Gothic

After Ps:T and Disco Elysium, where can we go forward to, after we talked about the peak of RPGs how do we go on ? Well in my opinion the gothic series(mostly the first 2 installments) is the way to go. Now the first game came out just a bit after Ps:T and is probably one of the more criminally underrepresented games in general. There are plenty of reviewers that haven’t heard of the Gothic series and the first one did a lot of things right, with the second one improving upon the idea further.

Story

The story is pretty basic and while it does get a bit better in the sequels the story is mostly there to drive you on through the game. It’s the usual hero versus the bad guy, however it does setup the series pretty well and the atmosphere which is fantastic carries you through the game quite effortlessly. When you consider that this game is more than 20 years old, it’s world is still on the best and feels quite like a real world, if real world was populated with monsters, orcs and magic. You start of as a prisoner, guilty of an unknown crime, which is already a bit of twist from the usual story fare, being thrown in a prison colony surrounded by magical barrier, which is basically the limit of your world pretty much, since going near it will kill you, ending the game. Inside the barrier however there are 3 established factions, 3 camps so to speak and you can join either of them. Doing so will let you learn the skills that are exclusive to them, usually magic and let you buy better gear, with most armors in the game being locked by your faction membership.

Mechanics

The mechanics are quite rudimentary, with a bit of a twist, where you use your direction keys(or wasd) to move or to attack, by choosing a direction in which to swing your weapon in. There are locked doors and chests that you can find a key for, or pick the lock, which is one of the skills i recommend getting early. I’d also advise you to choose a weapon type you’re most comfortable with and focus on that, as a jack of all trades build has a harder time in this game than a specialist. Most importantly don’t give up if you feel extremely weak at the start of the game till about 30-40 hours in. In a way Gothic is a progenitor of the souls type games and it’s extremely rewarding once you have the know-how and the gear to take down enemies that tormented you in the beginning of the game.

Most importantly however, as i’ve already mentioned, is the atmosphere and the feeling of the game. There’s nothing out of place, you wont find a magical sword in a random chest in a random cave, you may however find a cache of supplies of a local hunter in there. Or you might find a nest of deadly monsters waiting for you. It’s truly magnificent if you can take a step back to look at it.

I think the Gothic series is one of the western RPG pillar. And it’s a shame people don’t talk about it more. What’s even more of shame is the state of the 3rd installment and furthermore i don’t consider the 4th installment part of the series at all. The first 2 games i can wholeheartedly recommend however.

Disco Elysium

Moving on from Planescape, disco elysium might seem a weird choice, since it’s pretty much in a world that’s quite far from fantastical and not at all based on DnD. However at a closer glance you will find that this game is not only inspired by Planescape it’s pretty much the best homage to it and it’s the only game that can hold a candle to it. I still very much prefer Planescape, however I can respect Disco Elysium and enjoyed playing it very much. I got the same feeling playing both games, with both of them paying close attention to your intention in the game rather than the actual mechanics.

Mechanics

As with pretty much all isometric games, this one too is based on dice rolls. Pretty much any action that has a chance of failing is governed by your skill represented with a modifier to a roll of 2d6s. The skills are divided among 4 attributes, Intellect which represents your mental acuity, Psyche which generally represents your inner voice and creativity, Physique obviously governing your physical raw physical strength and Motorics which represents your fine control movements. You are limited to choosing 8 points to put into your attributes, with each point increasing all skill under the attribute, however it also increases your maximum skill level, with it being twice the number of points in the attribute. At the start of the game you can also put a focus to a single skill, increasing it and its maximum by 1. The skills themselves are fascinating, with some of them being extremely useful to a detective such as Shivers, which is basically your instincts and 6th sense, while others such as Inland Empire, which pretty much governs your inner thoughts and dreams aren’t as useful and are sometimes downright making the game harder, however they still add plenty to the story and you don’t really need to succeed in most challenges to complete the game, you just might get a different scenario/ending if you do it your way. There is no wrong way to play the game.

The story

Again this is what should drive you to play this game. You start the game, waking up after a three day alcohol binge, naked on the floor, with a trashed apartment and a somewhat cheery song playing in the background. Soon you get your one and only companion while also getting the what and the why of you being here. It soon becomes obvious you don’t remember who you are, where you are, what you’re doing here and most distressingly even the current year. However the most interesting characters, in my opinion, in this game are introduced at the start and they’re simply your Reptilian brain and your limbic system. Yeah you can talk to your body parts while you’re unconscious, that’s not at all weird is it ? No more weird than being an immortal moseying through a city of doors in the center of existence. Your conversations tend to vary from them warning you not to try to remember who you are, since that’s the reason you drank as much as you did, to scolding you for damaging your own body beyond repair, to even certain parts, trying to convince you to take more drugs and go back to a stupor. One of the most interesting skills in this aspect is the Electro-Chemistry, which is basically the “Party” skill, it tries to get you to take drugs and even forces you into them if you put too many points into it. The same is true of most psyche skills, with inland empire making you an airheaded detective with your head constantly in the clouds, daydreaming the day away, or Authority making you assert yourself over others and show them that youre “THE LAW”. If you at all enjoyed role playing games you should pick this one up as i believe it’s one of the few shining gems of the last decade. Its probably going to grip you and not let you got till you finish it, maybe even a couple of times.

All in all i think this is one of the most interesting games and even more surprisingly a love letter to role playing games everywhere, first and foremost Planescape. A true master piece that i wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who has a few hours to play it.

Planescape : Torment

Going along with the old game series I’ve had going on for a while now, we’ve come to the grand daddy of all rpgs, save perhaps the Baldurs gate series. If you’ve seen any list of the greatest rpgs out there you probably saw this one on top or adjacent to it. However it got there by throwing away every conventional wisdom developers learned up to that point and going a whole new direction that few managed to reproduce or none that could do it justice. Now This is an old game its going to turn 21 this year, so it can basically be considered adult in most of the worlds countries. Which is just as well since it tackles some of the more philosophical themes of the human condition, but it does so in a matter-of-fact way that’s truly unique.

Story

This is the meat and potatoes of any rpg worth it’s salt and this one delivers. You start out as a scarred man on a metal slab being tended to by the morticians as if you were dead, yet you hop off the slab with an unusual grace and vigor for a dead man, soon you learn a lot about yourself, chiefly that you cannot in fact die. This choice which drives a large part of the story is also extremely unique mechanically, as every game up until then had a state which was considered a failed state. You died, you failed your mission, you weren’t quick enough etc. Planescape however doesn’t bother you with those problems, you’re immortal why would you worry yourself if you’re a bit late, you’ve lost memory of how long you were alive, what’s a few more hours. But while we’re on a subject of memory you’ve also somehow managed to lose all memory from before you woke up on the metal slab. While there are certain clues, the main motivation for a good chunk of the game is simply finding out who you are, who you were and what’s going on with you, the world around you, the people who seem to follow you … I don’t want to go too much further into the story as i believe everyone should experience it for themselves at least once and there are plenty of articles speculating on whats really going on.

Themes

The themes of this game at first glance seem to be pretty shallow, it seems it’s a simple hack n slash game that sees you murderhoboing your way through the world. However this is flipped on it’s head pretty early in the game, when you meet a ghost of a woman who seems to know you from before you woke up and seems quite upset by what you’ve done. Are you going to try to console her, are you going to find out what you did to upset her or are you simply going to go about your business not worrying about her ? The obvious theme is also finding out about the player and their thought about who character is rather than the character the game want’s you to be. This is shown in many scenes where you can answer truthfully in many ways and more importantly is that you also can usually say the same thing, except you lie. The outcome in the game is mostly the same, it’s there to let you make your intentions clear, if to no one else then to yourself, by letting you promise to keep a secret earnestly or to lie about it. Another example that’s given of this and probably the masterstroke of the game is where a rather significant character asks the main player the lauded question : “What can change the nature of a man ?” and there are 25 possible answers 12 truthful ones,12 lies and a simple “I don’t know”, the character will accept any answer, it doesn’t really matter to her what you say, it’s about what you believe can actually change the nature of a man. It’s because of moments like these in gaming that i consider gaming a true art and not just a way for children to pass the time. This game will make you think about your very existence, if you simply give it the chance to pose the questions it wants to pose.

Gameplay

Gameplay is what you’d expect from an isorpg, it’s a top down view with you controlling your character and up to 5 people in your party. You level up and acquire new skills and improve your attributes, it’s the old DnD formula. However the gameplay is not what sets this game apart and it can be considered the worst part of the game. Graphics as well while quite pretty for its time are similarly dated today, do keep in mind however that the game is about 21 years old. As far as i know there is an enhanced edition, by Beamdog games, however i haven’t played it. If it’s untampered and the same experience with simply touched up engine and graphics i wholeheartedly recommend it, however if they changed the story at all i would avoid it like the plague. Sometimes you just don’t mess with a masterpiece.

In conclusion this game can’t be called the backbone of the rpg genre since it does everything “wrong”. But it does it in a way that lets you see the bigger picture, the painting in the artists head instead of the one on the canvas and it does so in such a masterful fashion that it deserves every praise it gets. I consider it the pinnacle of gaming with a few gems trying to catch its coattails yet none quite making the same impact.

Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines

Continuing with my series of looking at older gaming games, i’d like to look at VtmB. While the vampire theme might put you off checking this one out, i’d advise you to try to look past it since its truly a gem in the rough. Again i’m considering the game with the community patch and with the restored content since like the sith lords this one too suffers from an overzealous publisher pushing the developer to release an unfinished game. Now onto the game itself.

Set in the world of darkness tabletop setting the game starts off with you being bitten by a vampire and inducted into a secret society. As it turns out vampires were living among us for as long as we were living, in the past times as kings and pharaohs and in the modern times as business magnates and rockstars. However it’s all held up by the Masquerade, a loose set of rules to prevent the humanity at large from discovering the supernatural in their midst as the vampires aren’t the only predators that hunt in the city. Now as the bottom feeder of the vampires you’re sent to santa monica to prove yourself worth keeping alive for the head of local organisation. Later on you’re sent to a few more areas but the game really opens up after the first. You can probably treat the first one as a tutorial, even though the game comes with a quick tutorial mission at the beginning. Vampire offers plenty of choices in how to approach your tasks and it even does what some of the newer games shy away from, it restricts you in how you may approach them depending on a number of factors such as your skills, choices in previous quests, your willingness to compromise your morals etc.

The game’s systems are basically DnD with the point buy, except you use the same points for skills and attributes, with attributes increasing all the skills they govern. There is also a humanity system which decreases as you let your inner demon control your actions and increases when you force it down and do good for others.

The game also features basically 3 factions letting you choose your way in the world, whether it be the camarilla with it’s rules, the anarch split group who believe the camarilla’s rules are too strict or the kue’jin, the asian vampires who sort of keep to themselves, with plenty of choices in how to align yourself with either or in the end none of them.

The characters in the game bear mentioning as they’re very well written and are among the best in gaming period. With them responding to your decisions and not making you feel like your end all be all hero to save their woes, but generally that you’re their hired help or a coerced servant.

But the actual main attraction of this game is the mood and setting. The game only takes place between the nights, as you can obviously move around freely during them and you can truly feel the hustle and bustle of the mayor cities or the calm before the storm in certain areas. The game also holds in my mind the award for the very best horror section with the Hotel being a perfect blend of jump-scares(which are sparse and only there to keep you on your toes) and genuine dread feeling making you question what’s around the next corner. It’s done so well that the developer put a console command into the game to skip it, since people were unwilling to continue playing the game after getting stuck in it for a while.

Now for the elephant in the room, the release version is obviously flawed and buggy, with quests not working, some items missing from the game and an area that feels like quite a slog to go through, even knowing what to expect. There is obviously the community patches that fix that and i recommend them wholeheartedly. The next complaint is also the fact that melee weapons ramp up extremely slowly, which sort of makes sense since you rarely see a swordmaster walking around downton LA these days, but still it be cool to have a few more good early options, however if you do stick with them they do ramp up pretty high.

As a last advice, when picking your clan id advise you to skip malkavian for your first playthrough, since while being insane they have a connection to the paranet, which is basically information they(and by extension you as a player) shouldn’t have and will not make much sense unless you know what’s going on, even a bit.

That’s your weekly gaming gem in the rough.