Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Choice and Legends...

So, I got Rise of Legends. I'm about 40% of the way through it, I think. It's well worth playing, even if it is in no way a short game.

It is, in fact, the best RTS I've ever played.

I miss some of the more innovative elements that can be found in other RTS games, though: I miss having a slowly spreading ooze. I miss having power generators. I miss having units that know how to use transports without me having to carefully spell everything out. And I miss using the dead as resources. I don't miss micromanaging spellcasters.

But for what it is, it is very good. Now I'm going to tell you what they did wrong.

Don't worry, it's not in the game. It's in the flow of the narrative.

That's right, the game is good enough the only thing I can whine about is the (whiny voice)"flow of the narrative"(/whiny voice).

Actually, studying the flow of the narrative through the first and the beginning of the second act tells us a lot about how I think. Presumably, many others think the same way. Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments section.

The game starts you off as a clockpunk commander. Pretty cool. The main character could have used a little more... uniqueness. Well, any uniqueness would have been good. But it was solid, and the units were kickin'.

You start with a limited selection of units: riflemen, clockwork men, scout drones. Over the course of the game, you research more units. Clockwork spiders (awesome!), behemoth tanks (freakin' awesome!), sky pirate ships (meh), cargo ships (meh), bombadiers (meh), walkers (meh), and so on (meh).

The point is, as I was playing this game for the first time, playing with my limited unit set, I saw the clockwork spiders and said, "coooooool!" Similarly, when I saw the Doje's huge army with tanks in it, I said, "I want those tanks!"

It was all in how the progression was framed. There was a feeling of eagerness for these units. It wasn't done as powerfully as it could have been, especially with the airborn ships, but it was done pretty well.

Enter the second act. You start with access to every unit. What's cool? Nothing's cool, because nothing stands out. Units only begin to stand out after they're used in combat for a significant amount of time, which happens pretty much at random because you don't have any particular preferences to start with.

I found this to be a stark contrast with the steampunk. It's not that the desert units are less cool. In fact, they're pretty damn cool: you can create barracks in enemy territory, and they've got these sweet flying dragon things... that have the same stats as the clockpunk assault aircraft... :P

It's just that you start with a wide variety of options and precious little to distinguish them by. They don't give you any hooks. It's like if someone showed you a long string of toothpicks and asked you which was your favorite - but decide quick, because you have to fend off an oncoming mob soon.

They made a similar error right at the beginning. We have a short fight with the Doje. We're just starting to get the hang of this whole "volley fire" deal. Then what do they do? They make us fight dark Alin. Why?

We hadn't even started with the clockpunks yet! And you're giving us more noise. That should have been the sixth or seventh mission, after we've started getting our feet under us with the clockpunks. Then you hit us with something that changes our worldview: not so early, when we don't have a view to change yet.

In my mind, the lesson is clear: you have to establish a baseline, then show things outside the baseline that get the player to sit up and say, "cooool!"

Other than these extremely minor complaints, the game is a lot of fun.

It should be noted that Rise of Legends does NOT feel the urge to actually make a stage winnable. So, if you attack foolishly, it crushes you. :D

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