We will build your DREAMWEB!
January 7th, 2012
(as of 2012-12-05 01:50:35 PST)
Soul Calibur V (PS3) (UK IMPORT)
DescriptionSOULCALIBUR V is the newest installment of its multi-million selling weapons-based fighting series for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation3. It delivers exhilarating 3D fighting mechanics, breathtaking visuals, and new characters, as well as expanding the online + character creation modes.
You may recall other games that employ a similar setup. CastleStorm comes to mind, for instance, with its pleasing blend of crazy action and tower defense mechanics. While past games prevent this new effort from offering much in the way of surprises, though, lingering familiarity ensures that genre devotees will be able to get right down to the business of castle demolition.What good is a medieval castle without rocket-launching turrets and satellites?
When a round begins, you find your castle positioned near the edge of a cramped map. As rousing battle themes pipe from your speakers, you stake your claim to verdant hills and blue skies, to deserts so yellow you might wish you could vacation within one. Floating landforms populate the foreground, which you and your opponent can blast away with shots from cannons, lasers, and other such contraptions, almost like you might in a Worms game. There's no turn-based respite, though, in spite of the cheery vibe; you make your decisions and you execute all plans on the fly, with as little hesitation as possible. Speed is a necessity, or else you might line up a beautiful shot just in time to find out that your laser tower has been blasted to smithereens by a roaming ball of explosives.
In a game of this sort, an intuitive interface is vital. The developers at Turtle Sandbox put the player in charge of a flying airship, and that approach pays dividends. Using your keyboard or a gamepad (the latter works particularly well), you can pilot the ship anywhere you like without having to worry about taking damage. You must make quick trips back to your castle to grab new structures, then plop them down at key points along the map. Your expansion options are limited at first, until you have placed enough surveillance balloons, mining camps, and other such attractions along the way. Then you can dock with a given point of interest--for example, a rocket launcher--and direct its actions. Although there are times when dropping buildings and docking require excess fiddling, particularly when too many structures are in close proximity, the interface works beautifully and allows you to work at the brisk clip gameplay demands.
There's no turn-based respite, though, in spite of the cheery vibe; you make your decisions and you execute all plans on the fly, with as little hesitation as possible.
Naturally, there are complications. Though some buildings regularly perform a specific task without your direction, most of them are useless without orders. They also must go through a cooling period, which means you can't simply rely on a single device to secure victory. Instead, you constantly must move your airship from one spot to another, adjusting for rapidly evolving combat and a changing landscape.
As the game begins, there are only a few offensive measures available. Even once you advance far enough in the campaign that your list of options expands, you can bring along only a handful of tools. You almost always have to survive without something important, and your computer opponents are great at adapting to diffuse any winning tactic you might employ. This means that if you try one technique in a round and it fails for a particular reason, switching to a different one the next time around is no guarantee that you'll find success: the AI could easily adapt and catch you by surprise in some other manner. Such adaptations keep matches interesting, because you always have to stay on your toes and watch for attacks from a few potential directions even as you replay the same map.The land is full of castles to destroy.
You also need to decide which airship captain to bring along for the ride. Each one grants a different sort of boost. One lets you form repairs if you get close to a building that has taken damage. Another one allows you to start with extra gold and also enables you to harvest resources more efficiently. The first captain you meet, however, may be the best one of all. She reduces the cooling period for everything, which becomes so important by the end of the campaign that any other captain feels like a handicap.
One problem with Cannon Brawl is that it gives players access to a bunch of cool toys, but most battles ultimately play out in the same manner. You start by claiming as much territory as possible and building mines. Then you drop a few towers and dart between them, firing shots at your opponent and hopefully taking out his or her resources before the tide of battle can turn against you. Your greatest ally besides speed is momentum, and the combination of the two often wins out against the more creative and interesting approaches that the the game allows you to explore. When there's little reason to rely on more than a few basic turrets that are dependably efficient, unlockable content is nothing more than window dressing. Even in online matches, simple strategies easily overwhelm opponents using more varied forms of weaponry. Over time, you earn experience points that allow you to access additional pilots and structures in the armory, but when simple tactics are so effective, it's difficult to drum up the enthusiasm required to unlock them.You were a shining star, enemy castle, but now you are no more…
The game's difficulty level already feels punishing enough when you play on the higher settings, because suddenly your opponent moves with a distracting (and distressing) level of precision. Almost before a round even begins, it throws up shields, health-regenerating towers, and upgrade cannons. Meanwhile, you might still be struggling just to get a few balloons in the air so you can start mining. Such battles commence with momentum and resources already working against you; the obstacles are hardly insurmountable, but if you want a fair conflict, you're better off finding human opponents instead.
Cannon Brawl is interesting enough to enjoy in small doses, but it wears out its welcome once you realize its efforts to inject a little variety into the proceedings only go skin deep. If you can find a few friends at a similar skill level to challenge, you'll likely enjoy several hours of strategy mayhem. Otherwise, you're better off in another castle.
Seconds in, I could see that Neverwinter's combat had retained its sense of power and explosive immediacy. My great weapon fighter, newly shrunk to dwarven size, swung his blade with a flick of the left mouse button and exploded in a frenzy at a touch of the tab key. Neverwinter's focus on action lacks the novelty it once commanded in the days before WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online stomped onto the scene, but few MMOGs do such a good job of capturing the experience of clobbering baddies with sharp, shiny blades. Somewhere, we're led to believe, an adherence to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons serves as the foundation for all this, though that connection is a notable loose one. Consisting mainly of three action bars and two daily skills, the combat system provides the kind of fun that could catch on well when Neverwinter makes its jump to the Xbox One later this year.The lore here is weak, but the world at least captures the "feel" of D&D.
The combat holds up so well, in fact, that my time "sampling" the newish hunter ranger introduced last December turned into a leveling extravaganza that had me pushing to the level cap in just a few days. For leveling, it's probably a personal record. The absence of this staple fantasy class stung at launch, but it seems that slight wait wasn't for naught. There's a pleasing Legolas-style quality about the class: hit tab, and the iconic bow is switched out for a hotbar dedicated to finishing off enemies with a pair of lengthy daggers; hit shift, and he darts out of harm's way in an explosion of leaves.
I also found some of that excitement in the new scourge warlock class. I only toyed with it across 10 or so levels, but that was enough time for the class to attract me more than similar classes in games such as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. Here again, the focus is on movement. Press shift, and the warlock hovers across the landscape towards the next target, occasionally blasting foes with flames that cause them to rise from the dead as minions. She provides healing energy with the damage she deals, and her fluid attack animations make her great fun to play. With the hunter ranger and the scourge warlock, Cryptic proves that good new classes will bring back players who have left for other (presumably greener) pastures.
The downside of my fling with the hunter ranger was that I had to experience the 12-50 leveling content all over again. Little has changed in this regard. As it was at launch, the core levels all feel as though Cryptic studied plumbing schematics for the leveling system, with the heroes themselves acting as Drano as they clear out the gunk on the way to the boss at the end. Sometimes you'll stop to pick up quests from non-player characters who spout stories that are never interesting enough to stick around listening to, and sometimes you must flip a switch instead of ram a sword through a goblin's heart. Neverwinter is beautiful at times, particularly in the forests of the Blackdagger Ruins and in the snow-capped mountains of Icespire Peak, but it never quite manages to rise above generic fantasy and assume an identity of its own.A dragon. In a dungeon. How appropriate!
That identity is what made past Dungeons & Dragons games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights so memorable. If you find a trace of that spirit here, it’s in the user-made quests found within the foundry. Cryptic may withhold key features such as loot distribution from player designers in the creation interface, but the scenarios themselves are filled with old pen-and-paper D&D scenarios come to digital life. Some are episodic, and thus provide a reason to venture back to Neverwinter when Cryptic itself is in a content drought. If the content stumbles, it's only because the rating system doesn't rotate out new entries as much as it probably should. One entertaining foundry mission called "Tired of Being the Hero" has barely budged from its top spot since the days shortly after launch.
But where do other people fit into all this? Neverwinter is curiously asocial for an MMORPG, even in the cooperative dungeons that usually form the foundation of long-lasting friendships in many of its competitors. They excel in visual appeal but fall short of any real challenge; most of the time, you're fine just chopping through foes and bosses as long as your healer isn't asleep. Healers don't even need to pay that much attention. The AI-controlled companions that heal you and aid your damage in the basic level content are allowed to follow you in, leaving Neverwinter's challenges just a notch about knowing when to stay out of the fire.
And if you talk? Humorously enough, Neverwinter's popularity across multiple countries means it's not terribly uncommon to save the world in groups of four people who don't understand a word you're saying. There's a nice "citizen of the world" vibe about its community, sure, and it serves as a nice break from the name-calling and petty arguments you find elsewhere. It's not good, however, for forming the social bonds that games like this thrive on for longevity.Neverwinter's combat may be fun, but its quests are as bland as they come.
For the MMO connoisseur who's more interested in wrecking his or her fellow players rather than working with them, Neverwinter also has a fun multiplayer component, but its battlegrounds are a mass of imbalances until you get to 50. Reaching the level cap unlocks the dwarven fortress of Gauntlgrym, however, and there's some fun in its 20-versus-20 battles that capture the thrill of sieges while demanding a modicum of strategy.
Most of these options existed before. The succeeding months have brought an identifiable endgame to Neverwinter that adds vitality to the game apart from the tired imperative to level an alt. These are Neverwinter's campaigns, which shuttle you off to familiar locales like Icewind Dale for the promise of sweet loot if you can stomach the unyielding repetition of daily quests. In their favor, most of these manage to escape the tube-like progression of the core zones, opting instead to dole out quests from a central location that sends you to victory among various points of the compass.
Taken together, Neverwinter's design would fall flat in a traditional subscription MMORPG, but it doesn't rank far below Path of Exile in terms of providing so much great content for so little. It also isn't as insistent on robbing you as the bandits who prowl its sewers; indeed, it's quite possible to reach the level cap without any assistance from the cash shop. Neverwinter seems to want to be the type of game that you can drop into with few complications after an absence of a few weeks or months, and it does this well.
The downside of all this is that the items you can buy are a bit on the pricey side, as if to make up for its otherwise liberal model. That's always been the case, but this tendency was most egregiously emphasized when Cryptic recently listed the price for the new Dragonborn race at $75. That borders on farcical; Skyrim sold for less when it launched. And as cool as they look, I'm not sure I could ever shake off the fear of what other players would think about my spending habits as I hulk about with my spiffy tail and scaly skin.
It's hard to hold this against Cryptic, however, since the studio gives away so much for free. Tossing money at Cryptic for lesser purchases, such as accelerators for training minions or finishing crafting tasks, certainly makes life easier, but I accomplished my recent race to 60 with my Hunter Ranger without once spending a penny. I felt a little ashamed, in fact, as though I were pirating.
But that frantic, free run up to the level cap says much about Neverwinter; in spite of its many flaws, it always manages to entertain with its movement-based combat and unrelenting action. Lose yourself in its trance, and it achieves and maintains a level of addictiveness that flags all too soon in other free-to-play MMORPGs like TERA: Rising. In a genre that's increasingly overcrowded, Neverwinter manages to establish itself as a game that's never fully boring, never too eager to rifle your pockets, and, well, never quite fun enough to stick around in for too long.
If you really want to boil it down, Roundabout is what you get when you throw Crazy Taxi, Tony Hawk, Kuru Kuru Kururin, and an amateur filmmaker with a camera and a love for cheesy full-motion video games into a pot. As Georgio, you control an always-rotating limousine through the open streets of Roundabout city. You can't control the speed of the rotation, and you can only rarely affect its direction, so maneuvering around the streets requires precise timing.I know I'm spinning my car around with no concern for the safety of others, but come on, dude. That's not how you park.
As you move through the game's open world, you accept missions by picking up passengers. Every time you pick someone up you are treated to a unique and cheesy full-motion video sequence that contributes to the game's story. The sequences encapsulate Roundabout's tone: They're ridiculous, they don't take themselves seriously, and they look like they could have been made in a garage. The acting in each is deliberately amateur, rather than an attempt to meet big Hollywood's exacting standards. Such scenes are what might result from a group of friends getting together to make a dumb and campy film with a 1970s feel. Google the actors' names, and you find that the actors mostly a bunch of video game industry acquaintances, which might explain the clips' goofy and good-natured tone.
Even if you were to find these videos grating, they are easily skipped at the tap of a button. But to do so would be a mistake, as the scenes contain not only a lot of humor, but a lot of heart. Each character's story arc guarantees at least a chuckle or two. Even Georgio, who never utters a word, conveys a lot of emotion each time she looks over her shoulder to the person in the back seat of her limo.
Love, drugs, revenge, anarchy and more all come together to form one of the most delightfully absurd games in recent memory.
As you pick up passengers and take them where they need to go, you must carefully weave your way through obstacles like cars, street lamps, fences and, of course, roundabouts. Most objects in the environment are indestructible, and colliding with them causes damage to your limo. It's important to learn how to slide yourself into gaps as you spin, which allows you to navigate turns and avoid other drivers, who would be easily missable if you were driving like a normal person instead of a spinning maniac. Getting the hang of moving with the limo's rotation requires you to twist your brain a bit, but deftly sliding through obstacles is eminently satisfying. You often have to be quick, though, or you'll spin right into a tree (or worse). Hit enough obstacles, and your limo blows up in spectacular fashion, but don't worry: you won't lose too much in terms of progress.
You can get some help moving through town by equipping different power-ups, including one that allows you to slow down time while you move through obstacles, and another that helps you pinpoint hidden collectibles. Eventually, the story also grants you the ability to jump, which opens up even more paths and shortcuts.This isn't even the weirdest thing that happens in Roundabout.
It's impossible to fail a mission in Roundabout, but you can complete it poorly. You might fail to meet optional challenges, such as completing a mission without hitting anything, or finishing within a certain time limit, and your time is added to a global leaderboard on which you are told how you rank against your friends. If you're more concerned with earning money, you'll want to keep your combo multiplier going by collecting objects quickly and not hitting obstacles along the way. Need to keep up a combo but see no nearby pickups? Just run over some pedestrians. Surely there's no harm in that at all.
One of Roundabout's few flaws is the lack of a quick restart option while in the middle of a task. You can retry a mission upon completing it, but if you get halfway through and want to restart for any reason you must ditch your passenger via the pause menu. This stops the mission, but it doesn't take you back to the beginning, forcing you to make that trek yourself. Similarly, there is no easy way to see your score or completion percentage on missions you are not currently engaged with, and there's no way to quickly travel to them either. This isn't much of an issue when playing through the story for the first time, but it makes going back for 100-percent completion more painful than it needs to be.
Roundabout is short, but sweet. If you just blaze through the story you can be done in a couple hours or less. Those hours are kept fresh with a handful of challenges that break up the pure driving (such as a destruction derby event and a mission to bounce a soccer ball on your limo repeatedly), which can be replayed for higher leaderboard scores. You're also encouraged to dive back into the world of Roundabout to find all its collectibles, finish each mission's goals, or play through the entire game in an "eSports" speedrun mode that eliminates the FMV stuff.
But even without the incentives to keep playing after the credits roll, Roundabout works well as a short chunk of oddbeat humor and arcade-like gameplay. It's unapologetic in its goofiness, and it tells a fun story on top of its relatively unique gameplay. Sure, you can draw comparisons to the games that inspired it, but when was the last time you played an absurdist 1970s limousine game that was this much fun?
I loved playing the first Disney Infinity, but it made me feel like the Molecule Man. The game's Toy Box mode (by far the best part of the Infinity gameplay hydra) seemed to offer endless opportunity to create something. Yet there I was, making boring cityscapes and poorly designed platformers. My partner in Infinity was my then four-year-old son, and even he seemed to sense my creations weren't up to snuff. Son, would you like to have a race on this overly convoluted track I just created? Oh, you'd rather just keep shooting me with that toilet roll gun? I see.
Thanks goodness, then, for the improvements introduced in Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes 2.0 Edition. The Toy Box is mind-boggingly complex and option-stuffed as never before, but it's also now much easier to create your own worlds and adventures, with the game featuring assist options that range from "give me a hand on this" all the way to "build the whole thing for me." The game as a whole still has its share of problems--the main adventure that comes with it is pedestrian, and there are some technical issues that result in sometimes poor frame rates and broken quests--but Infinity's best part has been made even better.
My partner again for Disney Infinity 2.0 was my son (now five), and as a lifelong Marvel devotee (thanks in no small part to my constant pushing of the House of Ideas), he was excited to play as some of his favorite characters. The starter pack for Disney Infinity 2.0 contains three Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, and Black Widow), one play set adventure, and two toy box games (which are like genre-specific little mini-games built using Toy Box tools). So that's two less play sets than last year's similarly priced starter pack, and while you can view that as the game providing you less content for the same price, I prefer to see things differently.Away with thee, compact red sedan!
Like Skylanders (and that other upcoming toys-to-life product from Nintendo, amiibo), Infinity has real world, physical toys that are used to activate their digital versions within a game. One of the problems with last year's Infinity starter pack was that characters were locked to their specific different Disney play set worlds, so if you wanted to play with your kids or friends, you were forced to spend extra money on buying compatible characters. While there's only the one play set in the 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes starter pack, all of the characters that come bundled in can be used, so it's nice to be able to immediately play alongside someone without having to shell out that extra cash. You can, of course, buy other characters separately, so if you do want the whole Avengers crew, be prepared to fork out more money.
This new play set is a middling affair, an open-world action game lasting about five or so hours as the Avengers try to stop Loki and the Frost Giants from taking over New York. These themed adventures have always been the weakest parts of Infinity, and this set is no different. You'll find yourself repeating the same types of missions over and over (protect this precious whatsit for two minutes! save these frozen civilians and bring them to the safe zone!), and the open world of New York is pretty lifeless. The streets are filled cars that look exactly the same, the inhabitants don't seem to react to any of the superpowered hijinks happening around them, and there's scant little to do once you finish the main quest arc. The framerate, too, can chug at times, and it's particularly noticeable during co-op.
It takes time and actual, honest-to-goodness skill to make anything remotely playable, which makes the new additions to Toy Box in 2.0 extremely welcome ones.
But these are grown-up concerns for an adventure that's clearly aimed at pleasing the young. While Skylanders is aimed more at pre-teens and above, Infinity's Avengers seems to skew a little younger, with its simple goals and basic structure probably best suited for those under 10. My five-year-old certainly loved his time with the Avengers, and sharing that adventure with him as we battled countless Frost Giants was an outstanding experience. It was just the right mix for both of us to enjoy--not too hard or puzzling for him to get around, but just tough enough to require me to take the lead in most missions. It helps that the characters themselves--both their physical and digital iterations--are expressive and full of personality. The real world toys are nicely detailed and are quite sturdy (they survived being smashed against each other and being sat on multiple times by a baby in my household), while their in-game counterparts are impressive to play with. Flying around at top speed as Iron Man is a blast, and watching Thor's lightning infused combat strikes never gets old. Poor Black Widow, though; as the only non-superpowered hero in the starter pack, she feels the least fun to play with initially, as the game world just doesn't seem as well suited for characters that can't fly. While Thor and Iron Man can zoom to almost anywhere, unlucky Natasha has to take elevators to reach the tops of buildings. Not exactly the most thrilling entrance for an Avenger.
Each character also gets their own specific upgrade tree, and you can use skill points earned as you level up to customise your character. There's a level cap of 20, and you won't be able to buy all the upgrades, which gives 2.0 a welcome yet light customisation feel. Old Infinity characters--and you can use any of them from the previous game--also get this newly added upgrade tree, meaning you'll probably want to dust off that old Jack Sparrow and use him again (and no, old play sets are not compatible with this new game).Behold my creation! Yes, it's poor, but it's a work in progress.
Even if you don't have a small child of your own (or can rent) that you can guide through the Avengers playset, it's still worthwhile playing if only for the gear and currency you'll get to use in Infinity's standout mode, Toy Box. This is where imaginations get their chance to shine, and the Toy Box is again a wonderfully open-ended experience where you can build a dizzying array of stuff. Want to try your hand at building a race track through Agrabah? Or create a platforming challenge around a series of high-rises? Or even create more complex games like a top-down action-rpg or a collectibles chase? All of this and more is possible.
Possible, of course, is the operative word here. It takes time and actual, honest-to-goodness skill to make anything remotely playable, which makes the new additions to Toy Box in 2.0 extremely welcome ones. Some of the new tools available to you include templates that come with everything you need to create specific game types (just hook the individual pieces up and go), non-playable characters that you can drop into empty worlds that will slowly build an entire themed region for you, and even specific pieces that you can stretch and pull to make whatever size environment you desire. In minutes, for example, I was able to create a large, twisting race track that dovetailed around skyscrapers, using only two pieces from the Toy Box.
Sure, going on autopilot may seem like the antithesis to the creative possibilities Toy Box opens up. But for me, this helping hand pushed me to try and create more. Gone is that initial befuddlement after looking at the hundreds of options in the Toy Box and not knowing where to start. Gone is the hesitation of devoting hours of time to creating something that may, in the end, suck a lot. Infinity now shows me what's possible, helps me get started, and removes some of the more time intensive parts of creation. And when I see what others are doing--including the the Toy Box games bundled in with the 2.0 starter pack (a decent tower defense-like game set in Asgard and a less successful Diablo-like action-RPG set in the Klyn space prison) and shared community favorites--it makes me wonder exactly what I can achieve, and I'm excited by the possibilities.
It's a pity, then, that the Toy Box doesn't escape some of 2.0's technical foibles. Toy Box worlds would sometimes crash during my time with them, and there was one particular mission in Toy Box's tutorial world that seemed perpetually broken. Having to unlock toys and tools, too, is a chore, but it's a manageable one. Playing through the Avengers playset should earn you enough currency to unlock plenty of toys, but you'll need to keep earning those blue sparkles if you hope to have a full range of creative options eventually available to you.
My son, though, cared not for such trivialities. He was happy to run around the various toy box worlds, exploring what each new one had to offer, occasionally offering me direction as I Molecule Man-ed my way around. And when he got bored of me trying to create the perfect game experience, he'd sit and play with the physical figurines, lost in his own imagination. Disney Infinity 2.0 is an amazing game to share with a child, and it could be an inspiring one, too.
If linear first-person shooters are fundamentally digital remakes of Whac-a-Mole, then the Warriors games and its spin-offs are the slow-burn iterations. The majority of the games are exercises in tactical map management that also let you become the main contributor to the action at ground level, slicing through crowds of simple foes with an ease that is simultaneously empowering and pedestrian. As you liberate one fortification, another keep is being invaded. The key to winning a typical Dynasty Warriors mission often comes down to simply being faster than your enemy in covering the map with your blue color-coded forces.Welcome to Hyrule, where we balance giant bags of coins on a single finger!
Like the One Piece: Pirate Warriors crossover series, however, Hyrule Warriors is more focused on objectives than it is on removing the red-coded opposition forces from the map. This keeps in line with the goal-oriented design of most Legend of Zelda games, and thus, makes the game all the more welcoming for Zelda fans new to Warriors. If you wish, you can make the game feel more like a traditional Warriors game by taking over each fort one at a time. Such an approach creates its own challenges, since many of the objectives in Hyrule Warriors have timed deadlines. Like any Dynasty Warriors game, Hyrule Warriors is at its most stimulating when it tests your management of priorities. As a Zelda fan, of course you want to save the Deku tree when it’s being invaded on all sides! But you’re also close to liberating a keep at one of the far corners of the map! And since you’ve just reached 1000 kills, a collectable skulltula has temporarily appeared on the map! Choices!
If you're new to Warriors games, setting priorities isn’t as easy as it might initially appear. The biggest rush comes when you’ve completed all the mid-mission objectives and you’re left racing against the enemy toward the current victory condition. Even if you confront the boss with a full bar of health, the same can’t be said about the health of your home base at the other end of the map. Should you return to your base, or stay and try to defeat the boss to end the mission, thereby saving the base in the process? Choosing wisely in such tight and time-sensitive situations makes victory all the more satisfying.Say "Aaaaah!"
For all the Legend of Zelda-related items, jingles, and familiar faces that are thrown at you every other second, Hyrule Warriors still manages to be a fine Dynasty Warriors spin-off in its own right. If you have muscle memory devoted to the series, then you know that the first priority when beginning a mission is to leap into the fray, get to work in liberating the nearest fort, and set yourself on a path to at least 1000 kills. Hyrule Warriors is not a shallow reskin, but to Warriors faithful, it does look like a new pair of shoes that has been aptly broken in.
As a Warriors game in 2014, Hyrule Warriors reaps the benefits of the many criticisms leveled at prior games, with the boss lock-on option that was introduced a few years ago standing out as the most vital lesson. Can you remember Dynasty Warriors’ dark ages when all you could do was manually point the camera at a boss? The game-changing boss lock-on not only allows you to wade through the crowds of foot soldiers clogging the path, but also helps maintain your forward momentum as you rack up a body count. The meaty sound of slicing through a dozen foes in a single sword stroke never gets old. It’s a multilayered cycle of bloodless, PG-13-level mass killings: on one layer, you’re constantly motivated to reach 100-kill milestones, while on another layer, you’re always on the lookout for the nearest spot of enemy movement on the map, especially when you’re killing time before the next objective appears. Even after the mission ticker is updated with your next goal, there’s the strong likelihood that you’ll record another 500 or so bodies in your diary of death as you work on that active objective. The drawback is that it’s hard to care when you’re left with only one or two pitiful enemies; killing them feels like a waste of time and a waste of a blade swing.
However novel this Dynasty Warriors-meets-Legend of Zelda game is conceptually, once you open that first chest and Link thrusts that treasure toward the camera, you realize that this is a Legend of Zelda spin-off worth taking seriously.
The greatest trick Hyrule Warriors pulls off is in making a convincing argument that the game might just belong in the much-debated Legend of Zelda timeline. When you prescribe to an “official” timeline that accepts the notion of multiple Links, it’s not that unreasonable to argue Hyrule Warriors as canon. Although series producer Eiji Aonuma has gone on record stating the contrary, that won’t stop fans from disputing this game’s place in Zelda lore. The impressive cutscenes alone have enough expository weight to make Hyrule Warriors timeline-worthy. Further validating the argument is how the story mode features inter-dimensional journeys to various Legend of Zelda worlds, including lands from Skyward Sword, locales from Twilight Princess, and even the dubiously memorable Water Temple. As an argument for and against the notion of canon-eligibility, Hyrule Warriors even manages to rehash plot key points from the franchise (eg. Sheik’s backstory) that are also significant spoilers to the very, very few who will play this game but have never beaten a Legend of Zelda adventure.
Some of the best moments in Warriors games are those in which agile combos lead to brief, character-specific cutscenes, so I’m not surprised that the studios involved in developing Hyrule Warriors devoted time to giving everyone in the playable roster unique attacks and animations. Watching Link perform spectacular melee attacks only makes one wish such potent moves were available in mainline Legend of Zelda games. It’s never jarring to watch him and his supporting cast let loose against the game’s countless hordes, especially when a single special attack breaks the 50-kill mark.
It’s a multilayered cycle of bloodless, PG-13-level mass killings.
It’s not hard to spot the Dynasty Warriors DNA in Hyrule Warriors. You can see Omega Force’s signature familiarity with Wushu martial arts in some of Impa’s attacks. Newcomer Lana, with her adorned sleeves, exposed midriff, and giant ponytail would not look out of place in a Dynasty Warriors game. And if you’re wondering where you can find the contributions of co-developer Team Ninja, you need only look for the brutal and often juggle-intensive combos, moves that look like they were ripped right out of Ryu Hayabusa’s playbook. Executing the most eye-catching moves takes a little time to memorize, but Hyrule Warriors is also very forgiving should you just prefer to mash buttons and watch the hordes dissipate.
The flow of time is bittersweet. You wake up one day and you realize that there are more Dynasty Warriors spin-offs and crossovers than there are mainline Dynasty Warriors games. Aside from introducing many Legend of Zelda fans to the Warriors franchise, Hyrule Warriors adds little innovation to Koei’s megaseries as a whole, but nevertheless brings an undeniable spark ignited by the crossover cast itself. As one of the more well-produced Warriors games in recent memory, it is easy to see Hyrule Warriors paving the way for more Warriors spin-offs--other properties that have a substantial amount of melee combat. Street Fighter? Dragon Ball? The idea of a Gundam Warriors game, let alone a series, was once an absurd concept, just as Hyrule Warriors was when it was first announced. If the Warriors franchise has proven anything, it’s that most every entertainment property is fair game. And that prospect is both exciting and a bit scary.
Let’s return, however, to those initial hours. Lichdom: Battlemage is built around the most satisfying spellcasting this side of Kingdoms of Amalur, and it’s this one system that drives the adventure from beginning to end. There is no mana bar obstructing your access to deadly magic. The only cooldowns you need consider are the intrinsic casting times of the spells themselves, not additional timers that dole out casting permission at specified intervals. Wizards and skeletons spawn into the level from nowhere, and you fling icicles at them or soften them up with a hive of buzzing parasites that floats above your head.If you want to keep your distance during rough battles like this, craft shields that give you unlimited access to the short-range teleport called "blink."
Casting these spells from Lichdom’s first-perspective feels oh so good, and they come in three types of magical flavors, called sigils. Each sigil allows for three casting techniques: a focused attack, an area-of-effect attack, and a parry--termed a nova--that typically offers its own kind of offensive enhancement. A focused spell might take the form of a continuous ray of elemental energy or a ball of filth, though I was most taken by homing missiles, which I could fire off in quick succession or charge up for a more thorough display of destruction. To turn an archer into a pile of ash is simple enough with such a missile: hold a mouse button, then release that flaming projectile and watch your target skeleton dissolve into the wind when it hits.
Forgive my focus on fire and ice. It’s easiest to describe these types of magic in light of the more complex sigils, such as kinesis and delirium, which allow you to control the battlefield in various ways, turning enemies against each other or halting them in their tracks. I grew fond of a slaughterous trio comprised of necromancy, corruption, and ice. Necromancy does what it says on the tin, turning fiends into friends when the grim reaper comes to visit, while corruption allows you to spread an epidemic of tumorous growths and ravenous parasites. These sigils often work in tandem with each other, turning a sequence of properly-timed blitzes into a colorful spectacle of frozen sorcerers shattering into a trillion pieces. This may be magic, but I am more than a mere magician: I am a demigod.Mr. Freeze would have an excellent ice pun to accompany this image.
More specifically, I am a Dragon, capital-D, and a significant figure in Lichdom’s baffling story, which stars you--a battlemage of the gender you choose--and a scout of complementary gender whose role would best be described as "exposition faucet." He or she flits in and out of your travels to share the details of a story that’s never properly established, making every line of Lichdom’s dialogue a mess of white noise. "Here’s a story about something cool you’ll never witness for yourself," says the scout, in essence, and you move on to making your own story. The beautiful environments thankfully have stories of their own to share; twisted tree trunks and tarnished temples rise from a fetid swamp, and you see massive sea vessels encased in ice, as if they were frozen in time before their captains were aware of such an unlikely danger. CryEngine 3, the same graphics technology that humbled many a PC in 2013 in Crysis 3, has returned to remind you that your machine really needs a new graphics card. To be fair, however, the game looks great even with medium-ranged setting activated, though the game’s liberal use of motion blur will have you rushing to tweak its visual options to diminish the discomfort.
As tempting as it is to compare Lichdom: Battlemage to Skyrim, what with the early snowy environments and all that magic, this is no role-playing game--at least, not in the traditional sense. Lichdom does, however, grant you plenty of agency over how you exercise your magical talents. Your spells are not assigned to you as if they are medicines prescribed by a doctor (burn two brutes to a crisp with this bog-standard fireball and call me in the morning). Instead, you drive your own destiny by designing your spells using the various materials that occasionally rush to your body after a kill as if drawn to your magnetic personality.
Elemental powers aren’t the only ones you command in this magic-driven action game, but they are the two that define the initial hours of Lichdom’s overlong campaign, which hobbles to a close long after it milks the joy out of its excellent but single-minded combat.
I couldn’t possibly begin to detail Lichdom’s convoluted spell creation, which isn’t ungraspable, but requires that you make sense of various terms--mastery, control, critical effect multiplier, apocalyptical chance--and interpret the results of each step of the crafting process. At first, it’s difficult to tell why spells behave as they do, especially when there are countless statistical minutiae differentiating one spell from the next. ("These two spells are the same except one offers a slightly larger attack radius and the other does slightly more damage. Is it worth spending time on a decision that won’t likely matter much on the field of battle?") It’s both empowering and somewhat tedious to have so much control over so many magical attributes, but whether or not you fall in love with this system, you’ll spend plenty of time attending to it: more powerful demons shall arrive, and you will have to create higher-level spells to destroy them.
After several hours of winding your way through Lichdom’s linear levels, it becomes clear that developer Xaviant relied on this combat system to the detriment of other basic aspects of game design. One by one, combat scenarios appear, each one exactly like the last. Enemies spawn into being out of nowhere--and should you die and have to relive the battle, they always materialize in the same locations with no concern for your position relative to their spawn points. You wave your hands about, spreading disease and death, until every demon has fallen--or until you are wholly annihilated. You then interact with a floating sphere that generates a purple hologram depicting two or three characters talking about apparently vital story events you never get to witness for yourself. And then you repeat this scenario, with only boss fights and the occasional appearance of your opposite-gendered exposition vessel to disrupt the flow. Necromancy, ice bolt, ice bolt, fiery aura--once more, with feeling.
To be fair, the flow is also disrupted by frequent deaths, an annoyance that’s sure to hound you when you enter new areas with spells that no longer adequately protect you, but without the components that would allow you to create stronger magic. Some battles are teeth-gnashingly, hair-pullingly grueling, particularly those with enemies that enjoy freezing you in place, and Lichdom almost takes a perverse delight in how far apart its checkpoints occur. And so you take part in a tedious video game version of Groundhog Day in which you perform the same amazing supernatural feats so often, and in the same repetitive scenarios, that those feats become as boring as collecting Gandalf the Grey’s dry cleaning.
That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the inherent diversity of Lichdom’s spellcrafting; a ray of focused flame behaves differently than the necromantic conversion of dead demons, after all. But the game's general approach takes the burden off the design and transfers the impetus of creating variety to me--and without innate structural variety, Lichdom stretches its one excellent idea to the point of tearing. The game’s inordinate length only reinforces the monotony. I hesitate to suggest a game should be shorter than it already is, but Lichdom itself makes an excellent argument for brevity. Xaviant miscalculated the formula. (Great spellcasting) - (mana bar) + (meaningless story) + (unvaried battles) is not, in fact, equal to 15 or 16 hours of consistent enjoyment and $39.99 of your money.The most important consequence of Lichdom's impenetrable story is that you always know when it's safe to go make a sandwich.
While Lichdom makes a strong case for a shorter game, it also makes the case for another Lichdom game. If there is any game this year deserving of a sequel, it’s this one. With a steely backbone of meaningful world-building, sensible storytelling, and proper pacing, a Lichdom 2 could have an unassailable place to hang its best asset. The game at hand is concerned only with the magic. A few hours in, I was convinced that it might be enough. The love affair didn't last, but I’ll always have those golden memories.
In what is more than likely a pricing error that will be fixed very soon, the Dell Store currently lists the Collector's Edition of Assassin's Creed Unity for PS4 and Xbox One at the budget price of $60. The tip comes from the deals site Dealzon, and the Dell listing says you get:
You can read more about the Collector's Edition and other pre-order bonuses here. The edition is currently listed as unavailable on Amazon and GameStop, but Best Buy is still selling the same version for the standard price of $130. So, that's a pretty good discount if you were thinking about picking up a current-gen version of the game and wanted a few fancy extras.
Unity launches November 11 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC, alongside Assassin's Creed Rogue for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. And we also recently learned about Assassin's Creed: The Americas Collection, which is a bundle coming October 28 that collects Assassin's Creed III, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and Assassin's Creed III Liberation HD for Xbox 360 and PS3.
Justin Haywald is a senior editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @JustinHaywaldFor all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email email@example.com
Skylanders Trap Team’s theme compels kids and adults to dabble in the dark side. Fans got a taste of this last year with the GameStop-exclusive Dark Edition Starter Pack, which was a reskin of five fan-favorite characters: Dark Washbuckler, Dark Blast Zone, Dark Stealth Elf, Dark Spyro and Dark Lockjaw. They were enhanced with dark powers, but they nonetheless still fought for good. With Trap Team, fans now get the opportunity to play as actual Skylanders bosses. That’s where the 16 Trap Masters and their Traptanium crystals come in. The crystals are needed to capture bosses, provided a given villain is elementally aligned with one of the crystals you own. If you defeat the water elemental Cross Crow, you can only capture him if you have a water elemental trap crystal. While that might mean completionists will be spending more money this year, Activision’s packaging plans doesn’t seek to alienate the Skylanders fanbase. You can get different styles for each crystal, but you only need one crystal for each element. So if you manage to complete the foursome of air elementals (Dreamcatcher, Buzzer Beak, Bad Juju, Krankenstein), you only need one air crystal, since you can only use one villain at a time. Activision, given their prerogative to make money, could have forced consumers to buy one crystal for each boss. The current set up makes Trap Team appealing, especially since you can still complete the game using everything in the Trap Team Starter Pack, which includes two starting crystals.
I was recently given the opportunity to engage in a Trap Team mission that pits the Skylanders against a zeppelin. This was a two-phase level that began with an on-rails shooter sequence where you’re thinning out the ship’s exterior defenses. The second half of the mission involved infiltrating the zeppelin itself and the inevitable boss fight. The owner of this zeppelin is Chef Pepper Jack, a living jalapeno who can also be mistaken for a deformed lobster. Transitioning from the outside to the inside of the flying ship is a superb trick in level design, where the interior feels much more expansive than the exterior implies. In between brawls--of which there are many--you’re tasked with typical Skylanders problem solving: puzzles that are hardly brain teasers for teenagers or older. If your progress is blocked by a sturdy wood barrier, there’s a good chance a barrier-breaking cannon is nearby.
In a ship stocked with giant forks, kitchen tools, and Norwegian chefs, I had to ask a Toys For Bob spokesman if most of the game’s art direction is centered on food. He replied that, “Food is just one of many visual themes in a game of many themes.” True, none of the other villains in Trap Team give off a foodie vibe like Chef Pepper Jack. The notable exception is a new core Skylander named Food Fight who happens to be a living artichoke. It is both amusing and disturbing that a walking, sentient artichoke is wielding a gun that fires tomatoes. To draw a mammal analogy, this would be like a human firing a gun that shoots monkeys, or the other way around depending on your fondness for tomatoes over artichokes.
It is both amusing and disturbing that a walking, sentient artichoke is wielding a gun that fires tomatoes.
Toys For Bob’s wild imagination is on full display even beyond Trap Team’s partial food theme. The oversized horns of the Valkyrie-inspired Head Rush Skylander is emblematic of the studio’s talent for abstract character designs. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the plain-looking Bushwhack, who stands out for looking like the most human Skylander in the series’ history. Then there’s Hood Sickle, a villain who is sure to be a fan favorite since he’s the possibly the cutest sickly-wielding executioner you’ve ever seen.
Going back to the Traptanium crystals, one has to ask: Can you replay a previously-beaten area using the boss you’ve just captured to beat the same boss again? Absolutely. Chef Pepper Jack doesn’t blink an eye in having to fight against Chef Pepper Jack. It’s easy to see these playable villains enhance Trap Team’s replay value, especially if they can access previously locked areas. Skylanders has always felt inspired by Pokemon, but with Skylanders Trap Team, it’s as if the pocket monsters finally get to catch other pocket monsters themselves.
[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, Bungie confirmed that the raid has been completed.
Congratulations to @PrimeGuardHQ for completing the Raid. Now, try it on hard tier. http://t.co/DGQNBvYkoa pic.twitter.com/s9Txlrqm80— Bungie (@Bungie) September 16, 2014
The original story is below.
The first six-player Raid has gone live Destiny, with expert players in a race to be the first in the world to finish the challenge.
The requirements for playing are high, as those at anything less than level 26 will not be permitted entry. It also requires six players to form a group and join the game together at the same time (there is no matchmaking).
Developer Bungie says the Raid challenge, called Vault of Glass, is "the most elaborate mission ever created by us".
If you won't be Level 26 to start the Raid, you can see who might complete it first (or not at all) on Twitch. http://t.co/Sd9LP6rJ3s— Bungie (@Bungie) September 16, 2014
Numerous Twitch streams have gone live, showing advanced players trying to accomplish the feat. The most watched at the time of writing is StreamerHouse, which can be seen in the video above.
The studio says The Vault Glass "is a mystery as much as it is a challenge--a puzzle and a gauntlet. The race to see who can be first to solve it, with their cunning and their skill, is about to begin."
"Not everyone will qualify," Bungie wrote on its website, "and among those who do, not everyone will succeed."
The studio added: "It’s very likely that you will not finish the Raid in one sitting. Your Fireteam leader is crucial to your eventual potential success. Your progress will be saved for one week. To resume your mission where you left off, you’ll need to follow the same Fireteam leader back into battle."
|Rob Crossley is GameSpot's UK News Editor - you can follow him on Twitter here|
|For all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org|
Microsoft has announced this week's Deals With Gold sale and, as usual, there's not a ton to be had on Xbox One. However, a handful of quality games are discounted for the next week--provided you're an Xbox Live Gold member.
Xbox One's three deals include only a single game: Valiant Hearts, the World War I puzzle-adventure game, is just $10. The other deals are for a pricey retro costume pack in Killer Instinct and a shortcut kit for Battlefield 4's engineer class (which is to say, you can pay to unlock various upgrades and weapons rather than needing to play to earn them).
Xbox 360 is where the week's best deals are. Valiant Hearts is even cheaper on last-gen hardware at $7.50, while Metro 2033, Eternal Sonata, and Tales of Vesperia can all be had for only $5 each. (If you like 2033, Metro: Last Light is only $10, but keep in mind both of these Metro game are not the HD remakes.) Also of note are the first two Monkey Island games, which are just $2.50 each--a real steal for such seminal adventure games.
You can check out the full list of deals, which run from today through September 22, below.
|Chris Pereira is a freelance writer for GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @TheSmokingManX|
|For all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email email@example.com|
The medium of video games is "far more powerful" than film in terms of storytelling potential. That's according to Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson, who said this week during the GamesBeat conference in San Francisco that the power of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will allow developers to create richer and deeper characters and narratives.
"We're going to start to see much more believable characters and much more immersive storylines in the games that we make--even in sports games--by virtue of what these boxes can deliver," Wilson said. "And I think you start to see things that would have traditionally only have manifested themselves in film start to manifest in interactive, which is a far more powerful medium to tell a story."
Wilson went on to say that the three "core components" of building an immersive virtual world are: "A world that reacts like you would expect it react; believable characters that emote like you would expect them to emote; and then how you interact with them."
"We're going to start to see much more believable characters and much more immersive storylines in the games that we make" -- Andrew Wilson
Also during the talk, Wilson was asked how virtual reality and augmented reality could affect the way in which gamers become immersed in what they're playing. Wilson said both technologies are "multipliers." For consoles specifically, Sony is working on Project Morpheus for PS4, while Microsoft is tinkering with VR prototypes, and maybe even AR.
Despite his optimism for VR and AR, Wilson cautioned that developers need to be careful about how they approach the uncanny valley--the "creepy" psychological effect that occurs when graphics get too real. Wilson isn't deeply worried about this becoming an issue, however, as it represents yet another area that video games are better-suited to address than film, he argued.
"How we bridge that gap is going to really tell a lot about how creative our industry is," he said. "And I think we are better positioned by virtue of where we've come from to do that better than the film industry has."
What is your reaction to Wilson's comments about video games vs. film? Let us know in the comments below!
Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch
For all of GameSpot's news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email firstname.lastname@example.org