Archive for October 20, 2009

“Borderlands Boasting” or “These Guys Talk a lot!”

October 20, 2009 2 comments

To say that I am excited about Borderlands is sort of like saying “the Atlantic Ocean is a bit damp”.

Let’s check the game against my industry-standard checklist.

  • Post-apocalyptic-esque setting? Check!
  • Cell-shaded graphics? Check!
  • Dynamically spawned enemies? Check!
  • 87 bajillion guns? Check!
  • 4-player co-op? Check!
  • Asshole robots? Check!

What’s not to like?!

The editorial team over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun has been around since 1873. They have posted a lengthy and… conversational review. The 4,000+ word article covers the guys over at RPS discussing the pros and cons of the game and passing verdict on what they feel makes the game stand out. It’s an interesting read, albeit a bit long. But with the release still six days away, this is the only piece of additional information I can find on the game, and I gobbled it up faster than a Chinese whore turns a trick on Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

Let’s give you a moment to digest that last sentence.

In summary, if Borderlands’ viral campaigning has had any effect on you, you will want to read the verdict. It’s a good way to pass the time as you wait for the RPG/FPS hybrid to ship.

Also, here is the trailer in HD. Enjoy!

Categories: Borderlands, Review

“Post-apocalyptic Parallels” or “Developmental Discretion”

October 20, 2009 1 comment

Fallen Earth and Earthrise are both set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopic future. Both games are being developed by indie studios (Icarus Studios and Masthead Studios respectively) with limited prior experience. Both titles have terra firma in their name and something to do with rise or fall. I think I have made my point regarding the obvious similarities.

If Fallen Earth was a person, Syp over at Bio Break would have been served a restraining order for obsessive interest. Fortunately Syp has the ability to maintain a balanced perspective, and despite his unhealthy indulgence in the game, he can objectively point out its flaws. I am myself a sucker for post-apocalyptic settings, and drool over the concept like a 3-year old does over candy. However, the steep learning curve in Fallen Earth and its unforgiving ambiance estranged me more than I would have liked. The apprehension with the game’s requirement for hitting the ground running has grown to the point that even Syp’s endless barrage of praise and in-game experiences can’t get me to try it again.

222222That being said, the post-apocalyptic setting is still very much my Achilles’ Heel. I have a feeling Earthrise will be to me what Fallen Earth is to Syp. The game looks vibrant, colorful and full of flavor. It also seems a little less… oh what’s the word… dreary than Fallen Earth. What excites me most about Earthrise is that it is shaping up to be a true player-driven sandbox experience. This could include territorial control, player espionage, and corporate warfare. For anyone who is familiar with the GHAC fiasco in EvE Online, this implies a completely open-world philosophy where player actions will have far-reaching and powerful repercussions instead of pre-determined outcomes. That’s pretty damn cool!

Masthead Studios is already well underway in its quest to incorporate player impact on the game world as early as the development stages. Their has been a lot of focus recently on incorporating player feedback and preferences into literally every facet of the game.

In the beginning of this month, the developers sought opinions and feedback on player-killing and how this activity should be rewarded. Most recently, they have asked players to chip in on the creation of alts, as this MMO-feature could have a fairly significant impact on player espionage and player specialization outside of the ‘main’ character’.

It all sounds very interesting, and incorporating player feedback goes a long way to show the developers are well in-tune with what the players want. This may shape up to be the penultimate, accessible player-driven experience that only EvE Online has been able to realize yet.

“Very Funny Scotty, Now Beam Down my Pants!” or “Picard > Kirk”

October 20, 2009 4 comments

Cryptic Studios, a new contender in the MMO arena, is currently neck-deep in three MMOs.

The first is is Champions Online, that I have been writing about quite extensively over the last week or so.

very-funny-scotty-now-beam-down-my-pants-or-picard-gt-kirkThe second is Star Trek Online. Criag Zinkievich, Star Trek Online’s executive producer has recenly confirmed to that Federation ships will ship (lame pun intended) sometime in early 2010. Anyone who was present for the launch phase of Champions Online has Vietnam-esque flashbacks to the game-breaking changes that were introduced on launch day and beyond. Let’s hope the launch of the studio’s first MMO was a major learning experience and the quality of Star Trek Online is not sacrificed in the name of maintaining said deadline.

Without giving you the date, which I’m not allowed to give out or else the marketing people will come and smack me in the back of the head, I can tell you that the game will be out the first quarter of 2010.
Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, Star Trek Online

Cryptic Studios also has a third, as-yet-unrevealed MMO in the works. The screenshots, found here, offer no conclusive clue. But it sure looks cool!

“Dragon Age: Eye Candy” or “Bioware Really Likes Bigass Spiders!”

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment

14 days is too far away…

Categories: Dragon Age: Origins

“Se7en Reasons to Play Champions Online” or “Balancing the Bitching”

October 20, 2009 5 comments

Disclaimer: It has been brought to my attention that I have bitched too much about Champions Online as of late because of a few things that have really annoyed me. So to balance out all the bitching, and in the interest of fairness, I am putting together a partial review. I am choosing seven things that stand out to me. I am also trying to be as positive as possible, and not commenting on the flaws in the game design. There are, however, sections below which mention some of the drawbacks, as they go hand-in-hand with the qualities that stand out. Enjoy.

One: “Fresh Foray” or “Moar Supaheros Plz!”

It’s a fresh setting. Sure the superhero sandbox has been tackled years prior by City of Heroes and City of Villains, and the upcoming DC Universe will be worthy contender in the arena. But Champions Online is a breath of fresh air in a largely neglected genre of MMO gaming. You get to be a superhero. What more do you need?

Two: “Where is the Damn Half-mask?” or “I’m Batman!”

se7en-reasons-to-play-champions-online-or-balancing-the-bitchingNot enough has been said about the character creator in Champions Online. It is smart, sophisticated and provides the user with literally millions of visuals iterations for what their character can look like. I have been playing the game for over a month now, and every day I come across a costume that I have to stop and admire. The level of creative freedom the character creator allows is unprecedented.

The system is not without flaws. For instance, it is not very intuitive, you have to dig in menus and sub-menus to find a look that you feel is just right. But that being said, overall, I have never had so much fun with a character creator. I have found myself spending hours upon hours obsessing over small details of my characters, trying to get my champions to look precisely as I envisioned him.

Naming is another aspect of character creation. Unlike most MMOs which check your character’s name against the existing names on the server to ensure no two players have the same name, you have the liberty of picking any name you want. This is because in Champions Online, it is your account name that is unique, not your character. So I could make a character “Bronte”@theelementals, and a friend could make another character “Bronte”@friendsaccount, and we’d both be Bronte. Another added advantage of this system is that once you befriend someone through the in-game interface, you will always know when they are on, regardless of which character they are playing. The friend system saves information through the account name as well, so instead of being friends with “Battleship” or “Black Arrow”, you will be friends with @accountname1 and @accountname2.

The system does impose some minor restrictions. You can’t for instance name yourself Spiderman, or any other major superhero in pop culture. Not that it stops anyone from the bajillion Iron Man (Iron Hand, Steel Man, Iron Colossus, Iron Armor) and Batman (Dark Knight, The Dark Knight, TheDarkKnight, The_Dark_Knight) clones.

Three: “Warrior Mage” or “Warlock Paladin”

The game, technically, has no class system. You don’t have to get boxed into a pre-determined set of abilities or roles for your champion. The game offers you basic “classes” to choose from if you are feeling lazy or uninspired, but you are at complete liberty to pick and choose powers from literally every pool of power frameworks available. The only drawback is that the game, understandably, rewards you if invest in powers from the same power-set. However, if you mix and match powers from different sets, it will take you longer to unlock higher tiers of power. So if I have a champion with Power Armor abilities, I will need two powers from the Power Armor set to unlock the third tier of Power Armor abilities. However, if I want the third tier of powers from another set (say Dual Blades), the game will require that I have three powers (as opposed to two in the same power tree) from another power-set (in this case Power Armor) in order to unlock that tier. It’s simple, its effective, and it allows for countably infinite combinations of unique champions each with their own powers and abilities.

Champions Online also has a plethora of power-sets to choose from. Martial arts, fire, telekinesis, gadgeteering, bow & arrow, the game has it all. This gives the player a large pool of abilities to experiment with. Want to be a gunslinger who can freeze his enemies with frost spells, throw around goons with his thoughts and pick up vehicles to toss at mobs? Sure, the game will let you do that!

Perhaps the most striking thing is how soon the game allows you to gain your travel powers. At level 5, you can pick one. Swinging, flying in a blaze of fire, flying on a hover disc, flying with jet boots, tunneling, super jumping, super speed and so on. There are no restrictions as to what travel power you can have. What’s more, in the 30’s, the game also allows you to pick a second travel power. I dream of the day when I will fly into a pack of mobs, kick the shit out of the one I am after, and then simply teleport out. Unlike my plans involving Megan Fox and two large cans of whipped cream, this one is much more realistic.

Four: “Shade Those Cells” or “I, Candy”

The graphics are gorgeous. Cell-shaded game worlds are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. But believe me when I tell you this, if you have a decent PC that allows you to maximize all your settings, the game world is a sight to behold. Teeming with life, stretching out as far as the eye (or I suppose in this case your graphics card) can see, all brought to life in vibrant colors and sharp outlines. City of Heroes was good in its own respects, but one of the (many) things that led me to eventually quit the game was the cookie-cutter graphics in every part of the world.

Gone are the days of endless slabs of concrete, the bland building designs, and the ever-repeating texture patterns. The environments in Champions Online are exquisitely detailed, littered with objects you can pick up and throw at your enemies, and non-repetitive texture mapping.

Five: “Kaplow!” or “How to Survive Getting hit in the Face With a Pickup Truck”

se7en-reasons-to-play-champions-online-or-balancing-the-bitching2The combat in Champions Online is explosive. I am playing with three characters right now, Bronte the Archer, Power Armor-based Prometheus and Martial Artist Obsidian. Regardless of which power set combinations I use, every fight is filled with sounds of fists smashing into exposed teeth with a satisfying thwack!, arrows piercing enemy defenses with a powerful thup! and energy bolts slamming into goons with ceremonious fwoom! With every character, I am literally throwing myself into packs of mobs, hitting punching, kicking, firing in rapid succession till they fall defeated at my feet. Most of the fights in Champions are designed to be group fights. You are almost always fighting 3 or more enemies simultaneously. Do you take your time and deal with each one on a personal level? Do you root one while you dispatch the other two? Do you force them to crowd so you can use your area effect abilities? Combat in Champions Online is a visceral, perhaps at times over-simplified, but thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Don’t for a moment allow this description of a highly satisfying combat experience misguide you to believe that the combat is easy. Mobs aren’t pushovers, especially if they are even a single level above yours. And they can get tough in bigger numbers or with tougher variations.

Six: “Face Melting 101” or “I Hate Root Abilities!”

Say what you want about the PvP system, and the balancing issues, but I have found the PvP to be a heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping, face-melting experience that is unrivaled. Unlike the predictable AI controlled mobs, PvP is unpredictable, fast-paced and dynamic. The Hero Games I have participated in so far involve 5on5 matches, with 15 kills of the opposing team the victory condition. Tight quarters and winding hallways further ramp up the difficulty as range classes maintain their advantage over melee for only so long. All-in-all, it is a bone crunchingly fun experience that entertains tremendously.

However, like all other systems in the game, this system too is inherently flawed due to the incredible freedom awarded to the player in choosing their powers. Because of the sheer number of powers and associated combinations, there are certain abilities in the spectrum that give a significant advantage in PvP. And because of this simple reason, I don’t think there is a permanent way to balance the large amount of power combinations that can enter any given arena. The retroactive drawback is that experienced and smart PvP players always choose powers that will benefit them tremendously in PvP, thereby heavily tilting the balance of the match in their team’s favor. Couple this with the fact that retcons (the game’s version of a respec), cost an ungodly amount of money, and it completely defeats the objective of encouraging players to try out both PvE and PvP. The cost of retcons is literally that restrictive.

Seven: “Anti-champion” or “Bestest Enemies”

se7en-reasons-to-play-champions-online-or-balancing-the-bitching3At level 25, you get to create your own Nemesis. That’s right. You use the same editor you used at the beginning of your career to craft a being that is the very essence of your antithesis. You get to pick precisely what they look like, and what base power-set they will have. (The restriction is that you cannot pick individual powers, just a power framework.) You even get to select what sort of minions they will have.

This effectively starts a brand new chapter of interaction in Champions Online. Occasionally, the game will randomly ambush you during a routine mission with minions of your Nemesis. Sometimes they will drop items that will lead to clues about your Nemesis’ latest location and nefarious activities. Throughout the later levels, you face off against your archenemy and try to capture him for the authorities.

This is one of the coolest features I have seen in an MMO yet. Instead of fighting pre-designed mobs with pre-designed abilities, you get to pick your greatest enemy and give him your own personal flavor. Not only does this allow you to play the game with content that, in effect, you have had an active and guiding hand in designing, it also builds an unprecedented level of interactivity and reciprocity with the game.