We’re only a week away from E3 2012, a show that promises to give us a glimpse of the next generation of video game consoles. Nintendo will play their hand with the Wii U and depending on who you believe, we may or may not see what Sony and Microsoft have in mind for their successors to the 360 and PS3.
For now, I’m enjoying the autumn years of the current generation. More specifically, I’m currently playing The Witcher II and Trials Evolution, both on the Xbox 360. The games are world apart in content and offer up very different selling points.
The Witcher II is a Polish action RPG. It’s an interesting game that tapped into my desire to play an interactive version of Game of Thrones. Now, there is an official Game of Thrones game on the way but it looks suspiciously like a cash-in and I suspect there’s a real chance that it will be total rubbish. The Witcher II doesn’t share a similar storyline to HBO’s ‘historical fantasy’ series but what it does offer is a fantasy game that is rooted in medieval history rather than being a spinoff of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There are dwarves and elves in the world of Temeria but they are poor and unglamorous, treated mostly like second class citizens. The world is unkind to all but the aristocrats and is populated by various kings and army generals vying for power, with a web of political jockeying taking place between the mages and advisors who ride their coattails.
The fantasy video game genre is a densely populated one but I’ve played few games that have the atmosphere and charisma of The Witcher series. It’s enjoyable to play the product of something from a different part of the world and it certainly feels as though the game’s origins in both its Polish video game studio and Polish fantasy book series are responsible for its unique charm.
One thing that I find ubiquitous to role playing games, be they Polish, Japanese, American or anywhere else is that the best ones usually hit their peak midway through the game. Its when you hit that point where you’ve learnt the game’s mechanics, you’ve unlocked several skill trees and made the character your own and you’re grinding and looting has paid off to the point that you are getting the best of enemies that once took a great effort to defeat. I’m at that stage now in The Witcher II and its a great feeling. Even games like Final Fantasy XIII-2 which has dreadful characters and an indecipherable storyline are worth ploughing through if the combat system and the character development is satisfying.
To reach that stage in The Witcher II or most other RPGs takes an investment of about 10 hours minimum.
Trials Evolution on the other hand, gets straight to the point. This arcade BMX biking game is all about immediacy and mastery of its nuanced, fiddly but ultimately entertaining control mechanics. The earlier levels can be completed with relative ease but as you progress to the medium and hard levels, its not uncommon to die a dozen times in a single section. To be clear, its not uncommon to die a dozen times in just one section of a level. And sometimes you can die a dozen times in the span of about 30 seconds. Whats great about this type of game is that it controls perfectly (even though it is difficult to master) and the game offers such an immediacy in restarting a failed attempt that it gradually channels you into a gaming ‘zen’ mode where it demands a heightened concentration to pass a single sliver of the track that might only take 3 seconds when performed correctly. It’s the complete opposite of relishing a character honed after 20 hours in an RPG but man, when the mood takes you, sometimes there’s nothing better in gaming that nailing that perfect uphill climb or sticking the landing of a particularly tricky ramp.
Best of all, ten minutes of Trials Evolution is often the perfect tonic to round out a night playing The Witcher II. Two fantastic games whose reviews will be forthcoming when I finish them. It might be a while.