Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fallout 3

I finished up the main storyline in Fallout 3 a few days ago and I think it's the most fun I've had with a video game in a long time. Usually I get frustrated or bored with these games long before they're over, but that didn't happen with this one, and it wasn't because it was short. I didn't keep track, but I probably spent at least 40 hours playing it.

I've tried to pin down what it is that made it so fun, and I think it was a number of things. Possibly the biggest factor was the ability to play on "very easy" difficulty. While some people view having to replay a certain part of a game because they died as a challenging puzzle to solve, I just see it as something that breaks my immersion in the game, and forces me to repeat content I've already seen. The "very easy" difficulty level let me enjoy the game. Combat was fun instead of frustrating, and didn't feel like it was just a cakewalk, even though it mostly was.

Having to walk across country to discover new points, but then being able to auto-navigate to those points once you found them was also an important factor. It makes a nice compromise between immersion and convenience. Of course, this isn't something unique to Fallout 3 (Fable 2 uses the same basic idea), but it is well implemented. Also, the navigation system gives you notice when you are near sites of interest, and points you in their direction, keeping you from having to just constantly wander the countryside at random hoping to stumble across something interesting. This is very important in a game that features a wide-open world.

There are some issues with the game, but they're minor. A few of the layouts get repetitive after a while. The metro stations in particular get a bit old after going through a couple dozen of them over the course of the game. The same goes for the Vaults themselves, although most of them are completely optional as to whether or not you explore them, so it's not a big deal.

That leads to one of the biggest things I liked about the game, the ability to explore as much as you feel like. I could have finished the game in half the time if I'd simply stuck with the main storyline quest, and it's pretty obvious which quests are part of the main story. Instead, I took the time to track down clues leading to side quests in between doing the main ones. When I got tired of doing the side quests, then I continued on with the main quests.

One issue to be aware of is that when you finish the main storyline the game is over. You can always go back and start again from a saved game, but you don't get the chance to continue exploring the world after completing the main quest. I knew this from reading about the game, but the game itself doesn't let you know this until after you're locked into the final scene. Given that wide open games like this generally let you continue on after completing the main quest, there should probably have been more warning that that wasn't the case with this one.

I may even return to the game to do some of the side quests I skipped, but for now I got exactly what I wanted out of the experience: a fun time without a lot of frustration mixed in.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

More Podcast Follow Up

I've added This Week In Wargaming to my list of subscribed shows. Don't listen to this podcast if you like miniatures wargaming and value your wallet as it tends to review a lot of cool new stuff which you'll then want to buy.

My reservations about Podhammer appear to have been misplaced. I still think the anniversary episode was crap, but everything I've listened to since then has been pretty good. I went ahead and joined the Inner Circle as part of the package deal with the 40K Radio Freebootaz. I think that for $20 for both of them it was a little pricey but still worth it, but it's not quite worth $15 for each yet unless you just want to support them because you like them. As they continue to add content to the members only section the value will increase.

I caught up with the Order 66 podcast, and I stand by my earlier rave review. Even though I still don't play the Star Wars RPG, it remains my favorite podcast.

The Instance has fallen off my list simply because I'm not playing WoW at the moment. I'll probably return to it when I return to WoW.

40K Warcasting hasn't updated since I subscribed to it, but that's the nature of podcasting. These hobby casts are the result of just one or two people's efforts, and can easily be derailed or delayed for a variety of reasons. I hope that the guy behind it can eventually find the time to return to it.

I've been trying out some new casts since I'm starting to run out of things to listen to now that I'm caught up with the Order 66. I'll probably talk more about some of those in the future after I have listened to a few episodes.

The Force Unleashed

I'm a sucker for Star Wars. I'm not a complete fanboi anymore, I have yet to see the Clone Wars movie and I think a lot of the prequels sucked, but I am still a big fan. As a result, I consider The Force Unleashed to be a mixed bag.

It's one of the better stories to come out of the Star Wars franchise in a while, but the gameplay is mediocre at best. You play Galen Marek, the Starkiller, apprentice to Darth Vader. Through a series of missions the story of the birth of the Rebellion unfolds, as well as the personal struggle between light and dark within the Starkiller. The story has a good mix of solid drama, action and the feel of Star Wars. Guest appearances by characters from the prequels, the original films and the expanded universe all serve to tie the story more closely into the Star Wars universe. The new characters introduced into the game are worthy additions as well, particularly Order 66 survivor Jedi Master Rahm Kota.

Unfortunately, the gameplay itself is repetitive at best and annoying at worst. For me good game design allows for multiple solutions to a problem, but the Force Unleashed only has one correct solution to each problem, and worse yet, similar problems often require different solutions, making a mockery of logic. For example, locked doors. In a good game you should be able to approach a locked door in multiple ways: bash it down, pick the lock, or find a key are three good options. In The Force Unleashed each locked door can only be opened in one arbitrary way, and it's not always the same way. Some times through use of the Force push power, sometimes through the use of the Force lightning power, sometimes through use of the Force grip power, but always only one of the three will work and you never know which one until you try. It's silly and frustrating.

Worse, the game has jumping puzzles. I hate jumping puzzles. At one point in particular I had to fight through half a dozen enemies, use Force grip to raise a platform, jump onto the platform, then jump onto a further platform. The problem was that the platform was at the extreme limit of my jump range, and took me several tries to get across. Each time I failed I had to fight through the same bunch of enemies. Worse still, while the enemies weren't difficult to beat, they were annoying to fight. This leads to another problem.

Frustrating and annoying is not the same thing as challenging. Opponents that constantly knock you off your feet so that you can't do anything are not challenging, they are just frustrating. The game has too many of them. It isn't as bad as it could be, but it is bad enough.

Finally, there are some un-Star Wars like game mechanics. The most obvious is that the lightsaber is pathetically weak. Even at the highest damage bonus levels it takes multiple strokes to slay simple Stormtroopers. I understand it's tough to allow for movie like damage capability while making for interesting game play, but it's still annoying.

Fortunately, the game is still worth playing if only to get the story. Unfortunately, it's not going to be worth playing again, not even to unlock the alternate ending cinematic (which you can find with a quick google search anyways). Lack of replayability, combined with a relatively short playtime, means I'd recommend renting this one.