After spending time writing and revising my SRPG 101 article
and working on the list
, I've come to a more useful and organized methodology of writing my reviews that will be appearing on this site.
The first part of the review will be a factual, technical analysis of game systems. For example, if I were reviewing chess, I'd be talking about the size of the board, the variety and balance of the game pieces, and the strategic depth available. The second part of a review is subjective - how I feel about the game design, difficulty, artistic merit, etc. It's important to me to describe the facts before moving on to the opinions. Each review will be described in 4 categories: Strategic Depth, Strategic Difficulty, Plot and Characters, and Graphics and Sound.
Strategic Depth, as I already defined in my SRPG 101 article, is the number of options or legal game positions the player can make over the course of the game. For example, checkers has a relatively lower amount of strategic depth compared to chess. Strategic depth is only one side of the story, though - depth is meaningless without challenges that take advantage of it. Disgaea has a good amount of strategic depth, but the lack of challenges and emphasis on raw numbers and grinding means that its depth mostly useless and the game is more of a sandbox experience where you can do just about anything and still win. On the other hand a game like Advance Wars does not have a lot of strategic depth, but its challenges require you to learn all of that depth and apply it appropriately if you want Advance Campaign S-ranks.
Strategic Difficulty is rated based on challenges that require the player to search through the strategic depth and choose an optimal solution. The more complex and puzzle-like the solution is, the higher the difficulty. Any kind of real time skills like timing or reaction time are also important. If a game has multiple difficulty levels, a scoring system, or if its difficulty varies significantly, I'll describe the range of skill levels that the game is capable of catering to. There's also game balance, artificial intelligence, variety of challenges, user interface quality, and legitimacy to consider when factoring in difficulty. A games difficulty can be heavily altered by one or two overpowering units or abilities, or if the challenges are simple and/or highly repetitive, or if the user interface is clunky and hard to deal with.
When dealing with a primarily multiplayer game like chess, the strategic depth is more apt to be referred to as the 'skill cap', that is the highest maximum level of complexity and strategy a player can employ against another player. For example, Chess has a higher skill cap than checkers. Similarly, the strategic difficulty is more about how much and what type of skill is required to reach that skill cap, including things like reading your opponent, reacting to random behavior, etc.
Legitimacy is determined on whether the games challenges can be mitigated through mindless repetitive actions like optional grinding, save and reload abuse, or by pre-order bonuses/DLC that make comparisons between players impossible. If a game is legitimate then the difficulty is generally set in stone because it can't be altered. If a game is not legitimate then I will describe how that impacts the games difficulty and what the experience is like if you choose not to grind or take advantage of overpowered units/abilities.
On to my subjective views and perceptions of a games strategic depth and difficulty. I tend to like higher amounts of depth and difficulty, but I do my best to describe which player skill levels will enjoy the games difficulty the most. I like it when developers offer legitimate challenges, a scoring system, and multiple skill levels, which increases a games appeal and longevity. If a game has only one difficulty mode and no legitimate challenges, that will reduce its appeal and longevity and thus its overall score. I like lots of variety in a games challenges and I dislike repetitive actions, grinding, or filler which tends to bore me. I like a fast responsive UI with a decent amount of features, and I really don't like it if the UI is clunky, unresponsive, buggy, or hard to deal with. I try my best to describe what kind of player the game will appeal most to, even if it doesn't appeal to me personally. I dislike unfair or cheap difficulty such as excessive, uncontrollable randomness, or difficulty that arises through forced simple repetitive actions instead of strategy.
My own level of skill factors greatly into my comprehension and understanding of a games systems. I don't make logically incorrect assumptions like "you will get frustrated with this game" which ignores the fact that players of other skill levels may find it subjectively more or less frustrating. I also don't make false statements like "you must partake in optional grinding to progress in this game" when it is actually possible to progress without grinding by using more strategy and skill. I will always do basic journalistic research into a game challenge that seems daunting or impossible to me to confirm if players more skilled than I have accomplished what I could not, instead of arrogantly assuming that since I couldn't do it, nobody could. These factors plus my experience and skill set my reviews apart from your average reviewer or games journalist.
Plot and Characters is a mostly subjective category that looks at the more artistic side of the game. Graphics and sound again looks at subjective elements of the game. These elements don't factor very heavily into my score, although if the graphics or camera make the game hard to deal with or if the music can't be turned off, I'll probably be subjectively unhappy.
And finally there's the subjective overall score. I don't like giving out numbers but if you want to be counted you need to pick one. I choose the overall score by starting with 100, then subtracting points for what I feel are valid criticisms, most of which I've already noted in my preferences above. This is basically a pros/cons list except it has direct bearing on the score. So there you have it. Look forward to more comprehensive, reviews, previews, analysis and opinions soon!