Dénouement 2012: Part 1

 By Shamus Jan 2, 2013 152 comments

splash_2012.jpg

I played a lot of games this year, but I didn’t get around to reviewing all of them. Here, at the turn of the year several days after the new year, I’ve decided to do a half-assed roundup to say all the things I should have said months ago.

I don’t know if it’s fair to say that we’ve had more false-choice this year than in years past, but we are having more conversations about what choices we valued, what makes for a meaningful choice, and which games were best or worst at offering them.

Damned if you do, Paragon points if you don't...

The Walking Dead, Mass Effect 3, Spec Ops: The Line, and Dishonored all incited a lot of discussion about choice. I’m getting the sense that all the bitching we were doing three years ago about wanting more freedom in games has come back around. Developers have made games that turned around and said, “Okay. What do you mean by that?”

The games this year, in no particular order…


Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line

This game was more of an artistic success than a commercial one. While some people rejected the choices you were obliged to make, I sort of saw the whole thing as an editorial. I was okay with my character doing Bad Stuff That Was Obviously Bad, because the game was making a point and I was agreeing with it that this is bad. Specifically: Far too many shooters mix the gritty realism of today’s sociopolitical climate with a macho power fantasy, and the result is a genre that is juvenile, stupid, and occasionally reprehensible.

I’m in favor of games tackling big subjects, so I really enjoyed this one. And the set design was amazing.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3

After my ending deconstruction, my Escapist column on the Mass Effect 3 ending, my conversation with Film Crit Hulk about plot holes, and our 12 hour let’s play of the game where we bitched for 11 real-world hours about every way the game could possibly be said to have failed us, I really don’t have anything left to say other than this:

It could have been better.

Serious Sam 3

Serious Sam 3

This game was a test of just how far the “But it’s satire!” excuse can go. I feel like this is a take on the Emperor’s New Clothes. Someone has told us that this game is satire, and only stupid people will miss the satire. And so everyone plays along, not wanting to appear too dumb to get the joke.

The level pacing is repetitive. The scenery is drab. The requisite chatter that drives the story forward is both bland and uninspired. Sam delivers his lines in a tone that indicates he’s telling a joke, but there aren’t any punchlines.

I’ll admit I only played the first couple of hours, so I’m vulnerable to the charge of “you quit just before it got good”. So be it. There were a lot of amazing games in 2012, and the others weren’t front-loaded with a few hours of frustrating brown corridors and urban ruin. I would have rather Sam just stick to what he does best and not fool around with whatever this was supposed to be.

Legend of Grimrock

Legend of Grimrock

I played the original Eye of the Beholder way back in 1990 or so. I don’t remember buying it, which means I must have been playing a bootleg copy. (Note to young people: “Bootleg” was our old timey-time word for “pirated”.) On the other hand, I don’t know where I could have bootlegged it, either. Strange. Anyway: Sorry Westwood Associates.

Aside: Man, is it depressing reading those old developer pages. Westwood ran independently from 1985 to 1998. Then as Wikipedia tells us:

Acquired by Electronic Arts in 1998, closed in 2003.

Sigh. I would feel better about it if EA at least seemed to be benefiting from the process. Right now they’re like a collector who buys one-of-a-kind paintings, throws them in the furnace, and then lays off 500 people because the price of furnace fuel has gone up. It’s all so stupid and pointless.

ANYWAY.

Back in the day, there were three color modes:

  1. VGA, which featured a mind-blowing 256 total colors.
  2. EGA, which had just 16 colors.
  3. CGA, which had FOUR colors. And not any four colors. There were two fixed sets of colors. The screen was either {black, cyan, magenta, white} OR {black,green,red,yellow}. Really. Both combinations were eye-searing. I always wished there had just been a third choice that was just four shades of grey. It would have done wonders for graphics.

I was unlucky enough to be stuck in CGA mode. For reference, the screenshot above would have looked something like this:

Not quite right, but you get the idea.

That’s not perfect, and I think I loused it up when I saved as .jpg instead of png, but this should give you an idea of how the game might have looked in 1990. (Ah! I wasted my time making that. Here is actual gameplay footage of EoB running in good ol’ CGA mode. Damn that thing was ugly. A vast majority of the screenshots you’ll find out there are in VGA mode.)

The game was a pure dungeon crawler: Push buttons, put rocks on pressure plates, run mazes, avoid traps, and find keys to open doors. You moved around from a first-person perspective, although it wasn’t a free-camera 3D kind of deal. Imagine playing Wolfenstein 3D if you could only move exactly 1 block at a time and only turn your head exactly 90 degrees. It was… disorienting to try and grope your way around mazes when movement was instant and there was no sense of transition from one position and perspective to the next.

Despite the eye-destroying color palette and the tedious gameplay, I spent ages playing Eye of the Beholder. Bloody ages.

The Legend of Grimrock is pretty much the exact same gameplay, but with modern graphics. The traps, doors, monsters, and turn-based combat are all there. You are still stuck moving on a grid. (Although the camera can now move smoothly, since the world is made of real polygons and not overlapping images. This actually makes the game easier in some ways, simply by making it less visually confusing.) The modern lighting makes it possible for there to be a few new puzzles that are based around seeing light or patterns of shadows.

It’s hard to be really objective with so many years between data points, but I can’t escape the conclusion that Grimrock just had better puzzles. They were proper puzzles, and not just brute-force tests of trial-and-error or pointless maze-running. (Although Grimrock did throw in a teleporter maze, presumably for old time’s sake. I appreciate the attention to detail, but ugh.)

This is as close as you can get to the original without going out of your way to use the stone-age tech. They didn’t “streamline” away any of the gameplay when building this thing. This is 1990 gameplay, love it or leave it.

It actually shows how much less patient I am now than when I was 18.

shamus_1990_vica.jpg

That was a long time ago. Today I approach games differently, and I play them for different reasons.

Grimrock was fun for a while. I probably sunk 12 hours into the thing, but I don’t have that same “I can’t let this game defeat me!” mentality I had in 1990. At some point I became really fatigued with the whole experience. I had been fighting the same monsters in the same area for a long time, and I just didn’t care to do more. I felt like I needed a new dungeon motif or another nibble of story to keep me going.

I quit the game without reaching the end, and even now I don’t think I could go back. I’ve had my fill of that gameplay. Maybe in another 20 years I’ll be ready to try again.

Still, this is a wonderful old-school homage. It’s only faults are the ones it inherits from its forbears. Nicely done, and worth a look.

A Hundred!202012We've got 152 comments. But one more probably won't hurt.


  1. No FTL eh? Fair enough.
    How about “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”? That was this year! I know it didn’t live up to the nostalgia of the original… but it seemed like you liked it.

    Man, I can’t really think of ANY games that I really enjoyed this year. I played DE:HR and FTL… those are the only two I can think of and they were… alright. Maybe next year will be better? In the meantime, we all still have Minecraft.

    • Thomas says:

      I’m pretty sure DX:HR was before-last year. I didn’t really see many stand out AAA games this year (haven’t played Dishonoured or Spec ops) but it seemed like an excellent year for finding indie games that exist(To The Moon) and are awesome (and 4chan was an erotic interactive story about disabled people and it was genuinely awesome, heartwarming and more intelligent than almost anything else written this year??) and rereleases. I can’t wait to snap up the Persona’s and Peacewalker got released on a non-PSP =D All in all can’t complain.

      Also the Walking Dead

      • Hydralysk says:

        2012 wasn’t a standout year for me, but it still had some good titles.

        Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Persona 4: Golden (and Persona 3 for me), The Walking Dead, FTL, Spec Ops, Gravity Rush, Borderlands 2, Super Hexagon, even Kingdoms of Amalur were all great fun.

        Also picked up Persona 4 Arena on sale, but sadly my PS3 is currently bust with my Spec Ops disk still inside so who knows whether that’ll be good.

        Hopefully this year will be better but last year wasn’t barren by any means.

      • Scerro says:

        You mean Katawa Shoujo?

        I haven’t played it out of sheer distraction with other games, and anime fills my addiction to japanese art styles. I’ve heard the story was pretty lame, but I don’t know what people expect from a game like that. I thought it came out in 2011, but I was mistaken. For some reason it seems like it’s been out a lot longer.

        I really just wish that instead of pushing games I would like onto handhelds(to keep dev costs down), they’d make console games. I don’t have time nor the patience to play handheld games, because when I do I’m old enough now that I’m the one driving. -.-

        • Thomas says:

          Katawa Shoujo has fantastic writing. The game elements suck and pretty much harm the story overall. Probably there because it’s what the genre is meant to have. So its more pleasant to look up an FAQ and just treat it as a graphic novel with repetitive art and having to turn a page for every line. But all these complaints and yet I still absolutely adore it. Its because the writing is that good. I was worried it was going to be about sex/disability fetishes, but far from that it actually smacks people looking for that down very hard. Not only are the stories utterly real and wrenching affairs of the difficulties of disabilites and the very practical questions people deal with (do I look? do I mention it?) but it then uses those disabilites to turn it into a wider message of how everyone lives their lives and copes with adapting to new situations and generally being human beings. And with that choice of wider message, that again is turned into the wider wider message of people are people and thats not defined by an arm and leg count. Of course the message has meaning for everyone

          A lot of my favourite games have ended up being released on handhelds rather than something I can play :( Valkyria Chronicles went the way of the PSP and I badly want to play Persona 4 in some form.

          EDIT: I just realised I flat out contradicted someone else opinion about a piece of media. Sorry, it is subjective, but I was trying to suggest that there’s at least people of a very different opinion of that. To be blunt Katawa Shoujo actually made me reconsider life choices, the experience of game is utterly frustrating but I have not played a game, seen a film or read a book this year that I felt was comparable to the Hanako storyline in KS. Narrative is subjective and I’m in a situation to be particularly receptive to that one story line(*coughshycough*) but it drew me into the narrative and audience substitute (which only games can do so well) allowed my feelings to match up with the flow of the story and then turned around and showed how stupid those feelings are and challenged me to sort it out. I haven’t had a narrative experience like that before

          • Chuck says:

            There are KS fans here?

            YES :D

            Don’t forget that Katawa Shoujo is a visual novel, and not technically a video game (though that could be a debate in itself.) As a result, the experience will be different from a regular game. It can also affect people’s interpretation and perspective.

            • Thomas says:

              I use the word game instead of ‘interactive works’ fairly deliberately because I figure there’s no clean cut line say between KS, Dear Esther, To The Moon and The Walking Dead where it becomes a game. I figure interactivity is a powerful tool but however you choose to use it you’ve got to do it with reason and not just follow genre conventions. KS didn’t really (although choosing the Hanako storyline is a vital component of how it works, just less so with the others maybe). But it is also my first visual novel and getting frustrated at stuff like having to click through dialogue might go away when I get some familarity

    • Chris Robertson says:

      > No FTL eh? Fair enough.
      It is just part 1…

    • Factoid says:

      I think FTL is an awesome game. I remember Shamus’s comments about it from a while back about how it wasn’t really offering enough strategic depth, and the conversation that sparked. I never got around to playing it until last week. I’m completely addicted.

      It’s fair to say that it’s a more TACTICAL game than a strategic game. The main elements of strategy present are in how you spend your scrap, upgrade your ship over the long haul. You need to play through it a whole bunch of times to learn the ropes and develop new play strategies. Unlocking new ships forces you to learn new strategies.

      • Jexter says:

        I’ll second that. I’ve spent more time on FTL then any other game this year, with the exception of Skyrim. It is pretty unfair at times, but it is possible to get good enough to consistently win on Normal. (The Crew Teleporter is key.)

        Granted, I’m a sucker for star ship simulators. Also, I’m apparently a glutton for punishment, if my addiction to Super Hexagon is any indication.

        • mdqp says:

          I hear a lot of people praise the crew teleporter, but I honestly don’t find it all that useful. I mean, you must have a large enough crowd to still have at least 2 guys (one driving the ship and one at the engine to give you the dodge boost), if you want to live long enough to do any kind of damage to the enemy (be it by boarding or otherwise). Also, is there a way to move more than 2 people at a time? I imagine one could buy time by sending the team directly in the enemy’s weapon room, to stop them from shooting at you, and maybe manage to sabotage that, but I don’t think that’s really reliable, while I usually manage to consistently stop them by just firing the ion weapon of the Torus and alternating shields and weapons as a target. What do you usually do to make it worth the cash you pay for it?

          • Chris Robertson says:

            Both the Mantis type B and the ??? cruiser type B have a 4 bay teleporter. Otherwise, once it’s fully upgraded, the 10 second cooldown allows for multiple boarding crews.

            The great thing about teleporting, is that eliminating the enemy crew gives you about a 10% scrap bonus and a much greater chance of finding intact weapons or augmentations.

            Finally, it’s the best way of disabling the triple missile launcher of the Rebel Flagship.

            • mdqp says:

              I see. I never unlocked the Mantis and the ??? cruiser, so I only ever saw teleporters two tiles wide. I can imagine it being really helpful against the triple missile launcher. I managed to win with a top engine/top shields/ level 2 defensive drone combo, which basically avoided almost all damage anyway, but the way the rebel flagship was structred, I believe the weapons were completely separeted from the rest of the ship, so no reinforcements could get there, right? I see how the teleporter might be really helpful, in the final fight… Damn it, now that we have been talking about it, I want to install it again… -_-

              • Jexter says:

                Yeah, the teleporter is crucial because it will eventually increase the amount of scrap you receive per fight. But it also has another effect – you no longer have a great need for powerful weapons, since you can just teleport through the enemy shields.

                This means you can focus on upgrading your own shields. If you’re untouchable, it doesn’t matter if the boarding party is only two people – you have all the time in the world. Now, you do eventually need weapons that can damage the final boss, but being able to focus on shields early makes the game much more survivable.

                Usually, I try to get the crew teleporter in sector 1, and failing that, sector 2. Priority then goes to upgrading it to level 2 (which pretty much guarantees you can beam the boarding party back before they die), and sensors. After that, upgrade shields, get a defense drone, hire crew, ???, profit. That’s the gist of it, really.

                • mdqp says:

                  I see what you mean, although I got a lot of encounters that had one or two missile launchers even early on, so it’s hard to deal with those with just 2 teleported crew members and high shields(in fact, you risk dying whenever there are too many enemies, and if you lose 2 guys at the very beginning, it can screw you over badly. Maybe I was unlucky, but I always got onto crews with enough men to give me troubles, the teleporter isn’t really safe to use until you upgrade it, I believe), because as soon as you leave their weapons untouched, you risk getting your ass kicked … Well, I suppose that’s one of the situations where you can just flee, although it becomes harder to get enough scrap for a good run if you don’t maximize your operations at first.

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      Journey. I don’t own a PS3 but I got a chance to play it when I was keeping an eye on my friend’s apartment in the summer and the post over at Digital Gumballs reminded me it was actually this year that it came out. It is a bit short but it is an amazing short, I honestly can’t recall a more emotionally appealing game that I’ve played.

  2. Merle says:

    But really, let’s talk about Mass Effect 3 a little bit more…I hear the ending left some gamers unsatisfied, fancy that!

    (More seriously, the list of games from 2012 that I have not yet played is getting depressingly long. Dishonored, Borderlands 2, Scribblenauts Unlimited, Sleeping Dogs, and that’s just off the top of my head…alas for the days when I had four hours a day to game.)

    • Dave B. says:

      Finally, an opportunity to post my 1,000 word essay on how and why Mass Effect 3 disappointed me! Oh, man! This will start the best discussion!

      • Aldowyn says:

        My 1000 word essays tend to be on how I really loved ME3 DESPITE it’s disappointments, and people tend to miss the point >.>

        Especially around here, actually.

        • anaphysik says:

          Naw, you hate ME3, you just don’t realize it yet ;D

        • Dave B. says:

          I think I know what you mean. Personally, I loved a lot of that game too. Just not all of it.

          IDK, maybe I’ve missed your point again…

          • Aldowyn says:

            Maybe not. What makes me upset is that people seem to miss WHY ME3 is supposedly ‘worse’ than ME1 or even ME2. It’s not WORSE, it’s DIFFERENT, but people were expecting it to be the same, and cried foul when it wasn’t.

            I can’t defend Cerberus, certainly not Kai Leng (TIM … has redeeming qualities, mostly whenever you compare him to Saren), and the Catalyst and his revelations are the true crime of the ending, not the color-coded choice BS, but the vast majority of the issues people here seem to have aren’t objectively WORSE. Most of it is tied to the increasing characterization of Shepard and people rebelling against that. Which is why you hear the phrase “MY Shepard would NEVER do that!” so often.

            • Dreadjaws says:

              Well, I think the game was worse because it was actually a mess. Leaving aside all the problems with the ending, and the side-quests (which were awesome), everything pertaining to the main game was a disaster.

              From the abuse of Cutscene Incompetence to the lack of exploration to the incredible annoyance of most characters, it was a painful game to bear and it was obvious that two different teams wrote it. One was fantastic, and the other was terrible. The result: a mediocre game.

    • Eruanno says:

      I haven’t played Scribblenauts Unlimited either, but not for lack of trying. For some reason Warner Bros. has decided they don’t want to sell it in Europe until February despite it being a downloadable game with no boxes or anything, it’s fully localized and… well, I guess it’s because purple monkey dishwasher.

      • Zukhramm says:

        And because of that I’m not buying it. At all. If they do not want my money, they will not have it. I’m so tired of this and there are many good games out there so if they won’t let me buy it on time, I’ll find something else to play.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Well, in your defense, Scribblenauts Unlimited was just launched. But don’t waste any time. The game is GLORIOUS. Just go and check the screenshots people leave on the Steam Community.

    • HiEv says:

      Wow. I heard the music for about three seconds before I was overwhelmed with nostalgia.

      I forgot that I too played the hell out of “Eye of the Beholder” on my Amiga (I think I even still have the disks, not that they probably work anymore).

      Thanks for that.

    • krellen says:

      While that’s not quite the experience I had, it’s a lot closer than Shamus’s; my first computer was a Tandy 1000, which meant better sound and graphics than was standard for the time (Tandy had some of the first integrated sound cards and video drivers – Tandy graphics were essentially EGA, though not precisely.)

      I had that computer for something approaching 10 years. I remember trying to get it repaired once, and Radio Shack asked “Tandy 1000 what?” and we had to say “I don’t know; we got it before you started putting letters on them.”

    • Nick-B says:

      I never played EOTB on my Amiga. It started with Dungeon Master (creepy game, dang those worms) and ended with Black Crypt. I liked BC much more, as it had better graphics, the items seemed cooler, and the manual had a much more detailed map on what does what and which monsters spawn where. And I loved it’s intro music. I eventually loaded it in an amiga emulator to run a sound cap program to record it for later. That was before I discovered youtube.

      • Nataline says:

        SOAMC has an MP3 of it here.

        Here’s a bonus rant, feel free to skip:
        At first I retrieved the original modules from ExoticA in a neat .lha package – which in these enlightened times is not autorecognised by decompressors because of reasons. After melting the archive I get 3 files, all med.filename. Opening their directory in VLC gives a blank list since the file requester defaults to “show media files” and music modules are somehow not media. (I assume VLC gets a prefiltered file list from Konqueror since a file manager somehow knows more about media than a dedicated media player program.) So, I switch to “show all files” and shove the revealed med files into VLC, which does nothing since it does not autorecognise them. After some blood pressure medication I rename a file from med.filename to filename.med and it turns into a playable media file, by some unknown magic!

        I was going to say I have no words for how stupid this is but on the contrary I have so much words that I’m unable to choose. Also, most of the words would be so foul I’d have to soak my keyboard in acid afterwards.

        I think I need to lie down for a while..

  3. Jenson says:

    From what I can tell of Serious Sam 3, the first few levels were supposed to be that bad. Apparently to show us what shooters were, then after that it apparently goes back to what it does well. Probably tried to contrast shooters with Serious Sam or something.

    I don’t know, I bought the Serious Sam 1 and 2 HD remakes instead of 3. Enjoying those quite a bit, gameplay holds up pretty well. And they look freaking gorgeous.

    EDIT: Oh, one more thing. Just wanted to say Mark of the Ninja is the best damn stealth game I’ve played in a long while. Not “one of” the best, THE best.

    • JPH says:

      The game stays bad, though. Yeah, it switches from urban ruin to Egyptian desert, but the art direction is still utterly monotonous, the dialogue is still facepalmingly uninspired, and almost all the new enemy designs are terrible and get in the way of the fun.

      • Jenson says:

        Really? Well that’s a shame. Ah well, at least the HD versions of 1 and 2 are great.

        • JPH says:

          Oh yes, the HD first and second encounters are great and absolutely still hold up.

          If I had my way, Serious Sam 2 and 3 would both be declared noncanon and thrown in a trash compactor. Neither of them are necessarily horrible, but they pale in comparison to their predecessors.

    • AJax says:

      Somebody haven’t played Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. :]

      Ok Mark of the Ninja is pretty damn good mechanically but it just didn’t click with me, it being a 2D stealth-em’up and all.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Oh yes,mark of the ninja was great.So much fun in making enemies shoot each other.

      I still dont know whats with the no kill thing.Who does that?If you dont kill anyone,you are not a ninja.

    • Jexter says:

      Well, the problem is the levels are designed around the guns you get in them. For the first few levels, you are stuck with just the sledgehammer, the pistol, and the basic shotgun, so the game goes easy on you. 3 enemies? Oh no!

      Later on, From about level 4 onwards, it starts to pick up. Dramatically. By the latter half of the game, it is basically Serious Sam 1, but with a fresh coat of shiny modern graphics paint.

      In my opinion, Serious Sam 3 is fantastic, but you have to get past the first 3 levels, which are disapointingly bad. It really was poor game design to put the worst levels at the beginning, where they’re likely to give people the wrong impression of the game.

      The dialogue really is terrible, though. I’m willing to overlook it, since the game is so clearly not about the dialogue, but it lacks the sense of humor the first two games had.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I found Sam 3 to be disappointing. It’s been a few years so I may be misremembering it but I think of the earlier games as more cartoony and wacky. I wanted to play them because I was curious about what the developers were going to come up with. To me Sam 3 veered to close to a modern day shooter standards at the cost of imaginative ideas.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        You see, that is a problem. I don’t say games should give us the dessert first or anything like that, but the target audience for this game, those people who played the original, just don’t have the time to invest in games they used to have when they were younger. They can’t just play for hours on end on the chances the game might get good.

        And even if they could, I say a game that fails to hold your attention for a couple of hours deserves to stop being played.

        • Jexter says:

          Yeah, it really was a terrible decision to do the beginning of the game the way they did. The overall effect is a constant crescendo of ever-increasing violence, but that’s not worth turning off a large number of players in the first couple of hours.

  4. somebodys_kid says:

    Far Cry 3 will get a mention later on, right?
    I’m currently addicted to wandering aimlessly around that gorgeous island chain. 33+ hours and only 60% done.
    HOW DO I STOP!?!?!

    • Dragomok says:

      You need to take a spoonful of good ol’ “throw hi-tech machinery out of the window”.
      Unless you have that game on Steam. Then the only solution is either hermitage or repeated chewing on Internet cables.

    • aldowyn says:

      Lol. Shamus needs to play it, I’m curious. I think Chris is the only one of the SW crew that has.

      It has PRIME potential to be a good Spoiler Warning game. Crazy gameplay for Josh to play with, interesting story with some fatal flaws, and mechanics to mesh it all together.

  5. Tobias says:

    The thing that annoyed me the most about Grimrock was the leveling.
    I was comparing it mentally to the original Dungeon Master and Dungeon Master 2.

    Those games had one of the best leveling systems I remember. Skills get better as they get used (like in skyrim) and you can teach every character all skills eventually if you want to ( unlike skyrim). All skill increases just give stat increases on the side.

    Grimrock had a normal and boring class based system. It made me feel like I should be spending 10 hours reading FAQs if I want start with an usable build and beat the game.
    This has kept me from playing it after starting it.

    Though Grimrock and EoB are the only games in this article, that I have even tried :).

    • Grampy_Bone says:

      I did not like Legend of Grimrock.

      Everyone knows that “old games were hard,” but I’ve noticed this tendency when a modern developer (often inexperienced) makes a retro-style game they go way overboard and make it much too hard. (see also: Black Sigil.) I didn’t like Legend of Grimrock because there is a finite amount of food in the game which essentially gives it a time limit. That’s fine if you’re trying to make a survival-type game, but it doesn’t mesh well with a game which wants you to proceed methodically, solving numerous puzzles, exploring large mazes, and uncovering secrets. It was really hard for me to enjoy any part of the game because I was always thinking “oh crap better not waste time my party is starving.” I like to take my time with RPGs and you can’t with Legend of Grimrock. Add to that the brutal, unforgiving monsters and no quicksave button (oops, got ambushed and half my guys died again) and I basically ragequit the game and uninstalled it.

      It drives me nuts because the games they’re paying homage to–Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master–didn’t have these problems and weren’t nearly so difficult.

      • GM says:

        i believe you missed two floors where snails respawn quite rapidly,hmm was it 3 and 5 floor well i don´t remember.

        Food lasts longer if you eat when your bar is red,
        oh and blue crystal you can use to refill health endless amount so you don´t need to sleep that much.

        • Ringwraith says:

          I certainly was rolling in food by the end of the game, even though the end is the point where food starts becoming somewhat rarer, and I had a minotaur in the party. I rarely even used any potions, (I used antidotes, but that’s about it).
          The important thing to realise is that you can’t starve to death, it simply stops you regenerating normally, so it’s not the end of the world.

      • Ringwraith says:

        They patched in a quicksave button too, and now there’s a map editor, so endless dungeons to explore!

    • Ringwraith says:

      Honestly, I don’t think you’re too stuffed without having to build your characters “properly”. I certainly didn’t have much of a plan for my mage and just ended up spending points in whatever I needed to get what spells I had on hand, and it worked well enough.
      There’s just some obvious choices to make, like making sure no two people are trained in the same weapon type, as that’s a counter-productive idea.

  6. Adalore says:

    Aarrgfuguhhh… That teleport maze. Because… Sod that. I tried playing it not too long ago, but I think I would restart from scratch with two rogues instead of two fighters, one rogue, and one mage.

  7. Nalyd says:

    Aw, Shamus, you were so cute back then.

  8. Mark says:

    The first few levels of Serious Sam 3 were intended to be satire, but in reality they’re just bad. However, the action does ramp up to the level that Serious Sam is supposed to be. So I’m afraid it is a case of quitting before it got good.

    • Thomas says:

      We definitely still need to learn a few things about satire in games, there have been way too many games released that satire backtracking, monotonous levels, stupid plots, grey colour schemes by deliberately including them all, forgetting that they’re still not fun to play no matter how much the developers knew that they really really that they weren’t things that were fun to play

  9. aldowyn says:

    “It could have been better” is really close to my view of ME3.

    “It could have been so much better – but at least they got so much right.”

    That said, I didn’t watch most of Spoiler Warning, and my very very positive view of Rannoch and Tuchanka is very much intact. I’m okay with railroading.

  10. Well, you skipped the biggest disappointment of the year, Diablo3 where they scrapped everything in the youtube videos, and went retrograde from the D2/LOD loot in order to run a pay to play real money auction house.

    Next year looks to be the year of the kickstarter … games like Elite (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1461411552/elite-dangerous) and others.

    • Hydralysk says:

      Yeah Diablo 3 was a complete disappointment coming as someone who still got together to play D2:LoD hardcore characters with his friends at least once a year until that point.

      I’d say this year was the year of kickstarter though, Star Citizen, Double Fine Adventure and Project eternity all look promising. But for most of those it’ll be a couple years or so before we see whether they can deliver on their promises.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Agreed. Torchlight II was better, but I preferred the world/lore/background of D2. I recently finished my first TL2 playthrough, I’ve played DIII exactly once, and if I had to choose? I’d reply DII before playing either of the newer ones.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Im in minority here,because I really love what diablo 3 did.No,I dont like the game,its just an mmo,and uninspired one at that.But to have actual real money auction house supported by the game is a good thing.It removes the illegal gold/item sellers in the best way possible:Not by hunting them,but by giving them the option to do it legally.

      • The real money AH did nothing to stop the gold farmers and the gold sellers. The level of spam in chat was deafening.

        Blizzard/Activision set the price points and the increment points such that the gold sellers could beat prices by a mile. They created a game where gold sellers could flourish and prosper and even had system price protection.

        Don’t know if that has been fixed, but between the constant cut scenes, the constant loss of character control (to cut scenes), and the RMAH, people were quite over run.

      • Trithne says:

        Guild Wars 2 tried that too – Doesn’t work.

        Because gold sellers offer vastly better money -> gold ratios.

        Money in GW2 is tight. Unless you get lucky and find a niche on the TP you can exploit for hundreds of gold, you’re pretty much stuck farming stuff that they keep ‘fixing’ and applying diminishing returns to. Makes buying gold really appealing.

        But to do it through ArenaNet, 10$ gets you 800 gems which turns into maybe 3-4 gold. A quick check on the internet suggests I can get 30 gold for the same price from an external seller. Gold selling is alive and well even in these games that claim to have beaten them at their own game.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Another problem with Diablo III is that the game was BUILT around the auction house, even without money. Paying money, even in-game money, should be a way to BYPASS the grind and make the game easier, not become practically necessary because stuff drops too much.

        It’s a nice idea, but it didn’t quite work right.

    • Winter says:

      I am still bitter i paid money for that game, and even then i only purchased it to play with friends. I want a refund.

      • Nick-B says:

        I got D3 for free because I signed up for the year sub to WOW. I never planned to cancel WOW in that time (and didn’t) so it was win-win.

        After D3 came out, I still feel as if I wasted money on it and want a refund. It was NOT D2 with new graphics and classes. Heck, I played the CRAP out of D2LOD and never even finished hell difficulty once, and I LOVED it. I LOVED finding tons of nice uniques as I leveled. I loved farming normal meph for uniques to make act 4 easier.

        I maxed level 60 in D3 in like 4 days, tried inferno for a bit, and lost all interest. I found maybe a total of 3 uniques in all my characters in all my hours played. And the uniques sucked.

        TL2 is more interesting. The skills are more fun and feel OP compared to D3. But I’ll always love Borderlands 2. First person guns AND diablo-esk loot? YUM.

    • Steve C says:

      Ugh Diablo 3. I really hoped Shamus was going to do a write up of that one just so I could rant. Shamus has a lot to say about story games. Well in Diablo 3 they focused on the story. They made it a priority. And they made absolute total drivel that makes no sense. And because it’s designed to be repetitive gameplay it makes the story all that much worse. Diablo 3 is the worst game Blizzard has ever made by a large margin.

  11. zob says:

    The Walking Dead, Mass Effect 3, Spec Ops: The Line, and Dishonored all incited a lot of discussion about choice.

    I am more tolerant to “illusion of choice” when the said game doesn’t pull marketing crap “your choices matter”(cough*ME3*cough*TWD*cough) to sell more copies.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Agreed. Having “choice” which is mostly cosmetic doesn’t really bother me, if it isn’t touted as a big part of the game. Ain a “true”, “open” RPG, I expect more than in, say, a racing game, but in both I can live withl imited gameplay effect of choices. If it’s THE big marketing thing being thrown around everywhere, and it turns out to be junk, that annoys me to no end.

      • I tend to dismiss most gabble about “choice” anyway, because I consider most game companies go about this sort of thing ENTIRELY the wrong way. If you’re going to do meaningful choice in a video game, the very first thing you have to do is shut UP about it and focus your design around giving people lots of *gameplay* options. When people have gameplay options, they will be making tons of choices all the time, and all you really have to do to make the game reflect that is pick a few possible options have the story part of the game use and react to them.

        This is one of the things I’m actually a bit hopeful about for Dragon Age 3, because from some of what the devs are saying on the forums, they are starting to GET that the choices are and should be rooted in the gameplay, not in dialog. They are realizing that it’s utterly *pointless* and stupid to have this big elaborate Mage v. Templar struggle WHEN PEOPLE CAN’T EVEN TELL IF YOUR CHARACTER IS A MAGE OR NOT.

        They’re pulling back on some of the options that existed in Origins not because they want to make the game dumber, but I think because they realized that they’ve completely failed at making the gameplay and story work together, so they want to get that straightened out as the first priority before they do more ambitious stuff like offering race options.

        • StashAugustine says:

          DAO’s inability to tell if you’re a blood mage always bothered me, so that was one of the things I’m most hopeful for in DA3.

          • Zagzag says:

            Well in the Dragon Ages setting it would be reasonable for people to realise you are a mage, but much less so a blood mage: after all it’s not as if you undergo any major physical changes (except possibly acquiring a large collection of scars). If nobody in the Circle even realises that your friend in the Origin story is a blood mage, even though the highest authorities on magic see this person every day and the templars who are specifically looking for blood mages don’t notice then I’d say it would difficult for people to notice if you don’t actually use blood magic in front of them.

        • Aldowyn says:

          this. So much this.

          Games should be about games, not writing. (Not that writing isn’t important, especially when you’re trying to tell a story).

          This is what I was getting at back in one of the TWD episode comments when I said ‘true narrative choice is impossible’

        • The Rocketeer says:

          This is a good point- I think Far Cry 3 might have more choice in it than a lot of games that use player choice as a sales pitch, and I’m not talking about picking one ending or the other.

          Though this applies more to exploration than the story, they really do just give you a set of tools, some tips, and a pat on the shoulder, and you go at it how you feel like. That’s pretty swell.

        • TMTVL says:

          Except that in Way of the Samurai, there’s very little “choice” in gameplay: you either block and deflect like a pro or you just hammer on your opponents ’till they give up and die. On the other hand, Way of the Samurai has tons of choice where the writing is concerned:

          you can join the semi-yakuza guys who want to take over the valley, you can join their ex-luitenant, you can play out both sides against each other, you can mediate between them, you stay out of the conflict, you can join the government,…

          And that’s just the first game, the second one is bigger (haven’t got a PS3, so I haven’t played the third game yet). And it works because the conflict is of a limited scale, so it feels of less of an ass-pull when major characters keep reappearing (unlike, say, Cerberus).

          • How do those various choices effect how the game plays out? Or are they mostly cosmetic and you wind up doing pretty much the same stuff? And does that game have voiced dialog?

            One of the big benefits of rooting choice ultimately (I don’t mean entirely, I mean, at the base–the dialog system should sit on top of it as a higher tier instead of a separate system) in gameplay instead of in a select-o-matic dialog system is that you have a great many more options in changing *how things play out* without hugely changing stuff that’s VERY expensive to duplicate. You can use pretty much the same dialog, but where the fights fall, what critters you fight, whether or not there’s a chase scene, what you have to go through to reach your destination–all those things and more can be altered without necessitating tons of new cinematics, new dialog, new voice acting, etc. And if you’re clever about how you do this, the situation can feel very different–you’ll come to different conclusions about who the bad guy/good guy are, what should be done to rectify the situation, etc.

    • StashAugustine says:

      I think a big part of why I liked Mass Effect a lot more than most on the blog is because I have never seen a trailer or press release about the game. (I had a recommendation from a couple of friends and I liked KoTOR.)

    • Aldowyn says:

      The Walking Dead put said marketing crap IN THE GAME – that line at the beginning of each episode talking about how ‘the choices will make will shape the way the story plays out’ or whatever?

      I think the difference is the choices FEEL different. Mass Effect feels like it tries and fails to let you change the plot. TWD doesn’t even try – that’s not the point of it’s choices. (ME would do better, much better, following the TWD model, especially considering its characters)

      • Zukhramm says:

        Well. What is the choice? Take the puppy scenario in this blog post. The choice is kill/don’t kill, and both have the outcome of the puppy dying. Is that a false choice? What does it mean for the choice to matter? The choice wasn’t between the puppy being killed and it surviving, it was between me killing it or me not killing it.

        My problem with Mass Effect (and even more with Dragon Age) is that they’re choices are often the reverse of that. Instead of kill/don’t kill leading to the puppy being killed in either case, they let you kill it, then bring it back later, regardless of what you did.

        Me not doing something, and it happening by other means is a lot less annoying than me doing something and the game undoing it.

        • Khizan says:

          My problem with the BioWare style choices is that all too often they end up being “The kitten dies, or the puppy dies… … …or you can save everything and be GoodGuySuperHeroDude.”

          That’s one thing I absolutely loved about Tuchanka on ME3; there was no “save everybody” option.

          • Luhrsen says:

            I don’t see removing the “save everything” choice as making it better. Rather I would like to add a kill everything choice to the original three.

            Why is it that only the depressing side of “realism” (you can’t save everyone) is always having to intrude on my escapist fantasy?

          • Aldowyn says:

            Yeah, saving both the geth and the quarians feel like a cop-out.

            Yet another problem with the paragon-renegade system >.>

  12. Volfram says:

    Does it mean anything that the CGA recolor of that Legend of Grimlock screenshot decked me with the Nostalgia Wrench?

    Ah, CGA. You were hideous, but you bring back so many great memories.

  13. Maybe my use of “false choice” in previous comments was wrong,
    intended meaning was:

    Choice with consequences to gameplay vs choice without consequence to gameplay.

    Coloring of dialog but otherwise no other consequences is what I call false choice. (this is the part that irks me about the ME3 ending, it would have been better if you had only the red ending and nothing else)

    Having dialog, or actions or routes or smaller to larger gameplay changes due to choices is what I’d call a real choice. Very few games do this.

    But from the top of my head. Alpha Protocol to some extent, KoTOR (the ending actually diverts in two directions), KoTOR2 (except the ending).
    ME1, 2, and part of 3 (characters being there or not is consequence enough to me, but ME fails in that there is alternative/replacements so it balances on the false choice border here)

    Far Cry 3 and Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, and well many adventure/RPG games seem to do this pretty well, so it’s maybe a genre thing.

    The Walking Dead has the same issues as ME, in that there seems to be no consequences if this or that person is or is not still alive, even a “damn if only x was here then we could get in there and get more ammo and take a shortcut, but now we have to go around and we have barely any ammo.
    The story or maybe it is rather the plot that is on rails, and allows to flexibility in that regard.

    I’m not sure about Spec Ops The Line, but characters will react to previous behavior, and your choices will be reflected upon later as well.
    In that regard it does better than The Walking Dead.

    Heck, a series of articles could probably made on “Choice” in games.
    Would be fun to see, Shamus, Josh, Rutskarn, Campster do their own articles (or videos if time allowing) on the subject in a roundtable kind of way, each referencing each other.

    I don’t mind bunny hopping from site to site to read that. *laughs*

    • Aldowyn says:

      For the most part I’d agree, but for The Walking Dead I’ll make an exception. The entire point of the game is how people treat you, not what happens. The the dialogue is MORE central to the game than the adventure game mechanics. Those end up as tools to progress the plot more than the point of the game itself, meaning they can’t be the central mechanic – so something else is. That something else is the dialogue.

      By the way, you probably won’t read it, but I WILL write that article on choice. Some time. Eventually. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks. I’m actually writing articles now though, so that’s a thing. (Two in the past month that I’m actually really proud of. My blog’s the link on my name, or aldowyn.blogspot.com if anyone wants to look)

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’ve only experienced TWD through Spoiler Warning but I think what it does is fair. Obviously, being an old time pen and paper roleplayer I would prefer it if the game was much more flexible with entire plotlines dependent on player choice, on the other hand I do realise that a GM who has a story to tell will lead the players in a certain direction (a good storytelling GM just makes it as subtle as possible) and I am aware of the technical constraints on video games so I’m more lenient with them.

        I think there are a couple of things that need to be taken into account when considering TWD choices:
        -First, they are designed for first time play, as a video game player you know that it’s impossible to skip the farm but with many scenes you wonder if they might have been handled differently, if someone could be saved or if you could handle some situation better, especially when you don’t expect an event to come up and you do have to make a choice in a limited time.
        -Second, Lee is a somewhat established character rather than a player avatar, he has his baggage and personality. This makes watching some choices much less painful than in case of a blank character like Shepard. I can think that it would be more reasonable to come clean about my past to the rest of the group during some period of relative peace and comfort, then again I was never in a situation where I’d feel guilty and ashamed of murdering a man and at the same time was in a constant fear for my and others’ lives due to rampaging zombies, but even if the option doesn’t come up (or Lee chickens out) I can justify it with Lee’s character.
        -Third, and this ties in with the first one, this is not a heroic game. As such Lee is a protagonist, and in many cases may be a hero in a human sense, but the world does not revolve around him. The game railroads a lot but many of the “false” choices are only false because we look at them as game choices. Anyone who has ever worked with a group of people knows that some ideas are shot down, some opinions are ignored. From what I’ve seen this isn’t so much a game of worldchanging choices as it is a game of human interactions (or as you said it “how people treat you” is a point of the game) and I like that the game lets Lee/player decide whether to hold a grudge, incite conflict, try to be supportive…

        • Aldowyn says:

          I think you hit the nail on the head in a lot of ways with TWD as compared to ME. I want to point something out, though.

          Second point: Shepard is NOT a blank character, at least not in ME3. How often do you hear “that’s not what MY shepard would do!”? That’s because it’s not our Shepard any more, not since ME1 (and not even then). People don’t get that, and it ruins the way they perceive ME3.

          It’s a shame because it has a lot of other problems, and people focus on the ones related to THAT. (like the ending is legitimately terrible – although the EC fixed all but the most fundamental)

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            Interesting observation, I did hear things to that effect (accidental pun) but now that I think about it it was primarily in the context of the second game (and then primarily in the context of lack of certain choices, like being forced to work for Cerberus and the “I don’t wanna” dialogue options being overwritten to “I have ta” in actual dialogues). I will admit I’ve entered ME3 with a lot of negative attitude so it is possible I wasn’t really looking. On the other hand I’d still argue that Shepard fails as a developed character, even after only watching the first two episodes of TWD I can say a lot about Lee as a character while Shepard’s primary characteristic is that… umm… he/she wants to save Earth very much? He/she doest not like the perspective of the extinction of his/her species and every other civilization in the galaxy? He/she feels sad that some kid died? Again, I am biased against the game but I think if there was an attempt to implant some personality with Shepard it was way too much a “generic space hero” personality for what could have been done.

            On a completely unrelated note, I have really enjoyed your recent comments so I’ve already bookmarked your blog, I’ll try to catch up with it in the next few days/weeks.

      • Since you had a RSS/Atom feed consider yourself added to my list of feeds to keep an eye on. (it’s a very exclusive club, after all Twenty Sided is in it).

    • If you haven’t already, go play the Witcher 2. The choice at the end of the Act 1 is definitely a “real choice.” You get completely different environments and quests based on which direction you head down. Even your primary companion is different. The story branches a few more times in smaller ways. Everything eventually comes back to a similar final climax, but it’s definitely one of the strongest candidates for choice.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I already said this about choice once,but it bears repeating:

    Spec Ops: The Line and The Walking Dead do it well, because your character is defined. You aren’t driving a blank slate around, that doesn’t get phased by anything. You embody a real fleshed out person, and whenever you do something, whether it impacts the world around you or not, it impacts the character, and by extension the player. Which is how a game should work.

    In contrast, Mass Effect (the whole series really) and Dishonored have featureless bricks that you pilot around the world. And when you do something, even if it shatters the whole universe around you, that brick stays the same, and therefore you don’t feel a thing about it. Yes both games had great supporting characters that you could explore and empathize with, but those are just supporting characters that arent with the player for the whole length of the game.

    • StashAugustine says:

      On the other hand, some of the worst parts of ME were where it tried to overwrite your character- work for Cerberus, be sad over the kid, etc. I think you do better with a prewritten character when you have the character going through a more railroady character arc- see Spec Ops.

      • Thomas says:

        And there’s choice for immersion and choice for expression and freedom/choice as a tool and choice for thee sake of choice. Bioware games aren’t using their choices to further their character arc and themes and build attachment to them, but using choices because there’s something fun about being able to choose and shape an area to your will. Neither are bad but they have to be done in particular ways and Bioware kind of began to forget which is which and what it means in more recent years

  15. wererogue says:

    I really didn’t need to “beat” Grimrock – it drove me forward, puzzle by puzzle, mystery by mystery, and most importantly: automap reveal by automap reveal. Exploration drives me through games in a big way, and I just *had* to get all of those delicious tiles.

    I gather it’s got a lovely modding community now that the level editor’s out, but I haven’t tried any.

    • GM says:

      I look forward to gog version being able to play the new maps(Legend of Grimrock)

      Has Shamus noticed a game called Magicka which has been sais to be a mage suicide simulator with up to 4 player just one warning friendly fire is ON.

    • Halceon says:

      I know what you mean. I got that game on preorder and finished it in about a month from release. It wasn’t the need to win, that drove me. It was the sleeper. I wanted to know what awaits in the deep and what I found was way cooler than anything I expected.
      I expected some sort of demon or eldritch horror. The Cube turned out to be a lot more terriying by its sheer otherness.

  16. James says:

    on the subject of mass effect 3 and ” it could have been better “

    i’m going to disagree

    It SHOULD have been better, the decisions we made as a player base over a franchise we cared so much for, for so long. should have had more weight, should have ment something more the Not Grunt fighting the Not Rachni Queen, whilst Not Wrex and Not Mordin cure the Genophage, which was and wasn’t a sterility plauge.

    the ending has been spoken of too death, but i will add this, if you want a final ending that’s fine, this is the THIRD of a Trilogy its to be expected, but to solve it in the last 10 minuets with whats is essentially a hand wave NO!, your better then this, DA:Origins better, KoTOR better, Mass Effect 1 Better, Bioware has ALOT of goodwill to recoup, and i dont think they can do it honestly

    • JPH says:

      Wait, wait. You disagree with Shamus saying that it could have been better, and then say that it should have been better? Those two are not mutually exclusive.

      In fact, if it should have been better, but couldn’t have been better, then you’re saying they should have done the impossible.

      • krellen says:

        It should have been better, but couldn’t have been better given the environment in which it was made. It was a foregone conclusion that it was not going to be better the moment it became a corporate franchise instead of a heartfelt trilogy – which is what it should have been (and would thus be better).

        • Aldowyn says:

          I reject the idea that a ‘corporate franchise’ fundamentally excludes a ‘heartfelt trilogy’ – They are CLOSE, but not quite. The trilogy is now over, and ME4 is when the ‘corporate franchise’ part took over.

          EA isn’t EVIL, by the way. Or even against good games like you seem to think they are. Just a little bit dumb. The problem with ME2 and ME3, and even SWTOR, is NOT EA. It’s that the writers disagreed on what they were doing, changed tack midstream, and couldn’t fix the tears. Of which there were many, yes.

          SWTOR’s problem is APPARENTLY that they think that it would be cool if KOTOR 3 was an MMO. Sooo they just don’t understand how their own games work. Apparently the head guys at Bioware are all writers.

          *edit* Sorry if this was a little antagonistic. This is a subject I feel VERY strongly about. The series has problems, Bioware has problems, but I honestly do NOT think EA is the reason. If anything, Bioware’s problems started before joining them, and joining them is a SYMPTOM.

          • bloodsquirrel says:

            I think EA has been a negative influence, but they’re definitely not the entire problem.

            One day I’m going to have to write a long article showing how Bioware has declined since KoTOR, which was probably the last game they made with deliberately good design. Since then, they’ve been coasting along by using it as a formula, and the further they stray from the spirit that it was originally made in the more it falls apart.

            • StashAugustine says:

              Honestly, I could never get into Baldur’s Gate or Neverwinter Nights. I thought there was way too much combat:dialogue, leveling up took way too long, combat was a little flat, and they either used a terrible combat/leveling scheme (Baldur’s Gate) or had no plot (NWN). KoTOR had better plot, but their gameplay was still pretty iffy, and the writing did need some work. I personally prefer Mass Effect since I love sci-fi, but I’d call DAO their best overall (despite some real problems).

              • bloodsquirrel says:

                Baldur’s Gate’s system- basically AD&D- kicks the ass of anything that Bioware has manged to roll on it’s own

                Jade Empire was basically about spamming slow time and button mashing. Mass Effect is a worse shooter than any FPS I’d actually play- there are too many compromises made in the name of RPG elements to be truly compelling as a shooter.

                DA:O’s combat leveling and combat mechanics were a mess. None of it was balanced, there was no way to tell what most of it did (Is raising intelligence for more mana better than raising spirit for more mana regen? Is +10 fire damage better than +10% fire damage?Who knows! We don’t give the player enough info to tell!), and they gave you tons of abilities but few ways to actually focus your build. Oh, and mobs scaled, so that all of those levels you were gaining had little impact on how powerful you felt.

                By contrast, hard fights in the BG series were tactical puzzles. Open up with exploding arrows or use an arrow of dispelling on the mage? Send the warrior in first or throw some summons at them first while you get some spells off to swing things in your favor? Nuke the mooks or take out the boss first? You could approach a fight a lot of different ways, and when you got to be high level mulching bandits was actually fun instead of “While are these guys still as tough as they were 10 levels ago?”>

                • StashAugustine says:

                  No argument on Mass Effect- the combat didn’t get good until 3, which had well-documented problems with other things. My issue with 2E games are that there were far less options than in DAO. I freely admit that I only got about 8-10 hours in (although I’m almost done with Planescape) so it might get better, but most level-ups are completely linear. A warrior gets better stats and that’s it. Thieves get some non-combat skills, a few classes like paladins and rangers get some specialized skills. Mages (and clerics and druids) are the only people that get more combat options per level.
                  This extends into combat. Fighter vs. fighter fights are completely dependent on die rolls. No positioning, no terrain bonuses, no alternate attacks or abilities. Only mages have significant combat options.
                  Your points about level scaling and lack of communication are good. I would like to point out, however, that BG is also pretty bad about explaining its ruleset. It’s better in some ways, but also very confusing in others unless you know 2e DnD. (Note: Not saying this in defense of DAO, but you can grab a mod that explains abilities better here.) Level scaling was a big problem, both in terms of gameplay and story integration (why are these muggers more powerful than the army overrunning the world). But again, because the combat system gave you more options, you did have an advantage in that you now had a new way to deal with a threat. Your warrior might not have gained any stat bonuses comparatively, but now he can launch an automatic critical hit, which you can synchronize with Winter’s Blast.

          • krellen says:

            Until I see evidence to the contrary, I shall continue to maintain that corporations have no hearts, and cannot do things that are heartfelt.

            EA didn’t make BioWare fail; BioWare failed because they thought EA would be a good thing for them. Not that BioWare, as squirrel pointed out, has ever been truly great; Mass Effect looked like it might be a new pinnacle, but like Highlander, in the end there should have been only one.

            For clarity: I’m not blaming EA. I’m blaming BioWare for wanting to become EA.

            • Aldowyn says:

              I’m okay with that, but I’m willing to give them another chance. Let me explain myself.

              They’ve been expanding and experimenting since KotOR, but I think the expansion is mostly settled now. Everyone knows what they’re doing, finally. DA3 looks promising from what we’ve seen, and ME4 is a chance to start fresh in a setting that is STILL my favorite new setting in a video game ever. Including Tamriel, which is next. (And discluding The Old Republic setting because it’s technically star wars so they got to borrow a lot. Also a fantastic setting though, I love the analogues and contrasts between the Republic/Jedi and Imperials/Sith.)

    • Aldowyn says:

      It wasn’t SOLVED in the last 10 minutes, the Crucible was introduced on Mars. STILL too late, but way earlier than last 10 minutes.

      The real problem with the ending, in my view, is NOT the crucible, or even the color-coded choices. Those are… not optimal, but not terrible. It’s the kid, and the reveal of the origin of the Reapers. They RUINED the reapers as any kind of menace, because their motivations were a JOKE.

      By the way, DA3 and ME4 are the last chance for Bioware, even in my own view as a longtime fan. I’m.. cautiously optimistic. A lot of Bioware’s problems are LITERAL growing pains – since KotOR, Bioware has expanded from a single team working on a single game to THREE teams. Now they’re all settled in in different places.

      Notably, the ORIGINAL one is NOT working on Mass Effect. They’re working on Dragon Age, which is why I’m more curious about DA3 than ME4. (Not to mention Mass Effect should be DONE.)

      • bloodsquirrel says:

        I’m pretty sure “The original team” is mostly gone at this point. The lead designer for DA:O is gone, at least, and the company has very different priorities at this point.

        Bioware has been basing its games on the same template since KoTOR, and with their current design priorities most of the template has become vestigial and counter-productive.

        When KoTOR had a morality meter, it was because it made a lot of sense in the setting. Mass Effect has an morality meter that doesn’t have much relevant to the themes of the story and which doesn’t match the kind of decisions that the series usually asks you to make.

        When KoTOR had party members, it was because it was still an RPG and they mattered in combat. By the time ME2 rolled around they had almost no gameplay purpose anymore, and were mostly still there so that you could have sex with one of them.

        When KoTOR had choices, it was because the lightside/darkside stuff was central to the story, and they were building up to two different endings which seriously changed the story depending on which one you picked. When new Bioware games have choices, it’s because they keep advertising “PLAYER CHOICES!” on the box, but just make sure that they don’t interfere with the story that they’re trying to tell.

        With DAII Bioware tried to make God of War using a formula for a complete different genre.

        If the people currently running things at Bioware knew what they were doing, they’d either go back and make a highly nostalgic game in the actual style of BG or KoTOR, or they’d abandon all of the “Bioware elements” and start from the ground up to make a game that’s actually good at what they’re trying to do.

        • Thomas says:

          Completely agreed with the morality meter and choice thing. I don’t think Bioware have ever really particularly innovated in design and its left them in a spot where they don’t seem to be in the habit of adding in mechanics for a purpose. Instead they make what we’d recognise as a ‘Bioware’ game and kind of react to it. They went down a shooter path so they corrected it to be more like better shooters, they had detailed cutscenes so they upped the cinematography, improved companion writing etc.

          It’s not terrible in that a Bioware game tended to be a fun experience but as we’re getting more games designed from the bottom up purposefully and as they change settings and genre the gaps jsut show more and more

          • Aldowyn says:

            I think you may have a point. I’ve heard good things about DA3, and TOR is significantly better in some ways than you would think.

            We’ll see. I definitely see what you’re saying, though. Bioware was never I don’t think bioware was ever known for its design. Their early work was all D&D 2E, KotOR is just a modified d20 system, DA:O was terribly balanced, and Mass Effect has… issues, although it’s easily the most creative mechanically of the bunch IMO. The idea of a shooter with levels that actually increase skills was pretty new, and adding dialogue options and an awesome setting…

            There’s a reason I still love Mass Effect despite all its problems.

            • Thomas says:

              Oh thats a good point. And Me3 was inventing whole playstyles. I guess what I mean is they can innovate on the components, but they don’t do that with the overall in mind. The great RPGs have understood that levelling mechanics basically convey growth, KotoR 1,2, Planescape, FFX, Pokemon, Chrono Trigger, etc all involve discovery or rediscovery. The idea that you look back and realise you can beat all those puny monsters at the start in a single blow is part of the narrative experience.

              But what does the levelling convey in Mass Effect? And it’s the same for everything else, including the relationships and choice mechanic. Bioware can improve on ideas and innovate on them, but they struggle to make them more meaningful as a whole.

      • StashAugustine says:

        I didn’t mind the origin of the Reapers per se, just that it was introduced in such a stupid way. I still don’t know why they had to have Some Kid show up as the Reaper god. (Also, I played post-EC, which makes it a lot clearer that Starchild is completely insane.)

  17. ThatStupidGeek says:

    Although it came out originally in 2011, the Epic Edition of The Witcher 2 did come out this year. Its a rather ambitious in some of the choices you make. Depending on one action in the middle of the game the entire second and third act changes completely. People change roles, different quests and two mutually exclusive areas that each give a good 15+ hours of game play.

    I highly recommend it just to see a Triple A developer not at all worried about a player NOT experiencing something.

    • Matt K says:

      That’s another of those I have to get games, but I never got past the tutorial on the first and figured I need to finish it before I get the sequel (plus waiting for the box copies to drop in price so go with my box copy of the first).

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Just so you know if you were willing to drop the box requirement it’s on holiday sale on GOG at 7.49$ for 5 more hours.

        • Matt K says:

          Oh I know but since I barely played the first, I really want to finish that before getting the second.

        • Thomas says:

          Is Witcher 2 quite hardware intensive?

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            TBH I know nothing except the official requirements so far, I just moved to a new PC which should handle any modern game reasonably so I haven’t checked and I’m still trying to make my way through the bounty of Steam summer sale so I probably won’t even start Witcher 2 for a few more months.

          • ThatStupidGeek says:

            Yes. Yes it is. However it is a true PC game and allows you to fiddle with the options to such a point that you can run it on almost anything. And best of all? It has an ACTUAL art direction and makes use of various colors so it wont look like utter ass with all the options turned down! Furthermore The Witcher 2 is…11 bucks on steam last time I checked due to the winter sale?

            If you DO get it be prepared for unforgiving game play until you put enough levels in ‘Being a Badass 50 Year Old Monster Slayer Who Slays Said Monsters By Consuming Mind Altering Substances.’

  18. Neil D says:

    I will say this about Grimrock, the “boss” at the end was hilarious, and in a good way. Even as I was getting killed by it for the thirty-seventh time (the stupid respawning minions, I must add, can get bent), I was still grinning like an idiot at how awesomely absurd it was.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Especially if you play the doom song in the background.

      I propose that the doom song should be mandatory for every boss that can kill you in one hit.

    • Ringwraith says:

      That was one of the most enjoyable insta-kill bosses in existence, simply as it was so silly.
      Abusing the pitfalls to escape is a good tactic to keep in mind, as there’s no time limit on it so you can take as long as you like.

    • krellen says:

      *watches YouTube video of boss*

      What? Seriously? Is there any justification/foreshadowing in the setting for this?

      • Isy says:

        Sorta-Kinda. The boss itself is clearly foreshadowed.

        The fact it’s a giant mechanical cube that tries to squish you? Not so much. I think he explains he was sealed down there when you reach him, and how and why, but I forget the details, and really. CUBE!

        • Ringwraith says:

          The dream sequences where it turns out its contacting you are full of cogs, but otherwise, it’s one of the last of its kind, contained within a prison to keep it from wrecking havoc on the world as it once did in ages past, hence why you have to retrieve a special wand-thing to paralyse it and pull it apart before you can start denting it (which, by the way, great mechanic, having to wait for it to flip over the side you wanted to rip out stuff).

      • Neil D says:

        Very little. I mean, there’s really no way you could have seen that coming, and yet in a weird way it worked. The extreme out-of-left-field-ness of it, and the juxtaposition against the whole generic medieval fantasy setting was a much needed breath of fresh air after such a long and decidedly by-the-numbers dungeon crawl. It really did turn the whole game from a solid but ultimately forgettable effort into something that I’ll remember for some time to come.

  19. Jexter says:

    Hate to say it, Shamus, but you really did give up on on Serious Sam 3 too soon. The first few levels, either due to poor level design or a bad attempt at satire, really are terrible. But it gets better. Much better. By the latter half of the game, you’re fighting the hoards you would expect from a Serious Sam game. The final level has almost 2000 enemies in it.

    I don’t think it’s as good as Serious Sam 1 or 2, but it’s worthy to be part of the series. The addition of the sprint key really helps speed up the already frantic gameplay, as does the instant-kill melee button. I’d heartily recommend giving it another chance if you have the time, starting from about level 4 or so.

  20. Matt k says:

    I’m currently playing the heck out of Lego Batman 2 (which I did check and it came out this year). Such a fun game.

    I started Grimlock but honestly my main issue was with making the character turn. No idea why that ended up being a game breaker but it probably had to due with starting up Saint’s Row 3 (I’m typically a year or so behind in games due to just not playing close to full price). Now SR3, that was a fun game.

    Spec Op is on my list to start next (got it cheap on Black Friday) and my queue is pretty big so next are some adventure games (Gemeni Rue, Resonance, To the Moon).

  21. You know, I’m of the opinion that the important thing is not that we have choice but that we feel like we’re a part of the game. Choice is nice but actually being an integral part of the game is more important. For example, Spec Ops: The Line versus Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

    P.S: Why can I not underline?

    • bloodsquirrel says:

      Choice needs to be an integral part of the game- not a completely arbitrary branching that is either forgotten two seconds later or actively contradicted later on.

      Case in point: In Skyrim, once you escape after the dragon attack at the beginning of the game, you have the choice of going any direction that you want to start playing whichever part of the game you want. You don’t get a dialog box where you get to choose if you want to go to a city next or try exploring a dungeon, you just go. It’s the fundamental nature of the game, not a hastily tacked-on attempt to live up to a bullet point that your marketing team wants on the box.

    • Aldowyn says:

      I really liked that about Far Cry 3, actually.

      Dang it. I just love Far Cry 3′s design. Where Chris sees a muddled mess I see something where everything works together to make a cohesive whole. I don’t know if I’m missing something he saw or the other way around :/

      I guess the mechanics don’t fit the exact narrative theme as well they do the general setting, but MAN they fit the setting to a T. And there’s enough overlap between the setting’s theme and the narrative’s theme that it thoroughly worked for me.

  22. Ringwraith says:

    I appreciated the secret character mode that’s hidden in Legend of Grimrock and not mentioned anywhere, as it plays quite a bit differently from normal.
    Though it shouldn’t be surprising that playing solo at double movement speed with a combined fighter/mage skill set has that effect.

  23. Cuthalion says:

    I think I have that suitcase!

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