Author - Morticos

Kasda KA1900A Wireless AC1900 Router Review

Kasda was a relatively unknown brand to me until I got the chance to check out their KA1900A wireless router. This 802.11AC router features a sleek, black design with both 5.4GHz and 2.4GHz WiFi networks. It even features a both a USB 3.0 and 2.0 port on the back of the unit, which allows for USB storage sharing – just plug a flash drive into it and you have some file sharing ability for your networking needs.

Installing the Kasda KA1900A wireless AC1900 router is relatively simple. I simply connected the router into my cable modem by way of the WAN port on the back of the unit. Then I plugged my PC into one of the Gigabit LAN ports on the router and started everything up. I directed my favorite Internet browser to 192.168.1.1 and began the setup procedure. I setup the WiFi network and connected my smartphone and laptop to it. Everything just worked. Now, it didn’t have as much hand holding as some routers to, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for a WiFi router these days. Kasda does offer online support if you need it.

For those users who love the feature, it also offers a WiFi Protected Setup (WPS) button for easy connection setup. There are those that consider WPS insecure, but if you are just using it on a local home network, it is really up to the end user as to what level of security they desire.

The Kaska KA1900A router does feature some pretty cool specs. Aside from those previously-mentioned, it has 5 internal WiFi antennae which provide a very stable wireless signal. Its range is ridiculously good and, no matter where I stood in the office, I had a consistently solid connection. In fact, it was a marked improvement over the 802.11N wireless router we were previously using. It was so impressive that I thought, for a passing moment, that I could still get signal at the Starbucks down the street! But, I digress… Even better is that, because the antennae are internal, they are not sticking out like porcupine quills as they do on external models.

A small aside, one of the best features on this router is an actual power switch! There are a lot of routers out there that simply rely on pulling the power cable out of the unit to restart it. This just doesn’t always make the best user experience as the power cable often falls out and ends up lost behind office furniture. With the power switch, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.

Overall, the Kasda KA1900A Wireless AC1900 Router is a great purchase that offers a very stable networking environment for you home or office. Its WiFi networks are speedy as are its LAN connections, and it will provide you with terrific throughput in your local network. It retails for about $110 dollars and more information on the product can be found at Kasda’s official website. Those of you looking to purchase can find the KA1900A available at Amazon.com


Kasda KA1900A Wireless Router Review Score

(4 out of 5 Stars)


 

World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Review

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It can be difficult to approach an expansion to a title of such significance as World of Warcraft with an objective eye, given its storied history and ingrained nostalgia. Fond memories of some aspects of the title intermingle with the less interesting moments, and it all becomes a sea of high and low memories that stretch out over the past 10 years. I could let this review devolve into a list of such high and low moments, but this is a review of Warlords of Draenor, and not the content that has come before it. Besides, at this point in time it is clear that everyone involved with the World of Warcraft MMO has strong feelings or opinions one way or another based on their own minimal or extensive time with the game.

That being established, let’s take a look at the Warlords of Draenor expansion, and allow me to share my personal thoughts and feelings on its content and presentation with you. I will start by saying that what immediatly grabbed me and piqued my interest was the setting. Returning to what was one of my favorite locations (the Outlands from The Burning Crusade expansion) created a much higher level of interest than any ancient world-shattering dragon or mist-shrouded island could have. Combine that with a return to a more traditional “Orcs vs. Humans” vibe, and an uncharted old version of Draenor ripe for settling and exploring, and they had me. The return to a location from the past that was as beloved as Outlands was (I’m sure) no accident, and even though the time-travel silliness required to achieve this is a bit trite (I am still unsure if I am in the past, or the present but an alternate reality?) I can suspend my requirement for this to make absolute sense and simply enjoy the ride. After all, it worked with Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness…

This expansion begins with your character being summoned to the site of the Dark Portal, as Orcs from Draenor have begun clamoring through the rift into Azeroth yet again (though this time mostly free of Demonic influence). After entering the portal with a strike team of Alliance and Horde figures, a brief introductory series of quests takes place in a phased section of Draenor. After completing this introduction (and stranding your armies in the alternate timescape of Draenor) you join up with the Frostwolf Clan (sorry Alliance players, I roll Horde) and establish a base in their home territory of Frostfire Ridge. From here, you establish a base of operations – a new major feature of the expansion known as your Garrison – and begin to explore the wild regions of Draenor while fortifying your base and growing it as you level towards the new cap of 100.

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Two key moments from this opening sequence left me drawn deeper into the title than I have been for multiple expansions now, and I would be remiss to not point these out before moving on to discuss the broader features and experiences. One of the more interesting things done in this opening to the game is the use of Borderlands-style introductions to all of the villains of the Iron Horde (the united Orc Tribes occupying Draenor). This was done extremely well, and made me look forward to encountering and defeating characters such as Kargath Bladefist, Kilrogg, and Blackhand later in my journeys. The second key moment involved the establishment of your Garrison and subsequent questing to strengthen and grow it. This immediately gave me a more overarching goal to my questing than is typical, and made me want to keep pressing on to expand my base and reach.

My journey from 90 to 100 was filled with moments of awe and wonder. The lush graphics of the zones of Draenor left me constantly swinging my camera around wildly, trying to gain better perspectives on the alien moons and skylines and terrain features. It can be very hard to believe this game is 10 years old when visual fidelity is this polished, and what they lack in pure polygons they more than make up for in detailed touches and beautiful artful color usage. The enhanced character models and animations are also quite well done, and work to make the game feel pretty modern overall. Sound and Music are generally an area that can be difficult to say much about, especially when done well enough to feel seamlessly integrated and “good”. I have to make special mention of the music in this expansion however, as for me it was some of the very best music I have heard from the title. There seemed to be a huge variety of styles, which came and went effortlessly and at appropriate moments throughout. In some places, music from the original Outlands was used, and served to ignite nostalgic feelings in familiar locales (in the way Metroid Prime’s usage of melodies from older Metroid titles was explored). The pure variety of musical styles served to foster and enhance the feeling of this world being remote, uncharted, and alien. Soft quiet tracks and frantic upbeat tracks are used at all the proper moments, and I am transported back to the days of Warcraft 2 and 3.

Do yourself a favor – if you are a gamer that typically turns game music off and replaces it with your own Spotify mixes or Pandora stations instead, just don’t this time around. Crank up that game music, and get yourself a decent pair of headphones – the experience will be well worth it.

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Moving on to the meat of the expansion, we find tried-and-true questing and phasing integrated perfectly into the Garrison experience. The setup scenario of being in this remote land, establishing a base, and then questing to improve your skills as well as the skills of your followers is a superb play experience, and the use of a base from the Warcraft RTS days as a form of “player housing” for this title works exceptionally well. I found myself striving to explore deeper into the lands beyond, to see the sights, conquer the challenges that surely await, and fortify my base of operations. The entire package plays great and feels highly polished (minor bugs, but nothing of any real consequence). Opening day crowds and server issues were quickly resolved (2-3 days of wait times, with a refund of 5 days to all accounts in my experience), and the game has been running well since these issues were abated.

After exploring the various zones and storylines contained within and reaching the new level cap of 100, a sense of sadness that it was over briefly hit me, but was replaced by excitement as I quickly started to realize just how much there was still to explore and do. Level cap this time around serves more as an end to your Garrison training and the start of your domination of the Iron Horde. Areas of various zones filled with cap level mobs and rare spawns serve as a method to acquire gear upgrades, and additional dungeon unlocks allow the player to start to experience the group content of the expansion. A few of the more inspired and interesting dungeons involve riding a fast-moving train, killing enemies as you move between train cars, and a dungeon high in the peaks of Arak, the final boss of which summons birds to attempt to drag you and your companions off the edge and to a grisly death on the rocks below. Your Garrison at this point has become a living breathing entity of its own, with a constant flurry of activity that will have you enjoying micromanaging the events within and the activities your followers take on. With elements of housing and companion systems seen in other MMO titles, though applied with just the right methodologies, Garrisons stand above the rest as a significant technological and entertaining feat.

With little negative to harp on, I will emphasize that while this is an exceptional expansion, sure to get better as raid content and more future content is introduced, it is still World of Warcraft at its core. Those who may have tired of this style of quest-driven gameplay might not be fully hooked, even with the new spin on things. While I believe that The Burning Crusade was the crowning moment in the game’s history, Warlords of Draenor is proving that at 10 years of age, this old dog still has some bite left, and may be yapping around for another decade to come.

[easyreview title=”World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”4″ ]

Wildstar Review (PC)

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Wildstar – or should I just dispense with the formality here and call it by its more accurate title, “World of Warcraft 2”, is a game that clearly does everything NOT to break the mold that World of Warcraft forged back in 2004. Of all the clones we have seen come and, more often than not, go since then, this one should probably take the award for most intentionally attempting to recreate the vanilla WoW experience many of us fondly remember. It should come as no surprise – after all, many of the founders of Carbine Studios worked on vanilla WoW as well.

Wildstar places the players on the fictional planet of Nexus, a planet recently discovered by the two factions players can align with in the game (The Dominion, reminiscent of the Empire from Star Wars, and The Exiles, filling the role of the Rebel Alliance nicely). These factions battle for control of the resource and technology rich planet through traditional PvP and PvE methods. The game is a traditional “Theme Park” when it comes to the linear progression through quest driven zones. Enemies wander in place, as is typical of most games in this genre, and await their fate at the hands of murderous players. Quests are generally creative, and filled with both pop culture references and light humor, taking on a very similar vibe to WoW immediately. As the player levels, they are introduced to many other systems, such as crafting, abilities, AMPs (essentially, a talent grid allowing you to specialize your efforts into different areas). Most of these systems feel tried and true, but a bit more flexible than prior games (all classes are hybrid classes to some extent in this game – with no damage-only classes).

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Visually, the game uses a cartoon-like style akin to WoW, but in some ways goes even further with its over-the-top silliness. Emotes are even more outrageous, and animations are smooth yet extremely “bouncy”, with super agile characters that can double jump by default (this is very fun by the way, particularly on mounts). The sound effects and music in the game are quite good, with the occasional audio pop or sync issue, but all-in-all a tight package. I particularly enjoy some of the areas where the music has an almost “Metroid-like” quality to it, and the western music in a zone that reminds me greatly of the Badlands zone from WoW had me grinding in a spaghetti-western trance.

PvP options include Battleground-like maps, Arenas (following the WoW popularized 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 formats), Dueling, Open-world PvP on select servers, and a new 40 vs. 40 mode at level cap that includes base building prior to the fight. I have yet to participate in PvP outside of my preferred methods, Battlegrounds and Open-world skirmishing over quests, but I will say that the gameplay is very responsive, characters feel very grounded to the world, and overall they pull off an action game in the MMO space quite well (an area where many titles suffer). Typically when I lose a fight in open world PvP, I can point exactly to the cause, as opposed to feeling like lag or sync was the issue (such as “they outnumbered me”, “I failed to avoid that attack”, or “I got agro on some NPCs, which swayed the fight against me”). This is a very good thing, one of the more important facets of gameplay to get right in order for a game in this genre to be successful!

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PvE options include quite a lot of quests, events, and challenges that pop up as you move around the play space (similar feeling to Guild Wars 2 of just wandering around and always having things to do if you choose to). Shiphand Missions provide small, single serving solo or group instanced content, and wind up feeling like fun little quests with Rare item rewards. Adventure and Dungeons are 5 player content akin to a traditional instance Dungeon from WoW, though Adventures seem to focus more on choose-your-own-adventure style story and play variance, where Dungeons are the same each time (packs of lesser minions plus boss encounters with Rare loot). I am going to go ahead and say that while I am pretty tired of traditional questing mechanics, I find myself having no issue plodding along grinding content in this title, due to the variance as you travel, and also due to the engaging combat (grinding is actually pretty fun). For me though, the real fun begins after the level 20 mark, when the training wheels come off, and enemies actually begin to get challenging. The dungeon content that opens up at 20 is also quite good and challenging, and random groups do not seem to fare very well in my experience. With a group of friends, these dungeons are extremely fun, with twitch skill and execution of your class being a huge factor for success or failure.

Overall, I get the impression as I climb the level ranks (currently 35 out of 50 cap at the time of this review) that the game will continue to become more difficult (especially fun on PvP servers where you find yourself skirmishing with players of the opposing faction as often as you are completing quests). I can honestly say that fans of this genre will have a good time with this title, but it does start out a bit slow for the first 10-20 levels. Given how closely this title resembles Vanilla WoW, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for it. I believe that it is of high enough quality that many fans of the original gameplay of World of Warcraft will take to this new space setting, and stick around to participate in what is sure to be challenging end game raid content.

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This title will not blow your mind with high levels of innovation, but what it takes from other games and from WoW it does exceptionally well, and is a clean and polished experience (not to say it is bug-free, but the bugs that do exist are innocuous and do not break immersion often). This is as close as we have come to a WoW 2 in roughly 10 years since the original, and given that they are aiming for the early WoW experience, and not the more modern expansions, combined with the timing of this release (huge gap in WoW content patches), they may have a shot at sticking around and pulling off a successful game over the coming months and years.

[easyreview title=”Wildstar Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”4″ ] [button target=”_blank” style=”” link=”http://gamingshogun.com/gamingshogun-rating-system/”]Learn About Our Rating System[/button]

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Review (PC)

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After a very extended break from Diablo III, and a feeling of lingering disappointment in the longevity of the title, I have returned to reintroduce demons and angels into my life. Given that I originally reviewed the title, it is only fitting that I give it another go for the release of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls expansion pack. First off, my original review was not very hard on the game, mostly due to the fact that the vast majority of its issues were presented at endgame, and revolved around the auction house. If I had gone back for a second review, post-leveling, I would have painted a much more bleak picture of the new world of Sanctuary – a world filled with poor uninspired items, abysmal drop rates to support the auction house, an unbalanced and untested final playmode, and more. Given all that, you can imagine my skepticism when this expansion was announced – many months after everyone I know had stopped playing the title.

You can find my original review here, for those interested in prefacing this review with some history:
http://gamingshogun.com/2012/05/30/diablo-iii-review-pc/

Now on to Reaper of Souls, and on to what is, in my humble opinion, an absolute near-perfect redemption of the title. Gone are the days of uninspired gameplay systems. Gone are the days of uninteresting loot drops with frequency designed around playing the auction house instead of bashing demons. Gone are the days of unbalanced classes, with limited effective skill loadouts and homogenized gameplay.

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Reaper of Souls is downright BADASS and boatloads of fun. There, I said it.

It is clear that the developers went back to the drawing board on this expansion, ripping the guts (along with both auction houses) right out of the game and making killing demons and collecting loot fun again. They even seemed to have smoothed out the engine in the process, eliminating the bouts of micro-stuttering and sluggishness, leaving smooth-as-glass gameplay remaining. There are a few exceptions to this, such as specific areas of act 3 and the new act 5 where fire and smoke effects cause a bit of performance loss on all systems. Outside of this though, the game feels far more slick and responsive than ever. The classes have been re-balanced thoroughly, and though there are bound to be things that are too strong or too weak still, many more build variations are viable in this new Sanctuary. The Paragon end-game leveling system is far better, allowing for a player to continue to level up and improve attributes across all characters on their account seemingly forever (no Paragon level cap, and levels are account-wide now).

The addition of more useful stats, and the removal or readjustment of bad ones, is also of note, as well as some additional monster affix abilities that deepen the type of elite packs you can encounter when exploring. Music in the new Act 5 is extremely satisfying, at many times subtle yet just creepy enough, and the atmosphere of the new zones is dark, foreboding, and ominous in a way that a good Castlevania title or a good Resident Evil title might grab you. The story picks up where the previous one left off, with a fallen angel named Malthael deciding that he would take matters of the eternal struggle between the angels and demons of Sanctuary into his own hands. Though very polished, the story is just to wet your appetite for Adventure Mode and Nephalem Rifts, the true new gameplay focus of this expansion. No longer are you confined to a single act within a game – you can travel the entirety of act 1-5 through any waypoints, and explore zones marked with quests to gain experience, gold, and loot caches (which spill out random items in glorious fashion). While doing this, you will collect items which can be used to active Nephalem Rifts, randomized zones of between 1 and 10 maps that can be of any tileset from the game, with any monster combinations from the game. TRUE RANDOMIZATION! Some of the maps I have encountered were literally littered every 10 feet with elite packs, leading to total mayhem.

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Blizzard has recently announced that they will be adding “Seasons” to the game (similar to ladders from Diablo II), as well as some form of scaling Nephalem Rifts with leader boards for progress potentially. This should be coming in the first major patch to the expansion, and shows a commitment to continue to grow it – despite it being a 40$ game with no continued monetization. This harkens back to the days of Warcraft 3, Diablo II, and the like, and makes me excited to continue to play this now GREAT title and see what Blizzard has in store for it. All-in-all, I cannot recommend a revisit to this title enough for ARPG fans out there. I know the original launch burned many of us. I know many will scoff and continue to put time into Path of Exile, Torchlight 2, and other titles in the genre – content to write this one off and remember all the bad things about its launch. Please, PLEASE, do your self a favor and give it another chance. It might just be the best 40 bucks you spend this year, or for some time to come.

Can’t write any more. Must play more Reaper of Souls…

[easyreview title=”Diablo III: Reaper of Souls Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”5″ ] [button target=”_blank” style=”” link=”http://gamingshogun.com/gamingshogun-rating-system/”]Learn About Our Rating System[/button]

The Secret World Review (PC)

I have to admit I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about this title a few years back. Given the rough launches Funcom had with previous titles, and given the unusual setting and theme of this game, I had my doubts it could “work” as an MMORPG.

That being said, I am more than pleased to report that not only is this game suprisingly fun and not only does it “work”, but it has succeeded in a way that most MMORPGs have been unable to do thus far since World of Warcraft dominated the scene (and ushered in numerous clones) – It has done something entirely “different” with the genre.

Now let me be clear, there are parts of the game, UI, look and feel, mechanics, etc, etc that have been built upon from previous games and successes, no doubt about it. Most successful MMOs (including WoW) did this, and it is a natural progression to build upon successful elements from other games both in and out of your genre that came before. But in the same way that WoW innovated beyond the norms when it launched – so has TSW innovated out of the box with its release.

Controls remain mostly true to the established standards, with WASD movement, hotkey binding, mouse wheen camera zoom, standard mouse controls, and more. You will not have a problem understanding control if you have played other games like this. The UI, however, is a very slick and polished new take on interface. The Ability and Skill pages are extremely clean, and function prefectly for min maxing builds and clearly seeing everything you need to. The minimalistic UI, without “frills” or unneeded graphics taking up real estate is responsive and unobtrusive, leaving your eyes free to absorb the creepy game world.

The game world itself is visually very attractive (what I mean is it looks very fitting for the setting of the game). Sound quality is high, with perfectly somber music and monster effects that make the game feel very creepy as you delve into its mysteries. The zones you play in are masterfully crafted, full of interactive content all over the place. This combined with the level of polish and freeform skill/ability progression helps to hide the “theme-park” nature of the game world, and makes it feel much more like an exploration based game with content you encounter, rather than are guided to.

Where this game truly exceeds expectations however, is simply in the successful execution of a horror genre as an MMO, and I truly feel like an occult investigator and have some very creepy moments as I play through the game. Questing is detailed and deep, and while I can’t say I’m a huge fan of having to use out-of-game resources to solve some quests (looking up bible verses, translating morse code, visiting referenced websites, and more), the build in browser makes it easy enough. The game is also HARD.

Let me emphasize that again. The game is actually HARD!

No, I don’t mean just the dungeons or whatever end-game content awaits. I mean just moving through zones, exploring, and solving puzzles, events, and other mysteries. I have been stumped by a few puzzles, and combat gets intense as you move out of the starting areas and into more complex parts of the game world. The first few dungeons I have encountered and cleared (each zone seems to have a 5 player dungeon) have been well crafted, and paced to be exciting and not drag on. They have been quite polished, and provided fun boss fights with entertaining mechanics.

As you can see, there is little I can do to downtalk this title. From the near-flawless launch, to the polish on the game itself, this is truly a success in my eyes from a company that many had probably written off, and were not considering. I personally have convinced multiple gaming buddies to try this title, and not one of them has been dissapointed in their purchase. I have even heard comments from some of them that they may not be returning to the next WoW expansion, as they are so drawn into this title. That to me speaks volumes, and it is nice to see an MMO break the mold, and do it with such success.

I cannot recommend this game enough to die hard MMO vets looking for something new, that reinvigorates old-school gaming style and passions. This game will challenge you and rock your world.

Diablo III Review (PC)

Diablo 3 is a title that has been in the works at Blizzard for quite some time now, with Diablo 2, and particularly the first Diablo, stretching back into the distant and fond memories of my childhood. One of the originators of top-down hack and slash RPG combat, Diablo 3 enters with big shoes to fill for the millions of fans who likely have elevated expectations for this title. I will begin by saying that I am generally a fan of what Blizzard does, as all of their titles over the years have ranged from “amazing” to meerly “good”, and pretty much no failures under their belt. This is partially due to staying very true to what they do (while polishing and itterating like mad-men).

Right out the gate, Diablo 3 feels like an extremely polished version of Diablo 2, much in the way that Starcraft 2 became a highly polished Starcraft. The menus are some of the slickest I have seen in PC gaming, with smooth and accurate functionality that is as easy to learn as tying ones shoelace. The music is moody and drives immediate nostalgia of my time with Diablo 2. It keeps a dark yet colorful visual style, and animations, cinematics, and art blend into a visual feast, that really no one can argue is not an amazing work of art and beauty.

The story begins in the old town of Tristram – with a strange meteor striking the town, and takes the player through both familiar and unfamiliar settings as the plot unfolds and twists in uprising ways. Blizzard has done an excellent job of making the story elements minimal enough that players with little interest can skip through fairly easily and get back to the action, while players that are enjoying it get short but manageable breaks in the action to view interesting dialog, hand drawn pages of Deckard Cain’s notebook, and cinematics between acts (some of the best I have seen from Blizzard, and that is saying a lot given their history of great cinematic work).

Gameplay is fast and exciting and, even though Blizzard has given players very minimal ability to adjust characters stats this time around (the lack of placing points is a bit sad), the skill system is varied and the player is always being presented with new skill options as they progress through the experience levels (by level 30 you gain all base skills, and by 60 you have all skill “variations”). The normal difficulty seemed to be aimed more at presenting the story, and had a very low level of difficulty – allowing all players of varying skills to experience it all. Nightmare and, in particular, Hell difficulty ramp up quite a bit – and players may become frustrated at times with the kiting and trickery required to defeat some rare mobs with particularly annoying combinations of abilities. As of writing this I am almost 60, and so cannot review the “end game” or Inferno difficulty, but I don’t really consider that required to review this particular game, as I can easily predict that if you are already enjoying the game all the way to cap, you will likely spend some time farming Inferno with friends for gear.

Itemization seems varied, and follows traditional Diablo patterns (prefixes, suffixes, and various other stat modifiers generated randomly on rare, and even rarer gear). As of level 55, I have not yet personally found a Unique or Set item, though some people I know have found a few uniques. Either the drop rates are very low, or I am simply very unlucky. Some items have unusual mods such as bleed damage, fear chance, stun chance, and the like, but I have not encountered anything outrageous as of yet. Gear aimed at specific classes can have modifiers unique to that class, such as a bonus to that classes resource generation, or specific abilities.

As of launch, the PvP is not included (said to be small arena matches), so I cannot review that aspect of the game, but I will say balance will become difficult with the introduction of supported PvP, and currently balance feels somewhat off (fine for a PvE setting, but Blizzard will have to monitor this closely for PvP to have any purpose at all). Hardcore mode is also something I have not tried yet (and I remember playing 8-9 months of hardcore fondly in Diablo 2 – ending with a highlight of a mid 80s hardcore Necromancer). I can say that Dying is pretty common at the moment in Nightmare and particularly Hell, so players will likely have to build very “tanky” to even have a shot at not dying. Hardcore will likely be much harder in this outing of Diablo than ever before.

The biggest problems with Diablo 3 are two-fold: First, the addition of an auction house which trivializes the social interaction and trading that takes place within games – also making twinking FAR too easy given how cheap people sell overpowering items for. Secondly the game suffers from a lack of REAL innovation. This second one I will need to explain a bit, as it has to do with playing it safe on Blizzard’s part. This game feels more like Diablo 2.5 than Diablo 3. Diablo 2 was a huge innovation over Diablo, and went from a small town with a single randomized dungeon to a huge world spanning multiple acts and storylines. Diablo 3 feels very much like Diablo 2 in every way (other than the game technology, of course). Systems are much the same, gameplay is very similar, and all of this adds up to a very “safe” iteration, without anything new that makes the game pop in the way Diablo 2 did. This same mentality applies to Starcraft 2, and it feeling more like a Starcraft 1.5. I can’t say whether this shortcoming came along by accident or was very intentionally thought out to cater to the established market/brand.

Given all of the above, and my time with the game, Diablo III is a very worthy purchase for fans of this genre. You will get anywhere from 10 to 20 hours out of the initial play-through (depending on how much story you skip and how much optional exploration / farming you do). Beyond this, you will likely get many more hours out of nightmare and hell play-throughs (with or without buddies), and if you are still enjoying the game potentially endless farming out of Inferno. With the coming additions of PvP and likely more items over time, there should be more to do. I’m not sure if Blizzard’s more recent outings into Diablo and Starcraft will have the same lasting impact that the prior editions have (gigantic shoes to fill), but Diablo 3 is certainly a beautiful and enjoyable game that will be worth the price of admission for most people that pick it up.

Shoot Many Robots – Review (PC)

Demiurge and Ubisoft have put together a fun little package here, in the form of an inexpensive (10 bucks) steam download that is worth the price of admission. Fans of Metal Slug will enjoy this title, and fans of Borderlands will enjoy it even more, as it is really a blend of the two. This 1-4 player side-scrolling shooter has a very distinct look-and-feel nod from Borderlands, and the equipment and upgrades you get have hilarious themes and some really off the wall looks. Gameplay involves exactly what the title implies, and as you move from level to level through increasing difficulties (there are three in total), you are faced with larger and tougher waves of robots of various types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that you learn as you play. Most players will easily get their money’s worth here in just the normal playthrough (roughly 5-10 hours), and I found playing with a friend to be even more interesting, as we could vary our builds to synergize with each other. Builds for characters range from glass cannon builds with high maneuverability and insane ranged weapons and explosives, to slow plodding tanky builds with strong melee and shotgun/flamethrower type combinations. Even the melee builds are really interesting, and between a slide attack and a ground pound attack can be used to great effect in limited combination.

Graphically the game looks great, with eye catching animations and a really attractive art style (again looking extremely similar to Borderlands). Audio is also quite good, with solid weapon sounds and twangy music that combine well with the more comedic sounds added throughout, such as the familiar “crit” ding sound and the toilet flush when you finish using the bathroom in your RV (where you change weapon and gear loadouts between missions).

The only potential drawbacks to this title were that although there are a lot of missions, they tend to run through the same areas, which get tweaked somewhat in layout as you progress. This adds a bit of repetitiveness, especially as you get into the higher difficulty levels. Also, the action can make it a bit difficult to see your targeting reticle at times, and with some weapons more than others this can be a problem (the ones that require more pinpoint aiming instead of general direction explosives in particular).

All in all, for the price this game is well worth the buy. It is a quick steam download that will keep you thoroughly amused for at least 5-10 hours (perhaps more if you want to find and unlock all the gear and see the hardest difficulties). The shining moment for me was when I unlocked a helmet slot item to go along with my piercing sniper rifle (piercing does what you would expect here, makes the shot continue on and hit many targets in a line). The item added more damage and piercing to my attacks, and had a name I shouldn’t mention here, but you will know it when you see it, because a tiny robot will be humping your head from various angles once equipped (if you must know what I am talking about here, go snag the game!).

Path of Exile Preview (PC)

Let me just begin by emphasizing that I love how we are in a time and place with gaming where indie games can come out of seemingly nowhere, and completely surprise a gamer (both good and bad). More and more lately I feel this way, and games that do not have the big business marketing hype machines behind them can still have a big impact on us, particularly when they are a pleasant surprise (i.e. good).

With the build up towards Diablo III, and the hype surrounding the title, I did not see another game in the Action RPG genre coming along and diverting my gaze. It turns out I was in for a great surprise indeed.

So starting with the open play weekend, and continuing with closed beta now, I was introduced to Path of Exile (Developed by Grinding Gear Games, with a free to play micro transaction model). This game is very much the spiritual successor to games like Diablo 2 and Titan Quest, taking what was great about those games and building on them. It maintains a model where players move through various Acts (each with a town hub and quests), and hack, shoot, bash, blast, and maim everything in their path. The simple joy of this type of gameplay is captured extremely well, with a very slick and intuitive interface, great controls (with the exception of occasional pathing jank), randomized zone layouts, and exciting and varied loot drops.

The biggest place I think PoE makes its mark is with the level of character customization and building that can be achieved. Classes all are placed on the same skill grid (along the lines of Final Fantasy X), and the main difference between the classes is where on the grid they start (near more of the strength based skills, Int based skills, etc). The player is then free as they level up to go off in many diverging directions and is faced with an enormous level of choice in how they actually build and develop their character. This is probably the single coolest feature of PoE, and in my opinion is what could help it stand out as one of the next big games in the Action RPG genre. Beyond this, the skills a character actually uses are found as random drops (or rewarded via quests) and socketed into items. These skills will level with the player as they level as long as they are equipped, and makes for a deeper level of customization. Grinding Gear Games is truly embracing the concept of deep character customization that allows the player to craft exactly the type of character they want.

I believe that Grinding Gear Games is on to something big here, and the more I play the game, the more I recapture the feelings of joy I had playing Diablo 2 and Titan Quest. Currently they are in Closed beta, but the game will be going into an open beta phase later this year (TBA). They are offering a variety of packages that you can buy (that come with points to spend on micro transactions now and when the game officially launches) which will get you into the closed beta, that range from 10 dollars to 1000 dollars. I will stress that they seem very adamant about their micro transactions being cosmetic, and have expressed a very anti-pay to win mindset (very good to hear).

What it boils down to, is that this game (in my humble opinion) is going to be a huge sleeper hit that explodes via word of mouth, and winds up a huge critical success (perhaps in a similar way to League of Legends). If you have not heard about this title, which I would imagine is true for many gamers out there that generally only hear about the big name titles, then please go check it out at http://www.pathofexile.com and buy yourself a pass into beta. For 10 dollars you get into the beta and get some points to spend on stash tabs or character slots. This will be the best 10 dollars you have spent on a game this year (assuming you are a fan of Hack N Slash Action RPGs). If you love what Grinding Gear Games is doing here and want to support them further, by all means spend more.

Bottom line, this game is absolutely incredible, and it is clear it is being made by passionate gamers who are also fans of what they do. I for one cannot wait to see what they have in store for us as the game launches and beyond, and will be introducing the game to everyone I know that would enjoy games of this style.

Screenshots

Avernum: Escape From the Pit Review (PC)

I did not play the previous Avernum titles from developer Spiderweb Software, so I did not have a foundation of details about this game world going in to exploring it, but that did not seem to be required in order to understand the type of game I experienced here. I will start with the opinion that this game is probably not going to be for most younger generation (i.e. new) gamers, having not grown up with older RPG titles in the vein of Ultima or turn-based D&D titles. That being said, if you enjoy a more old-school approach to RPGs, one where meticulously plotting out each of your characters actions in a tactical, slow paced grid, then this might just be the indie game for you.

The game uses text boxes with some images to unfold the story of the land you play in, and these can be quite lengthy – so I hope you enjoy reading. You essentially begin by selecting a party of 4 from pre-made classes (or for advanced users you can build your own). You then begin play, having been cast into the depths of the underworld along with countless others that have spoken out against or defied “The Empire”. A vast underground network of caverns and NPC towns dot the landscape, and very early on the player is set free to explore the land in any direction or path they choose. Each of the various towns the player comes across will have content for the player to explore (in the form of quests and job boards). In standard RPG fashion, you level up the members of your party and select new bonuses and acquire better gear.

The user interface was actually quite good (and much better than I expected from an indie title). It was easy to navigate and figure out in less than 10 minutes, given some RPG experience, and seemed pretty flawless and defect-free. Statistics and selected Traits (improvements selected from a list) were easy to manage, as was a log for quests and the paper dolls for managing gear. Any objects on the ground can be easily reviewed and picked up by simply standing on the item and opening the paper doll (a box displaying items on the ground with drag-and-drop functionality allows easy access at this point). Look and feel of the UI, and graphics in general, reminded me a lot of 90s RPGs, and took me back to a different time.

The audio in the game is relatively simple, with basic music at times, and sound effects when traveling based on the zone (dripping water when wandering a cavern, or crowd noises when exploring a city, for example). Some of these sounds would repeat ad-nauseum, but going into combat made up for this for me, with good attack noises for spells and weapons. All in all don’t expect anything on par with a full mainstream production game, but for this title it worked, and again served to reinforce a different era in gaming for me.

I would recommend this title for anyone looking to revisit turn-based RPG gaming nostalgia from their youth, but it will require more patience than modern RPGs (no hand holding here). I was initially feeling like the 20 dollar price tag for this game might be a bit high – but after playing through a good portion of the game, I believe the 20 dollars is fair, and worth the cost of admission for avid RPG enthusiasts that grew up on MUDs, D&D titles, and Ultima games.

Asura’s Wrath Review (Xbox 360)

I will begin by stating up front that you will not typically find me watching or partaking in Anime as a genre. That being said, I approached this game-slash-episodic-story with an open mind, knowing that I generally enjoy Capcom titles (CyberConnect2 was the developer, of .hack and Naruto fame), and appreciating the art style (reminiscent of the recent Street Fighter remakes). I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised by this title, and although a relatively short experience (roughly 6-8 hours depending on actual fighting time), it was satisfying.

The game is set up as short 20-30 minute episodes, much like an anime show might be, and in between each episode the player can review some additional story details via concept art style slides with dialogue. Each episode contains a variety of gameplay bits, surrounded by the actual story for that episode. I say gameplay “bits” because the actual time spent controlling your character is minimal compared to the time spent watching the story unfold or flicking buttons in a variety of quicktime events (you are often asked to press random directions on the control sticks, or time button presses to attacks within the story sequences). While i will say the quicktime events were a bit overdone, the story itself was pretty entertaining, and each episodes conclusion left me wanting to play “just one more episode”.

Visually, the game looks great, and is one of the better looking games I have seen to date using the Unreal 3 engine. Gameplay and story look interchangeable, and you drift in and out of them seamlessly. The art style is eye catching, and the combat animations for the controllable sequences are slick and silky smooth. The sequences that you do get to control Asura are a mix of shooting, fighting (in the vein of God of War or Devil May Cry, but without the character development), and quicktime events. The base move set of Asura is fairly good, and given the lack of character development, it was still fun to combine his moves in elegant strings with little downtime between enemies. If Kratos is the “God of War”, then Asura could be considered the “God of Rage” – indeed, the purpose of each action sequence throughout the story is to fill a rage meter to cap without losing too much health. This rage meter can then be activated to finish the encounter in typically spectacular and over-the-top fashion, and move on to more story.

The story uses fairly standard themes of grand betrayal and amnesia/flashback sequences to draw the player in, with a strong revenge plot that reminded me of the Kill Bill movies in the way you are driven to seek out each of the god figures that wronged you and take them out. Some of the encounters with former betrayers play out in completely ridiculous fashion, and leave you exasperated and somewhat exhausted (I recall heading to bed right after one such encounter tired and satisfied – which I will not spoil but I will mention it involved a giant finger that had become molten from traveling through the planets atmosphere). I do not have much to comment on as far as the audio goes, since it felt fairly standard of today’s games and up-to-par, both in the music and sound effects used throughout the episodes, as well as the voiced dialogue from the various figures encountered.

Glaring issues with the game would really only be the length of the content provided, considering the full 60 dollar sticker price, and the fact that it is more of a story and less of a game play experience than the average game. I personally support developers trying new things with games, and this was certainly an unusual and different experience in that sense. I also think that if you take into account a second play through on hard (which I imagine would be quite challenging in some of the boss encounter sequences), as well as unlocking achievements and extras, that gameplay time could be extended. All in all, I enjoyed the experience and would recommend this purchase to fans of Anime that also enjoy action games in the vein of Devil May Cry / God of War. I don’t think you will be disappointed.