Thursday, July 20, 2017

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes - 10/20 hours

The best thing about this game is that it turned me on to the tv show. I'm really enjoying it. It doesn't exactly redeem the absurdity of the setting's premise, and it's rarely self-aware enough to give that absurdity a satisfying satirical bite, but it has its moments, and since I was a pre-existing Star Wars nerd, I'm willing to cut it a lot of slack.

As far as the game itself, though . . . I don't know. I don't really have a strong emotional reaction to it one way or the other. It's not painful to play, like some other games I could name. But it also doesn't particularly have anything that draws me in. If the controls were better, it would be a functional workhorse of a game, and if they were worse, it might be comically frustrating. As it is, most of the time, your characters do mostly what you want them to do, and when they don't, your nearest checkpoint is close enough that it's only a few seconds worth of setback. It's a game that's on slightly-wobbly rails.

Which is to say, it's not a game where I learn or face challenges, or have any particularly memorable experiences whatsoever. Even the story is just . . . there. Basically, there's this new super-weapon and both sides of the war want it, but then it's stolen by a bounty hunter, and then the bounty hunter loses it to the Separatists, and then the Jedi blow it up at the last minute before it destroys Naboo. Theoretically, there might be some excitement there, but it's really just Star Wars by the numbers. It also doesn't help that the later missions don't really build on the earlier missions. The gameplay and difficulty levels are exactly the same, and there's no real action set pieces to stick in your memory.

I did, however, figure out a workaround to the problem of Games For Windows Live logging me out when I start up the game - I just used the other account on my Xbox 360 hard drive. Since I can both watch the show and play the game at the same time, I expect the hours will fly by tomorrow. I'm just afraid I won't get 100% completion because one of the missions crashes the game whenever I try to replay it. Hopefully, starting a new campaign will allow me to keep my records and artifacts from my previous playthrough, so I can get the stuff by going the long way round.

Although, even if it doesn't, I'll probably be fine. This is not one of those games I'm going to feel bad about falling short in. There's simply not enough skill involved for my ego to be on the line.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes - 5/20 hours

My last post, I neglected to mention the indignity of having to sign up for Games for Windows Live. It was a significant annoyance, but I since it only took about 10 minutes to get installed, it was something I was willing to overlook. . .  until I tried to watch Netflix while playing the game and I discovered that GFWL will log you out of your Xbox live account while you're playing. It was irritating and completely unnecessary. So, Games for Windows Live, I'm glad you're dead. That your zombie is still causing problems four years later is an embarrassment, and if it weren't for the blog, your presence as part of a game wold cause me to seek an immediate refund.

Of course, why was I even trying to watch Netflix in the first place? It's because this game is based on a TV show and I was feeling a little lost when it came to the new characters and their relationships. I'd known about Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi from the movies, but I had no idea who Ahsoka or Plo Koon were.

I found watching the first few episodes of the show enlightening, but it wasn't really to the game's benefit. On the one hand, I have a new appreciation for how well the game managed to capture the look of the cartoon (and if I were a kid who enjoyed the show, I might well be delighted to see it come alive in this way), on the other hand, the show is a lot more interesting than the game. I feel like the game tries to capture some of the show's characteristic banter, but falls flat as it exaggerates and simplifies the show's relationships and themes.

But I'm not here to talk about the show, though I will get one more shot in because this observation applies equally to both the show and the game - it is weird how, during the Clone Wars era of the Star Wars universe, the people commanding an army of brainwashed clone slaves are the good guys. I've already covered this to some extent in one of my Republic Commando posts, so I won't go into it here, but I will say that I'm not optimistic about seeing a nuanced and subtle examination of the issue in the last half of the game.

I guess there's nothing to do but keep plugging on. There's a planet that needs to be conquered (or defended from being conquered, I'm actually kind of fuzzy about that) and the forgettable Sith villain lady from the show is stirring up trouble with some sort of captured super-weapon. I'll need to control several teams of Jedi or completely interchangeable clone troopers before this whole thing is wrapped up.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes - 2/10 hours

Two hours in and I've not quite got an emotional handle on this game. It's clearly for kids - even leaving aside its colorful presentation and light-hearted script, its mechanics make it a game for people who don't understand video games. At times it's a platformer and your jumps will be "sticky," allowing you to make a hair-raising series of jumps while basically on autopilot. Other times it will be a shooter and the aim assist will be both dramatic and obvious. And all throughout, there is no penalty for death. If you die, you pop up at the nearest checkpoint as if nothing had happened. No limited number of lives, no resetting of the challenges, and not even a loss of score.

But the strange thing is that, despite being a kids' game, it's a not very well put together kids' game. Most of the features that make it easy for little ones to stumble their way through also have some loopholes that don't add challenge so much as they make things randomly frustrating for no reason. You can override the stickiness of the platforms by jumping in the wrong direction or double-jumping when a single jump is needed, which is fine except when the camera angle makes it hard to judge direction and distance. And the shooter controls are some kind of perverse twin-stick nonsense that barely works when it's not auto-aiming.

So, on the one hand, Republic Heroes is not a particularly interesting or challenging game for an adult, and on the other hand, it's also not very good as a mindless brawler. You might think, then, that it's nothing but a chore to play . . . and yet . . .

It's all right. I'm making forward progress. Even when the controls screw me over, it's not that big a deal because there's a checkpoint every minute or so. All told, it's just a meaningless grind where I press buttons to make lights respond. And I'm okay with that.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Republic Heroes - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes lets Star Wars fans young and old live out the sweeping galactic adventures of the Clone Wars. For the first time ever, players can fight as their favorite Jedi and Clone Troopers from the preeminent animated television series – from familiar faces like Anakin Skywalker to new heroes like Clone Captain Rex. A brand-new storyline, which bridges the gap between season one and two, takes the player on a multi-faceted adventure to stop a mysterious techno assassin’s destructive plot. Built around two-player cooperative action, the accessible controls and family-friendly gameplay bring Star Wars fans across generations together like never before to fight the evil Separatists and restore peace to the galaxy.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This was part of that mega Star Wars bundle I bought a while back. Honestly, it was a real ". . . and the rest" situation for me. If you ranked the bundle's games in order of how much they influenced my decision to purchase it, this one would probably be near the bottom of the list.

Expectations and Prior Experience 

I'd never even heard of this game prior to buying it and even then, I knew nothing about it until I started to entertain the idea to play it.  All I have to go on is the store page, and my feelings about that are . . . mixed.

On the one hand, the screenshots look pretty cool. Colorful and cartoony, with various characters from the movies doing exciting action-platforming things. It looks like the sort of game I could really enjoy.

On the other hand, the user reviews are pretty dire. It has a "recommended" rating of only 33%. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. No Man's Sky, a game I personally love, has a lower rating, and Age of Wonders 2, a game I have no intention of ever playing again, is rated a lot higher. However, in situations like these, where the game is not particularly niche or controversial, I am inclined to trust the wisdom of the crowd.

Which means the next few days might be pretty rough for me. And that's fine. That's why I chose this game. Most of the rest of my games I'm excited (or at worst ambivalent) about playing, and there's only a couple that I'm actively pessimistic about. I figure if I get those out of the way now, it will be smooth sailing for the rest of the blog.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic - 20/20 hours

A long gap between posts, mostly because I didn't want to write another two posts that were variations of "I don't like this game, it's not fair that I have to play it, wah!" But once I came to the realization that I only wanted to do one more Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic post, I came up with a plan to retroactively justify it to myself - I would play my remaining 15 hours in one giant marathon session!

It didn't quite work out that way. I actually wound up playing it in two sessions, one of 11 hours and one of 4 hours, but I feel like I kept to the spirit of my initial plan. Certainly, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic has dominated nearly every waking hour of my weekend (less the time I spent reading, going to the store, and cooking, which I'll admit were activities I pursued a bit more leisurely than usual).

And I'm sad to report that I did not get the gaming equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. I was kind of hoping that by intensely focusing on a single thing, my viewpoint would narrow and I would start to judge the thing in the context of itself. But that didn't happen. I was mostly just counting the hours until it was over.

There were some things I liked about this game, though. I liked the different layers of the map. Building an underground empire as the dwarfs or an otherworldly empire as the shadow demons felt kind of cool. A game with a similar multi-world setup, but more robustly asymmetrical factions would have the potential to be amazing.

I also really liked the magic. Raising and lowering mountains, summoning dragons and angels, seizing distant power nodes to scry through. You definitely feel like a potent wizard when you start slinging around the high-level spells, even if the low-level ones are underwhelming and unreliable.

I think the problem I've had with all these Age of Wonders games is twofold. Firstly, I never really bought into their central premise - eternal war of all against all is not something I particularly want out of a fantasy game. Secondly, even within the confines of the wargame genre, the balance between map size, unit movement speed, and the size of your economy was such that it forced me into a form of strategy that I found deeply annoying. I never had enough units to play defense and except on small-sized maps, the enemy headquarters were always so far away that I had to plan my attacks way too far in advance.

If I'm being totally honest, I would like this game a lot more if I were better at it. If I could effectively control territory by deploying my forces in such a way as to screen out enemy scouts and the occasional neutral interlopers, advance my front gradually so I could make my strategic decisions while in sight range of enemy targets, and grow my economy so much that I had a superabundance of troops and magical resources, that would likely have solved most of my problems with the game. But I never got to that level. I was always struggling.

That's the tricky thing, though. If I were better at the game, I'd enjoy it more, but if I enjoyed it more, I'd put in the work to be better at it. I never found a way to get on the inside of that loop, so I wound up just gritting my teeth and being miserable most of the time (though, to be fair, I was only actually miserable when I was interacting with AI enemies - I enjoyed improving my cities and expanding my empire just fine).

I've still got one more game in the series. It's my hope that with an improved, more modern UI, and presumably a decade's worth of hindsight about what makes a strategy game enjoyable, Age of Wonders III will fulfill the promise of the first game and be a fantasy wargame that captures my imagination. I can, however, say that buying the older Age of Wonders games in a bundle was a big mistake.

I guess there had to be a balance, though. They can't all be the Fallout, Elder Scrolls, or Star Wars bundles.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic - 5/20 hours

I definitely have a mental block about this game. There are things I don't like about it, sure, but I've played other games with these same qualities and have not had quite the same aversion. Hell, some of them I even really enjoyed.

I'm not sure it's fruitful to try and get to the bottom of this phenomenon. There's no other way that could go than for me to make a long list of petty complaints and that would be dull as fuck to write about (let alone read).

Instead, I'm just going to try and focus on how good I'll feel when I'm finally done with this game. I've dreaded it for a long time now, perhaps unjustly, but not mistakenly. It really is as difficult to play as I imagined it would be. It would be reasonable to speculate that I created this trap for myself, and that my gloomy pessimism in fact made this critically well-received turn-based strategy game more of an emotional quagmire than its gameplay really warranted.

I'm open to the idea that I'm the one who's wrong here (although I don't know how anyone can stand the unit-movement UI, it is seriously terrible). However, even so, I have to accept the world that's presented to me as real, don't I? Within the limits of my bubble of subjective perception, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic is a burden to play for 20 hours, even if 80% of the world disagrees.

That's just going to make the finish all the sweeter, though. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic - 2/20 hours

I'm still playing the tutorial, but I'm starting to get worried. It never showed me how to cancel an active spell, nor explained the relationship between gold income and city production. And it's still doing that thing from the previous Age of Wonders games where if you don't right click to deselect a unit, you may accidentally send it traipsing off in completely the wrong direction if you left click anywhere on the map.

It's frustrating, because I really want to like this game. It's just that it has a series of small flaws that would each be surmountable on its own, but together add up to an unpleasant play experience. I hate how most of your units' attacks miss, how there's no proper research queue and no reminders about unmoved units or empty build queues. And the thing with the accidentally clicking . . . grr, it's so annoying I had to mention it twice.

I'm going to try and calm myself and get past this, though. I know that there is an interesting game of turn-based fantasy strategy underneath it all, and that if I just tough it out, I'll be able to command a whole menagerie of interesting magical creatures.

Mostly, though, I hate being so negative. Believe it or not, I want to say only positive things about the games I play, but sometimes I'll just completely fail to "click" with a game, and it will be difficult to think of anything but complaints.

Sigh. It's probably predestined, though. This is still basically the same game as Age of Wonders 2, and by the end that had me on the ropes. I just have to hope I've learned a thing or two since then.