Thursday, December 2, 2010

Missions Accomplished

It's rare that I finish a game, relative to how often I play them, which is about every day.  It so happens, though, that just this week I've finished two of them, The Witcher, and Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines.

Finishing The Witcher was the culmination of about 5 months of on and off role playing as Geralt of Rivia, the White Wolf, a professional monster slayer. Geralt is minding his own business with the other members of his Witcher order when their fortress, Kaer Morhen is attacked by a mysterious group of mages who kill one of their dwindling number and make off with the alchemical and magical secrets behind the Witchers' abilities to mutate normal humans into the superior warrior-monk-mercenaries that make up their order. Geralt and the other remaining Witchers agree to split up and comb the realms of the world for clues as to who is behind the attack and why, and to attempt to recover the Witchers' stolen secrets and prevent whatever evils their mysterious mage assailants are plotting.

Geralt makes his way to Vizima, capital of the kingdom of Temeria, and before long finds himself embroiled in local power struggles, race relations, and close to picking up the trail of those who attacked Kaer Morhen.  The plot of The Witcher proceeds through a prologue, five large chapters of action, and an epilogue, and in total took me 60 hours to play through, taking time to go out of my way to finish 95% of the available side quests available on my single playthrough.  There are actually three distinct ways to play through the game, taking either of two sides to the main conflict, or a completely neutral path to the end of the game.  Major plot points apparently play out the same way, but the alliances you forge and those you spurn can have a large effect on what type of people you are surrounded by, and which other characters are open to you for friendship and more other, more amorous, relations.

I played Geralt more as a proxy for myself, often choosing the side of the conflict that I thought personally was more in the right.  It's all shades of gray in The Witcher.  Consequences of your choices are never laid out to you beforehand, and there is nothing approximating Mass Effect's meters of how much you are leaning to one end of the spectrum or the other.  I felt like because of those factors, I played more with my own mind than how I play Commander Shepard, whom I tend to steer in a certain direction for consistency and gameplay benefits, and whom I see more at a step removed from myself.  Shepard and Mass Effect I enjoy more like something being presented to me, but Geralt and The Witcher it was easier to see as something I was actually participating in.

There is a lot you have to be willing to overlook with the technical aspects of the game--random glitches, varying quality in the VA, every citizen of Vizima being one of about 10 models wearing different colored outfits, a less-than-perfectly optimized game engine, a combat system that can seem finnicky at times, and more, but when you balance all of that with the excellent story being told, the nice visuals, music, and excellent role-playing to be had, I can easily recommend the game, especially to people who are RPG fans, or certainly anyone who likes Mass Effect and could play that with badass swordsmanship, alchemy, and magic swapped in in place of guns and tech/psi powers.  Incidentally, the game is easily playable on any system that would run the Mass Effect games. 

Assassin's Creed: Bloodlines was, overall, pretty mediocre.  It kind of makes me melancholy in a way for the bad old days of shitty, dumbed down versions of real console games that I used to play on the Game Boy and Game Gear.  Games cast in the mold of their bigger brothers but shoehorned onto a smaller platform never turn out well.  This game really should have been re-thought and designed from the ground up for the PSP, like the Metal Gear Solid games have been.  I'm not sure how they could have done it and maintained the open-world feel of Assassin's Creed, but it probably could have been better than this half-hearted approximation.  The VA and music were not great, either, and there were a lot of audio glitches in the game.

The game wasn't all bad, though.  The fighting felt pretty faithful to AC on 360, and the story was at least a little interesting, though probably relatively inconsequential to the overall mythos.  I spent probably 5-6 hours playing it, and I felt I got my money's worth. But then, only about $2.50 came out of my own pocket for the game.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend the game, but if you got it as a pack-in or on the cheap, it'd be worth a try. 

I've had a hankering for some Call Of Duty/Modern Warfare type multiplayer lately, so I installed COD4 from Steam.  I played through the single player on a borrowed 360 copy, but this game came in a Steam COD pack I bought earlier this year.  After messing around with punkbuster some, I was finally able to get into the action, with mixed results.  I don't think these maps are meant to be played with a maximum of 50 players.  I eventually found a server with a more manageable pace of play, but by that time I had been repeatedly owned for about 45 minutes straight and was ready to move on to something else.  Still, this game is a lot of fun, and nothing else I've found can completely substitute for it in every way.

Keeping up with the RPG pile, after finishing The Witcher, I've moved onto the Fallout series, starting with the first. I'm not planning on barreling through all 5 games in the series sequentially or anything, I just thought I'd stick to the pattern of new school (Mass Effect 2), old school (Planescape), new school (The Witcher), and come back to the old with this game.  At the rate I'm going, I'm expecting this to last me probably until around next May when The Witcher 2 is released, but we'll see.  I'll probably end up playing this like I did Oblivion, just doing a bunch of random stuff and then rolling a new character and trying other stuff, eventually getting around to the main quest line once I kind of get the hang of the game.  This game is old, and it plays like an old game, so it's going to take some getting used to.  I'm off to a decent start with my first (of this go around at the game) character.  I don't really have any sense of the scale and scope of this game, but I'm excited to uncover it.


Greg said...

Ok, I know you are gonna scoff at this but I picked up Donkey Kong Country for Wii and it looks to be a badass platformer. Played the first few levels tonight with the wife-to-be and we had some fun.

Also picked up Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom for Xbox and played about an hour of that tonight. Also a fun game but the story can be nonsense and childish at times.

Count Elmdor said...

No scoffing here!

I've heard Donkey Kong is pretty good. It's interesting that it was made by Retro studios, the Metroid Prime people, but I guess Rare wasn't going to do it, now that they're owned by Microsoft.

I also heard Majin is good, from Shipwreck on the CAGcast. I don't think anyone else has paid that game any attention.

What are you playing the most these days?

Greg said...

That's an easy one, the lady and I have sunk in about 48 hours into Fable 3. We both completed it with our own separate characters. Is it worthy of spending that much time? Hard to say really. There are aspects of the gameplay that get very tedious such as the gestures/behaviours you can do to interact with NPCs. For the most part, interactions with NPCs per the Fable formula are very gimmicky and totally lack substance.

Yet the game has some serious charm and I think what kept me going was the exploration and nice looking environments. Some of the quests have entertaining little stories to go along with them.

Majin is likely the next game I'll work on completing.

Count Elmdor said...

That's cool. Do you play other western RPGs on the 360, the Fallouts or like Risen or Divinity 2: Ego Draconis? Oblivion?

You should get into PC gaming! What kind of system do you run? There are even a lot of good games available on Mac.

I'm not really sure what game I plan to complete next, myself. I'm in the middle of a bunch of things, but not feeling pulled in any one direction over another.