further adventures in Amalur

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older and my hand-eye coordination isn’t what it used to be, or if it’s that I just don’t have the enduring patience that I used to have, but I’m finding that I’m no longer compelled to finish games that I’m not enjoying.  I used to be obsessive about this, spending hours and hours playing games that had stopped being fun shortly after the opening cut-scene, just so that I could get Achievements, or just to have said that I’d finished it, or (worst of all) because there wasn’t anything else I felt like doing.

Whatever the reason, I’m most likely done with both Final Fantasy XIII-2 and The Darkness 2.  I’d already put some quality time into FFXIII-2, and even sorta enjoyed myself in spite of its ridiculousness, and so I don’t feel badly about giving up on it.  (I’d put it down a week or two ago; my current quest involved me going to previous areas and looking for hidden objects, which didn’t sound terribly compelling, especially since I couldn’t explain why.)  As for the Darkness 2, well, I think it’s just straight-up shooter fatigue.  The art style is really remarkable, the story was moving in an interesting direction, and it puts enough of a spin on traditional shooter mechanics to make it compelling, but at the end of the day I’m still just shooting monsters in dark corridors, and I’ve done that before.

And so it happened that I was home sick yesterday, which was as good a time as any to devote some serious time into Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which is yet another game that I’d been having a tough time sticking with.  As noted a few entries ago, I’d dabbled in it for a few hours, but there wasn’t really anything terribly compelling about it, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed in it, considering the named creative talent on the box.

I’m now around 15 hours in, and my dude is somewhere around level 18 or 19 or something.  (I can’t remember; it doesn’t matter.)

I will concede that the game does have some addictive qualities – this is certainly one of the best combat systems in an action RPG that I’ve ever played – and there’s lots and lots of loot, and the crafting systems (of which there are many) yield some pretty kick-ass rewards (i.e., almost everything I’m currently wearing/wielding is something I made, salvaged from stuff I picked up along the way).

Addictive though it may be, it’s still serving something that feels, for the most part, inconsequential and derivative.  The game’s outdoor environments are nicely varied (and are pleasantly reminiscent of Fable)*, but the indoor environments are just as reused and revisited as those in Dragon Age 2, which is saying something indeed.   The voice acting is fine, but the script is dull and charmless, and I am constantly skipping over conversations because they never, ever matter.  The quests themselves are pretty much all of the fetch variety, anyway.  I’m not playing the game for the story, in other words – I’m playing because the combat is fun and I get lots of treats.

In any event, this is probably all moot, as 2012’s first must-play just arrived at my desk.  I don’t know how much SSX I’ll get into tonight (as my wife and I are going to try and finish the last few episodes of Mad Men), but that’ll be occupying the majority of my playtime for the foreseeable future – at least until Mass Effect 3 shows up.

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*  Before I turned the game off last night I entered a totally different environment, one which had a lot more in common with Road Runner cartoons and the Mexico of Red Dead Redemption than the foresty areas of Fable.  So that’s something to look forward to, I suppose.

long overdue

Once again, I apologize for the lack of posts of late.  There’s a good reason for that, though – we were finally going to be launching the first-ever CouchCast this past week, and I wanted to have some stuff to talk about there.  Alas, we got held up at the last minute, and since I’m not sure when we’re going to be able to reconnect, I might as well get some of this stuff out of my brain.  Consider this a transcript of a solo podcast.

[cue “What Have You Been Playing?” music]

Old Republic:  My bounty hunter finally hit level 40.  And I was all excited to FINALLY start using my custom-build speeder, after spending hours and hours power-leveling my crafting skills just to be able to gather the materials to make it, only to find that the cost of training to use the damned thing is more money than I’ve ever had over the entire course of my playtime.  So, that was a little discouraging.  Also, Hoth is very white and boring to walk around in.  I ended up revisiting my level 3 Jedi, who I’d abandoned in the Jedi Temple for almost a full month – I quickly got him halfway to level 8, but I’d forgotten how goddamned SLOW the default walk speed is in that game.  Good grief.

Twisted Metal:  Does nostalgia matter?  And is it fair to judge a game based on your first 5 minutes with it?  I’ve never played the original games, and the only other David Jaffe game I played was God of War, and I preferred God of War 2 (and wasn’t he off to other things by that point?).  In any event, the game isn’t for me.  I watched the opening cutscenes (which looked like Sin City outtakes), and for someone new to the series, it felt a little distasteful for me to be excited about playing as a homicidal maniac.  I finally got into some actual playtime, and fought with the controls for 5-10 minutes, and turned it off and sent it back to Gamefly.  I will admit that I probably should’ve spent a little time getting used to the controls before writing it off completely, but it also would’ve been nice for the controls to have made sense (and also to have been in any way related to the way most driving games have been controlled for the last 5 years).  I also gather that the game is a lot more fun playing either online or with friends on the couch, but since I was renting it I didn’t have a code for an online pass, and there’s absolutely no way that my wife would be interested in playing with me.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning:  I am trying very hard to give a shit about this game, but it’s just not doing anything for me.  Everything about it feels borrowed and unoriginal.  I can’t get over how much it looks like Fable – but it should also be noted that Fable hasn’t looked good in years.  The inventory UI is bulky and cumbersome, which is a pain in the ass since there’s a TON of loot that needs to be dealt with.  I don’t really give a shit about the story, and the quests feel generic and contrived.  The best thing about the game is the combat, but if that’s all there is to this game, then, well, ugh.

Final Fantasy XIII-2:  It’s not like I can take FFXIII-2’s story seriously, either, since it’s completely insane.  A more interesting question to me, though, is wondering if it has any idea how ridiculous it is.  It goes out of its way to have the characters emote over every little plot development, but then it has Mog, one of the most annoying characters ever created by man – possibly more annoying than Jar-Jar Binks, for fuck’s sake – this flying little marshmellow beast who incessantly adds “Kupo” after every sentence like a nervous tic.  And I’ll be honest – one of my new favorite things to do in the game, now that I’ve unlocked this ability, is to throw this little thing off of every cliff I can find.   So, yes, it’s completely batshit insane and I have no idea what’s going on or why any of it matters, even though the characters go out of their way to explain what’s happening in every cutscene (of which there are dozens) – and yet there’s something utterly compelling about it, and I find it hard to stop playing.  The combat system is still as engaging as it ever was, and considering how much of it there is, that’s a good thing.  I’m a little stuck in the story right now, though, and as such I’ve found my attention wandering.

The Darkness II:  I’ll be honest – I liked the first Darkness game well enough, but didn’t really have any plans on playing this sequel.  I’m not even sure why I put it on my rental queue, to be honest.  And yet I did, and I got my copy on Friday, and while I’m only 2 hours in, I’m totally hooked.  The art style is fantastic – I don’t recall the original game having this quasi-cel-shaded look to it, but it looks great.  The gameplay is fun, fast and sometimes frantic – I’m fighting with the controls a little bit, but (to be fair) it’s a bit more complicated than just running and gunning.

Oh, and I gave the Mass Effect 3 demo a spin, which was maybe not the best idea.  I think I’d rather just wait for the full, final experience.

Most of what I’ve been playing lately, though, is on my iPhone – which is especially handy now that my gadget lust fot the Vita is peaking.  I’m way overdue for a Subway Gamer column, so let me just quickly run down some of what I’ve been playing:

  • Triple Town
  • Zen Pinball
  • Pinball Arcade
  • Fairway Solitaire
  • Ghost Trick

Those deserve a column of their own, but the short version is – yes, you should be playing them.  All of them.  Both pinball games in particular are outstanding, although they make me want an iPad because the iPhone screen is very small.