Category Archives: Game Reviews

Lords of Xulima – Review

LOX_GameLogoLords of Xulima – Review

The Lords of Xulima game was released in November 2014, and is a classic rpg with turn-based combat.  It is a game whose style is decidedly retro, looking back to the older gameplay styles we saw back in the late 90s, and is likely designed for people who loved those games back then, and are used to playing them.

Brief Summary

Good Points Bad Points
1.  Good combat
2.  Nice amount of objectives/quests
3.  Interesting time vs money strategies
1.  Poor game pacing
2.  Not enough information on spells/abilities
3.  Game difficulty is prohibitive
4.  No skill respec

Character Creation

In the game you control the six party members that make up your group.  You can (and I urge you to) customize these characters to suit your playstyle.  There is a selection of 9 different classes to choose from, and each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses.  Unfortunately there really isn’t enough information on them at the start to base your decisions on, either what they are capable of, or what sort of skills they might eventually get.

The issue with the lack of information for the standard edition of the game is that choosing a group that doesn’t work that well longer term isn’t usually a problem in a game.  You play for a few hours, then you re-roll a new group and start over.  However Lords of Xulima is such a long game that you might not come to that realization until you are 30-50+ more hours into the game, and that is prohibitive to wanting to reroll and redo all that stuff again.

You can read the manual for the game here, however it isn’t really that in-depth.  For that you really require the DLC deluxe edition that comes with a game guide listing them all.

UI

The user interface of the game is fairly simple and easy to understand.  For your characters’ main inventory, gear and stats you double click their party profile picture at the left hand side of the screen.

The little bag icon at the top of the screen lets you use items and skills outside of combat, such as teleport crystals or heal skills (click on the character with the heal skill and it will show up). This is useful as a quick way of doing these without opening the full inventory.

The maps are useful, and you can add notes to the regional maps.  You will want to do this a lot to keep track of mobs, locations etc that you will have to come back to complete.

Skills, Talents and Leveling upLoZ-level-up

The leveling system is much like you might expect in these sorts of games.  You kill things, complete quests etc and you gain experience, and when you get enough experience you level up.

The game deviates a little from the norm though in how it goes about that.

Each level up gives you stat points to add (strength, speed etc), as well as a certain number of skill points that get put into skills.  Different character classes have different skills to choose from and more skills will be unlocked as you level up.  What I find somewhat different to other games is that you can only add one point increase to each individual skill each level up (so you can put, say, one point in Fast Reflexes and one point in Immunity, but you cannot put two points in Fast Reflexes).

LoZ - levelup iconNote: When you level up a character, a small gold icon to the right of your character turns up.  You double click your character portrait to bring up the character screen, then click the same icon to the right of their name to bring up the Level Up panel.  Once you have opened the Level Up panel, you have to level your character, though you don’t need to use all your skill points, only adding the stats.

On the surface, this seems okay, but what you have to remember is that there is very little available information to players who didn’t purchase the deluxe package of the game, so you are not going to know what each of the skills can really do, or how powerful they are compared to other skills.

While not entirely filled in, I found this link useful for checking skills of the different classes and what those skills do.
Lords of Xulima – Skillsheet by Kordanor

What is also of note is that you also CANNOT RESPEC.

This poses a problem, especially in a game as difficult as Lords of Xulima, especially the latter aspect since you will have a limited number of skill points you can gather in the game, and using them in skills you will later shelve is annoying, losing you skill points.  However on the other hand, not putting skill points into skills leaves you underpowered for the hard mobs/groups you will encounter.  There are ways of getting extra level ups in the game, but it is still one of the challenges you will face.

Time vs Money food mechanics

 

LoZ food

One of the interesting mechanics in the game that I found was the time vs money aspects that are mainly based around the gathering of food.

For each step you take in the game, the game time moves on, which in turn decreases your store of food.  You need to have enough food to go adventuring (because starving isn’t fun and has real detriment), so you can either buy food from suppliers, or you can gather it from food sources such as fruit bushes, or if you have the correct skills, off fallen enemies sometimes.

There is never a time in the game where you can ignore the food thing, because for every little side trip you make, your food is going down.  Buying is by far the easiest way to get food, since there are food vendors in every town, but the more food supplies you stock up on, the greater the price is, so if you buy a 3 day supply of food, then come back when you run out and buy 3 more days, that is a lot cheaper than buying a 6 day supply of food.

It is possible to gather enough food without having to pay for any eventually, by keeping note of where the different food bushes are and doing a round of them when you get low.  The food on them refreshes after a few days.  If you travel via roads, rather than over rough ground (saving time/food), you can get most of them with minimum effort.

If you choose to not spend the time gathering the food, then you have to fork out more money as time goes on for food, taking away money that could be spent on training or better armour or weapons.  But on the other hand, if you spend time gathering, its a lot of time running around.

Quests

There are a variety of quests in the world that will help you level up, give you coin etc.  Most will be worth doing, while others won’t be.  Part of this is due to the fact that all your coin is put towards getting better armour and weapons as well as leveling up and getting more skill points.  Sometimes there are item quests later on that you can hand in for some experience and gold, but on the other hand, consuming the items will give you stat increases which is, depending on the stat, far more useful for you.

In general though, the quests are fine, and I had no real gripe about them.  Some of them have quite interesting puzzles.  Not too difficult, but they add more interest to the game.

Combat

The combat in the game is good, and I enjoyed it a lot.  It is basic turn based combat, but the slight difference in this game is the fact that you, and your enemies attack in a sort of basic formation, with melee at the front and more ranged or longer ranged melee behind.  This acts as an extra layer of interest for those used to these games.

Xulima_combatI found the combat challenging enough to be of interest, yet simple to understand.  The only annoyances I have about the combat is the fact that the combat itself cannot be speeded up more (it only goes up to 2x animation speed), and the variety of mobs in areas is really limited, so if you are trying to clear an area of enemies, you will be fighting different groups of the same type over an over and over again.

Pacing

The most detrimental thing to the game, in my opinion, is the pacing of it.  They have made a big deal of the fact that game offers at least 100 hours of gameplay per run-through.  However while this might seem like a selling-point at the point of purchase, when you actually get into playing it, that amount of time actually really drags.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. There are a set number of enemies, so as the game progresses, finding enough mobs to level up grows more difficult, slowing the game
  2. There isn’t a good UI to indicate what areas of the map have been enemy wiped.
  3. Different areas of the map have different enemy types, so you are farming the same mobs over and over again
  4. Turn-based combat is slow by nature, and although it can be speeded up here a bit, there are not enough speeding up options

These issues mean that while the initial gameplay is varied and interesting by going from one map to another, gaining exp and leveling up fairly well, by further into the game you are held back by the game mechanics and you have to constantly seek out and grind the same monsters over and over, if you can find the parts of the map you have not completed yet.

For me, this issue was so bad that I quit the game several times, and only the fact that I was wanting to complete the game to be able to write this review kept me coming back.  Frustrating and annoying doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Gameplay difficulty

It is well known that Lords of Xulima is a difficult game, even for those with prior gameplay experience of these types of games.  As someone who has played quite a lot of games like this over the years, I would say that in many ways the game is prohibitively difficult, and the difficulty settings pretty much try to shame you into not choosing the easiest option.  Ignore it.  The easiest setting is actually what other games would call ‘Hard’.

The harder game difficulty is there for pretty much hardcore strategy gamers.  Ones that have played the game on the easier setting, know all the tricks to get the most efficient leveling etc, know the best way of dealing with the game.  The harder setting, in my opinion is not, despite what the setting says, for people that have never played the game before.

I can totally see the point of having these super hard modes in the game.  Lords of Xulima will be the type of game that will undoubtedly attract players who really want this sort of challenge.  However, I feel that the game could have done with another easier setting being available for players wanting to get through the game faster, because lets face it, not everyone has the patience or wish to play the same game for over 100 hours.

Story

I am in two minds about what to think of the story.  On one hand it is pretty darn simplistic, and gives a basic premise to the game and not much else.  There are bits of world lore scattered around, but not a great amount.  On the other hand, despite this, and despite guessing that there was little story to the main plot, I did want to see the final story reveal at the end enough to return to the game when I had told myself that I was done struggling with it.  So yeah, the story isn’t great, but it is enough I think.  It gives a reason for the game, but I doubt very much people will feel a massive investment in the story.

Conclusions

Overall my impression of the game is mixed.  If you had asked me when I was still playing the game in the first say 30-50 hours, I would have told you it was a great game, interesting and challenging in different ways despite the small issues with knowledge of skills etc.  However now I have (finally) completed it, my opinion of the game is so vastly different due to the horrendous pacing that I really cannot give it the glowing review I would have done at the start.  The game was torturous to finish for me, but on the other hand, that doesn’t actually stop it from being a good game for the first half of it, or even the first three quarters.

If you like challenging games, or if you like turn based combat games but don’t tend to finish them, I would say that this game is for you.  Its the pacing alone at the end that lets this game down really badly, so if you aren’t likely to finish it anyway or like super hard challenges in difficulty (with the harder modes), this game is for you.

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Dragon Age Inquisition – review, thoughts and tips

DA BannerDragon Age: Inquisition – Review

Ah, so long awaited.  In all honesty I was not sure what to expect from this game.  The developers said they were going to try and mix the good points of both Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2, learn from them both and make something new.  I can say that in most respects they have indeed lived up to that since it seems like an amalgamation of those games and Skyrim in many respects.  There are bugs still, of course, that is only to be expected with such a new game, but they are not debilitating.  There are some UI annoyances as well, but more on that in a bit.

In some ways it is the plot itself that lets the game down a bit, and I find that interesting because it didn’t actually occur to me until after I had completed the game.  You don’t tend to notice it when playing because there is -so- much to do, but nearer the end of the game there are still bits I am baffled as to not have been explored more, Lilliana companion quests especially.  I won’t put a spoiler in here, but those that play the game will understand when I say there really should have been more to that.  Indeed, I think the game could have benefited a lot from having far more companion quests for each one.  I am thinking that more may be explored in a dlc or expansion, but the fact that it wasn’t left as a cliffhanger, things were just left as if forgotten, and that didn’t really sit well with me. Again, I am not sure how noticeable this is to other players.  (More on my thoughts about the story, plot and quests here.)

Another thing is that despite all the tactical work, it is fairly difficult to tell what impact your choices have.  In Dragon Age Awakening, the first game’s expansion, the tactical work had very real consequences that were felt really profoundly.  I didn’t get it in this game with the exception of the mage vs templars and one other choice later on.  Most of the tactical work you do in the war room seems to have almost no impact really at the end, not in a way that is felt by the player.

When the credits rolled at the end of the game, I was satisfied, but when you see what happens next (the cliffhanger of this game, a very real pointer towards a dragon age 4), the game took on a new light in terms of the story, and gave me a very real reason to play it again with a different outlook.  In that respect the game does exceedingly well for Dragon Age fans, because even those (or perhaps especially those) that have a good working knowledge of the lore get so much to put their teeth into.  As another review has mentioned, you will get more out of Dragon Age Inquisition if you have played the previous games and read the books, and people that have not may not get the same level of immersion or understanding of characters and motivations.

My general impression of the game is that it is good, even very good despite my above concerns, and yes, it is worth your money if you like rpgs.  Don’t expect to get quite as immersed in the game as quickly as in other rpgs.  This game is a slow burn at first, and it isn’t until further within the game (of which there is a LOT of game to get into) that you get that deep immersion and connection to the npcs.  Heck, I didn’t manage to get a kiss from my chosen romance option until 42 hours into the game!  It took me around 100 hour of play-time to complete the entire game, get all the quests done etc (in a rather ocd manner), and I still have bits left I could have hunted for, such as all the collections, not to mention replay value.  From what I can gather, between 80-110 hours is the standard for a single play-through, not bad for under £40.

In-depth Reviews

I won’t go into a full review here, that isn’t my purpose in this since there are a lot of sites out there that offer reviews and have had them out far quicker than this will be posted.  Check these ones here if you are interested, a general Google search will bring more:
Dragon Age Inquisition the review by Kotaku.co.uk
Dragon Age Inquisition Review by IGN


 Thoughts and Tips

Character Creation

The character creation is very good for details of the face.  You can make incredibly precise faces if you have the patience to work at it.  It does take patience though, since there are so many options to edit and change.DA character creation

What the character creation does lack, and lacks very noticeably, are the amount of hair styles to choose from.  There are so very few, and not even the variety of the ones from older Dragon Age games especially since about 1/3 of all hairstyles are shaven/close-cropped head types.  Considering how amazing the face customization is, this and the stick-on beards just jump out as awful.  I have been told it looks far worse on ps4 and xbox due to their rendering (I think the term was ‘hair hat’).

Tip:
When on the face customization page on an option that uses the cursor drag box (as shown in the image above) you can turn the head by using the space above, below or to the right of the box, not the left. Took me a while to work that out lol

UI

The user interface (UI) is pretty clean and I got used to the style fairly quickly.  I do feel it could use some improvements though:

  1. Second option keybinding
    It is not possible to have more than one keybinding for each task.  I cannot, for example, have a potion keybound to one of the side buttons of my mouse for those ‘oh shit’ moments that happen from time-to-time,
  2. Extra mouse buttons
    Currently, at least with my mouse, only the three basic mouse buttons work.  The game does not recognize extra buttons on the side of the mouse that I am used to using all the time.  This is highly inconvenient and makes gameplay annoying.
    Edit: It seems that pre-programmed mouse buttons work (like mmo mice) but not extra buttons on an ordinary mouse
  3. Inventory and shop sorting
    There simply is not enough options for sorting your inventory quickly and easily.  There is no designated junk bag option either to sort items for vendoring later.  Trying to sort out useful items from sellable items is also a pain. Many items are needed for requisition quests and research, and it is possible to sell those items, since they look like junk items.  The same sorting issues are true of crafting, as you will want to discount low level schematics when you get better, but they ALL show.
  4. Minimap
    The minimap, while sort of useful, doesn’t actually give enough detail.  So while it will show some nearby quests and locations, it won’t give them all, and gives no indication of the land, so I found myself shifting back and forth to the big full screen map way too much.  Sometimes less is not more.

Crafting and Loot

Crafting in the game is actually useful.  You can, with the right schematics and materials actually craft the best gear in the game (I think). It is better, right from the start, crafting your own stuff or at least upgrading items you do have. Sadly, I found the selection of armour to be minimal and not great to look at, and you don’t get to craft an armour type with a skin you like, they come attached.  Consequently I spent most of the game wearing great armour that I disliked the look of.

Tip:
When you are at your home base (not a camp) go through your items and equip the best ones you have on all your available characters.  Bag space is an issue in this game, and you won’t need those extra equipment items.  Sell all the ones not equipped after that.

Near the beginning of the game, you will come across more items that will be useful to you, but as you explore more you will find that the amount of useable drops decreases.  This is especially true if you explore more than you level.  Items do not drop based on YOUR level, but the per-determined level of the area.  This means that you can end up doing areas when you are level 15 and getting item drops of level 8 or something, which are really not that useful, no matter how epic they look or how historically important.  I think this is a poor decision in terms of a game this large, as I found more than once that I would go and do a sprawling quest through demon-infested ruins only to get loot that was useless to me, and that doesn’t breed happiness.  It does however make crafting your own stuff more worthwhile.

Tip:
Research table THEN the buy/sell vendor
When you are selling things, do not auto-sell all the items in your valuables section. Many will be used for requisition orders (+power) or research (+influence). Research items are generally yellow icons and can be handed into a research table automatically on click.

Unfortunately there is also no storage box in the game (so no sharing items with alts) so you only have your bag space.  Upgrades are available to purchase from Influence via the war room though, and you will want those.

I do feel that having a place to hang up key pieces of weapons and armour (as you do with collections) would have gotten around the issue of useless equipment, even if they were no longer able to be used when placed.

2014-12-04_00015You collect many historic and significant weapons, and it feels wrong to vendor them.  Very wrong, especially from a rpg standpoint.  Being able to put them up in your room or hall would both give a visible representation of the weapons as well as something for collectors to collect, like the mosaic tiles.  Perhaps something like this will be added in an update or dlc.

Requisitions (and those valuables you want to keep)

As I mentioned, there are many items that you will not want to sell to a vendor from your valuables.  Most of these will be used in requisitions.  You can see a list of most of the requisitions for each land here, but I have listed the items below since many are duplicated. There may be others that have not yet been found or noted down.

Dragon Age RequisitionsThe two highlighted in yellow are places you have to find, not items in your bags.

Skills, Talents and Leveling up

The skills are fairly standard when you look at previous dragon age games, especially initially.  Mages especially may well be somewhat disappointed by the range of skills available at the start since they are so similar to previous games.  Be aware that more options are available after a certain key story point has been reached, so do not despair.

Types of missions, objectives and quests

There are several different types of quests, missions and objectives that you will come across in the game:

War room and tactical questsDA war table
This is the place where you can see the different locations of tactical quests and story arc quests.  Tactical quests are ones done entirely on the table.  You have an issue and your three advisers will offer different solutions.  Which one you choose to employ will change the outcome.

Tip:
If you are having trouble with your mouse not working on the war room screen, do a right click then sweep your cursor broadly over the map options.  This seems to fix it for me. 

War room quests include these types here:

  • Main story arc quests
  • scouting areas and opening up new land (to be able to travel there on the world map),
  • diplomatic tactical quests that will influence what quests you may get, or what support you can gain in coin resources or manpowerDA story quest
  • gathering quests that give resources
  • story updates and responses

Main story arc quests
This is what moves the main plot onwards.  These are shown as little keeps on the map (in the war room) with a green rift marker above it.  All other quest or mission types do not move the timer on, so you can do those at your leisure between clicking these ones.

Companion questsDA approval
You get these by engaging in dialogue with your companions (like Solas and Varrik) in the main town/area.  You will generally have to have increased their approval of you before they offer you these quests by talking to them.  You gain approval by doing things they like and making choices they like.

Tip:
Companions do not need to be in your active party to get approval/disapproval effects, so if you do an action that one of them will dislike, leaving them back at town beforehand will not save you from their ire.

Local quests
These are scattered all around.  You know the type, ‘collect 10 rams for food’, ‘please scatter my wife’s ashes somewhere dangerous’, ‘please kill the bandits in the camps to the north’. Some local quests will gain you items, and in others if you do enough you can gain ‘agents’ from an area that will help work with the inquisition (reducing the timers for that agent type in the war room).DA puzzles

Puzzle, exploration and collections
You find these scattered all around the place in the maps.  Not too many puzzles, but lots of collections and things to find.  The bottles and mosaic tiles in particular are good because they get updated in your main building with each find, which is nice to see.  Wish there was more of these visuals in the game.

 Story pacing

I feel that the story pacing could do with some changes.  I don’t feel there are enough rpg aspects for character building at the start of the game, only action and reaction.  (More on the story pacing in my article here).

Another issue is the increasing time delays in the war room as the game progressed.  For most of the game, the time delays worked okay.  There were plenty of things to do between the war room timers, but as I got late into the game the timers for many quests increased massively, some to just under 24 hours despite my having done so many of the quests and got tons of agents to decrease the timers.  This ended up being problematic for me, and annoying, because I found myself with actually very little to do except wait for timers.  There is a way around it (see below) but use it sparingly, because ticking off the war table too quickly leaves it feeling largely pointless.

Tip:
The war room time delays are fine for most of the game, but if you are struggling with the ones late in the game and it is causing detriment to your enjoyment (some of the wait times are super long), there is a way around it.  Alt+tab to minimize the game and change the date.  Ta-da!  Mission timer complete.

Combat

DA combatAh, combat.  I have a rather mixed opinion about the combat, because currently the game isn’t functioning as smoothly as it should, nor is it really reacting quite as it did in previous games.  Here are the issues I had with it:

Keybinding
Part of this is because the game uses a system commonly seen in mmos, where the player uses the number buttons to activate spells or abilities.  This isn’t new in Dragon Age games, but due to the mouse button issues I mentioned earlier in the article, the functionality in games that I am used to using this system doesn’t exist here.  I would usually have potions and search facilities keybound on my mouse, as an example, but have to use the keyboard for that here.  Only having one keybind option per action is annoying not to have as well.

Response times
What is also lacking are the response times when in combat. So many times playing my mage when I saw this massive tank of a creature coming at me with a two handed axe and I try to move, try to run away, but my character resolutely continues to stand there casting before finally deciding it might want to react, only to have my head smashed in as I slowly turn.  This also impacts when playing melee characters, when you have to move after enemies but your character stands there slashing the air instead of doing something more useful when told to.

Tactical Camera
Ah, the tactical camera.  This seems to have been added to try and upgrade the pause function seen in earlier games.  Allowing the time to stop and let you command each member of the party to do one action.  This was in previous games, but it doesn’t really work as well here.  Part of that is because the tactical camera doesn’t move far enough away, so you can’t get a good overview of what is happening (and I am not over exaggerating on how close that tactical camera can go.. it is pretty ridiculous).  This makes trying to organize members pretty difficult.  It is highly possible that I just have not tried hard enough to learn the tactical system, but it just doesn’t seem to function as well as in previous games.

Tactic behaviour
I guess people will remember the plethora of different tactical options to pre-program your companions to act like in the earlier games.  However with DA Inquisition they seem to have moved away from this to try and make it simpler to understand and use.  Now there are only four different types of actions, and you can only edit each one within their type, such as healing potion, or target etc.  I haven’t had to use it much, since I have not played it on Nightmare yet, but it does seem to be rather restrictive.  A lot of the games these days are trying to minimize UI stuff to make it easier on new players and on consoles, but after previous games, this doesn’t seem to be that useful.  I am no expert though.

Hold!
What else doesn’t seem to work as well is the ‘Hold’ button.  There are times (thankfully few and far between) where you need to have characters hold position in different places for a puzzle thingy.  What is the problem with that?  In previous games, when you pressed Hold, all the characters would hold, and you could move them and they would stay there.  Moving a character after commanding the Hold in DA Inquisition will make them move again, and they will follow the character you currently have active.  Oh the rage.  Again, maybe I just didn’t understand the system properly, but either way, it was not fun doing those puzzles as a result.

Tip:
If you click the Hold button twice it will hold all party members.  Only just found that out.

Overall
I think, overall, the combat is okay.  It certainly needs some tweaks, but I don’t think there is anything inherently broken or unfixable with it.  I enjoyed a lot of combat, especially against small groups.  I enjoyed the spawning changes you saw in this game for example, where you think you have cleared an area, then just as you are starting to pick up loot someone yells ‘look out, reinforcements!’ instead of mobs being entirely oblivious in other rooms nearby.  I liked that since it was more realistic.  I don’t really pay too much attention to combat in games, (I tend to follow the creed of ‘hit it till it dies, level up more if you die’) but in general I think the combat is certainly workable.

 PC or Console, and FPS

The age-old question of PC or console, and I have to generally go on the side of the PC.  From looking at reviews of the graphics, I would say that a decently specced PC will look better than the PS4 and Xbox version of the game.  Watch this in full HD to see the differences (remember to watch it in full screen on full HD settings). They are not really that noticeable until you get to around 3 mins in, and then you can see some of the differences in the colour rendering on people better.  The PC seems to have far more depth of colour and realistic lighting, which backs up other screenshots I have seen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftsvO-AaOf0

There seems to have been some worry by fans questioning whether the full ultra settings on the pc were being used in the above video, which means that some of these settings (as supported by the IGN staff after review) are at lower settings by mistake, which only goes to show just how different the gap is between the pc and the ps4 and xbox.  To see the differences between low and ultra settings on the PC you can check them here (remember to watch it in full screen on full HD settings):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R58l7trgMbE&t=3m10s

Tip:
If you are getting shiny hat hair on your PC, try turning up the Meshing option in the settings.

But before you run off to buy the PC version, be aware that this game is pretty harsh on your PC’s specs.  My computer is not shabby, and even I have been having some FPS issues when loading new cutscenes or maps.  My computer struggles unless I stand around and wait a while longer for the place to load before moving, and if I am launched straight into a cutscene I have been getting some stuttering.  However I have heard this isn’t merely a PC issue, but actually happens on PS4 and Xbox as well, though I didn’t look into that too closely.

Tip:
If your computer struggles and you don’t want to turn down graphics settings, wait at least 15-20 seconds before moving when you enter a new map.  In Skyhold I watch until 5 seconds after the metal bands on the roof appear and that seems to work.  Do not enter the war room directly on logging in (if you saved outside it), or it could crash you while trying to load up the town around you as well.

not-loaded

loadedWhat you do need to take away from this is that Dragon Age Inquisition demands a lot from your PC even on their auto-detect settings.  This is the first game in years I have felt my PC could really do with an upgrade to run better, but even so I prefer using the PC and I expect some clever people will introduce mods for it over time (as they have already) despite the lack of support for it from Bioware.  Either through mods or updates, I hope some of the niggles and annoyances I have with the game will be remedied.

Now.. time for playthrough number 2!

More tips and guides

For more general tips on the game from another perspective, I found these useful:

ArcheAge – initial review

archeage-logoGame Review

This was a long-awaited game by the mmo community.  It was taken over by the previously successful games company Trion, who created the mmorpg Rift.  Initially the game was much anticipated, even by myself, but as Trion hit hard times due to the poor decision to take over another game (Defiance, whose game was very much less successful than the tv series linked with it) which then flopped and led to financial difficulties and mass staff layoffs, their games suffered.  Massively.  As the years went on, and Trion’s game and marketing decisions became worse, I worried for this game a lot.  Knowing from the developers of Trion that they were not going to be changing their marketing strategies, this would impact heavily on ArchAge.  Despite this, I decided to give the game a go, because conjecture does not make fact, and really, I would love there to be more good fantasy mmos out there.

Brief Summary

Good Points Bad Points
1. Good character creation options
2. Nice variety in skill & combat choices
3. Good variety of crafting disciplines
4. Immersive story cutscenes
1. The UI options could be better
2. Goldsellers are a problem
3. Player collision out of combat annoying
4. Pay-wall for basic farming plots and housing

Character Creation

The character creation of the game is actually far more detailed than it initially seems.  What seems to be very limiting is in fact opened up by the ‘details’ button below each of the options, such as eyes, lips etc, which let you customize how your character looks far more.  Overall I was happy with the options available for character creation.

UI

The UI in the game is, it has to be said, not the most streamlined nor sleek looking.  Some attempt has been made to give more options for moving the UI around, but these options are not made that obvious to new players, and I only found out about using shift+left click on items to move them by asking in faction chat.

In some instances there are more than enough options for customization of your gameplay experience, but then there are others that seem to be missing, such as the ability to move your minimap (which always remains see-through), or making things like the chat box and quest box click-through, which can get in the way during combat.

Skills, Talents and Leveling up

The skills in the game are quite varied.  Like in Rift, you have three skillsets that you choose your talents from and create a play-style that suits you.  This is really good, because it brings variety to the game, rather than having ‘the mage build’ that you see in games like World of Warcraft.  While there will undoubtedly be ‘best build’ options out there, the necessity to use them with a system like this is not so great.  There will always be more options for viable builds with this.

What I did find off-putting was that the explanation of leveling up your skills, or choosing them was somewhat sparse.  It gives you skill points and you have to spend them, but some skills are not available until you gain more experience in that skill set type.  Some of these are marked on the skills, but others, like the passive skills are not.  They appear like you should be able to choose them, while you cannot.  It is also a bit difficult to tell which are available and what are not, as it only dims the colour a little.  It is a UI problem rather than a skill problem, but it does impact on how you are able to choose your talents.

Leveling up seems fairly fluid by doing quests.  I cannot comment too much more than that.  I didn’t struggle to level up while doing quests, so for an average casual mmo player there should not be much of an issue.

Crafting

ProfessionListIn addition to combat skills, there are types of crafting skills you can learn as you go along. These increase as you do them, rather than picking one and learning it from a trainer (or so far have not).  These seem to have a bit of a disparity in skill increase, for while I gathered one node of ore, it gave me 10 skill, harvesting potatoes only gave me 2.  The same seemed to be the case for other ones I randomly came across, like Larceny, which increased massively from what I believe was only smashing a couple of boxes, or stone-masonry by crafting one item.

On the other hand there is a great deal of variety of crafting skill types, and while you are limited to a certain number (I believe) unless you pay for more slots, it does seem quite generous.

Pay-walls and Land ownership

One major downside is that Trion have gated certain types of crafts and functions behind the pay-wall.  As part of some of the quests that players will come across at the start of the game are the quests, specifically farming, that teaches the players some of the basics of that craft.  However while placing a small scarecrow garden is part of this quest, and you are given all the materials to do that, you are stopped from doing so by the requirement to be a patron (pay a subscription). The two things that are pay-walled are:

  • Placing farming plots, gardens and housing
  • Sell items on the auction house

They introduced this sort of thing back in Rift to cut down on the gold-sellers using the auction house to sell their botted gains. How useful this will be in ArcheAge though is debatable.

I can see them having pay-walled the farming and housing plots to cut down on all the available land being taken up by bots or afk players since the plots are on the general server space, not in instanced areas.  However, in having done so, it stops new players from exploring how to build a house or garden and whether they will like this.  Considering that housing and farming are a big part of the game (The game’s tagline is “Craft, Claim, Conquer”), stopping new players from exploring these properly until they pay a subscription (and keep paying it), it is a poor move.  I can’t help but think that if they had done an instanced time-limited questline that explored ALL the house-crafting and farming options etc that it would have served them so much better than this.

Capture04

Want to know what this ‘Patron’ thing is? Official wiki says nothing.

The final thing I have to say about the Patron pay-wall is that it isn’t properly explained in-game.  I was confused as to why the items were not functioning since I had all those required, and it took me reading the small print in the tooltip of the item to understand that I needed to be a Patron to place it.  I knew what a Patron was from playing Rift, however other players are likely not to have that.

They have a wiki linked into the game, so I looked in that to at least try to figure out how to get patron status from in-game, and to my astonishment their official wiki page on Patron Status was blank.  You would think that a game that relies on player purchases to keep it running, they would at least make the information available, but apparently not in this case.

Quests

Ah, quests.  I am hesitant to dismiss them so early in the game, but the system seems buggy and poorly thought out.  There are hints of real thought and inspiration there, but the execution is sloppy in my opinion.

Archage_questUI

Having to scroll up just to see the start of quest dialogue as well as using ‘next’ buttons.

For instance, quest text have a ‘next’ button to show the next bit of the dialogue, however if the dialogue on each page exceeds 3 lines you have a scrollbar, and it scrolls to the bottom of the text automatically, so you have to scroll up to the top of the text just to start reading (see screenshot), then scroll down to see the rest of it, before clicking next and doing the same on the next page.  This could be a problem brought over from the translation process, which might have increased the size of the text space needed, and has not been fixed in the UI.

The UI of the quests is also a bit odd, because the quest dialogues go full screen, and yet there is no dialogue sound like you would expect from such a dramatic change in screen, only the borked text.

The hint of some really nice features came first for me when picking up a quest for reading a book.  ‘Why’, I thought, ‘do I need to talk to a cat to read this book, it makes no sense!’.  However it put me into a cut-scene where I started reading the book aloud (with sound) to the cat.  This was really nice, and added some depth and immersion, except that the storytelling didn’t last for more than a brief snippet of the book or story, and indeed even seemed to cut off half way through a sentence without any fading out that one would usually see to denote the movement of time.Capture02

Another good point however is that quests have directional arrows at your feet, as well as quest objectives sometimes having a glowing blue light that helps you find them.  These glowing blue highlights do not show for all quest interactables though, being for inanimate objects, while you rely on the arrows at your feet to lead you to npc targets and enemies.

There are fully voice-overed cut scenes with certain quests as well, which are good.  The illustrations that go along with them are not as nice or as detailed as in other games, but the story that unfolds with them is immersive.

Player Collision

I don’t usually mention this in my reviews, but it really does need mentioning since it has caused a lot of personal annoyance for me when trying to make my way in the world.

Capture05You know how it goes starting a new game, there are lots of players there all trying to get to the same quest npc, and this is no different.  Lots of people congregate to the same npc, some end up in cutscenes for quite a while, others just take longer to read than others, some go afk, but in this game you cannot move into the space of another player.  You get stopped as you would a solid object and you have to go around them to attempt to speak to the npc.  This means that if there are too many people around a quest npc, it is likely you won’t be able to speak to that npc and take, or hand in a quest.

This may have been introduced as the game is trying in some ways to be more roleplay friendly, but it isn’t standard practice in mmos.  Usually in mmos, there is no player collision, out of combat at least, because it is difficult to get to quest npc in high population areas, and it is a great way of trolling other people.  I have no issue with player collision during combat, but outside of combat is just an annoyance, and one that has bothered me a lot.

Combat

I have just been doing some basic combat with the rest of the low level hoards doing the first 15 levels.  Overall I found it to be fair.  The different combat options you get to choose from increase as you level, not only in your initial skill set, but by the addition of two more as you level up.  The difficulty of the enemies stay fairly challenging if you are fighting them at the same level (or perhaps I was just rubbish at it, which is highly possible).  I did find it a little samey at times in terms of dealing with different enemies, but that might be because we are still fairly early in the game.  I didn’t feel any desire to go out of my way to do more than the exact required killing for quest requirements though, so that doesn’t really show a great deal of excitement, but it could just be that I didn’t gel with the character type I chose.

There are some bugs that were evident in combat still, such as enemies becoming immune to all damage when on certain terrain (likely if the game thought they could not get to those attacking them, and thus giving the player an unfair advantage).

Overall though I would say the combat is fairly average early on in the game.  Whether it gets better over time I don’t know, however I can hazard a guess that it probably does, since you will have far more options for combat which will give it more interest.

Bags and Bag space

Bag space in mmos tends to be an issue, but I didn’t find it too bad here, though I expect if I had delved into more crafts, this may well change swiftly.  There are banks where you can deposit things (called Warehouses).  It didn’t pose a massive problem as it did for me in other games such as Elder Scrolls Online.

Economy and Loot

I really cannot comment on the Economy of the game since the Auction House was off-limits to me for selling items.  I also did not manage to get that far into the game to hazard a guess as to what end-of-game economy is like.

As for loot though, the quest rewards up to level 15 at least were useful for the most part.  I expect that trend will continue, from quests at least.

Goldsellers

Sponsored goldseller advert on Facebook

Sponsored goldseller advert on Facebook

Goldsellers are both a problem and annoyance in the game.  Not only are they very, very visible in the game from the very instant you log in for the first time, but they even have sponsored advertising spots on Facebook!

With this sort of advertising, not only by the disreputable seeming adverts within the game, but in places in public view like Facebook, it seems clear that the goldsellers are not going anywhere, and they will remain a massive problem in the game.

 Conclusions

While I am aware that this review has, on the whole, been primarily negative, that has indeed been my overall impression of it.  There were enough annoyances and bugs in the game that it didn’t make me want to level up further to see if it, like some other games, improved with time.  It has its good points, but even for a free-to-play game, I don’t think I could really ignore those annoyances enough to want to play.  The quests were interesting, especially the main story quests that had cut-scenes that increased the immersion, but shoddy UI, bad or non-existent tutorials as well as game dynamics like the player collision just left me eager to turn off the game.   I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this game, even though it is free.  Perhaps in a year or so a lot of these problems will have been fixed, but until that time, I would give the game a wide berth.

Guild Wars 2 – review (PvE)

GW2-logoGuild Wars 2 – game review

For all the posts I have done, I have actually never posted about the game that I play the most; Guild Wars 2.  Part of this is because I find it difficult to absent myself enough to make an unbias review of a game when I am playing it so much, but I will do my best here to give some basis for others to decide if this is the game for them.  I am going to focus mainly on the PvE content of the game, since I do not engage in the other aspects and cannot therefore comment much about it.

Brief Summary

Good Points Bad Points
1. Excellent gear customization
2. Lots of varied PvE content
3. Really good trading post system
4. Varied combat and builds
1. Crafting not useful until end-of-game
2. Lagg during boss events
3. More difficult for new players to grasp
4. Weapon skills not moveable

Free-to-play

I felt I should tackle this first.  Guild Wars 2 is a free-to-play game, and free-to-play games have a rather (read: very) bad reputation.  However, readers may be pleased to hear that out of all the different free-to-play games I have tried, Guild Wars is undoubtedly done the best.

I would not know, playing this game, that is free-to-play.  There are no adverts, there are no insidious prompts within quests to buy from the game store, there is no requirement to purchase things in order to get quests or achievements done, there are no items for sale that give you an advantage in combat.

All they sell in the shop are fluff items, and items that make the game a bit easier to play.  You want more bank space?  Sure, you can buy gems and get more.  You want some nice armour skins?  You can buy those to.  You want some fluff items for fun?  Yup, you can buy those.

If you want something from the cash shop, you spend your money and you buy a pack of gems.  All the cash shop items are sold in gems.  However, you can also trade in-game gold for gems, so if a player plays long enough, and saves their in-game gold, they can get the same items that a player that spends real-life cash can.  How does the game make their money then?  Many people will pay for gems for the convenience to buy something they want now.  Time is money.  I have bought gems.

Putting it simply, Guild Wars 2’s free-to-play system works.  It works well.  You get a game that has lots of content, and other than the retail price copy of the game, you get to play it for free.

Character Creation and customization

When first creating a character in the game, you will find that there are many options for you to choose from.  There are five different races in the game, Human, Charr, Sylvari, Asura, and Norn, and each look different, as well as having their own character animations that change the feel of how each of the races play.  Each race will start in their own local map, and have personalized story quests that give insight into each of the races as well as help build immersion for the player.

There is a fairly good customization of your character available at the start of the game in terms of the face, hair, body-build skin-tone etc, though more variety would be welcome (and is actually available with special items in the game later for editing).

What else is customizable in the game is your clothing/armour.  No matter what items you put on, you can change their appearance and colour if you have unlocked armour/weapon skins of that type and have charges (got through story quests etc) to do so.  In this aspect Guild Wars has outdone itself, because there are literally thousands of variations, and in general, no two characters I have met have ever looked alike.

Skills, Talents and Levelling up

The skills in the game are a little different to other mmos and rpgs I have played.  The skills your character can get are split up into three different areas.

    • Weapon Skills – different weapons give you different skills
    • Slot Skills – as you level up, you get skill points to spend on skills to add to your toolbar
    • Traits – at certain levels, you gain talent points, the ones you choose will buff your slot and weapon skills

At first the weapon skills can seem a bit restrictive, especially since you cannot switch the places of the different skills within your toolbar as you can in other games.  However as I played the game more, I forgot all about it, only noticing it when a new player might mention it.

When you level your character up, the addition of more talents and traits allows you to build a great diversity of different types of character and playstyles, added to by the diversity of gear choices.

UI, Bags and Bank space

The UI in the game is fairly straight forward.  Most of the pages a player will need to look at are located in tabs on the Hero panel, such as armour, personal story quests, achievements and so-forth.  The only slight irritation about the UI has been since the addition of the player wardrobe feature, as it has added more options to the hero panel that was already pretty full to begin with.  However, the addition of the wardrobe feature means that this small gripe is an easy price to pay for the functionality.

Bags are also fairly simple, as you have one starter bag, and you can add other bags of varying sizes to it to increase the bag space. These can be found on some monsters, crafted, or bought from other players via the trading post.

Each player has a bank space, which is fairly well sized, (and can be upgraded using gems), and the bank space is shared by all the characters on your account.  In addition to your bank space, you also have a collectables tab (shared by all your characters) which is the place where almost all your crafting materials can be stored.  You can deposit collectables from your bag from the drop-down menu from anywhere and can access them again from a crafting stand or your bank.

All-in-all I really have no problems with the storage offered by the game.  The collectables tab in particular is highly useful.

Trading

Wanting some logs?

Wanting some logs?

Trading in the game is done through the trading post.  Players will put up items they wish to sell, and other players will purchase them. It is not an auction system, as the items have a set price. Trades do not have a time limit or an item limit, they stay up until they are sold, or they are taken down by the seller.  There is a listing fee and a if the item sells then the trading post takes a portion of the profit.

One of the things that sets this trading post apart from ones in other games is the sheer amount of players using it, and the amount of items listed.  For instance, you want some Soft Wood for crafting, then there are literally hundreds of thousands of them listed on the trading post.

Crafting

I would like to say first that I actually do like the crafting in the game.  It is varied and interesting, unfortunately it is mostly just a pure money-sink and fairly useless.  If you, like myself, are merely doing general open-world PvE then it is really not worth the time, and here is why:

  • Levelling up crafting costs a lot.  To get to 500 crafting in a profession, you are literally going to be spending well over 100 gold, not to mention the gathered resources you could have sold for a profit.  Crafting materials sell for a lot.
  • While you can craft stuff to use while you are levelling your character, the chances are that you will be able to find that gear, or even better, on the trading post for less than the cost of initially producing it, but certainly less than the production of it plus the cost of levelling that profession.
  • When you get to the top level (level 80), doing open world PvE, you can buy Exotic gear that will do you very well for all the open-world content in the game. You can buy a full set of Exotic level 80 gear for 15-20 gold.  This is a fraction of the cost of levelling a single crafting profession.

The only reason you would need crafting is to craft Ascended gear.  That is the step up from Exotic gear, and it is currently some of the best in the game in terms of stats.  You cannot buy Ascended gear (except for jewellery and accessories) because it is always account-bound.  If you want to do really hard dungeons, then sure, by all means invest in crafting, but for general pve, it really isn’t necessary.

Combat

The combat, although I do a lot of it, I do not profess to know that much about.  From this point of view you can readily assume that even someone with very little know-how can survive through the game without too much difficulty depending on whether they find a class and set of skills that work for them.

Don’t get too complacent though, as there are plenty of builds, classes and fights that I, in my combat novice attitude, have no clue how to even approach.  It is for this reason that I avoid doing many of the more difficult dungeons etc.  I know my limits, but it is also a sign that the game has more challenging combat than someone like I can take on.

More than the combat abilities and builds itself, there is variety in the combat you come across.  Some fights will require a basic tank-and-spank setup, while others will require you to carefully manoeuvre your group to doing certain things, or avoiding others.  Even the open-world boss fights can have much more demanding tactics required than others.  The difference, for instance, between doing Shadow Behemoth and Tequatl the Sunless cannot be more different or difficult.  No need to guess the one I avoid going to.

Party and multiplayer dynamics

There are four types of multiplayer within the PvE of the game.

  • Party – as in other games, this is a small pre-made group that can go and do content together.
  • Small Events – a dynamic event where players work together to complete a localized goal, such as an escort or defence event.  These players are not partied.
  • Boss Events – a timed event that requires lots of people to complete. Between 10-100 players may all be attempting this event.  These players are not partied.
  • Dungeons – A pre-made group that does a dungeon instance together
Killing a boss event without name tags

Killing a boss event without name tags

Killing a boss event WITH name tags showing

Killing a boss event WITH name tags showing

The events are the most noticeable place you will work with other players, because so many come together for large boss events.  There can be between 10 and 100 players (at a rough estimate) all on the same map hitting on the same boss.

These events give some of the best loot, but can also cause the most lagg due to the number of players (and player animations) in the one area.  See the full sized image above for an idea of the number of people at this event, and this was in the middle of the day on a weekday.  People can change various graphics options for boss events, such as the number of players visible, to reduce the amount of lagg they might get.

Quests

There are two main types of quests that players will come across in the game.
Personal Story Quests
This is the first type of quest that a player will come across, because the start of their personal story is the start of the game.  This personal story is dictated by the choices the player makes at character creation, and then later the decisions he/she makes in the game.  Your personal story will continue as you level up, bringing more content and exploration.
Renown Heart Quests
These are quests that are scattered throughout the world.  Instead of there being random npcs with a quest here and there, you have Renown hearts showing up on the map, where you have npcs needing things done for them.  These will generally be themed around whatever is going on in the region.  When you have done enough to satisfy the person, your heart is filled with gold and you get a reward.

Living World Content

This is generally a content update that brings events where you have a section of an ongoing story plot that will have special rewards and loot associated with it, but only is available for a set time.  Some of these are for all levels of players to enjoy like the wintersday event, while others (more recently) have been much more a continuation of your personal story that coincides with new lands, and being for level 80s only as a result.

The living world content tends to have a variety of different types of things going on, including PvE quests, event-specific dynamic events, fun pvp events, time-limited crafting items, special loot, achievements and vendor items.

Conclusions

I don’t really think it takes a genius to figure out that I think this game is well worth your time, that was a foregone conclusion.  There are drawbacks to the game, but it is whether you feel those drawbacks are enough of an issue to not play it is really up to personal taste.  Some people don’t find the game quite immersive enough, especially early on where the personal story has that two person dialogue thing going, while others felt the game was a bit too complex early on to get into.

Unfortunately there generally are not free trials offered, but once in a while the game is put out on discount if you keep watch on their news page.  Personally, I find the retail price very reasonable considering the amount of time you can spend in the game.  Most retail only games (like single players) give you perhaps 15-30 hours of game play, more if it is a sandbox like Skyrim. I was shocked, and somewhat horrified at how long I have spent in this game.  Embarrassed certainly.  Shamed.. maybe.

Here is my secret shame.  They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step, heh.

Here is my secret shame. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step, heh.

I would also say that if you have not already purchased Guild Wars 2, and wish to, the game has released the pre-purchase of their first expansion, Heart of Thorns (no release date as of yet).  This expansion, although pricy, comes with the original game included for free if you don’t have it, so if you are considering getting the game, I would suggest you perhaps get the expansion, rather than paying for the game, then having to make a second purchase.  You can find information on the link below.

www.guildwars2.com

 I think the expansion is pricy, but for what you get for it, it will indeed be worth your money in comparison to other games, especially if you are a new player.  As always though, do some research into any game you are considering buying.  Check on YouTube for videos of gameplay, graphics and overall experience in the game before purchasing.

Divinity: Original Sin – review

divinity-logodivinity-button3divinity-button1

Game Review

After a friend bought me this game, I have found myself playing it quite a lot.  But I found myself, when asked about the game, not really knowing initially whether it was a good or a bad game, and so in the interests of clarity, I am going to write a review of my experiences here, and then write other posts on getting the most out of the game (links at the top of the page).

Brief Summary

Good Points

 Bad Points

1. The game is interesting
2. The world is engaging
3. The quests are varied
4. Puzzles and treasure add interest
5. Combat is fun and challenging
1. There are a lot of quest bugs
2. Crafting is about as non-intuitive as you can get
3. Exploring too far can block useful features until near end-of game
4. Bag sorting is a pain
5. Not enough combat for level 2-5

Character Creation

Although there are many options in character creation, it gave me a bad first impression of the game because it stopped short on features.  Although most are there, you cannot, for instance, change the bodyshape of your character, other than male or female.  You cannot make a slender male, for they are ALL a standard hulk size, while the females are all curvy and busty.  Hair and beard you can change, but you cannot change the shape of the face itself.

While these give an annoying first impression, it should be noted that while in the game, you actually don’t see your characters that close up again, and so such things are not really to be noticed.  It really doesn’t affect the game after you get out of the character creation screen.

UI

The UI in the game is fairly well done and straight forward.  I didn’t really have too many issues with it, although the map could certainly do with having the names of the different portals on them to make navigating them easier.

Skills, Talents and Levelling up

The skills and talents you get have been fairly well thought out and in combat they work well.  I do feel however that players are sort of limited if they want to do a pure non-mage character.  It seems like you are meant to supplement whatever skills you choose with mage skills.  While mages tend to have a feast of spells to choose from, Warriors, rogues and rangers I feel could have done with having more choice.

In the most part, I havn’t had many problems with levelling up, except for a brief time between the levels of level 2 and level 5.  When you get to level 6 and onwards there are plenty of mobs to fight and questing goes naturally through those.  However before that time players are likely still trying to find enough people to fill their party, and without that you are going to struggle with even the very limited number of mobs at your level.  This means that you tend to be stuck trying to do quests in town for a long time trying to level up and get useful skills, which limits gameplay.  However once you get to level 6 and have a full party things will go much smoother.

Party Dynamics

You start out with your two main characters, but as you progress in the game you can pick up up to two more party members (assuming you do not pick the ‘lone wolf’ talent which will decrease your party size by one for each character with the talent).

There are currently two npc’s you can pick up in a town to join your party, and then later there is a place to get hirelings.  The npcs you find have some interaction with your characters, while the hirelings are completely silent and have no discernible personality.  I hear more npcs are going to be added with future updates of the game.  Personally I found the current npcs annoying, so I was more than happy to have silent hirelings.

Quests

I have found the quests fun and interesting and the variety of types of quests is good, although there are bugs that are evident.

Because the game doesn’t actually hold your hand through things, sometimes it can be difficult in telling whether something -is- a bug, or whether you just have not quite searched enough.  This is not helped by the fact that the journal does not clearly demarcate whether quests are side quests, or part of the main quest, and whether that side quest is map-specific. Some quests span over several maps and cannot be completed immediately, while others are just difficult to figure out.

Overall though the quests are good, and I expect the bugs will be improved upon in later patches.

Puzzles

There are various puzzles within the game.  They are not critical to the plot for the most part, so you can skip most of them should you so desire.

It should be noted that the game does not hold your hand through these puzzles.  In fact in some cases I feel that they could have given a little bit more information or ways to get hints as to even what direction you should be looking.  While half of the time I knew vaguely what to do or I found it fairly easy to understand, the other half I didn’t even know where to begin (‘Talking statues’, I am looking at you!) and ended up asking google for tips.

The puzzles are quite interesting though.  There are parts of quests that you have to puzzle through how to get from A to B, and those are interesting, especially since in general many of these quests have offered up a couple of ways to complete them.

Combat

divinity-combatI really like the combat.  It is turn based and so you can really take your time (should you wish to) to work out the best strategies of winning.  Some of the fights can be really long, but thankfully the game allows you to quicksave during combat, so should the fight suddenly turn against you, you don’t need to start from the beginning again.

The combat lineup is based on each character/npc initiative, you can use the environment surrounding you to make line-of-sight and tactical decisions, or create your own with spells.

Overall the combat is fun and challenging.  Because the game does not have respawning mobs, they have ensured that the combat itself is challenging enough so you can’t just steamroll through it.  For me, the combat is one of the main strong-points in the game.

Crafting

Where do I even start trying to explain the crafting?  It has to be the most non-intuitive crafting system I have ever come across, and it is pervasive through the whole game because of the extraordinary amount of loot you gather that is related to it.  Sometimes it gives the impression of being logical, then it turns around and laughs at you.  I will hold up my hands and say that this is the first game that I have had to constantly and consistently use a player-made cheat sheet on how to combine things for crafting, and even those are not complete.

I won’t go into it more here, as I am writing another page here on some tips on how to get the most out of your crafting, but suffice it to say that while the crafting is fun and interesting, it is ultimately an exceedingly frustrating and annoying experience as well.

Bags and Bag space

Bag space in this game is not limited to item numbers, but the weight of the loot you are carrying.  This is definitely a good thing, however sorting your bags could have been designed better.

If you have an item of the same type (usually crafting items or potions) it will generally automatically stack with the items already in your bag (but not always), which is good.  The issue comes when you try and sort your scrolling bag of loot into more manageable sections using picked up crates, barrels and bags.  You cannot drag and drop items onto the icon of the crates etc, you have to open it first and then drag it into the space provided here.  There is also no way to name your bags or otherwise mark them.

A lot of time can be spent organizing bags because the sheer amount of random crafting materials you get is pretty staggering, and selling the raw materials isn’t a good way to maintain your coinage.  Items are not always marked clearly as being useful or not, so if you want to be sure that say, that book, is not going to be needed at some point, then you had better find a space for it.

While there is a way to remotely store loot later in the game, it has the same rules of engagement as your current bags, so having good organization tends to be key if you don’t want to be swimming in weird items trying to find that one thing you need right now.

Economy and Loot

In general, I think the money you make in the game is more than adequate and just about properly balanced, however any loot you get is random, and because of that it can be an ultimately frustrating experience.  The creators seem to also have put in place a ‘solution’ to people reloading saves to try and counter this, in that the loot gets worse over time if you reload the same save to reroll for more useful loot.  It can be got around by having a few newer saves done before the one you are using, but it is a pain that wouldn’t have been necessary should the loot be more tailored to the current group.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about the random loot drops, and while I am fine with loot this random in games where the monsters respawn, the monsters here do not, and so your chance at loot is limited.  I therefore feel very little guilt in re-rolling.  The only thing that stops me doing this a lot is the long loading screen times.  Pick your fights 🙂

Conclusions

For all that the game has its frustrations and bugs, I have indeed spent a ton of hours playing it (steam tells me 137 hours).  You can’t really argue with the fact that a game that keeps you engaged for that amount of time despite being riddled with bugs and annoyances is indeed worth your money.  Not many games these days will keep you playing for this amount of time, and most of that time was on one play-through.  So my advice is that it is indeed good value for money and if you like strategy combat, or rpg, then this game is indeed likely worth your time.

 

ESO – farewell

ESO bannerAs some of you already know, I decided to cancel my subscription and leave the Elder Scrolls Online.  While there were things I liked about the game, it just wasn’t worth it to me to continue paying a subscription for a game I was not enjoying that much.

Many of my reasons have been placed in other blog posts, but I will put the bullet points I wrote for my feedback form in below to highlight the most pressing problems the game had for me.

* Economy – Money uses are almost non existent by vet level
* Economy – Repair costs are far too high
* Economy – Balance between main purchase costs and quest rewards is awful.
* Quest Rewards – Do not sit at all well with the story, lore and world in ESO. They jar you out of immersion by the disparity.
* Quest Goal – There is no overarching goal for the player except stopping Molag Bal. Not even the main questlines really give a reason why you should be working for them, especially since quest rewards are so low as to be vastly insulting. NPC get much better rewards than you do, and you saved the world.. but not even the promise of a manor in the country do you get.
* More solo content – once you have done the quests, there is little else to do for solo players other than fish
* Voiceovers – too few voice actors.
* Replay value – almost non-existent
* Skills – feels limiting and samey.  You will max out most skills, if not all, and even playing another class only changes 3 skill lines.  Also limits replay value.  More variety would be critical really.
* Faction separation – a bad idea for non-pvp players. It segregates friends and potential-friends totally.  It should be kept out of the pve world if players choose, maybe kept only in pvp zones. Example: had to scrap high level characters because friends left ESO and others were in a different faction.
* Instancing – poorly designed for grouping with friends who have done those quests.  They can’t help.
* Aesthetics – the graphical quality of player characters is poor compared to other mmos.
* Aesthetics – gear look customization is ridiculously poor.
* Crafting materials vs Bag space – not working at all. Disrupts gameplay massively. Crafting mats really should take up no bank space.
* Crafting research times – 32 days is ridiculous. Also having the LAST research being the longest makes no sense in the world reality.
* Gold-spammers and bots
* EU server should be in the EU for less lagg

I would also note that I was not at all impressed by the 2000 letter limit in the feedback form, but I was even further unimpressed when 1999 letters was considered too many.  Their counter was in error I think.  Sloppy and infuriating.

The Banner Saga – Review

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I had heard a lot about the Banner Saga, or rather, heard the title being mentioned a lot by people but I had never gone out of my way to purchase it, as most of my gaming time in recent years has been in the mmo market.  However the Steam Summer Sale offered it at a good price, and so it ended up as a impulse buy and in my library.

The game itself is a story-based game, which are rather rare these days outside of the foreign market as the UK and US game consumers tend to spend more money on action games or mmos than heavy story content. The closest we came to that sort of thing has really been the Bioware games like the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises.

The Banner Saga is a mix of Storytelling and strategy turn-based combat and took me around 11-12 hours to complete on normal difficulty.  While this seems short for a game, the Banner Saga actually has a great deal of replayability due to the story-based structure. Since the different story choices you make during the game will affect how the story goes,  you are going to get a different playing experience during future play.  There are also a lot of steam achievements to hunt for.  I personally will be playing it again several times.

Game Pacing
In terms of the game pacing, it is fairly slow.  Many times, especially initially when less random events happened, you are just watching them pace across the screen for days, slowly eating up your resources.  This is not a game to play if you are in the mood for lots of action.  It tilts between challenging combat and a lot of watching.  Banner saga travel
Combat
Actually there is less combat in the game than I initially expected.  I expected there to be far more combat in the game, but if I were to guess you spend maybe 1/3 of the game in combat while the 2/3 is storytelling.  This combat time can be decreased a little more with story choices, or increased depending on choices, potentially quite a bit more.  It did surprise me though.

The combat itself is challenging, and while they give a little bit of a tutorial at the beginning, I actually spent quite a bit of the game working out specifics of it.  I actually don’t mind this too much since I plan on replaying the game several times, and perhaps I just didn’t pay enough attention to the tutorial or help text.  It is possible.  Banner saga combat

I have heard that some people have found the combat in The Banner Saga to be really difficult, but I did not find this myself while playing on Normal difficulty.  I think that players used to playing strategy games will not have a difficulty with it, but I expect players that are not coming from playing other strategy games may find the combat more challenging and should play it on a less difficult setting until they learn during their first play-through.  You can change the combat difficulty during the game, so don’t feel ashamed to put it down a notch if you are struggling.

User Interface
Overall the user interface is pretty well designed for what it needs to do.  It is simple and pretty straight forward.  It could do with a couple of tweaks though such as having hovering tooltips on the stat choices rather than having to click the help button just to see what each of them mean.  banner saga UIAnother thing that I overlooked early in the game was the market sellers full stock.  I was merely looking at them for the character items they hold, but they actually sell supplies to.  Perhaps I was too tired when I started playing, so I didn’t notice this till 2/3 into the game and struggling for food.  Those tooltip tutorials would have been super useful to highlight important things like this.

I also found the map a particularly underutilized resource.  There really is no real reason to use it.  It has interesting facts on the different places, but there isn’t even a trail to show where your group has been on the saga or where they hope to go to.  Things like that should really have been added, because right now, I found there to be zero reason for me to actually care much about what the text on the map showed or how it related to my own quest.

Three games
One thing players should note is that this is the first of (I believe) three games that make up the entire saga.  While this game has a satisfying ending, many players will be like ‘wait, what about ‘x’ or ‘y’.  That was never finished’.  One criticism on this account was that the writers/designers did not make it clear that this was not a full story, but one complete story within three.  While most of the story parts do come to a good conclusion and are satisfying, there are many pieces yet to be told, and players should be aware of this.

Many players may feel that a game of this cost should have a full story arc, rather than having some pieces untold as of yet, but I believe it was generally the lack of clarity on this at the purchase that has garnered the most criticism, rather than the fact that the game is the first part of three.

The cost itself is likely indicative of the time it actually takes of making a choice-based system, as the longer the story gets, the more the writers have to put in for all those characters and choices.

Conclusion
Overall I feel that the game is one that I was happy to purchase and I enjoyed playing it a lot.  It is fairly short and pacing is a bit slow at times, but I will be happy to replay it several times for the story and achievements.  £19 at full price for a replayable game is a fair price, but obviously better if you can get it in a sale.  I am looking forward to the future instalments of the Saga.