What have I gotten myself into? I agreed to take on Valhalla Knights 2 because at the time Ethos, Paws, and Adriaan were all busy with other games while I hadn't reviewed a new release since early August. Never having played Valhalla Knights, I approached the sequel knowledgeable of its predecessor's poor critical reception, but hopeful that things would be fixed up in this version. So far, I'm underwhelmed.
This blog entry finds me about 25 hours into the game. This is deceptive, though, because I wasted about 10 hours of game time. You see, the enemies in VK2 scale as you progress through the game. What the manual and game fail to inform you is that the enemies scale based upon how far into the dungeon you have travelled as opposed to scaling based on character level or plot progress. This means, for example, that you can dodge enemy encounters and delve into sections you are too weak to handle, escape, then re-enter the dungeon to find that all the enemies are now upscaled and annihilate your entire party in 3 seconds.
In case my frustration is getting lost in translation, let me explain this better. For 10 hours of game time, I entered the game's dungeon, died immediately, got kicked back to town, re-entered the dungeon, died immediately, got kicked back to town, and so on. For 10 hours! Eventually, I found one upscaled enemy encounter that gave some decent experience without killing my party. I ran around, battling that one enemy nonstop until I was finally levelled up enough to take down common enemies in the opening part of the dungeon. Then, finally, I was able to go back to making progress in the game.
This is a slightly condensed version of the truth, made simpler for the sake of understanding. It was actually a bit worse than the above description makes it sound.
Now that I've started things off with a rant, I will go into the actual gameplay on my next update. Hopefully this made sense even though I haven't laid out the foundation of describing how the game works yet.
9/22/2008 3:00 AM
Game time: 40 hours
The gameplay has gone back to being rather easy, formulatic, and mindless, and I am slowly making progress in the game. All of the quests are handled through the guild, and it can be tricky figuring out which ones contribute to the main plot and which are purely side quests. Because only one quest can be accepted at a time, I am trying to guess which ones are important, complete those, and then skip the rest because strolling back into the dungeon over and over for the pitiful quest rewards is wastefully time consuming.
Generally speaking, Valhalla Knights 2 plays like a common dungeon crawler. There is a single town in the game. A wall happens to separate it from a lengthy, multi-part series of ruins filled with constantly respawning monsters, and a lone guard at a gate keeps the flood of demons from invading the town. When you come in contact with one of the monsters in the field, it initiates a real time battle between your allies and a group of baddies.
Less generally speaking, the gameplay has a lot of issues. Right now, its biggest sin is a total lack of warp points. Imagine playing Diablo 2 with no waypoints or town portals. When you die at, say, the Cathedral in Act 1, you have to run all the way back from the Rogue Camp to the Cathedral to pick up where you left off. Now imagine that every single enemy respawned. That's what playing Valhalla Knights 2 is like, only it takes longer in VK 2 because bumping into an enemy along the way opens up a battle screen.
I'm pretty far into the game, and walking from the town to the location of my current quest takes a solid 10 minutes. There are some shortcuts I've opened up, but unlike a game like Etrian Odyssey 2 where a shortcut hacks off 90% of a floor, the shortcuts in VK2 cut out half of an area at best. Most areas don't even have shortcuts, though. The dungeon progresses mostly linearly too, rather than having a convenient hub and then branching off in separate directions like Shining in the Darkness. Hopefully the 100 people reading this blog and the 100 people who have played Shining in the Darkness will not be mutually exclusive groups, otherwise that reference will be lost on you.
The point is that every time I die, escape, or complete a quest, I waste 10 minutes getting back to where I was. There is also no map in the game aside from a zoomed in radar used mostly for spotting the location of enemies and treasure, so basically the entire map of this enormous labyrinth is being stored in my memory. But again, it's more linear than maze-like, so it's not much of a big deal.
I got a lot of playing time in today while watching football. I plan to finish the main quest in time to write up a review when VK2 hits stores next week. Hopefully, if I'm almost done now, there will only be one more blog update. Sadly, if this game is long... nah... I'm not going to think like that. I am sure I am near the end! *crosses fingers*
9/25/2008 3:00 AM
Game time: 45 hours
Oy. Three days and only 5 hours of game time? Ya. I decided to take a break from the madness Valhalla Knights 2 was inflicting upon me because I was getting more and more angry at the game, and I'd prefer not to be ticked off when I pen the review.
After the last blog entry, I decided to verify that I didn't exaggerate how long it takes me to walk from the entrance to my current depth in the dungeon. I was wrong, it took 13 minutes, not 10. And that was with me avoiding enemies more than usual for the sake of timing it. When I fight along the way, it takes closer to 20 minutes for me to start making progress again. Awesome.
In my continued attempts to target quests that look important before silly side quests, I worked my way into a bit of an ugly situation again. The game seems to be balanced with the expectation that you stop in every new area and grind for a while. Because you can only take on one quest at a time, and each area may have three or four quests, completing side quests forces you to hang around in the same area much longer than you normally would. The separate areas aren't particularly big, so surviving to one's exit can be done in one or two tries. If you move on immediately, you'll be too weak to handle the next area. You have to stop and grind over and over in every area. This wouldn't be a big deal -- and is normal in some RPG series -- except for the aforementioned "It takes 13 minutes to walk through the dungeon" issue. You don't spend 30 minutes grinding. You spent 13 minutes walking there, then 30 minutes grinding. Die after just a few battles, and the ratio is even worse.
That's where I am now. I ventured a touch too far into the dungeon, and spent nearly all of the last 5 hours of gameplay grinding. I'm still not strong enough to fight enemies in the next area without having everyone in my party fall over dead within the first 3 or 4 battles. When death comes in VK2, it comes fast.
9/30/2008 1:00 AM
Game time: 50 hours
I had a busy weekend, so 5 hours of game time in 5 days isn't quite as damning as it looks. "Quite" was an important word in that sentence.
I spent the entire last 5 hours level grinding. After finally killing the boss in the quest I've been halted at for over a week, I found out that.... there's another boss after that one. I still haven't finished the quest yet. For perspective, most quests take about 15 minutes to complete. 10 hours of gameplay have passed since I accepted this one, all of it spent level grinding.
Level grinding itself is flawed in Valhalla Knights 2. Rather than keeping a separate character level and job level like almost every other RPG in existence, there are no character levels in VK2. Every time a job level is gained, you get a stat point to allocate. Character stats stay the same when jobs are changed, so switching a level 30 fighter to a level 1 monk will have no impact on his stats. What it does do, however, is allow him to level up quicker. In this current grinding escapade, I got all my characters to about level 30 in their primary jobs, then switched them all to new jobs starting at level 1 -- not because multi-classing is awesome, or because having a dual classed thief/priest works like you'd expect it to -- I did it purely to get those precious level-up stat points faster.
Speaking of my poor thief/priest, dual classing works by giving the character the worse aspects of both classes. When she is a thief with priest as a subclass, she doesn't get the necessary MP regeneration that a priest has. When she is a priest with thief as a subclass, she can't use a thief's superior armor. Also, all melee classes have an awesome "reduce max MP" trait and all spell casting classes have a "reduce max HP" trait. My multi-classed thief/priest currently has the MP of a thief, without MP regen, with the HP of a priest. She stinks. Multi-classing only works decently when melee classes are combined with other melee classes and mage classes are combined with other mage classes, which isn't much different from not multi-classing at all.
Not helping is the limited control you have over your party. Each character has behavior points you can spend to give the AI an idea of what you want her to do. The previously mentioned thief/priest is equipped with a bow. I want her to heal when allies are hurt, and stick arrows into monsters as often as possible when they aren't. So I put only 3 behavior points into healing and a much higher 7 behavior points into attacking. I bet you're thinking that she attacks too often and everyone in my party dies, right? WRONG! All she does is heal, or nothing at all. I have 70% of her behavior points in "Attack," and the AI decides she should be a dedicated healer. I suppose it was designed this way to help keep you from dying so much, but it wrecks every one of my characters with healing spells. My knight has a similar setup with 1 behavior point in healing and the rest in attack, and he does attack often, but he regularly heals when I would rather have him hacking away at the enemy while one of the mages heals. This is the only way to control how your party behaves aside from hijacking one of them and controlling him yourself.
I'm hoping this multi-boss quest with its 10 hours of level grinding is the final one, or close to the final one. Actually, it would also be nice if the review copy breaks and I don't ever have to play it again.
10/5/2008 1:30 PM
Game time: 60 hours
I finished the multi-boss quest I was on, got excited when text started scrolling on the screen... then realized the game wasn't over. Really, it didn't feel like it was over, but I hoped that maybe VK2 ended with a cliffhanger since VK3 is in development.
So now I have to travel through at least 2 more areas of the dungeon. The enemies in the latest section kill me about 50% of the time, so I spend 15 minutes walking there, and then might die immediately, or might kill one or two enemies first. The enemies are displayed on the screen, but this current section has very narrow passages and its harder to avoid them. Because character growth is brokenly nerfed, there isn't much I can do about this. My mages have no life and die in 1 physical blow. I can't control them all at once; if a monster ops to stroll past my melee fighters and attack a mage first, the mage is going down. The bigger issue now, though, is all the magic users. If a baddie cuts loose one target-all magic attack, there's a decent chance it will kill one of my guys. Two of these spells in succession will certainly wipe out all the mages and nearly kill the tougher melee guys too. It's nearly impossible to run from battles against spellcasters too, hence all the dying.
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.