Affordable GOG Game Recommendations Part 2

More GOG recommendations, continued from Part 1 here.

More Strategy games

Knights & Merchants: The Peasants’ Rebellion – If you’re into sims, this sure is a sim. When I had the time to play the original release (which had no fast-forward) I reviewed it. I find myself mostly agreeing with my earlier self; it’s an interesting game if you’re into the idea of building a supply chain from scratch, sort of like a peaceful, less dangerous cousin of Dwarf Fortress. I’d probably recommend the more recent Banished over this one, if only for the clunky combat K&M requires you to engage in – but if you want to build a medieval ant farm and then leverage it to crush your enemies, this might be your game.

Seven Kingdoms 2 – This is a deep, relatively slow-paced RTS that was largely ignored at release. I’ve never actually met another real-life person that played this, so if you claim to have played it I will assume that you are a robot but have good taste in games so you’re cool. 7K2 has more than seven relatively balanced kingdoms which are differentiated by their two available combat units, a divine unit, and a perk unlocked by building a temple. Your troops are led by generals who grow alongside their troops. By paying close attention to your troops’ growth, you can figure out which soldiers will make good generals. To successfully grow your kingdom, you can hire mercenaries to convert neutral towns to your side, or brutally oppress them. Alternatively, you can play as the monstrous Fryhtan races which have powerful military advantages but struggle to build an economy. Loyalty mechanics keep things interesting, and a deep espionage system would make for interesting multiplayer if I wasn’t the only person who played it.

Giving the paper dolls breasts is an underappreciated innovation.

Jagged Alliance 2 – The Jagged Alliance games are a kind of tactical / strategy crossover. There’s a campaign level, where you’re managing resources, hiring new mercenaries, producing goods, etc. and there’s also a tactical level where you’re fighting enemies in an XCom-like engine using mercenaries you’ve hired. Each mercenary has their own personality and voicework, and many have positive/negative relationships with each other, so it ends up involving a fair bit of personnel management. If you’re not intimidated by the prospect of a lengthy game with a lot of moving parts, this is a great one that you can really dive into.

Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom – This is one of the later games in a long-running city builder series which includes the Caesar games, Zeus, and Poseidon.  I only played this one, which means it is the best one in the series.  It’s similar in some ways to Knights & Merchants since both involve building up a city where buildings frequently need services/supplies, but Emperor has an easier learning curve and is more forgiving of minor mistakes.  Emperor has several campaigns that progress through China’s history, and part of its conceit is that you play as various family members in a long-running clan stuck in imperial middle management, managing cities in whatever hinterland your emperor commands.  You start off with a fair amount of money, and most scenarios provide you with a blank slate so that you can plan your city from scratch.  Your people need food, water, entertainment, religion, building inspectors, and more.  As you fulfill more of their needs, their houses improve and you can pack more families into them.  Each scenario is different, but you typically can sustain yourself in some ways and need to rely on other cities for some goods.  Fighting other cities is somewhat unusual – battles are decided automatically off-screen when you send troops to attack others, but you have to control your defenses manually when enemies invade you.  Losing a defense does not automatically mean a game-over, though, and you can typically bribe your opponent rather than fight at all, so fighting manually at least is not typically necessary.

It’s like Theme Park but with peoples’ health, yet it manages to not feel American.

Theme Hospital – Back when Tycoon games were big hits, Bullfrog created this hospital management game tongue-in-cheek, because they were based in the UK and who in their right mind would build and plan a hospital around making money?  The opening cinematic, in which a surgery is planned but abandoned last minute because a credit card was declined, is vaguely haunting in today’s American society (although it presumes that a for-profit medical administration is able to determine the cost of an operation at the time it is performed, so we’re obviously in a fantasy land of some kind).  The running of a hospital in Theme Hospital alternates between satisfying and frustrating – as you get further along, it becomes difficult to reconcile what you’ve built and what you need, and you end up with a sprawling, disorganized mess filled with overstressed staff and unhappy patients, just like real life.  Play it, it’s fun.

I’m too cheap for these, give me free options!

OpenTTD – This is an open-source port of Transport Tycoon Deluxe.  It’s a fairly open transportation simulation with randomly generated cities and industries.  You build routes between cities and industries to ship needed goods (or people) between them.  As the years go on, new technology comes out offering additional options.  On most default settings, OpenTTD is very easy, but it makes for a relaxed sandbox simulation game and it’s satisfying to watch cities grow as you provide the things they need.  This is actually available on Android as well, and it’s a reasonably good port.

There’s no real reason a skeleton couldn’t cross a river or ocean if it had the time.

Ultima IV – This is somehow both unusual and a classic.  Your quest isn’t to defeat some evil, vague or defined – it’s to become an ideal person by learning and embodying a set of virtues (and then finding accompanying macguffins).  It’s an incredibly open-ended game (with a keyword-based dialogue system), and I took several pages of notes when I played through the game for the first time.  I would recommend you do the same if you try it.  Even relatively minor actions have an impact on your virtuousness, and although the modern gamer might be suspicious when a shopkeeper asks you how much you can pay, at the time it was easy to be dishonest and pocket the free(ish) goods from the merchants, not knowing that it might require you to atone later.

Jay’s recommendations:

I am not an economist like Chris, so I have no idea how much any of these games cost on GOG. I do know that I played and liked them, and maybe if we all spent more time enjoying life and less time counting dollars, the world would be a better place, Chris.

Baldur’s Gate I and II – You may have heard of these; they deserve their reputation. If for some reason you don’t have infinite time, probably focus on playing II. And since you are here, I will tell you, and only you, a secret – I never finished it. My college roommate, the back-from-Tbilisi-yet-still-mysteriously-missing Shota, began a game without asking and I was foolishly leaving only the autosaves as a way to load my game. Well, he walked off the first map (some guy’s dungeon, forget his name) and it autosaved his new, much shittier party, in my autosave slot.

Razor sharp social commentary.

Beneath a Steel Sky – This is a good adventure game that I played long ago before I paid much attention to social critique in video games. I do remember thinking it seemed reminiscent of Brave New World. Thinking back on it, beyond being funny, it was definitely critical of something or other.

Fallout Tactics – This was derided when it came out and has slowly grown in status over the years. I played it in 2003 when it was not known to be good, and am therefore a trendsetter if not trail blazer. Sure, it’s not as good as the first two RPGs in the series and was developed outside of Black Isle as the company was burning to the ground, but a lot of the original Fallout flavor is present. If for some odd reason you don’t think RPGs should be first person shooters and already played FO1 and 2, Tactics is worth trying.

Planescape: Torment – I was once banned from a prominent internet forum for saying the idea that Torment was too old to play now was stupid. It is stupid. Don’t be stupid, play Torment if you have not. Then read this review I wrote four hundred years ago.

Shadowrun series – These are newer than most or all of the other games on this list, but I really like them. The general consensus is accurate this time – Returns is fun but short, Dragonfall is excellent, and Hong Kong is very good but not quite as great as its predecessor. I wish someone would remake the Genesis game with some more run types. I would play a few hundred hours of that.

Still a good looking game.

Stronghold – This is what actually became of Lord’s of the Realm 2, whatever power-mad economist Chris would have you believe. In some ways, it may not be as good – I am a sucker for turns in games, and Stronghold is all real time. The battles are much better, though, and the campaign is pretty good. It was also striking when it came out. I remember Shota and me just watching the trees sway in the breeze on his roommate’s monitor (that’s right, Shota has had more than one roommate). None of the follow ups captured the quality of the first entry, which is still a fun game.

Last Express – This game should’ve made Jordan Mechner more famous, but I think it kind of sank his career (he had a lot of input on Sands of Time, though, which was great). A real time adventure game on a train, the plot kept moving forward regardless of your input. It was kind of like a good version of Indigo Prophecy written by someone capable of telling a coherent story. I did have to look up the solution to the final puzzle, which required an item I did not have. Luckily, the game has a time rewinding mechanic (a mechanic suitable for a prince, you could say) so I zoomed backwards in time, got the obscure item from a dim witted child, bode my time and then when the climax arrived I was all set. At this point, the Last Express may be more interesting as a game design artifact than playable video game, but I think that’s just as interesting.

There you have it. Two long posts of old games, and at least 3 of them are good. Go buy a bunch and tell them that we sent you (GOG mails us a check for each referral).

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1 year ago

i played torment what feels like a lifetime ago, so i was surprised that i had not yet played it when you posted your review. i guess that means i can say as of probably 2009 it definitely held up.

as our resident point and click fan, i can say that beneath a steel sky and last express are both great games. beneath a steel sky more traditional, but does interesting stuff with the plot and setting, as you suggest with your blurb. last express takes on the form of the genre and is really interesting as a result. it is on the shorter side, and has that rewinding mechanic you mentioned so although it can be hard to find the path to the best ending, you can be confident playing through unguided and just revert back to get what you need later in the game. great opening, which really sets the dramatic tone for the game, and situating it among real historical adds some poignancy.

1 year ago

I must not have cared about adventure games when Last Express came out, because this is the first I’ve taken notice of it, and it looks like something special! The whole ‘game moves without you’ thing can be both mesmerizing and HORRIBLY FRUSTRATING, so I’m glad they took some pains to sand down the sharp edges. Now if I could just get it on console somehow (it looks like it even has QTEs)!

Also, thanks for bringing back up Jagged Alliance 2. On my brother’s glowing recommendation, I was determined to jump in over a decade ago, but I spent so long creating my character that I was thoroughly exhausted and unprepared for the task of actually starting the game :P

1 year ago
Reply to  TrueTallus

jordan mechner, of prince of persia fame, led development of Last Express. i think it is pretty well designed and until the end there are a lot of ways through it. as jay alluded to, you can move through time to get different scenes and items as needed, so i wouldnt be intimidated by the overall design.

1 year ago
Reply to  TrueTallus

Thanks to both of you for the further info, looks like I’ve got two great reasons to dust off my GOG account now :)