Sunday, November 30, 2008

Neverending Loads: Bored of Zehir

Good God almighty; one would think it nigh impossible to screw up the stellar RPG franchise that boasted the mind-blasting brilliance of Mask of the Betrayer, but this new crew of >cough< "talent" did just that, to such a degree that one might think they were saboteurs from a rival company intent on permanently sinking the franchise.

Where to begin? Well, let's start from the worst and work our way down:

1. If you love loading screens (and, let's face it, what hardcore gamer doesn't?), boy are you in for a treat. With this title, you spend about 60% of the time watching loadbars on a static screen (I kid thee not!). These load screens are so prevalent, within a single afternoon's gameplay, I took to avoiding most encounters because it simply wasn't worth the wait. Which brings us to the second point.

2. Stinginess. From the measly 19 experience points for killing a shambling mound (!), to the crappy "treasure" (killing half a dozen lizardmen gives you four dozen arrows and a batch of choking powder - whoohoo!), after the twentieth hard-fought asskicking you deliver, one begins to ask "is it worth it?"

3. Boring NPCs. Little is described in depth, and the characters are either glorified 7-11 attendants or another set of "scary" snapping jaws. Somehow Obsidian has managed to completely remove the "roleplaying" out of this "rpg", reducing it to little more than a ColecoVision title with slightly better graphics (with the emphasis on "slightly"). Unlike Mask of the Betrayer (which literally brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps), the "characters" in this game are completely hollow, as if they were randomly rolled up by some "ingenious" GM "personality generator" chart. Volo, a demigod-status hero in the D&D mileau, is a cowardly, powerless buffoon, offering little help or interesting commentary at all.

4. *&%^%^%!^%^! ANNOYING camera views. Trying to use the PC mouse to look around - even after adjustments in the options menu - is like jumping onto a high-speed Tilt-a-whirl machine at the fair that won't stop. The screen will spin madly and you have to settle for an "approximately acceptable" angle with which to view the "action" -such as it is.

5. Battles - the battles are either far too easy (as in, over in 15 to 30 seconds) or - very occasionally - crushingly difficult, as you helplessly watch your characters get slaughtered repeatedly.

6. Graphics - after being spoiled by Oblivion and Half-Life 2, gamers are likely to be sorely disappointed by graphics that hearken back to the days of Asheron's call.

7. Gameplay "improvements" - this title feels like roleplaying a fantasy-world accountant. For those who LOVE shuffling sparkly little pixel-rendered items from inventory box to inventory box, this is the title to die for. For the rest of us, however, it could be bottled up and sold as a sleep aid.

8. The Environment: Players are confined to spacial cubes a few hundred meters in area - until the next maddening loading screen. What's worse, in each new site there is only a single interaction and a single payoff. One begins to feel like a lab rat repeatedly pressing a lever for the meager "rewards".

Is there ANYTHING good to say about this title? Well, yes, two things actually. The audio is superb - great music, sound effects and voice acting, though many of the voices are from previous titles, which was yet another annoyance. Additionally, the ability to choose between which player responds in a social interaction is an excellent idea, and well implemented in an otherwise horrible package.

In short, may the phantom of Gary Gygax forever torment those responsible for foisting this bit of bloated snoreware upon a hapless, helpless, undeservedly innocent public. To say it sucks goat balls is being charitable.

A friend gave me this title, and I am consequently considering never speaking to him again. Was this some act of vengeance for a forgotten slight?

The title was given to me for free, and was vastly overpriced. I want my ten hours of life back, you bastards.

Song of the Day

"Code Monkey" - Jonathan Coulton

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