To EVE or Not To EVE

Posted by on Oct 9, 2017 in EVE Online

To EVE or Not To EVE

EVE Online is a game I should love, but I hate it, and I love hating it, but I also hate that I love to hate it. We have a complex relationship, EVE Online and I. I was in the beta, played for a year or so after launch, before people started getting wise to the meta-game, but I played it “wrong”. My skills were all over the place, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make money. After a long absence, my friends and I made a concerted effort to jump in together, and we finally got our act together enough to earn some decent pocket change, but we were eventually run out of town by the kind of asshattery that EVE is so good at promoting. I had vowed that after that, there would be no reason to return again; I had played my fill, knew what it was about, and it certainly wasn’t about anything that I agreed with.

Of course, “never say never” is not just an adage, but a way of life. The 2017 EVE Fanfest happened/is happening as of the time of this writing, and there have been a few announcements of worth. One is that there’ll be an EVE-themed mobile game that sounds a lot like Ingress, although without the location services. The other is a whole suite of updates that focus on PvE, the part of the game that the hardcore EVE players probably wish didn’t exist (I can’t imagine how they’re taking this announcement right now).

Among the bevy of changes is the introduction of increased pirate activity in high-security space. Pirates in EVE had always been used as one of the primary PvE targets in missions, and sometimes as irritations for miners who just wanted to strip rocks in peace. Now, however, pirates are getting a shot in the arm. They’ll be opening forward operating bases in high-sec, and they’ll be attacking faction mining operations. Pirates will now actively harass players with negative pirate-faction standing, which should help fulfill CCP’s desire to make pirates behave more like real players.

EVE has a lot of stuff to do for those who want to do it, but a lot of that stuff is engineering degree-level complex, with a lot of little UI numbers and icons that help to make everything seem way more complex than it should be. Thing is, I like that. I like the feeling of coming to grips with the systems that are unnecessarily complicated because it feels like what doing these activities in a sci-fi setting should feel like. But at this point, if you miss a release and the accompanying explanation on how to use the new system, you’re behind the 8-ball. Missing one results in a scramble to catch up; missing several is like going to college if you decide to take that route. Honestly, I have no idea where or if there’s a resource out there that explains everything up to now, because my furthest progressed character can Do Stuff, but I’m no longer sure how.

I’m considering signing up for a month to see this new Lifeblood expansion which is due out at the end of October, and that might be enough time to reacquaint myself with the depths of the game. Unfortunately, I’m running solo, which in EVE is very much like a “tourist” status: yes, I can see the sights, but I won’t be able to get any of the true EVE experiences that I would in a group. I don’t think that EVE will ever be my “forever MMO”, but I think I like to return on occasion just to see what I’m missing, and also to remind myself why I’m missing it.

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Game Over Man – Divinity: Original Sin II Level Editor

Posted by on Oct 3, 2017 in Divinity: Original Sin II

Game Over Man – Divinity: Original Sin II Level Editor

OK, I’ve now posted about Divinity: Original Sin II: The Game and Divinity: Original Sin II: The GM Mode, but Larian keeps on giving and yesterday afternoon I found out that they have released Divinity: Original Sin II: The Level Editor. This means that all other games can go home now, as far as I am concerned. Their presence is no longer needed for the remainder of 2017.

In The GM Mode post, I likened what Larian was doing to the beloved Neverwinter Nights toolkit, but pulling up just shy of offering the level of customizability that NWN‘s tools offered in being able to lay down terrain, drop in buildings, and add placeable objects. The DOSII editor allows for this exact kind of manipulation.

If you’re interested in modding the game but aren’t content to use the levels included with the base package, you can follow the (currently incomplete) information on the Divinity Engine Wiki (which also contains documentation on the GM mode), and you can check out this informational video which shows the toolset in action.

After learning of the video I rocketed over the wiki because the last bit of information that I needed was “is there scripting?”. Of course there’s scripting, but the documentation is a work in progress so it remains to be seen exactly how — with examples — this can be used, and whether or not it’s “portable” like the NWN scripting system was (i.e. can scripts be attached to objects which can be used in conjunction with other objects, although thinking about the game, which has a “use object with” option in the right-click menu, I am willing to bet your left eyeball that it does).

This talk of a level editor is the kind of thing that might zip right past people’s interest, but for me, it’s really the icing on an otherwise already delicious cake. I love to be able to create stuff and creating content for games — while something that I usually never get around to finishing or if I do, publishing — is very relaxing and exciting for me. I can’t wait to find some time to dig into the documentation and try the editor, although I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be looking to make. Probably something for the GM mode to start, because that seems to be the “easier” option as it’s mainly creating terrain and features that a GM can further customize. Creating an entire adventure — basically a free community DLC — is one of the more daunting options, and for me to do something like that I’d need to know the extent of the tools and the greatest limitations.

Now I just need to find my notes from my NWN adventure editor…

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Ultima Online Turns 20: An Appreciation

Posted by on Sep 29, 2017 in Ultima Online

About a 1000 years ago when I was in high school, my friend Bob and I would travel all over New England in search of places to SCUBA dive. Both being geeks, we often passed the travel time talking about cool ideas for video games that we’d like to see. One of the ideas we kept returning to was an online game (back in the day when 28.8k modems were top of the line) which required players to purchase a “class pack” from their local retailer in order to make a character that they would play. Everyone in the game would be another player, and as the players could affect the world around them, actions had permanence. One situation I remember us talking about was if a necromancer character finds and inhabits an abandoned tower, he could take it over (unofficially), and raise an army of undead to defend it against other players, who could plow through the skeletal army and “liberate” the tower by killing the necromancer. This was the kind of game we wanted to play, and as incredible as it might seem, we weren’t aware of MUDs or MOOs at the time. We knew of BBS door games, and the games we saw advertised on AOL and CompuServe which charged exorbitant fees that we couldn’t afford. We were left to just talk about it and marvel at our ignorant assumption that if we only had the money and the talent…

When I graduated from college, though, I heard about an upcoming game called Ultima Online, probably from a magazine because back then there weren’t as many gaming-themed websites as there are now; hell, there weren’t that many websites at all. I grew up with Ultima games and was familiar with their lore and gameplay. Based on what articles were saying about UO, everything seemed to promise the kind of game that Bob and I had always wanted. I spent $5 to enroll in their beta program because let’s face it: there’s no way they’d allow the download of an entire MMO client on 28.8k speeds, so the $5 was to cover shipping and handling and probably some other fees.

The game was…nigh unplayable. The main reason was simply the speeds. If you think rubber-banding in an MMO these days is bad, you ain’t seen nothin’, buddy. Nevermind if the place got crowded somehow. But as patches came down and the game improved, things started looking up. I bought both a 56k and my first broadband modems specifically so I could improve my MMO performance, and so began my foray into the world of MMOs.

Ultima Online is still my all-time #1 favorite MMO not necessarily because it outperforms all other MMOs I’ve played in every way…just in ways that matter. A lot of people credit World of Warcraft‘s success — and other games inability to duplicate it — by saying that it was the right game at the right time. The same can be said for UO for me. It was the right game at the right time for me, and for me it was the first MMO I played. I consider myself to be amazingly lucky in that regard because UO tried to set the bar so high that I feel subsequent MMOs let players down in ways that they’ll never know if they haven’t played UO.

My friends and I rolled on the Atlantic server, being as how we could spit into the Atlantic from where we live. I spent most of my game time in and around the town of Vesper. I was a miner and blacksmith, so the mountains to the north of the city and out past Minoc, as well as the range to the west, served as my stomping grounds. I was so focused on my craft that I never left the Northeast for the first year or two that I played the game, and the first time I did venture forth — heading to Britannia, of course — was almost terrifying because this was in the days before the Trammel-Felucca split and PKs and griefers were everywhere on the roads, and monsters were in the woods. After finally arriving at my destination and making it back home again, I vowed never to travel overland again. So I started using rune books, specifically to our little neighborhood along the coast south of Covetous.

I remember the thickly settled area to the north of Vesper, and the shops I’d frequent there (and which I’d avoid because they never had any stock). At some point, we had joined a guild which owned a castle, because back then I was apparently OK joining up with strangers. We used external applications that were sanctioned by EA that helped us with reagent and material management. We watched elaborate player-run ceremonies like plays and weddings. I remember RPing with a stranger in the streets of Vesper, them a confused refugee trying to find their friend and me a well-meaning bystander who was trying to help. My friends and I ran from PKs and sometimes fought back, except against that jerk who stood in the entrance of the portal to Felucca in the Vesper cemetery, because players physically blocked players, and he was demanding a toll to use the gate or wanted us to get pissed and attack him so we’d take the criminal penalty. We just turned and left and came back later.

We spent all of our discovery time on the Stratics UO site, which — to my utter amazement — is still in operation, although now in message board/wiki form. Since I worked a day job with friends who also played, we spent a good chunk of our days (behind closed doors) planning our in-game operations for buying property, exploration, and mercantile aspirations that probably never became as grand as we’d hoped they’d be.

I can’t remember why we stopped playing UO. It was a little while after they introduced the “Renaissance” and the graphical client that was nice, but…wasn’t UO. I suspect we followed Raph Koster from UO to Star Wars: Galaxies, which is probably my #3 MMO of all time and is a reflection for another post.

I’ve tried going back to UO not a few times but the adage “you can’t go home again” is true because it’s true. The game retains a lot of what it launched with, but it hasn’t stood entirely still. It now has quests of a sort, whereas at launch it was a pure sandbox. Real estate is near impossible to find, even after 20 years, and I suspect most of the housing on Atlantic is owned by The Syndicate, one of the oldest and original UO guilds that still has an active presence in the game. I get the pangs of nostalgia whenever I see images of the game or read the almost-annual recollections that Raph Koster posts to his websiteUO hasn’t stood still, and neither has my experience in the genre, which informs what I’m willing to accept these days. Themepark games are a bit too simple, but the “heirs” to UO‘s openness — the survivalbox games like Citadel or ARK — are too focused on achievement over adversity. Even WURM in either of its incarnations is too brutal, but probably captures the spirit of UO the best out of anything these days.

I’m not sure how much longer UO has. Management of the game was offloaded to Broadsword a few years ago, along with Dark Age of Camelot, but EA still has their hand on the tiller to some degree. It was recently announced that UO would be offering a “kinda free” account with severe limitations, which is either because they’re secure enough to let it ride, or they’re fishing for gimmicks to bring in much-needed new blood. I will be legitimately sad when UO eventually goes dark. I hope that EA understands the impact that the game has had on the industry and allows the game to roam free in the public domain so that the “grey servers” can transition into unofficial “white servers”. Public run servers are always contentions due to licensing and all that, but I wouldn’t want UO‘s influence to vanish forever. Someone, somewhere who is just getting into the games industry should be allowed to find UO and be amazed enough to grab the opportunity by the horns and really extend its influence out to its rightful place in the industry so that everything old can be new again. I know I’d play that game.

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Videorama: Heat Signature

Posted by on Sep 28, 2017 in Heat Signature

Videorama: Heat Signature

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I’m not usually an indie games kinda guy, but I heard some folks talking about a title called Heat Signature. I checked out some videos on Steam while chatting with the Esteemed @Mindstrike one night, and I guess it made a suitable impression on us; I logged into Steam last night and found that Mr. Strike had gifted it to me, so I did what any level headed human would do, and set up and impromptu stream.

What is Heat Signature?

You are either a freedom fighter, an outlaw, or a rogue soldier with a chip on your shoulder. Something is seriously dusting your doilies and you’re not going to stand for it. So you jump in your space-pod and head out into the void to find a target. Matching speed, you dock with their airlock and proceed to kick ass in the (Manson) family way. You do this by WASDing your way through a series of interconnected rooms, avoiding automated cameras and turrets and patrolling guards as you seek your objective.

How does it play?

The game’s conceit is its “pause and act” mechanic. By pressing the spacebar, the game halts and allows you to set up your situation. You can switch weapons (assigning up to two, one for each mouse button), or you can take an action that is triggered the minute you let off the button. Most of the time, this system is used for getting the drop on a target. When you see something you’d like to attack, pause the game, line up the shot (or designate the target for your trusty melee wrench), and release. You’ll immediately get back to action mode, and hopefully have taken out your enemy. Timing is of the essence, however, because as soon as you unpause, everyone is unpaused — including other enemies. And if you fired a weapon, chances are the whole ship knows and have triggered a timed alarm. If you can take out the captain before the alarm reaches 0, you have a chance to escape. If not, your character is captured and imprisoned.

All is not lost, though, because you seem to have a never-ending roster of other characters waiting back at HQ that you can switch to at any time. The interesting thing about each character is that they have a grudge that they need to settle. Most of them seem procedural along the lines of “revenge on X who Y’d his/her Z”, like “revenge on Doug who Killed his Mom”, and apparently that’s something they can work towards. If a character is captured, another character can have liberating them as their goal. The only problem is that all progress — money, gear, etc. — is held by the characters themselves so if someone is captured, their stuff goes with them and other characters start at ground level.

I found the playthrough fun. Each ship mission is rated for relative ease based on the size of the ship you infiltrate, and the number of on-board defenses. Each ship went fast enough that there’s an undercurrent of “one more mission” to the game, which gives it a great pick-up-and-play as well as a session longevity vibe. It can be brutal, however: ramming your pod into a ship can trigger external defenses which will damage you and leave you with nothing but auxiliary fuel to get back to home base, and considering the inertial physics at play it’s not always easy to hit the mark on the first try. Sometimes I found myself kicked out of the infiltrated ship for…some reason…and in need of medical attention. I’m not sure what happened in those situations, but so long as the alarm isn’t sounding, or if it is and you can redock and take out the captain fast enough, you can complete the mission.

Since Heat Signature has launched recently (as of the writing of this post), they are running a special in-game event: for the next 7 days if you find the right ship to board, you can unlock a special weapon drop throughout the game. Any time you start a new game you’ll have the chance to get that weapon, but if you miss the window, or if you fail to find that weapon, you’ll neverbe able to get it in any game you start, ever. That’s kind of an interesting mechanic and a good impetus to take the leap if you’re on the fence about the game, but act fast!

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Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire Impressions

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Guild Wars 2

Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire Impressions

It seems like a lot of people didn’t care for some or all aspects of the first Guild Wars 2 expansion Heart of Thorns. Mostly it seems that people found the zones too much of a pain in the butt, and the difficulty of just moving around — between the different elevations that required glider user, or even the sheer quantity and difficulty of the mob patrols — to be a massive turn-off. A lot of these people either tried it and skipped it, or possibly opted to skip it based on word of mouth. The big question being asked about Path of Fire, the second expansion, was “did ANet learn anything from feedback on HoT?”

The answer seems to be yes, they did.

The Tangled Depths zone from HoT was a confusing mass of difficult terrain, beautiful, but maddening. Elona from PoF is a desert, complete with sand dunes and soaring sandstone cliffs and equally beautiful. The sky is always visible in PoF and that’s a welcome change from the claustrophobia of Mordremoth’s handiwork. It’s relatively easy to get around in Elona, although there’s still the occasional general ambiguity inherent in the hand-drawn style of the world map from time to time, especially when trying to judge elevation.

Mobs, too, seem a bit toned down. They’re not as thick as they were in HoT, for one. Even when there are swarms of NPCs, it’s somewhat manageable compared to the packs that roamed the jungle in HoT which always seemed to have a Veteran level enemy to make things that much more obnoxious.

PoF brings some new stuff to the game, most famously the new mounts that game introduces. You earn a free raptor mount upon completion of the introductory mission who can jump for distance, followed by the springer (aka “bunny”) who has an impressive vertical leap (good for reaching the mastery points that seem to like hiding out at the top of things). Then comes the skimmer which can ignore ground effects like quicksand. While one might think that having mounts might make maps feel “smaller” by allowing us to move around faster, some folks who have spent the weekend unlocking the map claim that this is not the case; mounts seem more like a mechanic to provide access through themed terrain puzzles and less like a way specifically to speed up our travels.

The bounty board is another new feature, although it’s been having some technical and business-level issues over the weekend. In theory, bounties are like on-demand world events. Taking a bounty sends you out into the vague wilderness where you need to take out a specific and difficult target. Event running continues to be a popular and lucrative pastimefor players, but requires the monitoring of timers via third-party websites; having a similar party-based event whenever the spirit moves people will surely be a hit once they are able to make the system reliable.

There are a few other new elements, like how the “wifi-looking icons” on the map require you to reach a high point in order to get a signal back to Taimi in Rata Novus, the Amnoon casino and their games of chance, and the raptor races around the desert. Gear no longer drops “en vivo”, but now requires you to “identify” it. This extra step might seem pointless (but is actually a callback to Guild Wars), except that unidentified gear stacks, allowing you to collect more “junk” from your adventures without having to play inventory shuffle out in the field.

So all of this is nice but is nothing that hasn’t appeared in a bullet point somewhere in the run-up to release. Really, though, how does the expansion feel?

Guild Wars 2 is easily in my personal top three MMOs of all time. I can return to this game with amazing ease and while I’m nowhere close to being the Guild Wars expert that my friend Girl_vs_MMO is, Path of Fire is game expansion done right for a few reasons. First, ANet apparently listened to complaints brought against Heart of Thorns by making sure Elona was easy to move through, but still offering challenges along the way. Second, PoF doesn’t exact the punishing mastery ladder that HoT setup. In PoF, masteries have fewer steps, and they are all mount-ability focused. It’s relatively easy to unlock the bunny mount after only a few hours of gameplay, most of which can be done by following the story. Beyond that, the expansion just feels tighter out of the gate. Story elements are very challenging, but not punishing like some of the Living Story boss fights. NPCs are interesting and engaging. Mobs which seem familiar (like desert harpies) have new tricks up their sleeves. The expansion has a serious heft to it, and it’s noticeable once you start on the path.

Speaking of the story, it’s the one thing I personally don’t feel comfortable talking about mainly because while I completed the base game’s story, I wasn’t present for LS1, bailed on the Mordremoth fight at the end of LS2, and am still slogging my way through LS3 on occasion. But overall, GW2‘s narrative presentation is top-shelf now that they’ve moved away from the paper-doll method. Using the same perspective as regular gameplay and adding complete voice-over really drives home every emotion and conveys every nuance that is important to tell an interactive story.

The best part about PoF is that for those who skipped HoT, the previous expansion is not a requirement. It’s unclear how it handles the presentation of glider mechanics that were central to HoT if you haven’t played through that concent (if anyone knows, leave a comment!), but that’s about the only benefit that HoT can offer that matters in PoF.

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Divinity: Original Sin II — The Campaign

Posted by on Sep 20, 2017 in Divinity: Original Sin II

Divinity: Original Sin II — The Campaign

[Sorry for the lack of images; I’m not good at remembering to take pictures]

After my initial foray into the GM tools that shipped with Divinity: Original Sin II, I went over to the other side of the fence and fired up the official campaign. This mode is, of course, the bread and butter of the product and I feel its necessary to experience in order to get a handle on the strengths and weaknesses of the GM mode at the very least. Not to say that the campaign isn’t worth the price alone — it is, most certainly!

Being of “advanced age”, I started my game on Explorer mode which is basically the “look, I’m here for the story, not get pissed over combat because I remember the original DOS and the plot was frustrating enough that I don’t need to worry about stupid dying over and over” mode. As I’ve said in the past, I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m not into games for the challenge, especially long-form games with intricate stories and a whole lot of convoluted side quests that require me to be everywhere I can’t get to.

At first, I went into eye-roll mode: you start off on a ship, and there’s been a murder. Jesu, not another DOS game with a murder to solve! Turns out that this one kind of wraps itself up by throwing in a Kraken attack which leaves you washed up on a beach.

Back up — why are you on a ship? The pre-story is a bit vague, IMO. There’s a kind of magic called “Source”, practiced by — wait for it — Sourcerers. Regardless of the application of Source, it has a nasty side effect of summoning evil creatures called Voidwoken which are terrorizing the kingdom. The Divine Order was formed to fight these Voidwoken, but they figured that the best way to do this was to stop Sourcerers from using their abilities. So these practitioners (which includes you no matter which class you pick) are rounded up, fitted with a Source nullifying collar, and are shipped off to a prison island called Fort Joy where they are supposedly “cleansed” of their Source infection. There’s some kind of subplot regarding the leader of the Order having recently died and his son taking over, and he’s on the island as well overseeing things or something, but it’s all very vague at the outset. I’m not sure if there’s some kind of Divinity lore at play here or if it’s one of those “100 years before/after the events in DOS I” kind of situations designers use as a hand wave to divorce what’s going on here from what’s happened previously.

Making your way through the fringes of the island and eventually into Fort Joy itself, you re-meet some NPCs that you originally met on the ship. Several of these are available to take as party members, with a cool twist: although they have their own classes, they give you the option to have them take on different roles that you might need in your party. The NPCs are an interesting lot; they have some of the most unique and defined personalities I have seen in an RPG. I took the undead guy who is looking for a flesh-mask to wear so he can move about the world without drawing attention to himself, the ex-King of a lizard people kingdom who is trying to find a way back to his domain so he can retake what is rightfully his, and an assassin who has a very high profile target to kill within Fort Joy. Along the way, I met a woman who channels spirits and an overly ambitious dwarf who could also join my party, should I tire of my current companions.

As far as I can tell, DOSII follows the same gameplay mechanics as DOS. You have a max of four party members, all of which you can control. Clicking on a portrait on the left side of the UI makes that character active, which plays into how you interact with other NPCs, which is both a mechanic and a potential pitfall. Luckily I’ve found that you can simply switch to another character and restart the interaction as if you weren’t friends with the other guy. Back when you made/chose your character, you could add tags in addition to your standard background class selection. These tags help open conversation options with NPCs. For example, my Soldier background sometimes offers me [Soldier] conversation choices, and depending on who I am talking to, could help or hinder my progress. Supposedly some of the “hero” premade characters have even more options based on their tags, but we’ll see if we get far enough to warrant another playthrough.

Normally the party moves as a clot, but I found that in combat things get a little different. The line of sight is important, so only those party members who have been seen by the enemy are actively engaged in the turn-based combat. Everyone else is still fully selectable from the left portrait list, and they can move about as if they weren’t in combat — until they’re seen by the enemy, at which point they’re fitted into the action queue. This is super important, as a fast mover or proper application of a teleport spell can move an unseen party member to a more strategic position without having to worry about spending AP to get there. At first, this confused me because when the first party member is seen and combat mode activates, it only focuses on party members in combat; those who are not participating just…stand around until you actively select them and move them into the combat zone.

Combat still retains the same strategic elements that made DOS such an enjoyable clusterfuck. You know when there’s a potential for combat coming up because there’ll be strategically placed barrels of oil, water, poison goo, or some other exploitable resource in the area. Some party members come with their own tricks, like how Fane the undead guy can throw a ball of oil into an area that he or someone else can light on fire. Not only does it ignite, but it slows anyone who walks through it. Needless to say, it’s not all fun and games; several times I’ve set my own party on fire. Thankfully we’re on an island that’s bordered on all sides by ocean.

A few quick takes, because I’m not writing the manual for the game here.

  • Questing continues to be obtuse. You’ll get a “purpose”, but absolutely no guidance in the journal on how to get started unless that info was specifically provided to you by the NPC who gave you the quest. For example, I met someone who can apparently remove the Source-killing collars we wear, but…nothing that tells me how to exploit this (yet).
  • The first perk I took was “Pet Pal” which allows you to talk to animals. This is a massive boon. I spoke with a cat who mysteriously took to me and followed me as soon as I entered Fort Joy, but he had nothing to say and was later killed randomly by a fort guard (I hope I didn’t just dead-end a quest there). Then again, I spoke with a dog who said I was his new best friend, and he dug up an ornate key for me to have.
  • Crafting is weird. Each class of recipe is found in a book, which is an item you pick up and cart around. Any crafting station can apparently craft anything, so I stopped off at a campfire and created an “ax” by tying a sharp rock to a stick. I suppose later I’ll be able to craft actual weapons, not just Flintstones cosplay weapons.
  • The camera is a little off-putting. The environments are gorgeous, but sometimes they get in the way of moving around and seeing stuff. Since the camera apparently “floats” along the ground, scrolling the viewport into a chasm will see the camera “fall down”, making recon kind of difficult in many cases. It’s just something that takes getting used to.
  • Conversations are absolutely essential. In a cave at the back of Fort Joy, I ran into an obnoxious kid who wanted to play hide and seek. I was going to blow him off but figured I’d be able to find him as I go about other business. In the end, he liked me so much he introduced me to his “friend” — an undead soldier in a hidden cavern who gave me a kick-ass spear and a quest to free his soul.
  • I like the shopping system. You make your offer of stuff you want to sell and are given a value. You can then choose items from the merchant to “barter” an equal value, or add gold from your side (to buy) or their side (to sell) in order to balance the scale. This makes carting around useless but valuable items worthwhile. Inventory doesn’t seem to be too much of an issue, as each character has their own, as well as a backpack that you can use to get somewhat organized, although you can become overburdened to the point where you can’t move.

I played for…maybe 5 or 6 hours last night, which for me, these days, is a long time. Sometimes it was in order to overcome frustration, but other times it was simply because I knew there was something going on and I had to find it. DOCII pulls off a difficult RPG trick: it doesn’t overwhelm you with stuff to do and shrug when you ask for guidance on how or why you should do it, nor does it rely on combat as the solution to every puzzle or conflict. When I ran into the fort’s “crime boss” I was prepared to fight, but instead he was amicable and gave me work to do despite that fact that I’d seen his brutal handiwork and heard about what kind of an asshole he was from many people around the fort. He’s not a sympathetic character, but he is made human and not just a horrible speed-bump to kill by way of solving everyone’s problem. That is the mark of an excellent system.

I’m hoping, then, that I can make headway in DOCII, unlike in DOC‘s frustrating murder-mystery. Right now I’m kind of stuck in the fort with this damned collar on, so it’s not looking promising, but I know that there’s a whole lot of things to do in my quest journal, and several people that I need to work with and for who are important to various storylines, one of which I hope will help me progress beyond the artificial “wall of mechanics” that are keeping me locked in the fort.


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