Currently playing: Nox Archaist

March 20, 2013

Vampire: The Masquerade - Catches on!

I´ve continued to explore the world of Vampire: The Masquerade. Between the actionoriented RPG that this game truly is, the story unfolds slowly one piece at a time. I like that, even though it is a bit hard to grasp the overall scheme of things.

When I was running away from the nun Anezka last time, I was trapped in a dark Alley by Ecaterina, a female vampire that bit me in the neck. I awoke much later in a room in the University in Prague. Ecaterina told me that I was now taken under her clan Brujah wether I liked it or not. I was first allowed to feed blood on her just to prove that I was now also a vampire. I didn´t accept that at first, that I had lost my soul and turned into this....abomination. But I had little choice. Ecaterina told me that their enemies, the Tzimisce clan,  was looking for me to avenge my success in the silver mines and If I wanted to survive I must do as she say.

It turns out that there are several vampire clans and the Cappadocians has stolen a fragment of a book that I need to return to Ecaterina. I will accompany Wilhem - another vampire - and during this mission I will prove myself worthy of Ecaterina and her clan. I have no choice but to agree.

Now the game opens up to another mode. As a vampire I need blood to use special abilities called Disciplines. There are several schools of disciplines, each one containing specific skills. Each skill could be bought with experience points in up to five levels and becomes more and more powerful for each level but also gradually more expensive. Some skills are not available until you have bought all lesser ones first. The different Disciplines relies on different parts of your characters attribues like intelligence, perception or charm. All this is just another way of saying that your blood reserve is your mana points and the disciplines are like magical schools. 

I can get more blood by feeding on citizens during the night (I will perish if I enter daylight) but only to a certain extent. If I feed too much I run the risk of killing them which decreases my humanity level. Also the guards in town will attack me if I am not careful when doing that. The lesser blood I have the more vulnerable I am to risk enter the frenzy state when my innate beast will take command of me and attack friend or foe.

Anyway, Wilhelm is just like another NPC added to my group. I can choose which person to control and he has his own character sheet and inventory. In combat he is controlled by the A.I and he can use his own disciplines in the fight. You could set his offensive stance from defensive to offensive but other than that you have to trust the A.I unless you control him directly.

After three levels down at Pragues Monastery we found the book fragment after having to fight Mercurio, the one that stole the fragment. In this combat we died several times until I buffed up myself by using a skill in my Potence discipline (increases my attack damage).

As said before, the dungeon levels are very linear, seldom offering you more than one way ahead. Your path could be blocked by locked doors, gates or other obstacles but almost always it is visible levers nearby that manouver them. Sometimes there could be hard to see preassure plates or switches that must be found in order to continue. Most rooms are filled with enemies in different numbers and types. They can also use Disciplines if they belong to another Vampire clan.

When we returned back to the University I was instructed that I had been assigned my own haven down in the basement. It is there I can "check in" to upgrade my skills and attributes. It could not be done during my travels so I either have to do it before or after a task or return here if it is possible in the middlw of a mission.

You are assigned experience points which you could use to increase your attributes or skill levels in already known Disciplines. New Disciplines could be awarded after missions and become available during level up. I like this system because each point will become more and more expensive and you have a lot of options to increase your abilities. You don´t have to use the any or all experience points if you don´t wan´t to. You could save them for later. I have done that a lot since it is too early to know which Disciplines will turn useful. Initially I spent most points on strengths and dexterity to increase my combat abilities. Melee weapons require a certain strength to be used.

Back to the story....

I had dreams about the Nun Anezka. I cannot release her from my memory and it turns out she has fled the church and sacrificed her profession in order to find me. I don´t know where she is.....

Meanwhile I was assigned to help Ecaterinas allies in the northern district of the town where they had trouble with a Golem. Me and Wilhelm entered the district and soon found the loose golem. It was a major fight and I died at least five times until I eventually managed to destroy it. When we returned to Ecaterina she was very satisfied.  She also mentions that Anezka was seeking me out at the university but Ecaterina didn´t reveal I was amongst them. I was very upset about this but for the time being I could do nothing except take the letter Anezka left and read it.

My next assignment was to help the prince in the town by going to the cemetary to enter the domains of the Nosferatu and kill their lord Vaclav. To aide me, Serene, a female vampire joined my group. She has skills in areas like reviving the dead and I thought that useful even tough she wasn´t strong or had any weapons or armours. I would have to buy some equipment to her and gave her a good dagger to fight with initially.

Looking for the entrance in the graveyard

The different Disciplines

Down in the dungeons below the cemetary
I fought in several levels against quite tough opposition. I had to use a lot of blood potions and disciplines and also lure away enemies one at a time in order to reach the undead Vaclav himself which we killed after a very tough fight. First I though our weapons couldn´t harm him but after a time I did notice a slight color change of his name. In combat the name of your opponent shows in the message list and the name goes more red the more injured the opponent is.

The two really good points about the game is the character building and the story. There is a shop in town where you could buy armours and weapons. You will sell off things you have gathered during your explorations and hope to afford the best weapons or armours available. The economy balance is good since I have not much gold but still enough to at least buy one good thing for my group one at a time.

Now I´ll have another assignment from the Prince to free some slaves below the Apothecary in the Golden Lane district....

March 13, 2013

Vampire: The masquerade - Redemption Revisited

In the year of 2000 Activision released a game called Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption. I remember seeing it around and my interest was hooked immediately. Not because it was based on a tabletop RPG - I had never even heard of that game before. - but because I take such an interest into mythological creatures and love horror themes.

Of some reason I never bought the game. I was probably up to my neck with other RPGs at the time and the reviews of Vampire wasn´t ever very high, landing around 7/10 in general. When in 2004, the sequel Bloodlines was released,  I bought it but never liked the game. The medieval settings in this version is what convinced me to buy it when offered it for a discount a while back. 

The game starts out in Prague during the middle ages. My characters name is Christof and I am a knight of the brethren. In the last battle I was wounded and brought to the city while my unit continued to fend off the barbarians. During my hospitalisation I am cared for by the nun Anezka to which I immediately take a liking.

While sleeping I am abruptly awoken by a female scream in the middle of the night. I rush up from my bed and grab my sword to investigate. In the adjoining room two beasts threatens Anezka and a servant and I have to throw myself into my first battle. I quickly dispose them by constantly hacking at them one at a time. With the third mouse button I am able to make a more powerful attack, albeit slower. Soon the beasts are slained and the bishop enters the room.

He tells me of a series of tragic events here in Prague where the silver mines have been occupied by evil forces and forced the workers to flee or be trapped. Even the streets in Prague is not safe anymore because people goes missing in the night.

Of course I promise to deal with the situation at the silver mines but first I have to await the daylights. My only equipment is my sword. I decide to investigate what I can of the city before I go to the mines. You have an automap at your disposal that is showned below.

Places of interests will be marked automatically on the map but there is no way to fast travel between them. The city is divided into av few different areas and a few of them is locked at this stage. Most of the city is quite empy except for a few inhabitants with whom you could not speak. There are also only a few places of interests. I found an inn, an armoury and a store selling magical items. Since I have almost no gold at all I eventually decides to head off for the mines. There are however barrels here and there which you could smash and if you are lucky you could find potions or other stuff in them.

Outside the town the city guards mock me for my feeble attempts to try to do something about the overtaken silver mines but they give me a good luck before I am out of their sight.

All dialogues are spoken and I think the voice acting is pretty good so far. Better than in Risen 2 for example. The dialogues are also not as inmature. Occassionally you are given options how to answer but I am yet to discover if you could screw up anything or if what you say affect the story. 

The mines turns up to be just outside the city with no other areas to explore but to go straight for it. I enter the mines and save my game.

The mines are filled with beasts, rats, ghoul rats and ghouls. The latter of which could make you sick. Combat is conducted by holding the left mouse button on your target to continuously attack it or altering with more powerful but slower attacks by pressing the third mousebutton. You could not affect the outcome at all except to place yourself in a favourable position and upgrade your weapons or armour along the way. I found some light armour equipment and a mace that I replaced my sword with. A good thing is that you could easily see how much damage each weapon is dealing along with its attack speed and accuracy.

My characters attributes and inventory

The mines consists of three levels that are pretty linear and straight forward. Even though your are allowed a few different routes here and there they all lead to the same place in the end. You don´t even have an automap below ground it seems. You have to fight a lot but not as much as in the Diablo clones. You occasionally find chests or barrels to smash that could give you better items but most of what you find are potions or gold.

I like the game so far. It is an action RPG but there are a true RPG system below the surface in action and the manual is close to 100 pages. From time to time your character could comment the environment which add to the atmosphere. 

The least level hold the one responsible for the infestation of the mines. Azhra is some sort of demon and this is my first boss fight. The fight wasn´t terrible hard and I think I only used one healing salve in one attempt. Overall the difficulty feels a little bit too easy. I don´t remember any way to set this in the beginning of the game. When you have more potions than you could carry and don´t use them or scrolls then - in my meaning - a game lean towards being too easy. Perhaps this is more like an introductory mission though.

After having killed the demon I gained a level. That meant I was taken to the character screen where I had to use my experience points to buy increases into my attributes. Each cumulative attribute point got more and more expensive. I opted to increase my strength, dexterity and stamina in that order since I so far have good use of them.

When I return back to the city the Bishop is very grateful of my service but didn´t like Anezkas affection for me or my interest in her so he sends me out in the middle of the night to clean the streets of Prague.

After a few fights of the small goblin like creatures in the city I was soon back again in the chapel.

I am out hunting the evil that haunts Prague at night

There I speak with Anezka and in a long but diplomatic dialogue we confess our feelings towards each other but since this is like a sin my character flee and runs of from her instead of putting her into a very difficult situation.

While fleeing the streets in Prague that night I was ambushed by a cloaked woman with tremendous strength. She told me it was for my best interest and that my enemies where looking for me. She bit me and everything faded.....

So far I am quite pleased with the game. I like the story, dialogues and voice acting. The character building have potential and the drive to get better equipment is there. The game lacks somewhat in content. Streets are empty, there are not much details in the environment but I think that has more to do with that this is a pretty old game after all. I had some problem to get used to the control of the character in the beginning. The game system doesn´t use w,a,s,d but the numeric keypad instead and you have to click on the ground to move there. Anyway I will continue to dwelve deeper into this game and reveal more of its underlying game mechanics in my next post.

March 10, 2013

Risen 2 - Dark Waters mini review

I´m normally only writing about old RPGs here on this blog but since I am somewhat disconnected from those for the time being due to a modern RPG, I could just as well give my thoughts and comments about it rather than just leave it be.

I just completed Risen 2: Dark Waters. It was released in the spring of 2012 and is developed by Piranha Bytes, the same developer that was behind the Gothic series 2001 to 2006.

I liked the first Risen very much. It had good graphics, its performance vs hardware ratio was much improved over Gothic 3 and the setting was nice. Risen 2 builds on the same game mechanics but it is transferred to a world more like our carribean of the 17th century even though the gameworld is the same as in Risen. The story has almost no connections at all with the first installment and the skills and attribute system is totally reworked. This time you start out working for the inquisition - one of three factions in the game - and you are given orders to hunt down a pirate leader to get a powerful weapon in order to kill your real adversary, Mara and the Titan Lords. You will travel together with Patty, an NPC female whose father is the famous Steelbeard pirate captain. Together you will need  to gather four artifacts that will make up the weapon to defeat Mara. I won´t spoil more of the story here.

If you are lucky you could find treasure maps that leads to buried treasure chests
The gameworld consists of several islands that are made available to you as you progess in the plot. Each island is pretty large with a main mission divided into several sub-tasks and a lot of minor quests. Each has its own major NPC:s, skilltrainers, geography, monster fauna etc. At first you will not have any map available of the islands you visit and to get hold of it is one of your first priorities. As you find major locations you will be given the opportunity to fast travel between them on the island and you can at any time return to your ship and return to any other island.

You will have a need to return back and forth from previously visited islands partly because you will need skilltrainers and partly because merchants stocks differs at different islands. Equipment wise there seems to be quite much items at first glance. There are two sword types in the game like rapiers using the piercing skill and sables for slashing skills. There are different kind of them. The same goes for pistols, shotguns and muskets. For your own defense you could buy clothes from head to toe where the more expensive ones gives you bonuses. The only problem I had was that in the last third of the game when you finally have enough gold to buy something expensive, there are no really unique and expensive items to buy.

I really like the attribute, skill and talents system of the game. There are a lot of options to build you character. You could for example forge your own swords, firearms or create potions. I never did that but there are schematics lying around for it.
Having played CRPGs for the past 18 months I was struck by how easy and helpful todays RPGs had become. You have quest markers on the map and full dialogue history which makes it hard not to find what you are looking for or what to do next. Being used to hard, unforgiving CRPGS, I never spend my glory points until I felt I had to in order to achieve my objectives. So in the end I had 50.000 glory points unspent. I used most of them prior to my last fight but I am sure I wouldn´t have needed them.

You can buy maps that shows where you are and where your objectives are.
Typical for modern RPGs to get that kind of help
On each map you could freely walk around large areas even though certain places forces you to either solve some quest or defeat a foe in order to progress. Each map could be looked upon as different episodes of the game. You could move around as you wish, talk to anyone you feel or just running around exploring. And here is my first objection. Exploration is seldom rewarding. Sure, you do find chests out in the wilderness, at the beaches or mountains, but they very often only contain mundane items, a few goldcoins or some valuables. Never anything that makes you say "Yes! I´ve found a special item".

Lock picking in the game requires you to successfully
solve this locking mechanism.
One part of the game even allows you to find treasure maps and with them the red "X mark the spot" will appear in the game world. But even those hidden chests seldom contains anything really worthwhile. I suppose a half linear game like this cannot risk to disturb the game balance but I still feel it could have been improved a lot.

The roads are full of dangerous beasts but you will have to kill most of them because there are few ways around them. When you complete quests or killing beasts you are awarded glory points with which you could increase your base attribues. There are five of them: Blades, Firearms, Toughness, Cunning and Voodoo.

The first two are combat related attributes, toughness gives you protection abilities and cunning thievery abilities like stealth or lockpicking. Voodoo is just another name for magic. You start with level 1 in each of them but you could buy more points with aquired glory points which represents your experience points. The first point cost you 1.000 glory points and becomes gradually more expensive.

This is my character with myh talents for each attribue.
Note the Glory points which is used to buy increases in attributes.

The graphical and story execution of the game is pretty and that is not to say the story in itself is anywhere near originality. My major problems with the game is the inmature dialogues. The game is clearly meant for teenagers. The dialogues either is very cliché or blending modern views into this time period which is just pathetic. Still there has been something with this game that has made me stay to the end. The feel when completing quests is top notch and you have the right feeling of constantly wanting to improve your character. You cannot be good at everything - which is good. Too bad the game is a bit too easy.

The natives are the experts in Voodoo.
My advice is to not put too much into pick locks. I reached around 60 and that was enough and I never found anything really unique. However, without some skills put into this you will have harder economical problems. My other advice is to get the best musket as soon as possible. In the last third of the game it was my musket that killed 80% of my adversaries. The game feels a little unbalanced because I could shoot and run away, turn around, shoot, and run away again in almost every fight, including the boss fights. And you do this without getting any damage if you are quick enough with the keyboard.

You will not always be alone

You could use dirty tricks like the skill kicking to good effect against these crabs
I did like the first Risen better. It felt more mature and harder but Risen 2 is well made and it feels bigger that the first installment. It is far from reaching the levels of Skyrim or Witcher 2 but I would say I had more fun with this one than with Drakensang - River of time or Gothic 4.

My mini review consists of plus and minus for Risen 2:

  • Beautiful and varied graphics and well executed quest system.
  • Performance efficient
  • Stable and fast loading times
  • Good implementation of attributes, talents and experience (glory points)
  • Good character building with a lot of options
  • Good economy balance to the last third of the game.
  • Large game world and lots of quests. It took me 40 hours to complete the game.

  • Poor voice acting
  • Poor dialogues. Feel very inmature, naive and childish at times
  • Very few dialogue options
  • Not possible to screw up dialogues
  • Exploration not rewarding enough
  • Few - if any - options to solve problems 
  • Never any moral decisions.
  • Repetitive quests. 
  • You could save the game in the middle of fights - even the end fight.
  • Too easy. I had over 50.000 glory points saved until my last encounter.