It's an old trick: as players, we grow experienced enough to master a toy to completion; this is the basis for videogames, and the basis for the nostalgia of early-era Nintendo. Incremental successes build slowly into one ultimate success. But Oblitus' ultimate success isn't the culmination of one playthrough; it's the culmination of several. Rarely does a game acknowledge the cycle of play, die, repeat, and finally, succeed. Oblitus instead not only acknowledges it but embraces it; draws a parallel between its protagonist and its player, their movements synchronized, following the same unknown task. Unearth the task; finish it. Parvus is set free. So is the player.
This narrative distance and the slow difficulty curve both point to the same thing: an over-reluctance to lose or alienate an audience unwilling to engage with philosophical thought or difficult puzzles. But that belies the ideal audience for a philosophical puzzle game: an audience willing to try.
In its best moments, The Old City: Leviathan toggles seamlessly between enchanting dreams and dark realities, tragic memories and tragic futures, and deeply touching realizations on what is actually happening. But they're all never really meant for the player; they're meant for the protagonist.
Fortunately, Rollers of the Realm shares enough in other joys. It's clear it likes pinball as much as it likes role-playing games, because the whole game is one big love letter to both, the things mashed together into some odd blender without reason or deeper purpose. It doesn't really need any; what's here is a kind of pure, childlike delight, one that makes it okay to grind gold to buy daggers for my pinball-shaped rogue forever. Nothing about it makes sense, but who cares? Rollers of the Realm just wants to turn you into a pinball wizard.
In a game about big-picture, important ideas of societal problems, a lot of the choices feel not-so-important, and this isn't so much admonition as it is a warning: the following planned episodes must come to term with the choices set forward in the first, must tackle those ripples in a genuine, authentic manner or else we're basically playing a comic book and imagining different actions between panels.
In the end, Ethan Carter's ratios are just a bit off: maybe a little less hand-holding at certain times, a little more at others. But to pretend that it's not there at all is just a refusal to acknowledge the way in which details and design choices can limit or direct play.
Mind: Path to Thalamus is, at times, messy, but it's a beautiful mess, one that still exhibits powerful moments of emotional impact that are so true to the game and the medium that it's almost painful. If the narrator is the creator—or vice versa—he seems afraid of letting the player and himself falter emotionally or logically, as though there were something wrong with offering a player a piece of a broken heart.
But is it worth it? To somebody familiar with the genre, quite possibly. Despite my trepidation at learning another set of items, I still find myself queueing up for a quick game to explore new gods, because even if their outfits point towards a culture of ingrained sexism, the powers and interactions are compellingly equalized. But for a newcomer? It's a bit more complicated. Smite wants to help them to succeed, but I'm not sure it ultimately knows how.
There's a hint at something amazing and all too brief, especially in the wake of a game that can and will carry on, ostensibly, forever. Because even without adventure mode, my crunchy new crusader and I were more than willing to continue through Diablo's purgatory; I'm just not sure the game understands why.