Dragon Age 2 (Review)

I was a little slow getting this review out of the gate after two very difficult and work intensive weeks but here it is, my thoughts on Dragon Age 2.

When I first found out that Dragon Age 2 revamped the Dark Spawn to look like bizarre carnival attractions and made the entire game be set in one single city, it’s probably not difficult to understand why I had reservations about the game. After learning that the combat was made to be more action-oriented for console players, I became increasingly apprehensive and, honestly, I didn’t think that I would ever lay down the cash for Dragon Age 2.

But I did.

I don’t know what prompted me to buy Dragon Age 2 despite my fears, but it doesn’t matter any longer. I’ve played Dragon Age 2 extensively and I can safely say that my fears, while originally justified, have been washed away by what has become my favourite Bioware game that I’ve ever played.

I frequently see a lot of people bashing Dragon Age 2 on larger internet forums due to the many changes that Bioware introduced with the sequel to what was undoubtedly 2009’s best RPG by a landslide. Yes it is true that Bioware did cripple or completely remove a few gameplay elements from the first game, but for every disappointing change there is a positive one to counter it. I am hoping that my review will make it clear why Dragon Age 2 is a fantastic game that surpasses the first game, despite having several flaws that it’s predecessor did not have.

The Dark Spawn return, but are no longer the central antagonist.

Dragon Age 2’s story is pretty interesting to say the least. It begins in Ferelden as Hawke and his/her (gender is selectable) family are fleeing from Lothering after the Dark Spawn attack. For those who played the first game but cannot remember Lothering, it was the town where you could recruit Leliana and Sten. Anyway, the group quickly meets a very familiar witch from the first game who rescues Hawke and company from a horde of Dark Spawn. They are then escorted to a port town where they travel to a city called Kirkwall in the Free Marches, a location that is directly north of Ferelden on the continent of Thedas.

Kirkwall is where pretty much the entire game takes place. A few quests will take the player outside of the city, but you never leave Kirkwall for very long. Anyway, once in Kirkwall, the story really kicks off and is basically just Hawke’s life story as he/she rises to fame in Kirkwall while accidentally getting involved in a few major events that occur in the city. It really is a rags to riches sort of story, and it carries a lot of weight as it is a very personal story. Dragon Age Origins was about the entirety of Ferelden suffering from the Blight and the Grey Wardens who are tasked to stop it. Origins had a very standard and fairly cliche fantasy story behind it that could have been ripped straight out of Lord of the Rings. Dragon Age 2 doesn’t focus on being as epic or grandeur and is, as I said, a personal story. It is Hawke’s story.

As a whole, I enjoyed the story in Dragon Age 2 far more than in Origins. Since the story is all about Hawke and his/her life in Kirkwall, you get to know and understand the person you are playing much more than you did in Origins. It helps that Hawke is fully voiced as well, so we no longer control a silent protagonist. These two factors (personal story and voiced hero) enable the story to flow more naturally and feels more engaging as you are pretty much always at the thick of everything that occurs around you.

While Dragon Age 2 certainly has the better story, it is impossible to deny that the cast of characters in the sequel can’t hold a torch to the band of misfits that players acquired in Origins. In Origins we got to laugh at interactions between the cold Morrigan and light hearted Alistair, get a kick out of Shale and Sten who were both unintentionally hilarious characters, and even be entranced by Leliana’s tales and words of wisdom. Dragon Age 2 has absolutely none of this and beyond perhaps two characters, Dragon Age 2’s roster is about as forgettable as Wynne in Origins.

The Qunari have received a very well deserved makeover.

While some of the characters have a lot of personality, there just isn’t enough conversation or interaction with them for any of them to shine much. The only two characters that I felt were very enjoyable were Merrill and Varric. Merrill is an Elven mage that briefly appeared in Origins and Varric is a Dwarf who essentially narrates the story of Dragon Age 2. I find these two enjoyable because Merrill is sort of a clumsy girl who seems to have a lot of self-confidence issues and is never really sure of herself. Merrill frequently apologizes for “babbling” and always seems to look upon a lot of scenarios with a sort of child-like innocence that I found really adorable. Varric is a huge contrast to Merrill. He is a cocky little Dwarf who loves opportunities that could benefit him financially. He’s sort of like the joker of Dragon Age 2 as he utilizes a style of very dry and witty humour that defines his personality greatly. Despite being a little sarcastic most of the time, Varric is exceptionally intelligent and sharp. I find that pairing Merrill with Varric in my party often results in very amusing conversations between the two. It may not compare to Alistair and Morrigan slamming each other with witty insults, but it’s still a blast to see Varric sarcastically poking fun at Merrill’s child-like ignorance of the world around her. He seems to refer to her as “Daisy” just about every time they talk, and she doesn’t even seem to care or notice as she just continues rambling on and misinterpreting situations in cute and funny ways. For sure these two are the best written characters in the game.

Other characters cannot hold a torch to Merrill and Varric. Aveline, a tank character who is essential in your party if you are not a warrior yourself, has a cliche personality that is about as boring as watching paint dry. Anders returns from Dragon Age Awakening, though with a new voice actor and a butchered personality that no longer provokes amused chuckles from me. There are a few other characters to choose from (all optional as far as I am aware), and they too are about as interesting as Wynne from Origins. So, while Dragon Age 2 certainly has a better crafted story, the characters aren’t quite as good as they were in Origins with only Merrill and Varric really standing out.

Animations and spell effects have been improved drastically from Origins.

The gameplay can be a little tedious since the entire game is set in Kirkwall. There sheer amount of quests available to pick up in the city is pretty overwhelming at times and, unfortunately, most of them aren’t very exciting to do. You will find yourself experiencing deja vu very often as you may venture to locations to complete quests in that you had just visited only half an hour ago. The coastal cliffs and mountain outside of Kirkwall are visited very frequently and due to the barren nature of their landscapes, they get boring very fast. Major quests in Kirkwall are a little better however. While most quests aren’t much more than simple “go to X location and kill someone” it is worth noting that a lot of the dialogue that happens during the better quests is pretty enjoyable. There is one storyline fight in particular that I really enjoyed. To prevent there from being any spoilers but to clue in those who have played the game, I am referring to the quest that puts you up against a very certain murderer. While the story quests are very well written and are exceptionally engaging, the optional quests are pretty much just there to inflate your total play time and aren’t particularly entertaining.

Regarding the battle system, it is true that it has become more action-oriented. This doesn’t necessarily mean that battles play out differently than they did in the first game in terms of mechanics, it’s just that the fighting happens at a faster speed than in Origins. Battles that used to take two or three minutes in the previous game may now take only thirty seconds to one minute. The flow is faster and the battle animations are definitely superior, but the actual mechanics are hardly different at all from Origins and players will be clicking their action bar at the bottom almost constantly. Anyone who has bought into the “Dragon Age 2 is dumbed down to appeal to Call of Duty fans” nonsense should relax, because it is not the case. The fighting is the same as it was in Origins, it is just faster. Does that make it better? Well, that’s up to the player to decide. It’s all a matter of personal taste.

I only have one gripe about the combat in Dragon Age 2 and that is the fact that, most of the time, you never know how many enemies you’ll be squaring off against. You may see three or four enemies on your screen before the fight begins, but after engaging them it is not uncommon to have two or three more jump down from above and to be flanked by several more enemies. It is confusing to say the least, especially since the enemies that flank you usually come from wherever you just came from so, logically, that path should have been safe. It is a strange occurrence that can make some fights a little annoying, but it is really only a minor complaint and shouldn’t pose a problem to anyone who knows what they are doing in combat.

The most notable thing that was dumbed down in Dragon Age 2 is the ability to customize and interact with your companions. You can no longer click on them to initiate conversations, as they will just spout one liners like the companions did in Dragon Age Awakening. It is also impossible to change the gear that your companions wear. You can still manually choose their amulets, belts and rings, though it is no longer possible to equip pieces of armor on them. All characters can equip weapons of your choosing (except Varric, who has a storyline weapon) as long as it fits their class. Merrill, a mage, can only use staves while Aveline, a warrior, uses shields and swords. You can “upgrade” companion armor in a way, but it requires choosing various storyline options in the conversation trees. For instance, I noticed that after one of my characters romanced Merrill and convinced her to move into Hawke’s home, she lost her original dull armor and adopted a very fancy looking suit of what looked to be chain mail.

The Deep Roads return, along with the Fade, but both are now fairly enjoyable. (Gasp!)

I should mention the conversation trees after bringing them up in the previous paragraph. Dragon Age 2 adopts a sort of Mass Effect approach to conversations. When engaging an NPC, players will no longer have a few moral choices to choose from like in the original Dragon Age, but will now have a round wheel that has a few choices that represent very certain personalities. There are three standard choices which are compassionate, joking, and aggressive. Sometimes there will be a few other choices, but they don’t pertain to the three personalities mentioned and just serve as a way to get more information out of the NPCs. It’s not a bad system and it works well since you always know what sort of attitude Hawke will take based on what you choose, but the choices are often worded in ways that do not accurately reflect the words that Hawke will use. For instance, a selectable choice may simple say “I am Hawke.” Upon choosing it Hawke will say, “I am the Champion of Kirkwall, haven’t you heard of me?” Notice that Hawke does not say who he/she even is, so there can be a bit of confusion. With the joking/sarcastic options, sometimes Hawke won’t even say anything even remotely similar to the choice you are presented with. It’s a little peculiar and it can be annoying at times since the words on the screen and what Hawke actually says can, in some cases, be completely different.

So what is my verdict? Dragon Age 2 beats the original in storyline and general flow, but Origins has about four enjoyable companion characters to Dragon Age 2’s lowly two. The conversations were better structured in Origins, but Dragon Age 2 is better written and having your character actually speak adds volumes to the game’s presentation that the previous game sorely lacked. So, in conclusion, both games are very fantastic, but the overall presentation of Dragon Age 2 is better. I forgot to mention that Dragon Age 2 has slightly better visuals (keyword is slightly) and much better loading screens, so that also helps to give this sequel a greater presentation than its older sibling.

If you were a fan of the original Dragon Age, I honestly do not see how you could flat out dislike this game. I certainly do recommend it to any fan of Origins. There have been a few changes and Dragon Age 2 does take a few steps in the wrong direction, but considering how little development time Bioware was given by Electronic Arts to pump this game out, it is evident that the development team put a very admirable amount of time and work into Dragon Age 2 and all of their hard work has translated to a very enjoyable game. Even though we still have Skyrim due out in November, I am already close to pinning this game as the RPG to beat for all of 2011. Check it out!

Final Score

9.3/10

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Australian Government Urges R18 Rating

After the recent controversary over the new Mortal Kombat being banned in Australia, and with anyone importing it risking a $110,000 AUD fine, it was only inevitable for the amount of noise gamers and major video game websites to cause a few higher ups in the land down under to seriously evaluate how they rate video games.

Australia’s federal government has woken up and is giving the individual states and territories until the end of July this year to agree on a new R18+ mature rating for video games.

The Federal Government is giving the states and territories until July to agree to a new R18+ classification for video games.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor was clearly behind the move when he spoke to ABC News Australia. “We’re the only country that allows tens and tens of games to be used by minors that are only used by adults overseas. We’re becoming the laughing stock of the developed world.”

O’Connor said the issue regarding Australia trailing behind the rest of the world in mature video game ratings had been debated by the attorneys-general for the past decade and it was time for them to make a firm decision on the matter.

“If there is not a consensus around this issue, the Commonwealth will certainly be considering other options. We cannot afford to leave it like it is.”

The most restrictive classification for games in Australia at the moment is MA15, which is three years below the standard M rating that the ESRB slaps on NTSC releases.

O’Connor has indicated that if the states and territories do not vote accordingly and approve of a new R18+ rating, the federal government may go ahead with one anyway.

Definitely something to keep an eye on. Australian gamers, Mortal Kombat may yet reach your store shelves!

Mortal Kombat Demo Impressions

By now, just about anyone with an internet connection and a PS3 have tried the Mortal Kombat demo. The general consensus, from what I have observed, is that a vast majority of players are honestly surprised at just how good the new Mortal Kombat appears to be.

Ever since Mortal Kombat 4, the series has looked a little unsure of what it wanted to be and, as a result, it continuously changed with each new game and alienated fans of the previous games. Fans of MK4 were alienated with Deadly Alliance, and further revisions to Deception’s gameplay alienated those who were comfortable with Deadly Alliance. Armageddon threw everything together in a big mess and, well, we know how that game turned out. A few years later and we had Mortal Kombat vs DC which, to this day, I have never played because it was rated T and I knew that it wouldn’t deliver a proper Mortal Kombat experience.

So, with the series looking to have lost it’s identity for over a decade, it was understandable for anyone to write off the series and lose faith in any future installments. I think that this is what many people did but, when Midway went bankrupt and the Mortal Kombat franchise was sold off to Warner Bros. Games, something happened. The MK team was given more freedom than they probably ever had, and they were granted more time to work on the next game. When the first screenshots of what everyone called Mortal Kombat 9 surfaced, it was clear that a massive spike in quality had happened.

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About a year later, here we are with the demo of Mortal Kombat. All of the mistakes of the past decade have been ignored and completely thrown away. The only aspect of the post MK3 era that seems to be returning is the sorcerer Quan Chi. Considering that he is perhaps the best character that the team created after going 3D, this is a good move.

The demo gives us access to Johnny Cage, Mileena, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero. The available stages round in at two (which is fine for a demo) and are The Living Forest and The Pit. Each stage looks as if NetherRealm Studios had taken their MK2 incarnations and simply made them 3D. They look so much like they had sixteen years ago (!!!) that it truly is staggering. Even the stage themes are just modern renditions of the originals from Mortal Kombat 2. It is understandable that NetherRealm Studios decided to do this since the game is a retelling of the original three games, but they really went the extra mile with the stages.

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Complimenting the stages are the physics. Imagine my surprise when I found that Mortal Kombat’s trademark clunky and sluggish controls, which only got worse with each new game in the past, were now almost gone! Characters feel and handle a lot like they did, again, in Mortal Kombat 2, only a little more responsive. The first character I picked was Scorpion, and aside from the fact that he was wearing an updated costume, it really felt like Mortal Kombat 2 as he jumped the same, tripped and uppercutted the same, and so much more.

I tried out all four available characters and came away impressed with each one. I didn’t really warm up to Johnny Cage, but this is pretty much only because I never really liked the character anyway. Of the four characters we are given in the demo, I found Mileena and Scorpion to be the most enjoyable to use, and I was surprised at how each character felt.

The gameplay really is superb. Gone are the fighting styles and weapons that we had to swap between from the past three Mortal Kombat games. Now each character has their own fixed movesets without any predefined fighting style that they have to adhere to. I found that pulling off combos was a lot of fun, since just pressing any three or four buttons resulted in a combo of some kind. I thought that was really cool, and it should let us experiment a lot with combos to find out which combinations work best. You can even easily add special moves to combos, something that Mortal Kombat has struggled with for several years now.

The violence in the game is ridiculously over the top as well, and I found some of the X-Ray moves to be cringeworthy. The fatalities are also pretty revolting. This is, however, a good thing! Mortal Kombat used to pride itself in being a bloody and disgusting mess, but this was lost for several years in the new millenium. Well, that bloody and disgusting mess is back and in full force. Just check out Kung Lao’s hat fatality and try not to cringe. I dare you.

The graphics are also worth mentioning. The stages all look fantastic, and the characters look even better. My honest opinion is that this will be the best looking 3D fighting game of the current generation. Yes, this beast is shaping up to be a better looker than both of Namco’s visual treats Soulcalibur IV and Tekken 6.

Everything that older gamers loved about the old MK games is here. The gameplay screams nostalgia. Trips and uppercuts work just like they used to, and the “Toasty Guy” has even returned for the first time in fourteen years!

All in all, this really does look to be a fantastic fighting game. While Marvel vs Capcom 3 tended to the hardcore fighting fans, it suffered by not tending to anyone else and leaving out necessary game modes and unlockables, and this dragged down MvC3’s review scores with popular critics and publications. Mortal Kombat on the other hand looks to be aiming to please everyone and even includes a few fun bonus game modes. There’s a wealth of content in the game and with so much nostalgia here, it’s going to be hard to not love this game.

It took sixteen long years, but Mortal Kombat may very well return as one of the most popular fighting game series out there. This game is not just good, it is great!

Watch for it April 19 in North America, April 21 in Europe.

Rift: Planes of Telara (Review)

Because I already talked extensively about Rift in another post, I’ll combine this review with things I said in the other post. So, if you read my Rift impressions, that will explain will there may be a bit of Deja Vu in my review. With that out of the way, let’s get things started.

“We’re not in Azeroth anymore.”

The above line is the incredibly ballsy slogan that Trion Worlds has adopted for their new MMORPG called Rift: Planes of Telara. Trion Worlds is incredibly brave to use a tagline such as that. Rift has just launched and they are already going in for the kill by directly aiming to defeat Blizzard’s competition devouring title World of Warcraft. For the uneducated, WoW has destroyed every other MMORPG’s chances of becoming the ‘next big thing’ ever since it came out at the end of 2004. Trion Worlds, however, might be onto something here. WoW is at it’s weakest point ever. Despite still going strong, there is a lot of discontent spreading through the ranks of WoW’s casual and non-raiding playerbases. The most recent expansion, despite giving the entire game world an attractive overhaul, was actually surprisingly skimpy on 80-85 content for anyone who does not raid and quite a few people have expressed discontent with WoW due to this. Trion Worlds is hoping to lure the unhappy WoW players to Rift, and they may very well do that!

Rift’s install only takes a few minutes, and the patching process is a breeze since all of it is managed in Rift’s client window. The client also contains a repair tool, so you won’t have to go digging through the game’s folders to find such a thing. This is all very convenient, and I found the client to be very efficient and far handier than the competition’s clients.

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When I started the game up, I was instantly mesmerized by the opening cinematic. It wasn’t trying to be epic and grand like the WoW opening movies by throwing each and every race and class combination in your face, and it didn’t really explain a lot at all as far as story goes. The opening to Rift just shows a Guardian (Rift’s supposed Alliance faction) duking it out against two Defiant (Rift’s Horde faction), followed by the opening of a Life Rift which unleashes a monster that easily overpowers the two Defiant. The stealthy Guardian gets the upper hand on the monster and manages to slay it, only to see several other rifts opening all throughout the sky. That is the opening in a nut shell, and it does a good job of establishing what the game is about, which is rifts (of course) and the conflict between Guardians and Defiant.

After the cinematic, you get to choose which shard (server) you want to play on. There’s PvE, PvP, RP PvE, and RP PvP. I don’t think I need to explain what each kind of server is, so I’ll just go on to say that there are quite a lot of servers to select from. I settled on Estrael, an RP PvE server. As soon as you choose your shard, it’s time to make a character.

The first decision you have to make when creating a character is which faction you want to play as. The Guardians are promoted as the good guys while the Defiant are pushed as bad guys. However, I learned from playing that the line between good and evil is a little blurred and neither faction is truly good or evil, just like the Alliance and Horde from World of Warcraft before the previous Wrath of the Lich King expansion (when everything was fine and dandy between the factions). Guardians are your typical religious folk who feel that they are in the right and always try to do what they think is best. Dwarves, High Elves, and Mathosians (Humans) comprise the Guardians faction. The Defiant are a bit darker looking and are pretty big on technological advances and such. Their races are the Bahmi, Eth, and Kelari. Those three names may seem intimidating due to being completely unfamiliar to everyone, but know that all three races are very human-like in appearance. The Eth are basically humans, while the Bahmi and Kelari just have bluish skin hues and a few facial features that differ from the more humanoid Eths.

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Which race you choose will determine what your initial racial powers are. For example, Mathosians can increase their speed slightly for several seconds and High Elves can fly – though the flight ability is extremely limited.

After choosing your race, you’re asked to pick a class. There’s cleric, mage, rogue, and warrior. Each should be pretty self-explanatory so I won’t really explain them, but I will say that you shouldn’t be discouraged by there only being four classes. In a way, there are actually dozens of classes, because each of the four classes has several sub-classes that you can mix and match. For example, some things that clerics can choose are druid, inquisitor, and warden. Warriors can classify themselves as beastmasters, paladins, warlords, and so forth. Each main class has eight of these sub-classes, so there’s plenty of variety and I’ll talk about that a little more shortly.

After choosing your race and class, you get to customize your appearance. After playing some MMOs such as APB and Champions Online, I felt a little let down with the customization but only because those two games had vast customization options. Rift still beats other MMORPGs such as WoW with ease. Here’s a list of things that you can customize in Rift.

  • Eyes (Colour, Rotation, Size)
  • Face Shape
  • Facial Features
  • Hair (Colour, Highlights, Style)
  • Height
  • Makeup/Tattoos
  • Mouth Size
  • Nose Size
  • Skin Colour

There are a few options that are specific to certain races and genders, as well. You can change the size of Elf ears, and male Dwarves have several different beard options. It’s not the best customization ever, but it’s still pretty decent and, as I said, beats games like WoW pretty easily.

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After making your character, you are then whisked away to a tutorial zone. Each faction starts in their own unique zones, with Guardians starting out in the ruins of Mathosia while Defiant characters get to play in a zone that depicts a destroyed Telara in the future. Until you take on your first soul (essentially a sub-class), you have no abilities and are essentially as useful to anyone as a level 1 NPC with poor stats. After the first quest NPC gives you a soul, you get a few skills to play with.

After getting your first soul, you’re prompted to go outside where you receive your first real quest that will feel very familiar to many WoW players. Kill X number of Y mobs. It’s pretty simple and I found that Rift was prompting me to kill less mobs for quests than WoW does. The following quests were all standard fare, such as disabling certain structures, collecting quest items from defeated mobs, and so forth. It wasn’t long before I was allowed to choose a second soul, so I went with the druid soul. This turned my water-flinging healer into’ Well, a water-flinging healer with a fairy companion that healed me, and I could defend myself with a wall of thorns that soaked up damage. The wall of thorns skill acts just like a priest spell that we all know from World of Warcraft, and that’s Power Word: Shield.

I gained a few levels during this time, and I found myself to be around level 3 or 4 when I became a hybrid druid-warden. When you level up, you are given a few points that you can distribute in skill trees. This is exactly like WoW’s talent points and talent trees.

It wasn’t long after getting my second soul that the game finally threw a little variety into the quests. I was asked to mount a horse and return it to an NPC while another quest giver at the same location wanted me to decimate undead forces using catapults littered throughout an expansive battlefield. It was nice to have a little more variety, but I still didn’t find the actual quests to be incredibly enjoyable or anything. I just felt like I was going through mandatory tasks that I had to endure if I wanted to level up.

At the end of the tutorial zone, you get to team up with other players to form a raid group to take down, quite literally, a king. I’m not sure of the lore behind the guy, but he was a minion of the game’s central bad guy, Regulos the Destructor. For the curious, Regulos is a nasty dragon who basically just wants to muck everything up.

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After taking down the evil king, I was suddenly in a new zone’ Twenty years into the future! The zone I was plunked into was Silverwood, home of the High Elves. It appeared to be under siege from goblins and a heck of a lot of fiery creatures. The quest variety didn’t really improve, but Silverwood was certainly a much more appealing location than the tutorial zone, and Rift’s beautiful graphics engine really showed itself when I ventured into the forests. Shadows from the trees above were really impressive to see as they danced across my character’s face and body realistically. I ended up exploring the areas I was sent to in Silverwood a bit, really liking the look of the world.

The zone contains, predictably, a lot of trees. There’s also some nice lakes and ponds, and the coastline is very pretty as well. I found the zone to feel much more organic than any location in World of Warcraft or, heck, any other MMORPG that I’ve ever played. Rift really succeeds in making it’s zones look pleasing to the eye, so I think just about everyone will at least enjoy the visuals.

While I was running around performing various mundane tasks for the quest givers, a few rifts opened up. Rifts were promoted as one of the game’s main selling points, which should be obvious considering the fact that the game is called Rift. Anyway, rifts are NOT scripted events and can happen anywhere and at any moment. When a rift opens, several mobs will spill out into the world and, if they are not dealt with swiftly, they’ll take over the surrounding terrain and even try to invade nearby settlements. I noticed that whenever a rift opens (you’ll know because they show up on the zone map), every single player nearby stops what they are doing and converges on the rift. It’s really cool to see everyone take part in closing the rifts. There’s a lot of teamwork from what I’ve observed and rift closers really do help each other out tremendously. Every single player I observed who was low on health would receive generous heals from other players who were also under attack. Anyway, there are several waves of mobs to defeat before a final big ‘boss’ appears out of the rift. When you defeat the boss mob, the rift closes and you receive a generous amount of money as well as planarite.

Planarite is sort of like Rift’s special currency. It can be used to purchase gear, items, and various upgrades from planar goods vendors. While a bit of farming is required to purchase some of the items that these vendors offer, it never feels at all tedious like grinds can in other MMORPGs. Due to the cooperative nature of rifts, it truly is hard not to enjoy them.

Trade skills are pretty much what you’d expect to see in an MMORPG that wishes to beat World of Warcraft. Butchering, foraging, and a few item crafting trades are a few of what you should expect to see. Crafting items is very simple and, though I hate to bring up World of Warcraft again, Rift’s trade skills work in the exact same way. Gather a few materials from resource nodes (such as ore or plants) and make whatever items are available to you based on the designs/recipes you have learned.

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Invasions are another random event similar to rifts, only they are not confined to single areas on the map. Invasions are mobile forces that are usually made up of mobs that spew from rifts or tough NPCs from the opposing faction. Defeating invasions will also grant you planarite and other goodies while large scale invasions, which are actually huge zone-wide events, will grant players with a huge wealth of rewards. If a zone-wide invasion occurs, which you will be made aware of by a notice on your screen, it is definitely best to take part in it no matter what your level is.

The world of Telara is very nice looking, and player characters have a decent amount of variety. Rift has had a very stable launch and the game is already very polished. In time, I can definitely see Rift being a fantastic MMORPG, but a few things need to be refined, such as the Guardians’ tutorial zone which was a little dull. The graphics really are fantastic for an MMORPG, and I can’t stress that enough. Zones such as Silverwood are a real treat to check out as the trees overhead cast realistic shadows on the ground. There are also many different looking areas in Rift’s zones. In Silverwood you will find meadows, deep forests, marshlands, beaches, and even hedge mazes. There’s a sort of variety here that other MMORPGs have never managed to include in their initial releases.

The game’s soundtrack can be a little hit or miss. I find the music in the tutorial zones to be absolutely dreadful, but after getting into the main game itself and exploring the world of Telara, I found the music to be surprisingly pleasant. It’s not as catchy or memorable as tunes in other MMORPGs, but it gets the job done and sounds more than adequate. I can’t say the same for the game’s voice acting however. A few races have good voice actors (the High Elves being the most notable example), but some scripted story sequences are voiced so badly that it is almost cringeworthy.

In conclusion, Rift is good. It probably isn’t a WoW killer just yet, but the future is definitely bright. With enough support from players, this game can definitely become an MMORPG that could, in theory, tangle with WoW. For the sake of having something fresh on the market, I hope that Rift succeeds. The ingame rifts that open, which are completely random and spontaneous, bring something very cool to the game and I love how everyone teams up to take down the rifts before they become big threats.

If you’re looking for a new MMORPG to play or are feeling bored with the one you’re playing now, Rift may very well be worth checking out.

Pros
+ Beautiful graphics for an MMORPG.
+ Extremely open-ended character development.
+ Open quests and PvP are great alternatives to standard questing.

Cons
– Invasions can take over quest hubs and leave low level questers unable to progress for lengthy periods of time.
– Lore has lots of potential but is not fully realized or fleshed out well.
– Burned out players of LotRO or WoW may be quickly bored of Rift due to similar play mechanics.

Final Score

9.3/10

Soulcalibur IV (Review)

SoulCalibur IV. It’s been out for quite a while now, so why am I writing a review for it now? The first reason is because not everyone has played the game, and second? SoulCalibur IV is just flat out awesome.

I don’t have much experience with the Soul series. The only prior games I played in the series were both in the arcade and they were the first game, Soul Edge, and SoulCalibur II. What do I remember from them? Well, I have a distinct memory of being weirded out by Voldo in Soul Edge, and I recall playing with Yoshimitsu in SoulCalibur II, but beyond that? I remember nothing else.

Before release, SoulCalibur IV wasn’t even really on my radar. So what drew me in and made me purchase the game immediately after the street release date? I hate to admit it, but Vader and Yoda sucked me in. I wasn’t even a Star Wars fan at the time, I was just lured in by the premise of two sci-fi characters being thrust into a fantasy fighting game. It seemed completely insane to me and, after hearing about the character creation system as well, I was sold. To this day, I’ve played SoulCalibur IV for about 90 hours and love it immensely. It’s only fair that I talk about a game that I hold in such high regard, so here we go.

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When SoulCalibur IV was released in the summer of 2008, it had stunning visuals for a fighting game. I maintain my belief that it is still the best looking console fighting game available on the market, though that may change next month when Mortal Kombat hits store shelves. Character models look absolutely fantastic in SoulCalibur IV. Aside from having beautifully rendered faces, each character looks absolutely unique and all their own. Characters such as Siegfried will impress you for their incredibly detailed armor, while others such as Seong Mi-na will warm your heart with charming and realistic smiles. The stages are equally as detailed. The lighting is breathtaking in almost every arena and everything is modeled and textured brilliantly. My favourite stage is without a doubt the pirate ship stage that thrusts fighters onto the deck of a pirate vessel that has been snapped in two. The atmosphere is really wonderful, and it’s a joy to fight on that stage along with a few others. Unfortunately, there are one or two stages that lag behind the rest and aren’t particularly good.

SoulCalibur IV is also a huge treat for your ears. Every music track in the game is vibrant and full of energy, which assists the flow of combat brilliantly. Sound effects are also very pleasant to listen to, even though a lot of the sounds you’ll hear are typical clangs and smacking noises. The voices are worth mentioning, too. While the announcer for the fights may say some pretty unusual pre-fight lines (“Slashing through the shadows, she defeats the evils that lurk behind history!”), the actual characters on the roster all have pretty good actors behind them and they deliver great lines. Tira, voiced by the extremely talented Jennifer Hale, is an absolute treat to listen to as she shifts back and forth between her cheerful and dark personalities.

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The actual gameplay is very solid and enjoyable for just about anyone. Each of the game’s characters comes with a weapon and that is what they fight with. Characters such as Nightmare or Siegfried will attack with giant two handed blades while smaller characters, like Talim, will assault you with small elbow blades. Each character feels one hundred percent unique and unlike anyone else on the roster, though I felt that there were a few similarities between Cassandra and Sophitia, but this is understandable considering they have similar fighting styles and are sisters.

There are only three actual attack buttons in SoulCalibur IV, which may make the game sound shallow, but this is far from the truth. The attack buttons are horizontal attack, vertical attack, and kick. The fourth button serves as a block, while your shoulder buttons are used for combining attacks together, executing throws, and performing critical finishes. The critical finish is a new mechanic in SoulCalibur IV that, when the opponent’s guard has been crushed, you can finish them off with a single attack. This may sound overpowered, but the requirements required for executing a critical finish are archaic at best and are seldom reached in most fights. Critical finishes are extreme rarities and, in my honest opinion, are utilized so infrequently that they may as well not even be in the game as they just feel like a useless feature that Namco tacked on to make the fighting system feel a little deeper.

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And what of Darth Vader and Yoda? They’re both extremely cool to see in the game, though I find Yoda to be a bit of a pain to use since his movements are very awkward. Vader is a lot of fun however, so Star wars fans should have a blast using him. A third Star Wars character, The Apprentice, seems to be the most technical of the three and is possibly the hardest to master.

In terms of game modes, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the game. There’s your basic arcade and story mode, online versus, character creator, and Tower of Lost Souls. Arcade and story are pretty basic, with the former just being straight fights that are meant to simulate playing on an arcade machine, and story mode is just a few fights that tells you a barebones story (honestly, it’s even less than barebones) and awards you with ingame currency. The online versus is pretty decent, though I found that there were very few match options and the net code seemed inferior to pretty much every other fighter out there.

Tower of Lost Souls is a new mode introduced in SoulCalibur IV that pits players in a series of bizarre challenges that are often incredibly unfair if you are using stock characters. In the Tower of Lost Souls, each challenge pits the player against a series of AI characters who have, literally, unfair bonuses such as dealing ridiculous amounts. To defeat the enemies in these challenges players will have to unlock costume pieces to use in the character creator. Various costume pieces will give created characters all sorts of bonuses to their attacks or defenses. Setting up your character in the right way is essential in clearing the Tower of Lost Souls.

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As for the character creator, it’s one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever had the pleasure of using in a fighting game. The only one that was nearly as fun was the one in Mortal Kombat Armageddon. SoulCalibur IV’s character creator allows players to choose a character’s complete costume from head to toe while choosing any colour imaginable for each costume piece. Players can then choose their weapon style, voice, physique, and much more. There’s a lot to do in the character creator and, when everything has been unlocked in it, one can spend dozens of minutes coming up with a character.

SoulCalibur IV is without a doubt one of the best fighting games of this generation in terms of just being flat out fun. Any fan of the Soul series who hasn’t checked this game out should really do so, as should any fighting game fans in general who have avoided SoulCalibur IV all this time.

Final Score

8.9/10

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (Review)

Before I even begin to get into my review for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, I feel the need to say that I don’t read comics, nor do I follow anything that happens in the Marvel universe. A lot of the hijinks that the superheroes get themselves into are unknown to me, so please forgive me for not going into much depth with the characters in this review. With that out of the way, let’s get on with the review!

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2) is the latest superhero action RPG churned out by Activision and various developer studios (different studios made different ports). In MUA2, players assume control over several Marvel heroes and anti-heroes in their quest to combat an issue that forces all mutant superheroes to register with the government.

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About 60-90 minutes into MUA2, a sequence of events occurs that brings about this whole registration act that forces all mutant heroes to register with the government or be deemed criminals. Two iconic characters are at odds with one another over the issue, however. Captain America is against the mutant registration act, refusing to adhere to it due to several reasons that he deems immoral. Taking the side of the government is Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. Up until the point in the game where these two are at odds, everything is just dandy in hero land. However, after it becomes evident that these two iconic heroes do not see eye to eye on the issue, the player has to pick which side they want to be one, Anti-Registration or Pro-Registration. Which side you choose determines what your headquarters are, what missions you will temporarily be assigned to, and what characters will be available to you.

In terms of characters, it is worth noting that there is a lot of variety in MUA2. While certain characters will only join you if you’re for or against the registration act, you will still always have tons of heroes to choose from. Captain America, Deadpool, Gambit, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Venom, Wolverine, and a dozen other characters will be able to travel with you. Since you must always have a team of four heroes, there are a lot of cool possibilities and I imagine that comic fans will be able to make some great dream teams.

For those who aren’t familiar with the gameplay, even though I’m reviewing this game several months after it’s release, I’ll go over how MUA2 works. As I mentioned above, you have a squad of four heroes at all times. The game is divided into several mission arcs in which you guide your heroes through fairly linear levels obliterating foes, defeating bosses, and performing tasks that progress the story.

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The gameplay is deemed action RPG. I get the action part pretty well, but this game is too linear to be considered an RPG, with the whole RPG element being nothing more than dialogue options in conversations and where you want to allocate skill points that your heroes earn when they level up. I will admit that yes, it’s fair to label the game an RPG, but the action part of the game takes center stage.

Attacks are mapped to the X and circle buttons, while square serves as a pick-up/throw button. Trademark superhero moves can be performed by holding a shoulder button (I played on the PS3, so it was R2) and then pressing either X, circle, square, or triangle. The player can switch to any character in their squad whenever they want by pressing any button on the d-pad.

Missions are insanely action packed, and I found gameplay to be kind of like Diablo only with four Marvel superheroes instead of one fantasy inspired character class. There are many waves of enemies in each mission, and they’ll often come at you in very large waves that initially look a little overwhelming. Fortunately, special attacks easily dispatch most foes, and fusion attacks (which is when two characters join their powers together for an attack) will prove to be absolutely devastating to almost any enemy that will challenge the player aside from boss characters. Some fusion attacks are very cool, like when you pair Ms. Marvel and Wolverine together. The pair will use their respective powers to unleash a devastating AoE attack that will decimate any enemy within range. Some characters do not really “match” with others however, and you will just get a sort of generic fusion attack when pairing incompatible heroes together. The gameplay is fast and hectic, so if that’s your cup of tea then this is definitely a game you’ll enjoy.

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The graphics are surprisingly nice for a console action RPG title. While environments are fairly detailed and nice to look at, it’s the character models that really seal the deal for me. Each and every hero is packed full of detail, which is really impressive since the camera is usually zoomed out fairly far from them. Deadpool, Iron Man and Spider-Man in particular look really outstanding. Unfortunately a lot of NPCs aren’t crafted quite as well, with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Maria Hill being a prime example of this.

In terms of sound, MUA2 does a fairly good job. Most of the music tracks are very fitting of the locales you will visit, and it’s worth noting that while some tracks aren’t very exceptional, there really isn’t any bad music in this game at all. Sound effects are pretty good as well, though it can be a little difficult to distinguish one sound from another in the heat of battle, due to the insane amount of sound effects being generated by your four man team as well as from the enemy forces that can number over one dozen most of the time. Voices are very good in this game, with heroes such as Captain America or Wolverine really stealing the show. A few characters could have probably done with better voices though, because I felt a little underwhelmed by Deadpool and Ms. Marvel. Deadpool’s humour seemed too forced and Ms. Marvel’s voice actress just didn’t have enough “oomph” for such a powerful and prominent female figure in the Marvel universe.

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With all the good out of the way, I’ll comment on the few bad points I have with this game. First is the camera. Despite being able to control it and rotate it around, it can still find itself in odd locations and won’t always provide you with the best view of the action. Second nitpick is the ingame menu that allows you to swap heroes and distribute skill points. It’s a pretty clunky menu, and I find that it’s slow to navigate and just overall feels fairly sluggish. MUA2’s menu is one of the very rare ones that feels like a console menu that was meant for the PC.

As a whole, MUA2 is remarkably solid. The story is interesting and the gameplay is a blast. Considering that you can play cooperatively with a friend or online, it adds even more to MUA2’s already outstanding gameplay. The entire package is well above average and, while not great, really is a lot of fun to play. Anyone who enjoys action RPGs or even just Marvel comic books will most likely find a lot to enjoy in MUA2.

Final Score

8.2/10