The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column – the "funk" edition. Maybe you've experienced the sensation, maybe you haven't, but after finishing our last subject, Death Stranding (which was great by the way), we found ourselves in a quandary. WTF do we play next? And can we bring ourselves to write about it?*
For the most part, we've kept things reasonably contemporaneous for a monthly column except where there was an older title we absolutely had to talk about. Sadly, the September release diary was looking a bit dismal for our tastes. Did we admit defeat? Heck no! This columnist girded his loins, swallowed his pride, and dived headlong into a few titles that honestly held little to no interest personally. Cyberpunk 2077, you cannot come soon enough.
The Bad: Crysis Remastered
The ultimate meme game. In 2007, when it was released, word of Crysis was inescapable thanks to its steep requirements. There didn't seem to be a consumer rig out there capable of playing German developer Crytek's first-person shooter to a satisfactory level, but enthusiasts with money to burn tried all the same.
This gave rise to the catchphrase "But can it run Crysis?" with regard to literally any new hardware (or, ahem, software) – a meme that refuses to die and indeed pops up even among these pages when we make the odd and often ill-advised stab at humour.
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Crysis passed your columnist by entirely. When you're outfitted at uni with a by-the-numbers Dell laptop that can just about handle World of Warcraft and an Xbox 360, why would you care about Crysis?
At the time, Microsoft's Halo 3 was a household name so the world already had a power-suited-super-soldier-shoots-aliens title. It's what my friends and I played anyway, and Master Chief made Crysis look generic.
That's without mentioning the lacklustre performance at high settings on the most powerful commercially available GPUs of the day (47.6fps – disgusting). The graphics may well have been "jaw dropping" 13 years ago but in 2020 they are most certainly not, and in hindsight it sounds like a poorly optimised mess. We have standards now.
But look here, Crytek's remaster came out on 18 September – that's after being postponed due to leaked screenshots disappointing some regarding improvements on the original, and revelations that it's based not off the PC release, but the 360/PS3 versions. "This extra time until release will allow us to get Crysis Remastered up to the PC- and console-breaking standard you've come to expect from Crysis games," the game's Twitter account burbled. So we're off to a good start. I shrugged and thought I'd see if I had actually missed anything.
Now, my rig totes a soon-to-be-last-gen RTX 2080 and a rather more aged i7, which is bottlenecking the GPU slightly, but it's still no slouch and runs whatever I throw at it marvellously (for now). Can it run Crysis Remastered? Yes, but I don't know why you'd want to. On startup I did the typical benchmarking thing of cranking the settings, the highest of which is called "Can it run Crysis?" (ohoho Crytek, you are a card). Aaaaand... black screen, though audio continued to function. OK, let's try again, and tone things down this time to "High". We're in.
My immediate thought was: "Is this it?" Granted, Crysis Remastered is a remaster, not a ground-up remake, but I expected something more modern. Though the gimped base has been slathered with improved lighting, Nvidia's ray-tracing tech (RTX), and upgraded textures, it still looks dated compared to the big-hitters of today.
Performance was "fine", but not good enough when better-looking games pull consistently buttery frame rates at highest quality. The most recent Far Cry titles, which are built on a fork of CryEngine, are apt examples. It was also beset by random frame drops and stutters, though managed highs around 70fps in 1080p.
So back to the "Can it run Crysis?" settings then, but from within the game. And it worked… after a lot of hanging loading screens (the release as a whole does not feel especially stable). I'm squinting at the jungle environment of the early game, trying to see noticeable differences. They must be there, but I can't tell just by eyeballing the surroundings.
What was noticeable, however, is that, though it runs, it doesn't run particularly well at all. While I have switched RTX on for some titles that support the tech (it genuinely lent itself to Shadow of the Tomb Raider), the performance trade-off is not always worth it, and that was the case here**. Blundering around at 30-40fps may be fantastic if you're used to consoles, but PC gamers are made of sterner stuff. Again, the random frame drops marred the experience.
Gameplay itself was straightforward: do what you're told, go here, do that, murder the Korean baddies, chase the flying alien thing. I liked the gunplay, which felt more realistic compared to the arcade-y and aforementioned Halo 3, but the puny human enemies were bullet sponges when in reality I imagine a shot to the chest or head with an AK would be an immediate death sentence. The abilities of your character's "nanosuit" – which include an inhuman sprint, shield, and Predator-like cloaking device – were neat and all but, against the backdrop of poor performance and underwhelming graphics, I was not having fun. I like fun.
Crytek says "PC- and console-breaking". When not even the new RTX 3080 can play the remaster on max settings in 4K at anything better than 25-32fps, I say it is Crysis that is broken. CryEngine shouldn't be celebrated for being bad. Not worth your time or money so into the bin it goes.
The Average: Wasteland 3
Sadly for Wasteland 3, turn-based RPGs will forever be haunted by the spectre of Divinity: Original Sin 2. Released in 2017 by Belgian studio Larian, the game set the bar for the genre incredibly high and it remains one of the best I have ever played. Anything released in that vein is doomed to be compared with it, and that fate overshadows inXile Entertainment's latest addition to the recently revived Wasteland series.
What piqued my interested about it, though, is that the 1988 original developed by Interplay laid the foundations for what would become the renowned Fallout series. Interplay holds a special place in my heart for publishing Bioware's Dungeons & Dragons-based RPGs, which were influenced in no small part by the first Fallout's isometric view and dialogue trees.
Obviously, with the franchise later passing to Bethesda (and now Microsoft too), Fallout bears little resemblance to the first two games, and my attempts long ago at the 1997 debut were thwarted by the curse of dated graphics and interfaces.
inXile was founded by former Interplay staff who crowdfunded a Wasteland sequel in 2012 as well as Torment: Tides of Numenera in 2017, which was pitched as a spiritual successor to Interplay's lauded Planescape: Torment. So the pedigree is there and the release of Wasteland 3 last month seemed an ideal opportunity to take a look.
As rangers on a diplomatic mission from post-apocalyptic Arizona into Colorado, your party is ambushed by local hillbillies leaving your two main characters as the last survivors – so the beginning is action-packed enough and the turn-based combat, which is most comparable to XCOM, is enjoyable.
But the in-between bits – the talking, the world building, the exploring – were sort of... irritating. While characters are highly customisable with perks, skills, and abilities, they have zero personality aside from what you as the player project onto them. Same goes for the hordes of randomly generated squad members, all except the occasional fully scripted character that you can invite to join you. Compared to the fleshed-out writing and character development of D:OS 2, where all had their own agendas and individual quest lines, the opening hours of Wasteland 3 left me feeling cold.
Although I made some interesting decisions, like convincing a youth to execute her boyfriend for conspiring with enemy factions, and then murdering an entire generation of Colorado's wealthiest families, the threat of a base management system and the tedious bits between battles ultimately led me to close the game without returning.
It is likely worth more thorough investigation, but nothing about it has screamed at me to pick it back up. Like I said, this is the "gaming funk" edition, not "this game is awesome! you should get it!"
The Keeper: Crusader Kings 3
This month wasn't a total bust, thankfully. There was one new game, released 1 September, that managed to keep me glued to the screen till the wee hours for at least a couple of nights – and I fully intend to get back to it at some point and actually learn how to play.
Crusader Kings 3 is the latest title from Swedish "grand strategy" specialists Paradox Interactive – grand strategy differing from real-time strategy in that it has a far broader scope than the quick-fire resource management of the latter, throwing diplomacy and intrigue into the mix while abstracting warfare.
It's set in the Middle Ages with two possible starting dates, 867 or 1066, and each game runs from the Viking Age until the Fall of Byzantium. Gameplay takes place from a map of the known world – Europe, North Africa and Arabia, through to the Far East – with countless menus to manage as you attempt to build your kingdom into an empire.
But it's also a dynasty simulator. You choose your kingdom, initially based on history, and assume the role of its king or queen. As the game unfolds over hundreds of years, naturally your character will die so it's critical that you pump out children – the more the better. This can be done by arranging marriages, which can often bring significant diplomatic and military benefits through alliance, and once your ruler kicks the bucket, you continue playing as their heir.
The tutorial takes place in a fractured and feudal Ireland, which seems to be an ideal start for the new player. It's not my first rodeo with Crusader Kings – I have the second entry but only played it a couple of hours before giving up due to its complexity. Crusader Kings 3 seems to do a much better job of explaining itself, though there were still some things that took a while to figure out.
Most interactions between characters take place from a dropdown menu that tells you what you can and can't do to them – murder or seduction schemes, stripping titles or awarding them, and more – but the administration of your kingdom is carried out through your council, and it's a good idea to keep those nobles on side lest they start plotting to dethrone you.
Once the tutorial is over, you can continue playing as normal so I watched with wonder as my kingdom gradually grew in prosperity and I was able to conquer a few neighbouring realms. I hoped to at least unite Ireland before things went to hell, but, just as in real life, Crusader Kings 3 rarely goes as planned.
My starting king died of natural causes and his heir took the throne, only to perish under mysterious circumstances a few years later. Likewise, his son was killed while on campaign – but not in combat with enemy forces. I suspected a rogue spymaster, who thankfully also then died of old age. My petty kingdom then began to thrive for the first time in generations under the new ruler. But his heir was a sickly weirdo who eventually spiralled into madness, abdicating then dying after briefly holding a council office.
At this point, the Anglo-Saxons started bullying me and I had nowhere near the military strength necessary to mount a resistance. The cool thing about Crusader Kings 3 (and probably the series in general), however, is that seeing your realm descend into total chaos is just as fun as "winning", as is the effort to get things back under control. The game will not end as long as you have an heir, no matter how bad things get.
It's a sandbox where every decision has a consequence – there's just no knowing what those consequences may be. All the while, every other character is AI-controlled, doing their own thing unbeknown to you until you run afoul of them. This weekend I'll be experimenting with one of these noob-friendly kingdoms and seeing where things go. ®
Since "all the kids are playing it", I also had a go at Among Us, which is a bit like Cluedo... IN SPAAACE, fits into little more than 40MB, downloads in seconds, and costs £3.99. It can be played locally or online. Players are spacemen with various jobs to carry out aboard their ship – but one is an impostor tasked only with murdering the others. When a body is discovered, a player calls a meeting where the identity of the killer can be discussed. A vote is then called, and the alleged impostor is shot out of the airlock. If the vote was wrong, the game resumes and the killer continues their reign of terror until they are correctly identified. It's a fun and addictive "party game", though the quality of online communication made me fear for the education system.
*The gaming funk has been exacerbated by the fact that I have reeled my better half into playing Sea of Thieves with me on school nights. It is so much fun that everything else I tried this month paled in comparison.
**Screenshots were taken with all settings turned to "Can it run Crysis?"