All About Talonfire
"Almost out of the asteroid field, OH-"
Oh hey guys, it's been a while since my last retrospective, over two years now. I'm still alive though, and finally decided to get off my lazy butt and take a look at another game and how it's aged, or I should say games. I chose to do both Wing Commander 1 and 2 since they aren't different enough to justify a separate retrospective for each one, and I want to look back on all of the major installments in the series at some point.
Developer: ORIGIN Systems
Publisher: ORIGIN Systems
Release Date: (WC1) 1990
Platforms: (WC1) DOS, Amiga, Super Nintendo, 3DO
It was the late 80s, and one particular game designer known as Chris Roberts was disappointed at the lack of space combat sims that made the player feel like a starfighter pilot participating in a greater conflict, and so Wing Commander was born.
Wing Commander and its sequel had very simple mission design, they focused entirely on dogfighting with enemy fighters and destroying enemy capital ships with the occasional escort mission where you did the exact same thing, only you had to make sure the enemy fighters didn't destroy the ship you were supposed to be protecting. After a while it began to get repetitive as most missions consisted of three or so skirmishes where you just cleaned up the area and then pressed A to instantly autopilot to the next one.
There is one way that Wing Commander and its sequel attempted to mix things up, asteroid and mine fields, and this is leads me to the primary issue that has caused this particular relic to age so poorly. Instead of using early 3D polygons like most other developers who were making fast paced simulation games such as Stellar 7 and Red Baron at the time, the folks at ORIGIN decided to use sprites akin to first person shooters like Wolfenstein 3-D. While sprites may have been prettier than 3D polygons, they led to all sorts of issues and irritating mission restarts. When I first played Wing Commander I crashed into asteroids a lot because they just popped out from below my field of vision and smashed into my ship resulting in an instant death, and because they were sprites it was difficult to tell how far away they really were. During the replay I did for this retrospective I had a much easier time since the fields are a bit easier to navigate after you've navigated a couple dozen, but I did have a couple asteroid deaths and one of them occurred the second I launched from the Tiger's Claw, which for some reason felt that it would be nice to park in the middle of an asteroid field. Screw you Commander Halcyon. There's also nothing quite like constantly crashing into the Tiger's Claw when trying to do something as mundane as landing because your angle and position isn't just right.
The game's sprite based graphics also led to unnecessary and often frustrating deaths during dogfights as well, and they also made taking capital ships down harder than it should have been because more often than not the angle you were seeing wasn't the position the ship was actually in, resulting in your shots hitting a section of the ship you did not intend.
Probably one of the best design decisions in both of these games was the branching storyline. Unlike most space sims, Wing Commander and its sequel didn't make you replay a failed mission, instead you were either thrown into a "redemption" story track if the mission was important enough (and in WC1 this means a lot of asteroid fields and potential rage quits), and if you failed that track or failed a really critical mission you'd end up in a losing track that resulted in a game over no matter how good you did.
It also wouldn't be right to look back on Wing Commander and not mention the core storylines. While Wing Commander 1's storyline wasn't particularly complex or memorable as you basically just went from mission to mission fighting the Kilrathi, occasionally learning something interesting from your fellow pilots in the bar, its sequel was a very compelling space opera that helped make the series feel more like a sci-fi epic similar to Star Wars as opposed to just a space combat game.
How it holds up:
While Wing Commander helped pave the way for future flight sims the first two games just did not age well, largely due to their usage of 2D sprites, but also because of their sheer simplicity in comparison to future, more in depth space sims like the X-Wing and Freespace series'. The only reason to play the first game, if you haven't already, is if you're into space combat games and want to try out one of the first. Wing Commander II is a different story, despite having the same core design and gameplay issues as its predecessor, as they're practically the same game, it might be worth checking out if you enjoy space operas. Wing Commander II is worth playing for the not half bad cinematic storyline if nothing else.
The early Wing Commander games may not have aged well, but there's no denying that they helped jumpstart the space combat simulation sub-genre leading to future masterpieces like TIE Fighter and Freespace. Wing Commander and Wing Commander II had their fair share of sequels and spinoffs as well, but aside from a small arcade game on Xbox Live released a few years back and recent rereleases on GOG the franchise has been collecting dust in Electronic Arts' vault for many years now.
- Both Wing Commander games had two mission packs, Secret Missions 1 and 2 for WC1, and Secret Operations 1 and 2 for WC2.
Next Time: Super Mario Bros.
So it took me a long time to find the time and motivation to complete this review, but I did it. Anyway to give a brief run down I was not impressed; Awakening was definitely not BioWare's best work. A lackluster storyline with an antagonist remniscient of a Disney villain, oh joy. You can learn about these issues and more in my novel-length review. Suffice to say I feel ripped off, and if BioWare charges $40 USD for any future expansions I'll be sure to wait until the price drops.
I suppose I should mention that the second paragraph contains spoilers concerning the ending of Origins for those of you who haven't finished it yet.
"Take heart fellow adventurers for you have curried the favor of Boo, the only miniature giant space hamster in the Realm. My friend and companion ever since my h-h-head wound, he will lead us to victory!" – Minsc, Baldur's Gate
I know, another RPG. It's been a while since I expressed my apparently controversial opinion of the original Final Fantasy and how it has aged though, and since Baldur's Gate's spiritual successor Dragon Age: Origins is receiving a lot of attention at the moment I decided it would be a good idea to revisit this one now.
Developer: BioWare Corp (Now just BioWare)
Publisher: Black Isle Studios/Interplay Productions
Release Date: November 30, 1998 (North America)
History: Fallout's moderate success resulted in Interplay rechristening their (at the time) small and nameless role playing game division into Black Isle Studios. Interplay had the license to develop Dungeons and Dragons computer role playing games, and after the success of Fallout we can only assume that they wanted to produce something similar in a fantasy setting with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule set. Black Isle was already hard at work on Fallout 2 however, and so Interplay ended up hiring a small development studio that had absolutely no experience in RPG development. It's hard to believe now that the development studio in question was BioWare, isn't it? Everyone had to start somewhere though, and with Black Isle Studios' guidance BioWare brought us Baldur's Gate – the game that would define them as a mainstream RPG developer in the years to come.
Gameplay: Baldur's Gate was a tactical turn based RPG that utilized the popular Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule set. Now I have heard that the version of D&D used in Baldur's Gate is "nerfed", but I am no expert on P&P rule sets so I'm going to look at Baldur's Gate as just Baldur's Gate and not as a Dungeons and Dragons game.
As with most western RPGs from this era (and the eras that came before) you started the game off by creating your character from a selection of races, and by "dice rolling" for your attributes. After that you were thrust into what can only be described as a semi-turn based game. By that I mean that the game did not automatically pause and wait for each side to input commands before executing them. Instead characters merely "took turns" attacking, casting and using items in an otherwise real time environment. The game allowed you to manually pause at any time should you need to do so, and often you did since Baldur's Gate required you to manage not two, not three, not four, not even five but six different characters at any given time. You could assign simplistic AI scripts to each character, but the AI scripts were only useful for the most basic of functions. This overwhelmed some players, but fortunately you didn't need to bring six party members with you if you didn't want to. However the game was a lot more difficult if you did not make use of six different characters.
Design: When people think of BioWare they generally think of cool in-depth party members and masterful story telling. Well that may be true today, but in 1998 you were lucky to get five sentences out of a BioWare NPC. Generally the companion NPCs of Baldur's Gate only spoke when you first met them, if you didn't do what they requested after a certain amount of days, and if you kicked them out of the party. Other than that they only occasionally gave voiced commentary on your location, your alignment, and sometimes disagreeing party members would flip out and try to kill each other. It should be noted that while Baldur's Gate does not feature an extensive amount of dialogue for your companions BioWare did manage to get a great deal of character across with just the character's biography, what little dialogue they do have, and their voice sets. For example, Minsc's somewhat infantile (but oh so awesome) character comes to life with beloved one liners such as "butt kicking for goodness!"
The story telling of Baldur's Gate wasn't all that developed either. Essentially you made your way through a specific set of dungeons in a linear order uncovering the secrets of the troubles that have been plaguing the region, and the mysteries of your origin (which aren't actually highlighted all that much until three quarters of the way through the game). There weren't any fancy cinematic story sequences aside from the pre-rendered introduction and closing movies; important scenes were generally handled with text exposition due to the technical limitations of the era. This gave Baldur's Gate a bit of a "book" feel to it as it forced the player to use their imagination for a good deal of the game; this also includes dialogue as Baldur's Gate had minimal voice work.
While the main quest of Baldur's Gate was on rails you were allowed to freely explore a large amount of wilderness areas at any time. Many of these areas contained unique encounters and side quests that made exploration worthwhile. Not all of the areas were worth exploring mind you, but the ability to travel to these places added a sense of adventure to the game that is lacking in many of BioWare's later titles.
The dialogue system was an exact copy of the dialogue tree system created by Interplay for Fallout, and it's a system that BioWare still uses today in the vast majority of their releases. Unfortunately Baldur's Gate didn't handle the system as well as Interplay did as attributes had little impact on what you could say. High intelligence characters didn't have any more options than low intelligence characters for example. There were a couple of charisma checks, but not many.
Nostalgia Factor: Not much since I actually play this game along with its sequel annually. However it is a game that I was always pretty fond of.
Critical Reception: Baldur's Gate received a lot of praise from critics and players alike. MetaCritic has Baldur's Gate's MetaScore averaged at 91 for critic ratings while the user score is averaged at 9.3 – you can see more specifics here.
How it holds up: Depends on what you compare it with. Baldur's Gate is for the most part outdone by its sequel Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, but compared to most modern RPGs Baldur's Gate is actually a fairly deep and enjoyable experience. That is if of course if deep is what you are looking for, and if you can get past the obviously outdated graphics. Unfortunately the simplistic presentation of the story, and the lack of strongly developed companions may leave many of BioWare's newer fans cold. From a gameplay perspective though I would argue that this RPG is better than most of what BioWare has done since Baldur's Gate II.
Legacy: Baldur's Gate had an undeniable impact on the RPG genre, and an even bigger impact on BioWare as this was their defining title…the game that would lead to them becoming what they are today; it should be noted that Baldur's Gate II also played a role in this though.
BioWare has of course become something of a household name, and one of their latest RPGs, Dragon Age, is heralded by them as the "spiritual successor" to Baldur's Gate. I guess that's true if you ignore how it has only a fraction of the elements that made Baldur's Gate great, but never the less Baldur's Gate does live on in one way or another.
- Baldur's Gate had a small expansion pack called Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast. The expansion added a few new areas and side quests. The expansion did not expand upon the main story of the game or the series as a whole.
- This game is in no way related to the Dark Alliance console game series. Baldur's Gate was a PC exclusive RPG series.
- Boo is a miniature giant space hamster.
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