While I am meaning to replay Planescape: Torment at some point soon, I felt that I should probably leave it off until my mind is released from the brilliant but bewildering complexity of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series. With the days increasingly lengthy from a new job bookended by at least 1h30 of commute, I also felt that maybe I needed to settle in a bit before biting into a super-giant slab of RPG… So I wanted to play something a little more lightweight.
I enjoyed Venetica the first time around, and that was a long time ago, so why not give it another spin and see what falls out?
I didn’t much remark on the quality of the port the first time around — this being (sigh) primarily an Xbox game — but it’s rather annoying. I have to run it on stupidly low settings, and I had to manually (config file edit, huzzah!) disable dynamic shadows because they flickered like mad. I probably had to do this the first time, but it is a lovely game so no doubt glossed over that.
There is a strange situation with graphics that I find in times like these. I bet that Venetica looks absolutely sublime on max settings, but on the lowest its textures do turn a bit mushy and I’m not convinced at all by the too-bright outdoor day-time lighting. I find fairly often that older games on the highest settings look much better than new games on the lowest settings… I guess it’s a matter of different technologies like bloom and normals maps scaling differently, but I do wonder why ultra-modern games running low can’t be as beautiful as the likes of UT2004 and whatnot.
I guess it’s because all the settings are locked under a single umbrella. Maybe I could do with toning down shadows and physics while the texture resolution wouldn’t need to suffer, but without any fine-tuning I just can’t hit the right balance. Remind me to replay Venetica whenever I get around to building the next powerhouse.
But let’s not get bogged down in the negatives. It’s still a luffly game, lag spikes aside.
Creature design is definitely one of the highlights for me. Wild animals like the Delver and Gripper are nicely suggestive of real animals but with a fantastical twist — the Gripper is a large and heavy crustacean that has glowing “beacons” like Angler fish, as befit its underground habitat. The Lector demons are also manic and shifty-looking, but casually avoid descending into the outright grotesque that I’ve never been fond of.
The downside is that there isn’t much in the way of enemy variety. I mentioned in the first run that the game is a little bit stunted in some ways, like how there are only five suits of armour in the entire game, from the hilarious backless leather mail to the very shapely full plate. (Is it wrong of me to find shapely full plate armour more attractive than chainmail bikinis?) Likewise there aren’t particularly many different wild animals to fight, and the obligatory flying enemies are a pain in the bum until you can unlock some ranged spells.
Being an action RPG the central focus has to be combat, and Venetica‘s combat is very fine. It’s big and meaty and, even though it can sometimes be fast paced, it’s more often quite measured and careful. Different enemies have fairly distinct strategies for defeating them, and they’ll all block and attack and use abilities in different ways. Maybe that feeds into the overall lack of enemy variety; each enemy variety is at least mechanically distinct.
The four weapon categories add another layer of distinction. While swords and The Moonblade are interchangeable (bar the spells and abilities surrounding them), the heavy hammers and axes are brutally powerful but horrendously slow, making them the right tool only for certain situations and enemies rather than a more basic player preference choice.
Actually, there is more equipment variety than I remember, at least amongst the weapons if not the clothing. However, obviously armed with a bit of foreknowledge about how the game goes about its business from last time, I’ve been doing a lot more exploring and digging around — the more advanced weapons haven’t ever fallen into my lap from questing, but rather from tripping over merchants and (fun for all the family) digging up treasure.
Second time around, it’s still great fun. Its pitfalls are few and by no means game-breaking, while the meat of its combat is excellent fun and its gently whimsical world is a joy to plunder. Very much a flawed gem, but a gem nonetheless.