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.
The tricky part, at least for me, is judging where the cliff should really be less steep and where the problem is just my own level of commitment and time. Is the amount of connections between the various people of Serbule entirely appropriate, or does it make things more tedious than it needs to be? That’s a hard question to answer, for me. Certainly it’s an asset to the game that you’re encouraged to really set up some roots in this town, that you can’t just breeze through and solve everything without having to take any effort whatsoever.
At the same time, there’s a whole lot of sense of not having any idea where to go next to do certain interconnected things. Everything ties together, and yet much of it ties together in ways that are not self-evident, nor do they become evident. You have to just know all of this stuff. So, you know, not exactly uncommon for an old-school game, but also something that game design has (rightly) moved on from.
Of course, this is also where I clap myself on the shoulder and shout that this is an alpha. It’s a remarkably playable game even now, but… well, this is all larger-scope stuff to talk about in next week’s column. Let’s just leave it at “my feelings are conflicted.”
I was particularly perturbed because one of my goals this week was to carefully level up my foraging around where I could find Wild Bluebells to hand flowers to Echur to raise his favor. Only… foraging them gave me seeds. Not actual flowers. Which meant that the whole thing turned into a great deal of effort just to find out that I needed to level something else up in order to accomplish the goal I had originally set out to accomplish in the first place.
The bright side was getting some really ugly kilt-pants along the way, I suppose. That’s the game, having adventures you weren’t actually planning on along the path to what you originally wanted to do.
Scouring around also found me some tigers, many of whom were significantly less dangerous than those brain bugs and psychic mantises from before. Not much less out of place, since… you know, we’re in gently-rolling vaguely European hills, not usually known as being the home domain of tigers, but video games are hilarious. They served as a fun diversion, let’s leave it at that.
But for the most part, that was how I spent my last play session, looking at lots of things that I knew were going to be lengthy grinds to get anywhere significant, in many cases without a very clear picture of whether or not I would get any closer to my goal in the process.
Part of me kind of loves that. It’s really neat that so much of the game is just about going out and doing whatever, with no clear pictures or worries about what comes next. I appreciated that when my goal was to go out and get tiger skins, the game didn’t actually care how I obtained those tiger skins, just that I got them. A friend with a pile of tiger skins could have just handed me the skins, and that would be it.
But it is, ultimately, all very slow. Couple that with a lack of much guidance, and this last week gave me more than before the sense that I couldn’t really accomplish much more in the game beyond seeing what was out there to explore. I could give myself one last tour of the areas, but I couldn’t accomplish nearly as much as in more structured games.
Of course, if you’re playing the game, that’s kind of the point. It has a loose and weird structure that benefits exploring. I just can’t help but notice that after a certain point that exploration kind of shuts down and you’re on to the grinding portion of things, and that only works if the things you’re doing by themselves are fun or novel. There’s not much to the gathering or fighting in the game, and as a result it feels just a wee bit tedious as you smack something with a sword or your fists or a staff a few dozen times over.
Not that any of this was entirely unexpected, nor does it change the fact that by and large, I’ve enjoyed the game and the way it approaches things. Even with this last week, I was ultimately enjoying myself on balance. It just doesn’t lend itself nicely to much in the way of a narrative. Some stuff happened, no real forward velocity was started or maintained, and the goals I pursued beyond “complete this friendship favor” were still kind of elusive. Unlocking the “face objective” ability from Foraging was nice, though.
That was one thing that I should mention, especially as it was pointed out that it was easy to misunderstand a comment I made the other week: There are a lot of abilities that have broader usage under sometimes surprising headers. Leveling Foraging lets you point your way to your next destination, for instance, which is invaluable when working on quests. Leveling Civic Pride gives you discounts from vendors. All of this stuff adds up and becomes useful, so while various abilities might not have direct interplay, they’re all still related just the same.
Of course, that doesn’t help when you find that you have no way to face your objective and no guidance about how to unlock that ability. But that’s something to discuss in the next column.
For now, I bid you (and my playtime in Project Gorgon) adieu, although you can still leave feedback down below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Next time around, I’ll be discussing the game as a whole, which seems pretty relevant with the title coming out on Steam in the very near future. Should you buy it? Stay tuned!