Jul 012013
 

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I will try and keep the review elements of this post to a minimum, because I have already touched on how much I like the basic game in the past. Instead, this is all about how the hobby I love is represented in something a little bit more mass media. I will also draw comparison to two other attempts to bring role playing to the attention of the masses, in the Big Bang Theory, and Community.

I will discuss a little bit of the technical stuff first though. The humour that has marked both games out from the crowd is still well and truly present, and with jokes aimed very much at the readership of this blog – stuff for you to laugh along with, not making you the butt of the jokes – makes it a great way to spend an evening. Sadly, the fact that you can get through it in an evening is a bit of a let down. The other DLC packs were much bigger, but since they mostly just re-used elements from the base game, they didn’t take up much space. So much has been made just for this DLC – including frickin’ dragons – that the same space just doesn’t go as far. Still, it looks amazing, and there’s some really nice touches. The village setting looks amazing, and the Immortal undead look great, with glowing swords embedded into their skulls to set them apart from the other, easier to kill skeletons.

But what does it tell us about table top gaming? Mainly just how much bloody fun it is and how inclusionary, but also how flawed some of the people who play the game can be. To begin with, we have the fun of people picking their characters. Brick, the close combat nutter picks the Siren, claiming she is the most beautiful and graceful creature in the world, and that she’s great at punching people in the face. The Siren who’s actually playing the RPG – Lilith - seems to be the only reasonably experienced gamer of the group. A lovely touch when we consider the messed up humour of The Big Bang Theory, making light of the fact that no guys ever play D&D with their girlfriends, contrary to mountains of evidence saying otherwise.

She is also a true blue geek, and gives Mr. Torgue a hard time for wanting to play, questioning his geek credentials, since he is clearly a muscle bound jock. I hate to say it, but I have been this person. Not the jock, the one who wonders whether or not someone is really a geek, or just trying to join in with what they think is cool. I see people walking around my home town wearing “GEEK” emblazoned on their shirts, and always feel the need to ask them what class their first character to hit level ten was? Or if they have any recommendations for fantasy literature other than Game of Thrones (The works of Joe Abercrombie as an example)? I never do though, as it is a small and petty annoyance. It is harder sometimes though, when I remember the beatings I got through school that Lilith also claims to have received for letting her geek flag fly. To be fair, I didn’t help myself out. Not only did I wargame and read comic books, but I was also a fan of very heavy metal. Oh, and I was short with a pronounced overbite and wear glasses. I mean seriously, what was I thinking?

But Lilith embraces the big fella when it’s obvious that that he loves the game, and although he may be far from most people’s ideal of a good layer, his passion for the hobby is beyond question. And this is what I mean by inclusionary. The DLC makes it clear that the perception of gamers as nerds with hygiene issues is far from the actual truth, without letting us off lightly, by also showing how elitist we can be about the games we play.

Lets go back to Brick again now. As mentioned, he’s the close combat specialist, and his power move is to go full on berserk rage and punch things until they stop twitching. In the role playing game he has trouble separating this urge from what his character would do to move the plot along.  It gets in the way so much in fact, that at one point a very easy problem to solve gets trashed as he punches a Dwarven slave in the face instead of freeing them all to help in their quest. Every GM has had this moment, and has to decide just how much they want it to matter. Tiny Tina goes all out, and now every Dwarf wants a piece of the players. No matter how helpful they are in freeing the enslaved Dwarves, they’ll always remember that Brick was the one who killed their mate. But Brick learns from his mistake, and by the end of the game does change his ways to fit with the character rather than what he wants to do.

So, all very cool, and a great way to portray gamers in main stream media. But it goes one further, and shows how useful gaming can be as a coping mechanism. I know most people who rock up to the table are their to have fun, in whatever way they decide is fun for themselves. Sometimes though, you have a bad day, or week, or month, and just want to get rid of some frustration in a world where you have a bit more control. It’s not necessarily healthy to rely on the hobby for such things, but it is damned useful all the same. In an episode of Community that involves RPGs, we see the same thing. A problem is, maybe not solved, but worked on a little. And the group happens to have a great time while doing so, and talk about coming back to play the game again.

I can’t think of a much better portrayal of table top role playing in other media than this DLC, and if you have any interest in the series at all, it is by far and away my favourite bit of DLC so far, having played every last one of them. two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Oct 082012
 

A few months back I looked at a console game through the eyes of a table top role player, and I must admit, the game didn’t come out too well. Sure it got rave reviews all over the rest of the internet, but in this little corner, not so much. Today I place that role playing eye firmly on another Xbox game that I’ve been playing recently: Borderlands 2. This will not be an in-depth review about its merits as a first person shooter, but more a little look at how it works when seen as a traditional role playing game. For a bit of background, it’s worth knowing that I played and loved the first game, and most of the time have been playing both of them split screen with my girlfriend.

The first bad thing about the Borderlands franchise as an RPG is the almost total lack of interaction your character has with the rest of the world that doesn’t involve shooting it in the face with a mind blowing variety of boom sticks. The most they seem to talk in the second installment is a few little quips when employing their special abilities - maybe half a dozen different lines which get old pretty quickly considering how often they get used – and little back and fourths between player characters as one heals another. This kinda sucks, but when I think back to some other games, it really isn’t that big a deal. Sure, Deus Ex, Mass Effect and the Dragon Age games give you conversation trees a-plenty, but sometimes you really don’t want to hear the voice they’ve given your character as it may very well be a voice that you would never associate with the way you imagine it.

What it does to make up for that is give the NPCs some killer interactions with the player characters and each other. If you find an Echo recorder and pick it up, try and pay attention to what’s being said; it is usually tangential to the plot, but even so, they’re well written and bloody hilarious. There are little bits on the player character backgrounds, as well as history of the world and NPC back stories too. Actual conversations are also worth paying attention to. Usually the only verbal interactions available are when collecting a job, and turning it in. This will almost always have a bit of monologue from the quest giver, and once again, even though you don’t need  to hear it, take the time to listen. They really do give life to the characters and contain some of the funniest writing I’ve heard in a video game.

Don’t get me wrong, the characterization for almost every NPC is pretty one dimensional. The bad-guy is bad, and every time he has something to say, it reinforces his stature as ‘evil-boss’ for the game. I would drop a few examples here, but I’m trying my best to keep this review spoiler free, and some of his best lines lead to some great reveals in the plot that I really don’t want to spoil for anyone. Handsome Jack isn’t the only bad guy in the piece, and all of the others are just as hammy when it comes to their lines and how they are delivered. Put it this way though, if you load the game up, take a look at the awesome stylized graphics and expected some subtlety to the characterization, you may not have very realistic expectations.

That is one of the strongest points about this game though; its writing and how well it all slots together to give a consistent feel to the world and the plot. Any GM knows that you can run a dark game and still throw in occasional bits of humour and not ruin the mood. The ‘GM’ for this game is running it for pure comedy, but knows just the right amount of ‘dark’ to slide in on occasion to keep everyone engaged with the plot and stop being nothing but a yuck-fest.

What else makes it a good RPG? Character advancement. The skill trees are pretty varied, and it’s easy to think of  leveling up getting you some hit points, an advancement in a skill and/or a feat. All of which are perfectly in fitting with your character, while also giving you the freedom to try out a few different things without ever worrying about stepping on another character’s toes. As an example, playing a Siren I can be kick ass with a sniper rifle, but will still never get in the way of the Assassin being the best at it.

My final point is a mild spoiler for people who have never played the first game, and maybe even a little bit spoilerific for the second. You get to meet the characters who played the vault hunters in the first game. In thus game they’re pure NPCs, and the writers have done what every good GM should take a swing at at least once in the same situation. If you have returning players to the same campaign world, but years after the last plot’s resolution, and bringing in all new characters, then what do you do with the old ones? Write them into the world. Make them a little bit epic, give them their own followers and show that their actions have had long lasting consequences on the setting. To me this is one of the best examples of how the game works as an RPG, a thought given to the consequences of the player actions that tie in with the larger setting, and it’s something that a lot of GMs can learn from.

As before, I invite people to make their own comments below, either on the game itself, or thoughts on how I viewed it.