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Dark Delve: A New Grid-Based Dungeon Crawler RPG

Dark Delve

Dark Delve -- a new indie RPG from Checkmark Games

About a year ago, I posted an article to this blog lamenting the dearth of grid-based dungeon-crawlers. Well, Mark Harvey of Checkmark Games actually decided to do something about it. Basically a one-man development team, Harvey recently launched Dark Delve as an Xbox Live Indie Game. This game is exactly what I was pining for.

In the spirit of games like the original Bard’s Tale and Might & Magic series, Dark Delve finds you creating a party of four adventurers to explore a massive, grid-based dungeon. If, like me, you are over the age of thirty with fond memories of looting dungeons on an Apple IIc (or if you are a youngster with a taste for classic CRPGs), you owe it to yourself to at least download the free demo of this game. (The full version is a steal at 80 Microsoft Points / one U.S. dollar.)

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Fable 3 – Review

Fable 3 Throne

Fable 3 pretends to be RPG royalty, but is actually just the Fool.

Fable 3 streamlines the RPG to the point of absurdity, retaining almost all of the annoyances of its predecessors, and introducing a laughably broken kingdom management simulation.  But damn if Albion isn’t fun to explore.

Universal ammo in Mass Effect 2Linear paths in Final Fantasy XIII.  Streamlining the RPG may be all the rage these days, but when a developer feels the need to dumb-down the pause menu, you know you’re in for a rocky ride.  Enter Fable 3, the latest edition to Peter Molyneux’s action RPG franchise.

Apparently, Lionhead discovered that the reason more people don’t buy Fable games is that menus are too befuddling for your average Joe.  Mainstream gamers are confused by convoluted menu choices such as Map, Inventory, and Skills.   These concepts are so complex that they must be illuminated through the use of metaphor.  A virtual room with a map table, a wardrobe closet, and an armory.  A road lined with treasure chests, each of which contains a skill, and each of which can only be unlocked with experience points.

Wait … there’s skills … you unlock…. Hey, now I get it!  Thanks, Lionhead!

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Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes – Review

Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

It's not Might & Magic 10, but it is fun!

Don’t let the faux-anime art style or puzzle-based gameplay put you off – Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes is a great handheld role-playing game that should be in every RPG collection.

Faithful readers may be scratching their heads right now, given my attack of this game in my October 11, 2010 post titled Ultima, The Bard’s Tale, and Might & Magic – Where are the Real Sequels, in which I summarized it as “a shallow, JRPG-style story with zero original Might & Magic lore, and a match-three-colors puzzle game” and compared its visuals to Space Invaders.  (In my defense, I also called it “incredibly fun and addictive.”)  Readers may also be wondering why I am reviewing a game from 2009 on the eve of 2011.

The answer to the second question is that it took me a long time to finish this game.  Since picking it up over a year ago, Clash of Heroes has entertained me through jury duty, several train rides and doctors’ waiting rooms, and visits to my in-laws, and recently has been the game I chose to play instead of PC and console games while at home.  As my appreciation for the game grew, I decided to post a review despite the game’s age.  Regarding the first question – regardless of its quality, I don’t consider this game to be a true Might & Magic RPG.  Therefore, I stand behind most of my original statements.

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Infinity Blade – Review

Infinity Blade Title Screen

Infinity Blade -- an Unreal Engine-powered action RPG for iPhone

Infinity Blade is the first of its kind – an on-rails role-playing game.  And it’s good!

Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter recently predicted the imminent demise of handheld game systems as gamers migrate to smart phones.  Infinity Blade, the new action RPG from Epic and Chair released last week for iOS devices, is beautiful and wildly fun.  It also perfectly demonstrates why Michael Pachter is wrong.

The greatest strength of the iOS platform is its processing power.  Infinity Blade looks and animates better than any game on any other handheld (including the iPhone), and even outshines many full retail console and PC releases.  But the platform’s weakness is its controls, a shortcoming especially evident in a game in which console-quality graphics and art stand in stark contrast to gameplay restrictions, necessitated by touch-only controls, that would never be tolerated on any other gaming system, handheld or otherwise.  Will I play and enjoy Infinity Blade?  Definitely – but I won’t surrender my Nintendo DS anytime soon.

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Kinect and the RPG – Happy Together?

Mock-up of a Kinect RPG

Don't get excited -- this Kinect-controlled dungeon crawler does not exist ... yet.

Like many gamers, I spent a good part of the past few days playing with Kinect, Microsoft’s new motion control accessory for the Xbox 360.  What does this casual-friendly device have to do with a blog focused on role playing games (one of the least casual genres of video games)?

Hopefully, a lot.

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ArcaniA: Gothic 4 – Review

ArcaniA: Gothic 4

ArcaniA: Gothic 4 -- Here you see the hero, fetching something.

ArcaniA?  More like Obviouso.

The best thing that can be said of ArcaniA: Gothic 4, the new RPG from developer Spellbound and publisher JoWooD, is that it makes a good first impression.  You are dropped into the prologue as an interesting character – a tortured king – in a unique setting – the cavernous tunnels of his own demon-infested mind.  You spend the first twenty minutes of the game learning the combat system, which is pretty good for an action RPG.  The blocking, rolling, and striking controls are responsive and permit for tactical and fun battles.  The graphics are crisp and detailed.  The monsters are frightening and move with lively and brutal grace.  The sounds of the cavern are subtle and ominous, a nice change from the rousing music that greets you at the title screen and menus.

But as soon as the prologue ends, so does the fun.

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Fallout New Vegas DLC to be Xbox 360 Exclusive

Fallout New Vegas

Fallout New Vegas's DLC will be Xbox-only, at least temporarily.

Bethesda announced today that downloadable content is already in the works for its eagerly awaited RPG, Fallout New Vegas (which releases in North America tomorrow for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3).  The DLC, which is planned for the holiday season, will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Downloadable content, a staple of this generation, has sparked plenty of controversies, particularly in the RPG genre.  In fact, Bethesda was one of the pioneers in this area, offering perhaps the most reviled DLC of all time – Oblivion’s infamous horse armor.  BioWare antagonized Dragon Age fans earlier this year when it released the Wardens Keep DLC, which, in addition to a quest, provided a location in which players could store their loot.  Many fans complained that this DLC, without which the game requires frustrating inventory management, should have been included with the game.

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Ultima, The Bard’s Tale, and Might & Magic – Where are the Real Sequels?

Classic RPG boxes

Gone ... and soon forgotten?

When it comes to bleeding a franchise dry, no sector of the entertainment industry is as efficient and mercenary as the video game industry.  The moment a game enjoys even a modicum of success, it is guaranteed to spawn endless sequels, delivered annually if possible, until the interest of the last possible buyer has been exhausted.

Except classic western RPGs.

We can count on new Mario, Tomb Raider, and Call of Duty games.  These and other games will continue to receive sequels far into the future.  Meanwhile, most of the classic RPG series of the past have vanished, remembered only by gamers old enough to have played them on an Apple IIc or a 386.

There was a day when the shelves of my local Egghead Software proudly displayed big, colorful boxes, heavy with thick manuals and cloth maps.  The titles on these boxes – Wizardry, Ultima, Might & Magic – marked these games as new installments in storied RPG series that many (or at least, I) believed would continue for as long as gamers played RPGs on computers.

Obviously, I was wrong.

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Turn-Based Combat in Western RPGs – A Eulogy

SSI Gold Box Combat

Turn-based combat in SSI's "Gold Box" series of AD&D CRPGs.

In the early days of computer and console role-playing games, turn-based combat was the norm.  This was not a compromise imposed by technological constraints, as one might suspect.  Most early computer and console video games, influenced by the arcade, were twitch-based action games.  Including real-time combat in an RPG would have been no more difficult than including it in any other genre.  Early RPGs like Wizardry, Might & Magic, Ultima, and The Bard’s Tale adopted the turn-based combat mechanic by choice, because their designers took their cues from pen-and-paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, which employed turns and dice rolls to simulate combat.  This design resulted in combat systems that challenged a player’s ability to build and develop characters, and to think tactically in battle, rather than relying on fast reflexes and gamepad (or, at the time, joystick) mastery.

Some of these games, like The Bard’s Tale, presented turn-based combat as a series of menu choices.  The player would consider the strength and number of the enemy, the hit points and supplies of his or her party, and then select (for example) to Attack, Defend, Cast Spell, or Flee.  Other RPGs, like Ultima 3 and SSI’s Gold Box series of AD&D games, presented combat on a separate battle screen, where the player and the computer took turns moving party members and enemies around a map like figurines in a tabletop war game.

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Two Worlds 2 — Too Little Too Late?

Two Worlds 2

Two Worlds 2 delayed ... again

Two Worlds 2, the sequel to the critically panned RPG from developer Reality Pump, has been delayed for the second time, according to Joystiq.  Originally set for release on September 23, publisher SouthPeak first pushed the release date to October 5, pointing to Halo Reach as justification.  This week’s news of a second delay, this time to January 2011, raises some concerns.  Especially in light of SouthPeak’s stated reason this time around – “heavyweight quality assurance.”  

I’m willing to accept at face value a publisher’s reluctance to launch a relatively little-known RPG, supported by what I assume to be a relatively modest marketing budget, into the Microsoft – Halo marketing tsunami.  Even Bioware would be wise to sidestep that storm.  But SouthPeak’s excuse for this second delay, which pushes the game out of the lucrative holiday sales window, is not so easily dismissed. 

The game needs several months of additional quality assurance?  Heavyweight quality assurance?  That’s not encouraging. 

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