5 – Let’s Get Into It
I had a lot of time to dig deep into Planescape this past weekend and got a lot done. Now that I’ve recovered from a bit of food poisoning, let’s go!
What have you been up to?
We’ve been rocking and rolling in the Planescape universe. We last left our Nameless hero in the Gathering Dust Bar getting ready to check out a crypt where the dead won’t stay that way. Even though it’s pretty ironic to have a guy who just woke up on a slab go put the dead to rest, I’ll be happy to do it for the experience! It turned out to be a pretty easy quest where I went into the catacombs, fought some skeletons, and found a necromancer doing evil experiments in the inner chamber. It appears that this guy knew about me somehow and was looking for a way to get my blood to do other evil things to mess around with immortality or something. I walked into his lair! Classic goof. Anyway, I actually lost this battle the first time because, as a mage, he had some pretty good buffs to use and hit me with spells while his undead minions hacked up my companions. I reloaded (I got resurrected back in the Mortuary) and tried the fight again using some better tactics. Morte has an insult power that causes him to berate an enemy until they go nuts and chase him around to attack him exclusively. I did this before the magician could pop his buffs, he got pissed and ran after the skull, and I was able to down him in seconds. That felt good. After returning for my reward, I ran to find Pharod under the garbage heap that is Ragpicker’s Square.
Now I can say for sure that the game is starting to get some rails and pick up speed. The entire first act reminded me of the main city in Baldur’s Gate 2, Athkatla, which is almost entirely open from the beginning allowing you to build some experience. I found an entire buried trash village accessed by a portal in the square where Pharod has made his ‘kip’. The path led me to the old guy pretty quickly, after which he asked me to perform a task for him: Find a small bronze sphere that was lost in an underground catacomb. I could just kill him and progress, but he has information. I love that instead of chasing loot like in most RPGs, the story pushes you to place more value in info and exposition about yourself. So, we trekked off into the catacombs where I found something very interesting…
This interesting thing of which I speak is a tomb that, as it turns out, belongs to me! The death mechanic really shines here because the entire area is filled with deadly traps. I mean deadly. They will kill you. When you die, you are transported back to the entrance making it impossible for any thief, grave robber, or character who is not you to make it through alive. This is a simplistic but clever puzzle to flesh out your character and exactly what you’re capable of. The sequence essentially involves being transported to different quadrants of the area, getting a key that lets you bypass the next trap, then getting killed by the next one. This repeats until you make it through the gauntlet and end up in what must be one of your innumerable tombs scattered all over the planes.
This crypt has wall inscriptions giving information about you, your past, and instructions for the future. These were presumably made by a previous iteration of yourself. The game forces you to read all of these by not allowing the sarcophagus to open until all of the panels are pushed in. One particular panel is of great interest and a semi-spoiler, although I’m not sure how… yet.
[He’s been lying all along… well, not telling the WHOLE truth.]
The next section felt a bit empty and I couldn’t shake off the feeling of fluff, which I will talk about later. I got trapped in an underground city filled with undead. Their assistant leader (The leader is the Silent King who I did not meet) said we can’t leave because we are not one of them and we can’t be trusted to keep a secret yadda yadda. I normally don’t like this trope in games where you are arbitrarily trapped in an area until you complete some task. In this case, to move on to where the sphere is, I need to get through a locked door by gaining the trust of the undead citizens. This can be done several ways, but I chose to find a traitor in their midst… Before I arrived, a Dustman missionary named Suego had recently appeared. The locals don’t trust him and he is preaching true death to the people (Zombies? Corpses?) of the nation. Of course they don’t like this because if they all accept death, there is no nation. I had a chat with him and discovered he is a spy for another possible path you can take: a crypt full of wererats. I ratted out (ha) Suego to the leader of the dead, he gets killed, and I move on. This whole section didn’t have too much background and was too fluffy for me. It felt like a time waster that was just in the way and really had no bearing on anything or the fictional culture. Did not like it and I fear there is more to come.
I proceeded to the drowned crypt, got the sphere, and found a ‘Decanter of Endless Water’ that I hope will be useful for freeing Ignus back at the Burning Man. I could use another mage. After returning it to Pharod, the information he gives me is not promising. It turns out I asked HIM to keep the sphere for ME in a past life. Now he has it and wants to unlock its secrets. Despite this dick move, he has admitted that he took some stuff from me and my journal may be where I was found dead by his daughter, Annah, who is a foul mouthed tiefling (Demon and human mix) with a tail, skimpy clothes, and a Scottish accent.
[Voiced by Sheena Easton]
Now what I REALLY wanted to talk about this post.
I’m afraid I’m not enjoying this game as much as I hoped to.
Now hear me out. I still play lots of games in my life. I have a PC, PS3, Wii, and DS. What I don’t have is a lot of time. The reality of being almost 30, married, working, and living in a pretty demanding city doesn’t leave much time to play games or do anything else after quitting time. When I sit down to play Planescape, I usually only have about one to two hours at a time. This is not enough for playing an almost entirely narrative based game on the computer which also takes up the TV. (Sorry, honey!) I just don’t have time for this anymore!
As old as that makes me sound, I really don’t mind. This situation has actually moved me in directions I’m not used to for my hobby. My tastes have shifted toward more “game” type games. I read on public transport or when I want quiet to get my super dense stories. When I sit to play a game, I want to PLAY. This doesn’t mean I want an easy game, but I do want one that will challenge me and pit me against the system itself. A good example of what I have enjoyed recently is Dark Souls. I’m sure you’ve read about it, but, if you haven’t, I’ll just sum it up quickly:
Dark Souls is a PS3 action/RPG in which you are tossed into a hostile world that will kill you over and over. You must survive on your own wits and learn from your mistakes. It is hard. It is unforgiving. It is superbly balanced.
[I finished this.]
I loved this game because I felt like I was playing AGAINST it, much like other games I have really liked recently such as number based RPGs (Wizardry, Icewind Dale) and strategy games with well balanced mechanics. This is the kind of thing I love. I want to sink my teeth into a deep system and figure it out or have to practice to win. I don’t want to just be handed the text to progress the story unless I’m reading a book.
This may be upsetting if you are a gamer who loves games for story (Which I do too!), but I also want a GAME to go with it. Let’s be clear: Planescape has combat and movement from place to place, but it is bad combat and movement is incidental in the gaming experience. Other enjoyable genres, such as interactive fiction, which are entirely text, take care of this with imagination and puzzles to solve. Planescape feels more like an interactive movie where you need to “run here to get x and return it to y to get more text”. Just tell me now? Maybe? I feel rewarded with text but the gameplay itself is not rewarding. I don’t know if that makes sense, but those are my thoughts.
I’m having a hard time constructing them in a monologue format, so if you have any thoughts please post them in the comments. I love this kind of debate and it is one I rarely get to have with any friends here. None of them play games as much as I do. I’ll be back soon with more Planescape, which I am enjoying, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not as much as I thought I would.