Monday, January 11, 2016

Coop versus Solo: The same game but different.

I am currently multi-tasking between two seperate games of Divinity Original Sin, one solo and one co-op with my daughter. It is exactly the same game played on exactly the same computer and yet it feels like two completely different experiences. (Side note: Divinity allows split screen local co-op on one PC (couch co-op) as long as you have two game controllers. It would be nice if one player could use keyboard and mouse but it is still pretty sweet).

My solo game is slow and thoughful. I regularly spend half an hour in the inventory screen sorting gear and comparing stats. During combat I ponder skills and tactics carefully before making a move and sometimes I go back and re fight battles I have already won just to see how a different strategy might work.

In the co-op game momentum is everything. You can't spend long browsing your inventory if your partner is barelling along to the next encounter. Each new area is looted at twice the speed and snap decisons are made about the best home for equipment: "Want some poison arrows?", "Is +24 armour any good to you?"

At least the turn based nature of combat gives us a chance to discuss tactics and act in a co-ordinated fashion. After all we are sitting right beside one another so communication is not a problem. Nevertheless decisions are made and acted upon far more quickly than when I play solo and fewer alternatives are discussed or tried. We never go back and replay an encounter just to see "What would happen if ... ?"

My personal campaign has advanced far beyond the co-op game so my familiarity with the game does speed things up a bit: "Talk to this guy. He has a quest". Nevertheless  we have chosen different skill sets and we are using a different control scheme (controllers instead of mouse and keyboard) so there is still a lot of new stuff to figure out as we play.

I would hesistate to say which playstyle is better. The social dimension of the co-op game is special but I defintely get more engrossed when I play on my own. One game, one computer. Two completely different gaming experiences.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Lichdom Battlemage

Somewhat surprisingly the game I spent most time playing over Christmas was Lichdom: Battlemage. The game is an intense first person zapper with lovely graphics and an incredibly comprehensive magical system. I enjoyed it enough to complete the full campaign but there are a few things worth knowing if you ar ethinking of playing it yourself.

First off the good bits: It's a first person game with fireballs instead of bullets. What is not to like? Better yet you are a kick ass battle mage who never runs out of mana meaning you can rain down destruction to your hearts content. You fight your way through a series of frenetic battles across an array of stunning maps. The graphics in the game are really lovely both in design and implementation. Once you figure out how magic works you have a huge range of options for winning battles and eventually you will develop y our own blend of destruction and control for dealing with all of the enemies the game throws at you.

Before you dive into the game however you do need to know some things things: First off the  magic system is very badly explained in the game and there is a limited amount of information available on-line so it takes quite a while to figure out how things work. This is particularly problematic because the game has a very complex crafting system and you need to keep upgrading your spells to deal with the ever tougher waves of enemies the game throws at you. This is very hard to do until you figure out how everything works. .To be honest I found crafting to be quite tedious and I would prefer a much simpler system even if it reduced the variety of spells available. I mustn't be alone in this feeling because the devs released an optional  "smart crafting" system in a later patch which recommends upgrades. I used this a lot to overcome the tedium of crafting but it isn't a panacea because its recommendations are not always the best. A given spell might have five or six properties and I regularly noticed the smart system recommending upgrades which would enhance less important properties while diminishing the property I was most interested in. In short this game badly needs a comprehensive wiki because even if you use the smart crafting system you still need to understand how things work.

Another thing to be aware of is that the game is quite long and becomes repetitive. It took me 54 hours to complete the game according to Steam and I would have preferred if it took me half that long. The main campaign is long enough but the need to scavenge for loot in order to fuel crafting drags things out even further. A teleport system even allows you to revisit previously completed parts of the game for farming purposes but thankfully I never really had to resort to that.

There is a new game plus mode that unlocks when you overcome the final boss but it seems to be very much more of the same so I am happy to put the game to bed at this stage.

As I mentioned above web resources are quite limited for the game even though they are sadly needed.  I did find some useful nugges spread between the following sites:

A very imcomplete wiki: http://lichdombattlemage.gamepedia.com/Lichdom_Battlemage_Wiki
The Steam forums: https://steamcommunity.com/app/261760/discussions/
Xaviants official Lichdom forums: https://boards.xaviant.com/

My preferred spell combinations:
I experimented with all of the spells as I worked my way through the game and I think there are many viable combinations but towards the latter half of the game I settled on the following combination that worked well for me:

Destruction attuned fire for maximum damage. I used fire lob as my main damage spell because the splash damage is very useful.

Mastery attuned Kinesis: This roots enemies to the ground and also applies lots of the mastery debuff which amplifies damage. This is essential for taking down tough mobs. I used a combination of lob and AOE pool to apply the debuff.

Destruction attuned Necromancy: Necromancy raises an army of undead from the corpses of your slain foes. Destruction attunement makes your army focus on damage which creates more corpses and an even bigger army in a chain reaction. I didn't get necromancy until late in the game but once I started using it it made things much easier. It even makes boss fights easy because all of the bosses spawn minions who become fuel for your undead horde.

My spell combination is a little bit unusual because I didn't have any use any control attuned spells to to disable enemies. The rooting property of kinesis gave me some crowd control and since my undead minions were doing most of the killing I could focus on running around and staying alive.

I stuck with a strategic shield in the end because it gave me the best combination of toughness and avoidance. It does restrict the use of Nova spells I rarely used or needed these.