The era of digital distribution does make it an awful lot easier to buy software (especially for the Mac).
So, games I've played recently:Fable: The Lost Chapters
Over-the-shoulder RPG with invisible walls (i.e. the game is divided into zones, and each zone has a map controlling where you can go). This is a game in which everyone is somewhat genre-savvy. It starts in a standard fashion: your childhood village is destroyed for unclear reasons, and you are rescued by a mysterious mage and taken to the guild of heroes. After that ... you grow up in the guild. You learn to be a hero. When ordinary folk want something difficult done, they go to the guild and assign a quest. After doing a few quests, you start to become famous, which means people stop and cheer whenever you walk past.
There's a plot in there too, but it takes a while to come out. You spend most of the game roaming around doing acts of minor heroism, with no major dangers / dark lords / etc. anywhere to be seen.
Overall, I enjoyed this game. Light-hearted with a bit of British humour — a nice contrast from American RPGs. A shame that the sequels are console-only.Jade Empire
Another over-the-shoulder RPG with invisible walls, but this time set in China (well, the word "China" is never mentioned, but it's clearly a medieval+magic Chinese setting). As I recall, the selling point when this came out was the combat system based around martial arts. And it does work pretty well, though it's not perfect. The plot is interesting (with a few twists), and the setting is neat. Recommended. No sequels, unfortunately — Bioware is busy with Dragon Age. Which brings me to...Dragon Age: Origins
This is Bioware returning to its roots. Although not to D&D — but we've got mages, and templars, and dwarfs who have beards and live underground, and elves who loves trees, and even the odd dragon. Except ... the mages and templars exist in an uneasy power balance with no clear resolution, the dwarfs have a rigid caste system in which nobles are above the law, and elves were the victims of crusades twice and now live in ghettos or as slaves.
Despite this, the plot is still pretty straightforward: an archdemon is attacking and you gotta stop him. You have companions to help, and each companion has a rating for how much they like you. This is affected by your actions. It's also affected by giving them gifts, and there are a lot of gifts to be found, so keeping everyone happy isn't too hard. Overall — it didn't thrill me, but it's a solid game.Dragon Age 2
You saved the world in DA:O; now what? Traditional game series would make you save the world again, but I always disliked that. DA2 fortunately goes another way: you're a refugee from the war of the first game, and flee to another country. There, the power balance between mages and templars is spinning out of control. Oh, and an embassy of philosophical ogres have set up an enclave in the city and are causing political problems of their own.
Bioware have been learning what games like, and what annoys them, and have filed off a few more rough edges. It's a pretty polished game. The storytelling gimmick is that one of your companions is telling the tale of your adventure to an inquisitor after-the-fact. It works well, with some very skillful transitions (and one memorable occasion when he doesn't quite tell the truth :-) ).
It's much harder to keep your companions happy now. At the end of the game, anyone who doesn't like you will fight against you -- I lost one. Your decisions in the game also affect how some events play out. This is not a new idea, of course, but I get the feeling Bioware has provided enough extra scenes, voice acting and plot points to make your choices feel a lot more important. Overall: likely to play again.The Witcher
I recall hearing about this when it came out, where the main talking point was: you can sleep with women, and when you do, you get a "sex card", which is a playing card-shaped picture of your conquest in a state of partial nudity. I remember reading about The Witcher on-and-off since it came out, usually in positive terms, without reference to the sex cards. So when I saw it on sale on Steam, I thought I'd give it a go.
On first impression, I thought my memory was mistaken. You start off in a castle that's about to be besieged by an angry mob. You have only a few friends to help. You're all dour, scarred men, and the castle is in the mountains — the pallet is primarily grey and white here. Well, actually, there is one woman too: a sorcerer on your side. But she doesn't get much screen time, between the grim veterans. Here's how the opening mission plays out:
"They're attacking -- and there's a sorcerer with them, and some kind of giant bug!"
"Why are they attacking us?"
Woman on your team: "I bet it's the lab!"
[you fight some goons]
"The sorcerer rushed inside with this famous murder at his side!"
Woman: "He must be going to the lab!"
Other guy: "You just want to see inside our top-secret lab!"
Leader: "I doubt it. But... I guess it doesn't hurt to check. Geralt, you go look."
[you go to the lab and discover that the sorcerer is there, but he has erected a magic barrier so you can't get past. you return.]
"He was in the lab!"
[the woman sorcerer on your team rushes off to deal with the magic barrier. You follow, find her disabled, and go fight the sorcerer himself. He teleports out with the loot from the lab.]
[you otherwise win the fight]
"So, what did the sorcerer steal from the lab?"
"It must have been our top-secret mutagen formulae. They're the potions that make us witchers superhuman. Every sorcerer and alchemist in the land would love to get their hands on them but they've been a carefully-guarded secret for over 200 years."
From what I've played of the game, headdesk moments like that are not too uncommon. Oh, and you get to sleep with your sorcerer ally after the battle. So it turns out I did remember correctly.
The Witcher is, apparently, based on a series of Polish novels. I get the impression they killed off the main character in the books, so he's brought back in the game with amnesia and level-1 skills. Convenient, I guess. I doubt I'd enjoy the books, though (even translated). The witcher is a very unsympathetic character; I found it hard to like him at all. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem with the game: the alchemy system is complex, and the inventory slow and difficult to use. Between a plot I didn't care about, and a game that was frustrating to play, I decided not to give up on this one. Verdict: Don't bother.Gothic 3
Gothic 3, apparently, was a bug-riddled mess when it came out. However, there were enough fans of Gothic and Gothic 2 that the fans got together and fixed many of the bugs themselves. The devs were so impressed they fixed some bugs themselves, and bundled it with the fans' work as an official patch. The fans have since released some new quests and content too. Unfortunately, the fans are mostly German, so the new content is not voice-acted, and usually features poor grammar. Oh well.
Beyond this, though, Gothic 3 is basically a bethesda-style RPG. That is, wide-open world that you can explore at your leisure, with lots of things to do. The overall plot is: orcs have invaded and largely captured all the human settlements in the land. Something happened to make all the human rune-mages powerless, which was largely why the orcs won. You can help the resistance ... or you can help the mercenaries working for the orcs.
It features crafting skills hunting skills in addition to the standard magic and fighting. Fighting with a sword is a bit clumsy, but maybe I'll get better at it. Technologically, it feels inferior to Oblivion. But some of the game designs make for a richer experience. And everything — buildings, caves, wilderness — is in the same zone: no loading transitions!
Not very far through, but enjoying it so far.Nail'd
The only non-RPG in this list :-) Playing Need For Speed on my iPhone reminded me that racing games are quite fun. I remembered reading about Nail'd on Ars Technica last year, so when I saw it on Steam, I thought I'd give it a try.
Nail'd is a dirt-racing game where the gimmick is incredibly steep slopes and enormous jumps. You race down near-vertical cliff faces, or along the vertical face of dams. You jump over wind turbines (dodging the blades, if you're lucky or careful — you can turn in the air..). Crashing only costs you a few seconds while you respawn. This was a lot of fun, but after a while the single-player campaign started to run out of ideas. I'm now up to time-trials and stunt challenges, neither of which is as fun as a simple race. And the next time-trial event is six
races in a row, with no ability to save mid-way.
I've looked online a couple of times, but never seen anyone else playing. So Nail'd: good fun, but my enthusiasm is waning.Portal 2
: Released yesterday, I think. Do I buy it now (at full price), or do I finish Gothic 3 (which will take me a while), and buy it later? I just have to avoid spoilers until I do get it...http://forums.steampowered.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1805416