Christmas Buyer’s Guide: Strategy and RPG Games.

You might be thinking “Will I have to buy my friend/family member another Mug/Tie for Christmas?”. Why not buy a computer game instead? That is, if they enjoy them. If you are looking for some interesting, alternative titles to the “Newest” publications which fill up the shelves, worry not, read on! This week, let’s look at RPG and Strategy games. Yes, I know, it could take me whole volumes of lists to dictate all of them, that is why, I will try to keep it concise for all of you.

This is the second part of our Christmas Buyer’s Guide series.  

Planning

"Right Boys, if this plan works we will get the gifts by christmas."

Strategy Games

Strategy Games comes in many different forms. Real Time Strategy, Turn Based, Wargames, 4X… Hard to make up your mind when somebody might like games like Starcraft, while somebody else is a M&M Heroes fan. So yes, I am well aware the list here might not appeal to everybody, but if you are after something a bit different why not give it a go?

Company of Heroes, is an RTS game set in WW2. It has been one of the most popular WW2 RTS games as well. Why? To me it’s because, at first, it created an interesting Strategy environment, where “Capping Points” was how you gained resources, where you could not just build a “Barracks” anywhere and had to pay attention to your units, rather than just lemming or zerg them at the enemy. When I could not enjoy it with others I could enjoy a few Skirmish games against the AI. With the Expansions I had an even wider choice of “Factions”, units and missions. The Stories in Tales of Valour gripped me somewhat, as well as the “Panzer Elite” campaign in Opposing Fronts kept my attention for much longer than the original US campaign. Over all these years numerous mods sprung up. Among those were simpler mods which added some new units, balancing or textures to make it all feel more life-like. Then there were mods which overhauled the whole game system, and made the game much more realistic, where you had no “base” and instead called your units off-map, or added entire new factions. Even now there are two highly promising mods which plan on changing the WW2 setting into a Modern Zombie Apocalypse and ordinary Modern Combat.

It is a game which is still active, and its heart beating loudly with new mods being added steadily. But in order to enjoy it fully you would have to buy a whole “Pack”, which would include the basic game and the two expansions (Opposing Fronts and Tales of Valour). Otherwise most mods will refuse to cooperate with you, and considering how old the game is the price is really affordable.

Company of Heroes

"Forward! Do not let off! I can still see the store is open!"

Majesty 2, in turn, is a very silly, and very fun Fantasy Strategy Game. I  played both the first Majesty and Majesty 2, there are differences between the two games, though out of the two, Majesty 2 is the more interesting and demanding one to play, compared to the nostalgic Majesty. In Majesty you are the King of your little kingdom, faced by terrifying horrors you have to do the only sensible thing… get heroes to clear everything out. Your town is your fortress. You can build Guard towers, which will allow Guardsmen to patrol the surroundings keeping your peasants safe from weaker wild beasts, but your main force are Heroes. In order to hire heroes you have to build them a proper guild. You get Warriors from a Warrior Guild, Wizards from a Wizard Guild, etc. But, your heroes do not start off as “Real” Heroes. Like in any RPG they have at best a wooden stick, level 1, and dream of one day becoming a legend. They gain experience from killing enemies, and a bit of gold which they can spend in your Markets (buying healing potions, for example) or at the Smithy (getting better gear). Depending on the map or mission there will be slightly different creatures which you will have to face. You win the game when you achieve a certain objective (whatever it might be).

Here also appears the main differencebetween Majesty 1 and Majesty 2. In Majesty 1 you had a random map generator, where you could “plough away” in defeating monsters the way you want it, including how you wanted to start the game yourself. In Majesty 2 you can create your own maps, or download somebody’s map, but that is it. I recall reading about a Mod that allowed random map generation, but I never used it myself. Either way, there are Demos for both games so if you cannot make up your mind, test them. You won’t regret it!

Majesty 2

Bob never understood why the villagers always greeted him with pitchforks and torches. Well, sure he was a giant, but it's not his fault humans are so terrible at building durable structures.

Rome Total War… Who did not hear of the Total War series? Rome has a few things that always tickled my fancy, more often than the other games. When you played as one of the Roman families you started from a small province or two and had to fight with your much bigger neighbours for land. Then, you were faced with the same challenges the actual Roman Empire faced, of expanding too quickly, stretching too thin and having to defend yourself from Barbarian hordes. Although the Main Map “movement” and building is turn based the battles between armies all happen in Real Time. Although some might say that Rome does not have that many units at the disposal of the different factions I consider it still much better than what Empire had to offer or even Medieval. The Factions feel different when you play them. The Barbarians, although lacking almost any Armoured Infantry which the Romans have still have tricks up their sleeve. The Greeks have the Phalanx which when used properly is deadly. The Egyptians are also a sight to behold when you face them, or when you play them. The aim of the game is to hold pretty much the entire map, as well as Rome. This makes the game somewhat predictable (i.e. Conquer everybody) but it is a challenge at the same time.

The main downside to Rome is that all factions, except the Roman Families cannot be played, and have to be unlocked with time. I am not certain when are they unlocked, whether you have to conquer them or grow of sufficient size to play them, but whichever Non-Roman faction you play expect a different blend to your usual Roman Legions. Overall, Rome is a very balanced game. I takes a bit to learn the basics, but once that is done, and you play it sufficiently it shall be of no mystery to you. Also, how characters develop is both intriguing and fun to watch, when one of your Generals eventually becomes a “Legend” among his fellow Romans, or how one of your Family members, who remained in your Capital city became a drunk, and gathered an assortment of highly doubtful followers. The graphics are old, yes, but the gameplay is well worth it.

Rome: Total War

Raiding towns usually combines low costs with plenty potential christmas gifts... that is unless your army numbers a few thousand followers. Right! Time to look for another ripe target.

 The Stronghold Series is not a bad place to look at either.  Although I remembered the original Stronghold fondly, Stronghold Crusader had a lot of additional content which made the game much more fun, among other things, a Skirmish Mode (against the AI), new units and that Middle-Eastern feel. The Campaign itself was also interesting, but much like all the other Stronghold campaigns each mission introduces new concepts and units, in essence making it feel like a long Tutorial, though the story is compelling, and not just a “tutorial”. I still saw the game on  some store shelves, and I am certain you can get it online for small pennies (figuratively speaking). The newest from the Stronghold series, Stronghold 3 is much like Stronghold 1, which brought back a lot of those joyous moments I had with the game, though there are some small differences. Expect a Stronghold 3 Review from myself eventually.

A quick honorary mention to Dungeon Keeper 2. It is a very old game, and as such the younger generation might not appreciate it (*cough cough*) but to anybody who enjoys an original title, this is where you should be looking. If you played Dungeon Overlord on Facebook you will see a very big non-incidental similarity. However, DK2 gives you a lot of power. As the Overlord you have to provide your dark creatures with lodgings, a place to drink and gamble, and of course something to eat. But, that is not everything. In order for more complex types of creatures to arrive in your dungeon you need specific buildings. For example, Dark Mistresses only appear once you have a Torture Chamber. Rogues need a Casino. Warlocks need somewhere to study (thus, library). But creatures, aside from being of help during fighting against enemy Overlords or “Good” characters have also their own jobs. Trolls produce traps for you in the Workshop. The Dark Mistress can torture prisoners and force them to join your side. Meanwhile, the carthorse of your Dungeon, the Imps do the building, carrying, rescuing and taking over of enemy buildings. Yes, the graphics are outdated, and I cannot guarantee the newest systems will run them, but you should still try this oldy but goldy. It is well worth it, and not only due to the price.

RPG Games

Nothing to be ashamed of. I love RPGs. Some might say it is “Geeky” or “Nerdy”. It only shows how people lack any sensitivity (or imagination). Here is my recommendations if you want somebody to enjoy some quality RPGs. Though, do note the lack of c-RPGs, I do not play them myself.

Neverwinter Nights

Now look what you did... you only made it angry.

Neverwinter Nights! I love this oldy but goldy. An “European” style RPG which earned itself two expansions. Set in the D&D world of Faerun the player has a free hand to create *any* character he wants, setting his own motives and plans, and making key decisions for himself throughout the game. The two Expansions feature two new campaigns and additional content. You also have a Toolset with which you can create your own maps, campaigns or items (which you will sneakily put on your characters before you start a campaign). Although the Multiplayer has died down to an extent there are still plenty of Servers online, a lot of them top notch. Although you have to download custom content (Hak files, etc. etc.) all the communities will be friendly enough to tell you how to do it. Since the game is old, it will run on any PC. As to what you should buy, you should honestly go for the “Premium Packs” also known as “Platinum”. These contain the basic NWN as well as the two basic expansions allowing you to play on any server that you wish (unless it needs custom haks, which can be downloaded). The Diamond edition features “Premium” stories. Though I did not play them myself I heard all the three Premium stories feature a lot of high quality custom content and are definitely worth the play.

Dark Messiah: Might and Magic, is an FPS style RPG.I consider it an RPG due to the skill development system (where you become more proficient in a specific path) and have at least a limited choice in crafting and choice of an ending. I never understood the plots in Might and Magic, and here it is no different. A lot of things feel somewhat unexplained, but in the end, it is you vs the “Great Evil”. The best part of DH for myself was the combat. Different attacks work better or worse on certain enemies, you could knock people off ledges, or kick them onto spikes. You could also combust enemies, and then finish them off with a well placed stab  or shot from your bow. Depending on the “Path” you took you would be a better “Warrior, Mage, Ranger or Rogue”, as I call them. In the end you could mix your specialities, be a generalist and the game would not penalise you overly if you did not want to go a single path. The game is mildly old, but still eye catching to myself, undemanding on the system and of course, cheap. A downside is the dead multiplayer world, but you could always try to have a nice time with your friends (if you bought it together with them).

Mount & Blade

Sometimes, you just have to settle your differences with swords... and axes, and pikes, and arrows, and bolts... you get the idea, sometimes diplomacy just does not work.

Mount and Blade, is not something that I can simply say you should buy. As much as I would like to say it. In Mount and Blade/Warbands/With Fire and Sword you are whomever you want to be. Although the game is centred around battles and conflict, going up the social ladder in whichever kingdom you are a vassal in you might as well be a merchant, travelling between cities, trading goods, a bandit, raiding villages or specific caravans, or indeed go with the obvious path. Start off as a Mercenary, then become a high Ranking Noble Lord, then once you are rich enough, carve up you own kingdom. Here it should be mentioned, the setting of Mount and Blade is a bit of an abstract Medieval setting where differently “themed” kingdoms are placed near each other, and wage war for supremacy, and on occasion, agree not to fight each other (for now). Although you travel between cities and villages in real time on a world map, battles happen in the “FPS” perspective, where you command your army (alongside any possible allies) against your foes. In all of this, you always have a say, since you can stand back and watch, or charge in yourself, armour clad, with a lance/sword, or fire off a crossbow. Your character has numerous skills which you can develop as you level-up. All of them are useful to an extent, some of them can be buffed by your companions. When deciding whether you want Mount and Blade, Mound and Blade: Warbands or Mount and Blade: With Fire and Sword you have a number of strengths and weaknesses between each specific title.

Mount and Blade (the basic, first one) has slightly out dated graphics and lacks a multiplayer. It is also a bit less developed than Warbands or Fire with Sword in terms of basic content. However, since it is more easy going on the hardware most computers should be able to run it. With the sheer number of mods still out and about you can easily spice up your experience in numerous ways. The key difference between the basic Mount and Blade and Warbands is the multiplayer. Not only are there different fun modes to shuffle through, but there are also multiplayer mods which try to add a different taste, as well as plenty singleplayer mods. But, Warbands is more demanding somewhat hardware wise. Just check beforehand whether it will run. About Fire and Sword, it is a stand alone expansion, and thus far, it was not graced by any Mods or Custom content (to my knowledge). It uses the same engine as Warbands, but differs in story and gameplay. The way you raise armies is different, the aim of the game also feels different, and there is a story (or a few story lines, in fact) which you can follow up on. The basic story, is that based on an actual novel my Henryk Sienkiewicz (With Fire and Sword) based on actual events. The exact events depicted in the book might be unknown to you, but the handy introduction into the story, and through numerous NPCs will make it easy for you to understand.

The decision, is up to you, but check up on each of the titles before you decide. It’s all up to personal tastes.

 That would be all for this week. I was about ready to write a few thousand words more, but I am barely holding myself back. What will be coming next? Economic and “Action” based games. My definition of Action is very loose, so expect anything.

Cheerio!

Aleksander “WriterX” Bielski

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About The Author

Aleksander "WriterX" Bielski
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Student of Psychology, he was identified as a Nut-Job even before he started the course. Having done some small work as a Modder for a number of titles, and worked as a Game Designer part-time, Alex now writes in third person. As Co-Owner and Editor of AlterGamer.com he aims high, while being armed only with a sling. In the future, he hopes to become a fully qualified Newspaper Editor, and purchase Google.

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