Note: originally posted on 10/17/2010, edited on 10/20/2010 with answers at end.
I'm on a little vacation with my wife this weekend. There was a bit of a fight involved, but I managed to bring my laptop along on the trip, on the grounds that I had assignments to finish up for some of my online classes.
She would surely notice if I was using this time to play games, so I can't make any progress on 2400 A.D., but I think I'm safe tapping out a "special topics" posting.
When I first started this blog, I had no idea what I would think about most of the games I encountered, but I had a decent idea (I thought) what I would say about certain games I'd already played. So in between postings on older games like Akalabeth and Wizardry I, I began writing little snippets that I could plug into my reviews of newer games when I finally got to them. How naive I was. I realize now that I'm years away from playing any of these games, and by the time I get there, I'll likely have a very different perspective.
So I'm offering these snippets to you here. See if you can guess what games I'm talking about from the brief descriptions.
1. I have attempted this game no less than four times previously, each time giving up in disgust after about 16 hours, and each time--some months or years down the line--thinking to myself, "How bad could it have been? After all, it was made by the same people who made the Gold Box games and it has the same type of combat. Give it another try." The particularly annoying thing is that each of my rage-quits has been accompanied by a fierce hurling of the game disks into the trash, with an equally fierce determination never to play the game again. This means that I've actually bought this absurd game four times. I probably account for 15% of its total sales.
2. This game starts off right, with a mystery about your missing equipment that gives you a de facto side quest list in the first five minutes. You then almost immediately encounter a location that makes an obscure but delightful reference to a much earlier game in the series. The first act is fairly linear, sure, but also very interesting, with numerous plot twists and memorable locations. But as you journey from place to place to place, you start to notice something: the game takes forever. It's about six times as long as its predecessor. More important, it involves about six times as much combat, which is particularly annoying because they haven't changed the combat engine, under which enemies respawn the moment you travel 50 feet away, and under which your characters are equally likely to run off screaming into the woods, or stumble into the path of one of your own ranged weapons, as they are to do anything useful.
3. The game engine might be the same as its predecessors, but the creators have done simply delightful things with dialog options. When speaking with any of the town's many NPCs, your choices vary considerably depending on race, class, intelligence, and charisma. There are even places when some characters can comment on what other characters have done--for instance, if your thief burgles a home, your paladin can apologize to the owner and promise to punish him. And speaking of paladins: don't let them speak to anyone who gave you a quest if you want to get paid!
4. Although the extra material tells an interesting story, this is one game for which an expansion pack was utterly unnecessary. The game world was already huge, and by the time you're strong enough to explore the expansion material, the last thing you want to do is fiddle with new weapon types, new spell ingredients, new types of companions, and new methods of transportation. Your character will probably already be maxed out by the time you visit the new locations, reducing the game to a tedious exercise in walloping dozens of enemies with the best weapon you can find just so you can advance to the next plot point.
5. The game is a worthy finale to one of the greatest CRPG series of all time, but it's not without problems. First, it's disappointingly linear, requiring you to finish off your foes in a very specific order. Second, to get the most out of the game, you must visit a location and solve a series of quests that you have absolutely no in-game excuse to visit or solve. Finally, it introduces a seemingly-good character who turns out to be the game's arch-villain, only anyone with an IQ of a doorknob would see through the character's guise during the first encounter.
6. The game has all the great gameplay elements of its two predecessors, but it falls apart in the third act. After spending most of the game building your characters, you find that with a combination of flight, speed, and invisibility, you can simply blow past the enemies in each of the final dungeons, solving the game without a single fight. This is anticlimactic to say the least.
7. This is simply the greatest CRPG I have ever played. It has everything: solid character development, a fascinating backstory, thoroughly-described weapons and armor, memorable foes, detailed dialog options with both friends and enemies, interesting NPCs (each with a unique story, and some with a quest to go along), great graphics and sound (including movie-quality voice acting), and a mostly non-linear approach that allows you to explore nearly the entire game world immediately after the prologue (although the main quest progresses in a fairly linear fashion).
I'll name my next protagonist after whoever gets the most.
Vacation will be over on Monday, and I'll head back to Nova Athens then.
10/20/2010 edit with answers:
1. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. It could have been so much better. Truth be told, I find it tolerable at the opening stages, but the hundredth time you're trying to get through a dungeon and you suddenly find yourself in combat with zombies moving at the pace of drunken sloths, you rip the CD out of the drive and break it in two. Good job to Adamantyr on that one. Based on some of the other comments, I'm really not looking forward to Spelljammer.
2. Ultima VII, Part 2. There didn't seem to be any confusion about this. I like the game, but it way overstays its welcome.
3. Icewind Dale II. Good job to Anonymous and Elzair. I love the beginning stages for the dialog options and a lot of humor and intrigue in the quests. It becomes much less interesting and more linear later.
4. Morrowind: Tribunal, although I agree that this could just as easily refer to Blood Moon or the Shivering Isles expansion to Oblivion. Well done Calibrator, Acrin1, and Elzair. By the time I made it to this expansion, I would have been happy if they'd just summarized the plot in one of the game's books.
5. Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. The dungeon I refer to is Watcher's Keep. There's never a point in the game in which it makes sense to delay your intercession in Armageddon to go wandering off on this side quest. It could have been integrated better in the rest of the game. And honestly, was anyone fooled by Melissan?
6. Might & Magic VIII. I loved VI and VII. By VIII, the game engine was a bit stale, but the game was still fun. But you hardly have to do anything in the final third of the game except run from one place to another.
7. Baldur's Gate, the original. No one got this, but I suppose these qualities could easily apply to a few other games. Even 13 years old, BG1 is the closest to CRPG perfection as I can imagine. But, of course, I haven't played all the others yet.
Bonus point to Zink for knowing that none of my snippets referred to Oblivion.
Looks like I have my whole roster for Phantasie III.
mprod, please feel free to post when you're sober.