Friday, 20 November 2015

Nobody expects the dragonish inquisition!

First off, I must apologise for the timing of these reviews. They've arrived far too late. I completed them early summer this year. I just haven't got around to actually reviewing them!

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

Be noted that I have no previous experience of the Dragon Age series. I have only watched briefly people playing the earlier gamess. I have played hours of the whole Mass Effect trilogy from the same developer, BioWare, if that accounts for anything?! With that in mind, here's my view of the third Dragon Age game.

While I found only a few dragons, I did find an excellent story, presented in a cinematic and well voice acted fashion. From being released as a prisoner with no rights at the beginning, but mysteriously possessing an ability to stop huge green rifts opening in the skies, right to the long travel through requiring power and becoming the grand inquisitor; DA:I is an incredible journey through abeautiful fantasy landscapes and battles.

Much like it's sci-fi stall mate, Mass Effect, DAI not only looks incredible but also boasts an impressive diversity in locations. There are open farmlands, lush woodlands, snowy mountains and boiling deserts to roam. While not directly connected in one single open world, like let's say Skyrim, the size of each map is very impressive. Take the first large map you encounter, The Hinterlands, for instance. This map alone is the size of a huge free roaming game, with a tons of side-missions and tasks to complete. I literally couldn't wait to see what the next location was, so I could go off exploring again! There's tons of detail.

"While not directly connected in one single open world...the size of each map is very impressive."

The description "great diversity" doesn't just cover the large maps though, there's great variation in classes, including numerous specializations within, weapons and visual appearance for you character. Just like in the ME series you are usually surrounded by a gang of three teammates. What I like about Dragon Age though, is that you can just switch to play any of these four at any time. Which means that if you fancy trying yourself out as a mage or perhaps a rogue, well simply switch to a character with this class! Giving you a chance to test out other classes without restarting the game entirely.

Speaking gameplay though, my impression is mixed. While I appreciated the large roster of enemies to combat and the numerous techniques to combat for defeating them, the actual fighting quickly felt stale. It's mainly about holding R2 to engage your character into combat. I played the game on normal and always made sure I levelled up properly before progressing. Perhaps I should have played the game more tactical, using the paused overhead combat cam. The acutal controls for walking around, riding a horse or exploring are absolutely fine though!

To elaborate some more about the overhead tactical camera control; it pauses combat when initiated giving you a birds eye view of the battlefield. Here you can assign your four characters to attack certain enemies, then simply hold a button for the game to start rolling again and watch the fight. Or you can get down and dirty and fight with your main character from third person. I ended up mainly doing this, and simply using only a few of the special abilities that are assigned to various buttons. The tactical view I used mainly for very large enemies, like dragons, to attack one part, like a leg, in particular.

Levelling up lets you unlock more abilities, though I ended up levelling the ones that didn't require button input as I often forget to use them. Especially the ones that required me to navigate the ability menus to engage them. Perhaps I played it too simply, but I never really used the tactical overhead fighting style other than very large enemies like trolls and dragons. Nevertheless though, gameplay is addictive and I very much enjoyed making my characters more and more powerful through levelling and equipping and crafting superior armour and weapons.

I must admit, with no expectations or experience in this series previously, I enjoyed my playthrough immensely. It's stunning environments and exciting exploration pulls you into a beautiful fantasy world. I spent hours exploring every corner of each location, upgrading weapons and armour and interacting with the diverse cast. The story progresses and builds up perfectly throughout the game with some truly spectacular moments. RPG fans and those that are fairly interested in the genre, really should play this game!



    + Plus points

    • Huge, colourful and diverse looking worlds to explore.
    • Excellent menu system that easily compares armour, weapons etc.
    • Story is well presented, with a large amount of great voice acting.

    - Minus points

    • Combat is repetitive, more tactical fighting should be encouraged to the player.
    • Like most RPG's a lot of the side quests are tedious time fillers.
    • Learning curve goes too fast into the overwhelming open and extremely large landscape that is the Hinterlands.

    Wolfenstein: The New Order

    Platform tested: PlayStation 4

    The Wolfenstein games have been around for years and while the original game revolutionised the industry with it's first person shooter genre, the sequels have had various degrees of success and quality. The first game became in retrospect overshadowed by Doom that followed from the same developers, id software. Nevertheless I've always felt the franchise carries weight with it, as a famous brand name within the gaming community. Both the Wolfenstein games from the two last generations have been lacklustre, however this new entry proves it's welcome to stay.

    Wolfenstein: The New Order is built on the same engine as Rage was, John Carmack's last id Software engine, with it's huge mega texture system and variable resolution to keep it's solid 60 fps framerate. Although this engine looks a little dated, New Order makes up for what it lacks in pure detailed graphics with it's smooth framerate, large open areas and fast paced gameplay. Don't get me wrong though, in a lot of areas WTNO looks great, I especially enjoyed the more futuristic settings graphically.

    The Swedish developers, MachineGames, have opted to make Wolfenstein a much stronger title storywise than the traditional games in the shooter genre. Especially considering this is a typical old-school shooter, with lots of hip firing and requiring movement skills rather than just relying on quick aiming like many newer shooters do. While I won't spoil some of the suprising and rather amazing plot twists and locations this game offers, I can safely say: If you think this game is just another WW2 shooter set in a Nazi castle, then you are in for a huge surprise! Quite a few in fact. Some of the locations you visit will really surprise you.

    What further strengthens the quality is that MachineGames have opted to give players a choice gameplay approach by allowing, and rewarding, the player to play the game with a stealthy approach in mind or run and gun action style. Each playstyle is catered for through the level designs and work very well together. I mixed things up and used both throughout the game. Levels are typically fairly large and offer open areas and various routes through them.

    Enemy AI gives an aggressive challenge, quite tricky in fact, but you always find a better way to take them down. Killing enemies in certain ways, or using certain weapons for a set amount for kills and headshots will unlock skill progression. Skills will in turn unlock abilities and strengthen your character. I ended up unlocking quite a few by just playing normally, although on some occasions I went after certain ones by looking at the skill tree to see what was needed to unlock them.

    What perhaps brings the game down is that on one side it does a lot of new and interesting ideas, but on the other side it never really digs down into them. At the end of the day it's just about shooting the hell out of nazis, and while the characters personalities offer great variety, they may come off as cheesy for others. You need to play the game with this in mind, it's typical 90's stereotype videogame tough guy you play.

    This is a shooter and a game that depicts cliché WW2 with overdone nazi experiments. It's about entertaining the player, not being grounded in reality or losing itself into new types of genres. For more causal gamers this tongue in cheek humour and cheesy dialogue may not come over as funny and easily misunderstood for being a b-movie style game. The thing is though, it's deliberate and thus makes it funny at times, even though the story is quite gruesome.

    "WTNO will most likely end up as sleeper hit...but it truly deserves to get more attention."

    Although you actually can play this game stealthy, WTNO really shines in it's "back to basics" old-school gameplay; large enemies, insane guns and just really quick and brutal shooting, requiring you to be more fast with your movement than simply the trigger. While it in no way reinvents the wheel, it does prove there's room for it to continue with a lot of uniqueness and originality in an otherwise crowded genre. WTNO will most likely end up as sleeper hit alongside chart toppers like Call of Duty and Halo, but it truly deserves to get more attention.

    If you like the Wolfenstein games or simply want a different type of shooter, or even perhaps you dig an alternate reality of WW2 with overdone technology, then The New Order is perfect for you. Prior to the game I did not expect to enjoy the game as much as I ended up doing!



      + Plus points

      • Story is surprisingly strong in a game like this
      • Lightning fast and super smooth 60 fps gameplay.
      • Stealth and action approaches are both rewarded and satisfying.

      - Minus points

      • Textures and geometry can look a bit rough in places.
      • Towards the end repetitiveness kicks in, making it perhaps outstay it's welcome.
      • Characters either humour you or come off as extremely cheesy.

      Thursday, 5 November 2015

      God-like puzzle solving

      Pneuma: Breath Of Life

      Platform tested: Xbox One

      This month's Xbox Live Gold game is Pneuma: Breath Of Life. An Unreal Engine 4 powered puzzle game played in first person. I gave it a go last evening and ended up completing the whole game!

      While perhaps going a bit too far with it's meta references and ensuring you that you might not be in a real world but *shocker* playing a game, through an energetic voice, Pneuma puts you in the role of a god. Introducing you with a walk through various rooms as the graphics become more elaborate along the way, you are introduced to the games simple controls and mechanics. I felt mostly that the narrated story felt like meaningless babble.

      The game is played from a first person perspective and the main goal is simply to progress through rooms in each of the games chapters. Puzzles are scattered along your way, hindering your progression until solved. A narrator hints vaguely solutions and keeps the walking around parts interesting. The actual puzzles are mainly based on viewing the environments and using your eyes to manipulate objects. Rooms often contain visual puzzles that need solving too, centred around using your field of view. There's actually hardly any moves you can do; the analogue sticks are for moving, X is used to interact with buttons and levers, and there's a jump button!

      Pneuma features visually stylish environments to walk through, with large and bright rooms decorated with marble walls and paintings. Much like the Greek god the game inherits it's title from, the style of the game has a Mediterranean palace feel to it. The artstyle has a bright and clean appearance which works beautifully and keeps the puzzles free of visual clutter.

      While I enjoyed the graphical effects like reflective surfaces and realistic lighting, the overall visuals being nothing ground breaking in my opinion, do sometimes look a little too much like an Unreal Engine 4 demo reel for my liking.

      Although I enjoyed my playthrough, Pneuma is an extremely short experience. It takes around one to two hours to complete, so keep that in mind if you plan on buying the game at a later point when it's no longer available free for Gold users. There's basically no replay value here as the puzzles are the same each time. It does offer some easy 1000/1000 achievement points if that's your thing though. I must mention that the loading times, which only occurs between chapters, are terribly optimised and feel like an eternity.

      All in all I had a short but fairly entertaining puzzle experience. Some of them really took a chunk of brain twisting to solve, but never feel unfair or insanely difficult which I appreciated. Recommended for free with Gold indeed, otherwise only if it sells at a bargain price.



        + Plus points

        • Clean and simplistic visuals and controls.
        • Nice setting.
        • Smart and original visual puzzles.

        - Minus points

        • Way too short with no replay value at all.
        • Loading times from hell.
        • Looks like an Unreal Engine 4 demo.