Welcome to the end of my game diary on SI, hopefully for those trying to learn the ropes my past entries have helped along with the manual. In terms of game mechanics I’ve touched on just about every major mechanic in the game except for one: secret objectives. Now before I get things rolling I do want to mention that while my 8 entries about SI have gotten the main elements of the game down there is still so much to cover, you could pretty much have an entry on each skill tree and their uses. Not to mention with a healthy influx of patches from Vic, what works now may not work in the future. Case in point my mention that the higher your rank the better starting legion you have, with the new patch that is no longer true. Now your starting legion is based on your combined stats, I haven’t started a game using the new rule set yet so I don’t know the affect it has had on the game. Here’s hoping that a new edition of the manual will be made at some point. Simply put the best way to learn the game is to have the manual handy and just dive in, I’m just glad that my PBEM games came after me starting these entries, as it has helped my understanding of the game.
With that said let’s talk about secrets. In previous entries I talked about the main ways to earn prestige: winning fights and vendettas, capturing PoPs, insults and public objectives. There is a reason why they are called public, as you can also have secret objectives. On the orders screen you’ll see the option to draw a secret objective, the amount you can draw and keep is based on your intellect. Once you have drawn one you are stuck with it unless you reach level 6 intellect and use the ritual unholy revelation to get rid of it, or another player uses it on you. Secret objectives available are chosen at random for you and can be just about anything, each objective comes with a prestige award for completing them. The big difference though is that if you fail a secret objective you lose prestige equal to the award. Other player’s with a high enough intellect can see what secret objectives you have picked, and try to stop you from achieving them. This part reminds me of Ticket to Ride, a board game with a PC version of it, in the game each player had objectives to meet by connecting two cities together, however no one knows what everyone’s goals are. This led to the mechanic of tricking the other players or trying to block the other players while completing your goals.
Well my game is over with me coming out on top by a huge margin, here is the glorious victory screen:
I guess after 8 entries I should give my opinion of SI. Overall I enjoyed SI but I do have some complaints about it. First is the difficulty curve, without a tutorial you are pretty much left to fend for yourself with a copy of the manual at your side. This was one of the reasons why I did this series of entries about the game. There are some UI annoyances I have, such as there is no way to quickly jump from the bazaar to the orders screen with a push of a button. Also I wish on the bazaar screen for buying manuscripts that I could see which ones in the set I already have without having to jump back and forth between the tribute screen.
One other problem with SI compared to Armageddon Empires was the randomness factor that the additional factions added to it. For those that didn’t play AE, the free expansion brought with it the chance of running into a faction in the wasteland, each faction had its own tricks and game changing rules. One side if you didn’t kill them after X amount of turns they would blow up the world ending the game. This is a small complaint as this feature was not available at launch, hopefully something along these lines will come with whatever Vic cooks up for the expansion. My final complaint about SI is the necessity of multiplayer for it; one of the complaints of AE was the lack of multiplayer which for any game that has Collectible card game elements in it hurts. The problem with SI is that the AI at this point isn’t devious enough to be a major challenge to TBS vets. The act of diplomacy and espionage in SI only really works when you have other people to play with.
And that is that, if anyone is looking to get a game going shoot me an email. I like to say that I’m a moderate player at this point.
I was so excited to play Bayonetta this week; the director is the man behind Devil May Cry and Viewitful Joe. The studio is made up of the people responsible for God Hand, which I consider to be part of the trinity of amazing action titles. I had a chance to play Bayonetta at the VGexpo last year and walked away with a good feeling for it. Unfortunately as it turns out I should not keep my hopes up.
Going into the game I was hoping for some next gen God Hand but instead I got something different. Let’s start with the game play, Bayonetta is classic action style. You move from set piece to set piece most often locked in a room with baddies and have to stylishly kill them. Rinse and repeat until the game is done, there are several boss battles and a few puzzles to mix things up but they come few in far between. What Bayonetta does right is that it provides the player with a fluid and responsive character, with no small part thanks to the combo system.
The combo system was carefully constructed and a highlight for the game. In most action titles all the combos in the game are pre-canned and there is a break in the flow between them. For example if you have 2 combos: XXXY and XXXX, usually after you do the first one you have to wait a second before starting the next one. Bayonetta however does things differently; instead of having combos out of long inane button combos (XXYXXXYYXYX) what they did was take button combos that you would normally press while jamming on the buttons and turned them into combos. The fluidity of Bayonetta also removes that one second delay in attacking, meaning the second the last hit of your XXYYX combo ends you can start XXXYY without a second to spare. For each weapon load out in the game, the same combo tree applies to each one, meaning XXYX will be used for your sword combos as well as your whip ones. This makes Bayonetta one of the most responsive games I’ve played, but also gives me my first complaint about the game.
In my opinion every weapon in Bayonetta lacks personality due to the combo system. As I mentioned the same skill tree applies to everything meaning that you’ll be attacking the same with the whip as you would the sword. Yes the weapons have different attributes to them but in terms of button presses it’s the same thing one after another. An example done right would have to be Devil May Cry 3; every weapon not only had its own attributes but also style which would influence the combos. One weapon in DMC 3 were gauntlets that turned Dante into a close range fighter with a move list based on charging your punches and kicks before unleashing them. Another weapon was an electric guitar/scythe which the move list was based on quick attacks followed by jamming on the buttons to unleash electrical blasts to take down your foe. Both weapons were completely different and the expert gamer could combine them both to create devastating combos by quickly switching between the two. While a universal combo chain is a great idea, it unfortunately simplifies the combat in my opinion. Moving on my next complaint has to do with the opposite of fighting, defense.
When it comes to defense in action titles, it always seems to be the weak link in the chain and Bayonetta is no exception. It should come as no surprise that there is no block button; DMC didn’t have one (with exception to the royal guard style in DMC3). Bayonetta has an evade ability with one unique twist that almost makes up for the lack of a block, witch time. If you dodge an enemies’ attack at the last possible second you enter witch time, everything slows down allowing you to pummel the enemy unopposed. For the most part this is a brilliant system but the problem is that when you don’t have it, the faults in the system are visible. For some reason witch time only activates after certain attacks with no explanation. Why a green energy ball and a red fireball are different I have no idea. To make matters worse there are some fights where witch time does not work at all. These fights involve gold plated enemies who can tear through your health bar in seconds. It’s like the designers came up with this great idea and could not follow through with making it balanced. Now there is another defensive option, but I would like to talk about why it fails.
In Bayonetta you can buy accessories that can provide benefits, one such accessory is the power to counterattack, by pressing the left stick in the direction of the enemy just as the attack connects you block and stun the enemy long enough to attack. There are several problems with this; one is that you need to spend 200k halos (game currency) to be able to afford it. Without resorting to grinding levels I did not have enough halos to buy that until I beat the game on normal. Second, something so powerful and important to the game mechanics should not be hid behind a price tag. It is like a first person shooter that restricts you from picking up anything stronger then a pistol until you buy the upgrade. As a game mechanic it is a no-no to lock up important skills from the player. Ninja Gaiden Black was great that everything the player needed to learn and use was there from the start, you weren’t going to unlock an instakill move half way in. In NGB the only place to go was up, with new weapons and upgrades to the base skills that would see you through to the end.
At last it’s time for my final complaint against Bayonetta which is the usual complaint for action titles, the camera. While it fortunately doesn’t go crazy looking at everything except you, it is instead to slow. Using the right analog stick to turn the camera seems to take forever. You can use the lock-on button to quickly turn the camera but when you are trying to dodge 15 things at once it can be easy to forget. Also the camera has a habit of either being too zoomed in preventing you from seeing off screen attacks, or too zoomed out where you can’t make out the attack tells of the enemies. Hopefully someday someone will create the ultimate action game camera and we will all rejoice.
Now I realize that this entry comes off very negative towards Bayonetta but I did enjoy the game. As an action title it is well done, but when I looked at the pedigree of the people involved I was expecting more. I wanted God Hand meets Ninja Gaiden Black; instead I got God Hand meets Devil May Cry. My top 3 action titles would have to be: Ninja Gaiden Black, God Hand and Devil May Cry 3 in that order. While Bayonetta is good, it wasn’t enough to knock these 3 off their pedestals. I do take some solstice in the fact that no one has come close to creating the action game I want to develop which I think would be one of the best action titles, now all I need is a team to make it.
As you may have noticed I’ve kept quiet about the storyline in Bayonetta since it makes my head hurt. There is nonsensical and then we have Bayonetta, which makes Killer 7 and God Hand coherent. In all honesty nothing in Bayonetta made me go “WTF!”, I’ve played God Hand, Killer 7 and No More Heroes, there is nothing Japan can throw at me now to surprise me.
P.S Also God Hand had a better ending theme in my opinion.
My backlog of doom has been encroaching on my free time lately, but with a second PBEM of SI in the works I decided to hop back into my singleplayer game to see what is happening.
Right now I’m #1 by a long shot which also makes me the target of everyone else. Thanks to my bad ass servant legion which from what I heard after patch 1.05 will not happen so easily again, I’ve managed to keep the peace with just 2 legions. Everyone else on the other hand has a private army ready to knock on my door; I have to keep the peace long enough to secure hell. I’ve been targeted by a few archfiends who have been looting my tribute cards but with my high charisma I can easily recoup the lost. With all those resources I’m also improving my martial skill so that I can hopefully start a blood feud.
I want to stop things for a second and comment on the flavor text in SI, I love it. Every legion, item, and PoP has accompanying flavor text to go with it that sets the mood so well. I really wish the manuscripts had a bit more text to go with them but that is a small nitpick.
Ok back to the action, my plan now is to go full on bastard and tick off Mammon to the point that he will have to declare war against me. Meanwhile I’ve noticed that Moloch has assembled a huge force north west of my territory. I’ve also played an event that may excommunicate one of the AI allowing us to pick on him until death, unfortunately it didn’t happen.
We are nearing the end at this point, before I saved my game I was up to 13 of 15 tokens drawn. My servant is away fighting heaven right now which leaves just one legion guarding the homestead. I had a chance to draw an event which summons an angelic host to beat down everyone starting with the guy with the most prestige, considering it was me that would not have been a smart move. Chances are unless something crazy happens my next entry should be the last, I will also talk about secret objectives as I believe that is the last mechanic left to go over.
When we look at making “games as art” in most cases it goes against what has made the industry famous, the gameplay ;in its place you’ll find unique storytelling and art. I’ve been playing the Void lately and it succeeds in not only having a strange story and visuals, but the gameplay to back it up.
As hinted by the title of this entry, color is the name of the game here. In The Void color exists in 4 forms: First in its collectible state in the chambers of the void. Here the game is played in first person allowing the player to wander around the surreal world, picking up color from the area. The color that the player picks up goes into a stockpile, think of this as unrefined materials waiting to be process. This type of color can be placed in the numerous hearts the player can find. Color in a heart acts as the player’s hitpoints, the more color you have in your hearts the more health you have. When the player leaves a chamber and goes into the void or map time starts ticking and the color in the hearts is absorbed. What this means is that if you don’t keep putting color in the hearts you will die when you reach 0. The only way to move around in the void and to keep the game moving is to be in the void, so why should you use up your life force like that? Going through your color moves it into the final state into your pallet, here color is now part of your arsenal and can be used to attack, move around the void, draw glyphs (aka spells) and to give away which I’ll get to in a bit. What makes it so interesting is the cycle of death the game has made for itself.
To advance in The Void you literally have to kill yourself to move time and to have the necessary ammo to interact with the world. Pumping numerous hearts with color at the same time will give you a lot of health but will also drain your stockpile that much faster. It is very easy to have a lot of color in your pallet and not enough to feed yourself with. Color that can be picked up is randomize at the start of each cycle. You can also harvest color in three ways that I’ve found so far in game, one is to mine certain spots in chambers using two glyphs, from the insects you find in gardens and giving color to dead trees bringing them back to life and to harvest in the next cycle. As you can see things are certainly not boring here, but there is more.
Color besides acting as your health also affects both you and the world. Each color in the game when inside your hearts will provide a perk to you, such as increase defense or speed. The more of the same color you have the greater the bonus which you can see on your body screen. However each time you use color it spills out into the void providing a negative affect, such as increase enemy damage or their numbers. One of the most important lessons in the game is to pump certain stats up to their max before doing certain actions to get the biggest benefit to them. Moving on it’s time to talk about the denizens you’ll meet in the void.
The two groups that you will be interacting with are the sisters and the brothers. Sisters exist in their own private chambers desiring color. Each one has two colors they prefer and supposedly a third that will kill them but I haven’t gotten far enough to confirm that. Giving them color will treat you to them swimming or posing and by giving them enough color, their clothing will come off (as you can probably tell, not a game for the minors). For filling up one of their hearts, you’ll have access to their chambers that make up their domain, filling up two hearts will allow you to move on to the next area in the void. While the sisters are just lying around not doing much, the brothers are far more active.
The brothers act as the guardians of the void and will kill you if you go against them. As the game opens up the brothers are hiding away, but as you go through each cycle they will start to appear one by one. They hunger for color much like you and the sisters and will patrol around the void snacking on color in the chambers. You can protect your gardens by charging up spike rocks to act as a deterrent. They also provide you with demands or quests to do in the game and give you a certain number of cycles to complete them. If you fail they will attack you and in the early stages of the game this usually means game over. They also like to talk to while moving around the void, mostly talking about the void or how much they hate you. There is a lot going on in The Void and it is a shame the game falls into the same traps as most art games.
The common theme in most art games is a minimum explanation of how things work forcing the player to learn through the world. This works when we are dealing with basic game mechanics but not so much when have a system as complex as The Void. The game has an annoying habit of giving important tips way after the actual mechanic is introduced in game. What this means is that a lot of the learning in the game is done through failure which for most games isn’t bad, like roguelikes. However in a structured game like The Void what means is that you will be replaying past sections again until you get it right. Another detail that hurts learning the game is the constant time restraints you have, in order to see the map and what color is available you have to go into the void. Meaning that time will count down and the brothers will start moving around. As I mentioned earlier it is very easy to paint yourself into a corner (no pun intended) and having to restart again. Without spoiling the game, the biggest tip I can give first time players is to follow the instructions in game exactly for at least 12 cycles. Don’t try to go off on your own or rush things along or you may shoot yourself in the foot. Another problem is that a few of the objectives aren’t explained all that well which can screw up first time players.
When it comes to the actual game mechanics I just have minor quibbles. First I wish there was a grab all option instead of holding down the left mouse button waiting for the color to fill up on the body screen. Having to draw the glyphs once again reminds me how horrible of an artist I am but I do commend the developers for having the foresight to slow the game down while drawing. One strange omission is that the only glyph that seems to show up along the bottom of the screen to remind you is the “give” glpyh, it would have been easier if the rest would show up instead of having to go back and forth between the journal screen. Overall The Void is an interesting game and something that needs to be played by anyone complaining we don’t have enough original game ideas. Now whether or not you will enjoy the game is another story.