Monday, July 28, 2008

Diablo Contained, Tristram Saved

It wasn't until after I killed Diablo and finished the game as my warrior that I realized there is a whole other way to play this game. I had been hoping to continue on as with warrior, but the upper difficulty levels are apparently only available when playing online, and I wasn't able to carry him over. I decided to try out a rogue online instead, and it dawned on me when I hit ESC but wasn't able to pause the game, that Diablo online (whether single or multi-player) is more about the persistent nature of the character than the transient world of the game.

That is, at any time I could take my now level 3 Rogue and restart the whole game anew, keeping my EXP and what items I had on me at the time. Not only that, but all the shortcuts into the deeper layers of dungeon are already available, given that your character is of a level to use them. The idea that the world itself is not to be the main focus of the player is exemplified by its defining characteristic--it is almost entirely randomized from the moment you step foot into it.

Diablo's main thrust, then, is the development of your character over time, in the loot you find, the skills you learn, and the power you obtain with each new level. Completely obvious, sure, but all the time I spent on the offline quest, I was locked into a static (if previously randomized) world. If I wanted be able to die and reload, or save my game and come back later, I could do that. Online, you're in a game world only until you either die or log off, since either occurrence will restart you in a fresh new game (unless you have others in your game who can resurrect you or keep the game alive, of course). The only thing that ever carries over is your character level and, unless you die, all your items. It's a fresh new way to approach the game as compared to what I'm used to, and makes it almost more of a rogue-like. Mind blown. How can Blizzard be so awesome?

In other awesome Blizzard-related news, I picked up a Diablo Battle Chest, so now I have D2 and the expansion on my mac, in glorious 800x600, complete with the no-CD patch. Glory! I love the fact that I can fire up the complete StarCraft or Diablo II at a moment's notice with no rooting around for discs. It's almost worth being nearly a decade late to the party with these games.

Quickly: I got a Mega Man Zero GBA cart for $9 at GameStop. Kickass! It's just what I was looking for in Mega Man Powered Up, but could not find. Zero, and the MMX universe, is much cooler than the classic MM universe anyway (I might have thought differently back in 1993, but I was only 12 then). Also, the Pixel Junk Eden is pretty fucking cool. I'm going to have to pick that up along with Geometry Wars 2 and Bionic Commando Re-armed soon. Assassin's Creed impressions coming up whenever I get a chance to throw it in.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The smell of death surrounds me.

Diablo is extremely gothic macabre in atmosphere. The music theme of the town of Tristram is remarkably evocative of the dreadful and unwholesome with its acoustic guitar chords and arpeggios accompanied by a wailing wind's whistle. It's a favorite of mine. This sort of grim and spectral ambiance has always fascinated me, from Castlevania to the Book of Revelation, Dante's Inferno and the covers of Opeth albums and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Like Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat, I can sink my teeth into this milieu.

It's the dire and woeful without the gore and gratuitousness to completely crush the subtlety that defines the mood. Diablo has plenty of gore, but then, it is an action hack-and-slash full of the rotten, undead, and demonic; in any case, the tone is never compromised by gameplay conventions.

I've fought my Warrior through the cathedral, catacombs, and caves into Hell itself, now at subterranean floor 13. It has ocurred to me that the game is meant to be played through multiple times, new game+ style, retaining character experience and items from one difficulty level through to the next. I've only reached character level 20 or so, and still don't have any gear I'd say even verges on being 'epic.' We'll see what I come across in the final strata of dungeon.

I also haven't decided yet whether I'll continue on after killing Diablo, try another class, or just move on to Diablo II. Hmmm.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Too Lame *drumroll*

It's really a shame about Too Human. I've been keeping up on the buzz (and rancor) surrounding it because I thought it had potential, and I was a big fan of developer Silicon Knights' prior game Eternal Darkness for the 'Cube. I downloaded first tonight an E3 trailer for the game, which I didn't think was too pretty, and then the playable demo.

To put it bluntly, it sucks. It feels like an early-period Xbox/PS2/Cube game with some 360 textures pasted over the top. The character models make Oblivion's look sexy, and the script and voice acting are trash, and that's just the presentation. The execution is even worse. Baldur, when he isn't ice-skating from one mob to the next, feels about as agile as a sack of bricks, with crappy canned animations that keep you rooted in one place all the time while swinging your sword. The arenas range from bland to dull, and I've seen koopa troopas with more interesting attack patterns than the robot enemies in Too Human.

But worst and most unforgivable of all, the equipment and skill tables are two and three layers deep in a slow-loading main menu, meaning that each trip in there to see what you just picked up or to change gears yanks you right out of the game and into janky menu hell. Did I mention that this is a loot-based dungeon-hack game? Now you see where this is going.

Coincidentally, Blizzard's genre-founding 1996 title Diablo (that's from twelve years ago) still plays fast and smooth and is a whole lot of fun, if you can do without things like bloom lighting, polygonal models, and screen-filling resolutions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dungeon Runnin'

Ever buy a game and then, for whatever reason, have it sit and gather dust for a decade without really sinking your teeth into it? That's what happened with my copy of Diablo. I bought it around the time it came out in '97 or '98 based on the demo, and for the life of me I can't recall ever getting much farther than the Butcher, and I have no clue why I never played it much. I mean, I played through all of FFVIII and X in the intervening years. I could have better spent those 150 hours or so on it! Hell, I even played through Xenogears twice (and don't regret that quite so much).

It's not like I don't like hack 'n' slash loot games; I adored Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath for PS2. Just, for some weird reason, I never got around to giving Diablo it's due. Maybe I just gravitate toward a joypad more than mouse and keyboard.

Well, better late than never. I've had my Diablo disc floating around, and I wanted to play it a few months ago, but couldn't install it on my Mac. Then, with the D3 announcement recently, it occurred to me that my wife's computer, slow and lame as it is, does run XP, and is only around half the age of Diablo, and thus should be able to run it well. And it does. It runs it "windowed" in thick black borders due to the game's low resolution, but there's nothing at all hindering play.

I created a warrior, who is now up to level 6, and I've killed the Butcher again and am about to start level 3 of the dungeon. I'd like to finish the game this time, and then later get D2. Incidentally, this and Etrian Odyssey makes two games I'm playing concurrently that center around massive dungeons.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

June Swag

June was a pretty light month. July is looking to be about the same, which is good, since I have already spent way too much money on games over the last year or so.

It was Metal Gear Solid 4 month, and I was further spurred on to pick up MGS3 Subsistence.

June also saw the release of Etrian Odyssey II, and I picked up another copy of Ico, having sold mine a long time ago. The box isn't pictured, because the American cover art is a tragedy.

Another one down, another one down

I just beat Shadow of the Colossus. That last one was a real ordeal. I had to climb that monster probably 20 times before I was able to go the back to the left hand to the right hand to the collarbone successfully, and then once I got to his crown I had to hold on for dear life to gain purchase and be able to stab him good.

The flying desert colossus was also kind of a bitch because I couldn't seem to get Agro (the horse) to meet head-on with its wings so I could climb on. I also had some trouble with the two dog-like ones with the plated armor, because they'll knock you down over and over, and Wander (the boy) takes an eternity to get up after getting knocked down. Most of the others didn't pose much of a problem at all. I'll play on hard mode whenever I come back to SotC.

It's an amazing game, and truly one of a kind. At the moment I don't really have a favorites of all time list (longer than 3 titles, anyway), but this SotC would definitely be a candidate. My only problems are with the camera sometimes being at a bad angle for judging jumps on a moving colossus, and the fact that Agro doesn't always do what you want him to, but I suppose that's just realism. If they ever did a sequel, I'd also expect there to be more than one way to scale and take down the colossi. A little more free-form problem solving and a little less being funneled through a specific sequence of actions would be nice.