Check Up: Diablo III – Rise of the Necromancer (Patch 2.6.0)

It’s been a little over six months since I last checked in on the status of Diablo III. At the time, the game was just getting into it’s ninth “season” and the Diablo Anniversary event was in full swing. Now, Diablo fans have something new to celebrate. Just in time for Season 11, Blizzard has a released a new batch of paid DLC for Diablo III called Rise of the Necromancer. I call it DLC because the content does come at a cost and it’s contents are a bit more extraordinary than what you’d find in a mere patch, but also less than what you’d expect from a full expansion.

Essentially, for the cost of $15.00, you gain access to the new Necromancer character class, and all of the fluff that comes with it, but there are no new levels or main storyline content. The purchase does include a few cosmetic items as well. (A portrait frame and a pet).

Personally, I feel like this is a fair asking price from Blizzard. Asking $15.00 from players who are already well invested in the game is reasonable. But if you’re new to Diablo III or considering buying it in the future, it may be best to wait and see if there is going to be an “all-in-one” collection. But, if you’re impatient the existing Battlechest collection only costs $20. That includes the base game and expansion. So even if you purchased that and Rise of the Necromancer, you’re only out $35 total, which if we’re being honest, is a more than acceptable price for a full game of this quality.

Just like any other class in Diablo III, the Necromancer comes complete with it’s own skill tree, item drops and audio dialogue. So, this class is in no way a cheap tack-on. In fact, I found the Necromancer to be a the perfect fit into the Diablo III universe. I daresay that it might be my favorite class in the game! It has arrived just in time for the upcoming season. So, seizing this opportunity, once Season 11 starts, and friend and I plan to play through the game again as Necromancers. So, if you have similar plans (and I’m sure many do), feel free to look for me.

My final thoughts on this release are as follows: considering the  success that this DLC release has brought Blizzard, I can only wonder if they plan future releases using this model. Diablo III is now several years old, but it remains popular and profitable. Perhaps future add-ons to the game will come in the form of piecemeal DLC like this. Aside from character classes, maybe we’ll see new storyline areas or other paid content in the future? Blizzard has been very hush hush on such matters in regards to Diablo III, but we know from other games like Overwatch or even World of Warcraft that they tend to embrace paid content. We’ll have to see.

Review: Dragonia

It is with both shame and amusement that I type this review… As it is my ritual every summer in the weeks leading up to the Steam Summer Sale, I always take a moment to browse through the store looking for games that interest me. When I find one, I will add it my wishlist to ensure that I receive a notification if it goes on sale. This year, while perusing the store I came upon an interesting trend – I found a number of anime style games, of various types that were selling for $1.50 or less. Due to the extremely low price, I snatched up as many of them as I could. One of them happened to be an anime-style shoot-em-up by the name of Dragonia. After scrolling through the store page for the game, it quickly became obvious that this was an adult title. But, the game play looked interesting and the reviews were great so I bit the bullet.

Now, even knowing that the game contained some adult themes, I had NO IDEA what I had got myself into… to say this is a “mature” game is an understatement. This game is downright pornographic. On top of that, there’s even an “uncensoring patch” available directly from the developer, just in case you need absolutely nothing left to the imagination. In fact, I debated even reviewing this game at all, considering the content. But, as you will see, it’s actually a somewhat intriguing title. So much so, I decided to review it regardless of it’s extremely adult nature.

Let me take a moment to explain what this game actually is. First off, in it’s heart and soul, Dragonia is a bullet-hell schmup. You play the character of Feeney, a half-human, half dragon. Feeney is summoned by an old witch to help purge the land from the grip of several Evil Dragons. As it turns out, only Feeney has the ability to defeat and “purify” these dragons. As might be able to guess, to “purify” them, Feeney has to resort to her… seductive skills and… well… you can guess the rest.

(Censored by Sensei)

The basic storyline outlined above is easy enough to decipher. However, that’s about all you’re going to get out of the storyline text in the game. The English translation in this game can only be described as horrendous. It seems to literally be a copy paste from Chinese to English via Google Translate… Which in some ways is actually a godsend, because the text likes to describe in detail every single thing Feeney has to do to “purify” her enemies.

All of the adult material in the game is limited to the cutscenes that play before and after each game level. The gameplay itself is pretty much family friendly. You control Feeney from a birds-eye-view as she flies around and blasts her opponents from the air.  Enemies approach from every angle. It’s a classic bullet-hell scenario.

As you play through each level, Feeney will collect “souls”. In between stages, souls can be exchanged for a variety of things. You can unlock new modes of attack, you can increase your damage level, health, etc.  So in some ways, this game has a very RPG-like progression element to it.  You complete a level by defeating a certain number of enemies. Once you reach this number, the level boss is spawned. Defeating the boss allows you to proceed to the next area.  At first, the game levels are fairly simple but eventually you will come across a boss that you just can’t take down. This is where you’ll want to grind up some more health of damage output. Some bosses are weak to certain attacks (lightning, fire, etc). So unlocking specific attack modes is also part of the strategy.

In this way, despite the extremely high levels of fan-service, the game actually has some redeeming value to it.  I personally found the gameplay to be engaging and overall very well done. There’s no shortage of upgrades to unlock. So, this game gets quite a few things right. It’s hard to argue that the gameplay itself is bad. And, depending on your viewpoint, the cutscenes are either going to be a big plus or a big turn off.

The down points to this title are without a doubt the terrible localization and the UI/playcontol. The in-game menus look like they were designed by rank amateurs. There’s no logic to them at all. But with a little diligence, you’ll be able to figure out their quirks and limp through the UI. The game itself can be played using a keyboard, but I don’t recommend this. These types of game just work best with a controller. Personally, I played Dragonia using my trusty USB Xbox 360 controller.  Even on a controller, the control-scheme makes little sense. But, it is accurate and responsive. Normally, these types of complaints would be a BIG DEAL, because when I say they are bad, I mean they are really REALLY terrible. But, when the game sells for $1.50, it’s very difficult to complain. Especially for all of the content you actually get with that $1.50. Dragonia is a short game, but it’s longer than others that I’ve paid premium prices for.

If you enjoy schmups and bullet hells, this is a game that might tickle your fancy. Just know going in, that it is filled with unapologetic hentai visuals.

Difficulty: Easy–  This game is a curious case in terms of difficulty simply because as a schmup, it is exactly what you’d expect: bullets flying everywhere, endless enemies pouring from all sides, etc. Each level gets harder and harder. But, as mentioned in the main review, you can upgrade your life meter and even the damage that you deal. So, if you find yourself stuck on a particular level, the only thing you really need to do is be patient and grind until you are overpowered enough to blast your way through whatever roadblock you encountered. This mechanic actually renders most of the challenges in the game meaningless.

Story: If we’re being honest, the storyline for this game is nothing more then a vehicle to deliver some heavy doses of fanservice. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that the game itself was developed separately from the dirty cutscenes and the two were cobbled together into the game that we see now. The in-game story is shallow and weird. But, admittedly mildly interesting. The translation is barely comprehendable.

Originality: Hentai games are nothing new. Neither are bullet-hells. But, I have to admit that this is the first time I’ve ever seen them lumped together in one title. Add in the the RP/progression element and you have a pretty original package.

Soundtrack: The game has a somewhat catchy soundtrack. But the sound effects can be a bit annoying at times. One weapon in particular sounds like high volume static. It is quite annoying. Overall, the audio in this title is pretty poor and unimaginative.

Fun: It’s hard to admit this. But, I had a pretty good time with the game. The gameplay kept me hooked. I enjoyed leveling and unlocking all of the weapons. The cutscenes are amusing, albeit shocking at times. A certain fraction of players will no doubt be able to have a really good time with the cutscenes.

Graphics:  The cutscenes are colorful, crisp and well rendered. Fans of anime-style art will be pleased. The game itself is actually quite-well rendered as well. The bullet effects are colorful and dynamic. Sadly, the UI is crudely chopped together and messy.

Playcontrol:  No matter what method you use, the playcontrol is rough and very non-intuitive. Playing with a controller is manageable, but it still just feels off.

Downloadable Content:  None. 

Mature Content: Pornographic content and extreme adult language.

Value:  Despite the many negative things about this game, it’s hard to argue with the price. Someone paying a little over a dollar for a game shouldn’t expect much. Considering the paltry cost for this title, you are getting your money’s worth ten times over.  Often, many adult-content games actually come with a premium price tag. It’s hard to go wrong here from a value standpoint.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – Content aside, a lot of aspects about this game are well done and interesting. There’s quite a bit of content for a very small price. On the other side of the coin, the game suffers from bad localization, terrible UI and playcontrol. It’s an interesting but largely mediocre title, but one that will appeal to certain gamers.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

It’s been two years since the release of Heavensward and SE has spent that time working on the next chapter in the Final Fantasy XIV saga: Stormblood. Well, it’s finally here! I’ve spent the last two weeks playing the new content and I’ve finally completed the expansion. So, as expected, I’m here with a full review!

Stormblood brings Final Fantasy XIV up to version 4.0. With that version bump comes a ton of new content. Stormblood adds two new (long awaited) jobs to the game: Red Mage and Samurai. It also raises the level cap to 70 and adds an entire new continent to explore. The focus of the expansion is the retaking of the nations of Ala Mhigo and Doma from Imperial control. The occupation of Ala Mhigo has long been a part of the game’s lore, reaching back as early as 1.0. In this way, Stormblood finally brings a capstone to nearly every loose-end that is left from the original version of the game.

Whereas Heavensward introduced flying to the world of FFXIV, Stormblood brings about the ability to dive and swim. Even some areas of the original game have been updated to allow players to swim in shallow waters. For many of the new zones, players are able to dive down and explore areas of the deep. Flying mounts are also able to traverse the underwater zones as well.  Currently, this ability is pretty novel and really only comes into play for the new scenario missions. But SE has hinted that more content might be coming that incorporates swimming/diving.

I have to go on record and state that the storyline for Stormblood is absolutely fantastic. At worst, it is on par with A Realm Reborn, but I daresay it even exceeds it. To me, Heavensward was a decent expansion. But, at times it became very repetitive and downright boring. This was not the case with Stormblood. Everything about this expansion felt fresh and interesting to me.  From the storyline, the new cities and zones, the innovative dungeons and even the boss fights, the whole of Stormblood was just spot on for me.

Aside from all the new content, Final Fantasy XIV version 4.0 also marked a major revamp to the core game itself. The whole job system received an overhaul of sorts. Skills and abilities were streamlined, with several actions being revamped or even eliminated. The pointless concept of customizing character ability scores (an old mechanic from the now defunct 1.0 version) has finally been removed from the game. 4.0 also introduces the “Job Gauge”, a job-specific on-screen graphic that is unique to each job and related to that job’s special abilities.

A major theme of Stormblood is that of the Far East. Pretty much any type of Asian flair is represented in the new zones. From the Japanese-inspired city of Kugane, to the Chinese-like landscape of Doma. There are even elements of ancient Mongolia, Turkey, and Slavic inspiration found in the new zones.

At the time of this writing, Stormblood has received one minor content patch, bringing the game up to version 4.01. This patch added the highly awaited Omega raid to the game.

All in all, I cannot say enough great things about Stormblood. If I had to find a complaint, it would not be with the expansion itself, but rather with SE’s recent decision to sell level boosting potions on the Mog Station store. For cold hard cash, players can now purchase an item that will level their characters to either level 50 or 60, and even one that will clear the main scenario content for A Realm Reborn and Heavensward.  I understand the concept behind such items: they allow new players to jump right in and join their friends on new adventures. But at the same time, I feel they cheapen the game play experience somewhat. As a player who has stuck with FFXIV since the early (and often dismal) days of 1.0, I couldn’t imagine spending money to purchase a game, then spending more money so that I don’t have to actually play it. But, to each their own I suppose.

I’m going to continue my tradition of reviewing each major patch as they are released. So stay tuned and as they say in the FFXIV community; “Please look forward to it!”

FFXIV Hub

** Final Fantasy XIV  (1.x)  –    A Realm Reborn  –    Heavensward   –  Stormblood **

Review: Tale of ALLTYNEX Trilogy

As I type this, I’m downloading the Final Fantasy XIV 4.0 patch and awaiting the release of that game’s new expansion. It’s during downtime like this that I tend to dig through my library and pull out something that can be played start-to-finish in a reasonable amount of time. In keeping with my current theme of games from the late-90’s era, I came across a trilogy of arcade-style schmups (shoot-em-ups) called The Tale of ALLTYNEX. This trilogy consists of three games: ALLTYNEX Second, RefleX and KAMUI. I’ve had these titles sitting in my Steam library for some time, but I’ve never paid them much attention. If I remember right, I got them as part of an indie Japanese game bundle several years ago. Last weekend, I found myself with a desire to step away from all the deep and complicated RPGS that tend to consume the majority of my game playing, and jump into some old school, bullet-hell arcade action. So I installed these games and went in completely blind.

Unless you’re really into the Japanese indie scene, you’ve probably never heard of these games. So, let’s take a moment to bring ourselves up to speed. This trilogy contains a set of games created by Japanese developer Siter Skain. This collection was actually made possible via a project on Kickstarter. It contains the following titles:

ALLTYNEX Second – This game is a semi-modern remake of the Japanese 1996 arcade classic ALLTYNEX.

RefleX – A 2008 remake, this time of an indie freeware game called Reflection from 1997.

KAMUI – A 1999 Japanese PC game, based on classic shoot-em-up arcade titles.

Originally, each of these games were separate entities with each successive game being largely inspired by the one that came before it. Now, they have been compiled and somewhat re-imagined as a loose trilogy. Oddly enough, due to the various remakes, the newest games are actually the oldest chronologically.

As mentioned above, the first game lore-wise in the trilogy is ALLTNYEX Second.  Essentially, you play as the pilot of a “superfighter” starship.  In this title, mankind’s  orbital defensive supercomputer, ALLTYNEX suddenly goes rogue and uses its control over all of all of Earth’s military hardware to wage war on humanity. As a result, the human race is forced to flee the planet and regroup on the far reaches of the solar system. In a last-ditch effort to reclaim the planet, a team of  “superfighters” are dispatched to destroy ALLTYNEX.

This game is very well done. It feels just like one of those old quarter-pumper arcade machines, and thanks to moderns graphics, it makes the genre look better than ever.  It embodies the classic Starfighter schmup gameplay: swarms of enemies, rapid fire, bullets everywhere.  The player can choose between their regular blasters or a special shield that both protects your starship as well as damages enemies.  The gameplay is intense and not particularly easy – but few bullet hells are. The nearly unlimited continues make the game accessible for even a casual player. From start to finish the game can be completed in under an hour by an experienced player.

Next up is RefleX. This game is very similar to the others. It’s an overheard bullet hell/schmup. But unlike the other entries, you don’t have multiple lives. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over. Luckily, the starship here is protected by a reflective shield. Enemy bolts will bounce off the shield and back towards the sender. This provides a whole new level of strategy to the game.

RefleX actually has quite an in-depth backstory, but to find all the juicy details you will have to dig through the manual. (The Steam version does have a PDF manual).  Essentially, you are a member of a resistance group that is rallying against an overbearing government. What’s unclear, at least to me, is how this ties in with the first game… has humanity retaken Earth and now bad guys are running the show? Despite several similarities, it just isn’t made very clear.

Finally, we have the third game in the trilogy, KAMUI. Despite being the last game in the series, this title is the one that shows it’s age the most. Which, considering the other two are remakes, I guess that’s to be expected.

This is the game that actually manages to tie the other two titles together. It features story elements from both ALLTYNEX and RefleX and presents a final battle between the resistance and a new militarized version of the ALLTYNEX AI.

Despite being the most dated of the three, I think KAMUI is my favorite of the trilogy simply because it reminds me the most of those old arcade-style shoot-em-ups that consumed so many hours of my youth. Which, is odd in itself considering KAMUI was a PC title.

Difficulty: Hard–  Most schmups and bullet hell games are infamous for their high degree of difficulty. These games are no different. Unless you’re one of those machine-like professional gamers or some kind of savant, you’re going to die a lot. Luckily, the games are pretty forgiving in that you are granted nearly unlimited continue credits. So, in reality, as long as you are persistent you can manage to complete the games regardless of overall skill. This still doesn’t change the fact that the game itself is difficult in it’s own right.

Story: As a whole, the storyline shared between these games is surprisingly rich. This is true despite it being largely absent from the games themselves. Schmups are not typically known for being rich is lore and storyline, so for this type of game any real attempt to provide one is welcome

Originality: Back in the 90’s games like these were a dime a dozen. These days, they have become a bit a niche category. Despite being based on a tested and tired model, the games in the ALLTYNEX Trilogy manage to stand out in their own little ways. For example, the ricochet shield from RefleX is a pretty unique feature. Little things like these keep the games feeling semi-fresh in a pool of stagnant copy-cat titles.

Soundtrack: One of the high points of all three of these games are the fantastic soundtracks. All these of titles come complete with a groovy, high-energy techno-like score. The music is catchy and appropriate. It does a fantastic job of keeping your blood pumping for the split-second twitch action that games like these require.

Fun: I can imagine that many people would find games like these to be frustrating and overly difficult. But that is something that fans of bullet hell games have come to expect and love. So you’re either going to enjoy this type of game or you’re not. For people like me, I don’t really consider myself to be a fan of these types of games, per se. But I do enjoy them for the nostalgia factor. And, I can appreciate them for what they are.

Graphics:  Being a trilogy of games from different eras, the graphics are a mixed bag.  Kamui and RefleX, are both still stuck in the 16-bit era. While ALLTYNEX Second has a much more modern, polished look. 

Playcontrol:  Even though these games support keyboard controls, take my advice and plug in either an Xbox or Playstation game pad. Games like these were made for controllers. Personally, I found a trusty old Xbox 360 controller to be perfect to all three games, with no real issues.

Downloadable Content:  None

Mature Content: Sci-Fi violence.

Value:  Each of these games is available separately on Steam for $8, or together in a bundle for $20. If you’re a fan of this genre, the $20 pricetag may be well worth it. But, these games are on sale frequently so a bargain shopper can usually snag them on a deal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Even though I don’t really consider myself a fan of the shoot-em-up genre, I found a lot of enjoyment in these three games. It was really a nice break our of the norm for me. Everything from the fast-paced action, to the visuals, to the soundtrack really scratched an itch I had been having for some retro arcade action. My biggest complaint about the collection is that the original versions of ALLTYNEX and RefleX were not included.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Review: Planescape Torment (Enhanced Edition)

If you’re a frequent reader to this site, you know I’m a Dungeons & Dragons fan. I love the Forgotten Realms, the world of Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, etc. But one campaign setting that has always held a special place in my heart is Planescape. Ever since I first cracked open the original Manual of the Planes all those years ago, the Outer Planes have captivated my imagination. In Dungeons & Dragons, the “Outer Planes” are best described as different dimensions. The Seven Heavens, The Nine Hells, The Abyss, Ysgard, etc – all of these mysterious places, both good and evil, make up what is known as the Outer Planes. While nearly infinite in their own way, they all share an astral connection. And right in the center of it is the wondrous city of Sigil. It is the crossroads of all other dimensions, a place to total neutrality. It is ruled by a mysterious being known as the Lady of Pain. She is a silent enforcer of order. So powerful is The Lady of Pain, that even gods cannot trespass on her territory.  It is here in the city of Sigil, that the classic RPG known as Planescape Torment takes place.

This was a title that I had not originally planned to include in my backlog of playthroughs. But with the surprise release of the Enhanced Edition, I added it my list. Planescape is a game that I enjoyed many years ago during its original release. But it never really caught on in the mainstream. Over the years, the game has built a bit of a cult following. I’m pleased that Beamdog studios has finally decided to give this title the same treatment that they gave Baldur’s Gate and other Infinity Engine games.

If you’ve played any of the other D&D Enhanced Editions, or even if you’ve read my reviews of Baldur’s Gate or Baldur’s Gate II, you already have a pretty good idea what to expect. Planescape Torment (Enhanced Edition) is simply a remaster of the original classic. It’s been updated for modern computers and includes a few quality of life improvements. But unlike Baldur’s Gate EE, there is no additional content or revisions to the game.

As mentioned above, Planescape Torment takes place in the city of Sigil, in Outlands of the Outer Planes. In this game, you play a strange, immortal character known as The Nameless One. The game begins as The Nameless One wakes up in a mortuary, unable to remember his name or anything about himself. It is there that he meets Morte, a disembodied floating skull. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out that he is immortal. Having recently died, his body was brought to the mortuary. Covered with scars and tattoos, Morte informs The Nameless One that written on his back is a cryptic message that contains clues to his identity. It is here that his quest begins to uncover the details of his past and the reason for his strange immortality. During the game, players will explore the city of Sigil, it’s mythology, and even venture into some of the outer planes in attempt to unravel this mystery.

Like Baldur’s Gate, this game uses the Infinity Engine, so if you’re familiar with other Infinity games, it won’t take you long to get acclimated to this title. It’s largely a point and click title. Also, like BG and BG2, this game is based off of AD&D 2nd edition rules. What makes this game different, aside from the planar setting, is that is it very much focused on the events surrounding the lead character. Yes, Planescape Torment uses D&D rules at it’s core, but it doesn’t really give you that full and open Dungeons & Dragons experience like Baldur’s Gate. Also, at least from my experience, I found Baldur’s Gate to be a little more heavy on combat, whereas the adventure in Planescape tends to revolve a bit on puzzle solving and diplomacy.

Throughout the game, you will team up with other characters. The relationship you decide to forge with your party members is a very important part of the story. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. As you progress through the story, The Nameless One will have multiple opportunities to change his character class. So it’s easy to adapt yourself to help compliment those in your party.

As you may have guessed, the storyline is a main focus in Planescape Torment. You will be able to explore the city of Sigil freely and interact with it’s residents. There’s quests and tasks around every corner. Engaging the NPCS and listening to their stories is crucial to your success.

Like many RPG games of it’s time, Planescape Torment is a mixture of both open world and “on rails”. Players are locked into certain areas in the beginning, but as you progress through the game you are able to revisit nearly every location. However, the choices you make on your adventure do have consequences. If you’re rude to the wrong person, or worse yet, if you kill an important NPC, it can severely impede your progress.

All in all, Planescape Torment is a classic title. I highly recommend it to nearly any RPG fan. As dated as it is, it actually manages to hold up very well. The Enhanced Edition has proven to be one of the best selling PC games of 2017, and for good reason.

Difficulty: Variable–  Planescape Torment features an Easy, Default and Hard difficultly settings. Having tested all three, I find them to be accurate and appropriate. Planescape, like Baldur’s Gate is an older game. Younger players may have a hard time understanding the pause/start combat strategy that is really required to master the game. But once you figure out the ins and outs, this title starts to click.

Story: Lore and storyline are everything here. If you’re big on story, this is the game for you. Nearly every character you encounter will have a tale to tell. The same is true for almost every location in the game as well. Of all the old D&D CRPGs, Planescape Torment delivers what is arguably the most compelling storyline of them all.

Originality: At the time of it’s original release in 1999, the Planescape setting was a well established brand, but still somewhat of an oddity in D&D. But in my opinion, it is the key to the game’s success. While many players had seen and experienced fantasy RPGS, and by this time, even post-apocalyptic RPGS, there had never been one that explored the multiverse. Having the Enhanced Edition available to allow new players to experience this intricate world, is certainly a good thing. Despite it age, Planescape is still a breath of fresh air.

Soundtrack: Most of the music found in Planescape is ambient and mood setting. There are a few occasions where players are treated to actual tunes, and these are all very well done. As is the majority of the voice acting. For the most part, the story of the game is delivered via text. But there are a few scant portions that are voiced and all of them are well done.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here. The Enhanced Edition does make this title a bit more approachable.

Graphics: At the time this game was released, the Infinity Engine was starting to get a bit long in the tooth. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition, it still looks quite dated. But most of the re-rendered textures are a considerable improvement over the original. The in-game cutscenes and character art remain unchanged from their original versions.

Playcontrol:  I’m not sure why, but Planescape Torment controls way better than other “enhanced” Infinity Engine games. The AI is responsive and accurate, unlike BG and BG2, the controls in this title just work. I did not experience any of the strange and weird issues that I encountered with Beamdog’s other D&D games.

Downloadable Content:  No – At the time of this writing, no DLC has been announced for Planescape Torment. Aside from potentially supporting the fan-favorite “Unfinished Business” mod, it’s unlikely we will see any.

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed and the overall quality of the game, it is well worth this.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Planescape Torment is a forgotten classic that, like it’s main character has been resurrected thanks to Beamdog Studios. It’s a must-have for any serious CRPG fan. It’s everything that great about D&D, in a setting that even more fantastic.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Review: Baldur’s Gate II (Enhanced Edition)

Finally, I bring you my review of the final chapter in the Baldur’s Gate series. For those that are interested, and might have missed it, I reviewed the enhanced edition of the Original Baldur’s Gate back in September. This was followed with a review of Beamdog’s official DLC: Siege of Dragonspear in January of this year. Now, after what seems like eons of time spent in the Forgotten Realms, I’m proud to share my thoughts on this remastered, classic CRPG.

First, a bit of a history lesson. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, is the sequel to the extremely popular PC game, Baldur’s Gate. It was released two years after the original and closely follows the formula that made Baldur’s Gate such a smashing success. The sequel used the same game engine, with some additional polish and refinements. Baldur’s Gate II continues the story of the original title. In fact, players of the first game are even able to carry over saved data to the sequel. A year after the original Baldur’s Gate II was released, an expansion pack; “Throne of Bhaal” was also made available. This expansion extended the storyline of the original game, and added a new optional area.   In 2013, Beamdog Studios gave Baldur’s Gate II the “Enhanced Edition” treatment as well.  This update combined both “Shadows of Amn” and “Throne of Bhaal” into one package. It also includes a new third scenario “The Black Pits II” (which itself is a sequel to the additional scenario found in the first Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition).  The Enhanced Edition also modernizes the game for today’s computer systems. It adds widescreen support, updated multiplayer functionality, and cross-platform compatibility. Also worthy of note, just like with the initial release, players can import saved data from both Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition and Siege of Dragonspear into Baldur’s Gate II Enhanced Edition.  –  Being the most accessible version of the game, it is the enhanced edition that I’ve spent the last several months playing for this review.

While there many enhancements and differences between the original Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II,  the differences between the two Enhanced Edition are much less obvious. Both games actually run on a modified version of the BG2 engine. So the actual changes from one EE game to the other are mostly cosmetic.

The story of Baldur’s Gate II, starts shortly after the events of the first game. If you’ve played Siege of Dragonspear, the events of that game actually fill in the gap between BG1 and BG2. When the game starts, the main hero and his companions find themselves being held prisoner by a mysterious magician. The first goal in the game is to get your bearings and escape from captivity. Shortly after doing so, one of the lead characters is “arrested” by an order of powerful wizards. The focus of the game then turns to finding a way to rescue this individual. This thrusts the players into the middle of some major political intrigue. Naturally, things are not as simple as they seem at first. As you continue to play and explore the world of Baldur’s Gate II, you will find yourself immersed in the rich and vibrant world that is Forgotten Realms.

Fans of Dungeons & Dragons will feel right at home. This game, just like the original Baldur’s Gate is based on the core Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules. Also, the Forgotten Realms setting is a D&D mainstay. Just like with the first game, players can create and will encounter characters based on classic D&D races and classes. Also, much like a real game of D&D, players are able to explore and do as they please. The main scenario of the game is ever present in the background, but there are endless quests and side-stories for players to pursue and enjoy.

The game is filled with classic D&D tropes and cameos. From things as mundane as talking swords to legendary magical items, fans of D&D will be sure to finds references to some of their favorite places and characters

Like the first Enhanced Edition game, this one features a number of difficulty levels. All of the original options are included, as well as the new Story Mode (super easy) and Legacy of Bhaal (insanely difficult). Being nearly identical to BG:EE,  this modern version of Baldur’s Gate II also suffers from some of the same strange issues. In the 70+ hours I sunk into this game, I observed a number of odd glitches and behavior. For example, the party AI is often troublesome. Characters do not stay in the selected formation, they wander off in odd directions, and sometimes during battle, even when selected, they just stand there doing nothing instead of executing the actions requested of them. I even encountered one serious game-breaking issue towards the end of the title that caused me to have to reload a saved game and redo over an hour of play. To be specific, upon a defeat, an NPC did not yield an item needed to progress in the game… serious glitch. Also, the Steam version of the game seems to have some issues activating achievements correctly all of the time. But, when considering the absolute vast scope of the title, it would be nearly impossible to squash every potential bug. Despite encountering a few glitches, the game is overall very stable and enjoyable.

For my playthrough, I enjoyed the game in a single-player setting. But, it is important to note there is a multiplayer option. This is certainly welcome and in fact, can be a very rewarding way to play. The only downside is that a game of this size would require some serious organization and commitment between friends in order to really make the most out of this option.

In a nutshell, fans of the original game will certainly find themselves right at home with Baldur’s Gate II. As will fans of D&D and other CRPGs of the era. For younger and modern gamers, a title such as this can seem rather daunting and perhaps even a bit overwhelming.  As with many older games, there’s little to no handholding. And, with a game of this size and complexity, that can only make things seem even more challenging.

That being said, if you like western-style RPGS, and open-world games like Fallout, Skyrim, etc – this might be a series that you should consider. Baldur’s Gate II not only continues the story of the original title, but the Throne of Bhaal chapters even put a final end to story as a whole. Playing these games through to completion is very challenging, but also extremely satisfying.  Having only dabbled with the original game back during it’s release, I am proud to have finally played both entries to their completion. Both games are simply works of art. Now, with the Enhanced Editions available, these gems can once again be enjoyed by retro gamers like myself, as well as new players who may be unearthing them for the first time.

Difficulty: Variable–  Baldur’s Gate 2 features a number of options when it comes to difficulty.  Easy, Normal, Core Rules, Hard, and Insane. The Enhanced Edition also adds options for “Story Mode” and “Legacy of Bhaal”. The latter options making you either invincible or cranking up the difficulty to a point that makes the game nearly impossible.  I’m proud of being able to have completed the original game on this new insane difficulty, but I must admit that I was unable to even get through the first half of BG2 on “Legacy of Bhaal”. With the increased characters levels, seemed to come even more challenging opponents. “Core Rules” was my go to on this title.

Story: As one might expect with a Dungeons & Dragons title, the storyline is everything here. BG 2 extends the lore and storyline of the original game and brings it to it’s ultimate conclusion. Main scenario aside, this game is filled with side quests, background lore, and even character romances.

Originality: Being both a remake and a direct sequel to another game, certainly costs any title a little bit in the “originality” department. But BG manages to keep a fresh feel by presenting the player with totally new areas and cultures to explore. The storyline is also engaging enough to keep things from getting stale.

Soundtrack: Just like with the original Baldur’s Gate, the music in the game is overall very well done. It has a classic western RPG feel to it. It does lack a bit in diversity. The voice acting is also a mixed bag. Some of the characters are spot on, while others just sound silly and out of place. Again, this game suffers a bit from when I call Repetitive Sound Syndrome. NPCS and party members have a habit to repeating the same phrases over and over to the point of being annoying.

Fun: If you’re a fan of CRPGS and/or Dungeons & Dragons, you’re going to have a blast with this game. However, many players many simply not have the patience for the old-school style found here.

Graphics: At time it was released, Baldur’s Gate was top of the line. Today, even though a lot of work was put into modernizing the Enhanced Edition it looks quite dated. Yes, the new textures are beautiful, but the character sprites suffer a bit.

Playcontrol:  While most point-and-click games are pretty simple to control, Baldur’s Gate suffers from terrible AI. It is not uncommon for NPCs to get stuck on terrain, walk the wrong way, etc. I also frequently struggled with being unable to enter buildings due to all of my characters crowding around the entry way. Also, the new edition  of the game is not without it’s share of bugs that can interfere with your progress. These are largely the same complaints I had with the original Baldur’s Gate EE.

Downloadable Content:  No – At the time of this writing, no DLC has been announced for BG2 EE. The game comes complete with both BG2 and it’s original expansion.  It also contains a new third-scenario “The Black Pits 2”.  Which, is really a continuation of the “The Black Pits” chapter found in the first BG:EE.  Overall it’s a pointless little add-on, but still worthy of a look.

Mature Content: Fantasy Violence, Mature Themes

Value:  This game currently sells for $20. Considering the amount of content packed into the title, it’s a steal at that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Baldur’s Gate 2 Enhanced Edition is a must-have for both fans of the original game and for fans of CRPGs as a whole. It’s a classic game packed with tons of content. Even with some of the glitches and faults of the remake, the redeeming qualities of the game outshine any faults it might have. For some of the reasons outlined above, I can’t claim to give it a perfect score, but it comes damn close.

Available on: PC (Steam and GOG)

Review: For Honor

I’ve decided to take a break from some of my retro reviews to look at a brand-new title that I’ve been anticipating for some time; For Honor.  For those of you who have been living under a rock, For Honor is a faction-based, hack-and-slash combat game by Ubisoft. I’ve been watching this title with interest ever since it was originally announced and now I’m here to share my thoughts.

To start, let’s discuss what this game is all about: Battle. In For Honor, you fight. That’s pretty much it. Players can choose between three main factions:  Knights, Vikings and Samurai. Each faction has a number of different heroes to choose from. These are broken down into four “style” classes – Vanguard (basic fighter), Heavy (strong defense, tank type character), Assassin (agile, speed-based) and Hybrid (combines various styles).

When you first start playing against others, you will be prompted to join a faction. This sounds like a big decision, but in reality, it doesn’t matter which faction you choose. You can join the Samurai faction and play a knight hero. The choice only comes into play for multiplayer rankings. Ubisoft has decided to go with a “season” model for For Honor. So at regular intervals, battle results are tallied and recorded. Players assigned to the winning faction will receive large in-game rewards. But, before we get into the nuts and bolts of the multiplayer, let’s take a look at the core mechanics of the game.

The first time you start up For Honor, you will be prompted to take a tutorial. I highly suggest that you do. This will teach you the basics – and you’ll need it. For Honor plays like no other title I’ve ever seen. The whole focus of the game is essentially, hand to hand combat against others. So you will learn how to defend against attacks – and do it from different angles. When fighting an opponent, you will need to watch them to determine from what vector they are attacking from. If they swing from the right, you need to defend against an attack coming from the right. If they strike you from overheard, you need to raise your shield to deflect the attack from there, etc. When attacking, you can choose either a light strike or a heavy strike. Light strikes are fast, but weak. A heavy attack will deal more damage, but it takes longer to execute and leaves you open to an attack. So it’s often best to save these until your opponent is distracted or stunned, etc. Strategy is the name of the game.

Once the tutorial is out of the way, you’ll want to play through the game’s Story Mode. This mode of gameplay builds upon the tutorial and actually introduces all the factions and classes. By playing story mode from start to finish, you will get a crash course on every type of playstyle offered in the game. On top of that, completing the story mode actually unlocks the full multiplayer experience.

The actual story for the game is pretty simple. It takes place in unnamed fantasy world, perhaps even an alternate version of Earth. For ages, war has raged between the Knights of the realm, and the nearby horde of Vikings. Recently, a group of Samurai from a far-eastern nation have relocated to the outskirts of the realm as well. The three groups are manipulated into engaging in an endless war by a mysterious character known only by the name Apollyon. I’ll stop there, lest I ruin the details revealed in the story mode. But, as the lore of the game unfolds, it makes for a rather interesting backdrop to the game itself.

As you progress through the game story, and even as you participate in multiplayer. You will earn gear and acquire “steel”. Steel is the currency in For Honor. You can spend Steel on a number of things. You can use it to purchase blind grab-bags for weapons and armor, you can purchase emotes and vanity effects for the heroes, you can even use it to purchase “Champion Status” – which is a something like a premium subscription that you’d find in a free-to-play MMO. When you have Champion Status enabled, you will earn more EXP and steel through the various activities in the game.

Leveling up and earning steel are important to your progression in the game. As you level, you can unlock “feats” which are abilities and special moves that you can employ. Steel is important for the reasons described above. Of course, with today’s games being what they are, if you don’t want to sink a lot of time into grinding, you can pay real money for bundles of steel from the in-game store as well.

For someone first starting out, I recommend spending as much time as you can experiencing the Story Mode and replaying it at the various difficulties that are offered. Doing so is great way to earn steel and unlock Scavenger Packs (weapon and armor grab bags). Also, as you complete the various chapters of story mode, you can create or log-in to Ubisoft’s special club account and unlock various goodies that carry over to the game, such as banners and emblems, etc.  All of these unlockables are strictly cosmetic. In fact, so are the rewards that were given to beta testers and Deluxe Edition players. So if you missed out on the alpha or beta tests, preorder, or if you chose not to spend the extra money on the CE of the game. Don’t worry. Aside from a few free days of champion status. You have missed nothing. The game is an even playing field for all.

Once you’ve found a hero that enjoy the most, and you feel pretty confident in your abilities, then it’s time to dive in to the real meat of the game: multiplayer. Multiplayer is where it’s at. This is where the fun is. This is especially true if you actually have friends to play with, as you have ability to group with them. For Honor currently offers the following multiplayer modes:

Duels  (One-on-one combat)

Brawls (Two-on-two team combat)

Dominion (Team-based, zone capture matches)

Skirmish (Team based, point-per-kill matches)

Elimination (Team based deathmatch)

Blood Bath (Classic deathmatch)

When you participate in Multiplyer, you can choose to be matched up with random players or you can go in with a pre-made party of friends. (Premade parties are handled via PSN, Xbox Live, etc). If for some reason, the game cannot match you with other players, AI bots will inserted into the game to fill any gaps. Sadly, the multiplayer has been plagued with some connectivity issues that seem to pop up from time to time. Also, the PC version was found to be rife with cheaters and botters shortly after launch. Ubisoft’s steps to combat this actually resulted in some innocent players getting slapped with inappropriate bans, etc.  Not a good start…

As mentioned earlier, your performance in multiplayer is scored and ranked. Scores are tallied at the end of each round (X number of days) and factions are ranked accordingly. Once all rounds are tallied, and the multiplayer season has ended, rewards are distributed. It seems Ubisoft is hoping to enter the ever-growing eSports area with For Honor. Personally, I think the game may be unique enough to help them get their foot in the door.

For me, the attraction the game is threefold. First, I like the traditional fantasy setting. It’s rooted in reality. No magic, no high-fantasy stuff. It’s swords, axes, armor, etc. It’s dirty and brutal. Second, it’s non-traditional. Most MOBAs or deathmatch arena games involve guns and explosions. For Honor focuses on hand-to-hand melee. To me, this is a refreshing change of pace. Finally, almost every type of arena-multiplayer mode can be found here, which is not really unique in itself.  But when combined with the other two facets that I mention above. It makes for an interesting experience.

Finally, I want to mention one last thing about the multiplayer. Ubisoft made an interesting decision here, when it comes to the faction warfare. As expected, the game itself is not cross platform. This means, if you play on the PC, you’ll only be playing against other PC players.  But, at the end of each season, the results of the faction war will be totaled between all platforms. Ubisoft claims, that the results are not simply being recorded for rankings, but that they will influence the continuing lore and storyline as the game itself is expanded in the future. So, what does that mean? Well, if they are true to their word – let’s say the Knights sweep season 1 and make huge strides across the territory map. According to Ubisoft, this will influence how future seasons and storyline content are handled. I’m very interested to see how true to their word they will be and what exactly this will mean.  Time will tell.

So, if you’re tired of the WWII or futuristic shoot-em ups, or if you’re just looking for a unique multiplayer experience; For Honor might be something worth considering. For me, I love European knights and I love anything Asian. So this game was right up my alley.

Difficulty: Variable –  The story mode offers playable chapters in Easy, Normal, Hard, and Realistic. The first three a self-explanatory.  Realistic Mode is essentially perma-death, with no UI queues to indicate from what vector an opponent is going to strike.  Multiplayer is a horse of a different color. You’ll be playing with and against players of all different skill levels. So when playing online you’ll never know what to expect.

Story: A game like For Honor isn’t expected to have much of a storyline. But, surprisingly it does! The lore behind the game is explained in Story Mode, and it expanded on by players willing to hunt “observables” (points of interest that, when inspected, provide more detail behind the game world).  The game’s story basically provides a set up for the multiplayer combat. I’m curious to how or if, this might be expanded on in the future.

Originality: Competitive shooters and MOBAs are nothing new. But For Honor manages to take this tried-and-true formula and make it into something unique by using non-ranged weapons and a refreshing game world.

Soundtrack: The game features and minimal soundtrack. It’s very tribal sounding – perfect for the setting of the game, but not very listenable on it’s own. The voice acting in the game is simply top-notch.

Fun: For people who like competitive online games, and eSports style arenas, For Honor is a thing of beauty. However, in the multiplayer landscape one will always come across players with sour attitudes, those who attempt to cheat, and quitters. This is just the nature of the beast. If you’re not the type that enjoy friendly competition, or if you have trouble accepting that there will always be someone better than you, you’re not likely to have a very good time. – At the time of this writing, the game suffers from some pretty drastic balance issues between some of the heroes. I fully expect this to be fixed in the coming months. But for the time being, a great number of players do seem to taking advantage of this knowledge. New players not in the know may find themselves stomped pretty hard.

Graphics: For Honor is a beautiful game. Everything from the landscapes, to the detailed textures themselves are gorgeous. In fact, I play this title on the PS4 simply because my PC does not meet the minimum requirements to run it. (This is the first game I’ve encountered where that’s been an issue…  TIME TO UPGRADE!) When playing through the story mode, take time to explore and admire many of the breathtaking landscapes. It’s that good.

Playcontrol: This is where some will struggle. The controls for this game are very non-traditional. Now, that doesn’t mean they are bad. In fact, the controls are very responsive and actually make a lot sense. But, they are just not typical. This is where the tutorials come in. A little patience may be needed to get your mind wrapped around the controls. But, once you have it, it becomes second nature.

Downloadable Content:  Yes.

As mentioned in the review. Most of the free DLC already available consists of vanity emblems, armor designs, etc. Players can purchase steel, feats and wardrobe items. Future DLC will be released on a schedule coinciding with the multiplayer seasons. As seasons start and end, Ubisoft will release new heros, gameplay modes, and maps. Currently, the plan is to make these free for all. But players who are willing to drop money on the season pass, will get access to this content early. So, by the sound of it – everything is free. But those willing to pay will get early access and some exclusives skins.

Mature Content: Violence and gore.

Value:  Currently, the base game is retailing between $50-$60. A Deluxe Edition with features some skins and other vanity fluff sells for $70. Finally, the The Gold Edition, which features the season pass and the Deluxe content will set you back $100.00 – Knowing that the future DLC will eventually be free for all diminishes the value of the gold edition in my eyes, but this really up to personal preference.  I’m not sure I feel that the base game is worth $60. But I fully expect to see this price come down in the future.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – For Honor is an example of a game with massive potential, that seems to suffer from today’s “micro-transaction” culture.  It has vision and atmosphere. However, the multiplayer portion (which is the main draw), has shown some early signs of instability. On top of that, the unlockables are lackluster and seemed way too overpriced for what you get from them. To me, this is an example of the game dev’s dangling the carrot just far enough that a large number of players will take the easy way out via their credit card. Despite this, there are certainly some positives with this game. The graphics are stellar and the combat is innovative and fun. I’m certainly no stranger to online mulitplayer in many of it’s various forms. I used to play Doom and Quake back in the old days, but in recent years I haven’t dipped my toe in many of the “MOBA” games that become popular. So, in some ways For Honor is my first foray into the world of ranked-eSports, if you want to call it that. And for a large part, I’m thoroughly pleased with what I’ve seen here. But, I feel that For Honor needs quite a bit of polish if it wants to hold the attention of gamers for very long.

Available on: PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Wii Fit U: Starting Out

So, I’ve spent a few days getting started with Wii Fit U and I’m here to share my thoughts thus far. There’s a lot to talk about here and since I’ll be making several posts over the coming months I’m going to use this first post to share my initial thoughts.

The full Wii Fit U package includes the following: The game itself, the Balance Board accessory, and the Fit Meter accessory. I’m going to take a moment to discuss these.

The balance board is really the core of the Wii Fit experience. It debuted with the original Wii Fit and is still around for Wii Fit U. Essentially, the Balance Board is a flat platform that serves a number of purposes. It’s a scale as well as a pressure sensitive “controller”. Nearly all of the Wii Fit games and activities make use of the accessory.  The Fit Meter is an optional accessory. The meter is a very basic pedometer that keeps tracks of steps. It features an IR sensor that communicates with the Wii U game pad. Data collected by the Fit Meter can then be transferred into Wii Fit U. This allows you to track steps and calories burned when you’re not actually playing the game itself.

The game itself requires a small installation footprint on the Wii U, followed by an update. There are also optional components that you can install the Wii U itself if you choose. But this is not necessary.  Upon starting the game for the first time, you’ll be prompted to create a new Wii Fit U data file. This is linked to your Nintendo ID/Mii. Next, you’ll be asked to perform a “Body Test”. During this process, the game will ask you some basic questions about yourself and then take your weight. Finally, the system will then provide you with your “Wii Fit Age”. For example, you might be 20 years old in real life, but based on your weight and other factors, the game may declare that you have the body of a 30 year old. – The results here, can be brutally honest. For me, the game wasted no time letting my know that I was “obese”.

Wii Fit U then takes a snapshot of this information and even asks you to take a selfie. The information is dated and recorded into your data file.  Over time, the game will routinely prompt you to retake the body test, at which time a new picture and data snapshot is recorded. This allows you to monitor your progress over time.

Once all this is out of the way, you can dive into the meat of the game. Now, let me stop here and state a few things. Wii Fit does a great job at explaining all of the various options that are available. But, it doesn’t really seem to provide any guidance on WHAT you should be doing. I was expecting there to be some kind of “coaching” in regards to what activities are best for a new user, but so far I’ve not found any such suggestions. This is a bit of a disappointment. I suppose that unless things become clearer as I continue to play, I may have to turn to the internet for some suggestions. I don’t like just doing random exercises with no rhyme or reason.

I should note: there is a “personal trainer” option. But for what I can gather, this only allows you to select an X number of calories that you wish to burn and then assigns activities to you that, when completed, will have burned that number of calories. So that is not the coaching too I was hoping for.

Speaking of activities, I want to take a moment and provide a warning to anyone who is considering purchasing this game. In order to participate in every activity offered in Wii Fit U, you will need a few accessories that are not included in the box. First, you’ll need a Wii Remote and a Nunchuck. But, you really want to go all out and get either a Wii Remote Plus or the Motion Plus accessory for the original Wii Remote.  Second, (and this is where they get you) you actually need TWO separate Wii Remote Pluses in order to play all of the games. So – know this going in.

Wii Fit U also incorporates one of the Wii U’s most unique features, MiiVerse. There’s a community option in the game that allows you to view and interact with with players (to a small degree). For example, let’s say I set a walking challenge for myself. Once I meet that challenge, other players in MiiVerse will see that accomplishment and can give me a “Yeah!”  (the equivalent of a Facebook “like”). As always Nintendo keeps interactions between strangers very limited so, on it’s face, this is a very novel feature. But one that’s certainly not unwelcome.

I’ve only scratched the surface in this first post, and I have a lot more exploring to do with this game. So I’m going to spend the next two weeks really digging into the title, then I’ll be back with an update. I think I’ll actually spend a little time focusing on certain areas of the game with each future post in hopes to really figure out how to get the most from this title.  Stay tuned!

Review: Resident Evil 2

Back in November I reviewed the original Resident Evil game. Today, I’m going to take a look at the sequel. As most gamers are aware, the first Resident Evil proved to be an extremely successful game.  It spawned a slew of sequels, remakes, and even films. The original game has gone down in history as a classic. So, you might wonder how the successor of such an iconic game might stand up…  let’s find out.

First, let’s discuss the version of the game I played for this review. For this playthrough, I used Resident Evil 2 (Dualshock Version). This is the only edition of the game available on the US Playstation Store. It features the original release with added rumble controller support.  This version also includes two additional unlockable modes of play. The Dualshock Version is widely considered to be the definitive version of the game.  Is important to note that there was a Nintendo 64 port of the game. The N64 version did include some interesting additions such as alternate costumes, etc. But excludes some of the features from the Dualshock Version.  Finally, there was a release for the Gamecube as well. However, this version is nothing more than a direct port of Dualshock edition on a Gamecube disc.

This game takes place about two months after the end of the first title. (If you’ve not played the first game, it’s highly recommend that you do before jumping into Resident Evil 2 – the game will make little sense if you don’t.) By this time, the T-Virus has spread like wildfire and Raccoon City is teeming with zombies.  The game follows the stories of two individuals; Claire Redfield  (sister of Chris Redfield from the original game) and a Raccoon City police officer – Leon Kennedy.  Claire has come to Raccoon City in hopes of finding her brother, unaware of the virus and the current state of affairs. It doesn’t take her long to realize that something is terribly wrong. After a nearly fatal encounter with a zombie, she is rescued by Leon. Together the two of them head towards the police station hoping to find both shelter and answers. However, a tragic accident causes the two to become separated.  Split up and alone, Claire and Leon must explore the seemingly abandoned police station in search of answers. Assuming of course, they can manage to survive…

In many ways, Resident Evil 2 is very similar to the original game. The controls, the graphics, and the overall presentation are nearly identical. Like the first game, players can choose between three difficulty levels. There’s also an arranged (Rookie) version of the game as well.  Also, like the first game, players can choose which character to play (Leon or Claire). The main difference here is that the experience for one character can change slightly depending on choices made when playing the other character. For example, if you choose to play as Leon, you can either take of leave some items that you come across during your playthrough. If you decide to leave them, then once you complete the game – you can play again from Claire’s perspective. During this second playthrough, the item that Leon left behind will be available for Claire to find and use.  To get the full experience of Resident Evil 2, you will want to play through the game with each character.

The game originally came on two different discs. A Leon disc and a Claire disc. When starting the game for the first time, you can choose to start with either character. So, this really gives you a total of four different scenarios in which to enjoy the game;  Leon’s story followed by Claire’s, or Claire’s Story followed by Leon’s.  The gameplay does changes slightly depending on which order you decide to go with. – Completing all four will unlock a little mini game-mode called “Extreme Battle”.

From a lore perspective, Resident Evil 2 does a fantastic job of taking the storyline from the original game and expanding on it. In the first game, the backstory was interesting, but seemed a bit shallow at times.  In Resident Evil 2, more behind the scenes info is revealed. Suddenly, I found myself hooked on the lore behind the game.  The storytelling is told through a combination of exposition, cutscenes, and in-game breadcrumbs. So, the more you explore, the more easter eggs and details you can manage to discover. It’s all masterfully done.

Just like the original, Resident Evil 2 does a good job of building tension in attempts to scare the crap out of players. The spooky environments, ambient noises and jump scares are all very well done. In some ways, even more so than in the original. The voice acting in this title also seems to be a tad better than that of the original game, but… not by much.

My biggest fault with the title is again, the clumsy controls. This game works just like it’s predecessor. Again, are stuck with a stiff, tank-style movement scheme. Which, at the time, was pretty standard. But these days, the playcontrol is cumbersome and archaic. Despite this issue, I found the game to very enjoyable. The good certainly outweighs the bad.

Difficulty: Variable –  The Dualshock version features three levels of difficulty: Easy, Normal and Arranged. Just like with the original game, the easy option reduces the difficulty of the game considerably. Monsters are weaker, and ammunition is more plentiful than in Normal mode. The Arranged version here is different than “the arranged version” found in the first game. Here, “Arranged” (AKA: Rookie Mode) starts you off with access to some very powerful weapons and infinite ammo.  – Regardless of which version you play, I found the game only gets easier as it goes along. The first few moments of the game can be very intense and you’re often being swarmed. But as you play and manage to secure areas and increase your arsenal – things get a lot easier.

Story: This came continues the story laid out in the original game. More details are provided that help to clarify some of the more mundane aspects and to really flesh things out. Despite introducing us to some new characters, the connections to the first game are clear and very well done.

Originality: In many ways, there’s a lot about this game is very familiar to the first title. But, Capcom managed to keep things feeling fresh with a change of scenery and a few new enhancements. Having multiple/concurrent character scenarios is quite an original idea that really sets this game apart as well. While Resident Evil 2 is very much a sequel to the original, it manages to stand on it’s own.

Soundtrack: Just like with the first game, the soundtrack is very minimal. The music is sparse and often used as a tool to build tension. But, when there is music to hear, I found it to be an improvement over that found in the original game. RE2 also uses ambient sounds to help set a spooky tone. All of it is very well done. The only complaint I have here are some minor gripes with the voice acting. But to be honest, I’ve heard worse.

Fun: Resident Evil 2 is a fun, entertaining successor to the first title. Again, it would be the perfect game to play on a dreary stormy afternoon or late in the evening with all the lights off.

Graphics: The pixelated graphics and the low resolution FMV movies are very dated by today’s standards. But at the time of the release, they were considered very well done. Just like with Resident Evil, RE2 still manages to capture the spooky atmosphere it needs to unnerve it’s fans. 

Playcontrol:  Again, this is one the weakest point of the game for me. The characters in the game is controlled using the old, clunky “compass rose tank” style of movement. Players used to modern 360 degree movement will need some time to get adjusted. Overall the controls feel stiff and antiquated. But in the long run, they are manageable with a little practice.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: YES – Extreme violence and gore. 

Value:  This game is available as a PS One Classic on the Playstation Network for $9.99. Even today, this price is well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I have to give this game a four star review, but for slightly different reasons than the original. Whereas the first game scored some major points with atmosphere, this game beats it on storyline. Plus, being able to experience it from multiple scenarios and actually have them inter-lap to some extend is brilliant. At the time, it was a brand new experience.

Available on: PSN

 

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Resident Evil  –  Resident Evil 2  –  Resident Evil 3: Nemesis  –  Resident Evil: Code Veronica  –   Resident Evil Zero  –  Resident Evil 4  –  Resident Evil 5   –   Resident Evil: Revelations   –  Resident Evil 6  –  Resident Evil: Revelations 2   –   Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Resident Evil HD Remake

The Umbrella Chronicles   –  The Darkside Chronicles

Umbrella Corps

Review: The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time

I don’t get many reader emails,  maybe 3-4 a month. But when I do they are usually requests for me to review a particular title. Of all the review-requests I receive, Ocarina of Time is by far the most requested title. So, for many, (myself included), this review has been a long time coming. Finally, I’m going to share my thoughts on this legendary title.

I’m sure that nearly every person reading this review, or even this site in general is familiar with this game. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty years, let me bring you up to speed. Ocarina of Time is the fifth entry in Nintendo’s famous “Legend of Zelda” series. It was originally released in 1998 on the Nintendo 64. It is nearly universally-heralded as the best “Zelda” game in the series, and almost equally lauded as one of, if not THE, greatest video game of all time.

I was fortunate enough to play this game a few years after it was originally released. So, even though I missed out on the initial craze, the game holds a deep nostalgia for me – as it does for many gamers.  My first experience with the title was in 2003, when it was re-released as part of The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition compilation for the Gamecube. This version of the game is a nearly perfect port of the N64 title. The collection contained both the original version of the game as well as a remixed version dubbed “Ocarina of the Time: The Master Quest”.  The Gamecube version of the game was released just a few months before the birth of my first son. I have many memories of playing this game during late nights with my infant son in a bassinet by my side. This playthrough was my first time re-visiting the game since those days.

For those interested in playing it, the game is available in it’s original version on the Wii U virtual console, or on the Nintendo 3DS as “Ocarina of Time 3D”. For this playthrough/review, I did in fact play the 3DS version of the game. Either one is well worth your time, but I will state that the 3DS version, in my opinion, is the definitive version of the game. Aside from improved graphics, and some minor button assignments/playcontrol tweaks, the games are virtually identical. Plus, the 3DS version does come with the Master Quest (unlocked after completing the main game).

I will go on record as stating that, to me, the original N64 version had some major playcontrol issues. But, I am one of those rare people that generally disliked the Nintedo 64 controller. Playing the Gamecube port of the game was even more awkward. In my opinion, the 3DS version offers the superior playing experience all the way around.

(Original N64 version –emulated )

Of all of the games in the series so far, Ocarina offers the most in-depth story in terms of lore. Many of the backstory concepts mentioned in the other games are given an epic, detailed treatment in this title.  The Legend of Zelda timeline is so convoluted and complex, that it’s nearly impossible to summarize in a simple way. So, I won’t get into how this game is related to others in the series. But it is important to understand that many of the games take place centuries and ages apart from each other. The hero “Link” and the princess “Zelda” are not always the same individuals from game to game. At the time of it’s release, Ocarina was the earliest title in the series chronologically.

This game focuses on a young child named Link. Link lives in a small woodland village inhabited by a slyph-like race called the Kokiri. Each Kokiri has a fairy companion, each one except Link. One morning, Link is awoken from by a fairy named Navi, who informs him that she was sent by the great Deku Tree, the guardian of the forest. Link soon learns that the tree has been poisoned by an evil man from a desert far to the west. His goal is rule the entire world. Link is sent on a quest to help stop this nefarious villain. His first stop is Hyrule Castle, where is instructed to meet with Princess Zelda. Link’s quest will take him to various locales all over the land of Hyrule. (Many familiar from other games in the series). During his journey he will even gain the ability to travel back and forth through time. All in effort to thwart the evil Ganondorf!

Ocarina of Time is the first 3D title in series. By this time, Nintendo had learned much since the days of Mario 64. The camera issues found in that game were now largely a thing of the past. For me, Ocarina was one of the first nearly flawless 3D-rendered games released for a console at the time. Let’s not confuse the term “3D” being used here with actual Three-Dimensional Technology. Because the most modern version of the game “Ocarina of Time 3D” is an ACTUAL 3-D title. Making use of the Nintendo 3DS technology, the handheld version of the game is presented in a real 3-D format. (and very well done!)

(3DS version)

Aside from the visual presentation, the game follows a format that fans of the series are familiar with. Scattered across the land are numerous dungeons. Each dungeon is filled with various puzzles that must be solved in order reach the end, where a boss awaits Link. As in other games, each dungeon also contains a special treasure that gives Link new skills or abilities. These skills or items allow Link access to new parts of kingdom, thus progressing the game further.

It certainly possible to speed through the game by simply following the prompts given to you throughout the game story, but just like other Zelda titles, players who take the time to explore the world and uncover all the nooks and crannies will have an easier time. Ocarina has a number of sidequests sprinkled throughout the main game. Each well worth the time of any serious player.

The hype behind Ocarina of Time is strong. As I mentioned earlier, it is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest games ever made. That’s quite a bold statement. But, it’s also one that I cannot deny. There’s isn’t much about this game that isn’t perfect. Everything from the storyline, to the artwork, to the music – are simply spot-on. The level design is insightful. The puzzles are challenging (but not impossible). The game as a whole is nothing short of breathtaking. I find it difficult to declare that any game is “perfect”. But if any one title is deserving of such a declaration, it is this one.

Difficulty: Medium –  Ocarina of Time does not offer multiple levels of difficulty. But as one might would expect, the game starts off relatively easy and progresses in difficulty as it goes. Most of the challenge in the game comes in the form of various boss fights. For a first time player, several of these encounters can be very frustrating at first. But as typical with most games of this type, each battle has certain mechanics. Once learned, these battles become much easier.  Players willing to take the time to explore and complete the optional side quests will also have a much easier time.  For players of the 3DS version, The Master Quest becomes playable upon completion of the main scenario. This version of the game features a higher degree of difficulty and rearranged puzzles and challenges.

Story: The story presented in Ocarina of Time is nothing short of epic. All the lore from the previous Zelda titles can be found here, and are explained in great detail. The game also serves as the origin story for Ganon, the protagonist for most of the series.

Originality: This title features the gated/progression style that players familiar with the series are already accustomed to. However, when combined with a new 3D presentation, Nintendo manages to breathe new life into this time-tested formula. One new stand-out feature in this game is the actual “Ocarina”. Throughout the game, Link is able to learn new songs that can then be played on a virtual ocarina. Playing these songs can have various effects depending on when and where they are used. This concept is executed by turning the buttons on the controller into actual notes on ocarina itself. This makes for a unique and memorable experience.

Soundtrack: The music in Ocarina of Time is nothing short of fantastic. The soundtrack for the game ranges from emotional to infectious. I personally found myself whistling the ocarina tunes when not playing the game. In fact, the Song of Storms has been stuck in my head for nearly thirteen years. It’s no wonder that the score from this game is a frequent attraction at symphony halls worldwide.

Fun: Ocarina of Time is a blast. It’s addictive. Playing this game resulted in many late night sessions over the last two weeks. I’d often find myself saying, “That’s it. Once I’m finished with this dungeon, I’m turning it off for the night.” Only to find myself pick it right back up fifteen minutes later.  The game can be frustrating at times, but as a result it also ends up being even more rewarding.

Graphics: At the time of its original release, the 3D graphics were state of the art. However, like many games from that era, it has not aged well. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U virtual console does give it a bit of a visual boost than playing it on the original hardware. For most players, I do recommend the 3Ds version. The graphics on this new version are not only sharper and less jaggy, but many of the textures have also been improved.  – I should also note that when playing 3DS games, I typically don’t play with the 3-D turned on. But the 3-D effects in this game were so stunning that I actually spent the majority of my time playing in full 3-D mode. (I played this on the New 3DS which features improved 3-D effects, so your mileage may vary)

Playcontrol: The original N64 version seems to have some annoying playcontrol issues for me. But as mentioned earlier, I’m personally not a fan of the N64 controller as a whole. Playing the original game on the Wii or Wii U Virtual Console nearly requires a Classic Controller, in my opinion. But even then, the game feels very “off”. The controls for the 3DS version are overall well thought-out and intuitive.  Having played this title on every available system, I have to declare that the 3DS offers the best playcontrol of the lot.

Downloadable Content:  N/A

Mature Content: Cartoon violence

Value:  This title is available on the Wii U virtual console for $10. The 3DS version is usually found for a mere $20. Either of these prices are a steal for what you can get out of this game. It’s important to note that the 3DS version does come with both the original game and the Master Quest. So, it’s really two games in one.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Giving this title anything less than a perfect score is unthinkable. It is a stellar game that provides hours of entertainment. As mentioned numerous times above, you’ll often find this game on the list of all-time greatest games. It is certainly worthy of that honor.

Available on: Wii and Wii U virtual console,  Nintendo 3DS

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ IILink to the PastLink’s AwakeningOcarina of Time – Majora’s Mask – Oracle of Season & Ages – Wind Waker – Four Swords – Minish Cap – Twilight Princess – Phantom Hourglass – Spirit Tracks – Skyward Sword – Link Between Worlds – Breath of the Wild