The Secret World First Impressions

I’ve recently begun to experience what seems like burn out from MMOs. I suppose I’m starting to grow tired of having to group with four misfits in order to trudge through a thirty minute dungeon just to kill a dragon. This is why The Secret World is a literal breath of fire air. Sure I’ve dabbled in non-fantasy settings with Champions Online and The Old Republic, but The Secret World aims to be the most “real” MMO out there. This game is set in our actual world. There may be magic and monsters, but there’s also London and New York. Welcome to Earth, enjoy your stay. Continue reading

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Diablo III Beta Impressions

So, Diablo 3. It’s time to talk about that game again.

Once upon a time I was dead set against even giving this game the time of day. Everything that I had heard regarding the game, such as the inclusion of a real money auction house or the removal of stat points and skill trees, made me believe that the crew Blizzard brought in to replace the former Blizzard North developers had no idea what they were doing. I was actively discouraging people I knew from being interested in Diablo 3. Factoring in how I’m a former WoW player who now hatefully rallies against the MMORPG and, gee, it made me look like a pissed off ex-Blizzard fan. To an extent I was, even though I did buy and enjoy Starcraft 2 (I have a review of it up on here for anyone interested).

After applying for the Diablo 3 beta opt-in and not getting in since day one, I finally got a chance last week when Blizzard opened up Diablo 3’s beta to the public in order to perform a stress test. I went into the beta not expecting much, and my incredibly slow download of the beta only increased my nearly unjusitifed disdain for the game. However, after sorting out the issue causing the slow download (which was tied to Internet Explorer even though I use Firefox, go figure), I was able to hop into the world of Diablo 3 and experience a new adventure in the world of Sanctuary for the first time since 2001.

So what is my verdict of Diablo 3 after slamming it for over a year? It is fundamentally a different experience than anything Blizzard North offered up in the first two games but that hasn’t stopped the new development team from creating something really enjoyable. If the small bit of Act 1 that I’ve played is anything to go by, Diablo 3 is going to shape up to be one of Blizzard’s best titles that they have ever produced.

It’s already a known fact that a fair amount of gameplay aspects have changed dramatically since Diablo 2, but just how severe are the changes? As many are aware, stat points are gone and your statistics increase automatically as you level up. This change has been welcomed by almost everyone as just about every internet user I speak to admits that this will help cut back on the amount of “character screw ups” that occurred so often in Diablo 2. Face it, how many of us foolishly sank points into energy and vitality back in the early days of Diablo 2 only to realize that our characters ended up being unable to equip almost any new piece of gear due to low strength or couldn’t even hit monsters half the time as a result of having little dexterity? The only people who seem saddened that stat points can no longer be allocated are the people who felt that it added an extra layer of customization. Did it? No, not really. It just determined if your character was playable or just plain shit. Allocating those points didn’t do anything, they were just numbers that controlled how good your character was playing through the game the way Blizzard intended. That’s not customization!

Skill trees are also a thing of the past, which is surprising to say the least. After they proved to be remarkably popular in Diablo 2, Blizzard adopted them in World of Warcraft. However, talent trees were recently simplified in WoW and they do not appear at all in Diablo 3. So what do we have now? We automatically gain new abilities when we level up. For example, say the the sorceress from Diablo 2 was returning. At level 2 you would receive a message notifying you that you can now use fireball. At level 10, the game would indicate that firewall is now available. As you level, you will gradually unlock more and more powers to use and, since they scale with your level, you will never sink a bunch of points into one or two skills while neglecting many others. This guarantees that all skills are viable later in the game and, again, helps in preventing players from building poor or weak characters. You’ll also unlock runes as you level up that you can combine with your powers. By selecting a rune, you will change the properties of an attack and almost create something brand new. Runes can radically change the animation and performance of just about any skill, so they’re definitely worth experimenting with.

The inventory screen has also been revamped heavily. No longer will players be playing Tetris and shifting gear around to make room for more equipment. This is a fantastic change, as potions and other small items take up only one block on the invenory screen while pieces of equipment take up two. There was nothing good about having pieces of armor taking up upwards of a dozen spaces in Diablo 2 and organizing your inventory became an annoying chore because of it. Anyone who disagrees with the inventory screen revamp and prefers the old system is clearly looking back on Diablo 2 with rose tinted glasses.

Blizzard has also tried to cut back on potion spamming, which isn’t that bad of an idea. My favourite part of Diablo has always been the action and the strategy, and making several trips back to town to buy more potions for a hard boss fight in Diablo 2 was not a part of that. Potions now stack (yes!) and have only ONE slot on your action bar. You can hold as many potions as you want and, to combat potion spam, Blizzard has added a short cooldown on using potions which is also a good idea. Now, here comes something I took a serious stance against before playing the beta. Health orbs. When you’re in a big fight, there is a chance that fallen foes will drop red health orbs that will restore your life when they are touched. I thought that this sounded really gimmicky at first and wondered why an action RPG was being given platformer-esque power-ups. Well, after playing the open beta, I can definitely say that health orbs played a very small part in the overall experience. They never felt necessary to seek out and grab and, because of this, they almost became background objects to me that didn’t matter.

In terms of actual gameplay, things are actually remarkably similar to Blizzard North’s Diablo games. Aside from newer technology allowing more complex character animations and environmental effects, this is definitely the same hack and slash madness that we’ve all grown to love. This is what I was most afraid the new team would mess up, but they did an amazing job. The clickfest battles are as fun as ever, looting works the same as before, and the integrals such as town portals and waypoints are back. Town portals are perhaps my favourite improved aspect of the game since Diablo 2. No longer will we have to deal with scrolls and tomes to take up to town due to anyone being able to make a town portal whenever they wish. The ability to create a town portal is now a spell that characters learn about forty five minutes into the game, and it’s a great thing to have. Having an unlimited number of portals to call upon, in conjunction with the improved inventory screen, makes mass corpse looting a true joy rather than a frightening chore like it was in Diablo 2.

Now, how are the classes? They are wonderfully varied! My personal favourite thus far is the monk, a genius martial artist who is able to obliterate foes with some truly flashy hand to hand techniques. The monk also possesses insane survivability. Aside from being a great melee DPS character, the monk is incredibly agile and also has healing abilities as well as auras that work similarly to what the paladin had in his arsenal in Diablo 2. I can see the monk being a huge fan favourite after release, because there seems to be nothing that this class does not excel at!

Demon hunter is currently my second favourite class. This class is a lot like the amazon of the first two games, a ranged fighter with a very bow/crossbow-centric skill set. The demon hunter has all sorts of cool ranged abilities with one exciting early game ability being a sort of spread shot that fires in three directions and tears through anything in its path. Also, while most classes only have one resource pool to worry about when it comes to using abilities (mana for witch doctors, fury for barbarians, etc.), the demon hunter has two. Hatred, the red resource, governs offensive techniques meant for obliterating foes. Discipline is a blue resource and it is more defensive, allowing the demon hunter to perform acrobatic feats to put distance between him or herself and their foes.

I didn’t spend much time with other classes, but I gave them all a shot at least. The barbarian is exactly what you’d expect, though he now hits harder than ever! Don’t be surprised to see enemies go flying across the screen as you pulverize them with your Hulk-sized arms. The wizard is pretty much the sorceress from Diablo 2 but, thanks to modern technology, the class can perform moe interesting spells such as a ray of frost that will shoot anywhere your mouse goes. The witch doctor is the class I spent the least amount of time with because, even from the get go, it felt really boring to play. Your initial ability as the witch doctor is nothing more than a poison dart gun, but you’ll soon be able to summon hellhounds and such which makes the class a little more bearable.

If I were to rank the classes in order from most to least enjoyable, it would go like this: monk, demon hunter, barbarian/wizard (too close to call), and witch doctor. The monk and demon hunter feel remarkably complete and are a true joy to play as while the witch doctor feels particularly lacking in the beta.

Overall, I had a great deal of fun in the open beta after playing it for as long as my weekend schedule allowed, which was eight or nine hours. The final battle against the Skeleton King (yes, THAT Skeleton King) was insanely enjoyable and, considering that it occurs only a third of the way through Act 1, I can’t wait to see what the big end bosses are like for each of the game’s four acts. I think that we’re all in for quite a treat!

So, is Diablo 3 good? Yes, and I’m ashamed of myself for ever criticizing this game so much. It’s pretty clear that this isn’t the Diablo we played back in the 90s and at the turn of the century, but Blizzard’s new blood created an amazing impersonation of Blizzard North’s successful formula. Diablo 3 is going to be massive when May 15 hits, and I expect it to remain so for many years to come. See you all in Sanctuary in three weeks!

Star Wars: The Old Republic Video Impressions

I decided to pass on writing another article regarding my impressions with this game to instead bring you my thoughts in video form. In the following videos I basically just show a few basic things, make comparisons to World of Warcraft, and struggle to locate a turn in point for a quest.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Impressions (Part 1)

I’m not a big Star Wars fan and I haven’t really enjoyed any Star Wars video game that I have played in the past. With that said, The Old Republic is without a doubt the most well designed MMORPG ever made and I’m enjoying my time with it so far.

Despite the fact that I have only spent about four hours with the game, the overall detail and quality of the finished product is blindingly apparent to me. This isn’t another Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Aion, or even Rift. The Old Republic is a very noticeable step above them all in terms of how well made the game is. The surprising thing, however, is that The Old Republic is clearly better than World of Warcraft in terms of quality as well. Even if it doesn’t beat WoW (though it could with Star Wars’ huge fanbase), it should still be regarded as the superior product.

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So what makes this the best MMORPG out there? Maybe the fact that it plays like a suprising infusion of Mass Effect and World of Warcraft. You could honestly sit back and play this MMORPG as a single player RPG strictly because the narrative and story telling are both so exceptional. There is actually a main quest in this game, one that is centered around the exploits of your character. To enforce this, there are phased areas throughout the world where only your character will be visible. The entrances of these phased areas are marked with green holographic barrier-like walls that you can walk through. Upon passing through one, you will be phased out of the persistent world containing hundreds of other players and will exist solely on your own (there is no loading to accomplish this). What purpose do these areas serve? Well, phased areas mosly contain important quest NPCs that you’ve been directed to kill among other things. This is a huge improvement over other MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft because, in The Old Republic, a phased area belongs to you and you alone, so any quest NPC you have to kill in a phased area wil be killed by you – not other players. I’m sure many people have terrifying memories of having to fight over quest mobs in World of Warcraft, such as the infamous Hogger in Elwynn Forest. This is no longer an issue.

Interactions with NPCs are fully voiced and play out as they would in Dragon Age or Mass Effect, meaning there are moral responses for you to choose from when replying to NPCs. It’s a nice option to have which adds some much needed personality to our MMORPG characters for once. Because of this, my Jedi Knight is shaping up to be a very sympathetic guy who always wants to do the right thing for people. A lot of the moral choices I’m choosing are increasing my alignment and pushing me to the light side. Light side, you ask? Yes, there’s the light side and the dark side. Depending on how you play your character and how they respond to NPCs, their personality will develop and will inch towards either the light or dark side. Assist villagers and side with them on ethical issues and you will be pushed in the direction of the light side, but if you run around and choose the intimidating and rude dialogue options (which are quite likely to end up in the death of others around you) then expect to have your character slowly turn towards the dark side.

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This all sounds a lot like a single player RPG, doesn’t it? That’s the best part, it’s not. At all. Instances (flashpoints) and raids (operations) are still around, but I’m not at a high enough level to experience either yet. There are also group quests which I’m also yet to experience despite being level 7. When you’re not in phased areas for questing reasons, you’ll see plenty of other players running around completing their own quests, killing enemy mobs, and interacting with NPCs. The Old Republic contains everything that other MMORPGs do but beefs the experience up with the character development and narrative we’ve come to expect from single player RPGs. This really is a new level for RPGs. Yes the core gameplay is roughly the same, but the extra layer of single player RPG-esque goodness that Bioware has thrown into the formula has drastically improved how The Old Republic plays as an MMORPG.

I haven’t explored many classes yet and have only played Republic-side. I have a level 2 trooper who I made for a YouTube video (find it down below) and my level 7 Jedi Knight who is most certainly going to be my main. I didn’t play enough of the trooper to come to any conclusions at all (again, level 2), but from what I’ve seen of the Jedi Knight so far has impressed it. They appear to be a very speedy melee DPS class with a lot of options for closing the distance between the player and mobs as well as potentially decent crowd control potential.

I haven’t talked about much besides how The Old Republic has been infused with single player RPG elements and that’s because I simply haven’t played the game enough to comment on other things. I can say, however, that this game has all of the MMORPG mainstays such as quest hubs, travel points, AI companions, skill trainers, and more. This is an MMORPG with a lot of extra added oomph. I’ll write some more tomorrow or Friday but, so far, colour me impressed. This is a superb MMORPG!

Dead Island (Post Impressions)

This is not a review, because I did not play Dead Island long enough to justify the writing of one. I played the game for a grand total of a mere 3.7 hours. This isn’t a terribly long time to spend with a game unless it is something overly simplistic such as Minesweeper, so I cannot and will not write about Dead Island as if I really even know what I am talking about, since I just did not spend enough time on the game to become terribly knowledgeable.

Why didn’t I play the game for any longer than four hours? There are a few reasons. Some of them may or may not be agreeable, but not of them are outright “wrong” since it’s all opinion and is therefore pretty subjective.

1. Collision Detection: What’s with this aspect of the game? Why is it so off? There is not much consistency with collision detection unless you’re using a ranged weapon or throwing something at a zombie. It just seems horribly off a lot of the time since I can kick a zombie in the chest when it appears to be several feet away from me, and then there are times when a zombie will be less than an arms reach away from me and my kicks will miss. I don’t know what’s going on here, but it gives me horrible flashbacks of Morrowind’s iffy dice/number based “hit or miss” battle system. I doubt that Dead Island uses the same method to calculate whether or not you hit since nothing in the game really indicated that it did, but at the very least the fighting mechanics seem a little sloppily coded.

2. Depth of Field: I’M GOING TO THROW UP! Maybe not quite, but this game is a pain for me to look at. The camera controls are extremely wonky and I feel it’s hard to look in certain directions at times. It can also be hard to judge just how close (or far) zombies are at times, which kind of ties in which my beef with the collision detection in this game. I just feel like the whole experience is awkward and disorienting. The way in which character movement is portrayed makes me feel a little confused and really messes with my mind. I don’t get motion sickness or anything, but there’s definitely something to this game that makes me feel a little “off” when I am moving around on foot.

Didn't I already cut this guy's head off? Like a few dozen times? Hurrah for repeating character models!

3. (Lack of) Enemy Variety: Walker, walker, walker, thug, infected, walker, walker, walker, infected… Rinse and repeat a lot. This game is an RPG, yeah? Even games such as Fallout 3 (which I can’t stand) boasts better variety. Fighting the same three enemy types, with a grand total of what feels like two or three different models in total for each kind of zombie, gets tiring fast. They could have done so much more! The variety truly is a little boring, and I would only accept shambling zombies if they came at the player en masse ala Dead Rising. When you run into one or two walkers at a time over and over, it just gets really boring. I am aware that you have more zombies attacking you at once later (such as several infected at a time), but really? Should we honestly have to work towards this? I’m playing a zombie game, I don’t want to be attacked by tiny little twosomes and trios for a few hours, especially when it is the same character models/zombie types over and over. I would have at least appreciated a few blood barfing zombies at the start or something.

4. Poor Atmosphere: This game just doesn’t grip me at all. I love zombies as much as the next guy, and a proper horror/scary game can certainly freak me out, but this game just doesn’t suck me in. The hotel at the very start was sufficiently spooky and I enjoyed it, but afterwards? I don’t know, roaming around a tropical resort wasn’t very scary even with zombies screaming and running at me. The environment still looked too pristine and untouched, and the zombies themselves weren’t very intimidating. Everything I was asked to do by the dull and personality-lacking NPCs felt very routine. I just struggled to feel immersed at all. Singleplayer mode ended up being ridiculously boring because of this, and the short time I spent playing co-op with a friend was slightly better, but still kind of sucked since he was a much higher level and was just rushing me through the game. There was no challenge at all because of this since he was running around killing everything in one hit with electrified weapons and such. My situation never felt particularly dire.

This guy has the personality of a cardboard box. He is so dull that I gave him an exciting nickname. Cinnamon. I'm serious.

5. Bugs & Glitches: While I commend the developers on being able to develop a game that would run on my laptop (it isn’t a set up as gaming machine, but it can hold its own pretty well), I’m a big disgruntled at the frequent black screens I would receive when quitting the game, along with various odd control issues. I’ve also noticed that others online have had quite a few issues with the game, especially with quest NPCs bugging up or with save files becoming corrupted. Dead Island does seem to be about as buggy as standard Bethesda TES releases (Morrowind, Oblivion), but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the game is unstable as other games such Sacred 2. A lot of people have no issues with Dead Island, so I guess that counts for something.

So, there you have it. These are the issues that I feel stopped me from playing more of Dead Island. I will admit that the game looks pretty nice and has some decent ideas such as the combo weapon system and co-op gameplay, but they weren’t enough to save the game in my eyes. I respect that a lot of people are enjoying this game, but Dead Island just doesn’t seem to be for me. I regret purchasing the game, as the money I used to buy it could’ve gone towards F1 2011 instead. Oh well, to each their own!

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.