Fallout: New Vegas - Letdown

  05:41:38 pm, by   , 863 words  
Viewed 20006 times since 26/10/10
Categories: Games, Fallout

If you'd told me a week ago that I'd be writing a blog post with this title, I'd have told you that I found it unlikely in the extreme. Fallout 3 was one of the most addictive and brilliant games I've ever played, to the extent that I had to take two days off work to get it out of my system. When I heard a followup was due I was overjoyed, and got more excited as the Bethesda publicity machine ground into action and released little tid-bits of information on what the game would include.

I eagerly did the pre-install thing on Steam (for those who don't know, this downloads the game ahead of time but leaves it encrypted on your computer so you can't play it until the official release date), and even left my PC on overnight on the day before release so it would be ready to play when I awoke. Immediately after the morning cup of tea I dived into the game - the advantages of contract work are many and varied.

Ninety minutes later I quit it again.

And didn't go back for a couple of days. It's been five days now and Steam reveals I've played it for a total of two hours. This is not what I was expecting. So what's the problem?

I always watch intro movies on first play-through and this one was decent enough without setting the screen alight. The character-generation sequence, though, was rubbish compared to Fallout 3. The earlier game started at the moment of your birth and took you through important early stages of your life, to the point you finally left the vault. It left you feeling involved with your character and genuinely caring about it. In this one you basically fill in some forms.

Stepping outside you get the usual lovely graphics, but a slight sense of disappointment too. When I first played Oblivion, my reaction to leaving the sewer at the start and seeing the gorgeous landscape in front of me was simply "wow!" In Fallout 3, I had the same reaction largely because the vista was so different: instead of blue skies, lush foliage and shimmering water, you had a fractured, blistered landscape that evoked the post-armageddon feeling perfectly. In F:NV, my reaction was "Oh." because it didn't do anything new. Sure it's pretty, but I was expecting another step up, not more of the same.

It's probably my imagination but the NPC interactions were a little better than before, and the voice acting has taken another leap forward too. Oblivion's biggest failing was the painful process of talking to NPCs, and the two Fallout games have made it much more bearable. Hopefully in TESV the NPC might move around a bit instead of standing like a statue when you talk to them. Even Morrowind-style head-turning and neck-scratching would be a start!

F:NV has added a few new things to the original's limited "making stuff" option. In addition to oddball new weapons, you can now craft ammunition and medicine. Weapons can get upgrades too, to make them more powerful in various ways. Some people are going to like this. I don't. FO3 was a tad unrealistic in the way it had ammunition practically oozing from very ground, and so having to break down some ammo in order to make more is better, but then you're already in a post-apocalyptic world with one foot in the 1950's and the other in the 2280's, so realism has already jumped out the window anyway. I can't help but feel that these new features are so much tinsel on an old Christmas tree - it adds a superficial prettiness to something that really needed a structural overhaul to work properly.

Most reviews you'll see will tell you that the graphics look dated. They do, largely because they're exactly the same as the original game. Sure some new models have been added, but I hardly noticed them. Combat's the same. Gameplay's the same. In other words, it's the same game as Fallout 3... but while I couldn't put the first one down, I can hardly motivate myself to pick this one up. What has changed?

The only thing I can think of is that while I cared about by FO3 character, I honestly couldn't care less about the F:NV one. "Yahtzee" Croshaw always goes on about "immersion" and this is the first game where I've found a lack of it really makes a difference. I suppose I should want to find the people who shot me in the head, but I don't. I suppose I should want to find out what the message I was delivering was about, but I don't. The intro to the first game gave me a huge desire to find my dad and restore the world to rights: in this one I just thought "I suppose I'd better go outside now" when the doctor was done with me.

Another common line in reviews is "If you liked Fallout 3, you'll like Fallout: New Vegas". You might. If I give it a few more hours, I might like it too... but it's not the done deal you might expect.

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A New Civilization

  10:12:24 am, by   , 845 words  
Viewed 11575 times since 02/10/10
Categories: Games

Well it's been over a week since I got Civilization V and the inclination to play it 24 hours a day, forgoing sleep and basic hygiene, has finally passed. It's time to write down what I think about this latest version in Sid Meier's most famous series.

It's good. It's very good, in fact. But first, a history lesson.

The original Civilization was released in 1991 and was an incredibly simple game. You founded cities and built things in them - either buildings or units. Some buildings gave you money, some gave sped up later construction, some made people happy and so on. The units either let you improve the area around your cities, found new ones, or act as your army and let you attack other people. You could also research new technology that gave you access to more advanced buildings and units. You could win either by building a spaceship to take you to Alpha Centauri or by wiping out every other civilization.

I spent a LOT of time playing that first version, as did my flatmates. Five computer scientists living together in a flat doesn't lead to huge, pulsating parties at the best of times, but when all five of us were playing Civ at the same time, it was quieter than a wet Sunday in Wales.

I never played Civ II, but I understand it was basically the same game with prettier graphics. After that, there was been a tendency for each new version of Civ to add things in the mistaken belief that this improved the game. By the time Civ IV came out in 2005 it was far too busy. In addition to the basic game, you had to trade resources, found and spread religions and do various other things that made the game more involved but detracted from the essential simplicity. Civ V seems to be a conscious attempt to go back over the series and build a game around the best features, eliminating the extraneous details and adding new ones that make it the best Civ yet.

So what do we have? Well it's still about building cities and units, obviously. Religion has gone, which is good because it didn't add anything much. Wonders of the World that confer huge, one-player-only benefits have gone too, which is also good because in previous versions games were essentially won or lost depending on who managed to build certain wonders first. Trading is still there but has been reduced to "can do" rather than "must do", which is also good. But the biggest change is that you can now only put one unit on one tile at one time. When I first heard this it sounded like a disaster but this also turns out to be good. Previous games let you build a huge army and put it all on one tile, meaning you could advance into enemy territory with an unstoppable force and wipe out any resistance. You could have 100 workers ready to build railroads and 50 tanks ready to advance over them, and often you could destroy even a big enemy in one turn by careful movement. Not very realistic. In this version, it's much trickier. First, cities defend themselves; second, the stacking means you can only attack with a few units at once. This turns aerial bombardment from a largely pointless sideshow into a must-have.

The other new feature is "social policies". In previous versions, these were (roughly) included in the technology tree, but are now separate. There are ten sets of policies (Tradition, Liberty, Honour, Piety, Patronage, Autocracy, Freedom, Rationalism, Commerce and Order) that let you choose the sort of empire you want to build. Some of them work better for small empires, some for large; some for militaristic empires and some for peaceful. It makes more sense for things to work like this. Suddenly switching from a dictatorship to a democracy the moment you research it was always a bit odd, but now there's a gradual shift as you implement more policies in your chosen trees.

One problem I had is that the hardware requirements are pretty stiff for such a simple game. My old nVidia 8800GT card simply couldn't take the strain and couldn't run the DirectX 10/11 version, meaning I had to play with the much less pretty DirectX 9 graphics. At least it gave you the option, but my computer ran games like Oblivion, Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 without complaint so why should a turn-based strategy game cause such a problem? Luckily, I'd been meaning to upgrade for ages and a cheap GTS 450 card made things a lot better.

In summary, this is a great Civ. It lets you concentrate on the important things rather than fretting that some religion or other refuses to spread to one of your cities. It must be good given the sheer amount of time I've spent playing it (curse Steam and the way it keeps track of these things!) If you like RTS games, and particularly if you like previous versions of Civilization, this version is a game you will really enjoy.

Zinedine Zidane Riding a Vespa Scooter Through Hammerfell [Guest Blog]

  06:37:21 pm, by Cactus   , 831 words  
Viewed 24641 times since 19/04/10
Categories: Welcome

Today's guest blog is by none other than long-time blog correspondent, r  . And an update, believe it or not, I've got my own blog planned to write. Crazy, right? I got the idea after reading the previous guest blog I posted and some of the comments about how people view Morrowind having played Oblivion first, and I think I have a unique take on that idea.
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The title of this blog is what you could consider an unlikely scenario in the Elder Scrolls universe. There are many others - Martin Septim raising from the grave and professing a fondness for cannibalism. A congestion charge being introduced in the Imperial City Market. Raminus Polus running into the Bravil branch of the Fighters' Guild in nothing but a pink bra and shouting "Celery!". The Ministry of Truth falling to the ground and wiping out Vvardenfell in a cataclysmic explosion. The Argonians invading Morrowind. Sadly, I'm not making the last two up. Greg Keyes made them up. Now, in my fanfictions I've had some pretty crazy scenarios - civilisation dying out on Vvardenfell after the rise and fall of the Sixth House, a plot by several Daedra Lords to destroy Nirn completely and something involving the Dwarves and a parallel universe that I haven't finished writing yet. But I make a point of coming up with scenarios that could realistically happen.

If you want to read that Elder Scrolls book that's come out I suggest you stop reading this now, because the rest of the article will be a mixture of spoilers and very bad reviews. This is indeed the backstory to The Infernal City, a story about a floating island whose shadow causes the dead to rise from their graves. As if that wasn't ridiculous enough, the backstory is simply not canon to everything that has happened so far in Tamriel's history. And since this is an official Bethesda publication, this nonsense is what's officially going to happen in Tamriel in the next few years. Firstly, there's a new Emperor with a stupid name like Sillius Soddus or Biggus Dickus or something like that. How exactly did he come to power? Emperors are supposed to come from a dynasty that has united the people and created the empire that they rule over. Chancellor Ocato can't just walk up to the nearest slightly regal-looking bloke and say "You'll do". And you thought Gordon Brown had an easy rise to power.

Then we have the business of the Ministry of Truth, freed from the grasp of Vivec, falling from the heavens (which if you go to where it is now, works out as a distance of about 50 feet) causing an impact so large that it makes a royal mess of Vvardenfell and most of mainland Morrowind. Now - there are two scenarios that could have happened here, according to my limited knowledge of physics. First, when the golden floating one froze the meteorite it lost all of its momentum. This means that if it then resumed its fall it would be falling a short distance from a position of rest, and would therefore make a mess of the Temple and that's about it. Second, Vivec stopped the meteorite in such a way that it retained its momentum, and would hurtle into the city at about the same speed as the lunatic in the Ford Transit who nearly ran me off the road yesterday. This would indeed cause a sizeable crater, which would probably make a good mess of Vvardenfell, bearing in mind that most of their population are located in and around Vivec. But it would of course kick up an enormous cloud of dust, water vapour and crumbled masonry which would block out the sun for a few weeks and probably kill everyone else too. At least this would give Umbriel plenty of dead people to resurrect, I suppose.

The last bit of lunacy is the Argonians deciding to break out the pointy sticks and conquer Morrowind. I'm sure that they are a bit bitter towards the Dark Elves for the aeons of slavery they've had to put up with, but could a race of primitive tribal reptilians who are used to fighting a guerrilla war in swamps realistically take on a race of adept and adaptable warriors who would probably run them through straight away with vastly superior weapons? As I said on the forum, this is a bit like a load of remote African tribes getting a bit hot-headed about the slave trade and deciding to take on the USA. I'm surprised that this book was allowed by Bethesda to be published. I imagine that if Jane Austen had followed the line "The Harrington-Smythes retired to the drawing room for a glass of brandy" with "Then a bunch of killer martians invaded with zap-guns" her publisher would not have been particularly impressed.

And to add insult to injury I've read the first few chapters of the book and they're rubbish.

My Other Games

  08:57:36 am, by   , 674 words  
Viewed 15277 times since 11/04/10
Categories: Games

In addition to Dragon Age: Origins, I've been playing a few other things. Steam is a useful service, but it's downright evil when it comes to ways of separating you from your cash, and I've played several things I wouldn't have touched if they hadn't been on special offer.

Space Trader: Merchant Marine
This is one that I might have bought. I love space trading games with a passion that's faintly disturbing. This comes from a misspent youth playing the best game ever written, Elite, on my ZX Spectrum trying to beat all my friends in the race to become Elite. Since then I've also managed to spend far too much time on games like X3: Terran Conflict, which almost but not quite recapture that old joy.

Space Trader... doesn't even come close. The trading section is fairly well done and - at first - the combat sections are pretty good too. The trouble is that what starts as optional combat that's over fairly quickly soon becomes (essentially) mandatory and hugely time-consuming. I only played it for about 2 1/2 hours, but then it only cost £1.19 so I don't feel too bad about it.

Tropico 3 - Steam Special Edition
Think Sim City in Paradise and you get the idea. You have to build up your tropical island from a few rusty shacks into a sprawling Caribbean resort with expensive housing and thriving industry as well as making it a must-visit tourist destination. The trouble is that the local political situation isn't very stable and there might be a revolution. Or your army might rebel.

It's not as good as the Sim City games though. Each campaign is time-limited so you don't get to enjoy your city - it's a rush to complete it and meet whatever arbitrary objective you've been set. It also means that after a while, each game takes on a sense of inevitability. Build houses. Build school. Build clinic. Build logging camp. Etc. The only variation lies in an island's resources - does it have any trees to cut down or will you have to farm papaya? It kept me amused for some time and I'll probably go back to it at some point, but it's probably not for most people.

R.U.S.E. Beta
I got this because Steam made it available without me asking and because it was free. Since then I've seen a lot of hype about it and many people hailing it as a wonderful game.

Why?

It's not bad but if you strip away the pretty graphics it's just a real-time strategy with the ability to hide stuff and fake other stuff. For instance, you can use the fake attack ruse or fake an armor factory. Well any decent strategy player uses fake attacks anyway, and the Allies in the original Command and Conquer could create fake buildings so it's hardly a new idea.

Maybe it's just the beta. There's only one map and it's too small but other, larger, maps will make an appearance in the final version. I doubt I'll be bothering though.

Bob Came in Pieces
The plot for this little gem is pretty standard. Your spaceship has been stranded on a planet and you need to get spare parts to repair it. I've never played anything that does it so well though.

Your craft can be reconfigured using parts that you find scattered around the landscape. You may need to push something on the other side of a hole too narrow to pass through, for instance, so you have to string several long thin parts together. Or you need to hit an object really hard so you can add loads of rockets to one side of your ship to make it go faster.

Each level has a unique theme with puzzles to solve, some of which are very inventive and some of which are incredibly frustrating. Once you've completed a level you can try to do it again, faster, to unlock various achievements.

This is a brilliant, inventive game. I really recommend it.

In Defence of Dragon Age

  08:23:10 am, by   , 448 words  
Viewed 6994 times since 11/04/10
Categories: Games

I just read Dave's comments about Dragon Age and since my Internet connection seems a bit better today, I thought I'd add my own thoughts.

The comment about cutscenes and dialogue resonated with me because I had exactly the same thoughts when I started playing the game. The game seemed to involve large amounts of watching the screen separated by short periods of looking for things to click on. Later, this became large amounts of watching the screen separated by short periods of running around holding the TAB key down because I finally discovered that it showed me what was clickable. I played for about half an hour and then quit because I was feeling annoyed with it. The game seemed linear and dull compared to other RPGs.

The next day, I got the "I payed £30 for this thing so I'm damn well going to play it" feeling and reloaded. After a while a strange thing happened... I actually started to like it. Fast forward to the current and the Steam community page informs me that I've logged 136.9 hours playing it - including time spent on Dragon Age - The Awakening, for which I shelled out another £20. Given that I also bought the DLC, what changed my mind?

First, the combat. At first it seemed fiddly and annoying and, having had my backside spanked solidly by the darkspawn several times, difficult. Once I got the hang of it and stopped throwing all my characters into the fray whether they could handle it or not, it became lots of fun: which spell to use next; had my uber-attack become available again? Some might argue that a combat system which requires you to press pause all the time isn't very good, but I've always been more into strategy than action games so it worked for me.

Second, the story. It's well-written and succeeds in drawing you in.

Third, the other NPCs. They all have their own stories and after a while I genuinely felt warmly towards them.

Fourth, the voice acting. It's only when you see other games do it so well that you appreciate just how bad the Oblivion voice acting is. Not all of it's perfect, but it beats "You know, I saw your fight against the Gray Prince" into a bloody pulp.

Finally, I realised that it's not TES. This may sound obvious, but I often go into RPGs expecting Morrowind or Oblivion and that's not fair. When I started judging DAO on its own merits, I quickly decided that it's a good game.

I won't be spending as much time on it as I did with MW or OB, but I'm definitely glad I bought it.