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.
I’ve been aware of the many games that have bore the South Park name and nearly always they’ve looked like half-assed attempts to cash in on the brand. Couple this with the game being censored in Australia and media tie in games almost always being tragic meant I wasn’t in a real hurry to play it. However after weeks of cajoling from my friends who said The Stick of Truth was genuinely good eventually broke me down and I secured myself an uncensored copy from good old DLCompare. I can say that rarely do I go into a game with such low expectations only to have them completely blown away as South Park: The Stick of Truth is a genuinely fun and captivating game.
Your family has just moved to the quiet mountain town that is South Park , Colorado. The reasons as to why you’ve come there are something of a mystery that neither of parents will let on about and before long they’ve sent you out into the streets to make new friends. The second you stumble outside you cross paths with Butters Stotch who recruits you into their fantasy game of humans vs elves. What starts out as an innocent game however quickly turns into a larger battle between two factions that divides the town’s children as they all clamour to secure the most priceless relic in all the land: The Stick of Truth.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is done in the exact same art style as all the episodes using simple, flash-like graphics with a few embellishments like simple lighting effects here and there. This is in stark contrast to the snippets of the other South Park games that I’ve seen which tended to have their own take on the art style which made them feel like they were set in a universe apart from that of the show. In the Stick of Truth however it feels like you’re playing through an incredibly long episode and this is in no small part due to the religiously faithful art style. I believe this is also the first game where Trey Parker and Matt Stone were directly involved in its creation which definitely comes through in the end product.
The Stick of Truth takes its inspiration from the classic turn based RPG format including a wide variety of mechanics that will be familiar but with the South Park twist applied to them. In the beginning you’ll choose between 1 of 4 different classes which will determine the primary way in which you’ll do combat. Along the way you’ll defeat enemies, pick up loot and level up your character using 2 different talent systems that unlock different abilities and perks. You’ll also engage in the tried and true puzzle sequences that will require you to use a range of different abilities, some of which you won’t have right away. As someone who’s not usually a fan of this style of game I have to say that The Stick of Truth does an excellent job of bringing all of this together, especially with the excellent writing that South Park is known for.
Your choice of class is from one of the 3 typical archetypes (fighter, mage, thief) and the additional Jew class which appears to be a monk/ranger kind of deal. Which one you choose will greatly vary the way combat usually goes however since all items aren’t class specific it’s completely possible to build a mage as a fighter, a thief as a mage and so on. Of course playing to the class’ strengths will make your job a lot easier but the flexibility is there should you want it. If you’re a min/maxer like myself you will not be disappointed with The Stick of Truth’s progression system as you can create characters that are well broken should you have an eye for which stats stack with which.
Your character will progress in several different ways all of which take inspiration from traditional RPG titles. You’ll gain experience through finishing quests and defeating mobs of enemies, eventually levelling up and giving you access to new abilities and additional points to upgrade them. Making friends, which can be done in numerous ways, gives you access to permanent perks which give subtle but useful buffs to your character. Lastly there’s the loot which, whilst not being completely traditional in the RPG sense (I believe it’s pretty much all pre-determined), provides some of the biggest upgrades to your skills and damage. Your weapons and armor can also be upgraded through the use of patches which can add damage or grant you abilities that aren’t available anywhere else.
As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of turn based games I was surprised at how solid The Stick of Truth’s combat felt. Initially I started off by building my character around the use of a weapon with gross damage (makes your enemies throw up and stops them healing) and a patch that granted me PP whenever I dealt said damage. This allowed me to stunlock pretty much any enemy through the use of roshambo, something which was definitely required when I was facing off enemies that were a lot harder than I’d first anticipated. That strategy stopped working towards the end however as many enemies start becoming immune to tactics like that which is when I switched to a high damage build that allowed me to attack again after killing an enemy. In the end I could hit for 8000+ damage repeatedly, clearing out an entire encounter without the enemy being able to get a single turn.
The Stick of Truth does have some technical and usability issues however, although a lot fewer than I first expected. I had a couple crashes that sent me straight back to the desktop for some inexplicable reason. This wasn’t a massive drama however the checkpointing system is a little weird, seemingly transporting you back to the last save point but not completing resetting the world to that point. So essentially you can be transported back but still have all the loot, even if the enemies are still there. It’s not game breaking, you never get double ups of anything but trash items, but it does make the first 5 minutes after the crash a little confusing. Additionally the junk item screen needs to be reworked with a “Sell All” button or at least made spammable as you’ll have hundreds of dollars worth of trash to sell which will likely take you a couple minutes just to get through.
The story is done true South Park fashion with pretty much every character from the TV show making an appearance throughout the course of the story. Most of the quests are based around the relationships that were developed in the show like City Wok and the Mongolians or Al Gore and ManBearPig. Playing the uncensored version was worth it as well as whilst I struggled to explain what was happening on screen to my wife and her friend who saw me play (yeah Randy is getting violated by aliens, no I don’t think I can explain why) it did make for some funny moments that made me question what kind of human being I am. Still in the end the story is very satisfying both in terms of comedic value and story content, something which few games manage to pull off successfully.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is a prime example of how games that are based around a non-game IP should be done as it accurately captures the essence of the show whilst remaining a solid experience in its own right. The RPG gameplay is fantastic, taking the tried and true styles that were made famous by the Final Fantasy series and reworking them into the South Park world. The story is witty, funny and satisfying, a true testament to the writing talents of the South Park studios. Honestly I went into this game with the lowest of expectations only to have them completely blown away, something that rarely happens these days. For anyone who’s a fan of this show and feels like an 11 hour, self directed episode would be up their alley then South Park; The Stick of Truth is for you.
South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $54.95, $79.95 and $79.95 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 11 hours total play time and 38% of the achievements unlocked.
There were a lot of games I wanted to check out after doing several tours of the indie area at PAX. Unfortunately most of them aren’t available yet, at least the ones I wanted to play anyway, and so after I got home I did the usual scroll through Steam looking for something that caught my interest for this week’s review. Thankfully the Steam Summer Sale was in full effect and many titles that I had passed over (mostly due to price) were on sale and so I quickly filled my library with several games I had been meaning to play. Dust: An Elysian Tale was one of these titles and I wasn’t really sure what to expect from it but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
You, playing as Dust, awaken in a meadow in the middle of a forest. You’re then approached by a strange floating sword who calls itself Ahrah, followed closely by a small flying creature called Fidget who claims to be the sword’s guardian. Whilst they don’t provide you any clue as to who you are or how you got to here they direct you to the local town of Aurora in the search for answers. The town is overrun with monsters however and after dealing with them the town’s mayor asks that you track down their leader in order to get the attacks to stop. This begins your journey to find out who you are and what your real purpose is.
The art style of Dust is quite spectacular as it manages to feel like you’re playing inside an epic Disney animated movie. I’ll admit that it was a little off-putting at first, mostly because I felt like it was going to be skewed towards being a kids game, however I found myself becoming more and more impressed with it as I progressed through the game. Mostly this was due to the added environmental effects like snowstorms on high peaks but there were also very atmospheric set pieces like the haunted mansions. Overall though being able to capture that Disney like feeling, both in terms of visual style and storytelling, is something the developer behind Dust should be commended for.
Dust is a 2D hack ‘n’ slash platformer where you’ll be put up against massive hordes of enemies which you’ll be able to dispatch readily. I’m not usually a fan of these kinds of games, I usually get bored with them as the combat starts to feel repetitive, but Dust manages to keep things fresh by gradually introducing new abilities to you as the game progresses. There’s also some rudimentary RPG elements included as you’ll gain experience and levels by defeating enemies and completing quests. There’s also an inventory system, which thankfully needs no management whatsoever, and a crafting system that will allow you to create some of the most powerful gear in the game. All of these elements bind together quite well providing a game experience that’s very different from anything else I’ve played in recent times.
The combat frustrated me at first since the tools I had at my disposal were quite limited. However after the introduction of the Dust Storm ability, essentially projectile based attacks that your companion Fidget shoots which you then amplify, made it far more enjoyable. At the same time though it felt like it trivialized the encounters somewhat, even playing on the Tough difficulty level, although this is countered by the fact that anything can drop your health to almost zero (but not zero if you’re above say 40HP, giving you a chance to heal). In fact you can play Dust as a button masher for the majority of the game, it’s only later when enemies start requiring certain abilities, like parrying or using special abilities to kill them, that some form of strategy starts to enter in the equation.
Although this seems to go to the extreme towards the end of the game where (seemingly) every enemy gets the ability to parry you making continuing combos and using your special abilities (which has an energy bar) very frustrating. Indeed it gets even worse when I started to notice that they could parry whilst seemingly incapacitated and, randomly, my attacks would simply fail to connect with them for no reason in particular. It’s a drastic uptick in challenge, I’ll give them that, however it feels more like a hacked in solution to ramping up the difficulty than anything else. Perhaps utilizing some of the non-combat platforming abilities as augments to the combat would’ve been a better way to do it as there are several of those introduced after you get all your combat abilities.
The platforming is relatively easy as all the jumps you’ll be required to make can be done without the use of your Dust Storm (which allows you to move a little further in the air than you would be able to otherwise) and the use of randomly moving/disappearing platforms is kept at a minimum until towards the end. It’s to your advantage to explore everywhere you possibly can as well since there’s treasure chests and keys scattered everywhere which usually contain a bunch of gold and health items. You’ll be struggling for keys initially as they’re just as hard to find as the chests themselves but I found that towards the end I had more than enough to open every chest I came across, even without purchasing them.
One thing that did irritate me about the platforming in Dust was the fact that early on you’ll be shown areas that look like there’s a route to get to them but you have no way of getting to them. Of course later on in the game you’ll unlock the required ability to traverse the obstacle and, should you want to return to that area, you’ll be able to make your way through there. I really don’t like it when games do this as I’m not someone who likes going back to retrace their steps every time I get a new ability. It just doesn’t feel like progress to me and instead makes me feel like I’m missing out on something whenever I see an obstacle I can’t yet tackle. It might increase the play time for some but, honestly, I don’t believe that most gamers are judging games by the number of hours it takes to complete anymore.
The RPG elements serve their purpose, giving you that lovely thrill of leveling up every so often that brings with it new levels of power. Since you only have control over 4 of your stats, and can only level up one of them at a time, the progress granted to you through levels doesn’t feel anywhere near as impactful as the upgrades you get from gear. I can remember getting a really good piece of armor before I was probably supposed to have it which made me near invincible against the enemies I was facing but up until that point I still felt like a glass cannon in battle. In fact the only upgrades that feel like they’re making any difference are the ones to defense. Even the 2x attack ring I got towards the end seemed to make little difference to the time it took ti dispatch enemies which was a little disappointing.
The crafting however feels rather well done as instead of forcing you to constantly reload sections to farm up the required materials you can instead sell one of them to a vendor who will then proceed to sell them back to you and restock them periodically. This means its advantageous to sell one of your materials to them whenever you pick it up as the vendor will stock up on it over time so when you need it, to craft that amazing item blueprint you just picked up, it’ll be there for you. This was my primary source of items as whilst I got a couple good drops most of them came from crafting and whilst I didn’t manage to catalog all the materials (some of the earlier ones just didn’t drop for me at all) I had more than enough to craft most of the things I wanted to.
I was honestly surprised by the story of Dust as whilst it’s rated at E (Everyone 10+) and starts off with some rather shaky premises the characters undergo some serious development, to the point where you really start to care for them. Dust also pulls no punches when it comes to dealing with real topics like death and betrayal, something that I did not expect given its very Disney like qualities. Dust does lose a little sheen by doing the cliched screaming for a sequel at the end but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to another installment of this game and the stories it contains.
Dust: An Elysian Tale goes down as one of the bigger surprises for me of this year, seamlessly combining beautifully evocative artwork with a hack ‘n; slash 2D RPG. It has its flaws, although they’re surprisingly few for a first time game developer, and could deal with difficulty ramping better. That being said however the issues melt into the background as you blast your way through hordes of enemies and revel in the deep story line. I’d highly recommend a playthrough, especially for those who love the Disney art style.
Dust: An Elysian Tale is available on Xbox and PC right now for $15. Game was played on the PC on the Tough difficulty with 8.6 hours played and 50% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve had a few people ask me how I come across some of the games that I review here and the answer is pretty simple. If I haven’t seen something that’s been on a lot of review sites (I don’t read the reviews, but if a game keeps popping up that’s a sign it might be worth a look in) then they usually come from me trawling through the new releases section on Steam. From there I work my way through the titles, looking for something that can capture my attention with just a few screenshots and possibly a short video. Mars: War Logs was one of these although it was more for the dev story behind it as Spiders isn’t a particularly large studio but they seemed really dedicated to creating a good game.
Mars: War Logs takes place in the distant future where humans have successfully colonized Mars. A hundred years ago however there was a great upheaval which devastated the colonies and lead to the rise of two opposing factions: Aurora and Abundance. Ever since then they’ve been locked in an ongoing battle for control of the world’s water supply, by far the most valuable resource. You play as Roy Temperance, a prisoner of war who’s caught between the two factions, trying to hide from his past that continues to haunt him.
The aesthetic of Mars: War Logs is reminiscent of many current gen third person titles with infinite shades of brown and grey colouring the world. Although this time around it kind of fits thanks to the world that it’s built in even though it has the unfortunate effect of making every place you go feel a little samey. The graphics are good but not great, which becomes quite noticeable when they’re combined with the rudimentary lip synching and low resolution motion capture. Honestly I’ve seen worse from other recently released titles so I won’t be too harsh on it for that but it’s hard not to draw comparisons to the many other, astoundingly better looking games.
Surprisingly though there’s quite a lot under the hood of Mars: War Logs in terms of gameplay, something you don’t usually expect from smaller RPG titles. The combat is mostly whacking other people with metal poles until they fall down with the added strategy element of blocking/dodging incoming attacks. There’s also a stealth system which allows you to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies, although how crouching down counts as stealth is beyond me. They’ve even incorporated a talent tree, crafting system and character perks allowing you a pretty decent amount of customization to how you play Mars: War Logs. This is a lot for a small dev studio to cram into a game and that unfortunately means that there’s a lot of depth lacking from many of these mechanics and some of them are still plagued by bugs that should have been picked up in QA.
For starters the combat, whilst somewhat engaging and enjoyable at certain points, varies wildly between being so easy that its almost pointless to being so hard that you’ll spend the majority of your time rolling around just so can whittle enemies down a couple hits at a time. This is because there’s no dynamic scaling of enemy difficulty and it only increases at certain points, usually at the start of a new section. The pacing of the game then becomes highly disjointed as you can be breezing through the last half of a particular section only to hit a brick wall at the beginning of the next, rather than having a gradual ramp up in the challenge. Some would argue that this is part of the strategy but in all honesty it’s just sloppy design, especially when “challenging” means that you lose the majority of your health in a couple hits.
The stealth system is a complete joke as whilst you can sneak around the benefits of doing so are minimal at best. When you’re first introduced to it stealthing up to an enemy and hitting them doesn’t take them out, it just takes away a good portion of their health. Of course that means that after doing that all the enemies close by will aggro forcing you to go toe to toe with them anyway. Now I didn’t invest any points in the stealth abilities so this could be somewhat improved by that but that tree is also the weakest out of the 3 when you consider that, no matter how well you stealth, you will eventually have to fight everything. I think Spiders would’ve been much better off skipping this feature altogether to focus more on the core of the game as it really adds nothing in its current form.
Although there’s a talent tree with 3 different styles to choose from only 2 of them are available to you from the start, with one of them being the aforementioned weakest of them all stealth one. This means that you’re kind of shoe horned into spending points into one specific tree (melee combat) and thus can’t take full advantage of the third tree (technomancy) until much later in the game. However even if you wanted to I don’t think it’d be very viable as the amount of damage output you need later in the game can really only come from charged melee weapons, unless you want to spend 20 minutes running around waiting for your fluid (mana) levels to regen.
The crafting system is equal parts good and complete crap thanks to the massive overabundance of materials that you’ll find in every area. Essentially you can craft a couple things like health packs and ammunition but the real power of the crafting system comes from upgrading your armor and weapons. Now not all weapons and armor can be upgraded so that really expensive top tier armor might look great but it’s in fact completely inferior to anything that comes with upgrade slots. This has the unfortunate consequence of making the vast majority of items irrelevant as anything that lacks upgrades is most certainly not worth it.
After the first section you’ll almost never be out of materials for crafting things you need, especially if you’re a veteran RPGer and seek out all the free stuff like I did. What this meant was that whenever upgrades became available (usually after having to run the gauntlet at the start where everything is stupid hard again) I was able to purchase them and then instantly upgrade them to their maximum. There are no rare items to be found or obtained from quests so literally the highest damage/armor item you can buy from the vendor is the best item you will ever see. If you’re low on serum there’s a good chance you have a ton of materials that you can pilfer for serum in order to get the upgrade and in fact you’re probably better off doing that then trying to convert resources as typically you’ll get more if you sell said items to the vendor then buy back the ones you need.
Most of this would be forgivable however these are just some of the more obvious structural flaws that Mars: War Logs has. The interface is confused and doesn’t operate as you’d expect with fun quirks like: doors mostly requiring left click but sometimes pressing R, the attack button (left click, again) is also the loot button, pressing quick buttons for things like menus twice doesn’t minimize them and whilst you can assign 0~9 for powers you can only ever see the first 4 unless you go into the power wheel again. This is not to mention the issues with the incredibly stupid AI, both for your companion and the enemy, which routinely gets stuck on all sorts of terrain. Not only that many of their abilities are capable of friendly fire, leading to some incredibly frustrating moments where they inadvertently kill you. I’m hoping that it was intentional otherwise it’s yet another point where Mars: War Logs differs from the norm and not in a good way.
As always I could forgive nearly all of this if the story was worth anything but sadly, it’s not. Most of the lines are delivered completely flat in rapid fire fashion which, combined with the poor lip synching, makes for a jarring experience. It also doesn’t help that the characters have as much depth as a children’s pool with many of them changing their motivations on a whim. My particular love interest, Mary, went from murderous rage to sympathetic follower in less than 4 sentences and the resulting relationship could not have been anymore shallow. Indeed the game’s one attempt at invoking emotion feels incredibly cheap and only serves to anger the player.
Objectively Mars: War Logs is a decidedly B grade game with fundamental flaws riddling the core mechanics which, combined with the many other problems can make for a frustrating experience. There were times I had fun with it, especially when I got my build up to the seriously broken level, but unfortunately that wasn’t enough to make up for the numerous flaws. I commend Spiders for trying, I really do, but it just goes to show that sometimes you need to cut back on your ambitions a bit in order to solidify the core aspects of the game. I totally understand where they wanted to go with this but unfortunately it falls short of that goal, leaving us with a game that feels like it was halfway towards something great.
Mars: War Logs is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation3 right now for $19.99. Game was played on the Hard difficulty setting with 9 hours total play time and 71% of the achievements unlocked.
If we spin back the clock a couple decades we find ourselves in a time when games fit quite easily into all of their genres. If you were told that a game was a Real Time Strategy you could be pretty sure it’d contain units, resources and buildings that you needed to build up in a strategic way in order to win. First Person Shooters were just that, you holding a gun and running from one end of a level to another ensuring that anything that got in your way didn’t stay that way for very long. Role playing games would have multiple character classes, pages of statistics and long running stories that would carry you through from the start right up until the end. Today however those kinds of boundaries aren’t so well defined with many games blending elements from several different genres which calls into question the use of these broad genres when classifying current generation titles.
Jonathan Holmes of Destructoid fame then asks if its time for us to retire the term RPG as it no longer seems to be a good fit for the games that fall under that genre. He makes a good point too, many games that include rudimentary aspects of RPG titles like levels, classes or statistics often get categorized as RPGs alongside other titles that seem far more deserving of the classification. Now that games are garnering bigger budgets and technology has advanced exponentially since the term was first used in the video games industry I’d have to agree with him that the use of the general RPG term is probably outmoded but we’re a long way away from retiring it completely.
For me personally if a game is to have the RPG moniker applied to it there has to be a couple attributes for it to qualify. Primarily it comes from being able to customize your playstyle to a fairly high level which is usually achieved through the use of classes or talent tree specializations. This, in effect, is what allows you to define your role in the game whether it be from a fire slinging mage to a half cyborg engineer who uses all manner of machines to do his bidding. Stat building, levels and all the other means to this end are really ancillary to the goal of being able to craft a role that you want to play within that game universe and that, in my mind, is the loophole that allows other games to have aspects of a RPG yet not fall into that genre.
However I feel that the term RPG is too broad to encompass everything that now fits under its original definition and that’s where the liberal use of prefixes is warranted. Whilst saying a game is a RPG might conjure a particular image for some and not others you’d be hard pressed to misunderstand what I mean when I said a game was a FPS RPG, action RPG or MMORPG. Each of these sub-genres each has a much more distinct set of guidelines for a game to fall under its umbrella and I feel is the proper way to identify games that blur the traditional definition of a RPG. In essence this means that the term RPG becomes a broad category that encompasses all of these sub-genres and can no longer be used to refer to a single category of games based on its original definition.
The redefinition of the RPG term is a sign that the games industry has grown beyond its traditional roots where everything fell neatly into the categories as we had defined them. I think that’s a wonderful thing as it shows that game developers are experimenting with game ideas that cross genres, blending elements from both in order to create game experiences that are truly unique. Indeed with all my reviews there have been many times when I’ve struggle to pin games down to one genre and that’s not just limited to RPGs. We may no longer be able to use the term to refer to a specific type of game but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the term entirely as the RPG ideals are still valid in today’s gaming industry.
An old friend of mine wrote a post not too long ago saying that the FPS genre had almost run its course and was in either need of a reboot or a bullet. I agreed with him although countered with a single game that was, technically, a first person shooter but flipped the idea of what constituted a traditional FPS and got it all mixed up with some heavy RPG elements. Whilst I didn’t mention it at the time (mostly because the question was centred around player agency) Borderlands was another title in the FPS genre that felt like a breath of fresh air when compared to all the other generic shooters that have graced our gaming platforms over the past few years. Its sequel, released a couple weeks ago, stays true to the original’s FPS/RPG hybrid styling whilst provided some much needed polish in the areas that needed it.
Borderlands 2 takes place 5 years after the events in the original and with the vault opened and the monstrosity contained within it defeated a new valuable resource, a purple metal called Eridium, has sprung up all over Pandora. Handsome Jack, a member of the Hyperion corporation, notices this and secures the resource for himself allowing him to take over Hyperion. Jack now uses his power, as well as a giant orbital satellite in the form of a H which can be clearly seen from the ground, to control the inhabitants of Pandora. However rumours have been spreading of another vault contained on Pandora and a new set of vault hunters have come seeking its contents.
Just like the original Borderlands 2 sticks to cel shading for its graphics style and 3 years down the track its not looking any worse for wear. Whilst many have praised Borderlands 2 for being a graphical step up from its predecessor (and it is, in many ways) if you were like me and dived into the configuration files you would have been able to get similar levels of detail. That being said not having to do that now thanks to a menu that reveals all those options to you is a much better alternative and speaks volumes to the lengths that Gearbox has gone to in order to not make the PC version a bastard child of a port. Seeing as that was one of my main gripes with the original I’m glad to see this was addressed as I wasn’t looking forward to panning them again for it.
As I mentioned previously Borderlands 2 is a hybrid FPS/RPG with core elements of both combining together to form the core of the game play. The FPS portion, at its most basic level, is your typical run and gun affair with regenerating health (in the form of a shield) and chest high boxes littering the landscape to provide you with cover. The RPG elements aren’t as deep as full on RPG titles like say Skyrim but you’ve still got 4 distinct character classes each with a talent tree that contains 3 different paths in it giving you quite a bit of freedom in how your character ends up playing out.
Now whilst the basic aspects of the FPS part of Borderlands might not be too different from any other generic shooter the way in which combat actually plays out is nothing like it. Just like in the original each of the character classes has a unique action skill that can drastically change the way a fight goes. Since I choose the Commando I had myself a sentry turret that provided both added damage but also a distraction for some of the tougher enemies so that I could run up behind them and unleash hell in relative safety. Talking it over with my friends the Sentry gun is one of the most useful but apparently Zero’s ability (being able to turn invisible whilst leaving a decoy behind) is by far the most fun.
Of course there’s even more variation in the FPS aspects thanks to the near infinite amount of guns, grenades and other inventory items that can drastically change the way you engage hostile targets. Whilst there’s a couple simple mechanics like different types of elemental damage that are more/less effective depending on the type of enemy you’re facing there are many guns with ludicrous abilities that can transform a meagre character into an unbridled tool of destruction. Indeed finding such weapons are usually key to progressing past certain points and you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a couple a long your way.
For me it was a rocket launcher called the Partisan Mongol which upon firing launched a barrage of rockets that did several orders of magnitude more damage than I was capable of unloading with any of my other weapons. This weapon became a key part of my arsenal as it meant that should I get into a jam and need to kill something quickly to get second wind all I needed to do was whip out my launcher and lay waste to whatever was in front of me. Sure it wasn’t fool proof and the amount of ammo it consumed meant it wasn’t particularly sustainable but considering I carried that weapon with me from level 20 something right up until the end just shows you how valuable weapons like that can be.
Your talent trees will also have a major impact on how you progress through the game. I played as a Survival Commando mostly because the initial talents went a long way to reducing the amount of down time I had to endure. As I went up in levels however the skills made me almost unstoppable as I was able to take massive amounts of pounding without breaking a sweat. Couple this with a couple other items like say an amp shield that imbues your weapons with extra damage at full charge and a build that was primarily defensive in nature suddenly becomes wildly offensive. In the end I settled on a build that reduced the cooldown of my turret skill by half and enabled me to have two turrets out at a time that both had shields on them, giving me both amazing survival power and an incredible damage output.
There’s also another levelling system on top of the regular one and its called, eerily enough (considering the title of my last Borderlands review), Badass Ranks. In essence they’re like a sub-achievement system, they’re only tracked in game, but you get ranks for completing things like setting a certain number of enemies on fire, using certain item abilities and performing all sorts of weird and wonderful acts. Once you rank up you’re then given a token that you can spend on a percentage based perk that can be things like increasing your shield regen rate. According to what Gearbox tells you these perks are unlimited and thus function as a levelling system that will continue long on after you’ve hit the 50 level cap. Unlimited is a bit of a misleading term though as its clear that as you level up the same perks you start to hit diminishing returns on them and I get the feeling that the upper bounds for many of them are in the realms of 10% or so.
In terms of overall polish Borderlands 2 is certainly leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. Gone is the GameSpy account requirement and the need to open up a rather excessively number of ports on your router in order for it to work. The menus are also not painfully console specific reacting much better to the additional input options offered by the mouse and keyboard of the PC platform. I did encounter some interesting and quirky bugs along the way and there was only one that actually broke the game in a serious way.
Minor plot spoilers follow:
For the BNK-3R boss fight I spent most of my first try of it running around looking for ammo drops to replenish my stash. Now I’m not sure if it was due to me being in a strange position or not but once it was past a certain percentage of health and Roland said something like “Now that’s a big gun” it jammed itself on the corner of the platform and then started violently shuddering whilst not getting anywhere. I figured it was just stuck and hopefully wearing its health down would trigger it to teleport out or get unstuck but unfortunately after wearing it all the way down to 0 health it just sat there. After jumping to my death (and eating the respawn cost) it regenerated all its health but was still stuck in the same position. The only way to get it unstuck is to reload and then hope it doesn’t happen again. Thankfully for me it didn’t but there are many people on the forums reporting the same issue so hopefully it gets fixed soon.
The writers have also out done themselves as the comedic tones that are interwoven in through a semi-serious plot make for a story that’s engaging, entertaining and completely hilarious at times. All of the characters have their own unique brand of humour and whilst I didn’t find all of them laugh out loud funny they all had their moments. Handsome Jack, your nemesis for the entire game, is also an extremely hateable character and they did a great job of making him a real douche bag. Needless to say that I spent the majority of the game just waiting for a moment when I could put a bullet between his eyes.
The story itself was good too and whilst I didn’t feel a deep emotional attachment for many of the characters (apart from Mordecai as I played him in the original) I did genuinely care about how the ending panned out. If pushed I’d say it was the game play that made it for me rather than the story but overall I’d rate it far above other titles in the FPS genre which usually only use a paper thin storyline in order to keep you going.
Borderlands 2 is an amazing game having taken all the ideals of the original and polishing them up to a glorious hue. All the complaints that I had about the original are gone and save for a few bugs the experience is seamless. Even for those who didn’t play the original Borderlands 2 offers a great FPS/RPG experience that is only matched by other greats in this hybrid genre like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If you’re one of the many who enjoy games with a long shelf life then Borderlands 2 is definitely a title for you as my play time is probably only a quarter of what’s possible.
Borderlands 2 is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $49.99, $69 and $69 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with around 25 hours of total play time, 58% of the achievements unlocked and reaching level 31.
16 years, that’s how long its been since the first release of Diablo yet I can still remember some of the moments with it fondly. I can remember the first time I wandered down to that level and physically leaping out of my seat when the butcher first growled “Aaaahhhhh fresh meat!” when I dared enter his lair. I spent many hours attempting to get further and further into the dungeons and only after pairing up with people I had never met before online was I able to progress further and ultimately defeat Diablo. My time with its sequel released 4 years later was a much more social affair with many LANs dedicated to pushing our characters through the 99 levels that it offered to us. Today I find myself back in that same world again, playing through a world that’s been with me almost all of my gamer life. One that I’ve become very fond of.
Diablo 3 takes place 20 years after the events of Diablo 2. Deckard Cain and his niece, Leah, are investigating an old prophecy that’s foreboding a great conflict between man and the terrors of hell. During his investigation a star falls from the sky towards Deckard and his niece and destroys much of the cathedral leaving only a hole into which Deckard falls. You, known only as The Nephalem, have come to investigate the falling star and arrive at the town of New Tristram to find it under siege from the undead. So begins your long journey, one that draws many parallels to the past releases.
There’s something to be said about Blizzard’s approach to the visual and auditory nature of all of their games. They’re never on the cutting edge of graphics (which I was very thankful for as half of my time with the game was spent on an almost 2 year old MacBook Pro) but they never feel as dated as other games who attempt the same style do. Their heavy use of stylization, clever lighting effects and heavy use of perspective makes the low poly graphics feel like they’re a lot more detailed than they actually are. This also means that in heavy battle situations even those with modest computers won’t be playing through a slideshow, something that has always worked in Blizzard’s favor.
Like all their games the accompanying music, foley and cinematic cut scenes help to elevate the Diablo experience further. Blizzard really are no slouch when it comes to making cut scenes that are tear-inducingly beautiful and the ones in Diablo are no exception to this rule. Russell Brower, the man behind nearly all of the music in Blizzard games of the past decade, has done a fantastic job with Diablo 3′s music which aptly sets the mood for the entire game (bar one level, but I’ll get to that later). The voice acting is also done well although I felt the dialogue was a bit of a let down in some parts but that’s no fault of the voice actors.
Combat takes wild swings from being a breeze where you feel like an unstoppable killing machine to the disastrous lows where you spend 10 minutes and many deaths trying to beat a single enemy or elite pack. Granted for the vast majority of the game (everything up to Act III/IV hell for me) you probably won’t struggle bar getting a pack/elite with a rather nasty combination. Even then it’s usually a quick change of skills and a repair away from being a walk in the park again. Failing that all you’ll need to do is take a quick trip to the auction house to be able to elevate yourself out of the current rut you’re in, so long as you’ve got the requisite cash of course.
The itemization in Diablo 3 seems to work well in the beginning with upgrades dropping left, right and center. However as you progress through the levels you’ll notice that upgrades start to come further in between, leaving you wondering what the deal is. For the most part its because up until Inferno difficulty most items that drop will be below your level and thus won’t be much of an upgrade. The auction house goes a long way to mitigate this, as does the fact that there are no soulbound items, but that also means you’re somewhat reliant on it should you want to progress at a reasonable rate. Granted this isn’t that bad since semi-decent upgrades can be had for a pittance if you’re willing to search and wait but it is starkly different to the way it was in the previous installments in the Diablo series.
The gem system is back but instead of relying on the Horadric cube to do all your combining and upgrading of gems you instead have your very own artisan that can do the upgrades for you (for a fee, of course). To get better gems you have to pay to train him and as you progress further you’ll need to seek out additional items in order to upgrade him and the gems he creates for you. Gems are also infinitely resusable which is a welcome change as now you can spend quite a lot on crafting good gems and not have to ditch them when you get a gear upgrade (or delay that upgrade because of the gems). This also means that the secondary market for gems is somewhat non-existent as all you need is a friend who’s run Inferno once or twice to come into your game and shower you gems they don’t need but are godly to you.
The crafting system starts off as being a wonderful alternative gear path allowing you to convert unwanted items into crafting materials that can then be used to craft items. All of the items are random however meaning that there’s a very high chance that you’ll create a piece of equipment that you’ll have no use for (which can then be turned back into mats again, if you so desire). Since the investment cost at the lower levels is, funnily enough, low you can quite easily create multiple items and usually get a hit that’s an upgrade. Additionally you can also train the blacksmith to create items that are a higher level than what you can current use, giving you something to look forward to as you level. I did exactly this all the way up to level 30 or so, and that’s when crafting started to fall apart.
The investment cost at higher levels starts to consume all of your available gold should you chose to keep pursuing it. Additionally the material requirements start to ramp up as well meaning that you can craft fewer and fewer items the further you progress. This means that chance starts to play a much bigger factor in whether crafting is worth it or not and in my experience it stats to lose its luster very quickly after level 30 or so. The base idea of the crafting system is sound what it needs is some finessing to make it less prone to rolls of the dice when the investment required for crafting each item is so high. If you’re an action house wunderkid this might not be so much of a problem, but not everyone who plays this game is.
The talent system has been streamlined extensively, taking heavy cues from the improvements that had been made in the upcoming World Of Warcraft Mists of Panderia expansion. Instead of the typical talent tree with 3 different play styles segmented neatly by the different tabs they dwell on Diablo 3 instead goes for an ability based system, allowing you to pick and choose the abilities you want to use and then augment them in specific ways. This streamlined approach appears at first glance appears to be a vast simplification of the traditional RPG system, one that had the potential to remove a lot of the diversity from the game. The actual result is far from that with Blizzard reporting that the most common build is only used by approximately 0.7% of players. Even with my extensive amount of play time in this game I’m still finding myself experimenting with different skills to see if they’ll give me an edge in damage or survivability, something that I had only thought would be possible with traditional talent systems.
Many of the set pieces feel like they are done either for the fans or in spite of them. Much of the game feels a lot like its predecessor with the progression through levels (town/rural -> desert -> keep -> heaven/hell) being eerily similar. Thankfully the environments feel fresh and distinct from their counterparts in Diablo 2 so it doesn’t feel like they’re just 3D renderings of the former 2D sprite based environments. The rainbow unicorn level (I.E. the not “cow level”) is one that was obviously done in reaction to fan’s bellyaching around Diablo 3 being too colourful when compared to its predecessor. This is the one place where the music is just plain wrong but that’s just part of the whole experience of this particular level.
The story of Diablo 3 is definitely above the level I’ve come to expect from most AAA games that only have it as a side note to the main game of multiplayer but somewhat lacking in what I’ve come to expect from Blizzard. The Diablo world, and its current incarnation, is not short of lore and back story for nearly every main character and NPC that you come across. However, and this may be because of the character class I played or not, I never really felt any empathy for the characters apart from Deckard Cain (the only one who I can remember being in past Diablo games). I also never really felt any driving motivation for my character either, mostly because of the way he interacted with the main protagonists.
Whilst a lot of the NPCs would show fear and doubt my character never showed a lick of hesitation when it came to talking down to prime evils or even supposed members of high society. After a while it started to sound more like bravado than anything else which was only compounded by the fact that many of the other characters acted somewhat irrationally towards him (like Azmodan saying at every turn that I would fail, even after I had completely decimated his army). The other classes might have been better but this combined with the lack of empathy for any of the characters meant that I didn’t really care that much for the story. I don’t hate it, I’m just indifferent to it.
So it’s at this point in the review where I look back at the game and ask myself “well, was it fun?”. The beginning stages of Diablo are very enjoyable especially as you get your first rare drop or you completely kit yourself out in blues for the first time. It gets a whole lot better with friends too as the multiplayer experience has been streamlined and integrated perfectly. Still I couldn’t help that feeling I had in the back of my mind, one that I used to get when I was playing World of Warcraft at max level. Sometimes I feel compelled just to do things for the sake of doing them and towards the end as I was approaching 60 I started to wonder why I was doing it. Granted this was at the end of a probable 20 hour binge over the course of the last 4 days, so I was probably just burnt out on playing.
Diablo 3 feels like a game that was made for the fans. The settings and the gameplay instantly dredge up that nostalgia feeling whilst keeping the experience fresh and exciting. Whilst I don’t believe there’s nothing in this game for those who haven’t played before their experience won’t be the same as that of long time fans of the series. I’m not sure if I’ll roll another character but I’ll definitely be joining my friends when we set out to conquer Inferno mode.
Diablo 3 is available on PC right now for $89.99. Game was played through the Normal, Nightmare and Hell difficulties with the Monk class reaching level 60 with around 32 hours of total play time.
Ah Mass Effect, a game that inspired so much fanboyism and geek lust within me that I’ve gladly parted with embarrassingly large sums of money in order to play it. My relationship with it started with an excited friend of mine breathlessly singing its praises before sending me a short video clip of it. The second the clip finished I knew this game had to be mine, no matter what the cost. This was the only reason why a Xbox360 graced my home in the first place and was so again when I upgraded to one of the new slim models to play through the final instalment. Today I will review the last chapter in Mass Effect trilogy; a review that’s been 5 years in the making.
Mass Effect 3 puts you right back into control of Commander Shepard of the Normandy. Returning back to the Alliance Navy after the events of Mass Effect 2 Shepard is placed under house arrest due to his work with Cerberus. His warnings of an impending Reaper attack have gone unnoticed and it’s not until a full Reaper invasion starts that they look back to him for help. Earth succumbs to the Reaper invasion rapidly but Shepard reluctantly escapes, only leaving so he can gather support to retake Earth back from the Reapers and hopefully drive them back for good.
First impressions of Mass Effect 3 were quite good. For Xbox360 players you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the graphics updates as there’s a noticeable improvement over Mass Effect 2. Whilst it’s not up to the same level as say Deus Ex: Humand Revolution or Skyrim they’re still quite impressive, especially if you’re playing the game on a massive TV like I was. PS3 owners won’t notice much of a difference however as Mass Effect 3 on the PS3 uses the same engine as 2 on that plaform. PC players will also be somewhat disappointed as the code for the Xbox360 version is basically the same and is unable to take advantage of any additional grunt your PC might have. It’s clear that Bioware’s target platform for this game was definitely the Xbox360 first above all others which is great for people like me, but I can understand the frustration levelled at Mass Effect 3 by gamers on other platforms.
The combat of Mass Effect 3 is just as exciting, fluid and challenging as it was back in Mass Effect 2. I was very tempted to try out yet another class as my switch from Soldier to Vanguard in Mass Effect 2 made the game that much more interesting but discussing it with my friends showed that the Vanguard was probably the most fun class out of the lot of them. With the new weapon/upgrade system the Vanguard could easily be made into an incredible weapon of destruction, one that didn’t actually need to carry any guns with him if you played your cards right.
So unlike its predecessors Mass Effect 3 gives you the choice of what weapons to equip, allowing you to carry around up to 5 different weapons. The downside is that the more weapons you carry the slower your powers will regenerate. So for weapons based classes like the Soldier you’ll probably still walk around armed with every single weapon you can carry but my Vanguard spent most of his time with only 2 weapons (later I carried 3 once I had the right upgrades), favouring the 200% buff to power recharges instead. This meant that past a certain point I was basically invulnerable as no enemy could wear down my shields before I could charge again, recharging them back to full.
Still though there were several fights that I found challenging to the point of frustration. Now I’m willing to blame this on the fact that I’m not a console gamer, the PC is my usual platform, and the many deaths I experienced early on where a combination of me not being able to aim properly and a bad talent build. However for most of the really difficult fights there was usually a heavy weapon hidden somewhere which I wouldn’t find until my 4th or 5th time attempting that particular combat scene which made the fight trivial. There are also some particular enemies that will 1 shot you from full health and shields with no way to get out of it (even with upgraded health that left me with 1 bar afterwards, I’d still die). It’s a real shame as apart from these 2 faux pas the combat is really quite enjoyable (thelatter making the last couple hours annoyingly torturous).
The talent tree system received a massive revamp since Mass Effect 2 and the improvements are quite nice. Whilst it still retains the base idea of adding points into a certain ability to make it better once you get past the first 3 stages you’re then presented with choices as to how to improve the ability. In doing so you’re able to craft your character along very specific lines, much more so than you were in the previous 2 games. With a little bit of looking around its very possible to create a character that is nigh on unstoppable, but it’s the improvements that Bioware made around the talent system that are most welcome.
The inclusion of a respec system in Mass Effect 3 is probably the most welcome addition. When you start off many of your talent points are allocated for you. Whilst this is a great way to introduce you to the character class it does mean that your character might not play the way you want it to. Thankfully the first respec is free and that will allow you to craft your character in the way you want. Additionally you’re able to choose 1 ability from your companions to include in your talent tree for a small sum. Yet again this allows you to augment away any of your character’s weaknesses or push them further into unstoppable territory.
The Galaxy Map remains basically unchanged from Mass Effect 2, keeping the same navigation elements whilst changing up the mini-game aspect of it significantly. Instead of going to every planet and scanning them for 5 minutes just to find the resources contained within there you instead scan around the current solar system, looking for little pockets of treasure. If one of the assets happens to be on a planet you then do the familiar scanning mini-game again but at least now it has a pointer to where it is, saving you countless pointless minutes scanning around. There’s also an indicator as to how many assets you’ve recovered so you don’t waste time looking for that one last thing.
You can’t scan around indefinitely though as scanning alerts the Reapers to your presence there. It’s supposed to make you scan smartly around, using the minimum number in order to recover all the assets. If you do alert the Reapers they’ll invade the system and try to hunt you down but they can’t really catch you unless you stay still for more than a couple seconds. Realistically you can just scan to your hearts content then exit/enter the system repeatedly to get the assets, which is what I ended up doing after alerting the Reapers for the 20th time.
WARNING: Mild plot spoilers follow. (There’s a second warning about the MASSIVE ones if you want to keep reading).
Of course where Mass Effect 3 really shines is the grand story that they’ve crafted over the past 5 years. Ever since the first Mass Effect there’s been a terrible sense of foreboding about the coming Reaper invasion and whilst there are some major plot holes (why did the Council ignore Shepards warnings after a GODDAMN REAPER ATTACKED THEM is beyond me) they’ve managed to keep the story moving through 3 games, even with the wild amount of control that the player has over the plot elements.
As always I decided to play Shepard as a Paragorn and whilst I’d agree with the way he acted about 90% of the time there were some definite moments when he’d go off the rails completely. This is mostly due to the paraphrasing that’s done in order to make the dialog wheel work, making it hard to accurately judge what he’s going say, but when the tough-as-nails by-the-book Shepard I spent the last 5 years crafting started acting out of character it really dumped me out of the game. Thankfully those moments were few and far between, but happened often enough to cause me frustration.
Now I don’t know if this was due to the choices that I had made in the previous games or not but the romantic relationships in Mass Effect 3 felt kind of…weird. In Mass Effect 1 I romanced Ashley who makes no appearance in 2 at all. In 2 I romanced Miranda and when I came face to face with both of them again I set my eyes on Ashley, her being Shepard’s first love. What got me however was the fact that Ashley seemed wholly unresponsive to my advances even though, as far as I was aware, there was no way of her knowing what I got up to during Mass Effect 2. Indeed she never confronted me on the fact, instead just giving me the cold shoulder. Miranda on the other hand was extremely responsive to the point where I basically fell into the romance scene which was a total cop out (when did Mass Effect become PG?). I mean I did feel something for Miranda but it felt kind of odd that Ashley would shut Shepard out like that, especially after the first few deep conversations.
It gets even more interesting as the token gay NPC, Steve Cortez (who’s done brilliantly by the way), ended up in a rather deep relationship with Shepard without me really trying. It could just be because it wasn’t possible to have that kind of relationship before Mass Effect 3, thus having to accelerate the emotional attachment, but it still made me think that Ashley’s behaviour was odd in comparison to everyone else. Not odd as in “Why doesn’t she like me”, more like there was something either unfinished or broken in the story line that I was playing through. I could’ve just stuffed up a critical dialogue option and not realised it, but I’m usually pretty good at noticing those kinds of things.
The rest of my relationships with the crew were just as good as the one with Cortez. Whilst towards the end there are many scenes that are pretty much “This is the last time you’ll get to see them here, better make the most of it” kinds of deals they do feel genuine. I personally found the scenes with Liara, Garrus and Legion to be especially touching, giving me the feeling of a true bond between comrades who had been through heaven and hell together.
WARNING: I’m going to spoil the ending here like crazy. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
I’m not going to pretend that this review exists in a vacuum but I did my absolute best to avoid all the articles about Mass Effect 3′s ending prior to finishing the game for myself. All I knew before going into this is that there were people who weren’t happy with it and thanks to my information black out I figured it was just a minority. However after playing through to the ending myself, being able to get the good (read: Green) ending and choosing the Synthesis option I can unequivocally say that Bioware completely and utterly bollocks the ending up, and not just for the reasons that many others have cited already.
For starters whilst the story introduced the deus ex machina ending early on that doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a deus ex machina. Granted there are few ways that such an epic story could come to an ending without resorting to this kind of plot device but it’s obvious that the entire plot wasn’t created back when Mass Effect was originally created. Indeed accounts from Bioware employees corroborate this meaning the true ending wasn’t created until just recently. This then feeds into the larger problem, the actual ending itself.
The whole idea of the Star Child, the devices to control/destroy the Reapers and the requirement of Shepard to sacrifice himself are things that don’t line up with the Mass Effect world or the characters within them. Shepard is not a tragic hero and indeed should you have been a tragic hero in Mass Effect 2 (where not enough of your team members survive) you in fact can not import that game into Mass Effect 3 as Bioware has deemed that ending non-canon. The idea then of Shepard making the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of the universe is completely out of character, as well as being completely non-sensical in terms of the Star Child’s solution. Indeed, whilst the Star Child is ostensibly of synthetic origins and thus can be assumed to be completely rational it acts in ridiculously irrational ways. I would go on but many people have dissected it better than I ever could and my sentiments echo theirs closely.
Now I wrestled with the ending for a couple days before talking to my friends about it but the conclusion I came to was always the same. I really do hate the ending of Mass Effect 3, not because it’s the ending or because its tragic (indeed I hated the ending of Red Dead Redemption, but it was good because I was grieving for the loss) but because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the Mass Effect universe. Instead of the ending being driven heavily by your choices made throughout the game you’re instead treated to different coloured explosions with 1 of 3 endings based on your choice right at the end. For a universe that managed to incorporate so many of your choices into every aspect of the game this ending feels like it was done absent any thought for the rest of the universe and it really shows.
As a game Mass Effect 3 was almost everything I had come to expect from the series. The combat was fun and engaging with just enough challenge to make sure that I wasn’t powering through the game. The characters were (apart from one) believable and relatable and I felt a real connection with them. Right up until the final couple hours the plot and pacing of Mass Effect 3 was magnificent and it makes me very ashamed to say that the ending just simply didn’t stack up with the rest of the game, and the rest of the series for that matter. Still I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Mass Effect 3, even if the ending left a sour taste in my mouth.
Mass Effect 3 is available on Xbox360, PlayStation 3 and PC right now for $78. $78 and $99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the Xbox360 on the Hard difficulty with around 24 hours of total play time and 80% of the achievements unlocked.