March 28, 2002

Correspondent Jeff G. writes: I

Correspondent Jeff G. writes:

I was wondering if you could recommend a really cool game for someone who's only experience with such things were Zork and Kings Quest (back in the, what? Mid-90s, I guess?)

When I moved out to Denver to pick up my PhD, I left that stuff behind. But I've been hankering to play -- maybe get my wife involved -- but as I stood in front of the racks and racks of PC games at Best Buy, I realized I hadn't a clue what I was looking for.

Any suggestions?

Jeff, the Baldur's Gate series (Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, and Icewind Dale, and add-ons) are very, very good single-person/team dungeon crawls. Made in Canada by Bioware, but you'll have to live with that. :-) The other in that series, Planescape:Torment, is a true classic of computer story-telling, meant for those who like a more thoughtful, novelistic story line, but I'd recommend trying one of the others, first. If you find there just hasn't been enough D&D in your life so far, you must try these: start with the original BG and the Sword Coast add-on, if you can find them.

There are two highly promising games (supposedly) coming out this year, Microsoft's Dungeon Siege and Bioware's Neverwinter Nights (both have been delayed by their creators). Both promise to be a little more freeform, as they cater more to the "create your own dungeon, then play through it with your friends" ethic, ie, the tabletop D&D experience on computer. Dungeon Siege promises to be a little more of a clickfest than NWN, as it's also trying to attract what's left of the Diablo crowd that hasn't already succumbed to mouse-claw-like repetitive stress injuries, and both may end up requiring a reasonable unit (ie, 1 Gig or higher) to run on.

Then of course, there's the massively multiplayer online game, with its thousands of simultaneous players. There you've got the additional $10 a month U.S fee, generally high-end system requirements, and a basically dysfunctional online community. When it works, however, it's the most compelling entertainment experience a computer can offer, in fantasy or any other genre, for that matter. Having 1,000 other independent thinking actors in the same virtual space can make things pretty stochastic at times: some people call that unpredictable, some people call that annoying. It's certainly an acquired taste, and not for the completely casual gamer: once you're in one of these worlds, it's hard to just drop the battle cause the baby's crying, for instance: first you have to run and find a tree to hide behind, etc., etc. The reigning king is Sony's Everquest, of course, which panders to the obsessive-compulsive, and has a milieu with about as much relation to real good fantasy writing as Medieval Times has to the battle of Agincourt. I believe it should be tried once, just to see what the fuss is about, but discarded before the first credit card charges show up in a month (Since the starter kit's now a ludicrous $10).

Better choices for sustained play in this subgenre, I believe, are the aforementioned Dark Age of Camelot (which tries to bring the experience back to real human mythologies), or Microsoft's Asheron's Call (which created its own unique fantasy world from scratch, instead, with all the inevitable pluses and minuses that entails.)

Other games I've enjoyed, but which I would not suggest for a minute are in Baldur's Gate leagues, are the made-in-Spain Blade of Darkness and Sierra's Arcanum.

Getting wives involved. Alas, I cannot help thee with that. Although a lot of women, in my limited experience, do like Dark Age of Camelot. This one, for instance.

Posted by BruceR at 10:14 AM