Choose My Adventure tours a new MMO every month — with you, the reader, as the co-pilot, voting for how the writer plays from week to week. Our current captain is Eliot Lefebvre. [Follow this column’s RSS feed]
So, yes, I did actually play some Ultima Online. Or I tried to play some Ultima Online, at least. I’m not sure that most of what I did was actually something that I would call “playing,” although it involved me being in the game and ostensibly interacting with it. And it’s times like this that I particularly dislike my job, because this puts me in something less than a comfortable position.
I don’t know how many of you reading this right now are fans of UO, and as I established in my first column, I don’t really feel as if I’m equipped to critique the game as a whole because this is where everything started. This is the original of the species. It’s like that gag in Dr. McNinja wherein Ben Franklin is mentioning that inventing things during his original lifespan was easy because all you had to do was pay the slightest bit of attention.
The interesting thing about this installment of Choose My Adventure is that it’s probably the only time I could ever do this particular title. Not because it’s going away anytime soon, by all indications, but because there’s little to no way that you can actually talk about Ultima Online in the present.
If you don’t know anything about Ultima Online, it behooves you to do some research. This is really the origin point of MMOs as a whole, the game upon which all other graphical MMOs were based in no small part. You can quibble as much as you want about whether or not something else might have been a little bit further along or deserves a bigger nod, but at the end of the day it’s not an argument that actually matters. This is the starting point.
Which means discussing it at all can, at times, feel rather silly.
It’s funny how presentation problems can have such a huge impact on the same product.
Warframe, as a game, is almost crippled by its lack of guidance and the poor resources it has to explain things to players. Some of this, as has been noted in the comments, is the result of a general design philosophy that producing more fun stuff is more advantageous than providing guidance, but some of it is also a result of having a philosophy that doesn’t seem to take full advantage of its business model. Better tutorials and direction would do a whole lot to redeem the game.
This would be a good thing because Warframe is also strikingly unique and fun in a lot of other ways, and it seems to be to be the logical apotheosis of a lot of game design aspects. It has flaws, it could use some streamlining and refinement, but at the end of the day it’s a slick and fun experience that is mostly let down by its failings in guiding players. And it’s another game that I’m not really done with even though my month is up.
So, for this week’s antics in Warframe
, I bought a frame.
“Shenanigans!” you cry. “The poll went against your buying a frame!” And it’s true, the poll did go against that… the week that I put up that poll. But there was no poll last week, and thus I declared executive privilege and went with the frame that I’d been eyeing for some time as a perfect compliment to my playstyle. Which, despite what many people have suggested, was not one of the most stealthy frames.
My reasoning, ultimately, was that there was no real way for me to reliably farm up the materials to build an additional frame and actually start playing with something else in the time I had remaining. Thus, rather than continuing to tool around with just the Excalibur, I felt that it behooved me to give another frame a shot so that I could at least realistically say whether having a different option altered my opinion about the game as a whole.
Last week’s poll on Warframe
was a nail-biter, but it ultimately came down in favor of me not
buying a new frame for my explorations this week. So I didn’t. But I did heed the numerous people telling me to go run those anniversary missions.
I also, belatedly, realized that my access to Amazon Prime meant that I also had access to that Twitch Prime promotion from a while back, which would have been really useful if I had realized this before now. Of course, I didn’t know that I’d be playing Warframe at the time, so perhaps my lack of precognition doesn’t qualify as a character flaw.
Regardless, my first goal this week was to get in those anniversary missions and the rewards which went along with them. Of course, that also meant that I’d be largely useless in those missions, but that would also serve the purpose of giving a sense for how the game plays in a group instead of just running solo.
After my second week in, I have to admit that I’m kind of bothered by Warframe
. Or, more accurately, the fact that I like the game’s overall mechanics doesn’t fix the fact that it has some seriously irritating bits of work running through the whole experience.
None of this is to say that the game is bad, mind you. In fact, the second week, if anything, reaffirmed the fact that this is in fact a well-polished game with a clear picture of what it wants to be. All of that is commendable. The issues that it has are entirely down to issues of choice and the investment needed to make those choices, and the fact that it frequently prevents you from getting information that might be entirely valuable.
But then, the game also still does a good job of letting you enjoy running around while shooting stuff. So it’s a mixed bag that’s going to hit everyone a little bit differently, in other words.
You know, I’ve been oddly impressed with the starting experience for the past couple of titles I’ve been playing in Choose My Adventure
. Both of them have managed to avoid one of my pet peeves, where characters tell you that there’s no time to explain when there is not only time but an immediate and obvious necessity to explain. Starting off Warframe
immediately made it clear that there was, in fact, no time to explain, because I was surrounded by hostile enemies with some form of restraint device on my frame.
That isn’t to say that you start off with no idea what was going on. You get the absolute barest overview of what’s taking place before you launch into your first encounter, which makes it clear that you’re waking up slowly and have to get right back into the thick of things right away. But it was an impressive experience insofar as it really does feel like you shouldn’t quite have a clear picture of what’s going on. Something is happening, yes, but there has not yet been time or opportunity to explain much.
The votes are in, and I’m heading to the world of Warframe
. Or worlds. I am honestly not altogether clear about how much of the game takes place in space and how much of it is, like, still focused around one specific planet. Obviously there’s one specific place where you can do a lot of exploring, that’s a thing, but at the (very real) risk of exposing my own ignorance, my knowledge about the setting is kind of a blank space from top to bottom.
That’s not by way of laziness, for the record. Or at least, it’s not just laziness; some of it is how I prefer to take on these game where I know very little. As it stands for me, Warframe is that game where I don’t know much of the story or the background, but the results of the game that I do see are incredibly neat and surreal. It seems like it’s a game all about intensely baroque and odd-looking robot-armor-suits engage in all sorts of high-speed high-flying combat, and limiting that down to the realm of actual facts seems like depriving it of that power.
Out of all the titles that I’ve played for Choose My Adventure, Project Gorgon is probably the earliest in its development cycle. It’s also, by a sizable margin, the best in show. If you’re looking for a quick ringtone-style clip to take away from this column, that would be the one.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of criticisms of the game, nor does it mean that this is a game which will delight and amaze everyone who plays it. I have a somewhat biased starting point anyway because I talk about this subgenre for a living, and thus I have certain tastes that not everyone is going to share. That isn’t meant as a brag; that’s meant as a self-admonishment because these are things no one should really care about all that much.
Still, here I am, here this game is, and I am happy to pronounce it the best of all the Choose My Adventure games that I’ve played for this feature so far – albeit with the slight caveat that it won’t be able to hold onto that title forever if it doesn’t actually address some of the issues that I noticed while playing.
There’s a familiar situation to players of tabletop games wherein a sidequest becomes more important than the main quest, and you wind up taking further sidequests on in order to advance the original sidequest. And if things go egregiously awry, you start asking yourself what you’re actually pursuing the sidequest for in the first place. The first arc of Darths & Droids does a pretty good job of illustrating this phenomenon.
Anyhow, that’s where I wound up with my last week of Project Gorgon. It wasn’t that I didn’t have self-determined goals, it’s that most of them required a sidequest to complete a sidequest to complete a further sidequest so that I could… start grinding. It was all functional, but it kind of felt like staring at the bottom of a cliff knowing that I had a limited amount of time to actually scale that cliff, and not being able to quite muster the enthusiasm when I know that I’ll never get all the way up the cliff in time.
First of all, I’d like to thank everyone who offered me some good Project Gorgon advice in the last installment of this column. Advice helped me put together an idea of some stuff that I had managed to miss with my natural explorations, including where I could get a freaking handsaw. It wasn’t even hard; I just misread a certain gateway as an exit instead of a path to another sub-section of the town. So that helped get me back on track.
Second, I’d like to apologize for having to take a mulligan last week and leaving you all without a column; it was totally down to limits of my own time rather than any dislike for the game. If you’ve not gotten the message from the first couple of installments, I quite like the game as a whole.
Third, I’d further like to apologize for the fact that this week my lifelong tendency to be terrible about screenshots struck badly. On the plus side, it’s not like most of my gear has changed, and there’s not much more to be said about the game’s graphics. On that note, in fact, we should probably start talking about the actual game.
As soon as I knew I was going after something called “brain bugs” in Project Gorgon, my mind immediately jumped to images of the infamous intellect devourer from Dungeons & Dragons. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what they are, and I can think of no finer place for these creatures to show up. They’re a perfect example of the stuff that D&D generally seems to be backing away from over time but that serves as a lovely legacy of the days when it would churn out new monsters to kill no matter how silly the remaining concepts were.
This is where something like that belongs. A brain walking around on four legs and using psychic powers while slashing at you. Silly ideas taken very seriously. Thank you.
My overall results in Project Gorgon were a bit more mixed this week, as it turns out that brain beasts also have ties to the psychic mantises, which are at once viciously difficult opponents at my current progression level and also my new favorite things in the world. I want to play one. If there is a curse that turns me into one, please let me know about that in the comments. This is what I want with a passion.
I want to start this column by saying the absolute meanest thing I have to say about Project Gorgon, and that one is probably pretty obvious. This is not a pretty game. I’m reluctant to say that it’s outright ugly because a lot of effort has obviously been put into making the game look as pretty as it possibly can, but there is a hard limit to how much you can do under the circumstances. The result? Even with graphics cranked up as high as they will go, this game is not a looker.
That’s the meanest thing I’ve got. In every other respect, it delivered on what I expected or actually provided me with a little bit more.
Character customization, at this point, is also pretty anemic and terrible, but I managed to make a character who looked at least halfway decent. Then my character got immediately fireballed in the face with several NPCs standing (or hovering) over her body, announcing sadly that her will wasn’t going to break, and so one of them would need to take her on specifically as a pet project. And then I woke up on an island.