RPG Index: Single player Role Playing Games

Monday, 22 July 2013

Might and Magic Heroes VI

I've had a copy of Might and Magic 6 for years. I've tried to get into it several times, but failed due to circumstances outside my control or because I just plain couldn't get into it. Recently I decided to rectify that issue, and force myself to sit down for a solid Might and Magic session and finish a couple of campaigns. I gotta admit I really don't like it. It's fun for a couple of hours, but the longer you play the less interesting it gets.

I just can't seem to enjoy the battles, they are too repetitive.

Genre: RPG, Strategy
Release Date: 13th October, 2011
Platforms: PC
Score: 3/10
Similar Titles: Sorry, I can't recommend other games this bad because I just don't remember any.

Might and Magic Heroes VI thrusts you into the role of a sovereign in the world of Ashan, a place plagued by many monsters and your usual fantasy creatures. Orcs, Gryphons and Undead: stuff like that. As ruler of the realm your role is to build a large army, capture resources around the map to fund that army, and kill everything that gets in your way. Depending on which campaign you dive into there's a different story, usually something about defending your lands from an invasion or something boring like that. Sadly, the story is one of the redeeming qualities of the game- despite being scarce and short. For example, the first campaign pits you in control of Duke Slava; a young noble allied with the Orcs. Unluckily, people don't like the Orcs so you have to send them a message by putting a sword in their gut. Eventually you kill a few people who are important and some angels get involved, and everything just gets a little bloody. But to be honest, you'd be better off just reading the story on Wikipedia, it's less time consuming and you don't have to actually suffer through the tedium of the game.

The CGI does look amazing, but there's barely any of it.

Both the campaign map and the battles are turn-based in Might and Magic. You have a set amount of movement points each turn on the map, which can be increased by equipment or talents when you level up. When you end your turn your opponents get to move, and every few turns everything on the map gets slightly harder to kill. If you squander enough turns, it becomes impossible to progress further because the armies you have to defeat become far too powerful. This is a nice idea on paper, it forces you to keep making progress. The goal of each mission is to capture and convert the enemies castles, or defeat a specific army. On the way you can collect nodes such as blacksmiths or stables to generate units or resources every turn. Once a month you can recruit new forces at your stronghold, so it's usually a good idea to try and get your hero and his army nearby to pick them up. There are small armies everywhere, most of the time you want to capture something you will have to fight something for it. The campaign map is the least offensive part of Might and Magic heroes, it's not exactly fun to wander around securing places for gold; but it's not awful either. If only you didn't have to spend 10 minutes battling a bunch of peasant Undead every time you want to take control of something.

The campaign map doesn't look that pretty, and the UI can get annoying to deal with.

As for the battles, they start out quite interesting. Your units are stacked together, so you can have 40 crossbow men occupying one tile, or you could split it into 2 individual sets of 20. Each unit can move once per turn, and some of them have special attributes that aid their combat ability. For example, Gryphons can attack from any distance by flying to the target and returning to their original position. However, they are all basically the same. You move your unit into position, and attack over and over again until everything is dead. The only layer to combat on top of that is your hero. While he does not take part in the actual battle, your hero can cast spells and attack every turn from the sidelines. When you level up a few times you can choose from a rather large pool of spells in the talent tree. It's nice to have a large repertoire of abilities to use in combat, but the downside here is most of them are boring. Who wants to increase defense by x for 3 turns?

Attacking strongholds is fun the first time. Can't really say the same after that.

Overall, the battlefield is exactly what turned me off Might and Magic. It's a slow paced affair, even with when you set the computer to do it automatically for you. The problem is that you usually end up fighting a couple of armies each turn, and after a few hours it just gets sickeningly frustrating. Combat in this game is the embodiment of 'I hit you, then you hit me.', this outdated mechanic is something Square Enix have been trying to evolve for years. This is the biggest problem with the game, because why would I waste my time on it when I could just play something else with a story that I'm invested in, or with better graphics and combat?

I just can't believe this is the sixth edition of a game in 2011. It's like a game from the 90's. A bad one.

Despite the incredibly basic warfare, the game has a fair variety of different units to find and recruit. Some of the endgame angels and dragons are really cool and powerful, it's awesome to have them in your army. However, there are only a couple of upgrades for each unit. It would have been far better to give players choices when they want to make their army more powerful, instead of giving us some none-optional power ups that are insignificant for the most part. It's a real shame, because the base combat starts out promising, but it doesn't give you enough to work with as you get further into the game. The Spearmen you have at the beginning are the same as the Spearmen at the end.

The cutscenes are dull. Can't really describe them any other way.

From the small amount of research I've done, Heroes of Might and Magic 6 has advanced in quality from the titles that came before it. It's made progress. But in my opinion, no way near enough. It looks like a cool game and when you first start playing it feels like it too. The Heroes can develop aggressively down the blood path or intelligently up the tears route. The units have been collaborated from a vast collection of fictional creatures. The graphics aren't half bad, and nor is the atmosphere. Unfortunately, after a few hours your opinion of the game deteriorates, and you start to think 'shouldn't there be more to this?'.

Maybe I'm not being fair to a game that's really old. Oh wait, it's only been 2 years since it came out! It feels like it's a game from 2006 or earlier, it's that outdated. Maybe they didn't have the budget to make it better? Well I'm pretty sure Ubisoft had plenty of cash to publish it. That's the problem with this title. It seems to have everything it needed to be a comprehensive modern video game; and yet it plays like something I'd be playing on windows 98 when I was in primary school. This is the most scathing review I have written for a game thus far, and I feel a little guilty about it. So I booted up Might and Magic to give it one another chance. An hour later, I'm back- and I refuse to change a word of it. Other critics have given this game a fairly high score, one that it doesn't deserve.

Don't buy this title unless you like games that are slow-paced, unnecessarily time-consuming and outdated. I'll give it one saving grace: it's playable. But I don't pay for games that are playable. I pay for games that are going to give me an existential life crisis when I run out of content to play.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Star Ocean Wallpapers

After playing through several Star Ocean games recently, mainly the Last Hope and First Departure; I decided to collect several wallpapers for my desktop. Here they are, for your viewing and downloading pleasure. Star Ocean is really a fantastic franchise, and there's countless wallpapers out there. These are some of the best I could find.

If you're looking for a review on first departure, take a look here.

Desktop Wallpapers: Star Ocean

Star Ocean Wallpapers 1
First departure isn't bad if you can get a copy of it, but the characters are a bit shallow.

Star Ocean Wallpapers 2
The Last Hope didn't exceed my expectations, but it's a good game.

Star Ocean Wallpapers 3
I could never find a copy of Second Evolution, still want to play it.

Star Ocean Wallpapers 4
Til the End of Time is my undisputed favorite Star Ocean game.

Star Ocean Wallpapers 5
If you like pink haired elves, well there you go.

Star Ocean Wallpapers 6
I really didn't like Edge that much. I don't know why.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Infinite Undiscovery

Infinite Undiscovery was a debatable purchase for me. On one hand it was cheap, on the other the box looked pretty awful. However, the blurb sold me on it; promising me a great title from the creators of Star Ocean. After finishing the first disc and making decent progress on the second; I'm impressed. Just not that impressed. Infinite Undiscovery is an above average JRPG with a nice blend of elements, and it's definitely worth a single playthrough.

The graphics are awesome, almost Square Enix quality.

Genre: JRPG, Fantasy
Release Date: 2nd September, 2008
Platforms: Xbox 360
Score: 7/10
Similar Titles: Star Ocean, The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles

Monday, 15 July 2013

Grand Theft Auto V: New Gameplay Video

I've been looking forward to the new Grand Theft Auto. The information about it released thus far is incredibly promising. This new video, which outlines gameplay and story reinforces that promise. It looks amazing. Instead of being dropped into a world so large you'll never really spend too much time in any one area, Rockstar have opted for a smaller game area with things crammed in. Grand Theft Auto 5 is going to be an epic game, without a doubt. Just how epic will it be?

Monday, 8 July 2013

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Having never played a Call of Juarez title to date, I didn't know what to expect when jumping into Gunslinger; aside from a few very pretty looking screenshots. After diving into the playthrough and finishing it in less than 10 hours, I can attest that it's a short but enjoyable game that peaks at above average. It's not a bad game, but it lacks content and can't really stand up to FPS games of higher quality.

A screenshot of robbing a train on the game Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Trains seem to be a big focus on Gunslinger. Mostly because people like to rob them.

Genre: FPS, Adventure
Release Date: 21st May, 2013
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Score: 7/10
Similar Titles: Red Dead Redemption, Desperados, GUN
Worth Playing: Definitely, you can run through the whole game in a day and it's a fairly enjoyable arcade style shooter.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Mount & Blade: Warband

If you're looking for Warband mods, try Floris or Pendor, they are the biggest and best available.

I have yet to play a better kingdom building game than Mount & Blade. No other title can really provide the same satisfaction of starting out a campaign alone and penniless, forming your own band of mercenaries, rising in power until you're ready to try for the throne. Sure, other games try to create this experience, but none of them do it as well as Warband. As far as single player titles go, this one's top quality bueno.

An intense melee brawl in Mount and Blade
Things can get a little crazy when the melee starts.

Genre: Action, Third-person, RPG, Strategy
Release Date: 30th March, 2010
Platforms: PC
Score without mods: 7/10
Score with mods: 9/10
Similar Titles: Total War, Chivalry, War of the Roses

Mount and Blade: Warband is the sequel to the original Mount and Blade. It hasn't changed much, it's the same game with buffed up features and some polish. It's not nearly as polished or pretty as it should be, in fact it still feels like a game in beta. Which is why it's strange that Warband is still one of the best games I've ever played.

A night battle in Warband
Taking a hill gives you a pretty overpowered advantage.

There are two sides to Warband. The campaign map and the battlefield. Most of your time will be spent on the map, traveling from city to city looking for quests and enemies to fight. However, once you make a little progress you'll be repelling armies left and right. There is zero story whatsoever, so don't expect any until you start piling on some mods. The battlefield is the fun part of Warband. When the fight begins, you can command your soldiers around the field at the same time as controlling your character. It's essentially third-person action, combined with real-time strategy. It's a great feeling, sending your infantry into the fray whilst charging alongside your cavalry into the flank. It's far more satisfying being in the combat instead of watching it from above.

The overworld campaign map in Mount and Blade
The overworld map isn't particularly pretty, but then again neither is the rest of the game.

Warband's combat really is something special. You can make use of various weapon types, including swords, crossbows, lances and even stones. Each weapon has limited functionality, so it's quite a hard decision to decide whether to keep that two-handed claymore for sweeping past people on horseback, or trade it in for a bow so you can nail enemies from afar. Moreover, dealing damage is directly related to physics. For example, if you're running at full speed on a horse and land a blow on somebody, they are going to take twice as much damage as they would if you were stationary. You can swing in 4 different directions, and if you swing in the right direction with your momentum, it will do significantly more damage. This is a unique feature that brings a new element of strategy to battle.

Upon starting your new character, fresh with your own backstory, Warband drops you into the lands of Calradia. From the beginning of the game, you are free to do whatever you want. You can try to besiege a castle at level one, if being hit by 40 arrows in the face is something on your list of things to do. Typically it's a good idea to kick off your campaign by recruiting a few peasants and searching for bandits to get early weapons and cash. Completing quests for villages and lords lands you reputation points and money, both of which become important as you progress. Once you have trained your men into competent swordsmen and archers, you become a formidable band of mercenaries prepared to fight some of the larger forces on the map.

A siege battle in the snow from the game Mount and Blade
Castle sieges can be really difficult with limited ladders to attack from.

The reason Mount & Blade: Warband is so addictive is because you can choose your route to power. If you want to become a peaceful diplomatic, you can help villages prosper by helping them with bandits and buying them grain. Then you can invest that money into various enterprises to turn a profit every week. Eventually you can join a faction and fight for them, with enough reputation your king might even reward you with a castle or city. Or, you can take the quick route to power. Loot and burn villages, ambush lords and ransom them for money. Take a castle for yourself and establish your own rogue kingdom. This is a fast way to piss off all the factions, but if you're prepared to fight them off you can create your own utopia; recruit your own lords to patrol your lands and manage your finances.

Rolling around the map outmaneuvering armies twice your size and crushing them feels like an entire game in itself. However, when you start conquering provinces and owning lands- it becomes a whole different ballgame. Suddenly you're posed with questions of state, who to appoint as a leader, how many troops to leave in the garrison, and even building upgrades to improve your cities and villages. Instead of going from country to country, you're posed with defending your lands all while keeping your own army strong and formidable enough to counter any threats.

Training peasant villages in Mount and Blade: Warband
Training peasants consists of beating them unconscious until they get stronger.

Even though Warband is definitely better than most of the medieval war games I've had the misfortune of playing, it's still inherently flawed and feels unfinished. Sometimes attacks glitch and miss or hit when they shouldn't have, and walking up hills slows your units down far more than it should. There aren't many quests and they are a chore to complete, which often makes it difficult to farm reputation with a village or person that you want on your side. It's possible to romance lords and ladies of the opposite sex, but it's time consuming and lacks benefit. Although all these features seem hastily tacked on it's justifiable due to the massive branches of options and mechanics in Warband. Even more so considering it was created by a small indie company. With a higher budget and a bigger team, there's absolutely no limit to how high the Mount & Blade franchise could reach.

When I take a step back and look at the overall composition of Warband, it's nothing less than fantastic. There are dozens of cities and keeps owned by different factions, all with their own economy. With some memory and a little perseverance, you can make money by transporting the right goods from town to town. Lords recruit armies and trawl across the map, picking off bandits and fighting their enemies. Over the space of a couple of months in game time, factions go to war and try to conquer territory. If you're not careful, you can indirectly help a faction by defeating their enemies, and then they will spiral out of control and take half the map. Dozens of companions can be found in taverns, who level up just like your main character. You can even throw some epic gear their way, if you want them to be a monstrous killing machine. My point being, every individual feature of Mount & Blade: Warband needs work, polish or an overhaul. However, when all those single pieces come together as a whole; it forms a beautiful game worthy of every fanatic collection.

Fighting in a tournament, Warband
Tournaments are a good way to rack up some cash, if you win anyway.

What's funny is, this is all just the core Warband game. You still don't know about the best part. Mods. Mount & Blade has one of the finest modding communities in existence, rivaling that of the Elder Scrolls and Total War. From small to complete overhaul, if there's something you want- you can find it. You can change the size of battles, add in story elements and even monsters. You can download packs with dozens of new units, or even entirely new maps. Don't like playing games with sub-par graphics? Download some HD textures and voila! Pretty. There are overhaul packs that make Warband feel like an entirely new game.

It's gotten to the point where I physically cannot stand playing the core Mount & Blade. It's a brilliant game, but it reaches near perfect with some of the mods you can download. If you're looking for an overhaul to make Warband so much more; try Floris or Prophecy of Pendor.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Warband Mods: Floris

Floris is the largest mod I've seen for Mount & Blade yet. It's a whopping 1.1 GB, and upon starting it up you will immediately notice changes everywhere you look. In essence, Floris is a patch that brings countless gameplay changes, fixes, and tweaks to Warband. Beware, once you get into this mod it's unlikely you will ever play the native Warband again. It's a massive improvement to the original.

An intense fight on the battlefield in Floris, a warband mod.
Mounted archery is useful for whittling down hordes of opponents.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Rome 2 looks amazing

Total War has always been a brilliant franchise. It combines the strategy elements of conquering provinces and continents with commanding your armies RTS style on the battlefield. Deceptively easy to get started, the Total War games are intricate and unbelievably challenging on higher difficulties. Less than 2% of players have beaten Shogun 2 on legendary.

A screenshot of a scene from the game rome 2: total war

Now I'm always one to get overly excited about new games that look promising. But Rome II looks phenomenal. The graphics are even better than Shogun, which is still one of the most intensive games out today. It looks like they are going fix all the crippling bugs that made Shogun 2 frustrating. I especially hope they sort out the multiplayer. Matchmaking online was buggy and it was horrendously difficult to even get into a game.

The Co-op campaign had better make a comeback, because conquering the world with a friend brings endless entertainment. I have a simple process to value the quality of a game and tell if I got my moneys worth. I consider one hour of fun worth $1-2. I have racked up an astonishing 311 hours online on Shogun 2, so I definitely got more than I paid out of it. If I get half as much time out of Rome 2, I am happy to pay the ridiculous price it's going to cost.

Sadly, it looks like Creative Assembly are going to pump out DLC packs to earn more money like they did with Shogun 2. It's a little shameful, but they don't cost too much.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Final Fantasy XII

In recent years the respect and prestige the Final Fantasy franchise earned from providing a stellar storytelling experience, backed up by graphics beyond the confines of the other console games, has slowly deteriorated. This is due to the awfully poor Final Fantasy X-2 and the online rendition of the series which has only gained a small cult following (sorry ya losers the FF MMO sucks).

Most of the people I know just gave up on hoping the next game would break Square Enix out of their rut and bring Final Fantasy back up to speed with current games. Some people even fooled themselves into believing every game after X-2 was still amazing, ignoring the stink of mediocrity that currently plagues the series that used to set trends for the market.

Opening Scene Final Fantasy XII
The tutorial turns out to be a massacre. Poor Reks.
Genre: JRPG
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: 16th March, 2006
Platforms: PS2, PS4
Score: 6/10
Similar Titles: Grandia, Dragon Quest, Star Ocean
Worth playing: If you are a fan of Final Fantasy or are running out of alternative RPGs to play.

Warband Mods: Prophecy of Pendor

This is my favorite mod pack for Mount & Blade. Prophecy of Pendor is notoriously known as the most challenging overhaul for Warband. I doubt I'll ever meet anyone with the patience to complete it on hard, it's just too difficult and frustrating. Pendor has a new map, equipment, units, and lore. It's essentially another game using the same engine. Even on the lowest setting, it's a really hard to get a good campaign started.

Cavalry. Lots of Cavalry.

Pendor is mostly trial and error for the first dozen hours. There are new factions and units to deal with and most of them will annihilate you, even if you outnumber them 10 to 1. I've had an army of 100 men get massacred by 10 knights before. This may sound frustrating, but when you can barely kill anything on the map it gives you something to aim for. When you finally get a bunch of companions and higher level equipment it's incredibly satisfying to beat them.

Prophecy of Pendor has such a huge experience curve, that you can put in a solid 50 hours into your campaign and some of the hardest enemies will still be untouchable. Unique armies spawn on the map with up to 1000 troops, roaming and destroying anything stupid enough to get in their way. It's common to see an army of 800 Seers or Jatu with hundreds of prisoners. Which is cool because if you defeat them you can pick and recruit any soldier you want.

This rampaging Jatu army wasn't easy to take out.

When you get to the stage of fighting factions and conquering castles, you will quickly find a few new surprises. Most prominent of which is being able to recruit Pendor troops and create Knighthood chapters. Once you are rolling with some highly trained knights and as much cavalry as you can get your hands on, get Warband Battle Sizer. Battles with over a thousand soldiers are unbelievably epic.

The army commands in Pendor are essentially the same as native Warband. However, it's far more important to maneuver your ranks strategically. Enemy forces can have some dangerous units that you have to counter effectively. For example, if you come up against the rare Noldor bowmen, you have to wipe them out immediately or their arrows will drop a soldier every second. It's still possible to abuse the mechanics to win, taking a large hill or massing cavalry is still overpowered. However, not all opponents will fall to superior mechanics.

I don't quite know why I have the Punisher logo, but I'm okay with it.

Pretty much everything from the original Warband campaign is gone. I honestly would of preferred Pendor to be the original game, I believe it's far more rewarding and addictive. There are a few aesthetic changes to make the game less frustrating to navigate, and each area of the map is scary and unique in its own way. It's not as big as Floris or story based like Light and Darkness; but Pendor has bigger and more diverse battles with a challenging learning curve.

Prophecy of Pendor is a great alternative for those of you looking for something new in Warband. It's difficult, even on the easiest settings. Beginning a new campaign is a struggle. You'll have to save a lot and use trial and error to break past the first few levels. Some of you might not find it worth the time, but it's a very rewarding experience. 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Single Player RPG recommendations- Action

This list was quite difficult to come up with. I've played many action RPG franchises over the years, but barely any of them were noteworthy enough to place on this list. If you're looking for an RPG that focuses on action filled combat instead of the slow-paced affair that defines the role-playing genre, take a look at these recommendations. Bear in mind that these games are in the order that I prefer them, but not necessarily the best.

Single Player Action RPGs

1. The Elder Scrolls

When this guy jumped me I gave him a stern telling off. Then I sheathed my sword. In his head.

Between Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim; It would be a travesty to not put the Elder Scrolls franchise in this list. With a vast open world and first person combat, these games are a perfect blend of RPG and action. Use a sword, bow, or magic to take down your enemies in spectacular fashion. If you haven't played any of these games yet, be sure to get Skyrim or Oblivion at your earliest convenience. The RPG elements are extremely involving and the action is entertaining and addictive. If you get a copy on the PC there are countless mods to expand the games too.

2. The Witcher 

The Witcher 2 is much better than the first game, but if you want to know the entire plot you'll have to start at the beginning.

I've always been a fan of the Witcher games. They are far from perfect, but one of the most rewarding series to play if you can get into it. I haven't found an RPG with more satisfying combat yet. Geralt is an awesome main character, and he wields a sword like a champion. You have several magical spells at your disposal, all with different uses. The story starts off slow but fills with tension the further you go. It's not all good, you have to deal with some inventory management issues and other problems. However, if you're looking for a game with brutal third-person action and a rich world with lots of lore to dive into, look no further.

3. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex is widely known for giving you lots of choices.

Deus Ex focuses more on shooting and stealth than RPG aspects, but it's a great blend of genre nonetheless. This title has a great story with some epic moments, and almost every problem has more than one solution. You can approach each goal in many different ways, and you can upgrade the main character to open up different routes and techniques. It even has multiple endings. I really like the customization on Human Revolution, it's possible to build yourself like a terminator or a sneaky ninja. The hacking mini-games are also pretty awesome. It's also worth giving the first two Deus Ex titles a try if you can handle the old graphics.

4. Fallout 3 and New Vegas

The landscape really brings a convincing post apocalypse story to Fallout.

Although I haven't completed either of these two titles yet I've played enough of them to know they are iconic games that probably deserve a place higher on the list. Although Fallout is an FPS you don't have to aim your gun once if you don't want to. Using the VATs system the game allows you to target specific body points and shoot at them automatically. The game has a solid RPG base to it, with dozens of perks and plot choices to make. Whether you're blasting at the giant scorpions or that guy in a bar who gave you a dirty look, Fallout is a post-apocalyptic wasteland that will bring you many hours of fun.

5. Borderlands 2

I thought Borderlands 2 would be more of the same, and I was right. But it's got flair and a good story this time.

I'm adding this game in the final place with a fair amount of skepticism. Borderlands 2 is meant to be enjoyed on co-op with a friend or two. However, unlike the first game it's actually reasonably fun if you play it alone. The plot is a key part of the game, it's intriguing and the villain is quite good. Aside from that, Borderlands 2 is essentially a first-person shooter with some simple RPG mechanics. There's no way you will have as much fun playing it alone when compared with playing it with your mates, but it's still a pretty good game with loads of content to sift through.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Why don't more people know about Mount and Blade?

Mount and Blade: Warband is the kingdom building sandbox experience of a lifetime. I can put this franchise in the 'god-tier' category with confidence. Which is why it's genuinely surprising that it doesn't have more of an audience. In Mount&Blade you can grow from a peasant to a commander, and eventually even a king. What's more, it's got fantastic combat that pits you on the battlefield alongside your troops, allowing you to command your ranks while in the center of the fray. You can tell you're playing something truly amazing when a game has irritating bugs, a distinct lack of polish, and awfully optimized graphics; but you can't bring yourself to stop playing it.

You start out alone in the world. Eventually you can wield an army of hundreds.

There are currently 3 Mount & Blade titles on the market, with the 4th in development. Each game runs on the same engine, with the only changes being various adjustments to improve the quality of play. If you haven't heard of this franchise yet, either do a little digging or just buy Warband. The original Mount and Blade is a little outdated, and the newest edition Fire and Sword has a few unsightly design changes that make it less fun. Warband is the one to buy.

Although the original campaign can easily soak up a good 30+ hours of your time and still leave you with stuff to conquer and finish, what makes Mount and Blade a timeless game of outstanding quality is the gigantic modding community. The base game is a mod enthusiasts paradise. There are so many complete overhaul packs that you're essentially buying a dozen games in one. I've racked up over 200 hours on Warband so far, and I only spent a couple of hours playing it without mods.

The world map is gigantic, and you can conquer all of it.

If you're looking for one of those games that you will never regret buying, look into Mount and Blade: Warband. More specifically, do some research into the mods you can get for it. It's essentially free DLC. Take a look at Prophecy of Pendor and Floris, both are gameplay overhauls that introduce around a gigabyte of awesome changes. If you're interested in multiplayer, you can also try out CRPG. My point is, if you want it; there's a mod for it on Warband. The goal of this article is to raise awareness of an under appreciated franchise. If you haven't heard of Mount & Blade, then take a look and try it out. It's cheap!

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes

Fallen Enchantress brings the city expansion mechanics from Civilization and influences it in another direction with hefty RPG elements. When a tried and tested game is taken and built upon in the correct way, it can either be worse or better than the original. In the case of Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, it's arguably a definitive improvement on Civ.

If you don't want to create your own hero, there's a pool to select from.

This is a title that makes you want to clear you schedule for several days; just so you can play campaign after campaign. In my opinion it's a strategy masterpiece, once again proving that the smaller and more driven gaming companies are more reliable at producing top tier video games. I must admit I have an affinity for strategy games with a strong RPG components. Being able to build your own kingdom or empire from scratch is a feature that everyone enjoys.

Early on it's good to try and field a couple of armies to search the map.

Turn based strategy games are uniquely qualified to perform admirably in tandem with roleplaying games. Fallen Enchantress allows you to create your own faction by selecting perks, colors, and banners for your armies and cities. After that, you can customize your main character with weapons, stat bonuses, magical talents among other choices. With a comprehensive and satisfying list of options when beginning your campaign, your army feels like it actually belongs to you. It's what makes this game special. Instead of starting as a predetermined country or race like most strategy games, it feels pretty damn glorious to see your handmade empire conquering cities and wiping out enemies.

Autobattle is really unreliable.

After restarting several campaigns I got to grips with the general rules of play. You begin the game with your commander and a small army. From turn one it's important to explore the map to grab valuable resources and upgrades. You can also take out some of the weaker neutral armies on the map, or complete quests to gather experience and a reward. Early on the map is a very inhospitable place. There are countless dangerous enemies that will get you wiped out. At the same time it's also important to establish your city and choose a strategic approach to how you want to build it. I found that on the higher difficulties it was vital to create pioneers and create several well placed cities early on.  Although your biggest problem at the start is the gigantic lands filled with dangerous monsters, other factions will quickly get in your way and try to cut off your expansion.

There aren't that many important nodes to tap into on the map, but they are useful.

Legendary Heroes is an addictive game. Once you get rolling and attract a few heroes to your cause, it becomes a debate on whether you should play defensive and rush your research, or pump out armies to take control of the best resources to get ahead. Leveling up your basic soldiers is difficult when they die so quickly but very rewarding. It's a shame that the auto-battle feature is pretty awful, it doesn't try to keep your units alive. So even when you have a superior force, you usually have to resolve the conflicts personally to prevent losses. They don't take too long but they can get pretty boring.

Out of the many strategy games I've tried, I find Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes one of the forerunners. Up there with titles like Shogun 2 and Warband. From the frantic early game to the empowering endgame it's addictive and enjoyable. It's a shame that it lags pretty harshly between turns and lacks much needed polish. Here's hoping that the sequel steps it up a notch and brings us something for the hall of fame.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Bleach: Versus Crusade

Bleach is an anime that has made several forays into the video game arena, with a reasonable amount of success. However, some of the best Bleach titles never even make it out of Japan. After playing the disappointing Shattered Blade on the Wii, I wasn't very eager to play another game that might ruin the reputation of my favorite anime. However, after a bottle of vodka and some wine, I made the happy mistake of attempting to emulate Bleach: Versus Crusade. Surprisingly, it's actually a fun and entertaining game. With Dolphin emulator and a reasonable internet connection, it's a very quick and easy process to obtain and get it running too.

A screenshot of combat gameplay in Bleach: Versus Crusade
Byakuya is hard to play but rewarding.

The first thing you need to know about Versus Crusade is that it's all in Japanese. There's no English patch, so it takes a little research on Google or knowledge of the language to get started. If anything, I'm happy that I don't have to listen to Ichigo and Rukia's voice actors speaking in English. Don't let this barrier deter you; you can find menu translations all over the internet, created by avid fans.

Gameplay from Bleach: Versus Crusade, playing as the character Ichigo
Ichigo is pretty overpowered, but he can be beaten.

The second thing you need to know, is that instead of the 2D Tekken style battles are gone. Instead, Bleach: Versus Crusade adopts a combat style that can only be compared to the Dragonball Z: Budokai franchise. This is a very welcome change, bringing a more free-roaming approach to the action, which befits a franchise of Bleach's caliber. Being able to Shunpo around the battlefield dodging blasts of Reiatsu is deeper and more fitting than the 2D arcade style of beating eachother senseless on a single plane.

Single player Bleach game for the Nintendo Wii
Melee attacks are the bread and butter, to build up your Bankai.

Although the story is very short, it takes place during the Hueco Mundo arc. Which means Ichigo can go Visored mode and put on his mask in battle. The plot follows canon and in between battles the dialogue is unveiled upon a simple backdrop. The lines are all voiced by the actors from the show. It's pretty basic really, and is in no way special. The only real redeeming quality of this game as a whole is that it's basically Dragonball Z Budokai's battle system with beloved Bleach characters. Albeit with a lot less content.

A screenshot of the story in the Bleach Wii game
The dialogue is essentially quoting the Bleach manga.

As I have mentioned already, the combat is drastically better than the other Bleach titles on the market. Each arena you fight in is large enough for you to move around freely. You can chain together several flashsteps to cover distances quickly. Each character can strike in melee, landing a hit allows you to chain together several blows. There are also four special attacks that are unique to each character. For example, Ichigo can fire off small or big Getsuga Tenshou projectiles, and Ishida can use dangerous long range Quincy arrows. All characters can Bankai, which increases their damage considerably. It's not too badly balanced, no matter who you pick you have varying strengths and weaknesses.

Not unlike most of the games on the Wii, the graphics aren't spectacular. The maps are pretty awful too, but they do depict all the scenes from the anime and manga accurately. What I do like, is the fairly comprehensive roster of characters you can choose from. You can play survival or arcade mode when you've finished the campaign, which utilize tag team battles. Overall, I'm disappointed in the lack of content, but it's definitely a step in the right direction for future Bleach games.

Bleach: Versus Crusade isn't really a great game. It's fun, and will kill a few hours of your time. But it lacks depth and there's not much for you to do. If you do like Bleach, then it's worth playing. If not, you can probably find something better to do.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Final Fantasy XV may put Square Enix back at the top.

This years E3 has been interesting. Aside from Microsoft being outclassed in presentation in every possible way by Sony and Nintendo, new footage for the exciting new Final Fantasy XV. In the past couple of years we've seen a couple of trailers, ones that lack any kind of substantial information about gameplay. That's all about to change. This video shows how Square Enix have finally accelerated themselves into the new era of action RPG.

I am not ashamed to admit that watching this video sent my body into goosebump overdrive. I am trembling with anticipation for this game. I have played every Final Fantasy title to date, and haven't thoroughly enjoyed or respected one after X. Every release after FF10 made at least one gamebreaking mistake, one that defined the entire title in a bad way. Final Fantasy X-2 had the abysmal dress sphere system and the distinct lack of any story aside from concluding the previous game. FF13 was terrible in the sense that the only break from the first 20 hours of following one linear path was to press auto-battle repeatedly until you won. It's no secret nor something people can argue about: they were all distinctly lacking that Final Fantasy feel that made you lock yourself in a room and quit your job until you had finished it.

Final Fantasy XV looks like it is going to bring us all back from the brink. Dare I say it for fear of jinxing the whole production? We're actually going to get a good Final Fantasy game again. One that us fanboys can actually defend on an intellectual level. We've got a main lead that seems to be cool for once, unbelievable graphics, intense third-person action, and some colossal enemies that look truly terrifying. Final Fantasy XV looks promising indeed.

This video just looks awesome. Square Enix could still fuck it up, but from what we've seen they are definitely on the right track to making a titanic game. Here's hoping I don't end up posting a review next year about how disappointing it is. My biggest fear is that the protagonist Noctis will turn out to be a douche. Ever since Tidus I've never liked the main character.

Friday, 14 June 2013

How games could be better.

I have this discussion on a regular basis with numerous acquaintances. If you spend just a few minutes thinking about it, you can probably think of several ways you can make one of your favorite video games better.

Thinking about how to improve games is usually a fairly frustrating process for me, because most times you can think of many ideas that could be implemented into a game with a small amount of effort. If only some developers had decided to keep their game in production for another month or two, it could bump the enjoyment and quality immensely.

Now I'm not saying video game developers are lazy, because I know it's a challenging and long process to make a game you can sell. Sometimes the release date is behind schedule, the budget runs out, or the team who are working on the game just get entirely burnt out. There are hundreds of variables that can affect the production process. But it's downright upsetting to think of a feature that would probably take 30 minutes of coding and increase the quality of play exponentially.

Off the top of my head, the Crysis franchise. If you look at the 3 titles objectively, it's easy to say they are all fairly decent. But if you turn a critical eye over Crysis a quick summary will usually give anyone the same opinion. Every feature seems to have been sacrificed in lieu of advanced graphics. The upgrades, the mechanics, even the gameplay has inherent flaws that you can abuse to become immune to death. Using stealth properly allows you to become visible for less than a second to headshot an enemy and disappear back into thin air.

How much time do you think it would take to give the Crysis bad guys a couple of effective methods to root you out of stealth? Flash bang grenades that unveil you would surely take less than a day. What about the upgrade system? Would adding a dozen minor perks that gave you something to look forward to be a long and arduous process? I think not. It's minor projects like these that if combined together, would make Crysis one of those legendary video games that you wouldn't forget.

I don't like how so many new games are put on the market in an almost unfinished state. Most developers barely even try to patch their titles when they have issues. Moreover, the worst companies release an unpolished game and then pull out a chunk of it and demand you pay extra because it's DLC. This kind of shoddy practice will never stop because people will always buy it. I'll pay for it myself on occasion, on impulse.

Although this post seems to have turned towards a spiteful shunt at the gaming industry, don't forget my original point. If you think of your favorite game right now, you won't have much trouble imagining very easy ways to make it a better title for everyone. If you know what I mean, post a comment and give us an example!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Starseed Pilgrim, an intriguing puzzle?

I've heard several very biased reviews from friends about a puzzle game. My initial response was to obviously to scoff with derision. Unfortunately, I got ganged up on by several people in a Skype call. So I got to work doing a little research, and I barely found anything at all.

The game Starseed Pilgrim
What is going on here? You tell me.

After hearing word combinations such as indie masterpiece and incredibly satisfying, digging deeper was my only choice. What I found was a concept that sounds uniquely interesting and potentially boring at the same time. You are a farmer, planting various seeds that grow into different shapes. Each seed has different properties that interact with their surroundings in various ways. Your objective is to create a path using the right combinations. Now where this path is supposed to go, and what you're supposed to do with it isn't readily apparent to me and probably half of the playerbase. However, it sounds like a fantastic premise for a simple game that could end up killing several days or months of your time.

I'm not going to pretend to understand Starseed Pilgrim. The specifics seem particularly strange to come to terms with unless you actually purchase and play it yourself. Sadly, my game budget is shot for the next few weeks, and I don't quite feel comfortable torrenting an indie title created by a single person. So if you've actually experienced and played Starseed Pilgrim, get your beautiful behind up here and post a comment! Give us your opinion!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dead Space 3

I only managed to clock in about 5 hours on Dead Space 3, and the reason for that is that it really isn't my cup of tea. It's an alright game, but I can't get behind it. Why? Because Dead Space 3 is designed to shock you. Every corner you turn some terrifying creature tries to leap at you and give you a fit. But when you take those scary moments away, what does it have left? A weak shooter with bad mechanics followed by pretty cool weapon customization.

The introduction scene of Dead Space 3, flying above the snow
Hanging out of spaceships in precarious positions seems to be a popular theme on this franchise.

Isaac Clarke comes back as the protagonist from the previous two games, mentally crippled from the traumatic events he experienced from slaughtering his way through two games of scary zombie action. A marker has been activated on the moon, creating a plague of Necromorph. The markers alter the DNA of corpses which turns them into bloodthirsty death machines that shrug off shots to the head. As the only one to survive previous marker outbreaks, and convinced by his missing girlfriend, Isaac is dragged into the fray once again. Although I didn't like Dead Space as a game, the story captivated me. It's one of the better Sci-Fi tales I've experienced.

Playing Dead Space 3 and learning the truth about cultists
These cracker ass cultists brought on the apocalypse because that's what cults do.

So what are you getting if you buy the third main title in the Dead Space franchise? A survival horror third-person shooter. In space. Sadly, that's about it. Oh, aside from the creepy zombies that morph dead bodies into creepy masses of death. It's got an indie feel to it, but that's because the graphics aren't great and the mechanics aren't polished. If you are a survival horror enthusiast, Dead Space is a brilliant choice for you. If not, then you might find it questionable like me.

Dead Space 3 enemies. Pretty terrifying and loads to kill.
Necromorphs are actually pretty scary enemies, and there's plenty of them.

My main issue with the Dead Space franchise is that it was overwhelmingly disappointing. After all the reviews and excited friends I have dealt with, I really expected more. Sure, the zombies crawling out of every nook, crevice and cranny scared the hell out of me. I wasted countless bullets spraying at corpses. But the awful mechanics just irritated me to no end. The kick function was terrible, and barely served a purpose except in situations you were probably already dead. Many of the guns were completely useless, and only became a viable choice after upgrading them a lot. Picking up and moving objects with Kinesis could have been a fun and potentially amazing mechanic, instead it's just an annoying minigame. The graphics were sort of blotchy, I really expected them to be better. All in all, I found myself focusing on the bad parts of Dead Space 3 instead of enjoying the good.

A cutscene near the start of Dead Space 3 with explosions and space ships
I bet he's getting used to hanging out of spaceships in precarious positions by now.

There are a few good features to Dead Space 3. Unlike the first two games, the awkward horror situations have been replaced in favor of more action. Instead of being forced into a cramped vent just so something can make you jump out of your skin and suffer organ failure, it feels more like a run and gun. With the added function to roll and take cover, Dead Space 3 definitely feels more dynamic than the previous two games.

Playing Dead Space 3 traveling in space.
Being able to control your character out in space is pretty awesome. Up until the Necromorphs start to do the same thing. Then it's just scary.

Another cool aspect is the UI. Every part of the ingame interface is accessed through your spacesuit. Instead of pausing the game and bringing you to a menu, you can view your inventory while playing since it projects itself from your suit.

The best part of this title is the weapon creation system. Once you collect enough materials, it's possible to create all manner of death dealing guns. For example, crossing a cryogenic torch with a rocket launcher allows you to freeze and then shatter anything. You can combine a lethal shotgun with a diffractor to put everything everywhere on the ground; while you casually step up to each one and blast their brains out. Honestly, this is the only thing that kept me playing.

It's a shame that Dead Space 3 has a few really cool mechanics that get bogged down and held back by the rest of it. Visceral games have tried to innovate since the previous games in the Dead Space franchise, but it doesn't seem to be enough.

Gun customisation and firing rounds in the game Dead Space
I really like the gun customization, you can craft some scary stuff.

You can slowly time when your enthusiasm for Dead Space is going to run out. Early on in the game when windows explode and cretinous devilspawn starts trying to claw your eyes out, you will empty every clip in your gun at it and then stomp on the corpse until every limb is splattered over your suit. Several hours later, you will be targeting limbs with precision shots; and things leaping out of every corner won't even phase you. That's when I became disinterested.

Most games are easily criticized, but the best of them keep you so intrigued, entertained, or just plain frustrated that you completely forget to complain about the awful things. If I look at Dead Space objectively, it's a good franchise that does exactly what it says on the tin. However, when I look at it personally- it's a lackluster title that loses value the longer you play it.

I can understand that Visceral Games have created a game that a lot of people will enjoy and appreciate. I am not one such person. As previously stated; it's not my cup of tea. So if you're interested in it, it's up to you to make a judgement call.