Archive for December, 2015

Jade Empire was the first game I ever bought full price on Steam. On Release Day. That’s how happy I was when it came to PC after all, because at first JE was an XBOX exclusive and therefore I used to think I’d never play it.
Back then I didn’t even know about BioWare and that they were the same company which had developed Baldur’s Gate, which was, especially at that time, one of my favorite games of all time. I didn’t pay any attention to company names and logos at the beginning of a game and even if I had, the names would have been meaningless to me. I’m sure there were people even back then who were mainly looking forward to JE for that reason alone, but I was just curious about this game simply because I thought it looked interesting. There was a lot of fun to be had and I liked that they included a couple of things in the PC release the former XBOX version was lacking. It’s great if devs try to do at least something special, if their game is just a late port.
I hadn’t played JE in several years, but still thought of the game every know and then, so when Origin put JE up for free, I thought it was as good a time as any to play it again. The Origin download was worth the bandwidth for the soundtrack alone – I was too lazy to download it on Steam as well just to check for that, but I can’t remember that the JE – Special Edition on Steam came with such a set of goodies. The music is very well done and the artist Jack Wall would later work on most of the Mass Effect soundtracks too. If I wouldn’t have seen the name I never would have guessed it, because those themes are really different.
The game played a little bit more boring at times than I remembered and the combat isn’t for everyone – also there are the strong similarities to KotOR because of the engine and some of the design, but the setting still makes it… maybe not unique but uncommon. I don’t believe anymore that they could do such a game today (and a “sequel”/reboot would only share the name/brand), because for one it would have to be open world, because… EVERYTHING has to be open world and I think this would be especially unnecessary/inappropriate here. It would be interesting to see how the combat system would be revamped, that’s something I wouldn’t even want to see come back unchanged and I guess they would use Frostbite now because that’s what they use for everything…

PS: All the bugs are still in of course. The camera that’s sometimes just showing the floor and a savegame has to be reloaded to “fix” it, Dawn Star’s clothing is showing wrong textures, but modders did what BW refused to do and I’m sure I forgot something, but you get the picture. :D

Since the whole world already weighed in on this, I thought I’ll write down some thoughts too, maybe then I can stop having them.

Spoilers obviously. It’s not like anyone would be reading this, but you’ll never know. :P

So I really liked the movie overall. I found myself whistling sounds from the movie even on the next day after seeing it and I totally would watch the film again and you just don’t do any of this if you didn’t like it.

There were really only 2 “major” things that bugged me and the first one was, that there was a Republic and a resistance, which both opposed the First Order. Why would there be a “resistance”, if there also was an official government, which already opposed the First Order? Shouldn’t it be the task of a government, to fight an opposing force, which tries to wipe it out? And thus making an extra, separate resistance unnecessary? All of this, this whole concept was very weird to me and they didn’t make one single attempt to explain any of it. It felt like they rolled the dice on some elements of the backstory and didn’t make any effort to think it through. If you think about it, A New Hope didn’t explain anything like this either, but the difference was, that in the very first SW movie, everyone knew exactly who the bad guys and the good guys were and why everyone was doing what they were doing, thus making any elaborate explanations unnecessary. If you can’t and/or won’t explain anything, at least keep it simple!

The other odd thing was, that the First Order was able to build a new Death Star, which was many times bigger than the original ones even and no one knew about it. It must have taken many years, to build such a massive weapon, what should have given their enemies ample opportunity to learn about it and destroy it before its construction was ever finished. There’s also this part that even the Empire, as the then official government, had problems to construct a Death Star, concerning secrecy and the necessary resources. Why then, was this so easy for a much smaller Imperial remnant? It doesn’t make sense. Although it then would have mirrored A New Hope even more, it was silly, that The Force Awakens was about finding a map that might lead to Luke Skywalker, when the First Order had a weapon ready, that can destroy several planets at once, including the entire government of this galaxy (which apparently also had all their military forces stationed on those same few planets instead of multiple locations in space, because those never showed up and a small resistance force had to do everything on their own instead). You’d think this should have been a much more pressing issue. Seriously, what was the Republic up to during the events of TFA? They were clearly taken completely by surprise. No one even tried to jump into a spaceship and go to lightspeed – which is what I would have expected at least someone to try.

The rest of the movie was pretty good. I liked how TFA acted, as if the prequel trilogy never happened, I don’t think there was a single reference to it in this film. TFA managed to make SW great again. :P It mostly captured what caused so many people to love the 1977 film until today. Now it’s possible to be cynical about this, because it’s true that this film basically does everything A New Hope did, but I don’t think people should be. There are a gazillion movies out there which tell very similar stories and many of them are still damn entertaining. The best part of the movie are probably the characters, which are all, above anything, acted next to perfection. I never would have thought that I would end up liking the new characters as much as I did. They made the movie. Finn is truly funny (in general the humor in the movie almost always works, most of the audience was laughing at the right moments) and fun to watch as well, Rey has this Marty McFly vibe going on, by which I mean she stands still for like 2 scenes in the whole movie and otherwise is always running, jumping and climbing somewhere. And she looks like a human being while doing it. That’s really nice for a change. This is true for action scenes as well, during the lightsaber fights in the woods it just looks like 2 people are trying to hit each other with these weapons, there is none of this dumb, over-choreographed shit the prequel trilogy used to make people sick of lightsabers. This is what made the fight between Kylo Ren and Rey engaging. It was awesome. They even had Finn, someone who’s not a Jedi, try to fight Kylo Ren with a lightsaber, that’s a good idea for once. It was a healing moment, after seeing embarrassing scenes, which couldn’t come up with anything fresh other than giving the characters more and more lightsabers…

I also really liked Harrison Ford in the movie, for the first time in like 25 years I thought he was really awesome again. They also didn’t make/repeat the mistake from the Star Trek reboots, in which old cast members pretty much were only shoved in just so they were there. Han Solo had actual things to do in this film, it made sense for him to be part of it all. Unless it’s done like this, filmmakers shouldn’t even bother to have an original cast return, because they aren’t doing anyone any favors.

So, for anyone who’s into seeing big space adventure movies, this is definitely the film to see. I just hope they can keep this level for the sequels, if they pull this off, I might end up liking this new trilogy even more than the original one – seriously.

PS: Almost forgot to mention Poe Dameron. :P Definitely another good example why the characters in this movie were great. I was really glad that this guy survived – another notion I shared with most people in the theater. He’s basically the new Wedge Antilles, but other than him, Poe Dameron gets more of a spot in the limelight, like he deserves. ;) I liked how they used him too, he was there in a couple of important scenes, but they didn’t overdo it either. :)

I had given up hope a while ago, that this day would ever come. But there it was. After 17 years they finally finished the story they started in 1998 with StarCraft. Incredible! Such a development is quite rare in any medium. Sadly, now the story is at least partially such a convoluted mess, that it more or less became a total sideshow (I liked the epilogue slides at the end a lot though – good call to include them). The MP crowds probably aren’t going to care anyway, so I don’t think Blizz is going to loose any sleep over this.
So the story might have been what drew me back in, but the gameplay was what kept me hooked. Seriously, the gameplay is the star here. Of course SC isn’t the sole good RTS, but hardly any other is so polished, so solid in all its aspects. I played another RTS shortly after and I was often trying to press F2 to quickly select all of my troops, but of course this feature didn’t exist there. All these options are so well thought out and implemented, that it’s a joy to play, even if they mutated the story at the core into meaningless drivel.

The Protoss might have the coolest troops overall, I was always a huge fan of the carriers (and so happy they were never removed), but it was the Zerg campaign I maybe liked the most. Again because of the game design. I thought the ideas to have Kerrigan level (and make optional mission objectives count towards this goal), along having customized troops after playing special evolution missions between the actual story missions, were brilliant. The Protoss adopted roughly the same setup (by leveling their ship), but the focus on putting much work into Kerrigan herself, who was always present in every fight, was more engaging to me. And I say this although I recognize that it is good design too, to give each of the 3 campaigns a more unique identity.
I’m really into building large bases that can mostly defend themselves, so the new Protoss tower became quickly my favorite building. Its firepower and range made it almost OP. A few shield batteries behind it, and even major onslaughts wouldn’t crack my defenses. Only the space needed to build enough of them really limited their deployment. So maybe they balanced it nicely after all.

PS: Why was Nova (the operative from the canceled StarCraft Ghost) shown/used in one single scene in the Zerg campaign, never to be seen again? I wish they would have wrapped this up.

PPS: Someone stole Geordi’s visor!

Ever since I played “Das Schwarze Auge 3: Schatten über Riva” (I don’t have the slightest clue what the english title was) a full lifetime ago, I had a thing for the “Dark Eye” RPG whatever thing. So when I learned of the existence of Blackguards, I was interested right away. When they both were sold in a humble bundle for 5 bucks along some other games, while they were still ~40 on Steam each, I bought right away (yes I know, I’m a horrible person). I read a lot of bad stuff about those games (some of it turned out to be outright lies), so I went in with low expectations. So someone who paid 10 times as much as I did, might judge them in a very different way, but I have to say I was floored by how much I ended up liking them. These games are a very unusual mix of turn-based strategy, with RPG characters, story elements and decisions. I don’t think I have ever played a game which was exactly like this. While I know countless games focusing on any one of these elements, none of them really put all of those together in this way.
The game didn’t need as many combat encounters as it has (seriously, countless fights occur), but the mixture of exploration, overall story and character arcs kept me really motivated to see the end. Maps often deliver surprises and there are several cool little ideas in them. Arenas have traps, obstacles, enemies with different abilites, sometimes it’s necessary to understand how to attack/weaken an enemy, instead of just chopping away. The combat is surprisingly nuanced for such a game. Even in some other good strategy games it’s often merely shooting (the same) guns at enemies until they are done, move on and then repeat it in next battle too. With the inclusion of many familiar magic spells from the dark eye alone, this is a little bit more varied here.

What I also really liked is that they didn’t just repeat the formula exactly for Blackguards 2. In fact I was, again, quite surprised (the perks of going into something entirely unspoiled). Blackguards 2 offers a much more character centric experience. Where B1 was a more “open world” with side-quests and a customizable main character, B2 is all about Cassia and her struggles to get some revenge/justice. As usual with such priorities the story gets more intense and rewarding, but also more limited in some ways. B2 doesn’t really have the kind of side-quests anymore, that could be found in many places in the first game. But that’s okay, Cassia is a really well-written and intriguing character, but despite that there are still quite an amount of decisions left, that will allow the player to influence her path. They really did something with the dark eye license there. I always listened very carefully to her conversations with other characters and especially her awesome soliloquizing.
The fights too were amped up with even more variations and they now even incorporate more consequences from earlier player choices. I was really surprised when at some point, during an attack, local peasants showed up and yelled stuff like “For Cassia! Fight the oppressor!”. Of course they only do that if you didn’t loot their cities earlier. It’s moments like these that make choices feel meaningful and add to the fun of the game overall. Little decisions even shape the ultimate fate of Cassia’s companions. I was really sad to see it end, but was also glad to have played it. I finished both games in under 2 weeks, I think and I didn’t play anything else during that time. It always says a lot if I can stick with something until the end, not succumbing to any distractions. I even thought briefly if I should play these again (especially 2 makes me wonder – somehow it never feels right to me to watch alternative endings on youtube), to try different things, only the thought of the countless combats (they can be a lot of fun too, but… THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM) made me curb my enthusiasm. :D Maybe in a year or two, cool-off phases are good. :)