Thursday, September 3, 2015

Pillars of Eternity: The White March Pt.1 - Review

The White March - Part 1 is the first of at least two planned DLC-sized expansions for Pillars of Eternity, Obsidian Entertainment's recent isometric RPG. See my review of the base game here (short version, I liked it a lot). This expansion introduces a new region of the world map with several explorable areas, a bunch of new quests, new enemies, new types of equipment, and a couple new companions. The new content takes place roughly in the middle of the main campaign, once you've begun the second of three acts and have gained access to the player stronghold, Caed Nua, but before moving into the game's final dungeon.  

It certainly makes sense for Obsidian to put the DLC in the middle of the game -- it wouldn't really work if it took place after the base game, since the ending specifically talks about your companions going their separate ways and describing their lives in the months that follow your adventure -- but it's a bit of a nuisance in practice. For anyone who's already completed the game, that means you have to load a save from before the "point of no return" and sort of pretend like you didn't already beat the game, and for anyone playing for the first time, the DLC will feel like a huge deviation from the careful narrative pacing and mechanical balancing of the base game.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pillars of Eternity Review

I consider Obsidian Entertainment to be one of the best developers of modern role-playing games. That should come as little surprise, considering all of its founders were former leaders of Black Isle Studios who worked on games like Fallout, Planescape: Torment, and Icewind Dale -- some of the most influential and iconic RPGs of the late 90s. Their latest game, Pillars of Eternity, is not only one of the best RPGs of the past decade, it's one of the best RPGs ever made.

Successfully kickstarted in 2012, Pillars of Eternity (then known as "Project Eternity") set a record for the highest-funded video game ever on Kickstarter, bringing in nearly $4,000,000 from project backers. Faced with budget cuts and layoffs as the result of a cancelled project, the outpouring of support for "Project Eternity" allowed Obsidian to stay in business and take its time creating what would arguably become its magnum opus, while also playing a key contributing role in the recent revival of "old school" RPGs. Pillars of Eternity is a brand new intellectual property (only the second original IP Obsidian have ever released) that plays like any classic RPG from the 90s, complete with the isometric camera angle and mouse-driven interface, aided by some crucial updates and a lot of modern polish.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Board Game Review - Shadowrun: Crossfire

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a cooperative deck-building card game for 1-4 players. Set in the "fantasy meets cyberpunk" world of the Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game, players take the role of shadowrunners (aka, mercenaries for hire) attempting to complete dangerous "gray ops" missions for the megacorporations that control all of society in the Sixth World. Missions offer different objectives and challenges while altering the game's structure, but the core gameplay mechanisms remain the same from mission to mission: draw cards from your deck, play them against obstacles, earn money for defeating obstacles, and improve your deck by buying stronger cards from the black market.

Taking its cue from the tabletop RPG, Shadowrun: Crossfire provides a campaign-style gaming experience, allowing players to create their own character who will gain experience and earn permanent upgrades over multiple playthroughs. Players can choose from one of five races (human, elf, dwarf, ork, or troll), which have different health caps, starting money, and starting hand sizes, and can pick one of four roles that each comes with its own specialized deck of starter cards. There's the street samurai who uses guns and melee weapons to control the battlefield, the mage who casts spells to deal high spike damage to single targets, the face who uses social skills to influence the black market and support his allies, and the decker who uses technology to manipulate his discard pile.

Players earn experience points (known as karma in Shadowrun lore) for completing missions, and, in the case of the "Crossfire" mission, for successfully aborting it after a runner's health goes critical, but before anyone dies. In addition to marking your character's name on the character sheets, you can also mark his or her earned karma, which can be spent on stickers that you permanently attach to the character sheet, thus permanently upgrading that character. Upgrades can be purchased in five-karma (5K) increments, ranging from 5K to 50K in cost. Basic 5K upgrades will let you start the game with an extra card in your hand, or increase your maximum health by one; for 50K, you can take an upgrade that will let you deal bonus wild damage, or double the value of basic cards that match your role.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Impressions of Killing Floor 2: Early Access

The original Killing Floor is one of my most-played games of all time, second only to the Korean MMORPG Lineage 2, so I was naturally eager to get my hands on Killing Floor 2 as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that meant playing the early access edition on Steam, a business model I've avoided like the plague because I don't like the idea of paying to beta test a product. My love for Killing Floor is so great, however, that I took the plunge on early access, anyway, because I wanted to be a part of the game's evolution from the beginning.

For those of you who've been living under a rock, Killing Floor is a cooperative first-person shooter in which you and up to five teammates attempt to survive against increasingly difficult waves of onslaught from genetically-altered humanoid experiments, commonly referred to as "zeds." Consistently one of Steam's most actively-played online shooters over its six year lifespan, its appeal stemmed from its variety of mechanically distinct enemies, its fun and exotic maps, and its sheer amount of powerful, satisfying weapons. It's a classically entertaining formula that allows for timeless enjoyment blasting enemies to bits, and its leveling system gives you a rewarding sense of progression as you get stronger and move up to higher difficulties, which come with their own new mechanics to learn and master.

Killing Floor 2 has been in early access for two weeks now, and I've been playing it steadily ever since launch day. It's inappropriate to do a formal review of the game at this point, since it's still missing a lot of intended content, and a lot is going to change between now and its official release -- therefore, consider this an "early impressions" piece that takes an early look at how it compares to the original Killing Floor and, more importantly, whether it's worth $30 in its current state. If you're unfamiliar with Killing Floor, consider reading my original review of the original game (although it's really out-dated at this point) before continuing. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Holy Hell, Ziggurat is Pretty Cool

  1. (noun) a temple of Sumerian origin in the form of a pyramidal tower, consisting of a number of stories and having about the outside a broad ascent winding round the structure, presenting the appearance of a series of terraces. (source)
  2. (noun) a rogue-lite first-person shooter video game in which the player, armed with an arsenal of magical wands, staves, spellbooks, and alchemical weapons, attempts to survive and advance through the floors of a randomly-generated ziggurat, battling roomfuls of enemies while leveling up and acquiring new perks, items, and spells. 
I tend to prefer games with a finely-crafted campaign, that include a definite beginning and end; these "go until you die, then start over" games often seem like a waste of time to me. As such, I've never been much of a fan of procedural death labyrinths. Ziggurat is one of the few exceptions. It does all the things you'd expect of a rogue-lite, but what really sold me were the gameplay videos demonstrating its fast-paced, old-school action. I have a fondness for shooters like Painkiller and Serious Sam, you see -- games in which you frantically run about killing hordes of exotic enemies in exotic locations with exotic weapons -- and Ziggurat scratches that itch in colorful, magic spades.

Monday, April 13, 2015

System Shock 2 is Infinitely Better than BioShock

System Shock 2 and BioShock are essentially the exact same game, except one has a cyberpunk theme set in space, and the other has a steampunk theme set underwater. Both are first-person shooters with a wide range of guns and multiple types of ammunition; both feature RPG-style upgrades for character abilities and weapons; both include a variety of "magic" spells that can be used in conjunction with firearms; both feature a setting that's been ruined by horrific disaster; both feature environmental storytelling with audio logs and ghostly apparitions; and both have an important, memorable twist revelation in the story. They even have virtually identical level/plot progression. Those are just the main overarching similarities; when you examine them closer, you notice a ton of smaller, individual things that make appearances in both games, like vending machines and respawn chambers.

If BioShock is basically a carbon copy of the esteemed System Shock 2, and is developed by many of the same influential people who made SS2, with the benefit of a much stronger engine and eight years of industry advancements, then BioShock should be a definite improvement over the classic masterpiece, right? If nothing else, it should at least be "as good as" SS2, right? Everyone had high hopes that it would recapture the magic of SS2 and put a halt to the growing trend of simplifying and "dumbing down" mainstream games. BioShock was indeed a smarter, more complex shooter than virtually anything else on the market at the time -- hence why it was so immensely popular -- but the sad fact is that BioShock itself is merely a simplified, dumbed-down version of System Shock 2.

This article isn't going to be a strict review of BioShock, because it's kind of moot at this point. It's been out long enough, and was popular enough that I'm sure you already know everything you need to know about it. Rather, this is going to be more of a description of what's wrong with BioShock, with comparisons between System Shock 2 and BioShock. For a little more context going into this article, consider reading my recent review of System Shock 2 before continuing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

BioShock is Infinitely Better than System Shock 2

UPDATE: Click here to read the real article.

I know I said at the end of my review of System Shock 2 that I would be following it up with an article "explaining precisely why BioShock doesn't live up to the legacy of its esteemed predecessor," but when I got around to actually playing it, I realized that BioShock is actually a superior version of System Shock 2 in virtually every way possible. Scratch what I said in the previous article -- there's no reason to go back and suffer through System Shock 2's archaic interface and dated visuals when it's much easier to just play BioShock, and especially since it provides an all-around better experience, anyway. So, let's jump into the analysis, shall we?