Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Warlords - 4/20 hours

I thought I was going to do something clever with the Warlords scenarios. I thought I'd write one post per scenario, playing through it until I either won or lost, and then describing the experience. It seemed like a good plan . . . and then I started up the Alexander the Great scenario.

It's not a bad scenario, by any means, but it does emphasize exactly those parts of the game that I like the least. You start off in Greece and have 200 turns to conquer all the cities on the map, stretching all the way east, into India. It's a nonstop war from beginning to end, and unfortunately, Civ4's combat system is . . .

I want to say "soul-crushingly tedious," but that's not quite right. Tedium isn't really a problem. The problem is that success in war is decided almost entirely by numbers, and when you have two huge empires fighting each other, it can get bogged down in an endless war of attrition. This is especially true in a scenario, where neither side can benefit from a decisive technological advantage. You win by bringing more units to the battle, while making sure your army composition is diverse enough to deal with every contingency - Archers are the best for city defense, catapults and swordsmen are best for invasions, cavalry beats infantry - unless they're spearmen, in which case they'll tear through cavalry like it's nothing - but it's not quite enough to win. You've got to win by a large enough margin that your remaining units are sufficient to shut down the enemy's industrial capacity, otherwise they'll just rebuild and you'll have to do it all again.

Which is what's going on here. Usually, I'll try and delay wars as long as possible, focusing on developing my technology and infrastructure, in the hopes of producing superior units at higher speeds. However, given that here, I'm playing against a technologically equivalent foe with a larger industrial base, it has devolved into a stalemate.

It's my fault. I started with a large military advantage, but after I took a few cities, I tried to build up a defensive force in order to consolidate my holdings in the hopes of staving off a counterattack. It's a plan that worked pretty well, except for the fact that I wound up squandering my momentum. Now I'm fighting off one massive army after another from the east with my multiple massive armies from the west, and I think I'm winning, on balance, but, well, the city of Damascus has changed hands about a half-dozen times by now.

I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to win the scenario, and I don't care to try. There are eight Warlords scenarios, and I've already spent four hours on this one, so I'm going to move on and hope that the others have more exploration, building, and diplomacy.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hand of Fate - 20/20 hours

Defeating the Dealer was a huge weight off my mind.  Once I cleared that last stage of the story mode, I was free to stop thinking of the game in terms of "success" and "failure" and instead was able to embrace it as a test of personal excellence. The trick was persistence. Much as I suspected, beating the Dealer was a matter of waiting until I got a lucky equipment draw and then not screwing up. Now that it's behind me, I am much more inclined to be cheerful about it.

Endless mode was . . . fun. Going on a run or two is a good way to spend a half hour, but doing too many in a row can be fatiguing, especially when you run into some tough encounters too early to properly deal with them. Still, it's like the distilled essence of an action-rpg. You go to a place, you fight monsters. It's a hard thing to screw up.

I probably should have been playing Endless mode all along. There's no reward, other than pride, for defeating the Dealer, and the stress of trying and failing was almost unbearable. Yet with a bit more breathing room, Hand of Fate became a breezy and almost casual experience. Sure, you die a lot, but what is the difference between life and death? There's no great cost to starting over, and thus nothing to mourn when it comes to an end.

I imagine there's nigh-limitless scope for exploration in your infinite lives, where each path is its own peculiar story, and if some of them (such as the story of how I ran into the Kraken as my first combat encounter and then promptly died) are not particularly interesting, they make up for in quantity what they lack in thematic cohesion.

If I didn't have this blog hanging over me, I would probably play Hand of Fate again. Not obsessively, but for a half-hour or so at a time. The art direction, the voice acting, and solid mechanics (minus the occasional random and inexplicable crash-to-desktop) make for an overall rewarding experience, and the unpredictability can stimulate my latent gambling urge, even if the unfairness of a bad run has me cursing the gods of fate.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hand of Fate - 15/20 hours

I feel like I should love roguelike games. I mean, like I'm supposed to. There's something about them that feels elemental and pure, like they are the distilled essence of a video game challenge. There's no coddling the player, no special dispensation for their ability or for their lack of ability, just a situation and the tools with which to address that situation. The tools may not always be sufficient, but is that not life? So, you fail? Poverty crushes you and what few breaks you had, you were not quite skilled enough to capitalize upon. There's always your next time through.

And yet, five hours later, I have not yet beaten the final boss. I got up to him once, but it turns out the final fight is a massive boss-rush and I was only able to beat half of them (this is partially my fault, because I accidentally used my healing item too early, but still). After that, it's back to square one. There's no sense of progress or advancement, just attempt after futile attempt in the hope that the random number generator will bless me in that narrow window of time between when I warm up at the start of the game and when my brain becomes useless mush after so many failures.

And my main thought is that I hate this. All the elegant simplicity of the roguelike concept, and yet here I am, bashing my head against a wall, trying to defeat this stupid boss with not enough resources and huge and unpredictable gaps between attempts. It doesn't help that the Dealer's level has the two  most aggravating rules changes in the entire game - that I get a new Curse after each level transition, and that I can't have Blessings at all. Combined with the fact that there is now a card that hits me for 10hp per curse (and which has killed me from an otherwise "safe" hp total at least three times), and it's a recipe for frustration.

I really should give up and try Endless mode. I suspect I'd like it a lot more. However, I can't. I've still got five hours left to go, and only one stage left to defeat. I'm so close to final victory, it would be a shame to quit before I make it.

I suspect this stubbornness will cause me quite a bit more unnecessary grief before I'm done.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hand of Fate - 10/20 hours

I'm most of the way through story mode now. As of my last post, I had four bosses left to beat, and in the previous five hours I've beaten three of them. My conclusion, based on these experiences, is that advancement in Hand of Fate is largely down to luck. Which isn't to say that there's no skill involved, but simply that a favorable distribution of cards require a lot less skill than an unfavorable one. For example, the first of the three bosses (and therefor, presumably, the easiest) took me three hours to beat. The other two took about an hour each. I wasn't really doing anything particularly different on my first run, it was simply a matter of drawing an effective combination of equipment while avoiding having too many unfavorable cards active at once.

It's not a mechanic I'm thrilled about. I play a lot of Magic: The Gathering, and knowing, if only in a rough way, the statistical composition of your deck is an important skill, but it's actually my least favorite part of the game. Managing chance simply never felt as satisfying as elegant design. It's doubly a problem here because you don't really have a lot of room to design your deck. Ideally, you want to select encounters with good risk to reward ratios, and equipment that will complement your playstyle, but usually the first time you defeat an encounter card, it grants you a token that unlocks more cards, so you want to heavily favor the new ones, and you don't get multiples of your best equipment cards, so it's impossible to weight your deck towards a particular gear loadout. It makes the chance element feel very arbitrary.

However, I shouldn't complain, because I'm winning. The only opponent I have left to face is the Dealer himself. Once he's out of the way, I'll be done with story mode (though I still have no clear idea about the nature of the in-universe game) and be able to focus on endless mode, which I suspect to be the real meat of the game. I imagine that if there is no definite end-point to your dungeon delve, then your inevitable death from a run of bad luck won't seem nearly so cruel.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hand of Fate - 5/20 hours

Nothing much has changed. The enemies have gotten more difficult (you can now draw bosses as random encounters, which is never an annoying mechanic), and my equipment hasn't really kept pace, but the core gameplay is exactly the same as it was 3 hours ago. I'm currently in the last rank of the story mode, and really flailing with the more intense challenge. I guess I should give the game credit for easing me into the rogue-like elements, but it does feel like a bit of a bait-and-switch. I got into the game expecting a certain degree of steady progress and now I'm hitting a brick wall. I expect this is merely a skill plateau, however, and once I have a little more practice, I'll be able to move forward once more.

And if not, there's always easy mode. It's an option I tend to avoid, because I have an irrational pride in being a "normal" gamer (I don't really bother with hard mode on games, either; I think the only exceptions are Viewtiful Joe and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance). To downgrade on difficulty feels like admitting defeat.

It really shouldn't. Games are nominally played for enjoyment, not as an exercise in human dominance over an inanimate object, and I really enjoy the version of Hand of Fate that's a casual brawler/card-driven choose-your-own-adventure. So it makes sense to lower the difficulty. I'd just hate to do so if there's a possibility that I can rise to the challenge on my own merits.

It's not like it's a critical decision, though. I still have fifteen hours to go, and I will say this for dying and restarting from the beginning of a level - it does a lot to pad out the playtime.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hand of Fate - 2/20 hours

My plan to build an unstoppable combo deck is not likely to bear fruit. The decks you build for Hand of Fate don't appear to have any sort of synergy or destructive interactions. Rather, you have an equipment deck, which acts as a loot pool for your encounter rewards, and an encounter deck, which determines the sort of random mini-quests you run across on the way to the boss.

It's a little disappointing to me that it's not a strategy game, where you navigate the board by selecting cards from your hand, but it's an amusing little text-driven rpg with short, easily-digestible fight sequences that give it a unique and appealing energy, so I don't see much point in moaning about the game I thought it could have been.

I don't have a lot else to say about it so far. It doesn't have much of a story, due to the aforementioned random encounters, but you do have an "opponent" who narrates and comments about your actions in an amusing way. The voice acting of the character is really well done, and his interruptions are always welcome. The cards appear to be part of a mystical game within the fiction of the actual game, played for high stakes by people with occult knowledge, which is intriguing, but the specific details have not yet been revealed.

I'll be keeping my eyes open. Until then, Hand of Fate is a fun distraction. So far it's been pretty easy, and a little shallow, but I imagine as time goes on it will only get more intense.

Hand of Fate - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

 Deckbuilding comes to life in Hand of Fate!

An infinitely replayable series of quests - earn new cards, build your deck, then try to defeat it!

Beyond the thirteen gates at the end of the world, the game of life and death is played. Draw your cards, play your hand, and discover your fate. Hand of Fate is a hybrid roguelike/action-RPG/deck builder, in which the player builds a set of cards into a deck, which is then used to deal out the dungeon floors through which they adventure. Upon entering a combat, all of the cards the player has collected fly into their hands as fully modeled 3D assets, and combat begins.

Build your deck, enter the world of Hand of Fate, and prepare to face the Ace of Skulls.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

Another strange one. I'd never heard of it before, but going by the description, I'm intrigued. I like card games, a lot, and a card game that's also an action-rpg does sound like a little slice of heaven. Roguelikes, I'm on the fence about. I like them in theory. There's something appealing about the idea of a fair challenge that pushes your limits until failure is a matter of "when" rather than "if," but I've also been known to be irrationally fragile about that sort of thing. I like the feeling of winning, even if a hard-fought loss would be more impressive.

Still, maybe there' a particular deck that will allow me to dominate the challenges. If so, discovering it would be just about my favorite thing in life. I love, love, love assembling elaborate combos to achieve ridiculous outcomes in collectible card games. Usually, I tend to overthink things and build top-heavy decks that only work on the rare, extraordinary draw, but when the stars align and everything works perfectly . . .

If Hand of Fate can deliver that experience, it will have made a fan for life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV - 20/20 hours

One thing I tried to do while playing the basic game again after so long was to try and explore mechanics I had previously overlooked, because who knows when I'll bother playing vanilla civ4 again.

The first one I concentrated on was the diplomatic victory. Usually I go for space, sometimes I'll do cultural, rarely will I pursue a military victory. I can't recall ever actually winning the diplomatic game. And thankfully for the record books, my streak is still unbroken.

I think I just fundamentally don't understand how it works. I did everything in my power to ingratiate myself to the AI, gave away huge amounts of money and resources, distributed advanced technologies left and right, built the UN, and the people of the world voted for my rival. I laid the groundwork for global peace, and the AI reaped the benefit. It would have been better if I hadn't tried, then at least I might have been able to go for the space victory.

I suppose that's a minor complaint though. If the diplomatic victory was easy enough for me to do on my first try, it probably wouldn't feel like much of an accomplishment.

The other mechanic I tried out was Civ4's religion system. Now, I've used religion in the past - if you're in the lead, you have to go out of your way to avoid founding one, and even if you aren't it's pretty inevitable that an AI religion will spread to your lands, - but in all my years playing the game, my religious strategy has been a purely domestic one. I'd spread whatever religions I got to as many of my own cities as possible in order to benefit from the religious buildings and bonus happiness of the Free Religion civic, but I'd never bother with sending missionaries to foreign lands.

This time, I made a special effort to do so, and it turns out that if you're a founder of a religion (and especially if you've founded more than one), it can be incredibly rewarding to get out there and spread your creed. There are special wonders you can build which give you gold based on the number of cities (both foreign and domestic) that follow your faith, and though the individual amount per turn is small, over time it really adds up. Whereas before, with my indifferent secular approach, I'd run deficits when trying to maximize my science, with a strong religion in my corner, I had a budget surplus even at 0% tax.

I'm not sure what this mechanic has to say about religion in the real world. The most cynical read of it is that Civ4 is basically saying "all religions are the same and while they may make the common people happy, their real purpose is to enrich the fat-cats at the top," but I think Firaxis was probably aiming at something along the lines of "no religion is intrinsically better or worse than any other, they all bring comfort to their followers, have an important cultural impact, and enrich their communities through the donation of labor and resources." I'm not going to take sides on this issue. Personally, as a humorless atheist, I wish there were some option for "people don't really need religion, and it's possible to build a society based on materialism and naturalist metaphysics that is just as functional as any of the others," but I suppose every worldview would like it if their ideas were validated in video game form, so while I'm not thrilled at the idea that in Civ4 having no religion is always strictly inferior to having any religion, I can't imagine that there are many religious partisans who are super happy about the idea that all religions are interchangeable and having more is always preferable to having just one.

So it's with that thought that I say good-bye to basic Civilization IV. It was really easy to play for 20 hours, and if I didn't have evening paperwork to do, I'd have probably blown past the deadline without even realizing it, but I can't help remembering that the Beyond the Sword expansion is an unalloyed improvement. The re-balancing of the game, with the addition of new military, diplomatic, espionage, and economic options takes an already great game and makes it even better. If it weren't for the fact that Steam listed it separately, I wouldn't have played it at all. I guess that makes this a happy coincidence then, because I enjoyed myself, and I'm certain that I'll now appreciate the expansions even more.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV - 13/20 hours

I got a brisk reminder of the weakest part of Civilization IV over the past few hours - warfare is a nightmare. I don't know what went wrong in my latest game, but I had to deal with a rotating cast of hyper-aggressive warlords who, for some reason, decided that my empire looked like a likely target. At one point, I was at war with Montezuma, Napoleon, and Julius Caesar simultaneously. When I made peace with the latter two in order to deal with the former (the Aztecs were the only one of the three that was anywhere near my territory), I assumed that was the end of it (I had to destroy so many of their units just to get them to talk to me), but a century later, I was fighting Napoleon, and then just a decade after beating him decisively (and giving his cities to a friendly AI, because we shared no borders whatsoever), Caesar declares war on me out of nowhere (and he's even farther away).

 I don't understand the criteria by which the AI decides who to fight. The Aztecs attacking made a certain amount of sense. There was a considerable distance between our cities, but with a high enough culture, the territory would have been contiguous.  The others, though, exclusively attacked my captured Aztec cities, and had to be laboriously driven off, but I'm not sure what they would have gained even from victory. A couple of weak and unproductive cities, cut off from their main empires by the territory of my ally (and in Caesar's case, almost the entire length of a Pangaea map), and extremely vulnerable to being culture-flipped (it was only after a century of possession that I was even able to get the city radius wide enough to work the land profitably). There's literally no strategic advantage to the attack. I almost think the game is ganging up on me purely because I'm the human.

Or maybe I'm just bitter because I was playing on quick mode, and the thing about quick mode is that your units move at the same speed as they do on normal mode, so warfare generally takes the same number of turns, but each turn is more valuable. So I went from first place at the beginning of my first war to second place at some point in the middle of my second war, and I never quite recovered. And maybe that's the explanation - they were trying to take down the top dog - except that also doesn't make sense, because however bad the wars were for me, they were a disaster for my enemies.

The worst part about it is that Civilization IV's combat system encourages long and destructive wars. You can stack up any number of units in a single tile, so the best way to defeat an enemy is to build up a massive force and then overwhelm their defenses. It is pretty much impossible to defend against the swarm attack because however many units you build, the attacker can simply delay the war until they have more (I've used this to my advantage multiple times, so I don't really have a right to complain - not that that's going to stop me). And the really dismaying part is that regular civ4 is missing a critical diplomatic option - enemy civilizations will not surrender. You can beat them so badly they'll pay tribute for peace (though by the time you do, they rarely have anything worth taking), but regardless of how the war ends, even if they started it, they'll hate you for having lost. The only way to decisively and permanently win a war is to cripple them so badly they can't recover. And that takes a lot off time.

As a result, I don't think I'll finish that save, because I've only got about 50 turns left, and though I've won my wars, the time the fighting took away from my infrastructure and research has left me with no path to victory. The AI who overtook me for first place has an insurmountable lead, thanks to having the good sense not to attack me and the good fortune not to draw aggression from every random yahoo on the continent. My dream of a peaceful and unified world will not come to pass (at least, not until the next time I play the game).

I will say, though, Civilization IV has done a lot to cement my real-world pacifism. It just makes me so angry that you can cultivate and build and learn and over the course of years make something beautiful and functional and some idiot with a sword can just swoop in and take it over without having contributed anything of their own, and even if they fail, the mere fact that they targeted you will inevitably result in your stuff getting wrecked with only the slimmest hopes of compensation. It's not fair that the first person willing to use violence gets to unilaterally dictate the terms of the conflict. Reason and justice should rule the world, not brutality and the narrow strength of the clenched fist.

One of the reasons I love the Civilization games is because sometimes that ideal world comes to exist, or at least, it does when the random number generator doesn't develop an inexplicable grudge for the human.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV - 4/20 hours

I'm having an unanticipated problem with this game - I don't want to stop playing long enough to post about it. Even now, I'm driven to distraction, thinking about what I'm going to do in my next game. There are so many widgets and fiddly bits that there is almost always something that needs doing right this second now and balancing these competing opportunity costs with your long-term goals is an immensely satisfying intellectual exercise.

I love how the different pieces of Civilization IV fit together, exploring the map for exotic resources, researching technologies that allow me to exploit them, choosing the location of my cities based on the terrain and availability of resources (as opposed to earlier civ games where you wanted to put a city on all available land, so as not to waste any of it), determining whether you want a city to focus on food, gold, or production - there's something beautifully harmonious about the way things will suddenly click and your civilization's economy will become a powerful engine for your ambition.

Civilization IV also has a number of quality of life improvements over it's predecessors. The in-game clock is useful. The AI will not enter your borders without a free passage agreement (this was the second most annoying part of civ3 - the AI would move settlers through your territory, clearly intending to box you in with settlements on the far side of your empire, and then they would get annoyed when you told them to back off). It generally takes fewer clicks to navigate through the interface, and you can almost always consult the civilopedia.

But I think my favorite feature of Civ4, the one I missed most acutely in Civ3, was the "Quick" game speed. The increased building and research speed tends to mess things up if you play a military game (because your units are obsolete almost as soon as you get them to the front lines), but I, being a shameless peacemonger, tend to like it because it means I don't spend a hundred turns doing nothing but pressing "end turn." Granted, it does tend to rob the game of some of its epic scope, but that's what Fall From Heaven is for (seriously, I cannot overstate how much I'm looking forward to Beyond the Sword).

On the other hand, the advantage of quick mode is that in a mere four hours, I was able to complete two whole games. I lost the first one (on Settler difficulty no less) because I never bothered to expand to a second city and was just a few turns shy of finishing the spaceship, due in no small part to my unfamiliarity with vanilla Civ4's tech tree. The second game I bumped it up to Warlord difficulty and won handily, most likely because I didn't dick around quite so much and actually bothered to expand and engage in diplomacy.

The interesting thing about my second game is that the international situation was much more amiable than I'm used to in civilization games. There was only one major war, and five different civilizations were able to share a single continent without much territory changing hands. I probably would have gone to war with England if the game went on for much longer, despite their being a close ally, because they managed to build a high culture city near my border and it was playing havoc with my productive radius, but it was easier to just build the spaceship and win the game.

I think I may need to bump up the difficulty a little more. Usually the AI is a bit more proactive about ruining my day, and while I'm not particularly thrilled at the thought of my day being ruined, I've still got 16 hours to go, and it would probably be undignified to coast through it.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization IV - Initial Thoughts

Since my Steam library has, for some inexplicable reason, broken down Civilization IV into four separate titles, I've decided to break from my usual "Initial Thoughts" format to talk about all four of them at once. Civilizaton IV with the Beyond the Sword expansion pack is probably my second most played entry in the Civilization series (third if you count Alpha Centauri), and even then only because for the longest time Civilization II was the only version my computer would run. It's hard to say, exactly, because I haven't previously had a utility that will track my playtime.

However, buying Civ4 for Steam was not purely a vanity on my part. I wound up buying the whole series in a bundle a couple of months after I got my new computer. I had not yet installed it from the disc, and when I saw that Warlords required the Steam version of the base game, I figured that I had one of two options - track down a disc version of Warlords and go through the whole rigamarole of installing the base game, and the expansions, and the patches, or just wait until the whole bundle went on sale for a ridiculous discount in the hopes that it would cost less than buying a disc version of the single expansion I wanted separately. It turns out my intuition about the second path was correct. The bundle cost me about 7.50, and a disc version of Warlords is currently going for about 12 bucks on Amazon. That I also got Colonization (a game I'd never even heard of) in the mix is just a bonus.

Why go through so much trouble, though? What's so special about Civilization IV? Keep in mind, I want no part of any internet civil war among the civilization fandom about whether Civ5 was a step forward or backward for the series - I actually love that game a lot as well, for reasons I'll get into when the time comes. I'll simply say that there is a mental tendency when it comes to 4X games to treat them less like "games" where you manipulate pieces around a board with the intent of winning, and more like a miniature reality, a virtual garden you carefully tend to in order to achieve the most aesthetically pleasing outcome. And when it comes to that latter goal, there's no main line Civilization, and few other 4X games, period, which do a better job at bringing the world to life. That's probably why Beyond the Sword got so many incredible mods.

So I wound up getting the Steam bundle because I've long been curious about what I've been missing out on for years and years. I was surprised (and more than a little confused) to see the bundle listed as four separate games.  This isn't a problem for me, personally. Eighty hours of Civilization IV? What is that? It's nothing. If I didn't have to go to work or talk to my wife, I could do that in four, four-and-a-half days, tops. However I do worry that it might be a little dull blog-wise, so my plan is this:

Play 20 hours of regular Civilization IV
Play another game entirely
Play 20 hours of the Warlords expansion (because it's the whole reason these games are on my list at all)
Play another game
Play 20 hours of Beyond the Sword mods (because seriously, some of these are incredible)
Play another game
Play 20 hours Colonization (because I have no idea what this is, and I'm kind of curious)

I expect it'll go pretty smooth. I'm not quite as good at Civ4 as I am at Civ5, but I'm completely familiar with its ins and outs, so this is really like coming home for me. I look forward to the gaming equivalent of comfort food. 

Sid Meier's Civilization III - 20/20 hours

I started my dabbling with Civilization III's scenarios with a fond memory of the Sengoku scenario. I recall liking the Daimyo units, which were an extra powerful infantry unit that you could upgrade as your technology improved. While my memory of the Daimyo's power was overblown (yes, they're strong, but if your's dies, it's a game over, so that limits their practicality), the scenario itself was pretty charming. The simplified tech tree and highly detailed map of Japan gave it a very different feel than vanilla civ, and the shortened time period lent it a nice specificity. In the end, I quit because I found myself at the end of the tech tree with something like 300 turns left to go, and even though I was the most powerful faction on the map, I couldn't actually win unless I started an interminable war of conquest that simply did not appeal to me at all. Plus, my well-developed cities were starting to develop pollution, and I was like - nope.

That's what I'm going to remember most about Civilization III - the damned pollution. It is unfair, I know, to judge an entire game by its worst mechanic, but it's just so persistently annoying that I can't help it. It never ends. There's never a point where you finally have your civilization under control. You have to remain eternally vigilant. That's true to life, I suppose, but I don't actually play 4X games because I want a simulation. I simply enjoy the sensation of painting the map with a semblance of order. Disorder bugs me. Especially in this context, it gets under my skin in a way few things can.

Still, that's only about 10% of the game. The other 90%, the pollution-free portion, was more or less classic civ. Once I figured out the necessity of aggressive expansion and the obsessive pursuit of resources, it played a lot like a more primitive version of the games that I'm used to. There's nothing wrong with that - it would be downright perverse of me to expect an early game to be more sophisticated than the games it inspired - but I can't deny that it suffers in comparison.

I think the thing I am most looking forward to about playing Civilization IV and Civilization V is being able to see the development of the series in a relatively short frame of time. Pollution aside, I can't help but think of Civilization III as a fairly "classic" take on the Civilization formula. When I think of the series in the most abstract terms possible, the game I'm thinking of looks a lot like Civ3 (I'd completely forgotten that Civ2 did not have a diplomatic victory, which makes it just a bit less iconic in my eyes), so while it may not have the enduring legacy of being one of my go-to games (which, let's face it, is not an honor that's going to be gracing people's mantlepieces any time soon), it is nonetheless a solid game, and well worth playing on its own merits (pollution notwithstanding).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization III - 12/20 hours

Where does the time go? Ten hours hardly seemed like anything, which I suppose is the sign of a good game, though much more of it than I'd like was spent on cleaning up pollution (damn, that is an annoying mechanic). I also spent a lot of time waging war. The process of aggressive imperial expansion is much more time-consuming than the responsible development of one's own internal culture and infrastructure (exactly the opposite of how things work in real life), but it did teach me a thing or two about the logic behind Civilization III.

You see, as time went on, my continent-spanning empire gained an abundance of strategic and luxury resources that made it easier to administer my territory and build an army to be feared by all. However, I also noticed that when my surpluses were not especially large. In fact, if all my continent was peaceful, and all its territory and resources were divided evenly among the five civilization that initially inhabited it, then no one would have had a full set, and no one would have had extras to trade away. Duplicates were so far from each other that it is absolutely certain that the AI would have jealously guarded its sole copy of specific, critical resources (this did work to my advantage, conquest-wise, as I was able to easily cut off the opposition's access to iron, giving me exclusive access to swordsmen).

The only conclusion I can come to is that Civilization III was never meant to be played with peaceful coexistence in mind. It assumes that you are going to be an aggressive conqueror, and is balanced accordingly. This really shouldn't come as a surprise, given that both of Civilization II's victory conditions were made massively easier by having a huge empire (spaceship victory was technically achievable as a peaceful nation, but since science output scaled linearly with empire size, the only way to get enough technology before the time limit was to expand dramatically, usually at the expense of your neighbors). And while there are new victory conditions, Cultural victory is mostly about turtling as much as possible to rack up a single mega-city, and Diplomatic victory is all won during the last few turns. Which isn't to say that the new victory conditions aren't welcome, just that they are, like many of Civilization III's other innovative elements, still in the prototype stage.

Yet the knowledge that Civ3 is still, at heart, a wargame is intensely liberating. Now that I have that information, I can adjust my expectations and strategies accordingly. I think I'll spend my last eight hours with the scenarios (my attempt to install a mod did not go well, it completely glitched out the system menus, somehow shifting the labels for the buttons so that, say, the archipelago option in the map select was labeled "difficulty" and similar bizarre juxtapositions), where my warmongering can be put to constructive use.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sid Meier's Civilization III - 2/20 hours

The first thing I do with any new 4X is play through once on the easiest difficulty level, just to get a sense of the shape of the tech tree and the basic rhythms of gameplay. It's an approach with upsides and downsides - few games put their best foot forward on easy mode, but higher difficulties can be needlessly frustrating if you're going in blind.  In general though, I find that an early win helps me bond with a game.

That being said, Civilization III is more or less exactly as I remember it. The parts of the game I didn't care for, particularly the stingy distribution of resources and the "dead techs" on the tree that you have to research, but don't give you anything interesting, are still there, and there's a couple more annoyances that I either didn't notice or forgot about - parts of the interface require multiple mouse clicks where in later games they'd only need one, and managing pollution is a nightmare because the worker automation cancels whenever they finish. Still, it's a Civilization game, and that's a hard formula to mess up (I think in the future, I'll just have to try and win before the industrial era).

The thing about Civilization III is that it really did introduce a lot of good ideas that future Civ games would develop into incredibly rich mechanics - cultural borders, unique abilities to differentiate civilizations, strategic resources - but with the first iteration of these ideas, they have not yet been fine-tuned, so they come off as kind of clunky. The cultural victory is passive and boring, the unique abilities are all over the place, balance-wise, and strategic resources are a bottleneck that cuts you off from huge chunks of the tech tree and leave you distressingly vulnerable if you get a bad draw. I think I'll play a couple more games and then try and see about downloading a mod. I'm certain that somebody, somewhere must have gone through the trouble of tweaking the gameplay to make Civilization III into the great game I know it has the potential to be.

Sid Meier's Civilization III - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Sid Meier's Civilization III: Complete, the latest offering in the Sid Meier's Civilization III franchise, provides gaming fans with Sid Meier's Civilization III, the highly-addictive journey of discovery, combined with the updated and enhanced multiplayer expansion pack Sid Meier's Civilization III: Play the World*, as well as all of the great new civilizations, scenarios, and features from Sid Meier's Civilization III: Conquests! Sid Meier's Civilization III: Complete provides more ways to explore, more strategies to employ, more modes of play, and more ways to win, all in one box!

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This game is either one of my most sensible purchases or one of my most foolish. You see, I already owned Civilization III, but when I bought a new computer, I felt like it was too much trouble to find the disc, install it, and then put it in the drive every time I wanted to play it, so I just waited until I saw it on sale for something like a buck fifty and then had Steam do all the work for me. It wasn't a huge waste of money, but given my current project, it was definitely a bad tactical move, especially considering that I have other, much better Civilization games that I could be playing. If you ever wonder what a "sucker for completeness" looks like, this is it.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I am a long-time fan of the Civilization series. I first saw the original Civ at a friend's house when I was very young, but at the time, I had no computer and no prospects of getting one. However, the small bit of gameplay I saw intrigued me, and when I finally did get a computer of my own (something like six years later), Civilization II was the first game I bought. Played the hell out of, and out of Alpha Centauri (which totally came out of nowhere for me - I got it entirely on the recommendation of a store clerk - best advice I ever took), so when Civ3 was announced, it was a no-brainer. For a variety of reasons, I did not play it as much as the others.

My memory of the game is that it adds complexity over Civ2, but at the cost of not being nearly so polished. I remember being pretty frustrated by the resource system, even while liking it in theory. Overall, I have no particularly fond recollections of playing it, and a couple of bad ones. However, I last tried it a long time ago, and I've become a much better 4X player since, so it's possible that my impression of Civilization III is not an accurate one. I look forward to being pleasantly surprised.

Hammerfight - 20/20 hours

It looks like my hammerfighting career has finally come to an end. Though the game remained as dicey as always in the final hours, I managed to discover a build that more or less eliminated all the challenge from the game - a long chain weapon combined with a gem that stole health upon a hit. Combined with a conservative playstyle, even the most difficult levels only required 3-4 reloads at most. As a result, I was able to get everything I wanted out of the game - completed story mode, saw all the weapons (though you can't have them all on a single save because some of them are rewards for taking exclusive side-paths on the main story), beat the first 20 levels of the Arena (after which there are no new rewards or titles), and played Grim mode enough to get the special weapon and more gems than I had any reasonable use for. Overall, it was a good run.

I will probably never return to Hammerfight. Even if I didn't have this massive backlog, I don't think I have anything left to learn. Sure, I never even came close to winning hammerball, but I hated every minute of that minigame, so I don't see it as a great loss. As far as everything else is concerned, though, I'm pretty sure the only things left are more intense versions of what has come before. That's a fine setup for those who are enamored of Hammerfight's gameplay, because it offers near-limitless room for mastery, but I was not quite so enchanted. The chaos was too overwhelming for me, even after 20 hours. If I was ever going to adapt to the game's constant sensory overload, I would have done it by now.

That said, while I've often praised games for taking me outside my comfort zone, once I figured out the heal-and-chain trick, Hammerfight became genuinely enjoyable. I don't think a real fan of the game would want to rely on that combo, seeing as how it dramatically reduces the difficulty without adding any new twist on the tactics of the fights themselves. Combined with a controller that allowed me to lean back in my chair and avoid flailing my mouse arm around, Hammerfight was a fun, if busy casual game. That it was most enjoyable to me when I'd successfully defanged most of its mechanics says something significant either about the game or about me, but I'm not sure it's to either of our benefits to spell it out.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hammerfight - 15/20 hours

How can I describe Hammerfight? What is the actual experience like, on a physical and sensual level?

There's no stillness to it. When you aren't moving the mouse, your machine drifts. You have to spin and loop constantly, tracing arcs through the air and leaving after-images of your weapon behind. Enemies are fast and unpredictable, often rushing in from off-screen and taking you unawares. Combat is a series of sudden jolts. You'll crash into your enemy, and the screen will shake and blur, and it won't be immediately apparent if you damaged them or they damaged you. Sometimes you'll get in a clean hit and your enemy will streak across the screen, dazed and helpless. When that happens, you'll want to dash after them in hopes of landing a devastating follow-up. Death can be sudden. It's rare to die from a single hit while you're at full health, but being even a little bit under can put you in peril, and you're never entirely safe from being stunned and comboed into oblivion.

It's a fast, brutal, chaotic experience where you can never let down your guard, and even if you do everything right, you still might lose. The thrill, I think, comes from this uncertainty. Hammerfight puts you on the very edge of your capabilities. Early levels can be pretty easy, but play long enough and you'll get to a point where you must trust yourself to dangle over the side of the abyss, to embrace the not-knowing and rely on adrenaline and reflex and luck.

It's not really my sort of thing. Dark Souls was more frustrating, but it was predictably unfair, if that makes any sense. It would kill you for the slightest mistake, but you could consistently learn from your deaths. The knowledge gained from an ambush or a failed boss run could be applied in the future to avoid the ambush or defeat the boss. Hammerfight is just as unforgiving, but you can never entirely eliminate the element of chance. Is your hammer pointed up instead of right? Congratulations, you just died. It's literally a roll of the dice. Skill plays a factor, an important one, but all skill can do is maximize your chances. You're still just playing the percentages, and sometimes you're going to get a bad throw.

Which is fine, but I'm not a gambler by nature. The idea of trusting myself to chance fills me with a kind of vertigo, and even when I win, the sensation is more akin to relief than joy. If the stakes were higher, Hammerfight would leave me one massive ball of stress. As it is, I just sort of tune the game out and reload when I fail. I'm just good enough that I can get through all the story missions if I play them enough times (I couldn't actually tell you what the story is about, however, because any sort of proper noun-heavy narration quickly becomes an undifferentiated buzzing to me).

Meanwhile, the Steam Summer sale is going on, and I have not been strong. It's difficult to put into words exactly how eager I am to get this over with so I can play with my shiny new toys. This has lead to me playing Hammerfight a lot more than I otherwise would. It's weird how when I view a game as a chore to be suffered through, I tend to muscle through on pure stubborness, whereas if it's a game I like, but am not particularly feeling at the moment (like Knights of the Old Republic II) I'll procrastinate and dither like no one's business. That probably says something important about my character, but that's not a pandora's box I need to be opening just now.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Hammerfight - 7/20 hours

Hammerfight becomes a little less luck-based once you open up the armory, which allows you to choose the loadout of your machine in order to find and use a weapon that fits with your particular fighting style. The different weapons respond differently in the physics simulation, spinning faster or slower, causing more or less knockback, requiring different angles for optimal hits, and so forth. That opens up quite a bit of strategy, as you search for just the right build.

I also unlocked some alternate game modes - Arena, which is just fighting enemies with no particular context; Hammerball, a game in which you use your hammer to knock a ball into a goal, something I find to be a neat idea, but utterly unplayable in practice; and Grim, which looks to be a survival mode where you have to face wave after wave of monsters. Of all these, I think I like Arena the best, because it's just the most fundamental expression of the game. The campaign is pretty decent, but there have been parts that have just felt massively unfair, so I can't really give it my wholehearted endorsement.

I might be the wrong person to ask, though, because I don't particularly enjoy this game. I can see the appeal. I understand why other people might like, or even love Hammerfight. It's a chaotic action game that rewards a degree of precision that most people can't attain, so there's a lot of room for mastery, and that is always a draw. However, it's just not my sort of thing. It's so busy, and it requires that you focus on so many things at once - you have to move your craft to dodge, but it has to be in a circle so your weapon has the momentum to hit, but whether you go clockwise or counterclockwise depends on a host a variable like relative position on the screen, the direction of rotation of the enemy's weapon, and whether or not switching would cost you too much time. I find it more than a bit overwhelming.

It's funny how time changes you. I used to think that I had to like every good thing and that anything I didn't like couldn't possibly be good. . . which now that I write it out seems embarrassingly juvenile and self-centered, but I'm not going to panic about it because it's a commonly-expressed sentiment. The thing I've come to realize (and boy howdy has this blog helped me along with his realization) is that there simply is not enough time in one life to experience all the good things in this world. And this is especially true when you consider that some of those things require a specific cultural background or the development of advanced skills to appreciate. And I suspect that much as I will never be country enough to be able to tell the good country music from the bad, I will also never be dextrous enough with this damned mouse to ever get the most of what Hammerfight has to offer.

It kind of makes me sad to think about. When I first tried to play Hammerball, it was a ludicrous farce, but I imagine that on the high end of the skill curve it is a glorious acrobatic ballet. And I am never going to be able to see it, merely because I am unwilling to invest the hundreds of hours necessary to master the controls. I guess that's just the central absurdity of mortality - the world is always bigger than you, history is always older than you, and the days are never long enough make up for how few of them you get.

Or maybe this just a silly little game about inexplicably spinning robots, and I should just enjoy it while it lasts. What would Sartre do?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hammerfight - 3/20 hours

The upside to playing Hammerfight is that I imagine blogging about it is going to be pretty easy. There's not much about the game to inspire the sort of pensive ramblings that are my usual stock-in-trade. It's got your basic video game plot that is really just an excuse to string levels together, and the bulk of the gameplay is just one fight after another. You fly this crazy contraption with ludicrously oversized weapons and smash the hell out of other pilots and the occasional monster. Simple.

The downside to playing Hammerfight is that none of the games I've thus far played for the blog have made me quite so physically uncomfortable. You control your machine by moving the mouse. Your weapons swings freely, and in order to strike with it, you have to move in large circles in order to build up momentum.  This requires you to make large movements that a)I don't really have room for, especially on the levels where you have to scroll the screen; b)Are imprecise and difficult to time; and c)Are surprisingly tiring. Fortunately, I discovered (completely by accident - the documentation for this game is terrible) that you can use a controller. The analogue stick is much more comfortable to spin than the mouse, though I worry about wearing it out from overuse.

Still, Hammerfight is an interesting little game. I admire the boldness of its design. It's fun to experience a different use for the mouse, and even if it doesn't mesh with my particular preferences and circumstances, the control scheme is innovative and amusing enough that I'm glad I got a chance to play around with it. My main complaint with the analogue stick version of the game is that the movement of your ship doesn't always feel completely under your control. I get that managing the chaos that comes from inconvenient inertia is part of the challenge, but more than once I wound up with victories that felt more like chance than a genuine accomplishment. Hopefully that will change with time.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hammerfight - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Hammerfight is about 2D battles of flying machines equipped with various slashing, piercing and blunt weaponry. A unique combat system is based on realistic physics simulation, and it ties the movements of the rider to the movements of your mouse. As you wave the mouse, your rider swings his warhammer, smashing the foe into the wall!

This creates an unequaled feel of the real strike, a feel of the mass of the weapon in your hands. Simulated physics and direct mouse control creates a huge variety of possible battle techniques and an unlimited field for perfecting one's fighting skill. 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

This is another one of those challenge games that I'd never even heard of until right when I was gearing up to start playing it. Looking at the screenshots on the store page, it kind of reminds me of an old-school shooter like R-Type, which is not a genre I'm particularly fond of. However, that's just the visual impression I get from a casual inspection. The store description suggests it will be like nothing I've ever played before. I'm not sure how I feel about starting out as a scrub in a new fighting game, but I do like physics, so perhaps it will balance out.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - 20/20 hours

I don't normally wait so long between updates, but my home internet went out early Monday morning and I just now have the ability to post. During that time, I played Knights of the Old Republic in Steam's offline mode for a period of time that is at least nine-and-a-half hours, not counting reloads, so, despite the fact that my game counter currently shows 12 hours, I'm pretty sure I made it to the end.

And this is the end, because having to summarize such a large chunk of the game in a single post has made me realize something disappointing - the plot to this game is incoherent at best. It's not something I recognized when I was younger because its worldbuilding and characterization are both really good, but as far as I can tell, what seems to be happening is that there exist some dangerous Sith who want to kill Jedi out of some sort of ideological grudge (and possibly one of these is a life-consuming monster who wants to devour the whole galaxy, but doesn't actually feature prominently in any of the local plots) and bounty hunters who want capture a Jedi in order to sell them to some mysterious underworld figure, and in the face of these problems you have to travel from planet to planet to find the missing Jedi elders to . . .

And you know, that would be a tolerable enough state of affairs were it not for the fact that the individual planet plots are not much better. Onderon was a hotbed of political activity as a local group, led by a heroic but ruthless general, wanted to secede from the Galactic Republic, opposed by the Queen and her Jedi adviser. But I'm not entirely sure what happened towards the end. The building plot just fizzled. I met up with the Jedi master, he told me that it wasn't safe, the local military attacked me, and I fled the planet with a promise that the Jedi would contact me when the time was right.

Nar Shadda wasn't much better. There's some kind of a gangland plot where the various rival bounty hunters are closing in on you and you have to track down the Exchange (standard interplanetary criminal syndicate) in order to end this threat once and for all, but I may have done some inadvertent sequence breaking, because I've mostly been advancing by stumbling around randomly until I fall ass-backwards into an event. It's an approach that eventually led me to the underground lair of a Quarren crime lord, where I lost control of my standard party and was forced to play as the bounty hunter Mira in a solo escape from a deadly trap and . . . bleh.

As exciting as the scenario is on paper, Mira simply doesn't have the oomph necessary to solo a dungeon at level 18. The enemies are too strong. I had to expend a huge amount of medpacks and shields just to get past the first patrol, and even then I wound up having to reload about a half-dozen times. I could just tough it out, but honestly, I think I've seen enough of this game.

I still love it, but at this point, I have so much on my plate that I'm not inclined to overlook its flaws. Knights of the Old Republic II is at turns brilliant and baffling, and well worth playing through at least once, but since I've already done that, I'm comfortable not doing it again.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - 10/20 hours

After fleeing Peragus, I find myself on the planet Telos. The story of this planet is pretty straightforward. It was destroyed in the Jedi Civil War. Now there are two factions. One wants to restore its natural beauty. The other wants to strip-mine its remains. Light side and Dark side. Pick a faction, do missions for it, affect the planet's future. Nothing that I haven't seen a dozen times before (in Bioware games, actually, now that I come to think about it - they really have their formula down pat).

The most notable part of Telos is the extreme incompetence of the administration and law enforcement. As soon as I arrived, I was arrested in connection with the explosion at Peragus, and while under the custody of the station security, I had to fight off an assassination attempt and my ship, the Ebon Hawk, was stolen. You can be really sarcastic about it, which is satisfying in its way, but the feeling of being jerked around is not a pleasant one. 

For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I'm having trouble getting into this game (berating the TCS notwithstanding). I don't think it's anything specific to Knights of the Old Republic II. The main plot is a little vague and meandering thus far, but the characters are more interesting. Kreia is a cranky and vaguely sinister mentor-type figure who's antagonistic while still feeling like she's basically on your side. Atton is a wise-cracking rogue with a mysterious past. Every so often, they'll weigh in on what you're doing or start a random conversation, and it usually feels pretty good, as if you're actually on a team. I think later Bioware games really perfect this mechanic, but it's use here is still fun.

I think I may just be experiencing genre fatigue. For the most part, I've been playing really story-heavy and slow-paced games this year. Which is fine. Story games are great. It's just that I also really enjoy strategy, simulation, and creative games, and it's been awhile since I've sunk my teeth into one. It's not really fair to KOTOR2 that this is coming over me just now, but I feel how I feel.

I will, of course, stick with this game for the next ten hours, and it's possible that something may flip in my brain and it'll start feeling fresh and compelling again, but I predict that before long I'll need a change of pace.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - 6/20 hours

I just finished the opening level. Normally, it doesn't take quite so long, but I had a lot of false starts. In the end, I went with the Jedi Consular, because I like using the Force. The system for switching between powers isn't the best, but there's something fun about tossing enemies around, freezing them in place, and blasting them with lightning (I've not yet committed myself to the light side of the Force, but it seems likely that I will).

Overall, Peragus is an . . . interesting way to open the game. The first time you play through, it's incredibly creepy, with a deepening mystery and a gradual reveal about who you are and how you came to be in this place. It's an effective introduction to Knights of the Old Republic II's dark and pensive take on the Star Wars setting.

However, this is a game that is clearly meant to be played not just once, but multiple times, and while Peragus is useful for getting you into the mood of the game, it's not exactly a versatile or dynamic setting. Everything has to be done in a very particular order, and there's no opportunity to skip the things you don't like. Your character is plopped down into a situation and must deal with it no matter what. I think Peragus is a better story that the original KOTOR's Taris, but as a game, the latter's additional freedom and mobility make for greater replay value.

And as much as I like the opening story of Knights of the Old Republic II, even I have to admit that it's not really meaty enough for sustained and repeated interest. It turns out that you meat an extremely suspicious protocol droid which has been programmed to act as a bounty hunter, and most of the middle part of the Peragus mission is you realizing the droid is responsible for all these atrocities and slowly uncovering how it managed to pull them off. The way the droid casually and remorselessly slaughtered the miners and betrayed its own co-conspirators  was nicely unsettling, but there isn't much there under the surface (though I do like the droid's characterization - it was so smugly evil that blowing it up was a genuine pleasure).

The last leg of the Peragus mission involves boarding a Republic ship called the Harbinger and learning more about the real main plot of the game. My character was apparently a rogue Jedi who served under Revan before she turned evil, and then went on some extended walkabout during that whole "Jedi Civil War" unpleasantness that was going on in the first game. As a result, he missed the purges that left the Jedi order nearly extinct. Now he's back and he's being hunted by the Sith, who want to kill all the remaining Jedi and extinguish their tradition permanently. Also Carth is still around and he's an Admiral now.

My actual goals, going forth from this point, are still a bit vague. The Peragus mining colony got blown up due to some careless blaster fire by the Sith, I have a mysterious psychic connection with Kreia, who seems desperate to be my mentor, and I picked up a scoundrel named Atton who is obviously more than he appears. I haven't yet stumbled onto any major plot threads, aside from the Sith assassins, but I'm sure the planet of Telos will be more forthcoming (though maybe not - for the life of me, I can't remember what the hell this game is about).

Monday, June 1, 2015

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - 1.5/20 hours

I like the opening of Knights of the Old Republic II. After a brief (and optional) prologue where you play as T3-M4 and try to get your ship from the first game repaired following a catastrophic breakdown, you find your actual main character waking up in the Peragus mining station, suspended in a kolto tank, and surrounded by dead bodies. From there, you have to investigate the nearly-deserted facility, aided only by the mysterious promptings of the only other survivor, Kreia, who seems to have a suspicious knowledge of the ways of the Force.

It can get pretty tense, searching through this creepy, abandoned station, but I know that mainly from memory, because what I wound up doing is replaying the first half hour three times. I just don't know what class I want to play. The Jedi Guardian is what I played in the first game, and it was a more than solid fighter with weak utility and minimal force powers (I basically only used Heal in between pounding enemies with a light saber). The Jedi Consular gets a lot of Force powers, but is weak in both combat and utility. The Jedi Sentinel is a great utility class, getting a boatload of skills and being average in the other fields.

And I just can't decide which one I want to play. The Guardian is probably the easiest, because once I get it my build going, I'll be able to basically steam roll the opposition, but it's one note. The Sentinel is a nice all-around class, and with a high enough Intelligence can basically replace an entire party with its versatility, but I don't actually need to replace my party. I can just rely on them to use skills for me. TheConsular is tempting, because I like the idea of using the Force a lot, but it starts off fragile and never quite gets as tough or as accurate as the others, so I worry I might die too much.

This indecision is both the worst and the best part of playing an rpg. It sucks that I have so much difficulty settling on a class, but it's nice to have options. I suppose the fact that it's a difficult choice means the classes are well-balanced. I'll definitely settle on something by the time I make my next post, but I can't help but worry that I might commit to the wrong choice.