June 2012

The first expansion for Civ 5, Gods & Kings was released this week, causing much nerd happiness to echo around the globe. Yet as I watched the demo video for it on Steam, I was left feeling a little hollow. The developers spoke of the exciting new additions of religion and spying, perhaps unaware that these were central elements of previous titles in the Civilization franchise. There are a lot of new rulers to play, and thus new buildings, units, technologies, wonders, and girdles. Apparently naval combat is slightly less stupid than it was before, and instead of you having to pay gold to city states so they’ll like you, (notwithstanding how powerful you were), now that situation has been reversed. There is also something called “enhanced diplomacy” which is interesting as there was no diplomacy at all before. I’m stuffed if I know how you can enhance something that just doesn’t exist.

No mention has been made of the total awfulness of the game engine and whether or not any improvements have been made so that time spent waiting between turns could drop to under the amount of time needed to await the arrival of the next ice age. And I’m assuming that we’re sticking with one unit per hex, thus necessitating the blanket covering of every square inch of land with armed forces which then need to say “pardon me,” and “would you mind awfully if I just pass through,” and other total lunacies all so you can get your tanks to the other side of the small island upon which your civilization was unfortunate enough to begin its life.

And how much do you pay for this? $50. Fifty big ones. Fifty smackers for an expansion. Can you believe it? I fucking couldn’t. But it doesn’t matter because something has happened which has caused me to abandon the Civ series like a sailor abandoning a cheap lady of the night:

Crusader Kings 2. I’ve been playing this title for the last month and all I can say is that it is to Civilization 5 what Nosferatu is to Twilight. Crusader Kings 2 is a game for grown ups. You want diplomacy, well it’s got it in bucket loads. And not the black and white diplomacy that exists in Civ 5, which amounts to “you hate me so I hate you and vice versa.” Crusader Kings is vastly more complex yet its reasoning is simple and easy to understand, (not something I ever thought I would say about a Paradox title). The diplomacy system is based on a combination of the seven deadly sins, (the king of Ireland who I am presently playing is a glutton which causes people to have issues with me), and their opposite counterparts, (moderation being the more balanced trait in the face of gluttony). Add to this the radical idea of your past actions, piety, and status being an influence on how other rulers and your own vassals view you. The Gods & Kings expansion trumpets a more dynamic fight for world domination, but Crusader Kings leaves it gasping in the mud face-down as my Irish army stomps all over its head.

And on top of this Crusader Kings 2 also has a new expansion out this week – Sword of Islam. This expansion actually does what it says and expands the game, so that now you can play a Muslim ruler with all the complexities that this brings. Just marriage alone necessitates that you marry at least four wives or your prestige will suffer. And if you happen to make the mistake of having a happy populace who are productive and hard working then the wild hill tribesmen will rise up and conquer you for committing the heinous crime of being decadent. The only real weak point of Crusader Kings 2 is the combat mechanic, which the player has no control over once a battle starts and mostly ends in victory for the side with the greater numbers. This expansion improves the situation somewhat but hopefully future additions will get this aspect sorted out. But the game engine works seamlessly with no pauses, (it’s only ever crashed on me once), it’s addictive as all hell, and I can get all my armies into one county area if I so desire.

And the cost for this new expansion? $10. It makes Civilization 5 look very poor indeed.

I was playing Pathfinder with my live group on Saturday night. Our DM has a huge fantasy music collection which he sets on random while we play. It’s all very nerdy and I love it. Anyway, all was normal until this tune popped up. Go and click on it and let it play while you continue reading this post.

Hearing this brought a wealth of old memories back to me. Memories of exploring a new world, of slowly gaining more powers, of finding new and wondrous discoveries around every corner. Perhaps I was creeping down a kobold mine, or hunting bandits in a field of grapes. Trading shots with evil mages on a little island, or entering what seemed a ruined and abandoned tower. All of these thoughts and feelings flashed through my mind and then came the realisation that this world no longer exists. Cataclysm redid everything, including the music, and there is now no way of going back, creating a new character and reliving some old times from the past. I find that just a little bit sad.

Did Blizzard made a mistake with Cataclysm? One of the defining features of MMOs is the fact that you can’t easily go back in time; it’s not supposed to be a static environment. But the way that music made me feel, if the old WoW still existed I would have downloaded the game again when I got home just so I could wander around Elwynn Forest and soak up some old times spent with friends.

I might have a hunt around and listen to some more tracks. I always loved the Westfall tunes.

I’ve been reading some of the posts about the Guild Wars 2 beta that is on at the moment. I myself do not do betas. Primarily because I am fucked if I am going to pay for the privilege of paying to test some company’s game, plus I don’t want the headache of falling into the trap of thinking that the game is a finished product and getting all frustrated with it until I throw my toys at the wall and put on my wizard hat and leave.

But like I said, I’m happy to read about everyone else who is prepared to do this shit. So Azuriel at In an Age has been trying to get his head around the questing. He’s written a great post with some awesome photos, (and has the coolest looking character I’ve seen since that demoness hussy that I played for a while in Age of Conan). His post concerns problems with the questing, and I was reading the post and trying to come to terms with the overall problem when I scrolled back and saw a line that I had missed as it was stuck between two photos:

“… Start doing the Personal Story.”

Ahh … well that explains it then. A personal story makes about as much sense in an MMO as an Eskimo who decides that he wants to get into building sandcastles. Where would the best place for a personal story be … let me think … a single player RPG perhaps? Such as Skyrim? Would that work?

And apparently this personal story goes all the way to the level cap. What the fuck were they thinking? And why do MMO companies keep trying to pander to every single demographic out there at the same time? Has anyone learnt yet that by trying to please everyone you end up pleasing nobody? (Apart from the freaky fanboys of course who are already defending the game to the bitter death of all rational judgement.)

There has been one example of an MMO that did a personal story well. That MMO was Age of Conan and the personal story was the first 20 levels of the game, which indecently were played alone, by yourself as a single character, unless of course you wanted to team up with someone to help out on the silly group quests that they threw in there to make life unbearable. And then you hit level 21 and the game fell apart. Because the first part of the game was essentially a single player RPG.

Anyway, I’ll slide back into my little abyss from where I watch all proceedings. Here’s hoping the Beta stays this awesome to watch.