Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fallout: New Vegas Hardcore impressions

I've played about 8 hours of Fallout: New Vegas, the new WRPG from Bethesda/Obsidion, and the new Hardcore mode is a gimmick.  Hardcore mode adds thirst, hunger, and sleep meters to your character, which you need to satiate in order to keep living.  Also, healing items only heal over time instead of instantly, healing crippled limbs is more difficult, and ammo has weight.  These are nice touches but don't add much to the difficulty in light of how easy it is to abuse the rest of the system.

The survival aspects are still too easily broken even on Hardcore Very Hard.  Instant travel and doctor visits still break the game. Drinking fountains/toilets, beds, and food are very plentiful. Even on Very Hard, hunger and sleep increase at a snails pace. The AI is dumb as ever, falling for chasing you through doors almost every time. It's still easy (and most efficient) to buff lockpicking and sneak and rob every place blind for better equipment. Even the games Help page admits Karma is almost entirely supplanted by Reputation.

I would suggest the following alterations on Hardcore mode. Instant travel should only be possible while above 50% health. If you got into a bad fight and got torn up, you should have brought something to heal yourself at least halfway, instead of teleporting to a doctor. Doctors heal and de-rad price should be higher than 50-100 caps, so you'll rely on your own healing items more often. Drinking fountains should be more rare and have a higher rad hit to prevent abuse, or eventually run out, making you rely more on potable water. With that change I'd also suggest making more water items actually reduce thirst instead of increase it. Finally I'd suggest severely limiting game saves outside of safe or populated areas or your own set up camps - quicksave/quickload is as easy to abuse as ever.

Not that anyone should be playing RPGs expecting combat systems that aren't obviously broken, but it's still worth pointing out where the developers went wrong with the goal of a 'survival mode'.  I have a harder time surviving your average Left 4 Dead map.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blazing Souls: Accelate (PSP) English launch trailer

Do you like anime and grinding?  Me niether.  But anyway, here's an English launch trailer for Blazing Souls: Accelate, an Idea Factory SRPG being published by Aksys Games.  If you've played any Blazing Souls or Agarest War games you know what to expect.  It launches on Oct 19 for PSP.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tactics Ogre PSP Remake has forgiving defeat system

More news on the Tactics Ogre PSP remake combat system.  Much like Final Fantasy Tactics, you have 3 turns to reach a unit and rescue them after their HP reaches 0.  However, even if you fail to rescue them in time, they'll only lose one of 3 'lives', which I'm not sure can be restored or not (they probably can, this being a grind-friendly easy SRPG).  Even if they die you can pass on their skills to someone else.  I'm thinking letting people deliberately die to make a broken combination of inherited class skills is in the cards.
Also find some new screenshots here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Valkyria Chronicles II review (PSP)

Valkyria Chronicles 2 is the sequel to Valkyria Chronicles, a turn based tactics game with a unique semi-realtime system that plays like a combination between third person shooter and movement of one unit at a time strategy.  Command Points are supplied and used to take control of units, retreat them back to the roster, or give orders.  The core BLiTZ system is still here, but there have been some significant changes to other mechanics.  Each map is now divided into several smaller areas which are linked together by base camps.  The areas are smaller, but the developers tried hard to cram as much strategic terrain detail and height differences as possible, so no two maps feel too similar.  There are about 10 maps total with 4-5 areas each, ranging from forests to cities to warships.

The second most significant change is the smaller deployment limit of 6 allies.  This change forces the player to carefully consider who they have deployed in what location.  Units can be dismissed for no CP if they are standing on an allied camp, so the player is encouraged to move their units from camp to camp or deploy from a camp then head back towards the camp after performing their action, lest the map become littered with units that have to be retreated at a cost of 1 CP.

The scoring system has been enhanced from VC.  In VC to get the highest score you needed a low turn count while killing leaders, tanks, and aces.  In VC2 your score is penalized for letting allies get KOed in combat.  There are more enemies that reward points and crafting resources, such as yellow hat enemies, turrets, bunkers, and key targets like bosses and a certain tough to kill enemy type.  You are rewarded for capturing every camp at the end of a mission, which can be daunting when there are over a dozen of them scattered across a 5 area mission.  Score-rewarding enemies rarely appear as reinforcements, but it's not enough to throw the scoring system off.  Much like Fire Emblem, a game does not have to be 100% deterministic to be able to be played for score.

Many of the overpowered mechanics from VC have been fixed.  Orders are now so expensive that they are only worth using occasionally instead of all the time.  Scouts are no longer ridiculously overpowered, thanks in part to the order nerf, but also because camps are often well defended.  There is no longer quicksaving and quickloading during a mission, which prevents save/loading for unlikely hits or potential procs, and makes the randomness of enemy dodging and potential procs meaningful.  To make up for this change there is the morale meter which increases your units chances of potential procs the higher it rises.  That's not to say there aren't ways to lower the difficulty in this game.  Any of the Extras mission weapons are overpowered, although they aren't as broken as VC scouts or save/load abuse were.  There's also a certain tank gatling gun that is quite overpowered which can be obtained early in the game as an uncommon drop from an ace, which is pretty poor design.

The main campaign can take as little as 30-40 hours if you only do the bare minimum of missions, or as much as 70 hours if you play every mission you get access to.  The post-game is one of the largest I've played recently.  You get something like 50 extra missions to complete plus the DLC missions for $5.  Even though the content starts to feel repetitive, there are a few maps where they throw your army into tricky spots.  The difficulty is pretty low most of the time, though.  I didn't have any problems getting high scores and resource bonuses while finishing 2-3 turns ahead of the A rank, despite not grinding or using the overpowered Extras weapons.

There are about 200 missions but not nearly enough map types and enemy varieties to keep things feeling fresh over such a large amount of content.  It might be OK at first, but you'll likely feel worn down eventually from replaying the same areas again and again, even if the deployment, camp and enemy locations are different.  Some missions tend to suffer from feeling too similar and I don't think enough effort was put into making each mission feel unique with its own thoughtful strategies to figure out, such as the VC EX-Hard maps.  Some enemies are randomly placed each time you start the mission, which adds to the feeling of sameness once you get down the routine of how to dismantle each area of its enemies.  Some extra strategic difficulty and variety would have gone a long way given the huge amount of missions available.

Instead of only 5 classes, there are 35.  Sega did a fairly good job of balancing them, although about 1/3 of the classes aren't quite as useful as the others.  Added classes include the melee based armor techs and instrument toting engineers that provide buffs and debuffs.  Also new are APCs that you can load and deploy units from.  They can usually cover great distances so it's a common strategy to drive an APC up to an enemy camp, torch everything with a flamethrower, then drop units off for a capture.

Classes are promoted to 2nd and 3rd tiers using credits, which are randomly distributed per mission to anyone who participated meaningfully in combat.  While the system works statistically in the players favor if they use a large number (10-15) of recruits per mission, many players are upset over the fact that the system works against attempts to focus on getting one specific character to one specific class.  Instead it's designed to allow you to get enough promoted classes on average, even if it's not the character or class you wanted.  Of course there is optional grinding available if you absolutely must get your favorite character into a specific class.  While the system may be unpopular, it is a functional and logical set of game rules that isn't 'broken'.

The music is good, but eventually I had to turn it off.  Somehow despite the soundtrack being expansive, all I ended up hearing were the same few tunes over and over - mostly the mission preparation tune.  Graphics are pretty impressive for the PSP, not losing much of the flavor from the original VC.  Controls are decent although the PSP analog nub is still notoriously flaky.  I would tell you about the plot, but I skipped every cutscene in the game, which I think enhanced my gaming experience by not melting my brain with horribly vapid high school anime tripe mixed with superpowered valkyries.

Overall VC2 is more challenging and balanced than VC while maintaining the spirit of the original.  I would have liked to see less missions with a greater emphasis on unique combat situations, but there's still enough to be satisfied with especially when the difficulty is cranked up in the post-game.

Strategic Depth: Medium.  The depth is there, but it's stretched over so much similar content that it eventually starts to wear thin.
Strategic Difficulty: Low-Intermediate.  Strap on some DLC weapons and a Cptd AA gatling and the game becomes quite easy.  On the other hand, getting a high score and resource bonuses can be demanding on some missions.
Overall Score: 8.5/10 - Great portable Valkyria Chronicles style play, but the quantity over quality mission content will wear thin on most players.