57 – KOTOR, Pt 1

Knights of the Old Republic is proving to be a little difficult to love. Largely this is the result of bugginess: For whatever reason, the game doesn’t play nicely on modern systems, and it doesn’t have the advantage of ten years of patches like Bloodlines did. It took three separate configuration sessions to figure out how to get the game running in fullscreen mode. (Which is a necessity for me: I don’t know how people play games in windowed mode without inadvertently clicking outside the window into other applications every 30 seconds, and that’s not even taking into consideration that the edges of my desktop background–a picture of Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, and RuPaul holding a crying Francis Bean–poke through, utterly ruining any immersion the game has.)

But KOTOR is having some of the same issues that the first Mass Effect had for me, which is that after a really exciting initial mission, you’re umped into a boring planet and doing some beginner, kind of uninteresting quests. I’m an unusual-planets and weird alien species guy. When I think of Star Wars, I think about Dagobah and Endor and the Cantina and all of that; KOTOR, after a well-done tutorial sequence where you’re on a ship that’s being attacked–after, essentially, a recreation of the opening scene from the original Star Wars–you’re placed on a sprawling city planet. I know that Bioware loves it some cities. I’m assured that if I ever make it to the part of Baldur’s Gate where I make it to Baldur’s Gate, I’ll enjoy myself there. I appreciated the idea of what they were trying to do with Kirkwall in Dragon Age II. But Taris–the main city where you find yourself at the beginning of KOTOR–is one of those Star Wars-y cities with all white, clinical walls, and it’s, frankly, not much to look at. There’s an Undercity where the poor live, forever blocked from seeing the sun–but a series of graphical glitches make that area difficult to navigate (and kinda crashy), and, frankly, Final Fantasy VII did the atmosphere of that concept a lot better.

It might partially be coming off of Bloodlines, I’ll admit that. Bloodlines was only a year after KOTOR–they’re more or less contemporaries. I enjoyed exploring its hubs in a way that I am not enjoying Taris.

Well I am sticking with it, if only for Bioware’s reputation and the fact that I’m enjoying it enough–after all, Jade Empire had an extremely dull opening sequence that I played through twice and abandoned before finally muscling through and finding it was an absolutely wonderful game. The storyline is good so far–it is, in its way, fulfilling that little-boy need to pretend to be a Jedi from time to time. I know the major Twist to the game, and it’s nice seeing the foreshadowing starting from pretty much the beginning. I don’t love the character development system–there are too few skills and I am unclear how I should be diversifying them–I’m frankly using the Autolevel option for my other party members because I don’t quite care enough to think about how I want to build them. Combat is decent–and yet so far I haven’t noticed any better results from manually controlling my characters as opposed to letting the AI take over.

I mean, the game needs to open up, and I’m closing in on the end of this first planet. Give me someplace more rural and adventuresome next, and I think it’ll be enjoyable. I hear you get to go to the Wookkiee planet, and I’m cool with that. It’s just the kind of game I’ve been playing for 5 hours and am still kind of waiting for it to start, and that’s, obviously, Bad. The slow boil doesn’t always work.

 

56 – Bloodlines? More like Donelines!

And that’s a wrap on Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. I give it three out of four fangs. Three fangs! Ah-ah-ah!

I think that “solid RPG” is the best way to describe this one. Because in many ways, Bloodlines doesn’t do anything that other games haven’t done, and I’m sure if we thought we could find many games that are its equal or have surpassed it, but nearly everything it does, it does well. It’s not insignificant that I have a version that’s been patched by both the original developers and a dedicated fan community, and there are a couple of articles around which pay tribute to the people who’ve made it possible. Bloodlines was almost unplayably buggy upon release, they tell me.

There are problems that no amount of patching will fix. Combat feels like a first draft of itself–while it doesn’t ruin the game, I didn’t enjoy any of it. It is, of course, significant that I enjoyed everything else that I was willing to sit through the combat. Many of the areas feel really empty–which isn’t as much anyone’s fault as it is a condition of 2004 and a low budget. But all of the rest of it genuinely was Exactly What An RPG Needs To Be.

You know, I guess I think what what I loved about Bloodlines is that it reminds me of when an actor gets the opportunity to play a monster, or against type, or a superhero, or you know, just to play the kind of broad role that you pretend you are as a little kid, how actors get really excited about. Hell, RPGs, at their core, do have a lot in common with acting and dancing and playing instruments–you’re given the chance to play a character and romp around in a different skin for a while. There is something childlike–if not bordering on childish–in wanting to pretend to be a knight, or a spaceman, or an army man in space for a while, but when a game does that well, it can be wonderful. I said at the beginning I was enjoying stalking around Los Angeles and biting people on the neck, and that still goes. At its core, when it’s working, Bloodlines isn’t so much a game as it is a vampire simulator. It’s the right length–it ended right as I was ready for it to end–and I really liked stalking those streets.

Now thanks to a Steam sale, I am playing Knights of the Old Republic, a game where you pretend to be a Jedi Person. Mine is going to be a lovable rogue who only looks out for himself.