Usually when I go through a videogame I have several posts. I’ll have a “First Impressions” post, then something about the characters, maybe a bit about the technology. Once I beat the game I’ll comment on the ending, which is where I decide if I liked the game or not.
I have a whole series of posts like that for Neverwinter Nights 2, and now I don’t feel like posting any of it. I have several posts of fawning praise and gushy cheerleading about how wonderful the characters are and how interesting the story is. I have comments on the generous length of the game, the fun character generation process, the great visuals, some nitpicks on the overly heavy system specs, and lots and lots of approval for the dialog.
I was going to wait until I was done posting the D&D campaign and then start posting the series on NWN2, just to keep the place from getting too cluttered. Now I have the urge to skip all of that and shake my fist at the designers for a few paragraphs.
This game is based on D&D 3.5 edition rules. So, when I say “combat”, keep in mind that this is characters fighting while the game rolls dice in the background. (There is a little window which actually shows the dice rolls if you like to watch that sort of thing.)
The first two-thirds of the game were some of the best gaming I’ve had in years. Then as the second act finished and I entered the third and final act, the plot got ugly. A whole bunch of those beloved characters bit the dust. Characters were getting killed off by the six-pack. This is a huge and epic game. It has dozens of vibrant characters, and as I entered the last hours of the game I wondered if there would be any left.
At first, this had the intended effect: I wanted to track down the bad guy and stop him once and for all. But after a while the game stopped being fun, because all the people who made it fun were dead.
Usually in a computer RPG, your final race towards the climax has you dispatching bad guys at a steady clip. You’ve fought hard. You’ve struggled through. You’ve earned your rewards, and now you have the powers to face the final Big Bad. Only in this game I wasn’t getting stronger fast enough to keep up with the bad guys. Was there some untapped pool of XP out there that I missed that would give me a couple more levels? I doubt it. Yet in every battle I was hopelessly outmatched.
The game has this little thing where you can examine an enemy, and judge his relative strength. So, you click on a kobold and it tells you “Challenge Rating: Effortless” Meaning I can kill this guy by coughing on him. Most enemies are “Moderate”. Some are “Challenging”. Once in a long while I’ll meet a boss that is “Very Challenging”. Then in Act III I started meeting foes which were rated “Impossible”.
The game was not kidding when it said impossible. I’d have to go through the fight many, many times. If I got a good critical, I’d save the game. If I missed two rounds in a row, I’d load the game. Note that the load times in this game were brutal, so it took a while to win a fight this way.
Still, I’d muddle through, spending twenty minutes on a two-minute fight. I’d run around and try to get the AI to get caught on some bit of scenery, or sometimes they would skip a few turns for no apparent reason, which would give me little edge.
Then the game started giving me two impossible foes back-to-back. These fights required numerous re-tries, as I seached for juuuust the right combination of spells and lucky hits that would get me through. Then the game started giving me two impossible foes at the same time.
How about a screenshot?
And who could forget this thrilling moment:
A little more eye candy for you:
The final dungeon was a joke, an insult, a slap in the face, and a stupid waste of time. All of the drama was sucked out of the story as I ran though every cutscene twice. Every battle was repeated a half dozen times. I did the same trash talking with the same bad guys, who would then put me and my party down with little fuss. Every time the game built up a little tension it would dispell it by killing me ten times in a row until I was angry and frustrated.
In a game this huge, there is no need in the world to pad the thing out by cranking the difficulty up to “extra impossible”. This was some of the worst DIAS gaming I’ve seen in a while. These battles weren’t just a little too hard. These battles required turn-by-turn micromanagement of all of the characters just to have a chance at making it through, even with the help of the save & restore screen.
Eventually I realized I was going to have to use some cheat codes if I didn’t want to smash my keyboard to pieces. I found “god mode” and turned it on, which made my main character invincible. I had a party of five people, and every single fight would end in a total party kill, except for my invulnerable little avatar, who would hack away at the bad guys while I made a sandwich or otherwise amused myself. (“Dead” characters get back up after a fight if at least one person survives. The game is only over if everyone dies. Which happes a lot.)
I was a monk, which is a fairly sturdy character class. I shudder to think what the ending would have been like using something challenging like a Rogue, Wizard, or (Bilbo help you) a Bard.
The final boss fight was appaling. I didn’t even think of turning off the cheats. Even when cheating my butt off it was at least a ten-minute fight. Without cheat codes… it might have taken hours. Now, I don’t mind a long finale, but it needs to be a long fight, not the same two minutes of fighting, followed by thirty seconds of loading screen, over and over for an hour an a half. I’m really glad I used cheat codes, or I’d still be there, staring at the loading screen as the King of Shadows stomped all over us for the 50th time.
An now the ending. Here be spoilers.
Okay, you play a D&D campaign with your buddies. You crawl the dungeons, roll the dice, amass the treasure, and save the lands. Then after you beat the Big Bad, the DM just pulls out a 3×5 index card and reads off of it:
This is a stupid, sloppy, and asinine ending. No DM in the world would do this unless he had a +2 ring of protection from face-punching, because his former friends are going to give him a royal beating for wasting their time.
What I have above isn’t the end of the game verbatim, but that’s the gist of it. And yes, this a static picture and text to go along with a monotone voiceover that read me this alleged ending. Animated cutscene? What would be the point? The only people who ever reach the end of the game are cheaters and lunatics.
Nothing like a game which demands 1GB of memory and a $300 graphics card so it can read you some text at the end of a 50+ hour game.
Dear NWN 2 Team,
I don’t know what I did that made you guys do this to me. Did I run over your dog? Say something about your mother? Is your teenage daughter pregnant and blaming me? Whatever it was, I’m sorry already.
To be fair, I wasn’t kidding when I said the first two-thirds of the game are great. I’m still sort of tempted to start a different character, although the thought of trying to get through that last chapter again is pretty daunting.
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