The Talos Principle

I’ve been holding off on writing about Talos Principle because I wanted to get further in it and reveal a bit more of the story, because it’s one of those super mysterious “something reaaaallllly interesting is here and if you just get a little bit further you might get to reveal some of it!” sorts of stories, and it seems like a disturbingly large percentage of the time the reveals turn out to be complete balls.  But I am just loving this game so much that I am going to talk about it anyway.

The Talos Principle is a puzzle game, but it is also a journey into philosophy.  It wins my “Best Game Ever” award for two simple reasons:
1: The options screen has a “Motion Sickness” section where you can adjust things like FoV and turn head bobbing off.  These developers get it and I love them for it.  Game of the Year for that alone.
2: In one of the story snippets there is a burn on Twilight.  Excellent.

The premise is that you are a robot who has been dropped into a series of tests, which is all very Portal-esque, but instead of a sarcastic murderous robot you have a somewhat self-righteous god-voice by the name of Elohim (definitely not an improvement over GlaDOS, I have to say.)  As you venture through your trials you also uncover snippets of story that hint at the goings on outside of your own little personal rat-maze, as well as philosophical musings for you to think about as you go along.  Things like “How does someone know they are a person” or “How do you know you really exist”, alongside things like “Could a robot solve these sorts of puzzles or would it take a human mind to do it?”, where it all becomes very meta because in the game you are a robot and you are solving those puzzles but REALLY you are a human solving those puzzles right?? right?? so if you solve that puzzle that only a human could solve it does that mean a robot solved it or does it mean a human was still needed to solve it??? Or is it even talking about you at all????? Don’t play it while high or you might feel entirely too clever for yourself.

But actually mostly it makes me feel dumb.  But then I solve something and feel like a genius.  And then the next one makes me feel dumb again.  I was incredibly disappointed with how easy the puzzles were at first.  I was just going from puzzle to puzzle feeling like “…is this it?  Really?”  Sometimes a puzzle would be SO easy that I’d pick up the prize and then run back and forth for a bit wondering if I had missed something.  A lot of them take the same sort of logic too, so they almost get repetitive at times. The most disappointing part is when you get stuck on something for ages and ages and then finally you come across the solution and it is so god damn fucking easy and then you hate yourself for not figuring it out right away.

But then I ran into some of the hidden puzzles and my brain broke and I lay awake at night thinking about them.  Most of the puzzles are self contained, but the hidden ones require “outside of the box” thinking, and a lot of “outside of the level” thinking.  Most of them span levels, requiring you to break the fourth wall and figure out how to get bits from here to there, or how to cheat the system to get what you need to the area you need it.  In some cases it almost seems unfair, like, you can’t take items through the barrier so who would guess that you can shoot the fucking laser through it?!?!? (but then again, fair enough to catch me out on assuming that something would not be possible without trying it.  Fuckers.) There was one where I sort of figured it would be something pretty skookum, and I had an idea of what I would need to do, but I decided that I would be a horrible person and be lazy and not do it and just look up the solution.  I was reaffirmed in that choice when the description said “Hardest star in the game” and I was like “yep going to ruin this one for myself”, and I am kind of sad that I cheated but also I don’t think I would have figured it out otherwise.  It’s pretty epic.

And as I advance into the later worlds, the “easy” puzzles are less and less easy.  Every now and then I’ll bumble around in a level for so long that Elohim comes along and gently suggests I go to a different level.  Fuck you, God.  What kind of God is all like “Well if you haven’t figured this out by NOW you may as well just give up.”

You should buy this game.  It is excellent mysterious storytelling that almost makes me nostalgic for Myst, with a mix of puzzles that will make your brain hurt, but are not so tough that you need a walkthrough to get anywhere.  And also some philosophy crap that you may or may not enjoy. The world is beautiful and fun to explore, especially since there could be hidden mysteries or easter eggs around any corner or under any bush.  It’s just good old fashioned “I’m going to try this and see what happens” exploration fun, and it is highly rewarding.

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Paper Sorcerer

It’s been a month since I’ve written anything, and it’s entirely because the Diablo 3 expansion consumed my soul.  (Bonus review: the Diablo 3 expansion is really good.  Really really good.  Really good.)  After spending an hour before work, several hours after work, and all day every weekend levelling characters and farming achievements, we’ve got almost 100% completion and I woke up this Saturday and didn’t feel compelled to immediately log into Diablo.

This dawning of a new day happened to coincide with the release of Dark Souls 2, and reading about that put me in the mood for some dungeon crawling (of a non-isometric format, anyway), but something perhaps a bit cheaper than Dark Souls 2 since it will come on sale one day so why pay full price, right?  (spoiler alert: we also bought Dark Souls 2 tonight so I wouldn’t sit around mashing F5 looking for new updates after this, either :P.  Stupid games being good and time consuming and stuff.)  I stumbled over a game on Steam by the name of “Paper Sorcerer” and decided it looked interesting enough that I bought it not on sale for a 5 dollar price tag.

It’s good and you should buy it.  Because it’s 5 bucks.  And good.  I like to support 5 dollar games that are also really good.

It’s an “old school” first person dungeon crawler style, with turn based combat, but the art assets really make it unique.  The premise is that you are an evil sorceror/sorceress who has been trapped inside of a prison book as punishment for terrorizing the land with your summoned minions.  You traverse the dungeons within the book, regaining your powers and re-summoning your monster buddies (who serve as your party), while seeking to break the bindings holding the prison together.  The art is all black and white hand-drawn style, as is fitting for book illustrations, but it’s done in a really excellent way.  Exploration is satisfying, and loot is interesting.  It’s also challenging enough to keep you thinking about strategy, both in battle action choices and in party composition and skill layout, once you’ve unlocked enough monster buddies to have some options.  I’m on easy (because I am a huge wuss) and I still find myself sweating through the last few turns of a battle here and there.  The enemies and encounters are static and there’s no grinding to speak of, so it all relies on your decisions rather than your experience points. I think the catacombs have random fights so you could grind to overpoweredness I guess, if that’s your thing.  I chose the ‘rob everyone blind to have lots of cash available to buy skills’ style of grinding, myself.  The story isn’t the main focus (fear not, you won’t be stuck scrolling through text for 20 minutes every time you meet an NPC), but the writing that is there is well done and interesting.  The music is honestly a bit bizarre, but somehow really enjoyable too.

My major complaint (and only complaint…) is that the interface is a little iffy.  It’s fully swappable between keyboard and mouse, but sometimes it feels awkward to use one or the other, making you feel like you should be swapping… which is awkward in itself.  (So it is probably safe to say the UI is somewhat awkward, huh.)  I also find it a bit tedious that there are a lot of superfluous menus to click through.  I suppose it retains the “old school” feeling of “it was easier to program it this way so you have to agree to this option even though it’s literally the only option that will ever be presented to you” (e.g. having to pick “all enemies/allies” for group effects that will never be cast on anything but the entire field…), but it would have been nice to modernize that a little bit.  I also find the inventory a bit cumbersome.  Things are a bit better if you remember to hit Q and E to swap between your party members, but equipping new items on them can be a real chore sometimes.  Click(or spacebar) on inventory, click on Sorceress, click on desired item slot, double click on desired item, click on accept, swap to new character, repeat… unless you forget to swap before backing out, which results in having to re-select the inventory and character again before getting back to item select.  None of it is streamlined, and sometimes I feel like just selling the items I’ve found rather than worrying about whether one of my lesser-used party members might benefit from it.

But it’s five dollars and worth well over twice that, crappy menus and all.  Check it out.

FORCED

You know what I’ve always wanted?  I’ve always wanted the raid fights from World of Warcraft, but for 2-4 players.  Something that requires a lot of strategy and coordination, with specific roles for each team member, but without the need to collect and manage a group of 25 or more competent team members.

That game is FORCED.  We’ve played it for about 3 hours and only made it to the second set of challenges, but I already feel confident enough to recommend it.

The premise is that you are gladiators dumped into a ring, and you must battle through a series of challenges.  You can choose one of four roles/classes, then proceed into challenge chambers and try to succeed.  Succeeding at a challenge involves your standard “kill shit that is attacking you”, “avoid things that will kill you” (I accidentally referred to a giant spinning death beam as a “Lurker Beam”.  Sigh.  If you don’t understand that then, well, good.), as well as the novel mechanic which is passing an orb back and forth. The orb will activate switches which do various kinds of things (heal you, kill enemies, blow shit up, etc.), it might activate blocks which need to be pushed onto switches, or various other kinds of goals. Each encounter has three objectives: Succeed, succeed really fast (time attack, usually requiring a high degree of coordination), and a sort of “achievement” style challenge which can be anything from “do this perfectly” to “do this crazy shit that no sane person would attempt”.  Each time you complete a challenge you get a gem, which is used to unlock abilities, perks, and keys to bind things to.  I had originally thought that beating the chambers was fairly easy and that the real challenge of the game would be to complete all the extra challenges.  Then we had our asses kicked repeatedly in chamber 2.

People keep saying it’s an ARPG/Diablo clone, and I can see why because I also thought at first it was going to be a WoW/Diablo game (in fact… I think their own site refers to it as a Diablo style game)… but it’s actually not much like Diablo, aside from having a third person isometric camera angle and shit to kill.  There is no loot or experience.  The only progression comes from completing challenges and unlocking more abilities.  The real challenge is all on you as the player to execute the encounter correctly, and the advanced abilities only make that marginally easier by giving you more playstyle options that might better fit your comfort zone.  Basically, if you enjoy beating a challenge for intrinsic reasons (because it is challenging and then you can tick it off the “done that” list), you will love this game.  If you enjoy beating a challenge for extrinsic reasons (because it drops shiny items), you might wonder what the point is.

I also don’t see how this game will ever be fun to play with random groups.  My god, the ways you can fuck over an encounter… I can see this game ruining a number of legit friendships when they’re actually putting in effort, nevermind random internet assholes trying to grief things.  One tap of the space bar calls the orb to you, which calls it off-course from wherever it was going before.  A lot of the orb objectives require precise timing and aiming, and we screwed the encounter over so many times simply by losing track of which character was ours amongst the swarms of monsters.  Much cursing was heard.  And that’s on the second chamber with only two people who are physically in the same room and can yell instructions to each other easily.  I can only imagine it gets worse at higher levels, never mind with 4 people accidentally hitting space… and maybe some of them aren’t on voice chat… and then that one asshole keeps doing it on purpose…
Yeah.  Play this game with friends.  Very good friends that you aren’t likely to want to strangle.

The really unfortunate thing is that the game is suffering some launch issues, and I feel like that, combined with the misinformed “just another ARPG” vibe people are getting from it, will really hurt its reputation before it gets off the ground.  The netcode is apparently a little shaky, and the developers couldn’t afford to have dedicated servers for it.  The result is that the host has a perfectly solid game, but there are some pretty gnarly lag spikes for most everyone else.  My husband and I are in the same room and he was still having some connection issues (LAN doesn’t appear to be an option either…).  I’m really hoping they can iron it out or get some dedicated servers up before they lose rep.

My one legit complaint with it is that the camera gets in the way a lot.  The camera follows the orb, so when you and your buddies split up, it just zooms out so that you can still see everything.  Except you can’t really see everything and sometimes it messes you up.  Cameras are such a difficult thing to do correctly… it’s really only an issue because the game requires so much precision.  The other issue is that I found it really easy to lose my character in the mobs of monsters, or lose track of which character was mine on the screen (something that happened to both of us frequently, and it’s really bad because you’re like “Oh if I call the orb now it will hit that pillar perfectly!  … why is it going THAT w…, oh FUCK.”).  We were both on sinus decongestants at the time which probably wasn’t helping, though…

The game is fairly unique and I really want to support co-op endeavors like this, plus the developers themselves have a pretty awesome origin story and I feel like I want to support these guys.  The first review they list in their trailer literally says “Fuck your game!”.  What other evidence do you need!  Buy FORCED.