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2006: The Year in Review
Editorial - posted by Vault Dweller on Thu 4 January 2007, 21:21:55Tags: The Year in Review
2006: The Year in Review
We continue our tradition to review RPG events of the passing year and bitch about horrible games, and the gaming industry continues its obsession with making horrible games, so it's a win/win.
Get ready for some action!
2006 blessed us with three pretty awful action games: Dungeon Siege 2: The Broken World, Mage Knight: Apocalypse, and Titan Quest, clearly proving that a strong desire to make a lot of money with minimum efforts isn't enough to make a decent action RPG. The Broken World was so horrible that even the Dungeon Siege-loving media couldn't say something positive like "monsters and loot! what's NOT to like?!" with a straight face and had the admit that "...somehow, it still isn't all that much fun. The only conclusion to draw from this evidence is that the base game isn't very compelling in and of itself".
Titan Quest, however, was generally loved and praised by the media, because hey, it had monsters, loot, and shiny colors that completely overshadowed the generic and boring design, repetitive combat, unbalanced classes, redundant skills, and loads upon loads of items and gold from every kill. Needless to say, such an awesome design begs for an expansion or two, and you will be pleased to know that Titan Quest: Immortal Throne will be available shortly.
On the plus side, there won't be an expansion to Mage Knight: Trainwreck in Slow Motion due to the numerious crimes against humanity committed by the designers who created "a soulless husk stuffed with empty promises and features that you wouldn't want anyway". The game offered its victims an exciting opportunity to suffer through a generic story presented via a series of loosely connected, but linear maps with bored enemies standing still and waiting to be slaughtered for no reason. Hmm, come to think about it, the last sentence describes Neverwinter Nights 2 as well, but that's a different story.
Bethesda's Oblivion, a revolutionary game that will, undoubtedly, influence RPGs for years to come; a game adored, loved, and praised by critics and its target audience alike, was the biggest event of the year. That alone can tell you what a shitty year that was. I won't waste any of your time listing the game's brilliant design elements that made this RPG so popular among the FPS crowd. Instead I'll simply throw you some review links: one's positive, one's negative, so go ahead and make your own damn mind. So, the RPG Codex review vs the very informative "You're choice!" review. The style of the last review tells you as much about the game as the review's content does.
To capitalize on the success, Bethesda quickly slapped together and sold the gullible public quite a few little mods featuring pretty much everything one can create using the toolset. What set these little design gems apart from anything amateur modders could come up with was, of course, the Bethesda's trademark design - a symbol of quality you can trust. You don't have to take my word for it; here is what one of the loyal fans had to say about the brilliant Orrery add-on: "Thats it. I've had it with Bethesda and their crappy "official" mods. This mod is so bad, so unpolished, it doesn't even deserve to be called official...". *sigh* Some people are impossible to please, eh?
At the moment Bethesda is hard at work on an Oblivion expansion, called Shivering Isles, and the highly anticipated Fallout 3. Preparing a big surprise for the Fallout fans, Bethesda is keeping all the details a secret. Even though several Fallout developers claimed that the game is real time and very action-y, I dismiss those lies as I remain confident that Bethesda will do what they do well, because we all know that they won't do what they don't do well. Yes, I know it's confusing and that IGN quote was totally taken out of context, but what I'm trying to say is, let's trust the DEVs, okay?
Personally, I have a good feeling about Fallout 3. First, replacing aging turn-based combat with an intuitive, modern real-time system will revitalize the series. Second, Emil Pagliarulo is the lead designer. Honestly, I canâ€™t think of a better choice than a guy who strongly believes that "Oblivion is still a joy to play". Anyway, last, but not the least, Fallout dungeons will be designed by Oblivion modders! Surprised? I bet. I bet you didn't even know that Fallout had dungeons, did you? See, I told you it's gonna be a surprise. Let's just hope you will be able to handle all the joy and excitement.
Our old pals at Bioware spent the year introducing (read as hyping the fuck out of) Mass Effect, an evolutionary game filled with innovation and all kinda awesome cutting edge stuff. In fact, I'm certain that Civ 10 will feature Mass Effect as one of the key technologies you will have to discover in order to move your civilization into a totally different era. You can tell that developers are committed to quality when they set impressive goals like "will appeal to the FPS crowd", "have fun without having to deal with the complicated stats", and "act faster in real-time dialogues". I can't tell you how many times I felt frustrated trying to use those slow archaic turn-based dialogue systems that simply don't belong in next generation games. I'm sure that when you meet your friends, you all just start shouting at the same time until you feel that you had a good conversation. Am I right? Then why do we have to deal with those dialogue trees and stuff? Games should be fun! Anyway, I'm glad that Bioware is developing these new cutting edge technologies while staying humble: "Some games have a huge, free-form scope to their game world. Other games may provide a very rich story and world interactions. What will blow people away about Mass Effect is how it is able to achieve both of these at the same time in a way that theyâ€™ve never experienced before."
When they don't develop cutting edge stuff and erect statues of each other, the Bioware guys are adding finishing touches to another masterpiece and instant classic, beloved by many - Dragon Age. Not much is known about the game, other than some generic "you basically have to save the world" stuff, which is very disappointing, considering that many people wanted to enslave nations with powerful necromancy instead. Oh wellâ€¦.
Bioware's younger brother kinda saved the year with Neverwinter Nights 2, which could be described as Baldur's Gate 2 meets Icewind Dale 2, which is great, because these are my favourite games. From Baldur's Gate weâ€™ve got the epic story reflecting the choiceless life of the Chosen One, and from Icewind Dale 2 weâ€™ve got endless waves of enemies and more combat than in Halo, which is another of my favourite games, so I'm pretty sure we are dealing with an instant classic and a game of the year material here. Any game that features a githyanki proctologist [spoiler] who will remove a two handed sword that got stuck in your ass during a questionable anal game when you were a child [/spoiler] has gotta be good. Don't worry about getting lost in the game though, it's one of the most linear games I've ever seen, and even individual maps feature super linear maze-like designs, firmly leading you in circles to your destinations through waves of unavoidable enemies. Every now and then you are given a dialogue option that can help you avoid 5% of combat in an area, to remind you that it's not a Diablo clone, but a fully blown role-playing game.
It's worth noting that Feargus continues to impress people with his mad license-getting skillz. A start-up that made a Star Wars game, a DnD game (and according to rumors there is another one on the way), and now got the Alien RPG license deserves everyone's respect. Go Feargus!
Piranha Bytes' Gothic 3 turned out to be one of those games that you either hate or love, which is usually determined by whether or not you computer can run the game in its full glory. Despite the strong focus on combat, the game has a lot to offer: a truly "living & breathing" world, fantastic atmosphere, non-linear design, choices, and several sides in a conflict to join. These choices alone make it a much better RPG than NWN2. If you missed this gem and would like to know more, here is a link to our review.
The mediaâ€™s reaction to Gothic 3 highlighted the culture of double standards that over the years turned the mainstream reviews into either paid commercials or some retarded ranting showing failures to understand even the most basic concepts or to progress without someoneâ€™s holding your hand and telling you where to go. Gothic 3 is far from being a perfect game, but when a reviewer is thoroughly puzzled why the orcs donâ€™t attack him on sight, blaming it on poor design and being unable to understand that the orcs are a joinable faction, that itâ€™s not a â€œhumans=good, orcs=badâ€ kind of game, then something is seriously wrong. Weâ€™ve taken a look at GameSpyâ€™s criteria used to review Oblivion and Gothic 3. The same reviewer noted bugs in both game, but while he generously overlooked poor dialogues, generic storyline, personality-lacking main character, and lousy combat in Oblivion, he attacked the very same flaws (although one may argue that G3â€™s storyline wasnâ€™t generic and that the dialoguesâ€™ multiple choices had more personality than Oblivionâ€™s one-liners) with religious fervour, convincing most people that GameSpyâ€™s opinion simply aint worth shit.
The Witcher has been in development since 2002 (which is usually a good thing, because RPGs take time to be done properly) and it looks like it will be ready to be released in 2007. In 2006 CD Project abandoned its rather stupid "Witcher - RPG Redefined" hype and focused on presenting choices & consequences and multiple quests solutions. What was shown to us to back up those claims looked very impressive indeed. The developers' willingness to prove that their game is a real deal and to show the non-combat elements creates a very favourable impression as well. We'll try to score a press copy and have a detailed review ready by the time the game hits the shelves.
In 2006 Spiderweb has generously given us yet another Avernum game and almost completed yet another Geneforge game (the Mac version is already out), offering you even more of the same, so... "yay!" for creativity and originality there. While both games feature numerous improvements to the series, the combat system remains the same (uninitiated readers may read it as "overly generic and boring"). Considering that combat plays a large role in both series, saying that it's a shame would be a major understatement. On the plus side, anything else (character system, exploration, overall world/dungeon design, etc) are pretty damn good, so you may want to give them a try.
While we have no new and exciting released indies to report in 2006, several interesting new projects have been launched. Planewalker Games has announced The Broken Hourglass, which could be best described as Baldur's Gate in a more original setting and with a more interesting game system. While no in-game screens have been released yet, you may find a lot of detailed descriptions of lore and various game systems posted on the official site.
Basilisk Games has announced Eschalon: Book 1 - "the start of an epic trilogy of computer RPGs created in the spirit of the great role-playing games of the past", which sounds like a great dungeon crawler. Judging by the numerious screens showing different aspects of the game, it's almost ready and, hopefully, will be released within 6 months.
The indie event of the year was definitely the Ultima 5 remake, U5 Lazarus. It's a reasonably faithful (it's not turn-based, obviously) adaptation of a classic Ultima game and the only good thing that came out of Dungeon Siege. It's a very complex game and it will give you a taste of what games were like in the past. RPG Dot has posted a good review of the game, so do take a look.
New & exciting announcements!
The biggest new announcement of 2006 was Drakensang, a Realms of Arkania game (just to give you an idea), inspired by the financial success of Baldur's Gate. Following the lead of many other next-generation (the phrase is quickly becoming a synonym for "utter shit") games' developers, the Drakensang team is committed to making a game for people who can't read ("we don't want to force the player to plough through page after page of text..."), can't add ("...not to torture players with columns of numbers and figures"), but like anything shiny ("...make it a special experience with brilliant animations, crisp sounds and graphics effects"). We had a chance to ask the developers a few questions, so if you're curious about Drakensang, here is a link for you.
Another big announcement is Two Worlds, the greatest game ever made. Of course, it's not made yet, but the developers claim that it will instantly become the greatest game ever made the moment it's actually made. Needless to say, we can hardly wait. The game is inspired by Oblivion and all the hype that made it a bestseller, which explains lines like "Two Worlds will be the most stunning RPG ever made with graphical possibilities that todayâ€™s graphic cards can not even deliver to its fullest potential". The developers have assured us that we won't see multiple dialogue options because they are evil and confusing - "One thing you will not see in Two Worlds, however, are unnecessarily multiple dialogue options ... Dialogues only illustrate and summarize what players have done and sometimes provide more information". The game will feature a generic fantasy setting because "we assumed that inventing a unique setting wouldn't add anything valuable to our game" and kung-fu-fighting heavily armored medieval knights. Once again, if you are curious, here is a link. As one of our readers had said "I suppose stupider things have been said... I just can't think of any right now."
Another exciting title in development is Elveon, a cinematic action game with RPG elements, featuring more elves than you can handle. At least the developers don't claim that it will be the bestest RPG, like, evar, so it's refreshing. The game promises multiple ways and endings, so let's hope that they will deliver on their promises and we'll have a Gothic-like game, but with a better combat system. If you love elves and/or think that you are an elf and/or have a Legolas poster in your bedroom, you will absolutely love this game. It has four elven bloodlines, each with unique culture, deities, history, language, and even its own combat style. What's not to like?
Speaking of elves, EA has announced a Lord of the Rings RPG, The White Council, that will be something like Oblivion, according to a guy named Tyler. The game will revolutionize the genre by combing the excitement of button mashing with the tactical aspect of wearing armor. No, Iâ€™m not making this shit up, click on this link and see for yourself.
Well, looks like it will be a fantastic year, it sure feels great to be an RPG gamer. Anyway, happy new year, folks, let's hope that 2007 will give us something better to talk about.