Hey guys! So I’ve been busy these past few days with Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3) and the Path of Exile Open Beta. These games could not be more different from each other, with Ni No Kuni being an international release of the JRPG that came out in 2011, while Path of Exile is an Action RPG that has been in development for years. One is a art and story-driven game that takes a while to get started and has a lot of tutorializing, while the other is a hack and slash that gives you near to no explanation on its complex mechanics and systems.
However, both games do have some things in common as well: They both seek to harken back to the roots of their respective genres, and they both have fairly complicated ways of progressing your character. With most first impressions, I’ve found it easier to simply lay out my thoughts in a bullet point format, as they are not fully formed but are substantial enough that I felt it needed to be written down.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for Ni No Kuni
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
So, I’ve played about 10+ hours into this game and am around the Al Mamoon section of the game.
- The game has an amazing art style, and it really draws me into the world created by Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. The cutscenes are fantastic and definitely a highlight of the game so far.
- The voice acting is great. I went with the English dub and they did a really good job of it. Mr. Drippy, the mascot and your mentor throughout the game (so far), has a Welsh accent and is a great character. He helps to bring joy and comic relief in an environment where it is extremely bleak and sombre.
- The Familiar system seems expansive, and well designed. I just got to the point of the game where Esther learns to Serenade monsters that have ‘fallen in love’ with you, as well as metamorphosis of the familiars. That, combined with the affinity and type systems allows for combat to be filled with possibilities.
- The music in this game has been fabulous as well. With Joe Hisaishi composing the tracks, he weaves a magical soundtrack that captures the world that Ghibli and Level-5 worked hard to create perfectly.
- With the complex familiar system and combat getting harder, the introduction of an AI partner brings combat to an entirely new level – but it comes with a price. Instead of a Persona-esque style of management, with the player able to direct each party member and instruct them on what move to use, the combat in this game has an ‘Active-Time Battle’ (ATB) system in place. So, not only does the battle happen in relatively real time, but you can also move around in an enclosed space. This becomes an issue when another party member is introduced and you have two familiars on the field at one time. They allow you to shift between each human member, but every time you switch, you need to recast your familiar and wait another few seconds, while all you wanted to do was simply to switch to the familiar that was already out and cast a healing spell. This alone would not pose much of a problem, but combined with the shoddy AI and ‘Tactics’ system, it becomes a hindrance. While MP isn’t a big problem in the game, there are some puzzles that require usage of MP outside of combat. This problem is exacerbated when AI members use MP and spells at the drop of a hat, even when they are instructed not to do so. This creates a very frustrating experience and I honestly cannot imagine how one can progress with a third party member in tow.
- Quests in this game are handled rather poorly. The game hand holds you through a lot of the quests, and also has a ton of needless animations/menus. For example, a recurring side quest is walking around town and curing people of ‘brokenheartedness’, and it is a fairly simple task of finding someone with a green blip on the minimap and taking a piece of their overflowing heart (be it with kindness, courage, love, etc) and giving it to said brokenhearted person. This is all well and good, but it becomes an annoyance when every single time, they highlight the keyword that you are looking for in red. So there is no puzzle to solve, it is simply the task of walking between two NPCs. Then they also have a little animation that plays every time you get a piece of heart, and an animation that plays whenever you give a piece of heart. This draws out the tedium longer and longer and becomes somewhat of an annoyance over time.
So there you have it, my impressions of Ni No Kuni, after about 10 hours of gameplay. After writing this all out, as it sounds like the game might have more bad things than good. However, the sheer sincerity and whimsy that the world and game are presented is nigh overwhelming and cannot be neglected. Ni No Kuni tries very hard and is very close to succeeding, but if the combat and actual gameplay get in the way of my completion of the game, I’m afraid I’ll have to close the book on this world.
Path of Exile [Open Beta]
The open beta of Path of Exile (PoE) just launched about 12 hours ago, and the servers have been hit extremely hard, with players hitting the ground – some with a lot of experience through the closed beta, and some completely fresh. Here are my thoughts so far (I have a 13 ranger and an 8 templar):
- I’ll start off by saying this, my feelings about this game are extremely mixed. On one hand, I want to play this game like Diablo 2, trying out different builds and experimenting; deleting characters and rerolling. But on the other hand, I also just want to experience the game once or twice through, and have a good time doing so, without feeling like my character sucks or can be a whole lot better if only I had spent my points into x instead of y.
- The passive skill tree in this game is astounding. At first glance, it blows your mind that this is even in a game and that you have to navigate through it. On a second, more in-depth look, you realize that a lot of skills are reused (albeit in smart locations) and that, yes, there are a lot of possibilities for different builds, it isn’t an impossible maze to maneuver through.
- The town hall system and the global chat system are both fantastic ideas. It is clear from this implementation that these are veteran Diablo 2 players and they know exactly what they wanted when they started work on this game. The chat system makes the game feel alive. Having the ability to link a cool item, or see a cool item drop at any time is fantastic and motivates you even further. Having a global trade chat is awesome and allows even newbies to have a taste of the current market, even though they might get ripped off (such is life in an online ARPG!)
- The no-gold system is stupendously clever and is another reason why you can tell that these developers have played a lot of RPGs. With a mainly consumable-based economy, the market is in a near constant state of flux as more users come in and more items go out. This is a solution to something that WoW faces during every expansion. With gold, there is a constant influx of material being generated (i.e. mobs being killed), this alone is not inherently bad, as this happens with PoE items as well (Scroll of Wisdom for example). However, with scrolls of wisdom, they can be consumed and therefore removed from the game entirely. Gold doesn’t have that functionality inherently, it has to be created artificially by developers, hence the term ‘gold sink’ is created. Services or Items that are rendered to the player in exchange for a hefty amount of gold – that is the only way that the system takes gold out of the economy. Everything else gets cycled through the players, and it eventually becomes obsolete. The only reason why gold is still a large factor in WoW, and why it isn’t in Diablo 2, is because of ‘soulbound’ items, which is another, alternate solution to the problem. By soulbinding items, it stops players from using another form of currency (such as Stones of Jordan) instead of gold. It forces players to continue to use gold as there is no way to trade the best items to each other and cut out the middleman.
- Obviously with a game that is f2p and under a new/small developer, there is a certain amount of polish to be expected (or lack thereof.) Which is why I won’t harp on it too much, since it is open beta and it is also a f2p game. But, since it draws comparisons to Torchlight 2 and Diablo 3 in terms of gameplay and style, one must also take note of the amount of polish or finesse this game possess as well. In short, it feels slightly clunky. The game tries to have good animations and sound effects, but it cannot compare to the utter destruction that one can wield in Diablo 3, or the power of a handcannon blast in Torchlight 2. So do not go into this game expecting an all-around better game, with amazing visuals and cinematics and better combat.
- Tutorials, or the lack thereof. Again, it is an open beta so one may assume that they will add some handholding in the first few levels, but as a whole, almost nothing is explained to you and you have to assume a lot. Gems, support gems and linking on gem setups, as well as orbs and how the goldless economy functions; all these topics are not explained. You may even spend the first 3-4 hours spending points aimlessly and find out you’ve done it completely wrong and now you have no hp or mana and you’re dead. That could happen. So, do some research, and maybe have a laptop or tablet or smartphone next to you while you play.
So that’s Path of Exile! I’ll probably jump back in soon to get a better taste of it all, as I heard the combat picks up a lot (with the appearance of support gems and the like) around 20-30, so we will see. That excuse sounds just like a JRPG though!
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