Even Goths need homes.
Neverwinter is a new MMORPG, for PC, from Cryptic Studios. It’s set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe and story wise, takes place about 100 years after 2006’s Neverwinter Nights 2.
The beta featured seven playable races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling and Tiefling. There were five classes to choose from: Guardian Fighter, Great Weapon Fighter, Devoted Cleric, Trickster Rogue and Control Wizard. There is of course, always the chance that more will become available once the game is released. You can play as any class with any race of either gender, though each race has different natural bonuses.
A friend and I played over the closed beta weekend, which ran from 23rd-25th of March. Like most MMORPG’s you’ll need a fairly decent internet connection and hardware in order to run the game smoothly. Once you’ve created your character, the game opens with very little fanfare and thrusts you into the middle of a conflict on the shores of the eponymous city. This early stage works like a tutorial, the game drip-feeds you information, only giving you pop ups when you have access to the feature in question. This is preferable to the way many MMO’s flood you with essential game mechanics right off the boat. On top of that Neverwinter is fairly simple to understand anyway, a lot of the micromanaging has been stripped back in comparison to other examples of the genre and you only have access to a handful of skills at any one time.
I played as a Great Weapon Fighter and my friend was a Trickster Rogue and one of the first things we noticed is how fluid the combat feels. Some people in the chat argued that the combat felt a little clunky, while still others praised it, specifically in comparison to other games that tried to bridge the gap between action and RPG, like Guild Wars 2. Personally I felt that the combat mechanics were by far one of the best features of the game and a welcome breath of fresh air. Games like The Old Republic make a big deal out of looking fluid in their cinematic trailers and then have stagnant combat where opponents stand next to each and mash the mouse button until one of them falls over. Neverwinter allows for a slightly different approach, where positioning and attack range combine with a limited set of skills that can have a big impact. The result is a more tactical kind of button mashing and can make combat a joy rather than just a grind.
There are problems with it however, AI seem to target healers over other members of a party with particular hatred, to the point where they aren’t a viable class to play. Another problem is PvP, my friend and I jumped into our first game and were met with a domination style objective, with three hills to hold. The opposing team was almost entirely made up of Control Wizards and we found out the hard way why they have “Control” in the title. It was literally impossible to fight, their class allows them to lift enemies in the air for long periods of time, slow them down with ice, eventually freezing them and all the while their spells deal damage. I’m sure it’s fine in PvE but against other players it felt cheap and overpowered, if nothing else because there is simply no way to counteract their abilities. Both of these problems are reasonably easy to fix however, after all that’s what betas are for, and they hopefully will be when the game is eventually released.
The game looks okay on its highest graphics setting (so I’m told by my friend who has actually has a half decent computer), but the graphic style certainly isn’t anything to write home about. However the design, while attractive, was fairly limiting. Areas can be reasonably big but don’t expect to have world scale free reign, the majority of the game takes place inside the walls of Neverwinter, be it above or below the surface.
Unfortunately, like so many MMO’s, the story and characters fall rather flat, especially in comparison to past iterations of the universe. Of course multiplayer games allow you to meet real people and create your own stories together. However recent games like The Old Republic are great examples of how you can still capture that essential solo adventure feel, even in the confines of the genre. Speaking of making your own stories, the foundry allows you to create your own dungeons and quests and for once the creation tools are relatively simple to grasp. These creations can be shared with other players and feature in the game on bounty boards and certain NPCs.
Overall on the surface Neverwinter is just the standard fare, go here, kill this, bring me the trouser snake of Atlantis etc…But never has it been so fun and given you so many options to customise your own experience. Plus it’s free, with the game relying micro transactions rather than upfront money. This means there’s no reason not to try it out when the vague release date of “early 2013” finally rolls around.
© Alex Annabel, 26th March 2013
The Bird Men are coming!
After the excellent Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy, (the first game in particular), I craved more adventures with a sword wielding monkey man. Something the not terrible, but insufferably easy, 2008’s Prince of Persia couldn’t deliver. However the answer to my problem had already been found, 2007’s spiritual successor, Assassin’s Creed. The first instalment in the new series was a really good game, but the second game raised the standard to an entirely new level. With such lofty expectations in mind I couldn’t help but be a little cautious in my approach to Assassin’s Creed 3.
When I started the game as Haytham Kenway, British spy and man about town, I was initially confused. I figured I’d only be playing as him for all of five minutes because as the trailers and gameplay footage had shown, all British are bad guys. But no, in fact you play as Mr. Kenway for a little while and I quickly found myself liking the character immensely. So much so that I was disappointed when I was finally forced to hand over the reins to the eponymous ‘Connor’ and even more disappointed when ‘Connor’ turned out to have about as much personality as a plank of wood.
Right around the time you give up control of Haytham, there is a twist in the story, one that ought to be depressingly predictable given the game’s slant on history. However any surprise I might have felt was already spoiled by the in-game database that is updated as you progress through the game. After meeting a particular character, the entry out and out tells you the twist ahead of time. Now I first started playing the game offline, so there is a possibility that there was or has since been an update to patch the problem. But either way it was quite a glaring error in the game’s narrative and is the kind of mistake you’d expect to be fixed before release.
Technical problems aside the narrative suffered from clumsy attempts to paint particular characters as bad guys and Connor’s origin story is about as formulaic and done to death as they come. That aside the atmosphere is as great as ever, the game now featuring children and animals, the latter becoming an important feature. The musical score and sound effects take you right back to the 1700s and you can almost smell the gunpowder in the rich and attractive world.
If I had to pick my two least favourite things about the game it would be the fast travel system in the cities and the optional objectives in the missions. The fast travel system requires you to first explore the tunnels under Boston and New York to unlock them and damn can it be tedious. Forced to move slowly through tunnel after dead end tunnel, solving simple puzzles for hours…It takes the ‘fast’ out of fast travel and I would’ve found it far easier (and more enjoyable) to simply run over land. Some of the optional objectives are equally tedious, I like a challenge and I enjoyed trying to attain full synchronisation in previous games. However in Assassin’s Creed 3 many of these tasks are simply annoying and often ruin the pace of the game for obsessives like me who refuse to move on without completing them.
The combat in the series has always been easy, but never have I felt less like an Assassin than now. There is simply no reason to be stealthy, unless the objective demands it. The streamlined combat system makes Connor a one man army, who can very easily walk into the middle of an enemy fort and slaughter its inhabitants to a man, without taking a single blow in return. All of this can be done right from the beginning of the game and it lacks the semi-satisfying difficulty curve of the first and second game. That aside Ass Creed 3 certainly doesn’t stop you from being all ninja if you want to, but it lacks the tension of knowing that if you’re seen you might have to make a hasty escape.
The multiplayer introduced in Brotherhood makes its return again and features the same tense cat and mouse gameplay. Unlike previous games however it also features the series’ first attempt at micro-transactions using real money and although this attempt to milk consumers for a game they’ve already paid upwards of £40 for is despicable, it’s also incredibly prevalent in the games industry of today and hardly surprising.
I enjoyed Assassin’s Creed 3 and if I hadn’t been playing four other Assassin’s Creed games for the last four years then I’d have loved it. As it is, despite their best efforts, it doesn’t really bring anything truly new to the table. An ‘open world’ style hub in the form of the frontier and the ability to hunt animals both sounded like cool additions prior to the game’s release, but neither were ground-breaking enough to rush out and buy the game if you were on the fence. What might attract you are the naval side missions, which put you at the helm of a hundred feet of timber and steel. They are in a word, awesome, and far better implemented than the disappointing tower defence game of Assassin’s Creed Revelations. They are however also sadly lacking in the grand scheme of things, with only a few (albeit re-playable) missions available.
Assassin’s Creed 3 has its flaws; it has more graphical errors, bugs and glitches than any of the previous games. But at the end of the day rather than rest on its laurels the series continues to push the boat out, literally in this case. It isn’t the ground breaker Assassin’s Creed 2 was, but it more than makes up for its shortcomings in any one area by simply giving you so much other stuff to do.
© Alex Annabel, 25th February 2013
All you have to do to beat the firing line of an entire army is run at them…who knew.
Project Destiny, the long-time leaked title of Bungie’s next project is seeing the light of day for the first time. Information on the game is still a closely guarded secret for the most part but we can now confirm it is definitely called Destiny. Wooh…
Now I liked Halo 4 just fine, but there was something about it that was just lacking for me, when compared to previous instalments in the series that is. The multiplayer in particular felt very unlike Halo to me and a little bit too much like another game I’ve played a lot of…it rhymes with Ball of Fruity. It’s CoD.
Now I know this is a very unpopular opinion, but regardless I found myself a lot more excited for whatever Bungie’s new IP would be than Halo 5. So you can imagine my disappointment when I heard that Bungie had signed a ten year contract with the CoD-fathers; Activision. Now in reality I had no idea how much control this would afford Activision over Bungie’s new baby and I certainly had no idea how it might affect gameplay. But of course my first sleep deprived realisation was that Activision had essentially ended the long standing feud between the shooter series by simply buying out their competitor and thus would begin a dark and terrible ten year reign of CoD clones…
The reality is of course very different and the newly released details about the game has only served to reignite my interest. The facts:
The series is planned to span multiple sequels and features the last struggling vestiges of humanity against a collection of superior alien races, like Halo. Unlike Halo however this world is in a far bleaker state of disrepair, with the human resistance on Earth sitting pretty in one remaining stronghold, a city built under an interstellar ping pong ball. Destiny is a first-person shooter, set in a persistent multiplayer world and it won’t feature a subscription fee. It would seem that Bungie is essentially attempting to blur the lines between the FPS and MMO genres, quite a tall order as they are hardly natural bedfellows.
“If you enjoy shooters, Destiny is going to be the best game you’ve ever played, Destiny is Bungie’s next great shooter and is set in an amazing new world that we’re building. In Destiny, players get to build their own characters and grow them over time. We’re really putting players in the center of the world and giving them control over their experience. From the ground up we’ve built this game to be social and cooperative.” – Bungie Cofounder, Jason Jones.
The “best game you’ve ever played” are bold words indeed and while other developers throw statements like this around all the time, Peter Molyneux, you know if a company like Bungie is mouthing off like this then they’re bringing the big guns to the table. It’s certainly not like an Activision/Bungie project is going to be lacking funding…
The social aspect of the game is based around the idea that as a player plays through the campaign; they will work with other players on missions almost at random. Though you can hook up with you mates easy enough, there will be no lobby allowing you to seamlessly join forces with strangers. There are also social hubs outside of combat that will feature somewhat less violent interactions between players. The “shared-world shooter” will feature both cooperative and competitive elements as well as sci-fi and RPG elements. Bungie hopes to create a game where your experience is different every night, with time-limited and random activities.
The concept art of the game released so far is certainly very beautiful and features the grand sci-fi settings we’ve come to love in Bungie games, more importantly however the score is composed by Halo’s trusty Marty O’Donnell. Music is one of the most important aspects of media for me and is often sadly overlooked in games and films, so that news alone is enough to get me excited.
Despite “not coming out in 2013” according to Activision, the game is set to be released on current generation consoles Xbox 360 and PS3, with no word yet on a PC version.
© Alex Annabel, 20th February 2013