Expect to hear more about it here in coming weeks.
Riiight. Well, that worked out magnificently.
So, what has been the goings on since that rather cheerful review of Warframe? The honest answer should be “many things”. Troublesome, since it’s easier to maintain a regular posting schedule with a focus on a single subject. What has been occupying my attention – quite significantly – is tangling with the opening areas of a few different games.
Warframe was the first betrayal. I quit the game some months ago, somewhat put out by the fact that the starting experience engendered an impossibility of actually getting anyone interested in the game – an issue since supposedly addressed by an overhaul, but too late. Starting players would have no good mods for damage and survivability, and the crafting system made actually building one’s first decent weapon prohibitively difficult, if at least one wanted it before the extreme difficulty jump that was the Earth region. So most people introduced to the game would simply lose interest at that step in the linear path. While a good game, its teamwork-oriented nature meant that chasing away one’s fellows was in the end an unforgivable sin.
In leaving Warframe, I resolved to once more throw myself into the headwaters of Nostalgia. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was mentioned some time ago, along with the miserable abomination that is Fallout 3. While the attempt had met with mixed success, Human Revolution was worthy, and so I hoped to repeat this success.
Casting the lingering shadows of Fallout from my thoughts, the next obvious choice was the latest extension of a franchise dear to me for some time; that is to say, Disciples III: Resurrection. Perhaps the fact that this was in fact a redesign of the original troubled Disciples III release should have been a warning sign. Alas, no.
Here the hideous hydra that is early-game misery once more raised its ghastly heads. Enemy packs seem to be statted for some other series, with early enemies being far too heavy on evasion for the meager abilities of starting units. Crowd-control units with abilities such as paralysis and baleful polymorph have had damage added to them, and despite the concepts of elemental immunities and general armour having been removed, somehow the designers of this game saw fit to retain units immune to physical damage as a mainstay of the undead faction. In short, a mess, particularly early on.
Possibly the most tragic aspect of this whole struggle is that, upon muddling through the early levels of the campaign, the game becomes much more enjoyable. Buried under the dross is an actual, enjoyable title, ruined by poor starting progression – indeed, I would have dismissed this game entirely in the first hour were it not for a combination of stubbornness and lingering affection for the magnificent second entry into the series.
In between playing the early areas of Disciples – of whose campaign I have yet completed only two of the four races’ stories – I attempted to mitigate the exhaustion by trying my hand at a few other games, most notably KOTOR II. This game received near-universal praise; surely it couldn’t be another dud?
Perhaps I was in the end the architect of my own dismay. You see, after spending twenty or so minutes scrabbling in my brain to remember which feats were useful back in the halcyon days of D20 3.0, I elected to play the prologue. The expectation was an introduction to the game mechanics and perhaps, like some other games, a small starting advantage in experience transferred over to the campaign.
Oh, how deeply one can be cut.
You see, the prologue is not played as the character which one has carefully sculpted from base clay only moments previous. Oh no. Instead, the player is treated to a sequence played as an astromech droid. For anyone not familiar with Star Wars canon, let it be known that these droids are not even vaguely humanoid, being instead mechanical caretakers of their ships. And this ship was in dire straits indeed – near-obliterated, with segments of the hull open to the gaping void of space. Exciting! Except that no indication of how or why this happened was forthcoming, and the debris-ridden mess was only relevant in that it provided a reasoning for obtuse puzzles. As I directed the wretched automaton around this ship, with its peculiarly unwilling portals and surfeit of scrap metal, I did eventually come across my character. Huzzah! Truly a moment of triumph, seeing my prospective avatar… slumped on a sick-bed, portended to be unable to even survive until the ship could put into port.
So much for heroism.
It seems that the only real reason for having the character present at all was to justify being unable to open doors into hard vacuum, though by this point dark thoughts of carelessly slaying this in-game incarnation were already gathering behind my brows. But no, I soldiered on, eventually fulfilling the meaningless tasks designed to bring the ship into port, and then…
And then awoke in a glass jar, alone and with no materiel, in a seemingly deserted complex. At this point I resolved to put aside the game for another day, possibly during the recuperation period from severe brain damage. No advancement of the story had occurred, no meaningful interaction with the universe had been achieved. I had, to paraphrase, not yet begun to play.
Why are these games so terrible in their early stages? Even the acclaimed Mass Effect, another title which I recently started playing, is much less pleasant when the character is in its larval stages. Surely it is common sense to introduce the player in such a way as to engender satisfaction rather than frustration? To leave one craving more, rather than desiring respite from the exhaustion?
Back in the early days of gaming, demos were an accepted part of a game’s release. Gamers could play through the first act – in part or in its entirety – and assess their enjoyment of the product based on this glimpse. Some years ago, game demos fell out of fashion – and looking at this crop of games from years past, it is not difficult to see why. Shoddy implementation, poor balance, little encouragement to the player – even in the case of the suddenly popular Early Access model, the intent seems to be to fleece the prospective player before they have had more than the most cursory glimpse afforded by overly optimistic publications and developers.
Perhaps this is simply a hazard of casting one’s attention back to games of yesteryear – though today’s offerings are an unexciting bunch. Still, it is dispiriting that so many make the same misstep coming over the threshold, and I have my doubts that the trend has passed.