Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Grimrock Future of the Third Millenium

If there is one thing I would have liked Legend of Grimrock to have, it is a proper New Game+ mode, where I could bring in my experienced party of adventurers and continue to level them up through the dungeon again, facing stronger enemies. I see the flaw here though; Grimrock is not Diablo, and instead of using randomly generated dungeons, it relies on a single, meticulously constructed and labyrinthine oubliette as its setting. The puzzles are half or more of the experience here, so for an additional adventure to really be great with your existing party, it would have to be through a new dungeon.

This is not to say that Grimrock has no replay value built right in (in addition to the user-made and official expansions that are sure to come), as there is a novel take on the idea of a second quest for the game; it's just that that particular mode does not import your existing party when you play it.  If you would like to replay through the same dungeon, though, there are plenty of potential party configurations to do it with, between the four races and three classes to choose from for each party member, and even further decisions about which skills to level up, and what weapon types to use.

The key limiting factor here are the levels. Grimrock's main campaign has 10 full levels and 3 smaller ones toward the end of the game, which is just about a perfect amount for a single playthrough. I have to admit, though, that I was expecting to carry my party and all their gear into a second playthrough, which isn't happening until and unless expansion dungeons allow for it. I hope more about these comes to light soon.

More levels will help to better balance the class utility for the game, also. This thread on the Grimrock official forum points out a few concerns people have with the way things currently are. I used the default party lineup, so I didn't really encounter too many issues, incidentally.

So, the point of this post is just that I've finished Legend of Grimrock, and really enjoyed it. I think it's got a good future ahead of it, as well, as it appears to be highly modifiable, and games of this sort are nearly non-existent these days. If I had infinite time, I'd try a playthrough of the stock second quest mode, as that seems interesting. I don't though, alas, as I'm flying to Japan tomorrow for a couple of weeks.

Look for more impressions of Avernum and other ipad games soon!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grimrocking The Lanes

For the last couple of weeks, I've only been playing two games: Dota 2 and Legend of Grimrock.

I've got over 50 hours in Dota 2 at this point, and I'm still having a blast. I think this is the first multiplayer game to really click with me to this degree, save something like FFXI or WoW, I guess. It's looking so far like this will be a year of Dota and Diablo. I've played 20 matches each with Windrunner and Bounty Hunter, and I'm trying a few other heroes for the time being. Omniknight may be the next I focus on for a while.

The design of Dota is genius. It's symmetrical in some ways (map layout), and less so in others (team makeup), and is in many ways a zero-sum game, meaning that whatever advantages you take the other team are deprived of, and vice versa.  The game is as much about denying your opposition the resources of experience and gold, and through them, morale, as it is accruing those things for yourself. It's simple on the surface, but with a great and unseen depth of strategies and mechanics below. All these things make it less than beginner-friendly, but if you are interested enough to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and learn the game, the reward is an amazingly fun and interesting game, even after the hundredth or thousandth match on the same map. I think of it as more like a board game in that respect. Chess, Checkers, Igo, Shogi; none of these games suffer from lack of variety in settings. Besides, Dota has somewhere around a hundred characters to choose from. That alone is likely more variety than I'll ever need.

Legend of Grimrock is something I've been looking forward to since first reading about it last year sometime (if memory serves). It's a very old-school first-person dungeon crawl, much like Eye of the Beholder or Etrian Odyssey, both of which I enjoyed, and Dungeon Master, which I only heard about recently in articles relating to Grimrock. I couldn't really tell you why I was so excited for the game, except that I like role-playing game mechanics, simple, straight-forward designs, and exploratory environmental puzzles often found in large temples or dungeons. Also, the game looks gorgeous, if the amount of art is limited.

I never got far at all into Eye of the Beholder, and though I finished Etrian Odyssey, that game featured an entirely different battle system to what seems to be the norm in this genre, so I can't really point to nostalgia, exactly, for my interest in Grimrock, but perhaps rather an appreciation for it's aforementioned old-school sensibilities is what attracted me. Regardless, I am having a ball making my way through the dungeon of Mount Grimrock. Hidden switches, floor panel switches, trapdoors, and teleports are just a few of the elements used in the puzzles in this game, and many of them are optional, hiding a secret piece of equipment or cache of consumables rather than something critical to advancement through the dungeon. That only makes them all the more devious and alluring in their design.

It's a real pleasure to play Legend of Grimrock, but I'm afraid it is probably an acquired taste, and one unpalatable to many of today's gamers. But then, it's a DD-exclusive game for the PC, so someone merely being aware of its existence is already halfway to the point of being receptive to it's charms, I reckon. I was up entirely too late last night playing this game.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Trine to Make Some Headway

The game I'm trying to polish off most actively at the moment is Trine. I have to mention up front that it's a real bummer you can't walk away from the game at a checkpoint mid-level and have it save your progress. You have to begin again at the beginning of a level every time you play. I don't quite get why this is the case. It's not that the levels are too long, it's just a bit of an oversight.

Aside from that little business, Trine is a great game. It's got nice and inventive platform levels based around a solid physics engine and the various abilities of your three-fold player character. The graphics are beautiful, and the art is colorful and attractive, if full of unimaginative stock fantasy trappings. The platforming is more in the realm of action-based than puzzle-based, and largely dependent on your gaming the physics system--which can be a little fiddly--but that is part of the fun. I'm given to understand that people have been able to play all the way through the game with each of the three player character aspects and only that aspect (wizard, thief, knight), but for me half of the fun is rotating between the three to find the most efficient or feels-like-cheating way to advance. I'm just to the start of the 14th of 15 levels, so I'm pretty near the end. I've heard that the last level is nightmarishly hard, but then I've also heard that it was patched at a later date to be more reasonable. I'll cross that chasm when I come to it. Maybe it will involve swapping to the wizard to place a floating platform in the air, and then swapping to the thief to grapple onto the platform and swing over to the other side.

I have to admit that I almost picked up Trine 2 when it was on sale for $7.50 this past weekend on Steam, but I'm trying to stick to a policy of not buying a game unless I am ready to play it right then and there. As you can see, my backlog needs trimming. Great trimming. Plus, after I finish Trine, there is a bonus DLC level I'll need to play through before I can even contemplate playing the sequel, which will without a doubt be available for $5 or less before I run out of other games to play.

I guess my second-place focus game of the recent days has been Freespace 2, though I haven't played it in a week or so. I'm up to the 6th or 7th mission, about half way through the first of three acts to the game. It's cool, so far. I do kind of miss the open and independent nature of an X series game, but this is a completely different animal. It's Ace Combat in space. Space Combat. It's got a pretty involved storyline, too, so I should probably pay more attention and focus a little more on it at some point.

For the rest of the time I've been gaming lately, it's been all multiplayer stuff: TF2 just for shits and giggles (what a great game), Tribes: Ascend to continue to see what it's all about (I'm kind of into it, kind of lukewarm on it, thus far), and a whole hell of a lot of Dota 2.

I'm at 42 hours of Dota played now, according to Steam. I've been trying to learn to play Bounty Hunter, who works much better as a ganker than a lane pusher/farmer, as I've been discovering. I had one of the most demoralizing games I've ever had 2 nights ago, but I checked out a couple of video guides to the hero and turned in a pretty decent performance in a game last night, though we still lost to a team with a well-fed Lycanthrope. It's still a lot of fun, even losing, as long as you feel like you have a handle on the action and strategy. I think that, like anything worth doing, playing Dota is worth learning properly, though it takes effort and perseverance, and a willingness to accept defeat and learn from it.

I Pad My Backlog

Avernum: Escape From the Pit, Infinity Blade, King of Dragon Pass,  and Jetpack Joyride--these are but a few of the games I have downloaded onto my new iPad.

I've spent the most time so far with Infinity Blade--enough time to make my wrist hurt the next day. It's a pretty great game; it looks very nice, and it has a solid, if simple, set of mechanics with a hook that keeps you coming back. The one area it fails in is the menu system. It looks completely amateurish next to the best-in-class graphics that the rest of the game sport. It's baffling how awful the menus look; I wonder what the story was, there?

Avernum is probably the game I am most excited about digging more into on the tablet. It's a redux of an old Mac RPG by Spiderweb Software, and probably compares most easily to something like Fallout or Baldur's Gate. Though combat is turn-based, like the former, you control a party of archetypical fantasy character classes like the latter. Supposedly it's three games in one; there are three distinctly different ways to progress through to the end and complete the game. This is the type of thing I can really sink my teeth into, on a platform more often characterized by its casual fare.

King of Dragon Pass is another hardcore game for the tablet. Perhaps too hardcore. The closest thing I can approximate it to would be one of Paradox's grand strategy games like Europa Universalis or Sengoku, only you don't dwell too much on the map screen, from what I can tell. You play the leader of a tribe just immigrating into the realm of Dragon Pass, and must make all sorts of decisions about how to budget, what crops to plant, what gods to sacrifice to, who to raid, how many warriors to keep around and how many should go back to being farmers. It's turn based, with each turn being a season, as far as I can tell. Events will pop up here and there and you have to decide how to deal with them and how that might affect the diplomatic situation with neighboring tribes. There's a big element of calling in favors with other tribal leaders out there, as well as giving the gift of a few head of cattle or men-at-arms. I've never been one to dig too deep on a game like this (Civ V is about as far as I've gotten), but I do want to keep at it here and there if for no other reason than to roleplay as a tribal leader.

Jetpack Joyride is a pretty simple game in the mold of Canabalt, where you control a guy wearing a jetpack as he flies across the screen to the right. By touching the screen you apply propulsion, sending the guy up and down as you modulate how long your burns are. There are hazards to avoid, and things to collect, and it's just interesting enough to keep you happy for a few minutes at a time. In other words, it's a great way to waste 5 or 10 minutes, like a lot of iOS games.

Sea Chart Update

Further nautical explorations have revealed new details and clarifications of the charts of this region of ocean. Our stores are still full, and morale still high. A few ports of call have been crossed off our itinerary, but previously unknown lands have also been discovered. Much more of the world awaits.