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Quality Found Outside Hyboria

Yesterday, I put Age of Conan "on probation." Today, it seems I've no motivation to play it at all. There's something missing in the replay value - it just doesn't feel worth the climb the second time. Perhaps a little time away from it will change my mind.

Instead, today I played the latest Pixeljam web game: Dinorun, the new Penny Arcade Adventures, and (my longtime old flame) City of Heroes. I'll probably play a bit of the venerable Elite Beat Agents and/or Drill Dozer before bedtime.

No wonder time's been flying lately: my cup runneth over with awesome.

Dinorun: Interactive Pixel Art

Pixeljam's thing appears to be making quality flash games that feature pixel-like graphics and electronic music. Dinorun in particular has an interesting premise: you're a dinosaur attempting to escape the aftermath of the meteor that wiped out life on the planet. The artistic result is excellent - it's best experienced firsthand.

Penny Arcade Adventures: Better Than Parody

Penny Arcade Adventures is going for the episodic model that worked so well for Telltale Games. The first installment weighs in at about 6-8 hours and $20, for the XBox360 and PC.

The multimedia aspects of the game are quite well done. I played the XBox360 version on a widescreen television and was treated to some sharply detailed portrayals of contemporary Victorian times gone mad. There's quite a bit of original music that runs the gamut from weird comedic experiments to the catchy end sequence.

The actual gameplay is a cross between a point and click adventure and a standard console RPG, but with a finer balance than most. When you're not in combat, you're walking about the world, examining a plethora of hotspots. Interacting with the animate initiates simple menu-driven conversation or combat, while the inanimate often has humorous descriptions. Rather than buy utility items in the stores, you recover them by destroying various boxes and trashcans wit your trusty rake - the boxes respawn, so you're able to use items with unusual freedom.

The combat itself is refreshingly challenging. Many enemies are capable of defeating individual party members who have flubbed their active blocking in two or three rounds, but party members can be propped up by using a cheap healing item. It can be a bit hectic wrestling with the interface to overcome a particularly tough fight, but rather than frustrate me, I enjoyed the challenge. If I were to give it a negative mark, it would be in the annoying persistence of some foes to throw weakening status effects with rapid succession, temporarily reducing my ability to damage them to next to nothing.

Last but foremost, the writing was the entertaining brains behind the beauty. It went for a somewhat dry tone with profane overtones, as is oft personified in the comic. It's definitely not a kid's game, way too much swearing for that. How many games do you know where you can eviscerate drunken hobos into bloody gibs? The choice of the setting - placing you in the midst of an independent team of Victorian evil hunters - was unusually inspired.

I finished it in about 6-8 hours, and I eagerly look forward to the next installment.

City of Heroes

I enjoyed playing City of Heroes today. Wait - seriously?! That game I put maybe 2000 hours into?! Well, the main problem (as I detailed extensively in the last few entires) was that there was no reason to play at level 50 without some ultimate character I'd be willing to invest the neccessary effort into. Today, I think I've found that character.

I'm building on experience. I wanted to play a hero, as villainy goes against my grain, and defection is yet to be an option. I wanted to play a Controller because they have the most diverse set of unique effects of any heroic archetype: any other heroic archetype dedicates either their Primary or Secondary tree to a battery of powers which are essentially there to do damage, which is boring to me. At this point, there was just the matter of deciding on the Primary and Secondary power sets.

My previous Controller, Illusion/Storm, was excellent in terms of variety but there were three things I disliked about him. First, it's somewhat unacceptably boring when I have to take a over a minute and a half to kill a single +2 level boss monster (even moreso when said boss monster has been rendered helpless with my Controllers' holds). Second, he had no means to heal himself, which was problematic if I was out of green inspirations and the unexpected had occurred. Third, his control was pretty chaotic, and would often scatter foes.

The Kinetics secondary power set solved the first two problems. Power Siphon, Speed Siphon, and Fulcrum Shift take damage potential away from enemies and transfers it to the Controller (and often his teammates). At higher levels against a large batch of foes, it can boost the Controller up to their 400% damage cap and (with recharge hastening) even further. Transfusion, the very first power in the set, is a very powerful PBAOE heal that centers on a foe, and is very easy to use as a Controller.

For the primary set, Plant Control was a tempting choice. In terms of power, it simultaneously takes some of the best parts out of Fire Control (high DoT-related damage) Mind Control (mass confuse) and the rest (AOE lockdown). However, I chose Gravity Control instead because experience tells me that a pet is not an important of a part of a Controller's damage infliction. Mass Confuse is useful enough, but what could be even more useful is the combination of using Wormhole to redirect an entire enemy group into a corner and then cycling Crushing Field to keep them there.

This Gravity Control/Kinetics character is specifically designed with the end game in mind. The Gravity Manipulation pool moves foes with Wormhole, keeps them safely locked down with the variety of control effects, and provides high base-damage against single targets with containment-enhanced Lift and Propel attacks. The Kinetics secondary pool siphons a great deal of extra firepower, keeps the endurance bar full, speeds up the team, and proves cheap travel powers (the savings in slots should make it easy enough to pick up Hasten, Recall Friend, or maybe even Stamina). The Psionic Mastery epic power pool crowns the perfection: Indomitable Will provides the otherwise missing protection from status effects, while Psionic Tornado (to which containment does not apply but it should be fully under the influence of Fulcrum Shift) rapidly dispatches the trapped minions and lieutenants.

It's an all around powerful character, sure, but I also like the concept behind him: A technological genius hero whose powers extend into inter-dimensional manipulation and (eventually) psychic powers. Not somebody your average super-powered purse snatcher would want to meet in a dark alley!

Meh - all this talk of City of Heroes makes me weary of it again. I'll probably take things slow and maybe play a bit of GameTap when I'm feeling bored of it again.

Elite Beat Agents: A Dual Screen Instant Classic

My brother came home with the game the other day, and I have to say that I regret never playing it before. The actual gameplay is simple timed stylus manipulation: tap and drag, tap and drag. However, the presentation is excellent: a zany plot about being dancing super agents who motivate needy people to overcome their problems leads to incredible, tear-jerkingly good exposition throughout the proceedings of the game.

A simultaneously hilarious and brilliant game. It's also quite challenging, as rhythm games often are, requiring many playthroughs to earn the coveted "S-Rank" in any given scenario. The only solid poor mark I can give this game is that it's not easy to share between two people, I have to overwrite my brother's progress to play the game and it's not very clear the order the stages are intended to be played.

Drill Dozer

I was surprised to discover that Drill Dozer was made by the same company that also made the famous Pokemon series games. Many of the sound effects I noticed in Pokemon Sapphire were also in Drill Dozer. The music was undeniably made by the same composer as well.

Nonetheless, Drill Dozer stands on its own as a remarkable 2d platformer for the Gameboy Advance (which, thankfully, the Nintendo DS is reverse compatible with). The story involves an unusual team of thieves whose central piece of equipment is the Drill Dozer itself, a little mecha with drill arms, piloted by a plucky young girl, acting leader of the group.

The unique aspect of the gameplay involve the use of the drill. Using the right and left triggers activates the drill in forward or reverse, allowing shifting of up to three gears. A built-in rumble pack allows you to feel the drill in action - a nice touch, if perhaps a tad unnecessary.

It's perhaps the artistic direction that makes the game as good as it is, as is demonstrated in the included YouTube video.

Well, that's it. Damn, that went on longer than I planned. I guess I won't be playing anything before hitting the sack tonight, after all.

Comments

callacthulhu said…
i beta tested AoC, and i've yet to even buy a subscription. i actually thought i'd be alllll over it, growing up with a love of the conan mythos. But i've hit a resounding "meh" that i cant quite seem to overcome. Perhaps its bc i need to talk more friends to the game.

Anyway, wanted to say hi. Your blog is great!
Hey, Glad you like the Blog.

We're in agreement about the "meh" feeling AoC seems to exude. Funcom has a lot of refinement to do before th game really lives up to its name.

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