Tag Archives: RPG

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (ACO) is a role-playing game. I know I said it was moving in this direction with last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, but this entry in the series is as much of a RPG as The Witcher 3. But where Origins last year pushed Assassin’s Creed further into RPG territory and further away from the focus of assassinations, ACO takes this series even further from its roots. In fact, this entry may as well be an entirely different franchise.

In ACO, you can select from the start whether you want to play as Kassandra (woman) or Alexios (man). Either way, you are a Spartan in exile, a descendant of Leonidas himself, during the Peloponnesian War. In the broad game world, Sparta and Athens are at each other’s throats. In the story’s winding path, you learn more about your destiny and how the Cult of Kosmos is attempting to leverage your bloodline to control the world.

This game is enormous, and I could spend hundreds of words describing just the game. Instead, I’ll sum it by saying this is a third person character RPG in a historical setting. Even though killing people isn’t your only course of action, most missions are resolved with murder and there are four different power structures to be murdered: the Cult of Kosmos, a seemingly endless string of mercenaries, an arena full of champions, and the national leadership of the Greek states. This may sound like a lot and it is; each of those is a different tweak on the game.

The cult is hunted through finding clues, usually by killing other cultists, sometimes through sidequests. Hunting the cult is some of the most fun this game has and it ties deepest into the main plot. While most cultists are just a name, some are given personality and character, and there are some genuinely surprising reveals.

The mercenaries hunt you when you’ve committed crimes, usually murder, sometimes theft or destruction of property. They’re an endless stream of difficult enemies with unique qualities (“takes less assassination damage”, “has a wolf companion”) in a way that sort of makes it like the Nemesis system in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, except this is far less fleshed out. It’s one of the game’s biggest missed opportunities. With any amount of personality ascribed to these mercenaries, it might have added something significant to the mindless murder, but instead it’s just another long chain of bodies.

The arena, by comparison to the rest, is fairly simple; fight waves of enemies in an arena and then kill their champion boss. The fights aren’t particularly different from what you do in the game world, but they do take place in an arena full of obstacles to avoid and exploit. There’s a story to this arena that’s worth seeing to the end, but that’s about it.

The least fun of these are the nation takeovers. You have to first lower national threat levels by infiltrating forts and destroying supplies, stealing their war chest, and killing their leadership. Then you can take to the battlefield in a mass combat scenario that’s a lot less fun than it sounds. It’s just a lot of the same combat except with more enemies on screen, and most of them are occupied in fighting other nameless soldiers that are on your side, until one of the two nations wins. Your influence is in killing enemy captains and heroes, which are just the same enemies except with more hitpoints. If you were on the winning side, you get a big reward of gear. If you were on the losing side, you still get some gear. It ultimately does not matter whether Athens or Sparta controls a region, so it’s really just another lost opportunity but maybe it’s commentary on the game world.

I highlight these power structures because they’re the vast majority of the game, and where it loses the most Assassin’s Creed flavor. The focus of these power structures is mostly built on killing the people at the top, which is what you’d expect an assassin to do, but you’re not playing an assassin. The word “assassin” might not ever be used in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Where Origins reduced the functionality of the “single-button murder” that was a staple of the series, it’s almost entirely removed in ACO. No longer does catching somebody by surprise and pressing the murder button kill them outright. For most non-fodder enemies, it only takes a large chunk off of their health. The satisfaction I derived from this game was looking out over an enemy infested fort, sneaking around to kill all of the fodder stealthily, and then getting the drop on the cultist, national leader, general I was there to kill and fighting them without backup because I killed all their backup. This is a formula Ubisoft has been building on since Far Cry 2. It’s still fun, but Assassin’s Creed used to make sneaking in and just killing that one target without engaging in mass murder feasible.

Another major change is the addition of dialog options. Sometimes, you can talk your way out of bad situations. None of these are influenced by your character’s stats, which are solely focused on how easily you can kill someone, so the choice of dialog often feels like a guessing game. ACO doesn’t pretend that these choices are particularly meaningful, except that at six points in the main plot they can influence which of the nine conclusions the story reaches. Even then, the results are largely the same but who comes to the end with you changes.

This is emblematic of ACO. It presents the illusion of choice, but there’s really not much choice at all. Your choices don’t have far reaching consequences for being a story largely centered around your character’s special bloodline. The game world is wide open but it’s a static thing. Killing one nation’s leader just results in another filling in their place. Killing one mercenary moves you up the ladder, but another mercenary fills in behind you. Random name, random traits, no personality. The only murders that count are those against the Cult of Kosmos, but even half of those are just faceless people. I found two of the last ones just sitting alone in the woods. It seems that as Assassin’s Creed has opened up the world over the course of the series, it has reduced the player’s impact on it. Prior games were more linear affairs that could do things like jump 20 years in the future, or kill major characters and show the impacts of those deaths. In ACO, no one’s death means anything. By the end of the game, my character’s actions have had no meaningful impact on the game’s world. Maybe it’s a direct contradiction of the game’s “chosen one” story, or maybe it’s commentary on the meta narrative of the series, which is that all of this is largely meaningless because this world has been simulated to completion. Ancient aliens solved all of this long ago and humanity is just going through the motions. The ones who thought they could change things were wrong.

In this Assassin’s Creed game, you are not an assassin, you’re not part of a group of assassins, and you hardly assassinate anyone. In most aspects, this game and Origins before it are unlike any others in the series, and they benefit from it in some ways, but calling them “Assassin’s Creed” is a misnomer. The game is still historical tourism, with appearances by famous Greeks such as Socrates, Leonidas, Herodotus, and Pericles, among others, but it’s otherwise an entirely different animal from the series that came before Origins. I look back on the 70ish hours I’ve spent in the game, and I enjoyed my time playing it, but it’s a sort of hollow enjoyment. This is a popcorn game, tasty but void of nutrition or substance.


Reference: Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming.

Dark Souls 3

A short while ago, I’d committed to ignoring games described as inspired by Dark Souls. I’d played some Dark Souls and didn’t enjoy it much, played some Dark Souls inspired games like Lords of the Fallen and Bound by Flame and I didn’t like any of them. But this isn’t a consistent dislike. I really really enjoyed Salt & Sanctuary, but the qualities of Dark Souls that inhabited Hollow Knight turned me right off. And almost immediately after I’d decided that Dark Souls-like games were not for me, Humble Monthly gave me a copy of Dark Souls 3. I beat Dark Souls 3. I enjoyed Dark Souls 3.

I am ill equipped to describe what makes Dark Souls 3 so different from Dark Souls, and even less equipped to compare it to Dark Souls 2, but Dark Souls 3 hooked me fairly quick. I know how these games work and they’re very unforgiving, particularly of my overly-aggressive playstyle. With the help of a build guide to direct my efforts on creating a character I would enjoy playing with, a simple melee sword-and-board fighter, I sliced and chopped my way through hordes of monsters. The variety in combat encounters and enemies ensured that even my simple character build was never boring. Maybe Salt & Sanctuary made me a more patient player, but I rarely felt like the fights were unfair, even when I was dying to bosses over and over. I’d eventually learn their patterns and weaknesses, and chop them to pieces with my sword. Where as I found Dark Souls to be a largely frustrating affair, Dark Souls 3 never felt frustrating; it was rewarding.

What isn’t rewarding in the game is the storyline, or lack thereof. It starts with a cutscene explaining that the lords of cinder have left their graves and need to be returned to their thrones to rekindle the dying world. From there, there’s more or less nothing much to offer until you reach the end, and you get a short cutscene for your efforts. Sure, you’ll find other non-hostile people with some “quests” of their own, but there’s no journal. No quest log. Often, I struggled to even remember their names. Most items have a sentence or two of flavor text but that’s about it for worldbuilding. You could go end-to-end through this game and never learn a single thing about the lords of cinder that you’re mercilessly hunting down and killing.

This is a bit of a shame because the world they’ve built, without the exposition, is really interesting in that it’s not standard fantasy or grimdark. If anything, it’s sorrowful. This is a dying world, roamed by undead things, desperate for purpose and meaning. I find myself wanting to go back to Dark Souls again for another try to see if I can fill in the blanks because I want to learn more. Even if I can’t, if I can find in Dark Souls what I found in Dark Souls 3, that’ll be enough. Dark Souls 3 is a challenging game that rewards persistence and learning without feeling cheap.


Reference: From Software. Dark Souls 3 [Namco Bandai, 2016]

Source: Purchased from Humble Bundle as part of a Humble Monthly bundle.

Notes from Pathfinder session 30 MAR 14

Let’s be honest: it’s been a while since I chucked dice, so half of what I know about Pathfinder is barely remembered rules from my last D&D 3.5 game. I played a couple sessions with a group last year, and some 4th a year or so before that, some sporadic games while I was enlisted, and the longest running campaign I played in about 10 years ago. So I’m a little rusty, even if I’ve got the basics down. To make matters more confused, Pathfinder is only a little different from D&D 3.5, so I’m constantly checking myself to make sure nothing changed. About 75% of the time, I’m right.

I had a plan to run my players through a one-time adventure where everyone would play a 10th level bard. It was to be kind of an introduction to the game, and an exploration of the bard class, because bards get a bad rap. After making the short adventure and the characters, however, I realized that with all the spells and skills a 10th level bard has, it’d probably be way too much for an introduction. Everyone seemed to want to play their own character anyway, so I shopped around for an adventure path I could run with.

There are a ton of Pathfinder adventure paths, and they all sound awesome. I went with Rise of the Runelords. It is a nice collection of all six modules compiled into a hardcover book with bonus encounters and post-release enhancements for only $40, which is as much as two modules alone. Scrapping my bard adventure meant I didn’t have as much time to prepare, and the game suffered a little for it. However, the first part is mostly combat, so I managed to get by.

Speaking of combat, jumping into it with four brand new characters is a great refresher on all of the little details that need to be remembered! I overestimated how much of the stats would be in the campaign book, so I was quickly looking up goblins in my 3.5 Monster Manual. Then I got a reminder of how many little details and numbers need to be crunched when a sorceror or cleric casts a spell. Range, effects, saves, resistance DCs, all of that.

I also got a reminder of how brutal this game can be at low levels. A goblin managed to score a critical attack on the cleric, and dropped him with one hit. I felt a little bad for that. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to bail anyone out when their number comes up. I feel like the game is less interesting when the DM is constantly bailing out dying PCs. There’s no threat of death. But the cleric was a guy I just met. Thankfully, he stabilized right away and I managed to interject a brief respite for him to get him up to 1HP so he could at least heal himself a little.

The rest of the session went fairly smoothly. The PCs survived some strong hits but no more crits. For the first time, I had to consult some riding and mounted combat rules. I simply never touched them before, but one of their encounters involved a goblin ranger on a goblin dog. I wish I had remembered that I had the reference guide in my phone, because I didn’t have a stat block for the goblin dog. I had to fudge a combination of a standard dog and a riding dog, and I missed out on all the little details of a goblin dog. Whoops.

Of the mistakes I made that I think can be easily fixed, I’m going to start withholding loot and XP until the threat is over and those things matter. I started doling out both after the second battle, even though there was no opportunity to spend either. That was kind of a waste of time, as I could’ve combined all the previous encounters at the end of the session.

But all in all, I think the session went well and I’m very excited to get back into it next month.

PCs:

Nordak – Male half elf sorceror 1

Ironhouse – Male dwarf cleric 1

Tragehon – Male dwarf fighter 1

Groob – Male half orc rogue 1

What if someone made Gothic without half of the jank?

It’d be something like Arcania: Gothic 4. I’ve spent all day playing it. It looks better than any other Gothic. It has normal game controls, unlike Gothic 1 and Gothic 2 (I haven’t played Gothic 3 yet). The combat is fluid. It has only crashed twice in 5 hours. The voice acting isn’t god awful. It’s almost an enjoyable game.

I also played the Risen demo, which is basically exactly like Arcania. They’re so similar that I got a bit of the Risen storyline confused with the Arcania storyline and spent some amount of time wondering why I wasn’t running into any Warriors of Order or the Inquisition. And both of these games are unreasonably similar to Two Worlds, except they’re both a lot less awful.

I’m going to keep playing Arcania until I get bored or find something better. Which will definitely end on May 17th, when The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is released OH MY GOD I CAN’T WAIT