Author - Judgeman

Curse of the Dead Gods – A Review (Xbox One)

Curse of the Dead Gods is the newest entry into the roguelike game genre from Passtech games and Focus Interactive.  Prior to playing Curse of the Dead Gods, I was honestly not aware of the genre or these types of games being called roguelike.  I had been watching others playing Hades on Twitch, and made the immediate comparisons even before loading up Curse of the Dead Gods.  However, Curse of the Dead Gods proved to be a deeper and more richer experiences then I was prepared for.  What initially looked like a Hades clone, ended up being its own amazing experience.

Story

Unlike HadesCurse of the Dead Gods does not have much of a story or any type of character progression arc.  You are tossed into a cursed dungeon and must rely on journal entries to find out more about the enemies that inhabit each dungeon you explore.  The game begins by showing the main character lighting a torch and walking into a cave entrance.  You are playing as Caradog McCallister, an English explorer armed with a machete and a Webley pistol, exploring lost and ancient ruins in the 19th century.  Just for clarification, this information isn’t given to you in the cut scene, but from journal entries and Passtech’s website.  From there, you start your first run through the Jaguar Temple, one of 3 different types of dungeons.

The entirety of Curse of the Dead Gods must rely on its game play and aesthetics to really  hold the interest of the player, and it does this successfully.  If you want to find out more about the enemies you face that are protecting these temples, then really the only thing you get is the journal entries which are filled out as you kill more of certain types of enemies.  Other then that, don’t worry too much about the why behind the game and just enjoy the ride.

Game Play

Curse of the Dead Gods has all the familiar parts of a roguelike game at first.  You work your way through procedurally generated dungeons, collecting gold, weapons, and upgrades that make you stronger with each run.  You can use crystal skulls and jade armbands that you find in your run to purchase permanent upgrades to your arsenal and character, but weapons you find during your runs will disappear once you die.

There is a lot more here, however, then that.  There is an actual curse that you have to worry about during your run. It isn’t called Curse of the Dead Gods for nothing.  As you progress through the temple, you will need to make decisions that will increase your curse level.  Opening doors, using blood as an offering, healing at certain fountains, fighting in the dark, all of these could increase your curse level.  Once your curse level reaches 100, you gain a random curse that will affect your ability to run through the dungeon.  These increase in severity with the more curses you gain, finally with a real nasty one at curse level 5.  The last level 5 curse I had received was particularly nasty, especially just before I reached the boss fight.  It had my health levels constantly draining until I reached 1 hp.  You can remove curse levels by killing bosses, so it becomes a battle to manage your curse level with your progression through the temple.

Another major difference that Curse of the Dead Gods has over other games, is the progression of difficulty with the temples.  When you first start the game, you are only given the first nine levels of the Jaguar Temple.  These nine levels represent the first floor.  Once you beat that floor, then you unlock the second floor, and finally the third floor before you unlock the temple in its entirety.  As I said earlier, you also have 3 different temples to work through.  These are Jaguar, Eagle and Snake.  Each temple not only has different aesthetics, but enemies as well that really will change how you play the game.  Snake, for instance, really goes all in with poisonous enemies.

Combat, in Curse of the Dead Gods, is the epitome of “simple to learn, hard to master”.  You begin with 3 items, a torch to light your way, a melee weapon, and a range weapon.  As you work through the temple, you may find a heavy weapon as well.  You also have 5 diamonds under your character, which represents your stamina.  You attack your foes with various combinations of melee, range, and heavy attacks with each of these attacks having the option to be charged up.  You also have the ability to dodge and block incoming attacks, with perfect blocks and dodges refilling your stamina meter.  Managing all of these attacks becomes crucial in trying to save your health bar from dipping to low before you reach the boss.  The more health you lose in a run, means the more you need to increase your curse level to heal, which could mean more negative aspects that will affect your health, and so on and so on.  You can also lock onto enemies by clicking in the right stick, which helps in some of the more chaotic fights.

The final thing I want to mention is the temple itself, it is loaded with traps and other dangerous environment features that will really throw you for a loop if you are not careful.  Spike traps on the floor, statues that will take a swing at you as you pass by, and heads that will spit out flame will all cause you to have a bad time.  However, these traps can also hit your enemies too.  You will need to learn how to dance around these traps, and lure your enemies into them if you are going to preserve your health and reach the boss.

Aesthetics

I personally love the aesthetics of Curse of the Dead Gods.  The visuals of the game really remind me of another of my favorite games, Darkest Dungeon.  In fact, at times I kept waiting for the voice of the narrator to come in and describe my new curse to me as I was playing.  Curse of the Dead Gods gives me old Diablo vibes at times as well, which is never a negative.  The look of each temple is based on Mayan culture, but given a darker fantasy spin on it.  However, you can definitely see where the influence here is coming from.  The name of the bosses, the style of each temple, even the animals that the temples represent, all stem from MesoAmerican culture and belief.  While I do not want to get into the deeper conversation of colonialism and the robbing of ancient native temples by Europeans, just be aware that this is present in Curse of the Dead Gods and you should decide if that makes you uncomfortable or not.

Final Thoughts

This game is good!  Really good!  Curse of the Dead Gods will scratch that itch for a roguelike game if you haven’t found one you truly like yet.  From the dark, MesoAmerican art style, to the inclusion of the curse system, Curse of the Dead Gods has everything I never knew I wanted out of a roguelike game.  Of course, it helps that it also makes me feel like I’m playing a game sent in the Darkest Dungeon universe.  Curse of the Dead Gods will give you a proper challenge, deep gameplay, but never feel like it’s too overwhelming at all.  You are supposed to be weak for your first few runs at the first boss, but keep trying and you will build up enough resources to by some nice upgrades.  At first, managing my curse level was difficult, but you have to get better at combat, so you don’t have to take too many curses during your playthrough.  Curse of the Dead Gods is available now for $19.99.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate – A Review (Xbox One)

In similar NetherRealm Studios fashion, Mortal Kombat 11 is being wrapped up with an Ultimate edition.  This Ultimate edition takes all four major releases and puts it all into one game, for those of you that have been waiting to pick this game up.   Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate contains the base game, both Kombat Packs, and Aftermath, all contained in one green Xbox game case.  Let’s take a closer look at what all comes in this newest edition of Mortal Kombat 11.

Story

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate tells the full story of what happens in Mortal Kombat 11 with the included expansion Aftermath.  Raiden begins the story by decapitating Shinnok, and then setting out to destroy all of his enemies.  The decapitation of Shinnok inspires Kronika, Shinnok’s mother, to rewrite history in order to protect her son and to erase Raiden’s interference.  This sets into motion the formation of a series of alliances, Raiden with Earthrealm and Kronika with Netherrealm, for each side to gain strength in the upcoming struggle.  The first part of the story ends with the final battle between Liu Kang and Kronika for the fate of time and the universe.

Aftermath picks right up where the base game leaves off, with the defeat of Kronika at the hands of Liu Kang.  Liu Kang and Raiden are interrupted in their attempts to balance history by Shang Tsung, Nightwolf, and Fujin.  Shang Tsung tells Liu Kang that Liu Kang cannot control Kronika’s hourglass without the Crown of Souls, which was destroyed in the battle.  Shang Tsung convinces Liu Kang to send the trio back in time to steal the Crown of Souls before Cetrion recovers it.  Nightwolf, Shang Tsung, and Fujin return to the past and attempt not to meddle in the events of the first half of Mortal Kombat 11.  Ultimately, Shang Tsung betrays his temporary comrades and claims the Crown of Souls for himself, setting up a final battle between he and Liu Kang for the fate of the universe.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate contains the entire story of this iteration of Mortal Kombat, all in one location.  However, if you own either the base game or Aftermath, there is nothing new here in terms of story.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, story wise, is best for those that have yet to buy the base game to play this edition.  Those of you that have waited to get into Mortal Kombat 11 are now rewarded with the full story for one price.

Game Play

Similar to what I said regarding the story, Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has it all in terms of game play.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has the full roster of all combatants in the game, alternate skins that were found in the other Kombat Packs, tons of stages, stage fatalities, friendships, and both story modes.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has a grand total of 37 fighters available, including the 3 new fighters that were released for this version of the game:  Mileena, Rain and John Rambo.  Mileena and Rain are very welcomed addition to the Mortal Kombat roster, as they are some of the more classic Mortal Kombat fighters on this roster.  Mileena first made her appearance way back in Mortal Kombat II, while Rain debuted in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.  Both play very well, and I love the new aesthetics of Rain that help separate him from his classic origins of being just another ninja color swap.  John Rambo finishes NetherRealm Studios’ obsession with 80’s action heroes for Mortal Kombat.  Rambo joins other 80’s icons, such as RoboCop and the Terminator, in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate and is probably my least favorite to play out of the new fighters for this edition.  Rambo feels slow and sluggish compared to the other fighters, and I just couldn’t quite get into him as a character.  I do love how NetherRealm picks a theme and goes with it when it comes to their dlc characters, but he’s my least favorite of the bunch.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate also gives you all the other features that were released throughout the series, including the Kombat Pack skins for the characters that were released through the packs.  These are nice additions to the game and let’s you really customize your fighters to fit your own personal aesthetics.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate also has the full list of stages that has been released for the game, which included the stage fatalities that were released in Aftermath.  Stage fatalities are fun and add more variety to how you can dispatch your opponents, but the real fun comes with the new Friendships that were also released in Aftermath.  Tired of seeing so much blood on your screen at the end of a fight?  Be friends instead!  Friendships first appeared in Mortal Kombat II along with my other favorite, Babalities.  These were two ways that the Mortal Kombat developers kind of made fun of the public outcry to the blood and gore of their franchise.  Friendships are back, and some of them are really funny.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate has it all.  Any feature or character that has been released for Mortal Kombat 11 can be found here.  This is the most complete and best version of the game in terms of features and characters.

Aesthetics

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate doesn’t bring anything new to the game in terms of aesthetics, unless you own an Xbox One X/S.  There is a free graphical upgrade for owners of the next gen Xbox console, but for the rest of us schlubs we get the same version of the game that has been out for a while.  The looks and sounds of the 3 new characters are nice, and I really like the upgrade to Rain’s look.  Rain started off as a color swap for Sub-Zero/Scorpion back in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 but now has a much more Indian look to his aesthetic, including using a katar as a weapon.  I really love this new look for him, as I do the rest of the other ninjas.

Mileena’s aesthetic follows the trend to put some more clothes back onto the female characters, but it still feels like something Mileena would wear.  Her biggest change to her appearance comes with her mouth this time.  Mileena is back to the mouth full of razor teeth, similar to Baraka’s look, instead of the almost normal human mouth with extra side teeth like she had in Mortal Kombat X.  It’s a call back to her classic look, which I am fine with.

John Rambo is designed to look like his appearance in First Blood.  John Rambo is a Vietnam vet that suffers from PTSD and has crossed over into the Mortal Kombat Universe.  Rambo’s looks matches his similar looks from the movie, but are still made to fit in with the rest of the roster of characters.  It’s his voice, however, that gets me.  There is something just off in how the voice actor sounds when comparing to Sylvester Stallone.  Maybe Stallone just has one of those types of voices that is iconic and hard to reproduce, but it feels off to me.

Final Thoughts

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the best version of the game that you can buy right now, especially if you haven’t bought anything Mortal Kombat 11 in the past.  If you own the base game, or any of the other packs that has been released, then your mileage for Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate will vary.  You can buy each item separate as needed to recreate what is in this package, based on what you already own.  I feel that this is the best Mortal Kombat game released in some time.  The additional features that has been added in Aftermath, along with the two full stories you can play and the large amount of fighters to choose from really makes Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate the best version to own.  If you have waited for the complete package to buy Mortal Kombat 11, now is the time to pick it up.  Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is available now for $59.99.

Death Stranding – A Review (PC)

When you talk about the top video game designers of all time, there is one name that is universally mentioned in the top five, and that is Hideo Kojima.  For most of his career, Hideo Kojima has worked for Konami, designing and developing some of Konami’s biggest hits.  Known mostly for his creation and development of the Metal Gear franchise, Hideo Kojima was set to branch out with this work on PT however that project was canceled and Hideo Kojima left Konami.  Operating as a new, independent entity Kojima Studios created their first game for release, called Death Stranding.  

Story

Oh, where to begin….

Death Stranding is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth, after a devastating event that caused only a handful of groups of humanity to survive.  You play as Sam Bridges Porter, a mail man of sorts, tasked with the reconnection of these groups of humanity across what was formally the United States of America.  Sam must do this by completing tasks and deliveries for this groups to regain their trust and connect them back to the “Chiral Network”, a government network that helps groups communicate.

This is a monumental task by itself, however, Sam will be tested in many ways by facing not only the vast space in between settlements, but will also need to be wary of humans that don’t want to be reconnected to the network, rain that will accelerate time of anything that it touches and BTs.  Look, human survivors that want my blood I can deal with, but these BTs (Beached Things) are something different entirely.  BTs are nearly invisible, paranormal entities that will attack anyone that comes near.  It is the BTs that has caused humanity to live in small, structured cities instead of expanding as much as they could.  Sam does have a few advantages that helps him maneuver around the BTs:   a backpack that will point to the nearest one, a baby in a jar that will help in detection called BB, and the ability to resurrect when killed.

Like most of Kojima’s games, Death Stranding is ambitious in its storytelling.  In the first 3 hours of gameplay, you only have control of Sam twice to complete the tutorial missions, the rest is cut scenes setting the stage for your massive journey.  If you have played any of the most recent Metal Gear games then you are used to Kojima’s story telling style.  A lot of times I will just hear something that I’m not familiar with, in hopes that it will be explained later.  Sometimes it is and sometimes I will need to do more research to understand what is going on.  However, this is one game that the story truly is the centerpiece of the production.

Game Play

The game play for Death Stranding is an interesting thing to describe.  If I was going to come up with an alternative name for Death Stranding that best described how it played, it would be called “Walking Simulator and Inventory Management:  The Video Game”.  Death Stranding is a series of objectives and missions that you must complete in order to progress the story line, like pretty much most of the games out there.  There are optional missions that you can also complete for extra items and gear, but these are apart from the main story line.  The biggest difference is that you will actually need to walk from point A to point B, over grueling terrain, avoiding BTs, and managing your inventory as you go along.  The best way to describe most of the game play of Death Stranding is that it is an endurance test, not for Sam but for you, the player.  It’s a good thing this game is so damn pretty, because you are going to be looking at a lot of terrain.

The inventory system is also a test for the player in Death Stranding, but this time a test to see what you are willing to keep or toss out.  Most gamers are pack rats, we pick up items that we think might be useful down the road.  In Death Stranding, the more you pick up, the more encumbered you become, the slower you walk.  You will need to manage everything in your inventory, and I mean everything.  Everything has a weight and takes up a set amount of space that you need to be aware of, which will slow you down, making this very long walk even longer.  You will face decisions constantly of either pushing ahead and walking like an overburdened elephant for the next hour, or backtracking and returning to town to shed some of your inventory.  When overburdened, you will need to use the triggers of your controller to help shift your weight and maintain balance.  This becomes a constant fight with all of the material you have stacked on your back as you walk, making the journey that more treacherous and laborious.

Combat isn’t much of a thing through the first part of Death Stranding, but does ramp up later in the game.  This is where the Metal Gear influence felt the most strongest to me.  You will be able to do stealth takedowns pretty early, but as the story progresses and your gear gets better, you will be able to choose different ways to engage with the human enemies you encounter.  Combat felt right in Death Stranding, like an old friend.  While it doesn’t do everything you want it to do, combat in Death Stranding is a huge relief to the rest of the walking and managing inventories that you have done up to that point.

Aesthetics

This game is gorgeous, simply put.  It is the only reason that a walking simulator will get played as much as it does, because every time you walk outside you are hit in the face with gorgeous terrain that you want to explore.  While my PC is a few years old at this point, it surpassed the recommended settings so I could run the game at a pretty high level of graphics without much issue.  As with all major PC game releases, I would suggest checking out the minimum and recommended specs for Death Stranding before purchasing it to make sure your pc will be able to run it.  This may be more important with a game like Death Stranding, since the terrain beauty is the only thing that will keep your mind off of the gruelling miles you need to walk while flicking the triggers to keep from falling over.

Voice acting is top notch, as in most of Kojima’s games.  Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead) plays Sam, and plays him very well.  While Sam looks exactly like Norman Reedus due to the photo capture of the actor’s face, there is still something off with how humans look in video games to me.  It’s in the eyes, they still look lifeless, soulless.  However, that’s easy to not notice with a game this pretty.  Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) is also in this game, playing the coroner named Deadman.  Again, the actor/director nails his roll and looks good doing it.

Final Thoughts

Death Stranding is the most beautiful, interesting and boring video game you will play this year.  You will be mesmerized by the gorgeous graphics, intrigued by the story, bored by the walking, and frustrated by the inventory system.  I have played great games that had no story, this is a great game that has very little to offer in terms of gameplay.  I do recommend Death Stranding as a game to play, especially in this day and age when we may not be able to get out and go for a walk.  Just be prepared to change gears in your game playing mentality, especially if you come from a game like Call of Duty or Apex Legends.  Death Stranding is a great way to take a break from the frantic game play of the modern shooter, but be prepared for that shift.  Death Stranding is available now for PC through Steam for $59.99.

Dustoff Z – A Review (PC)

Dustoff Z is an upcoming flying, shooter from developer Invictus Games and Zordix Publishing.  The latest game in the Dustoff series, Dustoff Z is set during a zombie apocalypse where you pilot a helicopter to rescue survivors, find supplies, or take on zombie bosses.   This being my first Dustoff game, I had no idea what to expect going in, and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Story

The one thing that Dustoff Z does poorly is tell a compelling story.  I hate to start off with a negative during this review, but promise that it will be all uphill from here.  The intro to Dustoff Z starts off with the protagonist sitting near a police helicopter, when zombies appear and attack.  You fly off, with your partner firing at the zombie horde and the game begins.  However, the game doesn’t begin right were the intro ends, instead you are now flying a makeshift helicopter, made out of car parts and other junk, and are safely within a fortified area while the rest of the world burns in the zombie apocalypse.

The story line progresses from there, kind of.  There are some cutscenes, but they really don’t tell you about a story or what your goals are as a whole, more like they are designed to break up the game levels with something different.  For me, the lack of an intriguing story isn’t a deal breaker.  I have played and loved many games that were about as deep as a frying pan.  When a story is almost non-existent, however, the game has got to grab you in other ways, and Dustoff Z does just that.

Game Play

One of the main reasons why Dustoff Z really grabbed me is how similar it is in game play to one of my favorite games as a kid, Choplifter.  The essential game play of Dustoff Z is centered around flying your helicopter around and completing objectives.  These objectives will vary depending on the level, from picking up survivors, to escorting convoys, and picking up supplies to build walls.  Most of these levels will award you 0 to 3 stars, depending on how well you accomplish what you needed to do.  Other levels will see how well you did something and award you based on that, then allow you to replay that mission to beat your score.  For instance, how long can you escort a convoy under heavy attack.

The basic game play seems simple enough, but the devil is in the details with Dustoff Z.  As you fly around, you have to manage three things:  your fuel, your health, and your ammo.  You also need to hire your gunners for each mission, and each gunner has different weaponry with different stats and abilities.  To refill any of these meters, you must kill zombies beneath or above you and they have a chance to drop items that will refill one of the three meters.  The other option is to land at a helipad if you run across one and save your progress.  Once saved, all your meters are automatically recharged.  At the end of each mission, you earn money, food and gears that will allow you to upgrade your gunners and helicopter.  You can also find and unlock different paint jobs along the way.  As you progress in the game, you will unlock different helicopters and gunners, all with different abilities and stats.

Where Dustoff Z really shines for me, though, is the physics of the game play.  Sure, you can shoot at the zombies below you, but man is it a little more satisfying to drop buildings or containers on the lot of them.  Environments are interactable and items can be grabbed with the winch of your helicopter and swung around.  However, swinging items like that will also affect the flight path of your helicopter, making it tougher to maneuver.  Having zombies climb up and grab your helicopter affects the way it flies as well, and having too many zombies grab you will drag the copter down to the ground.  Death is a minor set back, however, as you can pay 50 coins for an immediate resurrection right at the spot you died, or choose to save your money and restart the level.

I’m not sure if it was purely the nostalgia feeling of Dustoff Z reminding me of playing Choplifter on the Apple IIe or what, but I really enjoyed the game play and the physics of this game.  The early levels were deceptively easy, and had lulled me into a false sense of security.  As the levels progressed, so did the difficulty curve, whether it was more zombies being thrown at you or having to maneuver your copter through tighter and tighter spaces.

Aesthetics

Dustoff Z’s aesthetics are a series of interesting choices.  Most of the game looks like Crossy Road got invaded by the undead and armed itself.  The people have no real faces to speak of; no eyes, no noses, but will have facial hair.  The zombies are the same way, but look more like you are being attacked by a horde of orcs rather then the actual undead.  The zombies are varied in their appearance, which is great.  You will run into zombies with wings, zombies with bombs, zombies with machine gun arms, zombie sharks, and 50 foot zombie bosses wielding shields.  The graphics are done in a very cartoony way, but one that fits the overall aesthetic and makes the game enjoyable rather then detracts, like other games that I have played within the last year.

The sound design is done well.  The sound effects do the job in making the game riveting.  The music is pretty much unforgettable, so nothing really special there.  I was surprised to hear that the characters are fully voiced over during the cutscenes and gameplay.  This was a welcome surprise, however, I did find that the gunner chatter became repetitive during the gameplay.  The voice acting isn’t the greatest there is either, but it does the job.

Final Thoughts

Dustoff Z is a fun, arcade style game that offers a nice challenge in quick and easy bites.  It’s the type of game that you intend to play only for a few moments while you have some spare time, but find yourself sinking in far more than you expected just to beat the level that’s been giving you a headache for the last ten minutes.  While nowhere near perfect, Dustoff Z is just pure fun, but that may be due to its similarity to one of my old favorite games that I played as a kid.  There is no real storyline, no real character arc, and the voice acting is pretty bad, but Dustoff Z is still worth a look, in my opinion, especially if you are looking for a light arcade type shooter.  Dustoff Z will be released for PC on October 15th on Steam.

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection – A Review (Xbox One)

The success of Street Fighter II truly set the arcade world on fire back in 1987, igniting a series of copy cat games in the fighting genre for years to come.  Each rival company tried to emulate Capcom’s success, by creating their own version to through into the fighting game arena.  NeoGeo was one such company, and Samurai Shodown was their third fighting game that had found success in the arcades.  Following The Art of Fighting and King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown was released in 1993, and quickly became a successful franchise for NeoGeo.  Today, we take a closer look at Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, which boasts full release versions of 7 of the games within the Samurai Shodown franchise, including the unreleased Samurai Shodown V Perfect.

Story

Fighting games in the 90’s didn’t bother themselves with story or plot as much as we see today.  Mortal Kombat 11’s huge story mode with cut scenes and player decisions is still a relatively new thing for the fighting game genre.  So looking for character develop in a game like Samurai Shodown just isn’t going to happen.

The overall plot for the franchise is set in Japan during the late 18th century, during the Sakoku (closed country) period where foreign interaction and trade was extremely limited.  The plot for each game various, but is usually centered around the rise of an evil lord or spirit that needs to be vanquished.  In the first game, that villain was actual historical character, Shiro Tokisada Amakusa, who has been resurrected after being slain by the Tokugawa Shogunate.  This resurrection brings evil and chaos to Japan, drawing in fighters from all over the world.

There is much artistic license taken here to include foreign characters, dead historical characters, and fictional monsters to the series of games.  Haohmaru is considered the franchise’s protagonist, and is based off of a legendary swordsman named Miyamoto Musashi, who died in 1645.  Other characters, like Gilford, are foreign born and would normally not be in Japan during the Sakoku period, but developers wanted to add in other nationalities to make the game more appealing to a broader audience.

Game Play

Digital Eclipse, the company that put this collection together, did a great job in recreating the exact games as they were when they were originally released.  You are not going to get any quality of life improvements with Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, but you will get the 7 games as they are meant to be played, with imperfections and all.

Like all fighting games in the 90’s, you select your character and must defeat a series of rivals before facing off against the boss character.  Each character has a series of special moves, a power bar, and a fatal strike.  Once you defeat the final boss, a short cutscene will play out ending your character’s story arc.

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is perfectly preserved by Digital Eclipse.  Each game is exactly as it was when it was released, or meant to be released as is the case with Samurai Shodown V Perfect.  What this really means is that the games do feel aged and imbalanced, especially when you play other players via online.  The original Samurai Shodown was meant to be played slowly and methodically.  As characters become more damaged, they become more powerful.  If a player isn’t careful, that opponent who is on the brink of death and wipe you out with one stroke.  Some moves will feel very spammy and cheap, especially in comparison to how games are balanced today.

There is some slight game play variations and upgrades as you work your way through the collections, but it still feels aged.  Unlike the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is a collection that I would only recommend for those that loved the series from day one, like I do, or are interested in the history of fighting games.  Others will find that the games feel clunky, imbalanced, and just don’t look good overall.

Aesthetics

When looking at the original aesthetics of Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection, there is a lot that was fascinating with the franchise.  To add to the time period feel that the game is set in, all of the voice overs are done in Japanese, including the announcer.  The graphics and character design were top notch, for the time that it was released.  When looking at it through today’s eyes, it is an aged eyesore that looks weird when you stretch the screen across a big screen tv in your living room.

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection has been perfectly preserved from it’s original format, which means you will be playing this either surrounded by a box of artwork or stretched to fit your tv.  It would have been nice to have some improvements added into this series of games, but I understand why it wasn’t done.  Similar to  Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is truly geared for fans of the series, or fans of history.

Final Thoughts

Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is a great collection of games for a specific group of people.  If you are like me, and are old enough to have played the original games in the arcaded back in the 90’s, then this series hits the perfect swell of nostalgia, for both good and bad.  The games within this series are perfectly recreated, including the original sounds, voice overs, and music.  But with that is also the fact that the game just looks aged and ugly on our high definition big screen tvs.  You will also love Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection if you are a fan of fighting game history.  This game has everything you need to play through the Samurai Shodown legacy, including the never before released Samurai Shodown V Perfect.  For a portion of you out there, you will buy this game just for Samurai Shodown V Perfect and be happy.  If you don’t fall into these categories, then I would just recommend going back a year and playing the 2019 reboot of Samurai Shodown.  If you love the reboot, then take a look at Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection.  Samurai Shodown NeoGeo Collection is available now for the Xbox One for $39.99.

Review of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus

With the release of the ninth edition of the tabletop game just around the corner, it is a great time to give another Warhammer 40k game a review.  This time around, it is Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus by Bulwark Studios.  Games Workshop, the company that owns the rights to Warhammer 40k, has been much more open about letting their precious license out to different developers, which has led to some rather unflattering games of late.  However, this game is not one of them.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a combination of the Warhammer 40k stories and myths with the game play of XCOM, and it works very well together.

“There is no truth in flesh, only betrayal.”
“There is no strength in flesh, only weakness.”
“There is no constancy in flesh, only decay.”
“There is no certainty in flesh but death.”

Story

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus follows the tech branch of the armies of the Emperor, known as the Adeptus Mechanicus.  Adeptus Mechanicus, or the Cult of the Machine, provides the Emperor and the armies of Terra with scientists, technicisions, and engineers.  The branch is organized like a religion that worships the Machine God or “Omnissiah”.  This gives the entire branch a much more religious overtone then a military one, and that carries into Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus.  

The story of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus, which was written by Ben Counter (veteran of writing over forty 40k novels), focuses on the Adeptus Mechanicus exploring a world, only to discover the tech remnants of an alien race that came before.  While exploring the tombs of this alien race, they find that the race hasn’t left, but is entombed within these structures and is waking up.  This puts the Adeptus Mechanics in direct conflict with the Necrons, robotic skeletons that serve C’tan and have been dormant for over 60 million years.

Before each mission, the leaders of the Adeptus Mechanicus argue over the different approaches or meanings of what you are accomplishing on the surface.  It’s these leaders that gives Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus its feeling and tone.  Your troops on the field never exhibits any type of personality, but these leaders each have a different personality with a different view of how to best serve the Omnissiah.  Scaevola speaks in equations, not true sentences while Videx believes ignorance is strength and anything alien must be destroyed to preserve the faith.  As missions continue, you will need to make decisions on what to do with certain interactions, based on the ideals of your leaders.

The story works and is faithful to the Warhammer 40k universe.  If you are looking for a character arc, where a character gets to learn and grow and develop, you are in the wrong game.  This story is full of gothic religious overtones and a crusade against the xenomorphs on the planet.  The characters’ personalities are interesting and varied, but also never change nor has any type of story arc.  Still, the story is faithful to the Warhammer 40k universe and you will get a very positive Warhammer story out of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus.

Gameplay

In my intro, I compared Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus to XCOM, which is about the closest game that I have played that feels closest in comparison.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a turn based game that focuses on one squad of tech priests exploring tombs on the planet.  You will select your next mission from a series of missions that can be found at the player hub, which is represented by your massive starship.  In this hub, you will also get to outfit your tech-priests with different weapons and skills.  Each weapon will have different characteristics, such as damage type, range and power, that you need to take into consideration before each mission.  The skills are also broken into several skill-trees that gives different bonuses or advantages.

Once on a mission, your view will change to that of the map of the tomb that you are currently exploring.  Each room will have a different icon denoting something that you can interact with, however, the longer you spend exploring a tomb the more Necrons will awaken and rise to stop you.  Some rooms have the aforementioned decisions that you need to make, while others will have Necrons already awake within them that will lead to combat.

When you enter combat, your view will change to that of the room that you are fighting in.  You will get to place your tech-priests down on the map, then combat begins.  Combat is turn-based, and you will see this sequence along the top of your screen.  Each individual will have a certain number of strategy points that can be used to interact with items, move or fight.  You can gather more points at different nodes on the map.  These points are shared amongst all of your characters and you will have a maximum that you are allowed to store.

Each weapon will do a different type of damage, and each enemy can be resistant to different types of damage, but you need to scan your enemies to see what they are resistant to or how many health points they have.  Putting up your melee tech-priest against Necrons who are resistant to melee damage is not wise.  You will need to use your Servo-Skulls to gather this information, and also to interact with other items on the map.  Necrons will also continue to pour onto the map from their spawn points, and will also try to resurrect themselves once knocked down.

What differs Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus from Xcom is the complete lack of cover and the percentage to hit.  In Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus  you only have a percentage to crit, every attack will hit it’s target if you are in range.  However, the same goes with the Necrons.  Your resistances will help defend yourself, but it is better to utilize disposable troops, like your Servitors, to act as shields to protect your tech-priests.

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus plays incredibly well and, while it feels like XCOM in some ways, it differs itself enough from that franchise to be interesting within itself.  Having the game focus on the often over-looked Adeptus Mechanicus gave the game play a different feeling then I was expecting, as the story also helped guide the tone of the game itself.

Aesthetics

While I would not say that Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus fails to hit modern day levels of aesthetics, this is easily the section that it falls shorter then the rest.  The graphics of Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus work well for what it is intended.  The player hub does a great job in helping push that gothic/religious feeling that the story is portraying, but the actual graphics of the game feels like they fall shorter then I would like.  Tombs are generic in design, aesthetically, and dialogue boxes are just talking heads that are not fully animated.

Voice acting is also absent in this game during game play.  Each leader communicates via textbox, with no voice acting at all.  This is a shame, since it would have brought the personalities of the tech-priests to whole different level.  While not a deal breaker in any sense of the term, I feel that voice acting would have made Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus much better in terms of story telling and interactions with the player.

Final Thoughts

Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is a great representation of the Warhammer 40k universe and is a great game in it’s own right.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus delivers on the gothic/religious overtones of the Adeptus Mechanicus as they begin their crusade against the xeno Necrons.  The game play will feel like an XCOM game, but won’t feel as punishing or as difficult.  In fact, I was expecting a difficult slog through Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus and what I found was a game that could be challenging at times, but wasn’t overpowering in its difficulty.  As a 40k fan, I thoroughly enjoyed Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus and feel that fans of the game will enjoy this as well.  For non-fans of Warhammer 40k, Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus may not be the perfect entry point into the massive lore that is Warhammer 40k, but should be the second or third game you play to get into what the universe is all about.  Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus is available now on the Playstation 4.

Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath – A Review (PC)

A little more than a year after the release of the main game, Netherrealm studios has released Mortal Kombat 11‘s biggest expansion to date with Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath.  MK 11: Aftermath has a lot of content within it’s dlc package, but not all of it will cost you money.  Everyone who owns MK 11 will get three new content updates to that game for free:  new stages, stage fatalities, and friendships.  These much needed additions are a fantastic change and are very welcome as free add-ons.  This review, however, will focus on the other content that you can only get by paying the $40 to purchase the other half of the MK 11: Aftermath dlc content:  story expansion, 3 new characters, 3 new character skin packs, and a Johnny Cage exclusive skin.  Is it worth your hard earned money?  Let’s dive deeper with our full review of Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath.

Story

The story for MK 11: Aftermath picks up the second that the main storyline in MK 11 ends.  After Kronika’s defeat, Fire God Liu Kang and Raiden are trying to repair the damage to the timelines by using the hourglass, when they are interrupted by Nightwolf, Fujin, and Shang Tsung.  These three combatants were removed by Kronika early in MK 11’s storyline and put into the void due to keep them from interfering with Kronika’s plans.  The trio inform Liu Kang and Raiden that Liu Kang needs Kronika’s crown in order to wield the sands of time, but since he destroyed the crown during his fight with Kronika, Liu Kang must travel back in time to retrieve it.  It is decided that Liu Kang must stay with the hourglass to try to repair the timeline, and that Nightwolf, Fujin, and Shang Tsung would be sent back in time to retrieve the crown.

MK 11: Aftermath’s story campaign essentially has you replaying events throughout MK 11, but with some twists based on the actions of the three characters that were sent back.  There are five chapters that you will play through, playing as Nightwolf, Sheeva, Fujin, Sindel, and Shang Tsung.  Only two of the five chapters allows you to choose between two characters, the most important being the last fight of MK 11: Aftermath that determines the ending of the expansion.  Of the expansion characters, only Sheeva gets her own full chapter to shine, while Fujin must share his chapter with Sindel.

The three-hour story is a good addition to MK 11: Aftermath’s dlc content, but it does not do anything to further the storyline of MK 11.  The ending will give you a glimpse into the future, depending on who you choose for the final battle, but you will be mostly playing alternative versions of the same events that you played through in the core game.  Still, it is a very enjoyable three-hours spent and it is fantastic to get more storyline with a dlc for MK 11.   Hopefully, we can answer whether or not the $40 price tag is worth it for you by the end of this review.

Game Play

Most of MK 11: Aftermath’s game play content update is free to everyone. What you get extra with your $40 is three new characters, and new skin packs.  In MK 11: Aftermath, you will receive Fujin, Sheeva and Robocop to play as in various modes.  Like other non-Mortal Kombat characters, Robocop does not make an appearance anywhere in the story for MK 11: Aftermathbut is a fun addition nonetheless.

Out of the three new characters, Sheeva is easily the most interesting and needed for me.  Making her first appearance in Mortal Kombat 3, Sheeva is a fun addition to play as in MK 11: Aftermath.  Sheeva’s combos feel satisfying to pull off and she is naturally a huge close range threat, with her jump-stomp attack helping to close a range gap when needed.  Like all other new characters, she has three variations to work with, each focusing on a different aspect of Sheeva’s pool of moves.

Fujin is a little less exciting for me, but still interesting of a character to get for this dlc.  Fujin first playable appearance was in Mortal Kombat 4 and has been a minor player in the background of the MK series ever since.  Fujin is the Shinto God of Wind and is brother to Raiden, so his move sets are all based on his wind powers and sword abilities.  Fujin also has a crossbow, that can be fired in a bouncing trajectory, but is a pain in the but to pull off when needed (at least for me).

Robocop is the final new character that you get with MK 11: Aftermath, and is the most interesting in concept yet the most dull in execution.  Following the recent tradition of adding in new popular culture characters as dlc characters, everything about Robocop is based off of his movies back in the 80’s.  For those of you that don’t know, Robocop is a cyborg that was created by the OCP corporation, using the body of a slain police officer, to patrol Detroit in the future.  Voice by Peter Weller, the original screen actor, Robocop has all the moves you would expect based on his appearance in the movies.  Even his first fatality recreates some of the famous scenes from Robocop.  However, everything about Robocop feels plain.

The last content items you get with MK 11: Aftermath are three new character skin packs and an exclusive Johnny Cage skin.  While the three skin packs have yet to be released, the Johnny Cage skin is an interesting one.  It’s essentially a black and gold outfit with an open jacket, similar to some of the other skins that Johnny Cage wears.  The jacket itself can be either black or gold, and has the Netherrealm Studios logo on the back.  It’s a nice addition, but one that brings little value to the dlc.  Since the other packs have yet to be announced, I have no idea if those will bring more value for me or not.

Aesthetics

The aesthetics for MK 11: Aftermath is exactly the same as the original game.  There are no graphical upgrades, or changes in sound to mention.  The voice acting for the expansion is very well done, but the stand out is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.  Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, the voice actor for Shang Tsung, really carries the entire storyline for MK 11: Aftermath.  He brings to the front the smugness and confidence that Shang Tsung needs for this story and is absolutely perfect in tone and in execution.  The other voice actors are just as good as you would expect from the main game.  Mortal Kombat has had one of the most convoluted storylines of any video game that I have ever played, with many reboots, restarts, and alternative timelines mixed in.  It is due to the amazing voice actors that I care as much as I do about these characters still, after 11 or so games in this universe.

Final Thoughts

MK 11: Aftermath is a hard expansion to really rate, for me.  Being a huge fan of the series, anything that adds a story element to the main game is already a must-buy for me.  But looking at this expansion objectively, is there really enough content here to justify the $40 price tag?  We don’t even know what costume packs we are getting in the future, but I guess that isn’t any different then buying into a season pass for a game anymore.  The storyline is fantastic, and the three new characters are great additions, but $40 just seems a little steep for me, for what you actually get in this expansion.  If you are a massive fan of the Mortal Kombat series, then I have to recommend that you pick up MK 11: Aftermath, it is a great addition to a great game and continues the story from the original perfectly.  If you didn’t like the story, or are not interested in any of the characters that are available in MK 11: Aftermath, then I feel that the free content of this expansion will serve you well and you can pass this by.  Overall, your mileage will vary with MK 11: Aftermathas will your desire to pick it up at the $40 price tag.  MK 11: Aftermath is available now on Steam.

SnowRunner – A Review (PC)

I like driving games, I really do.  I have great memories of playing Gran Turismo 2 for hours on the original Playstation.  I’ve played pretty much every version of the Colin McCray DiRT series as well.  Whether is racing head to head to beat your opponents, or the challenge of knocking off a few seconds from your best time, the challenge of these racing games is completely different then the rest of my game collection.  Then came along SnowRunner, by Saber Interactive and Focus Home Interactive.  SnowRunner isn’t a racing game at all – it’s a driving simulator, so I wasn’t sure even if I was interested in playing it or not.  If not assigned to me for this review, SnowRunner would have completely gone under my radar.  I am kind of glad that it didn’t.

Story

Well, SnowRunner doesn’t have any type of story to speak of.  There isn’t any character progression, conflict, or resolution.  Just you, various vehicles, and various challenges set across three large landscapes.  You begin the game in Michigan, then move onto Alaska, and finally end up in Taymyr, Russia.  Each time the landscape shifts, your challenges and driving difficulty ramps up as you need to deal with different terrains.  As the game progresses, you will collect and store various vehicles in your garage.  All of the vehicles can be upgraded and customized as you either earn money from your jobs or find parts along the way.

Beginning the game in Michigan, you start off with a small 4wd truck and the first challenge; drive to the next location and get your GMC flatbed truck to deliver materials to finish a bridge.  Seems simple enough, right?  Drive truck from A to B, except that the road is out just down the road from where you start.  This is your first introduction to how the game really plays.  You are given seemingly two options at this point, take the off road detour up into the hills and around the closed road, or slide just passed the barrier and continue down the road.  I decided to just slide around the barrier and immediately got stuck in the mud just off of the side of the road.  It took me far longer to get myself unstuck and going again, then it would have just to head down the detour and drive around the barrier.

SnowRunner is hard and challenging.  This isn’t Dark Souls hard, where you need perfect timing or memorization of an opponent’s attacks.  No, this is “long lasting patience” hard, as in, you better have the patience to take it slow and spend a massive amount of time to get to where you want to go.  This goes against every ounce of how my brain is wired!  I found it extremely difficult to kick the truck into 4wd and low gear, then crawl up a mountain to avoid a obstacle in the road.  I just wanted to drive super fast over the dirt road, drift around corners, and get to my objective quickly, just as I had done a million times in DiRT.  SnowRunner will punish you for these thoughts.  This is a slow down and chill style of game, and you had better get that straight quickly or you will spend most of your time digging out your trucks.

Game Play

Since there is no story in SnowRunner, I’ve already hit on some game play elements in the above section.  So here, I’m going to focus on the nitty gritty game play elements that make up the rest of the game.  First, make sure you have yourself a game pad for this one.  I started playing SnowRunner using a mouse and keyboard, since I had no idea where my game pad was.  Within the first 15 minutes, I was digging through boxes looking for my game pad.  This game is tough to begin with, and even tougher with a mouse and keyboard.

The controls are fairly simple, but do vary depending on the vehicle your driving.  Driving controls are pretty much what you would expect with some variation.  You have controls for your gas and break, like every other driving game out there, but you will also need to control your gear shift and 4wd option as you are moving through the maps.  These two controls will be what you use most of the time to get through the difficult terrain, along with the winch that you have attached to the front of your vehicles.  If you get your car really stuck and the winch can’t help you, you can switch to another vehicle you have in your collection to drive out and pull your first vehicle out of the mud, snow, river, or where ever you got it stuck.

The challenges are mostly delivery in concept, but you need to consider the type of delivery and match the correct vehicle to the job.  Showing up to a job with the wrong truck will significantly increase the difficulty of the challenge and make it take much longer than it needed to.  With how long it takes to go from point A to point B in some of these challenges, you do not want to make two or three runs.  You could pour 20 to 40 hours of time into SnowRunner fairly easily.

One negative with SnowRunner is how some of the vehicles actually control, especially the smaller trucks.  I was expecting the vehicles to control worse the larger the vehicle, but I found that the smaller truck was harder to keep on the road then the larger ones especially in first person.  The controls were definitely calibrated for larger, slower vehicles.  I found myself over correcting with my turns in the smaller truck, even at one point sliding off the road and hitting a tree.  This would make perfect sense if I was in Alaska with the ice on the road, but I was driving down the street in Michigan with no obstacles.  Since damage to your vehicle will impair it’s abilities, maintaining control is pretty important.

Aesthetics

SnowRunner is a very beautiful game, but not in the way you would expect.  Sure, the graphics are nice and solid, but it isn’t at the level of other games on the market currently.  Where the beauty of SnowRunner comes in is the environment and lighting.  You are traveling through some gorgeous countryside and the lighting effects change as the day progresses.  When night comes, you need to turn on your headlights to see where you are going, because out in the woods there isn’t any streetlights.  This beauty is needed since you will literally spend hours just crawling through it to get to your next objective.

However, as gorgeous as the world is, it is empty.  There is no other life in this world but you.  No other humans or animals exist in SnowRunner, at least from what I have seen.  There are rumors of people seeing wolves or dogs in the woods, but like Sasquatch, these may just be rumors or legends.  One one hand, having no other traffic in SnowRunner means that you have one less thing to worry about while you are trucking down the street with an extremely large truck.  You can take up as much road as you want!  However, it does feel like you are running deliveries in a post apocalyptic world where you are the only survivor.  While not a game breaking criticism, it definitely was noticeable during my play through.

Final Thoughts

SnowRunner is a far better game then I was expecting.  I was not prepared for how good this game was or how much I would enjoy it.  This game is the perfect game to sit back, relax, and just chill to without skimping out on the challenge.  Most chill games are fairly easy, that’s why they are chill.  SnowRunner keeps up the difficulty and will punish you for making a bad choice, while taking things slow and steady in a beautiful, but empty, world.  SnowRunner is available through Epic Games in two different versions: base game is $39.99 while the Premium Edition with Season Pass is $59.99.  Both are available now.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls – A Review (PC)

Ah yes, another game review that will make me feel very, very old.  The last Wizardry game I played was Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna back in 1987 on my old Apple II.  While I did like that game, it was quickly replaced when Ultima V  and The Bard’s Tale III: The Thief of Fate were both released the following year.  I was a bigger fan of both the Ultima and The Bard’s Tale series then I was of Wizardry,  I had always felt that Wizardry was missing some key ingredients to make it a great game, especially during the golden age of rpgs.

So fast forward to 2020, and I am sitting down to write a review for Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls developed by Acquire and published by XSeed Games.  This is the first Wizardry game that I have played in over 30 years and the first Wizardry game released in North America since 2013.  Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls was originally released back in 2011 for the Playstation 2, and this is essentially just a PC port of that game that has been delayed due to IP issues.  So, how does a 40 year old franchise and a 9 year old port hold up to 2020 standards?  Let’s find out with our review.

Story

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is set in the land of Athals, during the age of Athals.  There was peace in the land, until dangerous creatures, that were once believed to have been locked away by angels, began to roam the land.  These creatures also brought the “Elder Ones”, powerful demons that turned their attention to the land of Athals.  The sages of the land began to tell stories of the prison that the “Elder Ones” were once constrained in has lost its power and that the balance in the world is beginning to collapse.  Darkness continues to arise over the horizon, as adventurers begin to come forth to battle the rising tide of evil.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls begins with a pretty heavy expository dump, which I pretty much summed up in the preceding paragraph.  Ultimately, evil has come to the land and your party of adventurers needs to destroy the evil and bring peace to the land.  It is fantasy story development 101 and as cliche as it could be.  There isn’t anything major in terms of character development or story narrative, so if you are looking for a rich, deep story then I would point you elsewhere, like the Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale remake that came out a little bit ago.

Game Play

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a retro rpg through and through.  You are going to do a lot of work for very little reward in this game, but if you love retro rpgs then this game is for you.  You begin by creating your character, with very little in terms of information or tutorial.  However, you can figure most of this out if you have played rpgs before.  There are five races to choose from, and multiple classes for each race.  Only one race, porklu, isn’t a generic fantasy race that you have seen before.  Stats are pretty generic for the most part, however there isn’t any game terms on how these stats affect your character in terms of hit points, damage, or chance to hit.  Once you finish your avatar, you are placed into the city of Aitox.

Aitox is represented by a static painting of a bustling city and a menu.  You don’t get to explore the city at all, you just choose your destinations from the menu.  While I can forgive the generic story setting and the unintuitive character creation, not allowing me to explore a city and experience it is strike one against Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.  The menu allows you to visit the Inn, Shop, Guild, Temple, or Dungeons.  Most of these are self explanatory.  You will need to recruit the rest of your party and outfit them with weapons and armor before heading into the Dungeons, so that should be your first step.  You do need to watch the alignment of your party, which is interesting.  For a while I could not figure out why I couldn’t have the Thief and the Cleric in my party at the same time, until I looked at their alignments.  Good aligned party members will not travel with evil aligned members, or at least the Cleric wouldn’t.

Once you have gotten your party ready, then off to the Dungeons you go.  You can select two Dungeons to explore, and are treated to some first person, 3D environments that look like they haven’t been touched since 2011.  The dungeon looks repetitive and dull, and the monsters you fight are static 2D representations, like what you ran into in the city.  You step one space at a time in the dungeon and will need to map your way through, just like the old days of PC rpgs.  That is, unless you thought to buy a map at the Shop, then it will act as an automap.  So you will need to decide to put in gold, which is scarce in the beginning, into either an upgraded weapon or armor, or to see where the hell you are going in the Dungeon.  Tough choice….

The monsters you encounter are very interesting, which is very nice.  There is a great variety from the fantasy mundane to the unique.  Combat, however, is dull and repetitive.  I had characters that could only defend most of the time since they did not have anything ranged to use and they were in the back line.  Spells are great, but are limited use before they run out and you need to rest to regain them.  I just found myself clicking the same buttons over and over, hoping that my armor and health would hold out while I did enough damage to kill my enemies.

Aesthetics

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls has a solid game at its core, but it’s wrapped up in a dull and generic aesthetic, that doesn’t make the most sense sometimes.  For instance, male dwarves are taller than male humans, but female dwarves are the height that you would expect.  While I would never begrudge a developer to try something new that breaks fantasy stereotypes, dwarves are kinda supposed to be small, I mean it’s even implied in the name since they are “dwarfed” by other races.

As I said earlier, there is very little actually animated in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.  Most of everything is a static painting, which all has a very generice, japanese anime look and feel to it.  The actual graphics look like they weren’t updated from the 2011 Playstation 2 release, and the music sounds like it could almost be 8 bit.  The music is as generic as the rest of the aesthetic in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.

Final Thoughts

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a tough game to review.  At its core, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is great at replicating that vintage and classic rpg feel that used to be king during the 1980’s.  However, we have come to expect much, much more from our games these days.  While I am a member of the “graphics aren’t everything” camp, they do need to be updated and interesting.  Making Aitox not explorable was also a huge misstep and made the game feel much, much smaller than it should have felt.  Honestly, I just found myself wanting to play Legend of Grimrock while I was playing this game, and that shouldn’t happen.  Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls  just reminded me of other, better games that are available on the market today.  However, for the $14.99 price tag on Steam, it’s worth the risk if you are looking for a retro rpg that you haven’t played before.  Ultimately, it was generic and bland enough to be forgettable, but not offensive.  Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is available now on Steam.

Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition – A Review (Xbox One)

Leading contender to win the “Longest Game Title of the Year” award, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition has finally come to the home console world.  Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is a port of a remake of two of the greatest Dungeons and Dragons games ever made.  Originally created in 1999 and 2000 respectively, Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition was remade by Beamdog in 2014 (Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition) and 2017 (Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition) for mobile platforms.  Finally, in 2019, Skybound Games has taken those remakes and ported them to the console in one glorious, old school package of Dungeons and Dragons Classics.

A couple of notes before getting into this review, in case you haven’t noticed already I love these games.  I played the originals back in college when they were first released and loved every second of them.  I have played Dungeons and Dragons since 1984 and played many of the video games that Strategic Simulations, Inc. put out during the 80’s and 90’s to get my D & D fix.  While I wasn’t a massive fan of the World of Faerun, I did love the new content that was produced in Planescape for the rpg.  Planescape: Torment is easily in my top 20 video games of all time.

Story

To say that you have hundreds of hours of gameplay available to you in Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is not an exaggeration.  Both games offer a rich story line that will just eat away at the hours that you have to play these games.  The stories told in these games are vastly different, but no less engaging.

In Planescape: Torment, you are the Nameless One and have awoken in a mortuary.  You are immediately approached by a floating skull, named Morte, who offers advice as to how to escape your immediate imprisonment.  Morte reads the tattoos that are inscribed on the body of the Nameless One, and discovers that they need to find someone named Pharod, somewhere in their current city of Pharod.  Planescape: Torment’s story is one of discovery of your past lives and the purpose that you are supposed to fulfill.  The world of Planescape was introduced to the rpg in 1994 and even though it was released to critical acclaim, did not seem to capture the minds of the rpg players as the Forgotten Realms world did.  Planescape: Torment is a wonderful example of the Planescape world and the rich storytelling that could occur in that setting.  For me, this is the better of the two games in this package.

In Icewind Dale, you lead a party of adventurers resting in the town of Easthaven, far to the north in Faerun.  Hired intillay to discover what had happened to a messenger, the party of adventurers is quickly drawn into investigating a great evil that is kidnapping townsfolk from Easthaven.  This leads the party into combating ancient demons and becoming the protectors of Easthaven.  Unlike Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale is much more of a traditional rpg for this time period.  You are leading a party of adventures, not just a single individual, through a story of battling ancient evil and protecting the innocent.  However, the story of Icewind Dale is no less engrossing, even if it is much more classic and traditional in nature.  This edition also contains the expansions Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster.  The World of Faerun is much more popular of the two worlds that you will visit in this package.  If you have played any type of Dungeons and Dragons video game, board game, or rpg within the last five years, you are familiar with this setting.

Gameplay

In an attempt not to make this review twice as long as it needs to be, I’m going to summarize the major components of boths games’ gameplay in this section.  Both games have a very similar base to them, but also vastly differ in other areas.  Both games have similar isometric views that will show you the world around you, but also utilize the “fog of war” on areas that you haven’t explored yet.  Both games also use the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition rules set, so newer players to Dungeons and Dragons will see familiar rules, but will need to familiarize themselves with an older edition of the game.  Both games also have a similar inventory system, where you will place items directly into their proper slots on your characters and both games allow for different dialogue options during conversations.  But the differences between Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale are pretty drastic.

To begin with, Icewind Dale allows the player to change the difficulty of the game.  Accessibility wasn’t a concern back in the late 90’s.  Either you knew how to play, or you learned to “git gud” very quickly.  Both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale are difficult at their original settings, but only Icewind Dale allows you to turn on Story Mode.  Story Mode is a way for new players to enjoy the story without worrying about death, as your characters cannot die in this mode.  Icewind Dale also allows the player to create their own party of adventurers based on the 2nd Edition rules set, whereas Planescape: Torment you do not have this feature.  You only work with customizing the Nameless One to fit your play style and not a whole party of adventurers.

The controls for both games has been optimized to better fit the console systems.  It did take me awhile to get used to this, being more of a PC rpg player.  Having played both original versions of these games, I have to say that the gameplay feels exactly as I remember, with the exception of the controller versus keyboard.

Aesthetics

While the graphics on Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition has been converted to high definition, both games’ graphics still look old and worn out, compared to today’s standards.  Yes, these games were designed and created 20 years ago, so of course the graphics would be dated, but it is still something that I had to get over.  My memory of how good these games looked did not match up to the reality that, like me, these games are getting older and older.

Voice acting is fantastic in both games.  While your party and characters are not voiced, the characters you will meet will have some voice acting attached to their dialogue.  These conversations are not fully voiced, but are voiced enough to give you a better sense of the world around you.  Planescape: Torment gets a special mention for the voice acting of Morte, who really helps drive the tone of the game.

Final Thoughts

Wow, this review was a lot more difficult to write than I had originally thought.  Not only trying to balance and hit all the points for both Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale, but also managing my nostalgia for both games.  Ultimately, this is a great set of games to buy if you are interested in the history of Dungeons and Dragons games.  These are modern classics of the rpg genre.  If you are someone who originally played these games back in the late 90s, you will get to replay two of the greatest rpg games of that time period, even though they do look like they came from that time period.  Sometimes, what we remember does not translate to reality all that well.  If you are new to these games, I cannot recommend Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition enough, especially to current Dungeons and Dragons players who would like to see what 2nd Edition was all about.  Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is a solid port of a solid remake of classic games.  Planescape: Torment and Icewind Dale Enhanced Edition is available now for the Xbox One for $49.99.