Project: Gorgon Acquired

1031 wc

Project: Gorgon launched on Steam Early Access Tuesday at $40 with a 25% sale, bringing it down to $30 for the first week, which is precisely the price that I hoped it would be. Unlike all the other Early Access games that expect you to pay $30, I know exactly what I’m going to get with Project: Gorgon, and $30 seems like a decent price point to play around with it.

As I’m writing this, I’ve played for about two hours, most of which was spent on the tutorial island.

The last time I played this game, you started in a cave. Now you start on an island. I remember reading that everyone thought the island was much better than the cave, but personally I find the island just as dull and lifeless. Everything is a shade of gray. The water is bluish-gray, the trees are greenish-gray, and the ground is yellowish-gray. It makes perfect sense for it to look that way, considering the “lore” of the island (you start out in a kind of purgatory), but it’s still not a great way to introduce new players to your game. (The place you come out after the tutorial island looks a lot better to me.)

But nobody is going to play this game for the graphics, that’s for sure. It looks a bit like that game Wizardry Online, which shut down ages ago. It seems to have a sepia tone wash over the whole screen. The sound effects are jarring, too. They sound like really old school sound effects from before the time when games had sound designers, like they just pulled them out of a generic effects library with no regard to whether they fit the tone of the game or not. There’s one effect that sounds like something is falling to the floor right beside me, and it freaks me out every time I hear it, and I still don’t know what it’s trying to tell me.

The music is nice, though.

So what is so interesting about this game? Why does everyone say they like it? It’s clearly nothing that you see or hear in the game. I was thinking about this a lot today.

There is certainly an “old school” appeal to the game. It looks quite a lot like a game that came out in the 1990s. I don’t just mean it looks “bad,” I mean there is more of a focus on the game systems than the visuals. In the 90s and before, games had to have really good gameplay in order to sell. It was really hard to rely on impressive graphics. Most games today are almost entirely focused on what the game looks and sounds like, while the mechanics is basically a copy and paste of whatever the last hit game was (popular game engines make some mechanics quite literally the exact same from game to game).

I think another big part of the appeal is that Project: Gorgon doesn’t take itself very seriously. There’s a certain personality and humor that oozes from every interaction in the tutorial. It seems to know it’s just supposed to be a fun game, and that’s actually kind of refreshing.

Most fantasy RPGs expect you to buy into the game world and virtually move into it as if it were a real place. There is certainly a place for that kind of game, but it works best when the game is finished before you try to convince players to make that commitment. So many games try to release half-finished Early Access versions and expect you to treat it as if it were the perfect, finished vision, when it clearly isn’t.

Project: Gorgon itself clearly isn’t finished. I might even describe it as a prototype, to be honest. (Although I will say that what is there appears to be complete. I haven’t run across any half-finished game systems, as you see in most Early Access games. If anything is lacking, I would imagine it to be content.) It would be very easy to get irritated about the primitive graphics and sounds, the weird camera angles, the glitches and hitches, and all the other quirkiness. But the game is just so charming that it completely disarms me.

Here is one example of the game’s quirky charm: There’s an NPC on the tutorial island that you can “hang out” with while you’re offline, which builds favor with her. You can choose two activities to do while offline: Either “share your experiences with amnesia” or “check each other for lice.”

I cackled for a long time about that. Of course, as I’m writing this, I realize that I never actually did hang out with her, but still, I thought it was an incredibly inventive game system. I will probably never remember to do it, but I think it’s really cool that it’s there.

Another thing I like is the skill system. I am huge fan of classless, skill-based RPGs, and Project: Gorgon has tons of bizarre skill systems to pore over (like psychology, which lets you “psychoanalyze” monsters during combat to “find the source of their rage”). I honestly can’t even remember the last RPG I played that was so divorced from classes. I’m not even sure your character has a level, because I don’t see one in my screenshots.

It actually reminds me a little bit of another niche, low budget, old school, skill-based MMORPG I like called Mortal Online. The major difference is that Project: Gorgon is third-person, and PvE only.

All two hours of my playing time have been very enjoyable and interesting and surprising. I have not encountered any bugs, lag, crashes, or any of the things you would expect to see in an MMORPG launch. Well, okay, there is one issue with mouse turning that is a bit maddening: The game lags sometimes when you turn the mouse quickly, which ends up displacing the camera in rather random ways. I think it has something to do with the NPC nameplates, and it happens most often in populated areas like the first town.

Other than that, it’s been pretty smooth sailing. So far I have no regrets.

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