Archive for October, 2010

Risen

Risen might just be one of the last advocates of more classic role playing games amongst current titles. In almost all regards. And this is a good thing (no DLC bullshit etc./complete game on disk right away). The game wasn’t dumbed down to accommodate casual players that usually don’t touch such games anyway. Publishers often seem to believe, that if a game is simple enough, new/more players will magically find out about it and come in droves. Which might happen, but usually will only antagonize “core” gamers for sure.
Risen is the story of an unnamed, shipwrecked man who, in the beginning, literally gets washed ashore. The island itself, of course, is the game world, that can be explored in its entirety. In the best tradition of the classic RPG bombshells Gothic 1+2, that developer Piranha Bytes did in the past. The beautiful thing about it is, that the whole game world is not just accessible, it’s also free of any loading screens – this is just intense. Although the game does most things quite similar to Gothic (or even identical), this is fantastic. The sole group not happy with that, would be people disliking Gothic, everyone else must feel right at home. One of the first steps into the game (tutorial) is to cook meet over a flame. That alone can take players right back (it triggered flashbacks for me and I hadn’t played 1+2 in years – 3 I didn’t like and “4” I don’t even want to touch).
With that in mind, many other aspects won’t be much of a surprise. 3 factions live on the island, joining one of them is a necessity to properly progress in the game and certain types of equipment (armor) and skills are only sold/taught to respective members. Risen being more of a classical RPG, joining such a faction is basically the sole choice that will alter the gameplay experience (there aren’t several endings and the like). There’s also not much in terms of extensive character design, which isn’t always a letdown, because sometimes this is just an excuse for saving content concerning quests/story/whatever. I would count both as features in more “modern” RPGs (the time spent in Dragon Age talking with characters/party members is pure quest-action in Risen). The game is not completely void of such elements though, it has achievements (I gained 33/50). With that established, the rest is simply pleasing.

In too deep!

Huge world/environment for seemingly limitless exploration, countless items, many weapons, high quantity of often entertaining, distinct quests (they aren’t the best ever, but definitely in the higher spectrum), hand-built, rather unique locations (even a quest line demanding to fetch 5 items is still a descent into 5 individual places)…

Shoot the winch, lower the drawbridge…

There are also no obstacles in the way of pure joy in terms of quest markers in an omnipresent HUD display, so that the player only has to walk straight at the blinking dot or massive quest log entries, that spoil everything – so the player is allowed to think a little every now and then. Same goes for checking out dungeons, not every corner has a huge marker that says trap on it, it’s up to the player, to recognize the (existing) signs. Fun! The spells don’t disappoint in the same fashion: They are actually necessary to best the game world. Several traps and small riddles can only be beaten by using levitation, telekineses or morphing into a smaller creature that will fit into tunnels a human won’t. At the same time it’s never unfair, the necessary scrolls can be bought everywhere or even produced by the player character, if he’s learned the according talent.
What else is worth mentioning? At some points the PC is joined by other characters that can help him out or must be protected, some special weapons are broken into pieces and hidden somewhere on the island and can be reforged, once all parts are found. This is not necessary though, because there are many useful/powerful weapons, it’s just incentive to look everywhere and a cool reward.
Risen is totally about the adventure “on the road” and not an unspecified payoff at the end (unlike Mass Effect 2, which builds up to the suicide mission). Though they came up with a real boss fight in the end, the actual ending is rather abrupt. At least it strongly hints at a sequel, that was already announced, as far as I know. The game-ending boss-fight also doesn’t come as a surprise, so it’s no problem to make one final sweep over the island, to finish any quests that might still be open or undiscovered. Risen really was one of these games, that I could finish without ever being bored or not motivated enough to continue. Oh, one last point – I believe I didn’t encounter one single bug (1.10) and it didn’t crash once. :)

irrational changes in a character’s fighting abilities

More often than it is bearable, protagonists morph from the deadliest and most skilled uber-fighters into helpless imbeciles, that can’t even repel the most basic attack. Think Jacob on Lost, he kicked the crap out of Richard, but let Ben kill him in the exact same situation. The more often this is used in this fashion, the higher are the chances it’s a bad experience. Remember, when Daredevil/Affleck simply lay around bleeding, while the enemies killed Garner? But as soon as she was dead, he could fight again better than ever, when the blood loss should really incapacitate him NOW. Of course a couple of examples do make some sense, riding out of the castle in The Two Towers wasn’t horrible, because through their desperation and lack of better alternatives, they had reason (to not fight like this for the entire time). Differences like that can decide if it’s a good movie. In general, there must be better ways to explain, why characters can’t win all the time. There are.

I was already going a little into what’s seriously wrong with shows of this type in general, but why not get a little more specific.
A criminal (yawn) breaks out of prison (fresh! new! never seen before!) and does it by gluing the mouth of a poor sob shut, as well as gluing a gun into his hand, so he can’t throw it away. This decoy then gets shoved out a door for the cops outside to see. The cops then immediately use deadly force (while the bad guy uses the ruckus to escape) and notice their mistake when they inspect the dead body. While the good cop guys mention several times during this episode, how many people the escapee killed, the innocent shot dead by cops in the beginning, is completely forgotten. They would never stop for a second there and reflect, that this dude might still be alive, if the prison guards would have been a little more thoughtful/careful (maybe those scopes on the sniper rifles would have enabled people to see that his mouth was glued shut…), before perforating someone not shooting at them (maybe 30+ dudes in body armor in cover behind cars with assault rifles can handle one guy – even if he was dangerous). Because, this would have been a perfect example, why this procedure… uh, leaves something to be desired? But no, not in such a crime/cop show. Never! I didn’t bother to count if they just added the guy killed by the cops to the victims of the criminal. I’d seen enough.

cop shows in their entirety (inspired by a recently launched cop show)

Compared to cop shows, the jump from Serious Sam First to Second Encounter is an epitome of ingenuity. They feature less evolution than any random 3D/ego-shooter (those too, enhance little more than graphics). Today those installments are still working after parameters established in the eighties (and earlier). They remind of porn movies in this instance, except they don’t feature naked women. I’m not saying they should, rather that there’s not even a redeeming quality involved (usually). :P Seriously, how many times can you watch cops arresting a bad guy at the end of the episode, after there’s been a murder at the beginning, before finally yelling ENOUGH?!? It’s always the same! AHHH!
The stories are made up from so simple elements, that “plain writing” would be a compliment. For one thing, it’s incredible they are still doing the uber-cliché of the good cop/bad cop routine. It’s beyond awful by now. Speaking of cliché – as they grab Boomer from the beach, they tell the tale of her “blowing out her knee”, which is as unheard of as “tastes like chicken”. Also, critical injuries, but 100% fit for police duty? Yay!
It’s like Burn Notice, with the difference of being even less innovative. The whole getup seems to boil down to realizations, like the lack of a competitive crime show (think CSI) on this network. And everyone needs to have several of those, right? Why the hell is that?
In the second or third show, they torture a prisoner and at the end of the episode they swear an oath on the constitution and stuff, after *beeping* on it the whole time. Fantastic. It’s yet another of these omnipresent mantras in crime/cop shows, where cops make deals with suspects, although the DA is the only one capable/allowed to actually do this, no one is bound to honor such a deal. A cop making such an offer is the same thing, as a janitor offering a student a better grade, if he carries something around – the teacher, who actually gives the grades, would surely be pleased to hear of it. But nothing (in these shows) is so stupid, that it can’t be maxed out even more. In a Castle ep (a huge waste of NF’s talent), the cops used this crap on a _lawyer_ and it worked; a lawyer, of course, being a member of the sole group, that wouldn’t be duped by this for sure. It’s really painful to watch. I cannot imagine why writers wouldn’t know that, or would intentionally add those grave mistakes. If I never see another submissive witness again, stating that he’s got nothing to hide (those idiots also never ask for search warrants etc.), it’ll still be too soon. Mixed with an atmosphere were all suspects are always guilty and cops never make mistakes, it worries me what mentality people must have, who are actually drawn to all this. None of this seems very compatible with little things like democracy and proper law. And the lesson can’t be that a cop show can’t be made in harmony with this, right? RIGHT?!?

Cop shows are like porn, no matter how many installations of the genre are made, you’ve seen it all. Still, guess which one is more pleasant to look at, despite that realization.
Maybe that’s why the former tries to upgrade.

This add-on expands the (possibly) familiar world of “Am Fluss der Zeit“, the main game (similar what Tales of the Sword Coast did to Baldur’s Gate). I used my old save games I made right after I finished the game – so it’s the perfect moment for people who didn’t play the game at all, to start adventuring. I figure it’s easier to discover everything that’s new when the world must be explored for the first time anyway, than when running along a few paths again, just to see if something has changed (also, 1.1 patch is out now, fixing the few noticeable bugs the initial game had). I enjoyed it a lot though, to adventure with my trusty party once more. The biggest part of this add-on revolves around name-giver Phileasson (duh), so that chain of events can’t be missed and is easy to follow through, even without the informative quest log.
My “overpowered” (remember, I already had finished the game) party might be partly to blame (I only had to reload thrice during the final fight; they always make awesome boss fights – I had to repeat little overall), but the whole plot around Phileasson and the elves was rather short. I didn’t exactly measure the time, but I estimate it around 7 hours. It’s not as bad as the DLCs BioWare has released for Dragon Age, but it’s still really short for a common role-playing experience. I expected twice the duration – some “minor” modules for Neverwinter Nights took me longer to finish (yes, I get it, rather short and good than…).
When the Phileasson plot is over, the player is rewarded with several good items (his weapons and armor – they are put in the chest on the Thalaria/ship). Everything points to installing it right away (what else to do with the stuff, when there’s nothing left to play). ;)
New characters shouldn’t run into any trouble either (balancing issues), because the add-on story events are triggered along the main plot. As soon as certain locations become accessible, characters should have earned enough experience points to best the dangers there. I guess there’s (at least) one advantage of playing it after the main story right there nonetheless, when the story can be experienced in one piece, instead of several spread out chunks.
The rest is definitely pleasing, several new monsters, new locations (with often great architecture and cool lighting) and the quality certainly holds up to what players were used to (from other Drakensang games). All in all, I wished the game would have come with this content right away, the game world is more enticing because of it. Also, I don’t think I’ve encountered a single bug. This is something that doesn’t happen too often in an RPG.
I’d also like to mention (every text about this game kinda has to feature this), that this is the last game Radon Labs ever did, because they became insolvent this year and were bought by another company. Whatever this means for future products remains to be seen. Quite sad, because they really knew how to make a decent role-playing game! Considering that even this neck of the woods gets a ton of hits concerning the Drakensang games, I cannot imagine it was a lack of buzz, that led to their downfall.
Luckily, the end for classic DSA role-playing games in Aventurien isn’t here yet despite all of this, there is at least one other company out there, that’s developing a new game right now, I’m, of course, refering to Demonicon, which sounds (and looks) really promising. Let’s just hope they’ll see a brighter future.