Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The RPG and Me

Despite my uneven record with RPGs, I've recently installed and started two 2009 releases on my shiny new PC: Dragon Age: Origins and Divinity II: Ego Draconis.  And my conclusion is this:

No, seriously, I really hate party-based gaming.

I'll admit that I had an irrational love for Divine Divinity.  It was, and remains, one of the worst names ever given to a game.  But oh, what fun!  I'd never have picked up this isometric Diablo II look-alike on my own, but in July 2003 I had a brand-new gaming-capable desktop for the first time in seven years (sound familiar?) and a friend brought DivDiv for me as a gift.  I installed it at something like 9:00 p.m. and became vaguely conscious, some time later, that I was both thirsty and needed to pee, and also that it was after dawn.

That summer I was unemployed and transitory, between college and grad school, so I had some time on my hands.  I must have poured at least a hundred hours into DivDiv and I still can't say why except, and this is important, that it was fun.  The story was fairly derivative, the translation errors (Larian is a European studio) were occasionally painful, and the mechanics were simple... but I loved it.  The game had hooked me and I was bound to see it through to the end, and to replay it on occasion as the years went on.

All the games I've loved through the years have hooked me in that fashion.  I've played and enjoyed games that didn't, but anything on my Top 10 or even Top 20 list has generally made me completely lose track of time at least once.  So it's an experience I welcome.

Dragon Age had piles of rave reviews behind it.  I managed to end up with a free (gifted) copy and looked forward to playing a for-really-MODERN game on my new machine.  So I sat down to play.  Went with a City Elf, Female.

I'll give them credit for writing; I liked her origin story.  And I'll give them credit for graphics; the world is gorgeous and a couple of the male characters around were indeed attractive and fun enough that I wanted to play until I got to a romance stage.  But something just didn't click.  Nothing hooked me.  And so I put in a few 30 - 90 minute sessions out of obligation, and haven't been back since.  I'm maybe five hours into the game but every time I see that icon I think, "I could, or..." and end up firing up EQ2 or Fallout 3 or Solitaire.

But then, last weekend, I managed finally to get my hands on Divinity II.  It's far less well-loved, and to many it suffered from the ill-timed comparison to Dragon Age, as both were RPGs released near each other.  But to me, Divinity II is massively more entertaining.  I wandered, slightly disoriented, for a few minutes but then old memory and gamer instinct (thank goodness for the standardization of WASD) took right over and I was in a game I'd loved seven years ago... only better.  I'm old enough now to tear myself away at bedtime rather than staying up until dawn (being married helps with this), but I got cranky doing it.  I want to keep playing!

The only way I've been able to describe why I love Fallout 3 but not Mass Effect, why I'll play Divinity II but not Dragon Age is this: I seriously hate party-based games.  I play a rogue, a thief, an assassin, or even a warrior -- but I play alone.  Summoned creatures and NPC allies are too much trouble.  They get themselves killed, they blunder in the way, and they need controlling.  I'd rather strategize on my own time.  Whether that strategy is to stealth-and-snipe (how I played Bioshock or Fallout 3) or to hack-and-slash (the easiest and occasionally most entertaining way to play, well, anything), I like doing it my way and not accounting for others.

The odd counter to this is that I enjoy time spent in an MMORPG.  Admittedly, I spend more time solo than grouped, but I like grouping and I used to enjoy raiding.  I think it's because players in an MMO (theoretically) do their own thinking, and I don't control any character but my own.  And I never play pet-summoning or charming classes.

So Mass Effect 3 will be a game for my spouse only, and that's cool.  I'll be Kratos, going solo, in God of War 3 and we'll both be happier for it.


  1. Oh K. How I would love to be able to comment on your blog! The oceans of I-have-no-idea-what-they're-talking-about are just far too deep. I am but a Luddite, and not a very bright one at that.

    And yet I am going to shamelessly threadjack, as I'm considering starting a wee alternative to TNC's open thread and a) wanted to let you know and b) wanted to let those who follow you know and c) wanted to elicit your thoughts on the matter. I'll be leaving similar comments all over the TNC webring.

    If you do want to share your thoughts on the idea, here's my post about it: http://emilylhauserinmyhead.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/tnc-alterna-open-thread/

  2. Woah I just clicked on the Div2 link you put up and damn but that is a depressing plotline. Heck of an ending.

    I think I played DivDiv back in the day but I honestly can't remember. I know that if I did I didn't get far. I think I was still playing Diablo 2 for my Diablo-clone needs at that point. Or I may have been working on my Diablo 2 Mod...

    I did enjoy Dragon Age, but just can't get into the xpack. I've forced myself to go maybe 1/4...1/3 into it but it's just not grabbing me. Oddly (for a dude, I guess) I think it's the lack of romance options that is boring me. The romance gives you a sort of "choice" is how your story plays out, I guess, that is completely lacking elsewhise where you are basically just led through a book (as with almost all rpgs) - although in the case of DO the book is at least a Choose Your Own Adventure with 5-10 endings.

  3. @onefinemess: Hey, thanks for dropping by! :)

    Interestingly enough, the first Divinity game also had a pretty big bummer of an ending, though not as cruddy as the plot summary for the sequel sounds. (I'll find out myself if I can ever get past this #@!*^&#!$% bottlenecked, too-hard-for-my-level, storyline-required quest.) I hope it's the set-up for a 3rd but since it took them 6 years to get to the second game I won't hold my breath. ;)

  4. Well, it is a European game right? I've found their plots tend to be a bit more crazy/nonsensical/morbid/offensive/adjective in general.

    And hey, it's a blog about games, *that* I can grok. I also comment on Fearless Gamer, but he primarily talks about League of Legends (my current primary game obsession).

  5. My problem with Dragon Age is the silent ghostliness of the player character. The game is dominated by the NPC's, which is fine, but the PC has no personality or definition at all. I was playing along, happily enough, until I took a break to try Mass Effect. Now I've played ME2 three times and still not finished Dragon Age.