Dark Souls 2, Days 1-3

Day 1
I’ll keep this travel log spoiler free as best I can, and instead discuss the ebb and flow of a game whose earlier entries I’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount.

My biggest complaint from the first two games, is how beautiful the world was created, while the story was left undeveloped. This is especially true for the DS1, which leaves an insane amount on the table. In DS2, the opening scene is phenomenal, and I watch it several times as I let the controller charge (and because I like the mood it puts me in).

Dark-Souls2_opening

Alone and forgotten, you need to choose a character. This is usually one of the most enjoyable parts of any game for me. In DS2 you have a number of choices, all with a decent amount of experience under their belts. Except for the last, the depraved, soul level 1 (the second lowest is 10), nothing equipped. But I like he description- “Has nothing to fight with, except life-affirming flesh.”  I pick the Depraved, because if you’re going to play a game known for its difficulty, you might as well do it right.

Unknowingly I skip the practice area, which when I finally go back and play it, gives me a weapon (a dagger). But for the first hour or so I’m punching and fleeing from most enemies. I also appreciate how the series will give you access to monster at the beginning that can instantly kill you. This training area is no different, and after I go down I think to myself, “Ah, I should know better!”
Things_Betwixt

At the bottom level, and with a low damage dagger, I have to spam the beginning level a bit. If the last two games have taught me anything, you dump your souls into endurance so the first soul level choices are cut and paste. It is nice to see that the feel of the previous two games has translated well, and I can dance around avoiding damage pretty well. Nothing’s changed, and hours run by quicker than I can remember.

Day 2

Even though most of its familiar (the gradual progression from bonfire-to-bonfire, descending platforms, alternative paths), when I wake up the next day, I’m generally excited to keep playing. I found the beginning world of dark souls disappointing, and all the backtracking grates, and while many people will cry foul with the instant traveling between bonfires, it seems like a perfect alternative to the constant sprinting between already traveled areas.

Forest of Fallen Giants 2

I finally figure out how to light a torch halfway through the first area, not that I’ve realized the value of it yet. It was more the fact that all the unlit pyres were starting worry me. At the boss I’m killed quickly. He’s harder than the first boss in the previous two entries, and  I realize I’m underleveled.  My play style is shield-and-sword, but I’ve avoided putting points in strength, because I had the urge to go for a dex build. But either I need to learn how to parry, or give up the ghost, and just accept the way I actually play.

Day 3

I push if off and decide not to make a decision about the strength vs dex and just keep dumping points into endurance and vitality. The first boss goes down but it takes a couple tries, and a NPC controlled summon. You can fly through the game by summoning live players, but I always felt guilty when I did it in the first Dark Souls.  I would always wind up forcing myself to play without the aid the second time around.
You can stumble on this guy early.  And it's a quick battle when you do.

You can stumble on this guy early. And it’s a quick battle when you do.

There’s significantly less linersity this time around. Bosses come almost immediately when entering areas, so that everytime you enter a fog you run the risk of immediate death. Thanks to fast travel, you can also slowly work your way through multiple areas. Stopping with one, and picking up where the other left off.  You tackle things in bits and pieces. In many ways, the progression has more in common with Demon’s Souls than Dark Souls- skip from world to world, eventually coming back to progress in the ones where you started

Review – Kingdom Rush Frontiers

Title:  Kingdom Rush Frontiers
Maker:   Ironhide Game Studio
Publisher: Armor Games
Platform: iOS
Cost: $1

Probably what freemium should be

At 99 cents, Frontiers technically isn’t a freemium game, but that extra dollar provides so much value over the average shovelware garbage that’s capsizing the app store, that it’s hard to not advocate for it.  That’s not to say the game is perfect, because it’s far from even being great.  What that dollar gives you is a reasonable difficulty curve, normal cool-down periods, and completely optional in-app purchases.  This provides a game that helps kill time as you calmly wait in a doctors office before jamming the keys into the ignition to race back to work afterwards.

It's not beautiful, but there's a few surprises

It’s not beautiful, but it has a few surprises

Oh right, and it’s a tower defense.  No surprises, it’s simply one that’s better than most, but probably not better than Pixeljunk’s.

Review: 3 stars (out of 5)

Memory:  Turn the sound off


First Impression: Don’t Starve

Yeah the game is brutal.  Anyone who starts it up already knows this so there’s not much to complain about there. But the extent of what that means is a bit overwhelming even if you’re prepared for it.  The world is a complete mystery when you start out, and the things that will kill you and help you are constantly surprising.  There’s immediate needs, fire & food, but quickly things turn to science.  And here is where the biggest initial complaint comes in.  Do develop technology you need to build a “Science Machine”, to build one of these guys, you need a lump of gold.  Gold is not that easy to come by, so the first 30 minutes of every game you play is a desperate scramble to find some of this resource.  Once you’ve found it, there’s usually ample amounts, but trying to stumble upon it is one of the more frustrating aspects of the game.

DS_fire

But it keeps you coming back.  Even with nothing to show for it, you keep exploring the beautiful and insane world.  Masochism can be fun.


The Banner Saga Review

Title:  The Banner Saga
Maker:   Stoic
System: Mac
Cost: $25

A display piece

When you see screenshots of the Banner Saga it looks beautiful.  In motion, it doesn’t quite hold true.  This encapsulates most of the game- a series of ideas, all of which could be magnificent, but in reality never come together.  This feeling stretches throughout.  The caravan you drag along serves as nothing else but a glorified high score.  Combat is a cake walk until a massive difficulty spike at the end (hope you didn’t spread your levels).  “War” events don’t seem to serve a purpose, and new character development is heavy at the beginning and nearly non-existent by the end.

The-Banner-Saga

The game is the first of a trilogy, and it’s easy to use this as an excuse for lack of execution.  But anytime you pay $25 on Steam, you expect it to be self-contained.  As it stands it’s less than half-realized.  You could also make a case for the game being too short, but why fault a game for removing the padding?  The pace is brisk, with little fluff, and to it’s credit it’s easy to sink yourself in.

The story remains the high note, and the dialogue is decent but forgettable.  Much has been said about the moral ambiguity the game provides, and while it’s revolutionary next to the black and white morality of Shin Megami Tensei or Mass Effect, most of the time it feels arbituary.  You make a decision and just wait to year if the wheel stops in your favor.

In the end, it’s clear that what was written on white boards in development sessions became to much in execution, and needed to be paired back considerably.  A reduction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is when compromised versions of the original ideas are left in the game.

Review: 2 Stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The setting.  I want more games with Nordic influence.


Epilogue: Crimson Shroud

It’s encouraging to realize that a game that was crafted for a short play experience, could be designed so well as to have you coming back for more.  Crimson Shroud’s New Game+ is one of these rarities: unlocking new locations, providing new weapons and dialogue, in addition to the obligatory second ending.  The system is also deep enough to have little tricks, which are only made apparent after extended play.  For example, rolling the dice for everything begins to bog down the experience, but then you realize you can “tilt” the dice off of the screen and into your inventory.  Small feature, but adds a late game differentiator. The best part however is that the difficult truly hits it’s sweet spot.  The normal difficulty keeps you thinking, but NG+ actually has you planning and using the entire range of tools at your disposal.  You can still grind it out, but you’ll have to utilize item manipulation.

More jovial than the game...

More jovial than the game…


Real Racing 3 Non-Review

Title: Real Racing 3

I’m not sure if I can actually be upset with Real Racing 3.  It’s not like it promised me something that it couldn’t deliver, it’s just that within the confines of a free game, you really don’t have many options.  The app, with the a zoomed in fat white car, sat on my iPhone for months, and it was a long bus ride to the airport (after my PSP had died), that I finally gave it a chance.  Graphically is where it does the most right.  It looks somewhere between the PS2 and the PS3, nothing to be sad about for an iOS game.  And the setup isn’t bad, but it becomes obvious almost immeidately the path it’s going to walk you down.  The first few races aren’t difficult, and as long as you’re paying attention you can win easily.  This allows you to afford your first upgrades (courtesy of easy money and upgrade tokens).  Repeat in the next races, which ratchet up the difficult a little bit more (but not enough that you’ll lose), and the process begins again.  Eventually it will get to the point that instant gratificatoin is removed, and the only way to progress without massive amounts of time is by spending real money.  There’s nothing wrong with this model (you know it’s coming when you download the game), it’s just that it takes all sense of achievment out of it.  Still, if you need a solid free game, you could do a lot worse.

That said, it didn’t save it from being deleted after 25 minutes.

Soooo glossy

Soooo glossy


Shin Megami Tensei 4 Review

Title:  Shin Megami Tensei 4
Maker:   Atlus
System: 3DS
Cost: $39

A pretty veneer for nonexistent changes

Tokyo is still huge, fucked up, and full of monsters

Tokyo is still huge, fucked up, and full of monsters

When I began “4”, it was my intention to see the latest Shin Megami Tensei through to the end.   And as I’ve come close to completing the game, again I find that my desire to see it through isn’t strong enough.  There are definite reasons for this: the characters exist only to serve as mirrors, and the difficulty curve that was captivating at the beginning, starts to fall apart mid-way through (especially if you put in extra time outside the main quest).  And yet, those problems exist in many great games.  So where does it really stumble?  And here again, it goes back to that simple A,B,C choice.  Technically, there are more than three endings, but in reality they all fall in the same Law, Neutral, and Chaos silos that have framed many (but not all) of the SMT games before it.  So as soon as you realize what path you’re on, the illusion disappears, and it becomes the same old grind.

Shin Megami

So where does that leave the game?  Well, it’s gorgeous (especially the dungeon perspective), it’s creative, it has a decent degree of freedom, and like most SMT games, it allows you the option to do as much or as little as you want.  It’s not a bad game by any means, and considering I spent over 30+ hours in the world, there must be something captivating.  However, this is not a side project, not a Persona game, but one of the “4” core games, and it deserves better.  The previous game in the main series was Nocturne, which came out nearly a decade ago, and from a technical level “4” is a strong improvement, but from a story and emotional level, it’s a rather large retrograde.

Review: 3 Stars (out of 5)

Memory:  The Hunter’s Bar background music


Soul Sacrifice First Impressions

Soul Sacrifice is a weird game.  By weird, I don’t mean “Japanese”, or that the technical execution is strange, I mean that it’s bizarre.   The first 15 minutes, which should pull you into the game, are borderline repulsive.  They’re out of place ugly (for a game that for the most part is beautiful), there’s no context (for a game with rich lore), and you’re companion, a talking book, is a huge burst of Evil Dead when it seemed to going the more serious route.  After an hour or two however, you start to get into it.  The actual narration of the story is moving, as you find yourself nudged in the direction of evil regardless of what you’d like to do.  There’s small annoyances that seem obvious- you have to go to the main screen for every little tweak and adjustment, and the story, although solid, is literally read to you in the slowest imaginable way (the narration speed could have easily been doubled).  But you keep playing, so that’s a good place to start.

Yes, that's blood coming out of his face

Yes, that’s blood coming out of his face


FTL First Impression (aka a lost night of sleep)

FTL

Faster Than Light (FTL) has the addictive charm that eats up 5 hours before you even realize it.  Like all games of that nature, it’s about understanding the rules, finding them and turning them to your advantage.  But even when you realize this, and you’ll become aware of the system that underpins the game quickly, FTL has so much charm that it hardly matters.  It’s not a particularly large game, but there’s enough replay value that you’ll keep giving it one more shot until it’s 4 am and you’re still wide awake.


Thomas Was Alone Review

Title:  Thomas Was Alone
Maker:   Mike Bithell
System: Mac
Cost: Humble Indie Bundle 8

Feeling it for quadrilaterals

thomas was alone

I’ve been sitting on the Thomas Was Alone Review for awhile, because I’m not quite sure how I felt about the game.  Full disclosure: I read several reviews for TWA, and I remember everyone praising the music, the narrator, and the fact it brings personality to little colored rectangles.  And while that’s all true for awhile, pretty soon the narrator starts to grate ( I don’t know if you can call it self-importance, but he sure seems pretty proud of the job he’s doing), the music veers so hard into Explosions in the Sky that it’s shameless, and all you’re really left with from those first positive impressions, is the fact that you’re having feelings for these little rectangles.  But really, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Graphically it’s more than serviceable, because while it’s simple, it’s exactly what it needs to be, clean.  The platforming controls feel good, but the action itself isn’t all that satisfying.   Often the action breaks down into trial and error puzzle solving, instead of actual platforming.  However, this isn’t to take away what from what’s been created, as the platforming gracefully ties in the personalities and abilities of each specific block.  This gives more life to small quadrilaterals, than the characters that exist in games with budgets a hundred times larger.

Conclusion:  You have to pay tribute  for what’s been created.  Even if it’s not bringing gaming bliss, it’s laid out a pretty good road map for bringing any character to life.

Review: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Memory:  The square that tries to drown herself