Archive for the ‘Game Review’ Tag

Krabnor! Barsnit tem do. Neep neep!

I picked up The Sims 3 this week and have played it a fair amount.  It’s more or less what one would expect if one’s played The Sims 2 – not a wholly new game but a welcome update to the old game.

Character creation is more flexible than ever, especially with the amount of control one has over appearance.  I was suitably impressed with the available options and was quickly able to make my sim version of Tobias Fünke (yes, from Arrested Development), which was a pretty good visual approximation if I do say so myself.  Sims have life goals which are chosen at creation, and the life goals available are based on the traits (up to 5) chosen for the sim.  Tobias is a never-nude of course, and is also a couch potato, but he’s friendly and flirtacious.  Sadly, he’s a bit of a loser as well.  This combination of traits allowed him several life goals, of which Network Anchor was the closest fit to the “real” Tobias’ goals.

Much of the game was very familiar and doesn’t require introduction if you’re familiar with what’s come before.  You can let your sim(s) do their own thing or you can micromanage everything.  You can build/modify as well as decorate your home.  The furnishings and furniture options are similar to what’s come before, and nothing really stood out there as being terribly new or different.

What is new is that the game isn’t about your sim household anymore, but now includes the entire town.  Your sim can walk/jog/run/drive anywhere he/she wishes, from a quick trip to the supermarket to pick up some fresh produce, to a trip to the community pool for a swim, to a jaunt to the local bookstore to pick up some light reading or training manuals for skills.  The added freedom here is very welcome and makes the sim’s life feel much more organic and realistic.  I was disappointed that with the advent of all this freedom, I still can’t micromanage my sim at work… but I can at least pick how my sim passes his work days, choosing from options like “business as usual”, “work hard”, “take it easy”, “chat with partner” (for some jobs), or even “use workout room” to get some exercise in and develop the athletic skill while on the job.

Lifetime goals are supplemented by transient goals, of which a sim can have up to 4 at a time.  These come and go pretty quickly, and I’ve been able to complete a large number very quickly, doing things like increasing a skill, making a new friend, etc.  Completing these goals gives points which can be spent on lifetime rewards; the first such that my sim purchased was “steel bladder”, which literally made it so he never needed to use the toilet again.  I later followed those up with rewards to make hunger and hygeine drop more slowly, making it much easier to keep my sim in a good mood all the time.

Sims have 10 skills they can work on: athletics, charisma, logic, fishing, gardening, writing, painting, handyman, and guitar.  As in previous games, these skills lead to faster promotions at applicable jobs, or in some cases (painting and writing) can be jobs in and of themselves.  You can learn the skills from practicing them, from reading books about them, or in some cases from watching TV shows about them.  You can even take classes in each skill at the appropriate place (e.g. restaurants for cooking skill).

Skills have been supplemented in Sims 3 by some new skill masteries.  There are 3 masteries per skill, and each is unlocked by performing a lot of actions with that skill – e.g. if you use Handyman skill to repair 10 plumbing objects, then any objects that sim repairs subsequently will never break again.  The masteries allow a bit more development and customization and are a welcome addition to the franchise.

To sum up: it’s a fun game, but doesn’t feel all that different in most regards from The Sims 2.  If you liked the previous games, you’re likely to enjoy this one as well.  It’s not revolutionary but it’s well-produced and fun, with the same light, silly aesthetics I’ve come to expect from the franchise.

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Simply Fable-ulous

Aaaand it’s time for another timely review of a game that’s not terribly new (it’s been out about 6 months now).  The subject this time is Fable 2.

I’ve been quite enjoying the game, but then I liked the first one.  The plot is pretty straightforward and has held few surprises, but the gameplay is solid, with some decent puzzles, good exploration, and solid combat.  I don’t rely on just one attack type that I’ve mastered, but mix things up every fight, switching between melee, ranged, and magical attacks.  

Customization is also fairly good.  There are a lot of expressions to learn; expressions give your character the ability to perform emotes, which can influence NPCs to change how they feel about you.  Likewise, there are a decent number of skills to teach the dog that is your constant companion.  Defeating foes gives one of four types of experience: melee, ranged, magical, or general experience; each type can be used to raise the associated skill types, and general can be used for anything.

The variety of equipment available seems a bit limited… there are only a handful of weapon types for melee and for ranged, meaning I tend to use the same weapons for quite some time.  The clothing is largely cosmetic, though it can give bonuses to a few stats like attractiveness, which results in NPCs finding you more… wait for it… attractive.

There are two axes of ethical development: good vs evil and purity vs corruption.  Good and evil are self-explanatory, while purity relates to abstaining from vices and being generous, while corruption comes from eating rich foods and charging too much rent of your tenants, assuming you play the real estate game.  Food is rather important for ethical development, oddly, as well as affecting one’s physique in obvious ways.  Eating salty peanuts increases purity, eating celery makes on more thin, eating tofu makes one more good and more pure, eating cheese makes one fatter, etc.

As is my wont, I’m playing through now with a good and pure character.  I’m enjoying the game enough though that I might well wait a few months and revisit it, playing an evil and corrupt character.  I have to imagine it’d be a lot easier to make money by stealing than by doing honest work like I have been (bartending, blacksmithing, and woodchopping).

Epic Necromancy, the Wii, and you

So, yeah.  It’s been months since I posted here; life’s been pretty busy for me, with a divorce and moving to a new location.  “Nuff said.

Anyhow, I took a few months off from gaming (gasp!) but have started up again.  Since I’m moderately burned out on existing MMOs and await the next batch – which involve bright costumes and superpowers – I’ve been getting my gaming fix through my new Nintendo Wii.  It’s a decent little system.  The graphics aren’t overwhelming, but they’re decent, and the controller allows some very unique gameplay options.

The games I’ve enjoyed the most thus far are Ókami and The Godfather.  I know, I know, these aren’t new games, but they’re new to me.  Ókami is set in feudal Japan, and the protagonist is a wolf-avatar of the sun goddess Amaterasu.  The wiimote is used for conventional movement and camera controls, but also and more engagingly as a Celestial Brush, which allows one to e.g. repair damaged features like bridges or windmills; create wind; cause wilted plants to bloom; etc.  It’s an engaging fantasy MMO with a unique tone, but I will say it does have one drawback – I’ve found it to be quite easy to defeat more or less every foe I’ve come across.  The character customization is also a bit lacking… basically you can increase your health, Celestial Ink pots (which allow use of the brush techniques), food bags (which serve as extra lives if you ever die, which hasn’t been an issue for me), or the size of your gold purse (which increases the maximum amount of gold you can carry; again, not an issue for me thus far).  You gain points to customize your character by gaining Praise, which comes from healing the plants, feeding the animals, and defeating the demons that plague the countryside.  It’s a decent enough mechanic.

The Godfather is an excellent translation and extension of the basic storyline of the first movie.  Virtually all of the actors from the movie are doing the voice work for their characters, so e.g. when Tom Hagen talks to you, you hear Robert Duvall’s voice.  That makes a substantial difference in the immersion of the experience, especially if you love the movies as much as I do.  The game is a sandboxy action-RPG, a bit like GTA or Saint’s Row, with a lot of freedom to do what you want in New York, and a linear storyline you can pursue or ignore as you wish.  You get reminders from time to time to head out and meet Clemenza and the other members of the Corleone family, but you’re free to take your time in getting there – meanwhile spending time extorting money from businesses and taking over rackets.  There’s a fairly decent level of customization available; you gain Respect by doing missions, bribing cops, performing contract hits, taking over businesses, etc. – and then spend it to increase stats like firearm accuracy, movement speed, negotiation skill, etc.

The sequel is coming out in a few weeks, based on The Godfather II, so though this review isn’t terribly timely, it’ll lead to one that’s moreso.

WAR is everywhere

My wife and I have been quite enjoying Warhammer: Age of Reckoning.  While it’s not a perfect game, it’s been quite engaging to us for several reasons which I’ll enumerate.

1) War really is everywhere in this game.  Every time you help complete a Public Quest, or run a scenario, or capture an RvR battlefield objective, you add to your side’s control of that area.  But more than that, your actions add Victory Points to your overall side in the overall war.  It truly makes me feel that my contribution, however miniscule overall in the grand scheme of our server at this point, still counts.  The war itself isn’t a scenario, isn’t a WoW Battleground, isn’t any localized tiny skirmish, but rather is all-encompassing.  Almost everything in the game relates to the war in one way or another.  Age of Conan disappointed us terribly with its lack of meaningful PvP.  I don’t just want points and ranks and PvP gear (although those things are nice, sure); I want my actions to have some meaning in a greater context; I want to help my side fight a complex and all-encompassing war.

2) The Tome of Knowledge is an explorer’s (in the Bartle sense) dream.  Anytime you kill something, go somewhere, or do something, it’s tracked in the Tome.  You can get titles, PvE abilities, and even gear from Tome unlocks – meaning you can spend countless hours seeking these things out, adding content and goals to your gameplay… or you can ignore the Tome entirely and just play.

3) Public Quests are a nifty idea.  Basically, a Public Quest is a prescripted event in three stages that’s tied to a location.  So e.g. you’re walking along and see a large ruined courtyard ahead with people running around fighting things… that’s often a PQ.  When you walk up to the location of the PQ, you’re automatically part of it, which is to say if you choose to participate your contribution will be counted.  The first stage of a PQ usually involves killing a lot of weak monsters.  The second stage often involves protecting some NPCs or killing a smaller number of tougher monsters.  The third stage almost always involves killing a boss monster of some sort.  Since the events are prescripted, there’s a sense of a story unfolding around you, kinda sorta like fighting a raid boss in that the event feels unique and different from normal gameplay.  Whether you’re doing damage, healing, or a combination of the two, your total contribution is calculated once the Public Quest is completed, and you’re assigned a ranking.  The higher your contribution ranks, the greater the bonus you get to roll for loot (which also happens automatically).  The loot from PQs is among the best in game, and moreover you gain influence by working on PQs.  Influence is tied to Chapters in the story of Warhammer… e.g. if you’re playing a Goblin Shaman then you’ll start in the Greenskins story, in the Prologue.  As you progress through the story, each Chapter offers more PQs, so you can pick and choose the ones you like the most, and (if it interests you) you can ‘max out’ your Influence in each story Chapter as you go.  Doing so gives you some nice, middle-of-the-road free equipment.  Not the best in game but not terrible either.  So Public Quests are scripted stories that encourage community interaction, that are generally popular as a source of gear.

4) Open Parties are another nifty idea in WAR.  By default, any party that’s created is Open, meaning anyone at all can join without asking.  You can of course make your parties private, but having Open Parties around means you can quite easily find other people to work with if you’re having trouble completing something, or just like being in groups.  Can you solo in WAR?  Surely.  Pretty much any character class can solo fine, completing quests and the first stage of Public Quests easily.  Completing the second and third stages of PQs is hard to impossible solo though, as is claiming Battlefield Objectives for most classes (unless you’re higher level than the NPCs and can take a serious beating that is).  Though soloing is possible, the game encourages you to work with others via Open Parties and Public Quests.

So, ok, that’s all pretty nice.  What don’t I like about WAR?  One thing tops my list, without question: the Authentication Server.  For the last several evenings, my wife and I have been repeatedly stymied while trying to log in to play… we get a message that tells us “The Authentican Server is temporarily un”.  Un-what?  Unwilling to help?  Unable to process your request?  Uninterested in your petty problems? Unimpressed with your growing frustration?

I gather the source of the issue is that too many people are trying to log in at once; that would seem a sensible explanation anyhow.  And as problems go, that’s a good one for a game to have, relatively speaking (hard to complain about too many people playing).  Still, it’s annoying to spend 15 minutes trying again and again and again and again and again to log in, only to be reminded that the Authentican Server is STILL temporarily un.

Another source of displeasure in game is the gold seller spam.  Though one can open the help menu and navigate to the customer support area and report the chat spam, it’s awkward and time-consuming.  I want to be able to right-click on the name in my chat window and report the spam, or at the very least put the person on ignore.  Opening the social menu, opening the ignore tab, and typing in the person’s name is often a serious hassle granted the phonetic abominations many gold sellers use as character names (e.g. “Agdefiobabtlerz”).  There’s a new addon that can help with the chat spam, which gives me hope, but I’m still disappointed by the built-in controls in this regard.

Recruiting Friends

My wife and I became disillusioned with Age of Conan not long after launch, and as time passed we found ourselves logging in less and less.  We’re mildly interested in WAR, kinda in the same way we were interested in AoC; it’s always interesting to see how the game design pushes MMOs forward, and how it fails.  For now though, we’re back in WoW.

Some of our friends are on a PvP server and so we decided to start fresh there (no character transfers from PvE to PvP realms are allowed).  Neither my wife nor I were looking forward to the grind, but both of us enjoy world PvP and want to experience the WoW endgame.  So I recruited my wife, linked her new account to my pre-existing one, and away we went.

Triple experience really changes the feel of the game.  WoW is, as pretty much anyone will tell you, quite polished and full of content, but there’s also a fair amount of tedium to be found – the worst of which is often found in quests requiring you to obtain items dropped by monsters you’re supposed to kill in the dozens or hundreds, securing the items you seek every tenth or twentieth kill (or even less frequently sometimes).  Thankfully, with triple exp, we’re quite able to choose which quests will be fun for us, and ignore the others.  As a result, we’ve skipped probably 95% of the quests in the game that require you to farm monsters for drops.  They just take a lot longer and are often a lot more frustrating than our preference: the kill quests and vector quests (a vector quest is one that sends you to another location to talk to an NPC there, usually to direct you to new quest hubs).  Kill ten thingies?  Sure!  Fly across the world to go talk to some guy?  Sure!

It’s most efficient of course to find a series of quests you can do in one area, so though the vector quests are quite easy, they’re not always optimal experience.  We love having five or ten or even more quests at once – our biggest run to date was in the Hinterlands, where we completed a record 18 quests in one pass, going from lvl 48 to 53 in one sitting a few nights ago.  Sadly, that kind of quest density doesn’t come very often, and we’re lucky to get half a dozen quests in the same general vicinity.  I expect that to change once we hit Outland, which we’ll do after getting to 60 in Azeroth.

It’s hard to overstate how much more enjoyable the leveling is now; I wasn’t looking forward to it terribly, having leveled a dozen or so characters to the 40s and 50s previously.  This time, however, leveling is a lot easier and more relaxing than ever before, which I have to imagine is helping secure subscriptions for Blizzard.  It’s surely a clever and effective marketing ploy to combat WAR.

Now if only we got triple experience on our lockpicking as well.  Dang, that’s a tedious skill to raise.