Saints Row: The Third (Review)

I think I’m about a month late to the Saints Row party but, whatever, I was busy playing Skyrim! Anyway…

There’s a lot that could be said about Saints Row: The Third. Prior to playing the game, I always thought that the series was just a more “gangsta” version of Grand Theft Auto and nothing more. Sometimes it feels good to be wrong about some things, and I’m certainly glad that I was wrong about Saints Row: The Third. This game is so much more than just a GTA-esque sandbox game and it is, dare I say, better than Rockstar’s series.

Saints Row: The Third is, yes, an open world sandbox game set in a huge urban sprawl. Just like in Grand Theft Auto you can steal cars, have shootouts with cops that grow progressively more and more intense the longer you hold out, play dress up by buying clothes, or even just mucking around with the pedestrians and traffic by causing general mayhem. The difference between the two? Saints Row does it better than Grand Theft Auto and it’s mostly because this game is just so insane that you cannot take it seriously.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to beat zombies with a big two foot long dildo? How about to pilot a bizarre ATARI-esque tank in city streets firing giant explosive blocks? Or have you ever wanted to take a Jet Moto bike into the open and run over dozens of people? While we’re at it, let’s set a casino full of gamblers on fire with molotov cocktails. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget about throwing ourselves into traffic and getting rewarded for it. This game is just completely balls to walls crazy.

Character customization can be quite good in this game depending on what you're aiming for.

The story isn’t the greatest there is simply because the game is so ridiculous. Missions have you getting plastic surgery (and possible a sex change) to impersonate an enemy, turning into a toilet, waging war with a computer geek in a virtual world, and driving around the city with a pissed off tiger in your vehicle for no apparent reason. There is an actual story and it deals with the 3rd Street Saints ending up in a city called Steelport after a bank heist goes terribly wrong in their home city of Stilwater. With Pierce and Shaundi, you (the leader of the Saints) must establish a presence in the city by battling rival gangs for control over districts to raise your reputation and power in the underground. The further you progress in the story the greater your hideouts and residences (cribs) will be, and the Saints will acquire access to things that seemed completely out of reach at the start of the game. The story is just all about building your power and reputation in Steelport while not letting the rival gangs walk all over you. Eventually a military group called STAG will arrive in Steelport to bring the gang wars under control, and that’s where things get really interesting.

There are a few surprises and twists in the story throughout the course of the game, but nothing that happens will really blow your mind or have you on the edge of your seat. Saints Row: The Third isn’t trying to give you an epic story, no. This game just wants you to have a lot of hilarious and over the top fun in a city where anything goes. Literally. As I said, your missions will bring you face to face with an angry tiger, virtual reality baddies in a Tron-like world, zombies, and more. Fun comes before story here and it’s blindingly apparent.

Your character’s cell phone is pretty much the most important thing in the game as it has a list of available missions for you to take on while playing. If progressing the story isn’t something you feel like doing, you can have your phone direct you to various locales throughout Steelport that counts as additional content. The most enjoyable form of additional content has to be acitivites. These are essentially minigames that you can find on the side of the street and triggering them will initiate the activity itself. Some have you thrusting yourself into open traffic in an attempt to collect insurance money while another kind throws you into what has to be the most violent game show ever where the objective is to gun down enemies dressed in cute animal mascot costumes while avoiding many electrical and flaming traps.

Other things to do outside of missions include purchasing properties and shops. By buying these locations, you will earn revenue from them hourly. The more expensive the location is, the more you’ll probably get from it in return. Purchasing shops will give you discounts such as lowering the cost of ammo and making clothing cheaper to buy. Another handy thing about buying shops it that, whenever gangs or police are after you, entering a shop will immediately clear you of any notoriety you have.

Crazy carnage and unrealistic vehicles are the name of the game here.

One of my favourite aspects of Saints Row: The Third is the customization. The character customization process is pretty thorough (it has dozens of sliders for facial features) and can take you up to an hour to make your character if you’re really serious about getting them to look the way you want. Fortunately you can edit them again later by visiting plastic surgeons littered throughout Steelport. Many vehicles can also be customized by upgrading their brake, torque, and much more or buy giving them a new paint job, tossing some new rims on the wheels, or modifying the body of the car itself. Any vehicle that you modify will then be saved to your garage where you can access it whenever you’d like. The greatest part about this? If you blow up your highly customized car and then accidently blow it up, all you have to do is visit your garage again and presto! You can spawn the exact same car! It may be unrealistic, but it’s a fantastic feature which heavily endorses the whole “we just want you to have fun” aura that permeates this game.

Your character can also be customized via the upgrades menu from your phone. By selecting this you can increase your combat effectiveness (raises damage you inflict from guns, etc.), unlock gang bonuses, or just make life a lot easier for you by increasing your sprint speed or health regeneration. There are tons of upgrades available which will unlock over time by gaining respect which is a sort of experience point system. You’ll gain respect by completing missions, activities, and other various tasks. You can also acquire respect simply by performing stunts and such in the world like having several near misses in a row when you’re in a vehicle. There are tons of little things that award respect and you could literally decide to just grind respect and still have fun in this game since the things that grant respect are fun themselves.

One thing that I’m glad for in this game is how responsible the controls are. Traversing on foot is predictably easy to do, but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how easy it is to drive the various automobiles, boats, and flying vehicles in the game. A few of them (mainly anything that flies) may take a few minutes to get used to but there’s little challenge involved and you’ll rarely ever find yourself blaming the controls for anything that happens.

The graphics in Saints Row: The Third are pretty impressive. Some districts of the city look really beautiful when you’re on foot, especially the downtown areas with huge neon displays. I haven’t found any areas of the game that look a little rough. Some locations may seem a little barren, but nothing actually looks bad in this game. Considering you can go into buildings as well (mostly just cribs, shops, and a select few others), there’s a lot to look at in the city itself. Characters also look pretty good in this game. Your homies (mostly Pierce and Shaundi) are quite detailed but other secondary characters such as Cyrus, Kilbane and Viola all look great as well.

Yes, you can parachute from that high up... and it's pretty damn awesome.

The sound work in the game is also quite good. Sound effects are mostly pretty generic and standard stuff that we’ve already heard before, but the music and voices are something else. The soundtrack in this game has some truly great licensed songs that you’ll hear on the radio by Benny Benassi, Bush, Robert Tepper, and Sublime while the mission sequences also boast some good tunes. I never expected to enjoy anything by Kanye West, but there’s one song by him called “Power” which plays during some great moments ingame and it really fits wonderfully with the action on the screen.

About the voices, I love them all. All of your homies have excellent voice actors bringing them to life and the antagonists aren’t half bad either (especially Kilbane). The voices that you can select for your character are all very good as well. I was instantly won over by Female Voice 3 for my Hispanic chick and it fit like a glove. Another voice worth mentioning is one by the never-out-of-work Steve Blum who provides the lines for another selectable voice that is simply titled “Zombie Voice.” By choosing this for your character you are entering a land of non-stop laughs. The zombie voice is less moan and groan and more… Spastic weird noises and grumbles. It’s pretty funny stuff, especially during one sequence where your character sings “What I Got” by Sublime with Pierce. I literally burst out laughing when I heard it.

So how good is this game? Pretty freaking good. There are some details I left out such as the co-op (it works beautifully and is a lot of fun) and probably a few other little things, but they are worth discovering on your own. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Steelport and I think just about anyone will enjoy this game. Saints Row: The Third is perhaps the quirkiest and silliest game I have ever played and I absolutely loved every single second of it. This game is a winner and if you’re reading this review then you must be thinking about giving the game a try. Do it. Now.

Final Score

9.3/10

Pros:
+ Steelport is a blast to explore and has lots to do.
+ The voicing in the game is superb.
+ This game has customization coming out the wazoo!

Cons:
– Later missions can become overwhelming with the amount of action happening at once.
– Loading times can infrequently spike at random.
– Unfocused storyline may deter those looking for a compelling quest.

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Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 (Review)

Capcom sure has taken a lot of crap from their fans in recent months. Hordes of angry consumers are upset that they have to buy Marvel vs Capcom 3 for a second time, but I’m not even going to get into that. This is after all my review for Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Capcom has really proved their doubters wrong with this thorough upgrade to an already great fighting game.

Since I already wrote a review for the original release of Marvel vs Capcom 3, I won’t really rehash anything I said about the gameplay systems and what not so if you haven’t played Marvel vs Capcom 3 at all, read that review first for my thoughts on the overall structure and playability of the game. So what does Capcom bring to the table with the Ultimate update? Twelve new characters, ten new stages, a revamped main menu and UI, as well as extensive balancing and expanding of existing character move lists.

First, let’s talk about the returning characters. A lot of characters have brand new moves which will force their long time fans to come up with new strategies and ways to integrate the new moves into their play styles. Wolverine is perhaps my favourite example of this as he has gained an attack called “Swiss Cheese” in which he slices his claws repeatedly in front of him. It’s a lot like Super Skrull’s “Tenderizer” attack and is easy to execute (perhaps too easy). Various other characters have a new trick or two up their sleeves while almost every character has been rebalanced or tweaked to some degree. Most of the changes are fortunately minor and won’t really affect the gameplay any differently for regular players, though the hardcore tournament players will be obsessing over each and every small change due to even the slightest tweak being a potential game changer for specific characters on the tournament scene.

All characters now have six colours to choose from with most of them being new colour schemes that were not present in the original release. Captain America, Deadpool and Zero have some cool alternate colour schemes with Zero perhaps being the most interesting due to how his alternate colours pay homage to various characters in the Mega Man universe. In typical trollish Capcom fashion, Zero has received a brand new Mega Man X alternate colour scheme. This is sure to annoy some Mega Man fans, but they haven’t seen anything yet. Just wait until DLC costumes!

In terms of new characters, there’s a lot of really interesting variety. Twelve new faces have been added in total, six to each side. On Capcom’s side we have Firebrand, Frank West, Nemesis, Phoenix Wright, Strider Hiryu, and Vergil. Firebrand is a winged red demon who can flutter around the screen shooting fireballs and doing various dive attacks. He’s a little difficult to get used to, but he seems like a fairly pleasant surprise. It’s pretty possible for Firebrand to be anywhere at once, and I anticipate he’ll be the bane of a lot of inexperienced players online.

Frank West seems like a very enjoyable character. He appears to be very melee oriented due to starting off with his baseball bat and camera. The fun thing about Frank is that he can level himself up and gain new weapons. Each time Frank levels up, his melee weapon will change. What starts off as a mere baseball bat will eventually end up as much stronger combo weapons that we all know and love from Dead Rising.

Phoenix Wright is a real handful to use. His animations are confusing and it is difficult to determine what “moves” will hit your opponent. Phoenix Wright’s moves include throwing papers, sneezing (or coughing?), and falling down on his butt. While I appreciate the fact that Capcom included Phoenix Wright in the game to please his fans, he is an obvious joke character – but not in the good way. In my opinion, he is a waste of space in this game.

As a long time Marvel vs Capcom fan, I’ve been putting a lot of time into Strider Hiryu and am loving how he plays in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. He is fantastic at both short and long range and his teleports can really help mix things up quite a bit.

Nemesis and Vergil also seem quite handy and I’m sure each of them will be devastating in the right hands. Nemesis sort of reminds me of Venom while Vergil is sure to get a lot of play from Devil May Cry fans as well as anyone who prefers sword-based characters.

On the Marvel side we have Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, Iron Fist, Nova, and Rocket Raccoon. I’ve really only taken to two Marvel characters and they are Ghost Rider and Nova. The rest, unfortunately, just don’t mesh with my play style at all which is a real shame since I was really looking forward to Iron Fist before release.

Ghost Rider is a long range virtuoso. His chain attacks often stretch all the way across the screen which makes it pretty hard to run from Ghost Rider, and his “eat chain” line that he spits out with each attack sounds great. I feel like I probably like Ghost Rider’s look and voice more than how he plays but, overall, he feels like a really well made fighter with his chain and fire attacks. Oh yeah, and we can’t ignore his hyper where he jumps on his bike and mows down the opponent!

Nova took a lot of heat before release with many fans saying that he just looked like a rehashing of other characters. Essentially, they thought he was a bland and boring version of Taskmaster. I was always looking forward to Nova and I’ve grown to really enjoy using him now that the game is in my hands. He does have a lot of close range rushdown attacks as demonstrated in his trailer, but he also has quite a bit of long range possibilities as well and I can’t wait to try him out against human opponents.

Now, the four characters I don’t like too much on the Marvel side? Doctor Strange seems very well made, but I can’t adapt to his floaty mechanics and, due to him hovering slightly above the ground, I haven’t had much luck using Strange against the likes of Amaterasu, Arthur, or Rocket Raccoon.

Hawkeye isn’t a bad character and his bows have excellent range and speed, but he feels seriously bland and uninspired to me. I like his theme music, but playing him is honestly a bore. The same applies to Iron Fist who I thought looked like a blast in his trailer, but after using him? He just felt hopelessly generic and is nothing but a Bruce Lee rip-off in this game. I understand that Iron Fist is an exceptionally talented martial artist, but the Bruce Lee vibes could have been taken down a few notches.

As for Rocket Racoon? I don’t have any problems with him and his quirky design amuses me, but his small size makes him a little harder for me to play with. It feels like Yoda from Soulcalibur IV all over again. He has plenty of range and can even use traps (think Trish), but Rocket Raccoon is pretty pitiful in my hands and I don’t want to comment on him very much because of this.

I suppose I could mention Galactus as a seventh Marvel character since we are able to play as him now. In Galactus Mode, you simply play as the planet devourer himself as you take down team after team of opponents. It’s fun for one or two matches, but after that it becomes a bit dull. Playing as Galactus is interesting, but it usually feels like a lot of effort on my part to even make him do anything. Capcom does not include a move list for him, so figuring out how to use Galactus is all guess work.

There are ten new stages in total, but they are all just “remixed” versions of existing stages. For example, Kattelox Island is now covered in snow and the SHIELD heli-carrier stage is now set during the day. Fortunately the remixed stages add just enough variety to be interesting to play on, though Demon Village Redux (essentially a black and white version of the original Demon Village) feels like a bit of a lazy rush job.

There aren’t too many other new features, though the ingame UI has been improved making it easier to tell which character is on point and how much life your teammates have left. You will also always know when you have X Factor available due to the electrified red X at the end of each player’s life bars. Another small thing worth mentioning for those who don’t play online much is that the computer AI has been made a little more difficult.

Overall, I feel like Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is a huge step in the right direction. All of the new characters (except Phoenix Wright) feel as if they belong in this game and all of them are probably pretty viable. While we’re sure to see a frightening number of Vergils online, at least we’re still going to see a little more diversity! If you were a fan of the original Marvel vs Capcom 3, then I would definitely suggest checking out the Ultimate upgrade. The game feels remarkably exciting and fresh again and the new characters add plenty of unpredictability to the fights.

Final Score

9.4/10

Pros:
+ New characters and stages all look really great.
+ Old characters receiving new moves was a great idea.
+ The new characters add lots of new possibilities.

Cons:
– Galactus fight is the same as ever.
– No new innovative game modes.
– Phoenix Wright. Capcom, what were you thinking?

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

Rift Impressions (Levels 1-10)

“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.

It has become evident that Blizzard is solely out for money now as they are charging players the same old amount for less new content than before, and then there’s how Blizzard overcharges it’s players for every service there is. While the subscription fee is the industry norm, the cost of character renames and recustomizations (changing their appearances) can cost from $15 to about $25. Transferring characters between realms (servers) runs at about $30. Compared to the competition, this is pretty insane. A complete rename in another MMORPG, Champions Online, will run you at about $6. And recustomizations? Completely free. You’re allowed to change how you look whenever you want ingame, and yet WoW players happily charge an arm and a leg for the same service? Bizarre!

I’m getting off track, though. As I was saying, World of Warcraft is becoming less and less spectacular, and the “same ol’ prices” for new content and services is starting to look a little unjustified considering how much money Blizzard makes off of WoW these days. The company’s profit off of WoW is so immense that it is, literally, incredibly laughable. Trion Worlds knows that unhappy WoW players can easily be persuaded to jump ship by offering something that is essentially the same as what they know and love, only better looking and with more dynamic world events. Yes, Rift is a complete and total WoW rip off. The core design of the game isn’t quite as good, but the end product surpasses WoW by far in my opinion. The only advantage WoW has? Better controls and better music, and that is all. Really!

So, if you’re a WoW player who isn’t feeling very entranced by the “Walmart of MMORPGs” anymore then read on. I’m a former WoW player myself. I played for six years, but I severed my ties to the game at the start of January this year. I had good times in the game and am not a hater, so know that the impressions I’m about to go over are very honest and sincere.

Now, let’s talk about Rift, the game that wants to defeat World of Warcraft.

Initial Impressions

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 and it didn’t really explain a lot at all. The opening to Rift just showed a Guardian (Rift’s Alliance faction) duking it out against two Defiant (Rift’s Horde faction), followed by the opening of a 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 dozens of 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. Rifts.

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.

I decided to go with the Guardians because I typically enjoy good guy settings more often, as they always feel more exciting and majestic. I almost went with making a Dwarf, but decided to go with a High Elf instead. 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 INSANE 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 WoW pretty easily. The character I ultimately created in the end is a female High Elf cleric named Celianne. Let’s take a look at her, shall we?

So after making your character, you are plopped in a sort of Cathedral-like stronghold where you are assigned your first soul. Souls are the sub-classes I talked about. Until you take on your first soul, 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. For Celianne, I went with the “warden” soul, which serves as a sort of water-based super healer. Becoming a warden allowed Celianne to shoot blasts of water as well as use a few healing spells.

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 mobs I had to kill were sort of zombie-like ghosts of what I think were deceased warriors. This fit with the tutorial zone, which was essentially the Mathosian kingdom after being overrun by invading undead baddies. 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.

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 Celianne’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.

Here’s a picture of Celianne cruising around Silverwood on her awesome two-headed turtle that I received from buying the digital collector’s edition off Steam.

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, which can be used as it’s own sort of currency to obtain special gear and items from specific vendors.

After closing a few more rifts, I decided to give the game a rest at level 10 since I had other things that I had to do. As a whole, what I experienced smelled strongly of familiarity. Rift does a lot of things like WoW. In fact, it shamelessly copies WoW in so many ways that anyone who has played Blizzard’s behemoth will feel right at home here and won’t need any tutorials. Combat pets, vanity companions, and mounts all function the same as they did in WoW. Your backpack and additional bags, ingame currency, and action bars function the same as well. The menus are distinctly their own however, which is good. Even the character sheet screen does enough of a job to distance itself from WoW that players won’t feel like they’re just playing a prettier version of the Blizzard MMORPG.

So, after ten levels, what is Rift like? It’s certainly enjoyable and I am having a positive experience with the game. The visual presentation and controls remind me of a cross between Dragon Age and Guild Wars while the actual core gameplay is pretty much a carbon copy of WoW but with a few worthy additions (you can dye your gear and such).

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. The ingame soundtrack isn’t too great, though. After playing for about three hours in total, I shut the game music off because it ranged from being unspectacular to borderline cringe-worthy. The menus have good music, though. I’ll turn the music back on when I hit new locations, but I can definitely say that the tunes you’ll hear in the tutorial zone and Silverwood won’t wow you at all.

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.

Just to make things a little clearer to some people, I’ll make three comparisons just to paint a picture.

Rift flows like: Guild Wars
Rift looks like: Dragon Age Origins
Rift is structured like: World of Warcraft

I’ll post more thoughts on the game as I play it more but, for now, there’s how I feel. To end this article, here’s a picture of my level 1 Dwarf warrior looking far cooler than he probably should.

Dead Rising 2 (Review)

“A playful zombie game that most gamers should get their hands on.”

If there’s one thing that is hard to do wrong, it’s zombies games. I’ve played plenty games that star the shambling undead, and very few have been anything less than average. Dead Rising 2, from Blue Castle and Capcom, is not just a fun zombie game but a fantastic one.

As someone who never played the original Dead Rising due to not having a 360, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. All that I was aware of was that this game was supposedly very tongue in cheek, excessively gory yet hilarious at the same time. While the story behind Dead Rising 2 is certainly very serious, the way in which the game presents itself is anything but. Think Shaun of the Dead, only without the silly jokes and with a strong and masculine lead.

Dead Rising 2 throws you in control of ex-motocross ace Chuck Greene, who is taking part in a reality show called Terror is Reality so that he can get some money to purchase Zombrex for his daughter Katey. What is Zombrex? In a nut shell, it is over the counter medication that people who have been bitten by zombies can take daily to stave off becoming a zombie themselves. Katey was once bitten by a zombie, and as a result Chuck has had to give her a shot of Zombrex each and every day since the accident.

The game show that Chuck takes part in, Terror is Reality, is essentially a show in which contestants kill zombies on bikes that have chainsaws attached to them (called slicecycles). The winner is the contestant who kills the most zombies. The player gets to control Chuck during the game show, which is the first time you get to do so. It is not a mandatory part of the game and can be skipped, but it’s best not to do so for story purposes.

Anyway, disaster strikes as somebody lets the zombies loose after the show. Security footage shows that Chuck himself did it, which we know is a lie since we were controlling him the entire time. After rescuing Katey and fleeing from the building, Chuck finds the entire city (called Fortune City) overrun. After finding his way into a safehouse, the objectives of the game are laid out for you, and then you get free control to do anything and go anywhere. While the game is an open world sandbox game, the objectives are quite rigid. Inject Katey with Zombrex each morning (you have to find Zombrex throughout the city), find out who framed Chuck and clear his name, and rescue survivors that you find throughout Fortune City.

Finding out who framed Chuck and then working to clear his name is essentially the main story of the game and is provided to you in the form of “cases” (like detective work). The story is pretty linear if all you do is follow that, but you are perfectly free to muck up the story and miss cases. This just means that you won’t get a good ending when you beat the game, and will then be allowed to restart from the beginning with everything you’ve earned (levels, attacks, combo cards, and so forth).

Rescuing survivors is a pretty big part of the game as well, as saving them will net you lots of PP (prestige points), which are essentially experience points. Earn a certain amount and Chuck will gain a level, just like in an RPG. Leveling up will grant Chuck one or two bonuses each level, such as an extra life bar, a new attack, or increased speed. Survivors are pretty fun to rescue, as you have to guide them back to the safehouse on your own. Their AI isn’t too bad and, if you arm them with a weapon, their chances of being grabbed by zombies is reduced greatly. Some survivors will refuse weapons though, or will even need to be carried. Many survivors will also ask you to do something before agreeing to go to the safehouse. For example, one survivor is starving and wants to eat something first so you have to find some food for him before he agrees to follow you to the safehouse, while an embarrassed female survivor in her undergarments will only go with you if Chuck strips to his underwear as well. You will learn about potential survivors from Stacey, a character who texts Chuck and tells him what to look out for in Fortune City. She’ll often tip the player off with locations of survivors or things worth checking out, and Chuck will have a set amount of time to look into Stacey’s findings.

Between zombies and a few regular human enemies, there is a type of enemy called a psycho. Psychos are people who have gone insane from the zombie outbreak and are, most of the time, extremely difficult to kill and will trample over you with ease. Since you are allowed to restart the story at any time and keep your abilities and stats, it is best to leave psychos until you are certain that you will be able to take them down.

Going back to zombies, it is impressive how many can appear on the screen at any one time. It’s not uncommon for there to be well over a hundred zombies on your screen, provided you’re not in a very cramped location. This game doesn’t hesitate to give you the full zombie apocalypse atmosphere, and it shows. Unfortunately with so many zombies on screen at once, it’s easy to see a few clones shambling around. Even still, it seems that Blue Castle did a good job of keeping identical zombies to a minimum, as it seems like there are several dozen different zombie models to encounter. The graphics in Dead Rising 2 may not be pushing any boundaries, but they certainly suffice and the diversity among the zombies is appreciated.

In terms of weapons, it is pretty safe to say that anything that is not nailed down can probably be picked up and used as a weapon by Chuck. Common weapons include baseball bats, crowbars, fire axes, and sledgehammers. Chuck can use a few obscure items as weapons as well, such as golf clubs complete with golf balls, robot teddies, fuzzy dice, and pineapples. Pretty much anything in the game world can be wielded by Chuck, which makes exploring in Dead Rising 2 a lot of fun. Fortune City may not cover a lot of ground, but there are so many shops and rooms to check out that it feels so much larger than it really is.

Chuck can also find combo cards, which teaches him how to combine items to make special weapons. At the beginning they are rather simple, such as the baseball bat with nails in it, but eventually Chuck can do things such as combine a flashlight with gems to make, well, a lightsaber. It may not be very realistic, but realism should not be expected from a game that treats urinals as save points! It’s worth noting that the weapons Chuck makes are, most of the time, exceptionally powerful. Even the basic baseball bat with nails is a very deadly weapon that can be obtained very easily.

Also worth noting is the multiplayer. Dead Rising 2 offers two forms of multiplayer. First, there is the standard co-op mode in which you can hop into another person’s game as they play through the main story. Only the host’s story will progress, but both players in the co-op game will acquire money and PP. It’s a fun mode, and it is certainly very enjoyable causing havoc with another player in the casinos and malls of Fortune City. The zombies really don’t stand a chance against two Chucks!

The second multiplayer mode is Terror is Reality, the game show that Chuck contested in. In Terror is Reality, four players are pitted against each other in goofy minigames that all involve zombies being killed, maimed, or even just played with. One minigame involves sniping zombies that appear in random doors in front of the players, so it’s like whack a mole with guns. Another minigame forces players to don caribou antlers, which they use to throw zombies onto weights. Heavier zombies award players with more points. There are probably about a dozen different minigames in Terror is Reality to play, and fortunately most of them are somewhat enjoyable. Another bonus to playing Terror is Reality is that all of the prize money you earn playing the minigames can be transferred to the singleplayer game. Considering I’ve never finished Terror is Reality with less than $20,000, it’s pretty easy to rack up money fairly quickly which makes the minigames pretty beneficial to play.

Overall, Dead Rising 2 is a very good zombie game, and it’s not unusual to have a lot of fun laughing at the game due to crazy situations you’ll end up in with various weapons. The multiplayer is well worth it as well, as it is not only enjoyable but very beneficial to the singleplayer campaign. Dead Rising 2 is a zombie game that does not take itself very seriously, and I recommend it to anyone who needs a good zombie game to play through, or at least a game that likes to poke fun at it’s own cheesy nature.

Overall

9.3/10