Posted by Rampant Coyote on December 6, 2010
Over the last few days, I spent a some time playing a couple of CRPGs. I try and do that kind of thing. I call it “research,” which is my story and I’m sticking to it. It is kind of a tricky thing, these days, with all the work I’m doing on my own project. I have to consciously make an effort to play them, but then – if they are good – it takes a great deal of willpower to stop after only a little while. I don’t always succeed at either.
In both games, I got past the initial hump / prologue. While I enjoyed them both, I spent a good deal more time playing one of the two than I had intended. That whole willpower thing. The other was easy to put down. See if you can figure out which one sucked me into its world the most:
Candidate #1 is Dragon Age: Orgins
Candidate #2 is Might & Magic Book One: Secret of the Inner Sanctum
If you guessed #1, then there wouldn’t be much story here, would there?
Now I’m going to admit to a little bit of negative bias towards Dragon Age, particularly after their embarrassing “This is the New S**t” ads, and my early-adopter friends calling the game “soulless.” However, I was also interested in seeing what they claimed was a spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series, and now that a year has passed and the hype has died down (and mainly because I could get it cheap, because… hey, I’m cheap), I gave it a test drive. I enjoyed it for three hours, was suitably impressed by the cinematic experience of the whole thing (and by how much the NPCs had to say), and felt confident that I’d get my money’s worth out of the game. Eventually.
But it didn’t really compel me to keep playing. Not like, say, Fallout 3 did (and I expect Fallout: New Vegas will, when I get around to it…)
It was on a whim that I loaded up Might & Magic 1 after that. I’d been going over the old manuals for the games (for legitimate research purposes), and while I have enjoyed some of the later games in the series, I’d never put much effort into the first one beyond putting together an initial party and kicking around Scorpigal a little. I’d put in maybe a grand total of two hours into the game, half of it just to create my party.
I figured I’d put another hour into it – totalling as much as I’d put into Dragon Age, and then make some kind of goofy post about how hard it was to recognize that both games were in the same genre.
But then something happened. My little party, it turns out, was on the cusp of being able to level up (and actually able to afford to do so – a big deal in the early stages of Might & Magic games). I crossed a threshold. My hour was up, and I dutifully quit the game, as I had Dragon Age.
But you know, the game takes only about one second to load up. And I can play it in windowed mode. It’s easily minimized. It is turn-based, so I can just leave it in the background or something while working. So… I thought that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to pop it open for a few quick forays deeper into the world.
The forays kept getting longer. I found myself repeatedly starting up the game for a “quick fix.” The world keeps opening up to me, and I started facing new monsters of unknown ability. And they’d drop equipment I’d occasionally have a use for (Cool, a +1 Flamberge!). And hey, look, third-level spells!
So three hours into the game, Might & Magic 1 kept sucking me back in for more. Dragon Age didn’t, though it seems very, uh, “nice.”
I didn’t expect that, honestly. I mean, okay, I really enjoyed the later Might & Magic titles that I’ve played, but this was the primitive first try. The gameplay was unrefined, still in a nebulous transition between old borrowed D&D rules and its signature future system. And Dragon Age has all those things that I claim I want in a CRPG – tons of world detail, interesting NPCs, a reasonably deep character system (with more customization than you get in Might & Magic 1, for certain!), a solid story so far, lots of mystery… Seriously, the game (so far) is like a checklist of the things I say I want in an RPG. It even makes a big deal out of its Baldur’s Gate-style “real-time with pause” combat that can kinda-sorta work like turn-based combat.
The only answer I have right now is that with the twenty-four year old Might & Magic, I’m playing a game. One I’m familiar with on some levels, but in a new (to me) and exciting world. In Dragon Age, I’m playing through somebody else’s script. This doesn’t usually bug me very much – after all, I’m a fan of many jRPGs. And I can’t say it actually bugs me here, either. But when I noticed that all respawns and XP-gaining opportunities were used up about fifteen experience points shy of level three in the backstory sequence, and feeling an incredible sense of deju vu with the core gameplay (I’m not sure why I didn’t get that with Might & Magic – by rights, the mechanics should feel far more tired), the game just feels like the interactive equivalent of a “popcorn movie.” Enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable.
But Knights of the Old Republic felt the same way in the first few hours, but it ended up becoming a favorite (and not just because it was Star Wars and hearkened back to an era when Star Wars was cool). That was the last Bioware game I really loved. So there’s hope…
We’ll see what happens. Either way, I’m having fun. Just hopefully not so much fun I have to quit cold-turkey in order get my work done.
Filed Under: Design - Comments: 27 Comments to Read