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“Of Orcs and Men” or “My Review’s Preview”

October 11, 2012 1 comment

Of Orcs and Men releases today. I finished my advanced copy and submitted my review over to my editor at Hooked Gamers earlier today. Here is a short sneak peak.

EDIT: The review is up now.

Of Orcs and Men is a story about betrayal and redemption, it is a story about desperate times, last stands, and acts of selfless valor. It is a story about two unlikely antiheroes, driven together by equal parts of vengeance, greed and fate. It is a story about facing your inner demons, embracing your flaws, and accepting your limitations. Of Orcs and Men, put simply, is one of the most engrossing RPG stories every told. I just wish they had spent some more time polishing it.

In many ways, it reminds me of the first iteration of Assassin’s Creed. It was repetitive, buggy, and it could have used polish on a lot of levels. However, they improved the formula and the next iterations only got better and better. I love the world they come up with in Of Orcs and Men, and I sincerely hope this review is taken as constructive criticism, that there is a next iteration, and that is significantly improved via all the feedback.

Look for the review on Hooked Gamers sometime later today!

“GW2 Information Overload” or “An MMO After My Own Heart”

February 23, 2012 1 comment

The NDA for Guild Wars 2 was lifted this week, and the information poured forth, an unending tide of opinions, impressions, videos and screenshots. Perhaps not coincidentally, The Secret World also revealed its launch date, June 19th, 2012. Smooth Mr. Tornquist, real smooth!

Since I am not in the closed beta, my impressions of what it plays like is based entirely on the plethora of online previews that popped up between the beginning of this week and now.

Kotaku’s Mike Fahey listed 10 things that he learned from the Guild Wars 2 beta. It is an interesting read, full of promise and praise, so take it with a grain of salt. Fahey’s post has no new screenshots, but there are a few interesting videos, one of which highlights the absolutely massive scale of the game’s cities. It also appears Fahey may be a little suicidal with his digital avatars. Massively’s Elizabeth Cardy and Shawn Schuster put up their own impressions of the press beta event from over the weekend. Cardy focused on marco-level concepts, such as leveling, grouping, combat and healing, whereas Schuster spent more time with the character creator, questing, classes, skills, items, look and feel of the game.

Several bloggers also had their impressions of the game:

  • My dwarf brother Werit naturally only focused on the  PvP aspect, and how he feels it compares to WAR.
  • Spinks is prudent, and feels that we shouldn’t expect something drastically different, just the next step in the MMO evolution.
  • Syncaine feels that the game will fuel the biggest e-peen measurement races in MMO history, and that may not be the worst thing!
  • Keen was kind enough to rummage through the mountain of videos from the event, and come up with the most informative, entertaining and useful ones.
  • Ravious might need a towel!
  • Syp is glad that his feelings about the game are being reinforced though all the glowing praise from over the weekend, but he is focusing on two aspects that stand out for him: character creation, and the lack of reliance on the “holy trinity”.

Massively also put up this new piece today, detailing how crafting works in Guild Wars 2. Being able to gather everything at any time from the get go (no more collecting copper nodes in noobland for three hours before moving higher up the ladder), a lack of node competition, and salvaging all seem like great ideas on paper, and drastic improvements on the “Everything. Takes. Longer. ™.” formula every MMO is guilty of. I am excited, not as much as I am excited for The Secret World, mind you. But I am very excited! I will most certainly be trying this out when it releases.

“Se7en Reasons to Look Forward to The Secret World” or “The Stuff of Nightmares”

February 14, 2012 1 comment

Have I mentioned that I am eagerly anticipating the release of The Secret World? I think I have. On more than a few occasions I might add.

The game first caught my eye some four years ago, and it has been in development for the better part of a century decade. Much like any other upcoming MMO, the game promises to change the genre, but unlike most of the competition (with the possible exception of Guild Wars 2), The Secret World has some features and mechanics that really does set it apart.

.:: THE ATMOSPHERE ::.

"Will you be my valentine?"

There are a multitude of reason why this game has me giddy as a schoolgirl (are all schoolgirls generally giddy?), but allow me to demonstrate it with a simple example. I am not faint of the heart. I laugh through horror flicks, yawn through scary video games, and thoroughly enjoy scaring the hell out of my friends at winter bonfires with ghost stories. And herein lies my point. See the image above? For some reason, it creeps me out. And this is just one image. The Secret World is chock-full of visuals like these, and then some. This particular screengrab is from an area in the game called Blue Mountain, which is extensively detailed here.

The second CGI trailer is a great example for the atmosphere that is to be expected in The Secret World. An abandoned playground. A sinister foe that can shapeshift. A sole hero. It’s gritty, its dark and it looks delicious!

.:: THE SETTING ::.

The Secret World is set in the real world, not some high-fantasy location like Azeroth, or deep within the infinite reaches of space like New Eden. It is earth, as we know it, circa now. The game’s three factions are based in the very real cities of New York, London and Seoul. Now, granted, the game will make use of fictional towns and imaginative mythic locations where players can face off against the forces of evil, but the world is our own, the heroes ordinary human beings, the conflict very human.

Kingsmouth (Kingsport + Insmouth) is a fictional location within The Secret World. A trailer for the zone was released quite some time back, and it paints a chilling image of a picturesque, idyllic town where nothing is as it seems, and something terrifying lurks just below the surface.

.:: MENAGE-TROIS ::.

The traditional MMO features two opposing sides. Be it Alliance and Horde, Light and Dark Side, the choices, exceptions excluded, are fairly binary in nature. The Secret World, however, has three separate and distinct factions, all sworn to defend the world against the coming darkness, but at odds with each other in their separate pursuits of power.

There are the Dragons:

A whisper of a rumour of a shadow, this Asian group is the most secretive of societies. With no fixed territory or structure, the Dragon have dissolved and reformed throughout history. They believe that a closed, controlled society is a sick society. Only through collapse and rebuilding, the natural chaos of life, can the world be in harmony. Recently, they have taken root in a nameless district of Seoul, Korea.

The Templars:

Proudly tracing their royal lineage back to Babylon, the Templars are the lions of the secret world. When they roar, everyone listens. Old Europe is theirs, and the Templars’ marble hall dominates the old London borough of Ealdwic – historic capital of the secret world. It’s not just a show of strength. Nothing is just for show with the Templars.

And the Illuminati:

The Illuminati may have ancient roots, but they remain forever young and hungry. In every growing empire they have played for it all. And they play for keeps. Stealing the Americas from under the Templars’ noses, they grew with the United States to become a shadow superpower. Their corporate headquarters, the Labyrinth, is in an undisclosed location beneath Brooklyn, New York.

.:: MONSTER MADNESS ::.

To say that The Secret World is full of terrifying and unique enemies would be kind of like saying: “The Atlantic Ocean is damp.” The Secret World is designed around the idea of the stuff of nightmares, legend, and myth brought to life and running amok.

There be monsters, and they be aplenty.

Here are few examples, pilfered directly from The Secret World website.

.:: THE FOURTH PILLAR ::.

The game is the brainchild of one Ragnar Tørnquist, who has been lauded for his story-driven approach to video games such as the award-winning The Longest Journey. Featuring a complex, overarching story that weaves together the bizarre events and monster infestations around the globe, The Secret World explores the terrifying mysteries from history, myth and legend (urban or otherwise). The game won’t be a new set of dungeons, and a new global threat emerging with the latest content patch, it will be a seamless experience, rich in context, broad in scope and terrifying in detail.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying other MMOs don’t try to be story-driven. The latest entry into the foray, Star Wars: The Old Republic has established Guinness-documented world records for script with hundreds of hours of dialogue recorded. A review actually stated that from a single-player point of view, SW:TOR was 8 complex, interwoven storylines in one epic game. All I am saying is that my initial fear was that The Secret World would follow the formulaic pattern of introducing a new zone, with new threats, and new enemies every few months without regard to the larger story. It seems Mr. Tørnquist has already circumvented that by creating a story that ties everything in the world together.

.:: THE END TO CLASS WARFARE ::.

This is the big one. MMOs, by design, feature a personal progression system. Your character gains experience from questing, defeating enemies and completing tasks. This experience accumulates to the point where you graduate from your current level to the next, gaining additional abilities, specializations, talents, etc. The Secret World does away with this system altogether. There are no levels, there are no classes. You can choose your abilities as you see fit, without ever feeling the need to re-roll. There are over 500 skills to choose from, and you can slot them into your character abilities as you see fit.

But wait a second, with 500 abilities to choose from, how will you ever make an informed decision? Just yesterday, Funcom revealed the skill-deck templates. These are recommended skill-decks that you can mimic to create a particular type of archetype. To quote Massively:

The Witch Hunter focuses on big damage spikes and represents the Templars, the Warlord is your basic swordfighter from the Dragon faction, and the Thaumaturgist is the Illuminati’s answer to the gunmage archetype.

This not only gives you complete freedom over your character, but also help new players to the game (or genre) to comfortably get into a pre-determined, tried-and-tested set of abilities as they learn the ropes enough to make their own decisions. Additional details can be found here.

.:: LOCK AND LOAD … AND CAST FIREBALLS ::.

The no levels and no class system lends itself to the game’s varied arsenal. You can use melee weapons such as swords or bats, or firearms both small and large, or even use destructive magic to your advantage. The lack of class also implies that you never have to stick to one type of weapon or damage build. You can mix and match as you see fit, leveraging the wide range of havoc-inducing abilities, weapons and skills to your heart’s content and your enemy’s demise.

Additionally, your costume and look does not have to reflect your progressions through the latest content. You can wear what you want, acquiring apparel from missions, factions or shops in the main cities as you see fit. There are literally hundreds of options for you to discover.

Well there we have it folks, those are my top 7 reasons for looking forward to The Secret World. If you have any additional reasons, please feel free to share them in the comments below. Please also let me know if there are any factual errors.

Categories: Preview, The Secret World

“New Class3 Details Emerge” or “A Post-Apocalyptic World to Warm my Heart”

February 13, 2012 1 comment

I have mentioned once or twice that I love the post-apocalyptic genre. Fallout, Left 4 Dead, Metro 2033, Gears of War, Rage, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are all examples of games that have a deep and lasting impact on me, simply because they are set in a desperate world with humanity’s survival is very much at stake. But even within this genre, games like Fallout, Gears of War and Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. don’t carry the same weight because you are in control of a trained soldier, someone with the means and weaponry to make short work of anything in his or her path.

The sub-genre I particularly enjoy is more along the lines of the Left 4 Dead series, because you can relate to it better. The characters weren’t space marines on steroids, or genetically cultured to be superior, or armed to the teeth with the latest fancy weaponry and equipment. They were ordinary people, armed with ordinary weapons, and an extraordinary willpower to survive the madness that had consumed their world. Recently I logged into both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 servers, and I was sorely disappointed to see that a very limited number of people (1,647 at peak hours) were playing the game, and finding a new game was an exercise in futility.

For sometime now, I have been following the paper-thin trail of information crumbs that keeps coming out of UndeadLabs and their upcoming zombie world. Dubbed Class3 and Class4, the two are respectively a single-player game and an MMO based in a world that has been overrun by zombies. The game (series?) has a very particular Left 4 Dead vibe to it, with a few additional twists.

First, the game focuses on four key elements in the survival game: food, water, shelter and ammo. You will need to ransack stores, houses and other locations for supplies. Patching yourself with a medical kit will not be all you need to survive. You will need nourishment. Walking around in the open-world (and yes it is an open world) all the time is ill-advised and you should always have some form of a shelter. Said shelter can be fairly flimsy or very well-defended, and you can take steps to further improve its standing, such as board up windows etc. Ammo will also be rare, and you will need plenty of it to survive the copious amounts of zombies that the game will relentlessly throw at you.

Second, the action is supposed to be very fluid and dynamic. You can jump over fences, skid, dodge, slide, jump onto cars, drive the same car to mow down some zombies. The gameplay is highly action oriented, so don’t expect to comp in a corner, cover your 90-degree arc and fire away until kingdom come. It just won’t work.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, both Class3 and Class4 feature a “dynamic” world. I say this with a word of caution and advise you to take this with a grain of salt, because this claim has been made countless times, but never fully realized. A dynamic world in which your actions will affect how the world responds to you. New challenges may emerge, or emerging threats may be nipped in the bud, depending on your actions. We’ll see about that.

Just today, I also came across a new set of Q&A for the game. And it has some interesting pieces of information:

  • There are no loading screens anywhere in the open world, all indoor environments can be entered and seamlessly so.
  • There is a barricading-your-shelter component that can help increase your chances for surviving.
  • There is no split-screen in Class3.
  • They are working on some crazy-hard achievements. I think.
  • Vehicles are very precious assets, maintaining them and using them to your advantage can be critical (or critically fatal).
  • They are using CryEngine3, oooooh, pretty.
  • There are no “mutated” zombies. They used to be people, and in their infected form, they are still recognizably so, without gaining supernatural abilities.
  • It will be out when it’s done. Bitch.

I am excited. The game is being developed for consoles and with DUST 514 also in the works, it appears the next step in the MMO evolution will be on consoles.

Categories: Class3, Class4, Preview, Sandbox

“Skyrim Madness” or “Three Very Long Weeks”

October 22, 2011 3 comments

Skyrim is around the corner. And by around the corner I mean three weeks ago. So really around several corners. And I can hardly wait, as summarized below:

Also, I have a preview for the game up at Hooked Gamers, pieced together with everything I could find on the tile around the interwebz. Take a look!

Categories: Preview, The Elder Scrolls

“We’ve Changed Everything…” or “…But Don’t Worry, It’s Still The Same Thing”

December 22, 2010 4 comments

“Dragon Age 2 looks better, plays better, and has an entirely new story,” says lead designer Mike Laidlaw… And so just about everything has been changed in some way, whether it’s a minor tweak to smooth out some rough edges, or the total reworking of an idea that never quite came together the way it should. But don’t worry, says Laidlaw. It may not look quite the same, but at it’s heart, “It’s still Dragon Age.”

Susan Arendt, Preview: What’s New in Dragon Age II, WarCry

Gotta love the marketing lingo!

Some other points to take away from the preview, new information (at least for me) is marked in red:

  • Gone is the origins concept. You are new (a male or female version of) Hawke, Dragon Age’s answer to Commander Sheppard. Also, your character now talks.
  • The Blight is peripheral noise, compared to the clamor of Hawke’s rise to power, myth and legend.
  • Combat is getting a massive overhaul, particularly in terms of differentiating the classes and smoothing out the difficulty levels. It is also considerably more frantic, a departure from the long-windups of the original.
  • Crafting has been streamlines; you won’t have to hunt down ingredient-specific vendors; once you find the item in the world; all vendors will carry it. (Thank god!)
  • Skill Trees are now more circular in nature, as opposed to the horizontal and linear hierarchy, allowing multiple paths to get to that skill you’ve been craving.
  • The game has a lot more eye-candy than the three primary colors of the original: Brown, Grey and Blood-Spatter.
  • You will no longer be forced to “keep everyone happy” to keep them around; your party will get your back no matter what, but they will frequently disagree with you if you come from different standpoints
  • Junk loot is actually labeled “junk”, so you can sell it without a second thought.

Am I excited? You betcha. Dragon Age: Origins was a stellar game, its flaws notwithstanding. But I am going to wait on some reviews before buying this one.

Categories: Dragon Age 2, Preview

“There is Some Fallout in My Inbox” or “Armageddon Rag is All the Rage”

November 23, 2010 2 comments

Fallout Online continues to trudge on, despite being setback by a plethora of legal troubles. The Armageddon Rag, Issue # 3, the MMO’s official Pip-Pad-based newsletter.

This one had three separate tales to sample, Walker Road, On the Beach an Murphy’s Law.

Walker Road

This short story was comprised of the ramblings of a seemingly loony ghoul to his son, recovered from a holodisk found in the wastes. The near-delirious clip advises the son to show the rest of humanity that the ghouls deserved to have a place in society as much as the next guy. What I love about the Armageddon Rag is that it weaves lore right into its announcements and makes it all seem, well, seamless.

“So curl your shadow inside itself. Show no trace.

Until.

You will know. You have the eyes to recognize.”

Ghouls

  • First announced playable race
  • Bonuses to trade and engineering skills
  • Enjoy fixing broken technology
  • High radiation resistance and slightly better than normal Intelligence
  • Racial Abilities: Complaint Department and Geiger Counted
  • Racial Traits: Radiant One and Tech Wizard

On The Beach

The second entry in the Armageddon Rag is an incomplete story about Scribe Miller and his mission to find a set of tunnels that lead to the Glow. He is on loan to the Guardian Brotherhood of Paladins, and his mission also entails building bridges with the estranged Brothers. During the course of the story, the squad descends on an island that may have a tunnel network leading to the Glow. Shortly after arrival, they come under fire by a few mutants. They send one Paladin under cover fire to a cave opening, only to be attacked by a giant insectoid creature.

Just as Jenkins reached the cave entrance, a creature boiled out, a nightmare painted with a rainbow brush. Multiple legs scuttled forward, the segmented body, as tall as Jenkins in his powered armor and easily twice as long, twisted through the opening as the creature closed on the Brother.

Jenkins raised the Ripper. But before the weapon could make contact there was a flash of color from the center of what might be considered the creature’s chest.

The Brothers re-group, a little baffled by what just attacked them after seeing both the mutants and the unknown monstrosities retreat. It is then that they notice that a whole section of the sea had turned blood red in color…

The story then remains to be continued. But once again, Interplay has effectively introduced another entry from their bestiary, without being too blatant about it. And to their credit, unlike a hollow description of the beast and its abilities, I am genuinely intrigued by what the thing is.

Murphy’s Law

I wonder if either of them had real names? They must have. Who’d be mean enough to name their kid like that? Hey, Mr. Dweller, can Vault come out and play? ‘Course, that would make you leave home. Motivation’s a wonderful thing. I know I’ve got mine.

Could be worse. How bad would it be to get “Chosen Two.” You’re number Two, sit down and try harder. And then someone named “Chosen Too” – spelled the other way – will come to town for a showdown. Two against Too, the incredibly confusing fight with only two people.

“Shouldn’t there be Four?”
“Nope, he’s down the street fightin’ Chosen For.”

This third and final entry in the Armageddon Rag is quite hilarious. It is the recounting of an individual, all too aware of the heroics of the legends of the Wastelands, such as Vault Dweller and Chosen One, coming to terms with devising his own path in the new frontier, trying to forge a heroic tale of his own. In essence, it is a spin on creating a new character, deciding on his attributes and name and look and feel and weapons and abilities and rolling out into the post-apocalyptic world.

You can read the Rag here, it is hilarious, well-thought out, and a good indication for things to come.

Categories: Fallout Online, Preview
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