Tag Archives: Wasteland 2

Quality vs. Enjoyment

A lot of video games have received unconditional love from me in the past, even when they are peppered with mechanics and design choices that frustrate or puzzle me. It can sometimes be hard to reconcile. How can a game have so many faults, but still be so enjoyable overall?

Take Mass Effect 3 for example. While in many ways (most notably combat) it improved over the first two games in the series, there were also a number of things that bothered me to no end. I’ve been slowly replaying it and often find myself yelling at the TV over poor design.

  • Side quests that are completely lacking in context. Run through the Citadel, and your quest log fills up with 2 dozen fetch quests. Occasionally you overhear people talking about these quests, but you don’t need to stop or listen to them, the quest just appears as if you’ve accepted it. There’s rarely any information offered in the quest log other than what star system the item can be found in. These kinds of quests are terrible for immersion.
  • Related to the issue above, the quest log in general sucks compared to the first two games. A bare minimum of information is offered.
  • There’s no sense of place. Every location is restricted to small, contained areas. You fast travel everywhere.
  • Speaking of fast travel, the Citadel Rapid Travel terminals are still in the game and you can interact with them, but you can’t actually use them. You need to use the elevators instead. (Why the hell can you interact with them when you can’t use them?!)
  • The entire game is fan service. Except the ending. Ba dum pssh.

Or how about the Twin Peaks-inspired Deadly Premonition? This game is a cult classic which people tend to either love or hate. I just finished this game after starting it more than 2 years ago, because I could only take the game (specifically the combat) in small doses.

  • Poorly designed combat. Tank controls, an awkward control scheme for aiming, not being able to aim and move at the same time, bullet sponge enemies.
  • The worst final boss fight ever. Long range shooting is awful.
  • Everything is so slow. When you examine something or try unsuccessfully to pick up some ammo but can’t because your inventory is full the text appears, one letter at a time, at a glacially slow pace. You can hold down a button to speed it up, but it’s still slow. A lot of the time as you’re smashing buttons trying to make it go faster you accidentally examine the damn thing again.
  • Lack of inventory space, and irritating inventory management.
  • Cliche “serial killer murdering women” story.

Wasteland 2 was just released a few months ago, but is an old-school isometric RPG in pretty much every way. In trying to hold on to the Fallout 1/2 aesthetic and feel, it makes a number of design decisions which just don’t appeal to modern gamer sensibilities.

  • Terrible inventory system.
  • Weapons that jam, effectively wasting a whole turn in combat.
  • Antiquated skill system. Try to pick a lock or brute force a door and you’re shown the % chance you have of doing it successfully. A lot of time is spent repeating these actions when you fail and if you critically fail, the item you’re working on just breaks and you can’t access it anymore.
  • No ability to respec your party’s skills (unless you hack the save file, which I did a lot), meaning if a party member leaves or dies you might be left with no one who can pick up that skill at a high enough level to be useful.
  • Ugly character models. If you want to make your own characters rather than use the pre-made ones, the character portraits are also hideous.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a game I call one of my favourites of all time, despite it having a host of problems.

  • Bugs! So many bugs. From minor annoyances like graphical clipping, to crashes, to game breaking issues at certain points of the story.
  • Character designs look nice in close-up, but watching your character move in 3rd person view just looks wrong.
  • While the beginning locations of the game are wonderfully detailed and rich, as you get towards the end it seems like the quality drops off.

Then there are point and click adventure games. All of them. Well, maybe that’s unfair. Let’s say 90% of them. Convoluted solutions to simple problems are a mainstay of the genre. Almost every adventure game I’ve played has had that moment (or many of them) where I have no clue what to do and furiously try to combine each item in my inventory with the others, or with the environment. Or painstakingly move the mouse cursor over every pixel, trying to see if I’ve missed an object. Often the solutions to puzzles are things no logical human being would ever think of. Like combining an inflatable duck with a bandaid, a metal clamp, and a rope to retrieve a key from the subway tracks. Or throwing a pie to ward off a  yeti, as opposed to using a weapon or magic. It’s like they were designed to sell hint guides (when those were still a thing).

It might seem like I’m writing this post just to rant. There may be a little truth in that, but overall it’s about how many problematic elements I’m willing and able to overlook in games because the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

Mass Effect 3 saying goodbye to Garrus

Mass Effect 3 may have many frustrating design decisions but I still love it because, well, feelings. I’m attached to Commander Shepard, Garrus, Joker, EDI, and the rest of my crew. I love seeing them interact with each other, I love running into characters from previous games, and watching the story come to an end is both heartbreaking and satisfying. Plus I love being a renegade and punching out anyone I can.

Deadly Premonition talking to Zack

Deadly Premonition is certainly not top quality at a technical level, but it pays homage to one of my favourite shows in an oddly sweet fashion and features so many quirkily lovable characters that it’s hard to resist. What’s the frustration of one 8-minute long quicktime event compared to the strange joy of listening to the hero talk to his other personality about attending punk concerts as a teenager?

Wasteland 2 ET cartridges buried in the desert

Wasteland 2 may have used some stale mechanics, but that doesn’t overshadow the detail and love that went into it. The annoyances didn’t prevent me from spending 50 hours in the game, and enjoying most of them. For every annoying dice roll fail there’s some great little detail that brought a smile to my face, from finding Teddy Ruxpin dolls to the hidden cache of Atari ET cartridges. Choices mattered in the game, and being set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland meant a lot of times where were no right or wrong decisions, just different shades of gray.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines dialogue with Jeanette

VtM:B may have been riddled with bugs on release. It may have once broken my save file right at the end of the game so I couldn’t finish the game. However, it’s also one of the most darkly atmospheric games I’ve played, with a deep backstory drawing from the World of Darkness RPG, and a collection of great characters. Though I’ve only beaten the game once, since the quality does dip a little near the end, I’ve played through the Santa Monica section more times than I can count and playing as a Malkavian makes a great game experience even better. I’m not the only one who loves this game. Ten years after its release, fans are still making and releasing patches to iron out all those bugs.

Quest for Glory 4. Hero in front of the monastery

And adventure games? Well, they may be frustrating and highly illogical, but not enough to stop me from replaying my favourites like Quest for Glory, The Longest Journey, or Gabriel Knight every few years.

So, does a game need to be of “good” quality in order to be enjoyable? Clearly not. I can overlook quite a lot of issues in games and still find the overall product most satisfying. Pull at my heartstrings, give me a great story and atmosphere, unique and interesting characters, or just amazingly fun gameplay and I can overlook a lot of negatives.

Of course it’s not just technical or mechanical issues that can detract from games. Another question I ask myself a lot as I play games is how problematic portrayals of characters – generally female characters – impacts my enjoyment of those games. This will be a topic for another time though. As soon as I finish Saint’s Row: The Third I’m going to have a lot to process and talk about. It’s something to think about.

What I’m Playing This Week

I have so many games on the go right now, that I set a goal of finishing games I was already playing rather than starting new ones. I totally failed at this, I keep picking up new games.

Mass Effect 3

I’m still slowly plodding through ME3. I’ve been able to continue to stay a total Renegade (though I refuse to just outright kill General Oraka.) Mass Effect 3 is such a puzzling game to me. Every 10 minutes I rediscover some really dumb design decision that bothers me, but it still manages to be immensely playable and enjoyable. The combat is the best of the series, plus there’s all the back story and nostalgia of running into practically every character you ever met in the previous two games.

Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC

I just started doing some of the DLC content, which I never did the first time around. Right now I’m helping Aria take back Omega. This is the DLC I was least excited about, I’m saving the best (Citadel, hopefully) for last.

Long Live the Queen

In Long Live the Queen you play as the Princess Elodie, who is getting ready to be crowned Queen. But can you keep her alive – safe from assassins, magic, and public revolt – until then? LLTQ is a kind of choose your own adventure with surprisingly complex systems. Every turn Elodie has the choice of leveling up 2 of 42 possible skills (things like Royal Demeanor, Archery, or Foreign Intelligence) in order to prepare her for being queen. Elodie’s mood also affects how quickly she learns, so that needs to be managed as well in order to optimize.

When I started playing this game, I felt like an utter failure. Every time an event happened that tested one of these skills I failed because I had chosen to learn something else. It was a bit off-putting. However, after playing through a couple times I learned that I didn’t have to pass every check, and it was better to level a few skills up a lot rather than try to learn everything. It’s a pretty cool game, and I’ve been having fun trying to discover all the different events and endings. I’m stuck trying to find out what really happened to Elodie’s mother though, I really want to get that achievement.

PT

I have a complex relationship with scary games; I love the idea of them, but I’m quite wimpy and find them difficult to play alone. I’ve been wanting to play PT since it was announced, but never even worked up the guts to install it. Until last weekend. I got together with a few friends (including my mom), and a few bottles of wine and we beat the hell out of the Silent Hill demo. It was very disturbing. I really applaud the makers of the game for how they made travelling down the same hallway over and over again such an engaging experience.

I’ll admit that there were a couple times 3 of us screamed in unison (but not my mom, she’s a rock), but we got through it okay and ended up completing the demo a few times. It’s pretty cool how the experience is always a little different. We almost never saw the ghost, and we never got killed in the time that we played.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake

Continuing with the scary games, I’m also playing Alan Wake. This game is spooky, but not too scary – I have no problem playing it alone. I’m on chapter 4 of 5 and  I’m really enjoying it so far. The game is very cinematic and focuses a lot on story, while still having good gameplay. The atmosphere of the game is enhanced by manuscript pages you find lying around (Wake is an author), which can be downright creepy when they start foreshadowing future events.  The pacing so far is fantastic and makes Alan Wake a very entertaining ride. I do tend to stream when I play this, in case anyone hasn’t played and wants to see it.

Wasteland 2

I told myself I wasn’t ready for another sprawling, text-heavy, 60 hour epic after I finished Divinity: Original Sin, but I jumped right into Wasteland 2 after getting it for my birthday anyway. It’s a lot of fun. I love isometric, turn-based combat. I love post-apocalypse stories. I love good writing, easter eggs, and 80s pop culture references (Teddy Ruxpin!). Wasteland 2 has all of these things in abundance. I’ve only put in about 10 hours so far, but it’s a lot of fun. There are some minor annoyances when it comes to using skills, but I’ve overcome them by playing the game on easy. Usually I don’t like to do this, but I don’t want to get frustrated with invisible dice rolls making me fail too many events or having to min/max every character. Easy mode is preferable, and less time-consuming, than save scumming.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

The only major complaint I have about Wasteland 2 is the character models, especially during character creation. Holy shit, they are ugly. Tie a porkchop around their necks so the dog will play with them- ugly. I ended up using all pre-made characters in my initial party because I really didn’t want to look at the terrible custom-made character avatars during my game, and I couldn’t bear to give any of them the name Jasyla.

Zuma’s Revenge

Zuma's Revenge - XBox live arcade

Zuma! I loved the original Zuma, and noticed that there was a sequel on XBox Live Arcade the other day (it came out in 2012, I am obviously oblivious), so I snapped that right up. I bought it on Tuesday and finished the last of the 60 levels 2 nights later. Zuma is my perfect mindless puzzle game. Somehow the developers managed to make the process of shooting coloured balls into other coloured balls fresh with the introduction of boss fights at the end of every level, along with coins you can earn by beating target times and scores to level up spirit animals who will boost your abilities a little bit. This sequel did seem to scroll back the difficulty from the original quite a lot though – the only times I ever “lost” a puzzle was when I was trying for achievements.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

More scary games, this one is a psychological survival horror. Even with pixelated graphics this game manages to be quite nerve-wracking because of the setting and the unearthly, hair-raising sound effects. The encounters in Lone Survivor are weird in an almost Lynchian way, so the story has managed to capture my imagination. I’m looking forward to finding out how it all ends, but I don’t think it will be a happy ending.

The Yawhg

The Yawhg

I hadn’t heard of this game until I picked it up as part of a bundle. I really wanted something short to play so I could say I’ve finished something and this fit the bill. The Yawhg is a strange game. It’s kind of like a digital board game or choose your own adventure, but the encounters on each “space” are random, so you don’t always know what you’re going to get. You play between 2-4 characters and the goal, if you can call it that, is to prepare for “the Yawhg” which is going to come and destroy everything. Each character has stats like Mind, Strength and Wealth, which get built up by completing activities. This is an amusing little game that made me laugh out loud a few times as the encounters often entered the realm of the bizarre. Also the soundtrack is tops. I played through a couple times in 40 minutes before deciding I had seen everything. Game complete.


So, what have you been playing this week?