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Publisher: Spiderweb Software    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: Any Version    RAM: 30 MB    Hard Disk: 30 MB    Graphics: 800x600 @ 16-bit

Geneforge 2
September 24, 2003 | Ken Newquist

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Creature Comforts
Characters are accompanied on their quest by a variety of companions, most of who are conjured into existence. In the beginning of the game, this summoned help includes the weak, snake-like Artila, which can spit acid at enemies, the hulking, brutish Thahd, used for close-combat encounters, and the lizard-like, bipedal Fyoras, which fall somewhere in between. Later in the game more powerful creations Ė like the many-eyed Gazer and the undead-looking, acid-oozing Rotghroth -- can be called into existence.

Each of the creatures costs a certain amount of magical essence to create, and can be customized to be stronger, faster, smarter and hardier than the basic model. Creatures can also be powered up later by spending more essence to "evolve" them and they can gain new abilities by earning experience in battles.

Like their creations, characters also gain new abilities through experience. Characters are defined by a dozen abilities measuring their physical and mental adeptness, leadership and technical skills, and propensity for magic. Each time players gain enough experience to go up a level, they earn points that can be spent to improve any of these attributes.

Beyond creatures, characters can also cast spells drawn from four disciplines: battle, mental, blessing and healing. Like conjuring, these spells are powered by essence, and provide the sorts of magical firepower, protection and healing that gamers have come to expect from their RPGs.

As in any other RPG, there are all manner of weapons, armor and equipment to aid characters in their quests. Some of these items are familiar, like magical rings that provide armor bonuses and protection against certain elements. Others are biological creations unique to the game. Players will find living tools, which can be combined to unlock troublesome doors, thorn batons, which throw barbs at opponents, and seed pods that restore health and essence.

Finally, players can also attempt to persuade non-player characters (NPCs) to join them in their quests.

Game play
Geneforge 2 is a RPG, and in this case, that's more than just a pretense for hack and slash. Getting anywhere in the game requires talking with NPCs, and actually thriving requires players to thoroughly interrogate them, following every conversation topic and perhaps returning later to try a different angle.

Itís a throwback to the glory days of RPGs, when players had to dedicate a serious amount of time to picking at NPC brains, and not because they'd just splashed gray matter all over their new cloaks. The game's designers have made it so that player responses to other characters and in-game choices affect what people think of them. The stand-offish guard may be more approachable once a player's proven herself a proven and capable Shaper, while more subversive elements may open up once word gets around that the player is not towing the party line. Further, the more points a player puts into the leadership skill, the more likely NPCs are to open up to them or to join them in a quest. Reputation and leadership combine to invigorate what would otherwise be a merry-go-round of dialogue boxes.

The gameís actual game play is divided between a real-time adventuring mode and a turn-based combat mode. The transition between modes can be jarring, but it's one I welcomed. I've spent far too much time playing real-time RPGs that force players to endure a few minutes of chaotic panic in order to survive a combat. Being able to think through encounters in a combat is a welcome change.


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