Archive for the ‘Computer Games’ Category

Divinity II: Dragon Knight Saga – Review

Jan 30th, 2011

Note

This review was originally written for the forums of Rock, paper, Shotgun, it has been modified here to make it more suitable for a blog entry. Unfortunately, as it was somewhat spontaneous, and was written after I had finished, and uninstalled the game, I unfortunately don’t have any screenshots to illustrate the review. The review is for the PC version of the game.

I picked up Divinity II: Dragon Knight Saga with some slight trepidation; while I had been first attracted to the game prior to its initial release in the form of Divinity II: Ego Draconis, poor reviews for the first release dissuaded me from taking the plunge. With the release of the expansion pack, Flames of Vengeance, Larian Studios remastered the first game, incorporating an improved graphics engine and a number of other improvements. The Dragon Knight Saga release includes this remastered version of the first game, and the Flames of Vengeance expansion, which extends and concludes the story. With reports that these improvements had addressed some of the main issues that had marred the original release, I picked up Dragon Knight Saga in the Steam sale, and was pleasantly surprised. In many ways it is a B-list game, lacking spit and polish of your AAA games, while at the same time avoiding the true levels of innovation which would help it truly step above the competition. However, if your looking for an enjoyable RPG romp, with a few neat ideas, then it manages to deliver solidly.

The most obvious of these neat ideas is the central conceit, the ability to turn into a dragon, something which ensured that the game jumped on to my radar. However, while the idea isn’t exactly squandered, it certainly isn’t used to its full potential, barely making an appearance until halfway through the game, and remaining almost entirely unused in the “Flames of Vengence” expansion. For the most part, dragon sections feel like a separate mini-game, albeit one which is remarkably useful for making a rapid escape from danger. They are competent enough, but for the most part lack the depth and variety of the human portions of the game. Instead, the draconic nature of the main character plays a far more interesting role in the development of the plot, although again, this scenario is not explored to its full potential. In practice, neither of these decisions should be seen as a major failing on the part of the game; instead the reflect on clear design decision, in terms of gameplay and exposition respectively. However, if your primary reasons for looking at the game were to take part in epic in air combat, or to experience a detailed consideration of the nature of the self and the nature of humanity (or draconity) then you’d best look elsewhere.

While the central conceit may fail to deliver anything more than a distraction, the rest of the game provides more than enough satisfaction. The mind-reading skill provides a neat mechanic, providing a few rewards or alternative quest solutions along the way. In many ways it acts in a similar manner to speech checks in other RPGs, but the experience cost for mind reading means that its use becomes considered, rather than the ‘speech check option’ magic button seen in games like Mass Effect.

The game is classless, allowing you to easily develop your character as you wish. I was easily able to create a battle mage, giving myself a nice selection of DPS spells, summons, healing and crowd control, while still ensuring I was durable in melee combat and could deal out considerable damage with my dual wield weapons. The ability to upgrade skills ensures that spells do not become underpowered as the game progresses, and it is easy to respec your skill tree later should you have a change of heart.

Other nice mechanics are the weapon and armour enchantment, which can make significant differences to the performance of your kit. However, one criticism is that the weapon damaged modifications are ridiculously overpowered at the higher levels, making them no-brainer choices when compared to the other possibilities. The problem is further compounded for dual wield characters, as damage modifiers on your main hand, also effect your off hand, and vice versa. By the end of the game I was dealing more damage due to my enchantments than due to the base damage of the weapons themselves.

Necromancy provides a ‘creature,’ which acts as a summon for all character builds. The choice of different limb sets allows the creature to be customised to perform different roles, loosely falling into mage, ranger and tank. While in the early game your creature can be a valuable ally, by the end game a maxed out creature will be only a minor distraction for your enemies. It would have been nice to see a bit more tactical depth introduced at this point, allowing the player to issue basic commands to the creature, although it is possible that the developers wished to avoid the feeling that you need to micromanage your summons.

While combat provides enough depth to allow the player to customise their approach, and to ensure they aren’t reduced to continually spamming the same skill, it is slightly lacking in variety. While enemies show slight differences in damage sensitivities, it isn’t sufficient to discourage a one size fits all approach, especially in the later stages. Additionally, power games are likely to find themselves becoming overpowered towards the end of the expansion, although I can be partly blamed here as I entirely forgot I could turn up the difficulty.

The game isn’t going to win any awards for writing, and the plot, while entertaining, is lacking in depth, or any striking originality. However, it is entirely serviceable, and has enough twists and variations to prevent it from becoming overly predictable. ‘Dark’ fantasy this is not, and the game never takes itself too seriously; it is perfectly willing to mock itself when it needs to, voice acting is often served with a large side order of ham, and most conversations have a few witty retorts.

Quest design is pleasantly varied, and often enough allows for a couple of different solutions; although in many cases the repercussions of these decisions are decidedly limited. A few quests even involve jumping puzzles, unusual for an RPG; for the most part the third person perspective, and decent platform placement, ensures that these are pleasant change of pace, rather than a source of hair pulling frustration. Especially nice are the unmarked quests, such as small puzzles in dungeons that may lead to a chest of loot. These latter puzzles couple well with the games rewarding of exploration. With the tutorial out the way, it is theoretically possible to run through the world that will host most of the original campaign. In practice you’ll soon be killed by enemies outside your level; the game features no level scaling, and until the expansion pack, pretty much no respawning.

One of the nicest features of the game is the great art design, and there are some fantastic areas and enemies. While it would have been nice had the designers gone completely overboard with some of these designs, there are still obvious efforts to ensure that some of the more cookie cutter sections, such as the flying fortresses, are still given their own flavour.

I realise that this review might sound a bit 70%, however the game holds together remarkably well; it is better than this. It is, for the large part enjoyably competent, but with a few touches of something much better. Like a cheap summer blockbuster, that somehow manages to get all the elements in the right place, and shines through because the people who made it were genuinely enjoying what they were doing. Divinity II knows that it is not AAA material, and it gloriously recognises this fact and revels in it. It reminds me of games from the 90s, before they were ‘serious business,’ and never worries about being a bit silly if that means things will be more fun. Finally, although you shouldn’t buy it solely because of this fact, you can play a bloody dragon.

In the UK, Divinity II: Dragon Knight Saga is currently available on PC by digital distrubution only.

Aquaria

Mar 1st, 2009

This review is compiled from my posts on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and the snopes message boards.

I’ve just finished Aquaria, one of the most beautiful and magical games I’ve played. On its surface the game can be thought of as borrowing from Ecco the Dolphin and Metroid.

Aquaria is a beautiful game

Aquaria is a beautiful game

I got it shortly before Christmas on the recommendation of someone on RPS with the intent of playing it on my netbook. However the small screen made this a bit fiddly, and the graphic quality was cranked right down, meaning that I lost one of the main appeals of the game. However I then picked the game up on my desktop one evening when I wasn’t feeling like playing some of the other titles I got recently. I fell in love, and for the past couple of weeks its all I played.

Firstly, the game is beautiful, both visually and audibly. Fantastic artwork seems to flow and move naturally, creating one of the most visually rich and dynamic environments in gaming. This creates a game environment which feels amazingly emotive, and ultimately feeds in to the feelings of loss and loneliness which are woven into the plot. Exploration forms a central part of the gameplay and is truly rewarding in itself.

The plot is simple on the surface, but has a subtlety to it which rewards closer inspection. It is a rare game where you can actually identify themes, and a still rarer one where those themes are interwoven in different parts of the game design.

I’m actually feeling somewhat saddened that it now looks as though there will not be the hinted sequel. The feelings of intense heartbreak for dubious rewards is something I am familiar with, in the entirely unrelated field of completing a PhD, so I can’t criticise the team’s reluctance to pour themselves back into the project. I just hope that their move to pursue independent projects may allow them to return to Aquaria in the future.

I strongly recommend the game to anyone who has a half-way decent PC or Mac, as the game has very low specification requirements, and even manages to work on my netbook (although it is not entirely smooth and looks so much nicer on a larger screen). The game is available on Steam.

A little slice of fortress life

May 4th, 2008

I recently upgrade my computer, and yet since then I have been almost entirely addicted to the ASCII game Dwarf Fortress. My 8800GT weeps with boredom, yet my processor still seems to get a fair work out due to the sheer ammount of detail involved. I’ll speak more on the game properly later, but I thought I’d leave you with a delightful snippet from the announcements page:

Zas Zasallas, Marksdwarf has given birth to a boy.
Zas Zasallas, Marksdwarf cancels Sleep: Seeking Infant

Many parents must know the feeling, but the mind boggles as the second message appeared about a second after the first!