Well, I think DW beat me to it, but here's another self-indulgent review. I've been playing SoZ over the weekend, and am finding it a refreshingly new take on the franchise.
It's different, quite different to others in the series, but what I reall yappreciate is how they've focussed on the differences and their execution, and perhaps most importantly on what makes something a game, and pulled it off really well. So many elements of the D&D game mechanic that were only touched on lightly elsewhere have been brough to the fore, with skill checks all over the place - really helping to define the different roles classes have in a party even further (the ranger being an obvious case in point). It does seem like each skill/stat in the system has been looked at and some thought gone into how to build a game around these. The way towns are handled, for example, was a shock at first, but fits well into the game focussed (and without wanting to sound harsh, suprisingly polished compared to some earlier releases)feel.
I quite like the wandering monster/random encounter mechanic - reminds me of playing all those final fantasy games, and I'm half expecting to find a chocobo at some point - although I can see that if I didn't have my ranger I'd be forced into a lot more of these which could get annoying - but not so far (wouyld be nice to have a few more terrains other than all of them being open walkmesh, but still...). Each encounter is prefaced with options to parley, using skills even further to shift the encounter in your favour. Got to admit I'm impressed with the worldmap.
But one thing that I'm actually really enjoying at the moment, is that I have very little cash. Most of it is going on healing kits due to the new bleeding/death mechanic, which also adds a neat dimension to things. My only bugbear here is that potions should be usable on the dying, but I realise this could be tricky to script... the number of times my cleric has been the first to fall, and everyone else if brimming with potions but can't help him... But this is just requiring a shift in how I play. Got to say, even the hamstrung AI is working well, and the battles have been a nice challenge so far. Full party creation was well done. Working towards the new prestige classes, so can't comment on them yet, but I like the swashbuckler style for my main PC.
Areas seem very nicely done at the moment, and lighting settings have been given a bit more attention. Interior design also seems a step up from some parts of OC and MotB - more creative placeable use that you see in some modules. In the toolset there's some nice new placeables and buildings to use. Plus ambient birdies!
So amongst all the glitz, the party interaction is lacking. But I'm a firm believer that player-created PCs can develop a personality through play and dialogue choices, and the party conversation system (and different options each provide based on skill/stat checks) is going a long way to help with this. Some banter would be nice with the cohorts - but after what Mel has done with the Bishop Romance, this should be quite moddable, and I reckon that could be a fun comunity project for the future.
So whilst I love the roleplaying aspects of PS:T, and the story-driven parts such as MotB, I'm also enjoying the tightly constructed adventure game of SoZ so far. Is it for everyone? Probably not. Am I going to miss some developed characters? - you bet. But I think it can hold it's head alongside the other games in the franchise, and bring something new and refreshing to it. I think 'different' is something that was needed.
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