4 years; that’s how long it’s been since the last instalment in The Witcher series. Back then I felt The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings was a serviceable RPG though the various issues that plagued it, along with the rather mediocre story, meant it wasn’t exactly game of the year material. However that assessment was way out of line with the general public’s who lavished it with praise. It should come as no surprise then that it’s sequel received the hype it did with a dedicated fan base that was hungry for the next instalment in this franchise. Try as I did to avoid the hype the perfect review scores and relentless enthusiast press meant I knew what the community was thinking long before I first delved into The Witcher 3 and, whilst I’ll reserve my position for later in the review, I believe much of the praise is well founded.
The Witcher 3 takes place immediately after the events of The Witcher 2, with Geralt free of those who’d seek to use him for their own purposes and set off to return a life that he is in charge of. Geralt has spent the majority of his time pursuing his long lost love Yennefer, chasing stories and tales of her appearance throughout Velen and beyond. All the while he’s plagued with dreams of his adopted daughter, Ciri, being snatched away by The Wild Hunt, a troubling vision that means she’s in danger. His instincts prove correct as not long after his first contact with the Nilfgaardian the Emperor sends for him and tasks Geralt to find his daughter. Whilst this comes with the reunion of Yennefer it’s short lived as they split up to follow the leads that the Emperor has found for them. It is then up to you, dear Witcher, to scour the land for any trace of Ciri and to protect her from The Wild Hunt.
As of writing there is simply no other game that can compare to The Witcher 3 in terms of graphical fidelity. I cannot tell you how many times I found myself taking a moment to soak in the scenery, marvelling at the incredible level of detail in all aspects of the The Witcher 3’s graphics. It would be one thing for it to simply be a beautiful world, ala the original Crisis games, but it’s so much more than that. The trees sway softly in a light breeze, storms can brew and then rage on with unrelenting force and fields can be blanketed in mist in the early morning as the peasants go to work in them. The world genuinely feels alive, more so than any other game I’ve played. The Witcher 3 has now set the bar to which all future games like this will be compared as it has handily swiped the crown away from Crisis as the most beautiful game to play on PC. Of course to enjoy all that splendour you’ll need to have the requisite hardware but, in all honesty, the rewards for having it are worth every dollar spent.
The sheer scale of The Witcher 3 is something that simply cannot be understated. When the creators, CD Projekt Red, said that it was 30 times the size of The Witcher 2 they weren’t kidding as the size of the maps is staggering. It’s one thing to create a huge world though and another to fill it with things that make it worthwhile to explore it, something which the developers have most assuredly recognised. So whilst the mainstay of The Witcher 3 might be the same 2 sword and sign combat that its predecessors championed there’s countless other things that are peppered throughout the world to keep you interested. The crafting system makes its return and includes scavenger hunt quests that grant you some of the most amazing gear in the game. Many of the various mini-games that were in previous Witcher titles make a return, alongside a new card game called Gwent that proves to be a great distraction (and potential source of income). The talent system is revamped and simplified, allowing you to craft Geralt’s abilities how you see fit. Underlying all this is the numerous storyline quests, side quests and Witcher Contracts that you can try your hand at to get better items, more gold or just for the fun of exploring the world. Combining this all together results in a game that can take well over 100 hours to fully explore and appreciate, something that’s sure to delight Witcher and RPG fans alike.
Whilst the introduction to The Witcher’s combat system is improved significantly over the original non-tutorial that its predecessor had there’s still something of a learning and power curve to overcome before the combat becomes engaging. The combat system is somewhere between the Souls’ series of telegraphing/dodging and the usual action RPG hack and slash fest. In the beginning it was, to be blunt, incredibly frustrating however once you start to treat it like a Souls game you begin to figure out their move set, the telegraph that leads to a certain move and what you can do to dodge it. The fight that sealed this for me was the first werewolf fight which, if you don’t figure out how to dodge properly, becomes an exercise in frustration as he whittles your health down as his regenerates. After that point however most enemies were either a complete cakewalk, like any humanoid with a sword, or simply a matter of time and me whittling them down. You’d think that’d mean the challenge was gone past a certain point, and to some extent it was, however it was more that I had a bigger arsenal of tools at my disposal to recover from any mistakes.
To put this in perspective I was primarily a combat Witcher, favouring the fast strikes over anything else. As you can see my build was tailored towards that pretty specifically with only a handful of points in the signs to beef up Axii (for the dialog options) and Quen (as that’s the only way to regenerate in health in combat bar consumables). Whilst at the beginning this build felt somewhat underpowered, likely owing to the balance of points I spent in 2 trees, it didn’t take long for it to really come into its own. There’s a great deal of min/maxing going on here too, like the Cat School Training which doubles your DPS if you’re wearing all light armour (which I did) and the various talents to boost up the benefits gained by adrenalin points. Probably the one skill that made the most change to how the game played out for me was the whirlwind ability which, if the first strike landed, enabled me to relentlessly wail on whomever I felt like, often shredding their health in a fraction of the time it’d take otherwise. As an added bonus it meant that I never got swarmed again as the whirlwind ability is able to strike any enemy before they get to you. Had I done similar min/maxing with the other talent trees I’m sure I could’ve come up with similarly broken builds although I’m not sure any of them would be as fun.
The Witcher 3’s crafting system is as deep and rewarding as any others I’ve encountered although some of the issues that plagued it’s predecessor’s remain. You’ll find crafting materials everywhere, from the numerous fields and forests that are littered with herbs and fruits to the dozens of crafting components that drop from the monsters that you’ll slay. Whilst you can happily go along picking up basically everything in your path for a long time before inventory management becomes an issue once you hit that barrier you’re going to be forever wondering if you should vendor an item, break it down for materials or simply drop it on the ground and forget about it. Once you make your way into Novigrad you can (mostly) solve this problem by purchasing yourself a set of what I assume is the largest saddlebags in the game, giving you another 100 weight to mess with, although if you’re a confessed RPG kleptomaniac like most of us are that will just delay the inevitable. If you’re so inclined the modding scene has already come up with a solution to this issue if you’d rather not have to worry about it.
However if you stick with the crafting system the rewards you get are most often far better than any other gear you’ll be able to obtain either through killing monsters or buying from vendors. The scavenger hunts, which start when you find the first schematic for one of the Witcher school’s armour (you start off with the Wolf School set, but there are 3 others available) and each are tailored to a specific playstyle. If you, like me, favour quick strikes and massive stamina regeneration then the Cat School set is for you. The Bear School is for those that like to take enemies head on and soak up insane amounts of damage. The Griffon school is the in-between set, catering for a more balanced playstyle. These sets have several versions with the improved ones requiring the previous set to continue crafting them which means the final pay off is quite an investment in both time and materials. It is completely worth doing however as each upgrade of gear means you’re fully equipped to tackle all the challenges that the next few levels will bring and you never have to worry about where the next upgrade will come from.
The various mini-games are much better done this time around, being much more optional than their predecessors in previous Witcher games were. You can try your hand at a bare fisted fighting tournament that will take you through all the areas with an ultimate fight against the current world champion. You can try your hand at Gwent with nearly every vendor you encounter and, should you best them, you can take one of their cards away from them. If you’re so inclined there’s also a sort of tournament you can play with Gwent although where that leads I couldn’t tell you. There’s also a few other strange mini-games like the contract price negotiation thing, where you barter with a NPC over the cost of the contract they want you to undertake, but that’s mostly just an exercise in finding out what the maximum price has been set before you piss them off too badly. I was very thankful that these mini games took a back seat in The Witcher 3 as they felt like an inescapable tedium in the previous instalment, something which didn’t do much to endear me to it.
The sheer depth and breadth of all the quests within The Witcher 3 is staggering. Quite often you’ll be riding to your next objective only to come across someone with an exclamation mark over their head and it’s impossible to tell if you’ll be done with them in 10 minutes or 2 hours. You can still do the “get all the quests!” thing that most RPGs allow you to do, stuffing your quest log with dozens of quests that you can complete at your leisure, however they all have their own level at which they should be done. Even if you’re like me and favour doing the campaign missions above anything else you’ll likely find yourself quickly out levelling most quests which, on the one hand, makes them a lot easier but also takes away a lot of the incentive to do them. However there are a certain number of them that you’ll want to go and do regardless of how far below you they are as they’ll shape the world in which you’re playing. Whilst there are only a couple options which influence the ultimate ending should you be passive in the world there are many things that might not go as you wish, sometimes stopping you from doing something you may have wanted to do.
There’s also numerous encounters, caves, dungeons and other things that you’ll find on your travels throughout the world of The Witcher 3. In the beginning it’s probably advisable to stick to the roads as it’s hard to predict what level the monsters will be, however after a while it’s far more rewarding to take the straightest route to where you’re going. This is because you’re far more likely to come across a hidden stash, guarded treasure or the beginning of a quest line that could ultimately lead to something awesome when you’re traversing the country. After a while these things become somewhat secondary as the rewards start to taper off as you approach the later levels however it can still be pretty fun to stumble across a monster infested cave that triggers a quest in the nearby village from time to time, just to break up the monotony of following a single quest for so long.
The original release of The Witcher 3 was, to be brutally honest, was a total mess of bugs, glitches and crashes that would make you think Bethesda was the developer. Adding the Steam overlay to the GoG version of the game caused the text to glitch out profusely and would often result in the graphics driver crashing and recovering, leaving the game running but without any video output. This comes hand in hand with numerous performance issues which no amount of twiddling with the graphics settings seemed to fix. It was only after I trudged through numerous forums, Reddit threads and useless advice posts (telling me to update my drivers is not helpful, guys) I found out that most issues stemmed from things like the GeForce Experience program or the NVIDIA Streaming Service and HD Audio device. After disabling numerous things I finally got The Witcher 3 to a state that I could consider stable and thankfully it also resolved many of the performance issues that came with it. There were still however some rather irritating glitches that persisted which just added to my frustration at times.
Some good examples of these glitches were things like Geralt jumping incessantly with nothing that could be done to stop him. I tried pretty much everything I could think of from getting into combat, triggering dialogue to getting on my horse but nothing could stop his jumping. Similarly every so often my stamina bar would simply stay at zero, refusing to refill even after I had reloaded the game or another save. That particular bug usually meant I had to backtrack through saves to a point before the issue happened and then replay that entire section again, something which could result in an hour or so’s worth of lost effort. There were also numerous times where the hit detection got super squirrelly, with enemies able to hit me even though their models where no where near me at the time. Many of these issues seem to have died down in the most recent patch that was released last week however that doesn’t detract from the fact that numerous glitches still persist or that they were still present upon release.
The story of The Witcher 3 gets my vote for most improved out of any series that I’ve played of late. Whilst The Witcher 2’s story felt serviceable, being above average in many regards, The Witcher 3 has had a great deal of effort put behind crafting a narrative that can evolve with the player’s choices whilst still being coherent with a clear direction in mind. Whilst the time between The Witcher 3 and its most recent predecessor likely means that the nuances of the previous story are a jumble to most of us each of the characters is given enough time to flesh out their backstory, their history with Geralt and where that might lead you in the future. Many of the ancillary characters from the previous instalment make a return and, for the most part, they’re not just a token gesture with many of them having deep quest chains that quite often have an impact on the world around you. Suffice to say that, at a base level, The Witcher 3 presents one of the most deep and engrossing narratives to cross our path in a long time.
ENDING SPOILERS BELOW
I managed to get the good ending where Ciri becomes a Witcher and whilst many sites point to the White Orchard ending as the “ideal” one I honestly couldn’t disagree more. Throughout the game Ciri makes no mention of wanting to take over as Emperor of the Nilfgaard and from the short I’ve seen of the ending it doesn’t appear like she’s all too happy with the situation, despite what she says. Apart from that however I was incredibly pleased with how everything wrapped up in the end as the side quests I had done and the decisions I made resulted in the outcomes that I had desired. There were one or two which I didn’t really remember which quest it wast that would’ve led to the outcome I got but that’s more of a testament to the breadth of The Witcher 3 more than anything else. Suffice to say whilst CD Projekt Red might say that this is the end of Geralt’s story I don’t believe they’re done with the world that The Witcher resides in at all as there’s still plenty of stories that they could follow.
The Witcher 3 sets a new standard for RPGs, open world games and graphical marvels. The absolutely staggering breadth and depth of the world that The Witcher 3 is set in means that there’s just so much to keep you occupied that you’re never wanting for things to do. The combat system, whilst retaining its steep learning curve, becomes incredibly rewarding as you level up and learn all the tricks of the trade. The crafting system is highly rewarding. giving you a reason to explore some of the vast reaches of the earth in search of better patterns and materials to bolster Geralt to the highest levels of power. The story is a huge improvement over its predecessor, giving each character enough screen time to really build out their back story, motivations and place within the massive world. My experience was marred somewhat by the initial teething issues that the release faced but it’s a testament to the game’s underlying quality that I continued on for as long as I did. The Witcher 3 will be the game to which I compare so many others for a long time to come and, whilst I will shy away from giving it the perfect score that so many have lavished upon it, I cannot deny just how great a game it is.
The Witcher 3 is available on PC, PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $53.99, $109.95 and $109.5 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 45 hours of total play time with 46% of the achievements unlocked.
The days of the expansion pack have long since left us, replaced by it’s bite sized cousin downloadable content. For many this is a better way of doing it as it allows players to revisit games on a semi-regular basis to enjoy the additional couple hours of game play. This gamer however pines for the good old days when expansion packs were usually good enough to be classed as new games on their own, providing a whole new experience in the same world. From time to time though some games still follow this old format and Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is one such title, detailing the story of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz before he set out on the events detailed in Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The war against the Nazis is being lost with the allied forces being pushed back on nearly every front. Their rapid technological progress being driven by one of their top scientists, General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, is most likely the cause of this however his location has proven to be elusive. It is up to you then, playing as Blazkowicz, to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold and find a folder belonging to Helga Von Schabbs which has his location. However your infiltration quickly goes awry and you find yourself in the belly of the beast, armed with nothing more than a pipe and your sharp wit. Whether that will be enough for you to complete your objective, however, is up to you.
As you’d expect of a game that has come out barely a year after its predecessor The Old Blood retains the same level of graphical excellence which was only magnified by immense power that my new rig was able to throw at it. Strangely enough some of the performance issues I had experienced previously, like the significant drop in performance in the more open sections, were still present which leads me to think that the id Tech 5 engine potentially has some issues with larger scenes. Still it was eminently playable, especially in the indoor sections where split section reaction times and seat-of-the-pants gameplay were a common occurrence. The colour palette and scenery may give it the same feeling as many previous generation games but it’s anything but, especially when you take a few moments to look around.
The core of what The New Order great remains in The Old Blood although the experience has been streamlined due to the game’s reduced length. At its heart The Old Blood is still a corridor shooter, one that incorporates the old traditions of hiding secret areas whilst blending in a few RPG elements to give you an edge over your enemies. The wide and varied arsenal makes a return, allowing you to select from a whole host of silly weapons to mow down any enemy that’s put in front of you. The modifications to these guns however is greatly reduced, usually amounting to one setting you can change rather than the The New Order’s rather bountiful mod system. The levelling system has also been slimmed down considerably with only a handful of options available to you although the completion mechanic remains. The stealth is back and, thankfully, feels a lot more fair than its predecessor’s did even if it still gets taken away from you every so often. Overall The Old Blood feels like a more streamlined version of the The New Order with all the benefits and pitfalls that come with it.
The combat retains the highly polished, fast paced nature that we’ve all come to expect from AAA corridor shooters like this. For those seeking a challenge though you’re likely to be disappointed as even on the second hardest difficulty most enemies are pretty easy to take on, with some of them even missing point blank shots. The increased difficulty seems to come from them doing a whole bunch more damage when they do eventually land a shot or get a melee hit off on you, something which can be rather irritating when later enemies get the ability to one hit kill you. These are all things that can be overcome with a little strategy (and of course levelling the various perks) however for a game that wants to emulate its FPS ancestors putting the training wheels on the difficulty seems somewhat counter-intuitive, even if it would make for a better game for the less experienced players out there.
The stealth system feels largely the same with you being able to take the majority of enemies silently if you time everything correctly. There have definitely been some improvements in this regard as it’s quite possible to skip massive areas if you pull the stealth off correctly. Unfortunately the poorly implemented detection mechanism is still there meaning that if you trigger one guard you’ll trigger the lot of them, including the captains if any of them happen to be around. This can often lead to a panicked sprint to find the commanders before they can bring in wave after wave of additional enemies for you take out. Still the times when this happens are more than made up for with the sections that let you skip huge areas of combat if you’re patient and attentive which I feel is the key to making stealth sections rewarding.
The cut down talent system works well since there’s really not enough game time in The Old Blood to justify a talent system as deep as the one that was in The New Order. Some of the challenges either require you to die a few times over to complete (like the silent commander kill one) or you’ll need perfect execution to unlock them if you manage to do everything on a single life, which is quite doable in my opinion. However the majority of them are readily achievable with a little bit of planning and careful execution. The benefits you gain from them are mild at best and you could likely blast through the entire game without unlocking one and not feel like you’re struggling. I guess that’s somewhat the point, putting more of an emphasis on player skill, however I like upgrades to be impactful, turning a meek player into a god to be feared. That’s just this writer’s opinion, though.
The year of patches and fixes for The New Order have trickled their way down to The Old Blood meaning that issues like texture pop-in are pretty much gone although the performance hit in outdoor areas is still noticeable. One thing I did notice is that in some indoor scenes, particularly during cutscenes, the game would actually remove objects that were deemed “out of sight” of the player, even if say a corner or edge was still mostly visible. This leads to a rather jarring pop-in of objects (not textures) in some scenes as characters move about the scene. It can highlight areas of interest although I believe that aspect of it is wholly unintended. Overall it seems that the id Tech 5 engine is starting to mature nicely after 4 years of use by id and hopefully many of these improvements find their way into the upcoming id Tech 6 engine.
The Old Blood retains similar stylings to its predecessor with the inner monologue of Blazkowicz driving much of it with the rest hidden in notes scattered everywhere. You won’t be seeing many familiar faces in this game so it’s not like this game is seeking to flesh out the back story of anyone but the main protagonist. Still most of the characters are given enough screen time to flesh their characters out to a basic level although rarely to they expand more upon that. I think this primarily stems from the fact that pretty much every character in The Old Blood doesn’t make an appearance in the The New Order and, given the game’s length, there’s really not much time to flesh out anyone in earnest. Still it’s above average when it comes to the corridor shooter genre, even if that really isn’t saying much.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is a worthy successor to The New Order, taking the essence of what made that game great and streamlining it into a shorter experience. Whilst many will be pining for a much longer and deeper experience, this writer included, it’s hard to deny that the experience (while it lasts) is of the same calibre as its predecessor. This does mean a few of the less desirable quirks remain but this is counterbalanced by the ones that were fixed. Suffice to say if you were hungering for more of the new style of Wolfenstein games then you won’t go wrong with The Old Blood, even if you may be left wanting for more when the final credit screen rolls around.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is available on PC, XboxOne and PlayStation 4 right now for $39.99 on all platforms. Game was played on the PC with 5 hours of total play time and 35% of the achievements unlocked.
The one review per week deadline I’ve set myself is both a blessing and a curse. I have certainly broadened my gaming horizons considerably since I first started doing it having played many titles I would’ve otherwise let slip by the wayside. Unfortunately it also means that I usually pass on titles that require a heavy time investment as I simply can’t do them justice. However there are exceptions and Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game who’s predecessors I’ve played (and loved) in the past, is one I certainly couldn’t pass up. So, after shirking off all my other responsibilities for the past week I’ve managed to work my way through Bioware’s latest RPG, and I’m incredibly glad I did.
It has been one year since the events of Dragon Age 2 and the world, still reeling from the last blight and the turmoil in Kirkwall, is set to face another threat. The sky has been rendered asunder in a massive explosion that destroyed the Chantry’s most sacred of temples with you, bearing and strange green mark on your hand, being the only one to survive it. Whilst many want you to be put to the axe immediately Seeker Cassandra steadies their hands in the hopes that you will be able to close the breach between this world and the fade. To do this she invokes the right of the Inquisition, severing ties from the Templars and Chantry to form a new order to close the breach and seek its cause.
At first I thought Inquisition was running on some kind of supercharged Unreal engine, due to the way it used specularity, however it turns out that it’s powered by none other than the Frostbite 3 engine, the same one that’s behind the beautiful graphics of the Battlefield series. Compared to its predecessors Inquisition is definitely a major step forward with everything taking on a new sense of scale and detail. Surprisingly this doesn’t come with it’s usual associated cost of stuttering frame rates, something I was quite impressed with. It may not be Skyrim-modded-to-the-nines beautiful but it’s definitely a game that would be best played on a current generation hardware.
The sheer breadth of Inquisition is something that’s hard to understate, something which is wholly a product of the previous instalment in this series being panned for its limited nature. The core of the game still remains the same, it’s a Bioware RPG that has a heavy focus on the story and your role within it, but surrounding that are numerous quests, challenges and other activities that I’m sure adds up to well over 100 hours worth of play time. Layered on top of all of this is the War Room, a birds eye view map of Orlais and Ferelden that allows you to send your advisors on missions to gain influence, rewards or to unlock further missions for you to pursue. It shows that Bioware has listened to the feedback regarding how narrow Dragon Age 2 felt in comparison to its other RPG titles, even if they may have overcompensated to the point of impacting other things (more on that later).
Combat feels like an evolutionary improvement of what was done in Dragon Age 2, keeping the same action-RPG focus whilst attempting to add in other mechanics to make the traditional RPG style more accessible. Instead of the traditional pause mode Inquisition instead gives you a Tactical Camera which allows you to look around the entire combat field and assign actions to your party. It’s not a requirement to use it however as the behaviour system for your companions is back in and, thankfully, is coupled with a much more competent AI that’s able to recognize its new abilities and when it should and shouldn’t use them. Probably the most notable change is though is that the healing system has been completely revamped with no character class having a native healing ability and the number of healing potions given to your party fixed at a certain amount. What this all adds up to is a combat system that’s far more streamlined, lending the focus more to the action than the minutia.
This also means that the strategies you’ll use in Inquisition are going to be far different than any other RPG out there. Instead of ensuring you have the holy trinity set up you’re far more focused on controlling combat, setting up combos and making sure you use other survivability options so you don’t churn through your potion stash too quickly. My party make up usually consisted of a 2H warrior (me), dual wield rogue (Sera), control mage (Dorian) and a frontline tank (Blackwall). The combinations of control from the mage and tank warrior meant that both Sera and I were able to set up extremely devastating combos, some that could drop an entire group of enemies in just a couple hits. There were a couple issues with survivability, especially with mechanics that would drop half your health bar in one hit (not giving them a chance to us a potion) but for the most part once I got past the first 5 hours or so I felt essentially untouchable.
Indeed those first 5 or so hours are probably the most difficult and probably worst paced of the game. Now some of the issues I encountered with not being at the right level might have had something to do with my “go for the story missions first” play style, however once I was over that initial hump whenever I needed to level myself up I didn’t feel like I was struggling to find missions to fill the gap. I think this is probably due to the differences between say, level 3 and 6, being far more drastic than the differences between later levels as I certainly didn’t feel that the later levels made as much of an impact as the first 10 or so did. What was a bit of a chore sometimes was the grind to get power so I could unlock the next set of missions but again this was probably due to me attempting to smash out the storyline rather than meander about.
The crafting system has been shaken up considerably allowing you to create all sorts of highly customized armour and weapons to suit your needs. There’s 3 top level categories of materials (cloth, leather and metal) which have dozens of different types and levels beneath them. This is what allows you to craft armour and weapons with varying characteristics although you’ll likely find you don’t have enough of a particular type to craft the perfect item, even if you’re the stereotypical RPG kleptomaniac. This will then lead you on a hunting expedition for the resources you require something which doesn’t take too long but can feel a little bit grindy if you’re going for the premium materials. However the result can be well worth the grind as I carried my first craft sword through numerous levels.
The war table is an interesting addition, taking its cues from other non-player mission systems like those found in say Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Most of the benefits you’ll gain from sending your advisors on missions aren’t exactly game breaking but every so often you’ll stumble onto something that can make a decent difference in how your game plays out. There does come a time when you’ll run out of the long duration missions however, which puts you in the rather unenviable position of either travelling back to the war room every 15 minutes or simply letting them slide until you next return. Overall I think it’s a good way to keep the story going whilst adding in another avenue to build back story for the world but I probably wouldn’t miss it if it was gone.
This massive amount of content within the game, whilst impressive, has come with an unfortunate cost. As it stands right now the game is riddled with numerous bugs, some of the innocuous and fun, others game breaking or terribly annoying. Many people, myself included, experience random crashes to desktop with no discernible pattern. Others experience weird things like their characters voice changing from male to female or, and this one is particularly frustrating for someone like me who invests an inordinate amount of time recreating himself within the game, change from one voice type to the other. My originally deep voiced character changed to the higher pitched British actor half way through the game, a bug that currently has no fix in sight. This frustration is only compounded by the interface often forgetting that I had a mouse, refusing to respond to any input from it until I ALT + TAB out and back in again.
Whilst I initially wrote this off as a typical Bioware RPG, which have a reputation for doing this, it became hard to make excuses for them the further I got into Inquisition. Sure, it’s clear that they took the feedback about Dragon Age 2 to heart, however at the same time it’s obvious that they sacrificed on polish in order to jam as much content in as they could. Whilst I understand that patching issues, especially the number which are evident within Inquisition, takes time we’re now a week past launch and there’s no patch in sight to fix some of the more glaring issues with the game. Inquisition is still a fantastic game, it’s just held back from where it should be because of these problems.
The incredible scale of Inquisition extends to its story with nearly every aspect of the world getting the full Bioware backstory treatment. Most if it is unfortunately hidden behind giant walls of text that you’ll have to wade through, however for your companions and major story NPCs they will gladly regale you with troves of information about the world and their place within it. At the same time there’s not an incredible amount of reliance on the previous titles to provide context on the events that are occurring, something which I think many of us will be grateful for given the fact that it’s been over 3 years since we last ventured into the Dragon Age world. Truly Inquisition is one of the shining examples of a game that puts a great emphasis on its story and the world which it exists in.
As to the tale of the Inquisition itself there are numerous moments I could point to (which I won’t, since they’re spoilerific) where the story really shines. It’s a classic hero’s journey, building you up from someone who was in the wrong place and the right time to a leader who inspires all those around him to achieve great things. There are a few moments which stick out in my mind brilliantly where I felt part of something much larger than myself, a notable achievement that few games have managed to replicate. The over-arching story does a great job of making you feel like you’re building towards something greater however the final pay off felt a little anti-climatic. I think this is probably because other games make the penultimate fight feel like you’re going up against insurmountable odds whereas in Inquisition I had cornered my prey and was simply there to deal the final blow. That’s just my impression however, something that may be tied into the fact that I was literally unstoppable at the end.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a rare example of a sequel surpassing its predecessors, bring a sense of scale and depth that’s rare to see in any game. All the elements that made the original Dragon Age great are there, from the combat to the story to the ancillary elements around them, and the summation of those parts is so much greater than they would be individually. This greatness is however dulled by the numerous issues that plague the game, ranging from the annoying to the down right game breaking. However, despite that, it’s a hard game to put down as everything else about it draws you back in, taunting you to play just one more mission or to follow the end of that quest chain. Suffice to say I think Dragon Age: Inquisition is by far the strongest instalment in the series and it will only get better once Bioware starts patching it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $99.95, $109.95, $99.95 and $109.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 29 hours of play time and 48% of the achievements unlocked.
There are few games that manage to mix elements of different genres together well enough to produce a playable game but the Borderlands series stands out as one of the best examples. There’s the right amount of RPG style elements, with all the loot, levels and specializations you could ever want, combined with the fast pace of a modern shooter. That, along with it’s never-takes-itself-seriously style, makes Borderlands games an incredible amount of fun to play even years after they’ve been released. The latest instalment, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, continues along the established tradition bringing the same experience that Borderlands fans have come to expect.
Long before Jack became the handsome bastard that he was in Borderlands 2 he was just a simple Hyperion programmer based on the Helios satellite orbiting Pandora. Still he aspired to be something greater and that’s where you come in vault hunter as Jack wants to find the vault and plunder its secrets for himself. However as you’re making your way to meet him on Helios you’re ambushed by the Lost Legion, a group of fanatical soldiers led by the fearless Colonel Zarpedon, who then take over Helios. Now it’s up to you to fight your way through them in order to retake Helios and, hopefully, find your way down to Pandora to find the coveted vault.
The Pre-Sequel retains the same visual style of its predecessors, bringing along with it some noticeable improvements to the visual effects such as the lighting, physics and particle systems. It still uses the same engine as Borderlands 2, which is the main reason you won’t see it on previous generation consoles, so the overall feel of the game remains largely the same. It’s at this point where my rig was starting to show its age as after tweaking with a few settings the game rapidly descended into unplayable territory, something I had never experienced with the previous Borderlands title. Once I figured out what I was doing wrong (cranking up PhysX without an NVIDIA card was probably bad idea) the game was buttery smooth throughout.
The gameplay of The Pre-Sequel remains largely the same as its predecessors, giving you the same hybrid RPG/FPS experience with all the Borderlands style trimmings. There are 4 character classes to choose from, each of which is roughly equivalent to the same kinds of character classes from the previous 2 titles. They are unique in their own right however and the skill trees further differentiate them from anything that’s come before. You’ll be collecting dozens of guns again, however this time around you might not be leaving all those greens on the ground thanks to the newly introduced grinder mechanic. Apart from that The Pre-Sequel will play pretty much the same as both of its predecessors, for better or for worse.
Combat flows between you being an unstoppable killing machine, able to lay waste to dozens of enemies without breaking a sweat, to feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Part of this is due to the game’s slightly off pacing as I often found myself several levels ahead of many of the side quests by the time I got around to them which made me not want to do them. There’s a real dearth around the level 20~24 bracket which I got around by fishing out a couple quests and grinding the enemies, something which put me off playing for extended periods of time. Past that point though it started to feel a lot more balanced with my mistakes rightly punished but careful strategy was rewarded properly.
I chose to play as the Enforcer which seemed to match my desired play style pretty well. His action skill summons 2 drones, one that continually heals you and the other who hunts down enemies for you. It felt like probably the best “OH SHIT” action skill out of the lot since I could summon them just before I died and I’d usually end up getting a kill before the second wind timer expired. I did however opt for the more character focused skill tree which made certain gun types absolutely ridiculous at dishing out damage, especially if my shields dropped and I had just offed another enemy. Towards the end I became completely unstoppable however as I, somehow, got my shield recharge rate down to almost instant, allowing me to tank pretty much any enemy face on.
Loot will come at you thick and fast in The Pre-Sequel, much like it did in the previous 2 games. However The Pre-Sequel introduces the Grinder, a machine which allows you to combine 3 items of the same quality into one, hopefully netting you a better item. If you’ve got a hole in your gun selection and nothing good seems to be dropping then this can be a great way to fill it. However it does have an upper ceiling as you can’t combine 3 epic items into a single legendary (you can only create legendaries by combining 2 legendaries with an epic). I can somewhat understand the reasoning behind this, it’s for those end game gun raiders who are looking for the best gun possible, but it was a little annoying to find that out after I had saved up 3 epic pistols hoping to get myself a shiny orange.
Probably the biggest issue I have with The Pre-Sequel is that it’s just too similar to Borderlands 2. Its predecessor introduced a whole host of new mechanics that made the game fresh and gave the end game players something to progress. The Pre-Sequel on the other hand feels pretty much like an expansion pack to Borderlands 2 as nearly everything is the same, just with new character classes and an additional loot generation mechanic. I’m sure Borderlands purists will love this aspect of the game but for those of us who like to see franchises grow and expand past their roots it’s a little painful to see something spin its wheels, even if the game itself is pretty enjoyable. This is most certainly reflective in my total playtime which is a stunning 9 hours less than in the previous title.
The Pre-Sequel’s story definitely has some moments of brilliance in it, especially with the Australian humour weaved into it. Of particular note is Jack’s transformation from a run-of-the-mill Hyperion employee to the insane psychopath you crossed paths with back in Borderlands 2, even if some of the events that happen feel a little forced. The rest of the characters are pretty much throwaways with enough backstory for you to know why they’re there but nothing to make you care for them in the slightest. It’s pretty much par for the course in the Borderlands series, much like the rest of the game.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is sure to delight long time fans of the franchise as it brings the same hybrid FPS/RPG experience that keeps many of them coming back for years after initial release. However that’s also what makes the game somewhat weak in comparison to its predecessors; it fails to innovate past the benchmark that Borderlands 2 set all those years ago. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing however it’s longevity, at least for me, was drastically cut short due to the high levels of similarity.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on PC, PlayStation3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 16 hours of total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
We seem to be going through a revolutionary period in gaming where IP from other mediums is suddenly finding its feet, becoming on par with (and even surpassing) experiences that were born within the gaming genre. Many will agree that this started 5 years ago when Rocksteady Studios released their seminal title: Batman Arkham Asylum. Since then many other titles have followed in its wake, staying true to the original IP whilst creating an experience that you simply could not get in any other medium. The latest addition to this style of games is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, set between J.R.R Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which takes the source material and turns it into an experience that is among the best I’ve played this year.
You are Tailon, ranger captain stationed at the Black Gate in Mordor, sworn to keep watch over Mt Doom and all the horrors that dwell within it. The dark lord that dwelled within those lands had not been idle however, growing his vast army of grotesque orcs and uruk quietly, leaving the world of man to think they were safe once more. One fateful day he unleashed them upon the Black Gate, killing everyone within it. But your life wasn’t to be taken, instead you were bound to an unknown wraith spirit in a horrific blood sacrifice, unable to die and bound to the mortal plane. Now, with your new found wraith powers, you look for vengeance and the means with which to end this existence so you can be with your family once again.
Shadow of Mordor is quite the pretty game with scenes ranging from sprawling vistas to cramped caves and busy garrisons. The graphics still have that last-gen feel to them, mostly attributable to the choice of colour palette, however they’re certainly not bad on the eye. It’s also probably due to the choice of engine as well as Shadow of Mordor uses the LithTech Engine which hasn’t seen a game on it in the past 2 years. Still it manages a good level of graphical fidelity given its open world nature which manages to run smoothly even on my now aging rig. I’ll admit that I might be giving it a bit of an easy pass in this regard since I’m coming fresh off the horror that was Dead Rising 3 as by comparison Shadow of Mordor is liquid smooth.
In terms of game play Shadow of Mordor feels like it’s a cross between several different titles, taking aspects from each whilst integrating a new mechanic that binds and elevates the whole experience. At its core Shadow of Mordor is an open world game,. giving you dozens of missions to do any of which will help progress your character, the story or will help you get all those collectibles which so many people seem to lust after. The combat takes after the Arkham series of games in the classic beat ’em up fashion. Then there’s the RPG elements in the character levels and talents alongside the gear upgrade path which takes the form of runes and a kind of currency that you’ll need to spend to unlock more slots. However the best part of the game is the Nemesis system, whereby members of enemy faction grow stronger, fight with each other for power and provide you with challenges to avenge your friends who’ve been cut down by them. Shadow of Mordor really does pack a lot of game into it’s (non-Australian taxed) asking price and I’m sure there’s double the amount of game play in it for dedicated fans.
Whilst the game wasn’t developed by either Rocksteady or Warner Brothers Studios the combat feels like they lifted the entire system right out of one of their Arkham series titles. As anyone who’s played those games can attest combat systems such as those are incredibly enjoyable to play, offering the right balance of challenge and reward, at least at the start anyway. You’ll start out struggling to deal with large crowds of orcs but you’ll soon morph yourself into an unstoppable killing machine, nigh on impervious to any attack the game might throw at you. It can get a little repetitive though as the ultimate abilities are simply unlimited versions of regular abilities but most of the time you’ll still feel like the ultimate badass when you come out on top of the two dozen orcs you happened across.
The upgrade system is well thought out in most respects, giving you the feeling of progression often enough that you won’t find yourself feeling like you’ve gone hours without the game rewarding you. There’s 2 stages of progression for your character namely your ability points and power level. The ability points are gained in the regular way, getting XP via missions and killing things, however power is only gained when you resolve power struggles, kill captains/warchiefs or do any of the other assorted red missions. It really doesn’t take long to unlock all tiers of abilities, enough so that I had access to the final tier about halfway through the game. If you’d prefer to keep the challenge up then all you need do is avoid the red missions however if you want to become ridiculously overpowered you’re no more than an hour or two away from doing so.
The loot and gear upgrades feels a little less polished as you’ll get runes from defeating captains but what you get is a little random. You can ensure a drop of a certain type by exploiting weaknesses and fears but unless you’ve deliberately died to a captain several times over you’re not likely to get a good drop from them. You can break down the runes into the currency to fuel the other upgrades however I feel like it would’ve been better to have a rudimentary crafting system in there to upgrade them. I usually had several runes of a type that I really liked but they weren’t powerful enough to use on their own. If I could combine say, three into one, to get an upgrade I feel like that would’ve been a lot better than praying to RNGesus every time I killed a captain or warchief.
I couldn’t publish this review without mention just how awesome the nemesis system is as it provides this kind of player driven narrative on top of the core story of Shadow of Mordor that’s just incredible. Essentially the uruks fight each other in order to gain power and you fight them to gain power as well. Should you die to one they’ll grow in power and, potentially, move up the ranks and get followers. If you’re so inclined you can even influence them to move up ranks, get them to usurp their own captains or turn on each other. Couple that with the wide variety of responses that the uruks have upon seeing you (knowing you’re using someone to betray them, how many times they’ve killed you and so on) and even facing the same enemy again doesn’t lose its lustre. It’s an incredibly deep system and one that’s sure to provide enjoyment to both story players like myself and those that just revel in open world games.
Whilst the story probably isn’t the strongest part of Shadow of Mordor it is most definitely above the average dreck that I’ve been making my way through this year. The main premise probably needed a bit more development in order to make that initial emotional moment a bit more impactful, and thus make me empathise with the main character a little more, but it didn’t take me long to get into it. Since this is drawing on the wider Tolkien IP it does manage to get away with not explaining a lot of things that would otherwise need some rigorous explaining which does aid the story quite a bit. I’ll also have to admit that the ending was so-so, missing that final climclimactictle that I was so looking forward to with my incredibly overpowered character at the ready. So overall I think it’s ok, although on the proviso that you’re already familiar with The Lord of The Rings IP.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game where the sum of its parts is much greater than its whole. The combat is fast paced and satisfying, the progression well paced and the overall look and feel just feels a level above other similar games of recent memory. The nemesis system is really what pulls the whole game together, adding another layer on top of the game that really ramps up how engaged you’ll be with Shadow of Mordor. It’s not a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagine, with the middling story being the biggest mark against it, but the whole package helps to patch over the various minor faults. In all honesty I think most gamers will find something to like in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor as its wide variety of mechanics and styles ensures that it caters to an incredibly wide audience.
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $39.95, $99.95, $89.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with 13 hours of total playtime with 61% of the achievements unlocked.
Of the numerous games that I’ve played that have come up through Steam’s Early Access program few have felt like they were actually finished games. The core gameplay is usually refined enough however they rarely feel like a cohesive whole, the rough edges of a just finished beta still rearing their ugly head. Sure they may have come a long way from where they were originally, and to those who’ve been involved with them for a long time they might feel a lot more polished, but all too often they feel like they still needed a bit more work before being unleashed on the world. Lichdom: Battlemage however is one of the rare examples where its Early Access stint was obviously well spent as the result title is just awesome.
You were just a simple blacksmith, one who enjoyed his craft and was good to his loving wife. However your life took a dark turn when one of the local nobles took exception to your refusal to sell him your wares, slaughtering your wife in front of you before knocking you out cold. When you came to though you weren’t in your shop, instead you’re out in the streets with a strange robed man hovering above you. His name is Roth and he has bestowed upon you a great gift: a pair of magical bracers that grant you control over some great power. It seems that, at least for the moment, your goals align as Roth wants you to take out the noble who wrong you however not for the reasons you’d first expect.
Interestingly Lichdom: Battlemage is built on CryEngine 3, the same engine that brought us the visual masterpieces that were Crysis 2 and Crysis 3. Whilst it’s not exactly up to the same level as those titles (few games are) Lichdom is still quite impressive in its own right. There were numerous scenes that just made me stop and admire the scenery. Combine this with just how ridiculous the effects can get when you’re using different spells on the vast hoards of enemies you’ll face and you’ve got a recipe for a game that never feels visually dull. It did stress my rig to its limits, with the graphics fan roaring into life on many occasions, but to Xaviant’s credit everything ran pretty smooth for the most part. I would like to see how Lichdom goes on a more modern rig as I’m sure it’d be incredible.
Lichdom: Battlemage’s core gameplay is probably best described as a fantasy take on the modern corridor shooter however the mechanics backing it up, which take inspiration from your more traditional RPG style game, add an incredible amount of depth. You start off with a couple basic spells but as you blast your way through the levels you’ll acquire new components which you can then use to craft different kinds of spells. Initially these start off as just better versions of the spells you already have however as you unlock more components and more spell types the kinds of effects you can create increase exponentially. So what starts out as a relatively simple concept, a mage with unlimited spammy power, quickly evolves into a deep game of mechanics, one where the more you explore mechanics the more awesome combos you find.
The combat itself is always fast paced, filled with dozens of effects, projectiles and enemies throwing themselves in your general direction. For the most part you’ll likely be able to get by spamming a single ability however if you want to do things efficiently you’ll need to make use of every different weapon in your arsenal. There are some elements of strategy, like taking out enemies that summon other enemies first, but for the most part you’ll be focused on blocking/dodging attacks and spamming out whatever ability you’ve chosen as your primary damage dealer. Of course your mileage may vary on this considerably as depending on which sigils you choose the strategies you’ll need to use will change dramatically.
There is a distinct lack of variety in the enemies you’ll face however. There’s the cultists, undead and demons and they’ll will pretty much be the same kinds of enemies no matter where you go, just with more health. Sure you’ll get the occasional buffed enemy that has some special attribute (like reflection, grrrrr) however after about 4 hours in Lichdom you’ll have seen every enemy you’ll face from then on out. The boss fights are, to their credit, unique and challenging but they’re so far apart that their uniqueness is often lost between long bouts of repetitive encounters. The numerous different types of spells go a fair way to alleviating this however I don’t feel it should be up to the player to provide their own variety, even if there’s a lot of it to be had.
The main source of enjoyment in Lichdom comes from the crafting system which has an incredible amount of depth to it. You’ll collect spell types and augments throughout the game, all with quality levels derived from the traditional RPG style loot systems (common, uncommon, etc.). You can use these components directly or you can upgrade them to a higher tier of quality by sacrificing two other same quality level items. All of them also have a power level associated with them which determines how large the effect will be. Combine this with the 8 or so base sigils (fire, ice, lightning, etc.) and you have literally billions of possible combinations of different spells, effects and modifiers. Initially I found it mostly just a chore to sort through everything in order to get the spell I wanted but later on it became my main source of enjoyment.
I eventually settled on a combination of fire (damage dealer), ice (mastery application, basically a damage boost) and kinesis (because I got 2 unique spells for it). With this combination I was able to root large groups of enemies in place, cover them in mastery and then one shot enemies at my leisure. Before I switched to kinesis I was using lightning with a nova that had a 35% apocalyptical chance, enabling me to turn into a lightning god whenever I needed to and lay waste to large swaths of enemies. However the later build was much better for instagibbing enemies, something which you really need to do when 1 hit from them can take off a whole bar of your shield. I’m sure there’s hundreds of other viable combos out there though as I didn’t touch half of the sigils I unlocked.
The story is pretty rudimentary, giving your character enough motivation to go along with the plan that’s been laid out for him but lacking any kind of emotional connection. They did manage to get some top notch voice talent, Troy Baker (Joel, Last of Us) for the male dragon and Jennifer Hale (Femshep, Mass Effect), and whilst they do a great job it’s not their acting that’s the issue, it’s the incredibly light on story. Whilst it’s not exactly a huge flaw if you were looking for a good story then Lichdom will disappoint as it’s really only enough to keep the story moving forward.
Lichdom is pretty well polished with the only noticeable issues being things like the AI acting strange (often getting stuck on nothing or clipping through walls when they shouldn’t) or mechanics not working how you’d expect them to. I did have one major issue where my PC crashed during a longish session which corrupted my save game. However upon checking out the Steam forums I found that several people had the same issue and emailing my save game to Xaviant should get it fixed. 2 hours later I had an email back from them with my restored game files and recognition that they’re aware of the issue and working on a fix. Honestly I’ve never had that kind of response before so a big thumbs up to Xaviant for not only fixing my issue but also being incredibly responsive.
Lichdom: Battlemage is a game that, on first pass, appears to be a simple mindless game of spamming spells and collecting loot. However once you dig under the hood a little the incredible depth of the mechanics available to you becomes apparent and suddenly you’re playing a completely different game. There are a few issues that plague the experience, like the lack of variety of enemies and the so-so story, but otherwise Lichdom really does stand out as one of the better titles to play before the ramp up to bevy of titles that will be slamming us this holiday season.
Lichdom: Battlemage is available on PC right now for $39.99. Total play time was 12 hours with 23% of the achievements unlocked.
There are some games you just can’t avoid the hype for. Try as I might to distance myself from the fervor that surrounded Divinity: Original Sin it was hard not to notice the weeks it spent at Steams top sellers chart and the numerous glowing reviews that came from both professional outlets and players alike. My somewhat aggressive review schedule precluded me from giving it enough time to really judge it properly however, that was until I managed to churn through a game quickly in one weekend. So I’ve been playing Divinity: Original Sin on and off over the past 2 weeks, seeing if the game can live up to the hype it has generated.
You are a Source Hunter, duty bound to rid the world of all foul magic that plagues the world. You and your companion have been summoned to the town of Cyseal, a coastal province that’s been under siege by orcs and the undead for quite some time. However your quarry isn’t with them, no instead you’ve been summoned at the request of the town’s mayor in order to investigate the death of one of the town’s nobles. This routine investigate quickly escalates far beyond finding out who the killer is and you find yourself in the midst of nearly all the town’s affairs. Some of these are simple matters, others could have impacts on the very fabric of reality itself.
Graphically Divinity: Original Sin is very easy on the eyes with the environments brimming with detail and ambient effects galore. The developers have done a great job of making the world feel alive, especially in the main town of Cyseal where there’s a constant hubbub of people going about their daily business. Even the dungeons and outdoor areas have the same feel with creatures scurrying about and enemies never being too far from your path. Even with all the settings turned up to max my now 3 year old PC was able to keep up with it, even in busy combat scenes where there were effects flying everywhere. I do think that was a the limit of my system however as all the fans routinely spun up during some of my longer sessions.
Divinity: Original Sin takes its inspiration from the RPG games of old with it’s almost innumerable features and giant gobs of text to drive the narrative forward. Whilst your base character starts off with a class it’s not hard set, allowing you to customize your abilities as you see fit. This means that any piece of gear or skillbook is readily usable by any member of your party who has the required stats giving you an incredible amount of freedom in moulding yourself into the ultimate warrior.This also extends to your base character attributes, allowing you to further specialize down a specific tree. In all honesty there’s so much going on in Divinity: Original Sin that it’s really hard to give you a good overview of it in a single paragraph but those who are familiar with the RPGs of old will likely find it very familiar.
Now I’m not the biggest fan of turn based combat as I feel it more often pulls me out of the game rather than drawing me further in. Divinity: Original Sin does a decent job of making the combat feel a bit more interactive however the sometimes slow back and forth between you and your enemies can get tiresome. This is probably a function of the fact that you’ll likely be reloading the same encounter multiple times over as executing a combo wrong or forgetting to do something can often mean the end of your party. Indeed the whole of Divinity: Original Sin feels like it’s making a point of not holding your hand through the experience, instead expecting you to suck it up and keep on like the trooper you are.
Now I get that idea, and can’t fault the developers for creating an experience that caters towards players who are seeking that out, but I feel that there’s a difference between holding the players hand and removing things that are, put simply, frustrating as hell. For the first section everything seems to flow well, the game introduces mechanics and explains them to you. However after reaching Cyseal things start to get horrendously convoluted as you’re thrown half a dozen quests and then left to figure out what to do. If you do what I did and try to follow one quest to completion you quickly find out that it’s not really possible as many of them involve trudging past mobs that are several levels above you, preventing you from completing. Considering these quests are handed to you within the first couple hours you’d expect to be able to finish them shortly afterwards however that’s simply not the case.
Indeed the whole of Divinity: Original Sin seems to have some horrendous pacing issues, making levelling a rather irritating rather than enjoyable experience. The ramp up in difficulty often doesn’t come from giving you different enemies that you have to figure out, no instead they just throw more and more of them at you, forcing you into strategies that rely on exploiting the retarded AI. There was one battle where I was faced with no less than 10 undead where the only way to complete it was to hide behind a wall and wait for all of them to group up so I could put a puddle at their feet and stun them continuously. Whilst I applaud the mechanics being deep enough to support things like that it was, frankly, utterly boring and not something I enjoyed having to repeat dozens of times over just to be able to get one more level.
This is just made all the worse by the fact that Divinity: Original Sin is still suffering from crashes and glitches even 2 months after its release date. There’s one particular quest where you have to read pages of a book in order to pass a quiz from a ghost but if you go to read it the pages are blank. The text is in the game files so it’s there but the developers still haven’t fixed the display issue. I didn’t get far enough into the game to experience any of the other “beneficial” glitches which apparently make fights trivial but in all honesty I don’t think that would’ve improved my impression of Divinity: Original Sin at all.
I had high hopes for the story in the beginning, especially considering that it seemed like it was fully voiced acted. Instead I was disappointed to see that much of it was presented in the wall of text style that’s guaranteed to make me tune out, especially when every NPC in the world seems to have gobs of useless information to throw at you. The story itself is also pretty mediocre, starting off with strong roots but just failing to capitalize on it. Maybe it develops better as you manage to churn through some of the quests but honestly if a game isn’t grabbing me after 10 hours it won’t after any amount of time.
Divinity: Original Sin was a game I wanted to like as I had heard so many positive things about it from so many different sources. Unfortunately though its turn based combat, combined with horrendous pacing and lacklustre story, meant that I couldn’t find much to enjoy during my time with it. I fully admit that this is partly due to my bias away from games of this nature but I’ve proven in the past that I can look past genre if the game itself is good. Divinity: Original Sin unfortunately just doesn’t have anything in it that I feel I could point to and say “This is why you should play it”. I’m sure fans of the genre will find a lot to like within it however for this writer I can’t really recommend it.
Divinity: Original Sin is available on PC right now for $39.99. Total play time was 10 hours with 6% of the achievements unlocked.
SuperGiant games made a name for itself with its debut title Bastion, a breakout success that few companies are able to achieve with their first title. Indeed if you look deeper into the development team the success seems even more incredible considering that the team’s experience doesn’t have much of a pedigree in this genre. Still they’ve managed to win many fans, including myself, and when I first heard of Transistor last year I was already sold as it seemed like they took the core of Bastion and revamped it with an entirely new IP. The question on my mind was whether or not they could live up to the high standard that they set with Bastion as whilst I did my best to avoid the hype my expectations were already high for their next title. I’m glad to say that Transistor stands by itself as a great game with the ideas in Bastion taken as inspiration, not gospel.
Ah Cloudbank, the place where everyone has a voice. The city is shaped and sculpted by the will of the people, the seasons changing on the whim of popular opinion and the sunset painted a brilliant hue by visionary artists. Yes, for nearly everyone, this place is paradise where one person can truly make a difference and no one goes unheard. Something’s amiss though, people are starting to go missing, their voices seemingly snuffed out never to be heard from again. Even Cloudbanks most prolific and inspirational performer, Red, has gone silent leaving many to wonder what is going on. Little do they know that Red’s voice was stolen and her crusade to take it back will determine Cloudbank’s fate.
Supergiant’s trademark art style is back in Transistor, although this time it’s been reworked into a slick sci-fi theme. Transistor has a wonderful array of colour palettes, visual effects and scenery that makes it a visually exciting experience that’s dripping with detail. Despite the wildly different theme to Bastion it still has the same feel, employing the same isometric view with heavily stylized 3D elements that blend seamlessly with the non-3D backgrounds. This does mean that sometimes the visual experience gets a little overwhelming which is thankfully balanced off by the barren visuals of the Turn() mechanics, ensuring that the visuals don’t affect the core gameplay negatively.
Transistor takes nearly all of the core ideas of Bastion and reworks them all, leaving behind some of the more frustrating aspects and generally improving on them. You’ll still engage in the same style of brawler combat, with dozens of enemies throwing themselves at you, but it’s augmented by the Turn() mechanic that allows you to plan out your moves. You can also play the game completely in real time if you wish, something which can be advantageous depending on the encounter you find yourself in. The levelling and upgrade systems are quite intricate, allowing you to augment skills with other skills which can produce some truly outrageous combos. There’s also the famed “limiter” system which allows you to ratchet up the difficulty in exchange for more experience, giving power players the challenge they’ve been long desiring.
The combat system feels well thought out as nearly every combo I tried felt viable with the exception of some boss battles which ruled out certain strategies completely. Transistor encourages you to experiment with different build by making respecing free (you just need to find an access point) and giving you optional challenges with defined skillsets so you don’t have to figure everything out in the field. There are, of course, combinations that are far more powerful than others (like Breach + Get + Cull) and depending on what your play style is you’ll likely tend towards particular skills. I started off favouring controlling builds that gave me a lot of safety but after a while I switched up to a mega damage combo that could one shot nearly any enemy I came across. Funnily enough some of the limiters you can use can actually make some builds more viable (like having an army of bad cells), something which I thought was a rather cute idea, if intentional.
The biggest differentiator though is the inclusion of the Turn() mechanic which allows you to plan out a set of moves without the enemy being able to interrupt you. Essentially you can pause the game, plan out a series of moves up to a point and then execute them all in one go. Afterwards though you’ll have to wait for the ability to cool down again before you can use it and, unless you’ve skilled for it, all your regular abilities will be unavailable. It adds a deep level of strategy to the otherwise mindless brawling that you’ll constantly be engaged in, something that you have to respect lest you want to feel like you’re repeating the same content endlessly. One caveat about it though is that you’d better be clear on what each of your functions do as whilst Turn() might tell you that enemy will be dead you might end up doing something that puts them out of reach of your abilities. This is especially true with Cull() as enemies are effectively invulnerable after the first hit.
The levelling system maintains a good pace throughout the game, meaning that should you really want to level up (for whatever reason) you can likely do so by spending some time in the various tests in the back door area (similar to the challenges in Bastion). Whilst you won’t be penalized for choosing one upgrade path over the other, they will all be made available to you eventually, the choice is most certainly meaningful. Sometimes it can feel like you’re getting yourself into a chicken and egg scenario however the game appears to adjust itself to your current level and skillset. Early on this seems to be a bit hit and miss, as some of my more broken builds can attest to, but after that the pacing is quite smooth with the difficulty ramping up nicely.
However where Transistor really shines through is in the deep narrative and character development which stands out as one of the better titles of this year so far. Transistor, like its predecessor, starts out a little confusing due to the lack of information given but it does a good job of filling in the games, keeping the player informed and fleshing out all the ancillary character’s backstory. The return of Logan Cunningham as The Transistor for the running narration in the background is also very welcome and Supergiant did a great job of incorporating him into the game whilst also not relying on him to carry the game through as the other voice actors are just as exceptional.
What I liked most about Transistor’s story was the organic way in which story background elements were revealed to you. Whilst the bulk of it is delivered by the rather unimaginative walls of text buried in the levelling system it’s at least consistent and bite sized, meaning that you’ll never feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading Transistor wants you to do. The way in which Red’s relationship with the mysterious man develops is by far one of the better aspects of the story. The ending left me with some mixed feelings as it really is quite bittersweet but that does mean it’s by far one of the more memorable endings of recent times.
Transistor is another exceptional title from Supergiant games, taking all the elements that made Bastion successful and molding them into another game that stands on its own. The combat is engaging, deep and fluid, encouraging the player to experiment with all sorts of wild combinations that only get more complex as the game progresses. Level progression is smooth, providing a challenge at all stages of the game, even when you think you’ve unlocked the broken combo. Transistor’s story, along with it’s brilliant voice acting and gorgeous presentation, Truly Supergiant games are going from strength to strength with their releases and I simply can not wait to see what they produce next.
Transistor is available on PC and PlayStation4 right now for $19.95 and $19.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with approximately 6 hours of total play time and 36% of the achievements unlocked.
The last couple months have been a little barren in terms of releases which, whilst it gives me some time to plunder the vast depths of the numerous indie releases, does leave me hungering for a more traditional type of experience. During my usual stumble through the new releases on Steam I happened to come across Bound by Flame, an action RPG that managed to impress me on its trailers alone. However it was hard to miss the rather damning Metacritic review score on the store page that indicated that this title was probably less than stellar. Still the short bits I had seen seemed to indicate that it was worth playing and so I sat myself down to see if I was right.
The world is under siege, a massive army of the undead shambling its way across the land and devastating everything in its path. Each battle with this terrible army, under the command of powerful magic wielders called Ice Lords, only serves to swell their ranks even further. There is not much hope for humanity however a group of scholars called the Red Scribes believes they have a way to turn the tide of the war. You are Vulcan, member of the Free Born Blades, a mercenary group who has been hired by the Red Scribes to protect them while they attempt to complete the ritual. However not everything goes as planned and suddenly you find yourself being far more involved in this conflict than you’d first anticipated.
Visually Bound by Flame has the look that many similar previous gen RPGs did with an extremely muted colour palette and somewhat simplistic looking graphics. The screenshots are a little misleading as on their own they look quite good but once you see everything in motion it becomes apparent what the limitations are. Indeed the whole thing feels like a fantasy version of Mars: War Logs, which shouldn’t be surprising considering it’s from the same developer, but this means that all the issues that plagued that game are present in Bound by Flame as well. Considering their close release dates I’m assuming that they didn’t have much time to take the lessons learned from their previous title and apply it to this one, which is rather unfortunate considering they seem like a studio who wants to make a decent game.
Bound by Flame is an action RPG at heart, taking the majority of the traditional mechanics and wrapping them up in a real time combat system in order to keep the pace up. All the usual elements you’d expect are there: levels, a skill tree system that you use to get new skills and improve old ones, various perks that can be unlocked, loot galore and a crafting system to augment items you’ll find. There’s a main story quest that will be your main way of progressing forward but there’s also a handful of side quests to do should you feel the need. You’ll also have a variety of party members to choose from, each with their own set of skills and story lines which you can pursue at your leisure.
The combat is reminiscent of Mars: War Logs as you’re just whacking on an enemy until they try to attack, at which point you’ve got to block or somehow get out of the way. Bound by Flame differs through the use of “stances” which are essentially different ways of doing combat. The warrior stance lets you use your 2 handed sword but stops you from being able to quickly dodge attacks. The ranger stance on the other hand is focused on quick attacks but the ability to parry incoming attacks is greatly reduced. Just like any RPG you’d better focus on one or the other as trying to mix the two will likely lead to a sub-par experience. There’s also the pyromancer abilities which are essentially augments to the other two as the game doesn’t seem to have the itemization to support someone being a full time mage.
Unfortunately the wild flails in difficulty that plagued Mars: War Logs remains in Bound by Flame meaning that you’ll likely struggle at the start of a section until you find an upgrade or two at which point the game becomes a breeze again. The bosses are also on a completely different difficulty scale to the rest of the encounters you’ll have meaning you’ll likely blow through most of your stash just to get past them. I understand the need for challenging the player, hell I’ve criticised games for not being able to do this, but the disjoint in difficulty isn’t a challenge to overcome, it’s poor game design. This is made all the more obvious by the final boss fight which is, in all honesty, an absolute travesty as unless you’ve built your character specifically for that fight you’ll likely be unable to do it without sinking an disproportional amount of time into it.
The crafting system seems well thought out on the surface however it only serves to highlight just how little differentiation there is between most items in Bound by Flame. In the beginning you’ll have to carefully choose your upgrades in order to get the maximum benefit however about half way through you’ll be drowning in materials, allowing you to get the best upgrade for each of your items. The game seems to hint at the idea that you should change your gear constantly to fit the situation but even if you do that you’ll still find yourself with more materials than you know what to do with. Honestly if they had a crafting system that let you make weapons and armour I think the amount of materials that drop would be justified. Maybe then I could craft myself a pair of boots (seriously, I had to buy an upgraded pair of boots in the second to last chapter because I never found any).
Bound by Flame is also riddled with bugs and strange quirks that mar the whole experience. I had several occasions where, if I dragged a NPC out of their normal roaming area, the enemies would flit between being invisible and invulnerable to being visible but disinterested in me. Other NPCs would sometimes inexplicably face the walls or get stuck on things which would incapacitate them. This is not to mention your party members AI which is beyond useless most of the time, even when you use the order commands to try and modify their behaviour. Reading over my Mars: War Logs review reveals that many of these issues were present in that game as well, something that Spiders needs to fix lest they be forever labelled as a B grade RPG developer.
I could forgive pretty much all of this if the story was passable however it’s not. The core idea is solid, you’ve got to choose between your humanity and power, but the execution is sorely lacking in character depth, motivation and just general coherency. Hell even the developers themselves can’t get it completely straight as I note several differences between the story on their main site and the one in the game. Worst still are the romances, if you can call them that, as many of them come down to just choosing one right dialog option at one point, rather than actually cultivating any kind of meaningful depth between the characters.
Bound by Flame continues Spiders’ unfortunate history of producing B grade RPGs, seemingly being unable to learn their past mistakes to make their future releases better. It has all the makings of a good RPG, the combat system works most of the time (despite it’s wild changes in difficulty), the levels are meaningful and the crafting system is halfway to being worthwhile. Still the story is well below mediocre and Bound by Flame has numerous glitches and behaviours that do nothing but ruin the experience. I’d love to say I’m looking forward to what they’re doing next but it seems that they have no interest in learning from their mistakes.
Go on Spiders, prove me wrong.
Bound by Flame is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4 and Xbox360 right now for $39.99, $79.95, $89.95 and $79.95 respectively. Total play time was 10 hours with 54% of the achievements unlocked.
Reviewing a game every week has been a great way to discover my internal set of negative biases towards certain types of games. Indeed I wouldn’t have known that survival horror games just aren’t my thing had I not attempted to slog through several of them, something which is contrary to the fact that I played through many of the original Resident Evil series. Turn based combat is another mechanic that I’ve found myself avoiding but recent examples of how it can be done well, like for South Park: The Stick of Truth, have started to break down that barrier. It was the main reason I didn’t jump on Child of Light right away and whilst I might still not be a convert to the turn based combat system I can at least begin to see its merits when applied properly.
You play as Aurora, daughter of the king and heiress to the kingdom of Austria. One night though you are struck down with a terrible illness that, strangely, sends you into a mystical world quite unlike your own. This new land you find yourself in has had its moon and sun taken from it by the evil queen Umbra, plunging the world into darkness and enslaving its population. You soon find out that there’s only one way home: you must restore the moon and the sun back to its people so that the way between your worlds can be opened once again. Time is of the essence too as the visions of your world that leak through show that it is in danger, and needs your help just as much as this strange new one you find yourself in.
Child of Light has a delightfully well done art scheme, with everything for the characters to the environments having that whimsical feeling about them. The art style is done as if everything was painted with watercolours with the wide and varied palette bleeding and fading into each other. It’s also done in a 2.5D style with the backgrounds being largely static and the characters being cel shaded 3D models. This allows Child of Light to have some pretty impressive effects as well as some nice little touches (like Aurora’s hair) that really help to build up the whimsical feeling. Ubisoft Montreal has definitely taken a page from the Blizzard book here the visuals are rarely boring, especially with the large amount of variety in the environments.
From a core game perspective Child of Light is a best described as a side-scrolling RPG with turn based combat that uses a system similar to the Final Fantasy time active combat system. All the classic RPG elements that you’d expect to find are there including an experience system, talent trees with multiple arms and specializations, item progression and, of course, numerous party members to manage. Whilst the systems that have been implemented are probably more on the simplistic side (at least from a veteran RPGer’s perspective) there’s still enough depth in all of them that 2 playthroughs are unlikely to unfold in the same way. Finally there’s a crafting system for augmenting your character in certain ways, something you’ll need if you don’t want to spend hours fighting battles.
The combat system works well as it encourages you to think strategically about what actions to take when and whether or not you’ll be able to complete them. Once you’re in the “cast” section of the bar you get to choose a skill to use which all have a varying amount of time associated with them. Should someone attack you during the cast you’ll be interrupted and sent back to halfway through the “wait” bar. There are ways to speed yourself up and slow your enemies down but you can also judge how long their abilities are going to take to cast and react accordingly. The AI, for the most part, is predictable enough (it will most likely attack whichever of your party can attack the next) but working around the various abilities that they have is what provides most of the challenge.
Like most games that use elemental damage types every enemy has strengths and weaknesses meaning that it’s nigh on impossible to build Aurora, or any of your characters, as a jack of all trades. This is made even more complicated by the fact that some enemies are weak to magic and not physical attacks (or vice versa) something which isn’t readily apparent from just looking at the enemies. Indeed whilst you can kind of work out what they’re likely to be weak to given their appearance (things on fire probably don’t like water) there’s no way to inspect the enemies and have that information presented to you. Worse still there’s no health bars for you to look at and the only indication that you’re close to finishing an enemy off is when they slump down. Considering you can be having an encounter every minute or two small things like these start to wear a bit as you’re never quite sure of just how powerful you are (or aren’t).
The levelling system feels like it needed a little more attention as whilst it’s always nice to have a sense of progression Child of Light is light a desperate friend trying to impress their new date, constantly begging for your attention. At least one of your characters will level up after each fight, normally multiple ones of them, necessitating that you switch over to the character screen in order to allocate their talent points. Sometimes this leads to a meaningful upgrade, like a new version of a spell, however most of the time it’s just more stat building. Honestly it would’ve been far better to have fewer levels with those stat upgrades built into the levels themselves. That way I wouldn’t have spent a good 20% of the game simply managing my party, making sure I’d spent all their points.
The Oculi crafting system is a pretty neat idea as it allows an alternative means of progression which is totally under your control. Whilst there seems to be some obvious choices for certain slots (the extra XP from the diamonds seems like a no brainer) some of the more advanced gems, weapon slots seem to be a lot harder. Whilst you can chop and change as many times as you like it can be somewhat annoying to have say a fire gem equipped and then end up facing water enemies. Essentially this means that you’ll often find yourself pushed into sub-par fights which, whilst not impossible, are usually quite tedious. Being able to change Oculi as an action during combat would be a happy medium and would go a long way to removing a lot of the repetition present in Child of Light.
If I’m honest the rhyming couplets style of dialog really annoyed me as whilst some of it was done to great effect much of it just made comprehending them that little bit harder. I feel that the story would stand on its own quite well however the method of its delivery ultimately detracted from it. It’s a shame really as the rest of the things that go into building that story (like the music, foley and art style) are really top notch. Perhaps this is the more cynical side of me coming out as I’m typically not a fan of whimsically styled things, such as the Studio Ghibli animation which this is apparently inspired by, but honestly try sitting through 8+ hours of people rhyming incessantly and let me know if you feel any different.
Child of Light is a beautiful game that, despite its simplistic approach mechanically, provides a very satisfying experience. The art style is unique and gorgeous, bringing to life the whimsical world that lives in many a child’s minds. It’s not without fault however as the simplistic nature has been taken too far in some respects making some parts of the game laborious, confusing and repetitive. These are not things without fixes however and I’m sure Ubisoft Montreal will be able to rectify this in subsequent titles released in this genre. There’s a lot to like in Child of Light, something that I’m sure will delight RPG fans out there, and I definitely count it as time well spent.
Child of Light is available on PC, Xbox360, XboxOne, PlayStation3, PlayStaion4 and the WiiU right now for an average price of $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 9 hours of total play time.