Three Games: Two Expensive, One Cheap; Two Great, One Not

You're probably wanting to hear about the one that intersects between "cheap" and "great", so I'll point out that Warlock: Master of the Arcane, which Ken praised highly in May, can be purchased for less than ten dollars through Steam. This is a sale that will last through June 11. Although Ken's not as much a strategy gamer as I am, I trust his judgment. I bought the game and all of its bonus content for twelve dollars and forty-seven cents.

Now, about that other great game. Distant Worlds released in 2010, terrifically ambitious and rather buggy. Like most ambitious, bug-filled games, it was easy to admire the concept while damning the execution. The game has since undergone a number of patches, and two expansions. To fully enjoy the game, you'll need to buy both expansions. That'll put you back almost seventy bucks.

What do you get for your seventy bucks? I'm glad you asked: You get one of the deepest and most enjoyable strategy games ever released. Distant Worlds is a real time (pausable, with option to control game speed) galactic empire simulator. Think Master of Orion in concept. But Master of Orion was small.

Distant Worlds is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think Master of Orion was grand strategy with its fifty star galaxies, but that's just peanuts to Distant Worlds. Distant Worlds allows the player to enter a galaxy with 1400 stars, each with multiple planets, to fight battles involving hundreds of ships against twenty opposing empires. It has everything you expect from such a game: espionage, ship design, colonization, aliens, planetary invasions, technological research, space monsters, interstellar trade, diplomacy, individual leaders such as admirals, generals, scientists, and governors. Did I mention battles involving hundreds of ships at a time?

And yet it never bogs down or overwhelms the player, because the game allows you to automate the portions of your empire you find less than stimulating, while setting parameters for the computer to follow, and to take back control at will. Typically I allow the computer to build ships and run the economy for me, while I concentrate on diplomacy, exploration, colonization, research, and really vast space battles between huge fleets.

It's not for everyone, but if the game clicks, you can play it for hundreds of hours without getting bored. Distant Worlds will occupy my hard drive for years. If you're interested, note that you'll need the two expansions to get the most out of it.

Now, on to the expensive game that, well… It's unfair to say that Diablo III sucks. It's simply dull, drab, boring, and awful. I bought it on release day, and already I never want to play it again. Leaving aside common complaints such as the auction house trivializing the acquisition of loot (the point of Diablo is that shiny loot falls out of monsters if you beat them hard enough) and the mandatory internet connection, something isn't there. And that something is fun. Oh, the game plays like Diablo, but this isn't the year 2000, and all of Blizzard's "improvements" are distractions, side-tracks from the important work of beating monsters so hard that shiny loot falls out of them.

Technology is change, and usually for the better. But not in this case. You wouldn't want a twelve year old car if you could have something brand new. With Diablo III, Blizzard has given us a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis, stuck a huge tail fin on the back, and tried to sell it as this year's model.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. c says

    Shit! After buying Legends, when I went fishing around in my inbox for the emailed registration key and I found that I apparently bought it the day it came out. Oh well, uh, grats them?

  2. Avierra says

    I am enjoying the heck out of Warlock. It's very reminiscent of Master of Magic, but needs tweaks in some areas. Specifically, I wish there was a quick way you could see what units each town can build. For example, if I want to make vampires, but only two towns can build them, and I have twenty towns, it can be a pain clicking around to find the proper place. Luckily, Paradox seems to be on the ball with listening to comments and issuing patches. Overall it's run like a champ for me so far.

    I'll have to try out Distant Worlds, if it is similar to MOO. I loved that game back in the day.

  3. BigCountry says

    I have to say that has to be the best analogy for Diablo 3 I have heard yet, and fits it perfectly. What is really sad is that after playing D3 for about 20 hours, I uninstalled and reinstalled D2.

  4. silvermine says

    I played WoW for years because it was like Diablo enough that I could deal with the stupid quests. But then they changed how priests worked every single stupid patch and made all my gear useless. So I stopped playing when I had the third kid, because I was too tired. I tried to go back, but it's still the same thing — like Diablo, but without any fun. I hoped Diablo III would be better, but I guess now. I think Blizzard forgot how to make fun. :(

  5. says

    1. You're right, Warlock could use some changes. I'd like screens summarizing all my units and their locations, as well as screens summarizing all my cities and what they are doing. In addition, diplomacy is rather lame. But it's still a lot of fun.

    2. Dammit, now you have me buying Distant Worlds.

    3. Agreed completely on Diablo III. Given the wait, given the hype, given the quality of work that studio usually does, I expected some substantial improvement over Diablo II. I'm bored already at level 5 or 6, and regret the purchase.

  6. ZK says

    Stardock's latest Elemental game ("Fallen Enchantress"?), looks to be a pretty good Master of Magic successor in the making, too.

  7. Charles says

    In place of Diablo III, may I suggest Torchlight 2 (currently in beta, releasing later this summer)? I got into the beta for a quick weekend trial last month and thoroughly enjoyed it. Diablo III left me underwhelmed as well, but I'm very much looking forward to Torchlight 2.

  8. princessartemis says

    That is a very apt description of Diablo III. I'm enjoying tooling around in my 2000 Grand Marquis with the big fin, but it would be nice if it hadn't lost the power windows in exchange for the fin.

  9. AK says

    Warlock doesn't look bad, but I can't buy anything from Paradox Interactive after the way they ripped me off for Sword of the Stars II. The first one was amazing – the second was a $40 tech demo when they released it in October, and it's still not complete after despite massive number of patches.

  10. Chris Berez says

    Distant Worlds sounds really amazing, although unfortunately for me my PC is not optimized for gaming. I've always preferred to stick to consoles.

    I just want to say that I really appreciated the HGTTG reference.

  11. Fretmute says

    Chris: Your PC need only be optimized for gaming to the extent that it includes a mouse, a keyboard, and a monitor. The graphics in Distant Worlds exist primarily to put a veneer over the giant spreadsheet running in the background . . . it doesn't require a lot of horsepower.

  12. Siphon says

    I'll chime in with another plug for DW with its expansions. Once registered don't hesitate to download and install the latest beta patch. There is a nice new option that allows you to automate ship designs by class – so you can control the design of the combat ships and let the computer do the rest if you want.

  13. jb says

    DW sounds like a space version of Europa Universalis crossed with Dominions 3. Which is pretty much the ultimate game for me.

  14. says

    *shrug* I'm really enjoying Diablo 3. Maybe the fact that I played only a tiny fraction of Diablo 2 has something to do with it– and honestly, that game is ugly as sin if you try to play it now. I like the way my monk's abilities are developing in D3; I like the storyline (very important); I like the randomizing dungeons, I like being able to form small groups with friends or just enjoy the company of my accomplice…it's satisfying. I'm planning to at least get one character of each class to hardcore.

  15. Ted N says

    My interest in Diablo III was shot in the back of the head as soon as I heard about the always on manditory internet connection. Most of my game time is on my 12 month business trips, when connection is slow, spotty or not there at all, I'll spend my money somewhere else that isn't so paranoid about pirates that they'll punish anybody that won't toe the line for them. Plus I've heard that those evil pirates had a way around the connection within the first day or so of release. Yay.

  16. Coyote says

    Thanks in particular for your Diablo III review. I have played it for about 5 hours and I kept thinking, this is what all the fuss is about? I thought maybe there were secret rooms I was missing. I was amazed at the lack of choices and tradeoffs in the skill tree. Was this written for the console market?

    Anyway, I will confidently toss it in a drawer and go back to skyrim.

  17. Anzu says

    Typically a lurker, but had to drop by to thank you for the H2G2 reference in this post. Loved it.

  18. Jobn says

    Distant Worlds isn't on Steam. I've actually forgotten how to buy games that aren't on Steam. Do I have to go to a mall or mail-order it or something?