Mechwarrior Online: Closed Beta Impressions

When I was growing up, a friend and I were really big into a board game called Mechwarrior. Essentially, it pitted huge robots against each other until one side one. It was a lot like Dungeons and Dragons – in the sense that you rolled dice to see if your weapons hit, where they hit, etc. There was a strategic element, as well. The maps would have levels (hills, mountains, etc) so if you were higher up, you were more likely to hit the head of the opposing robot – which was lightly armored, making for an easy kill. I have to tell you, the game was really fun when you are a teenager and into numbers, statistics and slow paced fun.

Marauder Mech from Mechwarrior

Look at my two big guns! I’m totally not ripped off of Robotech!

I always enjoyed the Marauder mech, which was essentially a rip off of a Robotech mech. Or Robotech ripped it off, I have no idea. I don’t care. PPC’s I believe they were called. And it had a big gun on its head which was probably a laser or some kind. I don’t remember its exact stats, but I remember that it looked awesome. Essentially, Mechwarrior was for kids who outgrew Transformers but still enjoyed giant robots punching each other in the face (Mechwarrior had no real melee system, if memory serves, it’s just a joke!).

Well, they’ve brought this fun to the computer with Mechwarrior Online. I’ve played the closed beta for a while and I realized that the fun really doesn’t translate well these days. On the Commodore 64, I played Mechwarrior, which was essentially a game of infinite robot battles in the first person. Bad graphics and repetitive type fights but still fun. These days? I’m not so sure. Maybe because I’m older, but this newest incarnation of Mechwarrior seems a bit, um, lacking.

Here are some of my beefs with the game:

  • You are -severely- limited on your variants. You can’t make a “missile boat” and stack all your slots with missiles and ammunition. Some slots are designated energy or whatever. I get that this is a balance issue, but this isn’t very fun. While it’s probably done to limit the mechs on the field with like 6 LRM 20 packs blowing people apart at a distance; the real damage comes from your totally weird builds. For instance, what if I wanted 20 machine guns or something? While I’m totally ineffective at range, close in, I’d melt most other mechs within moments. No heat output, no shutdown, constant damage output. Just have to get close. That would make for some fun strategizing.
  • The constant fire lasers generate too much heat. In the board game, lasers would fire and that’s it. Next turn they are available again. In this game, if you hold down your mouse button the laser keeps firing, building up heat as you hold it down. I get that this makes sense in practice, but in game it’s very frustrating. Since it’s hard to see (in the mech builder) exactly how much heat your lasers generate, when you launch you can get some really bad news.
  • Macroing weapons is a bit unintuitive. The first time in, you are nearly clueless as how to separate your machine guns from your LRM’s. Messing around on the keyboard will eventually let you figure it out, but this process is in no way obvious. I get it’s beta and things will be explained, so this is really a minor grief.
  • The game needs something to do between battles and redoing your mechs. Something. I don’t know what it’d be, honestly. But a break in the action somehow. It gets a little boring going from fight to fight with no consequence to your actions.

Most of these complaints are rather small, I admit. And this game has a lot of potential. But, I think right now, it needs some tuning for it to be something that’ll last a long time in players’ minds.

Star Wars Old Republic Free Weekend

So Star Wars, the Old Republic is having a free weekend so I decided to give it a whirl. Here are my quick thoughts on this game, pro’s and con’s. Probably same things written by many other people, but oh well.

Pro’s:

  • Voice acting is fantastic. It makes you feel part of a real story, instead of just clicking buttons. Even if the quests are the same (kill, fetch, deliver), you actually feel like you are doing something for somebody. That’s awesome.
  • Combat is very dynamic. No more standing around while a spell is casting. Move around and shoot your guns. Neat!
  • Crafting/gathering is cool. It’s kinda neat to send your companions off to do this instead of having to do it yourself. And the results are pretty random, too. That’s awesome.
  • It’s gorgeous. Bright, colorful and obviously very Star Wars-y.
  • Dialog options. I was being a jerk most the time and It was a blast. I got some people airlocked in the first dungeon (LOL!) and then abandoned some chick to the Empire at the end (LOL! LOL!).
  • The follower system is neat. Mine had a love/hate relationship with me. I’d do 1 thing he liked, then 2 things that got minus loyalty (or whatever). Wasn’t sure the point of his loyalty was, so what do I care?

Con’s:

  • It’s an MMO. Lots of running around turning in quests to people.
  • Lots of talking. And the option choices are very much illusory. From some, I can tell no matter what I pick, it’d lead to the same dialog anyways. Some responses didn’t even make sense to what I’d selected.
  • Too many “heroic” quests. I didn’t want to group up to do a quest, but more than a few times I was forced to. That’s really stupid, IMHO. It just turns you into a beggar looking for people. Yes, I get that they want you to be social. That’s fine. But if you don’t want to be? Then shut out of some content; that seems weird to me.

Overall, I really enjoyed the game this weekend. It’s a blast and I’m not surprised it’s taken off as quickly as it has. Will I subscribe? Probably not. But it got me talking about it; which I wouldn’t have otherwise. So that’s something, I guess.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Thoughts

This will not be a real review of the game. If I did review it, I’d give it a 7/10 or so. Maybe higher as I progress, maybe lower. Who knows. Above average is about how I’d sum up the game.

I want to put my thoughts out there on the experience though. This will be heavily shaded by Skyrim, so if that bugs you, I’m sorry.

Lets start with the dungeons that are everywhere in the wilderness. Like everything else in the game, they look beautiful. But why are the creatures there, um, there? If you played a sneak character in Skyrim, and snuck in on some NPCs in those dungeons, they’d be having conversations with each other, sometimes going through a scripted storyline that introduces you to the dungeon, or they’d just be playing cards. The point is, they did something. You could imagine them having a routine they went through and having a life. In Amalur, I see nothing like that. They are stock encounters at various (and quite predictable) points in the dungeon. Big open room? Dudes will inevitably pop out as if they were waiting for you the whole time. That type of game design is 10 years old. It’s not interesting. It’s a little silly these days.

The combat, however, is very interesting. The arcade feel to it does take a while to get used to. It’s very dynamic. Rolling around to avoid attacks, putting up your shield and timing your swings are all very fun. On the flip side, it’s very phony as well. Get hit once? Odds are, you are going to get hit 3 times from a mob’s followup attack.

The item game is the part that bothers me the most, I think. Every RPG has the standard upgrade your weapon as you progress feature. But usually, these upgrades come with a sense of achievement. Killing a boss, a large fight, or completing a quest. In this game, you upgrade a weapon by finding a hidden log in the woods. Really? Really? There is no sense of accomplishment when you get upgrades like this. Skyrim had this problem when you maxxed your blacksmithing/enchanting/alchemy and could make super weapons, but at least (theoretically) that was near end game, so it didn’t matter so much. It didn’t overbalance you from the start. Getting a new set of armor shouldn’t simply involve finding a pile of rocks in the woods, or breaking open a barrel. That’s ridiculous. Yes, when I stop to think about it; this lack of earned rewards is the most bothersome part of the game.

The stories/quests are inevitably repetitive. Skyrim masked this well. Fetch quests didn’t feel like fetch quests (well, some did). But in this one, there are so many “kill x of y” or “gather x of z” that it’s tedious. I’m fine with that, because that’s the nature of these types of games. I guess I’m more irritated by the fact that every game has only a few different quest types: kill this, fetch this, deliver this to that.

All in all, I guess I’m a little disappointed in this game. Will I play it? Of course, especially since Diablo 3 is delayed (again!) and Mass Effect isn’t out till March. But would this be a game I’ll remember and want to pick up in 6 months? Probably not.

Elder Scrolls Skyrim: Some Thoughts and Quick Hits

Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls Skyrim was released on 11/11 and I think it is probably one of the most monumental achievements in video games that I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at these screenshots. And look at this hilarious head shot.

The game has enough content for like 5 normal games. Some of the dungeons are adventures in themselves. I found a dungeon the other day, where a necromancer was trying to raise her dead husband and summoned undead along my path, till I got to her and killed her. And then they were together again anyways. Which was sweet; in a weird kind of way.

It’s cool how the major factions (Stormcloaks and Imperials) both have their downsides and upsides. They are complex – it seems, so that your decision to eventually join either one isn’t an easy one. Some games of this nature make it easy to pick a side based upon perks you get.

It’s the little things that the game does that make it excellent though. A little “cleared” notice by dungeons you’ve found and defeated, so you never wonder “Hey, did I do that already? Or just wander by it?” The brief encounters with people that serve no real purpose but to add flavor. It’s good stuff all around.

Sure, it has its bugs – but it’s part of the charm. Corpses disappear. You get stuck in environments. Some things lack “weight” and are too easy to push around, etc.

Overall, it has to be one of the most perfect games ever created. It’s almost too much content. It’s nearly overwhelming how much stuff there is to do. I’m working a destruction mage. Leveling alchemy and conjuration as well, primarily. And some lockpicking as well (just so I get the extra gold/items perk).

Some quick takes on the game:

Coolest dragon fight: One at Falkreath. The dragon was attacking the town. I wasn’t its main target, but it was going from rooftop to rooftop breathing fire on people. Looked fantastic watching him take off one building, and land on another to breathe fire down. That was incredibly well done.

Least cool dragon fight: One on a mountain top, where I kill the dragon in midair, he flies down to the ground to and and his corpse is buried somewhere underground – unlootable for eternity. Caused a huge framerate issue in the game as it was probably trying to figure out where to put the corpse. Its “landing trench” is there, but no corpse at the end. Weird.

Coolest shout: Aura. Lets you see the life forces of people around you. Fantastic in dungeons. I’m Batman! With fireballs!

Worst shout: Animal friendship. Yay? I’m not Snow White. I guess it’d make gathering up critters for a mass Fire Breath slaughter a bit easier. Sounds like fun actually, I might have to do that.

Encumbrance is my enemy. 300 weight is simply not enough when you are a pack rat like myself.

Dark Souls: How To Aim Your Crossbow

Upset that you can’t aim a crossbow in dark souls, in the same way as your bow? No fear. Here’s your solution!

Buy a short bow (even if your dex is too low to use it). Equip it, zoom in and aim it (left bumper). Zoom back out. Equip your crossbow and have at it.  As long as you didn’t move your camera position at all, your crossbow will be aimed at that exact same point. For us low dex people (bandit, yay!), it’s a good way to fire at ranged targets effectively.

So far, I’m loving this game. The thing I’m not loving is the incessant back tracking if you die. I’m also not loving the lack of humanity. Takes 2 for each new bonfire, assuming you are undead – which you are most of the time. And given how hard humanity is to come by; that’s ridiculous. 5 Estus really make for a short venture out before returning to regenerate health.

So far, all the bosses have pretty much been – wait for it to attack, roll to the side, hit it. Rinse/repeat till dead. What makes some of the fights hard is the lack of room to move in.

The first death knight you face (Undead Berg) is in a long corridor and if you drag him out and up the stairs you came down on … you can dance around the red ladder and he won’t use his charge attack. Firebomb him from a distance and its an easy kill. Second one in the undead parish (upstairs right when you come up from the bridge) killed me, but seems like he’s the same – drag him downstairs, fiddle with him on the ramp which will interrupt his charge and kill him from the distance. I’ve seen video on the pig from the IGN reviews, he doesn’t seem too bad. But lots of bad guys around him worry me – wonder if they’ll be adding or not.

For free “titanite shards” and 300 souls, kill the Tauren Demon boss (firebombs make this cake) and get to the bridge. The dragon will kill the 5-6 undead guys giving you 300 souls – and about half the time they drop a titanite shard. Just use your short cut back to the bonfire and rinse/repeat this for free souls and some shards.

I still haven’t gotten the “drake sword” trick to work. The event seems to reset itself after each arrow hit on the tail. Maybe that’s been patched? Who knows. The dragon feels like a 2 person fight. One person hits the tail, other stands up top and whacks the dragon when it flies toward you. Maybe. Maybe not. Feels like it, though.

I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never finish this game though. While fun, the back tracking is very irritating. I -almost- quit the first night after the intro area. I went to the graveyard to kill those skeletons that spawn. Bastards were near unkillable and I was like “This game is too damn hard. Two targets at once with variable attack speeds! Impossible!” – then I gave up and went up to Undead Berg instead and was like “Oh this is a lot easier!” I went back to those skeletons later and found them to be much easier after I got some practice on, you know, killable targets.

I should have picked the master key as my starting thing. I picked the firebombs instead (stupid). Lots of doors I’d like to open, but I can’t. I did get the key to the Undead residences, but still. Other doors remain locked. Sad face. Then again, I should have also picked a character that could use a bow. Being able to down guys from range would really make my life easier. At least I currently have 3600 souls that I’ll use to get my dex to 11 and farm to get it to 12 so I can use it.

I wonder if there is a level cap? I’m like 16 now. Wonder how high it goes and if I should worry about allocations or not.

Bioware vs Bethesda Softworks RPGs

I have to admit, I haven’t turned on my Xbox 360 in a long time, but I recently did so and started playing my favorite type of game (RPGs) again.

So I’ve played:  Fallout: New Vegas, Fable 3, and now Mass Effect 2.

Can I say something about the Fable franchise, first? I hate you. I’ve never actually hated an RPG series before. Sure, some are lacking and tedious and boring; but I actually hate Fable. I hate having to marry people. I hate the idea of having children in game. And, I really don’t see the need to murder my wife for a sword upgrade. I had been playing this for a while (suffering thru it more like) until I realized that I’ve actually grown to hate this thing. The quests are boring and there is too much backtracking. Every zone is “find the easter eggs” (books, gnomes, keys, whatever) just to lengthen a very short story line. Wander thru zones is just miserable, with preset encounters that respawn way too quickly and are just tedious exercises in wasting my time. No loot, no real reward. Just a time sink every time. Some stupid relationship quest made me drag a women from Bowerstone (or whatever its called) all the way to Mistpeak lake. Fuckin’ really? That’s like 8 zones away. And then I’m expected to drag her back? I guess she died or something half way there cuz after some little troll things attacked me, she vanished. I said “Thank god.”

Sure, you could argue that you don’t need to get married or have kids in Fable 3. But if you don’t, you will not earn enough “guild seals” to upgrade your character and you’ll suck. What other game requires you to kiss a girl to get more powerful attacks? Makes no sense at all. Buy a house? Maintain a house, too? Decorate it? WTF is this shit.

Yes the combat is fun and intuitive. It -is- cool to swing your sword, shoot your gun, and fire off a spell very quickly. Granted. But the sword is wholly un-necessary. Link 2 AoE spells (when you get that ability) and fire your rifle and every fight is a guaranteed win.

The part of the game that annoyed me least was the overt advertisements for paid download content in the quest hub area. It bugged me at first, but I kind of liked the easy accessibility to new stuff and if the game were better, I might have even bought some of it. Yes, the guy reminding you to buy stuff got old, but I kind of liked that feature to be honest. It’s a trend I wish would continue, more along the lines of “content” addons and less with vanity addons. I’ll get to that post one day.

I never finished this game because, why bother? I wasn’t enjoying it. Unless I’m totally bored, I cannot imagine buying Fable 4 when it comes out. I feel like I’ve been punished enough by this company.

Now, onto the main point of this post.

Bethesda Softworks and Bioware. Can these companies possibly make games that are any better? Everything they make is fuckin’ awesome.

After my Fallout 3 review (and minor gripes), I’m sure it’ll come no surprise to you what I thought of Fallout: New Vegas. Odd, that the same radscorpion problem exists. They still become landsharks all the time. Weird.

The New Vegas story did kind of suck, though. After you get to Vegas (I got to Vegas at near max level cuz I did everything I could outside the city, first) and start helping Mr House, the game takes a turn where you know you are helping the bad guy but still are forced into doing so. No choice you make at the end is acceptable. I decided to help the Yes Man. Killing Mr House and Caesar’s Legion/NCR. Oh well. The ending was pretty bad. Just a bunch of lame screen shots with summaries of what I did and how it affected things in the end. If that was more interesting, I might have tried helping Mr House and seeing what happened there, but the incentive was gone. Although the dam battle was pretty fun, especially seeing the Boomers fly in with that bomber you pulled from the lake and nuke the place. That was sweet.

Up until that point, I totally loved the game. I love the looting system. With humanoids dropping the gear they are using, it really makes it seem like they are playing by the same set of rules as you are. I like that. It’s fair. Except Deathclaws, of course. Bastards. I did end up killing the mother and alpha in the quarry. And I even killed the legendary one in the deathclaw cave. Riot shotgun made that a ton easier – with a mini nuke appetizer of course.

Everything I loved about Fallout 3 was here and it was easy to get into this one again.

Mass Effect 2 (which I quit Fable 3 to play) has got to be the best game ever made. It’s fuckin’ ridiculous how awesome it is. Just about everything in there is perfect. Combat is awesome. Quests are fun. Sidequests from scanning planets are short, sweet and varied. The cut scenes are still the best ever. Bioware rules at this. I haven’t finished this yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion of where it’s going. I have a feeling that the Shephard you play is genetically modified by the Reapers much like the Protheans – possibly by Cerberus while you were reconstructed cuz the Illusive Man clearly knows more than he’s letting on. Just a hunch, but it feels that way or that one collector dude wouldn’t have such a hard-on for you personally.

I have to admit that after you get your ship and Joker comes around the corner again, I smiled. I thought he had died in the beginning along with you – I didn’t think the escape pod made it out. That was cool. I also like that what you did in Mass Effect 1 matter in the sequel (if you imported your saved game). I also like that the enemy is pretty much the same and it continues the story, rather than just a new villain. And where it’s going seems to make a little sense too. I also like that your companions from Mass Effect 1 are in the game and that they still exist. Some are even team members again. That’s real cool.

Complaints. Fuckin’ zombies (husks). I am so tired of zombies in games, it is unreal.

Anyways, I find myself playing this for 4-5 hours at a time because I just can’t put it down. Love this thing. It’s crazy how much fun it is. The planet where, if you stand in the sun, your shield takes damage. Awesome. The mini quest where you escort this robot around with a power defect and need to find him power cells. Cool. (Reward made that a total waste of time, though). Jacob’s companion quest. That was fucked up. Jack’s was very interesting and unexpected.

Each game has its downsides though. And, oddly, the other company is strong where the other is weak. I’m going to list those differences and how interesting I think that is.

Bioware: Excellent at story telling and making you feel part of the action.

Bethesda Softworks: Kinda weak at the main story.  Side stories are a lot better than the main one. Your part of a story but you don’t really feel part of it. I can’t explain it better than that, sorry.

Bioware: Loot system practically non-existent.

Bethesda Softworks: Excellent loot system.

Bioware: Not “open world”. Way points and places to travel to. Yes, I get that there are planets and you have to fly to them. I counter with: Dragon Age. Imagine that as open world.

Bethesda Softworks: Open world. Do anything you want, when you want.

Bioware: Because of the loot system and non-open world, you feel throttled (money, gear, etc – you get stuff when the story dictates it) by the game.

Bethesda Softworks: Because of the loot system and open world, you are not throttled. You can progress (money, gear, etc) based upon drops, random finds and hoarding everything you find. You don’t even have to do a single quest forever, just kill shit and loot shit to your heart’s content. I imagine some gamer out there has amassed a huge pile of every tin can, wrench, empty soda bottle in the game somewhere just for the hell of it.

Bioware: Nothing, really, to pick up in the environments. Everything looks pretty (really pretty!) but nothing is tangible. It’s just a back drop.

Bethesda Softworks: Nearly everything can be touched, moved, looked at, picked up, looted, etc. A hoarder’s dream!

Bioware: Awesome cut scenes. Unbelievably awesome. Like a movie.

Bethesda Softworks: What’s a cutscene? We don’t even give you a movie at the end of the game for you to enjoy.

Bioware: Enemies seem to have a different rule set than you do. They can fire more quickly than you, move more quickly and make up abilities than you cannot perform. This has its pluses and minuses.

Bethesda Softworks: All monsters (well, humanoids) seem to play by the same set of rules. You can see their weapon in VATS and know it’ll drop when they die. This also has its pluses and minuses.

Bioware: Varied side quests that keep the interest level up.

Bethesda Softworks: All quests pretty much amount either: go here get that for me or go there kill that.

Bioware: Companions to talk to, get quests from and help you in combat. The, sadly, inevitable sex scene with one of them that is poorly done.

Bethesda Softworks: Limited companions (1 at a time, it seems) with a quest. Fallout New Vegas started this trend, maybe it’ll continue.

I sometimes imagine these 2 companies getting together and making some sort of epic game where one picks up where the other is lacking. A Bioware story with Bethesda open world and loot system. Thing would probably cover 4 DVDs but it’d be worth it, I’m sure.

Anyways, after I finish Mass Effect 2, I’ll wait Bethesda’s next chance to suck my life away.

Puzzle Quest 2 Review

Puzzle Quest 2So I’ve started playing Puzzle Quest 2 on my Xbox 360. I loved the first Puzzle Quest, but didn’t feel like it played well on the Xbox, so I played it on the PC instead. This time, I decided to play it on the 360, since I want the achievement points (yeah, I don’t know why either).

I’m going to start this little mini review with some peeves and I’ll finish up with some positives and more or less let you decide if you want to play the game or not.

So I start playing the game. The intro quests are pretty easy (the troll fight is kinda cool), then you get into the real game and your first encounter is with a “Rat swarm” or something. A bunch of rats that do rather puny amounts of damage. Seems easy enough, right? It’s then that the game introduces a mechanic that lets opponents block attacks an insane amount of the time. This rat thing has a defense of like 52 (which I presume means he blocks 52% of the time, though I’m still not sure if that’s correct – but it seems close). So my sorcerer does like 1 point of damage on a 3 skull match. And maybe 5 on a spell attack at this point. The rat wipes the floor with me. And here I am thinking – this is retarded. So, instead I make the Paladin type character (a tank essentially – doesn’t do a lot of damage, but a lot of mitigation so he’s hard to kill). And it’s a lot easier. Fights take a while, but there are long stretches where I don’t even have to match tiles. I can completely control the battlefield. I just steal his action points and hit him with my sword – 9 hit points at a time adds up after a while. So, in summary – the game has some really irritating combat mechanics (especially blocking – though I understand why they put it in there).

The next thing that bugs the crap out of me are the quests. Not the quests themselves, they are as varied as they can be for a match-3 type game. But after you complete a quest, you gotta wait like 10-15 seconds while it rewards you xp, gold, items and then completes it; before you can even move again. It’s silly and pointless. Needless delays like that are just frustrating. Leading me to the next point…

The combat animations are cute at first, but why do I have to keep watching my guy swing his sword for the millionth time? A way to turn that off would be nice. Yes, it does 9 hit points. Sometimes it criticals for 18. I know. I know. I also know it’ll inevitably be blocked and do 4 hit points.

The looting of treasure chests and piles is stupid. Another match 3 game here, of course. If you get a “heroic effort” you get a random chest to spawn. If you match 3 of those, you’ll get a “rare” item. Rarely is it worth the effort (see what I did there?). Yes, it’s an item – not gold or some sort of material – so theoretically it could be helpful. But probably won’t be. Also, it’s always fun when those “rare” chests spawn at the bottom of the grid, then the grid eats it before you even have the chance to match it up.

Upgrading items. You cannot see what the end result of your “upgrade” is before spending the materials. I guess it’s predictable if you use it enough; but really it would have been a simple mechanic to add to the game.

Monsters seem to get lucky in their “drops” WAY too often. Sometimes, you can catch the AI knowing what is coming next when it makes a play that makes no sense (IE skipping a match 4 to get 3 reds instead) which then produces a huge heroic effort. There is no way that move gets made unless the AI knows what gems are in the future rows that you can’t see. It happens way too often to be a coincidence or random chance. That is the main source of frustration in the game too, unfortunately. I think that’s the  “challenge” I guess. If the AI played straight, it’d be a cake walk.

That’s quite a list. A lot of it comes down to randomness in the game, but other parts are simply lazy coding. But really the game has a lot of fun features too that make it better than the first.

The combat is a lot more dynamic. You have a lot more abilities that you can swap in and out between battles to see how your toon performs. You can also learn new spells through quests – and that is very cool. Though most do not seem to be made for a Templar. That’s okay.

The dungeon exploring is fun. No more just pretending to enter a cave and kill a rat. You actually explore an entire dungeon, going room to room (not freely of course, it’s guided) and killing stuff.

The quests are pretty varied (keeping in mind every one of them is a match 3 game). Putting out a fire (blue matches put it out, red matches hurt you), freeing captured goblins from their chains, etc etc etc.

The use of items is a lot nicer. In the first Puzzle Quest, I wasn’t sure half the time what I had equipped, now it’s all very obvious and the inventory is handled pretty well. You can shop for items at vendors that are in town or sometimes in the dungeons and upgrade those items as well (with the previously mentioned caveat).

The game offers some intense challenges. The first “Greater Challenge” is a Yeti that is just insane. Requires good board management to win. And some luck – sucks when he gets 81 red gems on his opening turn and kills you immediately (if he gets 65 red gems, he does a 999 hp instant kill attack). Ended up winning that one with 7 hps left. The second one is a bit easier, a Cave Ogre – which was not that bad on the Templar once I played to my strengths – not matching tiles and using action points for weaker hits. Ended up winning that one with 33 hps left. After fights like these, the normal fights almost seem boring.

I haven’t finished the game of course, but you can see I’ve listed what I think are pretty fair pro’s and con’s about it. I’d recommend it – if you like match 3 games and can tolerate some really frustrating fights. If you don’t and can’t – then don’t get it. It’s pretty simple, I think.

Borderlands XBox 360 Review

Borderlands is a new game for the Xbox 360 that continues the trend to an open environment “sandbox” where you can pretty much do what you want – with a limitations based upon level.

I started playing it last night and have some thoughts on it. If you’ve read my previous reviews (which you probably haven’t) of Two Worlds and BioShock, you know I skip the graphic stuff and the technical mumbo jumbo and get to the stuff about what I care about.

Here’s the quick summary of Borderlands thus far:  Have you ever wanted to pay World of Warcraft. With guns. Alone?

Well, that’s what this is.

You have a leveling bar. You have quest objectives that are similar (find 8 plants, kill 8 bandits). You have skill points that you assign to skills to make your guy a little more unique. Even the weapons have the same color coordination system (white – normal weapons, green – uncommon “better” weapons, blue – rare “good” weapons, purple – epic “awesome” weapons). Playing the thing, its obvious what group of gamers they are going after. There is even an arena system where you can battle your buddies.

From the second I started playing, I was thinking – man this is WoW with guns. Yes, it’s a first person shooter type game, but still. It is what it is.

There is a vehicle system – but it’s awful. Steering the car is near impossible. Or I’m an idiot. The second option is very possible, but it’s certainly not intuitive, that’s for sure.

The shooting is fun. And get used to it, cuz there is just a ton of it. Even after level 11 or 12, you will still constantly be wasting time on level 2 monsters that die in a single hit. It’s weird. And given that you can only carry so much ammunition at a time, it’s a little stupid as well.

The first boss fight of the game is insane. Granted, if you read my BioShock review, I’m not good at first person shooter type games, but I manage. The first boss fight is 1 main dude and 2 adds (using a WoW reference, of course). The 2 adds do the bulk of the damage and jump you from great distances. I assume you are supposed to dodge them or whatever, but man, for the level it is really difficult. I think I’m 2 bosses past there now and I’ve gotten better and the hit and run tactics needed, but still…that was rough.

The environments are nice, the graphics are very good and the speech is decent enough. But really if you’ve played WoW, just accept the quest and read it later. Who cares what’s going on. It makes no difference, really – you already know the game’s objective (find stuff and kill things) so, it doesn’t seem, you have any real choice in the outcome. I wish games were more open ended like that, but anyways …

For me, it’s unfortunate that this game is released so close to Dragon Age Origins, which is the one I really want to play. I feel like this will be back burnered really quickly cuz I find it more frustrating than fun. If there was only one game I wanted to play, I’d deal with it. But there are two. So I probably won’t.

I’d probably give it 7/10 if I were really rating it.

The Problem with JRPGs

IGN has an article on the problems with Square Enix and how to fix them. As usual, I think the article misses the point entirely.

The goes through 5 problems with the JRPGs (Japanese Role Playing Games), in particular Square Enix. But many of these problems are common to JRPGs. This is an abbreviated list. Read the article for their points.

  1. Unreal Engine
  2. Presentation
  3. RPG Elements (cities and characters)
  4. Gimmicks
  5. More/Longer RPGs

Each of these miss the problem of the theme entirely.

The primarily problems, in my eyes with the genre are: no in game combat and no choice.

Let’s take Fallout 3, Fable 2, Star Wars: KOTOR, etc. All great RPG games. What do they have in common?

You see something you want to kill. You go over and kill it. No loading a combat screen. No battlefield creation. Nothing. You point your gun or sword at it and go at it. No loading. No time wasted.

The last JRPG I played, Final Fantasy 9, I believe..every time you entered combat, you had to go to a load screen, get your party to have some sort of lame “go get em!” shout then boring turn based combat ensued. After a while, I wanted to avoid combat entirely. It got tedious.

I just finished Fallout 3. Totally different. You see a group of guys to kill. You aim your gun and kill them. Take their loot and move on. The whole game existed in the same engine.

The difference is huge and important.

Another problem with JRPGs is their linear nature. You go here, then you go there, then there and there. I don’t want to be led through the game.

All the good RPGs these days happen in a sandbox. You do what you want, when you want. Oblivion let you take on tons of side quests and go just about anywhere and let you tackle the main quest at your own volition. Being led around by the nose through a game isn’t fun. When a game does that, it feels like it was programmed 20 years ago. Leave me alone. Let me play how I want.

If those two things were fixed or changed with JRPGs, I’d consider buying one. But if I see a game video that includes a combat load screen, I know I won’t be buying or playing it. If game programmers want to restrict movement to new areas before certain quests are done; that is easy enough if they follow the GTA model. Just make the access points to new areas “broken” until the proper point in the game.

On the flip side, I see a great way for game makers to cash in on the new era of downloadable content. I got the idea after finishing Fallout 3.

By the end of the game, I had 100 in most major/important skills (100 being the maximum skill level you can achieve and be “perfect” at something) and had enough powerful weapons to kill anything in the game with just a few shots – a few helpful perks to make it easier as well. (As a brief aside – there should not be an alien blaster in the game. The space alien is totally out of theme with anything else in the game – given that there are no real hints of aliens elsewhere. Unless that’s a future expansion pack)

Fallout 3, in a post nuclear world, makes it possible to have tens, if not hundreds, of expansion packs. Imagine New York in the Fallout 3 universe, or Chicago, San Francisco, even Paris or Moscow.

With the powerful character you have at the end of the story, any of those areas are not going to fun or challenging with a super skilled and totally leveled up guy. So, in the initial game, it makes sense to limit the maximum skill level you can achieve – by either giving you less skill points/level or making skills harder to upgrade as you raise their level (1 skill point/level up to 25, 2/level up to 50, etc) so that if you want to have 100 in “small guns” you’d really have to sacrifice your lockpicking or repair abilities.

That way, when future packs come out and the level cap is inevitably raised, you have something to work for. While exploring new areas as well. Thus, adding value to future expansion packs. If you have achievements that are only possible with either multiple playthroughs (10 points for 100 in small guns, 10 points for 100 in lockpicking etc) or playing through the expansion packs, you are more likely to get buyers for those expansions as well.

In short, I think – these days – that in the end of the game, you should not have a super powerful character, but an adequate one that can finish the game – even if you do every side quest available. That way, when future packs come out, you can improve your character more and become that super powerful guy, if you do all the expansion packs. That’s a future of gaming that I’d be glad to embrace.

Too Human Xbox 360 Review

After my last successful review of Two Worlds, where I believe I correctly predicted that a lot of online sites would review game at about a 7 on a scale of 10,  I haven’t been using my Xbox so much. But I did get Too Human, despite some mediocre reviews from the bigger online sites. Since everyone wants to know my opinion, I thought I’d share.

I just finished the first chapter of the game earlier today. I’m about 1/2 way through the second mission. The graphics for the game are great; the characters all look cool, the monsters have great detail and the landscapes are all nicely drawn and detailed.

But, I’m curious why the developers decided you can’t actually look at any of them? The inability to control the camera is the main problem with the game so far. It makes it hard to see the monsters you are fighting – this was a particular problem during the first boss fight, Grendel.  Also, it makes it about impossible to just stand there and look around the world – so you don’t quite the to see the impressive design to it. And that’s pretty sad.

Another problem with the game is the non-responsive controls. Unlike most games, where you hit A to fire your weapon or swing your sword, in this game it is handled with your thumbsticks. The control is very imprecise and sometimes makes you feel like you aren’t even in control of the action. It also sets you up for a lot of counter attack cheap strikes if your attack misses. It’s pretty frustrating.

Good thing dying doesn’t matter, though. When you die, your character is almost immediately brought to life nearby where you died. By almost, I mean, that you have to watch some way too lengthy animation before coming back to life. Besides there, there is hardly any effect to dying at all. Which is also nice, because you have no real way to heal yourself – healing things appear randomly – so sometimes it’s best just to walk in somewhere, knowing you’ll die and just come back later with full health. Silly. The game is highly focused on loot drops, a la Diablo, but they couldn’t think to add stim packs? It is supposed to be in the future, right? I mean, come on. I think the developers are a little too proud of their death animation.

There are some cool features in the game. Killing the trolls is very fun. They have a big hammer they smash on the ground to attack you. You need to jump or the shock wave will do damage. But if you use your gun and target the hammer, you can cause the troll to not have an attack and it just roams around till you finish it off. This also betrays a problem with the game as well. You fight a similar creature, a spider like robot that also has some sort of smash attack. But jumping over that shockwave is useless, you have to roll through it. How that makes sense? Who knows.

My major gripe for the game comes with the unbalanced fights. You have a few guys who follow you into each level, but they are next to worthless. And you’ll end up fighting 30-40 monsters at once. Death is inevitable. Especially with the non-responsive controls, poor camera angles, and just massive amount of fire power coming your direction. It really takes away the fun. All of these creatures on screen creates noticable lag as well, so your character responds slower usually resulting in death.

Overall, I’d say it’s a good game until Mercenaries 2 and Fable 2 come out. But in the long run, the game really needed more development time to fix some of these issues, that you’d think were fixable in Beta.