A game is not a list of bullet points

Syp at Bio Break did a post today declaring Torchlight to be a carbon copy of Fate, and he has a list of bullet points to prove it. And looking at his list, I can’t disagree with a single point. In some cases I’m taking Syp’s word on the fact that the points match up, because I never got far enough in Fate to see how later parts of the game, like passing items on to other characters, worked.

Why? Because I found Fate tedious. A not-very-good Diablo clone with a vile copy protection scheme. It came pre-installed on one of my HP machines which allowed you to play a few sessions for free and then asked you to pay for the game. It never occurred to me to pay for it because I didn’t find the game the least bit compelling.

And yet my early hours with Torchlight have me enthralled. In fact I hesitated about writing this post because writing it is eating into my Torchlight time.

To really explain why I love Torchlight while I found Fate pretty ‘meh’ I’d have to re-install Fate, and that isn’t going to happen, so I’ll just have to look at the intangibles of Torchlight and make some guesses. And mostly I think it’s because the combat, simple as it is, feels so satisfying. Each attack lands with a solid impact. Each urn breaks with a satisfying crash. When dozens of creatures swarm out of a tunnel or a mine shaft it just sends a thrill up my spine… “To battle!!!”

Fate just felt like ‘click click click’ whereas Torchlight feels like ‘Slash! Bash! Pow!’ … even though the mechanics and bullet points match up so well. Torchlight has a soul. Fate was just a game. I guess you can’t capture ‘soul’ in a bullet point.

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And while we’re talking Torchlight, GameInformer has a post up on how to rebind the keys. It isn’t as easy as it should be, but it ain’t rocket science either.


Fresh batch of Dragon Age: Origin screens

Tonight I have another batch of Dragon Age: Origins screens, compliments of our friends at Bioware. There’s a mix of shots with and without hud elements. A few new baddies in here.

I have to be honest, I’m kind of tired of looking at screens and videos and am very much ready to play. I suspect the same is true of you, dear reader, but if there’s one person out there that finds something new to delight over, I figure they’re worth a quick post.

[Update: That lucky SOB Tom Chick is playing! I read this account of a battle and my anticipation ratcheted up another dozen notches. I also found it really interesting how much it sounded like an MMO battle in some ways.]

I also have a growing concern about the amount of gore that is in every batch of screenshots; I’m hoping you’ll be able to tone that down a bit when actually playing the game. I don’t mind gritty but some of the shots I’m seeing just seem a bit over the top…

Anyway, here’s tonights back of screenies!

Dragon Age commercials hit the web

Y’know if more ads looked this good, I’d be a lot more likely to pay attention to them! It’s all cgi and some of it we’ve seen before, but damn, does it look good. I love the “Not every hero is pure” tag line, too, referring to the taint that every Gray Warden takes inside his or herself in order to fight the Darkspawn. All of our heroes will be tragic figures, fated to die in battle or become that which we fight.

Torchlight is the love child of Diablo & Mythos

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. If you didn’t like Diablo, or in general don’t like the “click on a baddie until it dies” style of action RPG (if you didn’t play Diablo, maybe you played Titan Quest or even Fate?) then you won’t like Torchlight.

If you *did* like Diablo, or had a chance to play in the beta of Mythos and enjoyed soloing in it, then you MUST get Torchlight. It is very, very evocative of those earlier games. Even the controls are basically the same. Click to move, click on a baddie to attack, Shift-Click on a baddie to attack without moving, run over loot to pick it up, hold down Alt to ‘light up’ loot you might have missed, and so on.

New to Torchlight is your pet (you can have a dog or a cat) who’ll fight for you. You can teach the pet spells, give it certain items to use (haven’t discovered any yet) and it has its own inventory. You can send it to fetch dropped loot, or even send it back to town to sell off the stuff it’s carrying…such a handy companion!

Borrowed from Mythos is a shared stash (to transfer items between characters) and “Treasure Maps” purchased from vendors that’ll take you to new levels.

Looting and leveling; that’s what Torchlight is all about. Plus its cheap, runs like a dream on a modern gaming rig, and has great music.

Yes, this is breathless enthusiasm; heck I only played for a few hours and maybe by the weekend I’ll be bored. But at $20 it doesn’t have to last me months (actually I think I paid $17 thanks to a pre-order discount).

Anyway, how about some random screenshots and then I’ll call it a night.

Looking in from the outside

Remember all those blog posts about grouping vs soloing and how those of us who soloed in MMOs should “go play a single player game”?

Well, I finally did that. Not by choice, but due to a lingering injury that made playing PC games painful. And at first it really sucked. I was really hooked on Fallen Earth at the time and ached to play it (pun intended) but just couldn’t manage more than 10 minutes before my arm felt like it was on fire.

So I turned to my consoles for solace, and played some pretty fun games. Need For Speed: Shift, Demon’s Souls, Brutal Legends, Uncharted 2 and Borderlands. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I stopped missing MMOs; or at least, the missing eased somewhat.

And what happened next was interesting. I started to notice how much MMO players complain about MMOs. I’m not talking about a scientific poll or anything, but it seems like MMO players are a lot unhappier with their games than non-MMO players are. I find myself thinking “Why are you playing this game if it is making you so unhappy?” fairly often now, even while acknowledging that I was the same way, and probably will be again someday.

I don’t want to come across like the alcoholic who gets all holier-than-thou once he stops drinking, but it is peculiar. I guess it has a lot to do with the amount of time invested. When you’ve established a ‘home’ in an MMO and you have friends there, the benefit of your social network outweighs the detriment of the aspects of the game that bug you. Meanwhile the non-MMOers have significantly fewer ties to any given game (and often, thanks to Friend lists and social networking, they can take their friends with them to the next game without a lot of hassle).

I can’t decide if this social connection to a specific game is ‘good’ or not (though I’m pretty sure I’m in no position to make that determination for anyone but myself). I will tell you that being a non-MMO gamer is a helluva lot more expensive than being an MMO gamer!

What’s strangest of all is this lure of re-labeling myself ‘MMO gamer’ just to be ‘part of the group’ again. Even though I was one of those anti-social soloers, I did feel part of the uber-group that is the MMO playing community. I kind of miss feeling passionately about the cost of a retcon in Champions Online or the problem of Radiance in LOTRO or whether the scarecrows are working right in Fallen Earth…

Maybe that’s why I still have my accounts active. I’m not ready to cut that final string yet.

Torchlight launch & a warning from Giant Bomb

I know I’m not the only one excited about the launch of Runic Games’ Torchlight tomorrow. This Diablo-like has a quality pedigree with a team that includes designers from the original Diablo, and then the very fun Mythos that fell when Flagship Studios imploded. A $20 price tag doesn’t hurt either.

The editor won’t release until later in the week so we have a couple of days to just loot & level in peace before we roll up our sleeves and start with the modding. But one word of warning. Giant Bomb did a quick look and in it Brad Shoemaker advises experienced Diablo players to play on the Hard difficulty setting because Normal is pretty easy.

Here’s the quick look and you can see he walks into a room stuffed full of baddies and doesn’t take much damage at all. So turn up that difficulty before you start playing!

If it’s Monday, this must be Ferelden

For the past few weeks Monday has been Dragon Age Trailer day here at Dragonchasers, thanks to the good people at Bioware and their finely tuned hype machine.

This week we have a quick intro to the toolset — what you can accomplish with it, which is apparently a lot. Also a creature animation ‘behind-the-scenes’ clip that shows how a monster goes from concept to model to animation to become a life-like scary opponent.

I also have to point you at Dragon Age: Journeys one more time. I’ve been having a blast playing it, and it has made the burden of waiting for Dragon Age: Origins much more bearable. 🙂

Lastly, Bioware asked me to remind you of the big competition that I talked about earlier. You can watch a live stream of the event this Wednesday, the 28th. You can find details here.

There’re some strange promotions floating around with regard to the game. Between this ‘competitive single player gaming’ event and pre-order bonuses that boost experience, it’s almost like they’re marketing an MMO rather than a game with a strong narrative.

After waiting so long to play Dragon Age: Origins, the *last* thing I want to do is rush through it (or watch someone else rush through it). I’m looking forward to savoring every minute of the storyline.

Anyway, enough of my rambling, here’re the trailers for this week:

Dragon Age: The Calling

Regular readers may remember my enthusiasm surrounding the first Dragon Age novel, The Stolen Throne, by David Gaider. I found it to be an entertaining stand-alone fantasy novel and its tie to a video game irrelevant. So it was with great anticipation that I picked up Gaider’s second DA novel, The Calling. I’m sad to say, this second book lived down to the general reputation of books based on games.

A lot of things went wrong here. My guess is that Gaider was under a lot of pressure to get the book out before the game, and it shows in sloppy editing leading to cringe-worthy sentences like “Holding up his hand, a surge of black energy surged out of him and lanced toward Fiona.” There are also lots of incongruous shifts in POV and characters reading each other’s thoughts via steely eyed glances and such.

Second, the plot is extremely one dimensional and honestly not very interesting. This is the most basic of “Quest” novels. A group consisting of Human/Dwarf/Elf Fighters/Thieves/Mages have to enter the Deep Roads (a series of tunnels first encountered in The Stolen Throne) to stop a Foozle. *yawn* The book was so clearly designed to showcase the races and classes of the game that it felt like one long chunk of marketing copy. The vast bulk of the book has our Group roaming through the underworld fighting Darkspawn.

Thirdly, even if you can get past the lack of editing and wafer-thin plot, the characters’ motives often make no sense. Without spoiling anything, one character in particular suddenly betrays the group and we never understand why (or at least I never did, perhaps I missed the one nuance in the entire book).

The epilogue is equally bizarre and I have to assume will make sense once I play the game.

Mike Stackpole says everyone has one novel in them and the real challenge is being able to go back and do it all over again once that first novel is out. Here’s hoping David Gaider has more than one in him and that he just faltered here due to time pressures (after all he is lead writer on the game and so must have had a very busy year; The Stolen Throne came out only last March). I’m not ready to give up on him yet!

Read The Calling only if you’re a huge fan of Dragon Age: Origins and want to dig deeper into the lore of the world, and in particular the Gray Wardens. But don’t read it for the story; it’s just not worth your time.