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Magic Duels Review

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Why has “free” become synonymous with “bad”?

2002 called; they want their graphics back.
2002 called; they want their graphics back.

It’s no lie that the Magic video games have been declining in standard since…well, since the first Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2011. I think I am going to largely be repeating myself from my Magic 2015 review last year, which was filled with anger and distain, but I feel that the points need to be repeated.

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It’s true that Magic Duels, this year’s instalment in the Magic video game series, is free. That’s an instant plus. It seems like a tactical move, since the release and success of Blizzard’s Hearthstone, which I am largely inclined to download. And of course, as with any free game, there is a ‘pay to win’ feature. Well, I guess they have to make their dollars somehow… So what do you get from Duels if you don’t want to spend any moolah? Firstly, you have a story mode. Using the current ‘origins’ theme as inspiration, the story mode follows the awakening and subsequent sparks of some of the main Planeswalkers we know and love – Gideon, Jace, Lilliana, Chandra and Nissa. Each character features five (I think) battles using a premade deck that gets better as the campaign goes on. It’s a nice idea, and the stories are mildly interesting despite all being somewhat similar. The decks that you play with aren’t anything special and are actually pretty dull, notably Gideon’s. Additionally, the AI opponents that you fight are as easy as your mother, and don’t serve a real threat. As such, you can complete the campaign in a couple of hours tops. Each win awards you with some coins, which I will come back to later, and at the end of the campaign you are rewarded with a speechless short film that looks like it was made for an early PS2 game, and nothing else. You don’t even unlock the mediocre deck to play with. Not even a “well done!”. Hell, not even a stinking achievement besides Gideon! Gideon’s campaign, whilst on the subject, serves as the incredibly arduous tutorial, which, you know, is great if you have never played Magic the Gathering before, but if you know what you are doing then you just have to listen to the patronising lady voice (who may well be the same patronising lady voice from Magic 2015!) telling you how to make simple moves. Agh.

Nice filler though.
Nice filler though.

Once you have exhausted the campaign, you can participate in one v one battles with AI opponents, ranging from easy to medium to hard, or, as I like to call it, easy to slightly harder to you might lose a creature. There is no difficulty spike in this game. Enemy decks are completely randomised it seems, as I had a hard comp that just played lands until I killed him. No challenge whatsoever. So what about playing against other players? Firstly, you can participate in one v one fights against a random player across the globe by hitting the button and waiting for one of the six other people online to respond. Also, they have graciously brought back a two headed giant mode, in which you and another random player across the globe fight two other guys by telepathically communication. That is to say, there is no way to communicate with your team mate or even other players in general. Literally nothing. Additionally, if a player disconnects, a notification will flash up, but blink and you will miss it. After that, you fight an AI in their place, with no aesthetic indication. As a result, if you happened to sneeze or look away for a second and your opponent quits, you may have no idea. Which is especially helpful when a large percentage of the other six players online rage quit when they’re losing.

And sometimes they take freakin' forever!
And sometimes they take freakin’ forever!

But what about the cards? You start off with a little starter pack that has some basic cards in. Playing matches unlocks coins. Coins unlock booster packs. Booster packs contain six cards (IKR?!) that you can include in one of your many decks. Completing the campaign will earn you enough to unlock around 5 boosters for you to open and enjoy. After that, you can earn coins by completing matches. However, a single booster costs 150 coins. An offline match win gives you 5/10/15 coins depending on the difficulty, where an online yields 20. As such, grinding for coinage becomes a tedious task, and once again our old pay to win friend comes a’knockin’; you can, if you so wish, spend IRL money to buy cards, which, obviously, some people do. However, seeing as the online community for this game seems dead before it’s even reached its toddler stage, it seems pointless. That, and I don’t want to spend money in a game like this. So to get tha’ good cards, you have to play tens of matches against either long, drawn out, effortless computer or grouchy, silent real life people. Editing decks is quite straightforward, and offers both a ‘basic’ and ‘advanced’ mode. This allows you to tailor using the cards that you have won and/or bought. You can also autocomplete decks if you’re feeling lazy.

Most popular my arse.
Most popular my arse.

The interface, though an improvement on last year, is still a winding road of nonsense in some parts. For example, once you build your deck, you can change the name and art of it. To do this, you would think there would be a simple tab in the ‘edit deck’ region, but instead, you must go into your card choosy area, find the stats tab, and go from there. Why? Because.

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Magic Duels is a free game, so how much can we complain really? You’ll kill a few hours from it, but don’t expect anything that’s really worth while, unfortunately. Whether they will release future DLC or not I don’t know, but at the moment Magic Duels serves as a brief and aggravating pastime and nothing else. As I believe I said last year, if you want a good Duels game, check out the 2012 and 2013 instalments.

Oh there are also challenges that no one cares about.
Oh there are also challenges that no one cares about.

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…

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!

311560_screenshots_2015-06-10_00003

Mortal Kombat X Review

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Over the next 1400 words, I’m going to show you that all of your problems can be solved by punching.

download“Beat ‘em ups”, as a young Jamie used to call them, have always had a twisted place in my heart. I have dabbled in a few Tekkens, Street Fighters and Marvel Vs Capcoms. But, deep down, I’ve always been a Mortal Kombat kinda kid. The game has come a long way since the SEGA Mega Drive days, when I very nearly weed myself in fear after accidentally performing a fatality, to create what is one of the best looking fighter games in years. You know, in a gory, intestiney kind of way.

...oops.
…oops.

Mortal Kombat X is a direct sequel to the brilliant Mortal Kombat (2011), so it’s impossible not to compare it to its predecessor. In short….it doesn’t quite weigh up. Not to the 2011 game, and also not to NetherRealm’s 2013 release, Injustice. As with many fighting games, MKX features a story mode. Now, whilst some people may argue that story modes don’t belong in fighting games, I respectfully disagree (and will fight you to defend my point). The story mode adds a bit more bang for your buck, which in this economic climate when games cost £45 you need! Story mode will only take you about three hours or so to complete, but it’s a nice way to expand on the intriguing Mortal Kombat lore. It picks up pretty much where 2011’s MK ended: pretty much everyone is dead, and the fallen Elder God Shinnok is trying to restore his power. The thing is, no one really is dead; it’s revealed pretty early on that pretty much every playable character that was brutally murdered during 2011’s story mode has essentially become a zombie working for sorcerer Quan Chi. It’s kind of ironic that, in a game that thrives on the gory deaths that it creates, death isn’t really an issue. In fact SPOILER ALERT some characters even gets un-zombified and restored to normal, rendering everything redundant. Compared to 2011 MK’s nostalgic reboot, MKX’s story certainly falls short. The whole premise, as mentioned, is trying to stop Shinnok…but, I’m sorry, I just don’t feel threatened by a bad guy that looks like the Monarch. There are some interesting, new characters, but the best ones such as mercenary Erron Black are just side-lined – instead, you are forced to play as tween hero Cassie Cage and her lame friends (apart from Takeda…Takeda is awesome).

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Quan-ChiN

Yes, four of the new characters introduced are some sort of offspring/cousin/milkman of previously existing characters. Mortal Kombat’s character birthday list is ever extensive, with now over 70 characters featured collectively throughout games. You wonder, then, why they choose to bring back characters such as Reptile but leave out fan favourites Noob Sailbot and Smoke? It seems completely ridiculous. With today’s technology, you would imagine that they could perhaps give us an even bigger roster, like that which we saw in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Fans who pre-purchased the game have been treated to Goro, who non-loyal fans can now buy (shame on you!), which is an issue I will cover later. Fortunately, characters are diverse enough that each one plays differently. Additionally, every character comes with three variations that alter their special skills slightly. They’re not vastly different, but offer enough to change up the flow of combat (sorry, kombat) from fight to fight. The x-ray skill also makes its return, with some very creative ways of breaking your opponents’ bones and testicles. But I find myself more reserved when using them – I’m not sure why, they still appear to do the same amount of damage as they did in the 2011 game (around 30%), but they just don’t seem as awesome. Mortal Kombat’s trade mark Fatalities make an obvious return too. Some of these are absolutely fantastic and tongue-in-cheek, full of gore and splendour. Some…not so much. Quite a few just feel bland and leave you wanting more. Additionally, you can now purchase (with both in-game and irl money) ‘easy Fatality’ passes, allowing you to input the command with one button. This results in the finishing moves being pretty pointless, apart from some aesthetic pleasure. Once, it was an achievement to pull off such a crazy move…but now, anyone with a finger can do it. It’s political correctness gone mad! Thankfully, Mortal Kombat has included Brutalities. These finishing moves require you to meet a certain number of objectives in a match, such as throw three knives or tickle your opponent’s feet, then perform a certain move, resulting in a head or arm being decapitated. These are simple, gory and surprisingly fun ways to end a match. With regards to the actual gameplay and fighting as a whole, it’s never been better. Quick paced, lots of moves and relatively intelligent AI makes this the best fighting Mortal Kombat yet. There are a few environmental interactions that can be used to decimate your opponent (such as throwing an old lady at them), but it’s a shame that we haven’t seen a progression from Injustice’s radiant arenas, allowing fighters to smash through walls or portals into a new fighting zone. There are also no stage fatalities, which was a fun addition dating all the way back to early Mortal Kombat games.

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Outside of story mode and single battles, you can also complete various ‘tower’ modes. The most basic is your classic arcade, in which you select a fighter, beat your way through ten rounds, fight the overpowered final boss, then get a quite badly written story ending. As well as this, other towers include ‘test your luck’ (returning the amusing feature from 2011’s Mortal Kombat), survival and the return of the ‘test your might’ mini-game – though once the latter has been completed once, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to do it again. The absence of Injustice’s challenge mode or, more so, 2011’s challenge tower, is very apparent. The challenge tower in Mortal Kombat added hours more gameplay with interesting twists and requirements, forcing you to alter your playstyle to meet them. Unfortunately, nothing like that really exists in Mortal Kombat X.

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There is also an online mode, which I briefly ventured onto. Naturally, I got destroyed, because these people can input kombos quickly and don’t need to look up moves like I do…losers. It’s not really my domain, so I haven’t explored very far. However, one of the first things you do in MKX is choose a faction. Ooh interesting! Not really. Factions earn points over the week, due to player achievements, and at the end the winning faction gets some koins. Maybe this has a bigger impact if you delve into the depths of online, I don’t know. Koins are used to unlock various things in the Krypt, which thankfully has gotten rid of the terrifying jump-scare monster from 2011’s game. You can unlock various alternate costumes, player cards, and concept art – the latter of which is actually really detailed and interesting if you’re into that kind of stuff. You can also unlock new fatalities (every character has two), though I would save your koins and just look these up online.

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The bottom line is that Mortal Kombat X is what you would expect from a Mortal Kombat game, but lacks some of the aspects that made its predecessor so great, and fails to deliver on new additions. It looks nice, but at a price: the system requirements and memory allocated are pretty extensive. If you’re uming and aring about spending the money, I recommend picking up the Komplete Kollection of 2011’s Mortal Kombat to sate your appetite until this comes down in price. OH SPEAKING OF MONEY! So we have entered an age where day 1 DLC, or at least, DLC announced, has become a regular thing. Upon purchasing Mortal Kombat X, you have the option to buy the season pass. This will allow you to download four additional fighters when they are released (at time of writing, I believe one of them is coming out very shortly). This, on top of pre-purchase Goro, just creates a greedy image of the game’s developers, especially considering there were so many bugs on release.  Pre-purchase incentive should be something small and ultimately meaningless, like some alternate costumes or maybe an additional fatality or two. Not a whole character WHO IS INCLUDED IN THE GAME ANYWAY. Speaking of, there are also some characters that you actually fight in the story mode, with full move sets ‘n’ all, who don’t appear as playable fighters. NetherRealm, what is this? Will you be releasing more characters after these initial four? Will you require me to give you another £20? When will it end, NetherRealm? When?!

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Cities: Skylines review

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Welcome to Jamietown, where I am king.

Look at this amazing city that I didn't build!
Look at this amazing city that I didn’t build!

This game first caught my eye due to the super rave reviews – on closer inspection, most of these reviews were saying “fuck you EA!” and “this is so much better than SimCity!”. Nevertheless, I’m a bit of a sucker for a good simulation game, so I bought Cities: Skylines (I even went the extra mile to get the Deluxe Edition because of course I want to put the Eiffel Tower in my town). I grew up playing Rollercoaster Tycoon and Sims, so there is always a place in my heart for this type of game.

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You can also split your map into districts, allowing you to customise policies and hilarious names.

With the massive brown stain left by the disappointment that was EA’s SimCity (2013) still terrorising computers around the country, there has been a big ol’ space in the market for a new city simulation game. Cities: Skylines fills this hole, and succeeds in washing away whatever remnants of SimCity still linger using some sort of Febreeze sorcery. Cities takes what made the older SimCity games fun and exciting, and brings them into the modern day. Well, mostly anyway.

This option allows you to see noise pollution. NB does not include people listening to Cheryl Cole
This option allows you to see noise pollution. NB does not include people listening to Cheryl Cole

When you boot up Cities, you have a few choices of maps to begin building on. Each map is split into square sections. You always start on the same section when you load a new map, but there is a lot of room to expand as your city grows. A lot of room. This enables you to strategically expand in the direction/area that suits your city’s needs. Do you look for an area rich in oil? Or perhaps a heavily forested area? Maybe you want to build some sort of lakeside town, in which case you want a big ol’ body of water. There is a lot of scope to let your imagination run wild.

Water pipes are essential in separating your poop from your drink.
Water pipes are essential in separating your poop from your drink.

The first and foremost thing that you need to be aware of when playing Cities is the importance of roads and energy. Roads are essential in building your town, as each one creates a build zone around it. Electricity powers your town, whilst water feeds it. These three components yield a high upkeep cost, so it is important to figure out how to get the best bang for your buck. Also, make sure that you place your water waste pipe downstream of your water plant, lest you get dirty poop water. Too often do my peeps get sick due to dirty poop water.

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Once you have established the basics, you can begin creating zones. At first, you have three types: low density residential, low density commercial and industrial. Finding the correct paradigm in managing these zones is key to a successful town – for example, industrial zones produce a high level of noise pollution, so shouldn’t be near residential and so on. As your city expands and you meet more and more milestones, you will begin to unlock new buildings and zones, eventually turning your quiet little hamlet into a bustling city. Unless you go bankrupt first. Which I keep doing. But more on that later. Anyway: whilst building zones, it is also important to pay attention to the way in which your roads work. There is quite an extensive choice of roads to build, including multiple lanes and one-way systems. Playing around with these will enable you to find out which road best suits that area of your town. That brings me on to traffic. The traffic system in Cities is pretty impressive. Managing your congestion will result in a happy town, so stay on top of it. Cars appear to plan their routes well in advance, resulting in intelligent lane discipline. If a service vehicle needs to stop in the road, the traffic build up will cause a massive domino effect, resulting in your city coming to a standstill.

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But you have to figure all of this out yourself, because there is no tutorial. You would think that, for a game with so many complexities, there would be some sort of tutorial. There are ‘advice’ bubbles which are pretty handy for hints and tips, but I would recommend checking out some YouTube tutorials before you really get stuck in. I’ve played for four hours now and still haven’t saved a game because I keep restarting; I can’t figure out how to save money on my electricity costs! Just like real life…

Map editor. I'm trying to figure out how water works.
Map editor. I’m trying to figure out how water works.

The graphics are kind of what you would expect from a sim game. Nothing amazing, but nice enough to look at. Zooming in on your town reveals intricate detail and little animations that make your city feel alive (though building variation is quite limited, so neighbourhoods end up looking similar). You can also see people walking around – going to work, school, taking their dog for a walk etc. It’s a nice little addition to bring some life into the game. That being said, that’s kind of…all there is to do. Unlike SimCity, there are no disasters. No earthquakes, tornados, aliens. Even fires aren’t particularly dangerous because they don’t spread. It’s a shame, but here’s hoping that developers Colossal Order might add something like this in future DLC. Even a day/night cycle would be nice; I’d love to see my city lit up. Additionally, (and here is something that SimCity did right) there is no online option that allows you to visit your friends’ cities. Not that I have any friends, but it would be nice to have the option. If there is, I have yet to discover it.

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On top of city simulation, there is also a map building tool (again, no tutorial, so good luck) and an ‘asset’ builder (buildings, roads, parks etc.). I can’t really add much more as I keep failing at this game. Which just makes me want to play more. If you enjoy simulation games, then I really recommend checking out Cities. At £22.99, it’s affordable for what it is. There are definitely some shortcomings, but with the incredible popularity and sales that is has received within just a few days of being released, there is a chance that future DLC or an expansion is on the way. To tide you over though, there are a few mods out as well as Steam community content. Now, if anyone can figure out how to maintain a positive profit, please let me know….

Mmmmmmm yes.
Mmmmmmm yes.

DLC Quest – Review

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READING THIS REVIEW REQUIRES THE ‘GAMES ET AL DLC PACK’.

Hehe I’m funny.

We have unfortunately reached a stage in the gaming medium in which paying for additional content is the norm. Where a lot of downloadable content do indeed add hours of new gameplay in new campaigns (Borderlands. Fallout, Bioshock, for example), others are almost an overpriced necessity to play the game to its full potential (such as in Final Fanasty XIII: Lightning Returns). It’s a shame that releasing a season pass has become standard issue for many, many games, with some exploiting DLC even further.

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DLC Quest caught my eye as one of those little indie games that you look at and think “huh, that’s a cool idea”. The premise is simple: you must defeat the evil bad guy. Problem is, the standalone game does little to aid you in doing so; to complete the game, you’re going to need some DLC.

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Very much a commentary on what the industry has sadly become, DLC Quest requires you to use in-game money to buy DLC in order to fulfil your goals. DLC ranges from simply adding jumping or music, to weapons, life, and so on. In this sense, it reminded me of Evoland, as the player continues to progress through an ever evolving game.

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The gameplay itself is extremely straight forward – a 2D platformer that reminded me of old Sega Mega Drive games, particularly with the environment detail and hidden caves, I felt like I was play James Pond. Anyone? James Pond? Ahh nostalgia. Ahem. The map itself is relatively small, and you will find yourself going backwards and forwards to complete objectives, but the game is just long enough at about 2 hours that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It also features a lovely little 16-bit soundtrack, including some atmospheric pieces reminiscent of old RPGs!

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Overall, humour is what drives this game forward. As mentioned, it is very much a satire on the current state of DLC and the sheer ridiculousness that surrounds it. DLC Quests parodies various unfinished games (requiring you to purchase DLC to continue) as well nods to well established franchises such as Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, Minecraft and Plants VS Zombies. Aside from this, DLC Quest is also full of its own self-referential humour that will keep you smiling as you slave over hunting down coins to buy the overly expensive season pass (that enables you to traverse the ‘Winter Zone’), or the HD pack (tinting everything with a lovely sepia tone).

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The game consists of two short campaigns, each lasting about an hour. It’s a fun way to kill some time if you have it, whilst making you think about how crazy the downloadable content market has become. I’d recommend grabbing it if it’s on sale, but wouldn’t really spend more than a couple o’ quid. There isn’t really a lot else to say about this game, other than if you want a quick, chuckle-worthy pastime, get yourself a copy. Another 69p well spent!

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Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – review

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The Walking Dead has emotion. The Wolf Among Us has intriguing lore. Tales from the Borderlands has sheer hilarity.

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If you’re a frequent reader of this blog (of course you are!) you may have picked up that I’m a big fan of Telltale’s games. Now, admittedly, it’s only been in the last year that I have actually discovered these little gems, so I shan’t claim to be a diehard devoted long-time fan, but I really cannot recommend their games enough. Tales from the Borderlands is no exception.

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So where to begin? First and foremost, this feels like a Borderlands game. Now this review will feature a couple of tiny spoilers from Borderlands 2 – just what happens at the end – but that’s all. Here are some line breaks whilst you evaluate whether you want to carry on reading or not.

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Good. So Tales is set following the events of Borderlands 2. After Handsome Jack’s death, employees from the infamous Hyperion Corporation have been vying for power. The first playable character, Rhys, is one such employee. But after he is duped by Patrick Warburton, he finds himself on the planet of Pandora, caught up in a scheme involving a rare, invaluable vault key.  Despite the obviously different gameplay style from past Borderlands games, Tales fits into the lore and overall saga perfectly. Whether this will bridge the gap between Borderlands 2 and 3, or whether it will just be a standalone story set in the same world, is currently unknown – whatever the outcome, so far it’s very promising. It certainly links to the greater Borderlands world – without going into spoilers (though you can probably guess one Borderlands character’s involvement from the episode name, Zer0 Sum…and yeah, it’s awesome).

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The graphics are a clever amalgamation of your typical Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us style ‘cartoony’ graphics combined with Borderlands’ classic….um… ‘cartoony’ graphics. Telltale have managed to create a seamless blend between the two that doesn’t look out of place at all. The game still suffers from the standard Telltale defects, such as the odd clunky movement or sudden facial expression reminiscent of Sims 2. Or the occasional clipping issue, but apart from that, s’all gravy. I mean, these are the things that you kind of look over in Telltale’s games as they seem almost inevitable…for whatever reason.

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The script is just what you would expect from Borderlands: violent, in your face, and hilarious. Episode One: Zer0 Sum, which is, at time of writing, the only episode out, made me laugh out loud on several occasions. One of my favourite moments was near the beginning when they take the somewhat iconic running-over-a-skag skit to another level. This is definitely a Borderlands game.

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As mentioned, you play as two different characters – Rhys and Fiona, telling two sides of a story via flashbacks. Both characters play very different, but with enough scope for you to mold them how you want to. For those unfamiliar with Telltale’s style, the game is essentially an interactive story. During dialogue, you’re presented with numerous options regarding how you respond – one might be cocky or arrogant, another might be submissive, or aggressive, or even just silence. The game adapts to choices that you make (to an extent) and develops as such (…to an extent). None of the choices you make are going to cause a revolutionary difference – judging from past games the overall outcome will remain the same – but it’s how you get there that might be executed differently. But what would a Borderlands game be without action? As well as the dialogue options, you’ll also be greeted with quick time events, a bit of exploration, and even some shootouts. Whilst not quite as fun or detailed as your standard Borderlands game, these moments add a nice change of pace, sticking true to the source material.

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There are a couple of other new inclusions within Tales too. Firstly, when playing as Rhys, you have the chance to activate your ECHO-eye implant to scan certain objects in the environment around you. Scanning things doesn’t affect the story as a whole, but does allow you to gather some background information on Pandora’s finest, which is usually pretty hilarious. When playing as Fiona, you can use cash to buy certain things. Again, thus far, this has purely been aesthetic (with one exception in which I bribed someone) but it’s a nice little distraction.

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It’s hard to judge an episodic game from the first episode alone, although thus far I am pretty impressed. However, unlike previous Telltale games, if you are unfamiliar with the Borderlands story or style and want to just try Telltale games, then I don’t think you would really get on-board with this. If this is the case, then go and play through the other Borderlands games first. For numerous reasons. Telling the same story from both Rhys and Fiona’s perspectives could initially seem jarring, tedious and confusing, but the change in dialogue options and perspective really enables you to get into the other character’s shoes. I, for one, think that this is a fine addition to both the Telltale and Borderlands library, and cannot wait for Episode 2. It’s a game for fans of Telltale and Borderlands games alike! Next time: Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones!

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Saints Row IV – Review

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Long gone are the days when Saints Row was just an apparent Grand Theft Auto clone. You’d get a slap for saying that now. Probably with a dildo…

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I managed to grab m’self a cheap copy of Saints Row IV on Steam with a load of DLC accompanying it. I’d been meaning to play the game for a while, but after the disappointment that was Saints Row the Third I just kept putting it off. The original Saints Row was pretty good, but at the time did just seem like a slightly worse version of Grand Theft Auto  – it was released a few years after San Andreas on ‘the next gen’, but just couldn’t compete IMO. Then Saints Row 2 was released. I loved this game. A massive improvement on the original, and it was competing with the grainy Grand Theft Auto IV, which, whilst a great game in itself, didn’t seem to have a classic GTA humour that Saints Row 2 adopted. It managed to combine the sandbox gang warfare, car stealing gameplay that GTA is known for, whilst providing utterly ridiculous side missions. Not to mention a pretty compelling story that could be completed in an order that you choose. So, to me anyway, Saints Row the Third was a bit o’ disappointment. The game got sillier – which is totally fine – but tried to retain a somewhat captivating story…which it failed to do. The result was a bit of a mismatch: a game that didn’t really know what it wanted to be. It was still fun, but forgettable. Now, Saints Row IV seems to have dropped any notion of being a ‘serious’ game…and is just, well, super fun.

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Saints Row IV is one of the best sandbox games that I have ever played. The reason? Because it’s a true sandbox. Once you get past the opening prologue, the world is pretty much your oyster. The Saints have ascended to world dominance level, and the Boss (you) has been elected President of the United States. After deciding whether you want to cure cancer or end world hunger, aliens attack. The Boss is imprisoned in a virtual reality of Steelport (the city from Saints Row the Third) and must complete various tasks to, ahem, fuck with the system. That’s the premise. And that’s good enough. I haven’t progressed that far in the story, because throughout my six hours of play time I have blown more things up than I can count.

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Pretty much everything is unlocked from the get-go. As with previous Saints games, there is a plethora of side-missions for you to do, ranging from insurance fraud, to blowing stuff up in a helicopter, to races, to blowing stuff up on foot. The big different that Saints Row IV introduces however is that you have super powers. Why? Because you’re in a virtual reality, and you can do anythiiiiiiiiing. The result is that your character is super OP, and no one really stands a chance against you…which is good, because I have ye to figure out where exactly the health bar is. But it’s also hilarious. You unlock abilities such as super jump, super sprint, and elemental powers such as causing massive (you guessed it) explosions, or freezing enemies where they stand. The only downside of this is that due to the super sprint ability – of which an infinite variant for is unlocked quite easily – there is no real need for you to drive cars. I mean, the cars are all mega slow in comparison, so why would you? But there are some awesome looking vehicles roaming Steelport, particularly with some DLC…but there is just no point in driving them really.

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As with any Saints Row game, you have the option to customise your character. The Boss of the Saints is whoever you want to make him or her be. This includes facial alterations, penis size, skin colour, physique, voice (three male, three female, and Nolan North. Because), and a deviant smorgasbord of clothes and costumes. The possibilities are nigh endless. Sexy hooker with massive boobs? Old lady with massive boobs? Blue-skinned-buff alien with massive boobs? Superhero with massive boobs? Whatever your salacious little mind can conjure. I personally began with a large cockney fella to whom I referred to as Big J (privately). Later, after noticing a Nolan North voice option, he became a Tesco’s own version of Deadpool. Soon after that, he had a sex change into a very large, buxom woman wearing nout but dungarees and a cute little bonnet. Most recently, my character is a disgusting old lady who doesn’t seem to understand that she is passed her prime. It’s fun to pretend.

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Saints Row is known for utilising celebrity cameos, such as Burt Reynolds in the Third. IV is no different, only this time Saints veteran Keith David joins the fray. Keith (mind if I call you Keith?) has appeared in Saints Row previously, but as a character. Now he plays himself, as your number 2. So whilst you’re going around sticking penis-swords up mascots bums, you can listen his sweet, soothing, warming voice. Due to some DLC, I am also now able to summon the cast of the fantastic Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’? series as homies. They come will full voice acting, and interact seamlessly with one another. You know, just to add more humour to this game.

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So, all in all, Saints Row IV is a great addition to the franchise. It’s just madness. The addition of superpowers provide constant entertainment, as you can spend your time just running around suplexing innocent people (but they’re only virtual people so you don’t feel guilty, right? In fact, they’re virtual virtual people. Ahaaa!). Whilst I personally wouldn’t spend more than £20 on this game, it’s well worth a gander if you can find a cheaper copy. It’s manic, ridiculous, light-hearted and boobs.

#qt3.14
#qt3.14

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: First Impressions

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Thanks 2K, but where’s all my new shit?

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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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