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Geneforge 2 Review
Val Sucher, 2004-02-18

Once again as with the original Geneforge, you find yourself immersed into a fantastic, fleshed-out world that blends sci-fi with fantasy in a unique twist. Once again you are an apprentice of the Shapers. An eager student looking to learn the secrets of molding life itself to your will. Unlike the first game, you do not find yourself entirely alone. As your final test to become an actual Shaper, you are assigned to accompany an Agent on a minor mission to a desolate colony called Drypeak. A relatively unimportant mining colony that has seen better days. As you near the colony with your companion, you both begin to notice that things are not quite as they should be. Rogues wander freely, the gates to the city are unguarded, and a nagging feeling in the back of your mind telling you that something is seriously wrong.

Beginning and ends
As you explore deeper into the game, you will start to see the effects of the first game's story. The secrets of Sucia Island live on and threaten to burst out of the mountains. You are the only person who can stop the disaster and war that is coming. Or will you choose to help it along?

Entering the world of Geneforge 2 will present you with many choices. There are several factions in the game that you can join, fight against or simply ignore. Of course, ignoring some factions wouldn't make the problems they present go away. In fact, you can have quite an unhappy ending if you don't deal with some of these problems. The game has multiple endings and depending on your actions will effect the ultimate ending of the game. As you explore, you will meet the four factions that vie for dominance in this mountainous area. The effects of the first game stretch into the plot of Geneforge 2 and you'll recognize some of the factions if you played the first game. However, knowledge of the first game is not required since you're playing a completely different person. The plot is new and refreshing.

You'll first encounter the Loyalists in the colony of Drypeak. Suffering from disillusionment at what they have wrought here, they seek to return to the true path of the Shapers and honor Shaper law. Their crime is great and they seek atonement. But just how loyal are these Shapers who hide the secrets their sins behind the crumbling facade of their town? Or are they merely powerless fools caught in a struggle that they cannot hope to win? You can join them in their fight to regain their lost honor or leave them helpless by the wayside.

Deeper into the mountains, you'll encounter the changes that have been wrought here and you'll meet the other factions.

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More Factions
The Awakened are a familiar group from Geneforge. A group of serviles, the most human of the Shaper creations, fleeing the destruction that occurred when the Shapers returned to Sucia island, they still seek acceptance and equal rights. While they are grateful for the life that the Shapers have given them, they see themselves as children who have grown to adulthood and expect their parents to recognize them as equals. You can choose to champion their noble cause or put them in their place.

The Takers also fled from Sucia Island and their mad quest to take their freedom by force burns even more fiercely than before. Seeing the destruction of their people and home on Sucia has spurred them on to new heights of fanaticism. They'll do anything to gain their freedom, even become more like those they hate to obtain their goals. Even though they hate your kind, they are willing to work with you if you'll work for them. Join their violent quest for freedom or slaughter them all for rising above their station in life.

The last faction are the Barzites. They are lead by a Shaper who upon seeing the secrets of Sucia island, coveted them for himself. They seek perfection. Even if it means dangerously modifying their very genetic code to obtain it. Instant power. Instant strength. Instant magic. They seek to make themselves into perfect beings who will live forever. They're also completely and perfectly crazy individuals who do not use their new power wisely. Their methods of altering their very essence have unpredictable and disturbing effects. Join their mad pursuit of purity or crush them under your boot heel for their heresy and perverting the ways of nature itself.

You can choose to join any faction, but how you answer certain questions will effect how friendly they act towards you. If you champion one cause, then others who oppose that cause will doubt your sincerity. Those who enjoy seeing their actions and words effect the world around them will not find Geneforge 2 a disappointment. The choices you make will effect the options you are offered. You'll also have the option of not joining any faction at all. You can rebuff all the offers of help and remain true to your mission and the true path of the Shaper. With this many options the game has a lot of re-playability.

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The Improvements
There also are some noticeable improvements in this sequel. As you progress in the game you'll find more powerful creations than existed in the first game. More importantly, you'll learn how to shape these dangerous creatures and bind them to your will. The powerful Drakon, Rotghroth and Gazer are the results of the mad experiments of those who are secretly working in the shadow of these mountains. And they can be made to serve you in the pursuit of your quest.

The Leadership skill has also become much more useful. You can now convince some rogue creations to join you. Every creation has an innate desire to follow the Shapers whether they want to or not. The Shapers designed them with a need to follow so they could be controlled fairly easily. If you are charismatic enough when talking to certain abandoned creations, then you can convince them to follow you. The Mechanics skill is actually required to defeat one very powerful creature in an optional area. The reward for defeating it makes it worth the cost of the skill.

Things that did not change
Unfortunately, some of the same complaints from the first game still exist. Merchants who do not restock items or have enough gold to buy all of your excess loot can leave you with an inventory full of junk unless you make a dumping ground somewhere. Even a bag or chest to store items in would have been nice. The ability to customize your character is also limited. You don't get to choose your gender and the color schemes you can choose for your avatar leaves much to be desired. Lime green and bright purple? My eyes would start to water looking at that. Combat is also limited by the fact that once you make an attack, all of your left over action points can no longer be used unless you have enough to make another attack. This seems like an unnecessary handicap to place on the player. NPCs are also mostly static. They don't move around much and there is no day/night cycle in the game. Mostly these are minor annoyances that can be tolerated or worked around. You can also only rest in towns and your health and essence do not regenerate naturally. This can lead to frequent runs back to town if you run out of pods to restore it.

The Interface
Not much has changed since the original Geneforge when it comes to the interface, controls and overall game play. Once again, the story is open-ended and non-linear without making the player feel completely directionless. The game world is large and well designed. As you explore more areas you'll find that there are generally two paths to every major objective or location. Trickery or combat. You can complete major quests with pretty much either one. The path of trickery focuses on general skills, most notably Leadership and Mechanics, or just sneaking past foes. But if you prefer the more direct approach, slashing through hordes of monsters works too. However, you will find areas that require combat and some that require the Mechanics skill to bypass obstacles. Although using cheap creations to "bypass" mines can also be a viable solution even if it is ethically suspect. *wink*

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The interface is relatively straightforward and the tutorial at the start of the game familiarizes you quickly with the most used short-cut keys. The inclusion of quick slots makes casting spells and shaping new creations easier and quicker. The in-game documentation is excellent and easily accessible from your journal. So you don't have to Alt-TAB out of the game or flip through a manual to find the answers you need. It's also easy to keep track of all of your creations via the status screen at the upper-right hand side of the screen. You can see their health levels, essence levels, and even if they are afflicted by poison or some other malady. Clicking on them will bring up even more information on how it is fairing.

Combat has remained turn-based as with the first game. There are truly a myriad amount of solutions that you can approach combat in the game. You can mix things up in direct melee combat with foes or use hit and run tactics using ranged weapons or magical attacks. You'll gain access to 32 different spells that will increase your abilities in battle and elsewhere.
You can heal yourself and creations, shield yourself from attack, cause your enemies to flee in terror or unleash devastating magical attacks. You can also attack anyone in the game, friend or foe. It is entirely possible to kill every NPC in the game, which makes for an interesting ending. Experimenting with you creations special abilities can help ease your path through the game. For example, using creations with a mind attack can be very affective against weak-willed creatures. Creating multiple cheap creations to surround and distract opponents can give you the opportunity to take them down from a safe distance. Your creations can also gain experience just like you. So the older your creation is, the more powerful it becomes on it's own. The only thing that would make creations more effective in battle is if you had direct control over them.

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Sadly, if you don't spend some points on intelligence when you create them, then you can expect them to rush blindly into battle and get themselves killed at the first available opportunity. I loved that little Friendly Rat you could recruit. Of course, I doubt I could count the number of times I had to reload because he charged into battle to nibble on a Drakon's foot and the Drakon stepped on him. This can handicap you in battle if you see one of your more valuable creations about to expire. I found myself locking my creations in a room sometimes, just so I could keep them alive for encounters where I'd need their help later on. A minor pain, but when your creation brings down a major foe that was about to kill you later in the game, you'll forget that inconvenience and be happy that your little minion is still with you. As you become more powerful, you can use more of your power to make your creature stronger. So, you don't have to start over with a new creation. You can make it stronger, quicker, smarter or more robust.

You won't spend all of your time fighting. A great deal of time is spent talking to NPCs as you drill them for information. Many NPCs aren't just simple quest givers or merchants. They'll have their own personal story and could pose moral questions to you to find out your beliefs. Also, if you have a high enough Leadership skill, more conversation options will be open to you.

As with it's predecessor, you have the choice of playing one of the three core classes, Shaper, Guardian, or Agent.

The Shaper class is skilled in magic and excels at the art of shaping essence into living, breathing creations that serve the will of their master. They are physically weak and have to rely on their creations for protection since their combat skills are more costly to advance in. However, once the Shaper gains access to some of the more powerful creations in the game, they can match and surpass any foe in battle.

The Guardian is a fighter. Skilled in melee and ranged combat, they rely more upon their own physical strength then any of the other classes. Guardians can still be decent at shaping creations and can create minions to assist them in assaults, but don't have a natural affinity for pure magic. It is very costly for them to train in that area.

The Agent excels at the use of magic. Bending it to their will, they can become powerful mages. They can also hold their own in a fight. However, their shaping skills suffer due to their focus on magic and physical skills. They are the enforcers of the Shaper Council. The Leadership skill however may make the Agent class more powerful than the others since they can now make up for their weak shaping skills by being able to talk fast and sweetly. By recruiting creations to their cause, they can make up for their poor shaping skills.

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About Graphics and sound
Game play is smooth and uninterrupted by crashes or bugs. There was one bug when the game first came out, but that was quickly squashed with a patch. Other than that one bug, the game plays like a dream on both of my test systems. The game was happy to play on both Win 98 and XP. It'd didn't have a hitch with my GeForce or Radeon, AMD or Intel. I just wish other developers would release games that ran this smoothly and would get along with all of my hardware.

Geneforge 2 appears to use the same engine as the original. So there have been no major advances in the graphics department. It uses the isometric bird's eye view of the world and the ability to interact with many of the objects around you. However, the older graphics are more than made up for by descriptive text pop-ups that describe people, your surroundings and your reaction to or observations of them. For instance, the description for the character Barzahl was especially poignant.

"When you enter, Barzahl moves forward to greet you. He is a man in middle-age. He looks surprisingly strong for a Shaper. His muscles bulge under his robe. You catch a glimpse of his face, and you notice two things. First, his skin is glowing slightly. Second, his eyes are totally cold. he looks at you as if you were nothing, a non-entity, which could be crushed without a second thought. Something has scraped the humanity out of him."

In some ways, the text describes the character better than even advanced graphics could. You'll receive invaluable hints that make up for the lack of graphics and sound. For instance, entering an area filled with the stench of rot that makes you gag gives you a hint as to what type of creature resides in the area. It gives you enough information to make up for the lack of your normal five senses and provide you with useful hints that can help in your game play. It is gratifying to see a developer make up for a poor graphics engine in this way, because now the game doesn't loose what it can't do with graphics and sound. The only thing that would make it better is if special items didn't use the same graphics as normal items.

The sounds are relatively unchanged for the most part and music is mostly non-existent. Therefore my advice remains the same. Find some suitable music to play in the background on the mp3 player of your choice.

Geneforge 2 has a lot of old school appeal. Those who enjoyed the first Geneforge will find Geneforge 2 just as satisfying as the first game. It builds on the first game in a logical manner and is an excellent sequel. With great writing, a solid story and consistently good game play, the overall value of the game is hard to pass up when the price of admittance is only $25.

The Verdict
Graphics (15%) 50%
Sound (15%) 50%
Control (25%) 90%
Fun (45%) 95%
Overall 80%

The ups and downs:
Original settingRepetitive sounds
Intriguing storylineOld-fashioned graphics
Non-linearNo restocking of shops
Multiple endingsWasted action points
Choices affect game playLack of customization for avat

Reviewer's System
Version: 1.0
CPU: Intel Pentium 3 1GHz
Graphics GeForce 3 Ti200 Pro
Sound Creative Sound Blaster Live! Value
OS: Windows 98SE, DX 8.1

Average Reader Ratings: 7.6 (20 votes)
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