My goodness I have used a lot of parenthesis (brackets) in this review!
The Final Fantasy series is one from my youth. Beginning properly with Final Fantasy IX (after a failed attempt at VI), I have worked my way through the majority of these brilliant JRPGs. True, in recent years, the FuhFuh name has taken a bit of a sting, what with some iffy releases and angry fanboys, but with the hype surrounded Final Fantasy XV, Type-0 and Kingdom Hearts’ recent releases, the series seems to be slowly but surely climbing its way back up into the hearts of fans. Sure, FF definitely isn’t for everyone – but most of the tribulations come with the wacky JPRG genre…crazy hair, cliched yet somehow convoluted stories, anime physics and so on. But that’s what makes it so great!
Now, Squeenix have released several mobile games before, including re-releases of games and the somewhat underwhelming All The Bravest, which pretty much consisted of you furiously swiping your phone in a blind rage to kill enemies. But Final Fantasy: Record Keeper is different. The premise: in a quaint little world exists a museum that holds depictions of various key events across various Final Fantasy games (excluding the MMOs). Outta nowhere, a strange darkness (obviously) begins to corrupt the pictures. It is up to protagonist Tyro (who is basically your starter Pokémon that you instantly deposit and never play with) to save the day by entering the pictures and DESTROY THE EVIL! The game itself is split up into a series of game-related rooms (world) which can be completed in a semi-linear order. When you enter a room, you then enter a painting (dungeon). Once you have entered the dungeon, you choose a level. So, game -> dungeon -> level. Once you’ve entered a level, you fight against various FF enemies inspired by that particular game in a turn based Active Time Battle (ATB) style combat system, much like Final Fantasy games of old. Essentially, that’s all the game is…and the fighting can become a tad stale, buuut, as with most mobile games, it’s a fun pastime to dip in and out of. Each level requires you to pay stamina. You have a finite amount, but it recharges every three minutes or so, so unless you’re quickly blitzing through the game, this shouldn’t really be an issue. There are RPG elements too – you can combine/assign abilities and upgrade various weapons in true JRPG-over-complicated fashion, but I’ve made it a fair way through the game without really bothering with any of this, apart from equipping different weapons and armour. You build up a team of five characters – characters taken from various Final Fantasy games. They all pretty much do the same thing, though some can only have can only have specific weapons, armour and abilities equipped. That, and they have their own unique ‘soul break’ (this game’s variation of limit/trance/overdrive etc.). But it’s fun to build up a team of characters that you know and love so well from different worlds, working happily together to vanquish evil. Which leads me on to my next point – weapons and armour are taken from the FuhFuh games that inhabit Record Keeper, which is cool. However, some are crazily unbalanced and overpowered. Cloud was hitting for about 300 damage with one weapon, whilst Tidus was going for 150. Now, yes, we all love Cloud #FFVIIFanBoyLeetGamer and so on (jokes, IX is the best), but srsly. Levelling up is also a bit of an issue, because when new characters join your party they start at level 1 it seems. You can use irl money to level them up quicker, but who has that kind of cash? Fortunately, though, Record Keepers is not a particularly pay-to-win game, which we see so much now with moby games. It does, however, require a constant internet connection for whatever reason, so play via WiFi when available…
Each Record Keeper world comes with its own enemies and music directly from its origin game. For example, the Final Fantasy X world begins with you fighting your way through the streets of Zanarkand, in the same was as X begins. Whilst each world only has about five or so different monsters, you do fight unique bosses from that area of the game – so at the end of this Zanarkand section, you fight the Sinspawn boss that serves as a tutorial in X. It’s pretty rad. It’s also lovely to hear the brilliant scores from the various FF games as you’re playing. It can become a little grindy, what with you seemingly either being mega over- or under- (but never appropriately) levelled for dungeons, but that’s just a weeny factor.
As it stands, this game has only been released outside of Japan for a couple o’ weeks, so here’s hoping we get some more updates soon; currently, you can only play as about ten or so different characters, whereas Japan’s version has close to 50 from Final Fantasy I to XIII (not including XI). Combat can be a bit tedious, and the permanent internet connection does mean that this isn’t a great play-on-the-go kind of game, but all in all it’s a wonderful nostalgia experience for any fan of the series – as I said, the true joy comes from fighting bosses that you know with a smorgasbord of characters you love. For a free game, this is pretty darn good. Yes, there are microtransactions available for you millionaires out there, if you want to get the better equipment, and there is even an auto-battle feature if you enjoy playing games by not playing them! All in all, Record Keepers is a fun, harmless little addition to the series. Well done, Square Enix. Oh, it’s also been developed by a company called DeNA, who have recently teamed up with Nintendo to create mobile games for them, so there’s that!
Thanks 2K, but where’s all my new shit?
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! (exclamation mark included) is the latest addition in the family-friendly Borderlands series. AKA Borderlands 1.5, this game is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2. However, I will do my bestest not to include any spoilers for any of the three games in this here review. Holla. At time of writing, I have only played a couple o’ hours with a couple o’ characters with a couple o’ friends (and m’self), but I think that’s sufficient enough to warrant a ‘first impressions’ review, don’t you think?
First off, The Pre-Sequel!, whilst good, does just kind of feel like a Borderlands 2 DLC pack. Which isn’t a bad thing, considering Borderlands 2 is a brilliant game, but there just isn’t enough new/updated stuff to really advance the series. The bottom line is, The Pre-Sequel does everything right that Borderlands 2 did, but also suffers from the same wrongs. There. You can make your own judgement now. Go, fly on!
Still here? Thank you. That means a lot. Seriously. Ok, detail. So, what’s new? The Pre-Sequel starts off as the two previous Borderlands games did: choosing your character. This game has you choose one from four classes: Gladiator, Enforcer, Lawbringer and Fragtrap. What’s pretty cool is that all of these characters have appeared in some form in previous instalments: Athena, the Gladiator, made her debut in a DLC pack for Borderlands 1 as an NPC. Wilhelm the Enforcer and Nisha the Lawbringer both appear as enemies in Borderlands 2 (in one way or another), and the Fragtrap class is none other than that lovable robot Claptrap. There is quite a variety in classes – each character has their own unique skill command – though Wilhelm and Athena do seem somewhat similar, moreso than the other two, at least.. Athena uses her shield to absorb/dish our damage, Wilhelm summons two drones to aid him, Nisha can enter a Red Dead Redemption-style quick draw mode, and Claptrap….well, his takes a little explaining, and is definitely the most fun. Claptrap’s skill analyses the battlefield, taking into account how much ammo, how much health etc. you have, and grants some sort of boon to the party dependent on that – whether it’s having everyone enter a ‘funzerker’ mode (guns, guns, guns), or mimicking Krieg from Borderlands 2’s rampage skill, or giving the whole party rubber rings to…bounce with. Inevitably, more characters will be released as DLC, so I am curious to see where that goes. Additionally, each characters’ melee attack feels more unique than it did in 2 too. For example, Claptrap does a little punch, whereas Nisha uses her whip, which has a longer range but deals a bit less damage. Naturally, your real power comes from one of the bazillion zillion guns that you can pick up throughout your play through. Two new additions to your already well-endowed arsenal are laser and cryogenic weapons. The former, as you may have guessed, fire a barrage of lasers that slowly drain enemies’ health. The latter, as you may have guessed once again (you rascal) freeze your enemies, enabling you to shatter them with a mighty blow!
The story: As mentioned, The Pre-Sequel is set in between Borderlands 1 and 2, and depicts the rise of Borderlands 2 antagonist, Handsome Jack. As with previous Borderlands games, due to the sheer number of side quests, the main story can often be a bit ambiguous and confusing. Still, all in all it’s very funny, and I’m definitely interested to see where it goes. Borderlands 2 had some brilliant moments, particularly in its fantastic DLC, so I have…hopes for The Pre-Sequel. The game is set on Elpis, Pandora’s moon. As such, zero gravity plays a key role in The Pre-Sequel’s gameplay. You’re equipped with an oxygen pack (oz pack) that allows you to jump great distances, float a bit and even butt-slam down onto enemies below – which is pretty cool, because you can send them floating off into the infinity of space Malcolm Reynolds style. Watch out, ‘doe! If you use too much oxygen you WILL DIE. Unless you’re Claptrap. Because he don’t need no oxygen. This is a fun little addition that makes exploration and combat feel that teency bit fresher than it did in Borderlands 2.
As for newness, that’s about it really. Everything else – graphics and general gameplay etc.– are pretty much the same as they were in Borderlands 2. I mean, it all works brilliantly, and obviously the game features a fresh soundtrack and voice acting – but overall the game doesn’t really feel like an upgrade…just more of the same. The game still wonderfully blends RPG elements into the FPS genre, and for the most part, the script is pretty hilarious. I would say ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’, which, you know, they haven’t…but they also haven’t fixed what is broken. There are a handful of glitches that I have already encountered, rendering a quest un-completeable. These are generally solved by exiting the map and re-entering, but in my fast paced adult life, I don’t have time for that! Also, the menu is still just as clunky as it was in 2. In fact, it’s exactly the same. Again, not game-breaking, just a small nuisance that I would have hoped they may have fixed. Lastly, the enemies feel quite repetitive. You seem to be fighting the same ones over and over again, with no real variety. Elpis is ok to explore, but has nothing on the design of Pandora in previous installments.
Overall, the game just feels like a big ol’, slightly unpolished DLC for Borderlands 2. It’s still fun, especially with friends, but Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! unfortunately lacks the innovation and originality to really make it stand out. I’ve clocked 100 hours on Borderlands 2…something that I just don’t see happening with The Pre-Sequel, sadly. If you’re new to the series, go and pick up Borderlands 2. If you really like it, give this a go, but spend your time over there first. I’ll be looking forward to the inevitable Borderlands 3 and TellTale Game’s Tales from the Borderlands…
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Exploring 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.
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 I 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.
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.
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.
All 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!
Back in the days of early generation consoles, the 2D platformer was the pinnacle of technology and the staple design for many iconic games – think Sonic, Golden Axe, Earthworm Jim! With today’s modern graphics and technological developments, the humble 2D platformer is more often than not swept under the rug like an easy to conceal bag of incriminating evidence, save for prevalent series such as Mario. Dust: An Elysian Tail (yes, ‘tail’, not ‘tale’) is a game that revamps the 2D platformer dynamic and thrusts it salaciously into the modern day. It falls under the umbrellaing category of Metroidvania (or Castleroid) – action/adventure with RPG elements. This is a game done right.
When I first booted up Dust on the ol’ PC, I thought that I’d wandered into some sort of My Little Pony/furry fan’s wet dream. This was largely due to all of the characters being anthropomorphic animals, drawn in an anime fashion. Fortunately, as I began to play, my initial worries were quickly cast aside like yesterday’s ham.
Playing Dust feels a bit like you’re watching an anime film. The cutscenes look remarkably like a 90s Studio Ghibli film, which is a compliment when (aside from the voice acting, soundtrack and a bit of the writing), Dust was developed by ONE PERSON. According to various online sources (Wikipedia), Dust’s lone developer, Dean Dodrill, is a self-taught illustrator and animator. It’s outstanding, then, to think that this one person not only developed this entire game, but also drew it. Anime is one of those genres that retains a certain magic when it’s hand drawn, and Dust definitely brings this magic to life. Both the character models and settings are truly beautiful and well imagined. The world feels alive, buzzing, and full of fleshed out characters.
Indeed, one of the game’s best features is its design. Character costumes are pretty incredible. The protagonist – the eponymous Dust – wears an iconic sedge hat, instantly setting him apart from other characters, who tend to wear more traditional casual Korean gear. He also holds his sword with his backhand, so you know he’s cool. Each character feels unique, with the exception of some enemies – but even they are palette swapped to add a bit of variety. The backdrops across the game, along with the well-designed levels, also follow this anime-esque model, and as a result create the rich, varied explorable world that Dust: An Elysian Tail is set in.
The game opens with Dust awakening one day in a pretty little grove, lost and confused. He is quickly greeted by in-game companion Fidget (a kind of cat/bat/weasel thing, who, although very annoying, is awfully endearing…like a Tara Strong character) and a legendary talking sword, Ahrah. Together, they must thwart the malicious General Gaius, who is committing mass genocide across the country, and find out who Dust really is. The story is quite compelling, though not the game’s strongest point. It’s interesting, but predictable, and quite typically anime. Again, it reminded me of a Studio Ghibli film – mixing that wondrous feeling of magic and humour with a slightly darker, mature undertone. It touches on subjects such as war, morality and redemption, but it won’t leave you wanting to discuss the plot with your fellow comrades around the watercooler at work on Monday.
As mentioned, the level design is another of the game’s highlights. Each explorable area is divided into several ‘rooms’, for lack of a better word. These rooms fit together like a jigsaw, clearly indicating which side access points are on. This means that you won’t just be travelling right all the time, as with games of yore, but also up, down and left. This, along with the use of height levels, secret areas and explodable walls, adds great variety to each level – nothing feels like it has been copy and pasted.
Throughout the game you can also collect keys to unlock chests, which contain money and food. Food is used for healz, and ranges from a modest lasagne, to a slice of birthday cake, and even some Korean inspired dishes. Keys also unlock cages that contain a variety of ‘friends’. Purely Easter eggs, these ‘friends’ are characters from other indie game such as Super Meat Boy or Bastion. You can go and chill with them in the Sanctuary. Which is a nice way to take a break from killing things.
Dust’s combat utilises both hack ‘n’ slash and RPG elements. Fidget can use her magic to help inhibit enemies, whilst Dust attacks with the standard two button combat controls, which you can mix up to perform a handful of combos. There are only like….three, but chaining multiple attacks together, along with adding Fidget’s magic to the mix, can create a lovely dance of destruction. The flow of combat has been quite masterfully tailored, with fluid battle animations and responsive controls that you can jump, dart and dodge your way around the battlefield seamlessly. The RPG elements come into play in the form of experience, which can be used to buff Dust up and increase the damage that Fidget deals. The levelling scale is a little off, however. When you first enter an area, combat is…no exactly difficult, but slightly challenging – you have to keep on your toesies. But once you level up a couple o’ times, you obliterate anything in your path. This includes bosses. There are only four boss fights, with a handful of mini-bosses, but none really pose a threat. The last boss, who requires you to fight him four times, is the most challenging, but even then, on normal difficulty, he wasn’t a problem at all. I only died a couple of times throughout the game, and that was largely down to my own hubris when fighting a bazillion enemies at once. I have no idea what the fighting is like on a higher difficulty, but with levelling up and the various augments that you can equip to up your attack, it’s all pretty easy. Speaking of, I was disappointed that the game doesn’t feature a New Game Plus option once you complete it. Seems like it would be a good way to offer some replay value to a game that has none. Also, if you try and exit an area whilst you’re still in a fight, a little notification pops up which sounds an awful lot like the old Windows Messenger sound. That’s pretty irrelevant to this review, but I thought I should mention it. Sorry.
TO CONCLUDE. Dust: An Elysian Tail is a good game. Not amazing, but definitely worth playing if you can cough up the dollar. I completed the game with 111% out of a possible 117% (I couldn’t be bothered to do the challenge maps) in about 8 hours or so, so add on a couple of hours for level grinding and completing the previously mentioned challenge maps, you’re looking at a lifespan of about 10 hours (IGN reckons 20 wut). It’s beautifully designed, and amazing when you think that the majority of it is one person’s work. The voice acting is pretty swish too, and you could be mistaken for thinking that you’re watching an anime film (fun fact, the game actually started off as a film called Elysian Tail). There are also plans for a PS4 version to come out soon, which is gonna look sweeeet. So yeah. If you like fun, quirky, 2D hack ‘n’ slashes, then definitely go and check out Dust. If not, well, Shadows of Mordor is out soon so…
Oh well honour for all,
Of the big and the small.
Well, the taller they stand
Well, the harder they fall.
It really says something for this game that I bought it release day when it originally came out in October 2012 (I got a cool pack of playing and tarot cards as a pre-order incentive), played through it twice, then bought it again recently on Steam…and have since played through it two more times.
Dishonoured (or Dishonored, if you’re ‘merican) was published by Bethesda – the studio that has given us masterpieces such as the Fallout games and the Elder Scrolls series (no, not you, Elder Scrolls Online) – and developed by the small French company Arkane Studios. It’s quite hard to define into one genre, so I guess I would have to go with stealth-action-steampunk-dystopian-adventure, if I’m being specific. Oh, and it’s first-person.
Set in the fictional city of Dunwall, capital of the Empire of Isles, Dishonoured has you take the role of silent protagonist Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress. After returning from an expedition to try and find a solution to the ever growing plague that inflicts the city, Corvo is framed for the Empress’ murder. The game has Corvo seek revenge against those that framed him, whilst tracking down and rescuing the Empress’ daughter and heir, Emily. However, one thing that makes Dishonoured stand out as a truly great game, with mucho replay value, is the way in which this revenge is executed. Stay tuned for more.
Visually, Dishonoured is like a water painting. With vivid colours (in the lighter areas, at least) and stroke like textures, Dishonoured isn’t going to win any awards for realistic graphics, but it’s very pretty and unique in its own way. Character proportions vary depending on the individual character’s class and profession – for example, city watch guards have big heads, shoulders and hands on a slightly smaller than average body. This experimental feature sounds like on paper it would break the immersion and just look downright silly, but it fits perfectly with the art style. Facially, everyone looks a bit like they’re chewing corn or something, but, again, it works. The city of Dunwall is apparently inspired by London and Edinburgh, which is very obvious in the Victorian-esque architecture. The steampunk (or rather oilpunk) influence allows the game to mess around with technology trees, incorporating gunpowder pistols and electrified walls. Dunwall is a city built around large bodies of water, and that is reflected in the city’s design. It’s obvious that a lot of time and effort has gone into creating this world not just for aesthetic purposes, but also gameplay.
Near the beginning of the game, Corvo is greeted by an enigmatic figure known as the Outsider, who, to me, looks a lot like a young Joaquin Phoenix. He bestows Corvo with some supernatural abilities, adding a fantasy and sci-fi element to this game. These, along with various different weapons, allow you to traverse and complete each mission in your own unique way. The default ability, Blink, allows you to quickly teleport from one area to another. This, combined with jumping and the well-designed environment, enables you to climb high buildings or scurry across Dunwall’s rooftops in a wicked cool parkour manner. Each mission is set in a self-contained map, with access to various areas. Despite being restricted to only certain areas, each map is well designed and large enough that you have numerous routes to reach your target. The way the gameplay is designed feels a great amount like the Bioshock games, notably the way weapons and powers are used, with a bit of Fallout and Mirror’s Edge thrown in for good measure. It’s an interesting combination that provides the player with some truly unique play styles. I can’t really think of any other game that plays quite as Dishonoured does.
There are nine missions in total, which may not sound like a lot, but each offers a handful of side quests that generally reveal more information about this games in-depth lore. At the end of each mission, you are presented with a stats screen that shows how many people (if any) you killed, if you were spotted, whether you looted any safes, and if you collected any of the games collectables such as runes or bone charms – the former of which allows you to upgrade your powers, with the latter granting Corvo various attributes such as quicker swimming or mana regeneration. You’re also told whether you completed the level on ‘high’ or ‘low chaos’. The chaos factor is a hidden stat that determines how the next levels will pan out, and ultimately which ending you will get. For example, playing through the game without killing anyone (which is an enjoyable challenge – even better if you combine it with not ever being seen) grants a slightly more positive ending, whereas playing in high chaos (KILL EVERYTHING!!!) is ultimately a lot darker. Killing more people also results in more bodies which results in more plague rats which results in more infected which results in more guards which results in the city decaying at a more rapid pace. This isn’t just a case of ‘going left instead of right causes a slight change here but that’s it’ – you can actually see and hear how your actions have affected the city. Each target that you must assassinate comes with various creative ways that you can dispatch them, including a non-lethal method. For example, one target is the head of a cult, and the non-lethal method to be rid of him is to brand him with the “heretic’s brand”, essentially excommunicating him. These variables pepper Dishonoured with replay value like sprinkles on a finely iced lemon drizzle cake.
Dishonoured features an all-star cast, with big names such as Michael Madsen, Susan Sarandon, Lena Headey and Chloë Grace Moretz providing their voices to the game. A small gripe I have with the game is that in this British inspired environment, the characters all have American accents. Whilst the voice actors all do a brilliant job, I feel that the game would be just that tiny bit more immersive if they had incorporated English accents. Nevertheless, I have no complaints about the quality of voice work. Madsen especially stands out in two of the three DLC packs as the assassin Daud. Sound plays an important part in Dishonoured, both diegetic and non-diegetic (yeah, I did AS Media at college). Throughout the game, you can hear updates on how the city is faring via loudspeakers across the streets. Sound also, with many stealth games, factors into whether or not enemies spot you. It also acts as an alert if they do see you, with a jarring piano sound telling you to get the fuzz back into cover. The overall soundtrack, composed by Daniel Licht (notable for the Silent Hill and television series Dexter soundtracks), creates an uneasy environment designed to keep the player alert and unnerved.
There are very few negative things I have to say about Dishonoured. On occasion the AI can be a bit stupid and inconsistent, but that’s it really. I recommend playing through first as stealthily as possible, then again cranking up the difficulty and getting mad kills, as the combat is pretty fun and the gore extremely satisfying…. The characters are well developed and interesting, and cleverly often make you feel remorse for killing them (if it comes to that). Levels are long, with oodles of collectables and side quests to keep you entertained. The world is rich and well developed, and it’s worth reading and listening to the various notes, books and audio logs scattered around the levels to learn more of this rich lore. The DLC is also well worth getting – there are three instalments: one that features several interesting challenge maps, and two dictating a spin-off story featuring the aforementioned assassin Daud, as he seeks redemption after murdering the Empress. With a world so full of life and potential, I really hope that this rumoured sequel comes to fruition. Dishonoured seems to be one of those games that is loved by everyone who plays it, but isn’t played by nearly enough people! Like Final Fantasy IX. Go play that too. But later. Do this first.
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.
It 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.
The 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)!
Aurora 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.
Fans 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! #replayvalueOne 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.
As 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!
Further to my previous post, I have now finished South Park: Stick of Truth. Hence, for your reading pleasure, here is a review. Freshly baked, may contain nuts. I will start off by saying that this game is fantastic, funny, but not without its flaws. I won’t dawdle (what a great word) on the points I made before – instead you can read all of the new and exciting opinions that I have concocted whilst playing the 11 hour campaign!
Let us begin with the story. It’s pretty much what you would expect from South Park – starts off all innocent, and then becomes something much bigger. The story isn’t going to leave you scouring the internet for tinfoil theories, or make you sit back in your chair and respire a “wow”, but it’s South Park, and you’re getting what you’ve paid for. It will, however, make you squee at the epicness of some scenes, and, importantly, laugh out loud. This is without a doubt one of the funniest games that I have ever played – up there with the likes of Portal, Borderlands or Fallout. The humour is, obviously, somewhat controversial, but what would you expect from a South Park game? One aspect of the story that was lovely to see – without giving away any spoilers – is the fact that throughout the entire game, the children of South Park are just LARPing (look it up), despite the madness that is going on around them. I’m reminded of past South Park episodes such as “Towelie”, “Lil’ Crime Stoppers” and the more recent “Black Friday Trilogy” – episodes in which something much larger than the children is at stake, but they just continue playing their games, somewhat apathetic to what is going on around them. The main body of the story beautifully incorporates a classic fantasy tale intertwined with the goings on about town: a unique blend of genres that makes Stick of Truth a one of a kind game. The ending, whilst epic in places, did feel a bit rushed at times, with no real reveal as to what actually happens to the game’s main antagonists. But overall, if this were an episode of South Park, it would be up there with the greats, and at the end of the day, isn’t that all we really want from this game? Well, kind of: “what about gameplay?” I hear you cry from your computing chairs. Well, on to that now!
As stated in my “Initial Thoughts” review, the game has you wandering around a sandbox style map, engaging in turn based RPG fights. The map itself is a fair size, with a couple of new areas opening up as you journey through the game (the visit to the kingdom to the north was absolutely brilliant #nospoilers). You often find yourself returning to areas that you have already explored, but with new enemies popping up and new out-of-combat abilities unlocked, there is always that teeny bit more to do. There is the option to fast travel which, when crossing over the entire map, does help – but the map is relitvely easy to traverse on foot, and interesting, so I rarely found myself using it. Still, it’s nice to have the option. Thoughtful. The town of South Park also has a lot of explorable buildings too – buildings that contain loot and goodies and hilarious people to listen to and fart on. In fact, your first hour or so of the game will probably consist of going around opening everybody’s garages and seeing what you can steal.
Combat is initiated by hitting (or being hit by) an enemy in the over world: unlike classic JRPGs of yore, Stick of Truth features no ‘random encounters’. Unfortunately, combat gives very limited XP, but considering I reached the maximum level cap of 15 quite a bit before the game’s climax, I can kind of understand why. When engaged in battle, you are taken to the combat screen. As mentioned, the battle system revolves around turn based combat. Generally it will go you, your buddy (more on that in a bit), then enemy A, B, C etc. However if you think that you can just lay back in your chair and apathetically press ‘A’, boy oh boy are you wrong. Stick of Truth’s combat system requires you to be on the ball. When an enemy attacks you, you have the option to execute a perfectly timed block and counter attack. When attacking, you must engage in a quick time event to perform your move correctly. This could be as simple as pressing ‘X’ at a specific time, to inputting Guitar Hero-style commands. Whilst fun at first, it soon grows quite tedious, as QTEs often do. I got very bored of wiggling the L-stick on my controller…and usually I love wiggling my stick! Throughout the majority of the game, during combat, you have a ‘buddy’. Whilst each buddy is unique and offers a different approach to battle, I found myself sticking with the same ones – Butters is good early game, with Kyle and Cartman being your go-tos later on. Kenny is pretty good all around (and revives if he is killed!), whilst Stan and Jimmy are both very average. Your character as two weapons – ranged and melee – which you can customise to inflict elemental damage, syphon life or penetrate armour. He also has at his disposal class specific abilities. These are the only things that really separate one class from another, and whilst I used my thief’s backstab ability countless times at the beginning of the game, by the end my melee attack was so OP that I just stuck with that. Your other method of attacking is, surprise surprise, farts. Farts, however, require mana. Mana requires specific items. As a result, I never really felt the need to faff around with this, and didn’t utilise my farts to their full potential. Heh. You can also acquire summonable characters. There are four of these, and each one instantly defeats all enemies that you’re currently fighting. However they cannot be used against bosses, and can only be used once per in-game day. Whilst funny to see for the first time, their limited use is only really beneficial if you just want to end a battle quickly. ‘Normal’ enemies are also relatively easy to defeat, and I never really felt threatened enough to use a summon.
Goodness, I have exceeded 1000 words. I should wrap this up.
A final note on collectables and replay value. If you’re an achievement hunter, you’re going to want to play through this game several times, or at least have multiple save files. Apart from that, there isn’t really much reason to replay Stick of Truth, asides from the fact that it’s a fun game. Once you complete the main story, which isn’t too long, you do enter a free roam of the map…but I’m not too sure how much you would get out of this as there isn’t too much additional stuff to do. There are 30 Chinpokomon to collect and 120 Facebook friends to find, but you will probably grab most of these as you play through the story anyway. A note of caution, however – despite the game giving you freedom to continue playing after you finish, there are many areas that become inaccessible, meaning if you missed a piece of loot or a Chinpokomon, you’re screwed. This happened to me. 29/30 Chinpokomon, which meant only 119/120 Facebook friends (you get one as a reward). As expected, I am very upset and am seeking counselling, m’kay.
All in all, Stick of Truth is not only a faithful adaptation of a great series, but also wonderfully incorporates key RPG elements, making it a fun, hilarious and thoroughly enjoyable game. The campaign does only last 11 or so hours, so if you can afford to wait to play then I would maybe suggest holding off until it comes down in price. And take your time. There’s no point in blitzing through. Whilst no DLC has been formally announced, there is an option for it on the main menu…so fingers crossed that the developers are concocting a new story for us to tackle, and aren’t just going to release some shitty alternate costumes…!