout the game and will drop useful loot on defeat some times. The FOES in EO2 have learned some new tricks, including flying over low walls and some will not show up on the mini map which makes tracking them that much harder.
With the past out of the way let’s talk about EO2. The biggest change from EO1 is that all but one of the 12 classes is available at start for your adventuring party. In EO1 two of classes became unlocked near the 30 or even 40 hour point depending on skill, which made them useless without having to spend time grinding out levels for them. Joining the party we have the gunner, a back row high utility character with low defense. The War Magus a combination of a warrior and healer without the high level skills of each. Lastly the beast which takes on the role of tanking for your party. Throughout the game you can see the various interface improvements, such as being able to scroll through the list of party members while selecting skills. To seeing who will equip new gear and the effects from it while shopping.
The other major change is with skills, the developers went back and rebalanced and alter the various skills of the original 9. Gone are some of the more overpowered skills and the weaker skills received a touch up.I’ve noticed that some skills have a higher chance of effecting boss and FOES now,and clever players can set up some excellent combos between their teammates. Now each class can activate a super skill once their “force” bar is filled from fighting, which are trump cards for the FOE and boss fights.
Once again the touch screen is used to view and create your own map, this time there are new icons to make sure you have everything covered. I’ve read people on GameFaqs complain about drawing the maps but personality I enjoyed it. It gives a sense of completion and satisfaction upon completely mapping out a floor and can be a life saver when you get to some of the more maze like floors.
The game play of EO2 is pretty straightforward, as mentioned above the dungeon is split up by stratum or a series of five floors, at the top of each is a boss guarding the way. Each stratum will have its own tricks and such to keep your team on your toes while dodging the various FOES. The game is more about creating a team of your own choosing and completing the dungeon, and now with the rebalanced skills that is probable now (from where I’m at so far, that could change later on). Quests can be undertaken for rewards such as cash or items but you will be spending your time grinding out the various fights to gain the levels needed to get past the boss. Which leads to my main gripe with EO2.
The game requires an excessive amount of grinding to survive the various fights , and now that FOES don’t give out experience , the amount of time needed to grind has practically doubled or tripled . Without FOEs giving out experience, it really hurts the risk/reward system of fighting them, as there is a chance that FOEs will not drop anything upon defeat which made the fight just about worthless. Chances are the time needed to grind should drop as you pick up and enhance the various skills of your team, but it does make the game pretty front loaded with difficulty and grinding.The game also breaks one of my pet peeves for RPGS, having conditional drops that quite frankly you would never know or find out about without blind luck or using a strategy guide. I would have perfered them telling you about it in game as opposed to relying on the internet or luck to find them. Also a common complaint from reviewers is that not much has changed and they’re right, if the first game didn’t interest you then avoid this one. I am left to wonder if an EO3 is in the works, what could they possibly add or tweak to make it a new experience?
My other complaint are the quests, quests in EO2 range from killing a specific creature, to collecting an item from spots in the dungeon. The problem is that with the exception of monatary rewards, the rewards given are basically useless, as there is a good chance that you will get a more powerful piece of equipment by the time you complete the quest. Alot of the quests task you with collecting specific items which increase the grinding time for a minimal reward. What they really need to do is to tie experience into the quest system to make it worth your while to finish quests. After the first stratum I gave up on accomplishing every quest in the game as it never seemed worth it for me to complete them.
Overall I like EO2 because I’m a fan of games that let me take my own group as opposed to the standard ones seen in other RPGS. While the difficulty of EO2 is higher then the first one, you won’t have to worry about over powered monsters to fight. The new classes and rebalanced skills mean that veterans of EO1 have some studying to do to develop new tactics and combinations and that’s just fine with me. People who were expecting a radical shift from EO1 are going to be disappointed however. I give Etrian Odyssey 2 an alternate blog entry title of “I pity the FOE”.
While talking to my friend the other night about my stance on turn base strategy games, he mentioned the same exact problem I have with real time strategy games, which was reassuring to hear that it’s not just me that has a problem with RTS games. Consider this a follow up to the “No more turns” entry and my attack on the RTS genre.I’ve been playing the RTS genre since Command and Conquer and got into the genre with Starcraft. Over the past 3 years my interest has started to dwindle for the genre, and I know that if people from QT3 are reading this entry I’m going to piss off the RTS nuts, well here goes 🙂
The biggest difference in my opinion between RTS games in the 90s opposed to ones in recent years, is that games today focus more on the multiplayer angle instead of single as in the 90s. I think StarCraft with Battle.net really set the stage for online matches in RTS games and started the trend. I miss the days of having unique challenging levels to play instead of the usual rush the AI base or defend the hill sections. The most recent examples in my opinion of having excellent single player functionality are WarCraft 3 and Rise of Nations. Warcraft 3 went for a very cinematic experience with unique missions ,such as having the hero burn down an entire human village. Even the hold the fort style missions had a cinematic touch , such as the final mission where you must defend the world tree while the burning legion storms across the land.
On the other side there is Rise of Nations that went for an almost TBS like style to their RTS. The single player campaign was a map of the world and each turn you can move an army icon to another space. Landing on an enemy territory started a RTS battle , while not as cinematic it does provide a way of making battles fit into the scope of things. This technique has been attempted in games such as Dawn of War and the Battle for Middle Earth series, but I feel that Rise of Nations did it best. Now it’s time to talk about my real beef with the genre.
There are three words that make me sick when I hear them mentioned in a RTS or TBS game (for those that read “no more turns” you know where I’m getting at) “build order lists”. For people who don’t play strategy titles, build order lists refers to playing the game by following a set of instructions as opposed to playing the game on your own. In Age of Empires 3, I remember reading second by second lists of how to survive rushing (I’ll explain that next) or how to build a stable economy. To me this zaps the fun and game play of any game, and devolves the game into who can follow their shopping list first. In a few paragraphs I’ll go into what steps I feel need to be taken to get rid of this, now it’s time to charge.
Rushing is a statement as old as the genre itself, it is part of the 3 overall strategies of any RTS game. They are turtling, booming, and of course rushing, turtling is building up nothing but defenses and draining the opponents economy by trying to get rid of them and then taking him out. Booming is focusing on your economy and research and fighting with higher quality units to win. Rushing is ignoring your economy to build up a huge weak force and swarming the enemy base before units and defenses can be built. I’m not going to get into the technical aspects of the first two as it is abit too much for this thread but instead on rushing. The problem with rushing is that it figures right back into build order lists, as the best rushing comes from them and the only dependable defense against them are build order lists. In recent year I’ve seen RTS games provide a basic set of defenses to discourage base rushing which is a good step forward. Recently I’ve witness the zenith of my problem with the RTS genre with a game called Supreme Commander.
Supreme Commander talked alot of talk in previews, massive armies to lead, epic size maps, super units the size of buildings and I was looking forward to it. Playing the game however is far different then what previews suggested, the entire game is about carefully balancing your economy by building resource and power generators. Unit AI is as dumb as dirt and unless your watching them 24/7 they will get themselves killed. This a game where you can spend upwards of 20 minutes just assembling your base before any combat will begin. The game uses a queued system to allow you to plan your moves out in advance, allowing players to plan out every move for 30 minutes within seconds. Obviously this game is the epitome of build order list and eventually I got to the point that I gave up even trying to play the game as it felt too scripted and rigid to play.
Speed has become another issue to me with RTS games, I was never fast at keyboard commands and since StarCraft it has almost become required to master hot keys of all those unit powers to have a chance online. If there is one thing I hate more then build order lists, is having to find my healer unit in a crowd to click on the heal button before everyone dies. Micromanagement should not dictate the winner of the match,and unit AI should be made smart enough that I can leave them alone without worrying about them getting themselves killed. I want to focus on tactics and strategy , not on my ability to baby sit what are supposed to be highly trained military personale . So that leaves us with what the solution is, and I’ve been thinking about a few myself.
I have two big ideas for the genre, one on the single player side and one for multi player. For single player I want to go back to the cinematic style and focus on a game built up for single player only. This title takes place on another planet during a period similar to either late 1800s or early 1900s of our history. You follow a person across eighty years as he rises to become the greatest military strategist on the planet. In the process he basically controls the evolution of the planet as just like in real life, winners writes the history and each conflict will effect subsequent conflicts. The player chooses after talking to the various leaders who he/she will support and will lead their armies into battle. By keeping this offline means there can be radically different sides , and each conflict sees the player leading a different army. The story of the game is the main character is writing a biography of his life and each chapter is another conflict that he lived through, and I’ve got a few of their stories almost done now. The ending of the game will be different depending on whose side you choose in each conflict, and I’m going to make sure that for the most part there aren’t alot of good/evil fights but stay in the grey. I’m still not sure of how I want the personal aspect of the game to play, originally I thought you could have the character run around before battles but the more I think about it would become annoying fast.
Next is a game built for multi player only, and for those that read my entry on the CCG genre know what’s coming. This is my toy box game idea, where players create their own side out of a collection of units, and buildings. Taking a cue from the CCG genre the whole concept of armor and health will be straight forward, units will have anywhere from 1 to 3 points of health and that’s it. The difference is that there are few situations where a character will always be hit. In most RTS games ranged units have an advantage as they can whittle down an attacking army , here there is a huge chance in a 1 to 1 situation for the range unit to miss, and only by either having overwhelming force or attacking the flank will a range unit be able to quickly kill the enemy. One aspect I would love to see that I’m thinking about adding here, are stealth units that can be told to perform certain tasks and can not be readily seen by the enemy’s radar. Each part of your side costs points and taking a cue from Armageddon Empires the better the unit the more points it cost, limiting your self to either a diverse group of units and researches or a select group of powerhouses. Buildings will provide numerous benefits depending on which ones you have , including providing armaments to help your characters survive.
Obviously I’m not going to go into perfect detail here, just enough to wet your appetites 🙂 I think we need RTS games that get away from the rush centric professional gaming competition scene that has develop over the years. I don’t want to have to follow a list of directions to have a chance at winning a match. Also as I mentioned in another entry there needs to be some form of customization present in strategy titles. I loved the idea in Age of Empires 3, but I want to see it developed further. Personality I believe the old additive that if a game is developed for both single and multi player , something is going to be left on the cutting room floor as opposed to if the game was focused on one or the other. Right now I have no idea where I stand with Starcraft 2, I can just sense the Korean gamers already have their rush strategies ready and I know the second I go online I’m going to get wiped out. Possibly by some kind of new “super zergling rush”.