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RPG Codex Review: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 18 September 2016, 15:07:42

Tags: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided; Eidos Montreal

Ion Storm's Deus Ex belongs to the Codex's all-time beloved classics, and even the 2011 Deus Ex: Human Revolution earned a place in our Top 75 RPG list. This year, Eidos Montreal released a sequel to Human Revolution, called Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, set two years after that game's events. Does it improve on or at least match the level of quality of its predecessor, or is it more of a mixed bag?

According to esteemed community member TNO, it is unfortunately the latter. Here are a few excerpts from his review:

One of the dividends of increasing technology is the mission environments in Mankind Divided have generally gotten bigger, and so they more closely approach the near-perfection of the original Deus Ex. Pallisade Bank is perhaps the best example: huge, multi-level with executive offices, lobby, vaults, connected with a labyrinth of hidden and not-so-hidden passages with lots of points of entry and egress, and similarly lots of things to uncover and find (it also benefits synergistically from being an interesting concept: a data-bank and vault for information that generally lies beyond national jurisdiction). Generally the median level of Mankind Divided approaches the most 'open' levels of Human Revolution (e.g. Hengsha Docks, Court gardens), and this move in mission design is to be warmly welcomed, although the continued reliance on air-ducts and ventilation systems for many of these alternative routes does give a blemish.

Mankind Divided has moved steadily more towards 'open world' principles too. Probably 70% or so of the game content is off the critical path, and a Codex Let's Player managed to finish the game in around 4 hours by ignoring it. They probably missed out: the 'side-quest' content is very good, covering a good mix of police procedural and espionage: a murder mystery plot is one highlight, the player's tracking down of a 'black market media' organization that threatens to blow cover of another group another, and piecing together the backstory behind a new, highly (but selectively) lethal recreational drug the same. [...]

Perhaps the most noteworthy innovation in Mankind Divided is in the field of avarice. Much of the utterly rubbish microtransaction and monetization typically in the ambit of low-rent mobile games come out in force. There's the wholly indefensible shop where you can pay real money to buy Praxis kits for your character, the entirely unnecessary and tacked on breach mode with semi-randomized rewards and microtransactions galore, the stupid mobile app integration, and the pre-order and extra item DLCs. These are all mercifully unnecessary and can be ignored during the course of the game, but they represent the early signs of metastasis of pay-to-win and monetization to single player games where they were heretofore mercifully absent. Would that the radioactive criticism the developers have received from all quarters put this cancerous development firmly in remission. [...]

The player generally expects plot arcs to have a resolution, and for characters to develop during the course of the story: subverting these expectations in the narrative can work well, and can be a fop to verisimilitude: in real life, people's characters do not always develop in step with some grander narrative, and you don't always get all the answers. Do it too much, though, and the player suspects you are not even trying (or, worse, hope to spin things out for sequels and DLC). Mankind Divided falls into the latter category. It is actually slightly worse than a hypothetical Deus Ex that stopped after UNATCO: at least in that you have learned something. In Mankind Divided, although you solve the initial case, the bulk of the narrative interest is in the underlying actions of the players 'behind the scenes', and this plot merely treads water: Adam Jensen (and you) haven't really learned anything about the world that you didn't already know at the start.

Conclusion: Not enough steps forward, a few steps back

Mankind Divided is so near and yet so far. Its elements mostly build upon the strong foundations of Human Revolution, but occasionally they retreat back from earlier triumphs, and leave some major flaws uncorrected. It is cleverly written but with a few too many mis-steps, and a central lacuna around the player character himself. At its best, the strengths of the game combine harmoniously to produce one of the best opening thirds in computer gaming; the fatal weakness is that it is no more than an opening third, and the game ends on a deeply imperfect cadence with too many themes undeveloped, leave alone resolved.

The game indicates considerable talent, and the writing team know their craft well. My hope is that the impressive story Mankind Divided intimates has been mostly written, and that subsequent additions to the franchise will adroitly fulfill the undoubted promise manifest here. Yet these games do not yet exist, and thus Mankind Divided remains a promissory note for a series of games which in combination may form a masterpiece. Unless and until that happens, this opening act, despite its qualities, cannot justify its own purchase.​

These excerpts do not, however, do justice to everything that the review talks about, so be sure to read it in full: RPG Codex Review: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

(Warning: the review contains some mild spoilers.)

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2016 - Mount & Blade 2, Kingdom Come, SpellForce 3, South Park 2 and more

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Fri 2 September 2016, 01:11:55

Tags: Gamescom 2016; Grimlore Games; KING Art Games; Kingdom Come: Deliverance; Morning Men; Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord; Pixel Federation; South Park: The Fractured But Whole; Spellforce 3; TaleWorlds; The Dwarves; Ubisoft; Warhorse Studios

Our chronicle of Bubbles and JarlFrank's visit to Gamescom 2016 continues. In this chapter, we discover what JarlFrank was up to during Bubbles' long stay at the Larian booth, when he departed to check out TaleWorlds' Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord and Warhorse's Kingdom Come: Deliverance. We also get a look at various other games that they saw, such as Grimlore's SpellForce 3, Pixel Federation's Morning Men and Ubisoft's South Park: The Fractured But Whole. JarlFrank was pretty happy with what he saw of Mount & Blade and Kingdom Come. Here are his thoughts on the latter:

And thus ends the presentation of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and it was one of the most impressive presentations at this year's Gamescom. It has come so far from last year's early build, so much more content and gameplay was implemented, and the multiple approaches to the quest we were shown looked really great.

Last year, only the sword combat was implemented. Now, they also have polearms and daggers, and in the enemy camp we've seen a couple of guys doing some unarmed sparring with each other. Unarmed combat is non-lethal, and we were told that you can challenge most NPCs to a friendly duel if you want to.

I really like the disguise mechanic, and the stealth gameplay looked pretty damn good. Coupled with an AI that is aware of changes - such as shunning the food if they discover one of their comrades dead from poison, or sending out some men to look for the missing patrol if you kock out or kill them all - this looks to be a game where dicking around and trying out different approaches is going to be a lot of fun.

I'm really looking forward to the game and hope that most quests will be designed as openly as this one. And, as everyone who remembers Bethesda's pre-release Radiant AI videos knows, gameplay presentations like this can be treacherous. I really hope that all of this was as real and unscripted as we were made to believe. I'm willing to give Warhorse Studios the benefit of the doubt there. The presenter gave the impression that sometimes, he really didn't know what was going to happen, and the player was very cautious in his actions, especially when there was a danger of being detected - and they reloaded the game once, and NPC reactions were different each time.

This made this such an interesting presentation: they actually showed some live gameplay rather than a pre-recorded video, and this showed the dynamic elements of the gameplay, such as AI reactions, much more effectively than a pre-recorded video would've done.

If everything we were shown during this presentation makes it into the game, we'll have a real gem on our hands. Explorefags are going to love this shit.
SpellForce 3, on the other hand, was not what Bubbles had hoped for:

Bubbles: The last time we were here, we heard about a stronghold mechanic. Is that still in the game?

Dev: No. We have…really, the focus is...we have this one giant pillar of bringing these immersive RPG aspects, like character progression, abilities and items, together and merge them with the base building. You can see the dialogue window, and it isn't pausing the game. You really focus on that, that you never pause the game when we have a dialogue, and that will be the main source of the whole experience that brings it together.

Bubbles: So the stronghold is gone, basically?

Dev: Err… in the campaign there will be a hub level.

Bubbles: Like a village? Or a city?

Dev: Yes, something like that, and you can improve that... ...you'll find the master smith, and he will join you, and he will say "okay, I will make much better swords for your human army." And the human army is permanently improved from that point onward.

Bubbles: Are there still dungeon levels with lockpicking, disarming traps, and so forth?

Dev: ...no... ...there are dungeons in the game, but... there will be... ah... locked chests, and there will be a lockpicking ability, but it will be rather simple. If the lock is a certain level, and if your hero has a lockpicking ability, he can open it.

Bubbles: There was talk that the story would have political intrigue and some complex stuff in it.

Dev: We have political intrigue, but it is still a high fantasy story. It's true to the lore of Spellforce. You'll get all the elements you know and hopefully loved from the older Spellforce games in the game.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2016 - Mount & Blade 2, Kingdom Come, SpellForce 3, South Park 2 and more

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[Quickie Nr. 005] Turgor, Tension, The Void Review

Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Thu 1 September 2016, 09:17:30

Tags: Ice-Pick Lodge; Quickie; Tension; The Void; Turgor

While we're waiting for the next Gamescom report, let's insert a brief pentaquickie. With the fifth entry to our prestigious Quickie review series Konjad takes us on a voyage through Turgor, Tension, and The Void, different versions of a game published by Ice-Pick Lodge. Technically not an RPG the game nevertheless managed to win Konjad's affection.
The Void is the most unique and enjoyable game I have ever played. Visuals are astounding, the soundtrack is a delight, the gameplay is engaging and the dialogues are enchanting. Tension gives so much joy that after finishing one playthrough I instantly began another one to reach a different ending that is more difficult to achieve. I have an impression, however, that this game is not for everyone. Nonetheless, those who will be sucked into it will be held spellbound. To appreciate this game you must have an open mind towards unusual games, enjoy gloomy settings and imbibe poetry. In my opinion, whatever your taste in games is, Turgor deserves your time to give it an honest try. Do keep in mind, however, that it is one of the most difficult games I have ever played and the player is constantly faced with a challenge to stay alive and to cultivate enough colors for himself and for the sisters. I only completed the game successfully during my fourth playthrough, failing the first three attempts. This might discourage a lot of people considering most modern games are made to be completed without much difficulty in the very first try.

Is the game really that good or is Konjad just a young, impressionable nerd swayed by the female nudity in this game? Discuss!

Read the full article: [Quickie Nr. 005] Turgor, Tension, The Void Review

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RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2016 - Divinity: Original Sin 2

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 24 August 2016, 21:59:25

Tags: Divinity: Original Sin 2; Gamescom 2016; Larian Studios; Swen Vincke

Last year, we sent Bubbles and JarlFrank to Gamescom, the annual video game trade fair in Cologne, Germany. The resulting multi-part report was one of the finest pieces of content the Codex has ever produced, and so when August came around, it was a no-brainer to send them there again. I can already tell you that our Gamescom report this year is going to break new records. For its first part, though, we'll start small - not with an article covering a dozen different games, but just one very important one. Bubbles and JarlFrank expected to have just half an hour with Divinity: Original Sin 2. They ended up spending almost three hours with it. Here's some of what they learned:

Bubbles: Since you mentioned the origin stories, let's talk about the writing…. I've played more of this version than I played with the prototype, but I still remember what was on the prototype. I saw some changes in the prototype from the original game, but I wasn't fully convinced that it had changed. What I'm seeing now is a radically different style of writing; stunning, absolutely...

Swen: I'm happy to see that you recognize it.

Bubbles: It's hard to imagine it being in the same game series. Bioware sometimes changes writing throughout their game series, but I can't think of many companies that would allow an example like this; this is actually a very strong example [of a stylistic change] for me. It's good writing… it convinces me. It's real – it's an enormous achievement compared to Original Sin 1 for me.

Swen: ...took sweat and blood and tears...

Bubbles: …how much has your writing team changed?

Swen: You'll be surprised, maybe, to hear that the leads on this team are the same writers that wrote OS 1. But they have time now, and time makes a very big difference. We've been iterating the writing [a lot]; if I would show you the initial dialogues, you'd say “that's shit!”, but that's just the process, right? Writing is something were you need to have time to go over it, start to get into the characters. We now have 8 writers, and they now have time to get into the heads of every single character and they have to “speak” like that character. So we think about each character: “What would they say? Would they say that? No, they probably wouldn't say that.” So it changes and changes, and the result… it feels a little better. We were also very explicit that it had to be the way you talk… it's a much more natural conversation style now. Of course, you played that noble [The Red Prince] and he still talks like a noble, but that's “him”; that's because of his upbringing. If you take Lohse [a lady who acts as a vessel for demons and spirits], she's gonna be talking like a jester, which is a completely different tone; same thing goes for Sebille, she was a slave in the Ancient Empire, so she's very bitter, she hates everything. It really changes from character to character; it's also different writers who write each of them, so they can really get into their heads.

Bubbles: Which part of this writing is by Chris Avellone?

Swen: He's doing the Undead origin story, and that one you're not seeing. That's gonna be something very special, so we're keeping that for later. So you haven't actually seen any of Chris's writing yet.

Bubbles: You mentioned 8 writers – who are they?

Swen: Let's see, we have Sarah Baylus, we have Jan Van Dosselaer, Devin Doyle, Charlene Putney, John Corcoran, Steven… uhmmm… Steven, so that's six, then Kevin vanOrd, then Chris, eight, and Kieron [Kelly], nine. So it's actually eight and a half, cause Kieron does writing as well as other artistic stuff.

Bubbles: Do you think that's a good amount of writers for the kind of project you're doing?

Swen: Yeah, I think so. The output of these people if they “just write” is enormous; I could fill what other games have in ten days with a team like that. But they don't [“just write”], because they take so much time with each dialogue.

Bubbles: If you've hired more people over the last few months, does that mean that the game has expanded in scope?

Swen: We've hired more people because we've learned we needed more. I will be brutally honest about this: we only figured out the identity of the game a couple of months ago. We were looking a long time for the right tone, and now that we've we figured it out – it's easy!

Bubbles: What did you figure out?

Swen: How people should talk. The length of the dialogues, the length of the phrases, the way that they talk, the things that they say – we figured that out a couple of months ago because of Sarah. It started with that one character that Devin did; we were playing Act 1, and we said, “That's a really good character!” Sarah picked up on that; she changed all of Fort Joy to fit that, and then we all played it and said “Fuck, this is good!” And then we started expanding it everywhere and we rewrote pretty much everything.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: Gamescom 2016 - Divinity: Original Sin 2

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[Quickie Nr. 004] Prelude to Darkness Retrospective Review

Review - posted by VentilatorOfDoom on Tue 23 August 2016, 12:31:10

Tags: Prelude to Darkness; Quickie; Zero Sum

I know that a lot of the regulars around here were holding their breath, anxiously awaiting the next entry in the prestigious RPG Codex [Quickie] review series, and despite that it took years for the next entry to emerge, Konjad bounces back big time, bringing us his retrospective review on the merits of Zero Sum's Prelude to Darkness.

The turn-based RPG called Prelude to Darkness was released many years ago. So many years that its most current version is already a decade old. Nonetheless, few role-playing games fans have even heard of it and even fewer played it. Here, on RPGCodex, we even have an official subforum for this game… and it’s almost dead. Posts rarely are written there and few people bother to even visit the place. Is the fate of the game well deserved or is it just a decent product that never managed to gather enough players to reach the critical mass of popularity and spread around through positive word-of-mouth?​

Stay tuned, fasten your seat belts, and follow Konjad into the depths of the rabbit hole. Read the entire [Quickie Nr. 004] here.

- Zero Sum homepage
- download version 1.7
- download version 1.8
- here's a small patch by Codexer Fowyr that fixes a few things (see readme)

Read the full article: [Quickie Nr. 004] Prelude to Darkness Retrospective Review

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RPG Codex Preview: The Great Whale Road

Preview - posted by Bubbles on Thu 28 July 2016, 21:26:22

Tags: Sunburned Games; The Great Whale Road

The tactical turn based RPG The Great Whale Road is entering Early Access today, and we've had the great pleasure of receiving a preview copy, as well as the distinctly lesser pleasure of playing through it.

What does the game have to offer for the discerning hardcore RPG fan? Everybody's favourite front page writer Bubbles has the scoop:

Boredom and monotony. Unceasing repetition. The mind is sedated, lulled to sleep among the endless waves. No hope. No relief. [...]

On paper, The Great Whale Road seems like a perfectly interesting little game; it's basically a cross of The Banner Saga and King of Dragon Pass, staged in the historical setting of the North Sea around the year 650 AD. You play the newly selected leader (male or female) of a small Danish settlement; storylines for the Picts, Franks, and Northumbrians are promised to follow later in development. As the chieftain, you have to manage the economy of your settlement while simultaneously playing through a linear storyline of political frictions and intrigue. You have to decide how to distribute your people's manpower between diplomacy, trade, warfare, or any of the various ways of gaining food; you need to deal with a variety of random events, from pirates to the plague; and you have to lead your warband into turn based battles against your people's enemies. During the winter months, you rest at home; during the summer months, you set sail to trade and parley with your neighbours. Sounds good, right?

And yet, in the current state of the game, none of these elements are actually fun. [...]

Should you go play The Great Whale Road right now? Absolutely not, you'd be bored stiff! But should you buy it right now? Well, perhaps. The game is coming off a failed Kickstarter, and the Early Access income would probably be helpful to Sunburned Games in their efforts to deliver a complete and hopefully entertaining experience. If the idea of a Banner Saga/KoDP hybrid with lots of stats and random events is inherently appealing to you, and you have money to spare for a game that so far delivers nothing except some pretty 2D screens and a half-complete campaign full of shallow and repetitive gameplay, then you might as well throw some funding at this project. Support your indie developers! Just keep in mind that none of the promised features are actually guaranteed to ever make it into the game.​

Well, they can't all be winners. Maybe we'll check back in a few months and see how the game has improved.

Read the full article: Preview: The Great Whale Road

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RPG Codex Review: Torment: The Explorer's Guide

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 12 July 2016, 01:01:50

Tags: Monte Cook; Numenera; Torment: The Explorer's Guide; Torment: Tides of Numenera

As a PC RPG focused website, it's been a while since we covered anything PnP. The last prominent instance of that, I believe, was our 2014 review of Monte Cook Games's Numenera, on which the upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera by inXile is based. Well, recently, Monte Cook Games contacted us to see if we were interested in reviewing Torment: The Explorer's Guide, a PnP sourcebook accompanying the video game and exploring the same region of the Ninth World.

Given that Tides of Numenera is a game a lot of people here are looking forward to, it shouldn't come as a surprise that we agreed to review the new sourcebook. Thankfully, esteemed community member and everyone's favorite Pillars of Eternity reviewer Prime Junta agreed to help us with that, and was prompt enough to write up his impressions that we are publishing this on the day the review embargo has been lifted.

Too bad he didn't really like the book much, though, aside from the Bloom. Here are a couple of snippets from the review:

Torment: The Explorer’s Guide is a pen-and-paper sourcebook which describes the setting for inXile Entertainment’s upcoming Planescape: Torment successor. It’s about Greater Garravia, a region around an inland sea beyond the Beyond (a region described in the Numenera corebook). Monte Cook Games made it clear to us that it is not a strategy guide, hintbook, or supplement for the cRPG; rather, it is intended for game masters who want to run pen-and-paper campaigns in the Last Castoff’s footprints.

Sagus Cliffs, the location of the Torment: Tides of Numenera beta, is present in faithful detail in the state it is in before the Last Castoff’s arrival on the scene. The maps and many of the illustrations are plucked directly from the computer game or its concept art. Aligern, Callistege, Tybir, Fulsom, Imbitu, and many other major and minor characters from the game make their appearance. The Guide outlines their behaviour, background, and motivations, and even side quests pop up in “Hearsay” blurbs, although they are presented as adventure hooks only, rather than full-blown quest lines. There isn’t much in the Guide that’s not present, one way or another, in the game – and the game has a good deal of detail the Guide does not cover at all. [...]

With one notable exception, all these locations are standard Numenera fare, not all that different from Guran, Stirthal, or any of the others in the Corebook, although written out in greater detail. They are colourful and filled to the brim with random weirdness, but have little by way of internal logic or coherence, let alone a sense of history or place beyond a general “atmosphere” helpfully described in margin notes. [...] The one area where the Guide rises above its general level of all spice, no curry is the Bloom: a city-sized transdimensional predator inching its way along a ravine near Sagus Cliffs. Thought has gone into what the Bloom is, what it wants, what its capabilities and limitations are, and how it relates to the beings inhabiting and surrounding it. It has some of the internal logic so sorely lacking in the rest of the setting, and consequently the characters and factions in it are much more engaging and relatable than anywhere else. The Memovira is more than just a crimelord in fancy armour. The Bloom cultists and their lost prophet Chila are more than just another robe-wearing victim-sacrificing evil cult. The deranged, damaged, or changed human wrecks circulating in the Bloom’s bowels are more than just local colour. The Bloom shows that an imaginative world-builder can take the random bits and pieces of weird scattered around the Ninth World and make something genuinely exciting out of them. [...]

Other than the relatively unproblematic descriptors and foci, the translation of cRPG gameplay into pen-and-paper form has not been altogether successful. One of the most notable features of Castoffs is their extreme resilience and rapid healing. The Guide mentions this in the description, but provides no mechanical explanation of its gameplay effects, leaving that entirely to the GM to arbitrate. Instead, it introduces a Tidal Surge mechanic which triggers whenever the Castoff takes damage: the Surge passes some of that damage to someone else in some particular form, fixed on character creation. One castoff might cause a selected enemy to go blind, another might cause him to get stunned, or run away in fear, or take extra Intellect damage. This is shallow and repetitive, an automatically-applied awesome-button mechanic requiring no thought to use, and which will get boring fast – more so if playing with a full party of Castoffs.

Worse, however, is the Tides mechanic as described in the Guide. [...] The mechanic, in other words, requires the GM to be so intimately familiar with what each of the Tides is that he can award and track Tidal points on the fly, without interrupting the flow of the action or conversation, and the outcome is a vaguely-defined “reputation” plus something which allows attuned players to awesome-button every single tidally-conformant action with pyrotechnic critical successes every time. This, in a game explicitly intended to be as fluid, low-accounting, and low-arithmetic as possible, and one where most actions are already trivialised through the Effort and Recovery mechanics. Both the awarding/bookkeeping and eventual and occasional scripted results of tidal affinity can work perfectly well in a computer game, but defined this way for pen-and-paper… really, people, did you even playtest this?​

Ouch. I believe George Ziets was involved with the computer game version of the Bloom, so I wonder if his designs influenced how it's portrayed in the sourcebook too - and why it stands out compared to other locations.

Anyway, be sure to read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Torment: The Explorer's Guide

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RPG Codex Review: The Technomancer

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 4 July 2016, 23:02:17

Tags: Spiders; The Technomancer

The Technomancer is the new sci-fi B-movie RPG from Spiders, developers of Mars: War Logs and Bound by Flame. If that doesn't exactly fill you with interest or enthusiasm, I don't blame you. Apparently, just like Mars: War Logs, Technomancer takes places on Mars, in a dystopian society controlled by large corporations, and has you play the eponymous technomancer with some kind of electro force powers.

Now, we've never reviewed any of Spiders' games before, and I never imagined we'd end up reviewing this one either. However, somehow, esteemed community member and Codex Gamescom reporter Bubbles has gotten hold of a review key for the game - and has a few things to say about it. So if you feel like playing a low-budget action RPG that's somewhat rough around the edges, or simply reading about one, here's what The Technomancer has in store for you.

As it turns out, The Technomancer is neither a great success nor an outright failure; it's simply a solid story RPG that is hamstrung by an omnipresent lack of polish and a few thoroughly stupid design decisions. Together, all of these flaws and little bits of weirdness infuse the game with a strong sense of character, a character which some people will find appealing and others repulsive.

[...] Overall, I would describe The Technomancer's writing and presentation as “not great, but entertaining.” Going into my playthrough, I was prepared for a low-budget experience with a unique atmosphere; the game not only met those criteria, but also provided a bit more depth than I expected. Still, the quality of the writing by no means comparable to the greats of the genre, and if you go into this story expecting another New Vegas or Alpha Protocol, you're going to be most severely disappointed. If I say that the writing is more interesting than the typical mainstream fare, I mean to say that I liked it more than Fallout 3, Fable, Drakensang, or Venetica – no more, no less. [...] Maybe I've been spoiled by the likes of Age of Decadence, Fallout New Vegas and The Witcher 2, but in this day and age, I simply can no longer see the merit of stuffing so much purely cosmetic c&c into your game. If Spiders could not offer a properly reactive main quest on the budget they had available, then they would have been better off cutting the game down to a more manageable size and providing proper branching. I'd much rather have a 15 hour RPG where my decisions have a real, noticeable impact on the story than a 30 hour game where even murdering a major character will ultimately only affect a side quest or two.

[...] The Technomancer is billed as an action RPG, and thankfully its combat system is fluid and fast paced enough to accommodate some fun, fast paced gameplay. Certain experienced hardcore RPG players have actually levelled harsh complaints against this system; they consider the combat to be far too difficult even on normal settings. Supposedly, the enemies deal far too much damage and have access to game breaking attacks that are not available to the player, which makes the main character feel “normal” and “weak”, and not like the superhuman badass he is supposed to be. Strictly speaking, these complaints are accurate; you have to play carefully and evasively, making constant use of dodge or block moves and carefully timing your strikes if you want to have any success against the many large groups of enemies and the decently dangerous bosses in the game. The controls are also slightly clunky, especially when it comes to locking onto enemies for ranged attacks; it's not enough to ruin the game, but it will force you to adapt to the system. At least one of your abilities even deals friendly fire (!!!), which is a truly bold and dangerous move in a time when even old-school devs like Obsidian are moving away from friendly fire mechanics.

[...] What does all of this amount to? In my appraisal, The Technomancer is a good low-budget game with a few significant flaws that might be alleviated by future patches. As far as the current version is concerned, prospective players should search their souls whether any of the game's positive sides can outweigh the tedium of clearing out endless respawns in the same area again, and again, and again. For me, the benefits still barely managed to outweigh the cons, though I would never consider replaying this game until the respawn rate is reduced.

Of course, I also received this review key for free, so I could afford to approach the game without worrying whether I was getting good value for my money. The Technomancer is currently being sold for 44,99€ on the Steam store, and that price may be hard to justify for a game that was very obviously made on a tight budget. Every player has their own idea of what a good purchase price looks like, but if you want my advice, I'd wait until the game is fully patched and at least 60% off. It is worth playing, but there's no need to rush.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: The Technomancer

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RPG Codex Review: Serpent in the Staglands

Review - posted by Infinitron on Wed 15 June 2016, 20:06:46

Tags: Serpent in the Staglands; Whalenought Studios

Whalenought Studios' Serpent in the Staglands was an instant hit the day I posted about its Kickstarter campaign on our forums back in 2014. With its thoughtfully oldschool sensibilities and gorgeous pixel art, not to mention the developers' willingness to directly engage with our community, it quickly rose to the status of one of the Codex's "house indies", alongside worthy titles such as Underrail and Age of Decadence. For that reason, you'd think it would have been easy to find somebody to review the game when it was released in May 2015. Well, more than a year has passed since then, and the consensus on this still-unreviewed title remains unclear. Especially in the wake of Pillars of Eternity and all of its associated drama, many were eager to hold up Serpent in the Staglands as the true successor to the real-time with pause legacy. Others whispered that this alleged indie classic was not so great, and a few even lashed out at it using a particular acronym that I won't repeat here.

Clearly, only a Codex-sanctioned official review could clarify this matter once and for all. After two abortive attempts to produce such a review, including one that resulted in the mysterious disappearance of the reviewer from our forums, the esteemed Deuce Traveler volunteered to take a break from his Elder Scrolls review marathon to write one himself. It's fitting that today, just days after the success of Whalenought's second Kickstarter venture, I can finally offer you the official RPG Codex review of Serpent in the Staglands. Both the good:

This is going to sound odd, but my favorite aspect of Serpent in the Staglands is how it treats the player like an intelligent human being. You won't find a 30 minute tutorial explaining how to walk, manipulate items, or fight in this game. You will have to read the huge and detailed manual, and most likely consult it several times while you play, in order to understand its arcane user interface. I recommend ditching the in-game journal and writing down your own notes using good old pen and paper, and taking your time to read the dialogue. As stated earlier, combat can be extremely deadly and character progression is initially rather slow, so you'll have to pick your battles. There were many locations in the game that were too dangerous for my party at the beginning, so I had to temporarily abandon the idea of exploring them and find other, easier areas to develop my characters' combat proficiency before I could take them on. Money never ceases to be a concern - there always seemed to be some special item I wanted at the blacksmith's shop that kept me motivated to quest for further loot, even towards the end. It's hard for me to recall the last time I played a game that started off so challenging and didn't hold my hand, and it's hard to describe the thrill I felt when I finally earned enough money to buy my main character a better set of equipment, or when he reached his third level. Character progression is well-paced - slow enough to make you feel that you earned it, fast enough to prevent frustration.​

And the bad:

Serpent in the Staglands' combat is real-time with pause, but it's pretty tactically simplistic. Although I enjoyed trying out new spells and skills, I ultimately found it to be a boring experience. Because combat is so fatal and I didn't want to experience the game's ridiculously long loading times (about 53 seconds on average) every time I lost a character, I ended up taking advantage of its poor enemy AI. My main tactic was to position one of my melee characters just at the edge of an enemy's field of vision to get him to attack, then retreat back to the rest of the party, overwhelming the suicidal enemy with ranged attacks and superior numbers. Wash, rinse, and repeat to get through an entire dungeon or wilderness area. Enemy encounters aren't very diverse, either. Even in the game's final stages, my party was still mostly fighting heavily armored melee opponents, with very few ranged and magic-using enemies to be found. Enemies often drop loot that does not match what you'd expect them to have. Sometimes I fought bandits and found a weapon and shield but no armor, even though they seemed to be be wearing leather. But then again, with the game's low level of graphical detail, maybe they were wearing just brown clothes?​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Serpent in the Staglands

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RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone at Digital Dragons 2016

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 5 June 2016, 00:32:19

Tags: Chris Avellone; Fallout 3 (Van Buren); Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic III; Wasteland 2

On his second day at the Digital Dragons convention in Cracow last month, Codex representative Jedi Master Radek met up with former Obsidian creative director and current freelancing man of mystery Chris Avellone, who was there to give a talk. He arrived with a big list of questions contributed by our users, and in the resulting 54 minute interview, Chris answered every last one. There's a lot to unpack here, including new information about the unique mechanics in Black Isle's cancelled Fallout 3 (AKA Van Buren) and about Obsidian's unsuccessful pitch for Knights of the Old Republic 3. I'll quote those parts:

JMR: What was the storyline for the third KotOR game? What would the player do in the Sith Empire? Was it going to be structured like the first two KoTORs: prologue, four planets and then the ending? Or something else?

MCA: So it was gonna be a little bit different. So basically, I think I've said this before, but the player would be following Revan's path into the Unknown Regions, and he goes very, very deep into the Unknown Regions and finds the outskirts of the real Sith Empire. And that's a pretty terrifying place. The intention was that it would be structured on a basic level like KotOR 1 and KotOR 2, but what would happen is you'd have a collection of hubs, but every hub you went to had an additional circuit of hubs, that you could choose which ones you optionally wanted to do to complete that hub, or you could do them all. But ultimately there was just a lot more game area in KotOR 3, just because the Sith Empire was just so fucking big. But yeah, so, on some level it was a similar structure, but it was intended to... so one of our designers, Matt MacLean, had this idea for Alpha Protocol mission structure, where what would happen is, you'd sort of go to a hub, but it wasn't really a hub, it was like a big mission you had to do as an espionage agent, but then there were like six surrounding missions, that central mission, and you didn't have to do any of them, but by doing some of those, you would cause a reaction in the main target mission that could even make your job worse or easier. Or you could choose to try and do all of them, and he let each of them like cater to like, a speech skill, or stealth mission, or shoot 'em up mission, and that would cause different reactivity. And I always liked that, because I felt like you were being given a larger objective, but you were getting a lot more freedom in how to accomplish it and how to set the stage, so it was easier for your character. And that's kind of the mission structure I would have liked to have bring to KotOR 3, because I thought it was much more intelligent design.

JMR: When you worked on Van Buren, what aspect of it did you like the most?

MCA: I liked the idea that the interface was kind of like a mini-dungeon you could explore. The idea when Van Buren was... your Pip-Boy actually didn't start out with all its functionality. Like you had some basic programs, so it acted like a normal interface, but the more you did certain things in the environment, like if you discovered, like, how to set off a fire alarms or you set a fire in a building and the fire alarms went off, suddenly a new functionality of your Pip-Boy, ”Here, let me find all the emergency exits for you!” And then suddenly all of those would be lit up on the map. And you're like, “Oh, wait a minute, I can use this as like a tracking mechanism to figure out where all the exits are.” And you could do that for things like fire suppression system, things like... like where the power sources are in buildings. You could use it to do autopsies on robots and steal their programs, and suddenly your Pip-Boy sort of became like this arsenal that you could use to sort of like navigate the environment. That was cool. And the other thing was... the adversaries in Van Buren could also use your Pip-Boy against you to both cloak their location and track where were you going, so you could actually end up in like a Pip-Boy war, where you're trying to track down each other using a Pip-Boy. So we tried to do a little bit of that in Fallout: New Vegas - Dead Money, where the Botherhood of Steel guy was trying to use the... which basically could have taken over your Pip-Boy, but that was axed, and they were like, “No, you can't do that”, so like, “Oh, shit.”

JMR: Van Buren was supposed to have another party in the world that would wander around and complete quests. Can you tell us how that was supposed to work?

MCA: Yeah, basically what they would do is they would go to alternate locations, and they had their own agenda path they were trying to follow to accomplish certain objectives. And the trick with them is each one of the rival party members actually had a separate agenda, which they didn't fully share with everybody else in the party. So sometimes they would do certain things at locations where it worked with one of their agendas but nobody else's, but the other guys wouldn't know about it, so you could use that against them, where you're like, ”Well you know that guy in that location left a note for us to follow you”, and they're like, “Oh my god! Are you a traitor?” [shooting sounds] But... it was basically a very heavily scripted NPC mechanic, where we were like, we're trying to increase reactivity and the sense the world was moving on. So, when the player characters would go to one location and do a bunch of stuff, they would be notified that something else was happening in the location and those guys would take care of the quests in an area or conquer that location, and you were like, “Oh, shit”, like, “We gotta move.” But it was all intended to give the sense that something else was happening in the world without waiting for you.​

However, as interesting as those answers are, I have a feeling they might not be the most commented on part of this interview. You'll understand when you read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Chris Avellone at Digital Dragons 2016

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RPG Codex Interview: Feargus Urquhart at Digital Dragons 2016

Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 24 May 2016, 22:13:20

Tags: Dwarfs; Feargus Urquhart; Hidden; Leonard Boyarsky; Obsidian Entertainment; Tyranny

Two guest speakers were of particular interest to the Codex at the digital entertainment convention Digital Dragons in Cracow earlier this month. Both were related to Obsidian Entertainment, which is, as you know, the second most discussed video game company at the Codex after Bethesda. One of those was the Codex favorite Chris Avellone, who left the company not so long ago under mysterious circumstances. The other was Obsidian's CEO Feargus Urquhart.

Luckily for us, esteemed community member Jedi Master Radek from Poland volunteered to attend the event. We got him the press accreditation, and arranged the interviews. Today, we're posting his conversation with Feargus; Chris Avellone will be next.

Here's a snippet, with Feargus talking about Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, and everyone's favorite RPG feature - romances:

FU: So. What was found out, I don't know how it was found out, but, so we hired Leonard Boyarsky, from Blizzard, and Leonard...[searches for good words] was one of the co-founders... was one of the co-creators of Fallout, and one of the co-founders of Troika. So we hired Leonard and Tim Cain works for us, and Tim Cain and Leonard are not working on Tyranny or Eternity or Armored Warfare, so we might be working on something and they might be the guys that are looking into what we're doing.

JMR: They are not working on Eternity? [I didn't hear Eternity in the previous sentence]

FU: Nope.

JMR: They are working together?

FU: They are working together, yeah.

JMR: How is Leonard Boyarsky doing? Is he working on-site?

FU: [laughs] Yes. So, yeah. Leonard's doing good. It's been interesting... it's funny to... you know, we worked so much together in '96 and '97 and we then... of course, Leonard left and I've talked to him a number of times, but not a ton since they left, I mean because when they left Black Isle, it was... it was complicated, you know. There was... I was... I would say, I was angry to an extent, because it was frustrating. I now had to go make a game, you know, suddenly and Interplay needed the revenue, so I had to get a game done fairly quickly and that was frustrating to me. And while this was all going on they were hiring people away from us... so I was sure some of it with Leonard was that I... I certainly didn't reach out, but you know, we've talked a number of times, you know, since Obsidian started and you know, it was interesting... he actually reached out to Chris Jones, who is one of the founders of Obsidian, who also worked, he worked at Troika and it was about like: Hey, you know what about and he's just really interested in doing single player RPGs again. And hey, we're the spot for single player RPGs. And so it's been easy in a lot of ways because it's like going back to someone you know, like, you worked with so much, so we kinda know each other even though twenty years have gone by. [laughs] You know, and I think it's worked out and I think Leonard's learned an amazing amount of stuff from having to run a company and then working at a big developer like Blizzard and so I think that... no, it's been good. I'm very hopeful that we'll come up with something cool.

JMR: A question you'll like - what does Obsidian think of romances?

FU: [laughs] So I... this is such a weird thing. I play romances in video games. I'm probably getting in trouble for saying this... I play the romances because it gets me experience and I get perks or I get things for doing them, right? So I don't gravitate to doing them. I know that's me personally. And I know, like... because I read a lot of fantasy books and to be honest, I... there's the romance part in the fantasy books and I like that part. Not too much, right? But I like that aspect of fantasy books. I don't read romance, like full romance, but I like that part. So it's interesting, I like it as the part of the book, but I just don't gravitate towards it in a game. But I reckon it is that people really enjoy them, and also what romances are, it's like when we don't talk about them, it's like we're ignoring this whole part of sort of, you know, the human experience. Like people are, people will go out and you know. So it seems like, you know... I think if we were to do them, like I want them to not feel forced. Like I think there's a number of games out there, which I'm not gonna name, that the romances feel forced. It just feels like I'm going through the motions. I feel like I'm just clicking the dialogue. Now I think some people really enjoy them, but still that's what I wouldn't wanna do. If we do them I want them to feel real. I don't know... I can't tell you if that means there needs to be full, you know, CGI sex scenes or not full CGI... I don't even know how would we do it. But apart from... you know, the goal is to have them feel natural.​

For the rest of the interview, be sure to read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Obsidian's Feargus Urquhart

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RPG Codex Review: Mordheim: City of the Damned

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 13 May 2016, 20:51:31

Tags: Mordheim: City of the Damned; Rogue Factor

As is well known, the genre of squad-based tactical games is distinguished from RPGs by the fact that there is an entire squad of people running around and killing things in turn-based combat. Mordheim: City of the Damned is one of these games. Developed by an obscure Canadian company and set in the world of Warhammer, it has you control a tactical unit known as warband and lead it... somewhere, preferably to victory. Standard stuff, you know.

But before you get all excited for a Warhammer tactical game, you have to ask: is it actually any good? This question is where esteemed community member Darth Roxor comes in with his review.

Here's his conclusion if you're curious:

Nevertheless, despite ending the previous chapters on rather negative notes, my overall opinion of Mordheim is completely different. I think the fact that I currently have 80 hours of the game clocked on Steam, and that I’ve been playing it all the time for the entire last month, is enough of an indicator how much fun I’ve had with it. In those 80 hours, I’ve only managed to get one warband to max rank (Skaven, took me a whopping 60 hours in total) and take another one half-way through its campaign.

Simply put, Mordheim is just a solid game of squad tactics. If you’re a sucker for the genre and for the world of Warhammer, you should get it immediately. But even if Warhammer is unknown to you, The City of the Damned offers loads of content and plenty of good, old-fashioned fun. You just have to make sure to turn a blind eye on its remarkably bad technical side.

To be honest, I have no idea how many of the things I’ve praised or lambasted in this article can be traced to the original tabletop, and which are the work of Rogue Factor. But whatever the case may be, as a debut loaded with expectations from an unknown studio, Mordheim is proof enough that the lads have talent.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Mordheim: City of the Damned

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RPG Codex Review: The Dwarf Run

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 3 May 2016, 21:10:26

Tags: Alexander Mirdzveli; The Dwarf Run

I must confess that, until now, I haven't even heard much about the indie tactical RPG The Dwarf Run and it slipped completely under my radar. I bet few of you have played it, or even heard about it, either. The dedicated thread in our General RPG Discussion forum can also hardly be described as particularly active.

Still, the Codex is the kind of site to review an obscure super-low-budget Russian indie RPG - and it looks like this time there may be a gem behind the rough facade. Good thing esteemed community member Bubbles actually played the game, liked it, and wrote this review almost literally overnight. Here's his conclusion:

The Dwarf Run is primarily a combat game, and a surprisingly good one at that. Sure, it has a number of flaws (most obviously the opaque movement system, the janky camera, and the mediocre AI), but it also offers enough complexity and variety to keep a seasoned RPG player fully engaged from start to finish. For a tiny indie operation from Russia, this is already a great feat; but even in comparison with other modern combat-heavy games, TDR looks pretty good. Pillars of Eternity is certainly a much bigger and grander game, but it's also insidiously buggy, vulnerable to overleveling and rest spam, and stuffed full of trash mobs, which are completely absent from TDR. Blackguards 1 features higher production values and a slightly larger array of spells and abilities, but its balance and difficulty curve are badly out of whack, and the writing is generally snoozy; meanwhile, TDR (on the hardest difficulty setting) offers a continuously challenging, well-tuned experience. And say what you want about TDR's writing, but it's certainly never boring or predictable.

Over the course of this review, I've compared The Dwarf Run to Blackguards 1, Anachronox, and Frayed Knights; I find all three of those games to be highly enjoyable, and putting The Dwarf Run in the same category is high praise indeed. However, I'm not blind to the fact that all of these titles only have niche appeal, even by Codex standards. Perhaps The Dwarf Run is one those games that can only be successful on an extremely low budget; Steamspy claims that it's currently sold about 1,000 copies at “full price” (meaning €8.99) and another 9,000 in a super cheap bundle sale. Fortunately, that seems to have been good enough: TDR's developer Alexander Mirdzveli has already started development on a prequel, and the franchise's future seems assured. I'm quite happy about that.​

Read the full review to learn about the game in more detail: RPG Codex Review: The Dwarf Run

Purely coincidentally, the game is 60% off on Steam this week.

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RPG Codex Review: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 24 April 2016, 18:52:27

Tags: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear; Beamdog

Around these parts of the internet, Beamdog are well-known - or should I say infamous? - for the paint job of an "Enhanced Edition" they did for the Baldur's Gate series. Building on a not exactly uncontested series in and of itself, Baldur's Gate: Beamdog Edition turned out even more polarizing, especially when it came to the companions and other content Beamdog added to the original game.

Hence, it should not come as a surprise that a lot of people did not expect much from Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, Beamdog's recently released interquel set between Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, which got heaps of praise from none other than Chris Avellone pre-release. We all know Chris is the ultimate paragon of game industry friendliness who'd never say anything mean about any of his fellow devs' work, especially when it comes to projects he himself worked on - and he did apparently give some feedback on BG:SoD's writing and main plot. So, in search of a more impartial opinion (in before it's not impartial at all), we enlisted esteemed community member Delterius to act as the Codex judge of what the game manages to achieve and where it fails.

Here are some excerpts from his review:

There are a lot of choices to make in Siege of Dragonspear. Don't get me wrong, most of it is just fluff. Being rude or witty towards strangers isn't that big a deal, and the game has this habit of writing the plot into a corner by giving you too many choices and then railroading you back to the script by force. It's definitely no Age of Decadence. However, it still has a good deal of reactivity based on your class, race, which quests you complete and how you choose to end some of them. This builds up to something similar to the finale of Dragon Age: Origins, where the factions participating in the final battle are determined by your decisions. In the words of an old sage, that makes Dragonspear more of a 'full-scale RPG' compared to its predecessors. [...]

While I didn't find Siege of Dragonspear's monsters to be incredibly innovative, it's good that Beamdog didn't shy away from combining Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale's bestiaries to keep things fresh. Ghouls and Shadows have joined forces with Shades and Imbued Wights to make (un)life a bit more colorful. When helping the dwarven clerics I mentioned earlier, I had to deal with level and attribute draining, stuns, long-range health draining and enemy healing, not to mention those bastards who open fights with salvos of magic missiles. The dungeon caps it off with a final boss who far outclasses you, and who you may only be able to defeat by using a special item, much like the Unseeing Eye quest from Shadows of Amn.

Of course, enemies are more than just blocks of stats and abilities, and the AI in Siege of Dragonspear has also seen some good progress. I'd describe it as in between vanilla Baldur's Gate and the popular Sword Coast Stratagems mod. Thieves make use of invisibility and stealth to harass your squishiest party members (which won't always be your mage - the AI recognizes Stoneskin and other defensive buffs). Mages use their spells more judiciously and always buff themselves up with protective spells like Otiluke's Resilient Sphere and Minor Spell Turning. Archers in particular love to retarget, always on the lookout for an easier mark. Just about everyone uses consumables and even classic trash mob enemies like orcs and hobgoblins travel in larger numbers and have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Siege of Dragonspear's encounter design occasionally makes use of terrain. In one battle, poor Dynaheir was pelted by arrows fired through a broken window by a group of skeleton archers inside a locked room. Other highlights include an encounter with a squad of hobgoblins positioned on the other side of a bridge and an ambush in a dead magic zone. Unfortunately, battles like these are more the exception than the rule in Dragonspear. The expansion's more open areas tend to be stuffed with scores of filler trash mobs. [...]

I did not have high expectations for Siege of Dragonspear after my short playthrough of Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition. The new characters clashed mightily with the original game and Beamdog's original maps were atrocious. But now things are different. Simply put, the combat is what ultimately left me with a positive impression of the expansion. Sure, having played the original saga I've already seen most of these challenges in one way or another. Nonetheless, I feel that Beamdog have made good use of the wealth of assets built into the Infinity Engine games to deliver a solid experience.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear

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13 Shocking Facts about Fallout 4 That Will Forever Change the Way You Think about RPGs

Review - posted by Bubbles on Sun 10 April 2016, 20:41:34

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 4

It's the Year of Bethesda here at the RPG Codex, and we continue our coverage of the most successful RPG developer of all time with an exclusive look at their latest game, Fallout 4. It's written by one of my favourite front page writers, and he has a lot of insightful things to say about the game:

...it's perfectly logical that a decent, functional dialogue system would allow for a variable number of possible dialogue choices. That's how most RPGs have implemented their dialogues, and that's a perfectly sensible way to do it. Unfortunately, Bethesda chose a different path in Fallout 4 – here, you are always presented with exactly four dialogue options, no matter what situation you are in. This kind of strict formal requirement straightjackets the entire dialogue system; every single conversation node has been twisted into a neat “pick one out of four” pattern. Like so many things about Fallout 4, it's completely unclear to me why the designers have made this choice; maybe it's because controllers have four primary action buttons. Whatever the reasoning, the end result is a broken and unnatural dialogue system that is bloated with pointless choices.

...As it is, I got the feeling that Bethesda were more concerned with making the game look fun and visceral and exciting and “Whoa!” instead of actually doing the hard work of making it play that way.

...Intelligence gives 3% bonus experience per level and reduces the number of possible solutions shown in the hacking minigame. And that's it. That's what being intelligent means in the sequel to Fallout 1 and 2. Why couldn't they just remove the damn stat altogether? To be perfectly fair, Intelligence is also used for the three only (!) proper stat checks that I found in the entire game world, but that's not exactly a reason to rejoice and praise the Incline.

...It's no hyperbole to say that the writers at Bethesda are some of the worst storytellers in the AAA gaming segment. They are fatally attached to the idea of making a cartoon world full of cartoon characters living through Very Serious Stories. Unfortunately, this combination of narrative elements clashes rather badly, and results in a bunch of utterly idiotic stories that positively dare the player to find any sort of intelligent design behind them.

...And here's my analysis: Jesus Christ, are you fucking kidding me?​

Yes, but did he like the game?! Follow this MUST CLICK link to find out: 13 Shocking Facts about Fallout 4 That Will Forever Change the Way You Think about RPGs

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 1 April 2016, 20:45:25

Tags: Bethesda Softworks; The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

After finishing his critically acclaimed review of Morrowind, Deuce Traveler wasted no time before plunging into the depths of its 2006 sequel, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Back in 2006, Oblivion was the searing edge of next-gen dumbed down consolization. The rage that it provoked played a huge role in the formation of RPG Codex culture as we know it. But how does look it now, a decade later? Well, for the most part, not so different:

You see, in Morrowind even fast leveling with minimal attribute gain was still a positive thing due to the maximum hit point and mana increases. However, once you introduce level scaling you now have an incentive not to level. Yes, Oblivion is a bizarro world RPG where you want to avoid leveling up. It may be the only RPG that has ever caused min-maxers to play with the intent of dragging out level ups. It works like this. You can choose seven skills as your major class skills. I typically lean upon Blade, Marksman, Security, Heavy Armor, and Stealth skills, with various magic skills for backup. I hardly ever use Mercantile, Hand-to-Hand, Armorer, Alchemy, Blunt, Destruction and Speechcraft. So of course I choose the latter as my major skills, and take the hit of poor starting scores for the skills I will actually depend upon in practice. Now I can almost completely control when I level up, and will likely be able to increase my desired attributes by five points each time I do. Enemies remain relatively weak while my character grows more powerful than the game anticipated. Thus a min-maxer can still game the system despite all the effort made by the developers to maintain difficulty throughout. Way to go!

[...] Honestly, I can't really get too upset with all of this streamlining, even if it dumbed down the game (100% casting success rates), took away roleplaying options (quest-related chests can't be opened by lockpicking), and broke any semblance of the world being governed by reality (omniscient guards). Oblivion isn't really much of a game anyway - I see it as more of an adventure construction toolset with nice presentation than as an actual roleplaying experience. The game world itself is so dull compared to what we saw in previous games. In Daggerfall, the various regions of the map were distinct from one another in architecture, terrain and mode of dress. In Morrowind even more so. Oblivion's version of Tamriel, in comparison, is incredibly bland. Except for a few Norse villages, the majority of the cities and towns look as if the art team took photos of Disney castles and stills from the movie Gladiator and used them as a template to build a squeaky clean civilization of white marble and bloom effects that don't make any sense in a world that still depends on burning wood and coal for heat. The actual daedric realm of Oblivion is even more disappointing, after the first ten minutes of initial terror. In Battlespire, Oblivion is described as an odd realm that is a sort of hell which the daedra fall into when 'killed'. It is a chaotic place that even they fear. This description is completely retconned in the game Oblivion - the realm is now highly organized and populated with enemy forces prepared to invade Tamriel. You gradually realize that it looks the same no matter where you decide to explore, with no surprises to be found after your first visit. There is only so much dark crimson and orange a player can take before it loses its charm. Which leads us to the topic of the game's main quest and the reason for entering the Oblivion gates in the first place.

[...] Oblivion starts off with your character in prison, a common theme in the Elder Scrolls series, before once again becoming entangled in a secret mission assigned to you by the Emperor. However, this is the last time he's going to get you involved in one of his schemes, as he is assassinated by daedra worshippers in front of your eyes. These cultists murder the Emperor because of his never-before-seen daedra-stopping magical powers, and now there's an invasion that only the last surviving descendant of the Emperor can stop with his magical bloodline powers. Note: You are not the Emperor's last surviving descendant, but rather his chosen fetch quest participant. While the last descendant is hanging out and training (which should totally have been shown as an 80s-style training montage), your character has to ensure that all of the actual work gets done for his final confrontation with the daedra leader. It's a generic, lazy, and forgettable plot, with only a few bright spots that stand out like jewels in dust.
What bright spots, you ask? Read the full article to find out: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)

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RPG Codex Interview: Eric Fenstermaker on Pillars of Eternity​

Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Sun 6 March 2016, 00:07:34

Tags: Eric Fenstermaker; Obsidian Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Pillars of Eternity: The White March

Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity has been a controversial game on the Codex, and there's probably no aspect of it that hasn't been discussed to death. To a large extent, discussion of the game has been driven by the online commentary of its director and lead designer, Josh Sawyer, whose opinion on all things is easily solicited on his Tumblr Q&A page. But dominant as he is, Josh couldn't have been responsible for everything that mattered in Pillars of Eternity. His response to a particular question that I asked back in November finally convinced me that we needed to look further to get in-depth answers on the topic of the game's narrative.

That's why after the end of the winter holidays, I asked Crooked Bee to establish contact with Obsidian and set up an interview with Eric Fenstermaker, Pillars of Eternity's Lead Narrative Designer and Lead Writer. Eric is a Harvard-educated computer science graduate who has been employed at Obsidian since 2005, playing key roles on games such as Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer and Fallout: New Vegas. Some people in the industry have described him as a genius, although he's never managed to occupy the spotlight the way George Ziets has, to say nothing of Chris Avellone.

To my knowledge, this is the first real interview with Eric about Pillars of Eternity that's ever been done, and we made sure to make the most of it. It took him over a month, but he managed to answer all of our questions too. All 27 of them! Here's one of them:

Josh Sawyer and Adam Brennecke have tended to downplay the significance of any content that may have been cut from the final version of Pillars of Eternity. Do you feel the same way? Is there any cut content you'd like to tell us about?

I'm not sure what the question is referring to regarding Adam and Josh. We made cuts. Some of the cuts made me sad. But they had to be made or the game wouldn't have gotten done.

Two big ones had a substantial impact on the story, although both happened early-ish in production, so the content was never built. One was that we cut the next-to-last level of the game - or rather compressed it down to a single map, which contained little content. (This is Breith Eaman, the prison.) That cut hurt pacing quite a bit. The end came up very abruptly. I'd have loved to spend more time at least doing some more repairs to that part of the story, but that wasn't possible. The time just wasn’t there, and I think I also underestimated the impact. Ultimately, when you are told you have to cut something in the story, you have to be prepared for that and have some answers. In this case, I was able to stitch everything back together so that at least it all made sense, but I'd have liked to have gone back and seen if there was a better way to solve the problem.

The other one was that we wanted to branch the middle of the plot. Some people have expressed frustration at the player's inability to influence the outcome at the ducal palace. Well, originally, we'd wanted the player to be able to do that. But it meant building two versions of the third act, and that's extremely expensive. That cut made me sad, but there was no practical argument to be made for keeping it. It was a clean cut that saved a ton of time and made our schedule semi-workable. Had to be done. Conceivably we might've allowed the player to save the duc without doing a major branching of the story, but even that would've required more time than we had. The game was delayed as it was, so there really wasn't room to add anything. As a developer at the end of a project, I think it's almost inevitable to find yourself thinking "man, the things I might've done with a couple more weeks." You're Liam Neeson at the end of Schindler's List, wishing you could have done more.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Eric Fenstermaker on Pillars of Eternity​

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire (1997)

Review - posted by Infinitron on Mon 22 February 2016, 13:06:26

Tags: An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire; Bethesda Softworks

Last year, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler embarked upon a quest to play through and review the entire Elder Scrolls series. Having finished his reviews of Arena and Daggerfall, Deuce had originally intended to continue right on to Morrowind. However, he was persuaded by our editoress Crooked Bee (who is currently on a top secret mission deep in the heart of Europe) to take a break from the main Elder Scrolls series to give some attention to a favorite of hers, a game called An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire.

Released in 1997, Battlespire was the first of two Elder Scrolls spin-off titles released by Bethesda during their pre-Morrowind hunger years. Largely unsuccessful and nowadays semi-obscure (Bethesda didn't even deign to include it in their Elder Scrolls Anthology boxed set), Battlespire used the Daggerfall engine to create a more traditional first-person action-RPG centered around a single detailed environ - the titular Battlespire. Think of it as the Ultima Underworld to the main series' Ultima.

No big fan of Daggerfall's gameplay even in its original context, Deuce Traveler was understandably not greatly enthused with Battlespire. Still, his review gives it a fair shake. The game's contribution to the Elder Scrolls lore, for example, is singled out for praise:

The Battlespire is a research facility and school that has been overwhelmed by attacking daedra (the demons of the Elder Scrolls setting), who seek to use it a staging point for a greater invasion of Tamriel. The attack comes as your character is visiting the installation, and you soon discover that nearly every Imperial mage and soldier inside has been killed. A friend you intended to visit is still alive and wreaking havoc upon the daedra, while the invaders themselves are split due to political rivalries. Over the course of the game, you discover that Tamriel is not the first world to have been threatened by the daedra, and you even get to visit other worlds that have suffered from such invasions. Your quest is to survive, sabotage the invasion as much as you can, and escape Battlespire (and the various planes of existence that are connected to it) so you can warn the Emperor.

The planes you explore outside of Battlespire help change up the scenery a bit, while adding to your understanding of the threat that Tamriel is under. You meet various characters and find books discussing what it was like before the daedra invaded. One particular plane is filled with lost souls that cannot easily be killed by the weapons you carry, and you must constantly flee them while trying to find clues on how to lay them to rest. Another plane is the home of an insane mage who was one of the few mortals to get one over on the daedric lords, but at a horrible price that laid waste to the surrounding land. I especially liked one level where you're chased by daedric hunting parties, a frightening charade where they acted as hounds while I was the fox. There's a lot of discussion of the plane of Oblivion - it's described as a purgatory of sorts for the daedra when they are defeated. The game hints that they can never be destroyed, only banished to that bizarre plane. This description of Oblivion does not match what we would later see in the Elder Scrolls game of the same name. It sounds much more dangerous and bizarre than that Oblivion, with odd beings that attack even the more powerful daedra trying to escape it.

Battlespire does contribute quite a bit to the lore of the Elder Scrolls series, specifically the lore of the daedra, who probably have their most in-depth representation in this game. They are shown to be highly arrogant, regarding human beings as we would regard animals. One amusing aspect of this is how often they mistake your character for another human survivor, despite age, race and gender differences. The invaders are often more concerned with jockeying for status and avenging ancient slights than they are with their invasion, and so are often willing to negotiate with you if it means you might be able to cause problems for a rival. However, the game does make it clear that the daedra are not to be trusted. Humans who have dealt with them in the past have suffered betrayals, twisted into monstrosities or tortured and killed when their usefulness ended. That adds a sense of danger to your conversations with them, and negotiations will indeed often break down into violence.
But alas, the game also insists on doing things like this:

Battlespire's interface is a very mixed bag. The standard movement and attack functionality works well enough, but everything else is quite the mess. When you access your inventory, some elements of the game pause while others do not. Enemies remain frozen in place, and attacks don't you, but time moves forward in other ways, such as the timer showing how much oxygen you have left if you're underwater. There were times when I was swimming and opened my inventory to look for a potion, only to find my character had drowned in the meantime after exiting it. Buff timers work in the same way - if you apply multiple buffs on yourself, the first one will have a reduced timeline remaining by the time you exit your inventory. Compounding the problem, the inventory screen can be difficult to navigate, although this can be mitigated with foresight. Hilariously, this flawed mechanic can also serve as an exploit, since negative status effects also wind down while you're in your inventory. A few times in the final level of the game, I went into the inventory screen, left my computer to read a page or two in a book, then returned to find that the poisoned status effect I was suffering from had expired, all without losing any health.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Retrospective Review: An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire (1997)

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RPG Codex Review: Undertale

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 1 January 2016, 20:27:50

Tags: UnderTale

Absent an Underrail review, and to celebrate the newly arrived year MMXV-2, we have decided to review Undertale instead -- another great indie RPG and a surprise hit that took Metacritic by storm. Resident Undertale aficionado Bubbles having been occupied with another high-profile project (i-it's not like he wanted to review it anyway!), we asked esteemed community member felipepepe to explain just why Undertale is a brilliant game:

TL;DR: Undertale is a brilliant game, and the less you know about it before going in, the better.​

Still willing to proceed?

And that's because, despite the Earthbound-ish elements, Undertale stands on its own as something entirely unique. Not only due to its design choices, but also to the amazing quality of the game as a whole. From the artwork to the soundtrack, from character design to battle systems, Undertale is easily one - if not THE - most coherent and consistent game I've ever played, where everything exists for a reason and I couldn't imagine it any other way.​

Then do so at your own risk. Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Undertale

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RPG Codex Review: Hard West

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 26 December 2015, 18:39:47

Tags: CreativeForge Games; Hard West

You may have been wondering what exactly we had planned for the prestigious Codex Christmas Review. Wonder no more! Read this (turn-based tactical RPG) Hard West review by esteemed community member Ludo Lense instead.

People around these parts tend to cautiously flock around any title that has hints of being an RPG that isn't medieval fantasy-inspired, with bonus points awarded if it's not sci-fi either. In this case, we have an occult Western-themed tactical game with some RPG elements, that has received plenty of good will in the form of $100,000 of Kickstarter funding and endorsements from the likes of John Romero, Chris Avellone and Brian Fargo. But before Hard West, the Poland-based CreativeForge Games only had a subpar sci-fi strategy game to their name, even if their studio is made up of developers who worked on Call of Juarez and Dead Island. [...]

Hard West takes place in a “Weird West” setting, and those who are familiar with the Deadlands pen-and-paper RPG will spot a lot of similarities. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the project was a Deadlands pitch in its nascent stage. Roaming gunslingers, decrepit frontier towns, devilish cultists and mad scientists all dot this grim but colorful wasteland.

The game is made up of eight scenarios, each one about 2-3 hours long and with its own characters and its own specific goals, such as finding a legendary treasure or taking revenge on a band of murderers. Gameplay can be broken down into two main components - the tactical combat scenarios, which sometimes include a stealth preamble, and CYOA segments that are contextualized via a world map. The game alternates between these two modes, with each scenario containing around 4-6 combat maps.

To be clear, Hard West isn’t X-Com or Jagged Alliance. Each scenario is a self-contained mini-campaign with its own specific characters that form a posse, and they don’t carry over after the last mission, so you start from scratch with every scenario. It also doesn’t have the replayability of those games, something which would be impossible given the structure of its content. The focus of the game is on tactical set pieces, with some random elements when it comes to customization.​

Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Hard West

P.S. Before you ask: TCancer is dead.

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