Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Dark Souls Review

These are just my thoughts and opinions about Dark Souls after 100+ hours of playing this game in the past few weeks.   When I think of Dark Souls i think of it as an experience, there has been no other game that has given me so many emotional high's and low's, where one minute I'm telling the game to "F**k Off!" and the next minute I'm in complete jubilation because i just defeated a boss I was stuck on for about an hour.  Dark Souls is sort of a throw back to old school game design where you have to figure things out on your own as you keep playing.  It encourages exploration and testing the waters before you fully immerse yourself into the deeper ends of the pool.  The game is definitely not for everyone and it isn't a perfect game by any means but it's one of the most enjoyable action role playing games I've played this year.

The Bonfire.
One of the stigma's attached to this game is of it having a brutal difficulty and the "prepare to die" slogan used on the game box and advertising leading to the game's launch trying to discourage would be heroes from playing the game.  Also the fact that Demon's Souls was a game released a few years ago by the same company that was scorned and applauded for being that daunting game that no one really wants to make anymore.  Which was a successful game in it's own right and that's why we have a Dark Souls today.  In reality most of the difficulty stems from not actually knowing what to do in this game.  The tutorial in the game will give players the basic controls and concepts like "press this button to attack", "press this button to block", "rest at a bonfire, you recover HP".  After the tutorial you are then dropped in the world and you are on your own pretty much.  There are no waypoints, no quest journal, you are not told what humanity does, how to revive yourself, what kindling a flame does, how to equip magic, what you need to equip to cast magic, and the list goes on.   You just sort of learn this by testing things as you progress and this may be a deal breaker for many people who are new to a Souls type of game.  Then there is the death penalty, which is strict mostly because you lose souls, and souls are the lifeblood of this game.  It's the currency to buy weapons, armor, upgrades, and it is also your experience as you use souls to level up your character's stats.  Now souls can always be redeemed by going back to the spot where you died and retrieving your bloodstain but to do that you must travel from the last bonfire and face every enemy on that the path you took to your demise once again because they have respawned.  So if you die a second time without retrieving your body you basically lose all the souls that you left on that previous body forever with no way to get them back. 

Although there are classes in the game this doesn't ultimately seal your fate into one path in the game.  You can easily start as a Knight and become a pyromancer if knighthood just didn't satisfy your playing style and vice versa.  Starting classes only serve to adjust stats to what that class might benefit from but ultimately it's the player's choice on what they want to develop their character into.  The combat while action oriented strives to be tactical, meaning that you can't hack and slash your way through this game without putting yourself at an extreme risk of being slain.  So unless you are a skilled Japanese guy with tons of practice under his belt and can beat this game in an hour and a half, then you will want to play slow and methodical.  Rushing through the game is a recipe for death and frustration very often.  Again this hearkens back to the difficulty, it's only as hard as you the player make it to be.  So once you learn the layout of a path of progression and what weapons work best for you, you start finding the game easier to digest and then you finally reach what is a big part of the game in the Boss Fights.  These are the most difficult parts of the game and can be very discouraging at times due to the sheer amount of damage that can overwhelm your seemingly underpowered character if you make any sort of mistake.  As with most monsters in this game each boss will have patterns of attacks that you must learn if you want to survive.  I'll admit i hit a wall a few times on some boss fights and had to take some time off and release some steam.  Eventually coming in refocused and rejuvenating helped in some situations.  I wouldn't say that any particular boss fight is being ridiculously cheap, but most deaths were caused due to my own error and lack of proper preparation and timing.  So you may as some point end up grinding souls for levels or upgrading weapons to be ready for more difficult boss fights.  Which is time consuming and not enjoyable at times at least for me.  Some people probably won't mind but i felt that it should be mentioned in this review.
Bosses can be ruthless sometimes!

Dark Souls while being mostly a single player focused game actually has some very unique online features.  Throughout the game world you will find orange writing on the ground with messages left by other players.  These can be hints to help you find items, find secret passages, warn you of dangers, and sometimes just deceiving you into getting yourself killed.  You get this impression that you are not alone in your adventure and that this community of players is trying to help each other out in a game that doesn't give you much information to work with in the first place.  Also throughout the world you can see other people's ghosts and bloodstains which you can view to see how someone may have met their demise and give you an idea of what can happen if you are not paying attention.  There is also the ability to summon other players into your game world to help you defeat any boss you may be stuck on which is great but you are only able to do this while you are in human form.  The game starts you off undead and most new players will probably not realize that this is actually a feature you can turn on by reversing your status to human at the bonfire by using humanity points.  So once you learn to activate your human form you can make full use of the co-op features in the game. At the same time you risk becoming invaded by another player.  Player invasions are basically a Player Versus Player component also added to the game.  It occurs randomly and it can happen at the most inconvenient times.  Most players will find that invasions are mostly instigated by the covenants throughout the game.  Covenants are the factions in this game world and each has their own unique perks and items that you can receive based on your faction rank and loyalty.  So this in essence encourages PvP in most cases as some covenants are strictly invasion focused to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting adventurer's game world.  Obviously if you don't want to participate in the grief that is PvP it can always be avoided by being in undead form but you also lose the option to summon friendly players into your game world.  As of writing this there are problems and many times I've failed to invade other players either because the network wasn't properly working or because it found no players near my level to participate in.  So it's a shame I didn't get to experience the online co-op and PvP much and hopefully they implement changes to their servers to better match people with each other in the future.

Now one of the weak parts of the game is the story itself.  There isn't a deep meaningful one in this game and any story elements just serve to move you along a path to explore more areas and kill more bosses.  What Dark Souls lacks in story, it is rich with atmosphere.  There are various locations in the game world each with a unique look ranging from castle exteriors, forests, swamps, and lava filled caverns.  This game can be hauntingly beautiful at times and you can't help but just sit back and stare at a few set pieces while you explore.  The sound is also fairly decent and portrays ambiance well enough to feel like you are in such dark and dank environments.  Although there isn't much music in the game, the boss fight music is excellent and reels in the tension and urgency of the situation at hand.
Gorgeous View!
Dark Souls is a unique game, one that requires a lot patience to fully appreciate.  There are some technical problems such as slow frame rates in certain sections of the game on the Xbox 360 version of the game but it isn't a detriment to the full experience of the game.  If there is any huge mishaps within this game it would have to be the lack of explanation of how some game mechanics work.  This is is a very enjoyable game and I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for grand challenge and adventure.  

There is hope in this dark and dangerous land!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Haven't Got Your Dark Soul's Pre-Order from Amazon Yet?

Seems they were having supply issues.  I e-mailed and asked them when my product would arrive and i ended up getting this reply.
Hello,
 
I’m very sorry for the inconvenience. 
 
The manufacturer of the game hasn't provided us any copies of the Dark Souls collector's edition till the date of release. We were waiting for the manufacturer to provide more copies of the item so that we can ship it to our customers. We have just received more stock from the manufacturer and we are shipping all pre orders now.

I confirm that we're preparing your order for shipment now, and we still expect to ship it in time for delivery by the date listed in Your Account: October 4. The delivery might happen till 9:00 PM of October 4.
 
I realize how this might have inconvenienced you to not receive the game on the release date. So to compensate you for the inconvenience, I've issued you a $20.00 promotional certificate, which you can use the next time you order an item shipped and sold by Amazon.com. Note: the promotional certificate doesn't apply to items offered by other sellers on our website. 
 
You'll see your available promotional balance at checkout--this amount will be applied to your next qualifying order automatically without entering a claim code. Your promotional balance doesn't appear in Your Account but will always display when you place an order. For more information about using your promotional certificate, including the terms and conditions for using the certificate, visit our Help pages:
 
http://www.amazon.com/help/promotionalcertificate
 
If you haven't received your order by October 4, please contact us. Simply click the following link to contact us again:
 
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us/general-questions.html  
 
One of our aims at Amazon.com is to provide a convenient and efficient service; in this case, we haven't met that standard. I'm truly sorry, and I hope you'll give us another chance in the future.
 
We look forward to your next visit. 
So I advise people in my same situation to contact amazon and you may just receive a 20$ promotional credit for your troubles.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Graphical comparison between Xbox, PS3 and PC versions of Battlefield 3.

As with most multiplatform games, there are always people wanting to know which console version is the best. In terms of gameplay in my experience between all three platforms they all play fairly the same. Graphically console versions look similar but you can see some differences.

So I made this video comparing the three platforms in various parts of Operation Metro. Clearly PC wins out so it isn't a shocking revelation that this is the version to get.

Console platforms were recorded in 720p via HDMI using an AverTV HD DVR capture card. PC version recorded with fraps.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Battlefield 3 Beta Has Begun!

So one of the biggest shooters of the year Battlefield 3 has started it's early access beta today on the 27th.  The beta will be open for everyone on the 29th on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.   In my personal opinion this is a phenomenal looking game.   The gameplay is not bad either :)

Check your e-mail for beta codes, i just got mine!

Here are a few gameplay videos to tide you over that i recorded.







Monday, September 26, 2011

Gears Of War - Animated



So the past few weeks while preparing for Gears of War 3 I have been replaying the first two games to refresh myself on some of the story elements.  At first I felt compelled to just compile all the cut-scenes and put them together to make a Gears Of War cinematic movie.  But there's no real fun in that and there's tons of videos on youtube from lets play's and walkthrough's so my video wouldn't be anything really different.  I said to myself that I'm out of practice and this would be a good time to brush up on my editing skills.  So one idea that came to mind is how good would Gears of War look if it was cel-shaded as i had done a short Deus Ex video with those effects in place awhile ago.  But the results weren't that satisfying.  Gears Of War is a very dark game, It needed alot more work and adjustments to make it visually appealing.  So i upped the vibrancy, enhanced the lighting, adjusted the exposure and I came out with a very nice result, It didn't look Cel Shaded but it looked a lot more like Comic Book art.

Below are some renders of the results.






So i was satisfied, so i went to work on editing and cutting video in Premiere and finally had a decent base movie without the effects.  But i ran into a problem when importing Premiere files into After Effects, the cuts and edits worked but it did not import transitions which would fade scenes black and crossfade audio into another scene seamlessly which kinda sucked.

So i looked for another solution, and rendering out a raw avi seemed out of question at the time due to the amount of hard drive space i had available.  So i looked at Lossless codec solutions like Lagarith, HuffyUV, UT codec.   Lagarith seemed to work the best so i exported an avi encoded with Lagarith and then imported that avi into After Effects.  All seemed well in the world so i started applyings effects and adjustments to the video.    After i was done, I was excited to render it out.   

The render would take 5 hours so I felt that was reasonable amount of time to encode a file that was about an hour long.  (I have a 2600k with 16gb of ram).  So i did other things in the mean time.  3 hours later I came back to check on the render and my heart sank.   The program crashed!  So i went back to the drawing board trying to figure out what went wrong.   I adjusted memory settings, rendering settings, cutting the file in multiple segments.  But the program would still crash!   It ended up being the Lagarith codec making the program crash.   Then i tried HuffyUV and UT, each had their own problems, HuffyUV worked but i had some corrupt frames which would flash white and that wasn't going to cut it.   So about a day and a half later i decided to just forget about using a lossless codec and went with uncompressed AVI.  So i went on a deleting rampage makign enough space.  The total uncompressed file topped around 170 Gigabytes.  But I'm glad to say after about 15 hours of failed renders I finally got an outcome worth showing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Boss Fight Strategies


Just posting a few videos i recorded on the hardest difficulty available. I probably make it look a little to easy. But in retrospect the bosses are somewhat simple and easy. I did not put the final boss battle in this post because honestly it's simple enough and i didn't want to spoil any story moments.

Lawrence Barrett



Mini Strat:

Obviously in my video i take him out pretty easily with rockets. But if you don't have a rocket launcher on hand you want to basically keep your distance as he will bull rush you. You can pop out get a few shots on him when his mini gun needs to cooldown. Use the items in the environment to slow him down like shooting barrels and fire hydrants to somewhat stun him and you'll be free to get a few shots on him. Rinse and repeat and hopefully you don't run out of ammo.

Yelena Fedorova



Mini Strat:

The EMP resistance augmentation will help the most for this boss battle. She will rush you and use a typhoon type maneuver on you. Use this to your advantage because if she is near a generator she will destroy it and shock herself. Which will give you plenty of time to put some ammo into her. EMP grenades are very effective against her as well so use them to disable her and gain more time to put more lead into her.

Jaron Namir



Mini Strat:

Third boss will be a little different, it can be made more difficult if you upgraded your biochip earlier in the story. Which will effectively disable your augmentations. If this does happen, you will want to stay behind cover, try to pop out and toss an EMP grenade if possible, get some bullets into Namir, and when he throws grenades at you run away and find a new place to hide behind cover. Namir will jump over walls which will let you see him for a brief period and that will be a good time to toss a grenade in the area where he will land.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Battlefield 3 | Caspian Border Gameplay

This folks is why Battlefield is still my favorite FPS shooting franchise. 64 player massive vehicle onslaught and jets. Just check out the new trailer EA released, it's pretty damn impressive.



Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Witcher 2 - Assassins of Kings Review

The Witcher 2: Assassins of KingsThe Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings is the second dark fantasy role playing game from CD Projekt Red that is based on the novels written by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski.  It's a beautiful game from a technical standpoint and Geralt's tale of finding the Kingslayer and involving himself in the politics of the world at the same time is so well written, that every decision you make doesn't feel like the "wrong" choice and flows so well until the end that you forget that this game can change dramatically in a different direction by making a different choice. Technical issues aside, this game is a grand adventure with a great combat system that you probably don't want to miss if you're a fan of the role playing genre.

Story


When your jumping into The Witcher 2 for the first time, it probably helps to know what happened in the first Witcher game.   I wouldn't go as far as to say that you should play that game before you start the second game.  That first game establishes relationships you may have had with some main characters that appear in the second game like Triss, Dandelion, and Zoltan but as to what happened to Vizima in that game doesn't get referred to at all.  Even if you import a save there's only a mention here and there but it's not important to the second game's story.

So lets get this out of the way first, the game is very mature and yes there is a lot of nudity.  Most of it is not in bad taste and doesn't detract from the core game at all.  It's well done and not as casual as the first game.  Sex does not overshadow the game and merely complements the tone that this is a raw and dark game. 

The game starts off fairly interesting because Geralt is arrested and interrogated for being an Assassin.  So you would think this would turn into a tale of revenge for being framed and while the game could conclude to such an end, you actually become more of a vessel for finding out the truth.  There is no good or evil in this world and every character you talk to has their own agenda.  Basically everyone is a jerk and you just have to choose which jerks you're comfortable siding with. 

 My enemy's enemy is my friend.
 My enemy's enemy is my friend.
Decisions you make in the Prologue and in Chapter one will drastically change the events in the final chapters of the game.  So much that you basically quest in a different area and meet different people.  The game is surprisingly good at keeping track of your decisions and when you reach the end of the game and watch the culmination of your story come together it feels really special. 

 


Gameplay


If there was anything that has changed a lot from the first game it would have to be the combat system.  The timing based click system is completely replaced for a more traditional action oriented system.  You still have to choose between a steel and a silver sword to most effectively combat humanoids and monsters.  There aren't any stances either and that is replaced with a basic light attack and heavy attack system.

Now don't get the wrong impression that this game is a common hack and slash.  It's far more complex than it really looks.  Rushing
 Fighting Harpies with a friend.
 Fighting Harpies with a friend.
in like Kratos and thinking you can destroy everything in a few hits is the wrong way to approach this game.   You must use everything at your disposal from traps, bombs, signs and dodge rolls. You have to play defensively and break the guard of enemies because they can just easily block your sword attacks and counter you. Early on in the game you might feel overwhelmed due to not having some abilities that are unlocked later in the game.  Once you start unlocking those abilities the combat feels great and very satisfying. 

There are three ability trees in the game, excluding the fourth tutorial tree, where you can specialize in magic signs, swordsmanship, and alchemy. Each tree plays to it's strengths.  If you are comfortable with keeping your distance and using signs then you might want to focus more on magic.   Swordsmanship will allow you to unlock some more devastating sword attack and hit multiple targets with your sword.  While alchemy is a lot more focused on longer duration potions and more devastating traps and bombs. I personally would recommend dropping points in the magic tree until you get the extra two bars of vigor and build from there.

Alchemy crafting is another part of the game that may be tedious at times.  Monsters in this game drop components for crafting potions, oils and bombs.   You can also gather the components from plants in the environment.  It's one simple click once you have all the ingredients if you have the diagram to make it.  Geralt can't craft weapons or armor himself but in a similar manner to alchemy if he gathers the components to make something from a diagram.  He can hire a blacksmith to create items for him. Now knowing when to use potions becomes a problem because you can sometimes get caught off guard with an encounter unprepared.  You can't use potions while in combat so you must drink any vitality regeneration potions like "Swallow" before any such difficult encounter.

Magic and the parry system use the vigor system.  One spell will eat up a block of vigor and a parry with the sword will also do the same.  Some people might find this awkward because once your vigor is depleted you cannot block an attack anymore.  At the same time it forces a player to pick and choose their battles instead of turtling up defensively throughout the whole game.

Controlling the game seems fine with either a gamepad or keyboard and mouse.  I eventually warmed up to keyboard and mouse because I could not live without my hotkeys for all my magic signs.  Something you can't do with the gamepad because you can only choose one spell to cast at a time.  Doesn't mean you can't change spells but it takes a significantly longer time to switch between spells on the gamepad.

In terms of general questing, this game does a good job of pointing out objectives and giving you a general idea of what to do in the Journal itself.  Even though the game is fairly linear in terms of questing, you can sometimes fail non essential quests if you go through main storyline quests too quickly and without it giving you any indication that you won't be able to do a side quest anymore. 

The game is not very difficult, the learning curve might be a bit slow but once you know the spells and weaknesses of opponents you will find strategies that will work towards your play style.  It's not an unforgiving game due to the checkpoint system in the game.  It adds an autosave at almost every major decision or encounter almost to a fault.  Also the game comes with a quicksave feature that I used quite a bit in case i needed to go about a situation in a different direction. 

Graphics and Sound


There is no doubt that this game is amazingly beautiful to look at. The environments and effects are so well crafted and each chapter has a distinct look and feel.  You get this illusion that the world is bigger than what it really is and that is a credit to a game that isn't an open world type of game.  The only drawback is that with great visuals there is a greater demand on system resources.  With some graphical setting tweaks you can get this game running smoothly on a 2-3 year old system.  The minimum system requirements for the game are actually the minimum system requirements because if you have something weaker you can be sure that this game won't run on your computer.  This may be improved over time as the game gets patched but I did not have too much problems running the game with Ultra Settings (Ubersampling turned off) on my Core 2 Quad 2.4ghz and Nvidia Gtx 480.
 

The sound design in this game is fairly good as well. Every character and NPC seems to have a unique personality that really pull you in to the game world and you can't help but just sit and listen to all of the dialog.  If you played the first game you would know that a lot of the English dialog was very awkward and wasn't very good at times.  Now even though the game pulls some of the same voice actors from that first game they definitely seems to have improved immensely.  This is due to a better dialog script for the characters so it sounds a lot more natural.  Environmental sounds, weapons, spells all complement each other in an overall nice package.

Overall


This game is as close to the complete package you can get in a RPG.  Great story, lots of replay value, fun and intuitive combat system, great atmosphere.  Add to the fact that it is probably the most beautiful looking role playing games on the market right now makes it a fairly amazing game.  If you have a PC that can run this game then i would highly recommend picking this game up.  Kudos to CD Projekt Red and I hope to see them continue this franchise on a successful path.  It is certainly one of the best role playing games to have been released in recent years.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Uncharted 3 beta Gameplay Clips

I'll be updating this post with more clips throughout the beta period.

Co-Op Adventure Mode


Uncharted 3 Beta Highlights Episode 2


Team Objective


TDM


FFA


Co-Op Arena


TDM Highlights Ep. 1


Three Team Deathmatch

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nintendo Project Cafe Unveiled!

Project Cafe is none other than a high quality Nintendo Zojirushi Thermo.


If you have not had a chance to use a Zojirushi thermo.  Now's your chance!
This is totally not a serious post btw :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sony E3 Press Conference Banner 2011

I made a little banner over on Giantbomb.com.   Tried my best to make a professional yet humorous banner in light of Sony's problems over the past few months.  I anticipate they will give some sort of apology to all the gamers who own a playstation 3.  So that was the theme of my banner.

Monday, May 16, 2011

In tribute for tommorow's video game releases! - Witcher 2 and L.A. Noire

I created this image in haste for two of my most anticipated games of the year.  It's not perfect but it gets the job done :). 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The problem of replaying a game to soon.

I don't know if it's just me but i seem to have this problem of not enjoying myself when playing through a game for the second time.   Especially if you explored most of the story in the first playthrough and since I'm fairly methodical when i play games i never really miss any content the first time through.  This is just a thought that occurred to me while trying to replay Dragon Age 2.   It's not that i didn't enjoy the game but the game itself was still fresh in my mind when i played it when it was first released.  I had this plan going into this second playthrough that i would go and play Dragon Age Origins again and go through the Awakenings expansion after that so i can create a tale that was specifically how i wanted to happen in this game world.   I enjoyed myself immensely while playing through the first game again but here's the thing.  I have not played DAO in about a year so it was a refreshing to experience all that content again.  Some moments that occurred i may have forgotten but when i watched was happening again it felt like i was experiencing it for the first time again.

So i guess what I'm saying is that there's a digesting period.   The game just doesn't seem to satisfying when you play a second playthrough in quick succession.  So maybe that's what I'll do with Dragon Age 2.   I played about three hours again with a new character and was basically bored out of my mind and rushing through all the dialog and combat so i can just experience the good parts of the game.  It's not what i want to do, i think i need to give the game a long break.  Then when i come back to it I'll be refreshed and happy to experience the game again.

Looking back at some of the games I've played it seems I have unconsciously done what I'm writing in this blog about for some games that i really enjoy.  The Mass Effect games which i enjoyed a lot i have played through multiple times but i did not go through a second playthrough right away.  I did take some fairly long breaks between playthroughs and that seemed to help me enjoy replaying those games immensely.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Portal 2 Final Boss and End Credits

Portal 2 
A fantastic boss fight and cool ending conclude this great game. You can watch the strategy i used here or on my youtube channel if you are truly stumped. Though it's quite easy if you know most of the mechanics you were taught throughout the game.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Portal 2 PC Low Resolution Textures Fix

 Portal 2
This is just a tweak i found on the steam forums that seems to fix the blurry low res textures on the PC version of Portal 2 even if you have the highest settings applied.  You need to enable the developer console in order to type in this command.

mat_picmip -1

once you type that in to the console you will get results like this.

Before:

click to enlarge

After:

click to enlarge

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Portal 2 PS3 and Steam

Portal 2 
So there's details about how Steam will work on PS3 versions of Portal 2 on Valve's website.  There is one question there that i'd like to highlight.

Can two players play online co-op with each other using a single purchase of Portal 2 for PlayStation®3?

Only PlayStation®3 split-screen co-op can be played using a single copy of the game. When you purchase a new copy of Portal 2 for PlayStation®3, you will receive an in-box code which provides your linked Steam account with access to your copy of Portal 2 on your computer. The game is still owned by only a single Steam account--another copy will be required to play online co-op with a friend.
Basically it sounds like the game won't run on the PS3 if you don't have your Steam account linked to it.  Even makes it harder to sell on the used game market if you already used the code on your account.  So anyone hoping they could just use the code and use the PC copy and then sell their PS3 copy right away are going to be sorely disappointed.

I'll know for sure when i get the game Tuesday whether or not this is the case.  Because i know i was one of those folks who figured they could get a free PC copy and trade or sell their ps3 copy right away.  I'll post my results then.

Monday, April 11, 2011

2K Games Giveaway and Sales for 4 days on Steam

2K games is having a Steam sale on select titles.  Today is the Mafia franchise so if you were at all interested in buying any of those games.  Now is a good time to check out Steam.    Who knows what 2K will sell tommorow but it's nice to know that publishers are encouraging special sales once in awhile.

As for the games giveaway, you must join the 2K games Steam group for a chance to win their entire catalog.  You can visit their group page here for more details.

*update*
Monday - Mafia franchise
Tuesday - Bioshock franchise
Wednesday - Borderlands
Thursday -Civilization 5

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nvidia 270.51 beta drivers = Dragon Age 2 Performance Increase

Just posting this to confirm from my personal experience that installing these drivers will give you a significant increase in performance on the Very High settings of Dragon Age 2.  It's very playable on my GTX 480 now.   Though i kind of wished these drivers were released while i was actually playing Dragon Age 2 for the first time.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dragon Age 2 Review!

 If the title screen didn't give it away, Mages and Templars are a huge theme in this game.
If the title screen didn't give it away, Mages and Templars are a big theme in this game.

I think everyone was a little surprised that the sequel to Dragon Age Origins would be released in 2011 so soon after the first game's release.  Then when the first screenshots came out with some style changes to the art design of the game there was a little nervousness setting in that something horrible has gone wrong.  Well I'm here telling you now after plugging in over 60 hours into the game that although there were some changes i didn't agree with i also wouldn't tell you not to play this game.   This is a game stuck in the void between greatness and just plain average, it really does make you ponder "what if?".   As with most of my reviews i structure them in a few categories which are story, gameplay, visual design, and sound design.

Story 

 

I think it's a fairly simple assumption that if your playing an RPG that you can expect a somewhat deep and involving storyline to go with it.  Well that is kind of true in Dragon Age 2 as the game starts you off with a narrative being told by your dwarf companion Varric.  This will be a recurring theme throughout the game as you follow along the rags to riches story of Hawke the main character in the game in the city of Kirkwall. At the same time you get a general idea that templars and mages don't like each other much.  Many of the main plot points revolve around the choice on how you feel about a certain group of individuals and those choices you make reflect how the quests will play out after Varric skips a few years in the timeline of Hawke's story.  Personally i feel this aspect of plot delivery kind of hurts the emotional connection you have with Hawke and with the city overall.  There are huge gaps of time that get skipped and you don't get to see the transformation of your characters during those years as you can only see the end results.  The story of Hawke is also kind of cheapened during the conclusion of the game as you don't really feel that you accomplished anything, you only feel like a footnote in the history of current world of Dragon Age.  I'm not saying the story didn't matter at all, in fact i really feel that next Dragon Age game is setup very nicely due to the end result of this game.  I just feel Hawke's story was just a stepping stone for a more spectacular story in the next game.


 Isabela is a well fleshed out character ;)
Isabela is a well fleshed out character ;)
As for characters in this game they are good but they aren't amazing.  Hawke himself/herself isn't Shepard from Mass Effect but they play the role of hero very well, some of the dialog can feel a bit forced like the sarcasm choices but it's just a small nitpick over a fairly good character overall.  The companions on the other hand are slightly dissapointing and maybe this is due to the fact that you don't get enough alone time with them to chat up a long and deep conversation about their past like you could in Dragon Age Origins.  Companions only really talk to you if they have a quest available or if you take them along with you in the main party.  This is unfortunate because you don't feel emotionally attached to anyone like a Morrigan, Alistair, or Leliana from the first game.  If there is any bright spot within the companions it is probably Isabela.  If you can get over how ridiculous she looks, she probably has the strongest personality and plays a bigger role in the main plot than any of the other characters in the game, she's also genuinely funny sometimes especially if you bring her polar opposite Aveline into the party.  Anders on the other hand, i found his character to be fairly dissapointing.  He was probably the strongest and well thought out character from the Dragon Age Origins: Awakenings expansion and in this game he just falls flat.  None of the humor transferred over to this game and he's just potrayed as a bitter mage who keeps nagging at all the injustice brought upon himself and other mages all the way throughout the game(being possessed might have something to do with it, maybe).

 Here's a familiar face.
Here's a familiar face.
 Somewhere deep inside me i kept yearning on more information about characters from the first game.  There are references here and there but nothing very satisfying.  There are some short cameo appearances from major players but they really have no significant impact on the storyline and just seemed to be tossed in for nostalgia's sake.  Which brings up another subject on the whole import save from the first game option.  There's no major impact on the story based on your actions from the first game, you only get narrative references and some side quests might play differently if you chose to kill certain people in the first game.  Whether the accumulation of plot choices from the first and this second game will impact the next Dragon Age game remains to be seen. 
 Gameplay

If there has been anything that changed a lot from the first game it may be the combat.  Instead of a more cautious and tactical feel from the first game.  This game will pit you against hordes of enemies each major encounter in a more fast paced action oriented experience.  You have a few different enemy types, enemies that can be killed in about one hit, then you have normal enemies with moderate health, elite enemies with a great amount of health and then Boss enemies with a ridiculous amount of health. You will get a lot more of the lower tier enemies per encounter with a few normal enemies and an elite or two.  So instead of a game that feels like your dice rolling in a slower paced game it feels more action oriented revolving around ability cooldowns.  This can be good or bad and some players will love it and others will hate it.

Since i played this game on Nightmare difficulty i felt the combat was not tweaked at all for this difficulty.  Health pools and damage are increased at extreme levels and some enemy types like rogue's will one shot almost any character in your party without any way to really stop them when they stealth besides exploiting line of sights and placing your back against the walls. Also any non warrior character your party has will get knocked back and interrupted by any type of enemy attack because they do not have the fortitude to deal with a hit unless you add strength points to them.  Which is a bad stat for mages and rogues in the first place so it's just another aspect of the game's stat mechanics that weren't tweaked for nightmare. I did find strategies to deal with all varieties of enemies and overall the game is not hard, it relies too much on hit detection and you could win most battles just running around kiting enemies. The constant spawning of enemies from every direction however makes it harder to keep yourself alive because your tank or healer may be in the wrong position and you'll be reloading your previous save a lot due to fluke deaths.

With nightmare difficulty i also found myself pausing the game a lot and thinking about what i wanted to do next tactically.  This aspect of the game hasn't been changed from the first game and is very welcome game mechanic.  The only problem is that with the release of Dragon Age 2 the overhead tactical camera was not included and it made casting spells and tossing grenades alot tougher than it should have been so i wouldn't destroy my own characters with friendly fire.  You don't know how much people miss tactical view until you try to play at higher difficulties.


 You might fight a Dragon or two in Dragon Age 2.
You might fight a Dragon or two in Dragon Age 2.
.
The relationship system has also changed a little bit.  You more or less have this friend or rivalry meter which is pretty much determined by what kind of conversation choices you make with your companions.  Each companion has a predetermined mindset and belief system so if you go against their beliefs they will react negatively and vice versa.  This can also lead your character to be romantically involved with one of your companions if you jump on the opportunity.  The friend/rivalry doesn't really make a huge impact until the end of the game where things are forced upon you and your companions have to choose your friendship over their beliefs and if your not in their good graces they may just turn on you.

Besides combat and the relationship system changes, there have been some interface changes that can be recognized right away that seem alot more streamlined.  The most glaring change is the inventory management in the game.  The first thing you will notice once you get a companion or two is that they don't have normal equipment slots.  Each companion will have their own unique look and to preserve this they took out the option to equip your companions with armor but now you find unique items throughout the game to upgrade them.  Now most people would welcome this change but i felt disappointed with this option.  I felt they stripped too much out of the fun of equipping your characters with stronger items and equipment over time.


 Want to equip that new piece of armor you found  on your companions?  Well you can't.
Want to equip you companions with that new armor you found?  You can't!
Inventory management is like a fun mini game to me personally and this stripped down version made me face-palm the first time i went to equip something new.  Maybe i would have warmed up to this idea if they didn't drop random pieces of armor all the time that my Hawke can't wear.  Why oh why am i getting mage armor for my Hawke that is currently a rogue and now I can't toss this mage armor on one of my mage companions because they stripped that functionality out.  Just didn't make any sense to me.  Of course you can still change weapons, belts and rings on your companions but i just felt i needed to nitpick on the armor slots.

Another big interface change is the chat wheel, which is very similar to the chat wheel from the Mass Effect games.  It works well in Mass Effect and you basically get the same result here in Dragon Age 2.  You could argue that controlling a silent protagonist can give you a more of an immersive feel but at the same time you get a more narrative story with the chat wheel system.  I think chat wheel systems work when the main character is strong enough to carry a story and Hawke is strong enough character in my opinion to pull it off.


Visual Design


Visually the game looks fantastic on the PC with Direct X 11 effects and the installation of  high resolution textures.  When the first screenshots and information coming out for Dragon Age 2 were surfacing everyone noticed a distinct style difference.  Some even went as far as to say it was a downgrade from the first game.  That's not necessarily true in the final iteration of the game and personally I found them to be leaps and bounds better than the first game.

 The game has some nice details and textures.
The game has some nice details and textures.
Animations are also another area where the game has improved tremendously.  They almost feel exaggerated in a way like a comic book and they look very cool when in motion.  It has synergy with the fast paced combat and it probably couldn't be pulled off well with the pace of the first game if they upgraded the animations there.

 Qunari aren't very nice!
Qunari aren't very nice!
Character design is fine, dwarfs and humans look the same as before.  Elves and Qunari have gotten a different look this time around.  The elves look more frail and they also have different facial features including bigger eyes to distinguish themselves different than just being humans with pointy ears. Qunari are not as you remember them from the first game.  They are horned tribal type of men and this is reflected through their body paint and weapons of choice.  If you thought that Sten was a tough looking guy in the first game, these new Qunari make him look like a nice guy.

If there's anything disappointing about the visuals of the game it would have to be the lack of environments to travel in.   You are mostly restricted to city of Kirkwall, some outdoor areas, and lots of dungeons that look the same.  The repetitiveness of these environments get tiresome after awhile, it's not even close to matching the amount of landmarks and areas the first game had to offer to players.


Sound Design


In terms of sound design the sound effects and music are very good and fit the fantasy theme the game has going for it.  I'd even go as far as telling you to go buy the soundtrack if you didn't get the limited edition because it's that good.

Voice acting in this game is very good and has always been a strength in Bioware games.  A game focusing around a main character also needs to have a strong voice actor to keep the game interesting and the voice talent behind Hawke is exceptionally good.  Male Hawke might be a bit weaker than Female Hawke but they fit their roles very well.  Each companion is well voiced but as i said in the story section of this review, some are just weaker than others.  Isabela and Varric are the standouts and are full of personality, while Anders and Merrill can be awkward at times.  Some of the best voice acting comes from characters who don't have a strong presence in this game like Kate Mulgrew who voiced Flemeth the witch of the wilds, Orsino and Meredith are also very well done.

I guess I should point out that with the artistic style change of the elves.  The dialect of the Dalish elves has also changed to some type of Irish/Native accent.  This is a very strange thing to change but i guess the developers wanted to make them feel distinct.  Other than that you have your Orlesians who have french accents, Antivans who have Spanish accents, and Dwarfs who still maintain their American accents.


Conclusion 


I probably rambled on too much about things that probably don't matter to you so I'll just get to the point.  I like Dragon Age 2, i played it for over 60 hours easily.  A big chunk of the content is in the side quests.  I would say that there's 40% content in the main plot and the rest of the content in this game are mostly in the side quests.  It's interesting to see how some quest choices can affect the outcome of the later parts of the game.  Is it better than first game?  In terms of story i would have to say no.  Gameplay mechanics i feel have improved and are a lot more fun this time around.  Not everyone will agree but it takes some getting used to at first.  Tactical view i feel will be patched in at some point, or even modded by the PC community to be included in the game.

This is a good game, flawed by being in the shadow of the original game and maybe some of Bioware's past games.  If you are at all vested into the lore of the world of Thedas then you probably already own this game.  If you are someone who looked at the first Dragon Age game from a distance but never fully made the jump.  This game is definitely a decent starting point.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

High Dragon on Nightmare - Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 


Hey folks, just Marz here making another strategy guide/video for Dragon Age 2 and this time we have the HIGH DRAGON on Nightmare Difficulty. So first off your going to want to prepare before you engage this beast, i recommend enchanting all your armor with fire resist runes. Fire resist makes this fight almost a joke because her fireballs won't hit as hard and your damage intake is almost none during her ground phase. I think i had hawke at about 60% and all my other party members around 90% fire resist.

Other items on the list to you might want to bring are some mighty offense potions for your damage dealers. Maybe some ressurection potions if you don't bring Anders along.

So my main team is Hawke, Isabela, Anders and Aveline. I could have made this fight even easier on myself if you brought along another ranged DPS like Varric or Merrill instead of Isabela, but i'm a rogue kinda guy so i stuck with it.

Her basic ground phase is pretty easy to deal with so what your going to want to do is have people hold position and spread them out a little bit. Go in with your tank and taunt her. Now you can either try to deal with her melee damage or just stand a little outside her melee range with your tank still taunting her when the cooldown is up. She will go into fireball mode and if your tank is equipped with fire resist then they will take basically no damage at all. I don't really do it in the first part of the video but it works pretty well with minimal danger.

She will fly around and shoot fireballs at the nearest person but all you have to do is readjust your tank and it shouldn't be a problem.

If you insist on going in with a melee rogue, try to keep to her sides so you dont' get destroyed by her tail whip and jump in and out while your cooldowns refresh. But this is basically all you have to do for her ground phase.

She will spawn adds three times in this fight, what you want to do is select all your party members and run to a far side of the map. This will funnel all the little dragonlings and make them easier for your tank to taunt them and it won't rape your other characters in the process. They have very low health so you can destroy them with a few AOE abilities just make sure not to hit yourself with friendly fire.Another reason to run to a side of the map is that not all the dragonlings will be aggresive. So once you deal with the main horde you can go back and clean up the rest of the dragons.

Each of these Add phases will get progressively harder, meaning.... she will spawn a regular elite dragon that has a good amount of health. But using the same strategy for gathering all the dragons on the tank will work here as well. Just focus on taking out the little dragons so that your not taking too much collateral damage if they are not controlled well.

The last add phase will probably be the most difficult to deal with, she will spawn 2 elite dragons. Just try to spread out your ranged guys so they don't get sucked in by the little dragons wing flap and if your tank is getting hammered hard try to kite a little bit till cooldowns are ready.

If you can deal with her add phases you basically won the fight, because her ground phase will always be the same and you won't have to adjust your strategy to deal with it.

This battle is just a test of your patience because she has an enourmously large health pool and the add phases take a few mins to deal with. But overall she's not very difficult.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Barrel Puzzles in the Fade - Dragon Age 2

 Dragon Age 2
Just a quick video showing the solutions to the barrel puzzles that you find in the fade while questing in Dragon Age 2. So what happens when you solve it? You get 3 attribute points that you can spend on your character which is a pretty nice deal. If you don't solve them properly you have to fight some demons and you won't be able to do the puzzle afterwards so be sure to save beforehand!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ancient Rock Wraith Nightmare Video - Dragon Age 2

Dragon Age 2 
Created this video, hoping that it will help more people in killing this boss.
My party composition was the following
Hawke - Rogue Archer
Varric - Ranged
Aveline - Tank
Anders - Healer

Be prepared before you enter the deep roads expedition with many potions, bombs, gear.


*note on the health glitch*

I found that monsters that burrow or teleport around cause the health glitch. So if you really want to exploit this glitch, wait for the monster to vanish or burrow. Cast regroup, then they should be bugged with health regeneration.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dragon Age 2 PC - High Res Texture Pack

Dragon Age 2 
Just a reminder if you get the PC version of Dragon Age 2, that there is a high resolution texture pack from Bioware that you can install before you play the game.   This is recommended for people with graphics cards that can run Direct X 11 and have at least 1 gig of video memory.


The link to that texture pack can be found below.
http://social.bioware.com/page/da2-patches

Dragon Age Origins Mod Recommendations

Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition 

If you are like me waiting in anticipation of Dragon Age 2, you probably started playing Dragon Age origins again. So to make this experience a lot more interesting I downloaded a couple of modifications and I am just sharing what I recommend from what I found.

The first mod I am recommending is Dragon Age Redesigned because it changes the face design of almost every NPC in the game. This mod includes many facial morphs and texture replacements of the heroes companions and is overall very high quality.



Another problem I found with Dragon Age is that the hairstyles can be kind of bland and boring. Beautiful People Hair REN is a really nice mod that allows you to choose different hairstyles for your hero and a requirement for the next mod on this list.



Now the next mod that I recommend is CGI Leliana face morph sacred ashes trailer. Now this is another face mod but I prefer the Leliana in this modification more so than the one in the Dragon Age Redesigned mod because she resembles the character from the sacred ashes trailer and at the same time looks like the sweet nurtured version the character is in general. There are multiple versions but I preferred version 4 personally.



So while playing Dragon Age I noticed that in combat the characters would run like they had a stick up there ass. To alleviate this problem I decided to look for a mod that would change them so that the animation looks more natural. This mod is called combat animations – battle animations and this mod worked perfectly in changing the awkward walk your character would do while you ran around in combat. This mod uses Dragon Age Mod Manager, which isn’t really a mod but a installation tool. Not every Dragon Age mod uses it but I will post a link just to make it easier for you.



The next mod is kind of adult oriented and not safe for work so I won’t post any pictures or videos but if you really want that authentic raw Dragon Age experience then this might help with the overall immersion. It’s called Natural Bodies All-In-One. This is a body replacement mod with many options to choose from. Most of the bodies are nude but they are well modeled compared to the default body. This body only affects the characters when they don’t have any armor on. It kind of fixes the Morrigan Bra dilemma during her love scene because when she’s fully clothed you can naturally see she is not wearing anything on underneath but when you bed her she ends up tossing a bra on which she didn’t have before. If you’re mature about it, it’s a decent mod. If you’re a kid you shouldn’t download it but you probably will anyways.

So these are just a few mods that I use that enhance my overall experience with the first Dragon Age game. Most of these mods can be found at DragonAgeNexus.com or the Bioware Social site. Most of the mods have very good instructions but in general you usually toss these mods in the override folder in your MyDocuments/Bioware/DragonAge/packages/core/override. Let’s hope that Dragon Age 2 will have some fantastic mods in the future after it’s released this week.

Dragon Age Redesigned - http://social.bioware.com/project/1205/
Beautiful People Hair Ren - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=750
CGI Leliana face mod - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=666
Combat Animations - Battle Animations - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=2121
DAO Mod Manager -  http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=277
Natural Bodies - http://www.dragonagenexus.com/downloads/file.php?id=554