Assassins Creed

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review

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Do you hear the people sing?289650_screenshots_2015-06-21_00006There’s a lot wrong with Assassin’s Creed: Unity. I mean, there is a lot right with it too…but there is a lot wrong. Now, I went into playing Unity all smug like, thinking “well, I have seen Les Misérables both on stage and on screen – I am totally in the know of the French Revolution. But, apparently, there was more than one – so where Les Mis is set in the early 1800s, Unity takes place during the 1790s. So, my knowledge on the historical events were limited, with the only historical figure I recognised being Napoleon. Oh, and Madame Tussaud makes an appeareance! Not that my lack of knowing is the game’s fault by any means – I mean, how were they supposed to know that my historical knowledge was limited? But it certainly makes you less invested in the story if you don’t really know who is who. Anyway, that is an irrelevant side note.download (4)Unity follows assassin Arno Dorian throughout his adventures in Paris. Arno’s story takes an interesting, different route from previous AssCreds; it focuses more on a unity (hey? hey?) between Assassins and Templars, as opposed to the usual “we have to find these deadly artifacts before they do!” approach some of the previous games take. Despite this interesting premise, Unity fails when it comes to deliverance. The story feels very disjointed and slow of pace, with the Revolution not actually kicking in until about half way through. There are some fascinating side characters – powdered faces, ludicrous wigs and what not – but most of the main cast are pretty bland, and many share similar facial features, making it quite difficult to distinguish between who is who. One of the best features of the plot is the love side story, which plays out nicely as the game progresses. Still, Unity, somewhat ironically when you think of the title, seems to stand very alone when compared to previous Assassin’s Creed games. Granted, we have just finished what is called the “Kenway Saga”, so naturally all of those games would link, but there is barely any reference to previous instalments (apart from unlocking past protagonists’ outfits), which, considering this is only set a few years after the Kenway Saga, is a bit disappointing. If you have played Rogue, you will know how its epilogue ties in nicely with Unity’s prologue – so it would have been nice to maybe feature Shay at some point during the game, even if he is an older man by then. There is also no ‘modern day’ section of the game, bar a few cutscenes, which is a shame because it was actually quite a fun little diversion going around and hacking computers, learning about Abstergo’s secrets. As a final point on plot, the trailer/promotional art would have you believe that Unity focuses on a troupe of young Assassins who work together having banterous fun and a cheeky Nando’s every now and then. This certainly is not the case in the story, unless this kicks in right at the end. There are several multiplayer missions scattered about, and the game puts a great emphasis on completing these (I have no friends so…), but nothing in the main story, unfortunately.download (2)This leads nicely onto my next point: sidequests. Fans of the Assassin’s Creed series will know that there is an abundance of activities to complete in each game. Unity is no different. Now, opinions on this may be mixed, but I believe that Unity offers too much. The map of Paris is lovely, large and lively, and absolutely infested with side activities like moles on my back. There are chests to open. Some are locked, which requires a certain degree of lockpicking skill, which can only be obtained after completing Sequence 5 or 9, depending on the skill level. Lockpicking is also incredibly boring and tedious. There are collectibles in the form of cockades; like Animus fragments in previous games, these are dotted across the map and serve no real purpose other than gotta catch ‘em all. There are murder mysteries, which are actually quite enjoyable, in which you take the role of a Batman-style detective. They range in difficulty from piss-easy to that-required-me-to-think-a-bit. There are assassination missions, which literally highlight a random poor bugger on the map and require you to go and kill him. Alongside this we also have “Paris Stories”, mini-missions that require you to complete a few little tasks for certain characters; nothing too special. Lastly, there are Nostradamus Enigmas. Nostradamus, being the enigmatic little seer that he was, has left clues around Paris in the form of riddles to unlock some uber armour (probably for aesthetic purposes only). I enjoy a good riddle, but some of these are ridiculous – it got to the point where I just looked them up. There are 18 in total, each with three riddles, which have you traipsing all over Paris. Again, a nice idea, but piled on top of everything else, it just becomes tedious. The fact that there is no real reward, bar some aesthetic differences, also makes all of these side quests lack incentive. In the Dead Kings DLC there are some similar riddles to unlock a hilariously OP sword, but that’s kind of it. Unless you’re an achievement hunter then it feels like a waste of time. Saying that, achievements are stored on uPlay (if you’re on PC), so what the hell is the point there?

I still had places to discover AND had already done a fair few side quests.
I still had places to discover AND had already done a fair few side quests.

Unlike its predecessors, Unity is a ‘new-gen’ game, and it certainly feels it. With a new art style which I have mixed feelings about (a bit like water painting), and an arguably improved freerunning mechanic (it’s a lot more fluid but also a lot more restricting…play and you will see what I mean), Unity feels like a slightly less intelligent big brother to its previous instalment siblings. The clunky controls are still apparent, making Arno very difficult to control at times. Combat has changed slightly too – it’s a lot more difficult, which is a welcome change. It now requires you to actually think what you are doing, as opposed to waiting for an opportunity to counter before engaging in a kill streak. There is a vast variety of weapons and armour to customise Arno with, but, again, this is a little overwhelming. In the weapons category, you have one-handed, two-handed, long weapons, pistols, rifles and (if you have Dead Kings) guillotine guns, which are pretty much grenade launchers with axes on. You can swap these around at any time by accessing the customisation menu, but due to the clunky route you have to take to get there, there isn’t too much point. The plus side is that you can make Arno into the type of fighter you want: will you go sword and pistol? Or perhaps a spear? Unfortunately, if you choose a weapon such as one from the rifle category, that serves as both your melee and your ranged, making combat limited. I just stuck with one handed sword and pistol, occasionally dabbling into heavy. There are also a finite number of skill points, so make sure you spend them in the category that is useful to you. Now, you can also customised every inch of Arno’s outfit, from hood to gloves to belt to pants. Well, not the last one, but close. Each item of clothing offers different stats and oh my gosh it’s just too much. If you’re really into customisation, then this is great for you, but unless I’m playing an RPG in which I can actually role-play with a character how I want, then it’s limited. I don’t care what gloves Arno wears. Additionally, various weapons and clothes have exactly the same stats – the appearance is just different. As mentioned, you can also unlock previous protagonists’ outfits, and a few others, that serve as a skin for whatever armour you are wearing.

download (5)Unity by all standards is a decent game, but it falls short in a lot of areas, and lacks where games such as Black Flag and Rogue succeeded. Ridiculous load times, various texture and clipping issues (and at one point, two characters kissed, and they didn’t touch, resulting then standing near each other with puckered lips making kissy sounds…), and other somewhat silly factors that really shouldn’t occur in such an established franchise stop this game from being great.

So much loading, it requires TWO load bars. But you do get an outstanding 60fps.
So much loading, it requires TWO load bars. But you do get an outstanding 60fps.

If you’re a fan of the series it’s worth playing, but I personally wouldn’t spend more than about £20 or so on it, as seems to be the continual case with most Assassin’s Creed games.

 

I think I took a wrong turn into a glitch...
I think I took a wrong turn into a glitch…
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Assassin’s Creed Rogue Review

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November 2014 saw two Assassin’s Creed games simultaneously released for the ‘new’ and ‘older’ generation consoles: Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassin’s Creed Rogue, respectively. I have always been a fan of the AssCred series, but, as previously stated in my Black Flag review, my faith wavered a little after Revelations – a disappointing end to the Ezio trilogy. Then came Assassin’s Creed III, kicking off what is now known as the Kenway saga. Whilst ACIII certainly had an interesting story with some wonderful twists and turns, the overall historical setting didn’t interest me, and the repetitive environment became very tedious. When Black Flag came out, I neglected to immediately purchase it, and instead waited until it was in the Steam summer sale 2014. Black Flag was both a brilliant Assassin’s Creed game and a brilliant pirate game. Because pirates are friggin’ awesome. Despite this, I was still hesitant when Unity and Rogue came out, though I will admit I was enticed by Unity’s pretty amazing trailer. I bided my time, and waited until these two games came on sale a few months later; I ended up picking up both for around £20 each on Steam. After consulting the wise mentors on /r/assassincreed, I started with Rogue.

Hey Haytham, I'm wearing your dead dad's robes.
Hey Haytham, I’m wearing your dead dad’s robes.

Chronologically, Rogue takes place a few years after Black Flag and before (and partially during) Assassin’s Creed III and Unity, featuring some nice tie-ins with the aforementioned three, including certain characters and allusions to events. Rogue has you play as Shay “I make my own luck” Cormac. Shay begins the game as an Assassin, but becomes disillusioned with what they stand for and, in a somewhat roundabout way, ends up joining the Templars. With the exception of the beginning of ACIII and that pretty cool twist, this is the first time in the series that we actually get to play as a Templar, and moreover see their point of view, as usually they are depicted as the big, greedy baddies. In Rogue, it’s very easy to empathise with the Templar cause and actually find yourself disliking the Assassins. Part of this is due to Shay being pretty bad-ass; up at the top of the character scale just behind Edward Kenway and Ezio. Part of it is also because all of the Assassins in the games are dicks. Just utter dicks. Due to the change in perspective, the story in Rogue is overall pretty good, interesting and a new take…though I was a bit gutted that the misleading, ominous announcement trailer seemed to imply that you would be hunting Assassins, of which there is none of, apart from some repetitive side missions. Instead, the game plays out like every other Assassin’s Creed game, in which you go from mission to mission occasionally killing an ‘important’ character – nothing really new there. I didn’t find myself as interested in Rogue’s story as Black Flag’s, though this may largely be due to the fact that I know very little about the Seven Years War, in which Rogue is predominantly set, so a lot of the historical figures were lost on me (as opposed to Black Flag when I was sitting in my chair going OMFG BLACKBEARD!!).

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The story itself is relatively short in comparison to other games, and ends rather abruptly. There is, of course, the chance to then continue obtaining the many, many collectibles, but, unless you’re a bit of a completionist, it seems almost pointless. Considering the story’s lack of longevity, Rogue offers an overwhelming number of collectibles…and I mean overwhelming in the bad sense. The map itself is huge, and has you travelling around the North Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson River Valley and New York. However, it’s so big that the story itself only takes you to a small fraction of the entire world; the only incentive to see the rest is to collect these darn treasure chests, shanties and Animus fragments. Originally, I was planning on collecting everything, but as soon as the story ending was sprung upon me, I kind of lost interest. There is just too much for its own good. The setting itself is relatively varied, with icy climates in the North Atlantic, the tundra that is the River Valley, and New York’s cityscape. Despite this, in the former two especially, you couldn’t really differentiate one area from another – once you have seen one snowy forest, you’ve seen ‘em all. For the most part, Shay sides with the British Empire (as opposed to the French). Whereas previous Assassin’s Creed games have had maybe one faction of guards patrolling the streets, Rogue has two or three. However, it wasn’t until I was about half way through the game that I realised that the chappies in orange were in fact not French soldiers with annoying British accents, but Assassin thugs. Occasionally, these thugs hide in bushes or other well-known Assassin hiding spots and ambush you, causing critical damage, which keeps you on your toes a bit. But, as I will address later, health was never an issue, so even after being ‘critically’ injured, you can still stab your attacker in the face and walk away unscathed.

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Rogue plays largely like Black Flag DLC, in that the majority – if not all – of the game mechanics are the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but players should be aware before they play. The easiest mode of transport is by ship. Like the Jackdaw, players can upgrade Shay’s Morrigan with better hull armour, cannons, mortars etc. Use these to take down ships to acquire loot to…upgrade your ship even further! Naval combat remains the same as it did in Black Flag: strong, but not without its flaws. For example, if you happen to be engaged in a fight with, say, two enemy ships…when you destroy one and board it, time seems to stop for the other – it just circles around for a while, waiting. Aspects like this make it apparent that Rouge is a ‘last-gen’ game, and one would hope that if naval combat features in future instalments, it becomes a bit more dynamic. Regular combat is the same as it has always been: pretty dull. It’s just easy. You can buy new weapons and pistols, but even those are boring. Different weapons have different stats, but you can’t really tell the difference. In hand to hand combat, you can either fight with fists, hidden blades or a dagger and sword combo – but, again, this is essentially for aesthetics as the sword seems to do as much damage as the blades seems to do as much damage as fists. I miss back in the ACII era when the sword and dagger were separate. Combat has always been relatively easy in the AssCred series, requiring you to just wait and counter at the right moment, and Rogue is no different. Luckily, these seems to have been addressed if Ubisoft’s E3 preview of Assassin’s Creed Syndicate can be believed! Like Black Flag, you can upgrade Shay too with various crafting mechanisms, improving his health etc. But, if I’m honest, I completely forgot about these, and finished the game with the same amount of health as I started. It was never an issue.

Hunt wolves, beavers, whales, deer, narwhals, hares...but you cannot TOUCH this turkey.
Hunt wolves, beavers, whales, deer, narwhals, hares…but you cannot TOUCH this turkey.

Oh, like previous AssCred games, Rogue also features a ‘modern day’ section, in which, like Black Flag, you play as a faceless Abstergo employee who is playing through this memories for totally-not-evil-scientific reasons. Again, like Black Flag, something happens to the severs over the course of the game and you have to go down and hack into them and turn them on, slowly revealing more and more about the company. The lore that surrounds the series is very interesting, especially as it is influenced and intertwined with our IRL history, so learning about this from the Templar’s point of view as you fix the severs (I don’t know why they keep all of this information encrypted on various computers but hey ho) is a nice little treat. And you’re often accompanied by a women who endearingly, and not at all irritatingly, affectionately refers to you as ‘numb-skull’. Classy gal.

Thanks bae.
Thanks bae.

Visually, Rogue is pretty impressive. Surprise, surprise, the visuals are very similar to Black Flag’s, though, again, that is not a bad thing. There are your standard clipping errors, or certain objects not rendering quick enough, but overall I can’t really complain. The only feature that could really be improved is the water, which often looked like a big ol’ tub o’ jelly…all thick and gloopy. The music is wonderful and really aids in creating the darker atmosphere that comes with Rogue. Voice acting is on par, with a range of personalities across a large and colourful cast.

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At a glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that Black Flag and Rogue were the same game: apart from the dramatic change in climate, many gameplay elements carry from the latter to the former. So, if you enjoyed Black Flag, or any previous Assassin’s Creed game for that matter, then I certainly recommend it. However, due to the short story and repetitiveness of obtaining the crazy amount of collectibles and exploration, I would suggest getting this game on sale. And, why, it’s on sale right now!

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor review

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This review was originally supposed to be a ‘first impressions’, but against my better nature I have become a bit addicted to this game…so here is a full review!

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Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is an amalgamation of Assassin’s Creed, Batman: Arkham and, of course, the Lord of the Rings universe. Now, I love all of these series, so was super hyped for this game. My verdict after playing it for a good ten hours completing it? Ehhh….very good, but not amazing.

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Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed my time playing Shadow of Mordor, and it’s mighty addictive, but there are many things that this game promised on, or should incorporate, that it just doesn’t.

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Let’s start with the plot. The game is set somewhat ambiguously between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. However, it is unclear whether the events of Shadow of Mordor are canon or not, for a handful or reasons, generally to be with lore laws and time frames. This is just Tolkien nerd stuff, and isn’t really important, but when you kind of know the outcome (the events of Lord of the Rings) then you probably won’t get that excited as to what the outcome of the story is.  Whilst the game does do a great job of making you feel like you’re in Middle-Earth, there are a few aspects that I imagine would make young J.R.R turn in his grave and huff – a few very un-Tolkien-y aspects. But then, this is the man who one day decided that he had been spelling ‘orc’ wrong and decided to stick a ‘k’ at the end instead. Truly a genius, was he. Anyway, on to the plot. Protagonist Talion – a ranger stationed on the Black Gate – and his family are brutally murdered when Sauron’s (who is in the midst of leaving rehab) forces attack. However, something strange happens to Talion, and he awakens to find himself only mostly dead. He is revived by an enigmatic elf-wraith who seems to only speak in riddles, metaphors, proverbs and LotR quotes. The overall story itself is ok, but nothing amazing. It’s almost told in two parts – the present day exploits of Talion – who I was extremely apathetic towads – and uncovering the history and true identity of the Wraith. The latter is certainly most interesting, as it also reveals more on the origins of the One Ring…plus, you get the help of a certain skinny, balding ex-hobbit. Talion’s present day shenanigans aren’t particularly exciting and follow quite a basic, conventional structure, complete with a forced semi-love interest because she is the only other female in the game under 50. The final couple of missions are quite good, but are let down by easy boss fights and an overall disappointing ending that almost screams “lol wait for  DLC”.  Still, there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied whilst playing through Shadow of Mordor, so the disappointing story isn’t that much of a hindrance.

The original "Odd Couple".
The original “Odd Couple”.

The game essentially has you playing as two characters – Talion and the Wraith. Talion can utilise the standard ranger skills of swinging a sword, whilst the Wraith enables him to perform wicked cool combos, shoot a ghostly bow, jump and climb almost Assassin’s Creed style, scare enemies, gaze into their minds and even control them later on in the game. Killing enemies and completing tasks grants experience which in turn unlocks more combos and moves. The combat system is pretty much Batman: Arkham, but with swords and uruks (which is another word for the type of orcs you encounter) instead of batarangs and fists, so if you’re familiar with that then you know what I’m talking about: keep mashing the attack button to build up a combo, occasionally countering when the indicator appears above enemy heads, or dodging, or stunning to unleash a bigger combo with the occasional instant takedown thrown in…which is awesomely satisfying. I don’t really think I need to explain it any more. It is literally Batman: Arkham. This isn’t a criticism, as the combat in the Arkham games flows very nicely and is rather enjoyable, and it has translated over to Shadow of Mordor very well. There are a few issues with Talion attacking a completely different enemy than I wanted him to, but it’s not that big a deal. Unlocks include finishers, throwing knives and bow attacks that aim to keep combat fresh and entertaining and allow you to build up super cool combos. Combat is a lot of fun. If you don’t want to get up close and personal, Shadow of Mordor also includes a pretty good stealth system too. Using his dagger, Talion can sneak up and assassinate unaware enemies, before retreating back to the shadows or a conveniently placed bush. The bow also introduces a new pace of combat, allowing you to snipe enemies from a far and, later on in the game, blink towards and execute them, which has become my favourite thing. The combat itself isn’t particularly tricky – even bosses don’t pose much of a challenge, sadly – unless you suddenly get ambushed by about 50-odd orcs…which tends to happen quite a lot. But even then, if you have your wits about you and know how the flow of combat works, you can time counters and dodges so that you don’t get hit at all. But even if you do, dying is kind of fun so it’s not a big loss.

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Outside of combat, AI is…pretty stupid. Uruks seem to have a peripheral vision of about 100˚, so you can stealth kill one fella, and the guy next to him won’t notice. To my knowledge, there is no option to crank up the difficulty, which is a shame – though removing certain features from the HUD will make it harder to see when to counter in combat, I guess. But it doesn’t take long in the game before you’re able to take down bosses in about 5 hits or so.

241930_screenshots_2014-10-03_00001Exploring Mordor, you’ll be running around Mordor like a rampant mûmak in a mithril shop. Similar to Assassin’s Creed, you can climb up buildings and parkour across rooftops to drop down on oblivious orcs. In fact, this whole element seems to have been lifted from Assassin’s Creed completely, right down to the way Talion moves or leaps off a building. Like, it looks literally the same. Due to the clunky controls however (also maybe lifted from Assassin’s Creed, but a bit worse) you’ll oft find yourself jumping the wrong way, or plummeting to the ground when you meant to grab a ledge. You’ll get used to the controls eventually, but my god it feels like Talion ways as much as…a rampant mûmak in a mithril shop.

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Despite the core gameplay elements seemingly being lifted from two other franchises, Middle-Earth: Batman’s Creed is still a very fun game to play. I mean, in all fairness, it’s taken two of the best characteristics from the games that it has lifted from…so that’s good, isn’t it? It all connects together beautifully. One thing that makes Shadow of Mordor unique, however, is the Nemesis System, which you have probably heard people fanyboying about. Throughout the story, Talion must hunt down various uruk captains and war chiefs. These are essentially bosses that lead Sauron’s armies. Talion can encounter these commanders throughout the world – which is always quite exciting – and those of whom who have had run ins with him before will remember him – whether they managed to kill you, or if they fled. For example, if you fought Mr Orc before, and you burnt him and he ran, he might appear later on with a burn down his face and say “you went and burnt me an’ now I’m goin’ to kill you!”…or something slightly more creative. It’s a great way to make the world feel alive – and it is extremely satisfying when you hunt down an uruk that killed you previously and slice his head off. During the course of the game, various uruks will earn promotions, rising up the ranks of Sauron’s forces, and ultimately becoming a lot stronger. They do this by winning fights amongst themselves, recruiting new members or even just having a nice little feast. And, of course, if they kill you. Speaking of, death matters in Shadow of Mordor. Due to Talion’s wraith-like nature, death doesn’t really feel like you have failed. Aside from having to listen to the same dialogue flow whenever you respawn (which seems to reset every time you exit the game), and obviously being withdrawn from whatever you were doing at the time of death, the game progresses as normal, only this time orcs will be like “heeey…I killed you!” One thing I would like to see, though, is death taking its toll on Talion – maybe his clothes could become more damaged, or have scars appear on his body? Something to perhaps symbolise that he’s not really a-ok. Another thing that would have added would be the ability to have 1 v 1 fights with uruk captains, whilst their supporters looked on. It would make the fights seem a lot more epic and tense, as opposed to you having to go off to deal with another pesky orc every couple of hits on a boss.

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As you unlock more abilities, you can dispatch uruk commanders in a number of different ways, such as sending in one of their minions to do it for. It’s a creative way to enact revenge on those that wronged you, and I hope similar schemes like the Nemesis System can continue to develop and exist in further games.

Felt sorry for this guy. He didn't seem to die. I ended up burning most of his face us, before finally putting him to rest.
Felt sorry for this guy. He didn’t seem to die. I ended up burning most of his face us, before finally putting him to rest. #sorrynotsorry

Shadow of Mordor also offers a balrog full of collectibles and side missions to complete whilst you’re avoiding the main story. Artifacts can be found that recall certain memories (somehow) or Middle-Earth’s occupants, revealing histories of the land and its people. There are also sword, bow, dagger, survival and hunting challenges that unlock experience and achievements…but that’s about it; there seems to be no real in game reward, which is a shame. Some side missions include helping a band of soliders known as the Outcasts (which, whenever I see, just reminds me of The Hunchback of Notre Dame song), but these missions are all pretty much the same and tire very quickly. They have, however, also thrown in a nice little sense of community in that if someone on your friends list is killed by an orc captain, you can avenge them in a special ‘vendetta’ mission. Aside from this, you can also spend all day hunting down various uruks to instil the wrath of Man upon them. The story will probably take you around eleven hours or so to finish, but if you’re a completions and enjoy the side quests, then I reckon you could double that.

241930_screenshots_2014-09-30_00005All in all, I am enjoying my time playing Shordor, but it just doesn’t live up to the hype. I’m not sure if I am missing something, as most reviewers seem to be giving it 9 or 9.5/10. I give it a solid….8. Yeah. It’s a good game, but not without its faults. At the moment, I’m not fussed about buying the season pass (god that’s another can of worms. Bloody season passes). I mean, I don’t mind paying an extra £20 or so if I know the DLC is going to be worth it, or if the game has already provided me with 80+ hours of entertainment like Borderlands…but for this? I’m not sure. I will wait and see what I think of the DLC. I realise I haven’t spoken about the graphics or sound! Goodness me, I’m so sorry. Well, aesthetically this game looks great, especially during the cutscenes, but there isn’t much variety in environment – it’s all Mordor before Sauron spilt his load on it, which looks pretty much the same anyway, just less…ashen. The map also isn’t that big – you start off in one area and eventually progress to a second, but that’s it. Considering the size of the game, these are relativity small. The voices are well acted, however Troy Baker’s Talion sounds like a generic LotR character. If someone said to you “talk in a Lord of the Rings voice”, it would be that voice. Liam O’Brien doing a gosh darn fantastic Andy Serkis impression, and Alastair Duncan portrays a wonderfully slightly dickish elf in the Wraith, which, to be honest, all elves are. Dickish, that is; not wraiths. There is also a database chock-full of lore and character information that will make the most diehard Tolkien fan squee with joy! There are a handful of clipping issues and glitches (such as floating orcs) that I encountered, but nothing game breaking.

So go on, get out of here you scamp. Go and play some Shadow of Mordor. Fly, you fools!

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Late Review – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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I’m so into pirates right now. Like, seriously. Also, I haven’t tried multiplayer yet, so this review is for the single player campaign only.

Ahaaa!
Ahaaa!

If we’re not going to get an Assassin’s Creed game set in Victorian England, then I guess playing as pirates is the next best thing. A prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has you playing as AssCred III protagonist Conor’s grandfather, Edward Kenway – a Welsh eighteenth century sexy pirate who finds himself caught up in the ongoing Assassin/Templar War. The game opens with the ship that Kenway is on being attacked. After being marooned on an island, he ends up chasing down and killing an Assassin – thus, Kenway’s induction into the Assassin club is a lot less…traditional than previous protagonists, including Conor’s. Despite this chance encounter with an Assassin, Kenway is still an ancestor of dull Desmond, and is therefore related to Ezio and Altair too. So, even though he just happened to stumble on to becoming an Assassin, which I think is kind of cool, it was always in his blood. Perhaps that accounts for his unexplained super agility, skill with weapons, dashing good looks, parkour skills and Eagle Vision, like all the other members of the Desmond bloodline? Perhaps…

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If you have played an Assassin’s Creed game before, which you should have, you’ll know what to expect from Black Flag. The game is actually a reconstruction of Kenward’s memories, thanks to the Animus. At any point in the game, you can get out of the Animus and explore the ‘real world’ (to an extent). In this scenario, you play first person as a faceless, nameless Abstergo employee, aiding the company in creating the ultimate entertainment experience after the success of Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (yeah, it gets pretty meta.) But this is Abstergo, so I don’t trust them for a second and assume they’re actually trying to take over the world.

And this annoying woman.
And this annoying woman.

Back playing Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll spend most of your time climbing up buildings, towers, ships and trees with little-to-no difficulty. You’ll dive from ridiculous heights into conveniently placed hay bails without so much of a scratch. And you’ll kill so many guards in the name of JUSTICE that any morals you had before will be thrown out the window. You’ll also, obviously, see how many ‘innocents’ you can accidentally-on-purposley kill before you are desynchronised. Yes, Black Flag follows the same formula as previous AssCred games, but adds entirely new elements in its open world exploration. Previous Assassin’s Creed titles have had large open maps, but Black Flag’s world is set in the West Indies, and as such about 75% of the map is water, speckled with numerous little islands. This may sound like a boring waste of space, but Black Flag’s naval exploration is where the game really stands out. A couple of hours or so into the game, you gain command of your own ship, the Jackdaw, which can be upgraded with new weapons, armour, figureheads, steering wheels and sails throughout the game, enabling you to create the ship o’ your dreams! Controlling the Jackdaw is a welcome change from the clunky controls that burden Kenward on dry land – you can alter between different speeds, face wind residence, currents and must think quite tactically about how you steel, lest you end up ramming into a small island. There’s no real consequence for this (the ship only takes a small amount of damage from rock-ramming) it does add a few seconds onto your travel time. So if you’re busy and important like me, you’re going to want to steer quite clear. The naval combat is also superior to its land counterpart. Not much has changed in the latter since the last AssCred game – you still pretty much just have to stand there until someone attacks you, then counter it, then win. It gets very stale. But out on the deep blue sea, naval combat demands a whole different pace. The Jackdaw can be equipped with numerous weapons including cannons, fire barrels and giant bolas which must be used systematically to incapacity your watery foe. Weapons have a recharge time, so you can’t just fire them willy-nilly, and you and your enemy are pretty much constantly moving and circling around each other, so timing is very important. Not to mention that they are probably trying to ram and shoot you too. It’s just very satisfying, and weirdly doesn’t get that repetitive. The weather also poses another challenge, and changes dramatically: one minute you might be enjoying a tan on the deck, and the next you’re confronted with an angry maelstrom that’s throwing rouge waves and tornado at you. It’s very atmospheric! And you feel pretty epic navigating your ship through tidal waves and probable death.

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Going back to the map, there is a large number of places to explore. From big towns like Havana, to tiny islands hiding a treasure chest, the world has an awful lot to offer. Too much…some might say. I mean, it’s great, but there are so many tiny islands scattered around with Animus Fragments or chests on that getting them is definitely going to take some time, if you’re a completionist. There are also dive spots that are unlocked further on in the game, allowing Kenward to dive into ruins of sunken ships and underwater caves huntin’ fer treasure. These side missions are an interesting change of pace and scenery, although I have to applaud Edward’s talent to be attacked by sharks, jellyfish, eels and sea urchins all whilst retaining his gigantic lung capacity. It gets a bit silly but I’m sure that can all just be put down to Animus trickery! Also, from the beginning of the game, you can find pretty much all of the collectibles, which is weird when they are then introduced in the story in sequence 3 or 4. It just seems a little bit like the story writers didn’t correspond much with the collectable planners. Additionally, (and this is just a little peeve) at the very beginning of the game you can go around freeing captured pirates, who ‘thank ya, Captain’…but you’re not a captain yet! You’re just a nobody with a hood! But, ah, details…

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The story itself is quite compelling, and I am interested to see where it goes (at point of writing I haven’t actually completed the game yet…). I’m also curious to explore the ‘real world’ and see what the aforementioned Abstergo are actually planning. The characters throughout the story are quite fleshed out, with Edward being a lot more likeable than Conor, even if he is a morally gray scallywag. Like previous Assassin’s Creed titles, and one of the things that draws me to the series, Black Flag‘s alternate history features many real life historical figures, including infamous pirates such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. But I tend to spend most of my time pursuing the side missions and the dynamic quest system. As well as the aforementioned collectables, there are also Assassin contracts, Templar hunts, whaling (which I always feel very bad about), naval contracts and a few mini games to privilege yourself with. The story and side missions themselves mostly follow the basic Assassin’s Creed principles: following someone, eavesdropping, chasing someone, assassinating someone, infiltrating a restricted area etc. Unfortunately these do become a tad tedious, and whilst many of the missions encourage a stealthy approach in their optional objectives, there is no real consequence if you’re seen; you don’t desynchronise, and as I said the combat itself is pretty easy so you can easily fight off a horde of enemies quite quickly. Also, there are some missions that require you to ‘stealthily’ follow another ship…which is stupid because on the open sea I’m pretty a fat off pirate ship isn’t the most inconspicuous.

Colourful characters indeed!
Colourful characters indeed!

One thing that the Assassin’s Creed games do well is create an atmospheric environment, and Black Flag is no different. The rain and water graphics look amazing, and it’s great to go from running around a tropical island to a busy port town. The weather is brilliant, and on numerous occasions I have found chills running down my spine as I’m chased through foggy waters by a ghostly looking ship. Black Flag is definitely a welcome addition to what is generally a great series. It corrects what Revelations and AC: III did wrong and is definitely up there with AC: II and Brotherhood in my humble opinion. There’s lots to do in a beautiful world, and it just highlights the fact that there really aren’t enough pirate games out there!

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I was wanted. A Hunter emerges from the fog…

Oh, and as it’s Ubisoft, you’re forced to play via uPlay. “What’s your uPlay name?” said no one ever. Gah! Though, I must say, it’s nice that achievements and accomplishments can actually be used to enhance your experience of the game. You have that going for you, uPlay. Well done. But that’s it!

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Child of Light review

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I originally decided to write this review in verse, as Child of Light is presented. However, it was shit, so I scrapped that idea and will just do a plain, vanilla review. I’m so sorry.

256290_screenshots_2014-07-15_00001It must be said that Child of Light is a truly beautiful game. From the art style, to the score, to the story…just beautiful. You play as Aurora, the daughter of a duke in 19th century Austria. One day, Aurora falls into a deathly sleep, and everyone assumes she is dead. But, plot twist, she is not! Aurora wakes up in the strange land of Lemuria; a land in which the sun, moon and stars have been stolen by the dark queen, Umbra. It’s up to you to restore it, as Aurora, the Child of Light! The game is developed and published by Ubisoft, and isn’t their usual MO, but don’t let those nasty sceptics put you off – they did a bloody good job! It’s also written by Jeffrey Yohalem, who wrote AssCred: Brotherhood (the best one) and FarCry 3.

256290_screenshots_2014-07-15_00003The game is presented like a mixture between a children’s bedtime story and an opera. Just looking at the unique art style reminded me of books from my childhood, illustrated by artists such as Mick Inkpen, or Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. There isn’t much more I can say about the art style that does it justice – just check out some of my screenshots. It’s like a picture book come to life, and if that isn’t enough just to give this lovely game a go, the accompanying score is just wonderful. The game is a love letter to older JRPGs in numerous aspects – the music being one of them. Composed by Canadian artist Cœur de pirate, it seamlessly blends serenity with peril, tranquillity with jeopardy and even, dare I say it, light with dark. Once you have finished the game, the soundtrack is definitely something that you will not let go of. I have it playing right now (for scientific purposes)!

256290_screenshots_2014-07-16_00005Aurora is joined on her journey by a firefly named Igniculus, who can be used to reach far off objects, heal, and slow down enemies in battle. The game also features a co-op mode, where a younger sibling can control Igniculus (because they won’t be controlling Aurora, will they?). There are seven colourful party members to unlock in total (eight with the Golem DLC) as the game progresses, each with a wide variety of skills such as healing, offensive magic, status magic, tanking and so on.

256290_screenshots_2014-07-15_00013Fans of older JRPGs such as some of the older Final Fantasy games, notably VI, will feel a wonderful sense of nostalgia. Well, at least, I did. Combat follows a turn-based battle system in which combatants must wait until they reach the appropriate point on the battle gauge. Once they get about 3/5 the way down the gauge, you can select an attack. The rest of the gauge is ‘casting’. If a character is attacked whilst they are casting, they will be interrupted and sent back down the gauge. Igniculus can slow enemies down, allowing you to manipulate their battle gauge. As such, the battles require quite a lot of tactics and timing. Two members of your party can be in the battle at any time, but you can swap in and out whenever you want to issue an action, meaning that you can chop and change and tailor your combatants to suite the battle’s needs. There is a wide variety of enemies, and every character has their uses (albeit some more than others) so battles rarely feel stale or tedious. I played the game on the higher difficulty (obviously), which made it a lot more challenging but not impossible. It required me to think about fights tactically, and always be one step ahead, planning my next move. There were a few enemies that posed a bit of a problem, but in the end once I worked out their patterns it was quite straight forward. Bosses are often accompanied by a couple of ‘basic’ monsters, so my advice is always get those goddamn adds first! Outside of combat, players control Aurora through the nicely painted levels in a kind of Limbo side-scrolling puzzle solver way (just with much less child death…). The game also features an impressive skill tree which, whilst appearing quite dautning, is very straight forward so both veterans and newbs can grasp it. Once the story is completed, New Game Plus is unlocked, allowing you to restart the game with your current party and skills and fight even tougher enemies! #replayvalue256290_screenshots_2014-07-15_00005One unpleasantry is that the game uses Uplay. Yh. Once you get past this, all is well, but there is that initial moment when you start the game and you’re filled with dread as you have to sign in to yet another account using some annoying client that no one cares about.

256290_screenshots_2014-07-15_00009As I said at the beginning (which feels so long ago now, doesn’t it?), all of Child of Light’s dialogue is written in verse. It follows a rhyme scheme of ABCB, and whilst an interesting and mostly well written approach, some rhymes do often feel a little forced and lazy, and as a result completely breaks the flow of dialogue. But writing a whole game in rhyme is pretty darn challenging I’m sure, so I can let them off for that mostly. Mostly. The story if endearing and thought-provoking, but it’s the overall experience that makes Child of Light a must-play. It’s just beautiful. Have I said that already? Probably. But it is. Beautiful. Go play!

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