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Drakensang – NOT a Verdict

Drakensang – NOT a Verdict

First things first. This is not a review/verdict or anything similar. I set out with the intention of giving Drakensang a fair, long and ultimately helpful review, but I can’t. I just can’t get far enough into the game to give it a proper review, so this is an impressions piece.

That said, what this piece will also attempt to illustrate is the need for the first chapter of a game to be engaging and, above all, entertaining.

It’s not that Drakensang is a bad game, but it certainly doesn’t have the most exciting opening scene. RPGs often fall into this trap, especially fantasy ones. The game begins with you being sent to a town for some reason that wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember, when, surprise surprise, there’s a quarantine on. Stuck outside the city, a guard helpfully informs you that he might let you in if you get some references from citizens who happen to be outside the city. Off you toddle to go and grab them.

drakensang1

Almost every fantasy RPG I’ve played has something like this in, and it is always annoying. I’m going to use the Witcher for this example, entirely because Chris is playing it while I write this. The exact same situation happens in the Witcher, but is mitigated by not being the very first thing that happens. The Witcher introduces you to its world by having you fight a giant insect beast in a decrepit castle before bonking a witch, then sends you off to Quarantine City, Fantasyland. You get a taste of what the rest of the game will be in that first half hour, manic combat against big opponents, boobs, and the occasional smarmy dialogue line.

You don’t get that impression with Drakensang’s opening. It may be somewhat childish of me, but in RPGs I tend to start judging the quality of something by ranking the awesomeness of the basic spells. When given a choice, I am always some form of wizard; I blame this on the romantic notion of strolling around hurling fireballs at people I don’t like. When playing a magical class, that’s what I want – fiery death. What I don’t want, as became quite quickly apparent in Neverwinter Nights 2 for instance, are spells that look pathetic. I don’t want to bring Warcraft into this, but I feel that I must. The spells in Warcraft look powerful. Yes, they do start to get repetitive, and a great deal of it is just levelling up the same spell to make it’s animation bigger, but they are still impressive. Not so in Drakensang.

I understand that starting spells are supposed to be a bit crap, being, as they are, training spells and all, but they can still look impressive. The fantasy equivalent of a card trick, they should have an effect. My experience of the early spells in Drakensang was very much one of disappointment, my bland looking spell glancing off a generic wolf with nary a scratch. It made me sad.

drakensang2

Also, I hate the camera. Seriously, I really hate it. There’s a strange voyeurism about it that makes the game a little disjointed. It’s not tied to the movements of your character in the same way as other RPGs, instead it clumsily follows you as you run away, like an overweight documentary crew, consistently requiring you pause the game and forcibly move them into a better position just so you can see what you are doing. It’s annoying and was possibly the main reason I lost interest in the game.

It is important that you understand, however, that I’m not saying Drakensang is a bad game. I am in no way entitled to make such a judgement with what I’ve played. You’ll notice I’ve not touched on the plot, or characterisation or any of that business, and that’s because I couldn’t get far enough to get my teeth in.

People will probably say “give it a chance, it gets better once you sink a few hours in” and that may be true. I myself have said that about a number of games in the past. But Drakensang has caused me to rethink this position somewhat. When considering the whole nature of the medium, the vast catalogue of video games currently and soon-to-be available, it is important a game grab you from the outset. Games are all about living a dream of some description, and you need to be sure that the dream the game is going to provide is the one you want. Good games use the first level as a sort of taster of the sort of thing you will reach at the end; they’ll show you a powerful wizard decimating foes, give you a brief play as an ultimate bad ass character, boobs, whatever, then stick you back in noobsville with the knowledge that you will, eventually, become that good again. Sticking you in tedium and saying “the game will get better eventually” without any proof doesn’t provide the necessary hook to draw you in.

Sometimes, I’m glad I don’t get paid for reviewing games. If I was being paid I would have had to have played through Drakensang in its entirety, and I really don’t want to. I have other, more exciting games to play with my time. But still, this is an important point that I think all developers need to understand, from consumer to developer, the first scene of you game must categorically be engaging and interesting, otherwise how do you expect people to stay around until the end?

I can’t wait for… Solium Infernum

I can’t wait for… Solium Infernum

It’s a Machiavellian style politics and strategy game set in Milton’s picture of Hell. Oh my. I think we knew Vic Davis’ next game would be good, given how excellent the last, Armageddon Empire’s was. Solium Infernum looks set to improve on what made that great, but also more importantly, deliver a totally unique game play experience if all goes to plan. But what is it exactly? I’ve set about here to put together the information released in blogs and interviews (such as our own here) to give a little preview for all those foolish enough to resist subscribing to Vic’s Blog.

The Prince of Darkness has gone for a well deserved rest, and his minions refuse to sit still. The underworld has been neatly divided into cantons/hexes, and it’s up to you to sieze ultimate power one turn at a time, using and abusing your card hand to face down your opponents . So far, so very Armageddon Empires. But this, it seems, is where similarities end. Where before, your starting position was governed by the hand you build, in Solium Infernum you start off by choosing your Archfiend Avatar, and customising his stats and perks to gain an advantage should you choose wisely.arch-fiend

Unit cards, the aptly named Legions are now gained by bidding every turn in the “Infernal Bazaar”; the agora of the Damned and the marketplace of the malevolent. But this time, you can’t simply just put together your “ultimate force” of 9 incredible cards and go on a claiming spree. You need legitmacy. And this is where diplomacy comes in; there’s a loose order of things in the plane of Hell, and you effectively  have to goad your opponents into a state of war via the means of the Conclave; the council of archfiends who you must gain prestige and supremacy over in order to be chosen the new Prince of Darkness when it convenes. This is achieved via the means of hurling abuse, making claims, and generally being an argumentative arse hole. You have to undermine your opponents via any means necessary, and force the vendetta.

At this point, you can seize territory and reduce your opponent via a number of means. First, and probably least subtle, your minions, led by a Praetor can march on the enemy’s lands and fight it out. Second, you can use Rituals Destruction to rain fire and brimstone on their lands and legions. Finally, and excitingly, you can challenge them to a one on one duel between two Praetors who act as champions for your honour. The number of options available should make for a manifold array of strategy, meaning you don’t necessarily have to invest in vast legions, instead focusing on diplomacy, fire from the sky or a brute in the arena or two. When the dust settles, the loser will lie broken and battered and the winner will occupy a larger slice of the Infernal Pit.

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Those are more or less the basics of the game. You play your cards in order to build or shatter diplomatic ties, provoke Vendettas, and then denigrate your unfitting opponents in battle or the arena. But there’s so much more to it, since there’s so many different strategies available. Take for example, the Blood Tie where you can petition an opponent to become his Blood Vassal, should you be reduced to great to remain an independent power. At this point you can’t win, but will come second if he does. At least that’s how it may seem – as a Blood Vassal, you can potentially earn the perk “The Power Behind the Throne”, effectively meaning you win if your Blood Lord does.  Another interesting feature is the Excommunication. Occasionally, and supposedly rarely, an Archfiend can be deprived of his place on the Conclave with all its benefits, such as having your turn at being the Regent, while all your opponents turn on you. All for a little attempted invasion of the neutral city, Pandemonium in order to win the game… Essentially, what all this means is there is a huge number of methods of winning. You can brute force your way through, or carefully poke and prod diplomatic affairs to victory. Alternatively you can pretend to be someones bitch while in reality you’re wispering in their ear, calling the shots. Ultimate victory is never a sure thing, and you’d best be sure you’ve got a good enough hand before you play it. Even that is no guarantee that someone else isn’t playing you.

Solium Infernum looks set to expand on the excellent Armaggedon Empires in unique and exciting ways. Certainly it holds that same charm of character coupled with complexity of mechanics that will challenge and confuse alike initially, but under the demonic clicking of a skilled Prince will reign supreme. And the best bit? I’m going to be able to kick your pale white demony arse up and down the Abyss over PBEM come late this year. Grab the Prince, summon Virgil to guide you, my legions are champing at the bit! When Dante pays a visit he’ll be entering my infernal realm…

Different Kind of Pitchfork for This Mob – Loud Crowd

Different Kind of Pitchfork for This Mob – Loud Crowd

This is one of the many iterations of my avatar. The Afro is by far the only acceptable hair style.

I’m sure this is the sort of thing Kieron Gillen has happy dreams about at night; a rhythm game about dancing which features the likes of Cut Copy, Santogold and Ladytron (and a whole bunch of other Pitchfork front page stuff) while keeping a very comics-esque aesthetic. The fact it’s all browser based, free to play (with micro-transactions down the line) and is very addictive to play is surely only icing on top. Of course, I had to make the most ridiculous looking afro-sporting, jumper-wearing, belly-protruding dancer possible, just to get all these people to stop dancing for me. Pity it didn’t work.

Loud Crowd is developed by a mix mash of people from Harmonix (the guys behind the first few Guitar Hero games, and the subsequent Rock Bands) and Turbine, MMO veterans of Lord of the Rings Online fame. That means the rhythm games are fun to play, and the online backend works, for the most part, pretty smoothly. It’s particularly important in something like this, where beats are king, and if you have the slightest lag you’re going to fail. For the most part it works wonderfully, but occasionally I did have a few combo-breaking lag moments.

There are two games available at the moment. One is a hit-the-arrow-keys-in-sequence dancing rhythm game, and the other is a DJ scratching one, driven by whatever music is playing, but mainly focusing on you collecting dots while avoiding combo breakers. Both games work cleverly, and have multiple difficulty settings that allow you to wrack up more points. The most clever thing about the whole site, though, is that the music never stops. There’s no artificial track start when you begin a dance section; it just formulates your moves depending on whatever song is playing at the moment, and you go along with it. It makes the whole thing very seamless, and without those forced breaks, it takes a song you don’t like to stop you playing, which is very clever of Conduit Labs (the developers), but dangerous to how much work you get done as a result.

There’s also a social interaction side to the whole thing, allowing you to talk to other players, dance for them and charge up your battery to allow you to go into Blast Mode, that lets you complete a challenge without playing it, unlocking clothes, tracks and… stamps? Apparently you can stamp other players to demonstrate how you think of them. Or something. I didn’t even figure out that section for a while. You can also request tracks with the in game currency you accumulate, and semi-customise your avatar.

It’s very barebones at the moment, but Conduit Labs have stated that they want to create the game with the community (in a recent interview with GameSetWatch), rather than just push out a finished product that people might not like. The game is currently in a beta stage, but it’s definitely very playable, and it will be very interesting to see how it evolves.

This is one of the thousands of lovely ladies who were dying to get a piece of me. No, really.

Wallace & Gromit Demo Released. Does Not Contain Cheese.

Wallace & Gromit Demo Released. Does Not Contain Cheese.

Can they really use 'Grand' again, after 'Grand Day Out'? You decide!

The Demo for the new, Tell Tale Games developed adventure game version of Wallace & Gromit has been released, and you’ll be pleased to know it’s rather good. It’s simple, amusing, and contains fingerprints. It features the first part of the first episode they’re releasing, called ‘Fright of the Bumblebees’, and involves substituting pepperpots for chess pieces, tickling a giant queen bee and tricking a crazy old veteran into giving you his snail.

The animations are largely solid, although sometimes the mouth movings suffer a little too much from Tell Tale trying to stick to the claymation look of W&G, and just coming off as slow framerates. Similarly, the voice acting is mostly good, except for Wallace’s voice being ever so slightly off. I think it’s one of those things that’ll get better as the series get on, as by the end of the demo I wasn’t really noticing it. The graphics, too, are pretty good, with the aforementioned fingerprints being there, but not in your face. And, of course, as with previous Tell Tale games, the puzzles are simple, but enjoyable. You can grab the demo here.


Is It a Bird? Is it a Plane? Oh wait, Both? H.A.W.X. Demo

Is It a Bird? Is it a Plane? Oh wait, Both? H.A.W.X. Demo

I wanted to play Naughts and Crosses with missile trails, but I couldn't figure out how to do the Naughts.

So often I find myself starting these impressions thingymajigs with a confession. Today’s confession is that I’m not very good at flight sims. I’m not using that in the broad sense of ‘anything that has you flying a plane.’ I’m using it in the sense of trying to simulate what flying is, down to which knob gets turns at which point, otherwise you go headfirst into the nearest bit of dirt, with accompanying explosions. What I am good at, however, is the arcade flying games, like Ace Combat, and.. well, I’ve not played many other’s like Ace Combat. So when I played Hawx (screw those bloody dots and that silly capitalisation. I’ll do it for the post title, but no more), I was rather pleased that it was like Ace Combat, but, well, more fun.


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A bit of Flat Motion – Mirror’s Edge 2D

A bit of Flat Motion – Mirror’s Edge 2D

Red and White. Tasty, like strawberries and cream.

Found this over on Offworld; Mirror’s Edge 2D, in 2D, done by BradFancypantsBorne in collaberation with EA, in 2D. What’s that? A minor (albeit excellent) indie dev getting help by the big boys? I wonder how on earth the game might play out. Maybe it’s a mess with EA’s fingerprints smudged all over the clear brilliance of a talented flash developer, or maybe it’s just a jolly good laugh? Well, I had a bit of a play, and things are pretty positive.


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Empire: Total Impressions (Demo)

Empire: Total Impressions (Demo)

Misty Boats. Sexy.

As any of you who have read my poorly defended justifications about strategy games will know, I’m really bad at strategy games. That’s been said. Which makes my increasingly frequent writeups of strategy game demos apparently very strange. But there’s two reasons why I’m not nearly so bad at Total War games, and another two about why Empire in particular is fitting me rather well. Total War games tend to lean more on the sweeping tactics side of strategy, which I can just about do, and they have much of the game during a turn based format, which I can also do. And Empire has boats, and it also has cannons.


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