Gaming Thoughts: Sleeping Dogs

I’ve been playing Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs title lately, and have just recently finished the main storyline (and more than half the bonus side-missions as well, I think), and I’m going to focus this Gaming Thoughts post about my experiences and thoughts about the game. In Sleeping Dogs, you play as Wei Shen, an undercover police officer infiltrated on the Sun On Yee, one of Hong Kong’s most dangerous triads. Your mission is to destroy the triad from the inside, and you also have a personal stake on the criminal organization’s demise, as is revealed throughout the game. Sleeping Dogs is an open-world Action/Adventure title with interesting combat, an engaging storyline, and likeable characters, all wrapped together in gorgeous graphics. The game does have its flaws, obviously, like most female characters being depicted shallowly, or a few bad dialogue choices, but overall the game is a pleasant experience, and while I have no idea if it is strictly correct or not, its depiction of Hong Kong’s culture is interesting, at least from an Occidental point of view.

The combat system follows the lead of other Action/Adventure titles like Assassin’s Creed or Batman: Arkham City, pitting the main character in fast encounters with many enemies at once. The combo, counter and grappling systems are interesting and diverse while remaining simple enough to not be frustrating, and the ability to use your environment to defeat your foes (like grappling your enemy and crashing him into a garbage bin, or hitting their heads against the wall, etc) adds a nice touch to it all – after the first few combats, I found myself always looking out for environmental attacks I could use, even if just to see the cool cutscenes that came out of them. Combat using guns, which only happens more or less halfway through the main story-line (and never quite becomes the focus, though melee weapons are also available and in larger quantities) is done well enough to be enjoyable, keeping in mind that the game is not supposed to be a shooter in the first place.

There are several minor aspects of the game that are not the main focus, but together add to its depth and fun-factor, like the racing mini-games, the diversity of vehicles to choose from, interesting side-quests (though the romantic side-quests are more lacking than not, but… preciously few games get romance right anyway), several NPCs to interact with, and the ability to buy your own clothes and dress yourself almost in any style you wish, among other things that alone don’t amount to much, but together with an already strong base make the game that much more interesting.

One thing that disappointed me was the lack of choice; while Sleeping Dogs is a great game as it is, the addition of choosing your own path would make the game a great hit. Wei, the protagonist, is constantly assaulted by the conflict between his duty to the Police and his increasingly loyalty to his comrades in the Sun On Yee, and there are certain events in the storyline that just scream for player input in deciding whether Wei takes the Police’s or the Triad’s side. Unfortunately, we can just sit down and watch as the events unfold in the developer’s planned storyline, but not every game can be expansive enough to support multiple choices and multiple ends, so it’s not really a flaw of the game but merely my wishful thinking.

All in all, Sleeping Dogs is a great action game which took me roughly 18 hours to complete, but keeping in mind that I like to take my time, explore my surroundings, and test out the waters, so a more dedicated gamer could probably finish the game in half that time without missing out on much content. I heartily recommend Sleeping Dogs to any gamer looking for a new Action/Adventure game to play.

-JNicolini

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Gaming Thoughts: Torchlight II

First, let me open this post by saying that I’m a long-time Action RPG fan, especially those games that fit the hack-and-slash build that began with the Diablo series; heck, most of my childhood and teenage years were spent playing Diablo and its successor, Diablo II, and I’ve jumped at every chance I’ve had to play other games like them (names like Fate, Titan’s Quest, and the original Torchlight come to mind). Like many other Diablo fans, I’m a bit heartbroken with Diablo III (the game’s great, but there are some major flaws in item design, in my opinion, which broke the high-level game for me), and having enjoyed the first Torchlight game, I’ve been looking forward to taking a look at its second instalment; I’ve finally had the chance to pour a couple of hours into the game, and am here to share my thoughts and opinions.

Being a hardened fan of hack-and-slash RPGs, I promptly hit the “Elite” difficulty while creating my Embermage – the game’s version of the traditional “glass cannon” wizardry character -, the hardest difficulty available, hoping to find some challenge in the game. The opening cinematic was enjoyable to see, and I liked the art style; a good start. The game opened into quality graphics that are not amazing, but not too shabby either, and which didn’t manage to cause a great impression – I’m not a player who cares too much for graphics, though, so I don’t count Tochlight II’s graphics as either a positive or negative aspect; they simply get the job done, I think.

The first few levels were incredibly easy despite my choosing of “Elite” difficulty, but that was to be expected as a new player adjusts to the new systems and explores the game and their character. As I entered the 10’s range of levels, things started to become a little bit more fun; encounters with normal monsters are still a breeze (I’m at level 14 currently), but a few types are dangerous if you become distracted, especially ranged monsters, and those elite mobs with unique names always require a bit more of caution and strategy. Boss fights so far have been incredibly fun and challenging, with the boss themselves being hard-hitting and hard to kill, and spawning tons of dangerous, usually ranged mobs. With all of this, though, I’m finding the difficulty still a bit too easy; I’ve only died once so far, and that because I got distracted with something from outside the game. This was actually something I had disliked about the first game as well, it being too easy, but at least “Elite” is giving a nice enough challenge in Torchlight II, while on the original’s hardest difficulty the game was still boringly easy.

The Embermage is a lot of fun to play, especially while dual-wielding Wands. I’ve pumped all of my attributes so far into Focus, guaranteeing some great Magic Damage and reaching almost 25% chance of “Executing”, causing the character to attack with both Wands at the same time, for combined damage, which is awesome to see on top of the mechanical bonuses. The Embermage’s skills are awesome, providing plenty of different usages and cool effects (of special note is the passive skill Wand Chaos, which creates random effects on attacks made by wands, which are cool on top of being powerful). The items so far have been diverse and interesting, with the magic jewels adding a nice touch to it all; my only problem with it so far is that I’ve encountered plenty of unique and set items… but none for my class! This isn’t a design flaw, though, just a personal problem with the random number generator. ;)

Lastly, the story of the game isn’t that great, but it is very hard to have a compelling story in a hack-and-slash RPG anyway. When you look at Diablo III’s story, for example, which could have been much better from what it was, Torchlight II isn’t that far behind.

All in all, Torchlight II has been a fun experience, and while I’m still very much at the beginning of the game, I’ve been enjoying it. Once I’ve completed it (or quit it, though I don’t think that will happen), I’ll come back to post additional, more informed, thoughts.

-JNicolini

My GMing Philosophy: Why Saying No is a Bad Idea

Well, time for a break from writing and worldbuilding posts and some talk about RPGs – more specifically, my philosophies as a GM/DM/Storyteller. Of course, these are only my thoughts and experiences on the subject, so feel free to disagree about them – though if you do, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below!

In this post, let’s talk about why saying “No” to your players is a Bad Idea. Why? Well, let’s first get something written down: the goal of playing a RPG is for everyone to have fun together. Getting denied is not only not fun, but also uninteresting. If I come up with an awesome idea on how my character can jump through the balconies of the Great Hall, grab the curtains and use them to swing on top of the chandelier and promptly cut its ropes to fall into the Big Bad Evil Guy, why should I be denied simply because the rules don’t cover such actions? Flat out saying “no” destroys the player’s fun, and flat out closes the door for their creativity. The story being told is not the Storyteller’s alone, but rather a joint creation where all players contribute – and saying no negates the players’ contribution.

However, don’t say “Yes”, either – unless the player’s action is just too awesome and fits with your plans as well. But generally, much more interesting than either “No” or “Yes” is to say “Yes, but…” or “Yes, and…”; this way, you let the player pursue their creativity and get their moment of awesomeness, but you have some room to deny any particular point you don’t like, and better fit their ideas into your plot. For example, perhaps you will allow the stunt I described above as an example, but instead of falling directly on the Big Bad Evil Guy’s head, I only manage to hit his minions! Or, perhaps, I do manage to hit the Big Bad Evil Guy, but in the process I wound my leg as well, thus relying on my comrades to rescue me in time from the Big Bad Evil Guy’s minions! See, much more interesting than a flat “No”.

This does not mean you should always give everything to the players, of course. This philosophy is only applicable in situations where a player wants to do an action that they think is awesome, and which is not covered by the rules – or perhaps just beyond their reach by the rules. In these cases, accommodating the players’ desires is a great way to enhance the fun all around the table. In other cases, however, where the player wants something only to be better than the other players or to show off, he should be denied – but that’s not a case of stifling creativity, but of having Bad Players.

As I said above, the main goal of playing RPGs is having fun. If everyone is having fun, then the goal is achieved. The rules are only a means to achieving that fun, and whenever they get in the way they can – and should – be neglected and ignored, in favour of the group’s continued fun. It doesn’t matter if the character’s attack couldn’t have depleted the remaining 200 hit points of the enemy Ogre; if the player came up with a suitably awesome description of him climbing on a tree, giving a battle-cry and jumping on the Ogre’s back, thrusting his blade deep into the beast’s neck in the process, he should be awarded with having the Ogre dead – that’s way more fun than having his awesome thought-out attack deal 17 damage just like a bland “I swing my sword at the Ogre” would have done.

What are your own philosophies on GMing a RPG?

-JNicolini