Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What Am I Doing?

Yeah, I still have yet to finish any of the games I listed in my last post.  I won't even list all the games I bought, though.  In my defense, they were all ultra-cheap.  Maybe I should take drastic measures for 2011, like limiting myself to buying one game a month, or buying everything I want now (no restrictions) and then closing the wallet 100% for 2011.  That would be tough.

Well, maybe my current system will work.  I've eased the cutoff price up to $20 because I was tired of debating whether or not to spend completion tokens on $13 or $15 games. I figure once a current-gen console game hits $20, it won't go much lower unless it's a real turd or mega-bomb.  Take for instance a by all accounts good game, Darksiders.  That game has been $30 and then $20 for a while now, but I've yet to see it get near $10, whereas some supposedly big releases this year that flopped I've seen on sale in the $5-$10 range, and I don't even mean on Steam!

So, I don't really know what I'm ultimately going to do with this whole game buying/playing balancing act, but for now I'll say 2 completions earn 1 purchase for games over $20, I guess.  I started at 1 for 1 above $10, but this may be a better balance as far as inflow and outflow.

Enough of that--games! I've been busy playing a whole host of stuff in the last few weeks, and that's what counts.  I got a new big-screen TV to game on, and that's caused me to mix things up some, as well.
I had a slight Monster Hunter resurgence on the Wii, playing a bunch more online and encountering several new big monsters I'd never fought before.  It's a great game, and a lot of fun.  Why the hell is it shackled to portables and hobbled, barely-online enabled systems.  Why bother with huge fail bucket projects like Lost Planet 2 when an HD Monster Hunter would be a sure fire success in Japan at the very least, and could crack the west wide open for Capcom?

I also returned to Bayonetta one night last week, to pick up where I left off a few months back.  I was pretty confused, having forgotten a lot of how the combat system flows and how to handle different enemy types.  Mixing up the weapons I used helped some.  I only went through one chapter, though, and I'll be needing to see to that again soon, to continue on and hopefully finish the game up before New Year's.  Bayo is a really fun game, but I just have so much else I'm more interested in that it's hard to get around to.  Yeah, life is tough in these hard times.

I've been playing a lot of Fallout, also.  I'm more acclimated to it now, and I've made some good progress.  I actually completed the first major quest, which is to find a new water chip to replace the one in the main character's home vault.  You're given a deadline of 150 in-game days in which to accomplish this, or the water runs out in your vault, everyone dies, and it's game over.  In my travels to find a replacement, though, I started to wonder if living underground in vaults is the best thing for survivors in the wasteland.  There is definitely life above ground, dangerous as it is up there.  I half expected the water chip quest to be the entirety of the main quest line of the game, and after finishing that up the rest of the world just being there to run around in and do as you will, but no, there is more to it than that.  I guess this was before the days of open world games as we know them, now.  No, my next task is to hunt down whoever or whatever is behind the too-rapid growth in the super-mutant population, and stop whatever they are doing.  I believe I ran into some of this faction in my search for the water chip, but when I return to where I met them now, circumstances have changed, and I'm attacked on sight, so I'm thinking about going to someone else for help, perhaps the Brotherhood of Steel.  I'm definitely getting into this game.

Another game I've been playing a big chunk of is Dawn of War II.  I have no way of really knowing how far into the game I am, but I'm estimating maybe halfway.  I keep performing well enough on missions to deploy an extra time each day, which as far as I can work out, is allowing me to pursue optional objectives in addition to playing out the main campaign.  My squads of Space Marines are all around levels 12-14, currently, and Wargear drops are plentiful on each sortie. This game is a ton of fun to play, but the mission structure makes it a little too easy to stop playing.  The missions can get pretty intense when you are essentially controlling 4 individual Diablo characters at once against hordes of enemies and boss encounters.  It's too easy to just walk away after one or two quick missions, especially playing near bed-time, when I don't want to get too amped up.  I really, really like this game, though.  I already own the first expansion, Chaos Rising, and the next, Retribution, is a sure purchase next year.

The recent announcement of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim made me really want to go back and play some more Oblivion (TES IV), so I found myself re-installing it this past Sunday.  I still have all of the Shivering Isles content unplayed, and it may remain that way, because now that I've played the total conversion mod Nehrim, I don't think I want to go back to the vanilla game.  The Nehrim designers, who also made total conversions for TES III: Morrowind, I'm given to understand, have taken Oblivion, broken it down into its constituent parts, and reassembled from them an entirely new world with its own mythology, creating an almost all-new RPG.  Sure, all of the building blocks are familiar, but entire systems have been overhauled to address some of the more common complaints players of Oblivion had, and the result is a game that I feel comfortable in saying is just better, mechanically.

Oblivion featured some odd, almost experimental design decisions.  Everywhere you went, monsters and loot were basically level-synched to your character, which allowed for total freedom in exploring the world, but meant that you would never really find anything all that exciting when you did.  You never found a super bad ass sword that made you entirely overpowered, you only found the sword that was balanced to be pretty decent vs the enemies who were balanced to put up not too much of a fight.  This all meant that leveling up in general felt pretty meaningless.  If you leveled, so did everyone else.  You would run into situations where random bandits on the roads would be wearing the same high level armor that you were.  Gaining new abilities never seemed to make you more powerful, only give you more variety in what you could do.

Nehrim fixes this by just going back to a more conventional setup where enemies are assigned static levels, and areas are populated with enemies and loot of a certain range of levels.  All of the sudden, combat and exploration are both more exciting, making for a better game, overall.  It doesn't stop there, though, they have overhauled the inventory and standard UI, also, making them more functional and PC-friendly.  Oblivion was basically a console port, and the inventory, UI, and FOV really reflect that. Nehrim helps out in those areas.  The map in the original game was a real pain to use, and the guys behind this mod have done a lot to improve on that, too.  You can still definitely see Oblivion's flaws poking out, but Nehrim tries it's best to smooth them over.

So that's what Nehrim is mechanically, but how does it play, you ask?  Well, it's of course a first person RPG, like Oblivion, focused on melee/ranged/magic combat and character growth featuring an open world and a ton of quests, all optional after the first couple of hours.  The plot is that you are a monk who has grown up in an abbey, and you receive a mysterious letter telling you that your life is in danger unless you show up to meet the sender at an old abandoned mine, and to come alone and tell no one. Upon arrival, you are attacked by trolls living in the mine, fall through some floor boards to the lower levels, and have to find your way out again, encountering other recipients of the same mysterious letter, most already killed by the trolls.  When you finally find your way back to the entrance of the mine, you are alone, and arrive to find a powerful mage torching a pack of trolls.  This mage explains that he was the one who asked you there, along with several other candidates, but of course did not expect the trolls or for all the other candidates to be killed.  Turns out, a secret brotherhood of mages (secret to avoid persecution in the magic-fearing kingdom) have been watching you and these other candidates for some time, and have decided you are fit of character and natural ability to join them.  It's literally an offer you can't refuse; they'll kill you if you do.  You are given a forged letter announcing your conscription into the army of the kingdom for some far-off war, and told to give it to the head of the monks at your abbey, and then to meet with the mage again in a nearby village.  The mage disappears, leaving you to your own devices.  This is basically where the game opens up.  You'll have to do a few little quests before you can leave the encampment surrounding the mine, which is under attack by a rogue group of mages (different from the group that has just recruited you, by their robes), but after that you're free to go out and explore the world and do as you will.

I'm following the main quest line so far, with a few diversions into caves and ruins I've discovered, and random side quests to uncover more about my character's past pre-Abbey.  I've been playing for about 5 hours, so far, and really enjoying Nehrim so far.  If you have a copy of the PC version of Oblivion (retail or Steam, either way), and you want to breathe some new life into it, definitely check out this total conversion, which basically amounts to a whole new 50+ hour RPG, and completely free, of course!

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