Tag Archives: RPG

Hope, Hype, Disappointment – The Last Guardian and FF7

Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s a beautiful, haunting game with a story, atmosphere, and heartbreaking battles that have lingered with me for years. When The Last Guardian, a spiritual successor, was shown at E3 2009 I was stoked. It had a similar feel, the same beautiful lighting and magnificent architecture. Where SotC featured a man and his horse, TLG showed a relationship between a boy and his giant griffin. It looked lovely, and I was more than ready for another great experience from Team Ico.

Then, nothing. Year after year, The Last Guardian was notably absent from Sony’s press conferences and release schedules. Each year I hoped to get a brief tidbit, a hint it was still happening, but for 5 years I was disappointed. Then, last night it was back. But it was too late. Prior to this year’s E3 I had decided I didn’t care about this game anymore, and declared it vapourware. I had been strung along for far too long, disappointed too many times.

There was a brief glimmer of surprise and delight during the conference when I first realized they would actually be showing something this year, but it quickly faded. As I watched the gameplay footage I felt very little. I think annoyance at the voice of a young boy calling the birddog repeatedly was the main thing I felt, and it didn’t seem that I was seeing anything really new. Certainly not 6 years worth of new.

The Last Guardian

The constant vocalizations for the griffin in order to overcome platforming puzzles seemed to draw much more from Ico (which I was never a fan of) than Shadow of the Colossus. Worst of all, the gameplay just didn’t look very engaging. Maybe after 6 years they counted on people being so desperate for scraps of information that they’d take anything, but I was disappointed by the showing. Dull footage, barely any actual talk about the game, and a vague 2016 release date.

I think this may be a case of excitement and constant disappointment slowly turning into resentment, and I though the presentation was too little, far too late. Hopefully the game will surprise me when it’s further along in development (if it ever gets to that point).

Sony made another huge announcement last night, and that’s Final Fantasy 7 finally getting a remaster. Though this is something I’ve been hoping for for even longer than TLG, my reaction to this was one of elation. I’m so excited to be able to play one of the games that meant the most to me and really got me back into consoles back in the late 90s, and have it look nice. Those polygons just don’t age very well. Though Sony and Square Enix have made some dick moves regarding this in the past – showing a FF7 tech demo for the PS3 release, announcing a port of the original to PS4, announcing some teeny tiny FF world thing last night right before the remake reveal – they never really entertained the idea of a remake. So for the past 10 years of so I’ve felt a low key kind of hope that they’d remake it eventually, while understanding that it might never happen. But now it’s happening. I may have cried during the trailer.

The Sony presser was quite a roller coaster of emotions.

What do you think about Sony’s big announcements? Excited?

Tips for Pillars of Eternity

It’s been great to see so many strong isometric RPGs come out in the last year or two, with more still to come. Pillars of Eternity was released at the end of March by Obsidian and it’s been great so far, and really brings up the nostalgia for games like Baldur’s Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment, while adding some cool new features and story.

Pillars of Eternity

Here are a few tips if you’re just getting started.

Combat

The real-time combat took a bit to get used to for me, here are some of the things I learned:

  • Micromanage the hell out of your party. Even on lower difficultly levels, you can’t usually just let everyone auto-attack and still win.
  • Combat can be over quickly, and your characters can be killed in a matter of seconds if you’re not careful. Be aggressive – use your abilities proactively, don’t save them for a time you think they may be more needed. If you’re up against a group of enemies, reducing their numbers quickly is key.
  • Use the custom formations to put your party members in good initial positions (heartier melee in the front, ranged and casters in the back).
  • Make sure your squishy ranged are actually equipped with ranged weapons (a quarterstaff will still have them running into melee range) so they stay in safe spots.
  • Buffs and crowd control are just as important as damage and healing. I particularly like abilities that knock down enemies, or the big AoE buffs from classes like Priests and Druids.
  • Read all your spells – some offensive spells will only hit enemies, but many have friendly fire as well.
  • Sometimes, you just aren’t strong enough to beat a particular enemy yet. Learned from experience – don’t try to take on Raedric at level 3.

Companions

Here’s the list of all 8 possible companions and where you can find them, so you don’t miss any:

  • Aloth (Wizard) – Gilded Vale
  • Eder (Warrior) – Gilded Vale
  • Durance (Priest) – Magran’s Fork
  • Kana (Chanter) – Caed Nua
  • Pallegina (Paladin) – Oondra’s Gift in Defiance Bay
  • Sagani (Ranger) – Woodend Plains
  • Hiravias (Druid) – Stormwall Gorge
  • Grieving Mother (Cipher) – Dyrfold Village

The pre-created companions will all add something to the story as well as have their own character quests.

  • There are 3 classes not represented by the pre-created characters – Barbarian, Monk, and Rogue – in case that impacts the creation of your own character.
  • You can also make your own companions from an Inn.
  • You’ll level up faster if you don’t have the party of 6, as each character will get more experience.

Items

  • Rope and Grappling Hook, Hammer & Chisel, and Lockpicks are very useful, especially at the start of the game. If you get a chance to buy or pick these up, do it. There are in-game events which will need them if your skill levels aren’t very high yet.
  • Always carry the max amount of Camping Supplies (4).

Crafting

  • You don’t need to worry about recipes in the game, they’ll open up as you reach the appropriate levels.
  • You can cook or do alchemy, to get foods and potions which will provide buffs. You can make scrolls, though I haven’t found those are needed much, or traps.
  • Enchanting has been the most useful type of crafting for me. If you get a good, named piece of equipment, enchant it to make it even better.
  • Don’t worry too much about saving materials for later, most things can be found again or bought easily.

Exploring

  • Make extensive use of the Tab button, which will highlight items you can pick up or interact with, and Scouting mode, which will reveal traps and hidden items.
  • If Scouting mode is too slow for your tastes, pair it with Double Speed.
  • The initial scrolling speed for the game is slow, it can be increased in the menu under Game.
  • Rest often. It doesn’t seem that rest can be interrupted by monsters.
  • Visit Caed Nua early, because it opens up some cool new stuff.
  • You can’t get to Twin Elms until Act 3, don’t drive yourself nuts trying to figure out how to get there.
  • It matters what exit you take from some screens. Exiting from the East won’t open up access to an area South of you.

That’s all for now! Let me know if you need more info, or if you have any tips for me.

The 10 Best Games Ever (according to me)

Today I stumbled across a post on I Hate Loading Screens about her top 10 games, and thought it was a great idea for a blog post.

So here is my list of the 10 best games I’ve ever played.

Planescape Torment

1. Planescape Torment – I talk about this game a lot. And there’s a reason for that – it’s fucking amazing. I’ve always been a fan of isometric RPGs and Torment is the best of the bunch by far. The story is great. The characters have backstories and personalities and feel as real as video game characters can get. The game is full of lore, every object you pick up can have it’s own story that sends your imagination on a joy ride. It’s text heavy and the text is beautifully written. Gameplay is also strong, and allows you to master different classes and switch between them. It also allows you to choose how to approach situations, with brains, brawn, or subterfuge.

If, by some chance, you like RPGs and have not played this, I can probably hook you up with a GoG code. Comment/message me if you want one.

Pandora Directive box art

2. Pandora Directive – Of all the adventure games I’ve played over the years, this one is the one I’d call the best.  Pandora Directive puts Sam Spade-inspired PI Tex Murphy on a missing person’s case that soon unearths a vast conspiracy. The gameplay combines point and click mechanics with first-person exploration to great effect. During the course of the investigation Tex solves puzzles, makes contacts, and shares wisecracks about everything. Pandora Directive has sharp, funny writing and allows the player to shape Tex’s character through branching dialogue trees (way before Bioware made this popular), which can lead to a number of different endings. All the Tex Murphy games are great, but this one is the best. The combination of noir setting with humour really works for me.

Beyond Good and Evil

3. Beyond Good and Evil – Besides having one of my favourite protagonists of all time, Beyond Good and Evil has an interesting story and really solid, fun gameplay. As Jade, you need to take on the DomZ, aliens who are enslaving humans. The game world of Hillys features a really cool combination of sci-fi and fantasy elements and features stylish visuals and a really cool soundtrack. Gameplay is diverse, featuring action, combat, stealth, platforming, puzzle solving, and hovercraft racing. All of these elements are done really well. It also features a photography mechanic which is used both to gather evidence about the conspiracy going on and to catalogue all the species of Hillys. I’m a sucker for photography in games when it’s well done.

Shadow of the Colossus

4. Shadow of the Colossus – There’s a certain beauty to exploring a vast and empty land and having a story that isn’t really spelled out for you. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most moving gaming experiences I’ve had. It’s technically an action game, but the action is confined to one very specific thing – battling colossi. Each battle is a puzzle, where you need to find the beast’s weakness in order to defeat it. As the game progresses these fights become no less exhilarating, but take on an aspect of sadness and you start to wonder why you’re killing these magnificent creatures.

XCOM Enemy Within

5. XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within – Set during a global alien invasion, XCOM puts you in the commander’s chair of an elite organization that represents humanity’s last hope against the invaders. It expertly combines tactical turn-based combat with resource management and strategy. Managing your base is a balancing act of researching alien tech so you can adapt it for your own use, building items and facilities which aid in combat, and reducing worldwide panic by deploying satellite coverage and shooting down enemy UFOs. Everything about this game is compelling, and while I generally play through games like this once then declare “I won,” XCOM is a game that I’ve played through multiple times. Just turning on Ironman mode makes this an entirely new experience.

Shadow Hearts: Covenant box art

6. Shadow Hearts: Covenant – The PS2 was an amazing console for JRPGs and of all of them, Shadow Hearts: Covenant is the one that won my heart. Set during WW1, Covenant takes an unlikely group of protagonists across the globe in order to stop a group of sorcerers intent on world domination. Admittedly, it’s not the most unique story, but it’s the game’s execution that makes it special. Shadow Hearts introduces some really likable characters and puts them in some seriously goofy situations. It’s the humour that really sets this JRPG apart, and there’s a lot of it. It also gives some unique character abilities, from having a character who uses tarot cards and aromatherapy in combat, to a puppetmaster whose doll gains abilities from new outfits, to a vampire who changes forms from golden bat to muscle-bound pro wrestler. From a gameplay perspective, one of the best things about the game is the Judgement Ring, which turns turn-based combat into something much more active and interesting.

Star_Ocean_Second_Story

7. Star Ocean: Second Story – Another amazing  JRPG. Like many JRPGs, the story is a bit of a save the world cliche (though it does add a lot of sci-fi elements to the usual fantasy tropes), but it’s the details that make this game great. First, you get to pick your main character. You can be the attractive, broody, sword-wielding young man with spike hair OR you can play as the naive young woman with magical abilities. Okay, I’m doing a bad job selling this. Your choice of character makes subtle changes to the story, including which other characters you can recruit, and changes some of the story that you get to see, so that’s cool. Second, crafting. You can write, you can blacksmith, you can cook, or compose music or create art. It’s a really robust crafting system that lets you create a ton of usable and special items. If you get good enough at cooking you can even compete in an Iron Chef-like tournament, which is amazing. I’m not generally a fan of crafting in games, but in Star Ocean it is so much fun. Third, the combat is really interesting. Rather than turn-based, combat is more active with you controlling movement and actions on the battlefield. Also, 4 characters participate in each battle, and 4 is better than 3. There’s also an emphasis on building relationships with the other characters in your party and Private Actions let you talk to each character individually.

Mass Effect - Commander Shepard

8. Mass Effect – I refuse to pick one game, Mass Effect is best looked at as a series. Why is Mass Effect awesome? Well, primarily because of Commander Shepard and Jennifer Hale. Shepard is an amazingly kick-ass space action hero and Mass Effect is one of the few games where I enjoy both the Paragon and Renegade character development track. In a lot of games the renegade/dark/evil options just make your character into an asshole, but Mass Effect gives options that are pragmatic and direct rather than just being jerky. Character development is great, relationships in the game get into your head and never let go, choices are hard. Mass Effect features some really memorable characters and the trilogy as a whole is an experience that covers not only the thrills and dangers of saving the entire galaxy but also has a ton of smaller, quieter moments that make the games special. Also, it’s a very solid 3rd person shooter.

Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

9. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – Set in White Wolf’s World of Darkness, VtMB and is an atmospheric and immersive RPG. As a freshly sired vampire you need to navigate through an eternally dark Los Angeles, making friends and enemies, feeding on mortals, fighting foes, and surviving vampire politics. The game is not without flaws, there are some pretty nasty bugs, but the story and interactions in the game more than make up for them. The lore of the game is deep, each vampire clan has its own strengths and motivations. You can choose whether to abide by the rules of the Masquerade and what clans to align yourself with. The writing and voice acting in the game is top notch, and there are some truly creepy moments.

Final Fantasy x-2

10. Final Fantasy x-2 – Final Fantasy X was a great game, and X-2 leveraged the great world and characters it had set up and added some amazingly fun new gameplay. Yuna becomes the heroine and teams up with Rikku and new character Paine to spread girl power throughout the land (and save the world, obviously). Though there are some cringey bits (I find serious musical numbers in games to be immensely uncomfortable), the sheer amount of fun this game offers more than makes up for it. Combat has evolved past that of FFX. It’s faster, it’s slicker. Characters can use numerous different dresspheres which offer completely different sets of abilities and a snazzy new outfits. The mini-games like Sphere Break and Gunner’s Gauntlet are amusing diversions and the quest-focused story works really well.

Well, that’s my 10 (right now). I seem to have a thing for RPGs. And here’s a video where I share some more thoughts on what makes a game good enough to be called favourite.

What are your top 10 games?

A Few Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition came out last week and I’ve been playing it. A lot. Pretty much every waking moment, except when I feel bad and temporarily relinquish the TV to my boyfriend so he can play NES. To be honest, the game didn’t quite capture me like Dragon Age Origins did at first, and a lot of that had to do with pacing. The thing is, the game is gigantic and very open world so the player dictates the pace. You could zoom through the story relatively quickly, or you could spend 15 hours exploring every inch of the starting area and wondering if perhaps there are more important things for an Inquisitor to do than pick every Elfroot in Ferelden. Dragon Age is full of pet peeves for me, and it did take some work to get past them and let the huge, detailed world and wonderfully written characters suck me in.

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Here are some things I wish I had known before playing the game that would have made my starting experience much better. For more tips, see my second post.

Character Creation

  • Choose your class wisely, especially if you want to be able to experience all of the interactions between your companions. I’m playing as a rogue, which was a bad choice for this. In combat, you pretty much will always need a warrior to draw threat (even if they aren’t a shield tank) and a mage who can cast barriers (basically Power Word: Shield) in your party. There’s no healing in this game, besides limited use potions, so barriers are very important. A rogue you can honestly take or leave, and I’m finding being one myself really limits the possible party comps. I’d love to see the interactions between Sera, who’s quite daft, and Cole, the friendly ghost, but they’re both rogues as well, and having a party where 3 of 4 characters are rogues is very hard to work with.
  • That said, rogues have some super fun abilities like Smoke Bombs and Leaping Shot which lets you backflip out of danger, firing a hail of arrows in your wake.
  • When you play as a rogue or warrior you get 2 sub-class options (archer vs. stabby stab, sword & board vs. 2H), but these don’t lock you into anything, it just decides what weapon you start with.
  • I don’t particularly like the look of the character I created. She looked okay on the creation screen, but in-game I’m less impressed. Play through the intro and don’t be afraid to restart if you want to change appearance. Better to do it 15 minutes in than be like me and wish you had done things differently 40 hours in.

Story and characters

  • Leave the Hinterlands. Really. Do it. I wish I had read this article earlier. I probably spent a good 10 hours exploring, closing rifts, and picking up every herb/ore/item I could find. It got boring. It made me think DA:I was a bad game. Hinterlands has been one of the least engaging areas, as it has so much collection to do and pretty much every quest you get comes from a note on a dead body. If you’re like me, uncompleted objectives on your map are an anathema to you, but The Hinterlands isn’t going anywhere. Complete a few objectives, do the quests that will get you access to mounts, but as soon as the game is starting to feel like a slog, go progress the story forward. It’ll make the game much more enjoyable. Also, you’ll get some side quests that send you back to Hinterlands later.
  • Do the first quest in Val Royeaux before you start exploring The Hinterlands too thoroughly. In my game I found Redcliffe in the Northern Hinterlands before I went to Val Royeaux and it resulted in some very immersion-breaking story gaps. Someone in VR is supposed to send you to Redcliffe, and the game doesn’t recognize or adapt to you doing things in the wrong order.
  • Gather all possible companions early so you can get to know and love them, and have a variety of party comps to choose from. You can miss some of them if you wait too long. Here’s how to find each of the extra companions:
    • Sera – Friend of Red Jenny quest triggered when you go to Val Royeaux.
    • Vivienne – The Imperial Enchanter quest given by a mage in Val Royeaux.
    • Iron Bull – The Captain of the Chargers quest is given to you by a messenger outside the Haven chantry, and sends you to The Storm Coast.
    • Blackwall – The Lone Warden quest, given by Leliana which sends you to the Hinterlands.
    • Dorian – Will be found in Redcliffe when you meet with Fiona if you side with the Mages, or will appear automatically at another time if you side with the Templars.
    • Cole – Will be found in The Fade if you side with the Templars, or will appear automatically at another time if you side with the Mages.
  • These are the main quests, so you can pace out how the story will progress. Story quests will have a recommended level range listed when you see them in the War Room:
    • The Wrath of Heaven
    • The Threat Remains
    • Champions of the Just or In Hushed Whispers
    • In Your Heart Shall Burn
    • From the Ashes
    • Here Lies the Abyss
    • Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts
    • What Pride Had Wrought
    • The Final Piece
  • (Minor story spoiler) You can only do one of Champions of the Just or In Hushed Whispers. Do Champions if you want the Templars to join your cause, or Whispers if you want the mages. You can’t have both.
  • I suggest moving the story forward to From the Ashes fairly soon. It was at this point that the story really became interesting, and I began to care about my character and her cause. If you find yourself feeling unengaged while exploring and doing side-quests, doing the story quests up to this point should fix that.

Inventory and other stuff

  • In your inventory, Valuables are the equivalent to junk in the previous DA games. Not sure why they changed this. Put everything you want to sell in here so they can be sold all at once.
  • Another annoying thing about valuables is that the category is applied not just to actual junk, but also to research items that you should be turning in. So drop by the research table before you start selling en-masse. (Thank to @ArielleEJ for this tip)
  • The inventory system is not great, and you will get a ton of crappy gear drops. If you’re playing on normal (or easy) you don’t have to worry too much about gear, I definitely don’t recommend letting it consume too much of your time if it’s something you don’t enjoy. Junk (or ‘valuable’) all the white/common gear, and just focus on the better stuff. Every couple of hours I go back to my home base, see if anything new is an upgrade for anyone and sell everything else. I generally avoid crafting unless someone has weapons that are vastly inferior to the rest of the party.
  • Upgrades are generally worthwhile, but don’t spend too much time on them. Just slap on whatever will fit on your character’s gear. You can also remove upgrades (but not runes) from gear you will be selling.
  • The one piece of gear that does warrant more attention is Varric’s crossbow, Bianca. He’ll have this weapon all game, so you should buy or craft upgrades for it as you can.
  • Though I’m not into scrutinizing the stats on gear, the appearance of the gear is well worth paying attention to. Bioware did some killer work on armor this time around. Leliana’s armor is perfection, and most of the other character’s armor is also both beautiful and functional looking. It’s truly exciting to be a female rogue who does not have bare legs.
  • Inventory is limited, so I highly recommend taking the 2 Tailoring Inquisition perks when you can, which will give you an extra 30 slots. Especially if you’re like me and pick up everything in sight.
  • I think I’ve given myself a repetitive strain injury by constantly pushing L3 to search for hidden items. Unless you’re desperate to find every herb/ore, give your hand a break. Your companions will say something when there is an important hidden item around.
  • The addition of jumping in the game is nice for those who can’t keep still, but it also brings up a lot of Mako-reminiscent, cliff scaling frustrations. I don’t really have tips to avoid this, just a warning. Though mounts are a bit better at climbing things than you are on foot.

Good luck and happy Inquisiting!

Have any tips for me?

Role Playing Game

RPGs are one of my favourite genres of video games, but what exactly is a role-playing game?

A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.

That’s not a very comprehensive description, as it could apply to almost any game. Though I control the character Mario in the fictional setting of the Mushroom Kingdom, I’d never call Super Mario Bros a role-playing game. Ultimately, this whole post is about semantics, but I’m interested in how people define this particular genre and what games the RPG moniker it gets applied to.

The first game that really made me question the meaning of RPG was Borderlands, a game that billed itself as a role-playing shooter. The game had a number of mechanics in common with the more traditional role-playing games such as choice of class, a talent tree, and power increases through gear and gaining stats as you level. But for me, nothing about Borderlands made me feel like I was playing a role. Whether I played as Mordechai the hunter, or Lilith the siren, the game never felt any different beyond basic combat mechanics. A talent tree does not an RPG make.

Talent tree for Mordechai in Borderlands

Character building is a huge part of RPGs, and can fall into one of two categories. The first, which I’ll call mechanical character building, happens by gaining experience through quests or combat, which increases your level, which in turn increases your character’s stats or gives you more abilities. Mechanical character building is what makes you feel like your character is getting more powerful. The second type, which I’ll call narrative character building happens by making decisions that affect your character in different ways. Rather than levelling until you get 18 Strength, you’re making decisions that develop your character’s personality, how other characters react to you, maybe even the game world. Without this second type of character building I’m reluctant to classify a game as an RPG.

Druid talent trees

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, but I have honestly never considered that an accurate classification. I know that many people play WoW as an RPG – they create backstories for their characters, give them a personality, and maybe even speak to others in-game in character, but this really comes from their own creativity and imagination. Blizzard developed a lot of lore that people can pull their character stories from, but if you take just the actual game content, there’s really not a lot of character building. As someone who does not RP in-game and is not interested in creating my own stories about my character, my Night Elf Druid is really no different from any of a million other Night Elf Druids. Or Tauren Warriors, for that matter. They don’t talk. They don’t have a personality. They don’t make decisions any deeper than do this quest or don’t do this quest. None of the adventures I have in-game effect the larger world, or the story of the game. We can kill the game’s antagonist on Monday only to have him come back on Tuesday. Choosing to be Resto vs Feral or taking Nature’s Vigil over Heart of the Wild make me feel like I’m developing a stat sheet, not a character. For me, the character building in WoW was 100% mechanical.

Planescape Torment conversation options

Another related, somewhat overlapping component of RPGs is choice and decision-making. You can choose your companions in games like Baldur’s Gate. You can choose to join the Dustmen faction, the Anarchists, or the Sensates (or all of them) in Planescape: Torment. You can choose who will rule the kingdom in Dragon Age. All of these decisions affect the game experience in some way, from making different sidequests available to changing the ending.

FF7 Golden Pagoda

Thinking about RPGs from a decision-making and effect point of view makes me think again about JRPGs. Take Final Fantasy 7 for example. There’s actually very little decision-making in this game. In terms of mechanical character development, you don’t even build your character you really just choose weapons and materia to use. Cloud is Cloud and nothing you do changes his story. You can choose to do certain optional content – recruit Yuffie and Vincent, fight the Weapons, breed chocobos – but again, that doesn’t really impact your character or the narrative. The only part of the game that really provides you with something different based on your decisions is who you go on a date with at the Gold Saucer. Final Fantasy or Shadow Hearts, two series I love, don’t really let me develop a character. The protagonists are written in one way and I’m just along for the ride.

The Walking Dead decisions

So what about games that allow you to make decisions and do a lot of narrative character building, but have no mechanical character building? The Walking Dead is full of choices to make and allows you to shape Lee’s personality, but there is no levelling or gearing up. You don’t get stronger, you just develop the story and cultivate relationships with your companions. Is this an RPG? I personally feel that this kind of decision heavy game provides a much more immersive role-playing experience than something that allows me to adjust 100 different stats, traits, and abilities on a character sheet. But that’s just my opinion.

To me, what makes an RPG is decision-making and character building. Without the ability to have input into the character’s development and choices, I really don’t feel like I’m playing a role. The subgenre of the game – it could be a shooter, or turn-based strategy, or action – doesn’t matter, so much as being able to have an effect on events in the game.