I had my wisdom teeth out last Thursday. This has in all truths left my as a slurpie sucking, ice jawing bag of shit ever since. I'm home from work today, hopefully this is the only day (although when I got up this morning, let's just say "it feels like the first time". ie: holy F*CK I'm still really sore.
Well, in the wake of this awful, pain inducing procedure, I've been laid up on the couch with not much else to do but game. So, I picked a game that would be easy to play and take a long time to do it. Truthfully, I picked Mortal Kombat first, put it on beginner mode and played through the story mode. 20 minutes later, after I finished that up, I moved onto Arcania, Gothic 4.
This is a very puzzling title for me. I am admittedly a fan of this style of western RPG, or better yet, the EURO RPG, but I have to say, with every one of them, there is ALWAYS something wrong with them. The first title I chose to play like this was Oblivion. Well, this game was buggy as all hell (I played the 360 version) but I did manage to get through it. The second was Divinity 2. The framerate was crap (I felt like I was playing an old school flip book) and the character models were shit. The dragon mode, while promising, was really, also shit. The third one I played was Two Worlds. This was supposed to be amazing, with horse combat and a large expansive world, DLC, etc... all it was, technically, was horse shit. I then got into Risen, which I never really stayed into so I passed on it after about 5 hours. The came Two Worlds 2, which was a LOT better but still plagued by similar issues of bad framerate and glitches. Now we get Arcania. For some reason, EVERY villager in the world is part of a set of fraternal brothers or sisters! Separated at birth and moved to rural regions of Scotland, Ireland, or the UK. There seemingly are only 3 or 4 character models for NPC's and terribly terribly bad voice acting.
Before I go further, I have to say that these complaints are all technical in nature and each game, while flawed, (sometimes fatally flawed) are all fun to play. Outside of the original Two Worlds, which I finished in 12 hours, and Risen, which I truthfully hated, each one was a 35 to 55 hour game for me, which means that I did enjoy them.
I just seem to notice that with every one of these games, to get them to be "so big", there is always something that needs to be sacrificed that pulls you out of that immersion that people want so much. Instead of feeling like you are a part of saving this fantasy world, you are simply following a predefined trail and matching wits with digital demons. Sure, it takes a long time and sure, I grow a character stats sheet like a Donald Trump bank book, but in the end I generally don't walk away with that "wow" factor like I did when I finished Mass Effect or Batman: Arkham Asylum. Now both of those games are different, I agree, but the key goal of immersion is had by these games.
Each of the Euro RPGs seemingly has a cookie cutter like template. There is the open field region filled with spiders and goblins, there is the mountain region filled with larger beasts and Ogres, there is the forest region with Trolls and bigger spiders, there is the Jungle Region filled with creatures that time forgot like Raptors and giant lizards, there is of course the swamp region filled with Zombies and poisonous giant bugs, and the obvious "cave zone" with flip panel graphics of the ogres, trolls, and bugs of other regions, and finally randomly toss in one of "magical" theme with warped creatures, "death valley/ desert theme" with scorpions. To get through each region, you have to "fetch-the-water-from the demons-for-the-useless-idiot-who-can't-do-it-himself-so he-will-give-you-a-key-to-the-wooded-door-that-you-could-easily-climb-over-but-won't-because-you-are-a-hero" quests throw it all into a bingo machine and as each come out, put it in that order and you have yourself a game. If you haven't played these types of games much, you don't notice this. But if you have, it is painfully obvious.
My wife's first question when she watches me play these games is "why are there always SPIDERS?" A very valid question, in truth. Why indeed? Right now I've just trudged through a mountain filled with fantastical "crystal spiders" in Arcania. They had mystical "ice" powers.
In my mind, these games are like the generic sci fi and fantasy novels one sees in a used book store that nobody seems to realize is part of a series, and nobody really cares, but still buys and reads anyway. Each one of these games to the casual onlooker is exactly the same as the other. They are flawed, bugged, and generally unimaginative.
So why do I enjoy them so much?
I honestly have no idea why I like them so much. But I do. I like getting that bigger, badder sword, the killer armor, the super swingie power that chip shots the generic spiders into badly animated rivers. (although, in general, the worlds they drop you in for these games tend to look amazing, at least when you are standing still) I like the blip of achievement when I reach level 5, 10, and 20. (same achievements in at least 3 of the titles) I like running around the world like an extinction event, destroying all evil and savage creatures and beasts alike, then going back to these same parts of the world later in the game, marvelling at how empty the world suddenly now seems. Actually, in Arcania, I love that if you don't loot the bodies, they stay on the ground as you left them, with stinking smoke and fleas emitting from the evicerated carcasses. :P
Why are games that are built on such, unimaginative premises so much fun? I have no idea. But for each one that comes out, I'll lose 30-40 hours of my life over it. Sure, the character models of human characters are terrible, sure the worlds are generic, but it doesn't seem to matter. Don't go by the reviews, most hit in between 60 and 70 out of 100 on the metacritic scale, with key flaws being those that I mention here. (I'll like the ones mentioned here already below). These are ones that you really should try before you dismiss them. They won't be for everyone, but for the ones who get into them, they won't wow you, but you will like them.
Thank you for reading my terribly self contradicting thoughts today. Now, back to my couch because my jaw is killing me and there are some generic spiders to squish.
Divinity 2 Ego Draconis (Metacritic score: 62)
Divinity 2 Dragon Knight Saga (Metacritic score: 72)
TwoWorlds (Metacritic Score: 50)
Two Worlds II (Metacritic Score: 67)
Risen (Metacritic Score: 60)
Arcania: Gothic 4 (Metacritic Score: 64)