Pages

Friday, April 21, 2017

Darksiders: Derivative, Redundant, Uninspired

Darksiders (2010) is essentially the love-child of The Legend of Zelda and Devil May Cry. Picture, if you will, a Zelda game in the vein of Ocarina of Time or Twilight Princess, set in modern times after a war between Heaven and Hell has wiped humanity off the face of the earth and left its landscape a ruined mess, in which you play as War -- one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse -- trying to clear his name after he's framed for prematurely bringing about the apocalypse, by going into Zelda-style dungeons to solve puzzles and unlock special items that will help you defeat the boss and unlock new areas of the world map, while fighting enemies using a combination of a giant sword, scythe, and pistol to build combo-chains Devil May Cry-style. That's Darksiders in a nutshell; it's a carbon copy so similar to those two games that a cynical person might say it straight up plagiarizes them, while others might say that it is more of an homage in the style of those two games.

I certainly qualify as a hardcore cynic, but I generally enjoy Zelda games and there aren't enough 3D Zelda-clones out there to scratch the Zelda itch while waiting years on end for a new Zelda game to come out (on a brand new console that you can't afford until the price drops several more years later). I was looking forward to playing Darksiders, hoping that it would offer that same Zelda feel but with a more mature theme full of grimdark imagery and bloody violence. Darksiders succeeds on both fronts, but at the same time it feels a little too rote and mechanical, as if the developer, Vigil Games, was so focused on reproducing the Zelda and Devil May Cry formulae that they forgot to put any of their own creativity into the game, thus leaving us with a perfectly functional and decently enjoyable game that's ultimately too derivative, redundant, and uninspired for its own good.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Problem With Open World Games, or "Why Open World Games Suck"

The joint release of Horizon Zero Dawn and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild -- two of the biggest and most ambitious open-world games ever made -- within days of each other has spawned a lot of discussion about which game handles the open world formula better, and which represents the future of open world gaming. I've not played either one so I won't be commenting on that issue directly. Instead I'll be giving my thoughts on open world games in general, based on observations and trends I've noticed in the open world games I've played over the past 15 years.

As the title already states, I have some major issues with open world games. It's not that I don't like them, or that they're all bad across the board -- in fact, many of my all-time favorite games are open world, or at least semi-open world. There are a lot of good things to like about open world games, hence why they've become so popular lately, but I feel like very few developers do the open world concept justice. It seems like most of the mainstream AAA open world games that I play end up subtly or outright disappointing me, and consequently I've grown apprehensive of games that consider their big open worlds to be their main selling point.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Dark Souls 3: The Ringed City - DLC Review

The Ringed City is the second and final DLC for Dark Souls 3, and supposedly the final piece of content that will ever be produced in the Dark Souls series. Its story continues where Ashes of Ariandel left off; after defeating the final boss of the Painted World of Ariandel, you gain access to a bonfire that warps you to a new area, the Dreg Heap, where you go on a brief journey through the dilapidated ruins of past Dark Souls environments en route to the Ringed City, where Slave Knight Gael (who beckoned you into Ariandel) hopes to find the Dark Soul of Man so that his niece, the painter from Ashes of Ariandel, can use it to create a new world.

This DLC introduces two new areas (the Dreg Heap and the Ringed City itself), four new bosses (one of which is optional), a new covenant, all new enemies, plus a bunch of new weapons, armor sets, and spells. As part of the release, FromSoft also released a patch for the base game which tweaks some balance issues (mainly buffing strength weapons and heavy armor) and which also adds two new maps to the PVP arena, which is only accessible if you've purchased either of the two DLCs. The first DLC, Ashes of Ariandel, felt a little too short and underwhelming to recommend to anyone but die-hard fans; for the same price, The Ringed City offers over twice as much content, a lot of which is pretty unique stuff that's never really been seen or done before in a Souls game, so it's pretty easy to recommend.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Great Games You Never Played: Wizardry 8

Wizardry 8 is a first-person party-based dungeon-crawling three-dimensional open-world role-playing game. Released in 2001 as the final entry in the long-running Wizardry series (which began in 1981 as one of the very first computer-RPGs), Wizardry 8 completes the "Dark Savant" trilogy that began with Wizardry 6, throughout which you're trying to stop an evil villain known as the Dark Savant from gaining access to the Cosmic Forge -- the tools used by the gods to create the universe, which hold the power to create, destroy, or change anything in the universe by simply writing its history into existence. Despite being a continuation of the story from the previous two games (your save files can be carried through all three games), Wizardry 8 works fine as a stand-alone title, although you'll miss a lot of references and it might take you a little longer to understand the backstory.

As part of a game series borne of the 1980s, Wizardry 8 definitely has that vintage, old-school vibe to it, but with the advantage of a much more modern skin which makes it a much easier game to get into. That's absolutely crucial, because this is a truly great RPG that easily ranks among the best RPGs ever made. It's not perfect, mind you -- there's one crucial problem that made me almost want to quit, and it's a little rough around the edges due to developer SirTech's dwindling budget -- but it's got one of the most robust party-creation systems ever implemented in a video game, and one of the best turn-based combat systems of any RPG. Not to mention a fairly sizable open-world with an interesting blend of fantasy and science-fiction elements, and a non-linear main-quest-line that allows for a lot of rewarding exploration and discovery.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pathologic: The Marble Nest - Demo Impressions

The original Pathologic, released back in 2005 by Russian developer Ice-Pick Lodge, is one of the most unique and interesting games ever made. I reviewed it five years ago and had a lot of high praise for it. The legacy of the original game is so strong that Ice-Pick Lodge took to Kickstarter a few years ago planning a remake that would fix some of the original's critical problems while re-imagining and improving many of the story elements and gameplay mechanics. As part of the process in developing the new version, they've recently released a free playable demo called The Marble Nest, which consists of a stand-alone scenario meant to showcase some of the game's more prominent gameplay mechanisms while condensing the full game experience down to two hours. 

For the uninitiated, Pathologic is a type of survival-horror adventure game played in first-person, in which you take the role of one of three different healers who have arrived in a strange town with a bunch of bizarre and mysterious customs just as a deadly plague breaks out. The game takes place over the course of 12 days, with the town changing dramatically as the plague spreads and more and more people become infected. Each day comes with a main quest that must be completed while the clock continues to tick, leaving you a limited amount of time each day to complete your tasks. Meanwhile, you have to manage your own condition on various statistical gauges, which involves scrounging the environment for resources and manipulating a fickle economy where sometimes your only hope for survival is to sell your only weapon for a few slices of bread.

The Marble Nest maintains all of these ideas, but trims some of the more complicated survival systems and economy management down while putting you in a scenario that spans only one day. In it, you wake up some time after the plague has already wiped out most of the population, after your final quarantine zone has been breached. With seemingly all hope lost, you watch as the city collapses around you, and then the game flashes back to 14 hours prior, giving you a chance to possibly prevent the catastrophe from happening, although you'll most likely fail and everyone will die horribly, as is the true spirit of Pathologic

Monday, March 13, 2017

Titan Quest: The "Neapolitan Ice Cream" of Action-RPGs

Titan Quest is a hack-n-slash action-RPG based on ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Chinese mythology. It seemed to fly under the radar back in 2006, and yet somehow, for some reason, publisher THQ decided to release a massive free update for it 10 years later in 2016. Dubbed the "Anniversary Edition," this new version is a complete overhaul of the original game with performance tweaks, improved functionality, new features, and better balancing while also throwing in the Immortal Throne expansion. The core gameplay follows the traditions of Diablo, where you work your way through a series of levels fighting enemies, collecting randomized loot, and investing points in skill trees when you level up, all in an overhead axonometric view with a mouse-driven interface and real-time combat.

Action-RPGs aren't usually my cup of tea. I played some of the original Titan Quest back in 2007 (the "Gold Edition" box is still sitting on my shelf) as well as a few others in the genre (Diablo, Diablo 3, Dungeon Siege, Dungeon Siege 2, Path of Exile), but in each case I only played for a few hours and then lost interest. Titan Quest: Anniversary Edition is the first of this type of game that I've actually played to completion, and even then, I still technically haven't completed it because I stopped shortly after finishing the base game's campaign, having no desire to continue further with the expansion content. That should give you a pretty clear idea of how I felt about the game: I enjoyed it enough to play it through until the end, but not enough to keep going when it tried to get me to stick around for more.

Since I'm not a super-seasoned aciton-RPG person I can't get into much detail about how Titan Quest stacks up to other games in the genre, but even with my limited familiarity with these games I still find it difficult to talk about Titan Quest as its own entity because it seems like such a bog-standard, formulaic action-RPG that most of what I'd be saying about it could apply to all action-RPGs in general. I feel like this is the type of game that I could just say "it's Diablo but set in ancient Greece, Egypt, and China" and you would intuitively know if you'd like it or not. Still, I have some observations that might help shed some more light on the game and perhaps explain the Neapolitan ice cream comparison in the title.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Resident Evil 7: Banned Footage DLC Review

The first wave of DLC for Resident Evil 7 consists of two separate packs: Banned Footage Vol. 1 ($9.99) and Banned Footage Vol. 2 ($14.99). Each pack comes with two video cassette "flashbacks" plus a bonus game mode, for a total of six scenarios. Volume 1 features "Nightmare," in which you play as Clancy trapped in the basement trying to fight off waves of molded; "Bedroom," in which you play as Clancy locked in a bedroom trying to solve puzzles to escape; and "Ethan Must Die," an ultra-hard rogue-lite mini-campaign in which you play as Ethan exploring the main house and green house before fighting a boss. Volume 2 features "21," in which you play as Clancy forced by Lucas to play a sadistic version of high-stakes blackjack; "Daughters," in which you play as Zoe on the night that the Baker family starts to turn; and "Jack's 55th Birthday," in which you play as Mia in a comically bizarre time-trial scenario about searching the Baker estate for food to bring to Jack.

Since each scenario involves a completely different premise with its own unique gameplay, I'll be reviewing each scenario individually, grouped based on how they appear in the two DLC packs. I'll give my overall thoughts on the value and balance of content for each DLC pack -- essentially, whether either of them is worth buying or not -- in the conclusion section at the end of the article.