As I write this, Project Eternity — by the creators of Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and the Fallout Series (among others) — is fully funded with 15 days left on Kickstarter. I backed the game at the lowest game level ($25) just over 2 weeks ago, because I was a huge fan of Baldur’s Gate and successive expansions.
Coming from AD&D2 table top I had been playing RPGs of one form or another for decades: Dungeons of Doom on the Texas Instruments at my friend’s aunt’s house after school (religiously), NetHack on my father’s development 286 DOS machine, Ultima II and Pools of Radiance on my Macintosh 128 — swapping 3.25″ disks — in the wee hours of Friday and Saturday night as a teenager, and most recently, Dragon Age on the PS3. I have always loved the grand epics set in a fantasy world with sword fighting, archery, magic and the chance of running into a dragon. Part of this stems from elementary school book report on medieval arms and armor I researched and wrote, part is my fencing and archery training, while the other part is all video gamer. So, an RPG such as Project Eternity is right in my wheelhouse of games.
Blind Dual Preview Review
Given that, I thought I would write up my initial impression of the game as it stands, considering all of the updates the people at Obsidian have added the past week. I also contacted a fellow tech blogger, Josh C, about the game to let him know about it. In the course of conversation, we decided to do a blind dual preview review of the game, and release it at the same time. I do not know what Josh is going to write, nor does he know what I will write. After we will follow up with each other. This should be fun. “Read on Adventurer. Your Quest Awaits…”
First: It’s about fricking time! It has been ages since the last proper party-based classic RPG was released for the Mac and PC. Once MMORPGs (which are great — don’t get me wrong) became a hit, it looked like single player RPGs were dead, and for all intents and purposes they were. The thing is, the multi-player RPGs have lost the co-ordination that true team based games allows. That level of coordination has gone to Team FPS games as long as the team members all have headsets. Project Eternity finally brings that back. And judging from the Kickstarter response ($2.2M & 50K+ pledges as I edit this), there are a lot of people like me that miss this style of game.
New Universe & Creativity
Two things I really like about this project are closely related. This is a completely new universe: It isn’t set in the D&D world, nor the familiar Tolkien world. We do not even know if it will have dragons. (Please have dragons, really smart ones with sharp pointy little teeth!) Because it is an original property the world will be fresh the first time I step into it. The lore might parallel our own myths and legends but could encompass new world views and — judging by the comments on magic and souls — new laws of metaphysics. Also, because it is player backed, it will free the game creators to really explore themes and ideas that might be cut from major studio commercial release because of potentially controversial subject matter. Large studios are not above bowing to public pressure and tend to avoid religious or other “values” controversies. However with the pressure coming from backers to make the game as good as it can be without creative limits, the devs should be even more enthusiastic about developing the world. When you free artists of a large commercial interests influencing their decisions, and let them know they only have to get their idea past their sympathetic boss/producers. They tend to think more freely. The net effect of this freedom usually tends to be better products with more memorable, and durable properties.
Obsidian must have its “eyes up,” because they know how much gamers have grown to loath stricter and stricter DRM. “Hey: this game is already making a profit, and it’s nowhere near being out of the gate! Why hamper it with DRM which is more of a problem for legitimate users than DRM-savvy crackers.” So, the Kickstarter version, at least will be offered DRM free.
(Skip to the next section if all you care about is the game preview review.)
Aside from the ethical problems of illegally obtaining software, the risks of doing so far outweigh the benefits. We can blame DRM indirectly for at least some of the rise of malware infecting people’s machines also, since many “warez” sites and torrents include cracked version of commercial software that act as trojan horses. Sure you might get MS Office for free, but it will more than likely install anything from key loggers to root kits to other back doors into Windows.
By the way, if you let your kids have free rein on the computer you use there is a good chance you have a virus if you do not run current AV. So, it might be cheaper to buy them their own machine they can mess up, than have you account emptied while you are on vacation. (Remember the crooks will know when you will not be checking your email thanks to your Facebook post. And that gives them plenty of time to charge up credit and empty bank accounts.) In my years as a consultant, I saw as many computers infected that way as I did via e-mail attachments.
Game Difficulty Modes
It looks like Project Obsidian game will offer something for everyone in terms of play modes. Pretty much all games come with difficulty settings to tailor to each player’s abilities. (I usually set it to the more difficult, but not impossible, setting in RPGs.) Also, if you don’t like helpful reminders, you can turn those on or off in expert mode. You will have to remember that the Prince of Elbonia wants the drake scale and the Duke of Holden once boasted about killing such a drake, etc. Obsidian will also offer a strict mode: if you die, you die — no loading the last save point. I like it when a game has random encounters tailored to be challenging, but not unbeatable for the party.
I do not currently run Linux, despite have a Linux Admin credential. One of the primary reasons is the dearth of polished software available and lack of accessories that work seamlessly with Linux. I am fully aware of the Office clones, the in-depth Utilities, and FLAC players out there. But unfortunately a lot of the cool kids miss out when it comes to games and other niceties. Coming from using mostly a Macintosh at home the last 25+ years. I empathize with Linux users when they are ignored by the big game companies: I went through that too until iOS became the smashing success it is. So, any love shown toward smaller market-share platforms by game makers is a good thing.
What would an RPG be without some weird alien or anthropomorphized animal? Obsidian plans on the standard Tolkien inspired arch-races: Dwarf and Elf. But a new world allows for completely new races. If they wanted to pander to the internet crowd, then “Kitteth” would definitely make the cut as droves of cat lovers flocked to the game to play a feline. Or maybe we can see the Admiral Akbarr-ish Thoom from Delta Tao’s Clan Lord make their sexy appearance? All kidding aside, whatever new or bizarre races are added to the game, it will not limit what players can use, since it is very clear that there will not be racially restricted items. The touched “godlike” races might be very interesting as well. (I came up with a “plane walker” entity, in one game. So, It makes me wish I could back at the level to design them-it into the game since it is compatible with the combined souls idea mentioned in an update.) So, given the lack of restrictions we can pretty much relax and enjoy what the creative team comes up with. That is, unless you like restrictions.
Class Systems in previous RPGs tend to be rigid, and many people prefer classless because of the freedom it offers. However, Obsidian has made it clear that fighters might tap into things usually reserved for Wizards or Priests. Also, given that multi-classing is being considered, I think an open class category structure without rigid limits is a good thing, and can lead to interesting combinations. I thought about it and if I were to chose a multi-class, I would probably go with a Roguish Wizard if allowed.
Also, Barbarians and Cyphers are coming as well. The Barbarian is old hat, and really just an unpredictable and/or undisciplined fighter, IMO. However the Cypher is something that — while being done in AD&D, and had abilities touched on in other games — never made it into any class system with less than 12 classes as a stand-alone class. It would be very interesting to see what sorts of damage a Cypher bearing party would be able to do. “Curiouser and curiouser.”
“Party of 6, Your Battle is Waiting”
One of the slightly frustrating things is putting together a kick ass party and coming across another potentially kick ass character, and having to decide whether to kick out the veteran party member for the new guy or stick with tried and true people. Allowing 6 people is a lot better than only 4. Now you can not only bring the Fighter, Priest, Wizard and Rogue, but also 2 others. Again, this “party of 4” thing has been a pattern since Dungeons of Doom.
However, In all of the RPGs I have played, once you dismiss a party member or pass on them joining you usually never see them again. I wish a game dev would realize that sometimes people run into each other again and again and allow you to switch up your party for various chapters. It would be great to have a pool of party members to chose from, and being able to hand pick the people you recruit based on what you think would be the most apt for the job. Imagine if you had a mission where you had to rescue a person from imprisonment and being able to recruit a team that All had stealth or cloaking abilities. Then being able to go back and clear the place once the person is safe with your big loud juggernauts. This one addition, would probably add tremendous replay value during the game. I hope Obsidian realizes this might be a good thing to put in the game, because pretty much no one has that I am aware of.
Combat & Formations
In the real world, where a person stands or doesn’t stand can mean life or death in combat. MMOs have historically ignored this fact, and allowed player to walk though each other, much to my chagrin. It throws out the rules of a physical universe in order to make things easier for the programmers and the physics engine. It also makes formations completely irrelevant. If the caster can draw agro from the minotaur that is surrounded by fighters and rogues, and the minotaur can simply walk right through the phalanx of melee characters to kill the mage, then there is something wrong with your game mechanics. One thing I love about classic RPGs is that there is collision detection: If a minotaur wanted to get to a mage in a classic RPG, he’d have to chop the fighter in half to carve a hole.
Formations is a refinement of this ideas that positioning matters. Obsidian, in their wisdom knows that a lot of RPG fans have spent year if not decades figuring optimal formations based on the type of threat, and appreciate still being able to use this knowledge. (Now if they add in facing that matters for defense and attack resolution, we will have something!)
Since the game is turn based with pause, I assume it will be a refinement of their previous RPGs where one could select an action for each party member and let them carry it out until they can do something else. I like the idea of being able to tweak every little motion in combat, but also sitting back and letting your party mow through an non-challenging battle and just sit back and watch instead of having to hit continue 6 times.
Non-Combat abilities, historically, fall into two categories: sparse afterthoughts haphazardly bolted on or integrated to a fault. The fault is that most games make a player chose the combat ability or the non-combat ability. Obsidian recognizes that making non-combat abilities draw from the same resource pool as combat abilities makes for bad game design. So instead of not encouraging players to take skills that would make their character more interesting by using the same resource pool, this will be broken out into its own resource pool. Also, they have said that non-combat abilities will be more useful than in some games where you use the ability a few times. This is a good thing, but we will see how often these secondary abilities can be used when the game is actually released.
Update #13, mentions that a person with the ability to craft will be able to make unique items, however I hope that these unique items are as useful as they are rare. One of the cooler but less useful abilities in World of Warcraft is Crafting because most of the durable goods craft-able at higher levels are not very good compared to all of the epic items. So, to see this as a stretch goal is not all that appealing. However, I would like to give Obsidian the benefit of the doubt based on their track record. Since this is a one player, finite game, they can afford to allow people to make power items, and not have to factor in game balance. Enchanting sounds more appealing, for its utility.
Obviously, I like the overall description of the game —I did back it almost right away. Given Obsidian’s track record, I am almost certain they will actually deliver most if not all of what they promise. There will probably still be a few weak points when it is finally released, but overall it will probably rate highly if it is developed according to plan. Unrestricted characters and a new world are the 2 biggest things that appeal to me. I didn’t even discuss the big dungeon that the recent goal activated. And that in and of itself looks exciting.
If you haven’t read it yet, let’s see what Josh C said about Project Eternity. I am curious myself.