On Monday evenings I have a regularly scheduled play session with some friends, and this past week we finished Halo: Reach. I haven't been mentioning it, because it hasn't dominated my thoughts much. But since I'm now finished with it, I'll take some time to talk about it.
Civ 5 didn't make the cut this week, mostly because I haven't been gaming much in the evening - house projects and extra work has been pretty well filling my evenings. And without several hours to devote to it, Civ just doesn't get played much.
Games of note this week:
1 - Etrian Odyssey 3
2 - Super Mario Galaxy 2
3 - Halo: Reach
4 - Trine
This game has been sitting largely unplayed in my Steam queue for more than a year, so I thought I should put some more time into it. The game seemed to have real promise - the visuals are stunning, the puzzles are pretty engaging, and the three characters are pretty interesting. Unfortunately, the central mechanic of switching between three characters on the fly is simply not very good.
Now I adore the Lost Vikings (part 2 more than part 1), Commandos, and Desperados. In all of those games you simultaneously control a team with very orthogonal skills. You need to use each of the in sequence, sometimes from very different locations, to navigate the levels. You need to manage all of the characters all the time, which make those games feel a bit like spinning multiple plates on sticks - and it's amazing when you make it all work.
But Trine, unfortunately, doesn't really give you three characters - it just gives you 1 character, who has to hit a key to access certain abilities. Because your three characters share a body, they are really just like 3 weapons you might switch between in a shooter, or three gadgets Batman uses in Arkham Asylum. And all three characters jump the same way - so there isn't much mobility distinction between them.
Imagine how excellent the game might be if you were forced to take each character through the level one at a time - the wizard creating steps for the fighter to use later, the thief avoiding the battles and grabbing chests where possible - that game might be awesome. Well maybe Trine 2 will improve upon the formula.
I like Reach quite a bit, though I doubt it will really stick with me very much. Playing co-op through the campaign might have eased the difficulty curve a bit (we played on heroic), but I found the game to ultimately be pretty satisfying. It still suffers very much from the fact that it's just not very engaging or novel - it's basically the same Halo we've been playing for 8 years.
I do remember how much I enjoyed the first Halo though - many things about it were incredibly novel for the time. Regenerating health, a super strong melee attack, limiting players to just 2 weapons - none of those things were standards at the time. Even the fluid incorporation of vehicles (which was pretty rudimentary in Halo - it was Halo 2 that really pushed that envelope) was virtually unknown before Halo. And let's not forget it's biggest contribution - just showing how a decent FPS could find a home on a console.
So... Halo: Reach. I played it. I may try to grab a few more achievement points from it yet.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
I watched my son earn a bronze star this week - you get a bronze star when you accept an offer of help for the game - and it literally plays the level for you. It's an _amazing_ feature! Much like no-fail mode in Rock Band 2, I think we're finally embracing players of all ages and skill levels.
Before I had kids, I had no idea what the difference between a G and PG movie was. But once you have a 4 year old who watches a PG movie with you - you'll totally get the difference. It's about stress, and uncomfortable situations. Older audiences deal well with (and learn to expect) conflict, and expect to see that conflict resolved. But younger audiences don't really enjoy conflict - they just want to be carried along. That's why so many disney films are about self-discovery and personal growth - because that "conflict" is something you already have inside you, instead of something which is imposed upon you.
When we design games as if we're imposing challenges on the players, we miss some really good opportunities.
I've been playing this a few weeks now - and I think I'm about 60% of the way through it. I've finally sub-classed my party. Here's how they break down:
1- Hoplite/Gladiator. She's almost pure Hoplite, with the single exception of Wolf's Howl - a skill which decreases the DEF of all opponents by about 10% - or 50% if they have a status ailment. She has skills which reduce the damage she takes, skills which draw attacks to her, and skills which reduce the damage everyone else takes. Plus, she heals when defending herself.
2 - Monk/Ninja. My other front-row character just can't match my Hoplite's survivability, so I subclassed Ninja to give him some evasion ability. He can cure status effects, remove binds, resurrect, has a modest heal, and can heal rows of characters _really_ well. I haven't dipped into Full Heal or Party Heal yet... I'll probably get one or the other eventually.
3 - Arballist/Ninja. Arballists do tremendous damage. But their skills are very TP heavy, Arballists don't get much TP to begin with, and they do... only slightly more damage than basic attacks. So I basically skipped all of my Arballist's attack skills, in favor of maximizing his "double attack" passive ability (he hits twice about 40% of the time). On the ninja side I'm mastering his evasion passive, as well as the skill which restores his TP when he evades an attack. Finally, he has a single point in "Snipe" - a low-cost (3 TP) attack power which hits every enemy affected by a status ailment at the end of the round. Hmmm.... I'm also about to spring for smoke grenades, which put the blind effect on all enemies.
4 - Farmer/Prince. My Farmer is the jewel of my team. He earns tons of money for me by harvesting materials - maximizing his harvestry skill was my first priority. He does terrible melee damage, but his LUCK his really high - so I have him use Pedant's Book, which has a 50% (plus LUCK) chance of putting an enemy to sleep each turn. He's also mastered "Rotten Egg" - which decreases the damage of all enemies by 10% - or 50% if they are affected by a status ailment. A few points have gone into camp mastery and keen eye, but he's got about 30 points planned for the Prince skills which heal the party every turn, increase their HP, and add regeneration effects.
5 - Wildling/Farmer. This one is a bit of a lie - she's just pure Wildling. Her primary job, as you may have guessed from my other skills, is to put status effects on all enemies as frequently as possible. She's been focusing on Elephant mostly - and some Insect. I had originally thought that Tiger would be my next choice, but now I'm considering Cow. Enemies become resistant to a specific status effect after they gain it - so being able to switch up my ailments might be a better long-term strategy for me.