I’ve never been much of a fan of city building and strategy games. I mean sure I grew up playing games like Sim City and Age of Empires much like the rest of my generation and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them, but as time as went on I found myself playing less and less of them, instead favouring other genres. I think this is due to the somewhat slower game play style, one that favours a decisive methodical approach that’s usually at odds with my “just entertain me” thought pattern. Still Anno 2070 managed to catch my eye with its curious blend of city building and real time strategy, something I hadn’t really come across before.
Anno 2070 puts you far into the future where the polar ice caps have melted, flooding the entire world. Because of this the world has united under one singular government with three distinct factions. The first is the Tycoons, a capitalistic consortium that look to rebuild the world as fast as possible regardless of the consequences. The second is the Ecos, an environmental movement who share the same goal as the Tycoons but favour sustainable approaches over expansion at any cost. Finally there’s the Techs, in essence a group of scientists who develop much of the technologies that power both the Tycoon’s and Eco’s economies. You are put in charge of an Ark, an advanced submersible craft that’s capable of restarting civilization on the uninhabited islands of the world. Anno 2070 follows your adventures as you rebuild civilization and do battle with the various problems that cross your path.
The graphics of Anno 2070 are visually pleasing to say the least, providing a level of eye candy that I haven’t seen in this genre before. Much of this owes to the soft glow that seems to surround everything, giving a soft blur that makes the graphics appear much better than they actually are. The camera work done for the cut scenes in Anno 2070 is also quite good with many scenes having a distinct movie feel to them. As an added bonus all this doesn’t seem to put too much strain on my gaming rig as even when I had hundreds of buildings on screen the game was still buttery smooth, something that the developers behind Anno 2070 get a lot of brownie points for.
However Anno 2070 falls into the lazy trap of nothing bothering to do any kind of lip syncing at all, not even for the voice acted parts. This really irks me as it’s not exactly a hard thing to do and Anno 2070 just doesn’t even bother, the characters just randomly flap their mouths while the sound bite plays. You may think this is being overly harsh but I watched my friends almost a decade ago accomplish near perfect lip syncing when they were doing a 3D animation course. When a game doesn’t bother to do this I can’t help but feel they had lazy animators, especially when there’s not that much more animation in the rest of the game. The voice acting, whilst passable, doesn’t really help matters here either.
As I alluded to earlier Anno 2070 is a curious blend of Sim City/Civilization city building style mechanics coupled with elements of real time strategy. The campaign missions serve as a good introduction to these mechanics, introducing each of them slowly so you can get a feel for them, and after the first couple missions I had a pretty good grasp on what I needed to do. The two different genres are heavily intertwined, as I’ll explain below.
The first part is the city building. You start off by dropping a warehouse on an island which gives you an area to construct non-residential buildings in. After that you can then drop a community centre which allows you to build homes for people to live in. These people have needs which take the form of food, drink, community and so on. Should you satisfy all their needs the buildings will then upgrade to the next level of citizen, one that has more nuanced needs but also generates more income for you. There are 4 distinct levels for each race and each level brings with it new buildings that are bigger and better than their previous ones.
However you’ll never be able to find everything you need to get to the highest levels by using just one island. All of the islands have natural resources on them that can be exploited but its guaranteed that one island won’t have everything you need. That’s when ships and trading routes come in, you can use them to ferry resources between islands. At the same time you’ll probably want to expand your population there, because otherwise you won’t be able to pay the upkeep on the ships. Of course those people have needs to, which the island probably doesn’t have, so you’ll have to use those same ships to start ferrying resources to them as well.
It’s really quite incredible how much effort you have to put in to make sure everything stays balanced so that you don’t run out of money or that you residents leave you. In the one multiplayer game I had with a mate of mine it was an intense 4 hour session of bouncing between islands ensuring that all the needs were met, ultimately unraveling before me as I underestimated just how costly satisfying the highest level resident’s desires would be. We didn’t even get to the other part of the game, the real time strategy component.
Whilst the main focus of Anno 2070 is the city building the RTS side of it is just as important if you’re looking to win. Whilst its not as complex or nuanced as say StarCraft II it can’t be ignored either as one combat ship can make you life rather painful if left unchecked. The final missions of the campaign focus heavily on this and whilst you won’t be spending all your time focusing on the combat it’s still enough to break up the monotony of constantly balancing the needs of your populace with the costs of doing so.
On top of all of this is the ancillary activities which can change the way you play your game. There’s regular votes for the world council with the outcome granting certain bonuses. A World Event is always happening that will reward players who complete it based on the number of people who participated in it and there are Current Events that can be completed for rewards from certain factions. For someone who’s a fan of the Anno series or just this instalment this kind of thing would be a veritable gold mine of additional content, further extending the replay value of Anno 2070.
Anno 2070 represents an interesting fusion of genres that you don’t usually see coming together and manages to pull it off surprisingly well. With the pleasing graphics, intricate game play and wealth of content Anno 2070 is definitely one of those games that won’t disappoint traditional PC gamers. The experience isn’t perfect however, what with the terrible lip syncing and ridiculously long play times for multiplayer games. Still for the price I paid I’d consider it a winner and I can see it being busted out at LANs for those looking for a Civ style fix without the minimum 8 hour time commitment.
Anno 2070 is available right now on PC for $20.99 (or $90 on Steam). Game was played entirely on the PC with around 16 hours of single player and 4 hours of multiplayer.
I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to playing games in sequence. If a game comes out that has a sequel I’ll usually have to play the original first before playing any of the others, unless it’s a strategy game or something where the plot isn’t as important. It can be a real chore sometimes when the games preceding the current release have excessive amounts of play time (I’m looking at you, aptly named The Longest Journey) but I figure that should the sequel be any good than so should the original. The Witcher 2 then comes in as one of the few games where I’ve broken this rule, having not played the original game but after many recommendations I decided to give it go. What followed was definitely one of the more interesting RPG experiences I had and confirmation that my general rule for playing games in sequence is the right way to go.
You play as Geralt of Rivia, a “Witcher” which is a person who was extensively experimented on by wizards and sorceresses as a child. As such he has vivid yellow eyes and the ability to cast Signs which are in essence just spells. From what I can gather the original Witcher started off with Geralt completely losing his memory, thus forcing him to relearn all his training once again. This gives people like me a rather interesting in for being able to play the sequel without playing the first since Geralt is still recovering fragments of his memory as the game progresses. Still there are enough characters who appear to know Geralt solely from his exploits in the first game to make it look like playing the original would be worth it, even if they’re inconsequential to the overall plot.
Graphically the game is quite impressive. In fact this was the first game to bring my machine to its knees after turning everything to its absolute maximum, no small feat considering Crysis 2 barely made it break a sweat on the same level. However after re-tweaking the settings and jumping back into the game it wasn’t different visually so I have to assume that the one setting that said “only for high end machines” is actually just a poorly coded feature. Still the game does have some fantastically lush environments ranging from sprawling cities to deep, dark forests all of which are done exceptionally well.
The Witcher 2 is also completely voice acted with every character in the game having a range of dialogue lines. Encounters like the one above have sprawling dialogue trees enabling you to craft Geralt’s demeanour as you see fit. The voice acting is somewhat lacklustre with Geralt’s gravely voice being delivered in a constant monotone and many of the other characters echoing his performance. The idle chatter of non-plot NPCs is unfortunately quite limited often repeating the same lines in response to the same trigger event like when Geralt enters the area. For the most part you can ignore it though except when one obnoxious NPC keeps shouting “Bite his balls!” every 20 seconds.
Combat in The Witcher 2 starts off being extremely tedious as the game relies quite heavily on knowledge attained from the original game. This coupled with a lack of tutorials (lest you have to dive through the in game manual to find what you’re looking for) and incredibly difficult first encounters serves to make the opening scenes of The Witcher 2 rather tiresome rather that enjoyable. Indeed I never found myself playing much longer than an hour or so to begin with specifically because combat was such a chore. Talking over with my friends this doesn’t appear to be an isolated experience although apparently certain unbalanced abilities (Quen) make quite a lot of the game trivial. That’s all well and good but I wanted to play a particular play style (mage path) and using that ability precluded the use of the talents I had heavily invested in. It did get much better towards the end however as Geralt’s abilities became incredibly powerful, able to dispatch legions of enemies before running out of vigor.
Other aspects of the game had me searching for quite a while to figure out how to accomplish certain tasks. The two sword mechanic, steel for humans and silver for monsters, was only revealed after discussing the topic with friends (Of course I hadn’t noticed that the combat log was telling me this the whole time). Crafting is also a bit of a strange beast with Geralt being able to craft his own potions but not anything else, requiring the help of NPCs to craft everything else. There’s also no real indication of what items are useful and which aren’t, leading to your inventory being filled with all sorts of miscellanea that may or may not be helpful for you. I ended up installing a weight reduction mod so that all the crafting crap didn’t weigh anything, making crafting actually worth pursuing rather than a total crapshoot.
The various mini-games in The Witcher 2 serve as something to break up the long quests that the game sends you on as well as functioning as an unlimited money supply. Most of them are quite easy (like arm wrestling and the fist fights) but the dice poker game, since it involves a lot of chance, ends up being a lot more difficult. They seem to be a necessary evil as many items in the game are simply unattainable with the amount of orens you loot or are rewarded with during your stay in the game. Sure most of the best items in the game are crafted but even those require a pretty hefty orens investment, and you’d be struggling to get the required sum without playing numerous mini-games.
The Witcher 2 also takes the crown as being one of the most liberal games when it comes to Geralt getting down with the fairer sex. The opening scenes have him caressing his (naked) main love interest Triss Merigold for a good couple minutes before the plot gets underway. After that point there’s no less than 4 times when women (and demons) will throw themselves at you or, for a few orens, cheerfully take you to their bed. However, apart from some brief interludes with Triss, none of the romping really leads anywhere and for some reason Triss doesn’t seem to care how many women you get with. It then seems that sex is treated more as a reward rather than something meaningful which is unfortunate but is nothing out of the ordinary.
Where The Witcher 2 does shine though is in its action scenes. Whilst the boss fights are few and far between they are all rather intense encounters keeping your heart racing and your gaze fixed on the screen as you do battle with some really fantastical foes. There’s also many 300 inspired slow motion action scenes which whilst cheesy are pretty cool to watch. A few are also quick time events and whilst not entirely difficult (I never failed single one) they are enough to keep you from breaking immersion when an in game cut scene is playing through.
The story of The Witcher 2 is servicable but unlike other chapter based RPGs like Dragon Age 2 it does have some semblance of an over-arching goal to keep you driven throughout the entire game. I’ll be honest though at the start it’s slow going especially when the all other aspects of the game add endless amounts of tedium. Still Chapter 2 felt quite well paced (I chose Iorveth’s path) and whilst Chapter 3 was incredibly short in comparison it also felt a lot better than Chapter 1 did. The ending however was a total cock tease, foreboding to a big battle that is about to come but abruptly cutting you off before you have the chance to join it. For fans of the game this at least means they’ve got The Witcher 3 to look forward to, but I’ll never forgive games that leave plots so open like that.
Throughout The Witcher 2 I couldn’t shake the feeling that my whole experience of the game would’ve been a whole lot better had I played through its predecessor. Honestly the only reason I didn’t was because of Yahtzee’s rather scathing review of it since I hadn’t heard anything else about it (which is an oddity for me). Still on its own The Witcher 2 is a decent game and I could see myself coming back to it during a game draught to play through Roche’s path just so I could get the complete experience. If you’re a fan of the RPG genre The Witcher 2 won’t be a disappointment to you however if you’re like me and haven’t played the original I’d strongly recommend doing so as otherwise you’ll end up like me wondering why certain things are the way they are and forever googling basics of the game that its developers have assumed you already know.
The Witcher 2 is available on PC and Xbox360 right now for $79.99 and $89.00 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Easy difficulty with around 24 hours of total game time on a single play through.
I’ve played my fair share of MMORPGs since my first introduction to this genre way back in 2004. After falling from the dizzying heights that I scaled within World of Warcraft I set about playing my way through several similar games only to either find them half done, unplayable or have their community boil down to just the hardcore in little over a month. There are only two MMORPGs that I’ve ever gone back to after an extended period of absence: World of Warcraft and EVE online. Both had characteristics that begged me to come back after I had left them for good and both have continued to reinvent themselves over the course of their long lifetimes. Today I want to take you through World of Warcraft’s latest revision, the Cataclysm expansion.
This expansion signals the return of Deathwing, one of the dragon aspects of Azeroth who’s first appearance in Blizzard’s Warcraft line of games dates all the way back to Warcraft 2: Beyond the Dark Portal. His emergence from the depths of Deepholm have torn the world asunder, laying waste to much of the original world and changing the landscape of Azeroth permanently. This expansion differs significantly from the previous 2 in that it did not add a whole new world, it reinvented the old whilst adding a few new zones. This allowed the developers the opportunity to redo the entire old world in order to make the 0-60 levelling experience more fluid as well as allowing everyone the opportunity to use their flying mounts in the old world. This is in addition to the complete overhaul of every class, 2 new races, a dozen new dungeons, 4 new raid encounters, a new secondary profession, rework of the stat system and an overhaul of the badge based reward system.
I had a few choices when it came to exploring this new old world that Blizzard had set before me. Reports from friends told me the levelling experience was quite nice and the new starting zones were of similar quality to that of the Death Knight area, long praised for its intensely immersive experience. Still I had 2 level 80 characters ready, willing and able to experience the new content right away and logging onto one of them I was instantly greeted by some of my long time World of Warcraft buddies. The decision to level my 80 Shaman had been made for me before I knew it and I set about blasting my way to 85.
The first thing I noticed was the vast improvements to the game experience that Blizzard have added since the last time I played. First there’s a quest helper that not only tracks all your quests it also points you in the right direction and marks out an area for you to find the mobs or items required to complete it. Additionally the character panel has seen a significant revamp with many of the stats now providing insight into what they mean, like the amount of hit required to not miss a certain level target. There’s also lots of tiny little additions that make the game experience just that much better, like the little icon that hovers above your head when you get 5 stacks of Maelstrom Weapon as a shaman something which required a whole other mod to achieve. The revamped raid/party bar is also quite good and a testament to how necessary the Grid mod was before Blizzard rolled their own. There are still a few things missing that I still consider necessary like a damage meter and a loot browser but overall Blizzard has shown just how closely they watch the community and listen to what their needs are so that they can include those things into the main game.
The levelling experience from 80 to 85 was incredibly enjoyable, probably the best experience I’ve had out of any of the previous releases. I was never lost for somewhere to quest as part of my usual trips back to Ogrimmar there would always be a quest on the Warchief’s board that would send me to a level appropriate area. Whilst this has left me with a couple areas left uncompleted (like Vashj’ir and Uldum) it did mean that I didn’t spend time on lower level quests that yield significantly lower experience. The usual line is that the levelling time from 80 to 85 was supposed to be the same as 70 to 80 but I found that it was significantly less, probably about half or so. I think this can be attributed to the random dungeon system they added in a while back with the added bonus that instead of having to do long quest chains to get those juicy dungeon quests nearly all dungeons have quest givers right at the start.
Like any of the Blizzard titles what really got me was the depth and breadth of the lore behind each of the areas. Whilst many of the quests are you’re standard kill X of those, gather Y of these type of encounters there are quite a few that really bring you into the world that Blizzard has created. The screenshot above is from one such encounter where after leading a band of goblins up the hill I’ve finally met with Alexstrasza who soon after takes me on a direct assault against Deathwing himself. There’s also extensive use of the phasing¹ technique giving you that feeling of being the hero of the world, even though you’re in a world of heroes. This lead me to follow many long quest chains to their completion as I just had to know what happened next, spending hours battling various foes and gobbling up the quest text at every opportunity.
The end game has improved significantly as well. Back in Ulduar Blizzard began experimenting with teleporters that would take you a fair way to the part of the instance you wanted to be at. They continued this in Icecrown Citadel and they have made their way into every instance I’ve played thus far. The instances themselves are also quite entertaining with new boss mechanics and some instances even having in game cinematics. Sure you’re over them once you’ve seen them for the 5th time but it’s a nice touch and goes a long way to revamp the old dungeon grind.
I’ve spent the last month playing through the level 80 to 85 content and I’m still not lost for new things to do in Cataclysm. It seems every other day I find myself in a new dungeon I hadn’t yet done or a new section of a quest area I hadn’t yet discovered and that’s just what keeps me coming back day after day. I’ve still yet to dive into the revamped old world in the form of levelling a new character but from reports I’m hearing from both long time veterans and first time players the experience is as enjoyable as my level 80 to 85 experience. So for those of you thinking about reactivating your old account or for anyone who’s had the slightest inclination to play World of Warcraft you won’t go wrong by starting now in the new world that was torn asunder in Cataclysm.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is available right now on PC for$39.95. Game was played over the course of the last month on the Oceanic Dreadmaul server as a Enhancement Shaman.
¹Phasing, in World of Warcraft, is when part of a world is in a sense instanced. This allows them to show a different world to different players which is usually used to show the effect of a quest on the world around you. The example given is that if you get 10 wooden planks to repair someone’s house it will in fact be repaired. However anyone who hasn’t yet done that quest will see that house as still damaged.