Posts Tagged‘quest’

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning: The Fate of the Fateless

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn’t a game I thought that I would be playing. Out of all my gaming friends only one of them had played it (and didn’t care for it) and I, as always, avoided the hype for it just in case I did end up wanting to play it. However after reading the AMA on Reddit from the writer behind it there seemed to be an awful lot of fans of his work so I figured the title would be worth the look, even if I hadn’t heard of the developers or writer behind it.

Kingdoms of Amalur starts with your unceremonious death on what appears to be a battle field, felled by a race of corrupted immortal elves called the Tuatha. You’re then taken to a mass grave to be dumped and forgotten along with all the other soldiers that have fallen in the war. However despite your apparent death you come back to life shortly after being dumped amongst the dead. It is soon revealed that you were used in part of an experiment to duplicate the immortality of the elves with the mortal races of the world and you are the first one to succeed. Your resurrection also granted you freedom from fate, a power that you’ll make great use of throughout the entire game.

Despite the heavy stylization that Kingdoms of Amalur makes use of the graphics are still heavily dated, being far more appropriate for something like a MMORPG than a single player game. As far as I can tell there are 2 reasons for this: the first being the obvious point that this is a dual release on Xbox and PC and we’re limited by its dated graphics potential. The second is that this particular engine is more than likely going to end up being used for an upcoming MMORPG based in the same universe. I can understand that this makes sense from a business point of view but in comparison to all the other titles that have been released recently Kingdoms of Amalur won’t win any prizes for cutting edge graphics. There are several “ooooh pretty” moments (like the one below) but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

What Kingdoms of Amalur does have going for it though is its unique approach to the traditional elements of a RPG. Whilst it’s a RPG at heart with all the levelling systems, talent trees, loot and so on it’s the unique take on each of these aspects that makes Kingdoms of Amalur stand out from its counterparts.

For the vast majority of RPGs, including Kingdoms of Amalur, you’ll begin by choosing your race and what your character looks like. Usually then you’ll also pick your character class which will determine how you do combat (and various other things) throughout the game. Kingdoms of Amalur has a much more flexible system: you put points into one of three talent trees which determines what kind of class you’ll play as. The 3 trees are your typical archetypes (warrior, rogue, mage) but you can mix and match between them and once you reach a certain number of points in a tree (or several of them) you’ll get a buff that corresponds to your choice. Should you not like the choices you’ve made there’s NPCs who can reset your talents everywhere, an absolute godsend in a game where the freedom to choose your class can have you making some decidedly bad choices early on.

Combat in Kingdoms of Amalur is a strange mix of hack ‘n’ slash mouse mashing with elements of strategy chucked in so the game didn’t get thrown in the same bucket as other titles like God of War. Initially, when you have very few other abilities, you’re pretty much stuck with clicking the left mouse repeatedly and attempting to dodge any incoming blows. As you progress further though your options become much more open, leading you to be able to execute long combos on enemies that end with devastating force. After a while though it gets to the point where the only challenge comes from times when the game deliberately throws multitudes of enemies at you and even that is mitigated by Diablo-esque potion swilling. I think the main issue here is one aspect of the combat that’s simply assumed that you’ll use whenever something difficult comes across: reckoning mode.

As you defeat enemies you’ll fill up the Fate bar, the purple looking one in the screenshot above. When that hits full you can enter Reckoning Mode. What this does is slow down time for everyone else but you and also sends your damage output through the roof, making you nigh on invincible. This doesn’t last forever though, about 30 seconds at my count, but that’s usually enough for you to dispatch most enemies (and bosses) before the timer runs out. Should you not have the fate meter full at a critical point though you’ll have to struggle through the fight, chugging potions and trying to stay alive long enough to fill the bar up. Once you understand this it’s quite easy to judge when you’ll need it but the one fight where I didn’t have it and it was obvious that the encounter was designed to for me to use it there wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience.

What Kingdoms of Amalur does get right is the inventory system. Whilst you don’t have an unlimited inventory with which to stash the incredible amount of loot that drops they have taken out the laborious inventory management that usually plagues RPGs. Your main inventory of potions, usable items, weapons and armor are limited to a certain number of slots. However you have 3 unlimited crafting bags that hold components for you. What this means is you’ll never have to worry about having to clear out your inventory to pick up that reagent and you can keep carrying those reagents with you everywhere. What this means is that you’ll actually want to pursue the crafting options in Kingdoms of Amalur rather than ignoring them and then power levelling them when its worth it.

The crafting system also deserves praise as it’s a worthwhile pursuit in Kingdoms of Amalur. Blacksmithing for instance can break down all the items you pick up into their various components which you can then use to build better armour and weapons for yourself. Alchemy has the awesome mechanic of experimentation where potion recipes can be discovered by randomly mashing ingredients together and seeing what comes out the other end. Sagecrafting, in essence making gems for socketed equipment, has a similar mechanic but you’re able to see the outcome before you commit the ingredients. High levels of blacksmithing allow you to combine gems into your crafted equipment, making it on par with many of the best drops you’ll find whilst questing. Overall I was very pleased with the way the crafting system was implemented, much more than I have been with other RPG/MMORPGs.

Now I have to say that for the first few hours, indeed probably the first 6~8 hours, I was incredibly bored with Kingdoms of Amalur. At the beginning there’s really no feeling of tension, nothing that’s really driving you forward. Your resurrection as the Fateless One has stripped you of your memory and whilst there are several characters that recognise you it’s not until you’re near the end of the main quest that they’ll tell you anything about your past. The open world doesn’t do anything to alleviate this lack of drive either as you’re completely free to ignore the main quest and just simply do whatever the hell you want to. This is one of the times where the possibility of reviewing the game kept me going, that was until after I passed the 8 hour mark.

After that many of the stories that I was following started to develop and began to become interesting rather than just an impediment to me levelling my character. Even some of the side quests, ones that you could simply pass by and never do, had interesting stories to them that spanned over the course of an hour or more. Thankfully the quest log is unlimited so that you can pick up pretty much every quest in sight and then complete them at your own leisure. Doing so would put your total play time somewhere north of 100 hours however, something which I’ve never really done outside of MMORPGs.

So taking that all into consideration how does Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning stack up as a game? It definitely has its fun moments, especially towards the end when you can take out legions of enemies without breaking too much of a sweat. The story, whilst lacking at the start, is incredibly detailed and the multitude of side quests reveals a depth much greater than its appearance would lead you believe. They also got the loot system right as whilst I was drenched in epics and set pieces by the end I still got a thrill every time I saw a purple drop and an even bigger one when it was an upgrade for me. There are however some issues that can’t be overlooked despite the rational explanations for their choices. The graphics aren’t that great even when compared to other stylized games like World of Warcraft. The barrier to the meat of the game is incredibly high, rivalling the lengths of many AAA titles.

Thinking about it more I feel the same way as I do about Skyrim. All the elements of the game work well together, as long as you give them enough time, but the sheer size of the game means that eventually you’ll get to a point where everything starts to feel the same and there’s really no getting passed that. Indeed just as I did in Skyrim before I did in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, I got to a certain point where my character was pretty much unstoppable and then just powered through the main quest line. After that the lack of motivation sets in again since there’s nothing driving you and it’s best to leave the game as is.

With all that in mind however I still feel that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a solid game and I look forward to the upcoming MMORPG version.

Rating: 8.0/10

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is available right now on PC and Xbox360 for $59.99 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on PC on the Hard difficulty with 21 hours of total play time and 39% of the achievements unlocked. If you have any questions about my reviewing process please feel free to leave a comment or consult this guide

 

Star Wars The Old Republic: An Engrossing, Well Polished MMORPG.

I’ve played my fair share of Star Wars games over the years. I can remember playing one on my trusty Nintendo Entertainment System which was just your basic platformer but was still enough to keep me captivated way back then (I was 6 at the time). More recently I indulged in the Jedi Knight Academy series of games which, to their credit, were actually quite fun and had a half decent story about them. I did not however get into Star Wars Galaxies, having heard how atrocious it was. Star Wars: The Old Republic however caught my attention from the get go mostly because BioWare was going to be the one developing it. I’ve always enjoyed their RPGs so it follows that their MMORPGs should be no different. Thus I pre-ordered my collector’s edition from Amazon months ago and I’ve been playing it ever since.

SW:TOR puts you 300 years after the events that occurred in the single player game Knights of the Old Republic which is still some 3,500 years prior to the events that take place in the original Star Wars movies. The Sith have returned in full force, retaking their old home of Korriban and re-establishing their Sith order. You then get to decide which faction to play for, The Republic or The Empire, and your choice will drastically change the story that unfolds before you. For reference I was a Jedi Knight base class and choose the Guardian specialization, putting me as a tank/dps. Your choice of advanced class doesn’t appear to influence the story however, just the archetype role you’ll fill.

Character customization is definitely a step above what I’m normally used to seeing in a MMORPG but is still somewhat lower than what you usually find in traditional RPGs. Most of the choices are from pre-set options so whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll find 2 characters that are completely identical there’s a very good chance you’ll notice someone running around with your face at one point, leading to some rather awkward moments. Still there’s enough variation in both your base character model as well as armour types to ensure that you won’t feel like you’re playing in a clone army.

On first impression the graphics of SW:TOR are nothing to write home about, especially when compared to the stunning visuals of some recent RPGs. Still much like World of Warcraft the stylization that has been used throughout the game means that it doesn’t detract from the experience. Of course, as with any MMORPG, graphics usually have to be stepped down in order to cope with the potential for huge numbers of players to be on screen at any one time. Indeed I’ve experienced some slowdown in the more populated areas (<30 people) but for the most part the graphics are the right balance of pretty and performance.

All that being said however some of the environments that are set up within SW:TOR did trigger my sense of awe. The screenshot above was just the first such example of where I stopped in my tracks and just took in the world for a while. It really did make me feel like I was part of something much greater than myself, something where the scale was far beyond just what was being presented to me at the time. However it would all be just simple eye candy if it weren’t for the story that underpins your entire reason for existing in this vast universe.

Now for most traditional MMORPGs the idea of an over-arching story line usually only goes as far as one particular level bracket. I can remember this quite clearly from my time with World of Warcraft where each area would have its own unique story but the connections between them were either tenuous or non-existent. SW:TOR on the other hand has a series of class quests that are in essence the driver for you to go from one planet to another. They’re far from a simple advancement device though as there are many times when you’ll be whisked away from the known planets on your map to other locations, sometimes for hours at a time.

Indeed SW:TOR could very easily be played as a single player RPG for those who’d like another fix of Star Wars goodness but were turned off by the MMORPG title. Sure there’s no escaping the fact that there’s countless “Kill X enemies” or “Gather Y of Z item” kinds of mission in there but should you not be too concerned with levelling as fast as you can they can be, for the most part, skipped entirely. A good chunk of the missions have some kind of unique mechanic or are broken up by enough cut scenes to make them feel a lot less grindy than their counterparts in other MMORPGs. Indeed there were times when I was playing simply because the story was driving me to, not the urge to get to max level and start gearing my character. I can honestly say I’ve never had that in a MMORPG before.

Levelling is actually quite enjoyable and doesn’t feel like a barrier to the real meat of SW:TOR. Unlike most MMORPGs where getting max level takes months of herculean effort you can easily reach max level in around 3 to 4 days played if you put your mind to it. My trip to max level was decidedly more leisurely but even I was able to knock out a max level character in under a month of play. This again reinforces the idea that SW:TOR would in fact make a great single player game that you could play through and be done with afterwards. That is, of course, how they’ll hook you in but I’ll be damned if it isn’t true.

The space missions also serve as a nice break from the usual tedium of questing. They’re something of a point and click adventure with the camera running along a set path with you being free to move around inside it. Initially they’re a walk in the park, especially for experienced gamers, but as you progress there will be ones that will challenge you. Like most things though you’ll eventually overcome the challenge and you’ll have to wait until you pass a certain level before you get another challenging one, but they’re still refreshing if you’ve been questing endlessly for a couple hours.

Your space ship also functions as a melting pot for you and your companions as well as being your transport between questing areas. I think this is probably why the questing in SW:TOR felt so fluid as each planet has a specific level bracket and could be travelled to with very little hassle. It also meant there weren’t any strange transition areas like there are in other MMORPGs when the designers tried to meld say a vast desert with a dense jungle (think Desolace to Feralas in WoW). It’s also quite nice to have the external camp to interact with your companions as their story lines (and potential romances) are quite interesting in themselves.

The experience however is not exactly trouble free. Shown above are two common glitches that I would routinely encounter, the one on the left moreseo than the right. There are quite a few graphical glitches that crop up from time to time but thankfully none of them too severe and are usually temporary. The second one shown above is a more extreme (but hilarious) example of the camera angles for cut scenes going all whacky and sometimes glitching out you or your NPCs armour. Mostly it would be my cape being stuck in my torso, but there’s also been people missing, voice overs not playing and characters not moving their mouths when talking.

There’s also some issues with lag, but not the ones you’d think. Even though BioWare didn’t release SW:TOR in Australia because of lag concerns I routinely get sub 200ms pings to the server, better even than I got in World of Warcraft (before I started using a tunnel, though). However there were still a few occasions when the server and my client would get out of sync, sending my character into a flurry of stepping forward only to be slingshot back. This would continue for up to 30 seconds at a time making for some rather frustrating moments.

PVP is something of a mixed bag at the moment thanks to the end game version of it still being a work in progress. You can participate in PVP from level 10 and currently everyone is thrown into the same bracket together. Everyone’s stats are boosted up to the highest level participant however so you can be somewhat competitive even when you’re just starting out. There are 3 different scenarios (capture and hold, timed race to the end and, in essence, football) so there’s not a whole lot of variety and it does start to feel repetitive after an hour or so. Still you’ll receive credits, experience and tokens towards PVP gear for participating so it’s well worth doing them, even if PVP doesn’t interest you at all.

The end game PVP appears to be an attempt to copy the ideas that Warhammer: Age of Reckoning brought to the table with Realm vs Realm PVP. There’s one world called Illum that’s basically up for grabs for either side should they want to have it. You can capture it by holding objectives although it’s not entirely clear what you get for doing so. This would be great except that currently open world PVP doesn’t award valor (PVP rank points) and there doesn’t appear to be any kind of bonus for holding Illum. Thus the end game PVP is reduced to people sitting at the objectives long enough to complete their dailies and then leaving, usually not even attempting to engage each other. I won’t complain about the free loot but it does feel somewhat pointless as there’s no reason to be there than for the dailies.

Compared to other recent MMORPG launches Star Wars: The Old Republic really stands out as one where the developers did their homework and worked hard to deliver an experience that was on par with those that were currently on offer. Sure its not as complete or as polished as others are now but for a first release it’s actually quite phenomenal, easily beating the initial release experience I’ve had with nearly all other MMORPGs. There’s still a lot of things where they could improve but overall the current game is more than enough to cement their position as a solid contender and I can see myself continuing to play it for a good couple months after this review.

The question many people ask is though, will this take the crown as MMORPG king away from World of Warcraft? I don’t think it will, but not because of any fault with the game itself. All the other WoW killers out there were fundamentally flawed at launch, usually lacking content or sufficient polish. World of Warcraft is the opiate for the MMORPG masses and the only ones capable of taking it down are Blizzard themselves and indeed it looks like they will with Diablo III and the mysterious Project Titan. SW:TOR however is a strong contender to be second place to them, and not just the distant second that many have been before it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic managed to re-ignite that same sense of passion, wonder and fulfilment that I first felt all those years ago when I made my first tenuous steps into the world of MMORPGs. It really is a wonderful feeling going through a new world for the first time, especially one that’s as rich as SW:TOR. I can’t see myself getting as addicted as I did back in my MMORPG heydays but that’s probably just me getting older more than it is the game being any less addictive. For Star Wars fans, MMORPGers and RPG fans alike SW:TOR is definitely worth checking out, even if you ignore that whole online part.

Rating: 8.75/10

Star Wars: The Old Republic is available right on exclusively on PC for $62 which includes 1 month of game time. Game was played entirely on PC with around 5 days (120 hours) of total play time and reaching the level cap, 50. 

The Elder Scrolls Skyrim: Faas Faal Bah Do Faal Dovakhiin.

This might come as a surprise to some but I never really got into The Elder Scrolls series. Despite their games being around for as long as I’ve been a gamer my first introduction into the series was back in 2006 when Oblivion was released. Even then I didn’t much care for the game, feeling overwhelmed at the amount of choice I had in almost every respect. That and the world was filled with people who seemed to be suffering severe birth defects and the camera zooming up to their faces whenever you interacted with them didn’t do much to alleviate that issue. However upon seeing the trailers for Skyrim I knew I couldn’t write off the series based on my one bad experience, especially if the reactions of my friends were anything to go by.

Skyrim takes place in, funnily enough, Skyrim a section of the larger Tamriel world that has encompassed the entire Elder Scrolls series. You find yourself, much as you did at the start of Oblivion, prisoner on the way to your execution. You’re not alone on this trip however and those accompanying you include Ulfric Stormcloak, one of Skyrim’s jarls, who’s responsible for assassinating the High King of Skyrim as he wants Skyrim to secede from the ruling Empire. Just as you’re about to lose your head however a dragon appears and lays waste to the surrounding town, giving you an opportunity to escape. You are then thrust into the huge world that is Skyrim with but a single quest in your log and the entire world as your playground.

As the screen shots can attest to the world of Skyrim really is something to adore. I’ll admit at first I wasn’t impressed, mostly due to the constant close ups of the opening scenes which never do any favours, but once you’re left to your own devices the amount of detail in the worlds is just staggering. The screen shot above was the first time I found myself stopping mid-quest and just staring for a good minute or two, loving the view as much as I would a similar vista in the real world. It wasn’t the big picture that did it for me, it was all the little things (like my character standing on the slope properly, rather than standing dead straight up) that culminated in a moment that just encompassed me completely.

It’s that attention to detail that really sets Skyrim apart from any other RPG that I’ve played. If they’d just gone and made a beautiful environment that would be one thing, but they’ve also included things like weather simulation, day/night cycles (with a moving sun and proper shadows) and environmental events like the aurora borealis (or australis? Anyone know which hemisphere Skyrim is in?) shown above. What this creates is a world that’s thoroughly immersive as it feels so much more alive than anything else I’ve ever played. Skyrim really does set the bar for all other RPGs that follow it, especially any of them that dare to describe themselves as open world.

The game mechanics contained within Skyrim are so wide and varied that I’ll need an entire paragraph just to introduce them all. Like all games there’s a combat system but depending on how you choose to play your character you’ll either be an in your face warrior (like myself), an archer able to pick of foes with a single shot or a mage adept at slinging spells indefinitely. The levelling system is also quite unique in the fact that it’s not advanced in the traditional way, relying instead on your progression through certain skill traits. The crafting system is also quite in depth with you being able to craft the most powerful items in the game, as long as you know where to look. Then there’s also the unique idea of “shouts”, basically magical powers that are innate to you and can be unlocked through finding hidden words of power and using the souls of dragons to master them.  

Combat in Skyrim is a pretty straightforward affair, at least from the perspective of a 2 hander warrior like myself. Unlike other RPGs there is no skill bar (replaced with a favourites quick menu) and the skills you perform are either straight up equipped, like spells and weapons, or are used through a combination of mouse clicks and keyboard presses, like weapon attacks. At first I struggled with this system as the lack of skill bar meant that every time I wanted to change between say, my 2 handed weapon and healing spells, I had to trudge through 3 levels of menus before I could do so. This was alleviated somewhat when I was told of the favourites menu but it still takes you out of action whilst you make your selection. Perhaps this is just a style preference as I’m much more inclined towards the Dragon Age style of doing things that favours flowing combat, although I will admit that Skyrim’s UI is much less busy which counteracts this somewhat.

This is not to say that the combat isn’t enthralling however, far from it. Much like the first Ogre in Dragon Age was a battle that burns vividly as a memory for anyone who played it your first Dragon in Skyrim is sure to be another experience that everyone who plays Skyrim is sure to remember. Some of the encounters are quite enthralling too, especially when you’ve spent the better part of an hour getting engrossed in the lore that’s been leading up to said fight. My only gripe would be that the combat is somewhat simplistic in its implementation, especially if you shy away from the path of magic.

The levelling system is unique in that it’s far more simplified than its predecessors were. Instead of having the usual spread of Dungeons and Dragons based attributes and skill trees Skyrim instead has you choose one of three attributes to increase on each level (health, magicka  and stamina) as well as giving you a point to spend on a particular skill tree branch. Those branches are directly related to skills in the game such as armour proficiency, crafting skills and combat skills. Levelling up those particular skills is how you progress your character throughout the game so your level is actually kind of arbitrary as you can quickly master certain skill trees but you’ll need to do that more than once in order to progress any further.

This kind of levelling system then makes progression rather uneven especially when you’re power levelling a certain skill. For instance I had had my eyes on the Daedric armour set for quite a while and for crafting skills it doesn’t matter what kind of item you create it will always level you the same amount. Figuring this out I set about making as many leather bracers and iron daggers as I had material for and was able to jump a solid 2 levels in just under 10 minutes. The same can be done with alchemy, enchanting and even with combat skills if you do it correctly. It’s really neither here nor there in terms of affecting game play (I.E. if you need to get a skill point you’re never far off getting it) and is probably more a testament to Skyrim’s open ended play style more than anything else.

The Shouts, whilst realistically being nothing more than another spell in your spell book, are an interesting little aside to the regular magic system in Skyrim. You don’t unlock them by simply reading a spell book (like you can do with every spell in Skyrim, regardless of level) instead you unlock them in a two stage process. First you have to find the words which are scattered throughout the land of Skyrim. Secondly you will need to defeat a dragon in order to unlock the word of power and make it available for use. All shouts have 3 words total and each additional word you unlock in a shout increases its power. There are some unique shouts that will really help you out in certain encounters, especially early on when fighting tougher enemies like dragons and giants.

Crafting in Skyrim is a process that’s sometimes laborious, bordering on MMORPG levels, but the payoffs for doing so are quite significant. As I mentioned earlier the Daedric armour had my eye for quite some time but the investment to get there is quite steep. Not only do you need to get 90 smithing (something I achieved by crafting hundreds of other items) you also need to get some of the rarest ingredients of the game: ebony bars and daedra hearts. This quest which I set myself took me no less than 2 hours to complete even when I knew exactly where I needed to go in order to get everything in order. The same can be said for enchanting an alchemy as the process of levelling them can take quite a while but the end result are items that can break the game completely.

For instance there’s a skill that increases the effectiveness of new enchants by 100%. Combine this with the enchant that reduces the cost of say destruction spells you can actually enchant your armour enough so those spells are free. Couple that with the enchanting perk of being able to enchant any item twice and you can craft a character that is literally indestructible. Whilst I didn’t go down this particular path myself I did end up creating a character that was able to 2 shot dragons with his sword rendering even the toughest encounters almost trivial. I can’t fault Skyrim for this as for almost any RPG you’ll reach a point where your character becomes nigh unstoppable and realistically that’s part of the fun. Still it leaves you wondering whether this was intentional or not, especially considering the ludicrous number of exploits that are present in Skyrim.

Like any Bethesda game Skyrim is littered with bugs, exploits and quirks that can either make or break the game for you. Bethesda has a rule about not fixing the “fun” bugs as they believe they’re part of the game and realistically with a game this expansive it’s hard to judge them with the amount of emergent behaviour that’s possible. Indeed many of the moments I’ve found myself discussing with my friends have been around those times when something hasn’t gone the way you’d expect it. I didn’t encounter too many game breaking bugs though which shows that Bethesda was committed to making the core game stable, even if it was at the cost of dragon skeletons occasionally raining from the sky.

What will get to you after a while however is the repetition. It’s pretty much the same as every RPG gets to be after a while as there’s only so many ways you can dress up a fetch quests before people start to catch on and start avoiding them completely. Indeed many of my friends began suffering Skyrim fatigue just recently, saying that they’d love to play more but were just couldn’t bear themselves to play any more at least for a little while. I felt the same thing too especially with the near endless stream of quests and distractions on the way to said quests. Truth be told there’s probably well over 100 hours of total game play within Skyrim and with the theoretical level cap somewhere at the dizzying heights of 81 I’m sure there’s enough content to get the most intrepid explorer’s there.

What kept me going through those last bits of drudgery was the story. Whilst there’s enough stories in Skyrim to fill several novels the main plot line was by far the most captivating. It’s you’re typical hero out to save the world kind of stuff but the multiple reveals and little details you can glean from being in the right places at the right time make it quite enthralling. Additionally, true to Skyrim’s openness, your decisions about what to do at certain points will shape the story in certain ways. The ending, whilst intensely satisfying in itself, felt a little hollow when you were dropped straight back into the world. Granted I didn’t play for too long afterwards to notice if there were any major changes but after a journey like that I felt like the game either should have ended or changed in some significant way. I won’t put the game down for that though since it’s a personal thing (and I’m not quite sure I’m explaining my feelings well enough here) and games don’t deserve to be punish for that.

I don’t think I’m entirely done with Skyrim either. Just like other games that get their longevity from multi-player I get the feeling that I’ll come back to Skyrim every so often just because there’s so much there left to do. It’s a testament to Bethesda’s skill in creating a single player world that will have play times to rival that of long running multi-player games. Skyrim’s model doesn’t generalize to all kinds of games easily though (would you play a FPS for 40 hours?) but it does show that a game can have some serious longevity based of its single player experience alone.

If a new comer to The Elder Scrolls series like myself can find so much to like about the world of Skyrim then I imagine that long time fans are just as impressed with it as I am. The graphics are amazing, the world is filled with unimaginable detail and the game itself has enough nuances to keep you interested for quite a long time. In typical Bethesda fashion it’s anything but a bug free experience but they’re usually not game breaking and are more a symptom of a system than can have incredible amounts of emergent behaviour rather than lazy developers. If you enjoy savouring your game experience over a long period of time then Skyrim is definitely for you as its one I can see myself playing for months after this review is done.

Rating: 9.25/10

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $59.99, $88 and $88 respectively. Game was played entirely on normal difficulty (I only just found out you could change it) with around 36 hours total played and 48% of the achievements unlocked. Got any questions about the review? Read the guide to reviews here on The Refined Geek or leave me a comment here!

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, A New World Torn From Old.

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.