Tag Archives: Dungeon Crawler

Weapon Mastery In Demon’s Souls

Phalanx

A lot of people probably decided to roll through one of the previous Souls games to get ready for Dark Souls III. My choice was Demon’s Souls, and not only did I gain a new appreciation for the game, I also ended up learning a lot more about it and probably Souls games in general. Continue reading

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What Skyrim Is Actually Good At

I think I’m done with Skyrim.

I mean “done” as in I’ve played all the parts of the game I care about. I’ve spent a total of $80 on Skyrim and its extra stuff over the last four years and even though playing 100 percent of it was never the goal, after 170 hours I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth. Same thing happened with Fallout 3 (in which I intend to start a new character before Fallout 4 drops) and New Vegas. Anyway, I want to do this post to talk about what I think Skyrim’s and Bethesda’s real strong points are compared to other RPGs and other RPG developers, maybe even why Bethesda’s games have been some of the most commercially successful RPGs of all time.

I’ve actually been thinking about this ever since Skyrim came out in 2011. If you think back, 2011 was kind of a big year for RPGs. At the very least you had three notable ones coming out: Skyrim, From Software’s first Dark Souls game, and CDProjekt RED’s The Witcher 2. Coincidentally the developers of all three of those games are releasing new games this year. More importantly, ever since the release of The Witcher 3 and the unveiling of Fallout 4, some people are wondering if the latter can match up to the supposedly new standard the former has set for open-world RPGs. I think Bethesda and CDProjekt RED make different kinds of games, but not completely different, and each is better than the other in different areas. From Software has its own advantages that when you think about it are almost unique to it in the RPG space. Continue reading

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Legend of Grimrock: Where Did the Dungeon Crawler Go?

As we’re near deciding what the best games of 2012 were I’m starting to look back to the often overlooked stuff of earlier months and have found a game that almost no one has mentioned since its initial launch.

It actually kinda baffles me that basically one person on my Steam friends list played Legend of Grimrock in any real capacity (more people bought it on Good Old Games maybe?). I also saw almost no press on the game after reviews hit, at least not compared to other 2012 indie games like Mark of the Ninja or Hotline Miami. Maybe when the iOS and Mac versions come out people will give Grimrock some more attention but I went ahead and finally installed the PC version that I got during Steam’s summer sale a few weeks back.

Grimrock’s main selling point is that it’s a return to classic grid-based first person dungeon crawlers like Lands of Lore, Wizardry, or more recently Etrian Odyssey, just with 2012 graphics. Just like many of those games, compared to what we’re playing now it’s also pretty unforgiving, or perhaps just asks more of the player than today’s RPGs do, a little bit like Dark Souls in terms of its core mentality.

If I can say one thing about Grimrock, it’s that I feel less safe in this game’s world than I do in Dark Souls. Almost every new enemy introduction in Grimrock just about terrifies me, and I have to actually sit down and plan for each encounter if I want to stand a chance, and I’m spending just as much time figuring out the game’s puzzles. Actually, I had to re-play the first areas of the game just to get a full grasp on all the rules and avoid being torn apart all the time. After all this, I’ve still only cleared the first three levels out of 13. That said, Grimrock might be one of the most playable games I’ve bought all year.

Yes getting to know the rules and the combat does put a bit of a learning curve on Grimrock, especially if you haven’t palyed these kinds of games, but the core control system is extremely easy to understand. One thing I like about games that try to go old school is that they don’t steer you through hours of tutorials and scripted levels just to teach you which button does what. They understand the term “pick up n’ play,” which I think is something modern game designers have forgotten outside of the world of casual games. Within maybe 30 seconds of gaining control I was already freely moving about the dungeon and managing my characters in Grimrock.

Upon starting the game I could almost immediately see what the appeal of these dungeon crawlers was — exploration. I should’ve known that from all the times I’ve heard people who played PC games in the 80’s talk about all the time they spent drawing out maps on graph paper. Even today, Grimrock successfully tickles that desire to find every nook, cranny, and secret on each level. The fact that the puzzles are so hard makes it that much more satisfying when you solve one and can finally access more of the dungeon.

The one thing I don’t really get about Grimrock though is why it’s real time and not turn-based. Maybe a lot of the older dungeon crawlers were, and maybe I’m just used to the turn-based approach in Undercroft – a similar game for the iPhone. I just think turn-based makes more sense when you’re moving along a grid. Grimrock’s real time nature adds a whole dimension to combat that makes it feel quite awkward compared to even modern dungeon crawlers.

Because it’s real time, the game encourages you to maneuver around enemies during combat — attacking them during their movement animations. That grind-based movement during combat though kind of makes it feel like a stilted version of what you’d be doing in Skyrim or something. That probably made sense back in the 80’s but not so much today. Still, fighting enemies in Grimrock does present its own tactical depth and learning curve — requiring players to master each environment in order to dominate dangerous foes.

Grimrock’s trademark attachment to the past in areas like this though does bring me to the question of just what happened to this class of dungeon crawler. In my opinion it didn’t really go away, it just evolved.

Technically speaking, Skyrim is the modern day descendant of the games Grimrock calls back to. Even BioShock can be considered a distant relative. Beyond first-person RPGs you also have isometric dungeon crawlers like Diablo and Torchlight, or even Persona 4 if you compare it to earlier Shin Megami Tensei games. Coming back full-circle you have Borderlands — a first person take on the isometric dungeon crawler. Even in its more oldschool form the dungeon crawler has made a resurgence in Japan since Etrian Odyssey hit on the DS.

Observing this, the point in going back in time with Grimrock is probably just to simplify things – to tear out everything that’s complicated today’s games. The only other recent dungeon crawlers that really do this are Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Other than those, Grimrock might be the first “real” first person dungeon crawl experience since Arx Fatalis came out over 10 years ago. Compared to the genre’s descendants, Grimrock comes off as a game that is lean — easy to jump into, yet also truly demanding of the player’s abilities.

BULLETS:

  • As of this writing The Witcher 2 on Xbox is $10 at GameStop.com, likely for Cyber Monday. I’ve written previously about why you should buy it if you’ve been playing a lot o f RPGs on that system.
  • Crashmo also came out on Thanksgiving on the 3DS eShop. It is already one of the most challenging and fun games I’ve downloaded for less than $10 this year. In a lot of ways it encapsulates classic Nintendo.
  • Sonic 2 came out 20 years ago. Let that sink in…
  • Previously here I also tried to tell you about Arx Fatalis. It’s still $3 on the current Steam sale.
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Previously From the Makers of “Dishonored”: Arx Fatalis

Hoping that Dishonored becomes 2012’s breakout hit, I’ve been investigating the developer’s two previous games. After the fantasy action of Dark Messiah: Might and Magic, I’m not sure if I should be surprised that Arkane’s first game, Arx Fatalis, is the more ambitious of the two.

In my previous post about Dark Messiah I talked about how the game by its cover and reputation looked like a smart, relatively open-ended RPG, but in reality turned out to be a first person shooter with swords and spells instead of guns. Still a good game showing off a clear understanding of stealth game design which I hope Arkane reproduces in Dishonored, but also quite modest. Arx, which came out in 2001 and 2002 for the PC and Xbox respectively but got overshadowed by Morrowind,is more what I was looking for – an overlooked dungeon crawling classic.

For anyone still planning to get their free copy of Arx with that Steam pre-purchase of Dishonored, it’s kind of a hard game to describe if you’ve only been experiencing western-style first person action RPGs on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Arkane wanted to make another installment of Ultima Underworld – the series that eventually led to System Shock which then lead to Bioshock, but EA wouldn’t give them the rights. So, Arx is what we got instead. GiantBomb has a family tree explaining the situation. I still haven’t played Underworld, but in relation to current gen fare, you might be able to get away with calling Arx BioShock in a subterranean fantasy kingdom with much heavier RPG elements… sort of.

Actually, to me Arx eventually felt very much like a Metroidvania, complete with discoverable warp points between areas. Anyway, at the very end of the main quest as of this writing, the game has turned out to be deep, intricate, and surprisingly open-ended.

While hunting for a magic shield in a crypt in order to bribe a group of rebels, I found myself knee deep in zombies who poisoned me to the touch, all while trying to work out the proper sequence of switches to unlock the main gate and avoid booby traps. Scrounging for wooden stakes to make sure the zombie stay dead, I stumbled upon a secret passage to a cave where I was horrified to hear the heavy footsteps of trolls. Further in I see a group of them fighting some goblins. As one troll stands victorious I decide to use some of my bottled water to put out nearby torches and wait at the end of a dark hallway, bow drawn, ready to make a distant stealth kill. Some 15-odd hours later, a side quest rewarded me with an amulet that would have made all those trolls non-hostile.

From the minute you start, breaking out of a goblin prison armed with little more than a bone and some rope, Arx presents itself as a game about using whatever resources are available to you. In the fashion that today’s action RPGs have carried on, Arx gives you several styles of play, but it’s not like picking the most entertaining ways to kill enemies. I’ve had to sit down and mull over enemies and obstacles for minutes at a time, trying to figure out an effective combination of spells and stealth arrow strikes.

Arx also urges you to explore it to the fullest extent, which is typically how most problems along the way are solved. What really caught me off-guard was how puzzle-heavy Arx is. There aren’t very many environmental or traditional puzzles to solve, but compared to modern games Arx doesn’t tell you exactly what you need to do to advance the plot. The protagonist has a journal, but the game trusts players to know the rules of its mechanics as well as the workings of the universe and what the characters in it might want.

There were several points in the game where I’d end up off exploring on my own for hours, eventually ending up in places way beyond where I was supposed to be, and getting rewarded for it. If I’m not mistaken, it’s actually possible to forge the game’s strongest sword very early on if you do a lot of extracurricular exploration. Although Arx doesn’t have a huge number of side quests, the world here does contain its share of fulfilling secrets, including more than one completely optional area.

If anything in Arx is outdated it’s obviously the early Xbox 1-era graphics. Even there though, I think they did a really good job of making the end product look like the original art direction. The cut scenes, many of which are told with still paintings, also look very nice. It all fits together visually, at the very least. The control interface is pretty oldschool too. The item management system take some getting used to and Arx uses its own brand of real time combat and spell casting.

I really was not prepared to find a game like Arx Fatalis tucked away in time like this. Other than Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls (as well as probably Legend of Grimrock) I think it’s the last “real” dungeon crawler, given how far removed Bioshock is from the common ancestor both games share. Arx isn’t just good for being the “last” either, as a product and experience it feels more complete than most modern RPGs do, and this is all for $5, or a Dishonored pre-order on Steam.

BULLETS:

  • Lightning Returns looks like an attempt at “Final Fantasy: Skyrim” to me. Even the logo and font are evocative of Bethesda and Skyrim.
  • In my opinion the star game of Steam Greenlight that you need to upvote is Routine: http://t.co/PDbpcbbv
  • Also, someone there’s trying to push a brand new space flight RPG with jazz music and a crime drama storyline: http://t.co/J2SjJiYQ
  • Looks like Black Ops II is leaving behind DX9, or at least Windows XP:http://kotaku.com/5940034/ 
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