11 December 2011

3 great but underappreciated RPG games for PC

There are a couple of games that even though they had a hardcore fanbase were not smash hits for one reason or the other. That does not mean that these games were bad, but maybe they were a bit too different. They were not your typical  “high fantasy” games, which were immensely popular at the time with the whole Baldurs Gate thing going on and the later spinoffs.
The following 3 games are games that I personally rate very  high and that I find have great replay value – basically games that can be played once a year.  You can also buy all these games dirt cheap through “Good Old Games”, basically download them to your hard drive for a couple of dollars. Well worth it.

As I currently don't have any of these installed on my computer (my harddrive is filled to the brim) - the pictures are from Google rather than my own captured with FRAPS as I usually do. I tried to find pictures that showed the ingame footage and the character screen with all the choices.

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Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura

A game set in a Victorian era setting were steampunk met magic, and you had these fantasy races live in either industrialized towns and villages or out in the wild in archaic fantasy looking dwellings.

The game had but one flaw, it looked extremely dated even upon its release. But if you can look past the crappy graphics you will find a very different and richly detailed fantasy universe with cool locations and characters.

You start by creating your character, and the character builder is very similar to that of Fallout and the Baldurs Gate games. You pick a race, character traits and apply points to things like Dexterity, Constitution etc. This game also adds another layer by allowing you to choose between becoming Magic or Technology oriented. Your actions and active choices will impact on a bar that indicates which way your character is leaning at as you play the game. This impacts on what stuff you can do, obviously a technology inclined character won’t be very good at casting spells, and a magic inclined character won’t be able to make use of new technology weapons and armor.

This game also was the first game I played which had a great “crafting” system, you could make weapons, ammunition, armor and other stuff out of junk and materials you found on your travels. Raiding garbage bins for pieces of coal or rags made sense once you had the schematics or formula.
And as your character leveled up you could place points in alchemy, smithing, guns and other categories to make your character able to craft better and more powerful guns and potions.

Once the game begins, you are a passenger on a blimp airship which gets attacked by sky pirates, in the short battle that is shown in CGI the blimp is shot down and crashes. You are the seemingly only survivor, but manage to find a dying gnome in the debris which will give you an item and ask you to seek out a specific location – and warns you not to talk to anyone about it.  Almost right off the bat you get to look over your shoulder and be suspicious of strangers you meet who asks if you know anything about the blimp crash and asking details about yourself. Some of the characters will end up joining you – others are hired ruffians that are out to kill the lone survivor and retrieve the object you got from the dying gnome. The story of the game is this great mystery that slowly unravels, you will get clues upon completing pieces of the main quest and by exploring the world.

As I mentioned the world is a richly detailed place, both in terms of locations and how it is divided by culture and technology. Travelling the continent (Fallout map style) between major locations you will learn that the people had fought a great war not very long ago in which the rich technologically superior towns kicked the ass of the chivalrous knights. And now you have regions that are very poor and depressing, booming industrialist towns, abandoned dwarven holds and elven refuges deep in the woods. Though you still have the classical idea of forest dwelling elves, dwarven holds deep in the mountains – most races actually live in mixed urban communities. There they are represented in the society by having appropriate professions. Elven tailors, Ogre bodyguards and bouncers, Orcs living in the “hood” and forming street gangs.

It’s a very interesting game with a great story and just a completely different take on fantasy. It is also a superb RPG  with lots of dialogue options, moral choices and NPC characters that can join you and that have their own story and agenda.
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Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

This Vampire RPG plays in first person like a shooter when you use guns and can also be played in 3rd person when you use close combat weapons and vampire powers.
So anyway, the setting is modern day – game starts out with you picking which one of the Vampire clans you want to belong to. Each have their own advantages, Nosferatu being more geared towards computer hacking and a stealth approach since they will panic people if they show themselves due to their hideousness, Malkavians being schizophrenic and having additional dialogue options and deeper understandings of the world, Gangrel being more savage fighters and so on.

Picking  clans result in different gaming experiences based on the clans themselves (each clan have their own special abilities and powers) – however the game also allows you to flesh out your character on your own by putting points in different skills and stats so that you can persuade people better, pick locks, hack computers and  deal more damage among other things. You will never be able to fully upgrade very skill tree or your character during 1 play through which adds to the replay value of the game. Are you going to be a shooty persuasive suave ninja character, or a rampaging brute pumped up on vampire abilities?

The game starts with you being “embraced” by a vampire, before you know it the apartment is stormed and you are staked unconscious just after having turned into a fledgling vampire. In the intro scenes that follow you learn about the vampire secret society known as the Camarilla, an umbrella organization to which all civilized vampire clans belong to and by who’s rules they abide. The Camarilla makes sure that vampires live in secret, do not reveal themselves in public and don’t turn new vampires unless permission is given. Breaking these rules will result in severe repercussions. As such you “master” is killed, you however are spared and allowed to live as long as you serve the prince of the city and do his bidding as he sends you on various missions.

You soon learn about the political struggle for power between the clans of the Camarilla, the savage and unruly members of the Sabbat , the anarchistic vampire clan of Anarchs and the Asian vampires Kuei-Jin. You will interact with vampire masters belonging to various clans as they send you on various errands in the city of Los Angeles and Santa Monica. The game oozes atmosphere. From the art direction to the soundtrack that is just phenomenal. Both the instrumental ambient soundtrack, and the music picked to play in various clubs that you visit on your journey through town.

As you play a Vampire in a city controlled by the Camarilla, you too must abide by their rules. As such you have a certain amount of “humanity” points. These are lost if you show your vampire abilities in public, reveal yourself as a vampire in conversation with humans, drain a human dry when you suck their blood or just kill innocent bystanders. Breaking the rules will result in you starting to be hunted by vampire hunters – and in the end when you lose your last “humanity” point you will also lose the game. These points can also be gained and replenished by fulfilling difficult missions or tasks.

Speaking of sucking blood, the game has a built in mechanism for how this works. You can either seduce strangers in clubs or alleys, attack and daze them or even suck blood from sewer rats. Depending on which clan you belong to you will get a specific amount of nutrition and your health will replenish accordingly. An upper class clan vampire cannot feed on rats and will throw up. Likewise, feeding on street hookers and homeless people will yield poorer blood and you will drain these people very fast comparing to well fed and nourished citizens. You will also stumble upon blood packs which can be carried around as a backup plan if you get wounded and need to replenish health, kinda like a health potion.

As I mentioned the atmosphere is amazing in this game, and the locations you visit and characters you meet are fantastic. There is also this radio channel that has a female host that talks about all kinds of gossip and events with nutjobs who call the radio station in the middle of the night and rave about vampire sightings and government conspiracy theories – and funniest of all are the fake commercials for various kinds of foods, movies and other stuff that really rivals those of the GTA series.

Quests are almost always based on the main story, there are a couple of side quests that you can get by reading your email in the game – if you did a good job when working  for a clan chances are you will get extra work that will earn you XP points and money for which you can buy equipment.  This game requires you to finish quests to earn XP. Most of the time you get 1XP point per quest, these are then spent in your skill tree to upgrade your character. So no grinding monsters and enemies to level up or any such thing.

The only downside with this game is that you can get by without combat skills up to the late game, but after that point the game runs low on RPG elements and becomes more of a straight shooter and you will need to have some combat skills to survive the boss battles. Also make sure to patch this game as it leaks RAM and becomes sluggish after a few hours. With a patch it works just fine.
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Planescape Torment

This game is also very unique, well otherwise it would not be on the list, I think it was aimed towards a much narrower and perhaps a more adult audience that enjoyed philosophical aspects, conversations and a deep mystery plot more than dungeon oriented hack and slash. The game takes place in a weird dimensional plane where much of the population is made up of the dead, spirits, weirdo machines and various demons. You play as the “Nameless one”, and if you have seen the movie “Memento” it is quite similar. You have no memory of who or what you are, your body is horribly scarred and also bear weird tattoos. You meet people that know you but you don’t know them as you can’t even remember if you actually like them or if they are your enemies. You are sort of in Limbo.

You soon figure out that you cannot die, but each time you die you lose a bit of your personality and memories. The game is a quest to find out who you are and why you have become this immortal shell of a person.

You have to deal with various factions and characters to puzzle your previous life together, and you learn more about who your friends and enemies are as you complete quests and learn more about the world. The entire world is just so outlandish and weird that it makes for a deeply fascinating and very fresh setting for an RPG game – and indeed a nice break from murdering Goblins and robbing their corpses for loot. Perhaps this highly story driven gameplay was what made so few people play this game once it was released. Baldurs Gate will always be popular – both games are equally good in terms of content quality, but they play so differently that perhaps the threshold for many was just too high as you have to really spend time and investigate things instead of having instant payoff and gratification.

Or maybe gamers just could not get into this weird world of Planescape Torment. Now I make this game sound like it has zero combat, it has combat,  weapons, armor, weird magical tattoo transplants, magic and everything else that you can find in a late 90’s early 2000’s RPG game played from an isometric perspective. But the emphasis is not on upgrading your armor or saving up money for “the ring of asskicking Strength”.

The game is filled with weird and funny characters, some dark humor and really makes use of your “immortal” ability to complete quests and resolve various situations. The answer to the question that haunts your character is actually clever and makes sense (within the boundaries of the game world you play in) once you learn it.
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As mentioned, all of these 3 games can be bought very cheap from Good Old Games. If you found any of the reviews interesting – give it a shot.

Link to Good Old Games is HERE

8 comments:

  1. I played Arcanum and Bloodlines and enjoyed the gaming experience thoroughly, really great games. Great atmosphere, music and storylines. Planescape was a bit too much for me, I read rather quickly and found it tedious to go through hundreads of dialogues and descriptions. Not my cup of tea but I can clearly see why this one can be seen as a great game too.

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  2. Yes Planescape is very text heavy, lots of dialogue and reading - I think that was one of the things that put most gamers off that game. If that does not bother you it is a great game, if it does - it will be as you write - a tedious experience.

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  3. I always thought it was a shame that Planescape wasn't a bigger hit than it was. Probably some of the best writing in a PC RPG. Given today's limited attention span gaming public, I doubt we will ever see the like again.

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  4. @Uriah, I have a friend who is even older than I am and who went nuts because he could not be bothered to read the comparatively small amount of dialogue in Dragon Age:Origins so I think you are quite right.

    I would not necessarily put it down to being a generation related issue, but I do agree that today's modern games have so little dialogue options and choices that it makes for a very narrow narrative experience. A lot of games today prefer to give you an in game movie every 15 minutes to move the plot along (mostly shooters but still). Even RPG's released today are so streamlined and "bare bones" that they resemble the RPG's of old very little.

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  5. I still have Arcanum, which I even reinstalled again earlier in the year.

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  6. Arcanum is a great game! I never did end up finishing it entirely, but I had a ton of fun playing it. Still have the CDs and strategy guide around somewhere.

    Too bad there was never a sequel for it.

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  7. http://www.flashshed.com/
    RPG games (flash)

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  8. I think it is a real shame that many are turned off by Planescape: Torment's text heavy approach. The storyline really is the best thing about this RPG, and hands down the winner in terms of world setting and plot. The gamer who sticks with this game will him himself duly rewarded.

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