Conan Exiles is a funny game. From one perspective it's yet another early access sandbox survival game. From another it's ARK: Survival Evolved with the dinosaurs swapped out. It doesn't seem like much of a recommendation, being a reskin of another game. The Hyborian Age mythos seems grafted on. The main menu music is someone doing a downbeat version of Basil Poledouris' Anvil of Crom. The opening cinematic in classic MMO fashion has nothing to do with the game. Yet the game itself is passable enough. However what I want to talk about isn't the game.
Let's talk about the philosophy of Conan: Exiles.
Continue reading "Our Lord Conan"
You might be forgiven for thinking I played a lot of games this year. Really what I played was VR tech demos. I'll deal with them separately, after all most of them don't last more than an hour or two. Instead let's dig into the meaty games that were played this year. Remember they don't have to have come out this year, this is just the first year in which I touched them.
Deathwing It's been a bit of a Warhammer Christmas but they can't all be winners. While Deathwing has it in the atmosphere department everything else in the game feels janky and unfinished. Space Hulk was never my favourite board game and this isn't likely to convert me.
Pillars of Eternity This looked meh to me from the beginning and while I did find it a pleasant game which I completed to the finish I've little desire to go back to it. There were only a few interesting aspects to the world and no moments that stick out overall. Everything was serviceable, a firm meh.
Star Wars: The Old Republic I don't know why I tried it it to be honest. A drunken dare? It doesn't do anything interesting as an MMO or a Star Wars game. It's just a time filler. If this is what KOTOR turned into, leave me out of it.
The Elder Scrolls Online Another MMO, I have terrible taste. Elder Scrolls lasted longer in my mind than Star Wars but it's the same instanced off skinner box, just with larger areas. Play only with friends and murder them afterwards to preserve your secret.
Divinity: Original Sin This was the first year I actually dug into Divinity Original Sin. There were some false start attempts to co-op with friends but it's not really a co-op game. It's the sort of RPG that is more enjoyed alone in a dark room as the night draws ever closer... But seriously it's a fun game with just enough of everything. Credit goes to the simple but effective combo combat system which allows you to spam your favourite moves or experiment.
Mordheim It's Warhammer and Warhammer is good. The studio have done a fairly faithful recreation of the tabletop game but put their own spin with the forced over the shoulder cam that keeps you involved in the action. It's enough to make it its own thing feeling distinct from XCOM. I've only played a little but I want more.
Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun Likewise I only played a little of Shadow Tactics but it has all the fun of the old Commando games or Robin Hood, with the added bonus of being about super ninja samurai happy time. The developers know their audience as the first prompt of the game asks if you want the dialogue in Japanese with English subtitles.
Stellaris A strong contender for game of the year, Stellaris marked itself out from all the usual Space Empire games by being in real time. After the first few games it can get a bit samey but the developers have released promising DLC to spice up the weaker areas.
Total Warhammer Alas, there was nothing anyone could do to take away Total Warhammer's crown for game of the year. I'll admit I was hyped for the release but waited until this year to pick it up. Every expectation of mine has been met. It provides the Warhammer experience AND the Total War experience. The Orks are fighty, the Chaos is foul and every zombie is rendered with the artistry a big studio like CA can provide.
Did you enjoy The Elder Scrolls series, a venerable list of RPGs from Bethesda Studios with a focus on open world exploration and quantity in gameplay? Well then you'll momentarily enjoy reminders of those games while you're playing The Elder Scrolls Online. You'll turn and recognise some architecture from Skyrim, or catch a reference to a guild from Daggerfall.
One of the two things that Elder Scrolls Online is a big pile of references. This means that, every time I play it I think about better games. Thanks to the Elder Scrolls Online I really want to install OpenMW. Now, you might say World of Warcraft was a big pile of references to its predecessors but WoW at the time was a new way of looking at the Warcraft world. It had a wow factor as it let you walk inside a Mage's Tower that in previous games had only been viewable from the outside. Elder Scrolls has done it all before. Some of it with less visual acuity, some with more. The only thing Online offers over those other games is the promise of multiplayer.
The other thing that the Elder Scrolls Online manages to construct is the perfect skinner box. The homogenization of areas is extreme with each map varying only in how the dungeons and points are laid out. They all have some dolmens, a few open dungeons, a group dungeon and a list of things to do.There's plenty of variation in the individual quests and the vistas can be compelling but you can't shake the feeling you're ticking off boxes on a checklist. That checklist is the achievement list. Even at the faction level each faction has a starter zone, then one main area for each level range. The DLCs are a welcome change of pace as they're their own areas, breaking out of the series of droning progression. They must have realised at some point what a drudge it would be because the One Tamriel update allows you to level anywhere as any alliance. You can hop over to the high level Dominion zone and quest there as a low level argonian. This ironically brings in Oblivion's problem with level scaling, namely that every fight feels the same.
So it's a skinner box full of references to better games. Does Elder Scrolls Online have anything to recommend it? Well yes. The skill system is good. It's got the Elder Scrolls level from use along with perks that can be bought using skill points at certain levels. There's plenty of skills as well allowing for a good deal of freedom that might not be apparent from the starting classes. Skills aren't all handed to you immediately either. They appear to go along with the guilds you join or character perks you earn. Werewolves and vampires are implemented in a manner that makes them feel earned. Crime is its own venture that can be quite profitable.
The game has undergone some huge revisions from launch. Tamriel Unlimited, One Tamriel with more on the way like Player Housing. It might be enough to keep your interest until Elder Scrolls VI. For me it's only fun with friends.
How strange to look back on nostalgia with nostalgia. Here's a post from 2014 reminiscing on my time in WoW. Back then it was almost ten years since I'd played it. Now it definitely is over twenty. However this short post is to mark the final chapter in my WoW adventure. I've deleted my Mangos server, no longer having a desire to work on it. The nostalgia has run its course and now even the memories are faded, replaced probably by Skyrim or some other adventure. Goodbye World of Warcraft and thanks for all the fishing.
I'm finally going into Pillars of Eternity, under advisement. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm an aficionado of the Infinity Engine games. Just last year I started another Baldur's Gate II play through only to drop it when I realised I'd already done everything. Yes, everything. From Kangaxx all the way to the golden pantaloons.
Pillars of Eternity is inspired by the Infinity engine games. It was advertised and plays like a mix of them. It feels like its own spin on them certainly as everything is reminiscent but always slightly different. But does trying to live up to the entire legacy at once cost it in the end?
-The first Infinity Engine game shows its age. What Pillars borrows from this is the world map. Like Baldur's One, it's grid-like with its areas and progress consists of progressing through the areas to reach the other side, opening them up one by one. It has a lot of wilderness areas that are revisited only occasionally. Apart from this it's hard to see any comparison and Pillars undoubtedly stacks up better. Baldur's One was exceeded by its own sequel.
Icewind Dale/Icewind Dale II
The two Icewind Dales fall mostly together due to their shared focus, being dungeon romps of mostly linear progression. Icewind Dale II was a little stronger on story and characters, while Icewind Dale One had it in the atmospheric locations department. Icewind Dale influences are clearly seen. Some of the battle music is a call-back and the expansion The White March takes place in snowy reaches involving abandoned dwarven holds and a remote village struggling to survive against evil armies. However Pillars isn't focused on dungeon romps as much so it inevitably suffers compared against the Icewinds. It simply can't afford to do its dungeons the same justice because they're not the main event. Od Nua I'll get to.
The most character and story driven of the games. Torment has its own sequel planned in Tides of Numenera. In Torment you're not out to save the world, in fact you can't even save yourself. The best you can do is fix what you broke. Pillars does evoke a little of that in its story. It feels like it’s on the right track in terms of quest resolution. There are choices however frequently the choices are just 'Kill this guy' or 'Kill the first guy who asked you to kill this guy'. The companions too never quite reach the character they have in Torment. A personal preference of mine is for the 'Just you and your party' style of the Infinity engine games. The newer style of 'Everyone joins and the extras stay at your base' always feels too gamey to me, as if they're nothing but bundles of stats waiting for you to take them out for a spin.
Baldur's Gate II
The big daddy of the Infinity Engine games and the one most people remember. Baldur's Gate II balanced story, gameplay, characters and freedom into one big bundle. Pillars definitely positions itself as the successor to BGII, trying to do similar things with a Stronghold, an optional massive dungeon and a single main villain carrying out evil plots that involve shady practices by the Gods. Here unfortunately is where Pillars really falls down. Especially where it directly apes BGII. In the villain department, Pillars is lacking. Its main villain just does things, he's never really given a compelling motivation. Od Nua, which is Pillars' answer to Watchers' Keep feels thinly spread, with too many floors and not enough happening. There's many occasions where we're told rather than shown events happening. After the Gilded Vale in the first Act Pillars seems too concerned with opening out into a Baldur's Gate One style, losing the impact of the story. Ultimately Pillars fails on its ambition. Its plot is much more mature compared to Baldur's Gate II but also more abstract. It doesn't feel like a problem that can be solved by just beating the bad guy so when you do there's little sense of closure.
As a comparison against all the Infinity Engine games, Pillars vastly improves on the game system. Infinity relied on 2E D&D, always a shaky proposition for implementation. Its own system updates much of that, while still feeling similar. Wizards and fighters are still there but they feel new and fresh. It's not without its problems, stats are sometimes counter-intuitive and there's little incentives to level outside your class abilities but it's still a step forward.
There's not much to add beyond what I've already said. I could talk at length about minutiae like itemization or the specifics of certain quests but my ultimate feeling is the same. Pillars is a good game but not a great one and that's in part due to living in the shadow of its heritage. It's doubtful a sequel will be able to step out beyond that. The best that can happen is the making of a new game using the same engine, as Infinity was used, in that way Pillars could eventually be itself Baldur's Gate One, the aged parent to a whole family.
A guest blog by our very own Heroh
Anybody who is anybody knows that Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013) is the best game ever. Full stop. And what better time than during an anniversary to release the remastered bundle of the games that everybody loves? Sept 13, 2016 marks the anniversary release of Bioshock The Collection which will include the game of the century – Bioshock Infinite (hereafter BS:Infinite, or is that Infinite BS? HEYYYOOO!). Spoilers – but not sorry, because you played this YEARS ago, remember?
Continue reading "Bioshock Infinite: A TON OF FUN Until It’s Not"
What to make of Stellaris? Another Space 4x game, another Paradox sandbox game. Every gamer has longed to conquer space since Galactic Civilizations. To seek out new civilizations and beat them up. My last space game was Endless Space, technologically engaging but dry. Before that there was Galactic Civ and Alpha Centauri. How does Stellaris measure up to these and to previous Paradox games like Crusader Kings 2? Read on.
Continue reading "Stellaris: And also stars"
A short demo with more credits than content. There isn't even a sandbox where you can idle. The demo is just, showpiece, a sample button pressing puzzle and then some deflecting shots with a lightsaber. You can tell those credits had to rattle this out in record time before jumping back onto a real project. It's a mere taster of what can be done in VR. But that lightsaber...
Let me tell you about that lightsaber. It doesn't feel like much, because you're just holding a plastic controller in reality. It doesn't look like much, because it's just a shaft of light tied to the controllers movements. It sounds like everything. From the low hum when its still to the loud vmmm when its swung. And the VR makes it real. You move your hand and the lightsaber moves. You swing it overhead and it purrs above you. You twirl the controller awkwardly, because the controller has a big round top that isn't built for twirling, and the lightsaber forms a web of protection before your eyes, blaster bolts reversing direction as they bounce off.
Don't be afraid to admit it. The screenshots look terrible. All those jagged edges and the tiny resolution. But again this isn't what the player sees, this is just the output to the flat screen.
I'm not afraid to say ILM have done a fantastic job with the visuals. There's all sorts of particle effects and photorealistic deserts you won't see in any other VR product. It really is a visual stunner. The gameplay is the weakest portion of this game. It's a cinematic event rather than a gameplay bonanza. It is one of the demos though, the kind you want to show to friends so they can experience VR. It's earned a recommendation from me on those merits.
Vanishing Realms has an interesting enough premise. Basic, but evocative. You're something like Gordon Freeman, a voiceless troubleshooter summoned by unknown powers to deal with a situation. What follows from there is a simple dungeon crawl. It's a launch title, showing the power of the technology more than anything. It also showcases why trying to take screenshots is annoying. These are the result of screenshotting while in-game. It's capturing the output to the flat screen rather than the two monitors that compose the headset. Not that a screenshot of those would be any better. They'd simply be two flat images instead of one. You'll just have to imagine the 3 Ds.
There's two aspects to Vanishing Realms. First is the "Whoah, they added that". Like how they have mining and archery. Well why shouldn't they? Other games have those features. So let's dispense with that. Yes Vanishing Realms has an inventory system so what. How do all these reinvented wheels work? Competently enough. Sometimes the inventory jumps around and it can be awkward trying to change weapons. Mining is just swinging a pick at things and collecting what drops out.
So what's good about it? The fact that it's VR. Combat is the most viscereal but just walking(teleporting) around is the wow factor. You start out underground with fleeting glimpses of the sky, so when you finally emerge into a quiet night it's breathtaking. The monsters are cartoonish but vicious. The fights are rough, though I probably wasn't in any real danger I spent most of my time cowering behind a shield and swinging wildly. There's also enough variation in the monsters to keep you busy and when multiple types show up together it becomes an exercise in tactics. Traps are not quite as great. There's some swinging blades in certain areas but it can be a bit hit or miss on whether you're in their arc. Other stuff like rockfalls are just decorative.
There isn't all that much to Vanishing Realms. I clocked in about two hours on both the first complete realm and the second, arena fighting one. Like most VR programs its really just a demo. A preview of what is to come. There's a lot of figuring out to do, will we be able to implement walking without motion sickness? Is there a fluid way to handle inventory? Will it be possible to do more environmental hazards? Well, Vanishing Realms is a good start.
After 5 years of work I've finally modded Skyrim to the degree I want it. I can step back and say there is nothing left to take away from this masterpiece (Well, maybe some better billboards). Come away with me.
Continue reading "Fully modded"
Yes we're on a sound bender. I had a problem in Skyrim and maybe you have too. As you walk past an NPC they begin talking, but then as you pass them the audio would cut out for a brief second, then return. This wasn't a game engine problem as the NPCs weren't pausing their speech. It was something to do with the positional audio. Experimentation showed it to happen mostly when they were at your 5 or 7 o'clock.
There's a number of posts which let me know I'm not the only one who suffered this. It's something to do with the interplay of Realtek Audio Drivers with Skyrim. Skyrim acts as if you have a full set of front, rear and subwoofer and Realtek outputs the audio to speakers that don't exist.
There's a number of possible fixes available.
1. Switch on Virtual Surround in audio options
2. Switch to 5.1 Speakers and turn off the extra speakers
3. Uninstall Realtek Audio Drivers and use default/other manufacturer
In my case no. 3 worked with no loss in the Audio quality. That annoying bug is gone for good!
Welcome to the Dark Side of the Moon, by which I mean Burning Crusade. The Soundtrack for Burning Crusade is the product of the same team as the original World of Warcraft OST, just a little more so. After the massive scale of the original game, Burning Crusade afforded a chance for a more focused approach, with less zones overall. And that’s why the full version runs to some nine hours long!
Continue reading "Touring WoW: A musical journey part 3"
The theme park ride never ends. Today I thought I'd go through the highlights of the Original and Burning Crusade Soundtrack. The music of World of Warcraft is a journey in its own right. A journey you could miss if you turn it off. I had an AddOn that allowed you to play music in-game without having to tab out. I used that for a while. Sometimes I had youtube running in the background. Sometimes I listened to nothing besides the hum of the computer fan. I always came back to the game music though. So where did it come from?
The soundtracks to World of Warcraft were created by a small group of people. Here they are. They're Blizzard regulars and all worked on the Warcraft III soundtrack. It was made entirely with synthesized instruments because obviously computers make better music than puny humans. The soundtrack is vast in scope, attempting to encompass the world. The original soundtrack had to cover two continents of varying terrain, remember. But how does it measure up?
From what I understand there's no technical tricks or incredibly moving harmonics but there is a harmony. The tracks blend into the scenery, accentuating it without overpowering. Every new area brings the stirring of a tune, a scene setter for what to expect. Of course one of the big flaws of the original game was quantity. There were only so many tracks composed for the first version of World of Warcraft, each divided into shorter subtracks that played individually. A zone or region of the world would have a particular track dedicated to it with its subzones each tied to a subtrack. Thus over the course of exploring the entire zone you would hear the entire track. The problem was though that there were so many zones, not to mention the fact that each zone usually had at least 8 subzones. That's an awful lot of bread to spread not so much butter on. So tracks were re-used. The track to the Barrens also featured in the Blasted Lands. Feralas has the same track as Stranglethorn Vale. Where zones shared a thematic, they also shared a soundtrack. Or was the thematic tie created by the music?
As we've seen some of these zones were neglected in content so naturally they suffered in terms of ambience soundtracks too. The original game was very ambitious and the corners cut show in the dilution of the soundtrack. The Burning Crusade didn't suffer such dilution and comes out feeling a lot stronger because of it. Over the next few posts in this series I'll explore some highlights from the old soundtrack.
(Page 1 of 3, totaling 40 entries) » next page
What it's all about
This is the Devpit, where all my ideas, projects and thoughts end up. Have a dig and find something that interests you.