Author - Judgeman

Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates – A Preview (PC)

Coin Operated Games is currently finishing up development on their newest title, Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates.  Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is a role playing game that is set in an alternative New York during the Gilded Age of the United States.  With a release date of Oct. 4, 2017, I take a little look here to see how the development process is shaping up.

The story for Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates begins in 1899, when the coastal cities of the world were completely flooded.  New York was hit hard by the flooding and during the chaos that came after the disaster was split into multiple city-states, including the Mano Nera and the Tammany city-states.  The game properly begins in the year of 1911, with your city-state facing rash food shortages, undrinkable water, and political strife.  You are sent out to find a solution to the water and food shortages and make sure your city-state survives.

Before I get into my time with the story, I do need to address a few things that set me against the game to begin with.  One issue in making a historical game, even one set in an alternative timeline, is that developers usually get their naming wrong.  While choosing the names like Mano Nera and Tammany draws praise from me, calling Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates a “Neo Victorian” game shows where the developers didn’t understand their terminology.  The proper term for the time period the game is set in is the Gilded Age in the United States, or even the Edwardian Era if you wanted to use the British eras.  So, a word to developers in the future, be careful about your naming conventions when creating a historical game, especially if the person writing the preview is a historian.  It’s even harder to swallow when they use the line “we did our research” in their Steam advertising.  It’s the little things that can ruin a story for some.

Coin Operated Games does throw in real world places and people for you to run into, which brings the game back into my good graces.  Many locations are iconic, like the Brooklyn Bridge, but you will also see other places that are not as well know.  Likewise with characters you will run into, that is, if you are familiar with New York in the early 20th century.  The developers even went so far as to add real medicines and tonics from the era, but not all were still in use by 1911.  I know, I know…. Hammering a game on historical accuracy may not be what people care about, especially one that is set in an alternate timeline, but when a developer uses authenticity as a selling point, it sticks out to me.

Game play for Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is pretty straight forward for an isometric-view role playing game and it plays pretty much as games of the genre do.  You will move around New York in real time, but will be able to pause time to set up your strategies and tactics, then un-pause time to see what transpires.  You begin the game with a tutorial, that allows you to explore the four different character classes in the game, which pretty much the same four classes you are used to in every RPG.  Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates does a good job in getting you up and running, but the user interface can be hard to navigate at times, especially trying to figure out where your next step is to be.

Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates does have some interesting bits that are not found in other games, such as their Nerve System or the lack of cash for vendors.  As your characters become injured or stressed, they become nervous and run the risk of failing their tasks at a higher rate.  Managing this stress through exposure to combat or medicine is crucial for key characters that you need.  Also, using weapons to barter for new weapons was an interesting change.  One that felt more immersive and story driven.

Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is being advertised as a classic style RPG, which it is.  The game play is solid, even if the story and some historical facts are not.  If you are absolutely interested in a classic style role playing game that is set in an alternate New York, then Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates will be right up your alley.  My hesitancy in recommending this game to everyone looking for the classic RPG experience is that there are far better games out on the market, or even remastered versions of some of the best role playing games to ever be made.  Ultimately, whether Empyre:  Lords of the Sea Gates is worth your time is up to you, but I will be passing on this one when it’s fully released on October 4th.

Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition – A Review (PC)

Back in the 1990s, I had made the jump from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Sega Genesis.  I loved my Sega Genesis, and to this day it is still one of my favorite consoles that I have ever owned.  I did own both the major peripherals for the Genesis; the Sega CD and the Sega 32x.  It was the Sega CD that really added more life to my Genesis by showing me just how much better the CD medium was for video games.  One game in particular that I had during this time period ran into a massive amount of controversy, and that is Night Trap.  Screaming Villains have developed and published an anniversary edition for Night Trap, but how does it compare to the original and to today’s standards?

Story

The story of Night Trap is an interesting one.  You are a member of S.C.A.T. (seriously, that’s the acronym they went with), the Sega Control Attack Team, and begin the game by being briefed on your next mission by Lt. Simms.  Simms tells you that S.C.A.T. (chuckle) is investigating the mysterious disappearances of five young girls near the Martin Winery Estate.  These missing girls were last seen staying the night at the Martin Estate with the Martin family, Victor, Sheila, Jeff, Sarah and Tony.  The police have handed the case over to S.C.A.T. (hehe), where Simms identified a series of traps and cameras within the house.  Simms and his team have hacked into this system, and have given access to you.

When the player gains control of the game, there are five more girls heading to the Estate; Kellie, Ashley, Lisa, Cindy and Megan.  Kellie is an undercover agent working for Simms and will be feeding you information as the game goes on.  What S.C.A.T. (tee hee) doesn’t know is that the Estate is filled with Augers, vampiric entities that need blood to survive.  You are to keep tabs on everyone in the house via the camera system, use the traps to protect the girls and trap the Augers, and keep track of the changing security code that is needed to have access to those traps.  The ending is variable, depending on how many and which girls you end up saving, or allowing to die.

Game Play

So, Night Trap really comes down to managing a few systems and watching camera feeds to keep track of where everyone is and what Augers you need to trap.  Using the updated HUD for the re-release (you can change your HUD depending on what version of the game you wish to play), the room cameras will show live feeds of the rooms whenever a character or an Auger enter them.  When the room is dormant, you will just get a standard look of the room.  By clicking on these rooms, the main display will focus in on that room and you will get audio.  This becomes vital in learning which color the security system is currently locked into.  The Martin’s will change the security system at set times, so you must listen in to these conversations to learn what the new color will be, but you will have to wait until the actual system has been changed to use that new color.

The importance of staying up to date on the security system is a vital one, it allows you access to the trap system.  When you have a room focused on and see an Augur, you will have a proximity light that will blink.  Green means no one is near the trap for that room, yellow means they are close, and red is the perfect time to spring that trap.  If you are keyed into the current color system, then the trap is sprung and removes the Augurs from the game, while protecting the girls.  Night Trap does a pretty good job in allowing you to have some time getting used to this system, and won’t throw any girls into danger immediately, but you will need to protect those girls eventually and will need to practice your timing, or you may snag a girl in your trap as well.

Aesthetics

Night Trap was one of the first full motion video game that I can remember playing.  The entire game is produced by using actors and sets, like a television show, but allowed the player to switch scenes via the camera system, and contained alternate scenes, depending on what the player was able to or not able to accomplish.  Night Trap featured a full cast of actors, mostly B movies level individuals, who pretty much acted the entire game poorly.  Dana Plato, who played Kelli, was the biggest start of the bunch having worked on Diff’rent Strokes.  She is the best thing about this game, acting wise, and even then she wasn’t all that good.

Night Trap looks like a bad late 80s sitcom, as seen through the infancy of CD rom video games.  The sets all look like you have seen them before on a television show, and the original video quality was ok at best.  The anniversary edition does a good job in cleaning up the video quality, so it does look better today than it did in 1992.  Night Trap acts as a time capsule to the early 90s, both in video game design, testing out new technologies, and in the aesthetics of the era in terms of houses, clothes, and language.

Controversy

We can’t talk about Night Trap without talking about the congressional hearings on video game violence which took place back in 1993.  Night Trap, along with Midway’s Mortal Kombat, were the two major examples that the government used to talk about the “disturbing” trend of video game violence.  Night Trap was cited for the violence and promoting sexual aggression towards women.   Congressmen Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl led the attack against these games, even though Lieberman himself admitted to never having played Night Trap.  These hearings eventually led to the 1994 decision to institute the ESRB rating system that we have today.

During the first two weeks of the hearings, Night Trap sold 50,000 units before finally being pulled from the shelves at Toys R Us and Kay Bee Toys.  By January of the next year, Sega had pulled Night Trap from the market.  After the controversy subsided, Night Trap has been re-released a multiple of times on the 3DO, Sega 32x, MS DOS, and MAC OS.

Final Thoughts

Night Trap was an okay game back in 1992 that probably would have slipped into forgetfulness if it hadn’t been for the Congressional hearing.  Because of those hearings, Night Trap sold far more copies then it would ever have by itself and drew much more spotlight on a fairly mediocre game.  Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition is nothing short of a collection of everything Night Trap related for those of you that really liked the original game, or are interested in a small piece of video game history.  The game itself is fine, you will have some fun playing it a few times before getting bored with it.  The game does not randomize the rooms or the scenes, so once you’ve memorized the pattern that is it.  The good thing is that this anniversary edition does come with a ton of other things as well, including alternate game modes, deleted scenes, and the documentary about the congressional hearings.  This is a very specific type of game, you either are interested in it or you won’t be.  For me, it’s well worth the $15 price tag to take a small wander down memory lane and see a game that got so much attention during the early 1990s.  The most ironic and funny bit?  It has been rated “T for Teen” by the ESRB today, so I guess it wasn’t as violent as the congressmen thought, eh?  Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition is available now on Steam.


Night Trap 25th Anniversary Edition Review Score

(3 out of 5 stars)


 

Foxhole – Early Access Preview (PC)

Canadian developer Clapfoot is bringing a new persistent, World War II-like MMO game to the world, named Foxhole.  Foxhole uses a similar aesthetic, weaponry, and overall feel to the global war that was World War II, without actually using the nations that fought within that war.  While your side may be using weapons that look similar to an MP40 and wear grey fatigues, you are not the German Army.  Instead, players choose to be apart of the conflict by siding with either the Wardens or the Colonials.  So, how good is an MMO, persistent world shooter if it isn’t really a World War II game?  Let’s take a closer look with our preview.

After you have selected your side and have joined the battle, you are dropped into a town controlled by your army to resupply.  Supplies are all player generated, as is materials.  So depending on how hard your side is working to gather supplies and create supplies, you will either have many choices or are running into combat with a handgun and a bandage.  You also have a limited amount you can carry on your person, so don’t hog all the med kits!  If you are carrying too much, you become encumbered and will walk very slowly, making an outstanding target for the snipers on the other side.  This means you will have to set up supply lines, between the front and your base, to carry resources, ammo, weapons, and infantry back and forth.  All of this, requires actual players to do.  There are no computer controlled units anywhere in Foxhole.

Foxhole’s campaign mode sees the conflict rage acros many different maps, where one side has to win the map before the next one unlocks.  Alternately, servers that are not running the Campaign will restart the maps after 24 hours of combat.  The world in Foxhole is persistent and ever changing.  Players that are logged out are still visible in game, but will be shown as sleeping and cannot be interacted with.  A day and a night cycle exists in the world, making for night raids on an enemy town a thing of absolute beauty and terror.  Recon becomes an absolute necessity during these night raids, not just a good idea.  As these wars rage, players can earn commendations by helping their team reach objectives.  These commendations will show that the player is rising in rank and in status on their side of the war.

Foxhole‘s games can handle up to 60 players on a map that will battle for control through a top-down view.  Foxhole looks much more like a strategy game then an action mmo game, but make no mistake your side will need strategy and tactics in order to overcome and win.  What is fantastic about Foxhole, is the narrative that comes out of game play.  There is no narrative here set by the developers, at least not at the time I played the game.  So the stories all come from actually playing the game and the situations that are created.  I had joined a side that was rapidly losing control of a town.  We were constantly being overrun by tanks, with no weaponry to defend ourselves.  The decision came down to detonate all the buildings we had created in town so the enemy did not gain control of them, and fall back to the next village.  This, this right here, is why Foxhole is a blast to play.

The plans for Foxhole sound even more fantastic then what is already in game.  Clapfoot is aiming for games to handle 120 players, with all maps of the world open at once to simulate wars on a scale that I cannot remember ever happening in a video game.  Foxhole’s enjoyment comes from watching your side of players, work very hard together to overcome the other side of combatants.  To organize a push, to see it implemented and to succeed is a great sight!  This is not the game to play the “lone wolf” in.  You will need to gear up, join up, and work together if you want to win.  Even at the version that the game is in, Foxhole is well worth a look.  If Clapfoot can get reach their goals for the game, then Foxtrot will be a “can’t miss” title.  Foxtrot is available now on Steam through Early Access.

Le Tour de France 2017 – A Review (Xbox One)

Ah, early summer!  Trips to the beach, enjoying lazy Sundays by the pool, and, of course, Le Tour de France.  What?  You don’t watch Le Tour de France?!?! The world’s premiere cycling tour that has been going on for the last 114 years?!?!  You are missing out, my friend!  Prior to the actual tour, Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive release their yearly game, and this year we get Le Tour de France 2017.  Similar to the Fifa or Madden series, each year brings new riders, new tweaks to gameplay, and new features, but pretty much the core gameplay remains the same.  While I have been a fan of the Tour for years, this is the first time I have every played Le Tour de France, so I won’t be comparing it to last year’s edition, but really focusing on what is in this year’s version.  Let’s get into the game and see how it shapes up.

Story

Like almost all sports games, Le Tour de France 2017 does not have an actual story line, per se.  You are pretty much just trying to hit your objectives for your team, and win Le Tour.  It’s not that easy though, I’m afraid.  The race stretches over the entire month of July and stretches over 21 stages, across 3 countries, and will travel a distance of 3,500 km.  The race is organized by cycling teams.  Each team has nine riders of differing skill sets.  Like other sports, cyclists has roles and positions that they must play to perfection in order to reach their team’s objectives.  Some riders are better at sprinting, some are better in the mountains, while others are great at protecting their choses rider for the overall victory.  In Le Tour, there are six different objectives that riders can aim for and try to be first in at the end of Le Tour; the Overall Winner, the King of the Mountains, the Sprint Points Champion, the Young Rider, Combative, and Team Classification.

The stages are categorized by what the racers will face that day:  Time Trial, Flat, Mountain, Hilly, or Summit Finish.  Depending on the strengths of the individual team, the team will choose certain stages to really attack on, and try to secure the yellow jersey as the overall leader in Le Tour.  The overall leader is determined by time, so the less time you spend on each stage, the better your chances are for the entire tour.  You can win the entire tour without ever winning an individual stage, as long as you are ahead of everyone based on time.  When you start the tour, you get to pick a team of riders to navigate through the stages, with some teams being much better in stats than others, just like other sports games.

Game Play

Once you have selected your team, or created one using current riders, you are ready to tackle Le Tour de France.  There are a few options of how you can play the game, from playing the entire tour like a campaign, or selecting a particular stage to race.  You can also do it cooperatively, but only on local or split screen.  After a few tutorials on how to ride the bike (do the tutorials, trust me), you are ready to start the tour.  Controlling the bike is actually pretty easy,  considering everything you need to be aware of.  You can speed up or slow down, and have an arrow on the pavement that shows your best trajectory and speed, similar to car racing games.  You also have two meters you need to concern yourself with, one blue and one red.  Both are stamina meters, but the blue is your overall stamina and the red is your sprint stamina.  During the race, these meters can refill by either eating your power gels or by racing tactically (drafting behind riders, stamina management).  This stamina management and refill becomes your biggest concern.  If you run out of stamina, you will “blow up” or be unable to ride efficiently for a while and that will cost you.

The Le Tour de France 2017 is a very tactical game.  Many people will jump right in and think they can just speed their way to victory, however, that is just not true.  Breaking away from the peloton (French word that describes the large group of riders) is a difficult and risky proposition.  You need help to break away, and that group needs to help keep you ahead of the mass of riders that constantly inch closer to you.  Even understanding all of this, I was caught in my first stage of Le Tour, after leading the entire stage.  I could do nothing but helplessly watch as the peloton closed in and finally passed me.  You can order your team riders to perform tactics and help you move through the stage, but if you are out in front in a breakaway, you are alone and without support.

Playing a full stage will take a long time, this is like playing a game of Madden at actual speed.  You have a few options here, you can play the key areas of the stage, play at an increased rate, or just simulate the stage all together.  You can play Le Tour your way.  The riders you race against will also make very tactical decisions, and will try to change positions during the race to keep their target team members in the hunt.

Le Tour de France 2017 feels exactly like the actual tour.  I had to think tactically, reach team objectives and goals, and manage my stamina so I had enough to finish at the end.  After the first two stages, I was able to have the King of the Mountains jersey and was close to leading in the Points Competition, but wasn’t even in the top 10 for the yellow jersey.  While I could beat the A.I. in specific sections, cutting my overall time down to actually threaten for the overall lead was much more difficult.  After Stage 3, I was almost 2 minutes off the lead, which is horrible.  Playing the stage at actual time and distance is the best way to experience Le Tour de France 2017, but will be a long endeavor and should only be tackled by fans of cycling.  Of course, if you’re not a fan of cycling, then Le Tour de France 2017 has nothing to offer you.

Aesthetics

Like other sports games, Le Tour de France 2017 replicates the experience almost perfectly, both visually and auditorily.  Each stage is rendered beautifully, with lovely scenery, excited fans on the road side, and great lighting effects.  Speed effects help you feel the speed of the bikes, which can easily top 40 kmh, and feel the struggle of heading up a category 4 climb.

Audio is mostly just your race manager dictating tactics, or letting you know where everyone is.  The audio is closer to a Nascar game in terms of commentary, you aren’t hearing the television crew comment on the race, but your own team’s audio and commentary.  Ambient audio is perfect and plays it’s role well.

Final Thoughts

Le Tour de France 2017 is a fantastic game and a great representation of the actual Tour.  The only major flaw in Le Tour de France 2017 is it is a niche game.  If you love professional cycling, you will pick this game up, just like the NFL fan with Madden or the EPL fan with FIFA.  If you do not like cycling, then you are not going to buy this game.  Reviews on games like this one are funny things.  If you like it, you already own it and don’t need me to convince you.  If you don’t, then you are not reading this review, since cycling, and won’t buy the game anyway.  For those very few on the fence and need convincing, Le Tour de France 2017 is the best place to get into the franchise, since it is the newest and best.  I would also suggest tuning into the actual Le Tour de France each morning and watch the actual race occur.  They just finished Stage 3 at the time of this writing, so you have plenty of time to get on board!  Le Tour de France 2017 is available now.


 

Le Tour de France 2017 Review Score

(4 out of 5 stars)


 

Outlast 2 Review (PC)

In 2013, Red Barrels released their first survival horror video game, centered around a journalist investigating an insane asylum, called Outlast.  What made Outlast immediately successful was the intense story and game play, where you play a protagonist that cannot fight back so your only options was to run or die.  Pretty soon, the internet was covered in videos showing people playing Outlast, just to capture their reactions and jump scares on camera.  Outlast became known as a good game for a jump scare, but what many people forget is that the game itself had a great story line, an intriguing mystery, and tense moments that really made the player uncomfortable.  Four years later, we finally have a true sequel in the aptly named Outlast 2. Does the sequel live up to the quality of the first game, or does it get crushed in the expectations?  Be warned, I tried to stay as spoiler free as possible, but some of my critiques talk about the story, so proceed at your own risk.

Story

In Outlast 2, you play as Blake Langermann, an investigative journalist and cameraman, who is traveling to Arizona with his wife, Lynn, to investigate the discovery of the body of an unknown girl.  Near the end of the trip, the helicopter carrying Blake, Lynn, and the pilot, crashes.  Blake wakes to find his wife missing and the pilot skinned alive and attached to a tree.  Searching for his missing wife, Blake makes his way towards the town of Temple Gate, which is run by a man named “Papa” Sullivan Knoth and his cult of followers.  Blake learns that Lynn was abducted by this cult, and is pregnant with Knoth claiming the child is the Anti-Christ.  Blake also learns about another group of heretics that is opposed to Knoth’s group and is in open conflict.  Caught between the two rival groups, Blake needs to find Lynn and get her out of the area, while discovering the mysteries of Temple Gate.

Outlast 2 has a sub plot that comes out as hallucinations suffered by Blake.  Blake remembers a traumatic event that occurred while he was attending a religious school, and is centered around the death of a girl he knew, named Jessica.  These hallucinations pop up at certain times during the game, and I kept waiting for a huge pay off at the end where Blake connects this past trauma with the trauma that he is currently experiencing.   Unfortunately, that pay off never comes, and the whole sub plot of Jessica feels like it was only used to pad the length of the game.  The story would have been so much better and stronger if this sub plot was left completely out.

Other then the subplot critique, Outlast 2 has a decent story line, but no where near as strong as the first Outlast.  Miles from the first game had a strong reason to keep filming, he was documenting the horrors in the asylum to expose the events and experiments going on within the walls.  Honestly, what motivation does Blake have to continue to record his events during Outlast 2?  He isn’t hoping to expose Knoth for his crimes, or expose some conspiracy within the town of Temple Gate, he just wants to find his wife and leave.  The use of the camera in Outlast 2 is literally only there to give the player the ability to see in the dark and to listen to voices using the camera’s mic.  So, if you can suspend your disbelief knowing that, then the rest of the story of Outlast 2 works ok, but it isn’t anywhere near as compelling or as strong as the first game.

Game Play

The game play for Outlast 2 is exactly the same as Outlast, with a few new editions.  Like the first game, Blake is completely inept at defending himself from anyone.  Blake can only run and hide under beds, in barrels, in wardrobes, or in pools of water.  Blake must be in worse shape then Miles was, due to the fact that Blake has less stamina and can run for shorter distances then Miles could, so your foes will catch you much quicker in a foot race.

You will need to find batteries, just like the first game, but this time you have access to an inventory screen that allows you to see what’s in your pockets.  You can collect batteries and bandages while exploring the lovely town of Temple Gate, with the batteries recharging your camera and the bandages healing you when you get caught by the inhabitants.  Your camera also has a live mic that now allows you to listen to noises in a particular direction.  When pointed at a noise, you will hear exactly what is being said and where that noise is coming from.  This will help you avoid chance encounters when you cannot see very far in front of you, like while hiding in a corn field.  And yes, corn in Arizona is a thing, I did check on that.

The new additions to Outlast 2 were interesting, but not enough to really separate the game play from the original game for me.  This felt more like I was playing new dlc for Outlast then an actual sequel that took years to develop.  The easiest thing to say here is, if you liked the game play of Outlast then you will like the game play in Outlast 2.  If you are looking for something more, or huge advances in game play, you will be disappointed.

Aesthetics

My main critique in the aesthetics for the Outlast series is simple, you see almost the entire world through the viewfinder of a camera that is equipped with night vision.  Everything is night vision green, or too dark to see what is going on or what the environment looks like.  So, going into Outlast 2, I already had that strike set up for my review and Outlast 2 carried on with that tradition.  Also, the setting in the first Outlast is far creepier, scarier, more intense then the setting in the sequel.  We go from haunting images within an insane asylum, that is overrun by inmates, to a town in rural Arizona run by religious fanatics.  Given the two, I vote for “asylum” being a hell of a lot scarier then “rural town”.  The visuals are exactly the same quality as the first game, with no real improvement.  It works, and it works fine.  Marta is horrific, and is designed perfectly, still have nightmares about her.

Final Thoughts

So, it looks like I hated the game, as I reread through what I’ve written up to this point, and that is far from the actual truth.  I would say that I was disappointed by the sequel, but did not hate it.  For me, sequels should take what was good about the first one, and really build on top of it to become great.  Most sequels fall at this, some fail horribly.  Outlast 2 simply does not improve on the original’s design, and that is ultimately my biggest critique with the game.  Outlast is far creepier and scarier for me, but mostly due to its originality and setting. You know exactly what you will be getting when you load up Outlast 2, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  If you liked the first game, you’ll like the second game.  It is more of the same, and it’s good.  Where Outlast 2 failed to impress me, is that it isn’t different enough from Outlast to become great.  Is that worth condemning an game?  Absolutely not, but it also isn’t worth overly praising a game either.  Outlast 2 is solid, though confusing at times.  Outlast 2 is available now through Steam.


Outlast 2 Review Score

(3 out of 5 stars)


 

The Banner Saga Complete Pack – A Review (Xbox One)

Stoic and Versus Evil have release the Complete Pack of The Banner Saga games onto the Xbox One, in one glorious package.  The Banner Saga Complete Pack includes The Banner SagaThe Banner Saga 2, and Survival Mode.  For those of you that have never played The Banner Saga before, this is the one pack to get.  The Banner Saga began life as an idea from ex-Bioware developers, Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson.  The trio took their idea to Kickstarter, and The Banner Saga was quickly funded, drawing in over $700,000.

Story

The Banner Saga takes place in a legendary world that is inspired by Viking legends.  Everything will feel somewhat familiar, and yet completely alien.  The sun has stopped moving in the sky, and perpetual day has set across the land.  Human and massive human like creatures called Varls, are beginning to feel that something is wrong with the world.  You begin play as the Varl Vognir, tasked with escorting Prince Ludin to the Varl capital of Grofheim.   On the way to Grofheim, the caravan runs into an ancient evil called the Dredge.  The Dredge kill many of the caravan, including Vognir, but the caravan finally reaches Grofheim only to find that the capital city has been overrun and destroyed by the Dredge.  This destruction is only the beginning, as reports from all over the Varl homeland come in that the Dredge are destroying cities.  The remnants of the caravan, then join other survivors to help defeat this ancient evil that has crept across the land.

The story for The Banner Saga and The Banner Saga 2 are very viking like in their telling.  The landscape is bleak, the enemy is relentless, and no hero is safe from death.  I would compare it to the feeling one gets from watching the new season of Game of Thrones, but without the sex, backstabbing, and scheming.  I know what you are saying, “but those are the best parts”, but this story feels just as compelling without those bits in it.  I was immediately drawn into the story, completely enthralled by the pacing and storytelling, then was left wanting much more when I finished the first game.  Good thing the sequel is in here too!

Game Play

The game play for The Banner Saga can be divided up into two categories:  combat and not combat.  While not in combat, you are in charge of dialogue options, and a very Oregon Trail-like experience as your caravan moves across the landscape.  Combat is the bread and butter of both games, however, and can be very challenging, even on Easy.

Combat is turn based and set on a grid.  Each combatant will go at different times, and are shown on a queue in the HUD.  Combatants all have their different strengths and weaknesses, as well as different stats.  The Varl are massive and hit like trucks, but are slow and plodding, while the human combatants are much more agile, but more fragile than their Varl counterparts.  The Banner Saga makes combat pretty difficult by having each individual have two stats, one is armor and the other is health and strength combined.   You will have to deplete a target’s armor before having a chance to do any real damage to them.  This means you will have to be strategic with your placement of combatants, and the attacks that they use.  This is not a game that you can rush in and win at.

Combat also adds in a third stat that can be used, that of Willpower.  Willpower becomes that wild card you can use to give yourself an extra boost, whether it’s move one more space, or do a little more damage.  Willpower is limited, so using it becomes very strategic.  Your characters will level up, allowing you to learn new skills and talents.  You can also practice with your heroes in camp, to learn their abilities in combat and see how it actually affects combat.

Your party of heroes can be changed out during the game, and will need to be as characters die.  Decisions and failure in combat will have direct consequences on the rest of your game.  Loose a particular hero early on, and you will have to deal with that absence until you can find a replacement.  Characters can be switched out while in camp, and talents can be selected to give your party a good balance of skills that compliment one another.

Aesthetics

The Banner Saga is visually and musically gorgeous.  The visuals of the game are hand drawn and look like an old style animated movie, like the 1978 release of The Lord of the Rings.  The aesthetic is stylized Viking mythology, so the creatures, villages, and heroes all look like they could be right out of a Viking story, but with a little extra thrown in.  Colors are appropriately muted when they need to be, to continue the feeling of dread that the game presents.

The music of The Banner Saga is fully orchestrated and created by Austin Wintory, the composer of the fantastic score for Journey.  If you have never played Journey, that game had to carry the entire narrative solely based on the musical score, since there was no dialogue at all.  What Wintory brings to The Banner Saga is nothing short of incredible.

Final Thoughts

The Banner Saga is but one step into this fantastic world that you get when you purchase The Banner Saga Complete Pack.  The story is engaging, the aesthetics is incredible, and the game play is challenging and addictive.  Between both games, you are looking at over 30 hours of game play for just the main story line and the extras.  Completionists will be looking at far longer.  While the game is not perfect, it is pretty darn close.  I did find certain sections to slog down for me, and the difficulty curve can come right out of nowhere and smack you in the face.  Other than that, The Banner Saga Complete Pack is most definitely worth picking up.  The Banner Saga Complete Pack is available now on the Xbox Store.


The Banner Saga Complete Pack Review Score

(4 out of 5 Stars)


 

Northgard – A Preview (PC)

Shiro Games has a pretty good game on their hands with Northgard, a viking based real time strategy that is out on early access on Steam.  Those of you out there that have read my reviews in the past, know that I have always struggled with real time strategy games.  I just can’t handle the micromanagement aspect that many of these games require.  While Northgard may feel shallow to the hardcore rts gamer out there, it felt almost perfect to me.  Northgard is still underdevelopment, so what we received was the early access version, and only the skirmish mode was unlocked.  Like many of our other previews, this information is based off of the version that we played, and could change in a later build or even upon release of the full game.  Because only the skirmish mode was unlocked, I’ll have to skip my typical review of the story, and move right into game mechanics.

Game Play

You start a game of Northgard by picking a clan:  Raven, Stag, Goat or Wolf.  Each clan has their own bonuses and advantages, making a game against other clans asymmetrical.  When the game begins, you begin in typical fashion as many other rts games on the market, with a few peons to gather food and a central building.  What makes Northgard immediately different is that your peons will also serve as your Scouts, Warriors, Healers, Traders, etc.  You will select a peon and give that person another job, and they will become that person.  You don’t create more warriors to invade a neighboring section, you assign peons to the warrior job, and then set out to kill your neighbor.  This gives you quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to organizing a work or attack force, but it also means that your resource production will be severely hampered if you suffer major losses in a fight.  To make things even more interesting, your peons can’t be bought, but you gain one every few weeks or so as long as you have enough food and happiness in your village.

Another big change over your typical rts games, is that you have to conquer sections of the world in order to expand your territory.  That means you have to send out a Scout to discover new sections, then pay the expansion cost before you can build your expansion.  Each section also have a building limit, so you will need to constantly expand if you wish to keep on building.  Your workers and military will automatically go about their business and won’t just stand around waiting for you to tell them what to do.  This feature, alone, made me love this game.  The workers will stay in their section, but will continue doing the job you assigned to them.

Northgard also includes a time tracker, that tracks the changing of the seasons.  As winter approaches (brace yourself), your food and wood production decreased while your consumption of these resources increase.  Some years will have harsher winters than others, so you will need to pay attention to what the winter will look like.  This will change how you will behave in September and October.  You might find a new land with some enticing resources, but may not want to expand if it’s October and the winter outlook is particularly harsh this year.

Northgard also let’s you choose your path to victory, which is something that I hadn’t seen in any other rts game before.  Usually, you fight until either you or your opponent is too decimated to continue.  In Northgard, you can still bury many an axe into your opponent’s skull, or you can win by reaching the Trade, Prestige, or Lore Victory requirements.  Each one of these has different requirements for victory, and really allow you to customize how you want to play Northgard.

Closing Thoughts

Northgard is going to be a very good game, once it actually released.  Even in Early Access, Northgard is looking top notch.  With the addition of a single player campaign and multiplayer (both coming soon), Northgard will quickly rise to the top of the current rts games on the marking for people like me.  For the hardcore of you out there, Northgard may not feel as deep as other games on the market, so you may or may not find the game as top notch as I do.  I love how the game allows me to focus on the actual game itself, instead of worrying about what each and every little knucklehead is doing across my land.  Northgard is currently on Steam Early Access for $19.99.

Cherry MX G80-3000 Keyboard – A Review

Having been involved in PC gaming since the mid-80’s, I have had years of experience using several different styles of keyboards and mice.  I have watched keyboards go from being massive, off white behemoths, to slim, black, sexy things that have so many more features than they used to.  The last keyboard I received to review was the Razer Chroma, one that has taken over as my default day to day and gaming keyboard, due to the features that it offers and how much I just love to type on it.  The Razer Chroma was sleek, minimal in terms of size, and had multiple features attached to it, like lighting effects and programmable keys.  So when I opened my next keyboard review, I was shocked at what I found.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 keyboard is a throwback to my early days of PC gaming, and I’m not exactly sure if nestalgia, in this case, is a good thing.

Features

Let’s start off with the good first, shall we?  The Cherry MX G80-3000 is a fantastic keyboard to type on.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 can come either in black or red switches, the one I received has red switches, and is completely silent.  I found that the response times from keystroke to action was smooth and felt great.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 is a mechanical keyboard that has a service life of about 50 million keystrokes, so it will last you a very long time.  It comes USB 2.0 or PS/2 (via adaptor) ready.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 weighs a solid 2 pounds and measures in at approximately 19.48′ x 10′ x 1.96′, so it’s a monster of a keyboard.  And that’s it.  That’s the whole lot for this keyboard.  There really isn’t anything else to say about that.

You see, the Cherry MX G80-3000 does not light up, is not programmable, does not come with any additional software to add more functions to it.  It is seriously just a huge, solid keyboard that looks like it escaped from the 80’s.  The worst part?  The cost.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 will run you around $150.00.  For comparison, the Razer Blackwidow Chroma will run you around $170.00 for so much more functionality.  Now, I understand that there is great technology in the Cherry MX G80-3000 that makes it great to type on, but it’s not a gaming computer nor is it designed for the gamer.  I can see this showing up in a laboratory somewhere, not attached to your high end gaming PC.

Listed Features:

  • Mechanical Black or Red stem MX Silent keyswitches are rated at 50 million actuations to withstand harsh environments and ensure long product lifetime
  • Patented noise reduction using an integrated 2-component stem minimizes noise at top and bottom-out
  • N-Key rollover: Simultaneous operations of up to 14 keys without any ghosting effects
  • Self-cleaning contacts, dust and dirt resistant
  • Full QWERTY key layout in full-size 18.5″ form factor
  • USB 2.0 Interface or PS/2 with adapter
  • 104 Keys
  • PC & MAC compatible over USB

Technical Data

  •  Interface: USB 2.0 (PS/2 via adapter)
  • Current Input: Typ. 15 mA
  • Connecting Cable: approx. 1.75 m
  • Weight: Approx. 935 g, 2.0 lbs.  (without packaging)
  • Dimensions: 470x195x44 mm, 18.5″×7.67″×1.73″
  • Storage Temperature: -20°C to 60°C
  • Operating Temperature: 0°C to 50°C

Aesthetics

The Cherry MX G80-3000 is big, off-white, and is not backlit.  It is strictly functional is aesthetic and design.  This keyboard will not get you excited, unless you have a thing for large keyboards that look like they need to be hooked up to a Commodore 64.

Final Thoughts

This is the hardest review I’ve ever had to write.  I would rather write a review for something that is so bad, that I have something to say about it.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 is just a strictly, functional, silent, mechanical keyboard.  In this day and age of gaming keyboards, you need to have something that draws the eye to you.  Is the keyboard good looking?  Does it have software that allows you to program macros?  Is it backlit?  Is it sleek and small, as to not take up too much space on your desktop?  The Cherry MX G80-3000 answers all of these questions with a resounding “no”.  What it does do is type, and that it does quite well.  The Cherry MX G80-3000 is really nice to type on, and is something that I would use in my office at work when I worked in a lab.  It is not something that I will use on my desk at home, for gaming or for writing.  If the Cherry MX G80-3000 was priced more modestly, like about$70, I would have a little less trouble recommending it.  However, at $150, you are so much better off spending that money on a more feature-rich mechanical gaming keyboard.


Cherry MX G80-3000 Review Score

(3 out of 5 stars)


 

Card Quest – A Preview (PC)

I love card games.  Outside of video games, card games are some of my favorite ways to spend an evening.  I’ve spent hours playing games such as Magic:  The Gathering, Marvel’s Legendary, Android:  Netrunner, and Dominion.  So, when it comes to card games on the PC, I’m usually up for the challenge, but always feel like there is something missing.  For me, the card game is also something that should be a social event.  I think that’s why Marvel’s Legendary is my all time favorite, as it is cooperative.  Still, I play the hell out of Hearthstone, so I was interested in previewing Card Quest when it came up.  Card Quest is an Steam Early Access game from developer WinterSpring Games and publisher Black Shell Media.  How is it shaping up?  Let’s take a closer look with my preview.

Game Play

The best way to describe the overall game play of Card Quest is as a card driven, dungeon crawler.  You select a class between the three major archetypes (fighter, mage, rogue), and set off on a specific adventure designed to test your class.  The game gives you a specific deck for your class, and sets up ten challenges in a given section of your dungeon.  Each deck has it’s own strengths for both attack and defense, and feel completely different from one another.

The main component of Card Quest is managing your stamina during these encounters.  A typical encounter could have five enemies that you need to kill before moving onto the next round, and each card you use to either attack or defend yourself uses stamina.  You can gain stamina slowly between rounds, or quickly using certain cards.  You also have to manage your stamina between the attack and defense phases of each round.  Using all of your stamina to attack works fine if you can kill all of the monsters.  Otherwise, you are getting hit when they attack you, and you don’t heal.  The smart money is to save some stamina to defend yourself.  You can also spend stamina to draw a card, though that usually is a desperate measure due to the amount of stamina it will cost you.

This stamina management is what really drives Card Quest and turned a fifteen minute game test, into a full hour long run trying to beat the first boss.  The first rounds really lull you into a false sense of security, then that 40 h.p. monster comes down and just beats you senseless, because you didn’t manage your stamina, can’t stun lock the boss, and need to do a ton of damage.  You also have to manage your combinations too.  Certain cards will have bonus effects if played in sequence, so the game makes it enticing enough to use more stamina, because you want to hit certain bonuses.

You gain experience every time you win a battle, and will level up.  As you level up,  you will gain more equipment that will give your character different bonuses, more hit points, or more stamina.  There isn’t any packs of cards or collectible aspect, at least as of now, so you will quickly learn what each card can do and the limits of the decks.  The challenge is definitely there, and I found Card Quest to be a little more difficult than I was initially expecting.

Aesthetics

Card Quest uses an older aesthetic that really brings back the early days of my PC gaming life.  Looking and sounding more like Bard’s Tale than Hearthstone, Card Quest revels in the older aesthetic and makes it feel right.  After my first hour of gameplay, I was so focused on beating that boss that the art and graphics blended into the background.  I feel that the aesthetics goes well with the gameplay, and it shouldn’t have been any other way.

Each card has it’s own artwork, so identifying cards becomes easier over time.  The cards are fairly easy to understand, though it will take some time to get used to what each card actually does, especially when it comes to the combo powers.  Due to the small space on each card, symbols are used and are fairly easy to understand.  I did love how the chain ability on the card would change color if you had done enough to combo the cards together.  That little bit right there helps out a lot in helping out deciding what card to use.

(Not So) Final Thoughts

Card Quest is in early access on Steam, so this preview is based on the build as of the last week or two.  While I never expect developers to make massive changes from one build to another, it can happen.  In its current state, Card Quest is a very challenging and fun card game that is deeper than it comes on to be.  What first seems like a bad card game clone of other popular card games, ends up being a huge test in how you can manage your stamina and plan both of your offence and defense, to protect your non-regenerating health.  I was absolutely sucked into Card Quest for the first two hours, just trying to beat the first boss.  If you are into card based games, Card Quest is a great way to spend an evening or two.  Card Quest is available now through Steam Early Access for $7.99.

Conan Exiles – A Preview (PC)

In the early 1930’s, Robert E. Howard began publishing short stories about a massive Cimmerian barbarian and his quest to rule a kingdom.  At the time of Howard’s suicide in 1936, he had written 21 complete stories about this barbarian.  These stories faded in and out of publication for almost the next thirty years, never really grabbing the popular culture again, until 1982.  In 1982, a movie about this barbarian hit the big screens, starring an Austrian bodybuilder that was aiming for stardom as the next big action hero.  That bodybuilder is named Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the title character of this movie is named Conan.  Since that movie, Conan has had relative success in both movies and video games, but it wasn’t until Funcom released Age of Conan that Howard’s vision of Hyboria truly felt realized in the medium.  Currently, Funcom is working on their next Conan game named Conan Exiles.  The best way to describe Conan Exiles is that it is like Rust or Ark, but with balls.  And by balls, I mean actual testicles.  Yes, Funcom went the Full Monty with Conan Exiles.  Is it enough to make you want to play the game?  Let’s take a closer look with our preview.

Story

You begin Conan Exiles crucified.  Yes, actually crucified.  As in, strapped to a cross and left in the desert to rot and die.  The intro cinematic shows Conan wandering through the desert, as he comes upon you and your cross.  Conan cuts you down, defends you against some hungry monsters, then abandons you to your fate.  You next find yourself an exile, a criminal, left alone in the desert with nothing.  You must make your way to the relative safety of the valley in front of you and build your camp.  While in the valley, you will need to hunt for food, gather materials for structures and weapons, and defend yourself against everything that wants to kill you.

Let’s start this preview by saying that Conan Exiles is still in early access, so not all aspects of the game are polished, or even present.  Conan Exiles does a good job in setting up the narrative in the beginning of the game, by showing you your crime during the character creation process, and then by having you find journals as you make your way to the valley.  Once in the valley, the narrative begins to take a life of it’s own.  You will run into some characters that will talk to you, and let you in on more of the story.  Other than that, the story will progress by your own creation.  You make your own narrative, in a similar way as it is in Minecraft, 7 Days to Die, or Rust.  There are stones and journals that dot the wasteland that will fill in the gaps and inform you of the ancient civilization that once was here, but like most games of this nature, the story will change depending on your actions and you can create your own narrative.

Game Play

Let’s start with the naked, swinging genitals in the room, shall we?  Conan Exiles will get a lot of publicity over its approach to nudity.  You have the option at the start to go with no nudity, partial nudity (breasts), or full nudity (everything! and I mean everything!).  Character creation is very deep, allowing you to customize your race based on Howard’s world, and then begin to change all of your features using sliders.  Yes, there is a slider for penis length and breast size, you naughty person, you.  Part of the character creation process is also choosing your God.  You can select many of Howard’s pantheon of gods, including Crom, Yog, Set, and Mitra.  This selection will give you access to special structures and items that can only be crafted by a follower of that god.  You can view the game in first person or third person point of view, which alone will give you at least an hour of laughs watching your bits sway as you jump and run across the desert.

Once you get passed acting like a 13 year old boy, you will realize that Conan Exiles has much more to offer.  The main part of the game is truly survival, and that means keeping yourself fed, hydrated, protected, and healthy.  You gather materials as you travel across the land, and craft items that will help you live longer.  Tools, weapons, bedrolls, and even structures can all be crafted and placed in the world.  You will need to watch your encumbrance as well, so you cannot just grab everything in site and take it back to camp.  You will have to manage your pack and the weight of the pack.

Combat is fairly straight forward, but I found it incredibly difficult in the beginning.  Most everything will kill you in the beginning, so picking your fights will be very important.  As you level up and learn new recipes, gather better items, and even collect slaves, you will discover that these enemies will no longer prove a challenge and will need to find stronger enemies to fight.  Then there is the other players.  Depending on what server you are playing on, other players will also prove to be a hazard to you.  Many will kill you and nick all of your stuff, burn down your fortress, and make your life hell.  On the other hand, if you can get a few of your mates to band together, you can become the object of fear in the valley.

Conan Exiles feels right, though the difficulty curve is something that you will need to get used to.  I found the game fun and enjoyable, even in its early access state.  Lag was an issue on some of the servers that I joined, but here’s to hoping that gets hammered out before release.  What is here, is in good condition and was fun to play.

Aesthetics

Conan Exiles is a nice looking game, with full voice acting.  Many of the animations seemed off during my playthrough, including many enemies that just glided towards me, but hey it’s early access.  You definitely get the feeling of Conan here, from your character’s look, to the look of the enemies, and the structures you are able to build.  I love the way Funcom allows you to pick your character’s origin, which helps define your character.  Choices like Hyborian, Stygian, Kushite, and Zamorian are all offered in game, and will help determine the look of your character.

Graphics wise, Conan Exiles looks good and comparable to other similar games on the market.  The game had issues at distance, but again it’s not a release copy yet.  Structures look fairly generic, but will be completely up to you on how you design them.  I found it fairly easy to build a two story hut out of rock and wood.

Preliminary Thoughts

Conan Exiles is looking to be a very good, if not a great survival/crafting game.  The game has the look, the feel, and the blood of a Conan game, with all of the nudity that goes with it.  As of this writing, Conan Exiles has already sold about 300,000 copies and Funcom has completely recouped their cost for the game.  This is one game that I will be keeping a close eye on when it fully releases.  Funcom is also preparing an Xbox One version of the game, with a possible PS4 release later.  Conan Exiles is currently available on Steam Early Access.