September 19, 2008
Mount and Blade is an open-world RPG that relies on skill (as in timing and strategy) based combat. The game is aptly titled as you’ll find yourself mounted on a horse with a sword in hand for the majority of the experience.
I think this is a good game, but I would like to get my complaints out of the way.
It’s a little known fact, but I used to work on a horse ranch as a trail guide. As part of my job I would do tricks to entertain our guests. One of them involved getting the horse into a gallop and picking a bucket up from the ground. The point is I know what riding a horse should feel like, and while this game comes close it all feels a bit too wooden. A major tenant of the game is mounted combat; admittedly I’ve never been trained in the art, but I’d assume leaning toward your target is a significant component. The horse is also unable to make sharp turns at anything faster than a trot, which is how you’d ride casually, but these are fairly nimble animals when they have to be.
There are a good number of villages, cities, forts, and castles available to visit. Unfortunately they are frequently deserted, and when you do find NPCs outside of shops and quest givers they are almost completely unhelpful. In villages there is one NPC worth talking to, the village elder. He’ll have quests for you to take that are normally pretty easy, making for great starter tasks. However trying to find him is less than enjoyable. The other villagers will say “Speak to our elder, he’s right over there.” Then they’ll walk off on their predetermined paths with no objectives or goals to lend credence to the claim that these are in fact people. There is no indication where “right over there” is, and more often than not “right over there” is actually on the other side of the village.
Another problem I have is with the sporadic voice acting. Every once in a while a character will say something; it wouldn’t be worth mentioning except that most of the time there is nothing but text to convey the story. Long, boring text. A lot of the text is reused, as in the aforementioned villager example.
This game lacks polish. In terms of production value it feels like something made ten years ago, a poor man’s Morrowwind, if you will. While I find it easy to look past this sort of flaw, you may not. If you demand triple A level of polish you will be disappointed by this title.
With all that said, let’s talk about what Mount and Blade does right.
The game absolutely refuses to hold your hand. While that sets a steep learning curve combat is more enjoyable as a result. The only time you’ll see crosshairs on your screen is when you’re using a ranged weapon, and even then it’s a poor indicator of where your projectile will land. Why’s this a good thing? With every landed swing you feel as if you’ve accomplished something; it feels satisfying. Hitting someone with a sword while charging them on a horse shouldn’t be easy, and M&B understands that.
There is what appears to be a loose story mode, but after the first few fetch quests I got tired of it. By appearances you can align yourself with one of four kingdoms, eventually command a brigade, and wage war on a neighboring territory. If I didn’t have to be some Lord’s gopher to get there I’d probably be all about it. Instead I gathered some volunteers from a village and took to the lands, hunting bandits where I found them.
As I leveled up I was able to recruit more volunteers. As the volunteers leveled they were able use advanced weapons (crossbows, spears, horses, etc) and became more powerful in battle. I never felt like my army was a huge advantage in the campaign mode, but they do a great job of preventing you from being literally overwhelmed by hostiles.
Playing this game will remind you of “grity fantasy” stories like “The Wheel of Time” or “A Song of Ice and Fire.” There’s nothing in the way of magic in the world, but the people are dirty, the battles are massive and violent, and the humor is thin.
The game does come with a few “scenarios” to test your skills. I was ready to quit playing before I discovered them. I would suggest anyone who plays the game goes through them after the tutorial, but before the main game. They do a better job of presenting the game’s assets than the first stretch of the campaign, but they don’t do much to teach you the basic mechanics required to survive.
I asked my PR contact if the final product would have a map editor built in to make these scenarios. Unfortunately there are no mod tools included with the title. However the mod community has taken hold of this game. I saw a reskinned version of Mount and Blade within minutes of looking for mods; and the title isn’t even out of beta yet! I wouldn’t be shocked if someone discovers a way to build custom scenarios; and when they do I’ll be in line to download it.
Skip it: if you demand high production values, in terms of graphics and sound, stay away. You won’t see a lot of pretty, shiny stuff here. Also if you’re not a fan of old school RPGs like the Ultima series, the early Elder Scroll games, or even The Witcher this title probably isn’t right for you.
Play it at a friend’s: There’s not a lot of middle ground for this game. If you’ve been looking for something meatier than a typical Western RPG you should try it.
Buy it: If you can over look the polish issues and you’re not some Johnny-come-lately pc gamer this title is for you. It’s uber-niche, and it’s very difficult to get started with, but it rewards you for your effort and allows you to tell your own story. When I want to play a hardcore single player RPG this is the title I will load for a long time.
September 14, 2008
This review covers the game itself. Not the community features. Not the amazing technical achievements. There is a lot of great stuff about this game that has little-to-nothing to do with the game.
Spore is Will Wright’s new game that simulates life from the primordial ooze to inter-stellar travel. You create your own creature using a fairly robust system. There are a few types of gameplay, each with it’s own drawbacks and merits. Let’s tackle them one at a time.
In the beginning you’re a small creature swimming around a top down 2d ocean. It’s essentially eat or be eaten. You can choose between a carnivorous or herbivorous mouth. Of course later you have the option of adding a second, third, 50th mouth of either variety, or grabbing an omnivorous mouth. Early on your options are limited, but you unlock additional parts as you progress, as is true for all ‘levels.’ In this stage some parts are good for attack and defense, while others make you faster, more agile, etc. Of all the modes I found this one to be the best executed.
In the second part of the game your creature ‘sprouts’ legs, arms, a spine, and a brain. I opted to be as peaceful a creature as possible so I spent my time looking for trees and befriending nearby herds of other animals in an action/adventure style setting. Eventually I ran into a species that was unwilling to coexist with me. It seemed they began hunting me and the creatures I’d befriended. The next time I had a chance to ‘evolve’ I completely changed my creatures design to give him an edge in combat. There’s nothing wrong with this stage, but I didn’t find it particularly engaging.
The next two stages of evolution are different spins on RTS gameplay. In the Tribal phase you have control of a set number of creatures and you must befriend or raid your neighboring tribes. As my interest began to wane I discovered one of the tribes was the Hype Monster. I realize the dice are loaded for the game to throw in one or two of my own creatures, but it felt incredibly cool to see a creature I made and forgot about appear to interact with me. The Hype Monster was the first tribe I met. I immediately befriended them, which managed to anger every other tribe. I ended up needing to wipe out every other species, dashing my hopes of being completely friendly.
In the next phase you build a city/state and attempt to conquer the world. Because the emphasis is on territory grabs the city customization is fairly weak. You can place houses, factories, or entertainment. Houses give you access to vehicles, either economic or military depending on your city’s preference. Factories increase your city’s revenue and rate of revenue, giving you sporebucks to spend on vehicles and buildings or purchasing other cities. Entertainment keeps your populace happy and more eager to defend your city.
So there are two methods of capturing a city. You can simply blow it up with military force, or you can trade with them until they are willing to entertain a bid for their city. Again I tried to dominate the world via economic prowess, but of my three neighboring cities one nation was warlike. They attacked on multiple fronts and managed to capture three cities in the time it took me to purchase one. I attempted to fight them off; but the AI was unwilling to help push an offensive against our common enemy, and once the other cities fell my stalemate would turn into a lost cause. Enter special abilities. For 4,000 sporebucks I could call a temporary cease fire. By the point I realized I wouldn’t be able to defeat my enemy via military means the war engines had drained my coffers to critical levels. However I produced 7,000 sporebucks each time I used the cease fire ability. I was able to purchase good favor by gifting 3,000 sporebucks at a time and establishing trade routes in between wars. Once the warmonger felt at ease with me taking over the world became fairly tedious. Establish a trade route. Wait a few minutes. Buy the city. Repeat. Near the end I was given the ability to spend a ton of sporebucks (which were stockpiled at this point) to establish a UN of sorts, taking me out of the laborious nation phase and into…
Space. The space phase seems to be the apex of the game. You fly a spaceship around different planets, establishing colonies and discovering new species to war and trade with. This may have been an interesting hybrid between Sins of a Solar Empire and Crimson Skies if not for the controls. Aiming is fast paced and done with the mouse; so far so good. WASD is used for movement. Scroll wheel for altitude. Now for the rub: each weapon has a recharge time associated with it, and early on none of your guns will take out an enemy ship in a single shot. So your choice lies in using an underpowered laser that doesn’t recharge or switching between weapons every 1/30th second. Maybe there’s a way around this flaw, but if there is I have not found it and that is a problem in and of itself. If combat could be avoided I’d be willing to look past it, but space is littered with pirates, religious fanatics, and creat
ures that are just plain mean. I consider myself to be a better-than-average gamer and I became flustered. This game’s target demographic is the casual audience, I can’t imagine they’d tolerate this sort of behavior for very long.
A final note on this game’s post-launch hype. I’ve heard ‘scientists’ praising this game for preaching evolution to the masses. As my images show generation a needs no common features with generation b. Any common traits between my creatures were left out of laziness, not some game directive. The title’s opening cinematic was a method to weasel out of the origin of life debate. The only actual examples of true evolution came from giving my fish guy feet and increasing his cognitive ability as I befriended/dominated other herds in the creature phase. That’s not to say this game is teaching intelligent design, but of the two options I’d say that is nearer the message.
Skip it: This title tries to do a lot and doesn’t do anything particularly well. There’s no reason, in game terms, to get this game.
Rent it: If you want to sample some different genres of games without investing too much time into learning mechanics, Spore will work for you. Think of it as an appetizer platter at Applebees. You really might really like mozzarella sticks, but you have to eat spinach and artichoke dip too.
Buy it: If you have some emotional investment in the creationism vs evolution debate this game walks a vary inoffensive line that may give you a glimpse into the other side’s thought process. I can’t think of any other reason to buy this game.
(Feel free to import my stuff into your game. Just save the .png’s above into the appropriate folder inside “My Spore Creations”)
September 3, 2008
I’ve been in the BF:H beta for a while, but I wasn’t aloud to say anything about it. Recently that embargo has been broken, and now I’ll pass the info along to you.
I don’t think this game is going to hold over hard-core fps fans. It takes entirely too long to kill people. You can unload entire clips into people and not kill them. Surviving sniper head shots is not only possible, but common. Hit boxes are currently goofy at best, but all of this may be corrected before launch.
I’m also disapointed that there is not yet a way to switch classes in game. If you want to switch from soldier to scout you have to exit the game, change professions on the website, and go back in.
The final thing I hope they fix before release: There’s no way to join a friend’s game other than pure chance. I’m pretty confident this will be fixed, but EA’s online offerings have been dicey (get it?) in the past.
Here’s what they did right: You have excellent character customization. Right from the get-go you can make a pretty unique looking avatar. As you play more options become available to you, both functionally and aesthetically.
I’ve heard complaints about people putting all of their points into a single skill, breaking the game balance. I don’t think this will be commonplace after the first few weeks of the game’s launch. Players interested in being “leet” will move on quickly.
Obviously the game will be free, and the min-spec is low enough that anyone interested in playing will be able to. As far as I can tell it does require Windows to play, but it seems like any machine that can run XP can handle this game. As a result you won’t see a lot of empty servers, and you’ll be playing with a wide variety of people.
I’m also going to put the lack of voice chat in the positive column. The people I want to talk to can get into my vent server. If years of Counter-Strike and Xbox Live have taught me anything, it’s that most people on the web have a poor signal to noise ratio.
Since it’ll cost you a total of 5 minutes to try this game when it comes out, I recommend that you do. While it may not be worth a lot of effort to get early access, it is a fun diversion for anyone looking to play a game without getting overly involved.
August 24, 2008
Capcom continues to release updates to franchises we older gamers admire. This week I’m talking about a re-skinned NES classic: Bionic Commando.
Let’s start with that re-skinning. The characters and animation are incredibly detailed for XBLA. I consistently enjoyed watching Spencer parachute into the level, rolling to a crouch, and nodding to the camera.
The level design is top notch, but since the floor plan is often your worst enemy you may not see the beauty of it right away. In fact I spent a good portion of my time inventing new ways to swear at my television my first 5-15 play-through’s of each level. Eventually I became so frustrated with myself for not making a jump my mind retreated and my thumbs took over. I believe I can complete area 10 with muscle memory alone.
If I were to detract from this game it would surely be because of the controls. It feels as though the original NES controls were left in place, as if the developers didn’t realize we have more buttons to work with now. Some people say the game eventually “clicks” for them, and moving Spencer around the screen becomes second nature. That never happened for me. I was constantly measuring every move I made to allow as much time as possible to maneuver my thumbs into position for the next stage of my jump.
I want to make a quick note about the writing in this game: It has restored my faith in a big publisher’s ability to treat downloadable games with respect. I laughed to myself several times while contacting headquarters or listening to the enemy’s communiqué.
Skip it: If you’re the kind of person who can’t beat a Prince of Persia title without using the rewind button.
Get the demo: If you were born in the 70s or 80s, you’ll probably want to revisit this title. If you kids with your X-Stations and PlayBoxes want to see how you measure up to old school gamers, give BC:R a try.
Buy it: If you are ‘teh h4rdest c0rez’ you’ll want to try making some speed runs in this game.
August 17, 2008
It seems the NDA is done (or at least broken) so I’m going to tell you everything I can about Warhammer Online, levels 1-20.
First off, character balance works in this game! It was never impossible to take down a character of the same level, no matter what class they played. WoW could take a lesson.
I spent most of my time on the Destruction side of things. As a Chaos Magus I was a long range specialist, and if I saw you first I won 9 times out of 10. My main weakness seemed to be groups of players and just about any close range combat. My Magus only made it to level ten, maybe better group control comes later.
My Greenskin character was a Black Orc. Black Orc’s are a tanking class that work off a combo system. There are three tiers of attacks/buffs/debuffs. You start off with a weak-ish opener which unlocks your second attack which is a DoT or debuff and inturn unlocks your third tier attack which is usually a large chunk of damage. My biggest advantage in PVP came from being an HP bucket. If I could avoid getting stunned I was able to outlast everyone else one on one. Having no viable range options made approaching enemies tricky.
There was talk early on that a person could level and gear up without touching PvE. My experience in the beta says otherwise. Equipment drops in instances were rare, and I usually had better gear from quest drops. However scenarios (think battlegrounds) were a completely viable way to gain experience, albeit not the fastest.
I found the fastest, and most entertaining, way to gain levels and equipment was from Public Quests. PQs are always-running scripted events, the only requirement to play is that you wonder into the area where it happens. You, and whoever else is around, will face three waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Each kill gains you exp and renown (which you can spend on certian high-end items) as well as increasing your modifier. At the end of the quest everyone who participated gets a dice roll which is added to your modifier. The top three rolls + modifiers get access to a treasure chest where you can pick an item that is usually relevant to your class. I may be mistaken, but PQs also seem to contribute to your realm’s dominance of the region. I wasn’t able to get far enough into the game to determine how this effects you or your side.
I wasn’t able to do a lot of RvR in the world proper, most of the areas that force-flag RvR status were stuffed full of combative NPCs, neat area effects (such as cannons, which players can aim/fire!) and a ton of people. At the time I was running 1.5 gigs of ram in Vista, and the suggested min is 2gigs. When I first saw one of these crowded areas I discovered why. I’d suggest getting as close to 4 gigs as you can to make these crowded areas run well.
The PvE quests were a little unbalanced. Most were pretty easy, while others required you to kill a unique mob in a congested starting area, right near a PQ where players kill everything they see. I spent a good 15-20 minutes waiting for the mob to show up. Sometimes quest instructions can be a little unclear; especially before you realize your inventory has two tabs: useable and quest items. Saying that just saved someone some embarrassment in the opening days of the game.
From what I’ve seen this game is better than WoW for PvPers, and I think Blizzard will have to come up with an answer before they lose that demographic.
July 20, 2008
Recently Turbine has been pushing to get more subscribers in their MMO, Dungeons and Dragons Online. I grabbed a friend, a free ten day trial, and a bunch of caffeine.
This game, under the correct circumstances, could be excellent. To create those circumstances you’ll need three to five friends who’ve owned a d20 sometime in their life, schedules that match frequently with at least two hours to dedicate to the game per session.
Each class is made to feel useful; dungeons are laden with traps and locked doors where rogues excel; some doors require Wisdom (cleric/paladin’s primary stat) to open, others Intelligence (wizards). You’ll often find valves and controls that require strength to open, making fighters slightly more than front-line fodder. The only classes that don’t directly contribute to dungeon exploration are the Charisma based characters, bards and sorcerers. Fortunately their respective party buffs and deep mana supply more than compensate.
Can’t get a group of people together to pretend-spelunk? Most quests (not all) have the option to go through solo. You should be warned that many classes are virtually unplayable solo. My rogue struggled getting past the initial four quests in Stormreach. My sorcerer had problems dealing with hp bucket bosses. My cleric couldn’t deal any damage without getting stomped on by by hordes of kobolds. The only character I was able to be somewhat effective with was the fighter.
The rewards for playing in groups are so potent it’s hard to recommend trying to play alone. Groups afford you better exp per dungeon by giving you access to higher difficulties. Finding treasure chests in higher difficulties yield better rewards, and of course most of them are hidden behind stat-specific doorways.
Leveling is slower here than most MMOs. The maximum level is 16, and each level is divvied into five tiers. With each tier, or rank, you get an action point. You can spend these action points on talents. Talents grant you a variety of perks from additional stats to special abilities. There seems to be a lot of room to customize your character in this system, but I never really felt like I was progressing.
It doesn’t seem terribly difficult to max out your attack and defense in this setting. I found most of my characters benefited more from armor that had “rebound damage” (sorry for the old MUD term, I think you catch my meaning) as apposed to a better armor class.
DDO did a good job of breaking out of the “stand in front of the monster and attack” mold. When dungeon crawling I often found myself thinking about the layout. Be it looking for secret doors, ambushes, or traps I was constantly alert. Using the topology for strategy was remarkably successful. For example one or two melee characters could be used to block a doorway while casters and rangers stomp out the hordes of enemies attempting to overrun the group.
Skip it: If you don’t have a regular gaming group this game will be a tough sell.
Get the Demo: If you have one or two friends that are tired of WoW/AoC this game is certainly one to try.
Buy it: If you have four-five friends that work well together this game is a no brainer. There’s a lot to love if you can get people to commit to it.
June 29, 2008
This review was written by Caleb (Ripskin in the forums). I’m posting it as is because he worked pretty hard on editing it. Enjoy.
Quite recently the pyro pack for Team Fortress 2 came out; and I didn’t even know it. The pyro has always been my favorite of the nine. I’m rather pleased with the achievements given.
The achievements prove to be challenging, but nowhere near as hard, or even odd as the medic’s. For example, how are you going to save someone about to die from a fall, without staging it? I guess some people can, but it’s just a matter of chance. I digress, the pyro achievements, right.
When I first found out about the pack’s release, I was on the beginning of a two-day migraine. So I turned my monitors brightness to 10%, sealed the window so no light would come in, turned off my speakers and began.
I tried to do these in regular maps, which proved ineffective, but I wanted that flare gun. So I went and asked my good friend Cheap to help, which he awesomely said he would. It only took 20 minutes to get around 12 achievements just staging all of them with the good Mr. Awesome. Finally I said screw it, and went to an achievement box. From there I got all but four done in an hour. I then played regular games for the kills to not feel like I was cheating that much.
For some of you that don’t know what an achievement box is, it’s a map that gives you all the conditions needed to get any achievements for the pyro/medic. Usually people help others, in exchange for help of their own achievements.
So the achievements were really simple; and that’s just fine, simpler the better. The weapons they unlocked? Made of pure concentrated awesome. The flare gun (what I like to call the ‘Poof-F-U gun’) is a long range flame thrower, except more fun to shoot. I say it’s more fun, because what beats seeing some sort of enemy run away after seeing a pyro, then getting set on fire anyways with this toy flare gun from 50 feet away? It’s also pretty funny to shoot it straight into a croud, just to see whoever you hit crying for a medic.
The next weapon is the back burner, which is just a beautiful gun featuring the head of some sort of amphibian at the end, which just makes it even cooler. The ‘back’ part of the burner isn’t near as effective as the +50 hp it gives. I mean, sure the insta-crit is great, but you find yourself trying to hit their back more then trying to set everyone on fire.
Lastly, the Axtinguisher, which is a beautiful and bloody axe with barbed wire wrapped around it, and it honestly doesn’t do much for me. Yeah, it’s gorey and beautiful; but you have a flamethrower, why are you going to run at them with an axe? I guess for the 100% crit against burning people which is just as pointless as trying to hit dudes in the back instead of setting everyone on fire. Also whenever I look at the axe, I get this hollow feeling in my teeth, reminds me of the braces I had to wear like five years of my life..
All in all the pyro pack is a great addition to the game, and I can’t wait for the next one. Supposedly, it’s the engineers turn. In all honesty I hope it’s the demo, because that’s my second favorite, and of course what I’m using almost all the time right now because pyros are almost useless against pyros, which is half any team you’ll fight right at the moment. But hopefully the flashiness of the new achievements will wear off soon.
June 29, 2008
The title of this “game” tells you everything you need to know about it. You make various animals that you will later be able to use when the full game ships later this year.
There’s two problems with reviewing it. The obvious one is the demo that is freely available that has been widely download and shows you all the mechanics this “game” has to offer. The other problem is it’s not a game, it’s not even a demo for a game.
If you purchase the full version of Spore Creature Creator you are essentially paying EA/Maxis to create content for their game. Sure, it’s fun to do, but you’re still doing some of the work that used to be the content creator’s job. That’s not a bad thing, by itself, but to pay for the privilege seems wrong somehow.
There’s a pretty wide variety of legs, arms, mouths, eyes, etc that you can attach to your monster, but I still found it difficult to get exactly what I wanted.
The animation engine works fairly well, but I am disappointed that your creature’s body parts can clip through themselves. I’m hoping Spore 2 will have a rigidity/flexibility slide bar implemented to prevent your creature from impaling himself on a feather.
Skip it: If you have absolutely no creativity. It’s really hard to recommend avoiding the demo to anyone.
Demo: If you’ve got a pc or mac from the last ten years, go get the demo. Everyone can have a little bit of fun here.
Buy it: EA and Target have said they will give you $5 off the full game when it’s released, if you pay $10 now. Full access to the parts is nice, but I’m not sure it justifies the price to any but the most hard core fans.
June 19, 2008
I made Hype in the creature creator. Here’s a video and his .png. Enjoy.
Update: Forgot I wrote a little description for him: This creature uses his extended nose to screech his call to anyone who will hear it. He usually wants you to give him fruit in exchange for subpar entertainment.
June 19, 2008
I went back to my raptor after getting the full version. They had a pre-fabbed foot and some better “paint job” styles. I tweaked the girth of his legs a bit, adjusted his posture, and some other small things. He’s a better dinosaur now, over all.