I’ve now had a chance to play Doom twice more, once with 1 marine and once with 3 marines.
I didn’t talk much about play balance in my last entry, because everyone enjoyed it well enough, and one playing wasn’t enough to really guess as to the ultimate balance. With two more games under my belt, though, I can tell you that the critics are right – this game has serious balance problems.
We played last night with 3 marines. I had a suspicion that this was going to have issues, so we gave the marines the following handicaps: instead of 2 skill cards each, we gave them 4 and allowed them to pick 3; and when respawning, we allowed their ammo to get bumped up to 3 bullets/shells if it was lower. This is a pretty substantial boost, and all the players had very good marine cards. Plus, as the invader player, I really didn’t hammer them as hard as I could have.
At least, not in the beginning. By about halfway through the module, I thought “hey, they’re doing pretty well, I better stop slacking off”. The game wasn’t as close as it looked, though – they made it to the last room with one frag left (but badly wounded and only a couple rounds of ammo left), but they had no chance at all to get even one player out. Well, they actually did have some chance: if they had played an excruciatingly tedious game of sniping and running away they might have made it, but nobody had the stomach to go through that.
The two player game wasn’t much better; I had weak marine cards, and made it only two-thirds of the way through the level. Kim generously gave me an extra life so I could get killed by the Cyberdemon in the last room.
The bottom line here is that I don’t think in any of the games I’ve played the marines have had even a remote chance of winning – and we’ve always given them some sort of balance (even in the very first game I played, we were giving them extra ammo). The play balance is clearly way, way out of line. This really is not a deep tactical game; there simply isn’t enough room for tactical skill to improve the balance. I felt that in my most recent games the Marines were playing quite well for the most part until they got bored right at the end.
I remember watching a promo movie for Halo 2, in which one of the Bungie guys talks about how Halo is 30 seconds of fun – sneak up, melee, throw a grenade, firefight – stretched out through 8+ hours of gaming. That’s fine for a console game which has many other selling points (and he may have been oversimplifying – Halo is a very well-designed game). But I’m starting to feel that the tactical problems in Doom are just not interesting enough to sustain replayability, especially given the game’s long playing time. Both of the last two games I’ve played had played themselves out by about 75% of the way through. That’s not good. You want the game to end before that happens. I think the problem is mainly one of pacing – there is just a bit too much fiddling here: open a door, clear a room, gather the goodies, lather, rinse, repeat – if the action was more continuous and less predictable I think it would be more fun. While I think this last game was enjoyed by the players for the first hour and a half or so, the enthusiasm was really tailing off towards the end, and by the time we were done, I don’t think anyone was very impressed by the game.
So Doom may well be relegated to the niche of a game I play with my D&D buddies, where we can get into the flavor of the dungeon crawl thing and not be thinking “hey, I could have been playing Lord of the Rings”.
I dunno. I still hope to give it another shot or two; we did rather enjoy the first playing, so it would be good to see if the game can get back into that happy zone, perhaps with a few house rules. But I may yet have to take it up with Rick Thornquist 🙂 (Never mind putting Fantasy Flight back on my “make sure you try-before-you-buy” list).