Sunday, November 30, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #14: Love transcends dimensions!

                I’m almost done with Dragon Age: Inquisition, only the final mission and few operations left. I did almost everything worth doing in the game and not because I’m a completist, but because I enjoyed it. The game wasn’t exactly what I imagined, but not very far from that either. It takes some of the good things in DA 2 (yes, there are some good things in that game) and combines them with some of the awesome features in Origins, while bringing something new to the table (like the War Table!). It was a very enjoyable and relatively emotional experience which I recommend to the fans of this universe and RPGs fans in general.
                I purchased some new games to play and maybe review after I’m done with Inquisition. I did skip a lot on FPS games this year, not like there were that many, but to make up for it I bought Far Cry 4 and Wolfenstein The New Order. I did get to play the games a little as I was waiting for my Inquisition War Table operations to finish and I can’t say that I’m enjoying Far Cry 4, which I was expecting more or less. Wolfenstein was a pleasant surprise, it does have some issues and the story goes crazy at some point but I did finish the game with only one or two pauses, is not that long to begin with, but still was good enough and I found it entertaining.
It's not the happy end!

                I’m almost done with my review for Dragon Age: Inquisition and I will post it in the upcoming week. I have some other articles I’m slowly working on when I have time and I’ve made some more progress, hopefully I will finish them by the end of this year.
Things haven’t been so easy on me lately, problems pilling up in real life and I need video games as a distraction from my nightmares. Hopefully is just a false alarm and everything is going to be fine.
                I will continue posting at the same rate as I did in the last couple of months and if anything changes I will make it clear here. But I was hoping to increase my number of articles not the other way around.

In the meantime, please share my articles and follow me on Steam and on Twitter!!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Dungeon of the Endless Review!

                The Endless universe is growing rapidly. It started with Endless Space, a game that delivered a good setting for a Sci-Fi 4X Strategy and continued to expand with Disharmony DLC which brought into player's attention the planet of Auriga as an important piece of the lore puzzle.
Endless Legend was next, showing the surface of the moribund mother planet Auriga. In a world before science and interstellar civilization, races fight for survival which could eventually lead them to the stars on a planet doomed to see eternal winter.
                This universe has a subtle yet interesting lore that is expanding with each game and based on the success these games had it might continue for a long time (hopefully).

               Dungeon of the Endless is the latest installment in the AMPLITUDE Studios Endless universe. The game is a rogue-lite at core, but it successfully combines different ideas from multiple genres to create a much more complex gameplay.
               The game starts as a spacecraft crashes on the surface of a retro looking Auriga. The crew finds itself deep in the planet surface which looks like a huge mysterious and dangerous caves complex. In order to survive and reach the planet’s surface the hero’s party has to fight their way out through eleven levels filled with dangerous creatures and power artifacts of unknown origin.
That sounds "easy"!
Friendship elevator!

              The game mechanics are easy to grasp and look quite simplistic at start, but offer a great deal of variety. With each completed level the game’s difficulty rises and is forcing good strategies and a much more cautious approach to each level.
Like any respectable rogue-lite game, Dungeon of the Endless features multiple randomly generated levels filled with all kind of unpredictable threats and permanent death.
              The starting team can have up to two members with an additional two being recruited in game. Most characters know each others and have some sort of background story. The team interacts between missions and the dialogues between the characters provide delicious information about each hero and can be compared to party dialogues seen in well written RPGs.  But these discussions are not just for flavor and they can lead to some shocking results.
              Synergy is an important factor to take in consideration when picking or recruiting the heroes. There is not much to customize when it comes to characters, because leveling is automatic and the heroes gain abilities and stats based on their preset roles. Items can be changed on characters to improve their capabilities, but that is pretty much it. So making a team that has a good synergy can be decisive.
Sell me some goodies!

                There is a turn based movement system allowing the characters to move only from one door to the next with no other controlled movement in between. Each door opened is considered as passing to the next turn and the killing of all monsters when in combat is the end of a turn. This might look as a simplistic approach to exploration, but in fact it provides a calculated aspect to the dungeon exploration. Opening a door can lead to anything from a room full of deadly monsters, powerful items, new companions or the much wanted exit to the next dungeon.
                There is a resource system in the game providing support to character progression and expanding the strategic choices. There are four resources: industry, science, food and dust, very familiar to the fans of this universe. Each resource allows further development of key features that would help in finishing the game.
                Industry is necessary to build devices that could generate more resources, offer support or protect the rooms under the player's control.
Science is used to research new devices or upgrade the ones already researched. Science helps in diversifying the strategies used to complete a level.
Food is spent to level up heroes to expand the team utility with new abilities that could help in various situations. Food can also be used as an emergency heal when a character is on the brink of death and nothing else can save him.
The last resource is dust, the equivalent of currency in the Endless universe, and is used as an energy source to power up rooms or as currency for vendors.
                The goal of each level is to protect the crystal taken from the crashed ship and move it from one dungeon to another until the surface is reached. The crystal uses dust to power up rooms allowing the construction of all kind of technical devices and defense mechanisms. Exploring a dungeon causes waves of monster to spawn from unpowered rooms, monsters that are attracted by the crystal and want to destroy it. When it’s removed for transportation to the next dungeon entrance, the creatures lurking the world go insane and start to endlessly pursue it.
To work well with this mechanic, Dungeon of the Endless borrowed some elements from tower defense games. Building devices is necessary in order to repel these waves of enemies and have the resources to continue doing so.
                The building system is pretty straight forward. There are four categories of devices providing a large variety of options from strategic devices that can generate resources, give access to a shop or provide level wide bonuses, to smaller devices designed mostly to provide protection.
These devices can be placed on some connectors (slots) found in each room. Strategic devices require bigger connectors which are rarer and up to only one per room, while the rest can be placed on the smaller connectors which can be found in any room.
In order for the building process to work, the area must first be powered up and this is achieved like a linear electrical circuit with each powered room requiring a straight connection to the crystal. The dust resource limits the number of controllable areas, leading to compromises and adaptation for each situation at hand.
My defensive weapon of choice.

               The combat is mostly automatic and doesn't involve much player input aside from activating the hero’s abilities and moving them from one room to another. Mostly the combat comes as a representation of the tactical decisions made until the time of the fight, especially when it comes to clearing waves of monsters. It can be challenging and everything moves on pretty fast and a pause game option is available to make sure the few decisions that can be made when in actual fights won't turn out to be fatal for the team.
Eat this!
Explosive defense!

                While this entire system might look simple at start, its strength stands in a hidden complexity that develops as the game progresses. Despite having a small number of resources and powering up limitations, the build order is as important as in any strategy and taking some wrong decisions could end the game abruptly. Carefully managing each resource and finding a balance between resources and built devices while cautiously exploring the dungeon is crucial to pass to the next level.
    The album is a feature designed to make the game feel less like an arcade experience. It stocks detailed information gathered about the world and the life in it, which can be studied in the game menu. The album is filled with pictures and short texts describing everything encountered in the dungeons.
Spoiler alert!

                When it comes to the technical part, there is not much to say about the Dungeon of the Endless. It uses 2D retro style graphics, which is loved by some players and really hated by others. The music is great and in tone with the game graphics and atmosphere, but other than that there is little left to say.
Sounds good to me!
Exploration is a two way street.

                For co-op enthusiasts, there is a multiplayer mode which allows up to four players each controlling one character. This can be great fun with friends and does take off some of the burden of taking care of four different heroes which are spread in all cardinal directions (Which can be hell if you keep forgetting to use the pause!).
                While there are no major technical problems with the game and I found little to no bugs, Dungeon of the Endless has a serious problem when it comes to content and replayability. Beating the game once is fun and rewarding, but continuing to do so is really not. The unlockable heroes and ships or the album don’t provide a good enough reason to come back and play the game.  Yes, there are randomly generated dungeons or researches, but with little character development and control, it doesn’t feel enjoyable to try beating the game over and over again. And this is odd, because rogue-lite games are known for their replaybility.  Some of the features that combine well with the game idea and make it great for the first playthrough don’t go well with the lack of content and hit replayability hard, which is such a shame.
AMPLITUDE Studios are known for not abandoning their games and continuingly improving them through patches and free DLCs and I’m pretty sure that same is the case with this title. But as it stands now, until the game receives more improvements, it might not be satisfying enough for some gamers.

                Overall, I found Dungeon of the Endless very refreshing, innovative and with style, but when it comes to content I felt a bit let down. In theory, the game could go on endlessly helped by the random generated content and an infinite dungeons mode. But after finishing the game once, there is not much reason to do it again.
I’m looking forward to the updates and DLCs this game will receive and I’m pretty sure I will come back to it to explore more of the depths of Auriga, but as for now I’m waiting.

+ Innovative combination of tower defense, RPG and rogue-lite
+ Tactical
+ Retro style
+ Difficult
+ The album
+ Multiplayer
+ Characters interaction

- Short
- Not many reasons to play it twice
- Could use a larger variety of customizations for heroes


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #13: A little fun before the end of the world!


             Dragon Age:  Inquisition was released this week so I took advantage of the fact that we had a few days off from work and gave this game as much time as I could.
             After few hours into the game I was really afraid, the game didn’t start too well (not horrible either), but turned out the first areas were the problem (probably remnants of a different project…). As I progressed a little more into the story and unlocked more explorable areas everything changed. The game sucked me in with its atmosphere, world design, beautiful graphics, tones of lore, the choices (soo many!) and most importantly, interesting and hard to read characters!
             I’ve spent over 70 hours playing this game since Tuesday and I still have a lot to do, I didn’t even touch two of the explorable areas and from what I can tell I barely completed half of the main story.
There is a lot of filler content in Inquisition and I was expecting this, the game tries to portray a bigger and more open world and this world has to be filled with something to do. It is impossible to make good quests everywhere, in fact even Origins had some filler content, it was easier to hide it by exposing it in a much more interesting way, but was still there.
Some things could be better in the game like the variety of filler missions or some of the side story and companion missions as well.  But my biggest complaint with the game is related to PC controls, an issue that I hope will be patched soon. The camera is awkward and tiring to use and the tactical view fails badly in areas with very low ceilings. Other than that is pretty much an enjoyable and captivating experience, that I will probably replay after the game gets some fixes and maybe some DLCs (it will probably have lots of them…).
My buddies! Some are missing and one is drunk under the table.

                I had a review done for Dungeon of the Endless to post this week. I was waiting for feedback from my editor, but I was so focused with the game I didn’t check all my email accounts so I missed it and I decided to postpone it.

Dragon Age: Inquisition comes as a priority and if I can finish the game by the start of next week I will try to write a review and post it as soon as possible.

In the meantime, please share my articles and follow me on Steam and on Twitter!!


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Game Slashers on Twitter!

The Game Slashers joined Twitter this week! Until now I based everything on Steam community and groups. I believe it is the time to take the next step and start promoting my gaming blog on social networks, starting with Twitter. I shall see where the future takes me after this!

Follow The Game Slashers and retweet my posts for your friends!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #12: The steel cemetery!


               Next week Dragon Age: Inquisition and Far Cry 4 are officially launching, so until than I spend my time playing some of the games that I own but I didn’t give much attention to.
Since I’m in a WW2 mood, after setting my grinding goal for King Tiger in War Thunder: Ground Forces, I started playing Men of War: Assault Squad 2.
For those unfamiliar with this franchise, Men of War games are RTT’s in the purest form. This series puts a heavy focus on tactical decisions rather than unit’s micromanagement and while all the units require careful attention, the mission’s success stands more in player’s capabilities as an army leader than anything else.
Some might say that the game looks and plays a lot like the previous titles and they are not wrong.  Assault Squad 2 uses same mechanics as the previous games and has very similar graphics. Yet this renewal of the franchise is most welcome in my eyes and I love it.
The game is a strategy beauty with spectacular physics and hard to beat missions that require a huge amount of concentration and dedication. Is a perfect title for the hardcore fans of the genre (basically all the fans of this genre as this kind of games are not dedicated to casual players).
So much death... 
               I have a review almost complete for Dungeon of the Endless to post next week, while I will be busy playing Bioware’s latest title. I’m not sure yet if I will buy Far Cry 4, I wasn’t that much into Far Cry 3 since it lost most of the awesome elements from the previous title.
I’m working on some more articles to post before the end of this year, including my opinion about best games of 2014.

In the meantime share my articles and follow me on Steam! (Soon I’ll be in more social places!)


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Review!

I’m always reticent when it comes to games set in Tolkien’s fantasy universe. Middle Earth is a great setting, but I feel that it was written in such a way that doesn’t leave much room for expanding. And so far, most of the additions to this universe felt out of context and forced in.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is an action game with some elements borrowed from RPGs set in The Lord of the Rings universe. The game was developed by Monolith Productions for current gen and by Behaviour Interactive for old gen consoles.
The story is set between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books, in the time when Gondor troops were holding the Black Gate of Mordor guarding the area to ensure that orcs and their Dark Lord will not return. The game starts with the main hero, Talion, a ranger from Gondor, teaching his son the art of fighting so one day he can become a Gondor soldier, a subtle way to add a tutorial for the player.  When the Black Gate comes under attack by hordes of blood thirsty orcs, Talion and his son find themselves defending their outpost in an unwinnable battle. Despite his desperate actions to protect his wife and son, the ranger is captured together with his family. He is forced to watch as the leader of the orcs, Black Hand, is executing them. Helpless and with a shattered heart, he is killed as a sacrifice to lure in a greater power.
            Talion awakes, in a Mordor now under the control of the orcs, but he is not alone. His fate is now bound to an elven wraith who can't remember his identity and follows the main hero everywhere providing him guidance and powers from the land of shadows. Both the main hero and his new companion are trapped in a never-ending cycle between life and death. Using this opportunity Talion starts a quest to avenge his family and protect the world of Middle-earth from this terrible threat.
                On his path of seeking vengeance, Talion battles and slays the leaders of the continually increasing orc army while aiding the outlanders. The outlanders are humans exiled from Gondor now living in Mordor, most of them became slaves to the orcs after their invasion. In order to understand more about the wraith’s past, the duo start searching for lost artifacts with the help of Gollum. Getting in contact with these artifacts will jug the elf’s memory, revealing brief but crucial moments from his past.
Elves live for thousands of years to have the time to regret mistakes.
That won't last!

                The storytelling in Shadow of Mordor attempts multiple and different approaches. Besides the usual main quests cut scenes and the dialogues between the two main characters, a lot of information can be learned by finding artifacts lost in these dangerous lands. With the power of the wraith these artifacts can uncover events from the past of those who used them.
An interesting idea to set a background story for the main character without requiring any effort from the player was adding audio logs at loading screens. These logs present past dialogues from the protagonist's life. I found this idea quite inspired, neglecting the fact that I had to load the game multiple time to make sure I don't miss something. All these things put together add a subtle depth to an uninteresting main story.
Shadow of Mordor clearly takes inspiration from other writings about Middle-earth, like the “Silmarillion” or “Unfinished Tales”. It can be captivating for the fans of this universe to follow all the side stories depicted in this game. Keep in mind that very little is actually canon.
 Despite all the effort, the main story didn't capture me at all and I ignored the main missions up to the point where there was nothing left to do in the game and I needed a break from killing orcs. I didn't feel anything towards the main hero or his shady friend and these two are the only character that received a close to proper attention. All the other characters seem to serve the role of not letting the player feel alone against the hoards of orcs.
Too bad I can't sell it.

            Many of the gameplay mechanics used in Shadow of Mordor are similar to those seen in the Assassin's Creed franchise and this doesn't come as a big surprise. The developers were accused that some of the animation in their game are copied from Ubisoft’s titles. It is quite obvious that Assassin's Creed was a model of inspiration for this game, but I wouldn't go as far as accusing the developers for ripping off another game. It is quite common in the gaming industry for developers to use other titles as inspiration. And if some game mechanics are good why not use them? (I’m not saying copy/paste ideas)
Ubisoft's ghost!
                The game is separated into two distinct looking maps with the second one only being accessible as the story moves forward. Each of the two maps is constituted of multiple districts. By reaching one of the ghostly towers on a map the content of the districts surrounding the tower is revealed providing useful information to the player. This system is very similar to what Ubisoft uses in Far Cry and Assassin's Creed franchises (is about time to use something new, maybe!?).
Each district has its own missions, weapon challenges and artifacts to collect and while this sounds like the game has a lot to offer, the reality is a bit different. The content quantity is above average, but it really lacks in quality. The secondary missions are always about rescuing outlander slaves. The weapon challenges help forging the legend of the weapons used by the main character, but they are nothing more than missions that require some rampage level of killing orcs. The artifact hunting is an invitation to explore the game world. But there aren’t many places with a unique design to be seen and everything comes down to reaching the spot where the artifact is located. There are no interesting puzzles or a tracking system that could slowly lead the player to a lost artifact. Everything outside the main story is incredibly repetitive and monotonous. This would damage the game quality in a severe way if it wasn't for the Nemesis system.
First half of the game.
                The Nemesis system is what makes Shadow of Mordor stand out as a unique and innovative game. This system provides a continuously shifting chain of command in the orc’s army by generating random Uruks (a type of orc), each with their own personality and power. These Uruks will strive to advance in the hierarchy, which can be affected by both the player and the AI actions. The leadership of the orc army is separated in four different tiers of command with each tier having more powerful commanders than the last, ending up with five warlords as the highest ranks. The orc’s captains can challenge each others, resulting into a continuous killing between them in the struggle for power. Killing the main hero will also result into a promotion for the killer. The result of this eternal battle for power can be seen detailed in a special menu in the UI and the daily changes can be seen either letting the time pass or when dying.
To make matters more complicated, information has to be acquired first about the orc leader’s power, abilities and location. This information’s can be obtained either by finding documents, freeing slaves that can provide some details or by forcefully reading the mind of certain orcs by using one of the wraith powers.
Killing a leader will award the player with a weapon rune that can be put in the weapon sockets to provide all sort of combat bonuses and power which is used to further improve the abilities of the two main characters. There are various randomly generated missions that involve the Nemesis system. These Nemesis missions require the player to simply assassinate orc leaders or intervene in fights for power between captains, tipping the balance scale into one direction or completely eliminating all those involved. There is even an online component involved, called Vendetta, in which friends can be avenged by assassinating the Uruk that killed them. But these missions suffer from the same problem as all the other missions in this game, the lack of variety and the abusiveness with which they are generated make them repetitive after just a few hours.
                The orcs are brutal and merciless but they aren't the most courageous or smart beings. Many times in battle they will run away either because they are close to dying or because a fear element was triggered, like fire or a caragor (some wild beasts). A fleeing leader has to be chased down and eliminated fast before he escapes, otherwise he will come back stronger and ready for revenge.
                Overall this entire system adds a certain depth to a game that otherwise would be a rinse and repeat experience (funny, a problem that the AC series has as well). Even if this innovating idea is used to exhaustion in this game (being clearly the developer's ACE card) I found it quite enjoyable and entertaining and one of the main factors that kept me playing.
I'm going to kill them all!

                The combat in Shadow of Mordor, at first glimpse, looks very similar to the one in the Batman Arkham series. This is not a bad thing, but not the best either. I consider the combat in the Arkham games a spam of two buttons combined with direction changing. But the three weapons combined with the progressive skill tree, which adds all sort of combos and new abilities, shape the combat into much more.
                Talion wields two weapons, each serving a different purpose. The sword is designed for fast and engaging combat with multi target functionality. At first the sword play style is mashing a button in a direction trying to interrupt attacking enemies, blocking from time to time and executing them if possible. But with the help of a few points spent in the melee skills, the hit streaks become important and there are enough combo moves to make attacks require more timing and synchronization.
The dagger is a weapon for taking out enemies in a fast and silent way, an indispensable weapon for a stealth play style. Surprisingly the game puts an accent on stealth, allowing the player to choose how they want to deal with different situations. Most of the missions can be completed sneaking around, taking advantage of the terrain, distracting and silently eliminating enemies. Talion seems to have gone to Gondor's school of acrobatics as he is able to climb on almost any wall, walk on tin ropes and jump from place to place without losing balance for a moment. This opens up all sorts of pathways to reach objectives and orc’s camps help a lot because of their verticality. The enemy’s outposts are equipped with alarms which they rush to sound as soon as they spot the danger. Once the alarm was triggered, waves of new orcs will show up forming parties to search for the enemy. Taking on such a big group might be problematic, blowing up fires or releasing caragors from their cages are some of the useful tricks to gain an advantage in order to thin the orc horde or escape.
 I wasn't expecting the stealth gameplay to be well executed and I enjoyed it immensely.
LotR Ezio.

                In addition to his two weapons, Talion can call forth the power of the elven wraith, slowing time in order to shoot ghostly arrows with a deadly precision. The bow gameplay is very disappointing, I was expecting a combination of deadly damage and high skill cap, like Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies. Instead the game has a bullet time from Max Payne, which gives a huge advantage in every fight. The only impediments from using the bow all the time are energy, limited arrows and some Uruks’ immunity to ranged damage. The first two become less relevant with character progression.
                The two protagonist's power can be enhanced through a series of skill upgrades and a rune system for weapon. There is a fairly standard level up system based on the XP gained by completing missions or killing enemies. With each new level a points is awarded to upgrade the active combat abilities of the two main characters. The skill tree is split in two halves, allowing the choice between physical abilities and the magic of the wraith. Power obtained from killing the orc leaders is required to have access to skills further down the line.
In addition to XP, missions and other activities award some special points which are used to increase passive powers like character's life, the number of arrows carried, energy or the number of runes for each weapon.
Weapons can be upgraded with the runes dropped by orc’s leaders. Each weapon starts with one rune socket and this number can be increased to four for each weapon. The runes are separated in different quality standards and levels.
Grinding pays off!
Like I wasn't powerful enough.

            The combat moves are beautiful and the animations are top notch, some of the best I've seen. Talion can slash enemies left and right, jump over them, kick, stab, punch, push and do anything necessary to succeed. Executing the orcs is violent and satisfying and it’s done in so many ways that it never gets old. Depending on the positioning the execution animations are always different.
The difficulty increases over time with the captains growing in power and stronger units coming to aid them in battle. Dual wielding berserkers or heavy armored orcs are some of the tougher enemies that can easily stop Talion's standard attacks. And if someone is not satisfied with the challenge of fighting packs of twenty or thirty orcs at a time, try taking on a big troll.
                There are two features that bothered me to no end besides the bow play. The time slow during executions and other moments that requires fast reactions during fights was a total combat immersion breaker, waking me up from my complete state of focus. The second issue is part of the console’s legacy. The game has multifunctional keys and this can cause a lot of problems sometimes, as one key can trigger multiple actions in the same place and the game randomly executes one.
I was extremely skeptical about the combat system in Shadow of Mordor, especially after I noticed obvious similarities with the Arkham series. But as I got to play the game and experience how fast paced, visceral and reactive it is, I found it quite addictive.
I'm LotR Batman!
LotR Max Payne?!

The open world of Shadow of Mordor is nice to look at but has nothing to show. The graphics are really good with high resolution textures, detailed models, beautiful lighting and other good effects. But there is almost no artistic design in this game. In all fairness, Mordor is a close to barren area, with little life or traces of civilization. But the developers could have put a bigger effort into it, to avoid making the world as repetitive as the gameplay itself.
Even so, when it comes to the technical part, the game doesn't disappoint. There are enough options to play with and obtain a good balance between looking good and playing smoothly. Graphical fidelity comes to show that this title is not just a console port and when the textures on ultra require 6 Gb of video ram, it is clear that this quality standard was not designed with console in mind (some better optimization wouldn’t hurt).
Empty, yet gorgeous!
Lovely rain.

The sound effects prove even more that Monolith Productions has the resources to make the technical part great, but not the artistic imagination to fill the rest of the game. The battle sound effects were at the center of the developer’s attention. The battle cries of the orcs, the sound of weapons clashing and flesh being ripped apart adds to the intensity of every battle.
The voice acting is extremely well done from human characters to orcs, all sound natural and credible. There are no awkward moments in the dialogues to make the scene look like a poorly scripted one. The orc leaders’ sound laughably stupid even in their attempts to threaten, a great satire for their race.
When it comes to music, the only thing I can say certainly is that I barely noticed it. There were a few moments when I felt like a part of the epic Lord of the Rings soundtrack is in the game, but those moments passed quickly and the music didn't capture my ears’ attention anymore.

Maybe it’s just me, expecting too much from a video game, just because it’s set in the same universe as one of the greatest movie trilogies ever made. But I do think the movies should be the target standard for this kind of games, attempting to reach the quality of sound and action from them it would make a better game.
Why so scared?!

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a pure action game with little additions from other genres. Expecting something else from it than lots of overwhelming battles with few moments of peace to regain health and complete some collecting missions is wrong.
This would be a forgettable title because of the heavy console gameplay influences and its repetitive nature that leads to monotony in the first few hours. The game is miraculously saved by the addictive combat, the Nemesis system and the gorgeous animations and graphics.

+ Loads of action
+ Impressive graphics
+ Fluent and spectacular animations
+ Addictive combat
+ Voice acting and battle sound effects
+ Stealth gameplay
+ Nemesis system

- Repetitive missions
- Uninteresting story
- Time slow during combat
- Multifunctional keys
- Ranged gameplay
- Many arcade elements
- Optimization


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Screenshot of the Week #11: German steel!


                No new releases in the past week, except the new Call of Duty which I will skip. So I used this spare time to get back to one of the games that I play from time to time.
                One of my biggest passions is warfare technology and with it comes my love for tanks (despite being a pacifist at heart). While I’m waiting for the release of Armored Warfare, the new title from Obsidian Entertainment, I’m going to satisfy my need for tank battles with War Thunder: Ground Forces. A game that provides a more realistic perspective on tank battles, compared to World of Tanks, and I find this more my style. The game can be incredibly frustrating, because the damage model is really suited for patient players (which I’m clearly not), but also because the game is a bit imbalanced. Even so, is an enjoyable experience and the tank models and sounds are incredibly well done.
                I did put some effort this weekend, to unlock two of my favorite tanks of all times and I have to say they are awesome (!!). Nothing can compare with Germans steel!
A monster!

                I did purchased Titanfall to give the game a fair try, since I only played it in beta (and I haven’t played a single shooter released this year). I’m going to spend the upcoming week playing it together with other online games, while I’m waiting for Dragon Age: Inquisition release. After that the new Bioware game will have my full attention, with a review coming as soon as I’m done with the game.
                The Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor review is almost completed, I will post it in the upcoming week. I’ve also being playing the new game from AMPLITUDE Studios, Dungeon of the Endless, which is an interesting and innovative combination of RPG, rogue-lite and tower defense. If I have enough time and inspiration I’m going to write a short review for it in the next weeks.

In the meantime, please share my articles and follow me on Steam and on Twitter!!


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Lords of the Fallen Review!


In 2009 Demon Souls was released and took the gaming world by storm, with some innovative game mechanics, an interesting multiplayer and extremely challenging gameplay. The game was the oasis of hope for gamers trying to escape the loop of hand holding games of that time. The Souls franchise expanded and with this a cult of elitists was formed that sees Souls as the new standard of difficulty and a trolling war started from here. While there are a lot of good things to say about the Soul series it isn’t as perfect as the fans would want it to be and putting a game on a pedestal is not a good idea. If you don't believe me, look at Dark Souls II.
It was only a matter of time until more games using similar mechanics came out and started to feast on the market that Demon Souls opened up. I will defer in this review from making too many comparisons with the Souls series, mainly because I'm not one of those experts at it and I don't find it that necessary.

Lords of the Fallen is a dark fantasy action RPG (we are playing fast and loose with the word RPG nowadays) developed by the German studio Deck13 Interactive together with the Polish studio and publisher CI Games. The executive producer for this title is Tomasz Gop, known for his work as producer of Witcher 2.
Lords of the Fallen is trying a slightly different approach to what made the Souls series so popular. And with an experienced producer, two studios behind it and a very powerful engine can things actually go wrong?

The story follows Harkyn, a bald convicted criminal with a face full of tattoos which are marks of his crimes (looks like Ragnar Lothbrok). He was just released from prison (I have no idea why exactly he was imprisoned) and brought to a monastery by his liberator to aid the leader of mankind in the fight against the demonic race named Roghar. By the time our hero (antihero?) got here it was already too late, the monastery was invaded by demons and nobody seems to be left alive.
The goal of our hero is to redeem himself by stopping the Rhogar invasion all by himself and kill all their Lords sent to our world by the fallen god Adyr. But as Harkyn cuts through the waves of demons and some of their Lords, he meets a woman (the only woman in this game), Yatka, who doesn’t seem to give a sh*t about what looks like the demonic  apocalypse and is more focused on finding a book of her family and the secrets hidden in it. Yatka plays a part in the story, but the action could easily move along without her, as all she does is act tough and wait for the hero in different areas to talk about things which have hardly any importance to a man who’s busy battling hundreds of demons in order to save humanity. It seems to me that the only reason she’s in the game is because there was a need for at least a female character, something that the gamers apparently want to see in RPGs.
The good thing about the storytelling in Lords of the Fallen is the fact that it is not forced on the player, having skippable cutscenes and short dialogues makes it easier to tune it out if you don’t find it appealing or in the eventuality of more playthroughs. Most of the information is provided through journal pages found scattered around the world. Ironically I found the content of these journals far more captivating than the main story.  These pages trigger audio logs filled with knowledge about this universe, listening to them can lead to treasures, secrets and can provide vital information about the Roghar Lords. The game is very stingy when it comes to lore and the information given is not enough to put the players in context with this new world that is presented to them, by the end of the game not much is known about what lies outside the walls of the monastery and I found myself craving for more information.
The quests are few and not underlined, except the ones that are part of the main story, which give a realistic feeling to questing and even confidence as the developers didn’t think the gamers need handholding in order to complete them, something that is seen rarely these days. Finding the quests through audio logs or getting them from various characters and attempting to solve them in a game without a map or a quest tracker (RPGs GPS) is a challenge. Choosing to ignore a quest may have unknown consequences that might be seen later in the game.
The plot of Lords of the Fallen is unimpressive and made my interest in it gradually fade, despite having a twist close to the ending (which I've seen coming really early in the game). The quest choices become nothing more than a bunch of statistics presented in the ending cinematic of the game.
Lobster hand.
Man she's ugly!

The world of Lords of the Fallen welcomes players who want to explore it and at first it does seem like there is a lot to be seen in it. Secrets play an important role and go hand in hand with the questing. Attempting to find secret areas by knocking down walls and opening all sort of pathways that could lead to better loot or entering demonic portals guarded by furious demons was quite enjoyable. It really felt at times like a dungeon crawler, especially because the game leads you to all kind of narrow dungeons. Sadly this entire experience could have been much greater if the game had traps and puzzles.
But as the game progressed and more pathways opened, I found myself running in circles, as many of the doors that were closed and which I was expecting to open later in the game to lead me to new adventures, were just shorter ways to come back to more central areas where the main story takes place. The level design is horrible at times, circling the player to frustration through areas barely populated with enemies. By the end of the game I came to realize that the exploreable world is extremely small and the developers attempted to hide this with back and forth movement to complete the main story tasks. This was a total letdown, especially after I got used with RPGs that go on for more than 50 hours in which they took me to all kind of places. I needed less than nine hours to see almost everything that can be seen in this game (on the first difficulty level), including finding all the quests I could find and by the looks of it discovering most of the secret areas. So I wonder, if the game is so short, why does it have such a steep price tag?
There is a system which allows for replayability called New Game + (and ++) which allows restarting the game using the same character on an increased difficulty level.  But as the new game starts it doesn’t take more than two fights to realize that the monster scaling is terrible, making these continued playthroughs a walk in the park. No new enemies have been introduced to make the new difficulty more exciting and the existing ones haven’t received any new abilities that players will have to accommodate to. The loot is the same as before with the difference that now it has better stats to be on par with the monsters’ increased damage and health, but the balance is way off and makes the players more powerful than they should be. I crushed the first three bosses on NG+ without using almost any of the tactics that helped me beat them on the first difficulty. The developers should have been prepared for the fact that players now know the tactics for each fight and something new is required to keep them engaged. Opening new areas to explore could have made the new playthrough worth the while, but instead the New Game+ system seems like a desperate attempt to increase the length of the game after realizing the end product is way too short (looks like it was designed in one night considering how badly balanced it is).
This doesn't look very safe.

The game mechanics are similar to those seen in the Souls series. Defeating enemies awards XP which can be spent to increase the character stats or the number of spells, the requirements for stats increases as more XP is spent to enhance the character. The tricky part is that the XP can only be spent at save points and dying between two save points will drop the XP under the form of a soul and all the enemies on the map will respawn together with the hero. Dying again after that will result in generating a new soul containing the XP accumulated so far and the loss of the unrecovered one together with the entire XP that it was holding. Death can't be taken easily in this game as dying repeatedly could make a character underpowered, it can be recovered through farming, but where is the fun in that?
Lords of the Fallen does bring some new mechanics to the table, to differentiate itself from the Souls series, under the form of a high risk - high reward system. A multiplier keeps adding up the more enemies are killed without stopping to bank experience or dying, exponentially increasing the experience gained from killing.
The character customization is fairly limited, with no customization allowed on our bald and rough hero. Before choosing a class, a magic school has to be picked. There are three types of magic in this game, each designed to work better with a certain class, but they can be picked freely with any of the available classes. While three is not such a bad number, when you combine it with four spells for each magic school, the math is not quite in favor of the game. The spells variety is irritating as the spells from each school serve almost the same role.
 The game has three (this seems to be the magic number) classes to pick from, each designed for the three types of armors present in the game and with different combat traits and useable weapons. The rogue is based on mobility using light armor, dual wielding small weapons and taking cover behind buckler shields. The cleric is designed to be more of a spell caster, a class in between the other two, wearing medium armor and wielding kite shields and hammers. This is probably the best class to get accommodated with the game. The warrior is slow due to the heavy equipment, the class is based on soaking hits while dealing damage and less on avoiding being hit, it can wield all kind of giant weapons and tower shields while wearing heavy armor. There are no restrictions to useable gear with the exception of weapons that require the main stat of a class to use it at full potential. The classes are not completely balanced (just like almost everything else in this game) with rogue being the hardest to master and warrior becoming some sort of facerolling halfway through. The lack of a ranged class made me mad about the character customization (being a big fan of ranged gameplay) way before the game’s release. The argument of not being suited for this universe is irrelevant as there are ranged enemies in the game. Most likely adding a ranged class would have made the designing of monsters a lot more difficult and the developers chose the easier road (because why not?!). There is a gauntlet that is taken early in the game and provides three (again?!) types of ranged attacks, but that doesn’t make up for everything.
You can level your character by spending experience into a basic and fairly intuitive attributes system and the chosen magic. While characters can be messed up by spending points on the wrong stats, I felt everything was quite natural and if a player is not entirely sure on what attributes to increase, after the first three boss fights everything becomes quite clear.
I found the Luck stat completely useless, because the game’s difficulty becomes easy early on and I didn't feel the need to increase my chance for better items at the expense of raw stats.
Soo many choices! What to choose?!?

The itemization in the game is varied from daggers and small shields to badass two hander weapons and tower shields the size of a wall. The loot is separated in different quality levels, the quality items drop chance being affected by different factors. One of the interesting ways to get an item of the highest quality is defeating the bosses in a certain way. This will award an item that can also use an ability similar to one of the skills used by the defeated boss. The art style of equipable gear is absolutely amazing, the design of armor sets is fit from head to toe and the design of the weapons and shields is a combination of art and destruction power. It felt great to walk around in a huge heavy armor that made me feel like a great warrior from the Warhammer universe.
There is a crafting system that revolves around the gems found in the world which can be identified and used to upgrade the items with sockets in them. Gems have to be identified in order to reveal their stats and experience can be sacrificed to increase the chance of getting higher quality ones.
I only carry with me items to gear up an army or two.
This crystal always drops for me!!!

 The combat system is at the meeting point between realistic, tactical and arcade. It relies on learning your enemy’s moves and patiently avoiding his attacks waiting for a window to counterattack. Every combat action requires energy, a renewable but limited resource that has to be carefully managed, when the energy bar is empty attacks become slower, blocks become ineffective and the character can't run. This energy bar adds to a more tactical approach of the combat, where every move has to be calculated and to add even more depth to this mechanic if attacks are timed perfectly in a combo their energy cost will be reduced. The health in this game can drop quite fast if not careful and there is no health regeneration and the number of potions is limited and can only be replenished at a saving point.
Sadly there is nothing surprising in the combat after beating an enemy once. After learning the moves of an enemy the second time I knew exactly what to do to end the fight quicker and without problems. This wouldn't be such an issue if there was a higher variety of enemies forcing a continuous learning curve on the player's part, but such is not the case with Lords of the Fallen.
The bosses are the cherry on top of the difficulty cake, the battles with them are challenging and some can be a little frustrating, but as soon as I understood the mechanics behind their moves everything turned into standard fights of patience and execution with a risk for greater damage taken. Bosses have different stages of combat which are triggered when their health reaches a threshold, which adds new abilities to their existent set of skills. Even so, many of the bosses were desperately yelling for new and more powerful abilities to defeat me and in some of the fights I felt like being the boss fighting a poor demon that is a Roghar Lord just with the name. The game is designed to penalize players for their own mistakes and reward them for their combat skills and in some battles this is true, timed blocks or dodges and calculated attacks are the key to victory, but as the game progresses, most enemies can be easily overpowered, ruining the concept behind this system.
No reason to panic.

The combat style is directly affected by the items, the lighter the armor the faster the dodging rolls to hit the enemy from behind or run away from their path. There are three stages of speed, affected by the type of armor and each of these stages is made to further differentiate the classes. Each weapon in the game has a different attack animation, which makes weapon picking more interesting as players want a weapon with higher stats, but also the new weapon animations have to be learned or they must fit with the play style used. All weapons can be worn with one or two hands, affecting their attack speed and damage. This allows for compromises between higher damage and survivability depending on the fight ahead. But the weapons balancing doesn't seem too fair, with two handed weapons hitting way too slow and not having enough damage to compensate for it.
To assist the player in combat, especially when fighting more than one enemy (which doesn’t happen that often), the camera can be locked on a target. This is a good and common feature used in action games, but what I found odd about it is the fact that it allowed me to slide past enemies easier, avoiding their attacks and hitting them from behind with much more ease.
Overall, the combat tries to be realistic and tactical up to a point, but I wanted the battles to feel like a duel between adversaries. I imagine a good combat system as a player versus player fight from various online games. The enemy has to be challenging, smart and not always predictable, otherwise the end result will always be an exploitable and predictable combat. I understand the reasons behind these mechanics, the game penalizes the player for his mistakes and the combat adjusts to this idea, but if the player knows what to expect the probability of mistakes lowers considerably. Surprise attacks that would put the player on a spot where he has to rely on his reactions and the fast judgment of an unexpected situation would clearly make the combat not only challenging, but more realistic and satisfying at the same time(not to mention frustrating, after all aren't these games all about that?). Despite all the problems listed above, I have to say that I did enjoy my time fighting demons left and right, using weapons that suited my style and of course abusing my gigantic shield.
Come to papa!
For those disappointed with the fact that the game is easier than they expected, don't be alarmed, Lords of the Fallen has a hidden difficulty that made me try the first boss for more than 30 minutes before actually killing him, for real, for the first time. My game crashed so many times and I had to restart entire areas and go fight the same enemies over and over again that my nerves were pushed close to the edge. And if crashes were the only problem, things would have been easier, but Lords of the Fallen is riddled with bugs and so many issues, it feels like a game in a beta test. The corpse physics is terrifying with bodies getting stuck to my character all the time annoying me and impeding my movement. Walls have no hit detection and weapons swing through like a lightsaber (but without the awesome melting effect). And after 9 hours into the game and close to 80% completion I managed to finish it early by falling into a pit from which there was no escape (must be some sort of secret ending!).
But probably the most annoying bug of them all is the camera control, I haven't seen such an annoying free look camera since the release of Guild Wars 2, but compared with that game, Lords of the Fallen has much more enclosed areas with dungeons and lots of tunneling areas where I was forced to fight most of the time. The camera kept coming all over my character and going crazy through walls blinding me, costing my character its life multiple times.
Looking back after I finished the game, I’m pretty sure bugs cost me more than 50% of my deaths, which is a terrible statistic for a game of this type.
The end...
Hard to describe what is going on here.

Probably this game’s strongest point is the tech and the production value that comes with it. Lords of the Fallen was conceived using the Fledge engine together with some Nvidia effects and PhysX. Even if the game doesn’t have the most artistic design, the graphical fidelity does manage to make up for this with its absolute beauty. The game looks spectacular, one of the best looking 3rd person games since Witcher 2. The particle effects are impressive and together with the volumetric lights and shadow effects of the highest quality I couldn't get enough of the images in front of my eyes. The textures show some weaknesses here and there, especially when it comes to body models and some of the walls and the water effects look like they are important from a different and less powerful engine reflecting non-existent surroundings. Even so, I found myself stopping from time to time to admire the gruesome view of the monastery, the sinister demonic realm or my badass looking character.
To complement the graphics and the combat itself, the animations are incredibly fluent and realistic I enjoyed them immensely. Is been a while since the characters I control in a 3rd person game didn’t have the movement of an animated doll. I wish more developers would follow this trend and if their engines can’t support some proper animations maybe use Euphoria animation engine which does an awesome job at this.
Imagine the tides!
I look awesome!

The sound seems to be designed with one main goal in mind, to enhance the combat experience as much as possible. I found the battle sound effects thrilling and they made every fight more enjoyable, as I was engaged in combat and I could hear the sound of enemy weapons hitting my shield and being repelled by it and the fully armored bodies of demons I’ve slain crushing to the ground lifeless and the chink of their weapon sliding on the ground causing me a sadistic pleasure.
The music is subtle, but extremely well done and provides a perfect balance between combat and moments of ambient silence. If there was something that bothered me related to the sound it is the voice acting, which seems rather out of context with the world and combined with terrible or no lip-sync saddened me as everything related to this was so perfect.
Only if you could hear the sound from this bridge.

Lords of the Fallen doesn’t want to be a Souls game, but uses most of the mechanics seen in that series and tries to differentiate itself by having an easier to grasp gameplay, but losing depth in the process. The game still tries to look like an experience that penalizes the player for its own mistakes, but it seems like it penalizes him for buying the game too soon. The amount of bugs and issues make the game insufferable and waiting for patches seems like the wiser thing to do at the moment. Even so, patches won’t be enough to fix this game completely, many of the problems being part of the game design and the small amount of content.
I did enjoy the moments in the game when bugs didn’t make me so furious that I wanted to throw my monitor out of the window, but this doesn’t make Lords of the Fallen less of a flawed game.
The developers never said that they wanted this to be a franchise and it will be up to discussion if the game sells well, it remains to be seen if future content through DLCs or maybe an expansion will transform it into a better game. And if a sequel is on the table, I do hope it will learn from its predecessor’s mistakes.

+ Great graphics and animations
+ Amazing sound effects
+ Awesome armor and weapon designs
+ Risk-reward XP system
+ Engaging combat
+ The setting

- Glitchy camera
- Lots of bugs
- Game length
- Crash fest
- Mediocre story
- Small enemy variety
- Poor optimization
- Questionable voice acting
- Lack of a ranged class