Wednesday, July 15, 2015
I admire its purity
"I admire its purity. ... Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility...its purity."
~ Ash, Alien
Although I said I would focus more on tabletop games, I am going start off with a post about video games. I sunk a good number of hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI) [XBOX360 version]. I have been a solid fan of the DA series. I played Origins, much of the downloadable content, and DA2. I have the three Dragon Age box sets by Green Ronin. There are some great moments in DAI but as I played I continued to have to force myself to keep progressing. I would easily get distracted - I kept loading up Civilizations: Revolutions. I would make excuses to go do something else (like - gasp - read!). Finally, I gave up after about 47 hours. I need a complete break from it. I have honestly never played a game that tried so hard to take something interesting and make it boring.
But my post is not about DAI. I just wanted to give you where I was coming from before talking about what I am now playing - Shadow of Mordor (SoM). I am about 16 hours into the game. It has me hooked. Although there are many repetitive elements and I see from reviews that I might be in store for a letdown, I have to say I do admire its purity. Right off the bat you are vested in the game - a servant of Sauron sacrifices your family and you in some dark ritual -- but you are denied death by an elf spirit with a similar fate in its past. Now, its time to kill every orc in and around the Black Gate to slaughter your way to the Black Hand of Sauron.
The game has a focus, a purity, that I just have to admire after playing the random mess that is DAI. You get up in the morning and ask Sir Elf-A-Lot what we are going to do today. "Kill orcs" is the answer. And you kill them in as many ways as you can conceived. There is an old saying that you should always be yourself...unless you can be Batman. Then you should always be Batman. This game takes that to heart. You are the Batman of Mordor - and woe be it to all the spawn of the Dark Lord.
Everything in the game drives to your goal of vengeance. Side quests upgrade your weapons. Slaughtering orc Captains upgrades your abilities. And main quest missions unlock other special powers. The repetitiveness of the orc genocide at repeated locations (a BIG complaint of DA2) is not an issue to me. Each Captain has different weaknesses and your approach to taking them out causes you to engage in the environment in a different manner. One time might be as a sniper. Another mission might be as a stealth ninja. Another might have you riding in on a Caragor. In DA2, you just went to the same location and fought the same fight with slightly different enemies.
The ability to truly interact in the environment in a Batman/Assassin's Creed like way makes this a unique fantasy game. I cannot tell you how pissed I would get at DAI trying to get some shard jumping around like a mountain goat. I mean, Iron Bull can you give me a little boost for Andraste's sake? Going forward, if a fantasy game does not allow you to interact with your environment like SoM I am not sure I want to play it.
I also really enjoy the Nemesis system and it brings a unique mechanic to your character's death. Although I have to say finding out the weaknesses is not always the best thing for the game. At times it does make it too easy of a fight. I really enjoyed one fight near the arena that was all stealth until a Captain and I got into an epic sword fight on the roof over a building overlooking the arena. It had an epic feel that you just want to have in every fantasy fight that is hard to capture naturally. The fight felt great because it was earned the hard way.
Bringing this Back to Tabletop
Overall, I do not plan to do any formal reviews of video games. There are plenty of people that you can get that information from. But I do like to think what can I bring from the the above musings to the tabletop game. In this case, I think the lesson is Less is More.
There is great advice in the Savage Worlds core book about trimming the fat and converting the essence of a setting. Its easy to create a pile of new edges and powers when you make your own setting or even large adventure. We should strive to be like Shadow of Mordor - you should understand what you want to do and make sure everything aligns to the theme of the setting. Adding stuff just to have it weakens your theme and makes the setting less than it could be.