Where we left off
For those of you who have been following along with the story thus far (that is, episodes 1 and 2) of this “early release” saga, I can inform you that episode three begins by continuing the adventures of Wilbur the Gnome in Seastone. Wilbur, on the run from the new law in town, is hiding out with his friends the rats in the caverns underground. Here he makes some new acquaintances in his struggles to get back topside. Then, in part two of episode three, Ivo the elf princess, whom we have not met up with since part one of episode one, finally arrives aboard her small pink hippogriff. Heroine that she is, she immediately sets about uncovering the trouble in Seastone and the means to set it right. She soon stumbles across Wilbur, and the two team up to try to rescue the burg from its twin blights — a strange, dark magical force that is transforming everything into cutesy pink and the dictatorial new chief exec who has rudely, and possibly homicidally, replaced the Arch Mage Alastair. Stay tuned, kiddies.
For those of you who have not been following along, the above paragraph must sound awfully perplexing. But, as I have said, the elaborate, zany story line is often the best part of The Book of Unwritten Tales series.
Glitches and Bugs in this "Episodic" Early Access
I, at least, am getting a fuller appreciation of what it is to play a game under such peculiar circumstances. I have played episodic games before, and I have participated in beta testing a game before, but this is the first time I’ve done those two things simultaneously.
The point of episodic gaming, it seems to me, is to break up a long game into more enjoyable, digestible chunks. Charles Dickens did the same thing with most of his long, long novels. Every month in a magazine, such as “All the Year Round,” you would get another thirty-two-page installment. The idea was to “hook” readers without tuckering them out with verbiage.
Whereas the pleasures of beta testing — again, as it seems to me — is not only to get a first look at an upcoming game, but to take part in the discussion about the game’s strengths and weaknesses, and possibly even contribute to the final product.
The problem with participating in this early release program on Steam, however, is that the game was not designed to be chopped up into five pieces, which hurts continuity at times, while at the same time one doesn’t get the sense of being part of a select group of beta testers. There are tons of bug reports and other comments on the game’s forum pages, but there are clearly too many people taking part to provide that delicious sense of intimacy one gets in a standard beta program.
Meanwhile, one does, regrettably, get all the bugs.
I am frankly growing a bit weary of battling the game’s glitches. In a beta program, coming across a bug can be exciting — perhaps you will be the first to report it. In this much larger program, where I am not bothering to contribute to the forum discussion in any case for reasons of journalistic ethics (of which I retain still one or two) as well as lack of enthusiasm, one must bravely confront one’s bugs alone. In the three episodes thus far, I have on more than one occasion had to backtrack and replay large sections of the action. And as I have discussed in my earlier reports on the game, had to even wrestle with the game’s settings at times to get it to run at all.
The biggest headache that game glitches present to a player is to undermine his or her confidence in the solidity of the gameplay. Am I stuck on a puzzle or a glitch? One can only wonder. The one saving grace for me is that the game is so new that there are no available walkthroughs yet. It’s almost impossible to cheat, except to troll the forum bug report pages for one’s particular conundrum for hints on how to resolve it. A sad fate that, mercifully, has not as yet befallen me. I am enjoying the game, as it goes along, but I carry with me this underlying dread of the next dead end or baffling glitch.
In short, my recommendation at this stage of the proceedings is to wait, if you possibly can, until the full, bug-squashed game is released next January. Unless you are a glutton for digital punishment, I don’t see the advantages of jumping in sooner. I should perhaps point out that you can indeed purchase the game on Steam at any time. You will (such is my understanding at least) receive as much of the game as has been produced thus far. That is, if you buy the game today, you’ll receive episodes 1-3, then wait with everyone else for episode 4 in early December and the complete game in January.
As I mentioned in my previous report, there is an intriguing undercurrent of political satire running through the game’s storyline. Last month it was the Occupy Wall Streeters and the wealth-redistributors who came in for a little rib-poking. This month it’s the “war” on terror that somehow also includes a war on privacy and political opposition that gets the once-over. To be sure, this is a fairly subtle part of the game, easily ignorable if one so chooses, although I admit I am curious to see where it wends. Unless I am greatly mistaken, one of the main villains of the story, Council Leader Van Buren, is a lampoonish take on at least one and probably two real-life lady politicians. In her policies, Van Buren is more Thatcheresque, but in her appearance she’s a bit more Clintonesque. Oh well, at least the politics don’t add any glitches to the gameplay.
Overall, The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 is proving a worthy successor to the first two games in the series. It is lavishly and lovingly produced, with top-notch acting, art, writing and music. Even the puzzles got back to being a bit more puzzling in episode three. But unless you are an early adopter with a vengeance, I’d say wait for the full release in January.
This is for anyone unfortunate enough to have landed in the same episode 3 dead end that I did:
Don’t attach the bag of sand to the rope in the inventory. Wait until you’ve put the rope in place. Otherwise, the bag won’t be “selectable” onscreen.