PC

June 3, 2012

Diablo 3

Diablo III

Long has it been since people first booted up their PC at home, dropped the phone line for an internet connection and started playing Diablo.

The story thus far:

Diablo is set in the world of Sanctuary, created by the Archangel Inarius for angels and demons weary of conflict between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells. When unions between angels and demons created powerful beings called Nephalem, the demon Lilith sought to raise them as her servants and rule Sanctuary, leading to her banishment and the destruction of most of the Nephalem. When Lilith returned, a farmer named Uldyssian-ul-Diomed stopped her by destroying the cults of both Inarius and Lilith, sacrificing himself to protect the world.

In an attempt to keep the lords of the Burning Hells from taking over Sanctuary, the Archangel Tyrael captured the three prime evils: Mephisto, Lord of Hatred; Baal, Lord of Destruction; and Diablo, Lord of Terror. The prime evils remained imprisoned until Diablo, through contacts with mortals living in the town above him (Tristram) began bringing minions from Hell into Sanctuary. While a hero managed to slay him, the hero soon transformed into a new host body for Diablo’s soul. With Diablo setting about to free his brothers, a band of heroes went after him, managing to slay all three prime evils. In the process, the Worldstone, designed to keep Sanctuary hidden from the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, was destroyed.

This last installment is meant to close the circle of the Diablo realm in a nice neat little bow, but how well does it actually do it? More importantly, how well does it play? I will try to do this review without putting in too many spoilers or I will at least let you know ahead of time for those that have not bought it yet or those who for some reason haven’t skimmed on through normal mode.

This game, depending on who you ask, is either amazing…. or complete crap. I have followed the franchise for more than a decade and can honestly say, it is a breath of fresh air with just enough of the playstyle to keep you from screaming that it is a different game all together.

I will be comparing many aspects of all 3 releases of Diablo thus far with their expansions included, for completeness’ sake, and let you decide whether or not to delve into this hell torn world once more. So in the words of our good friend Deckard Cain; stay a while, and listen.

Classes:

In Diablo there were a total of 3 playable classes. These classes included the Warrior, Rogue (archer), or Sorcerer. Diablo: Hellfire offers an additional character class: the Monk, in addition to two hidden character classes: the Barbarian and the Bard. This totals us at 6 playable classes for the original franchise release with the expansion adding more variety to the replay.

In Diablo II there were a total of 5 playable classes. These classes included the Barbarian, Amazon, Sorceress, Paladin, or Necromancer. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction offered 2 more playable classes from the get go, the Druid and Assassin as well as a fifth act to traverse through and a multitude of other upgrades such as multiple weapon pages and a substantial increase in the stash size. This expansion put Diablo II on the map with a large scale community and following.

In Diablo III we have yet again 5 playable classes. Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard, Monk, and Witch Doctor. In all honesty, these fall almost directly in line with the first 5 classes of Diablo II with variables that have been changed. This is not to say that it is bad, it is a bit refreshing to see a difference in the way you play Diablo II and Diablo III with essentially similar class substitutes.  The exception is that now you can also select gender.

Skills:

In Diablo the classes were almost a nomenclature only in early levels as any class could wield a weapon or use spells. The difference really only showed itself later in play when high level spells required 255 magic that only the sorcerer could achieve. Likewise only the Warrior could wield high level plate armors and weapons.

In Diablo II the class system was overhauled and given a new style where each class had the ability to wield specialized weapons and the ability to use certain items that the others could not. They were also given split skill trees that each class would use to attain skills as they leveled where each class was completely separate in it’s uses and spells. This added variety so as not every character was using identical weaponry and spells regardless of class as seen wildly on its predecessor.

In Diablo III, however, the class system was overhauled in a different way. They kept the separate skills per class but instead of letting players “level up” certain skills while completely skipping others they have a strict linear pathway for skills and they unlock as you level gaining different runes that can change the use of certain spells. This is one point that many people seem to think droll but I for one am in love with it. No more are the days of having a limited number of skill points and only ascertaining certain skills to comply with a generally accepted build or otherwise be useless in the end game. This method makes every character unlock every ability and in doing so lets all players have free reign to change and modify the skill set that they want to adorn and play with. This also means, instead of being forced on a path based on the skills I have chosen like in Diablo II ex: Bowazon vs Javazon, I can simply switch between play types on said class by simply choosing the other skills that let me more easily play as that type. This is such a huge improvement over the old style. I no longer need 4 Amazons to have every build that I enjoy playing. I need only 1 with every skill unlocked and ready, simply hit the skill tree and select which skills and modifiers that I want.

Stats:

In Diablo you were given the chance to add points per level into the stat of your choice. This gave you the chance to create your character on the fly however you felt you needed it to perform. This was nice since most RPG’s at the time did not give you this ability.

In Diablo II you were still given the ability to add stat points where you felt they would best help you gear and fight. This changed when Uber: Tristram and the Diablo Clone were introduced as items that dropped from each gave an exorbitant amount of stats to every category leaving you free to put almost if not ALL point into Vitality and still being able to gear to the teeth effectively breaking the game and how character creation was done.

In Diablo III they have overhauled the stat system and stripped you of your right to choose stat point allocation effectively taking you out of the realm of customizing your character all together. Every Class that gears the exact same will have the exact same damage and health and everything. This may seem trivial but it is one of the only drawbacks I really find with the overhaul of the Diablo system.

Multiplayer:

In Diablo you had the chance to play with a maximum of 4 players per game and gave you the opportunity to have at least one of every class in any game which gave a good variety of way to tackle the dungeon. This also created less lag and kept games from getting out of hand. You also joined games while connected to Battle.Net through a server list and as a player would select the game you wanted to play in. This made it easy to join custom games made by your friends.

In Diablo II you could now only play online through Battle.Net and could play with up to 7 other people in a single game which gave the world a whole new meaning and with a world at the size of the Diablo II realm, it was easy to lose friends in a game even in the same area sometimes(when not partied). This helped to create PvP and Team PvP functions as well. Two teams of four players could effectively hit the landscape together and have an all out fight to the death and has become a big part of the game amongst players themselves. You joined games in Diablo II much as you did in the original by choosing a game from a list of available games that would scroll showing the game name and players names that were currently connected to said game.

In Diablo III you can now ONLY play online through Battle.Net and can have been restricted to a total of 4 players per game. This is not so much a take away as it is to help with the server lag dupe tricks used in Diablo II to gain non legitimate items. It also makes the game feel a lot more intimate and gives players a chance to revel in their own ability vs the mob of players attacking single targets and effectively giving some players a free ride on the exp train. The only problem with the system in Diablo III is the fact that you are required to log in online to play the game at all which is bad news for those who hoped to buy it and play single player offline.

Playability:

In Diablo there was no run feature, you walked everywhere. One speed to rule them all so to speak. This led to some slow gameplay if you happened to roll and extraordinarily large map style game. There was also a bit of a limit on HOW you played the game, as in, you would simply walk from one level of the dungeon and climb down and down until you reached the bottom and fought Diablo himself. This was WAY fun the first time through, but led to some loss in the replay value. I for one still like to trek down the 20 some odd levels and down big D ever so often even today but for others it was not so and it kept sales a big stagnant after the first year and a half or so.

In Diablo II they put in the run/walk toggle and all was good; or so you thought. This applied to those times when the legions of hell were on your backside and could also run but you ran clean out of Stamina which caused your untimely demise. A good idea for a feature but it seemed a bit pointless to add it after a while seeing as having a stat point to distribute to it seemed a bit ridiculous. The maps in this game were always on a similar scale even though they were different so often. It was written that there were a sum total of about 95 maps or so for each area that were picked up randomly from the .mpq and looking at the size of that file, it is easy to believe. This however, created TONS of replay value as every time you loaded a new game the entire world was different and created a sense of want in unlocking the maps secrets from beginning to end. A lot of people have spent the better part of 10 years playing through Diablo II and have yet to memorize maps.

In Diablo III the run/walk feature as well as Stamina is gone. This is a blessing and a curse. You always run in Diablo III but it often feels like the original release when you are playing as you move so slowly through the levels. The maps in this release are nice, they are not particularly big but also not so small that they require a simple following of a linear path to unlock the whole grid. The big difference here is that the maps feel more natural but they also feel a bit repetitive. I can remember well running through areas and things being in the exact same location time after time. The maps may change a bit but it doesn’t feel like they were in Diablo II where every game was a complete toss up. I feel like I can run through each game and run through the acts without so much as slowing down to find certain quest items. There is still a ton of replay value as the actual dungeon phases seem to change quite a bit but the world above ground feels very static and unchanging.

Changes that make and break the game:

In Diablo III you are given a single stash that is shared amongst ALL characters on your account. Separate for Hardcore of course. You also share wealth in aspects as you level artisans via gold and certain tokens that you use to help them learn higher level items with. You are however stuck with only 1 account and can no longer create mule accounts for you wears to sit in to sell. The remedy to this is simple. The Auction House. Taken from WoW the ability to add items from characters bags and their stash you can choose and sell items on an Auction House now instead of simply muleing them for other characters or keeping them around to sell or trade later. This is a good and a bad thing. It will keep the market from being bought out by in game item sellers but it will cause people to flood the market with items and to offset the searching for truly good items with obscene gold buyouts set on crap items. There is an up and downside to all of this. It means that anybody can get geared and never have to farm or even complete the game to get the best gear available. This will become an understatement when people can buy items with REAL MONEY. The market will instantly become flooded with people buying the Godliest of gear with real money and never having to touch the hardest difficulty to earn said rewards which I believe breaks the game a bit.  There are some saving graces however.  These include picking up coin without having to click on it and also when playing with other people, all drops are for your eyes only.  No more are the days fighting over that one legendary item drop.  Everyone sees their own item drops and cannot effect another players.

All in all, Diablo III may have been overhauled but good, bad, or ugly; it was worth every penny to me. This franchise has been overhauled every time a new release has hit shelves and this is no different. You may or may not like the changes made but all in all it is still Diablo and the game still kicks a whole lot of ass.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below, Love it, Hate it, Haven’t tried it….

June 3, 2012

Diablo 3

Diablo III

Long has it been since people first booted up their PC at home, dropped the phone line for an internet connection and started playing Diablo.

The story thus far:

Diablo is set in the world of Sanctuary, created by the Archangel Inarius for angels and demons weary of conflict between the High Heavens and the Burning Hells. When unions between angels and demons created powerful beings called Nephalem, the demon Lilith sought to raise them as her servants and rule Sanctuary, leading to her banishment and the destruction of most of the Nephalem. When Lilith returned, a farmer named Uldyssian-ul-Diomed stopped her by destroying the cults of both Inarius and Lilith, sacrificing himself to protect the world.

In an attempt to keep the lords of the Burning Hells from taking over Sanctuary, the Archangel Tyrael captured the three prime evils: Mephisto, Lord of Hatred; Baal, Lord of Destruction; and Diablo, Lord of Terror. The prime evils remained imprisoned until Diablo, through contacts with mortals living in the town above him (Tristram) began bringing minions from Hell into Sanctuary. While a hero managed to slay him, the hero soon transformed into a new host body for Diablo’s soul. With Diablo setting about to free his brothers, a band of heroes went after him, managing to slay all three prime evils. In the process, the Worldstone, designed to keep Sanctuary hidden from the High Heavens and the Burning Hells, was destroyed.

This last installment is meant to close the circle of the Diablo realm in a nice neat little bow, but how well does it actually do it? More importantly, how well does it play? I will try to do this review without putting in too many spoilers or I will at least let you know ahead of time for those that have not bought it yet or those who for some reason haven’t skimmed on through normal mode.

This game, depending on who you ask, is either amazing…. or complete crap. I have followed the franchise for more than a decade and can honestly say, it is a breath of fresh air with just enough of the playstyle to keep you from screaming that it is a different game all together.

I will be comparing many aspects of all 3 releases of Diablo thus far with their expansions included, for completeness’ sake, and let you decide whether or not to delve into this hell torn world once more. So in the words of our good friend Deckard Cain; stay a while, and listen.

Classes:

In Diablo there were a total of 3 playable classes. These classes included the Warrior, Rogue (archer), or Sorcerer. Diablo: Hellfire offers an additional character class: the Monk, in addition to two hidden character classes: the Barbarian and the Bard. This totals us at 6 playable classes for the original franchise release with the expansion adding more variety to the replay.

In Diablo II there were a total of 5 playable classes. These classes included the Barbarian, Amazon, Sorceress, Paladin, or Necromancer. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction offered 2 more playable classes from the get go, the Druid and Assassin as well as a fifth act to traverse through and a multitude of other upgrades such as multiple weapon pages and a substantial increase in the stash size. This expansion put Diablo II on the map with a large scale community and following.

In Diablo III we have yet again 5 playable classes. Barbarian, Demon Hunter, Wizard, Monk, and Witch Doctor. In all honesty, these fall almost directly in line with the first 5 classes of Diablo II with variables that have been changed. This is not to say that it is bad, it is a bit refreshing to see a difference in the way you play Diablo II and Diablo III with essentially similar class substitutes.  The exception is that now you can also select gender.

Skills:

In Diablo the classes were almost a nomenclature only in early levels as any class could wield a weapon or use spells. The difference really only showed itself later in play when high level spells required 255 magic that only the sorcerer could achieve. Likewise only the Warrior could wield high level plate armors and weapons.

In Diablo II the class system was overhauled and given a new style where each class had the ability to wield specialized weapons and the ability to use certain items that the others could not. They were also given split skill trees that each class would use to attain skills as they leveled where each class was completely separate in it’s uses and spells. This added variety so as not every character was using identical weaponry and spells regardless of class as seen wildly on its predecessor.

In Diablo III, however, the class system was overhauled in a different way. They kept the separate skills per class but instead of letting players “level up” certain skills while completely skipping others they have a strict linear pathway for skills and they unlock as you level gaining different runes that can change the use of certain spells. This is one point that many people seem to think droll but I for one am in love with it. No more are the days of having a limited number of skill points and only ascertaining certain skills to comply with a generally accepted build or otherwise be useless in the end game. This method makes every character unlock every ability and in doing so lets all players have free reign to change and modify the skill set that they want to adorn and play with. This also means, instead of being forced on a path based on the skills I have chosen like in Diablo II ex: Bowazon vs Javazon, I can simply switch between play types on said class by simply choosing the other skills that let me more easily play as that type. This is such a huge improvement over the old style. I no longer need 4 Amazons to have every build that I enjoy playing. I need only 1 with every skill unlocked and ready, simply hit the skill tree and select which skills and modifiers that I want.

Stats:

In Diablo you were given the chance to add points per level into the stat of your choice. This gave you the chance to create your character on the fly however you felt you needed it to perform. This was nice since most RPG’s at the time did not give you this ability.

In Diablo II you were still given the ability to add stat points where you felt they would best help you gear and fight. This changed when Uber: Tristram and the Diablo Clone were introduced as items that dropped from each gave an exorbitant amount of stats to every category leaving you free to put almost if not ALL point into Vitality and still being able to gear to the teeth effectively breaking the game and how character creation was done.

In Diablo III they have overhauled the stat system and stripped you of your right to choose stat point allocation effectively taking you out of the realm of customizing your character all together. Every Class that gears the exact same will have the exact same damage and health and everything. This may seem trivial but it is one of the only drawbacks I really find with the overhaul of the Diablo system.

Multiplayer:

In Diablo you had the chance to play with a maximum of 4 players per game and gave you the opportunity to have at least one of every class in any game which gave a good variety of way to tackle the dungeon. This also created less lag and kept games from getting out of hand. You also joined games while connected to Battle.Net through a server list and as a player would select the game you wanted to play in. This made it easy to join custom games made by your friends.

In Diablo II you could now only play online through Battle.Net and could play with up to 7 other people in a single game which gave the world a whole new meaning and with a world at the size of the Diablo II realm, it was easy to lose friends in a game even in the same area sometimes(when not partied). This helped to create PvP and Team PvP functions as well. Two teams of four players could effectively hit the landscape together and have an all out fight to the death and has become a big part of the game amongst players themselves. You joined games in Diablo II much as you did in the original by choosing a game from a list of available games that would scroll showing the game name and players names that were currently connected to said game.

In Diablo III you can now ONLY play online through Battle.Net and can have been restricted to a total of 4 players per game. This is not so much a take away as it is to help with the server lag dupe tricks used in Diablo II to gain non legitimate items. It also makes the game feel a lot more intimate and gives players a chance to revel in their own ability vs the mob of players attacking single targets and effectively giving some players a free ride on the exp train. The only problem with the system in Diablo III is the fact that you are required to log in online to play the game at all which is bad news for those who hoped to buy it and play single player offline.

Playability:

In Diablo there was no run feature, you walked everywhere. One speed to rule them all so to speak. This led to some slow gameplay if you happened to roll and extraordinarily large map style game. There was also a bit of a limit on HOW you played the game, as in, you would simply walk from one level of the dungeon and climb down and down until you reached the bottom and fought Diablo himself. This was WAY fun the first time through, but led to some loss in the replay value. I for one still like to trek down the 20 some odd levels and down big D ever so often even today but for others it was not so and it kept sales a big stagnant after the first year and a half or so.

In Diablo II they put in the run/walk toggle and all was good; or so you thought. This applied to those times when the legions of hell were on your backside and could also run but you ran clean out of Stamina which caused your untimely demise. A good idea for a feature but it seemed a bit pointless to add it after a while seeing as having a stat point to distribute to it seemed a bit ridiculous. The maps in this game were always on a similar scale even though they were different so often. It was written that there were a sum total of about 95 maps or so for each area that were picked up randomly from the .mpq and looking at the size of that file, it is easy to believe. This however, created TONS of replay value as every time you loaded a new game the entire world was different and created a sense of want in unlocking the maps secrets from beginning to end. A lot of people have spent the better part of 10 years playing through Diablo II and have yet to memorize maps.

In Diablo III the run/walk feature as well as Stamina is gone. This is a blessing and a curse. You always run in Diablo III but it often feels like the original release when you are playing as you move so slowly through the levels. The maps in this release are nice, they are not particularly big but also not so small that they require a simple following of a linear path to unlock the whole grid. The big difference here is that the maps feel more natural but they also feel a bit repetitive. I can remember well running through areas and things being in the exact same location time after time. The maps may change a bit but it doesn’t feel like they were in Diablo II where every game was a complete toss up. I feel like I can run through each game and run through the acts without so much as slowing down to find certain quest items. There is still a ton of replay value as the actual dungeon phases seem to change quite a bit but the world above ground feels very static and unchanging.

Changes that make and break the game:

In Diablo III you are given a single stash that is shared amongst ALL characters on your account. Separate for Hardcore of course. You also share wealth in aspects as you level artisans via gold and certain tokens that you use to help them learn higher level items with. You are however stuck with only 1 account and can no longer create mule accounts for you wears to sit in to sell. The remedy to this is simple. The Auction House. Taken from WoW the ability to add items from characters bags and their stash you can choose and sell items on an Auction House now instead of simply muleing them for other characters or keeping them around to sell or trade later. This is a good and a bad thing. It will keep the market from being bought out by in game item sellers but it will cause people to flood the market with items and to offset the searching for truly good items with obscene gold buyouts set on crap items. There is an up and downside to all of this. It means that anybody can get geared and never have to farm or even complete the game to get the best gear available. This will become an understatement when people can buy items with REAL MONEY. The market will instantly become flooded with people buying the Godliest of gear with real money and never having to touch the hardest difficulty to earn said rewards which I believe breaks the game a bit.  There are some saving graces however.  These include picking up coin without having to click on it and also when playing with other people, all drops are for your eyes only.  No more are the days fighting over that one legendary item drop.  Everyone sees their own item drops and cannot effect another players.

All in all, Diablo III may have been overhauled but good, bad, or ugly; it was worth every penny to me. This franchise has been overhauled every time a new release has hit shelves and this is no different. You may or may not like the changes made but all in all it is still Diablo and the game still kicks a whole lot of ass.

Let us know what you think in the comment section below, Love it, Hate it, Haven’t tried it….

May 7, 2012

Legend of Grimrock Review

The first time I heard about Legend of Grimrock was a news post on a gaming blog featuring a very early trailer showering only three or four enemies and some simple gameplay. I rather quickly forgot about it for a month until it crossed my mind and I conducted a desperate Google search to find it. After stumbling on its site I saw the progress developers Almost Human Games had made and was instantly convinced to pre-order. A few months later Grimrock has firmly hit digital shelves, but have I been justified in my excitement over this old-school dungeon-crawler?

 

Spoiler alert: I died

This is one of those times you want to get out of the room as fast as possible.

 

For those unfamiliar with Grimrock, it’s a call back to the many dungeon-crawl RPGs of two decades past. Staying faithful to its roots, Grimrock is a grid-based trek through the deep dark heart of Mount Grimrock’s feared dungeon. In a world dominated by flashy, explodey RPGs like Mass Effect and Skyrim, the stripping of features and elements of a game may seem like suicide, but honestly I’d champion Grimrock alongside AAA RPGs any day of the week. Where it lacks open, freeform, and emergent (pronounced ‘bugs’) gameplay, it excels in being tight, well-refined, and well-tuned. The game chose quality over quantity, so all its features feel like they had deep thought put into them and everything is intentional.

 

Basic gameplay sees the player taking control of a party of four prisoners cast into Mount Grimrock, each represented by their portraits in the bottom of the screen. The game allows players to create their own party to play with, or offers up a default party to jump in with. Players drive their party from a first-person perspective, though the view is locked to their facing unless actively looking around. This is due to the mouse-driven interface. Actions are performed by clicking on the characters or their weapons, and objects in the environment. The interaction with the environment is also one of the most impressive things the game offers. Dragging keys to keyholes, pulling on chains and levers, and carefully placing items to weigh down floor plates, are all nice touches, but it’s the small touch of hunting down hidden switches and buttons that’s the icing on the cake. There are a few hotkeys, primarily menu items, but most everything except movement is done by the mouse, including all character attacks.

 

Hidden switches are all over the place

This is actually one of the easiest switches to find.

 

The combat itself is simultaneously one of the most satisfying and frustrating aspects of Grimrock. With the exception of spell casting attacking is a simple matter of right-clicking a party member’s weapon. Spells are cast by picking the right combination of runes and hitting a cast button, something easier said than done in the middle of combat. For all the frantic mouse movement, combat is rarely complicated by controls. The only issues I had with controls in combat were the many times I frantically confused the turn and sidestep keys and ended up facing the wrong direction or walking off into something I didn’t want to. Other things like trying to access something in your inventory or doing something complex like mixing potions are also difficult in a fight, but that’s not the best time to be attempting such feats anyway. Real complications only come when you’re faced with an environment favoring the enemy or have to fight multiple enemies. Any time you’re faced with two or more enemies a regular fight turns in to a challenge, more so when trying not to back yourself into a corner. The fact that the game plays in real-time makes that even more difficult. However, the fact that the game plays in real-time is also what makes the combat satisfying, and even the most challenging enemies a simple task with proper management. Given four squares minimum you can easily kill almost any monster the game throws at you, taking minimal damage if any. This above all others is a saving grace in a game that can often by maddeningly difficult.

 

Like the games of old it so well emulates, Grimrock can be like a honey badger and just not [care – Ed.]. Save the first two levels or so where the mechanics are being introduced, the game is often merciless in its attempts to kill you, later levels stacking the odds heavily against you with tricks like filling a maze with respawning monsters or forcing combat in a room or hall the enemy has an advantage in. Ambushes are constant through the game and will always test your party’s resolve and abilities. While always having the ability to save anywhere, a post-launch patch added the ability to quicksave, lessening the game’s frustration. Sadly even with quicksaving the game has moments so aggravatingly difficult I was forced to quit and restart after a brief break, usually conquering whatever challenged me on the first attempt. Even then the game is jarring and unforgiving upon death, showing you a giant “Game Over” text you cannot skip before booting you to the front menu instead of letting you load. Despite being frustrating in terms of gameplay, it can’t be faulted for breaking character when your party of lowly prisoners is running through an infamously dangerous dungeon.

 

These things are the worst.

At the start of this fight my party was at full health.

 

At the heart of Grimrock lies a story that is actually surprisingly deep considering the initial premise of being prisoners dumped into a hole at the top of a mountain. Though most of the storytelling is done through a series of notes found lying around that are easy to miss, the story they tell is a fascinating one that mirrors your very own descent into the mountain. It could be said that the main story is that of your party of prisoners simply exploring their way through the dungeon and stumbling across the mysteries hiding behind its walls. Often the notes I found echoed thoughts that had naturally sprung in to my head while I was playing, mentioning the tremors shaking the mountain I had just found, or the fact that whoever left them was also disappointed when stumbling upon an empty room. The exposition has a very J.J. Abrams feel to the way that barely anything is explained to you, instead asking you to find out what’s around the next corner for yourself. The curiosity of finding out about things much bigger than your party keeps pushing the urge to explore deeper into the dungeon and its mystery. In fact, the only detriment to the story would be that the ending and the end boss are both so ridiculous it’s akin to ending an epic like The Lord of the Rings with a knock knock joke. I’ve put in hours of thought and I still can’t decide if the ending was tongue-in-cheek or simply a very poorly executed plot.

 

Barring that one embarrassing exception the game has few faults. It looks fantastic (and why shouldn’t it, rendering a grid-based underground dungeon isn’t very demanding) and it’s a testament that the game doesn’t get visually old after crawling over tile after tile after tile of the same area. From beginning to end it was always a treat to look at. The enemies were visually varied and there were a lot more than I initially believed, all interesting to see and fight. Low light and a more available polygon budget kept all the creatures looking fantastic up until their last breaths. The audio was also a high point, delivering a spooky atmosphere that pervaded through every rock in the dungeon and left me wary of taking another step. Overall gloomy sounds  and distant noises made it impossible to press on without some air of caution. Whenever the mountain shook it felt and sounded perfect, as if I was trapped underground and everything around me was violently trying to rip itself apart before settling back down to continue its eternity of uneasy unrest.

 

At least *this* one wasn't.

Grimrock is full of mysteries.

 

A mention should probably be thrown towards the obvious intention of mod support. Even on the initial launch version of the game you are asked to select the dungeon you want to play, ‘Grimrock’ currently being the only playable one. Hopefully soon Almost Human will have mod tools out for aspiring dungeon creators to make new mazes and for players to explore, keeping the game fresh.

 

Through my 17 hour journey inside Mount Grimrock, I experience elation, dread, and adrenaline rushes that compare to any big open RPG. It proves beyond doubt that a huge world isn’t required for an immersive RPG to feel like you are somewhere, and to grant a feeling of exploration. While Skyrim took on a generic overworld at times, Legend of Grimrock‘s every tile has been thought out and placed perfectly to plan. There were times where I may not have agreed with that plan, but even still I followed it through to the questionable end and enjoyed the entire time I spent in that dark, dank, desolate hole in the ground.

May 7, 2012

Legend of Grimrock Review

The first time I heard about Legend of Grimrock was a news post on a gaming blog featuring a very early trailer showering only three or four enemies and some simple gameplay. I rather quickly forgot about it for a month until it crossed my mind and I conducted a desperate Google search to find it. After stumbling on its site I saw the progress developers Almost Human Games had made and was instantly convinced to pre-order. A few months later Grimrock has firmly hit digital shelves, but have I been justified in my excitement over this old-school dungeon-crawler?

 

Spoiler alert: I died

This is one of those times you want to get out of the room as fast as possible.

 

For those unfamiliar with Grimrock, it’s a call back to the many dungeon-crawl RPGs of two decades past. Staying faithful to its roots, Grimrock is a grid-based trek through the deep dark heart of Mount Grimrock’s feared dungeon. In a world dominated by flashy, explodey RPGs like Mass Effect and Skyrim, the stripping of features and elements of a game may seem like suicide, but honestly I’d champion Grimrock alongside AAA RPGs any day of the week. Where it lacks open, freeform, and emergent (pronounced ‘bugs’) gameplay, it excels in being tight, well-refined, and well-tuned. The game chose quality over quantity, so all its features feel like they had deep thought put into them and everything is intentional.

 

Basic gameplay sees the player taking control of a party of four prisoners cast into Mount Grimrock, each represented by their portraits in the bottom of the screen. The game allows players to create their own party to play with, or offers up a default party to jump in with. Players drive their party from a first-person perspective, though the view is locked to their facing unless actively looking around. This is due to the mouse-driven interface. Actions are performed by clicking on the characters or their weapons, and objects in the environment. The interaction with the environment is also one of the most impressive things the game offers. Dragging keys to keyholes, pulling on chains and levers, and carefully placing items to weigh down floor plates, are all nice touches, but it’s the small touch of hunting down hidden switches and buttons that’s the icing on the cake. There are a few hotkeys, primarily menu items, but most everything except movement is done by the mouse, including all character attacks.

 

Hidden switches are all over the place

This is actually one of the easiest switches to find.

 

The combat itself is simultaneously one of the most satisfying and frustrating aspects of Grimrock. With the exception of spell casting attacking is a simple matter of right-clicking a party member’s weapon. Spells are cast by picking the right combination of runes and hitting a cast button, something easier said than done in the middle of combat. For all the frantic mouse movement, combat is rarely complicated by controls. The only issues I had with controls in combat were the many times I frantically confused the turn and sidestep keys and ended up facing the wrong direction or walking off into something I didn’t want to. Other things like trying to access something in your inventory or doing something complex like mixing potions are also difficult in a fight, but that’s not the best time to be attempting such feats anyway. Real complications only come when you’re faced with an environment favoring the enemy or have to fight multiple enemies. Any time you’re faced with two or more enemies a regular fight turns in to a challenge, more so when trying not to back yourself into a corner. The fact that the game plays in real-time makes that even more difficult. However, the fact that the game plays in real-time is also what makes the combat satisfying, and even the most challenging enemies a simple task with proper management. Given four squares minimum you can easily kill almost any monster the game throws at you, taking minimal damage if any. This above all others is a saving grace in a game that can often by maddeningly difficult.

 

Like the games of old it so well emulates, Grimrock can be like a honey badger and just not [care – Ed.]. Save the first two levels or so where the mechanics are being introduced, the game is often merciless in its attempts to kill you, later levels stacking the odds heavily against you with tricks like filling a maze with respawning monsters or forcing combat in a room or hall the enemy has an advantage in. Ambushes are constant through the game and will always test your party’s resolve and abilities. While always having the ability to save anywhere, a post-launch patch added the ability to quicksave, lessening the game’s frustration. Sadly even with quicksaving the game has moments so aggravatingly difficult I was forced to quit and restart after a brief break, usually conquering whatever challenged me on the first attempt. Even then the game is jarring and unforgiving upon death, showing you a giant “Game Over” text you cannot skip before booting you to the front menu instead of letting you load. Despite being frustrating in terms of gameplay, it can’t be faulted for breaking character when your party of lowly prisoners is running through an infamously dangerous dungeon.

 

These things are the worst.

At the start of this fight my party was at full health.

 

At the heart of Grimrock lies a story that is actually surprisingly deep considering the initial premise of being prisoners dumped into a hole at the top of a mountain. Though most of the storytelling is done through a series of notes found lying around that are easy to miss, the story they tell is a fascinating one that mirrors your very own descent into the mountain. It could be said that the main story is that of your party of prisoners simply exploring their way through the dungeon and stumbling across the mysteries hiding behind its walls. Often the notes I found echoed thoughts that had naturally sprung in to my head while I was playing, mentioning the tremors shaking the mountain I had just found, or the fact that whoever left them was also disappointed when stumbling upon an empty room. The exposition has a very J.J. Abrams feel to the way that barely anything is explained to you, instead asking you to find out what’s around the next corner for yourself. The curiosity of finding out about things much bigger than your party keeps pushing the urge to explore deeper into the dungeon and its mystery. In fact, the only detriment to the story would be that the ending and the end boss are both so ridiculous it’s akin to ending an epic like The Lord of the Rings with a knock knock joke. I’ve put in hours of thought and I still can’t decide if the ending was tongue-in-cheek or simply a very poorly executed plot.

 

Barring that one embarrassing exception the game has few faults. It looks fantastic (and why shouldn’t it, rendering a grid-based underground dungeon isn’t very demanding) and it’s a testament that the game doesn’t get visually old after crawling over tile after tile after tile of the same area. From beginning to end it was always a treat to look at. The enemies were visually varied and there were a lot more than I initially believed, all interesting to see and fight. Low light and a more available polygon budget kept all the creatures looking fantastic up until their last breaths. The audio was also a high point, delivering a spooky atmosphere that pervaded through every rock in the dungeon and left me wary of taking another step. Overall gloomy sounds  and distant noises made it impossible to press on without some air of caution. Whenever the mountain shook it felt and sounded perfect, as if I was trapped underground and everything around me was violently trying to rip itself apart before settling back down to continue its eternity of uneasy unrest.

 

At least *this* one wasn't.

Grimrock is full of mysteries.

 

A mention should probably be thrown towards the obvious intention of mod support. Even on the initial launch version of the game you are asked to select the dungeon you want to play, ‘Grimrock’ currently being the only playable one. Hopefully soon Almost Human will have mod tools out for aspiring dungeon creators to make new mazes and for players to explore, keeping the game fresh.

 

Through my 17 hour journey inside Mount Grimrock, I experience elation, dread, and adrenaline rushes that compare to any big open RPG. It proves beyond doubt that a huge world isn’t required for an immersive RPG to feel like you are somewhere, and to grant a feeling of exploration. While Skyrim took on a generic overworld at times, Legend of Grimrock‘s every tile has been thought out and placed perfectly to plan. There were times where I may not have agreed with that plan, but even still I followed it through to the questionable end and enjoyed the entire time I spent in that dark, dank, desolate hole in the ground.

May 4, 2012

The Walking Dead the game

First thing that comes to mind when thinking of The Walking Dead as a video game is violent ultra gory action zombie game. This however is not the case, if you haven’t played it yet and are thinking of getting it for an action experience you will be sorely disappointed. The Walking Dead plays out as if you were transported into the comic itself and given reign over the story’s direction. It is designed to be clear cut and objectives aren’t difficult to identify. It’s been made for the experience not the challenge.

 

The story has the comic at heart. It was adapted from the comic and hold tightly to its roots. It begins at the onset of the zombie apocalypse as you are being transported to a jail in your home town having been charged with murder. The zombie apocalypse is your redeeming factor and gives you the chance to show your true colors as your path crosses that of a little girl who you are tasked with protecting. Characters and dialogue have been done well and everyone has the ability to interact.

 

The game is built on choices and every decision you make affects the way things play out, and once you’ve made a choice, its done, you live with it because there is no going back. This fact gives the game an enormous amount of replayability. As far as gameplay goes it feels as if you are in control of a highly elaborate interactive comic, it makes for a very satisfying and unique experience.

 

The graphics are decent but the textures are fairly low res. The graphic style is similar to that of Borderlands and has an artistic feel to it as if it had been drawn and colored in, this style has been expertly done and adds to the overall atmosphere of the game. The game was given the right amount of detail and the world is filled with the little things that make the situation feel real. My only complaint in this department is that is was clearly ported to the PC, this is not a deal breaker as all the controls and menu items were changed over to correctly identify with a keyboard but it is apparent that it’s a port. It does however play smooth and a few advanced options such as AA and a couple others were added but if you want full customization of the graphics your going to have to do it in your GPU’s control panel.

 

The sound is no different, everything has been mixed well from the sound of zombies roaming the streets to the realistic sound of a shotgun. Voice acting is done extremely well with clear voices and emotion and makes interaction an interesting part of the game and helps suck you in and makes you feel the gravity of whats going on at any given time. Atmospheric sound is done just as well and gives the player a feel for what is going on around them.

 

In conclusion I would say give this game a try if you havnt already. It really pulls you in and gives a chance to direct the story in a unique way. The Walking Dead has been pulled off expertly as a video game leaving the player hungry for more. It is available as individual episodes or a season pass through the Playstation Store or Xbox Live and as a season pass only for PC. Each episode is $5 and the season pass is $25. It has been split into 5 episodes for season 1 and each episode is scheduled to release a month apart. The experience you get for the price cant be beat. But remember if your looking for a gory action game, this isn’t for you.

May 1, 2012

Hard Reset: The Review

Hard Reset, one of the games I’ve been looking forward to since its announcement and not only because it is the first PC exclusive title in a long time but also because it’s made by some of the wonderful people who designed The Witcher, one of my favorite games of all time.  Does this game live up to the hype that it garnered over night?  Sort of…

Graphically Hard Reset is gorgeous and it has some of the best lighting elements I have ever seen in a game.  There is a level where a train is coming through a tunnel and as it approaches you can see light bouncing off all the metal in the tunnel and it looks amazing.  You can see it in some of the pictures below.

Additionally there is damage based textures on enemies so depending on how many times you’ve hit them they may look more damaged or exposed.  Several enemies fall apart and disintegrate as you damage them.  Additionally there are some fantastically large scale battles to fight and they are a lot of fun.

While the game does look amazing in many parts it suffers from repetitive level design.  After about the 8th level everything looks the same.  There aren’t really any varied enemies either.  You face the same 5 or 6 enemies throughout the entire game.  There is also the problem of having only two weapons and unlike other games where there are 10 to 20 guns to choose from there are only two in this game that you can modify and they transform into the weapon you want.  So your rifle is your rifle, gun, grenade launcher, and so forth all in one.  I’ll give it credit for originality and in some ways it works well but switching between the modes for the weapon can be confusing and it gets dull after a while.

The story also suffers in Hard Reset.  The story is mostly told in comic fashion slides during the loading sequences.  There are two problems with this.  First I hate cheaply made cut-scenes instead of animated or pre-rendered action sequences to explain the story line if not already done while playing and I will admit there are places for those in certain games but Hard Reset presents itself as a visual spectacle yet it uses a comic strip to present the story? Secondly the ‘press any key to continue’ and pauses in the dialogue often occur at the same time and this can lead to you missing 3 – 5 minutes of dialogue.   Additionally the story is fairly hard to follow which can be frustrating.

There is no Multi-Player so for those of you looking for a Multi-Player experience are going to be disappointed.

Hard Reset feels like it just needed three or four more months in development and it could have been so much more.  The game rings in at about 6 hours on normal for anyone who is experienced with FPS.  Those die hard FPS players should be able to go through it quicker.  Hard Reset isn’t a bad game, not by any means and for the price it’s worth its admission price.  That being said it’s an OK game not a great game.  Perhaps the second time around, if there is one, it will get a little more attention.

May 1, 2012

Hard Reset: The Review

Hard Reset, one of the games I’ve been looking forward to since its announcement and not only because it is the first PC exclusive title in a long time but also because it’s made by some of the wonderful people who designed The Witcher, one of my favorite games of all time.  Does this game live up to the hype that it garnered over night?  Sort of…

Graphically Hard Reset is gorgeous and it has some of the best lighting elements I have ever seen in a game.  There is a level where a train is coming through a tunnel and as it approaches you can see light bouncing off all the metal in the tunnel and it looks amazing.  You can see it in some of the pictures below.

Additionally there is damage based textures on enemies so depending on how many times you’ve hit them they may look more damaged or exposed.  Several enemies fall apart and disintegrate as you damage them.  Additionally there are some fantastically large scale battles to fight and they are a lot of fun.

While the game does look amazing in many parts it suffers from repetitive level design.  After about the 8th level everything looks the same.  There aren’t really any varied enemies either.  You face the same 5 or 6 enemies throughout the entire game.  There is also the problem of having only two weapons and unlike other games where there are 10 to 20 guns to choose from there are only two in this game that you can modify and they transform into the weapon you want.  So your rifle is your rifle, gun, grenade launcher, and so forth all in one.  I’ll give it credit for originality and in some ways it works well but switching between the modes for the weapon can be confusing and it gets dull after a while.

The story also suffers in Hard Reset.  The story is mostly told in comic fashion slides during the loading sequences.  There are two problems with this.  First I hate cheaply made cut-scenes instead of animated or pre-rendered action sequences to explain the story line if not already done while playing and I will admit there are places for those in certain games but Hard Reset presents itself as a visual spectacle yet it uses a comic strip to present the story? Secondly the ‘press any key to continue’ and pauses in the dialogue often occur at the same time and this can lead to you missing 3 – 5 minutes of dialogue.   Additionally the story is fairly hard to follow which can be frustrating.

There is no Multi-Player so for those of you looking for a Multi-Player experience are going to be disappointed.

Hard Reset feels like it just needed three or four more months in development and it could have been so much more.  The game rings in at about 6 hours on normal for anyone who is experienced with FPS.  Those die hard FPS players should be able to go through it quicker.  Hard Reset isn’t a bad game, not by any means and for the price it’s worth its admission price.  That being said it’s an OK game not a great game.  Perhaps the second time around, if there is one, it will get a little more attention.

April 2, 2012

Dungeon Siege III Review

Having played the previous two Dungeon Siege games I was pretty excited when I heard they were working on a third one.  And why wouldn’t I be the previous two were a lot of fun, had great stories and great graphics for the time.  They also had lengthy single player campaigns and wide expansive maps to explore and enemies en masse to kill.
Right out of the box Dungeon Siege is pretty exciting.  The graphics look nice, the character dialogue is engaging and the powers look cool and the enemies are mixed but sadly the euphoria wears off.  Graphically Dungeon Siege III is pretty to look at, powers are shiney, water looks beautiful, there are many varied and cool looking combat moves and magic powers, tree’s flow in the wind and enemy movements are varied.  The biggest complaint I had, graphically, is that the characters during dialogue scenes are very static, they are emotionless and always sway back and forth the same way.  I’m also not a fan of the paper rendering during cut scenes.  I think it comes off as a very lazy way of storytelling instead of actually taking the time to make full cut scenes.
As any avid RPG gamer knows camera angles are a big deal and sadly Dungeon Siege 3 fails pretty bad here.    The game was designed for a controller and it shows.  The previous titles were PC only and had a much better feel to them.  I’m fairly tolerant of most camera faults but there were many times where the camera would move behind a rock and make it impossible for me to see who I was fighting.  Additionally there were timers where my cursor would disappear off the screen and this would make it incredibly difficult to target my quarry.
Story wise Dungeon Siege 3 is average at best.  It’s captivating at first but loses its appeal pretty quickly.  There were several plot holes and quests were fairly sparse for what I would consider normal for an RPG.  There were also features like influence that appeared to have no impact on the game itself.  The dialogue in the game is fairly well done but the story in which it is executed is just not that good.
The inventory system was yet another disappointment.  It failed to impress and with some many items in the game that simply looked the same and no real good way to organize them it just felt shaky and incomplete.  That being said I found from very early in the game that I found a specific weapon that I pretty much used throughout the entire game.  I also found that many “potions” found within the game didn’t have a very good description of what they did.  For example, one of the potions lets you imbue doom onto your weapon.  What exactly does doom do?

Dungeon Siege III was a real tragedy to me and has suffered what a lot of PC to Console games have gone through and that oversimplification.  The game is not made for the hardcore RPG audience which the first two were aimed.  I’m surprised they would try to stray from the audience which they were originally targeting.  This has sadly been a trend with companies trying to jump on the Console cash bandwagon of the last 5 years.  We saw the game thing happen with Dragon Age II which was a far cry from its predecessor.  While Dungeon Siege III is an ok game it’s not a great one or even a good one.  If you can pick it up for $9.99 on Steam like I did and have some spare time you probably won’t be that disappointed but I think you’ll find the previous two a much more enjoyable experience.

 

 

 

March 18, 2012

Dear Esther: The Chilling Review

If you’re here you probably saw this game on Steam or heard about it from a friend.  I should probably start out by saying this isn’t really a game, not in the traditional sense really, as there is little or no player interaction other than walking through the map.  The game and story are drawn out by narration of  several individuals.  The distinction between them seems to blur as the game goes on and it’s left up to the player to interpret who is actually talking to them.  Having said that I found myself very intrigued by this game and it sucked me in from beginning to end.

As mentioned above the story is driven purely by narration and the player is left to put the pieces together.  The story takes place on one the uninhabited Hebridean islands.  As you progress through the map you will see many things written on the wall, many items and objects in the environment that give clues as to what happened there.  The game actually puts you on the edge of your seat during certain sequences as things are tense even though they are calm.

While Dear Esther may not be a game in the traditional sense of the word it is easily one of the most beautiful games I have ever played.  There is a section of the game that takes place inside a cave and I can say I have never been more in awe at the detail and beauty ever rendered on a screen.  Cyan Worlds, the developers of Myst, should take notes from these guys or higher them on because I have never seen something so beautifully rendered.

The images of the game are made that much more impressive with the sound that goes with them.  Going back to the caves the sounds that accompany them just make thing ‘hauntingly beautiful’.  The sound of the water hitting the shore, fall of water into a pit in a cave, burning of fire, sounds of your foot steps, rattling of chain link fences and the music all come together to make a very engaging  and immersive atmosphere.

The only real problems with this game is that it was very short, as in 2 hours, and I would have liked to get a little more story or seen maybe a few more environments.  Some of them just brought chills to my bones.   That all being said the $9.99 price tag is worth the price of admission.  I’m curious to know what some of our readers thought of this ‘game’.  Did you guys enjoy it?  If anything I would encourage all of you to watch the slide show of the images.  They are  sight to behold.  I took them in Eyefinity 5760 x 1080.

Dear Esther

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February 18, 2012

Co-Review: Gotham City Impostors

It’s been some time since we have heard from Monolith Productions. F.E.A.R. 2 was the last we heard from them and while the game was more varied than its predecessor, the A.I. took a large dose of stupid pills. They are finally back with a downloadable title that is rather odd. Take one part Batman, one part Team Fortress, and one part absurd humor, shake not stir, and you come away with one humorous but compelling shooter.

 

Joe:

Gameplay: Based on the Team Fortress/ Team Fortress 2 style game it works really well with plenty of customization allowing you to play this first person shooter however you like.  The four game types are varied (one being a challenge mode ripped right out of Batman Arkham City) giving plenty of verity to add value to the price of this DLC game. Fumigation was my favorite game type with Psych Warfare coming in a close second only because it was hard finding matches. There is some issue with match making and balancing that I hope get addressed in the upcoming patch and of course my favorite LAG! The game always states connecting to server but I think “server” is another name for “HOST” as in peer to peer gaming which always lags.

Rick:

The game types are varied but so few, though they never seem to grow stale. Fumigation is my game mode of choice, nothing more than territories but the matches are normally hard fought and can last a lengthy amount of time. The amount of customization is insane; everything from costumes, to weapons, to gadgets, to calling cards, and 1000 levels to gain. The gadgets are the star of the game play. Using a grapple gun or glider pack to traverse the intricate maps is like nothing else. I do agree with Joe, the matching making is a mess. Unbalanced games and some occasional lag can spoil the experience, though when all is going well the game’s brilliance shines.

Joe:

Visuals: the five maps are really detailed and incredibly intricate almost to a fault with plenty of nooks n crannies to discover and explore I wish the game types I like used more of the maps to play them so we could enjoy the detail that is hidden around every corner, door and on every roof! Most areas that are heavy engagement zones have a way to flank making attacking or defending feel challenging and rewarding although there are a few spots strung across the maps that can be abused to spawn lock the opposing team.

Rick: for a downloadable game, the visuals are great, but could be better. The maps are painstakingly detailed and have great variety. The amounts of verticality in the maps are just as impressive as the detail. The characters sport that goofy TF2 look but have a feel of their own. The customization adds more appeal to visuals and the humor. Would you like your Bats character to have a cardboard cowl, a rain slicker for a cape, and have them running around in nothing but a pair of briefs? Great news, you can have it. One little gripe I have with the visuals is the lack of mouth animation. There are some memorable quips, but to see the closed mouth models spurt them feels archaic

Joe:

Overall: The atheistic of the game is great adding comedy to the otherwise dark gothic universe of Batman. The visuals are really good and the maps well layed out with plenty of options to get around from place to place. The overall game is fun and varied with plenty of options to suit your gaming style. There are TONS of un-lockables and customization options that will keep you busy for months to come! Sound is great with hilarious voice acting and sound effects always making the experience enjoyable. There are a few things that need work but over-all this game is well worth the price!

Rick: For $15, the game offers a substantial amount of content and excitement. Like Joe I enjoyed the humor, the map layout, the combat, and the customization. The game was delayed once in January and it really could have used a few extra weeks to get the matchmaking under control and deal with some of the lag issues, but Monolith has stated there will be a title update in March to fix these issues; but would have been nice to already have this and not potentially kill the community because of these issues. The game is worth your money and could easily be the new go to shooter if the community and Monolith back the game. If you are looking for a TF2 experience consoles and have tried the sad excuse that was on The Orange Box (no support and awful community) than check this game out.

 

Pros:

~ team fortress 2 game type taken to the next level

~ Great visuals

~ Detailed map layouts

~ Character voices are hilarious

Cons:

~ Peer to peer host leads to laggy game play at times

~wish the game types used more o the maps to show off the detail put into them

~ Matching and balancing need a lot of work

~ Heavy body type, rockets, and armor. You will learn to hate this.

 

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