The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

State of the Ceramite

I know you. You’re sitting there asking yourself "damn, I wonder what games Darien’s been playing lately?" Well, because I care, I’ll tell you: Warhammer 40k Dawn of War II and Pokemon Platinum. Don’t you feel enlightened? Now, just to make your life even betterer, I’ll rabbit on about them for a while. You know you love it.

Pokemon Platinum is, so far as I’ve gotten, exactly the game you expect it to be. If you like Pokemon, you’ll like it. If you don’t like Pokemon, this one won’t change your mind. I didn’t play either of the other games in the Diamond and Pearl series (which were, predictably, Pokemon Diamond and Pokemon Pearl), so I’m not gigantically qualified to talk about how it differs from those; as such, I’ll focus on what’s different from the older games. The most prominent difference as near as I can tell is that it supports trading (and battling) online against random people, so you don’t need to have nearby Pokemon-playing friends. That makes it a lot more feasible actually to collect ’em all someday, which is a nice plus. Pretty much every other difference I’ve noticed so far is either cosmetic (better graphics, different scenario, so forth) or gimmicky bullshit (like the totally pointless and stupid "Poketch" that sits on the bottom screen where the goddamn map should be).

There are no major gameplay differences from the Pokemon formula. Catch ’em all, raise ’em all, fight ’em all. That’s about it. There is the two-on-two battle type from Ruby and Sapphire, which isn’t really particularly interesting (except that some moves — rather inexplicably — are AOE). Outside of that, the only noticable difference I’ve spotted so far is that they’ve finally (thankfully) decoupled attack element from attack type — no longer are all water attacks "special" and all grass attacks "regular," which is handy, since Pokemon games traditionally give you a water starter with high regular attack and a grass starter with high special attack.

The worst part of Pokemon hasn’t changed a bit: goddamn critical hits. Pokemon is a game played with very small tolerances, and battles take very few turns, and one critical hit has a tremendous influence on the course of battle. Which is, of course, annoying. And, yes, it is much more annoying when you’ve found a rare Pokemon you’d like to catch and you crit the stupid thing to death.

Dawn of War II is awesome, but it’s really hard to play. I mean, the interface is relatively straightforward, and you’ll pick it up pretty quickly; the on-screen help is just about totally useless, but you probably won’t need it too much. No, the reason Dawn of War II is so hard to play has nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the fact that it relies on the Games For Windows Live service, which is a complete piece of shit and may or may not be functional any given time you try to run the damn game. I’m not even sure why Relic elected to use GFWL, since DOW2 is already a Steam game, and Steam provides all the hachievement and community and matchup functionality from GFWL, plus it actually works. But here we are.

Assuming you can actually play Dawn of War II, you’ll find what is, for my money, the best single-player RTS ever made. Gone are the endless, repetitive resource-gathering and base-building elements; if you’re anything like me — and you know you are — you really enjoy that stuff for, like, a few levels, and then it gets really boring. Well, Dawn of War II has none of that: no grinding, no building, and no strapped-out early game and totally berserk late game. Instead, it takes a few pages out of the RPG playbook, and gives you a set of "heroes" who level up and equip gear. Some of the heroes come equipped with squads, and dead squad-mates are automatically restored at any base or captured… thing. What are those beacon things, anyhow? I don’t really know.

The game owes World of Warcraft a beer for borrowing a lot of its interface elements, I can tell you that. Weapons are all broken out into DPS, stats, and procs. Gear names show up in white, green, or blue, indicating rarity and quality per level. Quite frankly, I appreciate that. It’s not exactly like this is ripping off major parts of WOW’s gameplay, and you know what’s easy to get used to? An interface that duplicates elements of an interface you already know. World of Warcraft has 6.779 billion players, so cribbing its notation is a good way to increase usability for a large portion of your expected player base.

Missions are standard fight-the-mobs stuff like you’d expect from an RTS, but frequently end with bosses; the boss fights remind me of nothing so much as Diablo 3. Now, Darien, you say, Diablo 3 isn’t out yet. You haven’t played it, asshole. Believe it or not, I actually know that, but I have seen the movies Blizzard’s put out, and the DOW2 boss fights really seem rather similar. They’re good for the most part, but they can get rather frustrating when you need to move your mans around in pretty picky ways and they just don’t seem to be cooperating. The game, not having been made by morons, is balanced expecting that to be the case, but it can still get frustrating. You’ll have a few moments where you’re telling your mans "go go go go go go move move move DAMMIT."

If you’re a 40k fan, you’ll have a lot to like here, since it features plenty of 40k staples presented in a really appealing way. The most notable missing element, for my money, is meltaguns; I’ve always been a fan of meltaguns, so I was a little bit bummed that there weren’t any to be found. That’s a pretty minor complaint, though, and lord knows there are enough bolters and flamers and plasma guns and autocannons and thunder hammers and whatever else to keep you occupied. For playable armies, well, you get any 40k army you want as long as it’s Space Marines. You’ll be fighting Orks, Eldar, and Tyranids, and you’ll be supported in a few missions by Imperial Guard.

I hear there’s multiplayer, but that’s not really my bag, so I can’t tell you much about it. I did play a skirmish game against the CPU, though, and I had no idea what the hell was going on; multiplayer plays very differently from single-player, and does have resource gathering and base building. For what it’s worth, multi gives you an army choice: Space Marines, Orks, Tyranids, or Elfs.

In all seriousness, if Games For Windows Live weren’t such a complete piece of shit or maybe had a less awful name (honestly, even "Xbox Live PC" would be better), I’d say Dawn of War II was one of the best games I’ve played in a while. As it stands, well, the game itself is still excellent, but I can’t promise you’ll get to spend as much time playing it as you do trying to get it to work. Which is No Fun.

May 15th, 2009 Posted by | Games | one comment

1 Comment »

  1. Hah! Yeah, and then your Pokémon level up, making them more powerful, and thus even more likely to knock out a desired Pokémon even if you don’t crit it.

    Comment by Nyperold | 16 May 2009

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