Monthly Archives: December 2012

Opinion: ______ of the Year!

Join me as I discuss the DLC of the Year, New IP of the Year and Game of the Year!

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Review: Dishonored

Dishonored is Arkane Studio’s first console game since Dark Messiah of Might and Magic back in 2006. In between they worked on Call of Duty: World at War‘s multiplayer as well as Bioshock 2‘s level design. I feel Arkane definitely pulled a lot of essence from the Bioshock universe to build interesting gameplay elements into the wonderfully crafted world that Dishonored hosts. That being said, I am not going to hold Dishonored on a pedestal like many other reviews have done as of late. Dishonored is good, to an extent, even great, but it is not the best game out there like some reviews have said.

Dishonored’s story revolves around Corvo, the royal bodyguard to Empress Jessamine Kaldwin and her daughter Emily in the sudo-steampunk industrial land of Dunwall. Corvo has just returned home from a voyage to another land seeking help from a deadly plague that has infested Dunwall. Tragic events occur, Emily is kidnapped, Corvo is framed and then he is thrown into the local prison dishonoring his name.

As the plot went on, I found it got easier and easier to predict what was going to happen. This was pretty disappointing to me because I love the setting of the game and felt there could have been a much deeper side to the story. That being said there are some things that are relatively unpredictable, but overall it made the experience kind of boring for long gameplay sessions. With Dunwall being such a cool setting I only wish that they didn’t make the story as generic as it is.

Luckily, Dunwall itself makes up for the problems with the story. Dunwall is such a brilliantly crafted city. It’s an industrial city that feels like a steampunk environment, but it really isn’t. It’s its own thing, featuring ruthless street thugs, plague infested man-eating rats and plenty of citizens in distress to offer you side-quests. Dunwall’s technology is diverse, using Whale Oil as a fuel, which adds to the lore and gameplay in multiple ways. Not only is this a land of ever-evolving machinery, it’s also a land of black magic. In the game you gain access these abilities, but it’s not your typical magic missiles. The powers you acquire are along the lines of possession, bending time, teleporting, summoning a rat swarm, etc. Dunwall is also fighting political corruption, as well as a deadly plague that creates Weepers. Weepers are sick people, who have lost their minds from the disease. They aren’t just blank empty zombies though, they’re still alive and a cure is a possibility. Because of this, killing Weepers always made me feel guilty despite that sometimes I had to.

The actual graphical design, however, is hit-or-miss in many locations. The muddiness of the graphics is complementary to Dunwall to a point, but sometimes I just thought “okay, that’s not muddy, that’s just untextured.” Sometimes, it really does look ugly which is too bad because that’s the only downside of Dishonored‘s environment. The locations and level design actually gave me a Halo: Combat Evolved feel. The missions are about the same length (give or take side-missions) and it plays out like a mission-based shooter with statistics at the end based on how you faired. This works really well with the formula that Arkane Studios has aimed for and compliments the overall game very well.

The city streets are designed with many different gameplay paths to choose from, which is my favorite thing about Dishonored. The game gives you the perfect amount of direction, a waypoint and an objective, other than that you’re set to find your own way to play it out. You could rewire the guard’s traps to work against them, possess a rat and crawl through a tiny hole to get past an obstacle or you can play “ghost” sneaking by every single guard in the game without ever being seen. Of course, you could also run in with a gun and kill everyone and everything in sight. This is why I liked Dishonored, because player choice is more important than almost anything else in the game.

The biggest bummer is that the guard A.I. is VERY predictable and they are not smart AT ALL. They don’t recognize that their numbers are dwindling or that they are even being watched when they clearly are. Compare that to other games, like Batman: Arkham City where they at least realize that they are being hunted, and then it becomes quite less stellar. Despite this flaw, the game still manages to bring the player into a truly realized world complete with player choice and fun gameplay overall.

I also, for the life of me, cannot remember any music from Dishonored. I know it was there and that it wasn’t bad, but nothing was memorable. The sound effects were pretty standard and served their purpose. The squishing, stabbing, slashing, shooting, landing and everything in between was all standard and is in no way special. Not a bad thing, since many action games now have pretty forgettable scores, but also not a good thing, since some have amazing scores.

The controls are solid and feel good. The button layout is on par with other big titles and I never once had a problem with figuring out which button did what. They offer a convenient hot-key system for your favorite weapons and abilities, which really helps cut back on menu searching. Once in a while I felt they tried a bit too hard to immerse you with head bobbing effects and other implemented movement effects, but they are easily toggled on and off in the options. If you’re an avid first-person player, you will have absolutely no problem with the controls or camera effects of this game. It may even feel second nature to you, like other games from that niche may.

Overall, Dishonored is a good game. They offer you many ways to play and so many alternate routes that you’ll often play through a level a second or third time thinking “Man, how did I miss that before? That’s cool!” You can fight through the legion of guards with your clockwork pistol, sword or offensive magic attacks. You could also sneak by them assassinating them one by one, planting traps, rewiring their weapons to work against them, use the environment to kill, knock them out and hide the bodies, manipulate how the guards react, etc. Dunwall is a magnificently crafted city, and I really look forward to seeing if this builds into a franchise. If the textures were a bit more pretty, the story was better and the A.I. was smarter, I would say this is an absolute must play for everybody, but instead I offer this: If you are a fan of Bioshock, stealth games, shooters, even RPGs to an extent, you will definitely want to check this game out. It’s an awesome and fun game, despite its flaws.

Badges:

*Recommended

*Replayable-Friendly

*Genre-Blending (Stealth, Action/Adventure, Role-Playing)

*Predictions Imminent

I give Dishonored a 3/5.

Opinion: Game vs. Experience

Gaming has become one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the shortest amount of time. With such a wide diversity of genres, we see games that span everything from epic hundred-hour fantasy adventures to the short and sweet pleasure of shooting a pig with a bird. Today, games come in all shapes and sizes, and many of them can leave a heavy impact on our everyday lives. However, an argument has been a popular topic as of recent… the argument that some games are not “Games” at all.

Gaming is changing. Some would say for the better, some would say for the worse. I, however, see it evolving as an art form and becoming more and more prominent in non-gaming society every day. Now more than ever we are seeing games come out that are about story and plot more so than gameplay. Some of these don’t even feature a “lose state” which is something many people would use in their argument against some games being “games”. A fine example of this is Home.

Home is an indie horror game, but it isn’t your normal horror game. It’s a psychological adventure where you uncover clues and put them together yourself. In the end you decide on what happened and why things happened. It’s often argued this isn’t a game because there is no win or lose state. My argument, however, is that it really isn’t much different than your typical adventure game. It’s a slightly different KIND of adventure game, but it still features puzzles and obstacles in its own way that would help define it as a game. However, I would easily say that this is more of an experience than a game.

So my thoughts are that some games are better experiences, while some are better games. Now that I’ve explained myself, let’s do a compare/contrast. Let’s look at two very popular games from the same genre that came out last year around the same time. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Dark Souls are two games from the same genre, yet they are very much so different. Skyrim is about Role-Playing whereas Dark Souls is about progression. Let’s go into details on how to define these two games.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is, in my opinion, one of the greatest Action Role-Playing games of all time. “WOAH STEVEN, NO WAY MAN!” Yes, hear me out. Skyrim allows the player to role-play, build a backstory, and define why a character makes decisions better than almost any game out there in the market. In other words, the reasons many people think Daggerfall, Morrowind and Oblivion are better are the same reasons that make Skyrim better in another way. The leniency of Skyrim‘s progression system, skill system, and plot are what allow the player to truly be able to role-play at its finest. Here’s an example. I’m role-playing as Steven the Mighty, a strong and renowned fighter known for his devastating swordplay. One day Steven woke up and heard voices in his head telling him he is the chosen one and must put down his sword and shield to learn the Arcane Arts. The voice proceeds to tell him that they have awoken a power within him to learn them swiftly. Changing how a character plays or interacts with others is extremely easy in Skyrim. In other games, it would be difficult to make a fighter character suddenly a mage character. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is a better experience this way, because oftentimes this leniency is what ruins the gameplay and breaks the core mechanics of the game.

Dark Souls is, in my opinion, one of the greatest Action Role-Playing games of all time. Dark Souls is all about progression; from PvE, Co-Op and PvP the rewards are always geared towards building your character to be stronger. My argument here is that Dark Souls is a better “game” than Skyrim, but a worse “experience.” Dark Souls is defined by extremely fair, but difficult gameplay mechanics and rule set on how to play. You’ll never play a session of Dark Souls thinking “Wow, I broke the game at that point because of some leniency.” The point of Dark Souls is not to role-play, but to advance towards personal goals of beating the game, hitting the highest level, or doing Player vs. Player combat. This in itself falls perfectly into that definition of “game” that so many people are using nowadays.

I honestly think The Walking Dead, Home, Journey, The Unfinished Swan, Skyrim, Dark Souls and every other game out there are all games within themselves. Some offer a better personal “experience” in their own way. I personally believe whatever game is your cup of tea is the better choice for your “game” AND “experience”. In the end it’s up to you to decide what you define as a game or not. Let me know how you feel in the comments below!

Miniview: Skyrim: Dragonborn

The past two Skyrim downloadable contents, Dawnguard and Hearthfire, were both pretty lacking to say the least. Dawnguard wasn’t necessarily lacking content – it had a decent length quest-line as well as a few new weapons and powers and a couple new areas. The reason that it was lacking was because Bethesda charged $20 for it. It was honestly worth half of that in my opinion. Hearthfire wasn’t a bad deal, though. They charged $5 for exactly what it was; barely any content. It was boring at times and a hassle to run back and forth between different locations gathering materials for a boring pre-built house. Luckily, Dragonborn skips the problems of the last two, and for the price of $20, it’s definitely the best deal of the bunch.

Dragonborn brings players to the land of Solsthiem, a small island in between Morrowind and Skyrim. We’ve been here once already, in the Bloodmoon expansion for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, but the land has changed since the Red Mountain eruption. The story consists of cultists working to revive the first dragonborn, Miraak, who intends to kill “the false dragonborn”, or in other words, you. After an attempted assassination, you track the cultists back to Solsthiem. It was a very familiar and heartwarming feeling when I landed on Solsthiem and “Peaceful Waters” from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was playing in the background.

The main quest is actually a very cool story, involving a Shaman, Dragons, Dwemer Ruins, Wizards, and Hermaeus Mora (the daedric prince of fate and knowledge). Hermaeus Mora just so happens to be my favorite daedra, so the fact that he contributes to the story so much makes me biased. Although it’s cool, it’s also kind of short. I finished the main quest after a couple hours of playing. That being said, there are other quests that branch off of the main quest as well as side quests that have nothing to do with the main quest. In all honesty, my only complaint with Dragonborn was that, although the new weapons, armor and items are really cool (and I mean REALLY cool), they don’t play well with my level 65 character, which is my main character. That being said, there are MANY more reasons to buy Dragonborn than to skip it.

Badges:

*Recommended

*Nostalgic

*Awesome New Content

*Hermaeus Mora

I give Skyrim: Dragonborn a VERY strong 4/5.

Opinion: What Does it Mean to be a Gamer?

Just today, a friend, Marcus, asked on the 04401 Gaming boards:

Philosophical question for the evening. What does it mean in your opinion to be a gamer? What sacrifices have you made in the name of gaming?”

Well there are two answers to that question.

It means I find a vast, fascinating relationship with the game itself and from the game I find my own strengths, weaknesses, ideas, and beliefs. Sometimes, gaming can be more than just playing the game. You can look back at past adventures and successes to see where you as a person stand. You can see how and where you would make decisions and from that you gain a bit of foreseeable insight on the future. Sometimes you can even be inspired to take a dive into real goals with games at the core of that inspiration. In short, gaming can make you realize who you are, how you do things, what you might do in the future and they can inspire you to bend your will to strive to bigger and better things.

An example is that in middle school and high school I always wanted to be a video game critic. I wanted to write about games. Near the end of high school, I lost a lot of that inspiration because after thorough research on the subject, many game journalists basically flat out say “You have to be really, really lucky.” This caused actually caused some depression for a bit (which I drowned out with more video games) and lead me to push towards more traditional goals, like opening a game based store.

Well, after I read a brilliant article on 1up.com (I can’t for the life of me find it, if I do I will place it hear. It’s a great read, I really wish I can find it again), I realized there isn’t much more to it than being a game writer. If I want to do it, I need to just do it. That’s why I write this blog, that’s why I started 04401 Gaming and that’s why I write for Mainegamer.com I do all of these things for one thing – I love games. That is the key to success in the world of game journalism. The 1up article made me realize that if I ever want to be successful in the field, all I have to do is do it. Even if, in the end, I wasn’t an iconic writer for IGN, 1up, or Gamespot I would still be successful as a writer to myself. I’ve put a ton of pressure on myself lately and the inspiration has all come from the games I love to play.

That is the first answer.

The second answer is a bit different.

It’s about the community. I love my fellow gamers. I see them as more than friends, but like brothers and sisters. A lot of you feel like family to me. It’s even more than just sharing the same passions, beliefs and hobbies. It goes much more indepth than that. When I go to PAX East and watch the Penny Arcade Q&A, I hear from fellow gamers some of the most inspiring, amazing, and emotional stories. The great thing about it, is that many of the times I can relate in ways that most people wouldn’t be able too. I’ve been in their shoes, I’ve shared the same experiences, we’ve played the same games and have walked towards the same goals. That is a big part of it, is the overall sharing of a goal. When I talk to a friend about a new game, we will have incredibly long conversations about different parts of the game. That connection is something that nothing can sever, because even if there is a fallout in the friendship, we always have something to fall back on and bring it back together.

Look at the work I’ve done with 04401 Gaming. I didn’t do this for myself. I did this for all of you. I put this group together to welcome gamers new and old. I want everyone to feel welcome to the group whether they are a Hardcore gamer or just someone who plays occasionally. You’re always welcome here. It’s the kind of goal I have had since I was little. Bring people together to enjoy themselves. What is life without enjoyment? I feel this is my way of giving back to the community, since you’ve all done so much for my (whether you know it or not).

Not only the visual community though, you also have to think about the “hidden” community. The game developer isn’t always hidden, but a lot of them are relatively quiet individuals. As a company, they may be noisy, but as a person they are usually quiet. However, as a gamer, you definitely have a connection to some developers whether you like it or not. Through the game the devs tell you a story, with that story they base a connection. They put thoughts, ideas and struggles inspired from their personal life, and make the player go through the same struggles (but with less punishment). Not only that, but sometimes they even put different methods of defeating said struggles based on how more than one person may or may not do it, or based on how they may have done it differently. Also think of recurring objects, themes, ideas and jokes in games. That puts more emphasis on your experience in the game. If you were to ever meet a developer, or someone else who has played the game, you can discuss the things you did and judge how differently you tackle struggles compared to the other person. This is a bit different than connecting through other media, because other media tells an unchanging story, one with a single path that everyone experiences. They may not take the experience it exactly the same, but it is the same experience. In games it’s different. It opens paths for larger connections.

All that leads to…

Gaming means a lot to me (obviously). It has inspired goals, challenges, friendships, paths, life decisions and habits. It has forged my life more than any other thing I’ve experienced has, even beyond my experience in schools and work. I’ve made many sacrifices for myself, my future, my friends, my community and *regrettably* my health (stress and long nights aren’t the best thing to do to your body) to help forge a local community. Games have always helped me through my struggles, and I think everyone who dislikes games should give them a second chance and look at how they can help you discover yourself and build advantages in their life.

So do what you can to help the community. To quote Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick [to fellow gamers].”

Next time you’re mad that someone spammed you with a lightning bolt, or drop shot’d you, step back. Don’t use derogatory terms and crude insults. Instead of calling him a “shit stained garbage digger” make sure you set an example for the rest of the community, even if he is a dick. Try to bring light to where he was wrong in his actions (of calling you a dick, not because he cheaped you to death). Gaming makes up most of the population of the United States, if gamers start to bring peace among each other, they will also bring peace out of the virtual world and into the real world. In other words, gaming and gamers can change the world.

Let’s fucking do this.