Shadowgate - PC Review

This throwback to the NES classic hits almost all the right notes

Hyperdimension Neptunia Re;Birth1 - Vita Review

The original game was charming, but flawed. Re;Birth 1 fixes almost all of that.

Akiba's Trip - PS3 Review

It's like playing an anime

Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar - PC Review

Some good takes on the tactical genre, but somewhat lacking in depth in the end

Whispering Willows - PC Review

A memorable, haunting point-and-click adventure

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gaming Thoughts... 9/15/11 - Word of Warcraft



So my last post got me all nostalgic as I thought back to some of my earlier Blizzard titles like Warcraft, Diablo and obviously StarCraft. I spent a lot of time on these games. But like many people, the Blizzard game I probably spent the most time on was World of Warcraft. In fact, I've been a player on two different occasions.

I did not play right when World of Warcraft began, but I was not terribly far behind. I spent a good deal of time playing Alliance and got a couple of characters to level 60, and even went ahead and did the same for some Horde on another server afterward. I was really big into it, had quite a few epics and eventually got tired of playing and just quit.



I was an awkward MMO player though, especially that first time around. I almost never grouped, at all. I hardly ever did raids of any kind, which meant I was missing tons of content. Sure, I'd go back and run lower level stuff when I was bored/high enough level to solo it, but I just never really wanted to group much.

Fast forward a couple of years or so, and several of my old real-life buddies I used to play D&D with are all playing World of Warcraft on the same server. They wanted me to start up again and went so far as to chip in and get me the expansions. I played (very) heavily once again, and shot multiple characters up through the ranks again. I was even more diligent this time, having all of the crafting professions completely covered, tons of really good gear and even ran instances now with my friends. It was certainly a lot more fun the second time around, but still not ideal.



On the one hand, I noticed I was sinking just an absolute ton of time into the game. I play video games very heavily, and even I had to admit my time spent was probably unhealthy. The other thing is I still tried to be a husband, parent, full-time employee and found myself distracted when trying to group. There's no pause button. If a kid gets sick or dinner boils over, I have to hop up and deal with it. Now, my friends were pretty understanding - they know me, know my family, but it still made grouping with other people pretty much a migraine for me.



Once I was at the top of the food chain yet again, all that was left was lots of grinding. The sense of exploration was gone and it was just more of a chore than fun - and steadily sapping away some money every month to boot. So, this account eventually went the way of my old one - given to someone else I knew.

Still, when I look back on it, I still enjoyed Wold of Warcraft a good deal. I'm a big fan of RPG games. I played more than my share of computerized/console titles and D&D over the years. I run a MUD with my wife, which I usually describe as online, text-based dungeons and dragons. It's easy to see the influence MUDs have had on the MMO community over the years. They were the first MMO's - just without graphics.



Unfortunately the Warcrafts of the world have had their own impact on MUDs, and it fewer and fewer people invest in MUDs than they used to. Our own game used to have 50+ players a night, and now on a good night we see maybe 10. I think if my wife had gotten into World of Warcraft, I'd still be playing it today. I love doing things with her - the MUD is an example of that, but she tried it and just never took to Warcraft - but at least she did try it.



Still, I have a lot of fun memories from my time spent there. I've tried looking at some of the free MMO's out there like Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings - and I once won a copy of Guildwars, and while there's good things about each of them, none of them ever captured my imagination quite the same way World of Warcraft did.

Any of you reading ever play a MUD, or a graphic MMO? Did you stick to it? Were you a loner or a grouper? Do you still play?


Monday, September 12, 2011

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty - PC Review

I have long been a big fan of Blizzard's games. I was absolutely hooked by the WarCraft titles, and I beat Diablo with every class. StarCraft was another title I spent a good deal of time on in college and like most people - a majority of that time was spent on the multiplayer mode.

The idea is still very much the same in this sequel. Three primary races battle with one another through a real time strategy game that balances landscapes, resource management and whether aggression or defense is the way to play. There is a campaign mode, online modes and in-game achievements to be had in StarCraft II.

Many, many (many) years later, StarCraft 2 comes out and with it a world of expectations that were so high, it seemed likely they could not be met. So, does Blizzard's legendary polish show through, or is this game one that proves not to be worth the wait?


Graphics - 9:

There's plenty of detail and the top settings are something to behold. That said, I've seen plenty of older machines run this game too, and while it doesn't look nearly as good on them, you still don't see much in the way of slowdown occurring. While the majority of your time will be spent on the field of battle, there are plenty of things to look at between levels too, and while the animations can be a bit stiff at times, overall the characters and news broadcasts are fun to watch. The movie cut scenes look awesome, and most Blizzard ones tend to do.


Sound & Music - 9:

And just like the broadcasts are fun to watch, they're even more entertaining to listen to. Music can come at you a few different ways. The jukebox is actually pretty cool between battles and the music during combat ranges from good to amazing depending on the scenario. Some of the voice soundbites you get from units when directing them can get repetitive - just like they could in the old game - but the actual voice acting for cut scenes and scripted sections of combat are well-done.


Gameplay - 9:

There is a lot to do here, but the basic premise works great. The strategy is varied from map to map, the multiplayer is well-balanced and it is easy to move around in menus and on the battlefield. There are some really good tutorials to be had, which helps newer players along and the way you earn new units and progress in the campaign mode is excellent for preparing you for the multiplayer.

One complaint - my video card (a fairly standard Nvidia one) apparently has a known bug with the training videos. I never crashed or anything - the rest of the game ran great, but the training videos are supposed to start on their own and I've seen plenty of other systems handle them fine, but my particular Nvidia card set apparently freezes them on the first frame and doesn't allow the videos to run. I contacted Blizzard's tech support, and the representative I got in touch with was very friendly, but not terribly knowledgeable. I made sure all of my drivers were up to date and included a dxdiag and nfo file upon first contacting them (I do software tech support, after all) and the first thing they suggested was that I update my drivers - even though I had clearly stated that I had in the original ticket and even linked to them on Nvidia's website.

The ticket bounced around for three days and then the agent said he found a post on the forums about my problem, where a moderator had said this was a known issue that would be fixed. The forum post was from April and as of a couple of weeks ago at the end of July, it still was not fixed. Not a huge deal in the end, I still enjoyed what I was doing, but it was a somewhat annoying little episode.


Intangibles - 9:

The campaign mode is not terribly long - I beat it in a couple of days, but there are quite a few achievements you can earn, and things you can do to unlock things like profile pictures for when you play online. There is also some replay value to be had here as you can make several choices along the way that affect the storyline in relatively superficial but still interesting ways. You can also upgrade units based on money and technology points found. It seems to me you would have to play at least twice to fully unlock all of the achievements associated with the technology options.

Add the various online modes (which I have not made much use of yet, but online isn't my primary interest in most games), custom content and achievements to the mix of the single player mode, and you have plenty to do.


Overall - 9:

The game was consistently excellent and there's enough content here to keep fans of competitive multiplayer and single player fans alike happy. I got this game for Easter from my wife and it took me a little while to get at it (silly game backlog), but once I started I couldn't put it down for days. My son, who is not much of a fan of strategy games loved this one as well. He doesn't usually play turn-based strategy at all, and neither of us could think of any RTS titles he had tried before, but he was suddenly interested in them after giving this title a try.