Tag - diablo

Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide Review (PC/Steam)

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Rats! I mean like a tide of vermin! It’s the end of the world… of Warhammer and there are a lot of rat bastards to deal with in these final days. So grab three friends, or bots if you don’t have any friends, and take to fighting the good fight one last time in Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide!

Features:

  • Cooperative Survival For up to 4 Players – Band together with your friends or die alone. Vermintide will continuously test the teamwork and skill of you and your friends. Drop-in, drop-out Multiplayer and the addition of A.I. bots ensures a full team at any time, regardless of available players.
  • Play as Five Unique Heroes – Five distinct characters to choose from, each with their own personality, agenda and story to tell. Learning what it means to work together is key to the group’s survival.
  • Huge Hero Arsenal – Each hero has its own unique weapons arsenal to draw from, allowing players to adjust their combat style to fit their gameplay preference. There are hundreds of different weapons, includíng swords, daggers, axes, hammers, bows, guns, magical staves & more
  • Embark on an Epic Quest – Boasting 13 diverse levels – on the ground, in buildings, on walls and underground – ranging from the immense Magnus Tower to the treacherous Under Empire, Vermintide will take you on a journey you’ll never forget.
  • Experience the Skaven Like Never Before – A rising tide of malicious and cunning rat-men await you, hacking, clawing and eviscerating all that stand in their way. Face vicious packs of clan-rats and deadly specialized elites.
  • Gather Mountains of Shiny Loot – Rewarding teamwork above all else, players are given loot dice at the end of a mission that will reward them with a weapon, a hat or a trinket. Completing side objectives means that better loot dice can be added to the roll.
  • Battle Unpredictable Enemies – Vermintide features a dynamic spawn system providing a constant set of new challenges lurking behind every corner.
  • Experience an Immersive Story – Games Workshop veterans have banded together to write a fantastic new addition to the Warhammer lore, offering a new perspective on the cataclysmic events of The End Times.
  • Find a Path to Safety – The Skaven boast incredible mobility, able to climb and leap fantastic distances to make life a living hell for the Heroes. No matter where you go, they will be there, ready to pounce.

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Hands On:
First off, all the features above that were listed on the Steam site were solidly in effect when I played. When it came to character building and armaments, there are tons of options and more arrive throughout play with teamwork being an integral role. If you don’t stick together and watch each others’ backs, then there is a good chance you can get dragged off like a raccoon by animal control – a loop around your neck while other rats take shots at you. At one point during an AI-partnered match I got ahead of my AI team and when they tried to catch up with me we wiped and it was mission over. It was all nicely accentuated by a “Defeated” screen to rub a little salt in our wounds. It wasn’t for a lacking in AI building either, the bots are solidly designed and, mostly, behave like real humans. The biggest weakness I saw in this was when to take healing potions. If a bot is at 60% health and comes across a healing flask they wouldn’t top off instead passing on healing and only using the flask at dire times. Though character AIs quip and fight differently they apparently all have a slight weakness when it comes to self preservation which is a weakness the group then suffers from. Part of this is because the behavior built into the enemy AIs is so well done. They run at you in packs but the stronger ones that benefit from distance will run off if it suits their purpose. Sometimes, the rats will stop attacking and retreat to gather forces. They then re-advance with strength in numbers. When you hear one of your team say “It’s a trap!” and you turn and see a flood or I guess you would say a tide of rat-men pouring over a wall at you, it can be a bit daunting.

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I have talked a lot about the AI of both the rat-men and the fellow teammates because I am one of the folks above who don’t have any friends playing the game. As a result I have dropped into hosted games or tried to host my own with some rather rough results. The game requires a team, whether that consists of real players, AI or both seems to depend a bit on luck and timing. The success of that group seems even more in the balance. For example I entered a game and had my graphics cranked so it looked beautiful but the player hosting the game kicked me, my guess was for a lag issue. I lowered the graphics settings and got in another game where the host was complaining about players running off ahead to getting the loot dice and leaving others behind and then quitting. I entered another game where there were two real players and two bots and, since no one else joined, the host cancelled the mission. I then went and started a game myself hosting in hope that, with a stable host, the game would be more successful. It was in a sense, no one else joined and using the bots I was pretty successful and a lot less stressed about the mission possibly ending or someone shooting off ahead for the loot dice. At that point though I realized I could just start a private game and no one else would be able to join and I could just run with the bots who wouldn’t bring personal player issues to the game. This also made me realize it might as well be offline play then since I was a solo party with bots.

I wish I could say I had one stellar mission with other players but I’m not sure I ever completed one. Maybe if it had dedicated servers that the games were being hosted on like in Diablo it would be a more stable online experience and less dependent on the numbers of players and dispositions of them. The game is solidly built with tons of great features that lead to detailed customization and lots of Warhammer lore, the only problem is a lack of player base and possibly it’s quality.

Last Tide:
Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide is a solidly built game with great features and excellent AI. It is a visually beautiful game that deserves an equally terrific player base. Not just deserves it though, requires it for the game to continue on its hairy rat legs.

[easyreview title=”Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”3″ ]

Secret Ponchos Early Access Preview (PC)

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I’ve been excited about the idea of Secret Ponchos since I first heard rumors about it. Top down Diablo style and PVP gameplay with spaghetti western theming and Gorillaz style animation? Sign me up, I’ll put “Clint Eastwood” on loop and load “The Man With No Name” trilogy up. It’s still in pretty early Alpha stage, so don’t go grabbing for your sombreros just yet, but if everything continues on this path you’ll be packing at high noon soon!

Features:
– Five character classes: The Killer, Kid Red, The Deserter, The Matador and Phantom Poncho with more to come.
– Rookie and Ranked modes
– 1vs1, 2vs2, 4vs4 and 8 player gameplay
– Domination, Deathmatch and Free-For-All
– Original western soundtrack

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Hands On:
The key to remember with a game like this is it is still “Early Access” which can be a deceiving statement but in this case translates to Alpha. Everything from the gameplay to the names of the characters can change between now and the time the game finally gets full release. Good examples would be that when it first seem to really start getting attention at PAX East 2013 one of the characters was named Gordo and manned a Gatling gun. Also, the platforms they were shooting for were the PS3 and XBox 360. Now, however, Gordo has gone to Boot Hill and they now have their sights on PS4 and Steam. These type of things happen as builds are adjusted and technology advances so just be prepared, what I talk about now may be a sight bit different from the final results.

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That being said, what is developing is a nice looking, fun playing shoot’em up. Each character comes with two weapons and in the future should have the options of different skins. The weapons are designed to be divided by usage, one for close-up and the other for distance kills. Each character has its own combos and strategies. Some seem fairly straight forward like Phantom Poncho’s whip which disarms the enemy so you can get in close with your shotgun. Others seem to involve more thought like Killer’s throwing knife and long barrel revolver. All involve practice to get the hang of which you can do on the single player practice range, then you can move up to “Rookie” class. After that, once you get a feel for your gear, the ranked games await. The more men you gun down the more bounties you collect, the more bounties you collect the higher the price on your own head goes. Along with reward ranking there is also titles starting at such names as “petty thief” and heading up to others like “dangerous thug.”

A lot of the fun of the game is in the Old West atmosphere created by the character design, the music and the animation that looks like it came out of a Gorillaz video or a graphic novel. It plays out beautifully as bullets fly, crates explode and characters dive into taverns for cover. They have their Boot Hill style cemetery, cleared streets and weed filled corrals waiting for a fight all while listening to a score that could have been straight out of a Sergio Leone film.

The game has controls for the keyboard but after quite a bit of painful play on it I realized it is truly suited towards a controller, so much so that it feels almost like a port (it was originally aiming for the PS3 and Xbox 360). Once I settled in behind a controller even my busted up excuse for a controller was better than the keyboard.

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This of course may change when it finally hits release version but if I were you I would make sure to have a controller in your holster. If you have the Steam early access version of Secret Ponchos, get your gun belt on and hit the streets as they need a bigger population for their testing and development.

First Shot:
I was a bit surprised that a game I had heard about so much so long ago was still at this point in production, I would have thought it would have been further along. It is still pretty buggy and the population of Lonetree sometimes feels like 1. That said, I really like where it is headed and if the final game is anything like the build I have been treated to it will be a treat indeed. I’ll be keeping this game in my sights looking forward to many showdowns ahead.

The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing II Preview (PC)

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I was a big fan of the first Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing. It had a Diablo feel to it but with enough of its own take on the random dungeon crawler to feel like a fresh play. There were a couple titles that came out around the same time but Van Helsing was definitely a standout with its fun interactions with Katarina, loads of Easter eggs and enough pop references to keep you smiling if not chuckling all through the game. It took gameplay serious but let the script be campy – which might not be for everyone but definitely hit home with me. So the question begs… does the second hold up to the standards set by the first?

Description:
Put on your wide-brimmed hat, grab your weapons and embark on an incredible adventure in the gothic-noir world of Borgovia, where mad science threatens the fragile peace between monster and mortal. Be Van Helsing, monster-hunter extraordinaire and save the day with your charming and beautiful companion, Lady Katarina (who happens to be a ghost, by the way). Explore the savage wilderness in the mountains and the soot-stained brick districts of a grim metropolis twisted by weird science, and don’t forget: you might never know who the real monsters are!

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Features:

  •  Enter a memorable gothic-noir universe filled with monsters, magic and weird science.
  •  Play through a refreshingly unique story, spiced up with wry humor and snappy dialogue.
  •  Fight fierce battles against supernatural foes with diverse skills and abilities.
  •  Use the special abilities and tailor the skills of your remarkable follower.
  •  Customize your character through a detailed level-up system where you decide which skills and abilities you’ll need for the hunt.
  •  Modify your skills on the spot with a unique power-up system.
  •  Learn the secrets of mystical alchemy and forge powerful items.
  •  Build and develop your hideout and place traps to defend it from waves of terrible monsters.
  •  Become the greatest monster slayer of all time while playing a cooperative multiplayer monster hunt up to four players.

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Hands On:
First off it is important to note this is a closed beta and a fairly early build at that. If you pre-order the game you get instant access to this beta but it is only about an hour long right now and most of the loot isn’t named yet. You will pick up an axe that has no image and is named “vh2axe” as a working title. There is a very good chance the stats on all the items will get completely reworked as well so don’t put so much stock in looting up, try to take in the experience.

At time of press, normal difficulty levels aren’t available (1-30) only veteran (31-60) but after character creation you will be geared up with a nice class appropriate set of rare gear that outshines most of what drops so you will be able to jump right into the ass kicking. There are six classes to start with with the ability to import a character from the first game (if you leveled it high enough and finished the game) but for the beta you are probably better off just going with a new character since it will be finely geared. There will also be a chance to create a custom class somewhere down the road. Currently the classes are Blade (primarily melee and recommended for newcomers), gunslinger (ranged combat with sniping), spellkeeper (elemental caster), adeptus (power caster and crowd control), bombardier (steampunk AoE damage), and contraptionist (steampunk necromancer). The classes and their armor really reinforce the gothic steampunk feel of the game, particularly the contraptionist who makes mechanized spiders (not skinned yet) and turrets.

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Just like in the first game Katatrina can be set and armored up to compliment your class so make sure if you are range dependent you set her to melee or visa-versa. Like amazons in Diablo she has many but not all gear slots so think of her needs as well as your own when gearing and make sure she has plenty of potions. Particularly nice things about Katarina are you won’t be trading her in and if you decide you need her to perform a different role whether it be melee/range or defensive, assist, etc in battle you can set all that at any time. She even has her own inventory and you can order what she picks up off the field such as gold, commons, or magoc items and when her inventory is full or you need money you can send her shopkeeping and she will go sell it all to the vendor. It takes the tedium of running back to the shopkeeper in the middle of a dungeon simply because your bags filled up. You can even expect a playfully, snarky comment as she does it.

The beasties are brand new even in the closed beta, where you get to see magical monsters fighting side by side with steampunk nightmares. There is a pretty wide variety though sometimes it is hard to tell during the beta because you will have massive hordes of them all piled on top of each other trying to get at you. in those cases you do whatever aoe and crowd control your class allows for and just watch for critical hits to thin the herd so you can get a better look at them. In a beta, especially one with press and pre-order invites, it is usually more about showing off mechanics and variety so if you find yourself in the beta and not sure if you like the massive hordes or level builds don’t give up on it, they are simply trying to showcase elements of the game.

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Characters are highly customizable through skill trees as well using points earned leveling. The category sheets are are basically melee, ranged, tricks and auras and each one has an unlockable general trait with upgrades and refinements available. So for example your gunslinger might have explosive shot which can be leveled to 10 but it also has refinement bubbles around it such as hex round or shrapnel that you can put a point into to add that damage to your explosive shot when you use it. Auras are passive effects that can be activated so that using mana might give you health or increased range and damage. WoW players who have rolled hunters have a pretty good idea about what this is like. In these ways when combined with random equipment drops it is very easy to have two characters of the same class with completely different builds and play styles.

When it comes to single player play there is storyline and scenario, scenario is specialized maps with harder enemies and higher loot drops. There are level requirements but it is a great way to gear up. There will be multiplayer modes that include games you can start or join but those aren’t currently available in closed beta. Hopefully this will be set up very similar to Diablo.

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First Round:
I played the closed beta a few times to get a feel for the game and so far I like what they are showing us even if it is less than an hour of play. The classes look nice, the graphics look great and the play is great with funny touches added to the quests. The Incredible Adventures Of Van Helsing 2 is a game to watch for to get a Diablo style dungeon crawler with it’s own feel and it’s own $14.99 price tag.
(note: the graphic below is a nice comparison but is somewhat dated with six character classes available in the new Van Helsing title)

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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 Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing (PC)

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Fans of Stoker’s “Dracula” novel and Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” film are probably familiar with Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing is the mysterious occult expert who helps stop the blood thirsty and somewhat tragic main character of the story, Dracula.  Those who are fans of campy movies may know Van Helsing more as the title of a Victorian/steam-punk supernatural tale of a vampire hunter with a fully auto crossbow who can jump carriages over ravines like nobody alive (who looks a lot like Wolverine).  Those who love parody movies would know the name… Nevermind – even by parody movie standards, “Stan Helsing” sucked and doesn’t deserve our time except to say how terrible it was.  Fans of dungeon crawlers who were maybe a bit disappointed by the last Diablo outing but who loved the little indie title Krater have a new reason to know and possibly love the name with The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing.

Official Description:

Put on your wide-brimmed hat, grab your weapons and embark on an incredible adventure in the gothic-noir world of Borgovia, where mad science threatens the fragile peace between monster and mortal.  Be Van Helsing, monster-hunter extraordinaire and save the day with your charming and beautiful companion, Lady Katarina (who happens to be a ghost, by the way).  Explore the savage wilderness in the mountains and the soot-stained brick districts of a grim metropolis twisted by weird science, and don’t forget: you might never know who the real monsters are!

Features:

  • Enter a memorable gothic-noir universe filled with monsters, magic and weird science.
  • Play through a refreshingly unique story, spiced up with wry humor and snappy dialogue.
  • Fight fierce battles against supernatural foes with diverse skills and abilities.
  • Use the special abilities and tailor the skills of your remarkable follower.
  • Customize your character through a detailed level-up system where you decide which skills and abilities you’ll need for the hunt.
  • Modify your skills on the spot with a unique power-up system.
  • Learn the secrets of mystical alchemy and forge powerful items.
  • Build and develop your hideout and place traps to defend it from waves of terrible monsters.
  • Become the greatest monster slayer of all time while playing a cooperative multiplayer monster hunt up to four players.

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Hands On:

So this information would kind of lead you to believe you are THE Van Helsing of Dracula lore. Actually, you take on the role of Abraham Van Helsing jr. That is the default name, of course, you can alter it. My character became “Ripper” Van Helsing very quickly! Also, the character bears a striking resemblance in weaponry, dress, and fighting style to the 2004 movie version staring Hugh Jackman.  By the opening narrative you find that you have had a long and interesting travel around the world to get to the land of Borgova where they are having problems with werewolves, bandits, mechanical men, and other creatures. Most these monsters don’t play nice but some of whom, you discover, should not be judged by looks alone.  Dungeon crawlers and hack and slash titles don’t necessarily need a strong story or even a back story, but the game’s developer, Neocoregames, seemed to understand that if you use an iconic name it should. Thankfully, they have weaved a memorable story into the game and have done a decent job throughout.  The dialogue is humorous and playful between Abraham (Ripper) and his ghost/poltergeist Katrina and, at tines, the game even pokes fun at other titles in the genre.

As I often say, even the best story won’t get the chance to unfold for a player if the gameplay is boring or aggravating. That was actually lot of the complaints about the last Diablo outing…  Luckily, the developers looked at what has worked in successful dungeon crawlers and, instead of reinventing the wheel, took the good parts to create a solid combination.  There are skill trees, diverse enough to fit most play styles while also not getting overly-complicated or diluted.  Your character has both a ranged and melee build which can be changed on-the-fly by simply hitting the R key.  Your companion has a small skill tree to work with and levels up with you. This allows you to set skill points as well as choose who and how she attacks: Ranged first, melee first, weakest opponent, etc.  You can even set her to pick up items such as gold and common to epic loot so that you don’t have to! When her inventory fills up, you can tell her to “go shopping”. This makes her teleport to town, sell everything in her inventory, and return with gold and any health or mana potions you commanded her to buy.  She is such a handy NPC to have at your side, especially when you find yourself out in the middle of nowhere and out of potions.

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Creature battle is fairly standard with melee mobbing. You tend to get lost in a giant wave of enemy bodies and a lot of ranged-attach creatures tend to maintain their range if possible, leading you to chase them down.  This makes the option to switch back and forth between melee and range with a single button very handy, as you can take some initial shots at a distance then start melee with the ones that charge you. After, you can finish off the rest by switching back to range for those spell casters and riflemen.  Monster AI is well done for the most part, with a big, shining example being the “mechanical men” who are dressed like Her Majesty’s troops and actually go into a firing formation to attack – which proves to be both daunting and challenging!  When you and your companion see them line up like Revolutionary War re-enactors, take aim, and fire for the first time – you will probably take more than a few hits before you figure out how to react to their tactics (run and regroup).

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing uses a combination of rage, mana, and health to get through the game.  Rage is gotten through fighting and is used for things like “explosive round” in your gun. More traditionally, mana is used for mystical abilities like lightning strikes or healing your party.  Mana and health can be gained through potions, spells, and gear just like most dungeon crawlers.

One of the things that stands out as being very enjoyable is the game’s environments. They have a very old world feel to them – the buildings, the marshes, the forests, all have that Transylvania-n vibe.  It is much like the way Krater stood apart with its Borderlands-style graphics and feel. This game is definitely a hack and slash dungeon crawler, but shows that all dungeon crawlers do not need to be alike!

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Last Round:

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is, in many ways, a standard dungeon crawler. However, this is a “standard dungeon crawler” done smartly!  It takes the best aspects of the genre and combines them into a solid and enjoyable game that becomes a standout title.  Right now, it is on sale for 10% off on Steam, though at a $14.99 price tag it is a deal even at full price!

[easyreview title=”The Adventures Of Van Helsing Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”4″ ]

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Evoland Review (PC)

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The role playing game has had a long and storied history in the world of video games.  Games like Ultima, Hydlide, and Final Fantasy has paved the way for today’s games, such as Mass Effect and Skyrim.  The role playing game has gone through a massive evolution from the earlier days, in both game play and in technical aspects, such as graphics and sound.  With Evoland, Shiro Games hopes to bring this evolution of the rpg to life with their own story.  The concept of Evoland is very simple, you set out to save the world while finding upgrades to the game itself.  As you play Evoland, you will find items such as 3D backgrounds, or random encounters, or even sound that will evolve your experience with the game.  Evoland parodies many of the classic rpgs, such as the aforementioned Final Fantasy and the Legend of Zelda, but struggles to find an identity all it’s own.

Story:

You begin the game playing as Clink, a young boy who sets out into the world in search of adventure.  As you progress through the beginning of the game, you will eventually run into a young girl named Kaeris, who is setting out to find the two halves of an amulet that she needs to save her town from destruction.  Joining forces with Kaeris, you hunt down the two halves of the amulet in order to gain entrance into the Black Citadel to face the ultimate evil that threatens to destroy the world.   Evoland is fairly short, clocking in at around three hours of gameplay, but that is plenty of time to tell this generic story.

From the beginning, Evoland sets out to parody the great games of old, even by mimicking the names of Link and Aeris from Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy VII respectively.  Even the story is a generic retread of many of the old rp games from yesteryear, without really having a soul of it’s own.  This isn’t a huge negative for me, because I feel for this game it actually worked to serve its purpose, but it does so without being stellar or memorable.  In fact, what the story of Evoland really does is remind me of the better games that Evoland parodies from my youth.

Gameplay:

Evoland’s gameplay is what saves the overall experience.  You begin your adventure in a soundless, colorless, 2D world where you can only go right.  Going right leads you to a chest, in which you find the left button.  Finding this button then opens up more of the game play by allowing you now to go left to collect another upgrade, which opens up the rest of the world.  As you play through Evoland, the game play will evolve, hence the name.  You will encounter upgrades such as color, 16-bit graphics, sound, random encounters, and changes to your heads up display.  I found this gameplay mechanic to be very entertaining and it is the main draw to Evoland.

Evoland will but a ton of random fights in your way, just like the older versions of Final Fantasy.  Sometimes, it will feel like you can’t go three feet without having to battle a random creature and you move through the overland map.  At first, I was enjoying this feature because of how much it reminded me of the older rpgs I played, but soon grew to hate it and realized why developers moved away from this game play mechanic.  Not everything that occurred in old, classic role playing games where fantastic nor do they hold up well to today’s standards.  Fights are extremely straightforward in most combat situations.  When you are fighting in the overland, the combat system becomes turn-based, a la Final Fantasy, with almost no challenge whatsoever   You just select attack until all your enemies are dead, while you have Aeris, I mean Kaeris, just spam heals without fear of running out of mana.

The-death-of-Kaeris

When Clink enters into a dungeon, the game play changes yet again to a more The Legend of Zelda style, with one exception which mimics the Diablo series of combat.  Puzzles in these dungeons are simple to solve, requiring very little thought.  Combat takes a much more action rpg style, where you must swing your sword to defeat enemies and pick up gold and health along the way.  Death is a little more certain in these dungeons, but mostly due to instant death traps, like falling into lava pits.  The boss fights in these dungeons, again, adds a little more depth and challenge, but once you discover the pattern to the boss the fight is over.

Leveling up will only increase one of your stats per level in Evoland, and you do not have a choice in which one is picked.  Equipment is forced upon you, and you have a very rudimentary inventory screen.  During the Diablo dungeon, you do pick up much more equipment and a more robust inventory screen, but this is used only to give you the feeling of playing a Diablo game, and not to actually give you any type of bonuses.  The items are predetermined and do not give you the bonuses they say they do.  While reading the item descriptions will give you a good chuckle, it doesn’t really add anything to the game play of Evoland, except to remind you how awesome a game Diablo really was.

Aesthetics:

The sole purpose of the aesthetics of Evoland is to remind you of games gone by.  The game is modeled after the graphics and looks of such games like the Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy VII, that you will feel like you are playing those games, almost.  There is always something just a little off about Evoland, like looking into a parallel universe where you recognize many things but they just aren’t as good as you remember.  The graphics of Evoland starts off as a copy of the 8-bit generation and will continue to evolve through the game until you reach high definition textures with ambient lighting.  Even at it’s most evolved, Evoland won’t win any awards for looking pretty, but the graphics here are designed to fit the overall idea of Evoland, and works quite well.

The sound works in exactly the same way as the graphics.  You begin the game with, literally, no sound at all.  Then as you move through the game, you will discover sound and music that will evolve in quality, but never any voice acting.  So I guess evolution does have a limit for the developers over at Shiro Games.

Final Thoughts:

When I read back through this review, I realize that it sounds much harsher than I think I intended it to be.  Evoland is a parody of older, better games but it is enjoyable for what it does give us – the evolution of RPG gaming from beginning to end.  Throughout the game, I was reminded of the “good old days” of playing the The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy VII and the first Diablo games, and this made Evoland’s faults stand out that much more.  Parody is a tough gig – you have to make the connections to the story you are parodying while maintaining your own soul and identity.  That is why Mel Brooks’ old movies are the best example of the concept. Brooks was the master of making these connections but also in creating his own original ideas and jokes to make his movies into classics.  Evoland is a good attempt, but ultimately ends up being mediocre because of the lack of its own soul that Shiro Games just could not pull off through their parodying the greats of the RPG genre.  Still, for $9.99 on Steam, it is a good look for anyone that is fond of the old days of gaming.

[easyreview title=”Evoland Review Score” cat1title=”Overall Score (out of 5)” cat1detail=”” cat1rating=”3″ ] Our Rating Scores Explained

Path of Exile Launches Open Beta on January 23

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Auckland, New Zealand–January 10, 2013–Grinding Gear Games announced today that the highly anticipated action role-playing game (RPG) Path of Exile (ed. note: Check out our PREVIEW article of the game) will enter Open Beta on January 23. The game is currently in Closed Beta but has already raised over USD$1.8 million in crowd-funded support, with those supporters gaining early access to the beta. Act 3 of the Path of Exile story will also be unveiled, in which players will explore abandoned docks, markets, temples and sewers in the ruined city of Sarn to further uncover the dark truth of their exile.

“We’re excited to have reached the point where we can finally throw open the doors and invite everyone in,” said Chris Wilson, producer for Grinding Gear Games. “We have one of the best and most supportive communities on the Internet, and their input has been invaluable in making Path of Exile what it is. We hope they’ll be delighted with all the new content.”

Current players have until the Open Beta to purchase the special in-game kiwi bird pet. The permanent pet is the national symbol of New Zealand and is exclusively available to Closed Beta players. Additionally, there will be no further character wipes once Open Beta launches.

Path of Exile was recently named “Players’ Choice Best Upcoming Game” by Indie DB. Over 78,000 readers voted in the awards.

Path of Exile is a PC online action role-playing game set in a dark fantasy world. Featuring ethical microtransactions, the game is free-to-play, but not pay-to-win. Playing as one of six character classes, players find themselves banished for their past misdeeds to the dark fantasy world of Wraeclast. There, they will encounter hundreds of species of opponents laden with loot and mysterious artifacts as they explore the abandoned continent.

Key features of Path of Exile:

  • A dark and deep action RPG
  • Build unlimited unique characters on a gigantic skill tree
  • Combine over 110 skill gems to create unique combat strategies
  • Explore a dark and gritty world rendered from a fixed 3D perspective
  • Download and play for free, but never ‘pay-to-win’
  • Explore randomly generated levels for extreme replayability
  • Craft weapons, magic items and even end-game maps to become more powerful
  • Cooperate or compete with thousands of other exiles in a persistent online world
  • Ascend online ladders in every game mode
  • Battle in PVP tournaments for worldwide recognition

View gameplay footage at  www.youtube.com/grindinggear, or HD trailers are available fromwww.pathofexile.com/video

Torchlight 2 – A Review (PC)

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Three years ago, Runic Games released an action role playing game that felt like the spiritual successor to Diablo 2, with Torchlight.  Torchlight had many gamers and critics clamoring on about how Torchlight made them remember the countless hours that they spent on gear runs in Diablo 2, and seeing how Runic Games rose from the ashes of Blizzard North, these comparisons make perfect sense.  Last September, in the wake of the disappointment that many felt in the release of Diablo 3, Runic Games released their sequel, Torchlight 2.  While not perfect, Torchlight 2 feels right in so many ways and easily gives Diablo 3 cause for concern.

Story:

Torchlight was extremely light on story, and Torchlight 2 is only slightly better in this department.  The story of Torchlight 2 begins with the corruption of The Alchemist, a playable character in the original Torchlight, and the destruction of the game’s namesake town.  The Alchemist has been corrupted by the Heart of Ordrak, the original villain from the first game, and has now set upon a path to destroy the balance between the six elements.  As the hero, you are setting out on a quest to prevent The Alchemist from realizing his plans and to uphold the balance.

The story of Torchlight 2 is presented to the player as it was in Diablo 2, through cut scenes and in game quest dialogue.  While not as fully rendered or as technically impressive as the cut scenes from Diablo 3, I found that the art used to portray these story arcs fit well with the overall aesthetic of the game and gives Torchlight 2 it’s own presence.  All dialogue boxes are fully voiced by actors and helps the player to feel like the story is progressing, but each dialogue box is at most a paragraph and it’s hard to balance deep story telling by using this method, with just flat out boring the players.  All dialogue boxes can be skipped, so if you are only in it for the loot, just bypass the story.

Gameplay:

Torchlight 2’s game play is entirely reminiscent of Diablo 2, and that is not a coincidence.  You begin the game by selecting one of four character classes; The Outlander, The Engineer, The Embermage or The Berserker.  You then set out into the world to stop The Alchemist, along the way collecting items from fallen enemies.  It is these items that fuels the addiction of Torchlight 2.  Items are set up just like they were in the original game, with varying statistics and qualities.  Items can be unique, or a part of a larger set, or just fit to be sold at the vendor.  Items are randomly created in Torchlight 2, so you can see different items through different play throughs.  Torchlight 2 does make it easy to send items to other characters by giving the player both a shared storage box and a unique storage box for each game.

Character progression in Torchlight 2 is done in a similar vein as it was in Diablo 2.  As you level up, you earn skill and ability points that you can allocate to whatever stat or ability you desire in your progression tree.  The stats are exactly as they were in Diablo 2, strength, dexterity, magic and vitality.  Each class has different sets of abilities that they can invest in, with three different trees to select from.  These abilities fall into two categories, active and passive.  At any time in game, a character can only have two active abilities to choose from, and you must switch between these two.  For me, this was both a breath of fresh air, and extremely binding at the same time.  I love the simplified game play of having only to choose between two abilities, but this does hamper your ability to adapt to any circumstance in game.  Deciding what two abilities to keep active during a fight becomes very important to  your life and limb.

Torchlight 2 comes from the old school video game mindset, meaning that any decision you make to your character will be permanent.  There are no respecializations in Torchlight 2, so plan accordingly.  Torchlight 2 adds different ways to play through the game, you can play offline, online, or through a LAN.  Yes, you can play Torchlight 2 offline, with no internet connection at all.  Those of you out there that were mad as hell about Diablo 3’s requiring an internet connection, I hereby give you an alternative with Torchlight 2.  You can also continue to play the game after the main story is finished with a game plus, or choose to retire your character all together.  Torchlight 2 has an option for everyone and easily will give you thirty hours of game play in your first game.

Aesthetics:

Ok, I am a sucker for slick art design and different looking games.  I still hold Team Fortress 2 as the greatest example of what good art design and aesthetics can do for a video game, and should take precedence over technical specifications any day of the week.  Torchlight 2 delivers an aesthetic that I love due to its simple nature and unique looks.  The overall feel of Torchlight 2 tends to be on the side of cartoonish rather then realism, which is ironic given the darker nature of the game’s story line.  The design of the game, the characters, the world and the cut scenes all fit well together and makes Torchlight 2 feel unique.  The characters themselves, which have almost no personality through dialogue or voice acting, must be given this personality through the design of the art.  Unfortunately, after hours of game play, your character will be covered in enough gear that any type of personality that was showing through the art direction will now be hidden underneath armor.

The music and sound of Torchlight 2 gives the game that much more of a feel that is akin to Diablo 2.  Each non player character is fully voiced for the dialogue, with accents that sound real and well placed.  The sound effects from the abilities make using those abilities that much more satisfying.  Hitting the ground with my hammer and hearing the fire erupt and huge waves of earth move outwards from my character, made the game that much more fun to play.  The music of Torchlight 2 is dead on and adds much more to the story then any character dialogue in the game.  The music fits with the theme of Torchlight 2 and also changes with the environment as you explore the world.

Final Thoughts:

I played countless hours of Diablo 2 when it was released, and for many years afterwards.  Diablo 2 had something special to it, that made players not want to stop playing.  The entire gaming community was ready for the same feeling when Diablo 3 was announced, but the release was far, far below expectations.  With complaints such as the itemization, the requirement to be online at all times, and just how much different it felt versus Diablo2, Diablo 3 did not garner as much love as it should have.  While Torchlight 2 does not try to innovate the genre, and is technically less impressive then Diablo 3, Torchlight 2 is so much closer of a spiritual successor to the legacy that is Diablo 2.  The game play feels exactly like it did in Diablo 2, the items feel right and you can play Torchlight 2 without an internet connection if you so choose.  While I will not go as far as saying Torchlight 2 is better then Diablo 3, I will say that I had more fun with Torchlight 2, and if you miss the days of Diablo 2, so will you.  Torchlight 2 is available now through Steam for $19.99.

R.A.W.-Realms Of Ancient War Review (PC)

They go by a few different names, dungeon crawlers, hack and slash adventures and RPG action to name some but if you have ever seen Diablo you know what a prime example of the genre is.  By far the most successful of the dungeon crawlers, Diablo is what all other games of the type wish to be: great play with a dedicated fan base.  That second aspect is really hard to earn and many very good games have given us the great play and gone by practically unnoticed.  One of the ones that has been lucky enough to grab attention is Realms Of Ancient War, the only question is does it have the gameplay to keep eyes and hands on it?

Storyline:

Long ago, the four kingdoms of men, dwarves and elves were torn apart in a violent war.  A brittle peace has been established 10 years ago during the mysterious “Summoning of the Kings”.  But today, the world is on the verge of entering war again, as hordes of Nothingness are pouring through portals across all four Kingdoms. The Kings have sent detachments of soldiers to investigate the origin of this new threat… none ever returned.  This all seemed so far away from you. But it is you that the King of the North has chosen, to open the four Portals and put an end to the evil forces, once and for all!

This seems like a pretty interesting plot and driving force for a game and reveals itself more deeply as the game progresses, fleshing out a pretty detailed story and villain.  You really don’t need a good story necessarily for a hack n’ slash adventure but it can be the defining edge that turns a single game into a series with fans crying out for more.

Graphics:

The graphics are really, really nice.  There is great detail all through the game and varying environments so that you don’t get tired of looking at the same graphics over and over, one dungeon blending into the next.  A lot of attention was paid to the graphics, from crumbling walls to growing blood puddles and it really shows.  Also a very nice touch is the corpses remaining on the ground instead of disappearing as soon as you leave the screen or right before your eyes.  This takes a bit more memory and detail to programming but is worth it when you are running around, can’t remember if you covered an area properly and you see a nice pile of carnage you have left behind.  It can be so cool seeing your areas of destruction that sometimes you just want to call somebody over to show them all the damage you have done.  The death throes of the beasties and their positions or in some cases lack of position make for very cool moments.  The only graphic question I have offhand is whether the developers intentionally made it so that the wizard’s green gas cloud looked like he ate too many chimichangas, if so I can relate to the wizard even more.

Gameplay:

This is really the “meat and potatoes” of the game over which most things will be forgiven.  If the plot is a bit weak and the graphics suck good gameplay can at least get the game played and develop a fanbase.  As true to most hack n’ slash games you aren’t generally concerned with one of two enemies but hordes and hordes that pile up and collect around you.  These can make for the above mentioned corpse retention particularly satisfying as you watch them stack like wood, well bloody, death rattling wood.

There are three classes to choose from, a range strong Wizard, a melee strong Warrior or a mix bag Rogue.  These are pretty standard fair for this type of game, though the classes seem a little more reliant on their specialty than usual.  The game is designed to be single player or co-op and I think it comes through in the character developments with the Rogue being the solo player’s class of choice and the other two being the co-op.  Each class is completely playable on it’s own but even the specialty of the Rogue to turn invisible to enemies to regenerate strikes me as something that would be more like done single player.  That said each class has a nice group of talents to choose from with plenty of choices available from the beginning and skill build up in each of the talents.  If you are worried about enemies getting too close as a wizard you can put points into a knock back maneuver and bind that to your mouse keys or number keys, which are completely assignable by the player.  As you get higher levels the differences talent and skill wise will diminish between characters of the same class but individual items which can be different colors will still make them standout.  The system has a built-in comparison system too, letting you know when stats are better or worse between what you are wearing and what is selected in your inventory.

The death system favors co-op as with soulstones being needed to resurrect at soulstone checkpoints for solo players and resurrection if your partner lasts a certain amount of time after your death in co-op only using a soulstone if you both die.  This keeps you cheering your buddy along after you fall and is encouragement for the “doesn’t play well with others” co-op players to watch their teammate’s back.  These games are traditionally designed to be played multiplayer anyways so it is nice to see incentive to do so.

One thing to kind of get used to with this game if you play dungeon crawlers regularly is line of sight does not mean line on target.  When fighting enemies running around a corner to clear line of sight and picking off enemies is still a very important aspect but some environments such as coffins block like buildings instead of being able to be shot over.  This actually can add quite a bit to strategy once you get used to it.  The other thing is weapon damage is limited to distance not room size so if you are using a range attack it could end short of an enemy in your line of sight if you are still too far away from it.  This also can play into some good strategy during battle if you think things through and figure out the enemy’s range of attack.

Last Call:

These games will always be compared to Diablo, they will never get out of it’s monolithic shadow, but that doesn’t mean a game that plays differently or the same as Diablo is a bad thing.  Realms Of Ancient War has developed it’s own style in a lot of key ways and is graphically beautiful to look at.  It plays a lot like a standard dungeon crawler which means it is easy for people who like them to jump into it but it has it’s own unique storyline to take players through a different tale.  I recommend it to other hack n’ slash, dungeon crawling, RPG action gamers like me. Time will fly as you’re killing evil.

Trailer: