further adventures on Tattooine

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but I was hoping to increase my writing output this year (on this blog, at least).  The problem with that, of course, is that January is generally a dead zone when it comes to new games that need to be talked about.  And it should also be noted that, for whatever reason, I don’t really have a backlog right now.  I suppose I could keep pushing on in Assassin’s Creed Revelations, but I don’t hate myself.

Still, though, I have continued to play the hell out of The Old Republic.  I hit level 28 last night, right before I logged off.  And that’s without doing any of the Heroic quests or the Flashpoints; I’ve just been cruising along on all the stuff I can solo.  I’ve developed a series of battle strategies that work for me, more or less – the only times I’ve run into trouble have been against Elite bosses with 10K+ health, because my companion stops healing me after a while and then it’s pretty much a race to see who dies first.

It’s funny – now that the game’s been out for a few weeks, the gaming podcast circuit is starting to talk about it.  And for the most part, everyone seems to be of two minds about it – they’re playing it a lot, but they hate it.   The space combat is stupid (although it’s gorgeous, and it really ought to be an iPad game).  The environments are pretty but also ugly and barren.  The conversations are engaging and well-written and acted but they’re also repetitive, and pressing “1” or “2” isn’t quite the same thing as actively participating in a discussion.  There’s So.  Much.  Running.*

I don’t hate it.  I’m generally pretty wary of MMOs (after having lost around 6 months to WoW), but I find that I’m able to log out of TOR without immediately going through withdrawal.   I go in, I kill some dudes, I craft while I wait for dudes to respawn, I advance my questlines a bit further, and then I log out.  It’s much like any other long-form Bioware RPG, and since Bioware makes great RPGs, that’s good enough for me.  I suppose I could stand for some fat-trimming; I don’t know that this story is so compelling that I need to play it for 100 hours, but that’s what an MMO is, and that’s how it sustains itself, and I’m having a reasonably good enough time (and there’s absolutely nothing else out right now that I’d rather play).

I don’t even mind the space combat stuff.  The thing that everyone seems to forget is that Bioware’s games always have stupid mini-games.  Remember the pod races in the original KoTOR?  Or the planet mining in Mass Effect 1/2?  (I can’t remember if there was one in Jade Empire or not, but I might be the only person on the planet who still likes that game.)  Anyway, the space combat stuff here is a pleasant diversion – it certainly looks amazing on my setup, and it’s an easy way to grind out some quick XP, and it’s only a few minutes long.

If I had one complaint about the game, it’s that there’s not all that much to do.  The entire game is basically 4 steps, repeated infinitely:

  1. Talk to quest-giver, who gives an objective
  2. Go to objective’s location
  3. Kill enemies, achieve objective
  4. Return to quest-giver

Sure, there’s the aforementioned space missions, and there’s also crafting and stuff, but you don’t even need to do that – you send your companions out for that.  And in a way, that’s unfortunate, because those mission descriptions usually involve heists and deceptions and explosive action, which is way more exciting-sounding that the 4 steps listed above; all you do is press a button, and then 5-10 minutes later your minion returns with some loot.  THE END.

I suppose I’d like TOR to have, well, other Star Wars-y stuff to do.  Stuff that doesn’t involve the same sort of combat over and over again – even though the combat is fun in its own rhythmic way.  There’s no sneaking around; there’s no explosive chase sequences; hell, there’s no pod racing.  There’s none of the card or casino games that KOTOR or Mass Effect have, which seems like a missed opportunity.  There’s no real way to interact with other game players except through joining in combat – and I’m not sure that the PvP side of things changes that.  Whether you’re a bounty hunter or a Jedi knight, you are still ultimately doing the same shit – just with different weapons.

In any event, it’s what I’m playing, and it’s what I expect will take up most of my time for the next few weeks.  I’m mildly interested in Final Fantasy XIII-2, and I’m curious about Kingdoms of Amalur, and I’m very hopeful for SSX, but I’m not planning on taking any vacation days until Mass Effect 3 arrives, which isn’t until March.

Bear with me, then, in the meantime, and I’ll do my best to keep things interesting.  Certainly there’s some iPhone stuff to talk about…

 

 

* Justin McElroy (formerly of Joystiq) had some interesting comments about this.   He’d been talking about Saints Row the Third, and how that game’s designers appear to respect the gamer’s time by not making you wait to get fun stuff to play with, and contrasting that with TOR, which (a) makes you run everywhere;  (b)  gives you a “sprint” boost at level 10; and (c) ultimately gives you a mount in your early 20s, which is essentially the game’s designers telling you that they know that walking sucks, but tough shit.

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