Too Human is almost fascinating because it is mediocre. Most of its flaws, beyond the obvious graphical glitches or industry par bad voice acting, seem deliberate and it could just be from sort of "design by committee" or it could be from actual attempts to branch out and attempt originality just outside the standard lines of (A)RPG design, that just don't quite grab players the way the designers were hoping/expecting. In theory there are a bunch of individual pieces that could work well on their own: the crafting system is complicated and well balanced on top of an interesting random drop mechanics; the skill system seems interestingly diverse and assumedly well balanced; the random naming system is fun and amusing; the right stick combat system, at its best, is a unique take on the Diablo mouse click system and kinder on the fingers than traditional button mashing; the use of Futhark in the UI is cool (but underutilized in my opinion). Together the whole seems somewhat haphazard and underwhelming.

I've got a level 27 Cyber Bioengineer and believe I've only the need to grind out the final boss (got two phases in before I got bored last night) to see the end of the campaign story. I've been playing Too Human in contrast with Castle Crashers and I find the "stick mashing" a little bit more fun than the button mashing, and Too Human's odd pacing (long walks, the wells and Aesir, weirdly long death animation) does a better job of keeping me from "battle fatigue", but Castle Crashers does a better job at intangible rewards (more interesting music, more variety in the animation and level design).

It should come as no shock that rather than the gameplay my biggest complaints are in the world building and storytelling. First, let me start by complaining that any of the reviewers that complained of no story or a hard to follow story or that the story starts in the middle obviously need to bone up on basic Norse mythology. I would suggest some time at least the Wikipedia or the Encyclopedia Mythica. It should be quite obvious, or at least it was for me, that the game is an attempt at the story of Ragnarok. It was obvious to me from the opening video of the rescue of Balder by Hermod and should have been more obvious to anyone else shortly thereafter with the acknowledgement of serpent-tormented Loki and rumors of his impending release/escape... Anyone that needed for Hel's actual usage of the term Ragnarok 9/10ths of the way through the story has some serious gaps in their education, in my not so humble opinion.

So there is a story, and it's one of the things that has kept me playing, but there are issues with the layout and the plotting. Most of the story is laid out in cutscenes that suffer from a lack of clear direction and pacing. Some of that could be technical limitations (they forced themselves to make cutscenes to double as disguised loading screens), but a lot of that seems to be a lack of a good writer or cinematographer. Some scenes just seem entirely awkward from bad dialog all the way to odd camera usage. The rest of the story is primarily told in "overheard conversations", which is where the game shines the least. The conversations lack the subtlety or good writing that has made the "found conversations" in the Half-Life series so much of a treat to seek out and find. But then there are the technical annoyances that makes these things easy to ignore or miss. They often bothered to put in camera cues in some of these, but they lack animation clues such as gestures and lip sync. Worst of all, however, is that the engine does not disable the "pacing" idle animations, particularly in conversations with lines for Balder himself, and that gives entirely the wrong attitude towards the conversation from a characterization aspect, regardless of the fact that it can irritate players to just walk away mid-conversation...

The story itself seems entirely linear with player actions having no bearing on the plot in the classic school of the gameplay is the stuff between story, the fetch quests and drawn out fight paths. The opening quote and game title and the "key philosophical choice" of Cyber-oriented versus Human-oriented seem to imply a deeper discussion of the man versus machine appears glossed over in the narrative. The difference in the choices is entirely in the skill tree, with no apparent impact on the narrative. What story exists seems to imply that just about all machines are monstrous or lead toward monstrous behavior, but that's almost disturbing in its lack of interesting dynamics and entirely resting on bad sci-fi stereotypes (that should be irradicated anyway).

But it's in the world-building, as might be expected, where I am most upset. The game is mining a rich set of archetypes in Norse mythology and pretty much playing them boring and straight. I can forgive the boring choice of retelling the Ragnarok event, because that's a famous war full of bloodshed and "excitement". I can't forgive the lack of imagination in exploring that mythology, however. Even past the fact that there's no real attempt at subverting or making the archetypes the designer's own, the game's "reimagining" is plain and almost sadly boring. Norse mythology, as do most mythos, offers a wild bestiary of creatures from giants to dwarves and elves and trolls (and several other things subsequently borrowed in the post-Tolkien traditional fantasy) and Silicon Knights offers us as representations of these things: robots, robots, and more robots. To spice things up a little we get the undead and gods represented as cyborgs. It's too easy to make the comparison that Silicon Knights has enthusiastically given us The Matrix meets Norse Mythology with none of the depth of the latter and little of the style or camp ridiculousness of the former. Yggdrasil, the great world tree, is cyberspace or the internet.

It's an interesting take, and if they could deliver on true philosophical discussions of man versus machine, maybe it would be more interesting. It would perhaps be even more interesting to see some actual control over the machinations of Ragnarok. What if the events could be changed or the world changed?

It's a shame that with such a wild and deep source material that bigger and wilder things weren't done with the world building. I figured I'd post my own nascent thoughts on the Norse mythology versus sci-fi, but rather than bury them in this post I'll create one specifically on the subject.