@ Darilon: I have comments on Geneforge at the end of the message. I wrote them in the future. So they're not up here.
San Andreas - This is a long, exasperated sigh of a game. Because its setting is wonderful, the atmosphere is spot-on, what they achieved with the limited means they had here is /astonishing/, and it's a complete joy to explore.
But then you keep running into the story missions. They're not /hard/ per se. They're just poorly designed and miserable and they don't fit in the game at all. I give up on this thing.
Did see some videos on Youtube of Saint's Row 3 running reasonably well on hardware that's comparable to mine, so I figured it'd work okay for me. Turns out nope.
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Messed around with GTA4 a bit. Definitely like the driving physics here -- the cars don't fly around like cardboard boxes made of flight when you crash into anything. Although I guess the weird card handling in SA is an artifact of the skill system.
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Did the first Samedi mission in Saint's Row 2 and once you get used to it it's totally playable at like 8FPS. Also did something where my dude set himself on fire and drove into other dudes. I imagine SR3 would be too except that makes my system overheat.
Anyway SR2 doesn't really seem to require (and actively discourages maybe) the kind of precise driving that San Andreas does. As another counterpoint to SA, I like how SR2 has stuff to do on every block or so, that you can find by just wandering around and discovering it. Yeah, the story missions are relegated to particular quest giver sites, but it doesn't feel like you run out of stuff to do during the free roaming bits -- also you build up, uh, points to start the next story mission during free roam anyway so it feels like a more effective metagame, and not a situation where the story and free roam are completely divorced?
That's something that Bethesda definitely go right from Morrowind onwards -- you still get questlines from guilds, but you can also get quests from other NPCs that are just /hangin' around/ in places (There are some issues with this though -- I'll talk about those in a second). Similarly, finding Stars/area bosses/loot in Suik 3 just hanging out in places while I go off and explore has been a really joyful experience.
Geneforge 1 has a lot more to it if you play as a Pokemon master, and considerably less if you play as a fighter dude, in which case I think you're just going to be soloing stuff with melee a lot.
One thing I DID find offputting about Geneforge was that it had a very rigid get quest -> do quest -> clear out all the monsters in the map in the process structure to it. They're varied and not really fetch quests and the story is SUPER interesting, but there's a LOT of combat and you really do tend to have to systematically explore maps -- and I felt like the systematicity was a huge problem with Morrowind, as well. Like I said above, it rewards exploration, but it never quite hits the organic level of gameplay progression that some RPGs get because you eventually have to start taking a systematic approach to exploration.
Anyway, Geneforge's maps are reasonably sized and fairly interesting. It just DOES get kind of much, especially on maps where you have traps slowing your down. It's like eating too much fried cheese, for the soul.
But it's definitely a good game -- just one you'll probably want to play in bursts instead of marathons.
Future Geneforge games are supposed deeper for some reason. I think 3 was not well liked. I never really got to them because my dog died like a week after I got the Geneforge pack.
As an aside, Suikoden 3 feels really organic to me in the sense that the map will sometimes open up a new location, which is a huge flag to go check it out, but when you do, maybe you go to the trade good shop and see that VdZ has really cheap crystal balls and oh hey I can sell those at Duck Hollow for a lot, so you head over there, meat a new star on the way,pawn the crystal balls, buy soy sauce for caleria, and oh hey the area boss respawned and now I get to fight it.
I wanna say that to hit the kind of organic gameplay progression I'm talking about, you need some kind of side activity that can entice you into exploring beyond just exploring for exploration's sake. Xenoblade's fetch quests were actually a really good example of this, in the sense that, while they were straightforward, they encouraged you to explore while doing them, but in the process you'd invariably find OTHER stuff to do.
It's like a cascading progression -- doing one activity leads to another, but without activity A being a prerequisite for Activity B, just something that puts you in the vicinity of Activity B so you can pick up on it on your own.
Neither Geneforge or Morrowind were particularly good about doing this from what I remember. The quests tended to take you to areas that had a lot of loot if you felt like exploring, but... you always kind of expected it to be there, hence the rote exploration and the sense of discovery being sort of diminished, and it never really led to new events or something unexpected. Also I /seem/ to recall Geneforge having a pretty 1:1 quest to area ratio.
... Actually one area where San Andreas sort of does this is with the tagging locations, since the story missions take you by a lot of them, although from what I've seen you can't always get out and start tagging during the missions so it's more like a oh hey have fun stressing out over remembering where this ting is for later deal.