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Two RPGs and an old-fashioned Adventure Game

Today, I talk about Neverwinter Nights 2, Phantasy Star Universe Online, and Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock.

Neverwinter Nights 2

I've started playing Neverwinter Nights 2 but, up until recently, it's run like crap. It turns out that XFire was to blame for robbing me of some 20 frames per second. and now that I've regained quite a few frames per second, it plays less like crap and more like an upgrade of the original Neverwinter Nights. Kinda makes me wonder why I let this obtrusive thing sit in my systray - is generating a list of games I've been playing lately really worth all this?

As for Neverwinter Nights 2 itself, the best thing I can say about it is that the single player campaign is both longer and more interesting than in the original Neverwinter Nights. Only after about 15 hours of play did I finally manage to unlock access to the Blacklake District, and the characters are interesting in the typical Bioware sort of way. In other words, they each have some simple idiosyncrasies which make them easy to like. (Squaresoft has been using this technique in character design for years and who knows how many centuries writers have been using it before them?)

On the downside, Neverwinter Nights 2 doesn't seem to be much of a technical improvement. Sure, it's fully 3D now, but I think that the ease of use and actual gameplay mechanics have suffered. For example, it's neigh impossible to keep control of the combat without frequent pausing. Every time I cast a spell I need to pause the game or else waste it through mis-targeting. I hate to say it, but this game, our long awaited Neverwinter Nights sequel, kinda sucks. Hurray for technology.

Phantasy Star Universe: Online

Having been released about three and a half weeks ago, Phantasy Star Universe is no spring chicken anymore. Thus, initial box sales time is over, and there's only enough players to fill two and a half universe instances at prime time. I wonder how it'll look in another 34 days when my account renews. The game may not be a traditional North American MMORPG, but it's good enough to not deserve flopping.

Well, maybe it does deserve such a fate considering the rate in which the content is dragged out in Network mode. In 14 hours of play, I've only really been able to adventure in three areas. A very poor variety. If I could find more players willing to brave them consistently, I'd probably hang out in the beautiful Japanese-themed environments of Neudaiz all the time. Unfortunately, the rewards are poorly balanced against the difficulty involved to go there.

Another big snafu of Network mode is the total lack of plot, where the prequel had nothing but a Network mode plot and PSU has an extensive plot in the the offline Story mode. Thus, despite the addition of rooms and crafting, PSU's network mode feels lacking.

Still, I'm not bored of PSU yet, and having action-based gameplay will do that for you. Autoattack-based online games are so passe. There's something uniquely satisfying about dancing around aggressive alien fauna to avoid being attacked and then darting in to hack them up with my Buster-brand beam saber or strafe showering them with my Repeater-brand machinegun. A pity that there's no laser cannons and grenade launchers in the online mode yet, I'd like to play with those!

The main problem with PSU online is the incredible grind, which is decelerated to rate several times slower than that of the offline story mode. It's not just the experience points, it's also the Meseta (cash). In about two hours and four good runs through the dangerous spots of Parum in a party, I only managed to get about 3000 Meseta. Remember, these are good runs, and it barely hooked me up with a adequate "B-Rank" gun. Another price comparison would bet the 15,000 Meseta it'd take to open a store in my character's living quarters. This game wants to grinding forever and there's probably not enough substance to tolerate that.

Sam & Max Episode 1: Culture Shock

Last but not least - no, I'm going to say the opposite of the least here - we've got Sam & Max rounding out my weekend. Sam and Max Episode 1: Culture Shock is the first one in which this make their triumphant return. This is a point and click adventure game, a throwback to the games of my youth that mostly died out when people got tired of hunting pixels, but a well made adventure game is still worth playing.

The central theme was comedy, and to these ends, the humor was actually good and more plentiful than you'd expect for a short game. Telltale Games have done well: I think the lovably homicidal lagomorph and his well dressed canine friend have been translated to 3D adventure gaming quite capably.

The episode was short; Really short. The average player can probably finish it in about 4 hours. Fortunately, it's also pretty cheap. I got my nine bucks worth, and look forward to purchasing additional episodes when they come out.

I eagerly look forward to episodes 2-6... but not too eagerly, knowing that it'll probably be months before I can finally step once again into Sam's nonexistent shoes.
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