Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas: Lonesome Road - An Informal Review

So Dead Money was Fallout's take on survival horror, Honest Hearts was straightforward wilderness adventure, and Old World Blues was an especially awesome and often hilarious dose of retro sci-fi horror, Lonesome Road follows as Fallout's take on... a dungeon crawl.

And don't get me wrong, as a dungeon crawl, Lonesome Road is exceptionally well designed. You have dark dank tunnels to run through, traps to disarm, phat l00t to find, undead and constructs and aberrations to fight, and a big bad who taunts you through magic messages. That the "dungeon" is a devastated military facility and nearby town, and one exceptionally built at that, is just fabulous. If I were to set out to build a dungeon crawl game and I made it similar to Lonesome Road, I'd have done a great job.

But Lonesome Road is also supposed to be the essential finale to the Fallout New Vegas story. Sure, we all know the actual end to the story is the end to the main game (all of the DLC stories take place before the story's end). But if we played the game plus DLC in order of release, Lonesome Road is last. It's the big shabang everything was leading up to. The Big Bad gets name dropped early on in the main game, and most of the DLC all mention Ulysses and/or the Divide and the Courier's inevitable showdown involving that man and that place. For months, the hype has been built: what's going to happen at the Divide is going to be mind-blowing, reveal-all, amazing.

And instead of a mind blowing finale, we get a dungeon crawl.

The story is a loose blob of cryptic messages that strings together your purpose for traveling through the maze of twisty passages, all alike. There's only one human person in the story, and his sole purpose is to taunt you so that you remain annoyed enough to traverse the Divide so you can shoot him in the face before he sets off a nuclear missile strike (which he could have done without inviting you for the show). And that's it. You don't learn very much--Honest Hearts gave better insight both to the history of the Legion and important characters in New Vegas's backstory as well as shed light on life at the edge of the apocalypse. And it's easy to miss a lot of the clues there are. I found them, but it still doesn't fill in many blanks, and in some cases just leaves open more questions and seeming discrepancies (for example, Ulysses seems to imply the Courier accidentally wrecked the Divide, but evidence you find suggests it's always been an unlivable hellhole ever since an earthquake went off before the Great War started).

Ultimately, because the story is both piecemeal and contradictory, the point of playing through Lonesome Road feels much less like bringing history to a close and revealing more about the Courier, and more like an excuse to go hunting deathclaws in a post-apocalyptic ruin. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with hunting deathclaws in a post-apocalyptic ruin, but it shouldn't have been marketed as anything more than that, and it shouldn't have been the finale.

Purely gameplay wise, Lonesome Road is solid. The environments are exceptionally well built--there are a lot of toppled buildings and you have a lot of freedom of exploration (with minimal risk of falling through the infrastructure like Fallout world design tends to incur). If you're the kind of person who plays Fallout mostly for the shooter aspects of the game, you'll love Lonesome Road--fantastic areas to go hunting monsters in. I'd say Lonesome Road is even most enjoyable when you ignore Ulysses' ramblings and just explore and kill things.

I did experience some memory/slow down issues (on a brand new computer), although some of those were resolved after a graphics driver update. So make sure you're up to date on everything before you play. I didn't encounter many gameplay bugs.

The mechanical add ons are a mixed bag. There's a handful new weapons and armor, and you'll be very happy in particular if you like heavy weapons (my pistol toting light armored sneaky gal had less to make use of). There are several crafting recipes I wished I had about 30 levels ago, and there are several perks I'd wished I'd been able to build my character up to (there are notable exceptions in the form of a set of perks only available at level 50, which are very cool perks at that). This further makes Lonesome Road frustrating as a capstone piece--most of what it has is great for low-mid-level characters, but it's a high level adventure that came out when most who've bought it first have played through the game and are going to use their highest level characters to play through it. I seldom do multiple playthroughs, although Fallout New Vegas in general has high replay value, so I imagine the most I will get out of Lonesome Road is not the adventure itself, but the perks (literal and figurative) it will offer to new characters.

Oh yes, of course, there's also ED-E. You encounter a similar eyebot and can upgrade him (of course, by the time you finish upgrading him, you lose him). Any upgrading you do to Lonesome Road's ED-E transfers over to your companion back in the Mojave, if of course you weren't one of the people, like me, who had him randomly disappear in the middle of the Wasteland and never come back. I guess it's cool to get ED-E's backstory, but to me he'll always be a floating bucket of bugs more than anything else, and being a floating bucket of bugs with extra perks isn't much better. I'm also a very character-driven RPG player and I prefer the humanoid companions anyway. And on that note, frustratingly, ED-E also gets a perk which makes Veronica's workbench perk redundant (I guess maybe it's fair because Veronica also gets an "upgrade" perk from Dead Money... or it would be if her bonus perk applied to her actual preferred mode of combat).

In summary: the designers deserve a lot of credit for environment design and providing a lot of opportunity for both action and exploration (something which is hard to balance). Gameplay add-ons are a decent touch. But story and character-wise, Lonesome Road is far and away the weakest of the Fallout New Vegas installments. If you play the game for the story, you can skip it without losing much. Honest Hearts was a less bland foray into adventuring and had more main-game plot relevant. Dead Money was much more tense and terrifying, and Old World Blues was far more entertaining with an infinitely better set of antagonists. If you can only afford one DLC, make Lonesome Road your lowest priority. If you have all the DLC or are planning to get the Ultimate Edition in February, play Lonesome Road as soon as you can (which is still not until level 25) and save the better DLCs for later.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fallout New Vegas: Crowning Moment of Awesome... for Veronica

Hello, neglected blog. I needed a place to nerd out about video games, and then I remembered: here you are.

While I have grand plans to do a comprehensive review of Fallout: New Vegas (a year later, why not?), I decided to wait till I finish Lonesome Road first.

In the meantime, I want to share my crowning moment of awesome for my favorite F:NV companion. The following contains spoilers:

So, there we were, having infiltrated the Legion Camp, and I (Jinx, the Urban Space Cowgirl, AKA "Courier") was about to face Darth Vader Legate Lanius himself. I had read about how tough he was on the Internetz, how the very best at tactical fighting and FPS type players were killed over and over by him, how he was a BEAST. While I was very high level (44?) I am not the very best at combat, and was going for drama in terms of equipment (Joshua's armor and pistol). I thought, I've got Speech out the wazoo, hopefully I can talk him down.

Marching behind me were my backup: a bunch of creaky-kneed retired Nazis in power armor, and Veronica Santangelo, also clad in Enclave armor, courtesy of Arcade Gannon.

I talked to the Legate. I passed speech checks! But I got saucy with him anyway, and he decided to attack.

Except he ran past me, toward my backup crew.

Veronica stepped forward, sending an uppercut to his masked jaw that would have made a Deathclaw weep. He was thrown into the air, landed, turned around, and ran back toward me as if to scream, "Mommy."

I caught him in VATS: he was below half hit points. I finished him off with a shot to the arm courtesy of a Light Shining in Darkness.

The giant cazadors in Zion gave me four times as much trouble. And probably? Because I couldn't take Veronica with me.

The moral of the story: bow down and worship the lesbian techno-monk, fools. All hail Veronica.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Suikod20: Overview and Runes

First of all, I realize I should probably provide an outline of the general stuff that is being or will be worked on in this project so you can see how it all goes together. It is here (copy-paste the link):

[Sorry, the link is broken. If you know me, you know how to contact me for the documents should you want to look at them. If you don't know me, for privacy purposes I am sorry I cannot help you at this time.]

Second of all, I have finished a new draft of the Runes and Rune Spells Document. This document contains only spell runes at the moment. It is almost 50 pages. Holy heck.

[Sorry, the link is broken. If you know me, you know how to contact me for the documents should you want to look at them. If you don't know me, for privacy purposes I am sorry I cannot help you at this time.]

This system is largely the crux of what will—or won’t—make “Suikod20” work. I already wrote this up once and then thoroughly revised (my long suffering comrade-in-game-system-scheming Allen had a look at an earlier draft—much is changed since then). Believe it or not, the system I had earlier for how you determine caster progression and caster level was more stupidly complex than it is now.

Caster progression still needs to be fixed. I think overall, everyone needs more spells per day (because I realized that while there’s some nice flexibility of the runes, even the best spellcasters will only be able to have “12 known spells” at a time, effectively (if 3 spell runes are equipped, right hand, left hand, and forehead). The advancement also needs to be adjusted so that 2nd tier spells can’t be cast earlier than 4th/5th level, 3rd tier spells till 6th/7th level, etc. You’ll see further notes on this in the section. Ideas for an algorithm to determine this—or hell, take a crack at it yourself (PLEASE, I can’t add 2 and 2)—are very welcome.

As for the runes and their spells, I figured out very quickly that if there was a discernible pattern to how Konami determined what made something a high or low tier spell or how a rune balanced with other runes, I certainly couldn’t find it. As you will note, I took a basic guideline for what a given rune spell’s comparative spell level to PFRPG spells was and ran with it. I am far more concerned with comparable balance—maybe too much? I don’t know. Read through and see.

Most spells for runes were done this way:
1. Look up what the spell did in Suikoden
2. Determine rough comparable spell level
3. Look through core and APG spells. If found very appropriate analogue, used that, with edits where necessary.
4. If no existing spell, try to make a spell that mimics the video game spell’s abilities as reasonably as possible while also working well with PF game mechanics and seem of the appropriate spell level.

Note that I tried to remember to note on spells if they were of a descriptive subtype, like “fire” or “death”—and frequently, I forgot. If you note something should have a noted subtype (to help determine whether someone is resistant to it), please write it in.

I have copious notes in the whole section about where I derived a spell from (the APG came out between the first draft and this draft, and kindly provided lovely spell sources I didn’t have before) and loads of uncertainty about how a spell should play out. Ample feedback desired.

This is a lengthy document so I do not expect fast turnaround; anything you can offer is much appreciated.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Comment posting fixed

If all two or three of you were having trouble posting comments, that should be fixed now (comment box will now appear in a pop up window)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Suiko d20 Project 1.

I am working on a system called "Suikod20"--which is an attempt to make a tabletop ruleset for games set in the universe of the Suikodenseries of games. I am using the Pathfinder Reference Document, an OGL-based system, as the backbone for the rules. The power level of core Pathfinder classes and races and unique-to-Pathfinder systems such as combat maneuvers I feel suit well this project (and I really like the Pathfinder roleplaying game).

I do not own the IP to Suikoden so I can't just up and claim this all as mine and OGL and whatnot, but this is a fan work with no effort as being proprietary and no profit is being made from this. I've done my best to avoid referencing IP-specific material as much as possible so you could take anything that is not obviously IP-stamped and use it for your own purposes.

As I work on the documents, I am posting them here for reference and comment. This is VERY alpha/beta and all suggestions are welcome.

We start with the races.

Suikod20 Races

Suikod20 uses the following races. Other races, from the PRD or elsewhere, are not available without the GM’s permission.

Beaverfolk: Described in the document below
Duckfolk: Described in the document below
Dwarves: As written in the PRD, with a change noted in this document
Elves: As written in the PRD, with two changes noted in this document
Humans: As written in the PRD
Kobolds: Described in the document below; NOT the Kobolds in the PRD
Lizardfolk: Described in the document below; NOT the Lizardfolk in the PRD
Merfolk: Described in the document below; NOT the Merfolk in the PRD
Nekobolds: Described in the document below
Wingers: Described in the document below

A note on languages: No languages/bonus languages are noted in the following racial descriptions. The games which inspired this write up seldom worried about language barriers, save for very ancient languages, and I have no basis upon which to base possible languages. If you wish to use a language system, assume a different language for each race (and/or major region), and that everyone can speak a common human tongue.

Beaverfolk are squat, very furry humanoids with buck teeth and an affinity for craftsmanship and engineering.
+2 Constitution, +2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma: Beaverfolk are sturdy and absolutely brilliant planners and engineers, but they are also isolationist and eccentric.
Small: Beaverfolk are Small creatures and get a +1 size bonus to attacks, Armor Class, and a +4 bonus to Stealth.
Slow Speed: Beaverfolk have a base speed of 20 feet.
Low Light Vision: Beaverfolk can see twice as far as humans in conditions of poor illumination.
Dam Good Swimmers: Beaverfolk have a Swim speed of 20 feet; see the description of the Swim skill for more details. They can also hold their breath for 3 rounds per point of Constitution rather than the usual 2.
Beaver Blood: Any effect with the word “Beaver” in the description applies to them.
Weapon Familiarity: Beavers treat any weapon with the word “Beaver” in the title as a martial weapon.
Busy as a...: Beaverfolk are tremendously talented woodworkers, and get a +2 racial bonus to Craft checks related to working with wood, and a +2 racial bonus to Appraise and Knowledge: Engineering checks related to wooden items or construction. If four or more beaverfolk work on a wooden construction project together, they halve the time it takes to produce the final item.
Bucktooth Tempest: Beaverfolk can chew through wood (though they do not eat it) and can cut or damage wood with their teeth as if they were using a weapon or tool to do so.

At first glance, duckfolk indeed appear to be unusually big white ducks—until one notices they are wearing clothes and speaking. These humanoids are practical folk who dwell in marshy areas and are surprisingly good at defending their territory. While their arms have a wing-like appearance, they cannot fly, and these limbs end in functional, if feathered, hands.
+2 Constitution,+2 Wisdom, -2 Dexterity: Duckfolk are hardy, sensible, and alert. Their wing-like arms and short webbed feet prevent them from great feats of agility, however.
Small: Duckfolk are Small creatures, gaining a +1 size bonus to Attack and Armor Class, and a +4 size bonus to Stealth.
Slow Speed: Duckfolk have a base speed of 20 feet.
Able Swimmers: Duckfolk have a Swim speed of 30 feet; see the description of the Swim skill for more details.
Down with the Ironheads!: Used to defending their lands from human conquerors, usually knights who are heavily armored and mounted, duckfolk have learned how avoid harm and exploit such enemies’ weaknesses. They get a +4 dodge bonus to Armor Class and Combat Maneuver defense versus mounted opponents. They also gain a +2 racial bonus to trip, disarm, and sunder attempts against opponents in heavy armor.
Marshdwellers: Duckfolk get a +4 to all Survival checks in marsh terrain.
Duckfolk Blood: Any effect with the word “Duck” in the description applies to them.

Dwarves dwell deep underground all over the world, mining the world’s rich mineral resources.

Their stats are as they are in the PRD, with the following exceptions:
- Remove the abilities Defensive Training and Hatred
- Add the Stoneworker and Expert Digger abilities, described below:

Stoneworker: Dwarves are known for their superior craftsmanship when it comes to metal and stone works. Dwarves with this racial trait receive a +2 racial bonus on all Craft or Profession checks that create objects from metal or stone.

Expert Digger: Dwarves are constantly digging out new mines, and are as excellent as destroying old structures and clearing paths as they are at building new things. They gain a +2 bonus to Strength checks and Sunder attempts when breaking items made of stone or iron, and they can dig in earth or stone at twice the rate any other humanoid can.

Elves are the world’s aloof forest guardians; they can make excellent allies and fearsome enemies.

Their stats are as they are in the PRD, with the following exceptions:
- Remove the abilities Elven Immunities and Elven Magic
- Add the Forest Guardian and Oaken Will abilities, described below:

Forest Guardian: Elves are alert scouts and silent protectors of their home forests. They get a +1 racial bonus to Initiative checks and +2 bonus to Stealth checks; these bonuses double when in forest terrain. They additionally get a +2 Climb bonus when climbing trees.

Oaken Will: Stubborn in the extreme and impatient with younger races that do not understand their slow way of thinking, the steadfast spirit of the forest has imbued elves with resistance to all sorts of mind-influencing magic and other effects (and to new ideas). Elves get a +1 racial bonus to all Will saves.

Kobolds are about the same size and build as humans, except they have canine heads and are covered in short, soft fur. They seem to have many “breeds” as dogs do—some kobolds have stout faces and crinkled noses, others have floppy ears and long noses, with many different fur colorations and markings. They are social, loyal, and hard workers. (Obviously not to be confused with the lizard-like kobolds in the prd)
+2 Strength, +2 Charisma, -2 Intelligence: Kobolds are powerfully built and very “pack” driven, but slightly lacking in analytical skills.
Medium: Kobolds are medium-sized creatures and do not gain any bonuses or penalties due to size.
Normal Speed: Kobolds have a base speed of 30 feet.
Weapon Familiarity: Kobolds make excellent soldiers, and many have trained in the local army or mercenary legion. They can choose one martial weapon in which they become proficient, on top of any other proficiencies they gain from their class.
Low Light Vision: Kobolds can see twice as far as humans in conditions of poor illumination.
Keen Noses: Kobolds get a +2 racial bonus to Perception checks, and they have the Scent creature ability.
Pack Mentality: Kobolds naturally think in ways how they can help each other and their allies. When they succeed on an Aid Another check, they add +3 to the bonus rather than +2.
Kobold Blood: Any effect with the world “Kobold” in the description applies to them.

The Lizard Clan defends their cave homes with great zeal. They have a strong code of honor, and are very quick to anger and to violence.
+2 Strength, +2 Wisdom, -2 Intelligence: Lizardfolk are very strong and quite alert, but they are not tacticians.
Medium: Lizardfolk are medium-sized creatures and do not gain any bonuses or penalties due to size.
Normal Speed: Lizardfolk have a base land speed of 30 feet.
Low Light Vision: Lizardfolk can see twice as far as humans in conditions of poor illumination.
Weapon and Armor Proficiency: All lizardfolk are proficient in the longspear, halberd, and glaive.
Tough Hide: The lizardfolk’s reptilian scales give them a +2 natural armor bonus to Armor Class.
Reptilian Talons: Lizardfolk have clawed fingers and toes. These are not usually honed enough to use as natural weapons (and lizardfolk prefer the art of weaponry anyway) but they are good for gripping onto rock and wood, giving the lizardfolk a +2 racial bonus to Climb checks.
Balancing Tails: Lizardfolk use their tails to help keep their balance, and get a +4 bonus to Acrobatics checks to cross uneven ground or narrow surfaces without falling. They also get a +4 racial bonus to Combat Maneuver Defense versus Trip and Overrun attempts.

The elusive Merfolk live deep in the oceans, and while they often prefer to keep to themselves, gladly offer assistance to other races in times of crises. They are beautiful creatures, with delicate limbs covered in colorful scales and fins.
+2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, -2 Wisdom: Merfolk are swift, graceful, and charming, but are also naive and unobservant.
Medium: Merfolk are medium-sized creatures and do not gain any bonuses or penalties due to size.
Slow Speed: Merfolk’s legs are adapted more to swimming than walking. They have a base speed of 20 feet.
Darkvision: Merfolk can see in the dark up to 60 feet.
Aquatic: Merfolk have the aquatic subtype and swim at a speed of 50 feet; see the Swim skill for more details.
Amphibious: Despite being aquatic creatures, merfolk can breathe underwater and on land with ease.
Water Dependence: Although they can survive on land, merfolk need to be submerged in water for at least an hour a day or their scales dry, giving them a -2 penalty to all Constitution and Dexterity based checks until they can soak in water for at least an hour.
Protective Scales: Merfolk have a +1 natural armor bonus to Armor Class.
Weapon Familiarity: Merfolk are proficient in the light and heavy crossbow, the trident, and the net.

Nekobolds are human sized with proportionally sized heads very similar to those of domestic cats. They are covered in soft fur and have small, retractable claws at the ends of their fingers. They are friendly islander folk, and valuable on ships where their many skills come in handy.
+2 Dexterity, +2 Charisma, -2 Wisdom: Nekobolds are as swift as other felines, and are attractive and amiable creatures. They are very impulsive, however.
Medium: Nekobolds are medium-sized creatures and do not gain any bonuses or penalties due to size.
Normal Speed: Nekobolds have a base speed of 30 feet.
Low Light Vision: Nekobolds can see twice as far as humans in conditions of poor illumination.
Keen Senses: Nekobolds have excellent senses and get a +2 racial bonus to Perception checks.
Kobold Blood: Any effect with the world “Kobold” in the description applies to them.
Catlike Grace: Nay-Kobolds get a +2 racial bonus to Stealth checks and to Acrobatics checks related to balance.
Ratcatchers: While they are much larger than true cats, Nekobolds are excellent at finding and destroying vermin and creatures often found invading food stores. They get a +2 racial bonus to Perception, Survival, Attack, and Damage rolls when dealing with any creature of the vermin subtype as well as with the following animals: mice, rats, and dire rats. This bonus may be extended to other rodent-like creatures at the GM’s discretion.
Retractable Claws: Nekobolds have tiny claws which they can release and use to fight with as natural weapons. However, the little claws do less damage for their size than other medium sized creatures, dealing only 1d3 damage per claw attack. Extending or retracting the claws takes a swift action. If the claws are retracted, Nekobolds are considered unarmed.

Wingers appear to be human, save for the long, dark wings sprouting from their backs and their taloned feet. Rare creatures in the world, they are proud of their differences and relative uniqueness.
+2 Dexterity, -2 Charisma: Wingers are agile, but come off as arrogant, eccentric, or creepy.
Medium: Wingers are medium sized and thus have no bonuses or penalties due to size.
Normal Speed: Wingers have a walking speed of 30 feet.
Wings: Wingers are aptly named, and have a fly speed of 50 feet (average maneuverability). See the Fly skill for more information.
Fast Talkers: Wingers get a +2 racial bonus to Bluff checks.