Tag Archives: obsidian

Fallout 4 Is Basically Borderlands 3

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When writing the last post I realized I hadn’t really followed up on my initial post about Fallout 4’s opening and how it felt more like a first person shooter than a role-playing game. I guess most people who’ve played the game have already figured it out by now, but the rest of the game pretty much continues that pattern. Continue reading

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South Park’s Choice Of Turn-Based Combat

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I only had enough time to try out a little bit of South Park: the Stick of Truth. I think it’s a fine game but one thing stuck out at me most of all — its choice of an action-turn-based combat system. The way it casts that system though is a pretty good lampshade of turn-based combat in general.

As an RPG about South Park, what I played of Stick of Truth is pretty much of the quality you’d expect from Obsidian Entertainment (Alpha Protocol, Fallout New Vegas). The mechanics feel deep yet mesh well with the world of the TV series, and most importantly it carries the same writing that brings people to South Park. If I decided to buy Stick of Truth and beat it, it would be for the story. I’m still kind of surprised by the combat system though.

It’s one of those systems that’s turn-based but has timed button presses for every action in some bid to feel a little bit like an action game. You have to press a button at the right moment to get a more effective attack or defense, and the timing is different for each weapon which gives the system some depth. It’s very similar to Paper Mario in this fashion. Personally, I don’t really think that works but a lot of people seem to like it. I think those Penny Arcade RPGs tried to do the same thing. I guess it adds a bit more variability to what happens in turn-based systems — how much damage is dealt and whatnot. Vagrant Story for the original PlayStation has a very odd style of this system where you use your choice of timed button presses to chain combos of different actions.

My issue with these systems is that I think there are better alternatives. I feel like the attempt to be a little bit like an action game is kind of a waste if a game isn’t already a straight-up action game about quick reflexes — an action RPG essentially. If the idea is to have the best of both worlds, then in my opinion the best option is to have a real time system with the ability to pause when making tactical decisions, recent examples being the Dragon Age games and Final Fantasy XII. They’re not as slow as turn-based systems, feel more immersive because they don’t transport players to an alternate battle board dimension, and you still get all the time you need to use your brain when pausing to strategize.

Stuff like this comes from fundamental disagreements between people about why RPGs have turn-based or real-time combat systems. One widespread belief is that older RPGs, especially Japanese console RPGs, only used turn-based systems because the NES and Super NES couldn’t render real-time combat, and that turn-based became largely obsolete as soon as the hardware allowed real-time. You could say I subscribe to this belief, but it takes a sort of “one size fits all” approach to game design that assumes everyone is trying to make the “perfect” RPG. Another belief approaches every games as, of all things, a unique game which may choose one system or another, a lot like board games. This belief actually makes a lot of sense for the setting of Stick of Truth.

From the beginning of the game it’s apparent all the characters are playing make-believe fantasy depicted as an RPG. Stick of Truth is basically a video game about people doing live-action role-play. In this, the characters are aware they’re taking turns and comment on this during gameplay. It’s a neat comment on both the oddity of turn-based combat in modern times and on the gamified nature of RPGs. The question after that is how much might that intrude on the fun of the actual game.

Probably not much in the eyes of a lot of people. There are, again, a lot of people who like the this brand of turn-based gameplay. For them, being able to play it with a comedic spin is probably even more fulfilling, especially if they watch South Park. I personally get more of my enjoyment out of the game from that commentary than the mechanical game itself. Then again, I feel that way about a lot of RPGs, so that’s not a slight against Stick of Truth at all.

People have their preferences as always, I’ve just become tired of games that juxtapose real-time exploration with slower turn-based combat.

BULLETS:

  • So apparently FRACT OSC will be coming out soon.
  • The Witcher 3 was my most anticipated 2014 game. My year is now significantly changed by its delay. There really isn’t much else out there that I know I’m buying for sure when it comes to full retail games.
  • My custom cover art for Titanfall. http://t.co/T9vvCSsUWM
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Back to the Wasteland

My Review of Lollipop Chainsaw is live at the Squadron of Shame now.

Getting back into Fallout New Vegas after a roughly 18-month break, I’m only realizing more and more how well it handles the relationship between the player character, NPCs, and the world at large.

With so many games trying to offer some semblance of player choice in the storyline, New Vegas is the first RPG I’ve played where endgame choices have felt difficult, and where those difficulties spread throughout a large part of the game. It accomplishes pretty much exactly what all these branching storyline advocates have been trying to do, and it works precisely because the choices and branches permeate every corner of the narrative and mechanics.

As of this typing I’m fairly late in the main quest – at a point where I basically have to decide which faction I’m going to help gain dominion over the land. Typically choices like these are made quickly and at most might affect one quest at the end of a game. Looking back and looking thorough the Fallout wiki though, I’m impressed at how many directions the main quest in New Vegas splinters into fairly early on.

I’m further impressed by how nimbly the player can swim through those branches. Most of all I’m impressed at how there actually seems to be a central theme behind the overall story that you’re affecting. At my current position in the game, my choices in the immediate future won’t just affect the game’s ending, but will also have repercussions specifically because of choices I made in the past, altering faction allegiances and switching sides myself. It feels less like branching paths and more like an actual dynamic web of decisions which is what interactive storytelling is supposed to be.

Even though the game came out back in 2010 I’ve decided not to spoil any major points about the plot, but I can still talk about what New Vegas is really about – civilization. Everybody who’s heard of Fallout knows it’s a game about post-nuclear war America, the breakdown of society, and the breakdown of the land. New Vegas takes the society aspect and examines it on a bit of a deeper level.

Faction systems have actually been fairly common in open world games since the PS2 era, and back in 2010 I applauded how I could skillfully play them against each other in New Vegas. For some reason I’m only recently realizing how New Vegas uses the system to basically display the tribalism that has grown on top of the ruins of America, as well as the juxtaposition between those tribes and the march of civilization in ideological terms. That’s what I call using gameplay mechanics in order to convey a narrative theme. That’s what video game storytelling is supposed to do.

That said, my options this late in the game are strange ones in my opinion. I’m essentially playing as a single character that holds the fate of an entire region and several factions in his hands. That’s kind of a lot of pressure.

I’ve expressed some disappointment before at how so many RPGs set the stakes so high and pin them all on either the protagonist or his immediate peers. You always seem to be a veritable messiah – the center of all major events in the world, the guy who has almost total power over what happens to whole populations of people. In New Vegas I liked it when I could just play my character off as a simple mercenary drifting through the world, but how he’s being forced to take a direct hand in its fate, and it’s kind of heavy for him.

The Witcher and its sequel are praised similarly to New Vegas for the complexity and finality of the narrative decisions they give players. Although the Witcher games probably aren’t nearly as complex as New Vegas in that area, their advantage is that they don’t thrust the protagonist into the absolute center of events. Geralt gets thrown in the middle of things alright, but in both games he’s simply wading his way through situations larger than himself in order to reach more personal goals. There are definitely other RPGs like this, but I feel like they are too far in between.

I’m sort of trying to play one of my Skyrim characters like this by not initiating the main quest at all. The Nord/Empire conflict could be compared to the conflict in New Vegas, but in Skyrim I have the choice to pretty much ignore it (and it technically isn’t part of the main quest). I’ve chosen to do that in order to turn the game into my character’s personal journey. I think that kind of dynamic world to set your choices into, instead of a relatively straight storyline, is the logical conclusion of what Bethesda is trying to do.

BULLETS:

  • See this is one way Steam just keeps getting better: http://t.co/VgtIx5y0 Y’know that grid view you can select to display your whole Steam library? Y’know how non-Steam games just show up as little icons in that grid view. Well with the latest Steam beta update now you can set custom images for Steam games in grid view to fix this problem. It’s a bunch of little things like this that make Steam the best service for online gaming and digital distribution.
  • If EA needs to sell 5 million copies of Dead Space 3 either they’re trying to make the franchise bigger than it is, or they didn’t do a good enough job expanding the audience for horror games.
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