Sunday, 21 October 2012

It Came From the Backlog: Geneforge 1 (Part I)

There are a lot of people out there with a massive collection of games that they really would like to finish but haven't for some reason.  It just sits there and grows as things like Steam sales come along and we get yet more games and still don't get around to completing them.  I'm one of these people, and I've got a worryingly huge backlog, so I've decided to make a concerted effort to put a dent in it by actually writing about my experiences in these games as I try and finish them.  I doubt I'll ever completely clear my backlog, but this should be a good start.

For my first game in this grand experiment, I've chosen to play through the first Geneforge game.  I got it as a compilation with the rest of the Geneforge series at a Steam sale a while ago, but never got around to playing any of the games.  It was only when the series had its "Pay What You Want" campaign a little while ago that I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, I have those games, maybe I should try actually playing them," and here we are.  It's an RPG about a group that is part magic users, and part genetic engineers, and they may not be the nicest folks around.  You're plunged into their world and have to decide whether you're with them, against them, or going to forge your own path.  Before proceeding I should say that there will be spoilers in the article, as the story is such a central part of this game that I don't feel I could properly discuss it without talking about it.  So, if you're cool with that, read on, if not, you may want to stop reading here.

My first creation, a fyora.  These are
good for overwhelming baddies
early on in the game.
When starting the game you have three classes to choose from when creating your character: a guardian (melee heavy, with okay monster creating abilities, and weak magic), an agent (strong magic, so-so melee, and weak monster creating), and a shaper (strong monster creation, okay magic, and weak melee).  I opted for a shaper because it looked like fun to make a huge armory of strange creatures that would fight for me, and also these guys seemed central to the overall story and a lot of the goings on in Geneforge's game world, so why not roll one.

After making my shaper, it was time to set off on an adventure.  The game had my guy travelling to a Shaper academy to learn his skills, as he's only an apprentice just starting out.  While en route, he gets attacked by a mysterious vessel, and becomes shipwrecked on a strange island.  While exploring it, we discover that it was actually home to a Shaper research facility some 200 years earlier, but something happened that caused the Shapers to evacuate, and since then the island has been barred.  This means something very bad must have happened here, and anyone caught on the island would be punished with death, as Shapers aren't fond of others sneaking about their territories, potentially trying to learn the sect's secrets.  From here it's up to players to figure out what happened on this island all those years ago, and also find a boat so that they can get off the thing.

The way this unfolds is really neat because Geneforge is actually a very open game.  Players can pretty much explore wherever they want just so long as they're strong enough to defeat any of the enemies that may be in the zone that they're exploring.  Early on I found myself wandering around one of the quarantine areas by the docks where Shapers processed new arrivals to the island, and was able to get a basic feel for the place.  It gave the impression that something bad must have happened on the island, but there wasn't much clue as to what.  A little ways in I stumbled across a canister that, when closely inspected, gave my character the ability to create his first creature, a fyora, a little, red, fire breathing raptor.  He would be quite helpful in fighting whatever monsters try to attack me.  It should be noted that there are little canisters strewn across the island that will teach you new abilities or improve existing ones.  They're extremely useful.

Why was Sucia abandoned?  There are a lot of
unfriendly beasts roaming its ruins.
In that building I also met a creature called a servant mind.  These are beings created by the Shapers to perform various administrative duties, and while it wasn't able to tell me any specifics as to why the Shapers left Sucia (that's the name of the island), it did peak my curiosity as to why the island was abandoned.  These servant minds are an interesting bunch, as they have a lot of knowledge.  Sometimes they will share information with you, sometimes they won't, but they always seem to have something that they can tell you that will make you more curious about this or that area of Sucia.  Every time I see a new one that I can talk to I actually get a little bit excited because I want to hear what they have to say.  What tasks were assigned to them?  What can they tell me about their region of the island?  Can I maybe get some clues as to what happened on Sucia 200 years ago?  It's always a treat to find one of these creatures, even if they're dead, there's a small story to be told as to what's been going on in their area of the island.

But yeah, met a servant mind early on in the game.  It wasn't really of much help telling me what happened on Sucia, as it was ordered to keep that a secret by the Shapers when they left.  It was nice enough to open the rear door to the building we were in, though, so I could venture deeper into the island.  Upon exiting the building I met a diminutive robed person who seemed rather shocked to see me, and a little afraid.  He was a servile, effectively a slave race created by the Shapers to perform all sorts of tasks in their facilities.  It turns out that when the Shapers left Sucia they abandoned the serviles in the process.  This guy was from the nearby village of Vakkari, and asked me to go there and meet the village's leader, so I did.

After a little bit of talking with the locals and their leader, I learned that when the Shapers left the island the serviles had to fend for themselves against the elements, and rogue creations (essential Shaper creations that can no longer be controlled, and now run a muck).  Over time the serviles split into three factions located in three different villages on the island.  There are the Awakened who no longer want to be treated as slaves, but as equals to humans, the Obeyers who have stuck to the original mindset of the serviles, looking at the Shapers as some sort of god that must be appeased at all times, and the Takers, a militant group of serviles who want to attain Shaper knowledge for themselves and use it to destroy their creators.

Thahds help a lot with mitigating damage early in the game.  They
can be easily confused, though, so be careful of that.

I've actually had a hard time deciding which factions I want to side with and to what extent.  You don't actually have to pick a side if you don't want to, but some actions may cause you to become a group's enemy regardless.  Each faction has a very compelling story explaining who they are and why they believe what they believe.  About the only group I can see myself destroying are the Takers.  It's tragic that they became the way they did, as it would appear that their group has suffered far more than the other serviles on the island, and it's really the Shapers' fault that this has happened, but they seem so obsessed with revenge that they may take too many risks and try to attain powers that they may not be able to control.  As such, I can see myself having to exterminate them, but mostly as a mercy killing at this point.

Dealing the the Awakened, though, they're quite the level headed group.  They just want equality for their people, and if you help them, they'll be happy to help you in return.  A number of people in their village needed assistance with various things be it re-establishing trade with the other villages, clearing out rogue creations from bordering regions, or simply meeting their true leader who lives in a neighboring fortress.  All of these were fairly simple tasks, and I even found a few areas nearby with useful canisters to learn new abilities (like making thahds, large green humanoids who make for pretty decent tanks in the early game).  I also met another servant mind, but sadly it wasn't very forthcoming with information explaining why the island was abandoned.

I did come across a couple of curious things during my time around Vakkari.  First there was a Taker spy hiding in a small house on the edge of the village.  He asked me to kill the Awakened's leader.  I'm not terribly inclined to do so, but when exploring his fortress I discovered a series of tunnels far to the back of the place, and when guards saw me there they shooed me away.  Do the Awakened have something to hide?  Whatever's back there?  Is it the reason the Takers want this faction's leader dead?  For now I don't have the answers to those questions.  Maybe as I venture further across the island these questions will be answered.

And guess what, we'll visit those questions in the next article where I head to Pentil and meet the Obeyers, the next servile faction in the game.

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