Grim Dawn

Grim Dawn is an ARPG made by Crate Entertainment – largely refugees from Iron Lore, who made Titan Quest – which I have previously mentioned being excited for. Now that the game has reached Alpha stage it has been available to various backers and such, and having spent a decent amount of time with it now I’m ready to share some thoughts on the game. Do remember it’s still an alpha so nothing I say should be taken as absolute.

If you’ve played Titan Quest then Grim Dawn will immediately feel very familiar. The engine is the same and there haven’t been truly revolutionary changes in that regard. That said they’ve not been idle either and the engine is certainly a lot more impressive than it was in TQ. At first I was a little wary and wondered if I hadn’t just booted up a reskin of TQ, but Grim Dawn soon reveals that it has made a lot of changes from that game and the engine similarities aren’t indicative of the whole experience.

There are two major things I want to praise about this game. The first is that the pacing and character advancement seems to be spot-on, even though it’s still just an alpha. Leveling is far faster than the incredibly slow experience in TQ, where it rapidly became a chore. You similarly pick from a ‘Mastery’ – a skill tree – and can pick a second after a few levels to make a hybrid character. As you advance through these trees you obviously gain more powers and abilities, both passive and active, and there’s a pretty nice big mix of different things you can choose from. You can also spread skill points thinly or focus narrowly, and I’ve not played enough different characters to say for certain yet but it does seem both are viable in different ways. I never felt really overpowered unless I went back to older zones, and challenges were commonplace without being either overbearing or unreasonably hard. Basically GD has taken any criticisms and comments about TQ and worked to address them, and it has done so very successfully. Given that TQ is one of the better examples of the genre to begin with that says something about how GD is handling things.

This is the Demolitionist tree. It's not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.

This is the Demolitionist tree. It’s not terribly glamorous but it does the job perfectly adequately. The Demolitionist herself is, however, both effective and explosively glamorous.

The second, and perhaps even more impressive achievement, given the genre’s pedigree, is that loot is damn well balanced. Not just in terms of giving you appropriate items, but inasmuch as you’re not inundated with tons of useless crap and vendor trash. You pretty quickly are able to graduate into only picking up yellow or better items for sale, and for my part I never felt like I was being punished because I wanted to get on and play instead of constantly warping back to town to sell stuff. On the other hand rare drops are indeed fairly rare, but they tend to come with stats that really do make them unquestionably better than anything else you’ll find at that level. Unless you get something for a totally different class it doesn’t seem likely that you’ll very often discard a new blue item because your current green is better. There does need to be a little more tweaking of the ‘gem’ equivalents in the game, I think, but nothing terribly drastic there.

Between those two major factors already existing at this stage the game really seems to be refining the ARPG genre to a fine polish so I’m eagerly awaiting new content updates with the arrival of the beta. That all said there are a couple of things that could do with some improvement. The sounds in the game aren’t terribly inspiring and contribute to a niggling sense that your weapons and attacks lack ‘Oomph’ (the music is superb though). Guns especially feel like they fall short of this, and whilst guns in reality rarely sound like they do on the movie screen, these more subdued and realistic sounds in GD make the things feel quite weak. Similarly, although there’s not much you can do about it given the nature of the genre, attacks in general can sometimes feel rather lightweight regardless of the damage they actually do. It’s especially strange because I never really shared this feeling in Titan Quest, where combat wasn’t the most immersive ever but never felt like it fell short either in that regard. So I would say the one big area the game needs to look at improving over the coming months is that the combat needs to become more visceral, to feel like there’s more impact and power to blows, and a bigger bang with guns and bombs.

Despite those concerns the game is shaping up to be something pretty darned good, especially for still being in alpha. Due to the limited content so far I can’t really recommend the buy-in price for alpha access at this point ($50) unless you’re a huge fan of the genre and really jonesing for a fix, but if you want to hop on the beta bandwagon when that rolls around I’d be very surprised if you don’t get your money’s worth, and I’m confident that by the time release rolls around we’re gonna have a pretty damn good ARPG on our hands.

First-Person Pac-Man is 2spooky4me

Lovely readers, if you have a moment I invite you to click here and spend 10 or 15 minutes playing this gem of a game. It’s first-person Pac-Man. This sounds straightforward at first, but augmented with eerie music and ghosts that materialize out of the darkness or pop around corners when you least expect it, it quickly becomes an experience you probably weren’t expecting when you read the word “Pac-Man”.

Mister Adequate and myself couldn’t help but somewhat whimsically wonder what the gaming landscape would have been like if the first Pac-Man had been less cute and more spooky. Survival horror: survival horror everywhere!

Basically this.

Basically this.

The Old Gods

A few days back Paradox Interactive released the latest DLC for Crusader Kings 2, entitled The Old Gods. The primary focus of this expansion is the Pagans, most especially the Norse, hence the name. After eagerly snapping it up I’ve spent the last few days playing it pretty intensively and I can safely say now that it’s my favorite of all CK2 DLC and I don’t want to ever play without it again.

The big change you’ll see right away is the new start date – 867 AD, when Ragnar’s sons are leading the Great Heathen Army out of Jorvik and seeking revenge upon Ælla of Northumbria, the Pagan faiths remain mighty across much of Northern and Eastern Europe, the Umayyads control most of Iberia, Charlemagne’s descendants control the Frankish Realm, the Magyars are migrating westwards, and a few small territories cling to the ancient faith of the fire, still following the words of the Prophet Zoroaster. Given that the game used to run from 1066 to 1453, adding another 200 years extends the game time by 50%. The new starting date gives a completely different set of possibilities and the world can go in radically different directions as a consequence.

Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.

Even the words of Mani can revive. The AI did all this by the way.

There are many new features to play with as a Pagan, especially the Norse, who got the most love in this expansion. Perhaps the most fun is the raiding mechanic. You grab your lads, toggle them into being Raiders, load them onto the longships, and then you sail off to find some rich, fat provinces to loot. You can claim a percentage of the province’s loot just by standing in it, or you can stick around to win the siege and you’ll get whatever wealth was behind the castle walls as well. It’s exceedingly powerful in the early game, especially as the Vikings can navigate major rivers. You can sail up the Elbe, or the Danube, the Vistula, the Rhine, and so on, and pillage inland provinces as well as coastal ones. However, as forts grow mightier, rivers start becoming impassable, cutting your options – and as provinces develop, they grow richer, but can summon larger armies in their defense as well.

You can also do such things as taking captured maidens as concubines, raising runestones to yourself or your parents (and if you have the lustful trait you can insist the runestone makes reference to your massive cock), hold Blots at which you sacrifice people to the Allfather, find magical +2 axes that boost your martial score, and try to reform and standardize your faith in order to help it stand against the very convincing missionaries regularly sent by Christian rulers to try to convert you.

In short, with The Old Gods installed, Crusader Kings 2 becomes the greatest Viking Asshole Simulator ever put to code and if you like CK2, or grand strat games, or Vikings, or just generally being a massive troll to the Christian rulers of medieval Europe, this is the DLC for you. It also bears mentioning that Paradox are one of the few who get DLC right – you actually get regular, significant content additions for very fair prices, and the other stuff like portrait and music packs are entirely optional and in no way required for you to enjoy the game.

Waking Mars Is How to Make a Good Casual Game

Recently, a game called Waking Mars went on Steam sale for a steal (and it still is on sale, by the way!) Because it had “Mars” in the title, I decided to snap it up. This, my friends, was a very wise decision. This game is more than worth the $2.50 I forked over for it. Basically, this is how you make a casual game.

It’s sort of a platformer, except you have a jetpack. And it’s sort of puzzle game, but none of the “puzzles” ever leave you frustrated. Basically the game is about exploring underground Martian caves, learning about (and growing and breeding) bizarre alien species, talking to your AI bro, and in general being comfy. Yes, this is a comfy game.

We are gonna get comfy.

We are gonna get comfy.

This isn’t a triple-A title by any means and the game is easy to pick up and learn but this by no means makes it shallow. You actually have an neat little story going on that keeps you interested throughout, and between this and the research you can do on various lifeforms (and the subsequent notes you can read), the game has a surprising amount of depth for what it is. Humor is here too, thanks to your AI companion, and so is a certain amount of thoughtfulness thanks to the main character. Speaking of the main character, he’s Chinese, and the only other human character in the game is a black woman. This isn’t made a big deal, it just… is, like any other normal thing, and I like how it’s done like that. It reminds me of Star Trek and it’s nice to see some variety in games.

Overall this is a fun and extremely relaxing romp through a mysterious and alien world and I really cannot stress how much of a steal the current sale price is. The game is also available for Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, Android, and probably an old toaster too, so you really don’t have an excuse not to snag this game. I mean, really, look at this and tell me this doesn’t make you want to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before:

SignalChamber-Approach

Yeah, I thought so.

Buy it on Steam or at the website!

XBox One, but actually XBox three

Yeah I went to see Iron Man One recently it was a pretty great conclusion to the trilogy AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU MICROSOFT. Anyway with that out of the way we’ve had our presentations on the next gen consoles, the PS4 and XBox FUCKING THREE. The WiiU also exists I guess but that’s “next gen” in a strictly chronological sense only. But don’t let that scorn mislead you – I’m not insulting Nintendo because I prefer one of the others. No no, this coming generation doesn’t seem to be offering an obvious place to plant one’s flag, and if you’re an idort who gets every console then you’re just getting suckered out of even more money – the difficulty choosing doesn’t stem from multiple excellent options. Quite the opposite.

XBox VI’s presentation a couple of days ago was maybe a little better than the PS4 presentation that took place awhile back, because they actually had a console to show and the whole thing seemed to hang together a bit more professionally than the Sony affair. Unfortunately they didn’t leverage that into provoking even the tiniest bit of excitement about the thing!

If you’ve not yet seen it, here’s the Microsoft presentation in full:

They did mention a sports game that wasn’t Cawladooty, but it was something weird called Quantum Break that provided no information whatsoever on what the hell it is. At first I actually thought it was some crazy successor to old-school FMV games which would admittedly be rad as hell, but the confusion doesn’t exactly serve to sell games or consoles.

Microsoft did announce 15 exclusives in the first year of release, of which fully 8 are new IPs – and that part is interesting and positive. Perhaps among those will be some good games that make genuinely innovative used of the new hardware. But between the pseudo-always-on requirements and the shenanigans to fuck over used games, I’ve got very very little interest in getting one of the things. I’ve got very little interest in any of the new generation in fact – someone’s going to have to impress me at E3 if they want my moolah because otherwise I’m just going to upgrade my PC.

What do you folks think about it all? Am I being too harsh on the next generation? Are you similarly dissatisfied with the state of console gaming today? Do you, like me, already have an XBox One sitting right there in your house WHAT ARE YOU DOING NO MS I WON’T CALL IT THAT, I WON’T

On Game Development and Rusing

A small game which came out recently hit the headlines for a reason that wasn’t to do with the game itself so much as the game’s response to piracy. It’s pretty hilarious! But let’s have a word about the game itself before we get into that.

Game Dev Tycoon takes its cues from Game Dev Story, an iOS/Android game wherein you control a videogame development house with the intent of making money and great games. I’ve not played GDS but GDT is a very enjoyable little game that’s well worth the few bucks it costs to get – in fact it’s got one of the better money-to-time ratios of games I’ve recently shelled out for. The game starts you out in around 1980, working out of your garage, making games for the C64 era – you decide on the theme and genre, hopefully ones that go well together (Although I did once put out a Fashion RTS that sold surprisingly well) you choose various base options such as whether the game will be text based or 2D or what have you, and then you assign time to various aspects of development, so you can spend loads of time writing backstory at the expense of graphics. Then you watch your little girl or guy beaver away as the game gets made, and it gets sent out for review and release – your choices in development influence how well it does, and high review scores translate into high sales, and that means money – allowing you to invest that much more into your next game!

Where GDT triumphs is that it is constantly tantalizing you with some new aspect you can work with in your games. Your first few games will be very simple affairs but soon you’ll be able to knock together an engine that affords you more choices, better graphics and sound options, and so forth. New consoles will start to come out, loving parodies of real ones such as the Vintendo Super TES, and different systems tend to appreciate different genres and so on. Then you’ll move into a small office, which is where the game really opens up as you can hire new staff, train yourself and them, and start making bigger and better games. Ultimately you can create MMOs, put out your own consoles, invent a Steam-equivalent, and spend tens of millions on Triple-A games that take your team a year to make only to result in 5/10s across the board and imminent bankruptcy.

>mfw upon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.

>mfupon being offered a loan with a 100% interest rate.

Indeed, the main failing I can point to in this game is that there’s just not enough of it, which is hardly fair to say of something made by a two-man outfit and is faint damnation anyway. But I do hope they think about an expansion pack or at least some more patches, just to increase your choices and options. Anyway as I said it’s an enjoyable little game and if you’ve got a few bucks and want something that doesn’t strain the brain but will keep you engaged for awhile, there’re worse choices than this.

Now, let’s talk about how I heard about the thing – as an indie game it’s obviously going to struggle to get much media attention, but a very clever little play on the devs’ part got it out there like whoa. See, the devs – brothers Patrick and Daniel Klug – were well aware they would suffer from piracy when this game hit the torrents, but rather than making a lot of bluster or seeking out an attackdog lawyer they did something subtler and cleverer. What they did is upload the thing to torrent sites themselves. Crazy, right? Well the thing is the version they uploaded played normally up to a point, but after awhile in-game you would start getting messages about how all your games are being pirated and you’d start losing money due to it no matter how good your games are. You wouldn’t be able to finish the game due to this, instead going into ignominious bankruptcy.

So, this is a pretty neat solution anyway because it’s essentially a fairly decently sized demo that might encourage a few purchases they wouldn’t otherwise get. The real comedy gold started when people on the forums began to complain about the pirates in-game, as apparently self-awareness is something some people utterly, totally lack. Perhaps the greatest line I’ve seen written is the simple, plaintive question, “I mean can I research DRM or something?” Beautiful. You can take a proper look at the whole story on the dev’s blog here if you’re interested, it’s well worth a read if you want a laugh!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is Great

“You’re late to the party, Pike!” Yes, I am, and I’ve no real excuse. But if you’re like me and slow when it comes to playing new games and haven’t hit this one yet, then read on.

Very recently I played through the original Deus Ex in its entirety. I went even further than that, though: I played it in full pacifist/stealth mode, avoiding encounters when I could and using darts or my prod when I couldn’t. I’m relatively certain I managed to get through the entire game without killing a soul aside from maybe a couple of bosses. It was fun. And challenging. And long. If you have never played the original Deus Ex, rest assured that it’s an incredibly long game. Worth it, though.

From there the plan was to move on to Invisible War but it decided that it wasn’t going to work on my computer. Undeterred, I decided to jump ahead to Human Revolution.

And damn, I had a blast with it. As soon as I got into it I hardly stopped playing, often going on for six or eight hour stretches. It really did hit a lot of things right on the head correctly. The atmosphere, the story, the questions it raises– oh, and of course all the little love letters to fans of the first game. Seriously, every time a radio started playing the UNATCO theme I’d stop and listen.

I was also fond of the character development of Adam Jensen and how you, as the player, get to influence this. Like Adam, you as the player are learning about using your augmentations as you go along, and like Adam, you get to see both the positive and negative effects that these can have.

Mostly positive, of course.

Mostly positive, of course.

The game also came with some neat mini-games in the way of the hacking mechanic and being able to influence people with your pheromone aug (which isn’t really a mini-game but it reminded me of Oblivion’s speech minigame, so.)

Anyways, this was a highly enjoyable game all around and I think it’s easily one of the best AAA titles to hit gaming anytime in the last handful of years. I highly recommend it for anyone who hasn’t played it yet, regardless of whether or not you’ve played the original Deus Ex– although if you haven’t played that yet, well, get to it!

Dark Souls is a Puzzle Game, or Why I Can’t Get Into It

Hey everyone, Pike here!  Yes, yes, I know.  I’m scared too. Anyways, let’s get down to business, shall we? By which I mean VIDEO GAMES! Always video games.

I’ve played quite a few games over the past couple of months and at the moment I’m trying to get into Dark Souls. Trying, but I don’t know if I’ll succeed. See, I’ve put a few hours into it and after spending the bulk of those hours trying to figure out the controls (which seem rather unintuitive to me), I have come to the conclusion that this is, in fact, not an action game. Rather, it is a puzzle game that happens to be dressed as an action game. It’s a puzzle game that requires an intense amount of trial and error and repetition to learn patterns and muscle memory and that sort of thing.

It’s a neat idea and I wholeheartedly support anyone who’s into it! But I’m not sure if I am. There’s only so much trial and error that I can take before I get bored. This is the reason why I’ve yet to beat some really neat (and mostly indie, oddly enough) games like Super Meat Boy and Braid which I think are brilliant but which bore me when I get stuck at a certain level. I can only do repetition in small doses.

Average day in Dark Souls right when you think you've got a section figured out

Average day in Dark Souls right when you think you’ve got a section figured out

Does this make me a “casual” or too willing to give up? Maybe. That’s cool, though. My backlog is getting bigger by the day so rather than banging my head against a game that I can’t get into, I think it’s better to move along. I might continue to pick at it every now and again and see what happens.

Still, I can see the appeal if you really like testing yourself like that, so if it sounds like your sort of game and you like dying, then go check it out. Mister Adequate has a lovely and optimistic post about it so go check that out too!

Prison Architect or, Jesus Christ How Did You Smuggle A Shotgun In Here

Introversion, makers of widely-acclaimed games such as DEFCON and Darwinia, are currently working on their newest game, called Prison Architect. In another case of games being accurately named, in PA your job is to design and run a penitentiary, somewhat in the vein of Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital. But the comparison isn’t totally accurate because although Prison Architect has a fairly goofy graphical style it plays the prison theme fairly straight, unsettlingly so at times.

The basic premise is as you’d expect from any such management game – you need an array of services (divided into rooms in this case) such as cells, kitchens, canteens, admin offices, etc., and you need to plan these out in a way that is efficient with regards to the space you’ve got to work with, your finances, and to ensure things run smoothly. This last point is where Prison Architect is clever and differs from a lot of similar games. Prisoners, of course, are not there by choice. Many of them are there for violent offences, and the stresses of prison life will mean they’re often close to breaking point and minor provocations can set them off. Prison Architect is rare, perhaps even unique, in that rather than designing a theme park people want to visit or a hospital people want to move through easily, you’re fighting against your inmates insofar as you’re trying to keep them in the prison and out of trouble.

Shape up Hannevig or you're back in Solitary!

Shape up Hennevig or you’re back in Solitary!

This creates a lot of interesting dynamics that work against each other to create tension. You want a prison that keeps your inmates in, but you also want one that minimized time spent moving around and which your staff can navigate easily. You want to keep your prisoners out of trouble, but the same gentle hand that might reduce their propensity for it will also make it more difficult to rein in if trouble does start. Conversely if you’re a brutal sonofabitch that seems fine to begin with, but your inmates will find a way to express their anger and then you’ll have to repair their toilets or replace their beds or even inform some guard’s family that he’s a goner.

Part of the reason PA is a fascinating game is of course the subject matter. Introversion have said they intend to tackle most of the issues which might arise in a prison – violence, gangs, smuggling, and so far that does seem to be borne out. It stands in contrast to games like Theme Hospital, as disease and death are serious issues but can’t be taken terribly seriously when the diseases are things like Bloaty Head Syndrome and Hairyitis. In this game your inmates are there for crimes like armed robbery, murder, and assault, and the tutorial revolves around a repentant man being sent to the chair. It’s rather affecting stuff and it’s going to be very interesting to see how the game tackles these issues at it continues to develop and more mechanics are implemented.

You may also be interested in watching this presentation by the Introversion devs; it’s a fascinating look at where PA came from and what they’re hoping to do with it.

Prison Architect is still in alpha, and it’s rather pricey for an alpha, but it’s already a very enjoyable and playable game and it’s from an eminently talented developer. If management games of this sort are your thing then rejoice, because there’s finally a good new one in the works.

I don’t want to know where Lim was hiding that knife whilst naked.

Artificial Difficulty

Hello all! No, you’re not seeing things, you’ve actually just got a little message on twitter or whatever telling you your very favorite videogaming blog of all time has updated. Let’s get right to business and start talking about some videogames!

So chances are good that you’ve heard of the game Dark Souls which was made by From Software. It is the successor to Demon’s Souls, a game which wasn’t released outside Japan but thanks to having English-language options managed to become a cult hit thanks to importation. Sadly it’s only on the PS3 so nobody has actually played it because who owns one of those, but Dark Souls has been released on 360 and PC as well, and it’s on the latter of these that I’ve been playing the game.

Dark Souls is infamous for its difficulty and this is not a reputation it has gained without reason. This game is difficult in the old-school sense, in that it’s uncompromising and you’re going to have to learn things like enemy attack patterns, how to block and parry and dodge, and level layouts to progress.

Turns out they occasionally do make 'em like they used to

Turns out they occasionally do make ‘em like they used to

So here’s the thing: Until you have done some of that and get a handle on what you’re doing, this game can be really unfun to new players. It takes time to get into it, to find what works for you, to get into the flow of it. For me I didn’t really ‘enjoy’ the game until a few hours in, in fact I put it aside for a few weeks before being convinced to go back to it. And I’m glad I did, because once I did pass that stumbling block I really got into it – it’s a game that really rewards your investment and is one of the quintessential examples of “What you get out depends on what you put in”.

Of course any game which takes that long to get into is a flawed game, and I won’t say Dark Souls is perfect by any stretch. I enjoy the exploration and learning immensely but I’m not a tremendous fan of just how obscure the game can be about some things. But if you’re looking for an amazing experience and something to really get your teeth into then what you’ve heard about Dark Souls is pretty much all true – it’s a seriously great piece of software which does a great many things right and very few things wrong, and of those things it does wrong much is a matter of taste.

Basically what I’m trying to say is Dark Souls is superb and if you’re not already on the bandwagon you need to join it.

Disregard Life, Acquire Video Games