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Posts Tagged ‘CRPG’

Why do gamers shoot themselves in the foot?

One of the most highly anticipated MMORPGs slated to launch this year is Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic (TOR), an MMORPG derived from the highly successful single-player CRPG, Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), which came out in 2003 or so.  Star Wars: TOR will be Bioware’s first foray into the MMORPG class of games, with all their previous offerings being either solo CRPGs (KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect 1 and 2, and Dragon Age), or designed for a small group playing on their own local server (Neverwinter Nights).  Bioware’s previous offerings have all been smash hits, and the company has built up a reputation with gamers that is very rare in the computer game industry — a reputation for quality products.

Bioware’s RPGs have become more and more sophisticated over the years, with increasingly good animation, cinematics, and voice-overs. At their heart, however, all these games follow the same basic paradigm.  They have very strong stories that are unveiled little by little through the dialog.  They have strong companion NPCs. They have cinematic sequences and theatrical cut-scenes.   The Bioware games feel almost like you are playing a character in a movie.

This paradigm is deliberate, not accidental.  The games have been hugely successful because of these characteristics.  The majority of people who have played Bioware’s RPGs have reacted positively.  People buy Bioware games to have the very experience described above — that of playing your own character in a movie. (more…)

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Review: Fallout 3

After abandoning yet another MMORPG (LOTRO — my sixth in as many years, I think), I decided to try doing some solo computer RPGs for a while.  I’ve played a lot of the older good ones — Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire — which are usually Bioware offerings (although, as my review here indicates, I was not a huge fan of Mass Effect, mostly because of poor performance).  A couple of friends suggested Fallout 3, so I decided to try it.  Now, I will state up front a few things.

(1) I have not played Fallouts 1 or 2.  So I can’t possibly compare it ot those games and I was buying it on the recommendation of this game, not for the “franchise.”

(2) I tend not to be a huge fan of post-apocalyptic worlds for the basis of an RPG, mostly because the pallet is so depressing and tedious after a while.  It’s usually all browns and grays, dim skies, rubble and destruction.  And Fallout 3 is not really any different in this regard.

(3) Initially the controls seemed very much like a first-person-shooter (FPS), and although I don’t hate FPSes, I don’t love them, and I also don’t want an FPS when I am trying to play an RPG. The idea that my level 100 sharpshooter with a 2,000 rifle skill could miss an easy shot because his player’s reflexes suck has always bothered me (what are the points and levels for).  So at first I was, to say the least, skeptical.

When I started playing Fallout 3, fears (2) and (3) were realized very quickly, particularly fear (3).  I quickly perused the instructions, and then started the game.  You begin in “Vault 101”, where you find out your character has lived all his or her life, and in fact everyone has, because there is no getting in or out. The world was destroyed 200 years ago in a nuclear apocalypse, and is still radioactive and dangerous.  Of course it’s not long before you end up having to escape the Vault, and you find out that the world, although dangerous, is livable now.

At first I did not fully understand or appreciate the unique “VATS” system in Fallout 3, and I had a very frustrating time trying to shoot things with the few bullets I had in the early game.  I missed a lot (the crosshairs are very small and tolerance on aiming in “regular FPS” mode is very tight), wasted a lot of ammo, died a lot, and became very frustrated. By the end of the first day I was ready to give up.

Then I did a search in Google for Fallout 3 and “ammo shortage,” and found (amid the preening/bragging of everyone who responded to these complaints about how they have billions of ammo on hard mode and the people asking should “learn2play”) one post that helped.  The helper pointed out a few things, namely (a) you should fight melee things with a melee weapon, at least early in the game to save up ammo, and most importantly (b) never, ever shoot things in normal FPS mode unless you have no action points — always use VATS instead.

Now, I had tried VATS and thought it was simply a curiosity.  Basically when you hit the “v” key (which I quickly re-mapped to the right mouse button as I came to use it heavily), the whole game pauses, and you get the chance to select and target a “hit location” on the enemy — head, torso, right or left arm, right or left leg, and (sometimes) weapon.  You have to be somewhat close (which forces you to sneak up or take some incoming fire), and the percent chance depends on your character’s skill with the weapon, and on the angle to the target, as well as cover.  But assuming you are close enough and positioned right to get a nice high 75% or higher chance at a head shot, you have a pretty good chance of doing either good damage, or sometimes getting a kill shot.  You also hardly ever completely miss, and only one round is used of semi-automatic or manual weapons, or a few rounds of automatic weapons.

As soon as I started using VATS mode preferentially (I now use it almost exclusively unless I run out of action points, which you have to expend to target hit locations in VATS), even when using grenades.  My character stopped dying, my ammo stopped running out, and the game became much more fun and enjoyable — much more like a cool RPG and less like an FPS.  And on top of that VATS mode gives you Matrix-like camera moves in slow-motion as you blow away the head of the enemy (or shoot his arms off, or whatever).  So, when you play this game, make sure you use VATS — and use it a lot.

Now, on to the meat of the review:

Visuals – 8/10

The graphics and visuals are decent in Fallout 3, although I must point out that my computer is on the old side so I have it set on “medium.” I’m sure it would be better with the higher settings.  The visual FX are good, but nothing special for things like weapons fire.  Where the game does very well is with the VATS camera moves.  When you throw a grenade in slow-mo at a super-mutant, and you see the explosion and the guy’s legs fly off and his torso is blown up over your head… that is just damn cool.  And I never tire of getting a head-shot in and seeing the target’s whole skull fly off his shoulders (with the accompanying blood spurts).   On the down side, as I said above, the pallet is your typical post-apocalyptic “shades of gray” color scheme, the world is filled with rubble and rust and decay, and it’s all rather monotonous.  I can’t tell one place from another, really, except maybe for the city built inside an aircraft carrier (and that’s distinctive only by being entirely indoors).

Sound – 7/10

The sound in this game is OK, but nothing to write home about.  Sounds are typical for this kind of world (gun sounds, explosions, animal squeals).  The music only seems to play every once in a great while, and in between there are long periods of near-silence.  I am not one who needs to have a constant musical score playing the whole time, but getting some musical cues for different areas might have been nice.  In a post-apocalyptic world I’d expect some pretty dramatic tunes, but you get very little of that here.

Character Design/Development – 9/10

To me this is one of the most critical aspects of an RPG.  I can live with poor graphics or sound more easily than I can live with either a badly designed, or an overly restrictive, character development system.  There is no need to worry on this score; Fallout 3 has hit a home run with their character development.  To start, you get to completely design your own character, selecting gender, facial features, etc — which I much prefer to other games where you start with a much more specific character designed by someone else.  You can place your stat points into any stat you want right at the start.  You take a personality test that evaluates your “class”, although there are no classes in the game (the game just sets up your first few skills), and you can also change the skills selected if you want.  From there, classes don’t exist at all, but rather, there is a pool of about 25 skills, and a whole bunch of perks, and you choose whichever ones you want, and put points into them.  It’s totally open-ended and freeform, which I love. Of course the drawback as many have said with such systems is that you can make mistakes, and I did with my first character (the one who died a lot). But it was not a big deal — I just started over, losing only a few hours of play, and now I have a very good character.  You can’t get much better than this kind of design system, so I gave them high marks for it.

Game System -9/10

The “game system” is how your character interacts with the game world, and the combat rules and other rules for playing out your character in the world.  Here again Fallout 3 has scored a home run. As I said above, had they simply gone with the FPS style of control, I’d probably have hated it and have given up playing a long time ago. However, once I started using VATS, I started having tons of fun.  The VATS system deserves an award, in my opinion. It lets you pause the game and think, which is critical in RPGs (as I’ve mentioned here before). It also uses the increased realism of hit locations. And on top of that you get very cool “cutscenes” each time you blow something away, which makes the game play rather like a movie.  Add to this the non-combat means of interacting with the world (persuasion, trading, lockpicking, stealth, and computer hacking) and you have yourself one heck of a well-designed system.  There is a lot here to like.

User Interface – 6/10

This one is tough to rate.  The basic heads-up display (HUD) — that is, the stuff on your screen at all times as you play — is minimalist and less informative than it should be.  There is no mini-map, but there really needs to be with all the maze-like areas they have in the game.  The actual map itself (which you bring up by hitting “tab”) is very confusing, as is their waypointing system. For example, frequently your destination is south but the waypoint wants you to go another way, such as east.  This is usually because the straight path is blocked, but then the waypoint on the map should move along with the compass waypoint on your HUD. It does not, which is very confusing at first, and annoying once you figure it out.  The interface for quests and game notes is similarly clunky and difficult to navigate.  Playing in 3rd person mode (which I’d normally prefer) is almost impossible because of the way the UI works. For instance, in 3rd person mode standing near a few things that can be interacted with, it’s almost impossible to select the right one.  Basically their whole “Pip-boy” mechanic should have been re-thought.  I found it hard to use and unintuitive.

Additionally, the controls for your NPC companions are horrible.  There is no easy way to see how many hit points they have left (you have to hold the mouse in just the perfectly exactly right place to see it); they get easily lost; they do not show up on your map/radar so when they get stuck you often have no idea where they were; and they insist on attacking everything in sight even when you are trying to sneak around and avoid combat.  The conversation options are very limited.  Now, this is 2009 people (or at least, 2008, when the game was released).  Why was Bioware able, with NWN, to give us tactical options for NPCs (such as asking them to “tank” for you) in 2002 but Bethesda can’t figure out how to do that in 2008 with this supposedly “advanced” game?  I can accept poor NPC AI, but at least give me controls so that I can get the NPC to stop doing  stupid things that get me killed.

Performance – 9/10

Given that this is an even newer game than Mass Effect, and that Mass Effect basically brought my system to its knees, I was very concerned about this game. Several of my system specs are at the “minimum requirement” level, which usually means the game will be a slide show.  For a fast-moving game like Fallout 3, this would have been fatal (as it was for Mass Effect).  However, I needn’t have worried. On medium settings my computer has no trouble with this game — it runs as smooth as silk. Frame rates are good (I haven’t logged them, but I have never seen a bit of stutter), and load times are generally very quick.  In fact, I hardly load at all except when moving between major zones of the game, and even then it takes only seconds.  For a game that should be very demanding, Fallout 3 has really done a great job with performance.

Role-playing – 8/10

Of course, it’s hard to role-play beyond the most rudimentary things in a single-player game, but there is some good stuff here. They use a “Karma” system much like Bioware’s alignment-based systems in NWN, KOTOR, and Jade Empire.  You can be a goody-two-shoes (as my current character is), or be nasty and mean, or somewhere in between.  How well you’ve behaved will govern NPC reactions toward you.  NPCs have voice acting (which is generally OK, but rarely better than that).  You get conversation options… and here is where I had to deduct a couple of points.  The conversation options are very limited and almost primitive by today’s standards.  If you play Fallout 3 and Mass Effect, for instance, there’ s no comparison. ME’s are much better.  However, in the end the game lets me play my character the way he would act (for the most part) and they get kudos for that.

Fun – 9/10

In the end, it’s all about fun, and as you can probably tell from what I have written to this point, Fallout 3 is, to me,  a very fun game.  It has most of the elements I look for in an RPG, and it does those things quite well.  I’ve found myself playing it a lot over the last few days, and I have yet to tire of it.  There is just nothing like choosing hit locations with your hunting rifle and watching your target’s head blow apart, spurting blood.

Overall – 8.1/10

Fallout 3 is a very solid offering. There is a lot here for the player who likes RPGs, and also for people who are more oriented toward action games. Other than a very clunky and rather poorly designed UI, the whole game soars above most of its competitors. If you are looking for a good CRPG, this one is well worth a try.

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