So, it's been a while - we're in the end of year rush at work, and those spare five minutes just haven't been available. It doesn't help that the two games I'm getting through at the moment, Bard's Tale 2 and The Settlers, are both quite demanding of time. I am progressing slowly, though. I finally finished the first dungeon of BT2 (I think it was supposed to be a simple tutorial crawl, so Lord knows how long the real ones are going to be) so I'm ready to start the game proper. Can't say I'm enjoying it that much, though - there are way too many annoying features like 'spinners' that randomly change your direction without telling you, which isn't helped by the fact that they're often combined with anti-magic zones which disable your compass, and darkness so you can't see anything to realise that your direction has changed. Doesn't make mapping much fun. Also, there are way too many random encounters. Normally, I have quite a high tolerance for grinding, but it isn't helped by the fact that a) the combat's no fun at all, and b) you can't actually level up until you get back to town, so you don't really feel like you're improving as you trawl monotonously through the samey corridors. You could argue, I guess, that by forcing you to return to town to level, the game encourages gradual advancement - making trips up and down dungeons and inching your way slowly forwards before going back to strengthen then making your way a little bit further on the next run...but it doesn't feel that way to me. It feels like I'm being punished every time I have to trawl back through the hellish dungeon design to reach town, then trudge back again with no guarantee that I'll actually make it as far as I did last time. I'd kill for something like Divine Divinity's teleport stones where I could leave one in town, then use it to jump back and forth when I needed to return. (Divine Divinity? I'll get to that in a minute.) Oh, but I did read the manual for the game this time round, so I now know how to ascend and descend portals between levels...if only I'd know that in BT1 I might have got a bit further!
And Settlers, how's that going? Well, I defintiely have played it before, so it feels familiar...but I'm not really getting into it. It just take soooo loooong to do anything. I've finished all of the tutorial missions now, and I'm really dreading starting a proper mission. Each of the tutorials took hours, and they're only doing simple things like building a couple of farms so you understand the economic system. The manual even tells you to start something building, then read the next few pages on economics, then return to the game and it should be finished by the time you're done! I seem to remember the following games in the series bring in different time settings so you can speed things up when you need to. My silly internal rules say that I need to play all the games of a series in order once I start it, so it'll be another Settlers game next and I really hope there is a way of speeding it up. I might just play the first mission and see how that goes then give up if I feel the need to. I seem to remember the missions are all essentially the same anyway, with just different starting conditions and enemy strength. We'll see.
But, the good news is that I've got a few days holiday to use up at the end of the year, so I'm hoping to spend it gaming. I did intend to try and get through some of my PS2 backlog, but with the builders in I'm consigning myself to the privacy of the office upstairs, which means PC only. So does that mean I'm actually going to get through BT2 and the Settlers? Well, I have to admit I couldn't bring myself to spend whole days on them, so I've started something new - Divine Divinity. It's a boxed copy I bought in a sale ages back - installed it once, had a quick play, and never went back to it. I've also bought the sequel on GoG, so I thought I'd give it a proper go. It's a bit like Diablo, but with less randomness and more RPG elements. Kinda fun so far, and it feels like it might be really big. I'm making my way around the map trying to get a feel for the size of it and I've encountered loads of new areas and sidequests on my travels. Trawling round the borders, I also came across a passageway leading off the map to a whole new area, which I'm guessing will be of a similar size...definitely a big game. Good things - I like the way you can pick skills from any of the classes with no penalties to create the character you want. Bad things, the mage skill tree is fairly awful. I'm basically finding that I'm leveling up one mage skill then spending the rest on random, but interesting, rogue skills. I tried to go the summoning route, but soon found out that a) summoned monsters are rubbish, with bad AI meaning they often get lost whilst following you and often fail to attack anything, and b) you don't get any experience for the things they do kill, so if you rely on them you'll never level up. I guess it stops my summoned monster spamming that I've done in other games, but it also makes summoning completly pointless, and that's a large part of the mage's skill tree. Anyway, I'm still enjoying it, so I think it'll remain the focus of my gaming days, while the odd five minutes on other days will still be dedicated to Settlers and BT2.