Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 13 February 2019, 01:29:30
Two years ago, Darth Roxor wrote a fierce editorial where he tore into the various deficiencies of modern RPG writing. Unbeknownst to us, the esteemed MRY - creator of cult adventure game Primordia and the upcoming roguelite Fallen Gods - wrote a full-length response to Roxor's polemic, which he ultimately chose not to make public due to his then-recent involvement with Torment: Tides of Numenera, one of the games it criticized. Well, that was then. Recently MRY decided on a whim to share his editorial in a thread about the literary qualities of Planescape: Torment (which has since been derailed by random nonsense as Codex threads tend to be). It's a great piece, and so with his permission we've decided to give it a proper home. In truth, it's less a response to Roxor's editorial than it is an analysis of the issue at a deeper level. It attempts to explain why RPG studios find it so difficult to produce consistently high quality writing - and why we should still cut them some slack. Here's an excerpt:
The first point, about coaching, is the easier one to prove. I'm not a good basketball player, but to the extent I can play at all, it is because many better basketball players taught me, informally and formally, from the time I was very young. It's not necessary to be a professional basketball player to receive basketball coaching, and in fact totally inexperienced and untalented players receive coaching from relatively experienced and talented players all the time: for example, I received coaching, formal and informal, from a variety of college-level basketball players and one Olympic player, albeit before he played in the Olympics.
There is no such coaching for RPG writing. I have been, in one form or another, endeavoring to write RPGs for many years. But the only coaching I ever received came after I already had secured a job as an RPG writer (for Bioware, and later for inXile). To be sure, I have seen occasional instances over the years when experienced RPG writers advised amateurs, and I've tried to do that myself. There are few ridiculous for-profit trade schools you can go to and attend courses in game design, perhaps in RPG writing. There are lectures at conferences that you can stream on YouTube. There are message boards like the Codex where people debate and critique RPG dialogue. But the chance of having a skilled practitioner watch an amateur in action and provide advice over a sustained period of time, or even to "play against" or alongside an amateur, is essentially zero. I can't think of any other field of endeavor in my life (academic, legal, athletic, literary) in which this is true. (I'm sure there are other examples, but they aren't obvious.)
The second point about "junior leagues" is harder to prove because it is undeniably true that a form of junior league exists in the modding community. But in other fields what you see is a very wide base to a very tall pyramid, whereas in the field of RPG writing what you see is a very short inverted pyramid, with the top (i.e., professional RPG writers) larger than the base (i.e., non-professional RPG writers actually producing playable works). Millions of children play full games of basketball, write short stories to be read or listened to by dozens, compete in math Olympiads, play clarinets at concerts, and so forth. The opportunities narrow as the skill level increases: fewer will play high school varsity basketball, and fewer will start; fewer of those who start will play college ball, and fewer of those will start; a tiny fraction of those will make professional leagues, and fewer of those will start. But there is no comparable winnowing going on in RPG writing. A guy like me basically goes from unsuccessfully making an amateur RPG to working on Dragon Age: Origins, albeit with a mostly irrelevant interlude at TimeGate in the middle.
One reason for an absence of "junior leagues" is that RPGs involve many component other than writing. To make even a NWN module entails a number of additional skills (like map layout, encounter design, balancing, etc.). And you can't "play" at being an RPG writer by scripting once-off characters -- you need to build something larger and more complete. The result is that there are high barriers to participating in the kind of amateur development that could constitute such a junior league. Moreover, the junior leagues themselves lack coaching, rigorous feedback, and -- in many instances -- even non-rigorous feedback because most mods go mostly unplayed.
Finally, my point about practice is the least significant, but I think it's relevant all the same. In most professional endeavors, the ratio of performance time to practice (or preparation) time is skewed heavily toward the latter. Actors and musicians rehearse; athletes have many practice days before every game day and entire off-seasons of training; lawyers do moot courts and mock trials. But essentially everything an RPG writer does is performance, not practice. Indeed, the "writing test" I took to win a spot on the Torment team consisted of writing two conversations for use in the game. I believe the same is true of the test I did for Bioware on Dragon Age: Origins. (This would be equivalent to auditions being used in movies, right?)
What all of these factors mean is that the overwhelming majority of RPG writers will start out on professional projects without being seasoned in the craft. They may be good at writing in an abstract sense, and they may have a feel for RPG conversations from playing RPGs, but some of what you are seeing in commercial titles is the work of raw recruits. Of course, veterans take time to train and review that work, but the veterans themselves have writing responsibilities, so much of it is learn-by-doing -- you are seeing the equivalent of the failed Tolkien pastiche that some novelist wrote in college, rather than the third novel he wrote when such mischief was beaten out of him.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Editorial: Without Map, Compass, or Destination - MRY on RPG Writing
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Community - posted by felipepepe on Mon 21 January 2019, 12:35:09Tags: GOTY 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the RPG Codex 2018 GOTY Award!
This year we had 773 voters, who rated a whopping 114 RPGs that came out in 2018, including DLCs, PC ports and remakes. Once again we had three categories: Game of the Year, Best Expansion/DLC and Best PC Port/Remaster.
For those of you who just want the TL;DR, here are the winners:
Game of the Year
1st - Pathfinder: Kingmaker
2nd - Kingdom Come: Deliverance
3rd - ATOM RPG
The Bard's Tale Trilogy
Battle Brothers: Beast & Exploration
For the full results and fancy graphs, just follow the link below.
Read the full article: RPG Codex GOTY 2018: Results & Cool Graphs
Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 13 January 2019, 02:59:11Tags: GOTY 2018
Ladies and gentlemen, it is time!
The voting for the RPG Codex's 2018 GOTY poll is now open: https://goo.gl/forms/iRugybmNxjKHFtJp1
2018 was a very different year, as we had more RPGs than ever before, but few "must-play" big releases. Instead, every sub-genre got its own niche title:
ATOM for Fallout fans,
Pathfinder & PoE2 for Infinity Engine fans,
Monster Hunter for Action-RPG fans,
Dragon Quest XI for JRPG fans,
The Bard's Tale trilogy remake for nostalgic people,
Battletech and Mutant Year Zero for Tacticool bros,
Kingdom Come for walking simulator fans,
and so on...
As such, this time we have almost 100 games in our GOTY poll, divided into three categories: GOTY, Best DLC/Expansion and Best Port/Remake. The poll is long, but just scroll past all the games you didn't play and focus on the ones you did.
Hopefully we can narrow that list down to the the truly special games released this year. Or maybe we will find out that everyone enjoyed a different game. Who knows?
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Wed 9 January 2019, 00:09:03Tags: ATOM RPG; ATOM Team
Against all odds, the Atom Team's ATOM RPG has turned out to be one of 2018's most well-received titles and a strong contender for our next RPG of the year. Together with Pathfinder: Kingmaker, it forms the basis of an unexpected Russian RPG Renaissance which we hope will continue. That said, for most people ATOM is probably just a well-executed Fallout homage with some funny memes. Not so for the esteemed bataille however, who identified the game's more esoteric qualities early on. In fact, bataille found ATOM so inspired that she volunteered to review it for us, and did a damn fine job. Here's an excerpt from her literary analysis of the game:
ATOM RPG is exceedingly postmodernist. Actually, I’m fairly certain that it’s the most conventionally postmodernist game I have ever played. Virtually its every aspect is a citation. Its source may be an old Soviet song, a socialist realist film, an actor from the era of Perestroika, a novel written by a dissident, a controversial public figure, an internet meme (yikes), or Fallout. A lot of Fallout. At its most surface level, mechanically and story-wise, ATOM is made of Fallout. It’s got its own Iguana Bob, Richard Grey, The Followers, Rad-X, Vaults, FEV, the BoS, etc. Whether it’s part of the nostalgia motif, a set of homages, or plagiarism is for you to decide, but I think it fits the game’s fever dream feel very well.
It’s not Fallout 2, however, where the elements of its first part were deconstructed to inspect them from a different perspective, but rather a boxful of stuff to play with. In Atom Team’s hands, the borrowed material is clay to create a statue of Lenin with, tear it down, and then make a million other things following the same scenario. It’s playful, lively, and not preachy in any way.
A fair warning, though: like with any PM text, to enjoy ATOM fully, you’ll probably need to play it in Russian and be quite a prestigious Codexer who is no stranger to the 20th century Russian culture. Half the game’s population talks in direct quotes from literature, songs, films, or Soviet clichés. Knowing Sorokin, Yerofeyev, Zinovyev, and Shalamov is a must. Otherwise, you’ll be doomed to giggle at jokes about bigots assuming someone’s hunger level for the 40 to 50 hours required to finish the game. Which is funny enough, I guess, but the game’s main strength lies within the bounds of its literary exercises.
Otradnoye serves as a tutorial village (or as Shady Sands if we were to speak the elephant language), a place designed to be quite moderate in all aspects so as not to overwhelm a beginner. Its secrets are not too obscure; the mutated wildlife is easily dispatched; the quests are simple and easy to follow. The characters are mostly played straight, too.
It’s interesting to note that there are no generic NPCs. Not in Otradnoye, not anywhere else. Every character has their own name, dialogue, and a portrait. Even guards, farmers, and drunkards.
While the ominous implications of this are quite obvious, mostly, ATOM RPG doesn’t degenerate into filler conversations. I’d say only about 5 to 10 percent of all NPCs don’t have anything notable about them. Usually, even if they haven’t got a role in the grander scheme of things, people either have an interesting rumor to share or reference/parody/quote some other Russian text (thus amusing you a bit, hopefully).
Structurally, the conversations are pretty basic. If a character is not involved in a quest of some kind, you’ll only be able to ask them the same four questions. This highlights one somewhat major problem with the game’s dialogues: it seems that some of them have been done absentmindedly, almost on autopilot. More than once I have found myself scratching my head in surprise at some painfully obvious and stupid sentences. A few dozen conversations read (clearly unintentionally) like an unedited stream of consciousness. Again, it’s for you to decide if that’s a dadaist technique that deepens the artistic merit of ATOM or laziness/lack of time on the part of Atom Team.
But when conversations are good, they are witty, often times hilarious, and even touching. Death or misery is rarely the punch line to a joke. The writers are clearly in love with the strange and eccentric but never do they take sides. Be it a hypocritical cult leader, wacky conspiracy theorist, devoted red commissar, or time traveler who is often confused by his own omniscience, all of them are exaggerated to emphasize the qualities that make them tick.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: ATOM RPG
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 16 December 2018, 02:17:41Tags: Das Geisterschiff; Graverobber Foundation
If you're like me, you may have once thought that zwanzig_zwoelf was just some dude who spent all his time shitposting in our Shoutbox. It turns out he'd spent the last few years teaching himself Unity and working on his first game - Das Geisterschiff, a cyberpunk-themed wireframe dungeon crawler which he finally released back in September (and on Steam in November). Since then, zwanzig has periodically whined politely requested that we review it. It took a while, but in the end Darth Roxor himself stepped up to perform the task. His conclusion? Das Geistershiff is a decent first attempt which is more cleverly designed than it may first appear to be, though it's too short and simple to be considered great. Here's an excerpt:
Then what’s left? A weird mash-up of features that ends up fairly compelling in practice. You are the pilot of a combat suit sent on covert ops that involve prowling through maze-like levels with step-based movement and blasting various undesirables in turn-based combat.
The combat works on an I-go-you-go basis, and though the narrow list of basic building blocks highlighted above could make it seem very simple, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Das Geisterschiff compensates the simplicity with many minor mechanics and quirks that give the gameplay more involvement than just shooting and ending turn.
For starters, all your guns are very distinct and fit for different purposes. The submachine gun is effective at short range and boosts your evasion, the assault rifle is better for longer engagements but makes you move like a slug, the laser rifle is more of a tool for busting through locked doors or mines since it’s too easily dodged by enemies, while the bazooka is a weapon of last resort with great damage but low ammo and splash damage that can also harm you if not handled with care. Choosing the right gun for the job is important, as enemies are varied in movement speed (some can move two steps in combat), behaviour and stats.
Another important thing to consider are your surroundings. Often it’s better to run away from an enemy than waste ammo and health, but for that you need a winding path where you could safely lose the heat. You can also gain advantage from high ground by standing on top of ramps or try to lead baddies into the vicinity of mines and blast them for splash damage, although truth be told you’re more likely to step into them yourself.
Since movement is paired with shooting, and you don’t have to choose one or the other, this gives you some more options as well. You can backpedal and shoot incoming melee enemies or hide behind a corner, then charge and fire off a burst from your smg as they get close. Or you can go for a straight-up crash course and ram the gits, though this makes both you and the target take damage – calculated by comparing the weights of both combatants – which will also let you shoot after the ramming is done. But you have to be careful, because dodging a ramming attack gives the combatant a free action – whether it’s moving back, counter-ramming or shooting, it’s never pretty for those on the receiving end.
You could still argue that all of this sounds basic, and I agree, but the thing is – it works. Thanks to all this, Das Geisterschiff rarely falls into a routine of predictable/throwaway encounters, because something can always go wrong, not to mention that they work well at burning through your resources. These would be health, which can be replenished if you find extra armour plating in a level, and ammunition, which can’t be refilled at all, and which makes running from unnecessary encounters all the more important.
However, there’s one big bummer that strips the combat of many of its merits, and that’s the enemy AI. I can understand simple bots being dumb, but the game also involves fights with enemy commandos who are just as likely to fall for the cheapest of tricks and who sometimes act in odd ways. For example, if you go into a minefield and combat starts, you’d expect your foe to wait for you to come through the hazard, but no, they’re in fact very happy to clear the way for you, often leaving themselves vulnerable once they need to reload after shooting the mines. Further, and this is a much bigger problem, running away from enemies is often as easy as moving around a column in circles until they lose interest and leave.
Finally, I think a major oversight that doesn’t let the combat really shine, and which lends itself to some of the AI exploits, is that you always face single enemies. If they came at least in pairs sometimes, you’d have to think much harder about tackling them efficiently, be careful about getting cornered, etc. Bonus points if you could also turn them against each other with friendly fire or just pre-scripted animosity.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Das Geisterschiff
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 21 October 2018, 02:31:18Tags: Golden Era Games; Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar
Some of you were unhappy with our original review of Cleve Blakemore's Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar. You said the reviewer just didn't get it. That balance doesn't matter in a game like Grimoire. Clearly those criticisms were entirely correct! To rectify our errors, I'm happy to present the new definitive Codex review, courtesy of the esteemed Dorateen. It's full of nuggets of truth such as these:
[...] I think it would be difficult to gracefully summarize the game’s backstory, and going into great detail would not do justice to the wonder of an emergent narrative. I will mention only that early on, the name of one of the chief antagonists is presented to the party like a fearful whisper and they will encounter the ripple effects of his forces and agenda throughout their adventures. It builds up with sublime pacing until at last meeting this character produces a dramatic interaction. The way events play out can vary, which is another attribute of the wild nature how Grimoire unfolds.
[...] The adventuring landscape of Grimoire is vast, and a large swath of time will be spent in the hunting of cuneiform tablets that are pieces necessary to the central quest. Often these are only found locked away in deep dungeons, and claimed by conquering some tyrannical guardian. As I looked back at the culmination of our party’s progress in the game, I realized it was not just about traveling from one dungeon to the other, but rather the fashion in which these locations are rooted in Hyperborea and attached to surrounding environments, which created a sense of separate modular adventures. Taken together, these episodes form a much broader campaign, with individual tales like streams that feed a river’s current pressing toward an unforgettable crescendo. More than any other role-playing game in a long time, Grimoire kept me in suspense all the way up to its multiple endings.
For what it’s worth, the story of the Heralds of the Winged Exemplar is a heroic romance, filled with tragedy and flawed characters as well as a realistic desire to set things right again. To return the world to what it once was. The party of characters thus answer the call to do the deed at hand, whatever the cost.
While the writing in the game is humorous and can at times be as fourth wall breaking as the Might & Magic series, nevertheless it touches upon serious subjects such as war, the nature of totalitarian state, and marketing media corruption. One of the lasting themes of the narrative is the transcendent power of music.
Computer role-playing games of this style and magnitude are not being produced in our present age. Not like Wizardry 6, not like Wizardry 7, or the classic party and turned-based dungeon crawlers of yesteryear. But the independent developer of Grimoire took it upon himself to craft such a title. For good or bad, like it or not, Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar stands as a once in a generation contribution to the hobby.
Now to be fair, the review does also include a few careful criticisms:
Make no mistake, the gameplay in Heralds of the Winged Exemplar is methodical and ponderous to an extent. Combat can be sped up by holding down the Enter key, but to me this ruined the enjoyment of watching a battle play out, and it might be more likely to cause the game to freeze. Rather, a brisker passing of combat feedback messages would serve well, especially after special effects, to avoid consideration to "fast forward" the turns of a cluster of six dark faeries, which takes a long time.
I don't mind automapping in general, but it is always more appreciated if tied to a cartography skill, the way it was in Crusaders of the Dark Savant. That game also featured a journey map kit the player needed to obtain to even bring up the automap. With all of Grimoire's itemization, something similar would be a nice addition. I also prefer individual character inventories instead of the pooled bar to access items, so this system definitely has room for improvement.
Accumulation of gold is never going to be an issue because the amount awarded to the party after an encounter is equivalent to one third of the experience points gained. So a battle that is worth 900 XP, will add 300 gold to the party. When you are fighting a lot, and at higher levels, this turns into a mountain of coin pretty fast. There are plenty of opportunities to spend money, including bribery, but it just seems there is never any pressure put on the party’s financial resources. Earlier I mentioned NPCs who might try to extort the characters. We could have easily managed to pay the amount demanded, but decided to beat the hell out of them as a matter of principle.
Finally, the restrictions on class changing are understandable, but more freedom in that area is something enjoyable to me. The ability to dip into one profession, and then switch back again. I wish our party's Thief could have been switched into a Ranger to pick up the lethal blow skill, but thieves are not allowed to become rangers. And some of the most elite professions must take a lot of dedication and save/reloading for those six bonus points when leveling, to have any hope of reaching the attribute threshold.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Grimoire - The Real Official Review
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 12 October 2018, 00:10:28Tags: inXile Entertainment; The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep
As you probably know, The Bard's Tale IV had an absolutely disastrous launch. It's safe to say that the game is a flop. Ambushed right out of the gate by performance issues on one side and angry grognards on the other, it never even had a chance. The sad thing is that most of the people who actually bothered to play it past the first few hours seem to have found it fun. Not exactly good, mind you, but fun. Esteemed Codex contributor felipepepe, who is a frequent connoisseur of the unusual, found the game to be so interesting in its idiosyncrasy that he felt compelled to write a review. His conclusion? The Bard's Tale IV could have been a good-for-what-it-is casual gem, if only it wasn't so bloated with filler content. I quote:
Bard's Tale IV only has about 6 enemy archetypes: Humanoids, Goblins, skeletons, ogres, liches and those weird one-eyed things. Of course, you have several classes of humanoids, goblins and undead, some with bows, others with shields, etc. And the ogres are reskinned to be demons or even a dwarven golem.
They also look very good (except the human faces) and have very elaborate animations, kneeling down when poisoned, struggling when teleported and so on. Of course more variety is always good, but this would be a decent bestiary for a short game.
But Bard's Tale IV doesn't want to be short. And it has no qualms about making you fight 20 groups of cultists, berserks or undead in a row if that means making the game longer.
This isn't me bitching about enemies looking the same. The problem here is that they fight the same. And so do you!
The enemies also don't do anything to demand a change of tactics either, as they always fight the same way. The underlying system is good, but it's underused and fails to offer diverse challenges. Once you learn to fight berserkers that counter your attacks, every single battle against them plays the same. See a wizard? He'll just summon goblins in the first turn and then keep using Mangar's Mind Jab. The weird one-eyed thing? It will just charge its beam attack every. single. time.
There are some very unique encounters, like a hidden stone golem that has massive armor, a plant boss that regenerates every turn, or several waves of reviving skeletons, and these will make you stop to think, maybe even retry with different skills. They show the potential the system holds, and it is indeed a good system. But I'm talking about maybe eight fights in my 30 hours playing. Once again, the problem is not the system per se, it's the "quantity over quality" mindset that's operating it.
Sadly, this also affects the dungeons and puzzles.
In a sense, the dungeons of Bard's Tale IV are closer to Legend of Grimrock than Bard's Tale I-III. Enemies are visible on the screen, they don't respawn (except for the end-game [fuck whoever approved that]) and every area is filled with puzzles and secrets.
Sadly, level design-wise, they are much closer to Skyrim's dungeons. That's because they are all mostly linear, moving you from set piece to set piece. The only true maze is a single underground area based on Skara Brae from Bard's Tale I. Other than that, all dungeons force you through a fixed path, offering at best a large area with three inter-connected puzzles, that must all be completed to advance.
Yet, I had fun with some of the dungeons. The best ones, such as Mangar's Tower, set a nice pacing between unique puzzles, fight a few harder battles and uncovering some hidden secret. That dungeon even knows how to use empty spaces, such as a long and ominous walk towards a dark altar, walking across a gorgeous scenery while eerie music plays.
I understand that this has nothing to do with what Bard's Tale I-III did but, again, I'm judging it for its actual content, not its Kickstarter promises. This is a casual, mass market game, something much closer to an RPG version of Portal or The Witness.
Now, personally, I think that the best puzzles in RPGs are the ones that make use of the lore, NPCs and/or environment. NPCs in this game are terrible and just stand in place giving quests, but Bard's Tale IV has some nice puzzles based on searching your surroundings or understanding a riddle hidden in a story. They are easily the best puzzles in the game.
In fact, Bard's Tale IV made me do something that few RPGs in the past 20 years did: take notes.
One puzzle, for example, has you inside a small garrison, reading notes from the soldiers and officers about what kind of beverages they are allowed to drink, and then using that information to unlock a secret passage by the storage room. None of these puzzles are hard (save for two very obscure ones based on crows), but they work well with the first-person view, atmospheric ambiance and shiny graphics to immerse you in this world.
Sadly, that kind of puzzle is vastly outnumbered by a far less exciting type: purely mechanical puzzles, like pushing blocks, gear puzzles, pipe puzzles and the "fairy puzzles", which are about using signposts to guide a fairy. These puzzles are completely disconnected from the world. You reach them, solve them in a vacuum, and then move on.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: The Bard's Tale IV
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 25 August 2018, 01:37:48Tags: Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire
On the Codex, there tend to be two types of people with negative feelings towards the original Pillars of Eternity. There are those who thought it was crap and never looked at it again, and those who thought it was crap and became obsessed with it, played it seven times, and have never stopped talking about it. Darth Roxor definitely belongs to that first group of people, so it was hardly a given that he would agree to review its sequel, Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. Yet that's what he's done, thanks to a key provided by a mysterious benefactor. His verdict? In short, Pillars of Eternity II is a game of fun exploration, inconsistent combat and horrible writing, which to a lovable murderhobo like Roxor averages out to "pretty alright". Here's a relevant excerpt from his review:
Sometimes, “the unknown” will mean some kind of dungeon. Their sizes differ a lot, from just two or three rooms with angry yokels, to bigger ones that span multiple floors or maps. I wouldn’t say they are anything outstanding design-wise, but similarly to Obsidian’s Storm of Zehir from 10 years ago, they do their job well. They are varied enough to stay fun throughout the game, some of them have multiple points of entry and a bunch of “side” setpieces and points of interest, and a few even contain the odd very light puzzle or secret area, though these are easy to find or get through. One of the best in the game is probably the “undercity” of the Deadfire capital, Neketaka. It's accessible early, which means you’ll probably stumble upon a few hard fights there, it has some quests related to it and it is also rather big.
Every place you go to is also ripe with text adventures, which are another strong part of Deadfire. Whereas in the first game they all used to work like “1. Do things; 2. Use an item to do things; 3. Leave,” this one actually gives them proper depth, freedom of choice and variety of outcomes. Your party skills will be checked very often, with full or partial successes, sometimes you’ll also get checks based on class or background, other times only specific party members can do things, and even dudes who aren’t picked for something remain useful because the skill scores of all characters are tallied as assist bonuses (provided the assisting character is close to the acting one, although the game never really splits your party in a way that would prevent this). Also, I thought the skill/class-specific choices unlocked in the text adventures were very exhaustive, and I rarely felt like there was an option missing that would be obvious to have given my party composition.
Of course one problem here is that failed skill checks usually lead to a party member becoming injured, and the relevance of that is about the same as getting injured in combat. Although in the case of text adventures failing will sometimes result in both an injury and combat start, so I guess at least it matters for a brief span. The same is true for traps placed around some areas, since traps in Deadfire also only apply injuries. If the traps are “alone”, you can just step over them, rest and move on. They can get more interesting if set up within combat encounters, but instances of that are way too rare.
[...] To be honest, it’s pretty amazing just how non-existent the main quest is in Deadfire. You literally just follow Eothas from place to place, as he keeps stomping around stealing people’s souls, and there’s nothing else to it. It only gets dumber when you dive into the details too, because after visiting each Eothas-stomped place, you get Skype calls from the gods, where they bicker and banter like children, and somehow you are expected to care about all this nonsense and ignore the fact that Eothas is the real protagonist of the story, while you’re only there along for the ride. It wouldn’t even be so bad if you could ignore all this stuff by simply not participating in the main storyline (i.e. by sailing around and pillaging), but the game feels the need to rub “Eothas this, Eothas that” in your face terribly often given how short, stupid and non-interactive the thing is.
In fact, the entire “gods” shtick might be the most baffling part of the story when you take the Grand Reveal™ of PoE1 into consideration. PoE1 establishes that the gods are fake/artificial/whatever, meanwhile PoE2 establishes (through the Skype calls) that they are condescending idiots who don’t care about anything other than their own asses. Eothas’s agenda is roughly the same as in PoE1, namely to cut/reduce the influence of the gods on the physical world. And then at the end comes the Big Choice™ of what to do – and I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would choose not to side with Eothas. There is just no dilemma here, no downs that would accompany the ups.
The god-oriented main story is even more baffling within the context of the game’s themes and setting. For all intents and purposes, Deadfire is an age of sail colonial squabble, with greedy colonists, oppressed natives and scurvy pirates, but then on top of it there’s the tacked on dump of godly nonsense. What makes this even better is how many people in the game are so crazy about the gods, while you, the Watcher™ (whose chief superpower is still, uh, watching) who knows the truth about them can’t even try to capitalise on this knowledge. My favourite example of that is during an argument between two companions, where the pious Xoti tells you to stop the irreligious Pallegina from mocking her beliefs. Your responses include things like “Pallegina, you should learn to respect her opinions”. I can only laugh when looking at that through the context of the protagonist’s own knowledge. It’s like the writers of Deadfire don’t even know the basic state of their own deep lore.
Now if only that were their only problem. The far bigger one is that the writing in Deadfire is simply bad, bad, bad. Player character responses read like they’ve been written by a snarky high-schooler. Nearly every companion is a flaming homo who wants a piece of your butt. Dialogues are still pestered by completely skippable narration bits. Characters don’t talk like real people. The descriptive texts during “cutscenes” must have gone through multiple thesaurus “enhancements”. There are scenarios that don’t make even the tiniest bit of sense, like a native village that is starving because they only eat one specific kind of fruit, and their stocks of this specific fruit have run out, and they never had the bright idea to save the seeds because uh stop asking questions (and finally a dialogue option unlocked by [intelligence] impresses another native with your profound knowledge of… putting seeds into the earth to make them grow into trees). I could go on, perhaps with more specific examples, but the length of this article would explode.
The writing in Deadfire drops more balls than a juggler with Parkinson’s, and I’d say the only thing about it that is any kind of improvement over PoE1 is the fact that there’s less of it. Primarily because all the Deep Lore is now stored behind convenient wiki-links in dialogues, which means you never have to read them, and thank God for that. Also, a funny thing is that despite not reading them, I never felt like I was missing any sort of context at any time. Truly makes you think whether that crap has ever been necessary. Still, the wiki-links are a good enough “compromise”, so I welcome them.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Pillars of Eternity II - It's Pretty Alright
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sun 29 July 2018, 17:23:12Tags: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption; Transolar Games
Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption has been out for about three weeks now. Commercially, it's done about as well as you might expect from a game with exactly zero mainstream reviews. Who cares about that, though? We like it! It's not a great game, but it is a good game, and most importantly, 20 years after Quest for Glory V, it's indisputably a Corey and Lori Cole game. Frequent contributor Deuce Traveler has written a review that should give you a good idea of what it's like to play Hero-U. Here's an excerpt:
Terk is a great example of an effective one-dimensional villain. He's a power-hungry weasel, delighting at every opportunity to torment you and your fellow schoolmates. As a character he has no real depth outside of being weak and opportunistic, but the man is utterly relentless, always ready to drop a demerit on you for the slightest perceived insult, or if he catches you walking around past curfew, or if you aren't wearing your full uniform during school hours. Every time Terk spots you he'll stop you in your tracks just to heckle you, making you want to strangle the man for the needless disruption. The petty asshole is everywhere, constantly abusing his power, for which you have no immediate means to strike back.
Terk does a good job of setting the game's tone. In Hero-U, you're not a paladin ready to take on swarms of foes, or a sorcerer who can bend the fabric of reality. You're just some poor kid with a bit of talent for sneaking, thrown into an unfamiliar academic setting where you have to put in real effort to survive. In this game, time is your greatest enemy. You spend the majority of your days in class, with about an hour to yourself before your elective class starts, another hour before dinner, and another three hours before curfew. After curfew you'll want to shower so people don't complain about your stench, do some studying, and chat with your roommate before going to bed. You could stay up late, but if you overdo it you'll be too exhausted to stay awake during the next day's class and suffer penalties to your skills.
Therein lies much of Hero-U's difficulty. I'll get to the combat system later, but for now just be aware that you can successfully retreat from a fight at any time, and if you fall to an enemy often the game will tell you that a classmate rescued you from death. But despite not having to worry about death, the experience of playing Hero-U is stressful because you always have to keep one eye on the clock. Over the course of the game, you'll have to find the time to explore the dungeons beneath the school. Having to sneak past threats down there will slow you down, and one wrong move can cost you hours. Personally, I found this enjoyable, since it kept my mind focused and I never felt like I could just glide effortlessly through the game. But I could see people feeling that Hero-U is just too slow to give them the buzz that they need. I will admit that it gave me unpleasant flashbacks to my college freshman year. No other game has ever done that to me, so at least I can say it's a great university simulator.
The downside of Hero-U's time-based structure is that there are some situations that seem like you should be able to solve them right away, but the game won't allow you to until enough days have passed. For example, early on I discovered some secret passages that a nighttime thief may have been using, but I wasn't allowed to set a trap for the thief until I'd collected all of the clues to what was going on. It's frustrating when a game that allows so much choice still finds ways to railroad you, especially when there's no hint that you need to sleep in order to progress.
Do you like choice and consequence? Every decision you make in Hero-U has some sort of consequence. The type of training you decide to take will improve your character in different ways, as will your choice of elective. If you decide that your basic thieving skills are more important to you, you can ditch the electives altogether and ignore invitations to hang out with your classmates, giving you the time to build a very talented character at the expense of losing out on craftable items, clues and extra coin. The story continues whether or not you decide to become involved with events.
Ignoring important quests in favor of other pursuits will result in one of the other students stepping up to solve them instead, which will impress your teacher. Impressing your teacher doesn't actually matter much unless you care about what he has to say when you graduate, though. You can also decide to be an asshole, earning the appreciation of the class bully at the expense of alienating everybody else. For example, at one point your roommate thinks someone stole his instrument when it was actually lost in a pile of junk. You can give it back to him, but you can also keep it to mess with his head. Hero-U wants you to perform good deeds, but it also allows you to pass on all of the heroics and gives you the opportunity to selfishly pull the rug out from under everyone at its conclusion.
As INXS would say, there's not enough time for all that I want to do. In order to survive, you'll have to quickly figure out what kind of disbarred bard you want to be and train up your skills accordingly. Skills can be increased by taking classes or by practicing them. Shawn's scores are pretty pathetic on day one and you won't be able to max them all out in a single playthrough. The first time I played the game, I was only able to max out my Climbing and Magic skills, while on my second run I maxed out Smarts and Gaming skills. Every one of your skills has some use. When you try to use one of them to overcome a challenge, it's compared to a hidden threshold. For example, you need a high enough Gaming skill to beat your fellow students at a game of billiards and take their money, otherwise you'll lose and have to pay them. If you have no magical skills, forget about being able to cast a spell to get through a magically locked portal. And if you're charming enough, you just might be able to pass one of the toughest challenges in the game and get your roommate to clean his side of the room without pissing him off.
The game has three such social skills - Charm, Smarts, and Moxie. Different characters will respond more positively to different skills depending on their personalities. Charm dialogue options allow you to be compassionate when people are talking about their issues, but you might also come across as a bit of an ass kisser. Smart rogues come across as cold and calculated, but the skill can be helpful for walking people through solutions to problems. And Moxie allows you to unleash your inner troll and piss off everyone with snarky comments. You should focus on one of the social skills and stick with it, since different characters will be drawn to you and different events will open up depending on your choice. Storywise there isn't much of a difference between Smarts and Charm, but playing a character with high Moxie will drastically change your outcome.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption
Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sat 7 July 2018, 15:23:43Tags: Julian Gollop; Phoenix Point; Snapshot Games
Last year, Julian Gollop's Snapshot Games successfully crowdfunded Phoenix Point as a spiritual successor to the original X-COM games. In practice, Julian has sought a treacherous middle path between X-COM and XCOM, something which has been a source of controversy on our forums, where the game has attracted significant attention. One of our most dedicated Phoenix Point watchers, PanteraNera, decided to send Julian a few questions last month, with a particular focus on the game's strategic Geoscape layer, about which few details were known at the time. It took him a while to respond, but the answers are now here, just in time for the release of the latest backer build. Here's an excerpt:
The current implementation is fairly simple - Points of Interest within range of discovered havens will appear for you to investigate. They could turn out to be other havens, scavenging sites, alien structures or inactive Phoenix Bases. However, there will be additional types of locations that are revealed in different ways - usually connected to the events system. Spying missions can also reveal location much further away. New points of interest will arise based on alien construction, faction construction and special events. Mission types are unusual in that the player effectively decides what he wants out of them rather than having some kind of performance rating. Haven defence is a common mission type where havens will request assistance in defeating an intruder (alien or human). They will usually offer some kind of reward, but after arriving you may find something useful that you can just steal, such as an aircraft, and then abandon the haven to its fate. Naturally you won't get the reward and their will be diplomatic consequences - but you do manage to steal the aircraft. The player can actively deploy squads to various zones inside havens for doing whatever he likes, or he can respond to requests from havens or faction leaders.
There won't be any UFOs flying around in Phoenix Point. The closest thing to that would be the Behemoths that you have to intercept, otherwise it's bye bye haven. But will there be any other "troop movements" in the game, by the Pandoravirus creatures or by the other factions and minor havens? If so, can the player interact with these movements in some way?
The three human factions will construct vehicles and use them to transport goods and personnel between their havens. They will also launch attacks on other havens, or one of your bases. At the moment we are not planning any direct interaction with these vehicle movements, but they will be detectable by radar.
Not much is known about base building so far, other than that the bases are pre-existing locations that have to be found/reclaimed by the player. We've been told that base layouts will be displayed from an overhead perspective, just like the classics. What can the player do in these bases? Can you raze existing facilities (I'm assuming the bases arrive prebuilt)? Build new facilities? How large will the bases be, like a 6x6 grid?
One of the player's main objectives is to located and reactivate the worlds remaining Phoenix bases. They will be in various states of disrepair, but otherwise facilities can be built or razed in a similar manner to the original X-COM, although the space for building may be more or less limited, depending on the location.
We know that you can team up with the three major factions and that each one leads to a different solution for how to beat the Pandoravirus. But how will the player build these alliances? Is it just a matter of doing missions for the other factions, or do we also get to talk to them, with dialogue trees and stuff? Can we barter and trade with the other factions? And will these diplomacy mechanics be based on scripted events, or will the player be able to choose when to engage with them?
The primary way to build an alliance is to fulfil the requests of the different factions. These requests may take the form of haven defences, but could also be special requests relating to the nature of the faction and whims of its leader. For example, Synedrion may ask you to rescue refugees, New Jericho may request help with an internal revolt and Disciples of Anu may desire food supplies to feed their hungry masses. Once you have made contact with faction leaders you can approach directly and there will be a system to interact with them.
Another key aspect of the classic games is research. What do you plan to do with this in Phoenix Point? We know that players will be able to research the Pandoravirus, including its creatures, structures and agenda. But will there be anything else available for research? New technology? New equipment? Will we also get to "research" the other human factions?
There are actually five different research trees - one for Phoenix archives, one each for the three human factions and one for the alien biology. Based on these the player will be able to develop new symbiotic techs. He can also help other factions in their research efforts and gain benefits from it either by alliance, trade or theft. The Phoenix archives research depends on locating other Phoenix bases and uncovers the history of the Phoenix project and the pandoravirus.
I believe the last time you mentioned crafting was on the Phoenix Point Discord channel quite a while ago. If I recall correctly, you said it'd probably be more about maintaining existing equipment than manufacturing anything new. So how is crafting going to work? Will there will be workshops in the game? What will we be able to make?
There will be workshops to manufacture equipment, armour, weapons and vehicles. It's a slow and expensive process, and stealing or scavenging are often easier routes to getting stuff. There are three key resources in the game - materiel, tech, and food. Tech represents hi-tech substances and equipment needed to produce the more advanced items. There are also a number of other items required for production, for example AI units are used in vehicles, and advanced labs and workshops.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Julian Gollop on Phoenix Point, One Year Later
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 29 June 2018, 01:00:10Tags: Portalarium; Shrouds of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues
The year was 2013 and Kickstarter hype was at its zenith. It seemed like every month some legendary creator from the olden days was coming out of retirement, and some beloved oldschool franchise was being brought back to life. By March of that year, Brian Fargo had already brought back Wasteland and was about to launch his second Kickstarter campaign for Torment, Obsidian had taken on the mantle of the Infinity Engine with Project Eternity, and Chris Roberts was raking in millions with Star Citizen. But one man seemed to have been caught flat-footed by the crowdfunding revolution. That man was Richard Garriott, aka Lord British, creator of the Ultima series, the premier computer roleplaying series of the 1980s and early 1990s. The aging Ultima fanbase could only watch in despair as one Kickstarter after the other brought back every oldschool franchise imaginable, while their liege traveled around the world proclaiming the supremacy of Facebook games. It was humiliating, and after the bottom fell out of the Zynga bubble in mid-2012, increasingly untenable.
But although Garriott was forced to retreat from the realm of casual Facebook gaming, that didn't mean he'd abandoned all of his pretensions. We first learned about Shroud of the Avatar on March 1st, 2013, and its Kickstarter campaign launched a week later. It quickly became clear that the game was first and foremost an online experience, the Ultima Online sequel that Garriott never got to make. At that point, the vast majority of us ceased to pay attention to it. But there were some who, due perhaps to an atavistic attachment to the Ultima fan community, just couldn't look away. One of those people was taxalot, a veteran of the community going all the way back to Usenet in the mid-1990s. When Shroud of the Avatar was finally released this March after five years of development, he dove right in. This month he returned to us, bringing harrowing tales of a broken and unfinished game, absurd monetization practices, and the delusional fanbase that sustains them. We don't usually post about MMOs here, but in this case I'm glad to make an exception. Here's a quick preview:
Had Portalarium gone for a smaller scope with the same budget and even the same technology, they might have been able to deliver a finished product. A competent RPG that probably wouldn't have made any Game of the Year lists, but would have been enough to satisfy Ultima fans.
But here's the thing. Portalarium's intention from the very beginning of the project was to emulate the living, breathing world of Ultima Online in its early days. The classic Ultima series was known for its focus on immersion. For some reason, their marketing department decided that the best way to immerse Ultima fans was to sell them houses.
And sold they did. The first consequence of this was that if you backed the game for the single player experience… well, you probably gave up hope the moment your bank account was debited. To someone who was looking for a great single player adventure, the monthly emails focused solely on player housing were utterly depressing, an obvious sign that Portalarium had taken your money and were doing whatever the hell they wanted with it. Month after month, the studio unveiled new kinds of houses that you could buy with real money. But why stop at a house? Why not buy a castle? Or a whole town? You could do that too, as a solo player or as a guild to have your own place to regroup. The emphasis on this aspect of the game was truly puzzling. Between that and the monthly dance parties thrown by “DJ Darkstarr” (executive producer Starr Long's alter ego), one might wonder whether the point was to have exciting adventures or just to create some sort of virtual renaissance fair for everyone to LARP in. In many ways, it felt like Portalarium were increasingly less interested in selling a game than a medieval Second Life service.
To give people their houses Portalarium had to offer land, which explains why town maps in SOTA are so huge. Typically about three quarters of each town is occupied by player-owned buildings and empty lots. I would also estimate that around 80% of the towns in the game are either player-owned towns or towns that exist solely in order to sell more land. It makes exploring the world a completely excruciating experience, because of the unnecessary loading, because of the difficulty navigating this anarchic urban development, and because these towns are phantom zones.
No one ever visits other players' houses.
The player-owned towns are always, always empty.
The player-owned shops sell items that are either ridiculously priced, useless, or most often both.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Shroud of the Avatar
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 16 June 2018, 15:10:43Tags: BattleTech; Harebrained Schemes
Harebrained Schemes' 2013-2015 trilogy of Shadowrun roleplaying games weren't known for their awesome gameplay but were lauded for their writing, establishing the Seattle-based studio's reputation as a narrative powerhouse. The second game in the trilogy, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, was particularly popular on our forums - rivaling the far more mechanically robust Divinity: Original Sin for the title of our 2014 GOTY largely due to the merits of its narrative design. Commercially, however, this storytelling excellence was not enough to make the Shadowrun RPGs anything more than budget-priced minor hits.
With BattleTech, Harebrained set out to expand beyond their core competency. With its more robust tactical combat implementation and strategic mercenary company management layer, contextualized by the rich lore of the BattleTech universe, the game sought a more even balance of story and gameplay. From a commercial perspective, this approach has clearly been a resounding success for the studio, with hundreds of thousands of copies sold and a handsome $7.5M buyout by publisher Paradox Interactive. But has this shift in priorities led to a more satisfying game, or have we gone from excellent narrative and perfunctory gameplay to tedious mediocrity on both fronts?
The man to answer that question is our esteemed tactical specialist sser, who volunteered to review BattleTech shortly before it was released back in April. His verdict? In short - mediocre, but not hopeless. Here's a quick look at his take on the game's combat:
So why not some ground troops? Technically, there are a few in the form of tanks. And they’re hilariously powerful little buggers when you consider the cost-benefit ratio. It’s one of the few times the universe lets slip how silly it all is. Let’s analyze for a moment. A tiny tank can get jacked up on PCP lasers, giant cannons, or so many goddam missiles the animation of them smashing your mech lasts so long all it’s missing is a microwave’s timer going off at the end. They’re incredibly threatening – and also incredibly sparse. Presumably because they get close to threatening the mech’s limelight. Fine. Fair enough. Whatever. But boy… when I look at those curvaceous BATTLEMECH maps freckled with innocent rural pastorals, the first thing I imagine is having a host of combined arms thrashing it to bits with mechs striding gloriously through that which has been ravaged.
But it does isolate an issue with BATTLETECH’s entirety: the player’s ability to only take four mechs into combat forever traps the game design into a phonebooth only big enough to challenge that starting point. I still feel like the difference between X-Com and XCOM (1994, 2012) is a perfect example of the issue. In X-Com, you have numbers on hand which not only makes your decisions on map very flexible, it also means your enemies have a lot of flexibility as the game has to contend with the players deep well of resources. In XCOM, you usually roll a squad four-deep. Your gameplay options were so piled into those squaddies that losing even one meant a giant stepback in firepower and force projection (and losing a whole squad often meant game over). Enemies are not foes frantically looking to squash you so much as they are taking directorial cues on how to behave. In turn, the maps became static ‘Overwatch creep’ affairs where players tilted toward the strategically conservative choices. It took a sequel and its expansions to get anywhere close to fixing this. BATTLETECH suffers from a similar fate in its first steps.
That’s the primary reason I harp on this lack of, admittedly ancillary, tools. Because a game can only challenge a limited toolkit so much. If it throws too much at you, then you’ll end up having to lean on luck instead of tactical options at which point it feels more unfair than challenging. The corollary is that if the game throws too little, like many of the randomized mercenary missions, it leans into simply being boring. This is partly why the game’s best missions are those designed to stretch your resources horizontally, forcing you to spread out and cover geographical ground while also choosing between killing targets and protecting points. Rewarding players for eagerness is a design resource you can tap repeatedly and when BATTLETECH does this it does it well. But the core of XCOM laid itself bare real quick and I think BATTLETECH does as well. I imagine HBS will borrow the cues from Firaxis in figuring out ways to variate the gameplay and wrench it free of its current confines. (My simple suggestion is that combined arms would be a great way to do this.)
Where BATTLETECH noticeably falters is in the plot and characters. There is also a strange stylistic change between non-event writing and event writing. While events are written fairly straight, the main game’s writing has a lot of characters talking like this:
“I told you – A THOUSAND TIMES – to not… sigh… microwave the burrito with the foil on.”
The stilted orthography is a sort of sci-fi mirror to the campestral style of a ten-cent Western. Fair enough, but every character talks like this. If you pulled dialogue from the game and hid its speaker, you wouldn’t even know who the hell was talking. A lack of distinction and differentiation between characters is somewhat ironic since, like most sci-fi settings, the cast is a Captain Planet’s catalogue of diversity. One big red flag for this unexotic “dialogue” is that every single character is a certified ass kisser. There is only passing resistance to any of the Princess’s goals or ideas. With a large cast of characters, the matter of getting from point A to point B has about as much conflict as going from 1-1 to 1-2 in Super Mario. The unending rimjobbing she gets also stands in stark contrast to the actual plot's conceit.
And a quick recap of said plot: you are a financially insolvent killer for hire and there is a deposed princess who wants to take back the throne. This is a great premise. Story-wise, it is intriguing. The mercenary has debts to pay and the princess needs to recapture her throne. I immediately jumped to the obvious question. Why doesn’t the mercenary just fork over the princess to those who own the throne? What could the princess possibly reward him for years of struggle and uncertainty that would be better than a simple phonecall to the current royals? Not only is this a fun narrative, it could feed directly into gameplay with difficult decisions to make.
Except at no point whatsoever is there any tension between a person who murders for cash and a person who is essentially a Disney Princess. The toothless premise most noticeably sends a wrench into the issue of cashflow. In-game, the Princess is bankrolled by an outside power yet you can ostensibly still run out of treasury. It seems to me that the better concept would be for the player to play as the Princess who must hire the mercenary, and if you run out of treasury then the mercenary turns on you. Meanwhile, the mercenary smells blood in the water and keeps making bigger and bigger demands. I don’t know, just thinking out loud here. It’d be cool if the player’s story was front and center instead of every accomplishment’s limelight being afforded to a Mary Sue with a scar, but I digress. What's clear is that you are not a mercenary at all, which is kind of awkward considering the non-story contracts you undertake. Instead you fall into one of those awkward gaming tropes; that one where the shopkeeper wants you to save the world, but he still finds the time to demand you pay a couple quid for the very tool you need despite the implication that any failure on your part would also be his doom.
The debris of this blown idea peppers the rest of the game’s writing: the plot never really deviates from good vs. evil, and it’s almost patronizing how thoroughly it makes sure you know who has the halo who the horns. At one point it even lampshades itself when a villain talks like a toddler about their evil plans, but the device felt out of place in the setting and served to only further highlight how doldrum the whole thing was. Not to mention said evilness coming to fruition pretty much gets hand waved away which was about the point I gave up on expecting more.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: BATTLETECH
Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Mon 30 April 2018, 01:09:31Tags: Chris Avellone; Pillars of Eternity; Planescape: Torment; System Shock (Nightdive Studios)
Back in 2016, Codex community member Fairfax began a correspondence with RPG writer extraordinaire Chris Avellone, for the purpose of interviewing him about some questions that many of us had at the time about his departure from Obsidian, his work on Pillars of Eternity, and related topics. For various reasons this correspondence ended up lasting months and years, and in fact it continues to the present day. The lengthy interview I present today is only the first part of a larger piece that we hope to publish in its entirety someday. Even though some of the questions now feel a tad outdated, there are still some juicy new details to be gleaned here. For example:
Companion Design - not always. Usually, it's paragraph, page, then dialogue. In Durance and Grieving Mother's case - and this I can say - the Creative Lead told me after my departure that the Project Lead had interfered but didn't specify the reasons. I don't even know what the reasons were (although I couldn't tell if I did, to be fair). In short, the Creative Lead said he should have handled the whole matter differently and didn't, regretted it, and apologized for it.
It doesn't matter - what's done is done - cuts don't bother me (they rarely do, if you're a writer in the industry and aren’t willing to make cuts, you probably won't be a game writer for long), but how it was handled overall was an example of how upper management can get tangled up and despite any problems, perceived or otherwise, you can be the last one to know, which makes the whole situation more fucked up than if you'd gotten a direct critique, fixed everything that was requested, and then it's put to bed. It's not a huge deal unless you make it one.
Fenstermaker specified the reasons in his Codex interview:
I can confirm some of the elements - there’s still people I can ask, so if I can’t remember, it’s easy to find someone who can jog my memory (I can’t check the details on my own). I also managed to get some clarification on some of the points, which was welcome, so…
Of those three reasons, the first was the only one I ever recall communicated to me (I had to get confirmation on it and these other points, since it’s been a long time). The other two reasons weren’t, and I actually got multiple other reasons from multiple people – and some of those people admitted they were just the messenger. This confused things, since they couldn’t articulate what the critiques were since they either didn’t understand them or hadn’t read the material (both our CEO and Parker among them – ironically, after a long speech ending with his admission he hadn’t even read what he was arguing against, Parker did go back and read the companions and found nothing to object to, which cost even more time – to his credit, he did admit his error, but things like that happened a lot).
There were other people who apparently didn’t like Durance’s swearing (easy fix), and the original tie in the GM and Durance backstories were they had violated each other physically and mentally and that’s what broke both of them, which I then cut – although I don’t know if the GM one got removed completely – the intention was the Watcher could fix it mentally by repairing their souls by walking through their minds in stages. I think some of this is still mentioned in the strat guide.
In the end, I just wanted to fix whatever the problems were and move on to the next task, because there were a lot of tasks that needed doing. I had done the best work I could, and it was up to the Pillars team to decide what fit best (which is fine, it’s what vision holders do), but no one was articulating what the problems were.
To speak to the implementation part, it had been promised by multiple people on Eternity (producers and Lead Creative) that they would set aside (their own) time for implementation and make sure it got done.
When the project ran over – and this happens, I don’t blame anyone for that – it was apparent they ran out of time for their own character implementations – and some companions even required two designers to implement. As such, other developers took on what tasks they could to try and make up for lost time. Things that could definitely have helped (hire an editor, like they eventually did for Tyranny) were refused in light of putting more devs from other projects rather than trying to fix the missing personnel. I was later informed that this time was not paid back, which was the hope but not a surprise, and I don’t think Paradox was ever fully aware the Tyranny team had been gutted (in general, publishers don’t like hearing the resources they’re paying for they aren’t getting).
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 6 March 2018, 23:54:44Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Larian Studios
Ah, Divinity: Original Sin 2. It's our RPG of the Year for 2017, and a game that really, really pissed some of us off. Above all, it's a hugely successful title, with some 1.2 million copies sold to date. Which is why it's unusual that we've heard so little from Larian since its release in September. Last month's controversial combat mechanics interview with Original Sin 2's systems designer is the most recent of their very few media appearances. After reading it, I knew we had to finally publish a review - even if our reviewer couldn't bring himself to finish the game. I do wonder whether that interview might be a hint that Larian are working on some sort of big systems overhaul. Regardless, I think it's high time we unleashed Darth Roxor on them. Gentlemen, without further ado:
I have no other words to describe this other than that it’s pure distilled stupidity. You will run into numerous occasions where finishing off an enemy is a bad idea, because in that way you will empower its stronger ally that is further down the initiative queue. Instead you are better off either ignoring them, or leaving them stunned as “initiative block decoys”. Before killing anything in DOS2 during harder fights, you always have to check the initiative queue and consider whether you will not be sabotaging your own planned courses of action for subsequent turns that way. This is not how it’s supposed to work, goddammit. Also, you can now scroll back to the attributes section of the previous chapter, and realise just how useless is the Wits stat – there is no reason at all to raise this, except maybe on one character that you’d want to move first among your own party, or to have a chance to open a fight instead of leaving that to an enemy.
But Wits and initiative are not the only things that suffer from the jumbled mess of oversimplifications that plague the systems in DOS2. Another is character archetype identity and skill “coolness”. I’ve sort of mentioned this already for the armour discussion, but it deserves repeating. When the mechanics are more or less reduced to “do damage”, “heal” and “debuff once armour is broken”, you significantly limit the breadth of skill functionalities, and also remove a lot of the craziness that made the combat in DOS1 so fun (which is further amplified by the big reduction of damage for all sorts of explosive barrels and other environmental hazards). It also doesn’t help that action points are very limited – base is 4 while the max you can hope for is 6, and that’s only with haste effects that are very short and hard to come by. In practice, this more or less limits you to doing 2 meaningful actions a turn at best.
To put it bluntly, the majority of abilities in DOS2 are boring, repetitive and samey. For example, take the “ranger” and the “warrior”. In DOS1, they had a number of stances, support and damage skills, and the ranger also had elemental arrows with various uses. In DOS2, the ranger is reduced to having more or less the same damage skill repeated ten times with slightly different flavours, while the special arrows are hardly more than generic magic projectiles to bust through some idiot’s magic armour. That’s it. As for the warrior – his bread and butter is a ranged multiple target nuke, a charge with multiple target damage and knockdown, a cone-shaped stomp with a knockdown, two suspiciously magical-looking teleports… and so it goes. When playing a warrior, I found myself casting more area damage spells than I would in most other games as a mage, with barely any chance to do regular attacks, which anyway were all inferior to the constant spellspam.
[...] I think everyone can agree that the story and its presentation in DOS1 was the game’s worst aspect. The story was bland, the writing was boring and the characters were kind of stupid. It also employed Larian’s trademark tongue-in-cheek style, but this time, without actual quality writing to support it, it ended up dumb instead of funny.
The studio promised to improve this by hiring a bunch of new writers and promising to make the game “less whimsical”. I’ve always been sceptical of this, because to me it looked like acting on wrong feedback. It wasn’t the whimsical style that was the problem in DOS1 – after all, the same style was fine in all the other Divinity games. The problem was that it was just not good. Unfortunately, my scepticism proved well-founded.
I don’t think it’s fair to complain or go too deep into the story itself here, because it’s near-identical to every other Larian game in existence. That is, your character, a Special Person, turns out to be an Even Specialer Person, and embarks on an Epic Quest to change the Fate of the Known World™©®. The reason why this particular iteration of the story comes out bad is in the presentation and, again, in the lacking writing quality.
The chief problem is that despite the writing team switch, the writing remains largely the same – boring, long-winded and without flair, complete with my favourite boast of “over one million words of voiced dialogue”. The only major difference is that the dumb whimsical aspect was replaced by a dumb maturegrimdark aspect, plunging it even further into generic fantasy crapola territory. Not to mention that the writers appear to have some concerning mental issues related to various deviations.
One is the alarming ubiquity of all manner of sexual content. It’s like every second character just can’t wait to pinch, lick, kiss, smell, caress or have other questionable interactions with your protagonist, or describe said interactions with other people, to the point that it makes you imagine the writer as some sort of overly excited dog trying to hump your leg all the time.
Although likening the writer to a dog might be risky given the second, much more disturbing deviation, which is the rampant animal abuse in this game. I swear there is not a single animal in DOS2 that wouldn’t be subjected to torture, torment, mutation or madness, and probably half of those either die after your conversation with them concludes, or beg to be mercy killed.
Also, when it comes to the main plot, there is one thing I can’t really understand. The game gives inexplicable importance to Braccus Rex, an early game boss monster from DOS1, whose characterisation was limited to laughing a lot and throwing fireballs around. Out of all the bad guys in the Divinity series, they really had to pick someone as featureless as this? It’s roughly the equivalent of having The Butcher as one of the main villains in Diablo 2, although even that would make more sense.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Divinity: Original Sin 2
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Tue 27 February 2018, 23:59:59Tags: Into the Breach; Subset Games
Back in 2012, the two-man indie studio Subset Games released roguelike spaceship simulator FTL: Faster Than Light. It was a pretty cool game, the first big success of Kickstarter, and if you squinted hard enough you could even call it an RPG. A year and a half later, FTL received an Advanced Edition that featured additional writing from Chris Avellone, making it even cooler. Today, nearly four years later, Subset have finally released their next game, Into the Breach. At first glance, it seems like couldn't be more different from FTL - a turn-based, tile-based tactics game where you defend cities from aliens with giant mechs. Into the Breach also features the writing talents of Chris Avellone, but there's no mistaking it for an RPG. Nevertheless, our tactical specialist sser was intrigued by it, and when sser sets his mind to something, he delivers. Without further ado, I give you his thoughts on Into the Breach:
Barring a small yet potentially significant %-chance for attacks to miss the Power Grid, the game essentially has no RNG. Enemies telegraph attacks and, with a brilliant interface that spares no details, you only need to read the information and respond accordingly. Sure, there is a bit of variety that is in the spirit of classic RNG. For example, you don’t know where enemies will go. Your pre-battle setup may end up leaving you borked before the battle even begins as enemies scatter into such nasty positions it may as well have been you playing the other side. You also don’t know what sort of monsters might appear either. I had one perfect run slightly tarnished when a ‘grabbing’ insect snagged a mech to certain doom on the very last turn. C’est al Vek.
But in the age of Jagged Alliance and X-Com and Battle Brothers, most look at RNG as a form of percentages, odds, and risk-taking. None of those reside within Into the Breach. Every single aspect of detail is covered with absolute determinism. Like any good puzzle game, things aren’t where they should be and you need to put the pieces where they rightfully fit. The schism between a good score and a smoldered run is solely the responsibility of the player. You have but the greatest weapon at your disposal: time. And, similar to the fantastic and also RNG-less Invisible Inc., there's an even more powerful tool you may be keen on using: the ability to revert time and restart at least one turn a fight.
An infinite amount of time does give me pause, though. Due to the ‘sliding puzzle’ gameplay and the ability to read information so tight and terse Sid Meier would drool, there isn’t much in the way of challenge. I very nearly beat the game on my first run, beat it on my second with a completely different squad, and absolutely breezed through it on a third campaign with another fresh team. It’s a large break from beating FTL which was like trying to rescue a cat from Evil Dead’s rape tree.
Unfortunately, if you put Into the Breach on Hard, it only increases the number of Vek in an attempt to brute force defeat into your hands. Despite following a familiar design path, Invisible Inc. felt as if it had a better grip on difficulty. It utilized a fog of war to present players with unforeseen challenges that they then responded to on the fly. Because Into the Breach is such a puzzle-game at heart, I think that it needs a timer or a ‘rope’ like Hearthstone to compel players to act quickly. I would not have cruised through the game repeatedly if I had to make snap decisions in the tougher situations. Though the game might look like a SNES title, I feel like emulating SNES-era difficulty by simply adding more enemies isn't the right or at least only route to go.
If beating the game is so straightforward, what is the catch that’ll keep one coming back like there was in FTL? There is a bit of a ‘meta’ in Into the Breach that lends it replayability: the mechs themselves. There’s a large cast of machines to choose from and it’s a blast running new teams through a campaign. Some machines are overpowered while others struggle to make a cohesive, kaiju-pinballing unit. You’ll often be surprised which mech proves to be the MVP of the squad. Once you’ve unlocked your fair share, you can start mix-and-matching the pieces. You can make runs with all bruisers and try to stomp your way to victory. Or you could run a team of full-on utility, peacefully pushing and pulling insects around like a hardcore battle of Jains and Kaijus.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Into the Breach
Community - posted by felipepepe on Sun 28 January 2018, 10:47:31Tags: GOTY 2017
It's finally time to crunch the numbers and see what the Codex played & enjoyed in 2017.
This year we had 966 voters, who rated 84 games divided into three categories: Game of the Year, Best Expansion and Best PC Port/Remaster.
For those of you who just want the TL;DR, here are the winners:
- Divinity: Original Sin 2
- Battle Brothers
- Grim Dawn - Ashes of Malmouth
- Path of Exile: The Fall of Oriath
- Path of Exile: War for the Atlas
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel
- The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky The 3rd
- Disgaea 2
Read the full article: RPG Codex GOTY 2017: Results & Cool Graphs
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 9 December 2017, 23:55:39Tags: ELEX; Piranha Bytes
Nearly two months ago, Piranha Bytes released ELEX and proved that the RPG Codex Hivemind can make memes real. It's a good game, not perfect, but easily their best since the original Risen. Against all odds and after years of anguish, fans of Piranha Bytes' distinctive style of open world action-RPG once again have a future to look forward to. Darth Roxor has always been our point man on these games, and ELEX is certainly no exception. It is my greatest honor (no, not my other honor) to present his extensive review. Here's an excerpt:
That said, it must be mentioned that Piranha Bytes once again made the same mistake they did in Gothic 3. Namely, that the world is sometimes just too huge for its own good. The most glaring example of this is Ignadon – not only is it overall much lower in quality than the rest of the game, it also gives a feeling of having been rushed or subjected to big cuts. To be frank, when you think about the quests and content available in Ignadon, you can come to the conclusion that the entire region, except for its city, could have been removed from the game with no real repercussions, as long as a few of its better assets would be relocated to other parts of the map.
Nevertheless, there is still a chockful of things to do around every corner, all over the world. Exploration in ELEX is addictive as hell, and it seems like there’s not a patch of land that wouldn’t have something interesting to it. What the game does perfectly is recreate the feeling of curiosity as you travel through it – the sudden “ooh, I wonder what’s over there” that takes you on a detour spanning hours as you move from one point of interest to another. Combine that with the fact that the world is also fully open from the very beginning, with no invisible barriers whatsoever except for map boundaries, which are represented by convenient killer radiation fields, and the “Free as a Bird” main quest that you get at the start becomes more than just an empty slogan.
Mind you, this doesn’t mean that ELEX is a “hiking simulator” where you can go anywhere you want and observe pretty landscapes without running into any trouble. Hiking in ELEX is going to get you killed. The wildlife is vicious, mutants want to murder you at every step and bandits can’t wait to give you a lead injection. However, you have one significant advantage at your disposal that lets you get away from all harm. The jetpack.
PB were hyping the jetpack a lot before release, and I feared it would either end up as a tacked-on gimmick or something that would kill exploration. Turns out I was wrong, and the developers must have planned its inclusion with great care. Floating around from place to place, scaling mountains or old radio towers and flying away in panic from powerful enemies is much more fun and seamlessly connected to the exploration than you might think, and somehow it also never gets old. As I mentioned before, you also can’t use it to exploit enemy AI, because most foes have ranged attacks to shoot you down and some even sport jetpacks of their own. Its use in combat is also limited to quick repositioning or barraging gits from up high with ranged weapons, which makes it just another tool at your disposal, and not some kind of “I-Win” button.
[...] Yet in spite of the aforementioned issues, I’d say the world is still well-crafted and fun to uncover. Another point in its favour, which is also quite the surprise, is that despite looking really dumb and corny in screens or pre-release materials, Magalan actually turns out to be a very interesting and logical setting.
First, there are many small things that all act together to make it come to life, from environmental storytelling, through such details as city guard being divided into separate patrols of day and night watch, NPCs physically moving from place to place instead of teleporting around (even between cities), to the game having its own alphabet. Second, the factions in the game all have believable agenda, distinct themes and beliefs, and clear-cut axes of conflict between each other. The Berserkers (whose name doesn’t fit at all, but whatever) are a hippie gathering of viking-ish druids, who have a strict code of law, abhor all technology and want to purge the planet of Elex. This makes them a mortal enemy of the Clerics – psychic religious fundies with droids and lasers – who only tolerate the law set by their god and need the Elex to power their machines. Meanwhile, neither of the two factions is popular among the third, the Outlaws, who are Mad Max-type desert drifters that live among scrap and really love their personal freedoms and independence.
The conflicts between the factions are also portrayed nicely in the game itself. There is no open war just yet, but it’s clear that one might happen very soon. Every region and every city is infiltrated in some way by agents of all the factions, who try to further their agenda there. Not only does this contribute to the world feeling alive, it’s also a very welcome difference from Risen 3, where none of the factions interacted with each other whatsoever and where every region existed in some kind of hermetically sealed vacuum.
[...] Starting the game, I was dead sure that it would be horrible. Meanwhile I sunk into it for 85 long hours, which was only enough to complete one “full world lawnmowing” playthrough – save game counter tells me 70 hours, but I got an 80h playtime cheevo at 65, so I must have spent 15 idling and reloading (which sure is a lot of reloading). However, I also know that it took some folks just 20-something hours to breeze through it.
If I had to give you a short overall impression of ELEX, I would probably call it the same way one thread on our forums refers to Divine Divinity – it is probably the best shit game I’ve ever played. Sure, there are parts of it that are downright abysmal, broken or user-unfriendly. But at the same time, it is so incredibly addictive and fun that I don’t remember the last time a game sucked me in so completely for so long.
Perhaps a lot of it has to do with expectations and experience. I’ve witnessed the horrors of Risen 2 and 3 first-hand, so seeing the numerous improvements over these in ELEX was already a surprise for me, because ELEX is objectively an all-around better game than the both of those combined, which I suppose is at least one proven case of a developer being held back by an idiotic publisher. There is still a lot of room for improvement left to be sure, and I do hope Piranha Bytes do not waste the opportunity. If I had to give them at least one major piece of advice as to how ELEX 2 could be made better, it would definitely be to scale things down – reduce the world size, but improve its content. Gothic 3 was already an example of them overreaching, and ELEX in many ways repeats the same mistake.
Your very own expectations are also likely to influence how you will receive ELEX. If you are deluded enough to expect another Gothic, you might as well forget it. But if you still have that open world, no-nonsense PB game itch that needs scratching (and you know you do), ELEX might just be the thing you need. It looks dumb, it might be infuriating sometimes, but all I can say is: don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: ELEX!
Codex Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 21 September 2017, 14:30:06Tags: Labyrinth of Touhou; Labyrinth of Touhou 2
Unless you frequent the Codex's JRPG board, chances are you haven't heard about the indie Japanese RPG Labyrinth of Touhou and its sequel, Labyrinth of Touhou 2. Touhou is a setting known mostly for bullet-hell games; these two are, however, combat-focused dungeon-crawling "blobber" RPGs. Thanks to their unique spin on the standard menu-based combat system and varied and uncompromising encounter design, they have gained a niche following among people who like combat-heavy dungeon crawlers and don't mind the (overwhelming degree of) poor anime art, nonsensical dialogue, and generally extremely low-budget presentation.
In this lengthy review-meets-guide, esteemed community member Suicidal explains the two games's mechanics, including their unorthodox character switching system, and why you might want to check them out even if you've never heard of them before.
Even though the size of your party can go up to 12, only 4 characters can participate in combat at any given time, while the other 8 stay in reserve. Active characters can perform various combat actions described above, while reserve characters slowly regenerate health and mana and cannot be affected by most abilities. To bring a character from reserve into combat and vice a versa, one of the active characters must use the formation change command to make an active character switch places with someone in reserve.
Mindful use of formation switching is one of the key skills you need to succeed at combat in LoT for a few reasons. Firstly, all of your characters are actually quite weak and ensuring their survival is not easy – your armored frontline warrior WILL die to a strong magic attack, your squishy mage WILL die to an arrow to the head and your tank that specializes in mitigating damage WILL die to a defense-piercing ability. Secondly, the game has no consumables and no way to revive fallen characters in combat, something I really appreciate, because being able to hook your party members up to a nearly limitless potion life support just kills the challenge in so many games, especially Japanese RPGs. In LoT healing spells are few in number and are quite costly or have other drawbacks and require putting your healers in harm’s way. Lastly, you will be fighting a lot of powerful enemies that will assault you with all manner of nasty abilities and these battles can be very long. As a result, anticipating, preventing and negating the enemy’s actions through skillful formation changes and ability usage is extremely important in LoT, because losing the wrong character at the wrong time can lead to failure later down the road in a particular battle.
Another important thing to note is that all abilities have not only different mana costs, but also “time costs”, meaning that some abilities will delay a character’s next turn more than others. For example, using a powerful party-wide buff may delay the caster’s next turn for twice as long compared to a simple magic attack. Turn order management is another thing you will need to get good at, because knowing when it’s safe to use an ability or bring in a certain character into combat can mean the difference between victory and death. The simplest example of this would be bringing out one of your damage dealing characters to the front line, but then being unable to hide them before the enemy gets its turn and kills them.
[...] It definitely is not a game for everyone – out of the people who like RPGs it’s already limited to the niche that enjoys turn-based dungeon crawlers, and even within this niche it’s limited further to people who like their dungeon crawlers combat-focused and highly abstract and also don’t mind the anime graphics.
Will you like this game if you enjoy dungeon crawlers mostly for the exploration aspect and want to be immersed into the game’s atmosphere, to feel as if you are wandering around that haunted forest inside the screen, with death lurking around every corner? Probably not. Will you enjoy it if you play RPGs for the setting, writing and plot? Definitely not, and why are you still reading this?
However, if you enjoy killing things with a large party in a turn-based environment without the plot getting in the way; if you enjoy watching your party grow stronger with each victory, while constantly making decisions on which stats or skills to improve and which piece of equipment should go to which party member; if you enjoy fighting enemies that actually pose a challenge and WILL kill you if you go in without a plan or if you use the resources available to you unwisely – then I recommend checking these games out.
Those are just very small excerpts from the review - which is, as mentioned, pretty detailed and goes into a lot of these games's complexities (as well as their downsides). So if you're interested, be sure to read it in full.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Labyrinth of Touhou 1 and 2
Editorial - posted by JarlFrank on Wed 13 September 2017, 20:20:34Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Gamescom 2017; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke
Like every year, I went to Gamescom again to report on some currently in-development RPGs. This time, I only went to see Divinity: Original Sin 2 at Larian's booth, and Starpoint Gemini: Warlords at the Croatian game developers' booth. At least the low amount of presentations and interviews means we'll actually get to see all the Gamescom 2017 articles in 2017, so hey!
At Larian's booth, Swen Vincke presented some new features of the game to me - mostly features connected to undead player characters and the Mask of the Shapeshifter (which was a Kickstarter stretchgoal). Once the presentation is over, I assault Swen with a bunch of questions and he proceeds to give me answers that are confusing even to himself.
“It’s not! Not when you’re playing it.”
“I mean from a designer’s standpoint.”
“Oh, yeah. It’s super complicated. It’s insanely complicated. The discussions that we have about these things can sometimes take very long since you always find edge cases, but it’s not that because those edge cases exist we shouldn’t do it. Sometimes you might find things that don’t make a hundred percent sense, but essentially our attitude to that is, eh fuck it.” He laughs.
Larian certainly have the right attitude when it comes to implementing features into the game, don't they?
Read the whole interview and my write-up on the presentation in the article!
Read the full article: Codex Gamescom Report 2017 Part 1: Divinity Original Sin 2
Codex Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 21 August 2017, 00:34:28Tags: Golden Era Games; Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar
Cleve Blakemore's magnum opus Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar seems to be causing just as much drama since its release as it did during its 23 year-long development. During its first week, it received a flurry of updates which broke saved games several times, and bugfixes have continued to be issued on a regular basis. Despite these difficulties, we resolved to review the game in a timely manner. The perfect man for the job was felipepepe, who is both an accomplished reviewer and an RPG historian familiar with Grimoire's inspirations. 16 days and 80 hours of gameplay later, I'm pleased to present his findings. (As opposed to Cleve, who summarily banned felipe from his game's Steam forum when presented with them.) Here's an excerpt, including both the bad and the good:
Of course, every RPG has a few cheesy tactics or overpowered items, spells, skills and builds. With a good guide you can usually become nearly-invincible. But I played Grimoire blindly, without even knowing what most stats do. And there were so many overpowered things - items, skills, spells and even recruitable NPCs - that you basically need a guide on how NOT to cheese: don't use Deep Freeze, Bards, Hold Monster, Lethal Blow, Vorpal Sword, Paralysis, Psychopompic Orb, Time Stop, Crown of Gorgon, etc. But even if you stop cheesing, enemies certainly won't.
More than just the numbers that pop up during combat, the enemies make little sense. Each area has an encounter table from which it draws enemies, and those can vary A LOT - in the same area you might get a large squad of fairies that will kill half your party before you can even act; OR you can get a dumb monk that will die in the first hit. Over 60 hours in I would still get to fight weak enemies from the first areas of the game! It got to the point that sometimes I had to save-scum encounters until they gave me a reasonable enemy.
Yet even beating the most powerful foes the game threw at me felt unfulfilling. Enemies never drop anything except a few keys for chests, and XP rewards are also completely unbalanced. In the same area you might fight weak enemies that give you 4,000xp, while the deadly ones will give like 100xp. By the end-game my characters needed around 200,000xp to reach the next level, but enemies there gave only like 500xp - and the game's final quest gave me only 9,000xp! As a result, I never reached level 10 with any character, and never could try the whole class change feature that supposedly allows you to unlock classes like Pirate, Assassin and Jester.
To make things weirder, Grimoire employs some controversial death mechanics: each time you resurrect a character, his constitution goes down. And some races can only be resurrected by rare spells. In games like Wizardry VII this was already a challenge but, in an unbalanced mess where character death is basically inevitable, this meant ALL my original party members eventually reached the lowest constitution possible. Since they had stopped leveling up due to poor XP, I was effectively growing weaker the more I played.
For a final showcase of how unbalanced this game is, take the Hall of Gorrors in Wizardry VII. That was the game's ultimate challenge, an optional area with super-hard boss battles, some of which would take over 20 minutes to beat with a high level party. Grimoire, of course, has its own "Hall of Gorrors" near the end, with seven optional bosses.
I killed all of them in the first turn.
So, with the combat & game balance in this sorry state, why the hell did I keep playing Grimoire?
Well, first I had a prestigious review to write. Second, because the game truly excels at one thing that modern RPGs just don't deliver: the constant call to adventure.
After you finish the first major quest and find the first of the Stone Tablets, the game opens into a massive world (this was where the Super Demo ended). Now you can explore in any direction, searching for the remaining seven Stone Tablets. It's hard to convey just how large this world is. It's easily more than twice the size of Wizardry VII, possibly thrice. While at this point the maps lose that conciseness of the initial areas, they're still reasonably sized, meaning you go through them at a quick pace, constantly experiencing new things. And some of these are quite well presented - not with fancy graphics, but with charming descriptive text, that nails that old-school AD&D-ish vibe.
You enter a new area, a giant pyramid looms in the horizon... as you get close, you cross a field of charred bones and see a humanoid rat desperately running towards you, his eyes begging for help. Before you can do anything, a light flashes atop the pyramid and burns the rat to a crisp. As the smoke dissipates, you see the giant doors of the pyramid, inviting you in. At that point, I'm sold - into the pyramid we go!
Like a RPG version of Civilization's "one more turn" cycle, there's always something just waiting to be discovered. Got into the a flooded city raided by Naga? Now there's a pirate compound for you to infiltrate by disguising yourself! Got past the pirates? Here's a magical sea chariot! And there's a sunken ship! And next to it is the Kraken that sank it! Got past it? Here's a giant ancient tower! And so on.
So yeah, the first 15-20 hours of Grimoire were an excellent RPG - the remaining 60 hours were basically a fun adventure game with broken combat.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar