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SummaryHere's 400 reasons to play Troika games 400 weeks after its official release.
The GoodReview for: Patch version 2 and unofficial Co8 (Circle of Eight) Patch v5.0.0
Difficulty played: Normal Update: Second version. Was in a bad mood when I wrote this. Even worse now. Muahaha!
Not too dramatic a title when you finally browsed through number of bugs this game has, but let's save that for later shall we?
Graphics, Artwork and Animations
Straight to the point, this game introduces beautiful art and animations the first time I played the game. Well, excluding the intro cut-scene which sucked, but at least it gave you an idea about the background story. Which is something the Neverwinter Nights series should really start thinking about.
At the beginning of the game, you will probably notice the level of detail the graphic artists provided in the game. They put a lot of little detail everywhere, and yes I noticed the little leaves floating in the wind, the colorful butterflies. First time around, it was obviously breath taking. Too bad you don't notice the detail much when you’re adventuring.
If the graphics were good, then the animations were excellent. The movements of the characters in the game, more noticeable during combat are smooth and almost life-like. I especially enjoyed the graphical animations when you kill a human enemy. They just don't drop down and die, they drop down and die with style! First clutching their chest in pain, with an interesting degree of body movement, finally laying down in the cold hard ground. I can only imagine how many days/weeks it took just to make that small particular exercise of movement.
I must admit, I wasn't quite looking forward to seeing the graphics in this game, as it didn't look quite interesting during installation (previewing many different monsters while waiting). But during gameplay, the animations of the monsters moving around made it all worth while.
One of the monsters I especially enjoy watching were those over-sized toads. Surprised me the first time around when visiting the Moathouse (Main Quest). They suddenly splashed out of nowhere from the swamp (amazingly sooth water splashing detail, I might add), while coming to your party with vengeance. I'm still quite surprised how they got that frog to move so smoothly. For me at least, I go toad/frog hunting any chance I get just to see the smooth animations of those frogs.
One of the things I noticed to be very well organized was the interface. Especially the "pop-up menu's" when issuing commands to your character. The pop-up menu's show up fast, only a couple of seconds away. Why is this worth mentioning? Well, actually its not. But after experiencing the sluggish and disaster interface of Neverwinter Nights 2, you really do tend to notice the good things in games, only when you've been introduced with something really really bad.
Sound and Music
Well, honestly, it's far from being a masterpiece. I have yet to find sound effects as great as Fallout 2 and this game did not fulfill that expectation. But fortunately, its still much much better than the mediocre sound effects of Arcanum as from both games I noticed that for RPG's, the sound effects of combat really makes a difference to the level of enjoyment one experiences during combat. Don't get me wrong, the sound in this game is very much more than "mediocre". The sense of battle, the sword and sound of metal clashing is far better than many RPG's. It's just missing that "fleshy" sound in Fallout. Honestly put, the sound isn't "violent" enough. If you've played the Fallout series, you know what I'm talking about here.
However, the some of the sounds are not quite tested properly. One particular sound effect I found quite irritating was the 3rd-level Divine "Prayer" spell. The sound of that particular spell is somewhat increased in volume at an irritating level. I eventually stopped using that very good spell, since the sound annoyed me too much. Another is the sound of the Cloudkill spell. Haven't checked the other sounds (from spells) yet, not particularly anxious to test them either.
The only music worth mentioning to my ears was the combat music. But only the first few notes. The composition of the overall music would have been better if they used more human sounds, like some of the background music I noticed with female background singers. Overall, the music though very much supportive of the scene, tends to fade away un-noticeable during gameplay.
The BadAnd that's about it for the good part. Time for TrashingGames R Us. Er...Me.
Whoa, only 2 hate mail from fanboi’s so far for this review? Must be a slow day. :)
I don't have to remind you about the incompetent programming skills Troika has when dealing with bugs, since they'll forever be embedded in gaming history for introducing us with the most bug-infested games on the planet. Developers like Troika usually makes me suspect that they don't actually play their own games. Possibly due to known frustration by doing so. :p
This game amazingly doesn't have the standard un-forgivable bugs it usually has in its games:
 Game crashes (well, not that often anyways)
 Corrupt saved games (well, not that often anyways).
Now this game introduced a minor but very much essential bug in the RPG gaming world. The inability to loot fallen enemies. The point of RPG combat besides gaining experience is to loot the equipment of enemies. Now you take that away, is like taking away breasts from women. Acceptable, but somewhat the loses meaning in the long run. :)
So just to fix that small irritating bug, I patched the game with Patch 1.0, which supposedly should fix that already identifiable bug. Er...apparently not. Then again with Patch 2.0. Nope, still can't click those bodies. You then start to think about the IQ level of particular persons involved in the patch. In this case is Atari.
And finally the infamous Patch 3.0 which not only does not fix the bug it also crashes the game on start. See that black big screen? Yep, you're playing Temple of Elemental Evil. It's so evil it crashes your game. But do developers care about the quality of their games before they release it? Apparently Troika never did. Hell, fans are still releasing patches for Vampire: The Masquerade in 2007!!!
God, by today’s standard’s if a PC game doesn’t have a patch to fix bugs, the developers should be worship. Whose stupid idea is it to say, oh, it’s normal to have patches that are 1/3 as big as the game itself. You can just download it from the internet anyways.
In the real world where lawyers like myself are more cut-throat, we call that under the Consumer Protection jargon, an “unfinished product”. Hence, when you deliver a car to the public market, you better damn be sure the breaks work, or you’ll end up like Mitsubishi (they got sued into bankruptcy). Oh, but this is just a game. I really don’t need to further discuss the deeper philosophy in this, now do I?
Speaking of the fans, fortunately for us gamers, a lovely group of people called the Circle of Eight, did Troika's job for them, since Atari can’t fix squat either. And finally I'm playing their mod, which DOES fix that stupid looting bug.
Oh, I really need to remind you:
DO NOT INSTALL PATCH 3.0
Come to think of it, Troika should've developed Neverwinter Nights 2. Had the same amount of bugs, but at least with Troika they'd give you a decent interface. Oh, right...they're bankrupt...I wonder why. :p
I don't know about you, but am I the only one bothered with the title "Temple of Elemental Evil?" Must be on of the worst titles describing evil if I've ever heard of one. Sounds like Big Bad Red House from another perspective. Oooh, scary. Doh.
Well seriously, the overall plot is lame. Compared to the plot of Arcanum, it seriously is a defect. Unless you play a character with a low intelligence to do the talking, the game is quite funny, but you wouldn't want that half-wit Barbarian Orc to do ALL the talking now would you?
Why lame? Well despite the seemingly alignment plots, the overall quests and adventures are quite shallow, as far as past and future plots I've seen Troika put out there. Very linear, not deep dark plot twist, quite shallow compared to their reputation when it comes to story/plot. A little too much effort on the graphics in this game than the story. Oh well.
It does seem that as far as the story/plot is concerned, it appears to be rushed. You will notice many (again bugs) regarding dialogs. Some are seemed put together in the last minute. Almost all the dialogs sound very shallow. They did however put a lot of effort on making different plots for the different alignments, however once you choose a party alignment, the plot becomes very much linear. Not something you'd expect from Troika.
Now the game world is kinda small in this game. There are 2 towns, one BIG ASS Temple of Elemental Evil, and 4 small areas to visit. Excluding the Moathouse. Most of those small area’s need only be visited once. Another thing I did not expect from Troika.
Even worse, there is only 1 random encounter on the map, and just to recruit a bard you don’t need. By Fallout’s standards, this game is boring in comparison.
Character Creation/Alignment Nightmare
If you’re a hardcore RPG gamer, then you know that you'll probably re-start the game like 10 times before actually serious game play is involved. I don't remember how many freakin’ times I restarted this game, just to get the feel of the game. And every time I just had to create a new character because the old one sucked after new information gained while playing the last game.
God, I always hated these "roll stats" stupid AD&D character generation. The classic AD&D games allowed you to modify those stats to your liking. Yay! But no, today the nerds want to be really hardcore and introduce a non-modifiable random stat change. At least Might and Magic: World of Xeen which used the same method had the decency of having a "save current stats" selection, thus allowing you to compare stats with a saved stat selection with newly rolled stats. God, it takes around 2-3 hours just to create 5 characters in this game. The perfect characters, mind you.
What? Did you say pre-generated characters? Who do you think I am? A Diablo fan? Darn newbie hack-and-slash RPG gamers. *sigh*
Then there's party alignment. Another stupid development in AD&D it seems. Hell, I don't care if my Paladin doesn't want to hang out with an Evil Chaotic wizard. It's my freakin party!
"But that's how it's supposed to be, more realistic", says the AD&D nerds. Which explains why you don't have a social life (not that I have one either *cough*), because in real-life, people compromise. Hell, half of the people in this universe don't know if they are good/evil/chaotic/neutral. And even more don't give a rat's ass.
Why am I pissed? Because of one stupid Paladin that doesn't appreciate the fact that I spent the last one and a half hour creating party members that don't fit his/her alignment and I can't just have the option of modifying the !@#!$@ alignment. Sheesh. Since when does a Lawful Good character DOESN’T want to hang out with a Chaotic Good character? I hope my girlfriends don’t hear me talking like this in real life. :p
Wasted Graphical Detail aka Eye Candy
Well, technically it’s not eye-candy but somewhere along the way it sure hell feels like it. There are many areas in the place that are just “graphical”. You’ll notice that every room you enter in the game is just that: additional graphics. Going upstairs to the attic, nothing. Many buildings of 2 towns are empty. A lot of wasted space (though beautifully done) in the Temple. A lot houses for useless NPCs with no meaning in the game whatsoever: the Potter, Stonemason, etc.
Yes, I noticed the amazing graphics of the river flowing, but hey, these are hardcore veteran RPG gamers playing here, not some low-life action-adventure 12 year old. We know what’s important in a game and what’s not. Graphic’s is, shall, and must be a secondary support to game mechanics and plot. It’s an RPG for crying out loud! There, I said it. Let my nerd emotions get the best of me. :)
NPC = No Playable Characters
This is the first RPG game where I actually loathed having NPCs. Why, well in the original version, NPCs were much of a burden. First most of them demand half of the loot. Either my math is wrong (and I'm very bad at math, mind you) there's 5 of us and 3 of them. And they get half? The party should hire a better lawyer for future negotiations. Doh. Now if each NPC get's half of the loot and there are 3 NPCs to add to your party, that leaves you with...er...(counting fingers)...not much I believe.
Fortunately the Co8 Patch fixed this unfortunate displeasure, though I admit it feels like cheating. Now the NPCs get no loot whatsoever (optional...er I think) and you get their stuff too! Yay!
A minor thing, but when it comes to quests, you really need as much information as possible regarding it. The game Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a very good example of how detailed the quests in your journal are. The ToEE journal it seems was written by someone not particularly anxious about details. Doesn't tell you much about whom to meet, where to go, or changes/updates in the quest. Eventually, you can ignore the lousy journal in the first place since it does not provide the information you need in the first place.
Social Skills Blunder
Diplomacy, Intimidate, Sense Motive, you know the social skills you need when talking to NPCs. What's the problem? The game doesn't identify the character with the highest skill. This really isn’t a problem if you choose s character with the highest skill to do the talking. The problem arises when you face a situation when you can't choose the a particular player to do the talking. This often occurs when facing enemies, upon entering a new room. You can't choose a character because usually you find yourself automatically in a dialog screen with probably the lousiest character doing the talking (a Orcish Barbarian with the Charisma and Intelligence of rusty doorknob). More than often this has occurred to me during game play, which comes to my next point:
Dungeons and Dragons Suck!
I'm a big fan of AD&D. It was my first role-playing adventure when I was a kid, where I played the pen-and-pencil version. Not that it's this game's fault, but I really have to whine about this. I'm not quite sure when it started, but I think it started with Neverwinter Nights 1. Suddenly AD&D became a complex game for fanboi nerds with too many ideas. In practice for video games, this became a nightmare. All those skills and none of them are really worth mentioning. Open lock and Disarm Trap skills, I understand. Concentration, maybe. But the rest?
Spellcraft? Useless. Listen? Useless. Perform? Only for bards. Social skills for NPCs? Useless. Social skills in general? Useless, until they find a way to choose a "leader" of the group. Track? Not much use tracking enemies that don't run about. Search? Not much use for a party without a Thief since only thieves can detect traps.
Same thing with feats to. What happened to the feats in Fallout? That was nice. Gave you something to look forward to. Now the feats are just "add -4, +1 or whatever to whatever something check rolls". AD&D to me died when it started to sound like a programming course. Yes, you nerds (since I’m still one of you guys), you <>got to tell the difference between difficulty/complexity and just darn irritating.
Lack of Item Information
Hmm is this a bug? I can't seem to read those diaries. Besides that, I really hate it when I'm buying stuff at the shopkeeper, they don't have the decency to mention if my character can use it, if it's one-handed or not. Hell, the melee weapons don't even have a "range" number available, when certain melee weapons have a longer range (ie. pole arms) than others.
What? One hundred gold coins to identify this stupid long sword? You got to be joking, right? Well, that itself isn't a problem. What's freakin’ hilarious is if you use your own identify spell, you also lose 100 gold coins. Whose bright idiotic idea was that?
Prices of magical/enhances items are ridiculous. Thousands of gold pieces and you have enough trouble finding money since your NPCs keep getting half your loot. How the hell do you get that kind of money, when monsters carry only silver and copper coins? Some monsters carry gold coins. None more than 50 gold coins. It'll take my party more than a year just to get a decent magical weapon at this rate. Doh. Sure later in the game, you get a lot of loot, but by that time, you don’t need to buy stuff from the merchant anymore since you also find a lot of magical items.
So if you're wondering what the 400 reasons is about, that's actually referring to the identified bugs this game has. Actually it's more than 500 identified bugs. Personally, I was shocked reading them one-by-one. Didn’t know there were so many. A lot of them were eventually fixed by the Circle of Eight...not Troika, nor Atari.
The Bottom LineTo play this game:
 Download Patch 2.0 (Patch 1.0 not required, but there have been reports that some cannot use Patch 2.0 before using Patch 1.0)
 Do not download Patch 3.0
 Download latest mod from Circle of Eight
 Play game.
Not following these steps will certainly affect your blood pressure rating. I'd rate the game with a very low "2" with only Patch 2.0 installed. But after the Co8 Mod, the game is a solid "4"...if not a little more.
So do I recommend this game? Yes. But only after (repeat) ONLY AFTER the Co8 Mod. The game isn't worth the effort with the official patches. But compared to other Troika games on their track record, this game is by far the worst. It won't be embedded in your memories.