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2008: The Year in Review
Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 19 January 2009, 10:28:40Tags: The Year in Review
In the grand tradition of summarising the year's events into some kind of summary, here's our summary of the events of 2008 in a summarised fashion. What did 2008 bring in RPGs?
In 2004 Bethesda Softworks decided that what the world of Tamriel needed was guns. Only they couldn't bring themselves to just add guns in and call it a day. Oh no, instead they decided they needed another name for it... so they bought the Fallout 3 license. D-Day arrived on the 28th October, 2008. After years of speculation and false starts, ITZ had finally happened. That of which we dared not dream had finally been born... Fallout 3. Sure, it may have been born as the bastard son of Oblivion but it was born none-the-less.
If you're feeling nostalgic, catch up on previous years below:
- 2008: The Year in Review
- 2007: The Year in Review
- 2006: The Year in Review
- 2005: The Year in Review
- 2004: The Year in Review
- 2003: The Year in Review
- RPG Codex's picks for best CRPGs of 2002
2008: The Year in Review
And so it's been another year in the life and times of the Prestigious RPGCodex Magazine. What did this year of two-thousand and eight bring in the world of RPGs? Not much. In fact not much at all really. There were an impressive 16 RPGs games we covered that were released this year (actually there were a few more but I'm ignoring them). Some of which aren't really RPGs games we should be covering and another bunch which are, to varying degrees, questionable as to whether they deserve any coverage at all anywhere. In short, it's been another fairly typical year in the world of RPGs.
So here they are, the year of 2008 in RPGs by order of PC release date:
- Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb games released another version of the same game he's been releasing for the past 20 years. Avernum 5; Feb 16, 2008.
- Penny Arcade released two episodes of some RPG adventure type-thing. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness; May 21, 2008.
- BioWare went X-TREME™ with the release of a collar-grabbing, lesbian sex game featuring one Commander Shephard. Mass Effect; May 28, 2008.
- We were given another Fate unlock code. Fate: Undiscovered Realms; Jun 12, 2008.
- An expansion was released for a "nothing special" Diablo clone. Silverfall: Earth Awakening; Jul 22, 2008.
- The Germans got to enjoy something we won't get until January 2009. Drakensang: The Dark Eye; Aug 1, 2008.
- Gas Powered Games decided Dungeon Siege needed to get a face-lift and released the same game but this time set in Space. Space Siege; Aug 12, 2008.
- The Witcher got a FREE over-hyped patch and CD Projekt announced that it would get even more patched for consoles. The Witcher: Enhanced Edition; Sep 16, 2008.
- An indie game that hasn't really changed much at all since BETA finally got slapped with a version 1.0 sticker. Mount & Blade; Sep 16, 2008.
- Some tactical combat thing that people seem to be enjoying apparently has role-playing elements. King's Bounty: The Legend; Sep 23, 2008.
- I still don't really know what this is but we covered it so it's in the list. Hinterland; Sep 30, 2008.
- Bethesda released Oblivion again. Only this time they added guns. Fallout 3; Oct 28, 2008.
- "Yet Another Diablo Clone" that doesn't seem worth bothering about. Kivi's Underworld; Nov 4, 2008.
- Ascaron thought it'd be funny if they released an even buggier game than CD Projekt. Unfortunately they don't get to use the excuse that it's their first attempt at making computer games. Still, the patches that keep adding extra content are nice. Sacred 2; Nov 11, 2008.
- Well-known mod-makers Obsidian Entertainment released another mod for a game they didn't originally make. On the bright side, they did spread a lot of news about their very first stand-alone game which isn't something BioWare did first or asked them to do. Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir; Nov 18, 2008.
- Gothic 3 got a buggy Indian expansion that no-one actually likes. Gothic 3: Forsaken Gods; Nov 21, 2008.
You'll note a common theme in the list. This year was the year of patches, games that desperately need patches or games that are simply re-releases of games we've had before but with minor differences (like they were patched into a new setting). In fact, while half of the games in that list are technically new titles, 3 of them aren't actually RPGs (9, 10, 11) and only make the list because we're desperate for anything that's even remotely RPG-like. If we do a break-down by the numbers we've got 4 sequels (25%), 3 expansion packs (19%), 3 not RPGs (19%), 1 adventure game (6%), 1 German thing (6%), the same BioWare story you've all played before (6%), Dungeon Siege in space (6%) and 1 over-hyped patch (6%). Oh yeah and that Kivi thingo. Yay. Let's hear it for the RPGs of 2008! Hip-hip...
... but before we go through the more prominent releases of 2008 in a little more depth, let's take a look at what else happened this year.
Yes Veronica, Interplay are still alive.
Where better to start the year than with the company that just won't fucking die? Especially when back in 2003, they were all but dead:
So now, of course, Interplay is flat-out fucked. They've got fuckall money in the bank and one title on shelves that won't put any more in there. BGDA2 is likely to sell for them, but that profit can only delay the inevitable: Interplay is going down. When it'll happen is a matter of time.
~Spazmo, 2003: The Year in Review
Five years later not only are Interplay still alive, they even re-launched their website this year. In the category of "I never thought I'd see that happen", Interplay not only managed to survive impending bankruptcy by handing over the D&D licenses to Atari, they also managed to find a mystery buyer (Company names don't get anymore more vague than "Financial Planning and Development S.A."). Apparently a simple concept like "lack of funds" doesn't stop Interplay. They've now seemingly managed to acquire enough funds to not only make a game, but a $75 Million MMO of all things.
While the MMO was first announced in 2006, 2008 saw them hire staff and open offices in Orange County, California. Somehow or another, Herve Caen (Interplay CEO and one of the men responsible for running the company further into the ground in the first place) magic'd up some cash and convinced people to work for him. Among those people are former Fallout creator Chris Taylor (not the Gas Powered Games one, the other one) who got the plum job of "Lead System Designer" for the Fallout MMO, codenamed "Project V13". He joines former Troika lad Jason D. Anderson along with "other original Fallout team members". For all we know at the moment, that could include the janitor.
They're not quite out of the woods but it would appear that Interplay will be around for a long while yet. Having come back from deaths' door, they're clearly going to be riding the Fallout band-wagon until its very end, hoping to cash in with their post-apocalyptic MMO. Selling the Fallout license to Bethesda seems to have saved their skin (not bad for an old TB, isometric RPG that everyone liked to write-off) and I guess having a strong back catalogue of old classic games counts for a lot too. Maybe they'll die next year... But until then, Interplay clearly deserve recognition for their inhuman effort at surviving. Seeing as all the other websites give out lame awards, we here at the Codex would like to recognise them for not being dead yet by giving them our award for "Best Zombie Impression".
No matter how many times you think Interplay have been head-shotted, they manage to just keep on shambling.
Developers, developers, developers.
While Interplay were doing their best at playing Lazarus with a triple-bypass, others were busy laying off employees. 2008 had a few shutdowns and lay-offs in the gaming world. EA announced they'd cut 10% of their staff by merging a few studios together in order to "focus on hit games with higher margin opportunities". I guess that means more sports. Meanwhile Flagship Studios, makers of Hellgate London, died in July, 2008. It would seem the MMO market was too tough for even a bunch of former Blizzard employees (maybe they should've stayed around a bit longer and learnt something?). Hellgate: London's servers will go offline on 31 January 2009.
Iron Lore, creators of Titan Quest (a rather mediocre Diablo clone), also fell over this year when they failed to secure funding for their projects. That didn't stop them blaming piracy though ("Piracy. Yeah, that's right, I said it"). And the complexities of actually making software ("Trying to make a game for PC is a freaking nightmare"). And gamers ("There's a lot of stupid people out there."). And reviewers ("And while I'm at it, I don't want to spare the reviewers either"). And pretty much just about anyone other than themselves for making a mediocre product. Really, if making games is that hard for you, you shouldn't be making them. It doesn't get any simpler than that. Go make coffee machines or wireless toasters or something. Sadly, their stupidity didn't end with the closure of their studio. Somehow or another, they did manage to get funding and were able to be reborn earlier this month. Their project? Bringing Titan Quest to consoles, of course.
Unfortunately, they aren't the only stupid game developers who were allowed to survive the year either. Somehow or another, Peter Molyneux also managed to avoid Darwin's law. In fact 2008 was a busy year for him as he outdid himself in the hype department. For no reason other than shits and giggles, here are some choice Molyfauxisms of 2008:
We've actually been working on another project now for a while, and obviously it's ridiculously ambitious, but it's ridiculously ambitious in a very simple way. It's certainly different to what you might think Lionhead would do. Or maybe not, actually, thinking about it.
But nevertheless, there still is an enormous amount of innovation going on right now in videogames. Look at the quality of graphics, for instance. Look at a screenshot of a videogame today and compare it to one four years ago. We used to throw tons of different status bars and on-screen maps. Today we have more condensed readouts that give gamers all the information they need.
[Fable 2] focuses on what it feels like to be a hero and be the hero that you want to be. As you play the game you should feel good. I've played a lot of games where I just feel really stupid and dumb and that I'm just not that good at it.
Are we making games too difficult? That's a question the industry has been asking itself of late.
If games get any easier, all we'll be left with is a face-generator which allows us to create a look right down to minute details. Sitting next to it will be a giant "WIN THE GAME NOW" button. Then when you quit, you'll be told you're a winner.
Looking forward: Richard Garriott reckons he'll be coming back with yet another medieval fantasy game, only online; Diablo 3 was announced in glorious WoW technicolour (with old Troika-ite Leonard Boyarsky playing a key role in its development by seeing if he can add some RPG to the ARPG); and Age of Decadence, that indie game being made by that guy we unceremoniously kicked off staff here a year ago, edged closer towards a release date. Hopefully it will have a "condensed readout", be "ridiculously ambitious in a very simple way" and not be "too difficult" otherwise I fear it simply won't appeal to the casual gamer mentally retarded Game Developers (who really should be rounded up and shot simply to save us all some sanity).
BioWare and their buddies at Obsidian
In 2008, BioWare kept up their winning formula by releasing "the same old Bioware epic that we've grown used to ever since we played Baldur's Gate 2" only this time in space and for the PC (they released the console version in 2007). Taking a leaf out of Gas Powered Games "Space Siege" (Dungeon Siege in space), BioWare released KOTOR in space. Of course, that might have been an achievement had KOTOR not been set in space already or had force powers. In fact Mass Effect has got it all: Force powers, space, aliens, hawt lesbian sex aliens and X-TREME™ collar-grabbing action.
In my defense I haven't played the game. In fact, I generally don't bother with most BioWare games. Jade Empire sits on my shelf untouched and unloved (still with its original plastic wrapping). KOTOR is up there too, bought only as part of that "Star Wars: The Best of PC" package (I learned long ago that Star Wars games are only worth buying when they come packaged in multiples. I played Republic Commando before moving onto Jedi Outcast, while my nephew enjoys Battlefront. Strangely, I actually bought it for Empire at War which I haven't gotten around to installing yet). The original Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate 2 (games I missed the first time around) and even NWN2 (which may as well be a BioWare game, though the only reason I even have that is it came with my graphics card, something I didn't even know until I surprised myself by finding it at the bottom of the box several months after I bought it) all sit on my shelves in varying states of play. I must profess my reasons for this horrid state of affairs. One: I buy too many games than I have time to play (the list of games I've bought and haven't even installed yet stands at above 20 and includes notable entries such as Divine Divinity, X2, Alpha Centauri and even the original Command & Conquer). Two: I have too many problems trying to get some of the old classics to even work on my Vista machine. Three: For some strange reason, I spend a lot of my time playing the same games over and over again (X-Com, Fallout 2, GTA:SA, Mount & Blade). Four: Some games just don't grab me enough to keep playing after I bother installing them.
That number four is where most BioWare games come in. Possibly because they're mostly Generic Fantasy Shit™ (or GSF trussed up in a space setting with a Star Wars license). BioWare outdid even themselves this year by at long last releasing tangible details of Dragon Age. In development since 2004, 2008 revealed the game was actually called "Dragon Age: Origins" and would be the first of a LOTR-esque "epic" trilogy. You know a game is good when they drop the word "epic" in the press release. That's also where I generally lose interest.
Not to be left behind, BioWare's long-time buddies Obsidian Entertainment finally released details of a game that hasn't been done by BioWare first. Alpha Protocol information was finally released to a public eager to learn what sort of spy-thriller thing was in the works. Deftly avoiding the word "epic" (I guess that only applies to fantasy games), Obsidian revealed that you get a choice between playing the vengence guy, a True Patriot or a cowboy with guns. Dialogue options will also be timed requiring a quick response, won't actually require many choices and provide many ways to avoid the dialogue to get straight to the action. All this means it's definitely going to be another great year in RPGs.
And by great, I mean it'll suck just like all the last ones have. But I digress. Where were we? Ahh yes, RPGs released in 2008... I obviously can't leave this chapter until I mention the Obsidian NWN2 expansion, Storm of Zehir. There, I mentioned it. You can read the review here.
Oblivion with Guns
In 2004 Bethesda Softworks decided that what the world of Tamriel needed was guns. Only they couldn't bring themselves to just add guns in and call it a day. Oh no, instead they decided they needed another name for it... so they bought the Fallout 3 license. D-Day arrived on the 28th October, 2008. After years of speculation and false starts, ITZ had finally happened. That of which we dared not dream had finally been born... Fallout 3. Sure, it may have been born as the bastard son of Oblivion but it was born none-the-less. See, Bethesda bought the rights to Fallout 3 (and 4, and 5) a couple of years ago. At the time we all knew it was going to be Oblivion with Guns but it wasn't until March 08 before Bethesda finally admitted it:
"If you're talking to an enthusiast, there are so many differences, and we feel it's under-selling the game to say it's Oblivion with guns. But when we started talking to more consumer-oriented magazines, we'd have, like, two seconds...and we'd say, 'it's like post-apocalyptic Oblivion with guns.' And they're like, 'Awesome!' To Joe Public, it's mainly first-person, wide-open game and you get to do what you want. The game it's closest to is Oblivion. So now when someone asks, 'Is it Oblivion with guns?' my main answer is, 'in all the best ways.'"
~Todd Howard, Interview with OXM
In all the best ways, Oblivion falls into those category of games that are not particularly good or memorable. Fallout 3 improves on this significantly by simply not being Oblivion. It doesn't end there though as it improves upon this even further by presenting you with more options. Instead of the usual "do the quest" or "ignore the quest" standard in most Bethesda games of recent years, Fallout 3 does provide some methods where you can complete the quest in at least one other way. Sometimes even by using a skill (if you're lucky). This improvement might seem small to those of us born and raised on Troika-style RPGs and their predecessors (like the original Fallouts) but it's a huge leap forward for Bethesda and that deserves recognition. The RPGCodex' "Most Improved Developer" award for 2008 is hereby awarded to Bethesda Softworks.
Congratulations to Bethesda for achieving such an oustanding achievement as not making a game as completely crappy as Oblivion. No, it's not the Fallout 3 we asked for or even really wanted but it does have "Fallout 3" in the title and that's what makes it an RPG. I don't want to say much more than that because Fallout 3 should have well and truly been covered by our four reviews.
Fantasy to us is riding around on horseback, killing things.
Like most games released this year, Mount & Blade was actually released a few years earlier and has simply been patched ever since. Also like most of the other games, it's not really what you'd call an RPG. That makes it perfect to be mentioned in an article that reviews RPGs released in 2008. And 2008 of course, marked a very special occassion for Mount & Blade. After three name changes and a lot money spent on motion capture, Mount & Blade finally saw release version. So what's the difference between all those previous versions and the final release? Well, the final release doesn't have a 0 as the first numeral in its version number, silly. In other words, it's not really that much different from the old BETA I used to play but at least it doesn't crash with "assertion error" all the time like it used to.
There is one thing and one thing only that Mount & Blade does well (or at all really) and that's combat. More to the point, combat against hoardes of enemies. While most "epic" "RPGs" try and convince you you're fighting some epic struggle against the epic hoardes of evil, Mount & Blade actually has epic hoardes. Really epic hoardes. You see, there's nothing quite like a game that does something well, knowing it does one thing well and entertains you by throwing that one thing at you in epic proportions. Mount & Blade is good at combat. It has nothing but combat to offer and offer it it does, against a hundred or so enemies at a time (and even more if you install the mod).
|There ain't nothing like charging into battle.|
You'll walk into town and will probably fight some bandits. You'll leave town and be ambushed by bandits, war parties and anyone else along the entire way. The quests (the non-boring ones) involve finding and killing bandits. Sadly, Mount & Blade throws combat at you so often that you start to get sick and tired of it. "I can't take anymore" you'll cry but more will come. You'll use the fighting to work your way up to better gear and skills, you'll use that better gear and skills to kill better bad guys which nets you even more better gear and skills. You'll capture a town or castle to call your own and then you'll spend the next 600 days of game time defending that castle from the entire army of every kingdom you're at war with. Thirteen times or more.
Yes, I literally defeated the entire army of the Nords over thirteen times (I stopped keeping track after that because it was a nice number) at my own castle. It seemed that no matter how many Nords I killed, there were more Nords. More Nords who wanted to kill me. More Nords who weren't getting the picture that every time they attacked my castle, they were the ones that ended up dead. More Nords that never offered peace except randomly that one time when I turned them down because I was finally about to own their asses and capture their last castle (which had another entire Nordish army hiding inside).
And by army I mean army. I mean something like 8 - 12 war parties with over 100 soldiers (in some cases 200 soldiers) each. Thousands of men would arrive on the doorstep of my castle every other week with the sole purpose of making me run back from the other side of the map to kick their asses. Of course, my men lacked the ability to do anything other than die without me around. So back I came. When I was around, the only problem I had with slaughtering thousands of men was that it became tedious and boring.
|Be prepared to fight groups this size constantly in M&B.|
I could go on. Piss-poor trading system (the concept that if you have $8,000 worth of linen, there actually has to be someone around with $8,000 in order to buy it, is a concept beyond the grasp of the modern game developer), dumb cattle herding quests for no point, worthless village improvements, complete and utter lack of story. Actually, the only reason I kept playing M&B beyond a certain point was solely to confirm there is no story or "end game". My sacrifice was so that I could say "Yup, there's definitely no story there" and save others the pain. I intend on writing this all up in a longer review at some point but for now M&B == Combat. Now don't get me wrong, it's enjoyable combat (until you end up fighting too many soldiers and can't leave without having to force yourself to finish it because if you quit now you'll lose your castle and have to fight them all again anyway or you'll needlessly lose morale and by the way why can't I save in the middle of battle anyway huh, who's dumb idea was that?) but that's all there is.
All they need to do now is add in the actual RPG bits and it would make for an awesome game.
The Witcher gets patched
Some lampooners have labeled me "The Bitcher" due to my excessive and allegedly unfair criticism of The Witcher's "Enhanced" Edition in my newsposts over the past year. I've been told I should be grateful CD Projekt "Enhanced" so much and that they did it for free. Well, I hope the following paragraphs will remove any shadow of doubt as to whether, in shaping my opinion of the game and its reportedly new edition, I have adhered to all standards of objectivity universally required in such prestigious magazines. Strap yourself in, hold on tight and come with me on an adventure full of fun and joy.
In 2007 CD Projekt released The Witcher. In 2008 CD Projekt released The Witcher again. In 2009, CD Projekt will be releasing The Witcher once more only that time it'll be for consoles. So what was the 2008 release? Well, 2008 saw the birth of the "Enhanced Edition". Back in 2005 we gave CD Projekt "hype of the year" for talking up the original. Unfortunately the Enhanced Edition saw them go into hype over-drive.
Here's a trick you can try at home. Make something and release it to the world at large. When people complain about obscene loading times that give you enough time to circumnavigate the world, make a cup of tea and read War and Peace three times over before you get into the next area, a translation that isn't too bad but is missing out on extra Dwarf cock and the fact you've built a city full of clones, just re-release the exact same thing only with a fancy bit after the title that makes it sound like you did something to improve it. That about sums up The Witcher: Enhanced Edition.
So what was the Enhanced Edition supposed to fix? Well, for starters loading times that literally took upwards of two minutes somehow or another got passed testing and into a final released product. They solved that in one of the early patches by (wait for it, it's good) realising they didn't need to reload an entire area you just left and were about to walk back into. See, The Witcher uses the Aurora engine which is that God awful piece of crap designed by BioWare for Neverwinter Nights. The Aurora engine is classic for having large open outside areas (like a village) but then everytime you click on a door to enter someone's house, it spends an awful long time loading 4 walls and a roof. Then when you walk back outside (having spent 1+ minute loading and all of 15 seconds enjoying said 4 walls), it would have to re-load the entire village again.
If you, like me, made the mistake of first trying to play The Witcher on a computer that met minimum system requirements, you were in for some nasty long load times. Constantly. Walk inside a house. Load (1+ minute). Leave the house (15 seconds of gameplay). Load (3 minutes). Walk inside another house (25 seconds of gameplay). Load (1+ minute). Leave that house. Load (3 minutes). It seems nobody actually bothered to figure out what some poor sods were in for. It wouldn't be uncommon that for every 20 minutes of actual game-play, you'd spend another 20 minutes waiting for it to load. In this state, the game was simply unplayable unless you really had absolutely nothing better to do.
Well, the Enhanced Editon supposedly fixes those. I say supposedly because by the time the Enhanced Edition actually came out, I had a new PC with 4 GB of RAM which had no problem loading the areas in a reasonable time (20 seconds for a large outside area). However, they don't appear to have fixed all the load times. You see, The Witcher has a quick-save feature which I used often because the game kept crashing. About once per hour the game would seem to overload itself and crash, typically during an area transition. Now I used to manually save over the one slot. That stopped the minute The Witcher crashed during an attempted save, subsequently corrupted said save and left me having to retreat back to an auto-save in order to do an entire section again.
|The crashing experience "Enhanced".|
With quick-saving, The Witcher makes a new save every time and I quick-saved a lot trying to avoid doing entire sections all over again because of the frequent crashes. Eventually, I noticed that simply clicking the "Load Game" button would take upwards of a minute to display the list of saved games... It turns out that the more saves you have (or more particularly, the more saves you have towards the end when the game seems to be saving more data), the longer it takes to load the "Load Game" menu. Apparently making a list and checking it once and updating it on save is too hard. All I can guess is the game is raping all the save files in the directory in order to read the game details for display (you will literally spend a minute or more waiting for the list of saved games to display and this is on a monster machine). Needless to say, you start deleting old save games just to save some sanity. Of course you do this via a file manager because doing it from the in-game system is a tedious "scroll to the bottom of a long list", "select game", "delete game", "okay", "game deletes and dumps you at the top of the list so you have to scroll down again", "repeat" process.
So with the constant crashing and saving and loading and deleting games cycle, for about every five minutes of The Witcher: Enhanced Edition I played, I spent another minute loading something, deleting something or doing something all over again because I wasn't able to save in time before it crashed. This is what I guess "Enhanced" means. To the game's credit, at least it was better than the aborted attempt that was the original release.
... but apart from crashing and still having bad coding issues related to loading, what else did the Enhanced Edition have? A new translation. Some bright spark realised that the first attempt at English missed out on all the extra dwarf cock that's in the original Polish language version. English users were deprived of all this dwarf cock and so CD Projekt decided to re-translate the entire game and then re-record all the dialogue lines. It truly was a mammoth effort. This was never been seen before, "oh my God WOW I can't believe they're that devoted to making the game perfect" mouth-froth inducing, fan-loving excitement. Let me now show you the incredible new translation.
I've used a conversation with Olaf the Bartender from Act I because I feel this demonstrates perfectly the changes that were made. Firstly, it proves that CD Projekt Red really did re-translate the entire game. Secondly, I think it's a good example of the type of dialogue encounters one finds in The Witcher. Thirdly, it shows you just how much better the new "Enhanced" translation is. For direct comparitive purposes, I'll show conversations from the original and "Enhanced" editions side-by-side and include comprehensive screenshots so you can play along at home!
How do you say, "What a complete fucking waste of time that turned out to be" in Polish? Because that's what CD Projekt have done with the "completely re-written" script of the "Enhanced" Edition. For starters, this conversation is typical of a lot of conversations you'll find in The Witcher. That is, I don't actually have any choice. This entire sequence of 13 lines plays out the minute you talk to Olaf. Normally, most RPGs let you choose between "Goody-two shoes - how can I help?", "I'll do that for money - asshole" and "I am a lump of wood". In The Witcher, you simply play "personality-free lump of wood" through-out the entire game. Secondly, the conversation is typical of the kind of differences you'll find between the original and enhanced editions. Which is of course a way to say "bugger all".
... but oh no, I'm not finished there. Not by a long shot. Something else the "Enhanced" edition was going to "enhance" was the people you'd meet in town. You see, The Witcher has really orsum grafix. Unfortunately this was brought down by the fact that you met the same people everywhere you went. This is demonstrated quite eloquently once again by Innkeeper Olaf. You meet him in Act I in his tavern. Once you've finished talking to him, you might do what I did which is notice the fist-fighting that's going on in the corner. You'll head on over and notice Fat Fred. You'll talk to him. And if you do this right after speaking with Olaf (like I did) your reaction will probably be something along the lines of "HOLY FUCK I WAS JUST TALKING TO THIS GUY". Unfortunately, he is not alone...
|Olaf, Olaf everywhere.
In fact through-out the entire game you not only encounter the exact same character model time and time again, you encounter them within seconds of each other, sometimes three in a row. You'll play entire Acts meeting and speaking to the same people over and over and over again. Only they've got different names. You'll run into Bootstrap Bill (old guy model), then turn the corner and meet Groundskeeper Willie (also using old guy model), you'll do this after having run past the people in town (old guy model) before running into the grave-digger (old guy model).
|Vizima: City of Clones.
Error: Enhancement not detected (Did you notice the beard? That's the "Enhanced" bit). But where are my manners? I should be talking about how great an RPG The Witcher is (you really thought this was going to be over soon, didn't you?). Story-wise, if you've played the original, then you've already played the "Enhanced" Edition (assuming you can live without all the enhancements I've shown above). So what's The Witcher about? Well, you play Gerald (incorrectly translated as "Geralt" by those rascally Polish). Gerald is a Union Rep who's made it his goal in life to sleep with everything in the world that has a pair of tits. When he's not banging chicks, he spends most of the game running around complaining about people doing Witcher's work. This angers him immensely and often leads to terse (as terse as a plank of wood can get) conversations between him and said people who stole said "Witcher's work". This also involves a lot of going from point A to point B, then back to A, before going back to point B before finally heading out to point C which then requires you to go back to both points A and B via a route that includes A-B-A-C-A-B-A all over again.
When you finally get back to point A, you get to level up. In fact you level up quite a lot in The Witcher. Sometimes you won't even noticed you've levelled up and will be pleasantly surprised when you find a tonne of skill points to spend when you eventually do get around to sleeping. Now normally in RPGs, you have some freedom over what to spend your skill points on (called "talents" in the game). The Witcher does away with this choice by having Bronze, Silver and Gold talents which are doled out only when you reach the required level. This is obviously designed to stop you from levelling up too much and ruining the experience. Apparently, The Witcher was going to be a "true RPG" because you would have to "choose" what you spent your skill points on. Somewhere during development this plan was thrown out the window. Inevitably you run out of things to spend Bronze talents on while the game still insists on giving them to you. So of course you dutifully spend them on skills you never use and have no intention of using because "No, you can't level up your sword damage yet, you need a Silver talent and giving one to you now would be wrong. Here, go spend this Bronze talent on something useless you never use". There's a lot of that in The Witcher.
Bombs? Never need them. Can't even really focus on them (it's covered by one skill). Oils? Don't need them. Potions? There are about 3 useful ones out of the thirty or so different recipes you find in the game. And this is playing on Hard too. Combat is even better. The actual intraction involves you clicking on the enemies you want to die and then watching as Gerald totally flips out (literally, he flips-out) Ninja kicking things in the head and swinging his sword around like a douche. Eventually he stops flipping out and as he does, there's an orange swoosh with sound effect. This is your cue to click again and create a "combo" which involves even more ridiculous flipping out. If you have enough skill (Read: Reached the right Chapter and Level that granted you the required Silver and Gold talents to choose them) you can flip-out really bad. When Gerald isn't flipping out, he's running around in circles avoiding enemies and waiting until his potions have healed him enough so that he can go back to flipping out (like the space marine in Doom, Gerald can run faster than anything in the game - of course, also like in Doom, Boss monsters typically prevent you from running anywhere by enclosing you in a magic ring of fire, magic ring of ice or locking all the doors of the room you're in). Oh yeah, sometimes (Read: Whenever you can because you might as well) you right-click and cast fireball too.
|Gerald totally running around in circles, flipping out and slicing heads off.|
There are 6 sword skills in the game which you can choose to level up and like all good Bethesda-style RPGs, you'll level up all of them. You spend the entire game with the same Steel and Silver swords you got at the start because all the other weapons you find are completely useless (and have no skills to increase their effectiveness). Steel works well on people and there are three different attack styles you can choose to increase. Fast (against quick oponents), Strong (against tough opponents) and Group (against lots of opponents). Not only do you level them up because you have to (you invariably encounter strong, quick and groups of people through-out the entire game and switch between the styles constantly) but also because you have nothing else to spend the skill points on. Oh yeah and the Silver has the exact same attacks with the exact same problem.
... but the "choices" in The Witcher don't end there. People rave about the "choices" The Witcher gives you and at the start, this seems true. Until that is, you go back and do everything again, this time choosing the opposite decision. You very quickly realise that no matter what you do, no matter what you choose, no matter who you team up with, you end up in exactly the same place at exactly the same time with exactly the same things happening to you, killing exactly the same bad guys. This is not only because your weapons are chosen for you and the skill system decides what you can level up and when but also because the game is nicely broken up into succinct bite-sized Chapters. You can't get to the next area until you finish the quests in the first one and if you miss anything, you often never get a chance to go back to it. As for consequences, try it in the prologue. So you chose to fight the Frightener? Well, Leo still dies. Chose to go with busty sorcerer lady? Leo still dies. Choices are even denied to you later in the game. Want to join The Order? Well stuff you, you can't. You can fight for them or with them but you can never take up Siggy's offer to join.
|Would you like a real choice? No thanks!|
Oh yeah, there's even this one bit in the game where you get the super awesome mega armour. This best demonstrates the style of "consequences" you'll encounter. See, the armour depends on what faction you choose. If you choose faction A, you'll have to go into the Crypt of Spooky Ghosts and retrieve the Scroll of Poetry. However, if you choose Faction B, well, you have to go into the Crypt of Spooky Vampires and retrieve the Scroll of Something Else. Going neutral? Well, now you have to go into the Crypt of Neutrality and retrieve the Not-a-Scroll. All these Crypts are conveniently located within the same swamp. That's not "choice and consequence". That's just dumb. No matter what you choose, you still get the best armour in the game at the same time. The stats are slightly different depending on your path but it's still the best armour in the game and you can still get it no matter what you "chose".
... and it's repeated through-out the entire game. Chose Faction A? Well, you get Quest 1 were you have to save the villagers from the fire. Chose Faction B? Well now, that's different. This time you have to save the other lot of villagers from the fire. Oh but you'll still have to fight the guys at the manor no matter what you do. Sometimes there are seemingly real choices like whether you sleep with the vampire or kill the soldiers but nothing ever happens afterwards to give your decision meaning. Hello? Anyone? I just killed some soldiers. Someone arrest me? Hello? It would appear that all the choices you're allowed to make are shallow, meaningless, without consequences and make no substantive difference to the game, while all the choices you do want to make are denied to you (No really, I don't need to take a holiday down by the river, I'm quite happy to go kill the Queen bitch right now thank-you-very-much. Now what do you mean the town's burning?).
No matter what you do, you still play the same "shag everyone you meet" union rep everyone else played. You still fight the sewer creature with a team mate and you'll still have to take a stand against global warming by fighting the Ghost of Christmas Past (okay, so that's a choice - if you like, you can choose not to fight him right at the end and just give him the corpse or whatever that was all about). All your choices change are whether the team-mate standing by your side is wearing a green jumper or a red one. But...
Despite all of that, I did enjoy The Witcher. That is, when I wasn't doing something I'd already done before but had to do again because it had crashed. The story was also good, despite being far too railed and lacking in real options. So if you're wondering, I thoroughly recommend you give it at least a bargain bin play-through if you haven't already. There are far worse games you could be wasting your time on and given it's not going to get anymore "Enhanced" than it already is (or at least, God I hope not), you may as well raid the cheap section of your local now. So what does this mean? It means we have another Codex award. CD Projekt can stick this one on their walls and be proud because they've won the Codex' "Best Interactive Story" Award.
All right, there. I'm done. It's over. The book's closed. The story's finished. Well, at least until the Super Enhanced Mega Console Edition...
Damn lies and statistics
I like numbers. Numbers are fun and what better way to look back on 2008 than with numbers? So here below are all the games, companies and people we talked about in 2008 (though if adding people to the people database was easier, I would've added a few - Molyneaux really is missing some love). Each list is in alphabetical order, with the number of news posts made on that item next to it.
Bethesda, Vault Dweller and Fallout 3 all win awards for being the most talked about (Read: The things we bothered to hook up news items with) at the Codex for 2008. I can't be stuffed making anymore lame, un-amusing award images though so they'll have to make do without.
RPG of the Year
And so here we are. Choosing an RPG of the year for 2008 is asking for trouble. It's like being presented with a variety of different dog turds on platters and being asked to "pick the best meal". It's not a choice. There is no choice. There are only two decent games in the list I even bothered playing this year. One of them isn't an RPG (Mount & Blade), the other (The Witcher) is just barely an RPG (if you go by the vague, broad definition of "it says RPG on the box") but wasn't actually released this year. Sorry but patches, no matter what you call them, don't count. What else is there to really consider? Mass Effect? I'd rather not. Fallout 3? In the words of Barack Obama: "Shoot. Me. Now."
Jeff Vogel's Avernum 5? Sure, if this was the "Stop making the same fucking game over and over again and for the love of God, find a new engine please" Award (Unfortunately there was an error at the printers and we were forced to skip that award this year). Sadly, we must admit the truth. There were no RPGs released in 2008. And I mean the real kind of RPG. The kind Blackisle Studios or Troika used to make. The kind where choices actually affected stuff that mattered, where you had multiple ways of creating your character, where you could choose what play-style or weapons to use and it would affect how you played the game, where you weren't railed through area after area in a pre-defined order, where you actually had some say in what you did and how you did it, where you could even join the bad guys. The kind that weren't over-loaded with stupid. The kind that were even fun games to play. There hasn't been one of those RPGs for years.
... but we have to be like all the cool kids and give it to something, right? Journalistic integrity demands it! We wouldn't be a prestigious mainstream RPG news magazine website if we didn't just slap the title on whatever it was we felt deserved it this year, patted ourselves on the back and told each other it was okay, RPGs will be better next year.
Oh no wait, we aren't one of those places.