Saturday, March 25, 2006

 

Oblivion - Impressions After 16 Hours

So far I've spent about 16 or 17 hours with Oblivion, and now feel like I'm familiar enough with the game to make some non-spoily comments.

Overall Oblivion is the most immersive game I've ever played, period. You really feel like you're there, in a richly detailed fantasy world, and there's very little to the game to pull you back to reality and make you feel like "oh yeah, I'm playing a game". Every time I've sat down to play I've been under for hours without even realizing the time flew by. The game lets you chart your own path and do your own things. There's a bazillion quests, a bazillion dungeons to explore, and more. YOu can play the game however you want, be it stealthy, gung-ho actiony, or however. It's extremely flexible.

Graphics are probably the best I've seen in any game, especially the outdoors landscapes. The forests literally look like real forests. The terrain looks realistic. There's plants and grass, and it's all so extremely realistic. In towns the detail is astounding, and the architecture has a very realisic style to it, you really feel like this could be a medieval town. The skies are excellent, and quite beautiful no matter what time of day it is, and constantly changing. Indoors, in the dungeons, feels like a dungeon. There are traps to avoid, it's gloomy, the rocks and walls all feel very realistic. The game's excellent physics system is another factor in adding to the immersion of this game.

The faces on NPCs are somewhat ugly in many cases, but look realistic. I think Bethesda was going for a specific realism factor over beauty and style. Facial expressions and the lip synching during the all-voice-acted conversations is also realistic. Almost all the voice work I've heard so far is very good if not great. Patrick Steward did an amazing job as the Emperor. In addition to the voice work the other sound effects are well done, and so is the game's music. The music has an epic feel to it during the highlights and battles, and a more subdued, quiet feel during exploring.

This is a game a person can spend hours and hours just exploring the world. In many ways it sticks to the same formula as Morrowind did. I never got into Morrowind, though, because I felt that the NPCs were too stale and the quests were too boring. So far that hasn't been the case with Oblivion, but this is still an Elder Scrolls game. Don't come to this game expecting a different style of game than it is. If you didn't like the style of MW, you won't like Oblivion either. Non-linear, explore the world at your own pace, that's what this game is about. There is a main quest, and I've heard that some have finished that in around 16 hours or so. I haven't really tried rushing through that, although I did do the first bit of it with the gate to Oblivion. Oblivion is another plane, where the demons come from, and you do get to explore the demon realm of Oblivion, which is kind of cool.

The game system seems pretty much the same as Morrowind's. Basically you have a "class" but that only determines what skills you start with, and the actual gameplay itself determines which skills go up. I had to restart after closing the first Oblivion portal, I couldn't handle the stuff in Kvatch and I was noticing real problems when leveling up my custom class "Asskicker" on my Dark Elf character. I had too many unrelated skills and the character just wasn't focused well enough I think.

So I decided to make a blue-haired mage name Kudos, a high-elf. I made it through the starter dungeon and started exploring some nearby ruins. I think I'm going to like this character better. I said "mage" but really this is another custom class, I call a "Spellsling". Magic specialization, favored stats of Intelligence and Willpower. Skills are Destruction, Conjuring, Restoration, Stealth, Security, Marksmanship, Light Armor. Tactics so far involve sneaking up on people, shooting them with a poisoned arrow, then shoot again until they close to melee, then fry their ass with spells. Seems to be working so far, but I haven't even gotten a level up yet. Anyone want to comment on my choices?

Yet, Oblivion is not perfect. There have been a number of complaints from people who have experienced crashes. I myself have experienced one crash to desktop in 16 hours of play. I've also had the game lock up or crash when exiting a couple of times. Performance, on the other hand, is excellent, the game runs extremely smooth for me. My rig is far from top of the line, but also not bottom feeding either. P4 3.2ghz, 1gb RAM, GF 6800GS 256mb.

The other not quite as bad flaw is the game's interface. It definitely has some consolitus going on. There's not enough customization allowed on the keyboard, and the menu system is a bit slow and cumbersome to work with. Not hard to figure out, but not efficient. The game does allow you to hotkey weapons to number slots (or spells, or potions). But you can only use keys 1 - 8, for some unknown reason. On the plus side, the game pauses if you hit the menu key (i've remapped it, it defaults to TAB), and then you can select spells or equip weapons on that screen, even during a combat.

The Journal automatically keeps track of quests which is nice. It will even put a marker on your compass to let you know where you need to go. You can also bring up a map, and if you don't want to go overland the long way, there is a quick-travel icon that you can click the places on the map you've visited (and some you haven't) and instantly travel to that location. That's pretty handy for getting around this very large game world.

In conclusion, Oblivion has sucked me in like no game since World of Warcraft. I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. Right now if I had to rate this game I'd give it 9 / 10. I consider this a must-own game for anyone who prefers a non-linear, free to do what you want style of RPG. If you played and enjoyed Morrowind, this is a must-own game, it's got everything good about Morrowind and a lot more and does it all all a lot better. If you didn't enjoy Morrowind, you might not like Oblivion depending on what you didn't like about Morrowind.

I'll post more on this game probably in a few weeks when I have played even further and hopefully know more about game balance, have experienced more of the quests, and can give more insight into the setting/story.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

 

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - First Impressions

I never really liked Morrowind that much, so I surprised myself when I decided to pre-order Bethesda's latest RPG in the franchise, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. So far Oblivion has grabbed me like no PC game in a long while, and I just hope it lasts.

The first thing I noticed about Oblivion is the graphics. Oblivion has pretty much the best graphics of any PC game I've ever seen. The forests/outdoors are so realistic it's mind blowing. The only game I've seen that has water in the same league as this is Half Life 2's Lost Coast demo. Oblivion uses an HDR (High-Dynamic Range) technique for lighting that gives it a very realistic feel. Character models and animations are very realistic, especially facial expressions on the NPCs when they are talking to you, it's like they can convey emotion.

So, the eye candy is very nice, but Oblivion also has gameplay coming out of it's ass. But it's a lot like MW's gameplay, so if you didn't like the "explore everywhere, do your own thing, living world" aspect of MW you won't like Oblivion's. But Oblivion does it better, much better in fact than any game I've ever played. It's truly an open-ended RPG, but it also has a pretty interesting main quest so far.

The physics system is perhaps the best I've ever seen in any game. It's absolutely amazing. At the very beginning of the game you find a bow and arrows, and there's a well with a bucket hanging above the well. If you shoot the bucket, the arrow sticks in it, and the weight of the arrow alters the center of gravity on the bucket making it tilt slightly. Retrive yoru arrow and the bucket readjusts back to center. This is just one example, but everything so far in the world just feels right, it's quite amazing. Bodies of slain enemies when falling down seem to fall realistically. There was another scene that was pretty cool where a bunch of goblins were standing around down an incline and there was a stack of logs, I snuck up and pushed the logs over and they rolled down the hill, crushing the goblins.

I've been reading some reports from people that have had crashes and stability issues. So far, I've not had a single crash or lock-up. About 6 hours of play time so far, in two long sessions. It's really too early to say how widespread the crashing is.

The menu interface could be better. Not all functions can be assigned to hotkeys and not all keys are reconfigurable, but most are. I haven't bothered doing it tho, the default interface is pretty good. Much better than Gothic games, I'll say that. And I was willing to put up with a lame UI for Gothic. Oblivion's interface takes a little getting used to but it isn't non-intuitive like Gothic was. The menus aren't terribly efficient, but they're easy to figure out.

You can hotkey spells and equipment to the number keys. So I have 1 set to my sword, 2 set to my bow, and 3 set to my fireball spell. I set 5 up for the healing spell. Stuff like that. Makes it very quick to select what you want to do and do it. And as a bonus, unlike MW, you can have a spell active and a weapon active at the same time so you can bash away and heal yourself without swapping out. I haven't gotten good at blocking, I am going to have to learn that soon. But so far I'm more of a ranged guy, using stealth and then shooting my bow gives a massive damage bonus, so I can take out a lot of enemies with one hit.

Game system is a lot like Morrowind's. I'm just hoping it's more balanced than MW's was. I can't really say for sure if it is or not, still early in the game. I can say that I'm enjoying this game immensely more than MW, and the game system this time around for some reason isn't a detraction. I usually hate systems where you get better at skills by using them versus spending points on what you want, but Oblivion so far is so immersive it just feels right. That may be the "new" of the game tho, so I'll report more back after I've gotten past the initial excitement to see if it still has appeal later.

I just got a new keyboard, a Zboard MERC, which lets me customize the keys even if the game doesn't, and has a very nice "fps" layout with tons of keys very handy together on the left side. I haven't had to customize keys yet but I can see where I might want to a bit. The MERC keyboard so far is pretty nice, I can see this being a real boon for FPS games especially. So far all the keys in Oblivion mapped to appropriate and intuitive keys on the MERC without me having to do anything except for the inventory (tab) key, which is a bit smallish and I might want to reassign that one. There's even a quick-save, quick-load pair of buttons on the merc real handy like and those mapped automatically too.

Going to play more Oblivion tonight and over the weekend, and will post more about it later. I'll also post more about my impressions of the MERC keyboard when I have a chance.

 

Pissing Video Games

BoingBoing reports about a project to add a video game to urinals so that you try and pee on targets to score points. Hilarious. Kind of leaves the ladies out in the cold, though.

 

Demo Discs - Dead or Still Relevant?

Joystiq posted up a plea to kill off the demo disk. Here's the relative quote:

As a medium of distribution, it's time for physical media to die and never come back. Internet users have for years now been downloading game demos from myriad websites, and console gamers are now getting the chance to do the same. With the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo "Revolution" all promising digital downloads, isn't it time we did away with ecologically disastrous demo disks for good? And once we've ditched demo disks, let's work on tossing those dastardly CDs, UMDs, MDs, DVDs, HD-DVDs, and Blu-Ray disks too, like so many cookies after a rough ride at the amusement park.

Everytime I read something like this I just laugh and wonder how the writer could be so short sighted. Yes, being able to download demos is nice, but it is certainly no replacement for having demos on a physical media. Broadband penetration in the US is only at around 60%, and there's a LOT of gamers that live in remote, rural areas that can't get it even if they want it. Even then, a lot of so-called broadband connections are crappy 128k connections that are fine for web surfing but painfully slow for downloading 300mb demos. On top of that, the hard drives in consoles aren't all that large (esp. the 360), and unless people are happy with downloading, playing right then, and deleting, there's going to be a demand for a more permanent storage.

And as for full fledge games, we're nowhere NEAR ready for digital-delivery only. Not even on the PC, where hard drives are large and cheap. With games regularly being 5gb+, that's just too big, even for fast broadband, to put up with when buying a DVD is so much quicker, more convenient, and above all, permanent. Sure, you'll always have people who like digital downloads, and that's fine, but there's a LOT of people not ready for that yet who prefer a physical media.

Even in the music world, where songs/albums are relatively painless and quick downloads, there's still a demand for physical media. In conclusion, we're not there yet, and we won't be for quite a while. Broadband is going to have to get much faster, storage capacity on our devices bigger, and even then there's still advantages to a permanent physical media.

What do you think? Tell me in comments.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

 

Two New Reviews

Two of my reviews have been posted to GameChronicles. The first one is for 80 Days, an adventure game. I give it 5.7 out of 10. Would have been a lot better if some of the technical glitches had been resolved.

The other review is for the Xbox game, Crime Life: Gang Wars, an "urban violence" game that tries to mimic games like Grand Theft Auto 3. Do not buy it. Please. This is the lowest score I've ever given a game, 2.8 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

 

How Many Websites Do You Visit?

TechDirt has an article asking how many websites do you visit daily on average? This got me thinking about my own use of the web.

For one thing, my surfing habits changed radically when I discovered RSS feeds (thanks Lyndal!). I use Bloglines as my RSS aggregator, and so I go to that site pretty much every day, and it helps me monitor some 71 websites at the moment. I have subscribed to as many as 150 feeds, but since I was marking a lot of them as read without reading them, I truncated that list down by about half recently. Without Bloglines/RSS, I would probably at best keep track of 20-30 sites.

Apart from Bloglines, I also visit the following web sites daily or almost daily:
How many web sites do you visit daily? What are some of your favorites?

Friday, March 03, 2006

 

Now Playing: Various

Last week or two since finishing Final Fantasy, I have been in "game browser" mode, as usual, playing various games and trying to find my next big addiction. I think I may have found it... and it's not at all what I would have expected.

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (Nintendo DS) - this is an RPG mixed with a platformer. It's basically a sequel to the GBA game Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, which I haven't played. I am trying to aquire a copy of Superstar Saga, because I think playing it first might help me. Although, the difficulty in Partners in Time ramps up pretty gradually, really. But I still kind of want to play Superstar Saga first, since Partners is sort of like Superstar but on steriods, and I'm worried that Superstar won't be as fun after finishing Partners. I'm only level 7 or 8 or so in the game so still early. It is definitely a fun game, for sure. Tentatively I'd give it an A.

DUO (PC) - this is a free little shooter by Binary Zoo that I've been spending a few hours on so far. It's highly addictive and very innovative. Kind of hard to describe. It will run on even older PCs. Go ahead, download it, you'll like it! Definitely a B+ and for free you can't beat that.

RPG Maker 3 (PS2) - this is a toolbox game. It comes with a sample adventure, but the main purpose of the sample is to show off the editor. The game lets you design your own 3D RPG game. The look and feel of it reminds me somewhat of Grandia 2 or something similar. The combat, however, is not as good as Grandia series, it's just a simple turn-based system it seems. I'm kind of bummed that they don't really include any easy way to share your adventures with others, so what's the point? I know you can supposedly somehow get the adventures off and upload them to a web site, because there is a web site for it for sharing the adventures. But it's not intuitive. Slow loading times when transfering between areas of the game and going in and out of combat was also a turn-off to it for me. This was a rental, not sure if I'll pick it up or not, might. The thing is, it doesn't seem to have a very thriving community, and any editor game has to have a community otherwise you got no audience for your work. I'd be better off waiting for Neverwinter Nights 2, or even just writing a module for the original Neverwinter Nights, which has a thriving community. So far I'd give RPG Maker 3 a C or so, and that's only if you are interested in the editor.

80 Days (PC) - this is a review game, can't say much on it except it's kind of an action/adventure. Check back here for a linky to a review on GameChronicles soon.

Crime Life: Gang Wars (Xbox) - this is another review game, a beat 'em up action game. Look for a review on GameChronicles soon.

None of those really grabbed me fully, however, to the extent of "addiction".... but .... one game has ....

Animal Crossing: Wild World (Nintendo DS) - This game is pure crack. I laughed at people who had pre-ordered this game, thinking it was going to be dorky. Well, call me a dork. I'm hooked. It's a very simple game, really. You make up a character name and a town name. You move into town and immediately get sandbagged by the local entrepreneur with a big mortgage for your house, and you got no money. But there are lots of ways to make "bells" in the game (the currency). And you'll get to meet all the talking animals that also live in your town. The main purpose of the game seems to be in collecting stuff. You can catch fish, bugs, find fossils, collect furniture and items for your house, upgrade your house, try and build up relationships with the other town folk, etc. It's got a suprising amount of depth. And you can even go online using Nintendo Wi-Fi and visit the towns of your friends. I haven't had a chance to try that yet, but plan to do it this weekend some. I wanted to get a feel for the game first. So far I'm rating this game A+, best game on the DS so far. If you have this game, post me or email me your friends code so we can visit each other in the game!

 

Depeche Mode Meets The Sims 2

Just read on GameSpot that Depeche Mode has re-recorded their hit single "Suffer Well" from the "Playing the Angel" album, with new lyrics in The Sims gibberish language for The Sims 2 expansion, Open for Business.

I'm a pretty big Depeche Mode fan. I got to go see them in concert this fall for their Playing the Angel tour. I hadn't heard the album before the concert, but I went and got it right after that. It's great, it's probably my favorite DM album since "Violator". The concert is absolutely amazing, if it comes near you, definitely go see it.

It's pretty cool that DM is getting in a video game, even if it's a meh one like the Sims 2. Actually I shouldn't say that, I haven't played Sims 2 for PC, but I didn't like The Sims for PC and didn't like The Sims 2 for Xbox [my review]. The subtitle of Playing the Angel is "pain and suffering in various tempos". That's kind of how I feel about The Sims.

I think it would be fun to hear the new version of "Suffer Well" in the Simlish language. Hopefully someone will rip that out of the game and post it as an MP3 somewhere. ;)

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