Saturday, October 18, 2014

Video Game Review: Windforge, Why Aren't You Good?!

With a game like this, a game that seems like it should be so good, it's difficult to tell from reviews alone whether or not it's worthwhile. I knew going in that the game had a lot of negative reviews, but it was impossible not to at least give it a try and I'll admit, I really, really wanted this game to be good. I mean, it just sounds like it should be awesome. It's basically like Terraria, a game I currently have nearly 2,000 hours of playtime in, with the ship-building mechanic from Space Engineers, and set in a richly detailed steampunk world of floating islands and flying sky whales. There's no way this isn't the greatest game ever made. Right?

Sadly, it's not the greatest game ever made. In fact, it's not a great game at all, or even a good game, or even a mediocre game. Windforge is a game which is fundamentally, fatally flawed. By way of explaining how, and because lists are easy to write, allow me to present to you The Top 3 Things Wrong With Windforge!

3. The Graphics
Here's the thing about the graphics: some of them actually look amazing. The flying whales and the krakens that live in the lower regions of the world, and the larger objects like the giant balloons and clocktowers, are all lovingly rendered. The watercolor background is pretty nice too. It's obvious that the developers really worked hard on the graphics. So what the Hell is up with this?

Click the picture for a larger image.

It looks blocky and awful, like my house is built from stacked up Lincoln Logs. This is because there's no blending or tiling with the graphics, which is weird because even Starbound and Terraria have that. Also, there's an awful lot of these blocks. In Terraria your character is three blocks tall, and in Starbound it's four. Here? Freaking eight! These blocks are tiny is what I'm getting at, which makes construction and destruction a massive chore.

What else makes construction a chore? The painfully bad attempt at 2.5D graphics. Everything is in this weird 3/4ths view which I'm sure the developers thought was just so cool, but really it just gets in the way. It's hard to know what block you're digging at with your jackhammer when you're mining, and it's hard to see what you're doing when you're building on a ship or a home base.

Also, what's with my furniture? Look at that. It looks like it's just painted onto the wall instead of actually sitting on the floor.

2. What Do These Numbers Mean?
I'll admit, math was never my big thing. I mean, I'm not completely stupid with numbers, but it never came as easy to me as other things. That said, what the hell do these numbers mean?

My ship weighs 524 widgets, but I have 1,389 whatsits worth of lift and 30,000 doodads worth of buoyancy! That's worth at least 100 million bananas!

My ship's mass is only 524, and I have 1,389 vertical thrust, so shouldn't I be able to move up and down fairly well? No, I can't. For that matter, why is my vertical thrust only 1,389? My three propellers provide a total thrust of 13,500 (4,500 x 3), so how is that counteracted so greatly by a mass of only 524? And shouldn't my buoyancy of 30,000 totally cancel out the mass issue anyway? Honestly, it wouldn't be that big of a deal if I just knew what these numbers meant. Is my mass 524 kilograms? 524 tons? Who knows? The fact that there are no units given for these numbers just makes them all feel arbitrary.

And no, I'm not so stupid that I can't figure out adding a few extra propellers will let me move again, but I shouldn't have to guess at it. And if you DO want me to have to guess at it, then why bother giving me the numbers at all? It's not like they matter.

This issue doesn't only affect airships either. It's also a problem with armor, weapons, pretty much everything. Earlier in the game my character picked up a set of bronze full plate armor. I was excited because it gave her 30 more defense than my old set of leather-bronze bandit armor, so I put it on and went out to fight some people, and noticed that the bandits who were previously dealing 46 points of damage a shot with their pistols were now doing... 46 points of damage a shot. Seriously, what the Hell do these numbers mean?!

1. Movement
So, if I was designing a game about floating islands and airships, and I had to name what I thought would be the single most important aspect of the gameplay, the one thing that I absolutely had to make sure I didn't screw up no matter what, I would have to say that would be a good jumping mechanic. I mean, we're dealing with a game world where one missed jump means, at best, you fall and break your everything on the next floating island down, or at worst you fall all the way into the planet's core and burn to death. That's not a pleasant way to go.

That said, this game has what might just be the worst jumping algorithm of any game I've ever played. You move too fast, and it's too hard to control where you end up. Even walking is dangerous, as stepping off a slope means the jumping algorithm takes over and sends you rocketing over the nearest ledge straight to your death. I found that latching my grappling hook on to the ground was a necessary step whenever I was near a ledge, so that when I fell I would at least be able to stop myself.

Oh yeah, and let's talk about the grappling hook. I'll admit it's fun to swing around on and feel like I'm a steampunk Spiderman. Even so, the grappling hook isn't much better than anything else. It's too fiddly and too slow to fire, it never seems to connect when you need it to, or else it connects to the wrong thing. Even when it does connect right, it's too unpredictable; sometimes you just stop and hang there, and other times you spin around at high speed, usually straight into your airship's propellers.

That brings us to the last mode of movement: airships. Airship movement is... passable. It's a bit wonky sometimes itself, mostly due to inertia and the difficulty of making yourself come to a complete stop. (Seriously, Space Engineers had the inertial dampener system for a reason, Windforge developers.) Also, my ship felt like it had a weird desire to keep drifting upward which always made it very hard to dock properly. Of course, there's also the weirdness of the numbers which I mentioned before, where you always seem to have either not enough thrust so you can barely move, or else too much so you rocket across the map with a slightest touch of the buttons. It's a good thing repairs to your airship are free, because you will crash into things constantly.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

I find that the games I give a rating of 2 out of 5 are generally ambitious failures, and this is no exception. It's clear to me from the detailed nature of this game that the developer really wanted to do a good job. The artwork is great, aside from the afore-mentioned problems. The game world is very interesting and well thought out. (Seriously, just watch this video - this world is amazing.)

It's just a shame that the game they built around this concept is so poorly built. Like Dr. Frankenstein before him, the developer brought his creation to life as a shambling mess that can barely function and will probably end up being the death of us all - I know it's sure killed me more than a few times.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Video Game Review: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy. This game really bothers me, and it's a bit difficult for me to explain exactly why. Still, if I had to explain (and I kind of do, otherwise this isn't much of a review) then I would put it like this:

Like most people, I originally loved this game. The exploration-based platforming and combat were fun and simple. More, the "inheritance" system - wherein each time you die you take over one of your character's children with a new class, special attack, and collection of traits - was something completely new, which I had never seen any game attempt before.

But of course, you do eventually realize the game's problems. For me, this realization came near the end of my first day with the game I looked over and realized I was level 60 already... and I was barely into the game. I hadn't even beaten the first boss. I wasn't even close to ready to beat the first boss.

This is because you advance SO slowly in this game. At that point, and heck still where I am now a really good run through the dungeon might net me a rune I'll never use and enough gold to get +1 attack power.

But that's not what bothers me.

Then I realized, this game is basically built to reward luck over skill. Everything about this game is luck; the luck to get a nicer build for the procedurally generated castle, the luck to get better rewards in the chests and from enemies. Even combat rewards luck over skill, as the one truly skill-based class (the Hokage) is quickly overshadowed by the others and you're forced to rely on things that are by definition unreliable to win: things like critical hits, MP-using magic attacks, and tanking with high HP.

But that's not what bothers me.

I realized that the game is basically just a time sink. If you really look at it, there's really not a whole lot of content here. If you could go straight through on one try you'd have about four hours of content. It gets stretched out because you die constantly, you advance so slowly, and every time you re-enter the dungeon you've got to run through the same regions you've already been through again and again.

But that's not what bothers me.

No, what bothers me is the fact that this stuff DOESN'T bother me.

The game is just plain fun. The platforming works really well and, while it can be difficult, you always get the sense that you could totally do it if you were just a little bit better. Combat is simple and enjoyable, but also a fair challenge.

The presentation is great, as well. The enemies and environments are beautifully drawn, and the music is the perfect amount of atmospheric without becoming just dull and moody - Diablo's music composers could stand to take a few lessons from these guys.

This is a game I can get into and just play again and again. It's just too bad that every time I load it up I feel like I'm giving in to something evil...

KR Rating: [4] DAMN IT, WHY DOES IT HAVE TO BE SO GOOD?