Tag Archives: Gaming

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS – 2013)

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After my first taste of Fire Emblem in the form of The Sacred Stones on the Gameboy Advance, I was itching for more tales of intrigue from this universe. Fire Emblem: Awakening was a thrill ride to be sure, with believable characters and nods to the legends of the entire franchise. I was in awe about how gripping this installment was. I hadn’t been as compelled by a story since Golden Sun, and we all know how much I love that franchise (minus Dark Dawn). With some enhanced features that both save time and bolster the experience, this game was a perfect addition to the growing array of 3DS games.

While being very similar in gameplay to the originals, there were some features I feel that helped the game along. Some of the battles could be long and drawn out, so with the inclusion of the Dual Strike Support system, you aren’t just getting a stat increase, but you also have a chance for your ally to join in your attack. This can increasingly affect the tide of battle in your favour, as these attacks are usually fatal for the computer’s attackers. Not only can you do this with any character for boosts to your accuracy and avoid, but characters can latch onto each other in a more permanent role in the “Pair Up” feature.

The great inclusion, which I believe brings a lot of heart to the story, is the fact that many of the characters, including your own Avatar, can marry. When you reach Support Level “S”, your characters will enter a cut scene in which one proposes to another, and most are very cute as it follows their equally enjoyable banter through the game. When they pair, they also may unlock certain Paralogue chapters in which they find their children displaced from the future and have them join the party.  For example, I had my Avatar “Yvelle” marry Lissa, sister of the hero Chrom. I found their relationship to be the cutest out of all the ones I had encountered. Virion and Tharja came in a close second with his willingness to be her guinea pig for hexes.

Have you ever wondered what your favourite hero would be like if he picked up a bow instead of a sword? I do. Switching classes is one of the fundamental musts while playing this game. Allowing your characters to grow and learn new abilities and use new weapons allows for you to tailor the combat to your tastes. One of my characters can instantly kill and move again after bringing her potential count to two kills a turn. Mathematically speaking, a number of battles in this game are over in moments. Another gains health from kills and simultaneously always regains and restores health to those nearby.

What I enjoyed about this game is that all characters had well written personalities. I really felt for them during their falls and cheered with them during their triumphs. With the many characters in the roster, it feels like an entire universe of stories. Even your implacable enemies join you eventually and the story gets even more interesting. Even the trusted Lieutenant of the main bad joins you during another Paralogue. He’s a beast to tame, but when you do, my god is he a powerhouse.

Explosive action encompasses this game.

Explosive action encompasses this game.

This game included the first paid DLC in the history of Nintendo-exclusive franchise and it did a poor job of executing it. I didn’t feel the game warranted the DLC until I reached the end of the rich and full main story. When I did get to the end, I wanted the adventure to continue. When I did this, I found out that the DLC doesn’t level with your characters. This ended up making them stupid easy for my already maxed out characters with insanely powerful weapons and abilities. I didn’t even have to look at the screen; I just set the game to auto-battle and won each with ease. Although the stories were interesting and the tasks fun, when you have absolutely no craps to be given because of the ease; it gets boring.

While the in-battle sequences and the manga inspired 3D cut scenes are beautifully executed, they must have cut the funding when making the battlefield and overworld map. They didn’t utilize 3D at all for the sprites and barely with the field. It was a bit disconcerting to switch between the two. The overall execution of the 3D animation in all the battle scenes and cut scenes was nothing short of spectacular. Fluid animations of battle graced the top screen as I watched my characters slice or get diced.

If you can overlook the DLC and the battlefield graphics, then you can easily call this game a shining testament to this franchise’s longevity. I was really happy with the way it turned out. With the game’s heavily customizable characters, brilliant story and a backstory for each main character; Fire Emblem: Awakening is a must for anyone who owns a 3DS. If you can’t find yourself a physical copy due to the rarity and apparently unintentional shortage of copies, it is available to download directly from Nintendo’s eShop.

Final Score: 9/10

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Bioshock Infinite (PS3 – 2013)

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Our ruggedly handsome protagonist, Booker DeWitt

Man, Bioshock Infinite was surely one hell of an experience. It was nothing short of a brilliant story, with incredibly written characters of both good and evil affiliations. It was a game that didn’t fear reprisal, and included some themes that you wouldn’t normally find in a first person shooter or video games of any kind for that matter. It tugged at the heartstrings, frightened you and intrigued you every second of gameplay. With favourable combat dynamics, breathtaking visuals and loads and loads to find; Bioshock Infinite is one game you’ll play through again and again.

The main setting of the game is Columbia, a floating city in the sky that has seceded from the United States. I cannot imagine the amount of work that went into creating this setting, but the culmination leads to one of the most stunning locales I’ve ever seen in video game history. From the Comstock Center Rooftops to the Hall of Heroes and leading to the Sea of Doors, you will never tire of the ever changing scenery. Obviously the most intense visuals in the game come when you are hanging from the Skylines in combat, or traveling through different areas. The setting also contains reactive materials such as puddles of water to shock and oil slicks to burn which adds to the already high octane action.

If you like the sights, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the sounds. Surprisingly enough this soundtrack contains recorded versions of songs released in the latter half of the twentieth century. My favourite being “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, which they have remade into a lovely barbershop along with other hits like “Fortunate Son”, “God Only Knows” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. Along with the edge of your seat combat music, this game couples some interesting covers with an enticing array  of music.

Swapping Plasmids out for Vigors, Bioshock Infinite offers some interesting powers to overcome obsticles and dole out punishment to your enemies. Firery “Devil’s Kiss” grenades, a deadly “Murder of Crows” and a bulletproof shield from “Return to Sender” are among the deadly choices you have in the way of ingested abilities. That isn’t all these provide. For extra combat bonuses, some of these vigors can be used in tandem to create some killer combinations. For example, using the Bucking Bronco alongside Devil’s Kiss causes damage to all those you have suspended in the air or shocking a person in a group being attacked by your Murder of Crows causes the crows to shock and stun the enemy. These combos can be very useful in a pinch.

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Burn baby burn!

Then there is the story and oh man, what a story it is. You are Booker DeWitt, former Pinketon Employee who has become a man in debt, working as a Private Investigator in New York. Your task is to retrieve a young woman, Elizabeth, from the flying city of Columbia. Along the way, you find clues to her mysterious power, your connection with her and the enigmatic religious leader Comstock, and the lives that you and the people of Columbia lead in different universes.

This game introduced themes and touched upon topics you don’t see within gaming frequently. These include blatant racism against multiple cultures and religion. Even some racial slurs appear in the game. This was actually kind of refreshing. I was impressed that this game wasn’t afraid to touch upon some of the more antiquated views of the early 20th century. The heavily Christian tones are incredibly apparent, with numerous references to baptisms, prophets and saviours. Again, something you don’t see, but glad it was in the game.

Each game is not without its problem, but they pale in comparison to the amazing pros. The guns leave nothing to the imagination; they are very simple styled weapons you can find in any first person shooter with the exception of the Skyhook. You have your pistol, rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle. They are very vanilla weapons and I was disappointed as each have their drawbacks and never seem to do much damage near the end of the game causing you to frantically find ammo just to finish an enemy you spent an entire clip on already.

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Ra-tat-tat…

Final Word: Get this. Get this now and enjoy the hell out of it. If you had any interest in playing it even in passing, you have a duty to buy and play this ultimately fulfilling game. It follows in the series of thinking games where your actions have consequences, in a world where you really begin to care about the characters and their personality and plight. Bioshock Infinite was nothing short of amazing.

Final Grade: A

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Diablo III (PC – 2012)

After twelve years, it had finally arrived, Diablo III. This game was one of the most highly anticipated of 2012 and boy did it deliver. It delivered a mountain of complaints right off the bat. From server errors, inability to log-in, in-game glitches that broke the game completely; it has been touted as the worst launch in Blizzard history. Now, I’m a patient man, but this kind of thing doesn’t sit right with me. It seems that the more complicated a game is in the way it is presented, the worse and worse the launch gets. I’ll touch more on this later, but now let’s delve into the awesome world of Diablo III.

A complex world where good battles against prime evil.

If you’d played Diablo II, you’ll have a very good idea of what to do in this game. The controls remain the same, the setting has changed and the enemies provide a challenge to each player based off the way the game is played. For those who may be completely unfamiliar with the franchise, as I was before Diablo III, it is a point and click action role-playing game. The settings in the first two acts mimic the acts of Diablo II, from the town of New Tristram, to the desert outside of Caldeum; while Acts III and IV take you to the battlegrounds outside Bastion’s Keep and finally the silver spires of the High Heavens for the final showdown.

While praising the overall look of the game, I can’t help but feel that my computer was wasted on it. The engine, while allowing for 3D movement for enemies, relies on an overall look that feels outdated by today’s gaming standards. Sure, it’s still a pretty game, with lots of interesting locales that change on occasion, thunder and lightning in the background and cliffs to look off to see the span of the world. I’ve seen games from years ago that look and feel fresher. Not too much of a complaint here, the game looks great. In contrast, you can tell a lot of time and effort went in to the thing that we are going to skip the most in this game, the cut scenes. These are just, breathtaking, the character animation is so close to human in this day that I’m just floored by the detail.

The skill system has been enhanced, which allows for players of all kinds to choose their class abilities and passives in a way that compliments their style. I chose to first roll a Barbarian, pure damage output and I chose skills that assisted me in murdering as many demons as possible in the shortest amount of time. However, by the time I reached Act IV of Hell difficulty, I had to change my skills to pure defense as to not get completely slaughtered by enemies that are hitting for a third to half of my health. The ability to choose and mix these skills is what I believe makes the gameplay a lot more interesting. You’ll encounter public players of the same class with a completely different play style. As you progress in level, skills gain runes that augment abilities to add damage, slow, reduced cost and many different effects. It’s a great skill system, can’t give it enough love.

Finally, a skill system that works!

I get a lot of satisfaction out of this game. Because of the ability to go back to the earlier difficulties with your higher level characters, it takes the grind out of achievement hunting. It does take the challenge out of it, but it does make it a lot easier for people who don’t have the proper skill necessary to pull off some of the more challenging achievements. Currently I am sitting just shy of fifty percent overall, but after a bit of hunting I’m sure I can get some of the more tedious collecting challenges out of the way. I do like that you unlock new banner accessories as you go through the game. I’ve always enjoyed designing my own logo.

Then we have the issue of it being an online only single player game. This DRM, while having the best of intentions, causes extreme discomfort among gamers as it prevents Diablo from having the option for offline play. This in part lends to the awful server issues and error codes that plague the game. Unfortunately this represents the future of gaming. We can expect to see a lot more of this in the future. This anti-piracy front is good, but the method is intrusive.

I wish I didn’t have to gripe on this game, I really do, but there are issues that just cannot go overlooked. If you don’t want stress, you might want to wait a couple months before some of the more incredibly annoying bugs and glitches are fixed. Many reported a game breaking bug quite early in the story. This bug, gone overlooked, crippled players making them unable to log-in to their game and in some cases their account in general on other Blizzard titles. I’m incredibly surprised that this wasn’t fixed in a timelier and polite manner, as the game, Blizzards main site and forums were shut down for hours after Diablo III launch.

The game continues to suffer from incredible latency at times, at one point causing my computer to blue screen. A quick change in the foreground FPS led to my first day without crippling lag. For a computer that has run some of the most graphically heavy games of all time on very high to be halted by a game like Diablo III has confounded me, but I will have to swallow it on this one, it was kind of my fault sometimes. However, with the General chat being plagued with more complaints than good, one could wonder exactly how prepared they were for this launch and the bugs that followed. The plethora of error codes shows you just how many things can go wrong.

A big “fuck you” to the gaming community.

Finally, at this moment they are currently fixing the third and final issue I have with this game. The imbalance at higher levels makes it tough to beat the first act of Inferno difficulty and pretty much breaks the second, with enemies hitting for more than your total health. It is expected that it will be nerfed in this coming patch along with the damage output of my beloved Barbarian at higher levels. Players can look forward to not dying as much very soon.

Overall, I’m still enjoying the game. If you overlook the bad launch, numerous error codes, disconnects and lag; you’re going to find an amazing game with an excellent story, some decent visuals and an excellent combat and skill system. The level balance leaves me topped out for now, but once the new patch comes in, I can look forward to playing a well-balanced game. I think you’d enjoy this game, but in a few months when they have it ironed out. Until then, happy gaming!

Final Grade: B+ (The launch gets an F)

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Pokemon White (NDS – 2011)

The series that needs no introduction produced a new game earlier this year. You’d think by now people would be tired of the mundane travel between Gyms, battling enemies and what I would like to deem the “Team Rocket of the Week”. However, you’d also be surprisingly wrong. Its record breaking sales and critical reception have made Pokémon Black and White two major hits for 2011 in video gaming. The series creates some new features and brings back some series classic techniques that make gameplay all the tougher and the plot all the more exciting.

So where are we now? We’re in Unova region, another oddly named but largely populated area in which Pokémon and Humans live in perfect harmony. Or so we think. Team Plasma, this year’s version of Team Rocket, is running rampant around Unova. In a twist and unlike any other team in the world so far, Team Plasma is not interested in using Pokémon for their own gain or changing the climate of the planet; this team is interested in separating humanity from Pokémon and allowing them to flourish on their own without interference or being captured by people. They do this by using Pokémon to battle other people. What?

I have to admit that they got it right this time. I really enjoyed the plot and it was the first time that I have actually been able to differentiate between Pokémon games using a filter that was not ‘What Pokémon were in the game?” For the first time the script was compelling and the characters were interesting. So you can imagine the surprise when I played this Pokémon game with an actual plot.

The score of the game is your standard affair. However there is one track in particular I thought was above and beyond the normal shtick that  Junichi Masuda and the gang pump out every two or three years. However the ‘Battle – Team Plasma’ track was pretty darn entertaining. Just the first two seconds of it really get you in the battle mood and then you’re trapped in the battle listening to this rocking battle anthem the likes of which any Pokémon game has never seen, until now.

I also praise the overall layout of this Unova Region and the different places in it. From the quiet little town of Nuvema Town to the bustling metropolis of Castelia City, you can’t help but feel at home in this area. There are many interesting routes and with each brings a type of weather condition that you have seen before. Another new piece of content is the ever changing weather, which is supposed to change depending on the month that you’re currently playing in. However I found instead that the season would randomly change when I left a building. Not sure if that was a bug or if it was intentional.

So with a good plot and a good score, what could possibly detract from the game? There are quite a few things that make Pokémon Black and White a little tiresome. I’ve noticed a painfully large amount of enemy critical hits to the players Pokémon when there are no status modifiers that could account for such a frequency. Right in the first battle I took a critical hit and lost, the second time I trained a bit more, got another critical hit against me and lost. Not interested in losing a third time, I made it impossible for me to lose by training well above the enemy levels. I did not receive a single critical hit that battle and won easily. However, throughout the entire game I received an inordinate amount of critical hits.

I was also pretty disappointed with the battle graphics. The Pokémon on your side, are really pixelated and the Pokémon on the opposite side are just as bad. I have a hunch on why. I would go as far to say that this game was originally going to be released on the Nintendo 3DS, which was released merely a week later than the game. When the creators of this game had realized their deadline was a day away they got to work but failed to get the game ready in time. Instead of pushing back the release date, they kept the crappy attempts at a third dimension in the game and released it unfinished. That is a decent explanation for the half-assed battle graphics.

Also, what is with the Pokémon names? Is it just me or are they getting more and more lazy to the point where the names no longer resemble or even fit with what they are attached to. Here are some fantastic examples.

Accelgor: The hell?

Simipour: Eyes... burning...

Do you get it? Neither do I. Half the Pokedex is like this too. There are weird Pokémon names and weird looking Pokémon. Remember a time where it was so easy to spell snake backwards to create the name of a Pokémon that looks and animates like a snake? I do. Kids these days.

Final Word: Pokémon Black and White were great efforts to make an old franchise more interesting and it only fell short in two areas. I would definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but there are certainly signs of franchise stagnation in this beautiful game. Also, they really should have waited for the 3D. That feature would have made the game much more impressive to play.

Grade: B

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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3 – 2011)

Worth it.

 

I waited out in the blistering cold on 11-11-11 for this game. At the time I had bronchitis for about two or three weeks. It was literally the most uncomfortable line I had ever been in. After one-hundred sixty-five hours and fifteen minutes, I finally achieved what I set out to do months ago; I completed The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I did everything from the main quest to the Thieves Guild and I did so many other tasks in between. If the Elder Scrolls franchise has taught me anything, it is that games with immersion tend to be the ones you’re going to remember most. I will remember Skyrim for a very long time.

You are Dragonborn, the Dovahkiin, you can speak the words of the ancient language of the Dragon and use it to your advantage through-out the game, a feature I will delve into later. Beginning the game as, you guessed it, a prisoner, you are quickly thrown onto the chopping block only to be saved by the return of the Dovah. While a secondary plot revolves around the war between the Stormcloak Rebellion, lead by Jarl Ulfric Stormcloak and the Imperial Army lead by General Tullius, the primary focus is on the Dragonborn’s journey to return the Dragons to their slumber, especially the most powerful one of them all, Alduin.

The game itself is a significant improvement over its predecessor in numerous ways. The character models are much more animated than the ones in Oblivion, always moving and countering what you say. The combat animations are much more fluid and what I would most enjoy about the movement and character models in this game is that when you get hit while running, you stumble and look to the ground while running. It may be something completely trivial, but it certainly made an impression on me.

The second-most impressive feature in the game are the Radiant Storytelling and A.I. allowing the computer engine to determine new locations for you to explore, populate those areas with enemies who would provide you and interesting or difficult challenge and base the characters interactions with the A.I. off of his or her experiences. The most recent example of this in memory is when I successfully restored the Thieves Guild to its former glory, later a guard in Whiterun commented that the guild’s presence in the Hold had increased, and that the guild had people under their thumb. Radiant A.I. is a fantastic feature, reminding the character that their actions in the world do matter. It will make people angry and vengeful to the point they send thugs after you, or grateful enough that they will follow you through the nearest dungeon.

Or to their death in the Boethiah's Calling quest.

Quite a few skills have popped up or have been removed entirely from the franchise. We’ve seen the removal of Blade, Blunt and Hand to Hand and the inclusion of One-Handed and Two-Handed weapons skills, allowing for use of all three former while categorizing them under the latter two. Acrobatics and Athletics have been nixed, meaning you can no longer scale the most impossible mountains or traverse a town in a single leap; instead relying on the Stamina system to determine your running time. Mercantile and Speechcraft have been combined to create one skill, Speechcraft, which governs the options you have in conversation and the coin it will cost you to buy your most precious items. Removing Security, Lockpicking and Pickpocketing will govern your ability to steal effectively outside of your sneak skill. Mysticism has been replaced by Enchanting, the ability to make your weapons even more powerful by putting one, perhaps two, enchantments on them. Potential for increasing damage output is extreme. My personal two-handed Battle Axe outputs 335 damage with 38 frost and fire damage complimenting that. How did it get that high? Well the addition of the Smithing skill, coupled with Enchanting, increases the potential of weapons until even Dragons dare face you. I personally like the addition of the new skills, although I do miss Acrobatics, it was simple fun.

You may have thought I was done praising the skill system, but I must go further. Accompanying the skill system are the perks, an upgradable skill tree allowing the player to do all sorts of things with their abilities. This is including, but not limited to, removing all weight from your light armor, causing lockpicks to never break, allowing a kill with an enchanted weapon to recharge the item and one of my personal favorites, moving faster with a drawn bow. That perk alone has allowed me to become an evil marksman, bent on using arrows in close quarters and from afar. These perks allow for enhanced customization of the player character, enabling them to be an expert magician, conniving thief or a jack of all trades employing skills of all kinds. If it wasn’t for this screen, you may miss the most impressive art in the game.

This art.

For the things I thought were okay. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t much care for the main quest line. With the Companions, College of Winterhold, Dark Brotherhood and Thieves Guild quest lines providing the most interesting characters, compelling plot twists and comprehensive and interesting dialogue; the story seemed to come from Skyrim as a whole and not just the journey of the Dragonborn. After a while it just became boring. My favorite quests in the game came from the Dark Brotherhood, for the insanity and for some of the more colourful NPC’s in the game such as Babette, the 300 year old vampire in the body of a ten year old, using her innocent look to ensnare her victims. The Dark Brotherhood line was dark indeed and offered substance, while the main quest line became dull. This goes for the same as the Companions and Thieves Guild, giving the character a full and rich experience at the expense of exposition or filler.

As always, the score is one of the most brilliant parts of the entire game, with the music being pleasant at one moment and straying into a battle-frenzied piece in another. This seamless transition between tracks is what gives the game its most stimulating experiences, again bringing up immersion, the fighting is epic, the dungeons are gloomy and the music just makes the experience all the more intense and immersive. There is no particular piece of the score I would like to point out. We all know the epic Skyrim opening theme and it is truly one of the best pieces.

And what would be a popular game if it didn’t create a popular meme. Although becoming increasingly tiresome because of it’s overuse; the arrow to the knee meme caused some minor amusement and to me is actually still pretty funny for its complete interchangeability with anything. To me, that is something spectacular. It is ultimately funny, but has recently grown tiresome.

The are only two problems that I had with this game. Every Bethesda game fails to address this one for the Playstation 3. The save files get big, the games get slow. I do know that it has to do with the way the PS3 processes visuals and data, but I was hoping this would not happen as the game is truly great, but the file size gets large as you get more into it.  The second is that one-handed combat is not exactly perfected. You can only swing one weapon at a time unless you’re doing a power attack; to me that doesn’t feel like you’re dual wielding at all.

Final Word: I’m running out of praise for the game. You may find your experience to be entirely different than mine. I am sure I will give it another playthrough, but for now there are other games to chronicle.

Final Grade: A+

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