First, a little background. JA2 is a classic turn-based strategy game from 1999. The mod community remained active for over 9 years, last releasing a stable version of 1.13 in 2008. Extremely impressive longevity for a game.
The 1.13 team, on their website, explained the threefold mission of the project â€“ bring greater realism to the game, include more content (especially weapons and items), provide a platform for other modders to use, and extend the gameâ€™s replay value and lifetime.
First off, the mod is a heckuva lot of fun and definitely got me to continue playing longer than I would have without it. The new features make sense and yield a more logical, realistic game. Itâ€™s as if every fan had a â€œwouldnâ€™t it be cool if . . .â€ thought then got to make it reality. Weather effects, controllable NPC militia, a logical system for aiming . . . itâ€™s all here.
The downside to all this creative freedom is that, if the original JA2 had been released with all of 1.13â€™s features, it would have been less commercially successful and possibly less well reviewed. Why? Because their â€œand the kitchen sinkâ€ approach to features yields a steeper learning curve and an overwhelming amount of choice.
Iâ€™ve said before that choice, especially in a strategy game, is essential. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. 1.13 contains hundreds of different guns, items, armor types, weapon modifications, and ammunition types. Â The inventory system, while cool in theory and OK once you get used to it, is an unintuitive mess for a new player. Going back to the guns, many of the hundred or so on offer are cool and have a clear purpose for their inclusion. The other half or so are redundant. Take the AKâ€™s â€“ there are over a dozen and they cover several pages of the gameâ€™s online store interface. Theyâ€™re hard to tell apart, both from a naming perspective and their stats. Why bother including a gun that differs from another only in a half pound of weight and a 1 AP difference in firing?
There has to be a clear distinction between two options â€“ why should I favor this gun over this other? Itâ€™s frustrating to have to comb over the tooltips to figure out where that one point difference between two weapons comes into play. The sheer variety also means that gameplay is crowded with exotic weapons with rare ammunition. For example, the .50 Beowulf is a decent early game rifle, but it has a unique cartridge that is extremely hard to find. So I mostly ended up using the same old 5.56 and 7.62 rifles that I played with in Vanilla, kind of defeating the purpose.
This isnâ€™t to knock 1.13 at all â€“ at the end of the day it improves the experience and puts a lot more replay value into the game. But itâ€™s also a clear example of why developers need some limits. Scarcity of resources and a need to appeal to a broader audience, as much as they can hinder developers, also force them to focus their efforts on the most essential parts of their games. I recognize that the fantasy game that I want to play may not necessarily be good game design with broad appeal.
Now, excuse me, I have to go order Shadow to sneak up behind one of Deidriannaâ€™s goons and drop him with some cold-loaded 5.56.