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“Of Orcs and Men Review” or “Of Pleasent Surprises and Sore Disappointments”

October 12, 2012 Leave a comment
Categories: Of Orcs and Men, Review

“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!

“Se7en Reasons Why I Love Rage” or “What PC Problems?”

October 13, 2011 4 comments

1. Superb Stability

My copy of Rage has had zero issues on my PC. It ran the first time I launched it, it never stuttered, never showed any graphical glitches or screen-tearing, it never crashed. It works like a charm. I know “this game installs and runs” shouldn’t technically be a reason for loving the title, but given the sheer amount of rage over Rage (I had to – sue me) in the Steam forums, I am very grateful for the utter lack of technical difficulties with the title.

2. Breathtakingly Beautiful

Carmack has done it again. The game world is absolutely, incredibly, undeniably gorgeous. From the smallest rocks to the largest cliffs, and from the tiniest settlements to the massive towns, Rage is a beautiful, gorgeous game. Stepping out of the Ark for the first time, I spent the first five minutes just spinning the camera around, looking at the beauty of the world that surrounded me. The shafts of lights from a sun, half-obscured by billowing photo-realistic clouds, water that shimmered and rippled and textures that jumped at you with the sheer amount of detail contained within.

3. Destructive Driving featuring Various Vehicles

Unlike other games that make you work for it, Rage gives you a vehicle pretty much from the very beginning. You can continue to get newer, better, more specialized vehicles, as the game goes on, but you can drive at the very start. You don’t get a shoddy starter vehicle either, this little quad can book it, and it can get you where you need to go because there are significant travel distances between points of interest on the map.

And then there are the races. There are a variety of tracks where you can race your various vehicles in modes ranging from simple racing, to an all-out war zone with machine guns, rocket launchers and road spikes. The racing mythology is well-embedded into the gaming world, and winning several races gets you some recognition with NPCs randomly stopping to admire your success and praise your driving skills. Yet the driving part of Rage feels a little disjointed, as if it was a separate game that was incorporated into the larger game world, and the developer was clever enough to hide the areas where the overlap was soldered together.

4. Walloping Weapons

The weapons in Rage, all the way from the starting Settler Pistol, are meaty and pack a wallop. These are id Software weapons. They are highly detailed, they feel solid and chunky in your hands, and they shoot some serious ordnance. If the several weapons were not enough, each weapon also fires several types of ammunition, like the Fatboys that double the standard round damage for a pistol, or the Fat Mammas, which proclaim that if these don’t kill your target, you better hightail it out of there! Every weapon in rage feels just right. They have an authoritative presence, and it’s satisfying to see them do their dirty work. Add grenades and the much-touted (and rightly so) Wingstick, and you are a one-man mutant-slaughtering bandit-bashing army.

5. Ostensibly Sensible Objectives

Did you ever have to gather 100 pigeons in Grand Theft Auto? What about 100 feathers in Assassin’s Creed? Better yet, have you tried the World of Warcraft achievements? There are several collectible items and objectives peppered through the game world of Rage. However, they aren’t as arbitrary as 100 of who-gives-a-shit. One is 3 field goals. There are field goals, and you have to drive your vehicle hard enough into something to fling yourself from it far enough to fly through said field goal. It sounds like a fluff objective, and it is, but it is fun, and there are only three of them. There are also 18 jumps in the game. Not 100. not 54. Just 18, and hitting each jump doesn’t simply add a +1 counter to your number of jumps, it rewards you with items for each individual jump, if successfully completed.

But perhaps the best of these collectibles are the Rage Collectible cards. Within enemy stronghold, settlements and the open game world, there are a total of 54 game cards for you to find. These aren’t just tokens, but effectively a tabletop game, where your cards have health and damage numbers, and you try to beat opponents to cash out a hefty chunk of change.

This is the kind of obsessive compulsive game completion objective that I can get behind. Objectives that are fun to achieve, and give rewards if you complete, instead of a flat percentage towards your percentage completed score.

6. Characters

The characters in Rage are well fleshed out. The animations look life-like and the voice-acting is absolutely top-notch. Largely, they still suffer from the MMO-esque NPC syndrome: they are only there to dispense missions and collect rewards, but somehow it still works. People can be seen walking about towns, bandits freely roam the desert in deadly vehicles, and there is a natural buzz to life, despite ultimately plastic characterization of their humanity.

7. Raging Rollercoaster

Rage isn’t a sand box by any stretch of the imagination. Sure the game world is huge, and once you get a set of missions, you can choose to complete them in whichever order you see fit, but at the end of the day, the entire game is a linear experience of getting from point A to point Z, hitting B, C, D etc. on the way. And as much as I love open worlds, this is actually a beautifully thing. Rage is a tightly controlled experience. Intense firefights in claustrophobic close quarters, vicious dune buggy races across torn tarmacs, linear gameplay in a (largely) linear world. Rage is the ultimate roller-coaster. Once you get on, you don’t want to get off.

Ignorantly Insignificant

I can’t give away the ending, obviously. Nor can i divulge details on what your ultimate objective is. But I will say this: there will come a point when you will realize you are not the hero of this story. You are simply a small cog in a much larger machine, and you are to do your part the best way you can. This is ultimately what really set Rage apart for me, the realization that no matter how powerful I got or how many enemies I can kill by simply flexing my biceps, I am ultimately insignificant, a mere speck in the unending evolution (and devolution) of the human condition.

Categories: Rage, Review

Played Lately: “Witcher 2: Pros and Cons” or “Witcher 2’s Divergent Chapters”

July 18, 2011 6 comments

With a severe lack of MMOs in my life, I am finding my guilty gaming pleasures in several multiplayer co-op and single-player titles these days. I wait anxiously for the day new-generation MMOs like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World come out, but until then, I just can’t bring myself to engage in the same old cyclical redundancy that is the bane of the contemporary MMO experience.

My last post detailed the multiplayer co-op games I have been playing of late. This post details the single-player titles that have kept me occupied

Witcher 2: Pros and Cons

The Witcher 2 is simultaneously one of the most amazing and annoying games ever build in the history of computer gaming.

On the positive side, it is a complete RPG experience, rich with lore, dripping with ambiance and executed with style in a lush, beautifully crafted world. The lore is especially well-planned, originally based off of the books of polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and details a fantastical kingdom with geopolitical tensions, royal assassinations, political espionage, magic, dragons and civil war in the lands. The game world has perhaps the best-looking environments I have seen to date in a video game. Lush foliage, towering castles, painstakingly detailed ruins and winding dungeons seamlessly blend together to create one of the most visually rewarding experiences I have had in a virtual world. The combat system, though initially baffling, can vary dramatically depending on your specialization, and can prove to be incredibly rewarding and challenging.

The game is not without its flaws. The combat starts very tough, with no clear direction as to what you’re supposed to do or how you are supposed to fight. Over the course of the game you actually become powerful enough to decimate anything in your path regardless of size, health, disposition or strength. Read that again. The combat starts really tough, and gets really easy. That’s dumb. The inventory management was a colossal pain in the ass. You only have 300 units of items you can carry. Given that the game throws cloth and leather and creature parts, and swords, and axes and pikes, and war hammers, and random junk, and herbs, and quest items, and beast trophies, and elemental stones and diamond dust and silver ore and iron ore and timber and the kitchen sink (to name maybe 1% of everything there is to pick up in the world), you run out of inventory space quite quickly. And god help you if you run out of space in the middle of a dungeon crawl, because the game will encumber and slow you down to a crawl. Add to this the fact that you will pick up recipes throughout the game and you never know which materials you might need later to craft that epic silver sword, piece or mail or armor kit, it can result in a very frustrating experience. The upcoming patch 1.3 promises to deal with both these issues, which is a great thing, I just wish they had done this when I was going through it myself.

Yup, that's one of the monsters you get to fight in the game.

Witcher 2’s Divergent Chapters

But Witcher 2’s greatest strength isn’t all of the fantastic gameplay elements, graphics, or mechanics that I listed above. In Witcher 2, one of the coolest things, that I only realized after reading up on it online, is that a binary choice in Chapter One completely changes the way the rest of the game plays out.

This isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but read at your own risk. The game will ask you to choose between Roethe or Iorveth during your first showdown with the Assassin of Kings. Either choice is permitted, but the game divides into two completely separate paths after you make this choice. Allow me to explain. The binary choice results in different NPCs dying, different fate of the town of Floatsam, a completely different Chapter Two and Chapter Three, including missions, NPCs, objectives, story, monsters and side-quests. Allow me to rephrase, playing the game after siding with Iroveth is a completely different lore and storyline experience from that moment onwards, than if you sided with Roethe. For example, Iorveth’s side leads you in Chapter Two to the Dwarven town of Vergen, which is preparing for an invasion by King Henselt’s armies. Whereas if you sided with Roethe, you actually play Chapter Two in King Henselt’s camp, as he prepares his advance against Vergen.

That is true choice, where your decisions matter and effectively change the entire direction and disposition of the game.

If you haven’t yet, you must play The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Categories: Lore, Review, Witcher II

“Assassin’s Creed: Awesome” or “Offensive Combat, Deadly Assassins, Same Old Stupid Voice Acting”

December 11, 2010 2 comments

Completionist’s Wetdream

My gaming time these days is being occupied by the excellent Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. It is a completionist’s wet dream. There are flags, feathers, treasures, guild missions, assassinations, blacksmiths/tailors/doctors with their own shop quests, banks, underground tunnels, platforming dungeons, mini-games, clusters, puzzles, war machines, courtesan missions, thief missions… the list goes on and on. Oh and did I mention it also has a kick-ass main storyline? But it is so seamlessly integrated into the fray of everything else that you never know where the generally well-defined outlines of the story end, and the side quests and mini-games begin.

Chained Executions

The combat is drastically improved. The drawback for the first two games was being forced to stand there, perpetually blocking (fingers going numb from endlessly holding that stupid button), waiting for someone to attack you so you could counter-kill them with a cool finishing move. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood turns this formula on it’s head, and now allows you to engage in combat offensively. I bruteforce kill my first victim, and then chain an execution streak to take out a ridiculous number of guards. In one mission (when the French assault Bartolomew’s home), my execution streak was 78 kills without blocking, disengaging, or running away. This is, without a doubt, one of the two best new features for the series.

Confraternita di Assassini

The second of these two best new features is your trained band of assassins. In any given fight, I can call up to six highly trained assassins who have more health, skill and equipment than the toughest brutes in the game. And they kill with the same efficiency as you do (assuming you don’t suck!). In fact, I have picked up a few things from my own computer-controlled assassins, such as the liberal use of smoke bombs. There is nothing more satisfying than calling them into a group of guards and seeing four of them air assassinate a group and engage in the chaos around you. You can send them on missions even after they reach level 10 (Assassino!), and earn money and unique items that can be sold at shops, or used to complete shop quests to unlock more items.

It is a kick-ass game, one that I have had an incredible amount of fun with. Rome isn’t as conducive to parkour as prior locations in the series, but it continues to be a fun, engaging and at times exhilarating component of the game.

BTW: I have yet to touch the multiplayer component, and I would recommend it highly for the single player portion alone. Buy it. Play it. Tell me all about it.

My only grievance, the terrible “Italian” accents. Ayo it’s a stupid!

I leave you with the game’s literal trailer, courtesy of one Tobuscus, one of the funniest people on YouTube right now.

Review (Single-Player): “Tier 1 vs. Black Ops” or “Shooters and Other Disappointments”

November 15, 2010 2 comments

I finished both Medal of Honor and Call of Duty: Black Ops recently. It didn’t take long for me to accomplish both goals, since each game is only about 5-7 hours. MoH is probably a bit shorter than Call of Duty.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy both games. I did, and they had their own strengths and weaknesses, but throughout Medal of Honor I couldn’t keep this one nagging thought at the back of my mind: “This is a very subtle Modern Warfare ripoff.”

Tier 1

Medal of Honor has some very cool, action-packed moments. I particularly liked the siege when the team is in a house next to a mountain with droves of Taliban pouring in from all sides and no hope for help or rescue. That was an intense setting. I normally play FPS games on the “Nightmare” setting, so that mission turned out to be especially brutal. But what stood out for me was the level of intensity the developers were able to capture and the grit soldiers in the field must exhibit to get through a day.

That being said, the adrenaline that mission brought about was more of an exception than the norm. There were AI pathing issues, and the AI, in some cases, was simply too dumb to spot me walking around their camp in plain sight. The scripted events were structured in a way that hindered the realism when you did anything outside of what you were supposed to do.

For example, in one Taliban camp, I saw an enemy unit with his back to me, naturally I sneaked up and stabbed him in the back. He stood there, unblinking, still oblivious to my presence, still alive. I tried again, once again my knife went into his back, there was a ripping noise, and yet the unit stood there, his back to me, enjoying the scenery. It was then that I realized that my AI partner had been talking to me the whole time about silently taking out the guy himself. He then walked up to the enemy, grabbed him from behind, startling the previously oblivious bastard, and finished him off. That was a huge turn-off. Scripted events are cool, but at no point should they be so unpolished that they break basic game mechanics, such as you stabbing a seemingly invulnerable-and-downright-indifferent-to-your-presence enemy unit.

There were other issues. One of the things I have enjoyed about the Modern Warfare series is the ability to see the battle play out from multiple viewpoints, without getting lost in the narrative. While Medal of Honor also tries the same novel idea (I wonder where they got it from!), very often I was a little confused as to which character in the story am I controlling now. Rabbit, Hawk, Deuce, Dante, or someone altogether new, mostly I just fired my gun and moved on.

Between the rescues, the rescuing of the rescuers, and the survival missions, I often found myself a little lost with the narrative (not in the narrative, but with the narrative). I wasn’t sure what the story was, except one long series of disjointed missions to destroy the Taliban, and by the end of it, we didn’t really get anywhere at all. Perhaps that was because much like the war, no mission in the campaign clearly identified the goal of the whole affair.

I’d give it a 6 out of 10, mostly because the concept was cool, and the idea was somewhat innovative, but in the execution they xeroxed too many pages from the Modern Warfare doctrine, and ended up with a half-baked game filled with glitches and other disappointments.

Black Ops

The Call of Duty franchise released its seventh game shortly after Medal of Honor and to resounding success. Let us briefly compare the two in terms of chronological releases:

Call of Duty

  • Call of Duty
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Call of Duty 3
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Call of Duty: World at War
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops

Medal of Honor

  • PC releases
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Spearhead
    Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Breakthrough
    Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault)
    Medal of Honor: Airborne
    Medal of Honor
  • Console releases
    Medal of Honor
    Medal of Honor: Underground
    Medal of Honor: Frontline
    Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
    Medal of Honor: European Assault
    Medal of Honor: Vanguard
    Medal of Honor: Airborne
    Medal of Honor: Heroes 2
    Medal of Honor
  • Portable releases
    Medal of Honor: Underground
    Medal of Honor: Infiltrator
    Medal of Honor: Heroes
    Medal of Honor: Heroes 2

Notice anything? Call of Duty took three games for the developers to realize that they needed to breathe some fresh air into the franchise, and thus came about Modern Warfare, one of the most innovative and novel tactical shooters in recent memory.

Look at how many games it took for Medal of Honor.

Beyond that, the latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise reinvents itself yet again, dumping you smack-dab in the middle of the cold war, the Vietnam crisis and an international conspiracy spanning multiple continents. The story was shockingly solid, with a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, and I am normally very good about that sort of thing.

On top of all that, it is a solid shooter, one that doesn’t just focus on what might be cool to play or see in the game, but genuinely focuses on what will be fun. From an assassination attempt on Fidel Castro to surviving a brutal gulag, from blowing up a soviet rocket to fighting in the trenches of Vietnam, and from flying a B2-Bomber to hunting down psychos in secret hideouts, this game had it all, and it brought it all together in style.

This isn’t to say the game didn’t have any issues. There were a few graphical glitches, and the game wasn’t balanced in terms of difficulty. You either blew through anything in your path, or you got your ass handed to you, forcing you to reload and play that sequence again and again. (Yes, I played on the toughest difficulty setting again). There was simply no middle ground.

The voice acting, while otherwise top-notch, sucked because of goddamn Sam Worthington. You may have seen him as the titular hero in Avatar and the first humanoid machine in Terminator 4: Rise of the Machines. He’s Australian you see. And regardless of which role he undertakes, he cannot, for the life of him, mask his Australian undertone. That kind of ruined it for me, but I suppose you can’t have it all.

I’d give Black Ops a resounding 9 out of 10. It is a brilliant game, with an original story, and intense action. Well worth your money if you are a shooter fan.

“Why I loved Enslaved” or “Here Piggy Piggy Piggy!”

November 12, 2010 1 comment

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, which would have been better named just “Enslaved”, is one of my favorite games of 2010. Don’t let the above-average critic reviews fool you. This action adventure game is one for the keeping. The following are some of the reasons I absolutely loved this novel, innovative game in a sea of over-hyped, over-budgeted, over-saturated AAA titles:

  • The Setting: The game is set in a post-apocalyptic New York; except its been hundreds of years since the city fell, and unlike Fallout’s arid landscape or Metro 2033’s dreary tunnels, this version of New York has been overrun by nature. Vegetation is abundant and has spread itself to every crevice, corner and edge. The whole city gives the vibe of a true urban jungle, and the effect is gloriously gorgeous.
  • The Story: In simplest terms, the story can be explained as “protagonist helps secondary protagonist get home”. But Enslaved story is like an onions, layers peeling away to show additional layers and complexity. The characters are real, their tragedies are heartfelt and profound, and their quest unbearably daunting and seemingly impossible. Again, in the simplest terms, it is a story about getting from point A to point B, and the two points are filled with further iterations of mini-quests requiring you to get from point A to B. But at the end of the day, as is so often the case in life, the journey becomes the legend, and the destination and purpose only serve as fringe concepts to drive the plot forward.
  • The Lore: Anyone who puts themselves through the trouble of reading my blog knows that I am a huge lore buff. I live for lore. So it is a bit strange that I am in love with a game that gives you as few elements of the background story and how the current world cam to be. There are subtle hints strewn across the landscape. Missing person posters in Grand Central Station, vestiges of prominent landmarks, and the dialogue in general give you a very vague idea of what might have happened to the world as we know it in 2010, but they don’t offer much else beyond that. I normally get cranky in a lore-starved game, but in this one, the scenery itself was the lore, and the lack of in-your-face walls-of-text lore was quite alright by me.
  • The Characters: The characters reveal themselves in bits and pieces, leaving much of the construction to the minds and imaginations of the players. The main characters don’t even exchange names a good hour, hour-and-a-half into the game, an homage to the slow but steady appreciation and respect they develop for each other. The voice-acting is phenomenal, the facial expressions are perfectly molded to the character’s psyche and emotional strain. Hell even the gait and mannerisms are well thought0out and character-appropriate.

I am not trying to sing unending praises for Enslaved, for it certainly has its flaws at time, such as unclear mission objectives and frustrating puzzle solving. But all in all, when considered as a whole, it is the sleeper hit of 2010 that wasn’t, and I can’t wait to get more of this bold new IP.

Speaking of which, the game has an upcoming DLC, starring the game’s playable sidekick Pigsy. You can watch a trailer, or screenshots from the upcoming DLC, Pigsy’s Perfect 10,  below:

Categories: DLC, Enslaved, Review

“Compromised Quality Conundrum” or “Conniving Quotes Controversy”

November 4, 2010 1 comment

I have very fond memories of landing on the beaches of Normandy and being utterly stupefied at the D-Day realism portrayed by the original medal of Honor game. I finished the 2010 version recently. To put it mildly, it was less than stellar. To put it moderately, it sucked big bags of donkey balls. To be harsh, I would rather watch paint dry while gouging my eyeballs out with plastic sporks.  The AI was horrendous, the scripted events were a nuisance that interfered with in-game mechanics, too often the control was wrenched away from you, the story hung on by a thread in its half-hearted attempt at cohesion and immersion, and practically every mission seemed to be ripped directly from Call of Duty. There were a few moments of (at times scripted) brilliance, that helped me trudge on, but all in all the title was a disappointment, and left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Yesterday I came across this interview on Eurogamer, and it made me a tad angrier. Here are two direct quotes for your perusal:

Quote 1:

“What I can say is the game didn’t meet our quality expectations. In order to be successful in that space, we’re going to have to have a game that is really, really strong.”
EA Games’ Patrick Soderlund to Eurogamer

Quote 2:

“The game is better than today’s reviews are indicating.”
EA Games’ Patrick Soderlund to Eurogamer (yes, the same interview)

Here’s a question: if you yourself know your game did not meet quality expectations, why release it?

Here’s another question: if you did release it, and it was met with less than stellar reviews, why continue to claim, in the same breath no less, that the game was better than the reviews it received? You know you screwed up, you even admit to it. Just don’t go backtracking to save some face. If you were challenging a singular review, you could blame it on a difference of opinion or perhaps reviewer bias. But thee overall experience has been quite disappointing, myself included, and considering that it didn’t meet your own internal quality standards, why on earth would it receive favorable reviews upon release?

Bear in mind, however, that this doesn’t mean the game did poorly. On the contrary, Medal of Honor sold two million copies in just two weeks post-launch.

Categories: Review

“Honesty is the Best Review Policy” or “Too Many Games on my Plate”

November 2, 2010 6 comments

I have a metric ton of video games to play through right now. I just finished Medal of Honor, but that doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment, since the single player portion lasted all of five hours and some change. That and it wasn’t as epic, except for select, spectacularly scripted events, as that certain other video game the name of which I quite forget right now.

Then there is Red Dead Redemption, of which I have played the beginning 7-8 hours twice now, and the only way to continue playing is to do it again. The first time my ROM was corrupted. When that got fixed, my hard drive crashed, killing all save data. So now I can either forget Red Dead Redemption, and just enjoy the Zombie goodness in Undead Nightmare DLC, or start over. Again. I haven’t made up my mind about that yet.

Then there is Enslaved, Halo: Reach (not particularity impressed so far honestly), Plants vs. Zombies (sheer brilliance), Mafia II, Vanquish and Fallout: New Vegas.

And before I can even think of finishing any of these, we already have Fable III, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II and Call of Duty: Black Ops out. *sigh*

Muhahahaha indeed!

Being an addict though, despite my massive backlog of titles, I couldn’t help but indulge myself in some reviews to see which of the three new releases mentioned above were worth investing in. The one that intrigued me most was Fable III, partly because the title has managed to generate a lot of hype around it, partly because it features some of the greatest voice talent cast, and partly because a diseased part of me hopes and begs and prays each day that Peter Molyneux would release something that actually lives up to the incredible amount of hype he manages to generate around his games. The reviews I came across ranged from “mildly mediocre” to “stupendously superb”, and the range of opinions was so wide and disparate, that I couldn’t make up my mind about buying the title.

That is till I came across Michael Abbott’s review of the game over at The Brainy Gamer. In recent memory, that is probably the most comprehensive, honest and unbiased review I have read about a video game. Granted it is only for the first few hours, but I for one will be monitoring Abbot’s progress and feedback on the game to see if it improves or degenerates. Abbott, if you’re reading this, you alone have the power now to make Mr. Molyneux another $59.99. Rock on!

Keen on the other end, is quite happy with his first ten minutes in the game.

“Why APB Turned Out To Be Such a Disappointment” or “Mike Schramm Read My Mind”

July 14, 2010 3 comments

“What APB‘s really missing in terms of gameplay is a real sense of progression. You’ll be doing exactly the same task five minutes into the game as you’ll be doing fifty hours in. While there are various sub-factions to earn reputation with that unlock bigger weapons, and a few stats (Notoriety for Criminals and Prestige for Enforcers) that go up and down based on your performance at any given moment, nothing really changes. No zones are conquered, no wars are won, no faction-wide rewards are granted. Even when you’re doing it right, it’s just mission after mission after mission, and while you are unlocking new weapons or bits of customization, all you get is a small text notice in the chat bar. Nothing about the gameplay ever changes.”

Mike Schramm, Review: APB (Day 2: Enforcers, get enforcin’), Joystiq.com

Categories: APB, Review

“Dungeon Finder Tool” or “Gear Score Blues”

April 11, 2010 5 comments

I recently re-started my subscription for World of Warcraft. After some initial trouble with, oh you know, a hacked account, missing items and a complete unfamiliarity with the new content and game changes, I have finally started finding my own two feet in the game.

One of the best decisions Blizzard has made in the last few months has been the introduction of the the Dungeon Finder Tool. It is amazing how much more you can accomplish if you didn’t have to find a team for a 5-man yourself, and then convene at the location. In a manner of speaking it also takes away from the lore of these instances, which is curiously side-stepped in the name of convenience and automated dungeon trampling. That being said, once you have seen the same dungeon 50 times, flying to it every time you want to complete it becomes more than a little tedious.

Most importantly, I have found that even in an hour, I can easily complete between 3-4 dungeons, earning a good 15-25 Emblems of Triumph in a very short span of time. This feat in of itself is enough to keep me motivated.

Add to that the fact that you are teleported from where you are in the world, and then ported right back out to the same spot when you are done is a big plus. You can even port out in the middle of an instance if your team loses someone and you are just sitting around waiting for someone. It is incredible what a huge change this has brought about in the popularity of 5-mans, interest in which was rapidly dwindling due to the tedious nature of finding groups and physically rallying to the instance. Finally, it is cross-realm, so even in the least busy hours, you are bound to find some people that want to do the exact dungeon you want to (either by selecting it themselves or choosing it randomly), so grouping is made even easier.

Let’s go over some of what we just talked about:

  • Cross-realm PvE, so you will never run out of players who want to run the instances you want to run.
  • Automated team building, you just select your role and whether you want to lead, the system does the rest.
  • Automated porting to the dungeon, and porting back out to the exact spot you were in. If you were mounted porting in, you will be mounted porting out.
  • Automated team replacement, so you can kick back and just twiddle your thumbs while the system searches for a replacement for that DC, or the healer that brought his failboat, or the tank who was “lagging too much to tank effectively”. During the wait you can also port out to where you were before and continue questing etc., porting back in when the new player joins.
  • Most of the time the system brings together equally geared individuals together. Sometimes however, it leaves a little to be desired. Examples include a Nexus run that was wrapped up in about 12 minutes flat because the group was so well decked out in end game gear, we didn’t stop, the tank didn’t take nearly any damage and bosses dropped before they could utter “YOU DARE ENTER MY LAIR, I WILL DESTROY YOU!” In another example, I have yet to complete Halls of Reflection more than twice, because the group falls apart at the first hint of failure, and I have consistently grouped with undergeared tanks.

Which brings us to Gear Score. This is a new concept that had me baffled for a while. Effectively it is a new mod that scans the equipment of a player and assigns them a corresponding score. I have seen players approaching the 7,000 GS barrier. A newbie level 80 in mediocre gear can be as low as 3,500 GS.

Over the course of time, this concept has gained immense popularity amidst the WoW player base. I see people leveraging their GS to advertise their services for 10-mans and 25-mans. Just the other night I responded to a demand for a healer for Onyxia 10-man.

Douchebag: “gs?”
Me: “4,746.”
Douchebag: “hell no, ned lest 5k gs, thx”
Me: “It’s OK man, I have finished the instance a few times, I can handle it very well.”
No response.
Me: “Hello?”
Douchebag is ignoring you.

And this isn’t the only time it has happened. I even saw someone advertising in trade chat that he was putting together a group for 25-man Naxxaramas, and needed players with a GS of at least 5K! While GS may seem like a decent method to vet out who may be an appropriate match for the content you are trying to tackle, it seems unfortunate that it is now being used deny less geared individuals a shot a the higher end content simply because their GS was 2 points short of the length of e-peen the group was trying to look for.

“Explicit Gamer: Beginnings” or “Firewalker Review”

April 5, 2010 5 comments

Head on over to Explicit Gamer, where I have started contributing recently. My first piece is a brief review of the Firewalker DLC for Mass Effect 2. Read on!

Categories: DLC, Mass Effect 2, Review

“2033 Different Ways to Die in the Metro” or “Artificially Stupid”

April 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I wanted to take some time and write a follow-up to the very initial impressions I had from the first few hours of gameplay in Metro 2033. But certain observations in the game have prompted, nay, urged me to put together some thoughts on the enemy A.I.

As I stated in the initial impressions, Metro 2033 is all about the atmosphere, the story and the hopelessness of the post-apocalyptic world Artyom carves a path through. It is not, however, a good shooter. In fact, it is not even a mediocre shooter. Sure you have guns, they shoot bullets, pellets and some pneumatic weapons even shoot throwing knives, and there is a wide variety of weapon types and upgrades you can invest into with the ever-precious pre-war ammunition/currency. But the combat is hollow and feels like a bloated attempt by the developer to concoct something that was supposed to go above and beyond a shooter, but couldn’t even surpass basic standards.

To make matters worse, the A.I. is fundamentally retarded. They seem intelligent on the surface, rapidly dashing between cover, trying to take advantage of pillars, barriers and sandbags to avoid your hail of gunfire. But observe a while longer and you begin to realize there is a monotonous, pre-meditated almost obsessive compulsive nature to the A.I. behavior. They dart quickly between cover, but soon it is evident that this is all they do, rapidly oscillating between two points of cover, almost oblivious to your presence. Furthermore, while they seem smart enough to utilize cover to protect themselves from your onslaught, when they move from cover to cover, they completely ignore your line of sight. At several points I was able to gun down enemies because they were out in the open, running, with no explicable reason, from a perfectly shielded spot to another 15 yards away, through an open patch of terrain.

But the retarded behavior gets even more bizarre when you realize they the enemy has no sense of sight or sound. On a particularly difficult map, the terrain literally drenched in a never-ending crossfire of bullets, I managed to flank an entire group of enemies. When I approached them from behind, I decided to run up to them, shooting at the last second as they turned toward me, their countenance locked in an eternal expression or shock and awe. However, having charged at top speed, making more noise than a bull in a china shop, and with my bright flashlight illuminating my enemy’s face, the opponent didn’t flinch. Instead, he simply looked over the cover he was hiding behind, the same cover I was in, standing not a quarter of an inch from him, and fired a random burst into the distance, away from me. Just as an experiment, I shot near his head, the bullet burying itself into the sandbags an inch from his nose, but even this grievance was not enough to give my position away and the A.I. continued to direct his gunfire at the phantom foe downrange.

This pattern repeated for every enemy from that point onward that I managed to flank (at least on that map so far). It is sad to see that a game with such an unusual attention to world detail and such a rich and contextual background failing at the two of the most quintessential aspects of a shooter: visceral gunplay, and wicked A.I.

How unfortunate. How very, very unfortunate.

Categories: Metro 2033, Review

“Champions Online: Six Months Later” or “Super Powered Fiascos”

April 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I played Champions Online for a good three months last year. For those of you that actually read the blog know I was not particularly fond of mess the game had made, and the sheer lack of polish that Cryptic had the audacity to release unto the masses. I haven’t played the game in a good three months now, burnt out on lack of content, repetitious quests and in-game events that made me want to cry tears of blood.

Champions Online had a lot going for it, some of which I have even highlighted in the past, but does it have the chops to become a strong AAA title in a post-WoW arena? The fact that this question was posed by Patrick Mackey six months after the launch is enough of an indication that Cryptic made a lot of atrocious mistakes in the first six months. But perhaps there is still hope. Mackey over at Massively takes a look at the game and how it fares half a year after launch.

Worth a read
, especially if you are looking to indulge.

Categories: Champions Online, Review

“Manhandling Metro 2033” or “Creepy Cavern Crawling Children”

March 24, 2010 4 comments

I started playing Metro 2033 last night. From the little I had read about the game, I could glean the following:

  1. It is a very strict linear experience. Some labeled this as a negative thing, and I am not sure why. The Max Payne series was a straight line with nay a single opportunity to veer from the beaten path, and still managed to deliver incredible atmosphere and story. More recently, even groundbreaking and blockbuster titles like Modern Warfare 2 featured a story campaign that bee-lined from beginning to end, no side missions, just powerful storytelling.
  2. It is highly atmospheric and entire sections/areas have been constructed just to create a better sense of the world.
  3. It is a mediocre shooter.
  4. It is based on a Russian novel.
  5. The world is post-apocalyptic with the remnants of humanity residing in underground subway stations, passing the days till the surface becomes remotely habitable again. You could say it’s a Fallout ripoff, but the damn book came first, so suck it Vault-dwellers!

All of the above is more or less accurate.

Like a Bull to a Matador

The game is painfully linear, to the point that if you are traveling with companions and they start marching off to the next checkpoint, they will not stop to check on you if you decide to sprout adventurous wings and go about exploring the area for scarce ammo and other supplies. In fact, the AI-controlled teammates will cross a digital threshold that triggers 6 mutants to be unleashed in the area, and will calmly keep on marching ahead, oblivious to your frantic cries of help as you hobble about trying to ward off and shoot the creatures with starter weapons that can only be compared to glorified slingshots. In a way, this reinforces the concept that you need to stick with your team if you don’t want to end up in the mutants’ crock pot that night, but it does break realism in that the AI will very strictly follow pre-determined paths and objectives of the woefully linear mission.

There is some room for exploration. Deviating from the path, while mostly hazardous and, for the lack of a better term, lonely, does net considerable advantages in the form of much needed and increasingly scarce gas mask filters, ammo and even upgraded guns. My favorite gun so far is a revolver, modified with a rifle barrel extension for increased accuracy and a silencer to pick off targets without attracting unwanted attention.

A Rich Back Story

To say that the game is atmospheric would be sort of like saying Avatar was quite under-hyped. There are little snippets of information strewn about in the form of pre-nuclear-winter memorabilia, random conversations from individuals in the populated stations (I use ‘populated’ loosely, ‘crammed’ would be a more apt depiction), and vestiges of lost civilization the NPCs cling on to for dear life. People are jam-packed like sardines in these nuclear shelters, claiming improvised shacks, even cupboards and benches in old, unused subway cars as their new home. The show, as they say, must go on. There are entire sections of the game world that offer no plot advancement, trade or combat; they have been created just to portray the harsh underground existence of these doomed denizens. It is blatantly obvious to anyone who spends more than a few minutes just exploring a locale to realize this was a labor of love for the developers, and they have poured their collective creativity and meticulous attention to detail and subtext into virtually every nook and cranny in the game. Sheer brilliance. 11/10 for atmosphere.

So-So Pew Pew

It is not a mediocre shooter, it’s actually below average. Gun don’t pack the satisfying punch that brings with it an unsaid level of comfort. The recoil is too mathematical and under-compensated. In the time it takes to reload, I could probably read the book the game is based on. The enemy AI seems cunning on the surface, ducking out from behind cover, darting between different areas to keep you on your toes, but if you sit back and observe, you realize they are darting about primarily for the sake of darting about.

No one is flanking you, they seem to be determined, programmed one might say, to move about haphazardly, to create a false sense that you are up against an enemy that is responding to your attack logically. All said and done, if you are looking for a great shooter, you will find the makings of one here, but it falls quite short of the precedent set by MW2 and ME2.

Did It Just Get Cold In Here, Or Is It Just Me?

Some may claim the game is not creepy, just radiating an ambiance of dread, uncertainty and a few unintentional cheap scares. I wouldn’t disagree entirely, however, there were some moments that jolted me. One of these moments came quite early on. A party of four, myself included, were pushing a hand cart down a subway tunnel with the intention of reaching the next station.

As the cart rounded a corner, I saw the shadow of a little kid, 4, maybe 5 years old, donning a military helmet walking down the track directly ahead of us. I though to myself, this is a throughway, there are bound to be traders or migrating families moving about within the metro system. Except I could see no one else with the child. And then I realized I couldn’t see the child either. It was just a shadow, a silhouette that eerily marched down the tracks, got larger as the light from our cart approached it, and then simply disintegrated into nothingness as we moved past it. Color me creeped out!

Conclusion

All in all I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. It has its drawbacks, but the void Mass Effect 2 has left is at least partially filled with the atmospheric work of genius that is Metro 2033.

Categories: Metro 2033, Opinion, Review

“Comparative Narrative” or “Deadly Rain vs. Heavy Premonition”

March 8, 2010 1 comment
Categories: Review

The Borderlands Chronicles, Part III: “Vending Machine Tycoons” or “Give ’em Hell Bloodwing!”

November 20, 2009 4 comments

Note: This is an ongoing series depicting the path of Bronte, a Hunter in the dark and cell-shaded world of Borderlands. It will attempt to paint a picture of what the game is like as well as provide commentary of some of the most spectacular moments from the game. Narrative is in black. Bugs and design flaws are in red. Memorable or ‘whoa!’ moments, and positive points are in blue. Enjoy!

Links:

Sid Meier’s Vending Machine Tycoon

I am in the Arid Hills. It doesn’t look much different from the previous areas, just looks like more of the same: drab, dry, dead. But there is a certain comfort in familiarity, so I trudge on, boomstick in hand, looking for pieces of some legendary sniper rifle and a mine gate key.

There are vending machines to my left where I can get rid of any unwanted items in my impossibly large backpack. I don’t understand how Dr. Zed and Marcus can be such successful vending machine entrepreneurs on Pandora. They seem to have vending machines in literally every corner of this world. How do they get them there? Who keeps them maintained? Don’t they get attacked when they come to restock, pluck out sold items and collect cash? And how is it that no one ever breaks into these machines?

Skag Scars

A skag roars in the distance. Sounds big. I go through a drain pipe to the first cross-section. There are several caves about 50 paces ahead of me, and quite a few of the skags are already on patrol. They are all either my level or a level above. But unlike my first few encounters with the bastards, I am much better prepared this time around. My sniper rifle does a whopping 145 damage per shot, and Bloodwing is maxed out to do the most damage per flight.

I spot an Alpha Skag in the group. They are well-armored, and take the most amount of shots to kill. Using a sniper is out of the question if it starts charging. But I have my trusty sub-machine gun with me, and despite a sheer lack of skill with the weapon, I know it can dispatch foes if they get up close and personal. Aim and accuracy matter little if most of your vision is filled with a skag’s teeth. But patience is a virtue, and instead of firing at the first skag I can track through my scope, I wait patiently, and inch forward one tiny step at a time. In time the Alpha spots me. He roars, opening its mouth in all directions, letting out a terrifying howl. I smile. Big mistake.

A single shot down its pie-hole dispatches my first foe without much trouble. I hear multiple howls, without wasting a second, I turn around and sprint to the drainage pipe I just came from.

Choke point.

I dispatch them one at a time. Single-shot precision kills. At least two of them go down mid-air, as they leap at me, mouth wide open, in an attempt to bite off a piece. I laugh as one skag literally explodes into chunks of smoldering flesh. “What”,  I say, “you didn’t like that?” And I start laughing. It’s a triumphant moment. I feel superior to the creatures that died by my hands in every conceivable way. But this is just the beginning, and I had the advantage of the choke point. That is more of an exception than the rule. This world isn’t all that forgiving.

More skags at the next ridge. Not too much trouble. The previous area had several barrels that I lure them to. The blue ones explode with a large amount of electrical damage, green ones are corrosive, whereas red ones simply explode. Quite handy.

My momentary high is short-lived as I spot a poor soul impaled on a large pike. Subtle.

Separation Anxiety

There is a bandit camp around the ridge. Two of them patrol a sniper’s nest up top. A quick succession of head shots alleviates that problem. But the camp is another story. In the blink of an eye, my shield is gone, as well as half my health bar. I missed the grenades that had been lobbed at me by the one of the raiders because my field of vision was severely limited through the scope of my sniper. Cursing under my breath I fire back at the rifleman. He has already taken cover, and with all the bullets slamming into me, I cannot seem to get off a clean shot. A midget shot gunner, however, is not so lucky.

Bloodwing stirs, and I set him lose. “Give ’em hell, Bloodwing!” I yell. I tuck in to the right, out of the line of fire, my health nearly depleted. Bloodwing circles overhead once, then twice, and then continues the pattern. I am confused. Why isn’t he attacking? It isn’t clear to me then, but it appears Bloodwing is afraid of being too far apart from me, which limits him to a certain range. I am mildly irritated. Gonna have to train that damn bird better. He finally makes one last sweep overhead, and returns to me.

Keeping the rock outcropping between me and the barrage of endless bullets, I inch closer to my enemies, and then let Bloodwing loose a second time. This time he beelines to the crouching raider behind the barricade, ripping the poor bastard to shreds. Since I have focused on making Bloodwing a true agent of death, not only does he solve my problem with the raider, upon returning to me, he also restores a big portion of my health.

Revitalized, I switch to the SMG and come out of hiding guns blazing, lobbing two grenades at the remaining foes. It does not take too long, and within minutes they lie at my feet, fresh bullet-holes gaping like the unending depths of a dark, dreary abyss.

I hear something shriek overhead. Rokks. These guys have very little health, but in large groups they can swarm you, and rip your insides out in seconds. There is trouble ahead. I can feel it in the air. I better be careful.

Hugging Chemical Barrels is a Bad Idea

After clearing out another small camp, and inching close to the edges to keep my distance from the rokks overhead, I spot another sniper perch in the distance. I crouch, debating if I should send in my personal agent of death on wings, or dispatch him with a single bullet? Bloodwing would not be able to get him at that range. He has already established that any considerable length of distance between us causes him severe separation anxiety. And that is when I notice the corrosive acid barrel next to the lookout. A single shot explodes the barrel, showering him in acid. I watch his surprised expression through the scope, as the acid eats away at his body, literally devouring him whole. Good riddance.

The Fourth Piece of the Puzzle

My map tells me the four pieces of the legendary sniper rifle are in the next camp. I start shooting. Psychotic midgets, shotgunners, badass bruisers, they all succumb to the overwhelming firepower I pack, backed by the ferocious talons of my trusty companion. It’s a little odd they some of them come out of hiding only after the very last combatant on the field has been eliminated. I have a feeling if they all came at once, I would be swarmed, overwhelmed and killed. This all seems a little too… easy.

The sniper rifle has four parts I need to secure. I have found only three so far. I make several circuits of the camp, and my map indicator offers little help. I am a little frustrated, three other three pieces were essentially just lying about, why isn’t this one? It is then that I notice that only one of the buildings in the camp has an upward pointing arrow. And if that is not enough of a hint, there are three storage cabinets on the roof of the structure as added incentive. I jump above, and grab the last piece. But what truly annoys me is that this last piece was a good distance away from where my map marker suggested.

Sledge is a Cocky Bastard!

My map tells me the mine key is in Sledge’s Safehouse, which seems to be just up the hill from my present location. I take out my sniper rifle to scope out the area. The criminal hideout sits atop a small hill about 100 paces ahead of me. So ballsy are the inhabitants, that they have made no attempts to hide the entrance. In fact, upon closer inspection, the entry point prominently displays the words: “Sledge’s Safehouse.”

Cocky bastards! (See what I did there?)

Bloodwing stirs restlessly. He can sense the blood of the upcoming battle. I pet his head. I check my weapons, making one last round of the camp to pick up any additional ammunition. Satisfied that all my ordinance is in order, I start my short trek to the safe house.

Time to hunt!

Links:

Origins One :: “Dwarf Noble” or “Sins of Our Fathers”

November 10, 2009 5 comments

This is an ongoing, six-part series, detailing the origins story experiences from within the game. Spoilers are in white text, so you will have to highlight to read it. This is to ensure I don’t ruin the experience for anyone else. Observations, both good and bad, also interweave through the narrative. Enjoy!

Getting it Out of the Way

You can’t jump in the game. As an habitual jumper, I find myself unexpectedly pausing the game, constantly. That is very annoying. Moving on.

Not Your Average Stereotype

Despite my earlier hesitation to start as a dwarf, my first character turned out to be as stereotypical a dwarf as it could get. Meet Bronte, warrior, noble, Aeducan, and second son of the King. What I really enjoyed about this storyline was that the stout race was not pigeonholed into the ale-drinking, beard-obsessed, womanizing, gruff, comedic role the fantasy genre is all too fond of. The dwarfs in Dragon Age: Origins break all norms perpetuated by the medium. The dwarf society is mired in a complex political system, living in a city that is but a shadow of the empire’s former glory, entrenched in greed, lust, and a biased and decadent caste system that favors the nobles and sidelines the wretched.

2

Eye-Candy Galore

The very first thing I noticed was the graphics. Earlier in the night, I had seen a friend play the Xbox version of the game on a 50-inch plasma. And despite the HD clarity, I had been somewhat dismayed and underwhelmed by the graphics. Suffice it to say my expectations were not particularly high when I finally managed to load the game on my (monster) PC. I was pleasantly surprised. The world looks intricately detailed, beautifully lit, and much sharper than its console counterpart. The lighting is moody, the environments meticulously crafted and alive with a brisk and diverse population.

5

Tim Curry is Awesome

The second thing that I noticed was the voice-acting. It is rich, it is fulfilling, and it conveys the emotions and dispositions of the characters. BioWare has taken special care to ensure their characters all feel distinct and real, complete with their own backgrounds, stories and motives. At last count the game had one hundred and forty-four people behind the voice-acting. During the cut scenes and conversations, things in the background blur to an appropriate degree, drawing your eye to the action in the foreground. In addition, life went on. This is to say that unlike the paused game conversation trees in Fallout 3, the world keeps moving in the backdrop.

A Matter of Loyalty

My companion was another dwarf named Gorim who was bound to me in service. A capable warrior, his father had served my character’s father and he was unquestioningly loyal. Guiding my path through the Origins story, he offered helpful advice, backgrounds and interesting tidbits of information. What I loved about this character was how well his dialogue and voice-acting was connected to his sense of duty and servitude.

1

He suggested but never imposed. He criticized but never in a condescending manner. He supported my decisions and never went against my will.

What the Faint?

An NPC trader fainted when I approached him. When you interacted with him again, it simply said the character was unconscious, but the character stood, like any other NPC, on his own two feet behind his trade stand.

unc

BioWare puts in a lot of polish in the game, so this was especially disappointing to come across.

Betrayal I: A Moral Dilemma

BioWare had previously suggested that betrayal will be a big part of the game. Despite this warning, given my good-hearted nature (my ex-fiance would strongly disagree), I decided to go with the noble choice, the righteous path, and never veer toward a cunning, impetuous or morally dubious choice. I imagined that by choosing the positive dialogue options, the world would open up to me better, giving me peaceful passage through simplicity and compassionate action.

3

I could not have been more wrong.

Less than an hour into the origins story I found out that my older brother was plotting to assassinate me. I was given a choice here. Should I kill him now, when he is most vulnerable? Should I kill him later? Should I wait and see what move he makes? Or should I simply my younger brother for insinuating such serious allegations against our older brother?

It sounds simple on paper, but it had a powerful impact. I had to sit back, and stare at the screen in amazement. BioWare is notorious for giving you tough choices that subtly tickle the buried psyche of our subconscious minds. But even then this choice made me physically stop and think what I would do in a situation like that. This experience shaped my opinion of the game and my subsequent actions to a great deal, and despite a twist that early, I am now aware that I had barely scratched the surface. I ended up deciding to wait and see. In retrospect, I wished I had the bastard killed. But then again, that would have solved only part of the problem.

Arterial Sprays

Visceral is a word that gets thrown around a lot to define action in contemporary video games. And although it aptly describes the on-screen carnage in Dragon Age: Origins, let’s steer clear of the norm shall we? Combat in the game is a blood-spattering, vicious, and satisfyingly jarring experience. The play and pause gameplay adds a new dimension to the action.  You can pause the game to watch that solider fall backward with the force of a shield bash, his face contorted with surprise and pain, or watch a sword in mid-arc, having just beheaded a foe in a finishing move, or an arrow in mid-flight, zipping to its target, all frozen in time for you to observe and screenshot if you so desire.

spray

In a sentence, combat is brutal, dynamic and very, very (ridiculously) bloody.

Betrayal II: The Ties That Bind

Remember when I wrote about the complexity and moral dilemma associated with my choice earlier, and how I initially decided to venture down the path of nobility and righteousness? This event changed it all, and I realized that the unforgiving world of Dragon Age: Origins necessitates an uncompromising, at times selfish, and downright ruthless approach.

Earlier in the origins story, I had to battle some of the greatest combatants the dwarf empire had to offer. After the final match, I had the prize helm sent to my last foe as a token of appreciation for his ferocity in battle. This character later joined my party as we hunted in the Deep Roads. After the inevitable confrontation with my older brother and his co-conspirators, an event that resulted in his death, this warrior betrayed me. He flat-out lied to the assembly elder and to my father the king. Adding to the sense of betrayal was my younger brother, who had plotted all along to turn us against each other, in a bid to ensure he would be the sole candidate for the throne after our father passed away.

6

I was surprised, appalled, irritated and angry all at the same time. It sounds like a complex amalgamation of emotions, but play through the origins story, and you will feel a sense of helplessness coupled with unbridled rage at how you had been played all along. Even in this situation, the game surprised me further, when my companion Gorim, despite overwhelming (and false) evidence against me, choose to stand his ground and support me, uncaring of whatever consequences. So naturally, I was disappointed when Bronte got jailed, and was separated from Gorim, till some later, unknown point in the game. He visited me in confinement, saying he will always stand by my side, asking me to seek him out, as he too had been exiled to the surface. The sense of loss and despair, strangely enough, was quite palpable for me.

End of The (Deep) Road

I was cast out, exiled from the underground kingdom, sent into the Deep Roads to fight the darkspawn in battle till I perished. My only hope of salvation to find the Grey Warden Duncan and his companions deep inside the tunnels.

7

Overall, I was enthralled by the incredible complexity, depth and multi-faceted nature of the story. If this is just the beginning of what some claim to be an 80+ hour epic journey, I am hooked. I can’t wait to see what other origins stories have to offer.

“Massively Multiplayer Online City Builder” or “Roads Are Srsbusiness!”

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment

I have always been a fan of the Sim City franchise, but couldn’t fathom the genre dabbling into the MMO market. The two just seem… at odds. So I was glad when I read Jim Rossignol review of the game over at Eurogamer, and realized that the game is not worth the investment. At least not yet.

Here is an excerpt:

“I’ve enjoyed myself here, but Cities XL does not live up to its ambitions. The solo city-builder is a well-paced project for those who like to plot boulevards, but the appeal of the larger game remains unresolved. This is one game we’ll be returning to in due course where – all being well – a re-review should cast things in a slightly different light.”

Jim gives it a disappointing 6/10.

You can read the full review of Cities XL here.

Categories: Cities XL, Opinion, Review

The Borderlands Chronicles, Part II: “9+3=12” or “Why Don’t They Call Him 3-Balls?”

November 2, 2009 7 comments

Note: This is an ongoing series depicting the path of Bronte, a Hunter in the dark and cell-shaded world of Borderlands. It will attempt to paint a picture of what the game is like as well as provide commentary of some of the most spectacular moments from the game. Narrative is in black. Bugs and design flaws are in red. Memorable or ‘whoa!’ moments, and positive points are in blue. Enjoy!

Links:

Skag Gully

This place is trouble. Partly because the inhabitants include demonic dog-like creatures known as ‘Badass Skags‘, and partly because my opposition now seems to be around my level or a level above. I have a better sniper rifle now, but it’s not a massive improvement over the last one I’d held. I also have a new sidearm, it does more damage and reloads faster, but it fires a little slower than the last one.

borderlands2-1

I have collected over 40 guns in the first two hours of gameplay. That is impressive considering most shoot ’em ups offer you around a meager 20 weapons by the end of the game. Contrary to my initial fear that so many weapons will become difficult to manage, the process is addictive and fun. Although my Hunter specializes in Snipers and Repeaters, I am also carrying a ‘Terrible Shotgun’ for when the blasted skags get up close and personal. Which they do. All the time. The problem is that I can cycle through only 2 of 4 unlockable weapons slots. So I constantly have to manually switch between the shotgun and the sniper.

Borderlands, in many ways, is unforgiving. Enemies come at you in packs. They are relentless and determined. Almost every fight with creatures your level or above is a challenge. That sounds frustrating, but it actually turns out to be an exhilarating experience. I am walking into fights confident that I can do a good job, but never certain that I will come out on top.

Fight for Your Second Wind

Then again, Borderlands is very forgiving in some other regards. The constant stream of unrelenting enemies finally takes its toll. I collapse. Instead of having to reload at a prior point, the game maintains the level of immersion and introduces me to the death mini-game.

add

I am on my knees. A skag is tearing out chunks of flesh from my chest. The screen is getting darker. The world is fading out. This is the end. Or is it? I realize that I can still fire my weapon from this warped perspective. So I aim, and I fire. I unload two entire clips from my pistol, my screen is all but black, and I can barely see. Literally the very last bullet in the magazine kills the skag. It falls dead at my feet.

My vision kicks back in with a jarring suddenness. My shield is gone, my health is barely a sliver of the full amount. But I am alive and on my feet. And that counts for something. Killing my foe has given me second wind. So I patch myself up using healing packs I purchased earlier, and I push on.

border

Objects and creatures drop ammo and money. The game smartly gives you the loot that you need the most. If you are low on sniper ammunition, it will drop with more frequency. If your health is low, your next kill will drop a small medi-vial. It is a smart system, and it works wonders. You never run out of ammo, but given the sheer volume of enemies thrown at you, you are almost never at full capacity. It’s a healthy balance.

Nine-toes

9toes

See the guy in the screen shot to the right? I hate that guy. I have fought through an insane amount of skags, psychotic midgets, and armed goons to get to this guy. He is located in a subterrenean room accessible by a small elevator. He has a good weapon, better aim, and comes equipped with a fairly powerful shield.

(Spoilers ahead. Highlight text to make it visible.)

And then there are the pet skags. I don’t remember both their names, but one was called Pinky. They are either heavily armored or have an unrealistic amount of hit points because my bullets don’t seem to make any dents. They come charging out of the alcoves of Nine-Toes’ room and corner me in the little space at the entrance to the room. I try running around, but I am stuck, and the two bastards are tearing me from limb to limb.

I am barely halfway through the health bar of the first dog, I haven’t shot Nine-Toes once , and Pinky is kicking my ass from the side. The sheer volume of damage takes its toll, and I go down like a sack of potatoes. I shoot at the first skag almost blindly, no longer aiming carefully, just spraying and praying. It takes a while, and my vision turns almost completely black when I get my second wind.

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But that glory lasts only a few seconds. I still don’t have a shield and my health is practically non-existent. I go down a second time mere moments later, and no amount of random bullet sprays can save my life. There is a flash of light, I seem to be tumbling through a void of neon-lit tubes, and I materialize again at Skag Gully’s entry point cloning station.

Damn it!

Aside from a trek back to the fight, death seems to be almost inconsequential in Borderlands. If you go down, you can get second wind by killing anything nearby. If you die, you respawn with all your items, no durability loss, no experience loss and fully recharged to go at it again. Ammunition and health vending machines are also placed conveniently nearby for you to restock as needed. This trivializes the death system, and provides a stark, diametric opposite to an otherwise harsh and unforgiving world. On the other hand it helps with immersion and ensures that you never, ever have to reload.

No-Toes

I go back to the bastard’s hideout. Instead of taking the little elevator down, I perch myself atop the thing and take aim. Pinky is in my line of sight. She looks at me, her mandible(s) separate in three directions, exposing the soft fleshy interior. Animal instinct kicks in, and without giving it a moment’s thought, I fire a shot down her throat. She goes down in a single hit. I shake my head at my own stupidity. They are armored, but their face obviously isn’t. And it doesn’t help me that I figured this out after dispatching the two enemies to which this knowledge applies.

Nine-Toes himself puts up a decent fight, but in the end he is no match for my long-range-sniping and cover-taking abilities. The last shot takes his head off, and pixelated, cell-shaded blood sprays all over the floor. I triumphantly walk around the room, looting the various objects. I am disappointed by the mediocre and unimpressive ordinance his weapons cache has to offer.

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At least I survived my first boss encounter! Or did I?

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