When it comes to getting back for your buck, RPGs are one the best genres to turn to. Nothing says killing time to me quite like putting forty hours into a game that generally comes packed with enough side quests to make up another game by themselves. Overall, it’s just a genre that likes to make you work to complete each game and when you’re low on cash, that is most definitely a plus.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3, 360)
With Fallout 3 now on the market, Oblivion might seem like a silly game to be getting into. That being said, it’s still a massive and high quality game that can be found in its original state for under thirty dollars. You take on the role of an escaped prisoner in a fantasy world who is tasked with saving the empire from the incursions of the demonic plane of Oblivion. It’s a pretty standard fantasy plot that the player may joyously ignore if they so choose. The wonderful thing about Oblivion is the way you can adhere to any or no plot lines as you choose. When I first played Oblivion I spent literally days just exploring the various dungeons and caves scattered across the game world. I wandered with no real purpose, taking on a side quest here or there and had a blast. And once I took on one of the game’s many plot lines things just got better. Suffice it to say that I loved Oblivion and would probably still be playing it today if I hadn’t sold it. And don’t let that act disparage the quality of the game for you. I sold Oblivion because I had and still have a whopping backlog of games and I knew I would never finish them off as long as I had it sitting there to tempt me.
I must give some attention to the game’s problems, though. The combat can get repetitive. Play as a warrior and you’ll spend a lot of time blocking while you wait to get in a shot here or there. Making matters worse, while you gain levels and grow stronger, your enemies get more powerful with you. So while it makes some sense for it to take twenty sword blows to bring down your opponents when the game first starts off, it becomes annoying when halfway through the game you haven’t seemed to have gotten any better. Other annoyances plague the game. Magic is disproportionately strong. In the game I’ve gone head to head with a cave troll, hit it fifteen times with an ax and had it still standing and walloping me. A similarly leveled wizard character could probably bring down the same troll with a single spell. At times the game almost seems to punish you for sticking to brute force. Warrior characters are easily overwhelmed by multiple opponents, and things that would make sense in other games, like arrow headshots working as one-hit kills, don’t apply here. The modding community has fixed many of these problems with the PC version, but the console versions lack the same capabilities and suffer for it.
Overall though, Oblivion is an excellent game, and well worth the price of admission considering the near two hundred hours of play time one could potentially get out of it. It has problems, yes, and by all accounts Fallout 3 is a better game with similar gameplay concepts, but Fallout 3 is also still a full-price, sixty-dollar game, which leaves Oblivion a much more viable option for the fiscally challenged gamer.
Amazon (Note: Used Amazon.com prices are subject to change)
New- $27.99 (PS3)
Used- $15.00 (PS3)
Used- $26.99 (360)
Etrian Odyssey (DS)
Etrian Odyssey is not a game for the faint of heart. The game is just as hard during the first five minutes as it is in the last five hours, and at times the difficulty level borders on brutality. That being said, it’s good brutality. You feel far more satisfied when you’ve accomplished something in this game than you would in an easier one, and as a whole it is incredibly addictive.
Etrian Odyssey is built very much around the styling of the old, first person dungeon crawlers. You begin the game by establishing a party of your choice, giving them names, equipping them; the basics. Then you simply enter the labyrinth the game centers on and explore. It’s a very simple concept that works incredibly well for a few reasons. Firstly, Etrian Odyssey brilliantly uses the DS’s touch screen to let you keep a map of your travels as you progress. Every square of each map you explore can be jotted down so that if you fall in battle–be prepared to die lots–you have a record of your progress. The game thrives on a vibe of exploration that has you constantly telling yourself you can make it just one more square. The very act of making it down a hallway can be a thrill. Secondly, the game, despite its simplicity, requires you to actually think about what you’re doing. Unlike many RPGs currently on the market, in this game you can never just charge in, guns blazing. If you don’t plan ahead, buying enough potions or putting together a balanced party, you will be succinctly butchered by even the most pathetic of foes.
There are some problems with the game, of course. The difficulty can be very discouraging at times. It truly sucks to have collected a ton of cool items and to have leveled up your characters a bunch, only to get caught in a fight you can’t handle and have all of that progress go down the drain. This is exacerbated by the fact that you can’t just start off on the last level you were exploring. Each time you enter the labyrinth you have to trek through all the floors before it. There is some mercy here. You occasionally reach waypoints that can be warped to as an alternative, but generally speaking the player is going to be treading a lot of the same ground over and over again. The complete lack of a story can also be a bit odd. Modern RPGs generally pride themselves on their deep storylines, but Etrian Odyssey’s entire story is, “You’re a band of explorers. Go explore.” There are some side quests to spice things up a bit, but they too are generally pretty pretty bland. Some gamers won’t mind this so much–it didn’t bother me–while others may become bored with doing the same old, same old for no real purpose.
So why is Etrian Odyssey a bargain? Well, plainly put, the game is fun and the game is long. You’ll easily find twenty to thirty hours of gameplay here, and for a game under thirty dollars that’s quite the bargain. It has its flaws of course, but many of them are more about personal preference then anything really wrong with the game. Overall, it’s a slick, modern take on an old formula that many fans of RPGs will be able to appreciate.
Amazon (Note: Used Amazon.com prices are subject to change)
Games to Avoid
In case you’ve been living under a gaming rock recently, you probably know that Tabula Rasa can now be found on Amazon for about a dollar. I’m not a big fan of MMORPGs so I honestly can’t profess to know much about the game, it’s quality, etc. In fact the only thing I can recollect about the game is that there was a naked picture of its female icon in Playboy last year (I read the articles, I swear). What I can tell you is that very few games that are this young sell for a dollar because they’re high quality, and when it comes to MMORPGs, a price that low is probably a fair indicator that the game has not long to live. Go ahead and buy it if you want–it’s only a dollar after all–but your 96 cents might be spent better elsewhere.