Friday, November 28, 2008

Fable II

Sorry about the delay between. I've got a few games to update on in the next few, but now we'll start with Fable II.

I'm sure most of you remember the promises of what the original Fable was supposed to be like. Huge spanning adventure, the likes of which the world had never seen. Moral choices that change not only your character, but the world of the game. Sadly, most of that got the axe before release. Well, they managed to push most of it in to this game. And it's still not that ground-breaking, or great. Don't get me wrong, there's a fairly solid game there. It's just not going to make any top 10 lists for me.

Start with the good: The fighting's a bit more in-depth now. As you gain levels in Strength or Skill, you get more options in fighting. Melee still devolves into button mashing most of the time, however. You only need the advanced techniques if you're consistently getting your butt kicked, which you probably won't. The skill is a bit more useful. You can zoom in, which does more damage, then you can eventually target specific body-parts, which is probably the most useful out of any combat option - you can score a lot of one-hit kills by aiming for the head. 

Marriage: You can get married, which is a neat touch. Straight, gay, or lesbian marriages are all possible, as long as you find someone compatable. Doesn't play a huge feature in the game, and in fact may not be worth the time and trouble, but as I said, a neat touch.

Property ownership: You can buy houses and shops, and get income every 5 minutes or so if you've rented out the house. The reason this is good? It keeps counting even while you're not playing, so you can amass a fortune while you're at work. 

Weapons: You can have guns as your ranged weapon now.

Morality: You're actually going to run in to a case or two where you ask yourself "Why bother doing the good thing here?" Most games only gives you the "evil=fun" and "good=rewards." It's nice to see "good=right, though it costs" once in a while. 

Story: I'm only putting it here because it's not actually _bad_. It is rather mediocre though. "Childhood ruined by evil guy, sworn vengence by Chosen One, get the Heroes of Prophecy who only together can defeat the yadda yadda yadda." No surprises, and I've already gotten 2 out of the 3, and the game's telling me quite firmly that I don't have much to go after I get the 3rd hero. 

Now for the Bad. Will powers are almost useless. I had a level 2 spell fairly early on, and it took a couple dozen shots to kill one. Spells also have a targeted and an area version, which is awkward to use in combat, since you're probably going to be moving around, and you'll probably cast the targeted version when you didn't mean to. Even Time Control's been nerfed into oblivion. The duration is not as long as it says, or the effect is much less pronouced. It's hard to tell. The targeted version is probably more useful, as it helps you break someone's guard, and deal extra damage for a short while. Good luck trying to remember to use it, though. As I mentioned before, melee is still pretty much button-mashing. And ranged is almost overpowered, since you can hit multiple targets if they're lined up. The problem arises when you're trying to manually target, since the cursor moves nice and slow.

The menu's going to be annoying you a fair share as well. No cursor memory, and every time you use an item, you're booted back to the game screen. I guess they never figured on someone wanting to use two potions in a row or something! 

Your dog: Nice companion, but fairly useless in the grand scheme. List of useful features of your dog that couldn't have been replicated with a design change:




Yeah. You can find things to dig up. Change the ground a bit in diggable spots. Find treasure chests? Have a little noise made as you get closer, or a glow, or hell, just let people explore to find them. Fighting? He can only attack people on the ground, and knocking people over when there's a half-dozen surrounding you isn't easy. The dog's expressions aren't easily handled either. Most of them are done in response to your expressions. But if there's an in-game list of which provokes what response, I couldn't find it. And you can't directly control the dog, in any way. If he runs off to point out a dig-spot, but you're looking for a treasure chest, you've either got to get the dig-point, or you run away far enough for him to eventually follow, and then hope when you get near he doesn't go for the dig-spot again.

Related to the dog are the heroes. A more useless bunch of gits I couldn't imagine. The Hero of Strength swings around a big hammer, and does about as much as your dog. The Hero of Will (voiced by Ron Glass, aka Book on Firefly. Woohoo!) makes pretty lights, and is a decent damage magnet. I don't have the Hero of Skill yet, but I can't imagine him being much more useful. 

The experience curve to level abilities is, quite frankly, insane. Half a million for one level 5 in skills. Level 4s are about one hundred thousand. I hope you like grinding, because you're not going to get the XP to max your abilities just by playing. 

Demon doors! Some are stupidly easy to open, others are obtuse to the nth degree. I don't see many people opening all of them without some form of guide. The stuff inside isn't even that great. 

I'm not 100% certain, since I'm scare to try, but it doesn't look like you can have multiple games running, either. The title screen only gives you "New Game" and "Continue" and your game continually auto-saves to the same slot, so it seems unlikely. That means you're going to have to take turns in a multi-gamer household.

I think I've now hit the major points in the game, so I'll wrap it up now by saying that this is by no means a bad game, but if you weren't a fan of the first one, there's not a lot of chance you'll like this one either. Actually, unless you were a big fan of the first one, I'd give this one a pass.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fallout 3

To kick things off, I'll start with a quick review of Fallout 3 for the PC.

Yes, this uses the same engine as Oblivion, but this is not Elder Scrolls with Guns. This is also not the Fallout you remember. We now know what it isn't, but what about what it is?

This is a deep, engaging RPG with some shooter elements. Since you can switch between first and third person (I encourage you to spend some time in 3rd person view just to see the great detail that goes into your character model). This is the first game since Deus Ex that I feel really allows you to play how you want to play. Talking your way out of most situations, stealth killer who only attacks from the shadows, stand-up brawler who puts your fist in someone's face, or shooting them before they even can see you. No matter your play style, you'll find accommodation in this game.

Combat also has depth to it. Excellent twitch-shooters will appreciate the ability to shoot at a distance, and the responsive controls, although the reduced accuracy until your skill is raised up a bit. Those who prefer combat to be more methodical can rely on VATS (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System). The VATS takes your distance from enemy, and obstacles in the way, your skill with the weapon, and other factors and calculates a percentage chance to hit different body parts, as well as probable damage dealt. Some enemies even have specific spots on them that if destroyed, give different penalties such as becoming frenzied.

Graphics in the game look good close up, and don't require extreme amounts of hardware to achieve, but at the cost of the pop-in distance becoming a little distracting at times. NPCs that you meet will actually look different, and you'll be able to differentiate them at a distance if you learn who's who. You'll also need to rely on the light shed by your pip-boy in order to see in dark areas, and the game is actually able to project a creepy atmosphere which can really make you fear for your life. 

Sound is another high point. Despite being a wasteland, there are still lone insects chirping, objects make noise when kicked around or dropped, you have a radio available to listen to (as well as various radios tuned in as you explore). If you listen closely, you can hear enemies before you see them in close areas, and the intelligent characters will even talk to each other on occassion. 

For the main story, it's engaging enough, though if you're an explorer, you might end up skipping large chunks by accidentally poking your nose into the wrong place. To me, though, where the game really shines is in the side quests. Almost every quest can be completed in multiple ways. Good, neutral, or bad. And you're not locked in to playing any one way. No matter what, you can always pull it around. It also isn't just the cheezy "Please help us, you're our only hope" attempts to sway you to good, and the "I'll pay you lots of money" to be evil. People who need help make actual cases for helping them. If you're the type to look out for other people, you'll find plenty who are in a tough spot. If you want to look out for #1, then you'll find others with a similar mindset who are more than happy to enlist your services in their goals. I really applaud Bethesda for getting excellent voice actors and a solid script. Too few games realize just how important those things are in an RPG.

Now, there are a few places where the game falls down. The quest tracker is frustratingly vauge on the steps at some points in quests, and you might need to take a few notes by hand, just in case. There are a few random crash bugs, as well as reports of the game crashing when entering VATS on some systems. It can be very difficult to see some enemies even while they're in the open and attacking you. Leveling isn't very transparent. Yes, lockpicking, science, and barter are fairly straightforward skills, but what about small guns, stealth, speech, or medical? Just what amount of bonus are you getting for your point investment? And while the sound is good, it doesn't make a distinction about height. An enemy might be a level above or below, but it will sound like it is right beside you.

Save for those faults though, this is still an excellent game and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, eye-candy graphics, or good combat. Fallout 3 has a very good chance at being in my top 5 games of 2008, and you should get it for whatever system you have available.