Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Game of Thrones - Genesis - 20/20 hours

Well, my first game was a trial by fire. The last eight hours were rough. The strangest thing about House vs House mode is that the available houses depend on the map. So you can't play a map with just the Starks vs the Lannisters, for instance, because the two houses are too far from each other, so the only way to get them both is to play the larger 6 player or 8 player maps. I guess this is another example of the game's commitment to the series' lore, but it just strikes me as an odd decision. Why wouldn't you put in a duel-style map where people can play whatever house they want?

This is especially baffling because the game offers a multi-player mode. You can use the game's matchmaking to play with random people on the internet, but only if all of you want to play one of the pre-made scenarios. Strange. Perhaps the oddity of that decision is the reason the multiplayer lobbies seem so desolate and underpopulated.

The actual House vs House mode is not especially fun. Contrary to my usual expectations, playing against more opponents feels easier than 1v1. I guess that's because a single computer opponent will focus on you exclusively, whereas multiple opponents will waste effort on each other. The AI is not especially good, but for a novice player (especially if they're like me and not very good at RTSs), the sheer number of things you have to keep track of is overwhelming. You have to watch out for spies and assassins (which are mostly invisible unless they're spotted by a spy or run out of their stealth timer), counter enemy envoys, and keep producing units, despite the punitive economy.

I actually won my first game, though, entirely by luck. The computer had a dramatic prestige lead, but for some reason moved their feudal lord into a village right next to my territory. On a whim, I dispatched an assassin, and killed him. This lead to a last minute upset, when the computer was about 5 points away from victory.

In House vs House mode, the different houses have their own special abilities and unique units. These are kind of interesting - ranging from House Arryn's Thief (are they especially larcenous in the books? It didn't seem like it), to House Stark's dire wolf, which acts like a body-guard with a spy's ability to spot invisible units. The units can be handy, but none of them seems like a game-changer (I did use House Targaryen's Raven unit, but it didn't come close to helping me win). I actually played about 4 games without realizing that the Houses had a separate special ability, so they must be pretty subtle (I actually found out about them by reading the Encyclopedia, and most of the bonus are small things like a bonus movement rate for certain units, or faster diplomatic actions - some of them seem like they could be potentially exploitable by a skilled player, but I am not good enough to take advantage of them).

My 20 hour playtime actually includes about a half hour where I left the game running while I went out and bought cat food. While it may seem like I'm fudging the rules by counting that time, I'm going to allow it - and here's why. I was playing the full 8-player Westeros map with the Prestige threshold for victory cranked up to 300%. After I'd played the map for about 2 hours, when I was only about half way to victory, I was interrupted by a necessary errand (the aforementioned cat food), and I could not save my progress in order to suspend the game until a more convenient time.

It's not something I noticed in campaign mode, because the campaign had a checkpoint saving system that, while not great, was still adequate to my needs. The missions were short enough that I never lost all that much progress. Yet my epic House vs House game was not so fortunate. To leave such basic functionality out of a strategy game is utterly unacceptable. It is a basic conceit of the genre that strategy games involve meticulous planning and careful thought that might not be able to fit in a single session. So, to require all of your maps to be played in a single sitting is ridiculous.

Final Thoughts

It should be obvious that I did not enjoy this game. Nonetheless, I'm glad I played it. Prior to this experiment, A Game of Throne - Genesis was a nagging mystery, a game I'd never heard of and barely played that sat in my Steam Library and rebuked me with its very existence. Was I afraid of the unknown? Was I ungrateful for the gift my friend gave me? Was I, in fact, missing out on a unique and fulfilling strategy experience because I wanted to cleave to the familiar?

Now, at least, I can say with confidence that this game is not for me. I've experienced what it has to offer, and it is no longer a mystery - and that's what this experiment is all about.

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