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Tag Archives: RPG

Reinventing the Wheel to Run Myself Over (and Other Fall Out Boy Song Title references)

Games go stale, it’s not a new thing or something that will ever stop. There are two directions that a game developer can take their waning franchise, revitalizing it with choice gameplay and setting changes, or completely obliterating it with over-the-top overhauls and unnecessary features.

Good Game Goes In, Bad Sequel Comes Out

There have been countless examples of utter failure on development companies and their publishers part. The lure of a sequel often trumps the bad juju associated with trying to out-do their last blockbuster hit, more or less with the same offering. It has happened to many beloved game franchises.

Take the Burnout series for example. Burnout 1, while not the best looking or even the best control wise, was a great game. The challenge of winning a race coupled with surviving an onslaught from 7+ AI all trying to push you into any obstacle they could find was a rush. There was a great boost mechanic which rewarded the player for doing dangerous maneuvers such as driving in the wrong lane, jumping ramps, and slamming into opponents(bonus points for actually making them wreck into a thousand tiny pieces!). The ‘story’ was progressed by means of a radio DJ calling all ‘burners’ to these races and when the player made their name known in an area they were permitted to enter races in other locales, kind of strange but it worked.

Then of course the developer, Criterion(published by Acclaim), decides to make a sequel… and guess what? It wasn’t that bad! It kept the same core mechanic and gnarly crashes while expanding in just the right areas. Namely the graphics, car selection, track selection, and AI learning is what was tweaked. Burnout 2: Point of Impact played like the original and was better in all the right places. Also, there were nearly double the races and challenges as the original… oh yeah.

After these two successes EA games bought the franchise rights from Acclaim but kept Criterion as the developers. Burnout 3: Takedown was in my opinion the best Burnout release. It bumped up the difficulty of the hard modes by adding more traffic and, coupled with the harder tracks and the way better AI, made beating your personal best that much harder. The car selection was great and varied. Game progression made sense even though they ditched the classic radio DJ theme although there was still some form of interaction with a radio personality.The game was getting kind of old but you could never really get over the bad ass crashes and full on action of the races, the series was far from being dead on arrival, or so one would think.

Sugar We’re Going Down

Now, I’ve told you all this because these were examples of how to do it right. It just so happens that the Burnout series had a great run with outstanding titles. That is, until Burnout: Revenge. This game was basically a rehash of Burnout 3, but worse. In the previous 3 titles touching any of the non-racing vehicles resulted in a fiery death, yes just barely grazing them with 1 pixel of your car or pushing the side view mirror of an opponent into traffic was enough to start a crash. On the same hand if you contacted any car after it had been crashed and was not yet despawned off the track it was an instant death as well. Burnout: Takedown changed both of these features. The 4th installment of Burnout allowed the player to ‘Traffic Check’ same-way traffic. Essentially if you were driving in the same direction of a non-racer car you could blast their rear and use them as a weapon against other racers with NO PENALTY WHATSOEVER. There was no slow-down, no damage done to your car, and if you pinballed a wrecked NPC car into an opponent it counted as a special takedown.

This one change in gameplay made almost everything about the game feel cheap. No longer did you have to actually dodge cars, all you had to do was stay in your lane and rear end every mo’ fo’ unlucky enough to be driving through the Autobahn that day. Not only did it not slow you down but Traffic Checking gave you boost! WTF. Of course this made the race mode extremely easy, but it made the crash mode ridiculously easy. In the previous titles one would have to play a level over many times to get the perfect angle and cause the most destruction, often it came down to millisecond timing and amazing reflexes. In Revenge, however, all you had to do was drive around until you were in same-way traffic and start a chain reaction. And the timer just so happened to always give you enough time to get to that same-way traffic lane. If the timer was 90 seconds you better believe it was going to take you 85 seconds to get to your crash zone.

The Burnout series wasn’t just a scene, it was an arms race. An arms race that fell completely short with its 4th title and Burnout Paradise, the open world driver was so far gone from the first game it was unrecognizable. This was one of the few times a demo made me NOT want to buy the full game. In the end things fizzled out, and I predict that the next installment will be crashing, but it certainly won’t be a wave.

Screen of Burnout 1 for Graphics comparison.

Burnout 3: Takedown screen, my favorite of the 5 console games.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calm Before the Storm

I really wanted to get into other games and how they have ruined their franchises, or at least sullied their reputations… but I know I can be and already am very long winded here. I just feel pretty strongly about keeping to your guns when you know what works, and also knowing when to quit or just release some DLC instead of a new potentially bad game. Gears did it, Halo did it, Ghost Recon is also a culprit. Street Fighter, Zelda, Mario, Sonic, hell even PONG has run themselves over with their own game before.

We are on the cusp of a new ‘gaming season’ where more and more information will be released about ‘blockbuster’ games conveniently coming out near December. How are companies going to wow us, and ultimately let us down this year? A new Gears and CoD are likely releasing, along with (maybe) Duke Nukem Forever. Lets just hope we get a polished and well thought out product instead of a hastily released amalgam of old boring features and new bullcrap.

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Posted by on April 11, 2011 in Console

 

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Stacking(Xbox arcade) demo

Title shot, showing the art style and some of the characters.

A game about dolls?! No way, thats lame. A game about RUSSIAN STACKING DOLLS???!!! HELL YES! This quirky title, made by Double Fine , starts out with a oldschool film-style scene with a family of dolls talking to each other through text on the screen. The father figure goes out and some time later a Baron comes to the home to take the children to ‘work off their debt’. It turns out they were tricked and kidnapped. You are Charlie Blackmore the smallest child, who was left with the mother and you set out on an adventure to save your family.

A short ride on the rails with Levi the hobo takes you to the “Coalition of the Unwilling” where slaves and children, and children slaves, are shoveling coal. The main quest starts out with getting the Train Guild to end the strike. After you enter the train station you are introduced to the main mechanic of the game. STACKING! It is pretty cool. You literally enter the body of a doll 1 size bigger.

Each doll has an ability such as “Sip Tea” or “Rancid Belch”. Some of these abilities seem to not be useful but I am sure at later points in the game they are used in puzzles.

The main game mechanism, children control adults!

After doppleganging the keymaster and unlocking the main gate you make your way into a promenade… yeah I said promenade… the game is set in some weird upscale euro style time so get over it. You can literally spend an hour just stacking around in this large room. The puzzle for this next part of the quest involves getting everyone kicked out of a bar so the Train Guild can do their work, or something or other.

There are multiple solutions for every puzzle. The one I chose was to take over some hotty doll and seduce the guard, then hop in the guard and go into the bar. Once in the bar I hopped out and freaked everyone out because I was an ‘uninvited guest’. After this was complete all it took to end the strike was to stack up the members of the Train Guild and move them to the train floor, this freed your brother.The next task was to find the whereabouts of your sister.

The collections area is cobbled together by Levi the hobo, which shows you your progress on dolls stacked and what items you have acquired. There is also a sub menu that allows you to read bios on every doll you encounter. It is a little sad that you can only get 17/18 of the unique dolls in the demo area because the 18th requires a 4th stack size, only available in the 2nd and beyond levels.

I highly recommend this title, it oozes style and is fun for the whole family. Also getting all of the little achievements and multiple solutions for all the puzzles is a real blast. Even the multiple solutions have multiple solutions so there is replay value there for a while. And for 1200 MS points it isn’t bad, considering MW2 got the same amount from us for 3 maps at a time.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Dragon Age 2 demo review

I am stepping into this experience without ever having played any of the previous games in this series, so bare with me. Having said that, let it be known that I am a huge RPG fan. There’s nothing this guy doesn’t like more than some sword and board action. Well, I am more of a arching/stealthing kind of guy but you get the point.

After a 40 minute download of the 1.98 gig file I started it up, eager to get crackin skulls.

Ooooh, blood!

The game is developed by Bioware, a company that I am already familiar with as a fan of the Mass Effect series, and a follower of Star Wars The Old Republic(their upcoming mmo). I was rather surprised when I had to accept a ToS and another form at the main menu, apparently there is a setting enabled to give gameplay feedback, which EA will use to tweak the final release. Cool? So after looking through the settings and upping the brightness I started a play through.

You are immediately asked to pick 1 of 6(3) characters, a mage, warrior, or rogue, each have a male or female version. I ended up picking a male mage as it was the first one on the left. After a brief cutscene with a dwarf being man handled by a very scary she-beast you are thrown into a combat tutorial.

For the mage attacking takes the form of pressing buttons that are assigned to spells. A is a normal attack which can be ranged and when in melee distance is a magic imbued staff-hit. X is an ice spell which hits more than 1 foe, Y brings up the targeting mode for Fireball… this feature stops time and allows you a chance to see the action from a higher angle and aim the spell. B was Mind Blast, a sort of knockdown which also lowered aggro on the caster.
The conversation system has a small dial at the bottom with choices, not new to Bioware games. The center of the circle shows you whether your choice is good, neutral, or evil. This is handy if you can’t grasp the nuance of a situation.

When I leveled up I found that there are several stats to allocate points into, like all games with this system some are not suited for all classes. Mages should generally stay away from strength and Warriors intellect etc. Yet some stats, such as magic, have secondary effects like lowered magic damage incurred. This could be useful for hybrid specs. Along with the stat allocations I was directed to the skill tree, or more like a skill map. There were 6 seperate ‘roads’ for the mage, each having to do with a particular school of magic: Elemental, Primal, Entropy, Creation, Arcane, and Spirit.

To briefly detail each of the 3 available schools I will give an example spell/skill, there really are a lot… about 10 for each. The other 3 are locked as ‘level 99’ just so there is still some mystery to the game on purchase.

Creation: Glyph of Paralysis. The mage inscribes a glyph on the ground that paralyzes foes who cross its bounds. At level 1 paralyzes 1 enemy within 6m of cast for 4 seconds, the AoE lasts on the ground for 20 seconds, or until an enemy uses up its charges, it gains more charge and more effect as it is leveled.

Arcane: Elemental Weapons. (Aura, locks 20% of mages mana while active) While this spell is active, the caster’s staff channels its base elemental power across the entire party, enchanting the weapons of allies to give them additional damage.

Elemental: Improved Winter’s Blast. Winter’s Blast is now likely to freeze opponents and may leave some in a brittle state that warriors or rogues can exploit.

So as you can see there are several possibilities within the class building system, and hybrid builds are not only encouraged but it is highly likely they are essential.

Warrior Skill Roads

For your party members you can set tactics, or how you want them to automate themselves. There were several ‘settings’ that you could choose, like Damage or Healer. So if you were taking more damage than you would like just set the mage in your party to his healing role and he will cast the spells from that role. It works in a Target:Condition:Action manner, here are some examples:

Self:Surrounded by 2+ enemies:Cast Mind Blast

Enemy:Cluster of 2+enemies:Cast Fireball

You can essentially build your party exactly how you like, because you control their level up points, their skills, and even how they use these skills. The party members have slightly different skill roads to differentiate them from the main character and give each its own flavor. Overall it all seemed very fluid.

Pressing the right and left bumpers toggles you through your party members, so you can live vicariously through them and try out different classes while not actually BEING one. This is something I have not encountered before, and was useful for saving low health allies by choosing them and then kiting mobs around.

The demo is played out through a Fable-like linear area, with only 1 real path. Mobs kind of just trickle down the path towards your party, never really overwhelming you. Midway through Bethany, your sister and one of your party members, is brutally murdered by a boss mob. The mob picks her up and bashes her against the ground several times, causing blood to spill out of her mouth and chest. I was really pissed off at this because I had just given her the heal spell!

 

Bethany, just before her untimely death.

Shortly after this encounter you fight another horde of mobs until a dragon interferes and blasts them all to hell. A cutscene follows with Flemeth, who just turned from a dragon to a snarky witch, asking you to help her if she helps you. Imagine that! She trusts you with a quest to deliver an amulet to some elves. And at the end of this conversation one of your party members is afflicted with the corruption and you have to choose who kills him, his wife or the player… presumably this will decide how the rest of some story line goes. It is quite a sad scene, even though minutes before the dying character was inches from killing you and your party.

Apparently the witch takes you on a boat to Kirkwell, a big city area, where you meet Isabella who asks you to watch here back in a duel, which turns into an all out free for all after the gang is ambushes. In the time that has passed your allies and yourself have gained attributes and skills, and a new dwarf archer(who is actually narrating the story) is added to your party. Isabella brings on her own problems, she has wronged Castillon, a big wig in the slaving community and his minions want her head, also she wants your member bad. Your group easily dispatches 10 or so of them, though the archer has a hard time living through encounters with such low health… it is best to have him stay in the back and cast AoEs.

This is where the demo ends, it is pretty short for such a large file. I got a good grasp on all the classes from one playthru as it let me physically control each of the 3 character types. There were tons of features that will be present in the retail version that were locked in the demo, the inventory, over half of the skills, certain dialogue. All of this adds up to more suspense than just letting everything out in the open.

This will be a great addition to the Dragon Age series, and makes me want to go back from the beginning to actually see how much new content/UI etc is in this game. I probably should have done that before writing this review but oh well, deal with it.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2011 in Console

 

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Rift Open Beta impressions.

Rift

Cool logo huh?

The upcoming MMO Rift(releases Thursday Feb 24th) has been in closed beta for quite some time. This past week I got a chance to go hands on in the 7th and final beta event. The setting is Telara and players are charged with cleansing the land of ‘Planar’ beings that are attempting to rip through space-time and mallet everyone in the face. In between questing and Player v. Player combat ‘Rifts’ open up and various elemental beings are spewed across the map causing a ruckus and generally misbehaving.

The game is developed by Trion, a US based company that is also developing a SyFy Action MMO which will be linked with a show on the SyFy network. Interesting. They really have done a great job and I’m sad to say that I haven’t heard of them before Rift.

Let there be dwarf.

The character creation is fairly standard. Players are asked to choose a faction and then get a choice from 1 of 3 faction specific races, for a total of 6 races. The two sides fighting for control of Telara are the Defiant and the Guardians. The Guardians are chosen by the gods, an angel literally picks you up out of a pile of dead bodies in the opening sequence and rebirths you as the chosen one*, to purge the sins of the world and to right the wrongs that caused the planar tear. The Defiant, on the other hand, care not about the gods. They believe that the gods have abandoned Telera and really don’t care. They aren’t waiting around for some spaghetti monster to pull them out of the heap and tell them what to do, nor do they care to increase the morality of the general public. You could say there is a good and an evil side, but whichever side a player chooses will inherently be the good one to them.

*Somehow all of the 5,000 people playing on one server are the chosen one

The races are High Elf, Human, and Dwarf for the Guardians and Kelari, Ethian, and Bahmi for the Defiant. It is pretty basic that the ‘goodly’ side be more human-esque and the ‘sinister’ side manifest in a more deformed or demonic manner. Each race comes with 3 racial abilities that include a bonus to a certain stat, the ability to fall larger distances, or a resist to a school of magic. So, this means that some class/race combos will just be better than others because of the starting bonus to X stat or Y ability.

Once a race has been picked the player is prompted to choose a name and face for their avatar. The options present were numerous. You could choose the normal stuff- hair style/color, facial preset, tattoos/markings, but the cool thing was there were a lot of options available for each slider. So many in fact that I was a bit overwhelmed and just hit random a couple times til I was satisfied.

After personalizing your brand new character you are then to choose a class. This is where things get interesting. There are 4 basic classes in Rift and each has its normal characteristics. Mages deal in magic damage or healing, Clerics are melee users with magical overtones, Rogues use stealth and guile to quickly dispatch foes, and Warriors charge into battle with brute force and a giant axe. Sounds boring? Well Trion probably thought so too, so they introduced the soul system. Each class has 8 souls from which to choose. They run the gamut from high damage and low survivability to nearly immortal support classes with very little in the ways of pew-pew.

My hands-on, or How my life descended into nerditude in 6 short days.

I chose to play on a PvP(player versus player) server as I had never experienced that in any of my previous MMOs. Following suit with my ‘change-it-up’ decision I rolled a Guardian Dwarf Mage. After having my body picked out of thousands to be reborn(oddly enough I was a human and when I was reborn magically became a dwarf), I was shot thru the tutorial which taught me how to talk to NPCs and accept quests and open my inventory. So if this is your first MMO, or hell even your first computer application you will not be left in the dark as long as you follow the determined route. That said there were a fair few people who missed crucial points in the first 1-5 levels and were essentially crippled until they went back to the start area and completed the objectives.

I was made to chose a soul within the first 5 minutes of gameplay so out of the choices for mage (Pyromancer, Chloromancer, Necromancer, Warlock, Dominator, Archon, Elementalist, and Stormcaller) I chose Warlock, since I was fairly familiar with that term from WoW. You are allowed to chose 3 souls, and can switch from build to build on the fly so long as you have bought extra build ‘slots’ from your class trainer. This is VERY nice because you can essentially have any character you want from the 8 souls available. Making a healing character no longer delegates you to watching health bars for your entire career, you can just switch to a damage or tanking role and do what you need to do.

The start area was pretty basic. Quests include go here, talk to him/her… or Retrieve/deposit x… or Destroy this world object to free slaves. Within 80 or 90 minutes I was getting to big for my breeches and close to level 10 so I decided to move on up to the second zone. By now I had chosen my 2nd soul(necromancer) and was able to place skill points from leveling up into both of my soul trees. Shortly after arriving in the town of the lowbie zone I got a quest for my 3rd soul, I’m not quite sure if release will handle this the same way or if they will spread out the souls more because it *did* seem a bit fast.

The second zone, Silverwood, was where I spent most of my time. It had quests out the wazoo and was the first area to encounter the rifts. And let me tell you there were tons of them. About every hour 15-40 rifts or invasions would pop up on the map and if they weren’t dealt with they could really put a damper on questing (read: kill/camp quest NPCs). Luckily there were a ton of higher level chaps running about quelling the elemental armies. The rifts themselves were amazing XP and they had drops as well. The normal drops from them were a form of currency that was non-player tradable and could be redeemed at NPCs for phat lewts. Purples at level 15? Yes please… and they weren’t welfare epics either you had to close a good bit of rifts to get the goodies. Some of the rifts were soloable but randomly they would spit out an elite mob- or 10, and you basically had to group up for them.

Grouping was made easy by public group system. Any time you were near someone who was able to join a public group a bar at the top of the screen popped up asking you to join, and it auto made raids for larger encounters. I spent a good deal of time running around with the same 40 or so people closing rifts and stopping invasions. This made for a really epic experience because giant treants or elemental generals were running amok and the only way to stop it was to band together in a makeshift army and fight back.

Midway through the beta I decided I wanted to see what the instance system was like. Getting a group turned out to be a bit more of a chore than I thought, but not because of the system, because everyone… EVERYONE had rolled a dps character. I did an easy quest (clear a rift and use an item to summon a soul, then defeat said soul) to get another soul for my build. This brought me up to 4 souls, Warlock(Dots, direct dmg) Necromancer(Pet class, mana/life swapping), Archon(support, buff/debuff), and Chloromancer(Healing thru damage, life spells). So I bought another build slot and happily had a Warlock/Necro/Archon (0 points in archon, kinda useless for low level) and Chloromancer/Warlock/Archon(again 0 points in archon, sadface).

This is when I fell in love with the game. The Chloromancer is a healing class, yes. But it uses damage to do the healing. It does 80-200% of its damage as heals to the entire party. This is simply amazing. The reason I hadn’t healed before was because I thought it boring and 1 sided. This was a really dynamic class that had castable heals as well as a slew of damaging abilities that kept everyone in the group/raid up. I instantly got groups for both of the 2 instances available for my level and had no trouble clearing them multiple times. The chloromancer really is a great class, check out this mainstay spell… it’s basically free healing and can be buffed to be 30% chance(as well as having another spell that increases its chance by 5% per second it is channeled).

Pee Vee Pee

After toying around with the dungeons I decided I wanted to get my hands dirty with the blood of the Defiant. Not that I particularly don’t like those chaps it was just the nature of the game. Like I said I had joined a PvP server, where anyone was allowed to attack anyone ever. This ruleset suits some people more than others, and I am not one of them. I found it pretty frustrating to have my body camped by a level 42(max in beta) while I was a level 11. Some people just like to do stuff like that, so if you DON’T want to encounter that frustration join a PvE, or ‘carebear’ server… /laugh.

The actual PvP (instanced battlegrounds, sort of like CTF from a xbox console game) was a great deal of fun. It pitted 2 evenly matched groups on each other and had them duke it out. At beta there were 2 iterations of this system, one was a ‘hold the artifact’ type game where the object was to keep the artifact from the opposing team. The holder of the artifact would take damage from the artifact itself, so no one player could really hold it the entire match. The other type of battleground was a King of the Hill type deal where there were 4 plots and teams gained points every few seconds based on the number of plots controlled by their faction.

I was thrilled to see that both my builds fared very well in the PvP, even though I had not chosen talents that increased my health or other useful PvP talents. Min/maxing at top levels this probably wont fly but if you are just leveling up and want to knock some heads you wont have to change your spec every time. Warlock PvP was intense. I just flipped from target to target unleashing my arsenal of instant cast DoTs and occasionally casting a bolt spell for direct damage. It usually ended with myself in the top 4-5 spots for damage given but I generally didnt net that many killing blows.

Chloromancer, on the other hand was the supreme healing class to end all healing classes in pvp… so long as there was an enemy in reach to deal damage to. I rarely wasnt top on the heals done, or the damage taken for the battleground. Which is amazing because I could pretty much solo heal myself and 9 other players without even trying. It got iffy if there were 3+ people attacking any one person because Chloromancer just doesn’t do burst heals that can deal with that kind of incoming damage.

Excited for Release

Overall I would have to rate Rift an 8.5/10. It reminded me a ton of Pre-BC WoW, which I know many of you will like. I deliberately tried to not compare it to World of Warcraft but it was impossible. As a player and raider from way back when I saw a lot of the things that made WoW a good game and nearly none of its downfalls. Things so trivial as Soul Walk, being able to resurrect directly at your dead body once per hour, or having all of your party members be teleported to an instance when 1 of the members actually enters the instance make the game faster paced and more enjoyable. Not to mention that nearly every class can heal/dps/tank given the right spec(mages have no tank spec, warriors have no healing spec, but why should they… rogues have a tanking, dps, and healing spec and clerics have a dps, healing, and tanking spec). Rift is a great game, and had a great beta. Gogo preorder for early release/opening of the servers.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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