Preview - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 25 March 2015, 19:02:34Tags: Age of Decadence; Iron Tower Studios
It's been a while since we last previewed Iron Tower Studios' turn-based, Rome-inspired postapocalyptic RPG The Age of Decadence. Now that the game has been in Steam Early Access for quite some time already, esteemed community member MasterSmithFandango has decided that the Codex needs to re-preview what has traditionally been the second most anticipated game around here. (The first being, of course, the legendary Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar). But whereas the golden baby is still caught up in the net of 19 micro-issues preventing it from taking wing, Thursday feels like it’s just around the corner (again) - so let's hear how The Age of Decadence is shaping up.
Before you read the article in full, here's something to get you started:
In an attempt to provide a Fair and Balanced™ preview, I want to look at each system individually then talk about how they mesh together. This preview will be spoiler-free and, other than generally, I won’t comment on the actual content. Right now there are two completed cities (essentially quest hubs), with a third currently being tested before being added to the regular EA release with a bit more to come after that.
[...] Ultimately, the character system as currently implemented (and this late in the game it’s probably close to set in stone) is effective, if not perfect. I do feel there are some things missing that could greatly improve the system. More synergies as mentioned above would add some depth, especially between the civic skills and the civic stats. Having a high charisma giving a slight bonus to persuasion, or having high intelligence give a bonus to lore just seems like another missed opportunity. This isn’t a system that I feel would be fun to spend hours just building characters on, but for the purposes of providing decent effects on the game world, it does the job.
[...] If you haven’t invested fairly heavily into combat skills, don’t bother. This game is very much one that punishes a jack-of-all-trades play style, and nowhere will that be more evident than in combat. Each point in dodge, block, or your weapon skills will have a big effect on your ability to survive. If you do invest heavily, combat can be challenging at times but generally isn’t too difficult, although some encounters you may lose just due to the numbers game.
That actually may be the problem – often when I lose a fight I feel that it’s not because I played the fight poorly, but rather that I got screwed by the random number generator. When I reload to do the fight again, I don’t really do anything differently to adapt to the battle – I just hope the RNG doesn’t screw me as badly. I have no problem with dice rolls, mind you, but I like feeling that when I lose I’ve learned something new that will allow me to be better at the game, and I just don’t get that here.
Combat is one area where I feel that there is so much promise, but in practice it lacks a certain satisfaction. On the surface it’s got all of the pieces a great combat system would require. You have a variety of attacks, each with their own pros and cons and utility, you have the ability to move around tactically and exercise your brain a bit, and the stats and skills translate in a clear way to your performance on the battlefield. Still, after a heavy dose I feel like I want something else. I would say this is an area where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Part of it is because when you engage an enemy you just stand in the square next to him, going back and forth until one of you doesn’t get up. Moving away from someone who's beside you in combat gives them an attack of opportunity, so your best bet is almost always to engage unless you need to retreat to your support to prevent being totally overrun.
[...] The writing is top notch. I found myself reading in great detail all of the stories from the storyteller, and all the related conversations. The descriptions of what was going on in the world were just fantastic, and the setting really feels fresh. There is an air of ambiguity to everything that is so refreshing in this age of “GATHER ARMY TO FIGHT DARK EVIL”-level of storytelling.
Additionally, the quests are designed to be radically different each time you play through them. You can choose to piss everyone off – and there are multiple ways to do that. Each character I play through feels like I’m just getting one piece of a larger story, and playing through the same area with a different character you can see different angles and how things can play out differently.
Vault Dweller has always been about choices and consequences, and this game tackles that in spades. It seems like every little thing you do will have some effect on the game world. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s massive – it’s always interesting, though. The way you treat people you meet, the decisions you make when deciding who to side with in conflicts – they all have long-term effects. Forget seeing all the content in one playthrough. Shit, forget seeing half the content in one playthrough. This is a game that will cut off quests as you go. But where a door closes, another one opens.
MSF's conclusion is ambiguous, but I'll leave you to read it yourself in the full review.
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Interview - posted by Zed on Fri 20 March 2015, 18:41:18Tags: Dungeons of Aledorn; Team 21
Admist the noise created by events such as PAX East, the imminent release of Pillars of Eternity, and (among CRPG enthusiasts) prominent Kickstarters such as Underworld Ascendent and Seven Dragon Saga, there is little chance for smaller actors in the CRPG space to get the attention they may (or may not) deserve.
Dungeons of Aledorn launched on Kickstarter earlier this month. In their pitch, developers Team 21 namedrop games like Betrayal at Krondor, Realms of Arkania: Shadows over Riva, Might & Magic, King's Bounty and Fallout. The game is described as a spiritual successor to the old-school and hardcore RPG/Dungeon Crawler masterpieces. It uses a first-person view for the exploration, and a tactical top-down view for the hexagon and turn-based combat. Just going by the name-dropping and features alone, Dungeons of Aledorn sounds like a game that should be on every RPG fan's radar, even if just discreetly blipping near the outer rim.
I sent a few questions to Team 21, and they gracefully answered them.
It will be possible, for example, by using magical spells. We have spells that create solid walls, ice walls and thus are modifying the environment. Furthermore, it will also be possible to maneuver the various obstacles and props. Here, however, we go a little further in interacting with the battlefield than most games. While in most games it is necessary to destroy barriers, in our game you can jump or climb over them. While characters perform these maneuvers, the battle system will subtracts the appropriate number of action points. The system will roll the luck dice and compare it to your skill level and, if successful, the player will overcome the obstacle and land where they wanted to be. If they fail the roll, the character is probably going to fall on the ground instead, thus giving the enemy a considerable advantage.
By creating fire, you can also impact the AI. So, for example,if you have to fight a pack of wolves, you'll be able to cut them off with fire, as they would rather run away from the flames than going straight through them.
There will also be numerous items generated on the battlefield that can give advantages, and not only to the player, but the enemy too. So as you've pointed out, oil may be set on fire creating a barrier between you and the enemy. We have more to reveal on this, but can’t say too much without revealing some awesome tactics that we want the players to figure out for themselves.
You mention an emphasis on complex quests. Quests with choices and consequences, with impact on gameplay. Can you expand a little bit on this? Also, will choices throughout the game affect the possible ending outcomes? Fallout's “end slides” are very popular among Codexers – can we expect something like this?
Yes, some quests will have different endings, which then affect subsequent quests in the game. This mainly concerns the side quests. The basic main storyline is pretty much given as is, but with different ways to move to the next milestone. There are a few ways to do this, and it's the player's choice.
We're looking at karma and characters leaving a mark on the world, but they're currently only stretch goals, since such a complex feature requires a huge amount of additional work. However, we have the underlying mechanisms for this feature prepared already.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Interview: Dungeons of Aledorn – Kickstarter under way
Editorial - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 16 March 2015, 20:22:34Tags: Aterdux Entertainment; Cat-Shaped Life; Chris Avellone; Craig Stern; J.E. Sawyer; Legends of Eisenwald; Obsidian Entertainment; OtherSide Entertainment; Pillars of Eternity; Quest for Infamy; Steven Alexander; Telepath Tactics; Tim Cain; Underworld Ascendant; Will Teixeira
Nothing brings life to the soulless routine of a large gaming convention like an RPG Codex reporter in his search for truth (and something to report on). Known to previously bring the light of the incline to the darkest, most PR-filled of places like Gamescom, PAX East, and even the Tokyo Game Show, we couldn’t stay away from this year’s PAX East either. Luckily, we had just the right person for the job – namely, esteemed community member mindx2, who’d already covered 2014’s PAX East for us – as well as a number of appropriate appointments, of which the main one was meeting Obsidian Entertainment’s Chris Avellone, Josh Sawyer, Tim Cain, Brandon Adler and Adam Brennecke to discuss their upcoming real-time-with-balance RPG Pillars of Eternity. (Read the full interview.)
[...] mindx2: Alright, this next question is near and dear to the Codex’s heart…
Chris [Avellone]: The heart?
mindx2: Yes, we have heart.
Josh [Sawyer]: Ahhh, yeah…
mindx2: You wound me… What do you think with all these other Kickstarters going turn-based do you think Obsidian might be locked into the RTwP style game?
Josh: I hope not. I want to make a turn-based game. I really want to make a turn-based game. [...]
Tim: I love turn-based games. This actually goes back to something Chris was saying, when I worked on South Park… right when I arrived there it was a real-time game and one of the things I was asked was to make it turn-based. It’s easy to turn real-time systems into turn-based ones, so I’m just throwing that out there [as he looks towards the other team members].
[...] mindx2: Well then I have one more question for you then [to Josh], what do you think in Pillars of Eternity is the “funnest” part?
Josh: Um, I think it’s really trying to build… finding all the different ways to build your character and parties. That’s something that… well, that runs through a lot of stuff. To be honest a lot of what people say is this isn’t realistic or they don’t like some aspect of it like weapons for example. Like why do daggers do so much damage or a hatchet do so much damage or whatever. It’s done that way so that if you have an idea for a character that’s kind of an oddball or something that character might actually suck or be terrible in D&D but I think it’s important for it to be pretty good in our game. And if people want to make this really oddball collection of characters there’s going to be some things that are hard for them but I think it’s important for players to feel like they have that freedom to develop it. There are going to be trade-offs for it but as much as possible I want them…
mindx2: So that’s where the balance thing comes into play?
Naturally, mindx2 also asked if people at Obsidian read the Codex:
mindx2: Oh yeah, Anthony is great!
Brandon [Adler]: Sometimes Anthony writes something and I’m like, “Oh Anthony why…?”
Josh: We get so many alerts about that… “Anthony just posted on the Codex!”
Aside from bugging Obsidian about making a turn-based RPG, making PoE fun, and their stance on the Codex, mindx2 also met with Alex Dergay from Aterdux Entertainment (Legends of Eisenwald)...
...Steve Alexander from Infamous Quests (Quest for Infamy):
...Will Teixeira from OtherSide Entertainment (Underworld Ascendant & Cat-Shaped Life):
...as well as Craig Stern from Sinister Design (Telepath Tactics):
Craig: Mine is better! [laughing] That’s the short version. The long version is the design tack I take with TT is not seen anywhere else even among this new crop of strategy RPGs. My approach here, which as far as I know is unique amongst strategy RPGs, is to have a game with a deterministic core. There are a few things where die rolls come into play but for the most part it is deterministic. Unpredictability is achieved instead by having a difficult and challenging AI and a large possibility space. There are so many different mechanics in the game that intersect in sometimes unpredictable ways that you’re always having to stay on your toes just to be sure you’re not taken by surprise by what the AI might do. It’s not an easy game.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: PAX East 2015, or How Chris Avellone Called the Codex Unprofessional
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 6 March 2015, 19:54:42Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment
As every German denizen of the Codex knows, deutsche Rollenspiele sind ausnahmslos ein Grund zur Freude. So it was in Blackguards' case, too, which made us genuinely happy. Can we say the same about Blackguards 2? Of course we can, especially when it is reviewed by esteemed community member Bubbles - an authentic German and a true patriot:
Read his review, replete with fitting captions and insightful commentary, and share in his pride and joy. See him cut to the chase:
Or analyze the strategic minutiae while never losing sight of the bigger picture:
Not to mention taking the game's knee-jerk detractors to task:
Only to deliver the pointed, well thought-out conclusion:
Are you man enough to enjoy Blackguards 2? The full review - one of our best to date, if you ask me - has all the answers: RPG Codex Review: Blackguards 2
Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Mon 2 March 2015, 00:44:27Tags: OhNoo! Studio; Primordia; Tormentum - Dark Sorrow; Which is Better and Why?; Wormwood Studios
Would you like to go on an adventure? We decide to take a look at two adventure games: Primordia, the two year old creation from Wormwood Studios, and Tormentum - Dark Sorrow, the as yet unreleased adventure from OhNoo! Studios:
[...] Tormentum, sadly, just doesn't have the same drive. You start off captured in prison. You escape... and... keep escaping... or something... It "makes sense" in the end but while Primordia's world has you wanting to know what happened, Tormentum just never really bothers. There are no hints dropped or clues to be found. No signs you can look at and think "That's actually a number... not a name." or "I wonder what that means?". In fact, if anything, Tormentum down-right sins when it comes to Adventure gaming.
It gives the puzzle away.
Read more!: AdventureDex: Primordia vs Tormentum - Dark Sorrow: Which is Better and Why?
Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Wed 25 February 2015, 20:10:09Tags: Chris Siegel; Jeff Kesselman; OtherSide Entertainment; Paul Neurath; Scott Kimball; Tim Stellmach; Underworld Ascendant; Will Teixeira
If you were a computer RPG fan of a certain type in the 1990s, your preferred brand of gaming came in two distinct flavors. There were the top-down/isometric RPGs, such as Origin's Ultima series in the early 90s, and the RPGs from Black Isle and BioWare later on. And then there were the first person games from Looking Glass Studios - Ultima Underworld, System Shock, Thief - which would form the foundation of the genre that Warren Spector would retroactively dub the "immersive sim". Despite the seemingly wide differences between these two genres, they would end up following strikingly parallel paths. Both would place an increasing emphasis on developing the concepts of player choice and reactivity, and both would suffer a precipitous decline in the early 2000s, due to destructive trends in the gaming industry which have been heavily discussed in our forums and elsewhere.
With the rise of big budget crowdfunded gaming in 2012, isometric RPGs made a huge comeback. But that other type of RPG, the Looking Glass-style first person immersive sim, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, people reasoned, this was due to the fact that producing a good-looking first person game requires more budget than even a successful Kickstarter can possibly provide. Or maybe it was because the veterans of Looking Glass and successor company Ion Storm Austin had scattered to the four winds - to Irrational Games, Arkane Studios, Valve, Bethesda and Zynga. It would seem that the implosion of the latter company due to the bursting of the social gaming bubble was what finally changed the situation for the better.
Back in July 2014, we first learned of the creation of OtherSide Entertainment by Paul Neurath, founder of Looking Glass Studios, after his departure from Zynga. Joining him was Tim Stellmach, lead designer of Ultima Underworld II and the Thief series. Their first project would be "Underworld Ascension", a successor to the Ultima Underworld series. After six months of quiet behind-the-scenes preparations, which would see the project renamed to Underworld Ascendant, the inevitable Kickstarter was finally announced in late January. It's now been three weeks since the Kickstarter's launch, and while it will clearly make its $600,000 goal, it's not the huge success some may have hoped for. I can think of any number of reasons for that, but that's outside the scope of this post. Suffice it to say, the same people who thought a first person Kickstarter game was a non-starter due to budgetary reasons are likely to be skeptical about the viability of this one.
Regardless of the Kickstarter's success or lack thereof, the prospect of a Looking Glass Studios revival is a matter of the utmost importance to a site like ours. For that reason, several weeks ago, we made arrangements for a personal visitation by stalwart Codexer mindx2 to the humble headquarters of OtherSide Entertainment in Boston, Massachusetts. That visit took place last Friday, and mindx2 would spend the entire subsequent weekend compiling his discussions with Paul Neurath and the rest of the OtherSiders into a lengthy interview/report. I don't know if this report will change anybody's mind about pledging to Underworld Ascendant, but you'll definitely view them more sympathetically after reading it. Without further ado...
Read the full article: RPG Codex Report: A Codexer visits OtherSide Entertainment!
Editorial - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 22 February 2015, 01:47:21Tags: bitComposer; Chaos Chronicles; Divinity: Original Sin; Expeditions: Conquistador; Kickstarter; Paper Sorcerer; Shadowrun Returns; South Park: The Stick of Truth; The Year in Review; THQ; Wasteland 2
Do you enjoy reminiscing? Looking back on years past as if the years that followed them hadn't happened yet? Well, since everything in 2013 got postponed, we thought it gave us the perfect excuse to postpone the 2013 Year in Review.
Until now. We look back on the games that were released:
... the games that weren't:
And it was all downhill from there.
... the publishers that died:
... the delays:
... the birth of Steam Early Access:
Not so anymore! 2013 finally saw the year when the standard industry model... actually became the standard industry model. And it pretty much happened that quickly.
... and more!
It may give you a weird feeling reading it now since we talk about games "slated for a 2014 release" that have been out for months. But come with us now, on a journey through time and space, back to 2013.
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Wed 18 February 2015, 01:00:18Tags: Ancient Domains of Mystery
Rare are the times that the Codex's front page braves the dark and fearsome world of roguelikes. Being predominantly a traditional CRPG, not roguelike-focused website, permadeath scares us - all of us except the courageous Deuce Traveler, who in this review ventures headlong into ADOM from the perspective not of a roguelike expert, but a fellow veteran CRPG player. One of us, then! Let's hear what he has to say.
Well, I highly recommend that every Codexer play the game once, but I don't recommend that you attempt to actually beat it. I know that seems like a contradiction, but while ADOM is a treat for those who enjoy CRPG design, it loses its charm as a game and begins to feel like work after your 20th or so character death. I suggest playing the game for a few hours without backing up save states or looking at the ADOM wiki. Then, when you begin to feel frustrated with the experience, go ahead and look at the wiki for dungeon locations and to get a general idea of where you should explore next. If you still find yourself feeling frustrated after that, leave the game and go find something else to play that is more enjoyable. But if you feel driven to beat the game and are still enjoying yourself, then you'll be able to spend the next few months or even years defeating it. Good luck, and don't get eaten by a grue.
For the details leading up to this conclusion, be sure to read the full review.
Review - posted by Infinitron on Fri 6 February 2015, 21:30:45Tags: Dead State; DoubleBear Productions
Most of you should already be familiar with the story behind DoubleBear Productions' Dead State. Originally revealed all the way back in August 2009 and officially announced a year after that, the "zombie RPG" from Black Isle/Troika/Obsidian veteran Brian Mitsoda and his ex-Obsidianite wife Annie Mitsoda languished in vaporware status for years, until it was revived via Kickstarter in the heady days of 2012. Dead State was finally released in December 2014, now just one of many fish in the recovering oldschool RPG sea. Between that, its rather low fidelity 3D graphical presentation, some unfortunate Steam forum drama that led to a predictable backlash, and even some genuine post-release bugginess, Dead State seemed like it would quickly be left behind and forgotten.
But the Codex doesn't forget so easy. Two months ago, we hired Zombra, a rather mild and mellow fellow with a very appropriate name, to take Dead State for a spin and give it a fair appraisal. What he found out may surprise some of you. We proudly present...
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Dead State
Review - posted by Infinitron on Sat 31 January 2015, 23:57:37Tags: BioWare; Dragon Age III: Inquisition
The years 2011-2012 weren't too hot for BioWare. The triple whammy of the rushed and poorly received Dragon Age II, The Old Republic MMO which predictably failed to "kill" World of Warcraft and quickly went free-to-play, and the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco was a serious blow to the company's reputation. Realizing that the BioWare brand was on the verge of being tarnished beyond repair, the corporate overlords at Electronic Arts wisely decided to give the Edmonton studio extra time to finish their next game, the third installment in the Dragon Age franchise, which was formally announced in late 2012 as Dragon Age: Inquisition.
DA:I was released in November 2014 to unanimous acclaim from the mainstream gaming media. 8/10s, 9/10s and 10/10s were the rule of the day. And at the year's end, it won GOTY award after GOTY award. By all accounts, BioWare had finally achieved the holy grail of roleplaying game design, combining the open worlds of Bethesda and Ubisoft with the storytelling of BioWare to create the perfect RPG.
...well, almost all accounts. More than two months ago, we dispatched Delterius, a scarred veteran of many battles on BSN, to closely examine this new masterpiece for himself. With the help of kris and Vault Dweller, he composed a comprehensive report detailing his findings. Without further ado, it's time for...
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Codex Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Mon 26 January 2015, 19:40:04Tags: Activision; Electronic Arts; Escape from Hell; Prophecy: The Fall of Trinadon; Retrospective Interview; Richard Seaborne; Tower of Myraglen
This month, January 2015, marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most unique titles in CRPG history, Electronic Arts' 1990 Escape from Hell, designed by Richard L. Seaborne. Imagine something like Wasteland -- a party-, skill-based top-down RPG -- that has you band together with famous historical and literary figures, from Genghis Khan to Hamlet, and explore, literally, the circles of Hell. Along the way, you fight the likes of Al Capone and Satan, learn new skills from Thucydides and Wyatt Earp, among many others, and solve your own and the denizens' problems, which Hell has in spades, with one overarching goal: escaping back to the real world.
As far as CRPG settings go, there has hardly been a more unorthodox one. And the character portraits were fantastic, too.
To celebrate the game's anniversary, we've interviewed Richard Seaborne, who currently works at Microsoft, about Escape from Hell along with two other RPGs he worked on, Tower of Myraglen (1987) for the Apple ][GS and Prophecy: The Fall of Trinadon (1989) for the PC. Here's an excerpt:
Prophecy’s spell system was fun to make. I think people really enjoy controlling things where their decisions and actions materially change things in the games they play. And they delight in seeing their creations come to life or even blow up in surprising failure. The magic is that their actions had consequence, and they can get better. I wanted the player to feel like an alchemist that could craft their own magic spells according to consistent rules for any situation, seeing magic as a science they could control once learned.
I imagined players would really like having the ability to “program” their own spells through a spell language that included a prefix power amplifier, effect inverter, and foundational spell function. Spells included implicit properties (fire, ice, poison, harm, heal, etc.) and targeting (individual, missile, area of effect/AOE, etc.). A heal spell could be reversed with an inverter to make the spell harm, and a harm spell could be reversed to heal. Spells had a sense of physics too, so if you cast an AOE spell in too small of a space the blast would ricochet off walls and keep expanding through corridors until its “volume” filled its effect area. Adding the most powerful modifiers to an AOE spell could fill most of the screen with a powerful blast, which might be bad for the player if they were in the path of destruction.
How did Electronic Arts end up publishing Escape from Hell? Were they involved in the process of development, and did they influence the final product in any way?
I had always admired Electronic Arts (EA) for their game quality and innovation, and so pitched the concept of Escape from Hell to them not long after Prophecy had shipped. I learned quite a bit about formal planning and ideation while working with EA. I spent nearly six months of the total 12-month development cycle in pre-production, developing engine technology and tools that would ultimately be the foundation of the game and refining the concept with some of EA’s leaders including Trip Hawkins, Bing Gordon, and Dave Albert. It was during this process that Escape changed from a serious traditional RPG to the contemporary grim comedy RPG.
Perhaps the biggest influence that EA had on Escape from Hell was the business pragmatism of Cost of Goods (COGs) and Return on Investment (ROI). They made the decision to reduce the number of discs the game shipped on in half because retailers demanded the game be available on both 5¼” and 3½” discs. It was an unfortunate time in the industry where many computers had just one disc drive size, and so EA had to ship on both disc sizes. To keep costs down, they required Escape to get a lot smaller so the same COGs would cover both disc types.
You can imagine how that went down in terms of the game’s vision and scope – a lot less character and monster art, 9 circles of Hell collapsed to 3 planes of Hell, time & dimensional shift opportunity reduction, and a lot of loose end tying up with these changes. EA offered a Technical Director to help with compression algorithms to fit as much as possible on the discs and a professional writer to brainstorm and help the narrative be as cohesive as possible within the revised scope.
Escape from Hell was released in January 1990, so that January 2015 marks its 25th anniversary. I'm very interested in the way you feel about the game now. Let me put it this way: what is your first thought whenever the game's name comes up? Retrospectively, are you fully satisfied with what kind of game Escape from Hell turned out to be?
Disappointed. Disheartened. Proud. It’s a bit mixed as you can tell.
Escape shipped and had its place in history. I firmly believe it would have been better if it hadn’t had its media budget cut in half, forcing it to miss out on all Nine Circles of Hell, signature art for key characters, more demons, monsters, & gear, and more map & script variances according to player actions, party members, and Trident time control. On the other hand, I am proud to have contributed to the early era of CRPG’s, influencing a lot of features, design tenants, and concepts in many games over these twenty-five years.
Read the full interview for many more details about Richard's games, as well as things like team sizes, D&D modules, nudity warning labels, IBM PC vs Apple ][GS, and Trip Hawkins' and other senior EA people's involvement with Escape.
Codex Interview - posted by Infinitron on Wed 21 January 2015, 00:31:22Tags: Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn; BioWare; Brent Knowles; Dragon Age; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark; Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide
In the year 2000, BioWare released Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, one of the most acclaimed computer RPGs of all time. In 2009, they released Dragon Age: Origins, a game that was purportedly similar, but very much a product of its time. It was the product of a company which over the course of that decade, had gone from being a small developer of PC-exclusive D&D RPGs to a cinematic console RPG powerhouse, with titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire and Mass Effect. And between them was Neverwinter Nights, controversial and misunderstood black sheep of the family, along with its expansion packs, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark.
The truth is that you could probably write a book about what happened to BioWare during the first decade of the new millenium. Since DarkUnderlord doesn't pay us enough to write books, we'll have to make due with interviews, which can give us a glimpse at what was going at the company during that time. And what better individual to interview than Brent Knowles, the man whose career at BioWare spanned that exact duration? Starting off as a junior designer on Baldur's Gate 2 in late 1999, Brent eventually rose to become one of the lead designers on NWN, sole lead on its expansion packs, and most famously, lead designer on the Dragon Age franchise, until he was replaced by one Mike Laidlaw after leaving the company in 2009.
You might remember that Brent was briefly famous during the Dragon Age II brouhaha, when his personal blog posts describing the end of his tenure at BioWare, which confirmed fans' worst fears about the direction the franchise was heading, were brought to public knowledge. With the recent release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, we felt it was a particularly appropriate time to revisit Brent and ask him a few questions about his time at BioWare. To be honest, it was actually way more than "a few", but Brent graciously replied to them all anyway. Read on, then, for...
An interview with Brent Knowles
Read the full article: Brent Knowles Interview: An Insider's Look at BioWare, 2000-2009
Community - posted by Zed on Tue 13 January 2015, 02:10:18Tags: RPG Codex; RPG Codex Awards
This has been one of the first good years in computer role-playing games since the inception of RPG Codex. To celebrate, we figured it might be fun to have a proper Game of the Year awards ceremony. So here it is:
Read the full article: RPG Codex 2014 Role-Playing Game of the Year Awards
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 6 January 2015, 19:04:32Tags: Sega; Valkyria Chronicles
Aside from a good number of new RPGs, 2014 saw the release of a few notable PC ports of RPGs that had been formerly only available on consoles. Of these, one of the most surprising and welcome was SEGA's port of the 2008 Japanese Strategy RPG Valkyria Chronicles (available on Steam). In this review, RPG Codex staff member WhiskeyWolf dissects the game to see what it has to offer.
Here's a snippet:
The Battle of Live Tactical Zones (BLiTZ) divides the battle into two modes. The first one is the Command Mode where you are able to oversee the battlefield from above, as if you were looking on a map. All your units are marked on it, as well as the enemy units that are within the line of sight of your forces. Apart from giving you the general feel of the tactical situation, this mode also allows you to issue Orders and allocate Command Points. Command Points are – as the name would imply – points which are issued every turn to you and the enemy. Each point allows one of your units to take action (two points are required if said unit is a tank). Orders are mostly, but not only, stat related boosts, and require various amounts of points to issue. You only have a few at your disposal at the beginning, but you can acquire new ones as the game progresses.
So far, this is pretty much the standard TRPG formula. That is, until you issue a Command Point to one of your units. As soon as you do that, the view shifts to a third person perspective, and the gameplay becomes sort of pseudo-real time where you are able to directly control the chosen unit. This is the Action Mode. Please note that this does not make it a third person shooter, as movement and shooting are done separately. Once in direct control, your unit is entitled to a certain distance it can move and a single action it can perform (there are some environment related events that do not use up the action). All this depends on the class of the unit you are currently using. Suffice to say, most of the ‘actions’ that you will be performing are about making the other guy die for his country. [...]
Now, if you are familiar with some of the classic western TRPGs – like Jagged Alliance or X-COM – you will be familiar with the term ‘Overwatch’ or ‘Reaction Fire’. The developers of Valkyria Chronicles decided to use a similar mechanic… minus the action points. While in Action Mode, if you get too close to an enemy solider that is facing your way, he will fire upon you even though it is not his turn (this does not apply to Lancers and Snipers). And he will keep firing until you get out of range, your unit takes too much damage and gets downed, or you shift into the aiming stance. This reactive fire mechanic, which applies to both enemy and player units depending on whose turn it is, successfully adds some dynamism to the gameplay and makes positioning crucial.
[...] Let's be clear, Valkyria Chronicles is not a perfect game. Its gameplay is noticeably flawed, it has limited replayability and a story chockfull of idiotic clichés. Yet even all those drawbacks combined cannot overshadow what truly is a good game. When it was initially released on the PlayStation 3, everything about it was new: the quasi-European setting circa 1935, the CANVAS graphics engine that resembles a watercolor painting in motion, the fresh take on turn-based gameplay. Well, maybe except SEGA’s marketing – which could explain the poor sales – that still aspires to the golden standard of ‘fuck all, why bother’ even after these six years, if this latest release is anything to go by.
Thankfully, this time SEGA only had to release the game and watch the money roll in. An established loyal fanbase and years of positive word of mouth made sure that on the first day, Valkyria Chronicles topped Steam charts ahead of blockbuster hits like Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Assassin's Creed Unity that were also launched back then. Furthermore, the port was way, way better quality-wise than anyone dared to expect at the time, particularly based on previous experience. Now if only SEGA continues this trend, there could be a pretty penny for them to earn, and it would make a lot of people happy, myself included.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Valkyria Chronicles
Preview - posted by Grunker on Thu 11 December 2014, 23:24:35Tags: Blackguards 2; Daedalic Entertainment; The Dark Eye
We have to admit: we liked Daedalic's 2014 RPG Blackguards a lot. It was a turn-based, tactical, combat-oriented RPG with encounters that made us feel like they were crafted by a passionate GM leading a P&P campaign.
A lot of Codexers loved Blackguards. Some people from the outside (*shiver*) thought the game's pretty straightforward character system was "insanely complex." Fortunately, Daedalic said "fuck 'em!" and released the game without dumbing it down. In other words, Daedalic were bros. Yes, Blackguards was undocumented as fuck, which might have led more than one popamole casual-fag to stab himself in the eye with frustration. But after RPG Codex user felipepepe wrote an informative guide for the game, everything was just peachy.
In short: we couldn't wait for Blackguards 2. And now it's almost here! We were bursting at the seams with expectation when Darth Roxor received a preview copy of the game and started writing about the marvels we could expect.
So, without further ado, let's have a sneak peak into what he has to say:
Read the full article: RPG Codex Preview: Blackguards 2
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Sat 6 December 2014, 20:54:54Tags: Almost Human Games; Legend of Grimrock 2
It would be fair to say that, at the time of its release back in 2012, the success of the original Legend of Grimrock took not just any one of us, but everyone by surprise. A first person tile-based dungeon crawler in the vein of Dungeon Master? An RPG without BioWare-like epic plot or any NPCs to speak of, taking place in a single underground dungeon? What is this, Wizardry: Proving Grounds of Mad Overlord (which, as a prominent RPG designer told us, wouldn't even be considered an RPG if it was made today)? And still, it proved to be a smashing success. Surprisingly, yet deservedly so. Yes, it was streamlined compared to Dungeon Master. No - I might add - it did not have the same sense of danger or the same feel of a living, breathing dungeon that Chaos Strikes Back had. In any case, though, it was a good dungeon crawler.
However, when your first title is so successful, how do you go about making the sequel? Playing it safe, or expanding upon it? Thankfully, Almost Human went for the latter - while also acknowleding the limitations that are pretty much necessary to make a focused game. No NPCs or branching dialogue, just non-linear exploration. No C&C, just exploring the varied world not limited to a single dungeon anymore.
In this review, esteemed community member Decado elaborates on that, and introduces LoG II in general to those of you who, for whatever reason, haven't played it yet. Here's just one good excerpt:
I have to point out: there were one or two puzzles that, in retrospect, seem particularly unfair. A hard puzzle is one thing, but a hard puzzle with no clues -- or worse, no indication that you're in a puzzle at all -- can be infuriating. And more than once I ran into game-stopping puzzles, e.g. things you had to figure out to proceed, as opposed to figuring them out for a hidden item or some nice loot. These weren't absurdly difficult for me personally, but they would probably be showstoppers for some other people. Finally, sometimes the visuals themselves could make a puzzle difficult. It is hard to know that you should throw a rock onto yonder pressure plate if you can't see the goddamn thing. And I don't know about you, but I don't have a bunch of free rocks to be throwing around. Rocks don't grow on trees, for chrissake.
The only other big hiccup in the game is the navigation. LoGII is a pretty big world, and even the improved minimap cannot fix the lack of narrative direction. You eventually figure out you're supposed to be collecting these floating crystals, and you get pushed towards a foreboding castle that somehow requires all of these things to enter, but that's it. Some scattered, smart-assed notes from a hooded jerk-off are all you really get by way of instructions. Now, I don't want my hand to be held the whole way through, and I suspect most people playing this game don't want that either. But the lack of a journal or some kind of overarching story besides "You're stuck on this island!" presents a big hole in the presentation, especially because LoGII is such a huge game. In the first game, you were limited to a certain number of squares per dungeon, and you always knew you were heading down so, getting lost was virtually impossible. The second game, with its huge outdoor maps and multiple connection points between areas, requires a more robust framework. I like wandering around, but I don't like wandering around because I don't know what the hell else to do. [...]
When you put it all together, you get a hell of game. Challenging combat, an interesting skills mechanic, great visuals, terrific music, intelligent level design, and an overall feel for developing a living, breathing, dangerous world, puts Legend of Grimrock II quite high on my list of favorite RPGs. I will have to play it a few more times to be sure where I rank it, but it is probably in my top five of the last 15 years. Which means I will have to move Dragon Age II off of my list.
Read the full review: RPG Codex Review: Legend of Grimrock II
Review - posted by Infinitron on Wed 19 November 2014, 18:25:47Tags: Eric Shumaker; InXile Entertainment; Vault Dweller; Wasteland 2
During the months leading up to the release of Wasteland 2, many were the unbelievers who cast doubts upon the game's quality, and the matter of who would be reviewing it for the Codex was an issue of some contention. Luckily, all that changed when the game came out and turned out to be pretty decent after all. Former RPG Codex editor-in-chief and reviewer extraordinaire Vault Dweller, formerly a sceptic of Wasteland 2 himself, was now happy to make himself available to review the game. To make things even better, he teamed up with none other than Barkley 2 developer and Shoutbox savant Eric "cboyardee" Shumaker. And review they did!
It's now been exactly two months since Wasteland 2's release, and VD & Eric can't wait to finally show you how much they liked it. Here are their concluding remarks:
Like most people here, I play a lot of RPGs. Recently I played 4-5 games that shall not be named and couldn’t really get into them. Naturally, I suspected that maybe I lost my ability to enjoy games and get immersed due to age/kids/stress/etc.
Then I tried Wasteland 2 and couldn’t stop playing. The more I played, the more I wanted to. It’s a wonderful yet rare feeling that every gamer can relate to.
Does it mean that you’re going to like it? It depends entirely on your expectations. If you expected a long overdue sequel or a game that allows you to chart your own course, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you expected a game like [Fallout / Jagged Alliance / ‘best game evar’], you might be disappointed.
Fallout was a game where you explored the setting and could kick some ass if you chose to. WL2 is a game where you kick ass (i.e. combat heavy, which is the very definition of old-school design) and can explore the setting if you choose to. If you don’t, your mileage will vary.
Lastly, it's important to understand the context of Wasteland 2. RPGs have essentially been dead since 2005. Wasteland 2 is the second game and the instigator of what is probably an RPG renaissance. Wasteland 2 isn't just important for being a good game, it's important for being the first stepping stone on the way to Wasteland 3, Pillars of Eternity, Torment 2, countless other RPGs that would have never been made if inXile hadn't taken the risk to show that people still care about this genre. Wasteland 2 is the game that reopened the floodgates for RPG development.
Now, bring on that Red Boots DLC!
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Wasteland 2
Review - posted by Grunker on Mon 10 November 2014, 10:35:16Tags: Dark Heresy; Fantasy Flight Games; Games Workshop; WH40k
The RPG Codex sporadically takes a look into the world of Pen & Paper RPGs. After all, this glorious hobby of ours was spawned directly from that cosmos. With the introduction of our beloved Gazebo, we started rolling out more tabletop content.
However, since Monte Cook's Numenera, we haven't been that active with the ol' pen n' dice, so we thought that now was the time to once again peek into the realm of soda cans and sweaty arm pits. This time, it is Darth Roxor taking a look at Fantasy Flight Games' Warhammer 40,000: Dark Heresy, Second Edition:
the main questions are threefold:
- Whether it managed to fix some of the original’s glaring flaws
- Whether the overall theme of roleplaying an inquisitor’s private retinue of investigators tracking down WITCHCRAFT, HERESY AND MUTATION was preserved.
- Whether Fantasy Flight Games managed to cherry pick some of the better additions from the previous supplements and offshoots.
So how does that go, we wonder?
Uh-oh. Read more to follow the trainwreck to its station.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: WH40k - Dark Heresy, 2nd Edition
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Thu 30 October 2014, 15:01:00Tags: Activision; Nihilistic Software; Vampire the Masquerade - Redemption
One game the Codex never got around to reviewing is Nihilistic Software's Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, published by Activision in 2000 (and currently available from GOG.com). Compared to the much more celebrated Bloodlines, Redemption has fallen into relative obscurity and isn't generally considered a very good game. In this special Halloween feature, esteemed community member Deuce Traveler considers whether that reputation is deserved. (Spoiler: he thinks it is.) In the conclusion, another esteemed Codexer, felipepepe, offers a brief addendum on the game's Storyteller Mode.
Here's an excerpt to get you started:
I've played the tabletop version of the classic World of Darkness roleplaying game a handful of times, so while I'm not an expert, I know a bit about its Storyteller System ruleset. The Storyteller System was a d10 ruleset used by White Wolf for all of its World of Darkness titles, from Vampire: The Masquerade to Mage: The Ascension. The classic Vampire: The Masquerade rules that Redemption was based upon encouraged the use of skills for engaging in non-combat activities such as investigations and diplomacy. Often a group of Vampire players would investigate the activities of enemy Sabbat (the bad guys) agents infiltrating their city, or tread the interwoven politics of their own allied Camarilla (the supposed good guys). In Redemption, though, the designers went with the classic action RPG dungeon crawler formula, despite the fact that the Storyteller system was best suited for a less combat-oriented experience.
The game focuses on dungeon crawling and combat against larger numbers of vampires than would be reasonably expected to be residing in a single city. The skill system is completely tossed out - fighting is the only way of solving quests. There is also a bit of puzzle solving, which can be summed up as "find the hidden switch to open the next passageway". Instead of allowing you to explore the character of Christof and the world of which he is a part, the game takes the uninteresting Save The World route, without ever explaining how the big bad evil guy could take over the world when four vampires in trench coats can take him out easily enough.
Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption
Preview - posted by Grunker on Tue 21 October 2014, 19:29:29Tags: Stygian Software; Underrail
IS IT IMPOSSIBLE TO TOTALLY AVOID COMBAT IN UNDERRAIL?
It might actually not be, according to Blaine. It's been a long time since we last took a look at Styg's promising, upcoming game Underrail. Last time we did, we described it using such uncharacteristically bold language as
Hm. Well, the game has come a long way since then. We're hardly likely to use such words again, now that the game is much bigger and reality is sinking in, are we?
Perhaps we are. Here's a bit of what Blaine had to say about it:
Having said that, the game isn't without its flaws. As JarkFrank mentioned in his preview, there are a lot of typos, and boy, there really are a lot of them. They're present in skill/item descriptions as well as dialog. In addition, and this is my personal opinion, some of the NPC dialog is a bit awkward or rushed and should be copyedited and cleaned up. This is a very manageable flaw (though no small task) that could turn into a big one if allowed into the final release.
Also, the game is a little bit (really just a scosche) light on NPC dialog and C&C at the moment, though there is a good bit of dialog and C&C. Of course, the game's not finished, so it's hard to make a solid judgement, especially on the C&C front.
In conclusion, this game is great, and if you don't like it, you're a tasteless waste of oxygen and should be removed from the Codex. Grunker and/or Infinitron, you'd better not cut this part! It's important."
Alright Blaine, we won't. But what on earth does it take to make a Codexer use such strong, positive superlatives? Is Blaine a gushing fanboy, or is this game simply remarkably Codexian? Read the preview to find out! Who knows, maybe you'll be heading off to buy Underrail afterwards?
Read the full article: Underrail Preview MK2