I haven’t written about videogames for a long time, so in this post I’d like to give a summary of the videogames I’ve played over the past year or so and my thoughts on them. In general I don’t play much different videogames, even though I buy interesting games on Steam a few times a year if they can be bought very cheaply when there is a discount. For example, I bought Civilization IV, Bioshock, Dead Space and Fallout 3 many months and even years ago when they were heavily discounted, but I haven’t even played them once so far. Because other games such as Counter-Strike: Source and Left 4 Dead 2 still keep me occupied, even after playing these games for years. I guess this is a testament to how great these games are, I simply do not need any other games to have fun, but the discounts are effective to seduce me because the discounts are temporary. Who wants to risk paying more later for a game you think is interesting?
I finished playing all three games of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. Maybe the best way to describe it would be a combination of Oblivion (because of the openness of the game) and first-person shooters. But what sets it apart from the competition most is the creepy atmosphere set in the East Bloc. It’s one the few games which made me feel fear, with all the mutants lurking in the dark buildings and in the open field at night. What is also notable is that it was made by a Ukrainian developer, GSC Gameworld. Unfortunately this developer has closed its doors due to financial problems, which is a great loss for the gaming industry. On Rock, Paper, Shotgun they have already described very well what makes this game series good. If you decide to play these games, take a look at the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Complete mod or all of the three titles in the series. This mod fine tunes so many aspects of the games that it takes them to the next level.
The Witcher 2 is in my opinion the best game of 2011. This is game is ‘ploughing’ awesome, as anyone who has played it will understand. The Witcher 1 had an interesting plot, but the action was utterly boring with it’s constant chaining of combos with a mouse click. And if a group of enemies attacked you would just use group style to kill everything surrounding you. The sequel solves this by introducing a far better combat system which requires skill to execute combos. It’s not obvious at all in the game, but I mean that you can attack more efficiently if time the strikes right. And unlike the first game, groups of enemies are now very dangerous. I thought that that the first group of enemies in the game that you fight without help were easy, but I got my ass kicked badly. Even later in the game mobs of enemies frequently killed me, the mobs of Nekkers and Drowners around Flotsam for example.
This brings me to the difficulty level. The Witcher 2 does it the other way around, as you progress the game gets easier because you become more powerful. Some people don’t like this because they expect the beginning of a game to be easy and the end to be difficult. There is something to be said for that, the Quen sign you can use later in the game for example can damage enemies as they attack you and you can keep it up more or less continuously, which is a bit cheap. But it’s great that becoming powerful makes you feel really powerful for change. Oblivion would be the total opposite of The Witcher 2. Even if your level is super high in that game, monsters and town guards adapt their level as well and can wipe the floor with the all-powerful player. In a sense that makes it effectively pointless to become more powerful. It came as no surprise then that some mods (Oscuro’s Oblivion Overhaul being the best example probably) for Oblivion returned to fixed levels.
The boss fights in The Witcher 2 deserve a special mention. Like some of the monster mobs the Kayran and to a lesser degree Letho iced me many times before I managed to defeat them. It almost got too frustrating after trying more than ten times to kill the Kayran, but you know what? It was justified, harsh but fair. After some practice I could kill the Kayran and come out of the fight unscathed, as is demonstrated on some YouTube videos. It’s good to have a game with a challenge since most games nowadays are way too easy. The Witcher 2 is still nothing like Nintendo Hard, which I think is unreasonably hard (I like a challenge but I play games for fun after all). I played the game on normal difficulty, anyone who goes for easy because they can’t win lacks a healthy dose of perseverance, or to say it less diplomatically: is a coward. Plough you!
What is also notable is the massive upgrade of the graphics compared to its predecessor. Flotsam is beautiful, if wasn’t surrounded by Scoia’tael and monsters I’d sign up for a holiday there, maybe a river cruise? And the scene in the Elven Baths will certainly be remembered in the history of gaming! That scene contributes quite a bit to the mature character of this game. While The Witcher 1 wasn’t very child-friendly either, its successor has an even greater dose of maturity with plenty of blood and sex. It is interesting to note that both The Witcher games are rated 18 but that Battlefield 2 was rated 16. Yet that game doesn’t even display blood if anyone dies. So a game rated for 16 is very tame (I can’t see why it wouldn’t be suitable for the age of 12), but in a gap of just two years you can get the full dose of maturity. Go figure.
To finish this and prevent me from rambling on about how great The Witcher 2 is this whole post, let me conclude that there are a few more things which make it great besides the combat system, the difficulty, the graphics and the mature content. The plot and writing is good, even though the last chapter is not as good as the first and the second. The game has attention for detail, for example the drunkard singing a song near the fireplace outside Loredo’s mansion in Flotsam. Choices matter, different choices made can warrant another playthrough because the paths of Iorveth and Roche are so different.
Then let’s finish with discussing mods. I’m following the development of XreaL closely, which aims to revive Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory with a more advanced game engine licensed under the GPL and free content licensed under the Creative Commons. I think Broken Crescent is a great mod for Medieval 2: Total War, but it’s not cool that the AI cheats. The game generates huge AI reinforcements out of thin air to compensate for the AI’s stupidity, which certainly makes for interesting battles but also makes the game too difficult. I’m looking forward to the release of Black Mesa most, I’m convinced that mod will be an awesome remake of the original Half-Life but it’s a pity that it takes forever to release and that they don’t give much news updates. Europa Barbarorum 2 shares the first place, just like Black Mesa it’s a mod with a gargantuan effort and an extremely dedicated team behind it.
Unfortunately some of the latest titles such as Battlefield 3 don’t have modding support. EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) has roots in the modding community since it hired some of the developers of the Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942, so it’s ironic they can’t manage to make modding tools available. DICE says that they don’t support Battlefield 3 modding because it’s too difficult for modders, while at the same time keeping the option open that modding support might still come in the future. It’s the same issue with Total War: Shogun 2, the developers of The Creative Assembly say it’s too difficult to offer good modding tools due to the complexity of the game. Even if I believe them – and I tend to think they are honest and it’s not a conspiracy for selling downloadable content – it doesn’t change the fact that good mods are not (yet) possible for these games!
For me the fact that Battlefield 2 has mods like Project Reality, Point of Existence 2 and others greatly extended my interest in that game. And I even thought a mod like Europa Barbarorum was necessary to fix the flaws of Rome: Total War, the original game is nothing compared to that mod. This means that I’m not going to buy Battlefield 3 or Shogun 2 for the full price. Concerning the full price, it seems that EA takes their customers for fools. For a direct download over their Origin platform, they ask € 50 and an additional € 15 for the Back to Karkand extra content.But I can buy Battlefield 3 for € 32 in the store, and the Limited Edition which includes Back to Karkand for € 41. And then I get physical DVD’s and I don’t have to let my PC download the game overnight. Steam also charges more than retailers on some occasions, but EA easily trumps that. I’ll wait until Battlefield 3 is discounted before I consider buying it. When Shogun 2 was discounted on Steam for € 15 or so I decided that was cheap enough to buy it, I’ll give my opinion about it in the next page because this post is getting too long.