I started a new game for the first time after playing for a short while when the story was first revamped, and I'm really liking the experience, way beyond the wildest expectations I had. I'm currently at the stage where I got Al-An in Robin's head and discovered the place where Sam died.
The recorded dialogs really help give all the Alterra personnel their personality. My first impressions when the story was revamped was feeling concerned because the conversation between Robin and Sam sounded so "written", all the way from the first "Hey Robin, guess what?" line. But that was changed to a one-way message from Sam and everything sounds so neat.
What seriously impresses me the most is how well the story and gameplay progression are interwoven without imposing limitations on each other. The previous game did it pretty well too but now with a fully voiced dialog with story goals beyond survival this must have been significantly harder to pull off, especially since the story is mostly told using dialogs, but they did it with flying colors. The clues are so well-integrated into the dialogs, and giving you maps to inform you that there are facilities out there you should investigate was a very good idea (although it arguably robs you of making the first discovery, but there's still plenty else to discover). Remember that although we as gamers are definitely interested in discovering everything in the game, the same doesn't apply to Robin who just wants to investigate into Robin's death. Sure she remarks she's also curious about 4546B as a xenobiologist and would like to take some detours, but she has no reason to try and find everything and especially risk her skin by heading to deal waters. Which is where the story should do its job of guiding Robin, and it does a way better job than the old story that mostly worked on Sam giving us map markers. Here are some things I was impressed by:
- The idea of giving you a photo of Sam on the Glacial Basin, which gives you an excellent clue on which direction to start looking.
- Then Robin comes across the SOS soon after traveling in that direction, and Robin may ignore it for some time because her primary goal is investigating what happened to Sam, but then she discovers the scientists discussing it and the possibility that it's an alien attempting to communicate, urging Robin to check it out because 1) the fact that it's been signaling since Alterra was here may have significance to Sam's death and 2) even otherwise, she'd be very much interested in a potential encounter with an intelligent alien.
- When Robin investigates the Delta base, the progression is very natural. She would first go through the common area, then move on to the next building which is Emmanuel's office, then when she emerges, the radio tower that wasn't very prominent before because it's hidden behind the rocks is suddenly obvious, prompting Robin to investigate. The recorded comment "What's this?" really shows all this was very consciously placed and I'm impressed by the progression design, especially considering the base is from the old story where they gave you a marker to the rocket launch pad that used to be where the radio tower is now. Then upon investigating the radio tower she realizes she was in fact spotted by the
Vespersatellite, as well as the mysterious pilot, giving Robin a reason to try and follow her.
- The way the story guides Robin to investigate Omega lab. When Robin first obtains the map of all Alterra facilities, she has no reasons to go to Omega lab, especially considering how far away it is from everything. But when she discovers the place where Sam died, she finally learns that Sam sacrificed herself to try and stop Alterra from harnessing Kharaa, and that Sam also did some sabotage work at the Omega lab. Al-An then suggests to a lost and distraught Robin that she must see through what Sam tried to do, giving her a clear purpose and prompting her to go to Omega lab. The storytelling complementing the map design is just gorgeous.
Which brings me to Al-An. I'm too early in the story with him in the head to make any conclusions, but I'm liking it so far. Yes, I'm going to miss the banter between the proud and edgy Al-An and the Robin who finds him rude but wants to know more about him and even be friends if she can, but the new story makes Al-An a very interesting character. He's still hyper-advanced and still finds humans primitive (though not to the extent of "do humans think?") but he doesn't have the sense of superiority that the previous version of him always head. He's detached from the network shared by his kin and is now feeling lonely, scared even. His remark on the frozen leviathan also shows his kind can very much feel threatened by the creature. And when Robin discovers what happened to Sam with Al-An in her head, he actually cares enough to comment on the situation and give Robin a purpose. Not because it matters to his survival or anything, not because Robin is particularly important to him or he's overflowing with compassion and sympathy. But because, even as an ancient member of a hyper-advanced race with galactic influence, he is very much… a person. Someone who can relate to Robin. He's probably an epic figure outside our knowledge, but he's also more than that. He's also something much smaller, and someone we can relate to as well.
All this makes you emotionally invested in him not because he's just less rude but because you really wonder if he'll be okay once he's in a new body, especially regarding his connection to the network. I'm genuinely curious to know what will happen to him as the story progresses, which is something I honestly didn't with the old story because I just assumed he'd be fine once the mess started by Jevov is over since he's so hyper-advanced and will probably do something hyper-advanced to go on and be kicking well for the rest of his hyper-advanced life.
As for Robin, I'm still not sure about my opinions on the new Robin. Maybe she really doesn't have as much to show compared to the old one? Or maybe simply because this is my first proper story walkthrough after the revamp and I haven't progressed far enough. I'm probably going to miss the old Robin with the second voice sounding so professional forever, but I'm holding my hopes high for the new Robin as the story progresses as well.
So there it is, my thoughts on the new story as of discovering what happened to Sam. I'm thoroughly impressed with the quality of the new story-gameplay and really look forward to where this will take me. I'm forever going to wonder what would have happened with the old story and miss some of its aspects (especially Robin), but I feel that the revamped story is doing wonders. Kudos to Unknown Worlds and I do hope to see this go well.
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