Author Archive: Locclo
The Legend of Zelda is a franchise that needs no introduction. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have a favorite of the series. Though there tends to be little overall variety between titles, a lot of people can agree on one thing: Ocarina of Time was one of, if not the, best of the series.
In spite of Ocarina’s success, many tend to forget that there was a second game released on the Nintendo 64. A sequel with a dark, complex story, an entirely different gameplay experience, and one of the most hauntingly evil villains of the series. That game is, as you may have guessed by now, Majora’s Mask.
First, a little background. Majora’s Mask starts off slap-bang at the end of Ocarina of Time. Through a series of events revolving around the mischievous Skull Kid, Link (the Hero of Time) winds up in Termina, a parallel to his own world of Hyrule. As he steps into the world, it becomes immediately apparent that something’s gone wrong – the moon is much larger than it should be, and seems to be getting closer every day. With three days before the world comes to a cataclysmic end, he has to free the four giants of Termina and use them to save the world from utter destruction.
Just from that, you can see why this game is so much darker than its predecessors. If not, let me spell it out – Ocarina of Time’s villain wanted to become ruler of the world. A Link to the Past’s villain wanted ultimate power. Even the later Twilight Princess’s villain wanted the world consumed by the twilight realm, where he had absolute authority. The villain in Majora’s Mask? It just wants the world to burn. There’s no reason behind it, no story of vengeance or some misguided crusade – it just wants to see Termina destroyed. Majora’s Mask went off in a completely different direction than previous games in the series in more than one way, and it worked well.
This huge plot point also lends itself to some great storytelling. Unlike Ocarina, where major characters are few and Link’s quest is solely to stop Ganon, Majora’s Mask has a wide variety of characters with their own problems and views about their impending doom. Some deny that the apocalypse is coming, and try to go on with their daily lives, choosing to ignore it and prepare for the upcoming festival. Others desperately seek shelter, hoping to get as far away as possible before the moon falls and destroys the world. Adding another layer of depth, a popular theory states that each area of the game is a metaphor for a different stage of grief – the people in Clock Town deny the fact that the moon is truly falling; the Woodfall Deku take out their fury on an innocent being; the Goron hero Darmani pleads for a second chance at life after failing in his quest; the Zora singer Lulu has fallen into a deep depression after the loss of her eggs; and in the Stone Tower Temple, Link achieves enlightenment by casting aside the shells of his grief. It’s all explained in detail here.
All in all, it’s an extremely powerful story told subtly – a far cry from Link’s previous tales. But what about the gameplay makes Majora’s Mask so different? Well, for starters, gone are the usual conventions of a Zelda game. Let me explain. Most Zelda titles follow a preset path through the game. Three warm-up dungeons followed by a number of real dungeons, usually between five to eight. As Link, the hero of the story, travels through each dungeon, he gains a single new weapon that allows him to traverse the dungeon further as well as defeat the boss of the dungeon.
Majora’s Mask throws most of that out the window. The three-then-five formula is replaced by a mere four dungeons. That’s right, there are a grand total of four dungeons. The Wooded Temple, the Snowfall Temple, the Great Bay Temple, and the Stone Tower Temple. That’s it. Plus, when adventuring into each dungeon, Link discovers a new type of arrow, rather than a specific item – every other item can be found through puzzles and quests in the overworld.
Why is this so significant? Simply because it’s a complete reversal of the games prior to it. Every other Zelda game has the player following a specific path, going from one dungeon to the next – and that’s how the story unfolds. But with Majora’s Mask, a huge amount of the game’s storytelling is in its sidequests. And it’s all so brilliantly done, too – each dungeon tells the story of one of the four races of the land of Termina (Deku, Goron, Zora and Ikana), while the sidequests tell the story of the people of Clock Town, the game’s central hub. Unlike previous games, including Ocarina, the storytelling is much more open-ended, requiring the player to learn the plight of the world’s people by aiding them in their trials and tribulations.
This brings me to what made the game simultaneously impressive and daunting: the time limit. Yes, that’s right, for the first and only time in the series, the entire game revolves around a single time limit. The events of the world are on an endless three-day loop as Link helps people, defeats dungeons, and then travels back to the day he arrived. Major items and the Bomber’s Notebook, a record of the game’s numerous sidequests, are retained between cycles – but events are never altered from one cycle.
And…well, that’s what makes and breaks the game for people. On the one hand, it’s a very powerful gameplay tool, forcing the player to make decisions about what to do, making plans for doing things over each new cycle, and allowing them to fix their mistakes by erasing them from existence. But on the other hand, it can become incredibly confusing and tedious if you have no idea what you’re doing. The open-ended gameplay is a bit of a double-edge sword in this case, because while the only direction given is where the next dungeon is, a hugely important part of playing the game is doing the sidequests, which aren’t explicitly revealed to the player. Sure, not revealing the sidequest is a given in most games, but in Majora’s Mask, there’s the time element that becomes quite tricky to traverse. Almost every sidequest can only be started, continued, and finished at very specific times on very specific days – and if you don’t know the order, you’ll spend a lot of time running around trying to figure them out.
But still, Majora’s Mask remains one of the strongest games in the entire series. An extremely deep story, a frightening villain whose only goal is destruction, and a wholly new style of storytelling all add up to a phenomenally good game. Is it daunting? Sure, especially to newcomers to the series. But if you’re digging around for a great oldie, you’ll find gold in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
The Final Fantasy saga has had a very interesting timeline, to say the least. The original, Final Fantasy, was so titled because it was Square’s final attempt to avoid bankruptcy. Today, Square’s one title has expanded into one of the most massive franchises of all time, featuring thirteen full titles and a huge variety of spin-offs.
I’ve touched on the subject before, but Squaresoft and Square Enix were huge parts of my childhood. They developed the Kingdom Hearts franchise alongside Disney to create a fantastic mesh of beloved childhood classics and gritty science-fiction dramas. They created one of the greatest RPGs of all time – Chrono Trigger, a time-travel tale about a quest to save the future. Above all, however, they made one of the longest-running game series on the market: Final Fantasy.
The series started off in 1987. Struggling developer Square decided to give the gaming market one last shot before dropping into bankruptcy by creating Final Fantasy, a fantasy RPG that told the story of four heroes uniting to stop the evil Garland from destroying the world. The game was ultimately a success that saved the company from dying out, and as a result, the game garnered a massive thirteen sequels (all disconnected from each other) with numerous spin-offs.
But this article isn’t about the series in general, it’s about one in particular. A game that is often considered to be the mightiest of the series, the pinnacle of Squaresoft’s success, the absolute peak of the entire franchise. I am talking, of course, about Square’s first foray onto the Sony Playstation in 1997: Final Fantasy VII.
Final Fantasy VII is a game that just did everything right. Aside from a few localization issues (which many Japanese imported titles had at the time), the game was nearly flawless. A beautiful story backed with music by genius composer: Nobuo Uematsu, a combat system honed to perfection over the years, and a customization system that nailed the balance between too much and too little. Whether through fortune or good design, Final Fantasy VII hit the nail on the head in every single way.
Let’s start off with the gameplay. The combat itself was nothing new – after all, it was simply more of the active time battle system that Square had used for Final Fantasies 4, 5 and 6 previously (and would use through to Final Fantasy 9). Where it really shined was the system for customization: materia. Essentially, the player would, throughout their travels, discover gems with hidden magical powers known as materia. Materia could be set into each character’s weapon and armor to give them the ability to conjure magic forces, including summoning mighty creatures to do massive damage to all enemies on screen.
The big reason that materia was such a great system was simply the fact that in previous games, character abilities were determined by a preset series of abilities tied into a single job, or class. With Final Fantasy VII, now any character could equip any magic. There were certainly characters which specific materia could be attached, but overall, there was a lot more freedom in who did what, and more importantly, less reliance on a single job to fulfill a certain role.
So now you know a bit about the combat of Final Fantasy VII. That’s not what made it such a hot seller then, and one of the finest RPGs today. What made the game truly memorable was its story, a plot that had some very well-developed characters set in a mildly dystopian future dealing with one heck of an epic story.
It’s a bit hard to explain, so I think I’ll start at the beginning. The story starts with eco-terrorist group AVALANCHE (yes, in all caps) launching an attack on the Shinra Electric Power Company. You play as Cloud, a mercenary hired by the group’s leader, Barret, in order to facilitate the bombing of one of Shinra’s mako reactors, a generator that sucks energy from the planet itself to power the city of Midgar. In the wake of a second bombing mission, Cloud learns that Shinra intends to find the Promised Land – a land with unlimited mako energy that could power the entire planet – and tap its power, thus damning the planet to a slow, suffocating death.
But that’s when the plot begins to take a number of turns. The leader of Shinra dies, killed by elite soldier Sephiroth, who decides to go on his own search for the Promised Land. Cloud and his motley crew of adventurers chase after him, eventually discovering that he plans to use the planet’s life energy to become a god, even achieving enough success to summon Meteor (actually an asteroid) to force the planet’s energy to the surface.
The plot is full of twists and turns, and though somewhat muddy at times, it’s still a game that took a completely different direction compared to previous titles in the series. Where earlier Final Fantasy games told stories of heroes saving the land from an evil being, or stopping a mad wizard from destroying the world, VII crafted a brilliant tale of technology vs. nature. Despite Shinra’s controlling nature (which is a polite way of saying they control most of the planet under the iron fist of Rufus Shinra), they do provide safety and electricity to the populous city of Midgar. It’s even made pretty obvious in the game’s intro that the heroes aren’t all that heroic – the first two major missions involve them destroying power plants and causing chaos all through the city.
What always gets me as one of Final Fantasy VII’s defining features is the villain. Now, I’m not even talking about Sephiroth or Shinra. I’m talking about the fact that it’s almost never made clear – at least not until the very, very end – what Sephiroth’s plan is. Heck, it’s never even clear who the main villain of the piece is, because Shinra and Sephiroth are both potential major threats to the safety of the planet. As a matter of fact, Shinra and Sephiroth are often at each others’ throats during the story, and it’s not until the tail-end of the second disc that one of them emerges as the larger threat.
All in all, Final Fantasy VII is one of the finest games of the series, if not the best. This game marks the peak of the franchise, the point where Squaresoft nailed a balance between fun gameplay and an epic storyline to bring a truly awe-inspiring gaming experience to the world. Sadly, it also marks the beginning of the company’s fall – the very next game in the series would put Square on a deadly path that polarized the fans and curbed a lot of enthusiasm for the gaming giant.
That, however, is a story for another day.
No matter what anyone says, I still hold that every Assassin’s Creed title is better than the last. The franchise as a whole has shown immense growth over the years, from the second title’s greater focus on a single laid-out story, to the city renovation gameplay of Brotherhood and Revelations, the third and fourth releases in the series. Assassin’s Creed III continues the trend with a ton of new features, while improving on the existing ones, and an inspiring story of rising from oppression and fighting for one’s freedom.
Assassin’s Creed III picks up right where the last one left off. Desmond Miles, now knowing fully that humanity is doomed if he doesn’t act, sets off to find the mysterious remnants of Those Who Came Before. In his travels, he and his cadre of assistants come to a temple that may hold the answer to saving the world – and its key lies in Desmond’s ancestral memories.
Like the previous games in the series, the vast majority of the game involves the player entering the Animus, a device designed to allow its user to traverse the memories and experiences of their previous ancestors. This time around, Desmond is thrown in the middle of the American Revolutionary War as Ratonhnhaké:ton (known by his given American name, Connor Kenway) a Native American whose people are threatened by British and, more specifically, the Knights Templar. Believing in freedom, justice, and the American way, Connor systematically hunts down the six Templar agents who seek to end the American Revolution – and in doing so, reveals to Desmond the location of the key to the salvation of mankind.
As intense as that sounds, however, this is the one place where Ubisoft doesn’t really deliver. As an American myself, the story hits really close to home, centered as it is around our own Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the focus seems to be entirely on giving the player a taste of the major battles of the Revolution, and nothing more. Events are played out fairly sporadically, jumping from one major point of the war to another. Interspersed between the battles are portions of Connor hunting down the enemy Templar agents, with Connor only occasionally dropping in on the American war effort when he sees an opportunity to assassinate one of his enemies. What I’m driving at is that there’s very little focus on the actual Revolution, and entirely too much on the battle between Connor and the Templars.
Along that same vein, Ubisoft’s character development was lackluster at best for Assassin’s Creed III. There are definitely some great characters in there – Israel Putnam is very entertaining, and the fictional Haytham Kenway could be described as a gentlemanly asshole; but aside from that, there aren’t very many truly memorable people. Though a number of them have great potential to be interesting, so little time is dedicated to them that you don’t get to enjoy their company before moving on to the next piece of history. Even Israel Putnam only enjoys two brief scenes before being forgotten. The same can be said for the Templar villains of the game – aside from the two people at the top, the group is mostly forgettable, and there’s no real connection made with them, no real reason to want them dead. I’m reminded of Brotherhood, because Ubisoft went out of their way to describe just how the game’s villains, Cesare and Lucretia Borgia, were terrible human beings that deserved to die. By the end of Assassin’s Creed III, however, I felt a far better connection with the characters who showed up during one of the side-missions, rather than those who Connor had purportedly fought with – and against – for years.
Now, with all that said, I really had to be kind of impressed with Connor’s character in the end. Throughout the game, he’s a very childish, naïve person who honestly believes that killing the Templar agents (and aiding the American Revolution) will both keep his people safe, and promote freedom and equality for all. Even his own father, at one point, calls him out on acting like a child despite being in his mid-20s. By the end of it, however, Connor begins to see just how he was wrong, and that maybe the Templars weren’t quite as evil as he thought. On that note, I might also remind readers that Ezio Auditore, hero of the Assassin’s Creed II trilogy, started out in much the same way, but became a wise and powerful mentor to the Assassins’ Guild.
So overall, the story and characters were sort of meh, which is understandable considering that the highly-praised Ezio trilogy had just come to a close. But the meat of a game is its gameplay, not its story, and that is where this one shines.
The basic formula is still there, same as always. Players move around a vast, open world with a myriad of collectibles and side-missions to find (all of which have kept me playing this for a week straight) while utilizing stealth and swordplay to further their goals. Stealth is done by smoothly blending into the crowd, quietly ducking into a bush, or leaping into a haystack, for which the series has become famous. Though it’s still kind of ridiculous at times, the game now adds a more realistic element – if a guard is investigating you, you can no longer hide. That alone makes Assassin’s Creed III far more challenging and honestly a little frenzied at times.
The swordplay, on the other hand, is something that still gets me a little giddy. Never before in the series has the combat been so graceful, so beautiful to watch. It’s almost identical to the system that made Batman: Arkham Asylum famous; rather than pulling off any specific moves, you essentially just aim in the general direction, and Connor will perform an appropriate move. What makes it so great is that there are a wide variety of maneuvers for each and every weapon (of which there are numerous), and all it takes is the press of a button to pull each one off. Plus, gone are the days of the blocking circles from previous games, where enemies would stand in a circle around you holding up their swords in a defensive gesture. Instead, enemies will freely attack you, sometimes even two or three at a time. As defense against this, you no longer have to hold down a block button; there’s now just a single “counter” button that can be used at any time, even during a combo, to deflect an incoming enemy attack. It all results in a gorgeous, free-flowing combat that’s immensely fun to fight.
One last thing that needs to be touched on is another new feature of Assassin’s Creed III: the ship-to-ship combat. Yes, with the fifth title in the series, Ubisoft added in a whole extra game mode to play with, a sort of mini-campaign where you take control of the Aquila to play a role in some of the naval battles of the Revolution. I can’t stress enough how excellent this gameplay is – on the surface, it looks pretty easy, with fairly simple controls (turn left/right, switch between no/half/full sails, and two types of cannons to fire on each side) but with a whole level of complexity that turns it into a whole game of itself. Combat requires absolute precision in sailing up at full speed, then rapidly dropping to half speed in order to turn and unleash a broadside while diving for cover to avoid the enemy’s return fire. Then there are the swivel guns, which can fire at a pinpoint but do less damage – vital for taking down the smaller gunboat ships. And just to throw you for another loop, the game throws in random rogue winds and waves, just as you might face on a real ship. If I had to ask for one thing from Ubisoft, it would be an entire game centered around this, because it’s just a beautiful system.
Overall, I find I have very little to complain about with Assassin’s Creed III. There’s a metric ton of things to do compared to previous ones (I totaled it up to a massive twenty-four things to do on the side, plus a twelve or so hour storyline), and all kinds of Easter eggs and collectibles to discover. I normally take a staunch stance against paying full price for games, especially ones that have only a ten-hour storyline, but Assassin’s Creed III was worth every penny. The fact that it had a tremendously strong ending, when it could have gone the way of Mass Effect 3 is a great bonus.
Even if it’s your first foray into the series (and if so, why are you playing the third game in the series first?), I strongly recommend it. Few other games will give you your money’s worth as well as Assassin’s Creed III.
Serious Sam is one of those gaming heroes that’s not quite mainstream, but still important all the same. The franchise follows the exploits of one Sam “Serious” Stone in his never-ending battle against the alien overlord, Mental, and his endless hordes of monsters. From fighting a hundred Sirian Warbulls in the deserts of Egyptto facing down a thousand Kleer skeletons in the plains of medieval Europe, Serious Sam is a series that pulls absolutely no punches. It’s soul-crushingly hard at times – but that just makes the inevitable victory all the more triumphant.
Psychic soldiers seem to be conspicuously absent from modern gaming. In fact, I can think of only a small few, and even then the hero isn’t outwardly stated to be psychic. It kind of surprises me, because growing up, I thought that the coolest ability you could have was telekinesis (or psychokinesis, as it’s sometimes called) – the ability to move objects using only your mind. This week, I dive into a mentalist two-for-one: sixth generation titles Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy and Second Sight.
I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for indie titles. It always amazes me that such low-budget, low-standards game (compared to big names, of course) can be so addictive and fun. With that in mind, I hesitantly picked up a game that’s been making quite a splash across the gaming community: FTL – Faster Than Light.
The game has a fairly dark premise, considering how relatively simple its story is. In the months and years preceding the game, the mighty Federation has fought a war against a force of rebels – and lost. The game opens up with you taking command of a small cruiser that has discovered the weakness in the rebel flagship, and you’re tasked with transporting it across eight sectors to the last surviving Federation fleet. After getting through all eight sectors, you have to go into one final showdown against the rebel flagship in three brutal rounds of combat – and if you win, you’ve saved the Federation from utter destruction. But don’t be fooled; it’s easier said than done.
The gameplay of FTL is essentially a rogue-like in space. You command the crew of one of nine ships (each with a secondary layout to unlock for a total of eighteen) and travel across the sectors by jumping to different nodes throughout each one. At every node, you face a random event of some kind – either something nice and helpful, such as finding a free piece of gear and some scrap, or encountering a space station full of giant spiders. No, I’m not kidding – that one’s real, and it’s the number one event that kills off members of your crew.
As you travel to each node and work your way across the sectors, you collect various bits of scrap from destroying ships as well as extra systems and weaponry. Scrap is the currency of FTL, used to buy repairs and supplies, as well as upgrade your own systems. Perhaps some of the hardest decisions have to be made on the upgrade screen, because even if you can afford all of them (which is entirely possible, depending on your luck), you will never be able to have all of them powered and active at the same time. Every upgrade requires one more point of energy to utilize it, though you can always temporarily reduce the power level to keep more important systems running.
This is where the game really shines: the ship-to-ship combat. Each ship has a number of systems, including life support, weapons, and engines among others. Combat involves tactically choosing where to target your weapons to most efficiently take down the foe – do you disarm them by disabling their weapons? Eliminate their shields to leave them undefended against your drones? Or even take out their life support and wait for them to choke on the vacuum? You’ve also got to keep your systems powered – and true masters will be able to dance their limited power supplies around the ship to keep running only the most vital of systems for each situation.
In addition, as you whittle down the enemy vessel, you have to keep your own crew frantically fixing holes in the hull, repairing damaged systems, and fighting off enemy boarding parties. It can truly be some of the most intense combat you’ll ever see, especially since failing to fix one system can spell doom for your entire crew.
To further complicate matters, every ship plays a little bit differently – and if you’re not careful, you can wind up dead real easy. The Federation cruiser, for example, uses its lasers to knock out the enemy weapons to let its auto-firing, shield-ignoring artillery beam cause massive damage across the entire ship. The Engi cruiser, on the other hand, uses its ion weapons to disable enemy shields while its drones slowly destroy it one system at a time. All in all, it’s got an excellent blend of tactics and strategy that guide your every action throughout the game.
What really makes this game stand out among others is its soul-crushingly hard difficulty. Even playing on easy, it’s no walk in the park. One screw-up can kill your entire crew; one random event can beam an entire team of Mantis (the game’s heavy hitters in hand-to-hand combat) into your engine room and start taking out systems in a flash. Honestly, that’s all it takes to ruin your run. I’ve had numerous games where I got pretty lucky early on, got a great set of systems and weapons going into the last couple of sectors, and felt confident about beating the flagship. Then I ran into a string of bad events, or I hit an enemy ship with absurdly powerful weapons and systems, and I went down hard.
Despite all that, though, FTL is worth every penny. As hard as the rest of the game can be, the tactical, micro-level stuff is all relatively easy if you know how your ship plays. Combat is actually fairly balanced for the most part, since the AI mostly just targets random spots on your ship while you can focus on important areas of theirs.
After the fiftieth time your crew gets eaten by giant spiders, though, that’s when you’ll be ready to throw your computer through a window.
Should you buy FTL? I’ll admit, it’s not for everyone, because it’s hard to win. I mean, really hard. But if you’ve ever had fantasies about being Captain Kirk or Picard on the U.S.S. Enterprise, this is the game for you.
To those of you living under a rock, the name “Borderlands” means very little. But to most of the gaming community, it was a surprise hit that barreled into the market in 2009 with a unique style of gameplay. Deemed a “role-playing shooter,” Borderlands took the world by storm with its cartoony style, fast-and-furious gunplay, and great sense of humor. Three years have passed now, and the long-awaited sequel, Borderlands 2, has seen release. How does it hold up compared to the original?
Let’s start by taking a look at the gameplay, the most crucial factor. Fans of the original will know that the gameplay was excellent – at least to a point. One key problem that Borderlands had was at that point when the player hit about level 30 or 35, the game stopped being difficult. Aside from one nigh-unkillable bonus boss, everything was pretty easy at that point. There were a variety of reasons for it, but most prevalent is that most skills were at least mildly powerful, and by that point, the player has essentially maxed out a skill tree, or gotten close in two of them. Loaded with bonus abilities, players tend to be gods of war raining death upon their enemies.
Really, that all changed in Borderlands 2. Enemies scale up far better than they did before, and more importantly, the skills are quite a bit more balanced than in the original. None of the skills I’ve seen are utterly game-changing like some of the old ones were. In addition, each new action skill for Borderlands 2’s characters is far less powerful at the benefit of being used more frequently. Admittedly, the system isn’t quite perfect – I still maintain that Maya’s Phaselock is still extremely powerful (though not quite as game-breaking as Lilith’s Phasewalk), and Zer0’s Deception is only okay in comparison. That said, there’s virtually nothing that really makes the game a total cakewalk.
But what about the guns? One of Borderlands’ features was that each of its weapons was manufactured by one of several different companies, each with differing signature abilities. For example, Maliwan only made weapons that dealt elemental damage, and Tediore guns always had a quick reload time. While it was a great way of doing things, it still ran into the issue that all guns shared the same stats – damage, accuracy, and rate of fire. The companies still wound up blending together, since you could very well find a rare Vladof gun with decent accuracy, or a Jakobs with relatively low damage.
So Gearbox threw that out in Borderlands 2. There are still gun companies, yes, but each company has its own unique ability tacked onto all of its guns. Where Tediore guns tended towards quick reload speeds, now they’ve become so cheap to make that each one is fitted with explosives with the intent of players throwing them away as grenades each time they reload (with a new identical gun phasing into life right in their hands). There’s actually a decent difference between each company, making it all the more worthwhile to pick a gun based on its maker.
But enough about the gameplay – how about the story? Borderlands 2 takes a dark turn with its plot, featuring the Vault Hunters being left for dead by the notorious Handsome Jack, owner and proprietor of weapons company Hyperion. The game involves the players trying to hunt down Jack, who is trying to awaken a mighty beast known as the Warrior and use it to take over the galaxies.
What can I say about Jack? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a more villainous villain in all my years of gaming. I know some of you are probably reading this without any knowledge of the game’s story, so I’ll avoid spoilers, but suffice to say he does a lot of evil, evil things over the course of the game. And that’s really where Borderlands 2’s story differs from the original – Borderlands had a decent story, but really most of it was in its variety of characters. There wasn’t much of a central villain, and even when she did show her face, she didn’t do a whole lot of direct damage to the player.
Jack…Jack’s actions make me want to rip his throat out. Honestly, he’s a character that makes me impressed with Gearbox’s writing staff, because it seems like in a lot of games, you only chase down the villain because he’s being generically evil and trying to snatch up power. Borderlands 2 lets you see the direct results of Jack’s actions, and their consequences, and how other characters react to them. I can’t say much without spoiling things, but it’s really quite remarkable.
Despite the game’s dark antagonist, the humor is still evident in virtually every line of dialogue, from Claptrap performing live dubstep in the city of Sanctuary to Tannis going off on a psychotic rant about her own social awkwardness. One of my favorite lines is from fan-favorite Scooter, who says in his deep southern drawl, “I’ll say this slow so you can understand. That thing is broke. As. Hell.”
So what’s the final verdict on Borderlands 2? The gameplay has improved drastically following a number of balancing decisions on the part of Gearbox, the story is much more prevalent due to the actions of Handsome Jack, and the game’s dialogue is even better than before. Say what you will, Borderlands 2 is a damned good game, and worth every penny. Did it live up to the expectations set by Borderlands? In short, it meets every one of them – and then blasts them into space.
For nearly a decade now, Blizzard’s mega-hit World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG market. A number of challengers have attempted to stage a coup, knocking the mighty WoW from its throne – but none have succeeded. Trion Worlds tried their best with a new twist on WoW’s already working formula, but players weren’t willing to quit WoW for another WoW. More recently, Bioware tried to bring their long-awaited sequel to their Knights of the Old Republic franchise, but its story-driven gameplay couldn’t survive into end-game content. Now, Arenanet has brought in a sequel to its beloved Guild Wars saga, the appropriately titled Guild Wars 2, to try and bring down the king.
So what makes Guild Wars 2 an appropriate new challenger? For starters, the game takes a wholly different approach to combat than WoW ever did. Where WoW requires players to stand in one spot and cast spells or abilities on individual cooldown timers, GW2 allows players (and in most situations, forces) players to move around the battlefield, firing off spells on the go. In addition, probably the most prominent feature of GW2 over WoW is the fact that anyone who participates in fighting an enemy gets some of the experience for it. This is in stark contrast to WoW, where the first person to “tag” (make the first attack) an enemy is the only one who gets rewarded for taking it down.
Furthermore, Guild Wars 2 has taken a far more cooperative approach to gaming than World of Warcraft. Contrary to WoW’s system, there is no player vs. player that takes place in the normal world. Players are encouraged and often required to band together to fight common enemies. There are no factions in Guild Wars 2; no Horde and Alliance fighting an endless war against each other.
With that in mind, let’s get down to the good, the bad, and the ugly. The game has a ton of great features right off the bat. The combat system is great, and the emphasis on cooperation has led to a much stronger community in general. The atmosphere is fantastic, and the world feels like it’s a living entity – there are no quests like in classic games; players instead follow their own story while participating in world events that crop up every so often. On that note, another huge factor of Guild Wars 2 is the story: every character follows their own tale through the game, an extensive chronicle that leads them from first level newbie to max level legend.
However, the game has its flaws. And sadly, those flaws almost break the game at times.
I’ll start with the big problem I have with the game: the leveling progression. In most MMOs, you get a basic set of quests and quest chains in each area, all suited to the level of that area and designed to be a parallel to your own level. In other words, no matter what level you happen to be, you’ll pretty much always have a set of quests along which you can follow.
In Guild Wars 2, this is really not present. I’ll admit that this wouldn’t be a problem if a single quest area gave you a full level, because there are generally one or two per map per level. The problem arises when you finish one quest area, then the next, and then the next after that. At least in my experience playing through the game, quests progress much faster in level than the player does. For example, say I’m at level five. I go and do the level five quest. It doesn’t quite give me a level, so I go and do the level six quest. Yet at the end of that, I’m still shy of level six, I, then, move onto the level seven quest. I finally gain a level, but now I’m starting to lag behind. This continues to snowball until I hit a wall, finding only quests that are five or six levels above my current one, and I’m practically incapable of finishing them.
The only solution is to travel to another race’s questing area and play around in there for a while, but that’s not a great solution. In essence, the game requires me to follow my story for a while, then break off from it completely to do something completely unrelated to my story until I’m ready to keep going with it. Believe me when I say that it ruins the immersion for me when I can’t continue my own personal plot line because there’s literally nothing in the area that I can complete to increase my level.
Another issue that I’ve run into is the fact that weapons are fairly limited in what they can do. Now, I’ll say that the Guild Wars 2 combat system is pretty inventive. Essentially, every weapon in the game has its own progression of skills to use in combat, and each set is different for the class you’re playing as. Plus, you have to unlock each skill in a progression, so you can only use each weapon effectively by practicing with it for a while.
The issue that pops up is the implementation of this innovative system. True, the weapons are different, and the skills lead to some pretty varied play-styles. However, each weapon only has five or six skills to learn, period, forever. The skill progression is neat, but there’s really no point to it – after all, you learn every skill of a weapon after using it for maybe ten or fifteen minutes. That’s right, after fifteen minutes using a weapon, your character has completely mastered its use, and will never be able to use it any differently for the rest of the game.
This leads into the final problem that I foresee with Guild Wars 2: the classes. It’s worth noting that the classes are pretty good, well-varied, and full of customization. That’s not the real issue. The real issue is the fact that some of them are very, very difficult to play solo. In a game that emphasizes cooperation, that might not be so bad, but what happens when the vast majority of the players reach max level? What happens when nobody’s around to quest through starter zones? New players will find themselves in barren wastelands trying to solo quests and events that weren’t meant to be soloed. I mean, just look at World of Warcraft – if you’ve ever tried to start a new character after three expansions (with a fourth on the way), you’ll quickly discover that the vast majority of the world is dead space, completely devoid of other players. In a game like WoW, that’s not an issue, but Guild Wars 2 was designed around having players fight with each other, not against each other. When the players move on, the new players who choose to try the support classes are going to be powerless to fight the monsters of the world.
It’s tough to say whether or not this game will be able to combat the popularity of World of Warcraft. After all, Guild Wars 2 is an excellent MMO, despite its few glaring flaws. As I said before, the atmosphere is breath-taking, and the world feels like it’s alive. The combat system is active and engaging, even if the inventive weapon skills are lacking. Still, right now, it’s just not enough. As much fun as it is to play GW2 now, it’s just got a few nasty issues that stop it from being fantastic.
Still, I have to say that if Arenanet can iron out the wrinkles, I sense that Guild Wars 2 will become a great game, one that might stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the incredibly popular and long-lasting World of Warcraft.