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GFWL fails again.

GFWL fails again.

promolive

You may remember from the ether that Greg Wild has previously reviewed the last two addons for Fallout 3.  He’s managed to get himself clogged up with something in the real world, exams or whatever, so I volunteered to do the Broken Steel review.  Ordinarily we wouldn’t announce that we are going to review something, because it’s rather pointless, but this is a special occasion.

That occasion is Microsoft’s complete inability to make a bloody content delivery system that works.

Greg has opined on this before, but now it’s my turn and it is extremely simple.  I’ve just paid 800 of your magical mystery money, Microsoft, and I expect to be able to install the content that I have purchased.  The fact that the interface has a hard enough time detecting mouse input is bad enough, but when you take my money and then deny me the product I have ordered, citing some ridiculous inability to install, it becomes totally unacceptable.

I had held off buying the last two addons, namely because they were a little lacklustre, but had I experienced this terrible content delivery system beforehand I may have skipped all of them altogether.  It’s shoddy, amateurish, intrusive and broken.  

I’d be inclined to take it out on Bethesda, but Microsoft’s ludicrous testing phase implies they should have noticed this before it happened.  And before people start telling me that it’s isolated, have a link, go on.  Even the developers are getting it.  

What was wrong with releasing DLC the old fashioned way, via a normal installer or, better yet, just rolling it all into a bona fide expansion pack?  

Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it’s better.

Fallout 3 : The Pitt – The Verdict

Fallout 3 : The Pitt – The Verdict

Bethesda very nearly lost me for good with the last attempt at DLC. It really was genuinely atrocious. Thankfully, The Pitt proves a far more worthwhile, interesting and enjoyable experience. Technicalities regarding its use of Games For Windows Live weren’t much of an issue this time around – the experience of getting it running last time wasn’t repeated. But I’m sure there’s a better way of doing it in future once the deal with Microsoft runs out. Steam anyone?

Anyway. The Pitt then. As per Operation: Anchorage, the mini-expansion starts off with a crackly radio transmission from one Snake Pli- “Werhner”, a runaway slave from the hive of scum and villany, The Pitt, touched upon by a Brother of Steel in the main game. He wants you to help find – by find, he means steal – a cure for a mind and body warping disease ravaging the slaves of the Pitt from his former master, a bombastic, self-styled saviour named Ashur who is rebuilding Pittsburgh on the backs of kidnapped slave labour kept in line by bondage-fiend-bandits with a perchance for chains and corpses.

You is Ugly Bugleh!

You’s is ugly bugly!

Right from the outset, you’re given choices; specifically on how to get to the Pitt. I personally didn’t like the idea of cooperating with slavers to get in so decided to fight/sneak in.  Still got beaten to a pulp with my gear nabbed by a rather green man mind (you’ll know what I mean when you meet him.) Things move fast from here; you meet your contact and the plan is set in motion with you being sent into the darkest corners of the Pitt occupied by “Trogs” – humans mutated to the point of madness. They’re a bit rubbish actually. Things are improved by the fact you’re given the excellent new Auto-Axe weapon. Perfect for cutting the blighters down. From here you gradually move closer to the target, finding out more about the brutal world of The Pitt on the way. I wont say much more on the plot however since I don’t want to spoil details; but it’s actually quite good. One thing I felt was a problem with Fallout 3 a few months on after playing it was the comparative lack of new factions; you ended up basically seeing the main protagonists such as the Brotherhood of Steel, the Enclave etc. from the previous games. There wasn’t much sense of any other political factions within DC up to much. The Pitt improves on that greatly. The plot essentially revolves around the reconstruction of Pittsburgh, and thematically it brings up some interesting quandries for you to decide on.  The “moral decision” isn’t a straight foward one of the oppressed against the oppressors, and is probably one of the most engaging plot lines in Fallout 3 so far.

wickerman

The new content is generally quite good. As I said in the previous review for Operation: Anchorage, the new toys Bethesda are adding are genuinely quite fun. There’s a few new sets of raider armour for those who like that sort of thing, and an excellent new silenced assault rifle with a scope – should go nicely with the Chinese Stealth Suit I guess. The environments are brilliant too. While there’s no significant departure from the brown and grey of Fallout 3, the design of The Pitt has a sense of depth and individuality to it. It’s not just a generic tumbling ruin, and its design reflects the social structure brought to the fore in the plot. Things are a bit combat orientated, but not to the same degree as was the case in Operation : Anchorage. There’s more scope for alternative character variations to flex their talents in most parts of the Pitt. It’s also a bit short. I couldn’t help but feel that despite the plot being quite good, it came to a close just as it was teetering into the brilliant. It’s probably a good sign that I actually did want to play on afterwards though, compared to Operation : Anchorage where I wanted to finish the damn thing just to have my game save access the main game again instead of being stuck in the sim.

All in all, The Pitt is a welcome step up from the dire Operation: Anchorage. The content is good, technically functional (unless you have it on the 360, apparently) and I certainly liked the plot. But it is a bit short. At a rough £6.50 price mark, it’s not too bad. Considering it’s £1 a pint night at my local, I got 4 hours straight fun for 6.5 pints, and I can actually see myself going back to play it again. With that in mind, it’s not a bad buy.  Give it a try.

It'll do.
Solid Hit

Dawn of War II – The Verdict

Dawn of War II – The Verdict

Dawn of War 1 was a veritable classic in the real time strategy genre, a vibrant, violent, visceral explosion of all out mayhem. There’s nothing quite like it out there. Dawn of War 2 shares many of its elder brother’s traits, with some interesting improvements of its own. But the bosses are rubbish.

DoW II off-line/coop begins more or less as it ends; you lead a limited number of squads – in fact, if you only have 1 if you play coop – against a vastly numerically superior enemy who you must apply all your knowledge of squad level tactics to combat. If you played Company of Heroes you’ll have a good idea of how it plays in this respect; i.e. carefully positioning your squads to maximise the use and/or destruction of gloriously malleable terrain. Moving on to the next levels you acquire a further squad or 2 if playing solo, and that’s essentially your lot for the campaign. It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds however.

hero

Your squads over time become obscenely powerful, and are every bit the heroic super-humans you expect Space Marines to be. It’s a genuine thrill tailoring each unit to perform a specific role, and the equipment gradually makes your band of heroes look the part too. You’ll find it impossible not to get excited when you find your first power axe for example. I think it’s clear that the standard RTS campaign is becoming more and more tired. You play missions, you get a cut-scene now and then, then you do the same again as another side. Relic’s twist on things is a very, very welcome change, and in fact, they’ve accidentally produced a fine RPG; albeit having picked up the most irritating of RPG characteristics, the boss fight. They’re arbitrarily difficult, and though tactically engaging, they’re particularly uninteresting. And they’re hugely anti-climatic. It’s just not that satisfying fighting them, especially when you find your 10 or so men struggling against one measly Warlock – it would have been a lot more interesting if you were attacking a defended position with less powerful, but numerically increased forces – sort of like if you had to take on a squad as powerful as your own. Case example: Phill and I spent some half an hour on one bloody boss because we had to sneak in, ressurrect our downed chums before we could even think about trying to reduce his health. So yes. The bosses are a dramatic misstep.

firefight

Games Workshop’s bleak future-verse is brought to life like never before in DoW II, and it hits home as soon as you get in game; from the bombastic score, to the briefing screens to the FMV, everything just feels so 40k. Particularly nice is the way the campaign map slowly changes as the game goes on. Likewise, when you get to a level you’ll find the Tyrannid influence slowly creeping in as fleshy, chitinous spires begin pincering the levels, and tiny spores replace rain. There are some niggles – the voice acting and dialogue goes from generally good, to horrifically average almost in the same sentence. The Space Marine soap-opera can thus seem a little wooden and stilted as a consequence. Other than this however, it’s very, very excellently styled. On a gameplay level too this is captured spectacularly in the campaign. Your tiny squad of super-humans will end up fighting forces perhaps hundreds of times larger than itself, especially against the Tyrannids on some levels. It feels desperate, but at the same time you just know that once your bolters are levelled, or your assault marines are raining death incarnate from above, they’re going out with a spectacular bang. Or 5: They all have ludicrously powerful special attacks. Winning missions is a case of applying a combination of tactical placement and special power use in order to fight off a far numerically superior force.

orkybastard

Graphically, it continues the Relic tradition, offering some truly awe-inspiring scenes and units. Get up close and you’ll notice the way bolters light up the terrain around them as they stream death into the enemy, while animations expand on those in the original DoW to give you some absolutely brutal looking combat. And I absolutely love the levels – oh the levels. They too perfectly capture that 40k feeling; they’re multilayered, and feature some amazing locations; particularly I think the ancient looking Greek style theatre ruins on one of the jungle levels. They have a physicality that just isn’t present in most games, besides perhaps Company of Heroes. Except now instead of (or rather, as well as) tanks having all the level destroying fun, you’ll be bowling your Force Commander through enemies and concrete blocks. So ridiculous. So 40k.

Online skirmishes are generally a strong point in DoW II, though aren’t without faults. The same punchy, explosive game mechanics of course make for as visceral and tactically engaging a game as the campaign, and it’s in fact quite satisfying to find that it’s almost like having 2 games in one. It seriously could do with more levels. If you played the beta, you basically saw all DoW II skirmishes have to offer, with the addition of 2 new maps. We’re certain to see more maps released I think, especially thanks to the excellent decision to go with Steam. Also on the online front is Coop. Phill and I have been playing it this way mostly, and it’s incredibly good fun. I recommend using Steam voice chat over the piffling GFWL integrated chat which seems laggy and far too quiet. Essentially with coop, troops under your personal command are halved, with the other 2 going to your partner. It feels intuitive, and makes for an even more tactical experience, with the added bonus of communication. Definitely worth a try.

tyrannid

Everything about DoW II screams high production values, and pushes the boundaries of just what real-time clicky-man-ordering can do for us. It combines the best bits of 3 previous Relic games; Homeworld (zero base production, hurrah!); Dawn of War (setting, hyper violence!); and Company of Heroes (tactics!); so in this respect, I suppose it doesn’t do anything totally new, but it certainly feels to me that this is where I want RTS games to be going. De-emphasis on economy. Emphasis on squad management with absurd levels of bone crunching and gooey liquid spraying.

A Pretty Good Game

A Pretty Good Game. Ditch the bosses, sort the bugs, and give us more maps, and you have an easy headshot.

Review too long? Didn’t read? Here’s a Haiku, all for you, about Dawn of War Two

Clash; deadly embrace,
Nob smashing my hormagaunts,
Where is my tyrant?

———

Techy-Bit

I’m running on an ATi 4870 512mb, an AMD 6000×2 and 3gb of RAM, on XP SP3. Performance was excellent on the highest settings at 1650*1050 with 4x AA, with a few times when it really gets hot that things slow down a touch, but nothing particularly game breaking.

Some of us are however reporting a lot of CTDs. I’ve only had 1 thus far, but some are crashing repeatedly during campaigns (though luckily saves seems to stay, meaning progress can be made.) If you don’t want to take the risk, watch this space. I’ll try to update it when they patch (said to be coming soon, which is likely, given the Steam use). EDIT: I’ve noticed a patch has come out fixing crashes. I’ll check with the others in a bit to see if it deals with theirs.

On the matter of Steam, don’t worry too much if you’re a Steam virgin. Simply download Steam (or install it from the DoW II disk, I presume it’s on there). You’ll have to create an account, which is no headache. Then simply install, and then Steam will automatically bring it up to the latest version. Easy! While you’re at it join our Steam community here and come have a chat while you’re waiting for it to update your game!

You will unfortunatly also need a Games for Windows Live however if you want to play online. It’ll ask you to create an account for it in game. Irritating I know when they’re already using the excellent Steam system, but there’s no alternative for online play at the moment. At least the achievements / stats are nice.

———

Fallout 3 Operation : Anchorage – So you still want to buy it?

Fallout 3 Operation : Anchorage – So you still want to buy it?

operation-anguish

My review of Operation : Anchorage is not a positive one. Read it here. If you still think you want to buy it, I’ve put together a guide on how to do so – because this in itself is not simple, and a few things that may come in useful if you do.

—Buying The Darn Thing—

You need some Microsoft points first off – as in, the same points (no, not Gamerscore as I’ve seen some people asking in various forums) you use to buy stuff on the X-Box marketplace. Buying these online is restricted to users of Visa, Mastercard or AmEx, which is of course quite restricting to those of us who actually know how to look after our money. You can buy points cards from various retailers. I personally ordered mine off Amazon. They haven’t arrived yet, and won’t for a few days, so I sought out another method.

The website http://www.gamesbite.com/ looks dodgy, but they have good E-bay ratings where they also deal, and having done a bit of googling they seemed legit. Buying off Pay-Pal, you’re not giving anyone any details, so I’ve given them a try, mostly because I want to make sure I get the information about this thing out to you guys. They do cost a bit more – overall, 800 points have cost me £10.30, plus the £17 I’ve spent for 2100 on Amazon (at least I’ll have them for future purchases).

Once you’ve got a code, either from somewhere like Gamesbite, or from a retail card, you load up Games For Windows Live, and select “Redeem Code”. Whack your numbers and letters in, and you’ll add your points to your account.

Then go to Marketplace, Select the DLC, and click buy to begin the transaction. Once that is done it will begin downloading.

—Other Issues—

If any of you read Rock Paper Shotgun, you’ll notice a post by John Walker describing just how bloody difficult getting this thing running is.  In summary, it’s an absolute nightmare. In my experience, if you add up the time it took me to get GFWL running, that’s at least 8 hours I would say – though I was trying to get it running for the Dawn of War II Beta as well. Add onto that the expense of buying Microsoft points, I’ve spent £10.30, as opposed to the £8.50 it actually costs – OK, so maybe that’s partly down to my poor planning of when I bought the points, but the point stands, that if Microsoft had more payment options, as available in Steam, I wouldn’t have had that inconvienience.

Once I actually got it running, I got to the VR Room where the content really gets going, only for it to crash. Turns out my save, having started from Vault 101 and gone straight to the content area, was somehow corrupt. I will add at this point, that the Bethesda staff seemed keen to get on top of it, and within a few minutes of my post going up, they did contact me asking if I could send them my corrupt save. So at least they appear to be looking into problems with a commendable degree of promptness.

You will have to copy any non-GFWL saves into the GFWL save folder if you want to play on them. Simply copy your saves in “My Documents\My Games\Fallout 3\Saves” into the corresponding GFWL profile folder in that same path. Easy, but it shouldn’t be an issue all the same.

So what’s my point? Getting this thing going is a farce. The distribution method is atrocious, and the content itself is buggy. You could potentially spend twice the amount of time getting it running as you do playing it if you suffer the same misfortunes as myself and some others.

—Playing the DLC Minus GFWL—

One useful little nugget of information for you all is the location of the actual game files. Following this procedure will allow you to play without GFWL running. Bliss:

Go to C:\Documents and Settings\Owner\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Xlive\DLC

From here, copy the .bsm files into C:\Program Files\Bethesda Softworks\Fallout 3\Data

And there you have it! You’ll be able to do everything normally as per the good old ways. Still, this is how it should be by default. Not this GFWL malarky.

Addtional Buying Method

As Krakn3DFX has pointed out in the comments, you can buy points off Zune at 400 points each. Buy two of these, and you have your 800 for Operation : Anchorage.