Posts Tagged ‘PC’

Divinity II: Dragon Knight Saga – Review

Jan 30th, 2011


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.

Delving Greedily and Deeply

May 19th, 2008

My last blog entry briefly mentioned the game Dwarf Fortress, and as promissed I thought I’d go in to a bit more detail.

Dwarf Fortress is a freeware indie game, that comes in at just 5.3 MB, that’s just 37 centipeggles for those familiar with Rock, Paper, Shotgun. However inside this small package you have one of the most detailed and absorbing games I have ever played.

Dwarf Fortress is really two games in one; fortress mode is a strategy/management game; adventurer mode is a Rogue alike RPG. Both games are set in the same world, and when your fortress finally falls you can descend into it in adventure mode and read the story of its fall engraved in its walls, and perhaps pick up a few artifacts that your dwarves themselves created.

However it is fortress mode which recieves the most attention, and rightly so. To attempt to compare it to commercial games would be to describe a breeding experiment involving Dungeon Keeper, The Settlers, and a DOS era word processor. In attempting to describe my first impressions of the game over at the snopes message boards I said the following:

I’ve been looking at the arcane and unwieldy ‘Dwarf Fortress,’ a freeware ASCII strategy/Roguealike game with the depth of an oceanic trench and an interface that would make the cockpit of a space shuttle seem user friendly. Despite its rudimentary graphics, the game still manages to take quite a chunk out of my computers processing power.

The games motto is ‘loosing is fun’ and that is something I fear may soon hit me. The first winter has hit and already I appear to have run out of seeds and yet have just taken an influx of new migrants which has doubled the population of my fortress. My carpenter has been working flat out to produce new beds for the migrants, while I’ve been very fortunate that one of the newcommers brought an axe with them, as the only one my party brought with them at the begining was stolen from the bedside of one of my dwarfs by an invading kobold.

Unfortunately I have no weapons, as I can’t build a smithy without an anvil, and the trading caravan that was supposed to bring one left with impatince as not only was my trade depot not built, but my broker was asleep when the caravan arrived.

Of course I can always slaughter some of the horses that gave birth in my Dining room, and the dogs have been trained up to hunt. My brewer is working efficiently, although I fear I may have brewed up too much alcohol, depleting valuble food reserves in the process. Still, my leader is a bit an alcoholic, so maybe she’ll get through the supplies.

I’m also dreading the day when I accidently mine into a nearby pond, flooding half my fortress.

That fortress survived a flooding, but sucumbed later, not to invaders, but rather to the after effects:

Dead, all dead. A series of invading goblins were bravely fought off by my quickly recruited militia, but we suffered heavy losses. Many of the Dwarves were severely depressed, and their refusal to work meant that the bodies of their friends began to rot in the corridors. In an attempt to raise the mood ‘Stoney,’ the leader, threw a party, however tragedy was to occur. A woodcutter flipped, sinking into a blood-frenzy, murdering half the dwarves in the party, and chasing the rest through the tunnels of my fortress. Those that weren’t killed slipped irreversibly into depression, and the death of the leader ensured they all stood arround doing very little. Eventualy the mad woodcutter was taken down but it was too late, the three remaining Dwarves starved in their beds until a final invading goblin force wiped them all out.

I’m now on my second fortress, located in the same world as the first, but some distance away. I learnt lessons from the first, and dug myself in much deeper, with only an entrance. Still, at one point I was down to a couple of dwarves, before a huge influx of immigrants rescued me. I’ve flooded half the fortress and rescued it, using the drained flood water to tide my fortress through the winter when all surface water was frozen and beer had run out.

I’ve got regular trade going on with elves, dwarves and humans, although have managed to annoy the elves on one occasion. (I’d dread to think what it would be like cooking for elves. The vegitarianism isn’t a problem (although I’m sure my dwarves don’t agree) but I fear they’d also object to my wooden table.) I’ve now extended my defenses, which seems to have attracted even more attention from the goblins than I was getting previously. The last siege was fought off with few casualties, but a smaller ambush proved to be a greater issue as my moat froze over in the winter, allowing them to bypass the bridge.

The game is still under development, and new features are continuously being added. It seems that the next version will look at military activity during world generation, with the eventual goal of providing the player with the ability to launch invasions against other settlements. However, the immediate results will be seen as a more detailed world history, and more variation in the civilizations you meet.

The early issues with the interface faded quickly as I became more familiar with the game, you get used to it. I…I don’t even see the code. All I see is dwarf, elephant, tower-cap. However, the game still seems to be throwing new challenges at me as my fortress gets larger, not to mention my projects are getting more and more ambitious. My warehouse/tower next to my trade depot is more or less complete, although still needs a final roof. My new defense network is mostly up and running, and I think I’ve got my resevoir systems hooked up correctly. Of course, I need to think about draining that moat. but that will involve blocking off the feeder chanels, so shall probably have to wait until winter rolls around again.

Computing memories…

Sep 16th, 2007

On my (one of my) first day(s) at school I arrived to find a new delivery of BBC Micros. The slightly imposing size of the system sat on its trolley obviously impressed a young me, yet what surprised me even more was seeing the system in operation. I was fascinated, and immediately decided it was something I wanted a closer look at. Thus, on returning home that day I calmly informed my parents that I wanted a computer.

Now, such a request would seem as though it would be met with white faces and dread as my parents worried about financial outlay. However fortune smiled, as an unused and presumed broken Commodore 64 sat in the loft. My parents crossed their fingers, and my Dad took me for a walk as my mum set up the system. As we walked, my Dad told me about the various games that were on the system, and I became more excited. I returned home to find the system largely working, but my mum was having difficultly loading Hangman, and I didn’t get a chance to use they system that evening. But it didn’t matter, I had my first computer.

I can’t remember many games we had on the C64. Maziacs was one, and later my Dad brought a copy of a Sooty and Sweep based ‘Jet Set Willy‘ clone. I think ‘Jet Set Willy’ itself may have been the first game we actually got working, and I was greatly amused by the flapping toilet at the beginning. ‘Ant Attack‘ was another game that we got working on that second evening, and later also obtained on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, both on tape and microdrive. We never did get Hangman working, and another game ‘Bathtime’ also refused to work.

Come winter, possibly the same year, the car broke down, and we ended up heading out to a garage somewhere to get it repaired. As I played with the icicles hanging from the roof of a shed (seriously) I didn’t realise that the C64 had been left on at home and, ironically given the weather, the power supply overheated. We sent it off to a family friend, who declared it irreparable. What I don’t understand is why we didn’t just replace the power supply, as I’m sure this was where we were told the problem lay. Possibly there had also been a surge which also fried the system, but I don’t recall this being mentioned.

While I dissected the C64 to find out what it looked like on the inside we got a new system in the form of a second hand ZX Specturn, with hoards of second hand games. Among these was the re-appearance of ‘Ant Attack’ and ‘Jet Set Willy’ as well as ‘The Very Big Cave Adventure,’ a simplified version of ‘ADVENT‘ with simple graphics. My parents had previously played ‘Colossal Cave’ together, a story wich the gamer in me finds very sweet. (Apparently they found it on the server at Bath University, I’m not entirely sure what they were doing at Bath University however. I think they also had a copy on the C64.) My Dad also brought me a copy of ‘Popeye II,’ which was the first of many games that we brought for the system. Car Boot sales provided a veritable treasure trove of titles, but we also got many games in the shops. Among my favourites were ‘Knight Lore,’ ‘Spy Hunter‘ and the Dizzy series.

By the time I was eight we had gone through several Spectrum systems, due to both hardware faults and the fact that a few people seemed to farm their old systems off on us. At one point I think we have three working systems, all of slightly different variations. (The ZX Spectrum, The ZX Spectrum+ and a Dktronics keyboard.) However by this point the hardware was very dated and I had fallen for a new beast, the Commodore Amiga.

For my eighth birthday I received a ‘Commodore Amiga 600,’ still my favourite system of all time. My parents had claimed that they didn’t have enough money to afford the system, and given a couple of other large purchases they had made at the same time (Namely a television and a desk for my room. Yes, I know, but I honestly half believed them.) and that I’d just receive a box filled with a few cheap odds and ends. Upon opening my present while sat on my parents bed I was met with the bland and serious packaging of the standard kit, instead of the brightly coloured ‘Wild Weird and Wicked’ bundle which was more commonly on display in shops. While this in itself wasn’t an issue, I had never wanted the more expensive bundle, it meant that for a few moment I didn’t recognise the packaging and seriously thought my parents had filled an old box with a few cheap goodies (I saw the ‘600’ and assumed, for some unfathomable reason, that it must have referred to a quantity of wine). The brief look of confused disappointment on my face must have been devastating to my parents , which was soon dispelled my my cheer of ‘YEEEES!’ and the attempt of my lower jaw to get as far away from the rest of my skull as humanly possible. The system came bundled with Lemmings and the excellent Deluxe Paint III. I proceeded to do handstands on the couch downstairs while my Dad set the system up, again disappointing my Mum that I may be disappointed, when in fact I was just a little hyperactive with excitement.

I returned upstairs to find Lemming running , and probably spent the rest of the day on the system. In ‘Magicland Dizzy’ I remember being blown away by the graphics in ‘The Chapel‘ which completely blew away the Spectrum version that I had previously been playing.

Despite what must have been a very expensive Birthday for my parents, the Amiga was still probably the best value present I have ever received. The hours and hours of use it received must have meant that the electricity to run it outstripped the initial costs several fold. I soon became familiar with ‘Deluxe Paint’ giving a creative outlet, and even played about a bit with AMOS. The Amiga also introduced me to the graphic adventure game (Or Point and Click) including ‘Monkey Island 1 and 2‘ and ‘Simon the Sorcerer.’ I still have very fond memories of the Amiga, and have instructed my parents to hang on to it until I have a place of my own where I have enough space to actually set it up again.

By the time I started secondary school the limited word processing capabilities of the Amiga were proving a bit restrictive (Although this was probably more a limitation of the software and our printer than anything else) and the system was again. Commodore had gone bust, and developers were moving away from the system. The consoles didn’t really interest me, and it seemed that a PC was the next step. However the cost was high and money trees still hadn’t been invented at that point. However eventually the family got its first PC, an AST Advantage 623, which came bundled with several titles, the only decent one of which was Worms. The system had a lowly 8MB of Ram, a Pentium 100MHz processor, 1.2GB HD, an SiS 6205 graphics card, Soundblaster Pro soundcard and Windows 95. The graphics card is probably the most significant of those specs, as initially it wasn’t Direct X compatible, and required a driver update. The only problem was I didn’t know how to update graphics drivers, and for a long time suffered compatibility problems. The first time I got a Direct X game running successfully I was ecstatic.

However the Direct X issues did give birth to one of those moments when you realise your life took a path that it may not otherwise have trodden. I had purchased a copy of ‘Broken Sword‘ from PC World, only to find graphics driver issues prevented it from running. Disappointed, my Mum managed to arrange a refund from Virgin Interactive, after lots of hassle in which no-one managed to tell us of the relatively simple process my which we could update out graphics drivers. (The DOS version also didn’t run, presumably for some unconnected reason) With my refund I purchased a game which has had quite an impact on my life since then, ‘Creatures.’ ‘Creatures’ was a surprisingly detailed artificial life program, which used simulated genetics and biochemistry to generate virtual pets known as Norns. My initial experiences with the game were disappointing, as I worried about lack of depth and longevity. However these concerns soon proved completely invalid, at the game introduced me to genetics, biochemistry, programming, modding and the joys of a vibrant online community. While I had always been intending to go into science, it is this game which caused my shift from physics to biology, and I no small way got me where I am today. I still have a great fondness for the game, although rarely play it nowadays, and the game still influences the way I think about biological systems, as well as the universe itself. I don’t have idols, but if I did, the man behind the game, Steve Grand, would be one of the few contenders for the position.

Since the AST I have had two other systems, a Quantex, and my most recent self-built system. I’ve always been a computer gamer rather than a console gamer, although have owned a PSX and a Wii. However my interest in computers extends beyond gaming to the tweaking, fiddling and even troubleshooting the benefits a PC user. While I will always bee primarily a Windows user due to my gaming, my current system is a dual-boot, and my laptop is a pur Linux system (Kubuntu). I hold a soft spot for past computers in the same way in which others are fond of past cars, although the pre-PC systems induce stronger feelings, thanks to not suffering from the ‘Janitors Broom‘ issue.

[tags]nostalgia, memories[/tags]