Review: The Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask

It’s been a long time coming, but my review of Majora’s Mask is finally here! I last reviewed a Zelda game back in February of this year, when I played through Ocarina of Time. This review also marks an important turning point in my history, as this is my very first playthrough of Majora’s Mask. That’s right, I’ve actually never played this title before! Which is a shame as this game ranks right up there with Ocarina of Time in terms of being a classic N64 title.

Just like with Ocarina of Time, gamers who want to experience this title today essentially have two options. They can either play the original version on the Wii U Virtual Console or they can opt for the slightly modernized 3DS version. For the sake of this playthrough, I spent a little time with both versions and again, I found the new Majora’s Mask 3D to make the most sense. I feel safe in declaring this to be the current Definitive Version of Majora’s Mask. Aside from improved graphics, and some minor button assignments/playcontrol tweaks, the games are virtually identical. The biggest changes between the two versions are a number of revamps to boss fights and some minor changes to item locations, etc. But in most cases, I found these changes to actually be a true improvement on the original game.

Also, I once again find the 3DS version to offer vastly improved playcontrol over the N64 version.  I’ve always had issue with camera control on most Nintendo 64 games, and while Majora’s Mask doesn’t suffer from these problems as bad as Ocarina of Time, the camera controls on the N64 version still feel janky and choppy to me. This is not an issue on the 3DS version.

(Original N64 version – emulated)

Majora’s Mask is a very strange entry in the Zelda franchise. Technically, it’s a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, but it’s much darker that any other entry in the series. Plus, it seemingly takes place in a whole other world; Termina. Yet, this new world is populated with characters that will be familiar to players of the previous games. These inconsistencies have led to several fan theories over the years. Some of which suggest that the events in this game are a dream or perhaps even take place in the afterworld after Link has suffered some untimely demise. However, new games in the franchise have cleared up a lot of the obscurity regarding Termina in recent years. But that’s a story for another day.

The game starts shortly after the events of Ocarina of Time. Link is on a quest to find his missing fairy friend Navi, when he encounters a strange mask-wearing entity in a dark forest. This person, known as Skull Kid, attacks Link and curses him, turning him into a creature known as a Deku Scrub. Link chases the Skull Kid through a cave and into the strange world of Termina. Here, Link runs into an old “friend”, the Happy Mask Salesman. He explains that Skull Kid has stolen a powerful mask that gives him unusual and dangerous powers. The Skull Kid is using this power to bring the moon down from the sky. If he succeeds, the moon with crash to the world killing everyone. All of this will happen within three days. Link must embark on a quest to wake up four powerful giants. The giants together will be able to prevent the moon from making landfall. Only then, will Link be able to confront and defeat the Skull Kid.  Of course, it will likely take much longer than three days to accomplish everything that needs to be done. So, the Happy Mask Salesman teaches Link the ability to manipulate the flow of time.

In a number of ways, Majora’s Mask is very similar to it’s predecessor. The game controls are nearly identical, and the overall style of play is largely unchanged. The biggest change in Majora’s Mask, and what sets it apart of every other game in the franchise is the “three-day” mechanic. As you play the game, time passes in Termina. The game is split over three different days. If the clock runs out on the third day, the moon crashes to the world and the game is over. Link can save himself by playing a special song on his Ocarina and warping back in time to the morning of the first day. However, doing so will cause him to lose some items he’s collected and will reset some in-game events.  Normally, I’m not a fan of these “race against the clock” mechanics. But it’s actually very well done in this game. Plus, as you play you’ll eventually learn new abilities that allow you to both slow and speed-up the clock to your advantage. So, in the end it’s not really a big hindrance.

(3DS version)

As the title suggests, a big part of the game revolves around collecting and using different masks. When Link dons a mask, he gains special abilities or sometimes even transforms into a different person/creature. These mask are key to unlocking new areas and progressing through the game.  The mask system and the “three day mechanic” are the two things that set this title apart from other entries in the Zelda series. Aside from these two mechanics, the gameplay will be very familiar to fans. The core game involves exploring areas, entering dungeons, solving puzzles and defeating bosses. It’s the classic Zelda formula with a new twist. These changes actually manage to make Majora’s Mask a very fresh and unique addition to the series.

When I first started playing this title, I felt a bit overwhelmed. It was certainly Zelda, but it felt tainted… The whole vibe of the game seemed off at first. I can imagine that some players might feel a bit turned off when picking up this game for the first time. The overall mood of the game does not match what most players would expect from a Zelda title. It’s hard to explain, but it’s there… However, after a few hours in, things do start to come together and make a bit more sense.

All in all, Majora’s Mask is another fantastic entry in the Legend of Zelda series. In some ways, I feel like it ended up being a bit of playground for the game developers. A place where they could try new ideas or concepts. It feels very experimental to me. But, that’s actually a good thing. It takes the winning formula that is Legend of Zelda and pumps just enough “funky mess” into it to keep fans from feeling bored.

Difficulty: Medium –  As typical with Zelda games, Majora’s Mask has a one-size-fits-all difficulty level. 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 or solving dungeon puzzles. 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. The new time mechanic adds a little extra layer of difficulty and frustration to this title, but again there are ways to soften the blow that the clock can bring. Players willing to take the time to explore and complete the optional side quests will also have a much easier time.

Story: The storyline here is a big departure from anything seen in the Zelda series thus far. But if you’re willing to really follow the breadcrumbs of lore found in the game, it’s actually quite an in-depth and interesting story. The Skull Kid and his world of Termina are very psychological. There’s a lot of subtle things going on. This game features a storyline that rewards you as richly as you are willing to invest yourself into it.

Originality: This title features the gated/progression style that players familiar with the series are already accustomed to. It also piggybacks off the the 3D elements introduced in Ocarina of Time. What sets this game apart from other titles is the certainly the mood and time limitation mechanics. These two simple things really make Majora’s Mask seem fresh and new, despite building off the foundation laid by Ocarina of Time.

Soundtrack: As is typical with a Zelda title, the music in this game is very well done. There’s familiar themes and melodies found in Majora’s Mask, but also a number of new tunes. The overall score has a more somber and mysterious tone than other games in the series. As one would expect, the game soundtrack is very well done, but in my opinion, it’s far from the best in the series.

Fun: Once you’re able to get your head around the mechanics of the game, Majora’s Mask is an excellent title. Even as a veteran player, it took me a bit of time to grasp and understand what exactly was going on. At first, I was not all that impressed. But as time went on, I found myself stopping and sitting in awe at just how fantastic the game actually was.

Graphics: At the time of its original release, the 3D graphics were state of the art. Majora’s Mask actually required the N64 Expansion Pack so the graphical textures are somewhat improved from that of Ocarina of Time. However, like many games from that era, the 3D graphics found here have 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 like with Ocarina of Time 3D, 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 still seems to have some annoying playcontrol issues for me. 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, dark imagery

Value:  This title is available on the Wii U virtual console for $10. The 3DS version still sells for a premium price of $40. But, even at full price, the game is worth it for fans of the series.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game is nearly as perfect as it’s predecessor… but not quite. The best aspect of the game is also, oddly enough, it’s worst. The time-gated content and the funky vibe the game offers may actually put-off some players. Especially at first. I suppose my biggest caveat to this game is that it’s not a good Zelda title for first time players. But fans of the series should never pass up a chance to experience this title. It’s a valuable entry in the franchise. The game itself is right on par with Ocarina of Time as far as craftsmanship. It’s just… odd.

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

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

LoZ –  LoZ II – Link to the Past – Link’s Awakening – Ocarina 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

Check Up: No Man’s Sky (1.3 Atlas Rises Update)

It’s been a while since I did a check in on No Man’s Sky. My last post for this game was made back in January for the “Foundation Update”. Since that time there have been a few incremental patches made to the game but all of these pale in comparison to the newest updated: Atlas Rises.

This is the patch that everyone was waiting for. With the introduction of 1.3, No Man’s Sky now has a proper storyline, side quests, and even limited player interaction! Gameplay elements added by previous patches are all integrated into the game’s new narrative, so simply playing through the storyline will ensure players can experience things like bases and exocrafts. No longer do players have to simply stumble upon abandoned structures to claim a base. This resolves a major pain point that players have been screaming about since the game’s inception.

Second on the list of big complaints by fans is; multiplayer. Even after it was promised by the game developers – the game has thus far, failed to deliver. Now, even with the Atlas Rises patch, we don’t have true multiplayer capability. But finally, players will be able to detect when they within the vicinity of each other and even engage in VOIP chat with another traveler. The developers have hinted that they will continue to expand multiplayer functionality in future updates.  – We’ll see.

For me, this patch addresses a lot of what was wrong with the initial game. While there was a certain charm to the mystery that was No Man’s Sky, having an actual storyline that sheds some light on things is more welcome than not. My biggest complaint seems to be with performance issues after the update.  I’m playing on a PS4 Pro, I do have the latest 1.31 patch yet I often suffer from temporary lock ups, stuttering and even occasional crashes.  Also, after experimenting with the new “Terrain Editor” weapon, I ended up falling through the world and getting stuck in some invisible water and dying on more than one occasion. Other’s have also complained about the performance, so I hope to see this addressed in the near future. This is the only game on my PS4 that suffers like this.

All in all, the Atlas Rises patch is a very welcome and much needed fix for No Man’s Sky. I hope to continue to see these types of enhancements in the future.

Review: Thief II – The Metal Age

Again, I want to apologize for the long hiatus between game reviews, but I’m back now and continuing my “turn of the century” playthroughs. Today I give you my long-awaited review of Thief II: The Metal Age. I discussed the original Thief more than three years ago, in anticipation of the Square-Enix reboot. But it took me this long to catch up and play through the second entry in the original franchise. But finally, here we are.

For those unfamiliar with the original game, Thief took the concept of first-person PC games and turned it on it’s head. Instead of being a fast-paced shooter, this game required you to sneak around in the shadows and actually try to avoid killing enemies unless absolutely necessary. It was a smashing success and it was only a matter of time until it spawned a sequel. Thief II took everything that was great about the original game and cranked it up a notch. In fact, this sequel is a great example of developers actually listening to their customers. The folks behind the game took the feedback they received from the first title, and added more of what fans liked the most, and removed some of the concepts that seemed to garner the most complaints. The end result, is a game true to the original but largely superior.

This game takes place one year after the events of the original title. Garrett continues to make his living as a skilled catpurse, relying on no one other than himself. Since the events of the original game, a new faction has emerged in the city. One that believes in a future ruled by technology and machines.  As a result, the nature-worshiping Pagans have been driven out of town and into hiding.  None of this matters too much to Garrett, as he has other things to worry about. You see, there’s a new sheriff in town, literally – and he’s got his eye on putting an end to Garrett’s way of life. However, as one might expect, it’s not so easy to remain neutral. Before long, Garrett finds himself wrapped up in the middle of this conflict between the Mechanists and the Pagans. To save himself, he’s going to have to choose sides.

One thing to know before you decide to jump in to the world of Thief II; this is an older game and one designed for a different age of computing. However, just like the original – there’s a number of tweaks and unofficial patches available that will allow the game to run on modern hardware. I recommend something called “TafferPatcher”. This is a fan-made all-in-one patch that will both optimize the game for modern hardware, but retain the original look and feel of the title. Despite being unofficial, it’s widely respected and very much safe to install.

As I mentioned above, if you enjoyed the original game, Thief II is certainly worth your time. Every single thing that is great about the first title is expanded on here and there’s lots of it. To me, both the size of the levels and the number of mission objectives have increased and become much more engaging. There’s nothing better than sneaking around in the shadows right under the noses of the night watchmen and looting a place clean. The feel of the original game remains intact, but this time with a more engaging storyline.

From a technical standpoint, Thief II feels very much like it’s predecessor. I don’t really see a big difference in the bulk of the game engine. The environments look very similar to those founds in Thief. But, the character textures are greatly improved.  The enemy AI is also quite a bit better – in this game guards will notice more things that seem out-of-place. For example open doors or damaged environmental objects. So, tech-wise, Thief II does show signs of progression over the original.

To me, the Thief series represents a high point in PC gaming. It was a time where the industry was largely engaged in copy-cat behavior. But the Thief series took a bold step to stand apart from all the clones. It was a risk that paid off big. To me, Thief II represents the very best of the series. It’s a game that I recommend to retro PC gamers looking for a unique experience.

Difficulty: Variable–  Thief II offers several levels of difficulty. Increasing the difficulty level not only gives the player more objectives to accomplish during the game’s missions, but also going for Hard or Expert restricts you from being allowed to kill enemies. The game is certainly more rewarding on one of these two settings. But I recommend Normal for most players going on their first run.

Story: Thief II continues the lore and storyline established in the original game, and it’s quite well done. The game story develops a number of ways. First, there are cutscenes between levels. But, tidbits can also be picked up by eavesdropping on various NPC conversations or reading notes and journals that you encounter as you sneak your way through the areas of the game. Players who take their time and explore every nook and cranny will be rewarded with additional storyline elements.

Originality: The trail was certainly blazed with the original Thief. But the concepts laid out by it’s predecessor are highly refined and presented to players in this sequel.  Despite being a sequel, Thief II still manages to avoid feeling like a cheap retread of the original game.

Soundtrack: There not a lot here in terms of game music. But, that’s ok. This game is ALL about atmosphere. You have to listen for footsteps and other audible clues as you play. These sound effects are very well done. This is one of those games that still takes advantage of older surround sound technology – and it does it very well. Ambient noises aside, the voice acting in the game is also superb.

Fun: This kind of game may not appeal to all players. It requires patience and a willingness to learn from your mistakes. This will likely be a turn-off to some, but for those that enjoy stealth games, this one will provide hours of entertainment.

Graphics:  The first two entries in the Thief series are an odd mix of both really good 3D graphics and funky, blocky textures. However, Thief II does improve on the look and feel of NPC characters significantly. This entry also includes improved skybox and lighting effects. Regardless, it still looks very dated when compared to modern games. But it was quite top of the line for it’s time. 

Playcontrol:  No real issues here. The game runs on the standard WSAD keyboard layout for first-person PC games, with some modifications for the game’s unique features. Occasionally, climbing and jumping around on platforms can feel a bit awkward and cumbersome. But, it’s merely a minor annoyance at times.

Downloadable Content:  N/A. 

Mature Content: Mild language.

Value:  Thief II can be found on Steam for around $7.00. For that price, the game is well worth every penny. The amount of content in this game and the quality of this title overall makes it an absolute steal for that price.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Thief II, despite it’s age, still holds up as one of the definitive stealth-based first-person games of all time. Fans of the genre that have not yet experienced it, should not hesitate for a moment. This is one game worthy of your attentions. For players who are not sure if this type of game would appeal to them, the price tag alone makes it worth the gamble. You’ll never spend a better $7 on a PC title.

Available on: PC (Steam)

Original Trilogy:

Thief: The Dark Project  –  Thief 2: The Metal Age  – Thief: Deadly Shadows

Reboot:

Thief

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