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Default Geneforge 1 Review

September 17th, 2011, 04:22
I figured I'd do another mini review having completed Geneforge 1 last night.

I'll compare it to the other two Spiderweb Games I've completed: Geneforge 4 and Avadon.

Why talk about Avadon?
Avadon clearly shows that Jeff is taking his games mainstream. I much prefer "pick your stats" type progression with lots of options versus the guided skill tree. In the free system, If you want to buck the "intent" of the class you can, investing points in intelligence for a fighter for example, or melee for a spell caster. It might not work out well, but I like the freedom. Avadon gives you some relevant class customization but you won't be escaping the class at all. Geneforge 1 (and 4 for that matter) are both open and superior in my opinion.

I want open World Gaming! Or do I?
In addition to the open skill system, Geneforge 1 is a very open game, even by Geneforge 4 standards. That is both good and bad. Being completely open requires amazingly well architected risk/reward game balancing which Geneforge 1 falls short on, falling on the easier side of the fence. I still completed the plotline and touched all explorable areas, but I was able to carve my way through what should have been very high risk areas too easily, becoming fully leveled some 60% though the game. In fairness we are not talking about "Two Worlds" broken here, which left you god like in roughly 45 minutes…but its still broken as far as progression is concerned. Sadly these "high risk" areas weren't even epic battles, they were just marginally challenging, less so than even Avadon which I found to be too easy on normal difficulty levels. This is somewhat shocking compared to the brutal difficulty of Geneforge 4.

As I explore this series, I'm becoming convinced that melee classes are significantly more challenging than other options. In Geneforge 4 I was getting smoked left and right in the melee / shaper combo. Playing it safe in Geneforge 1 as a spellcaster / Shaper had the opposite effect. Specifically, the Vlish concentration was just too powerful. At any rate, Geneforge 4 adopts the "nearly impossible battle" system effectively chaptering progression. I think that was a wise choice for the series.

Story…Typical Spiderweb
I was not surprised at all to find the game rich. Its great and has the factions and choices I've come to expect from Spiderweb. I don't think the consequences are quite as relevant as Geneforge 4 or Avadon, but it has significance.

Graphical Powerhouse
I used to cringe looking at any of Spiderweb's screenshots. Truly… Avernum, Geneforge… all so painfully crude. All I can say is give it a few hours and you just won't care because the games are so damn engrossing and graphics become charming. When you encounter your first horribly pixelated pack of Terror Vlish (blue vs. green!) with basic animations (being kind here) its fear and dread like Dead Space. On the technical side the 800x600 resolution did not bother me as much as I thought it might. That's a good thing, since you don't get more real estate for the environment until Geneforge 3 when the character panel vanishes. Geneforge 4 bumps up to 1024x768 and then again for Geneforge 5. Still, I found there is no issue adapting to 800x600.

Core Mechanics
I won't lie. The improvements by the time you hit Geneforge 4 are significant. That being said, I was surprisingly pleased to discover how full featured Geneforge 1 is. It is nearly as robust as Geneforge 4. I'll make up a metric here… its 80% as featured as Geneforge 4. But there is that 20% missing… Here is an example. What a neat idea making potions have weight. Adds to realism! Wait.. that's not a good idea at all. In fact its a horrible idea. Sure it is realistic but given the amount of potions you are likely to find its just not fun visiting the town to maintain your stash, outfitting yourself for each mission, or multiple times for each mission. Think about it. Magic users don't have much strength, which means poor encumberance and that means lots of maintenance trips to rebalance your puny inventory. Open a chest, see the wonderful goodies and groan. Thankfully Geneforge lets to drop items anywhere, anytime and will persist them. I had a few houses literally littered with hundreds of unique supply items. A dragon's cache! Thankfully the inventory system got revamped and it even got its own screen later in the series. Not a crippling issue by any means, but its there. Also missing in Geneforge 1 was the enchantment system. I missed adding fire, acid or cold effects to my weapons or buffing armor. Another nice mechanic added later in the series. Finally, and this is a big one, there are no trainers in the game. Who cares right? That may not sound like a big deal, but this isn't D&D here. You want some buffs like haste? Go find it. A decent AoE attack? Keep searching. Oh I leveled up let me add that spell…nope. Somewhere, out there, on the gigantic island is your spell. You may find yourself 75% complete with the game before you get what you are looking for. That introduces an interesting and in my mind quite negative effect because it is taking class progression control away from the player. It critically limits how you can shape your character at levelup. You don't get to choose spells. You don't get to buy spells. You find them! Don't get me wrong, the game isn't that stingy but if you had the perfect build in mind get ready to adjust to the circumstances.

Wrap it up already
OK. Geneforge 1, Geneforge 4 and I expect the rest of the series are all equally compelling and engrossing. These are great games. I'm very pleased Geneforge 1 was so rich, because I plan to play them all. I bought Geneforge 4 originally because it had what I considered the minimum acceptable resolution, but after playing that game I simply had to know how everything evolved. Now I know. But now I have even more questions… so off I go to Geneforge 2. I ended up buying the full series and got a nice disk with a nice graphic on it from Spiderweb for $75 bucks. Yeah I paid for Geneforge 4 twice in the process. However, there is so much content here it is ridiculous so I just don't care, and I'm happy to support this fine independent shop. Oh yeah the Avadon stuff… well… I can't say I like the dumbing down of the mechanics but I respect Spiderweb's efforts to progress sales. Geneforge is graphically inferior but it is simply better. Its all relative though. Avadon is not as good as Geneforge but its still better than any other modern offering of this ilk. Just keep making games Jeff.
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September 17th, 2011, 09:06
Great review - agree with everything, except I didn't find it as easy as you (or at least my memory of it).
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September 20th, 2011, 22:59
I enjoyed your review! I didn't really start until Geneforge 4, myself, so this was a great perspective!
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September 21st, 2011, 04:26
Great review and agree with just about everything you said.

It was easier in the beginning, but I messed up my build in the middle. Towards the end of the game I was hurting to get past the monsters. Still managed it somehow, but it is very difficult if you spread yourself too thin.
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September 22nd, 2011, 16:31
Good review, thanks! I didn't find G1 that easy either - it's been awhile since I played it, though, so this comes from my hazy memory. I played it as a shaper and found the difficulty jump a bit here and there, but never to either extreme. In other words, it wasn't brutally hard, but not a cakewalk either.

Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 View Post
becoming fully leveled some 60% though the game.
Really? Can't remember getting to that high a level by circa half-way to the game.

Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 View Post
…Magic users don't have much strength, which means poor encumberance and that means lots of maintenance trips to rebalance your puny inventory…
I dunno. Sure it was tedious to go dump off your loot at times, but I didn't mind it that much. Travel is quite fast in the game. Also, the game doesn't really require you to haul around an army's worth of weapons and supplies with you. I used to hoard wands (really hoard them), for example, but found out that in the end, I very rarely even used/needed them, so all that hoarding was for naught. Same goes for most of the potions/pods. I did well enough by carrying a few select wands and potions with me (and a stack of those living tools, of course), then doing quick resupply runs every once in awhile and that's about it. (IIRC, that is.)

Originally Posted by ToddMcF2002 View Post
You want some buffs like haste? Go find it. A decent AoE attack? Keep searching. Oh I leveled up let me add that spell…nope. Somewhere, out there, on the gigantic island is your spell. You don't get to choose spells. You don't get to buy spells. You find them!
Yes, it lessens player choice in character development, but I kinda liked this mechanic. It fits the game world and was a nice change of pace from how it's usually done. And it sure was a pleasant surprise to find those containers (can't remember their in-game name right now)!

(Oops, gotta go! At work.)
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September 23rd, 2011, 00:23
Thanks guys. My Geneforge 2 experience so far has been pretty bizarre. I'm only about 20% in but so far I'm a solo Guardian. I'm guessing that is going to end soon. I'm trying to concentrate as much as possible on dexterity and ranged weapons. It is pretty hard to avoid the sword though, since almost everything I've encountered is a one hit. Approaching 4 roamers and a spawner solo and surviving is not an experience I'd expect from this series but that has been the case so far.

Also the plot is surprisingly derivative of GF1, but its still early.
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June 24th, 2012, 17:26
Finished Geneforge 2 last night. Wow its been 9 months since I started it? I pretty much played 90% of it on my train commute. I'm glad it is over, I wasn't much of a fan of its derivative story line. I also ended up scrapping my Guardian and starting over with a pure shaper. I had quite the party at the end. 3 Vlish, a Gazer, a Drakon and a Servile "walk on" with a powerful acid baton. The servile was a bit of a pain in the butt because he would aggro and get himself killed on traps and fire pits, but overall worth it because of his hit/damage capability.

Combat was fun as usual. I'm starting Geneforge 3 now. I think I'm going to try Guardian again with a bit of intelligence for at least 2 creations. I'm VERY glad to see that Geneforge 3 has most of Geneforge 4's interface enhancements. That old GF1/GF2 interface I will not miss.
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