Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Dark Souls: Back to basics

So last night I was playing through the new Dark Souls DLC with my meat headed Strength based character. This was the guy I made for my first play through. I knew nothing about miracles or pyromancy or sorcery and invading level caps and other things that i know now about Dark Sopuls - I just built him according to regular RPG rules for a warrior.

High on Vitality to take the hits, higher on Strength to dish out the damage and some Dex for speed.

Last night I came across a simple truth; Faith builds and magic spells are awesome, but noting feels as satisfying as smashing a giant axe into an enemies face. Playing through the DLC with my Faith/ Dex toon was tricky. Lots of dodging and rolling around, and forget about standing in the way of a fire breathing dragon. But playing as my first toon, aptly named "Clarence" was just pure bad ass.

Stone Giant trying to smash me? He can't even get through my Great Shield of Artorias. Is that shadow magic? Lucky my Black Iron set is built to resist and with the Great Shield Absorbing 100% of everything - good luck trying to build damage . As for the horrible new monstrosities out to get me - meet my Black Knight Great axe!

And man - don't get me started on the PVP!

At soul level 135 I had constant invasions as soon as I entered the Royal woods. But I was surprised at how well my toon held up. In fact he didn't get a single defeat the whole night, and I did some invasions too and was only killed when I came across a co-op team just in front of Artorias arena. My Faith/ Dex guy is pretty kick ass in PVP as well - he should be since I built him specifically for invading, but Clarence is just a beast.

There really is no point to this post other than to brag about how awesome my first Dark Souls toon is. The only conflict I have is wither to level him up any further because right now I'm nervous as heck walking around with 200k souls.

I leave you with this awesome art piece of Yurt from Demons Souls fighting Lautrec from Dark Souls. Sadly I couldn't track down the artist who did it -but i like the way he thinks.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shaun of the Dead star loves Dark Souls

Comedian and Shaun of the Dead star Peter Serafinowicz talks, and talks, and talks about his favourite videogame of all-time, Dark Souls.

Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss (DLC)

Dark Souls hit consoles in September 2011 but I didn't get my hands on it till Jan 2012 ...just in time for my Birthday.

Dark Souls is hands down the greatest thing I've ever played. Yes there are tones of great games, yes I am dying to get my hands on Dead Space 3, but playing through the rich dark world of Dark Souls and "beating" it gives a sense of accomplishment that few games can offer.

Well after being totally consumed by it once already, nothing was more welcomed than playing through the game with something new to take on.

Last week saw the release of " Artorias of the Abyss" - an expansion DLC for the console versions of Dark Souls. The extra content was first released as part of the PC port of the game which came out the month before, and it was very tempting for me to pick it up on Steam to avoid the wait, but man was the wait ever worth it.

As far as "the best DLCs" go,  Artorias of the Abyss doesn't share the ranks with the stuff that Gear Box puts out for its Borderlands games. As a gamer paying for something in terms of "content" they would be disappointed because the DLC took me about a day to get through. Plus any one who has played through Dark Souls won't find the new content all that challenging either as it sits just before the intended "end Game" content of the original release.

As a fan of Dark Souls though - this DLC is hands down freaking golden.

The major thing about Dark Souls is that it doesn't hold your hand with anything, not with game play, not with progress and not with story. As a player when you enter the land of Lordran it truly feels like the place was alive long before you and will live on long after you have ventured through it. So to get the full extent of what has happened in the land or what will happen it is up to you as an adventurer  to talk to NPCs, read item description and book texts to get the lore of the land. This adds a sense of mystic and adventure that makes everything you discover special. The lore of the different lands is in particular something I try to find out more about.

So when the Expansion was announced and it was said that it's plot took you back in time to the days before the fall of Lordran's great cities and her fabled knights - it just meant that there's gonna be so much more story and lore for you to discover. That's what drives me in the game, aside from the gameplay challenge of Dark Souls,  it's sense of discovery and adventure is truly unmatched.

I ventured into the new content with a toon that was appropriate for the level, though I have several NG+ toons, my fresh level 91 was actually at the point where you venture into the new area.

Stepping into the "new" area was awesome because it truly gave  me a sense of dread. I won't lie, I still haven't seen all of the first area; the Royal woods, because it's choked full of hard hitting Stone Guardians who give my squishy Dexterity/ Faith toon a run for his life. I'm sure my tankish Strength guy, who I intend to play through with tonight, will be better adapt for it.

The expansion adds four new bosses and some open world mini bosses, plus some kick ass new armor sets and weapons that would suit most popular builds. It also comes with some nerfs here and there, none of which hurt me more than the nerf to the Dark Wood grain ring.

In terms of difficulty as I had mentioned that since this area is before end game, it will be pretty manageable for most Dark Soul players. I played through two boss fights co-op but it was the last boss of the DLC who was the one that I really needed help with; Manus the Father of the Abyss.

After him was a very threatening Dragon who was more of a side boss, but his breath turned out to be worse than his bite. Though the last boss was a hard fight and the boss himself was one of the most menacing things in the game, the fight with Kalameet the Black dragon felt the most epic.

Both the two last bosses had awesome intros but the events leading up to the dragon fight was pretty tense. The fight with Artorias, the legendary knight who was once the hero of the land before he gets corrupted, was also a tough battle, but it comes so early into the DLC that it's over shadowed by the later boss fights. It was still pretty epic and almost sad when you have to put the great hero down.

Coming out of the DLC content and going back into the original game left me a little sad because all of it was so good that it leaves you wanting more, but all in all the DLC added very nicely to what was already an incredible journey.

Plus your actions in the "past" also seem to play into the game when you return, as NPCs and even bosses react differently to you after wards. For a game that adds so many ways to create a unique experience for all who dare to adventure through it, Artorias of the Abyss brings nothing but greatness. I really hope the Devs put out more of this kinda stuff because the open ended world of Dark Souls lends it's self very nicely to more content, maybe something that explores the other knights stories.

The Heroes of Dark Souls

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Mark of the Ninja: First Impressions

After playing Marking of the Ninja, I've come to realize that there haven't really been to many stealth games. There have been lots of games with a stealth element to it and some may even claim to build their game around this one mechanic, but in Mark of the Ninja - Stealth truly is the main focus with everything else being the icing on the cake.

The closest thing I can think of to Mark of the Ninja would be games like the Batman Arkham series and maybe Splinter Cell. But the thing that faults Batman is that whenever you F up a stealth section of the game, you either take a massive pounding from baddies or you totally loose the given level. Plus overall you feel like a dick head for making a silly mistake.

Ninja's don't make mistakes and if they do, they know how to recover from it - and keep looking bad ass.

Mark of the Ninja puts you behind the hidden blade of an unnamed hero who is charged with avenging his clan. To aid in his quest he is inscribed with tattoos penned with ink made from a scared flower, which gives the wearer of the Tattoos almost Supernatural like reflexes. This comes with a price however as who ever wears the ink is cursed to go insane, so at the end of the given task the wearer must end his life, less he becomes a threat to the clan.

Some folks say the story for Mark of the Ninja isn't very deep, but for me that set up is pretty damn awesome. By now I know that the crew over at Klei Entertainment grew up watching the same stuff I did as a kid, as evident from the influences on their awesome Shank games, and here Mark of the Ninja reminds me of the awesome Ninja flicks I watched growing up (Except The American Ninja - I wanna forget about those films)

So you embark on your mission. Your sword and kunai ready for the kill, but as a Ninja... your best weapon is the darkness.

The first thing that struck me as I started up the game was the beautiful cut scenes.  This could be a show on TV - it's that good. Next I stared in aw at the amazing world that was stretched out before me. Mark of the Ninja has to be one of the best looking games out there. Forget 2D games - just across the board this game is gorgeous. To look at a screen shot does it no justice, to watch the world live and breath is a thing of beauty.

Second thing that struck me about Mark of the Ninja is the tight controls. You move exactly how you want to move through the environment, with every step and every grapple precisely executed whenever you want it. There is very little room to fault buttons and such for the errors you make. There is however one issue I had and it's best we get it out of the way now because the rest of this article will be me praising the shit out this game.

There is a context sensitive button, that lets you pick up bodies or hide behind things. If you drop a guy near a pot plant, chances are you'll hide when you wanna pick him up or pick him up if you wanna hide. This has gotten me killed a few times, but that was when I was but a fledgling Ninja - such bull shit no longer hinders my game.

Aside from the tight controls there is the addition of these sound pulses that emit from noise sources. When you run, they circle out from your feet, letting you know how far the sound will reach. When you line up a Kunai with a light, it will show who will hear the sound of it breaking. This makes you want to be very very quiet, calculating every move you make, so as not to be  seen but also not heard.

There's this really cool feature where you "Focus" and time slows down, allowing you to mark and execute things like smoke bombs, multiple kunai hits and a whole host of other cool moves. Needless to say it really ups the "bad ass" factor every time you pull this move off.

With all these things in play, you'll find yourself looking out for short cuts, enemy patterns, and that right moment to move on unseen or make that mad ass kill. Playing through the game really reminded me a lot of Metal Gear solid and even a little bit of Super meat boy because of levels involving lasers. Strangely though it never reminded me of Tenchu, which is what i thought it would throw back to.

As with most things in 2D, the platform elements play a huge part in this game, and this game means business when it comes to precession timing and jumps. But that's not to say you have too play the game a certain way. The biggest flaw with most stealth games is that you need to consciously play them a certain way to get the most out of them.

In Mark of the Ninja you are a Ninja. No two ways about it. You are made to strike hard from the shadows, and fade away ... with out a trace. And though the game emphasizes this by awarding points every time you move by a guard unseen, it does also congratulate you for your straight out kills, provided they are stylish and classy - like a Ninja should be killing. 

As I mentioned earlier, unlike most 'stealth' games where you feel like a klutz when you get caught, Mark of the Ninja allows you to recover from your mistakes with class. Smoke bombs, kunais to lights, near by vents, if you see it you can use it as a means to infiltrate or escape. It is one of the few games that truly allows you to do things your way. I think the biggest factor in this is Klei's approach to the game. Stripping away all the non essential bull shit that clutter most other games (I'm looking at you Dishonored) Mark of the Ninja aims to give you one thing only - a ninja sim. So it encompasses all the things that makes Ninjas so damn cool, and provides you with an environment that lets you go nuts.

There is some serious gaming to be had here and I think Klei have really out done the stealth genre, taking in to account every innovation in the genre that has come before and building on it greatly with Mark of the Ninja. After all this the true fun of the games comes from the narrow escapes and sudden reactions of "run" or "kill" that keep you at the edge of your seat through out. Bascially using all the mechanics to play the game, while still making your own personal story.

I really can't think of anything else to say except that Mark of the Ninja is freaking awesome and if you enjoy great gaming experiences, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Dishonored: Fist Impresssions

Dishonoured adverts tell you that you can play the game "guns blazing" as a crazed assassin mad for revenge, or you can play it cool and calculated, striking from the shadows like a dark spirit of vengeance.

These adverts fail to tell you that playing Dishonoured as a straight out first person action game is super freaking dull. Combat though flashy can get very boring very fast. In fact as I first started playing the game and went about slicing and shooting people in the face I was like: meh

If you want to get the most out of Dishonoured you need to play it taking advantage of it's stealth elements, but that's not to say that the stealth in the game is awesome, far from it. In fact for a stealth game the mechanics in Dishonoured are pretty bland. It's not gonna do anything to take fame away from such titles as Splinter Cell conviction or even the Batman Arkham games.

Stealth in Dishonoured means crouching. But even then depending on how the game feels, you might hid in a corner and have a guard walk right by you, or you might reload a save and the damn guard will spot you in the same exact spot he missed you in a while ago. And you'll find that a lot of the game is broken this way. It helps though that none of the NPCs in Dishonoured have peripheral vision, so you can just walk up to a baddie and stab him in the neck as long as you walk to em in  a straight line from behind or from the side.

Another thing about Dishonoured is that the NPCs don't really care about each other. If there are three people in a room and you kill one of them, the other two will keep talking without a worry. They won't even notice that their friend is missing. I mean come on! for all the bullshit realism the adverts for Dishonoured boasts with its "fully realised world" - you'd think they would pay attention to something like that. If they were lazy to do anything they could have just added some bull shit dialogue.

"Hey where did Ben go?"
"His probubly gone for a piss again"
"That Ben sure does have a weak bladder"
"yeah ... I won't be the least bit worried if he never came back"

Also there was all this hype about the "PC" edition of the gaming having special attention given to controls. Is that why by default your left hand is mapped to the right mouse button and your right hand is on the left button? The amount of people I shot in the head instead of quietly stabbing... 

So basically the "one on one" components of Dishonoured aren't the sharpest, but I had fun trying to stealth my way through it. So much so that I kept loading saves when ever I got caught. I actually haven't killed too many people either because it takes longer to make em pass out without getting caught - and I like that added challenge. Plus the less people you kill, the less guards there are in later levels etc.

Speaking of challenge, the first chapter of the game is probably the most demanding, at least it was for me (I'm currently on the 4th chapter)

When stealth kills are just you and the dark, it gets very intense. But then the game has all these fancy gear and supernatural powers that it gives you. I remember seeing early trailers for the game, show casing these special moves, thinking that they looked way over powered. Playing through the game with them - they are almost like "God mode."

There are tone of things you can pick, but all you really need to totally pwn everything is Blink and this ability that allows you to see NPCs through walls, including field of vision. Once you pick these up you're pretty much boss.Blink lets you instantly teleport to any spot you can see.

You also have traps and stuff, but there really is no point to these except to kill boredom.

Why set up a spring trap when you can so easily just blink behind a baddie, slice him and blink out? I only used my traps once so far - just to check em out.

Visually the game looks pretty good in a Bioshock: infinite sorta way. The art and design for the game is what I love the most and is the only thing I think it does really well. The  Gothic / "Alice in wonderland" nightmarish world you get to explore is very awesome to look at. The people look good, but move like claymation, so the animation isn't the sharpest. And though the self contained levels are big, the missions them selves are pretty leaner.

As is the trend with most of the games that Bethesda publishes, the fun parts of Dishonoured are when you make the most of its given mechanics to forge your own adventure. There is a story in here some where, but I stopped listening when our hero is accused of a murder he didn't comminet, and instead of saying "hey I just got here" - he goes all Gordon Freeman on us and allows him self to get fudged.

You may not believe me, but I do like playing Dishonoured, but it's not as awesome as the critics make it out to be. I don't know what side of the bed these people woke up on when they played Dishonoured because I can see this game very easily bombing into 'midcore' territory depending on the reviewers mood.

If you're hard out for an action game, this wont do. If you're up for a poor man's "Thief" then Dishonoured might do it for you. But be warned - it requires a great deal of patience to get the most out of it. It will basically serve well those folks who claim they want a challenge but still haven't played Dark Souls because it's too hard.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Torchlight 2: First Impressions

Sometimes I forget that I bought Diablo 3, but then the bitter memory of it seeps back in and I my heart sinks to despair.

When I played Torchlight 1 a few years back, I was hooked. The formula of loot collecting, exploring and fun combat stole hours upon hours of my life. Just like Diablo 1 and 2 did years before. I keep telling myself that I'm not a RPG fan, and I guess to some extent games like Torchlight and Diablo aren't traditional RPGs. Dungeon crawlers, hack n slash or whatever you want to call them, I love em to bits.

After Torchlight 1 came and went, I thought to myself: boy I can't wait for Diablo 3.

Without getting into the shit flinging too much, let me just say Diablo 3 started out great but ultimately fell due to its own reputation. It just didn't deliver on what I wanted and what it did serve up wasn't enough.
I was very hesitant to pick up Torchlight 2, even though I loved the first one, after the events of D3 I thought that maybe I'm just not into this genre of gaming at the moment. I should just stick to Borderlands 2  which has been nothing but the Bees Knees.

But thanks to a friend I was able to get myself a Steam copy of Torchlight 2 and I'm so damn glad that I did.

Torchlight 2 is a gem.

It's a special game. It has charm, and character and it thrusts you into a world that strives to kill you but never seizes to amaze you.

Just going through its list of 4 classes had me sitting there clicking forever because I couldn't decided which one was the coolest one to play. Eventually I settled on an Engineer named Issac and his pet ferret Ishi.

As the game begins you find that the biggest let down in Torchlight 2 is the story, or lack there of. There is a narrative in there somewhere, but even the game knows that it's not important. What matters is that you have a reason to step into your characters shoes and cause havoc.

Visually the game looks amazing, I freaking love the art style. It's unique art make it as though you were playing through a Disney Cartoon. It sort of looks like a higher rendered version of what you see in world of Warcraft, and given that the Dev crew were ex Blizz members, you can see how Torchlight 2 borrows heavily from such titles as Diablo and WoW. But what it borrows it polishes and gives back in a big way. Even the Music is done by the same guy that worked on Diablo 1 and 2 - so the atmosphere and environments are a joy to go through. In fact the music and environments to explore are a major draw for me.

Soon you don't care who you're collecting quests from, or where you have to go. You just grab quests, look at the reward and then kill shit as you make your way towards a star marking some location on a map. And this to me is the game so far. But please don't take that as a negative, because this simple mechanic of killing, looting, moving on is some how made so damn addictive by the good people over at Runic Games. If it wasn't for Borderlands 2 I would have been sitting there for hours just exploring and finding new things to kill and strip off loot. But I really want to finish my first play through of Borderlands 2 before I get into anything else.

But let me just say, that my first few hours of Torchlight 2 were insanely more satisfying than my time spent finishing Diablo 3. If D3 has left a bad taste - Torchlight 2 is here to bring the sugar.

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