Author - Judgeman

Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don’t Dry – A Review (PC)

I haven’t played a Leisure Suit Larry game since 1987 when I tricked my mom into buying Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards for me at age thirteen.  Honestly, I’m not sure why I didn’t play any of the rest, but when Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry came across my desk I immediately jumped on it.  Why this one?  Mostly because it felt like a homage back to the very first Leisure Suit Larry game, and I was in the mood for a slower paced adventure game.  Developer CrazyBunch is behind this new version of Leisure Suit Larry, our first new game in over 5 years for the franchise.  So, does Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry get lucky or does it go home alone and depressed?  Find out with our full review!

Story

The story for Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry begins with Larry Laffer waking up in a dark hole.  You don’t remember much about the night before or where you are currently at.  Larry struggles to find a way out, and finds himself in front of Lefty’s Bar in the city of Lost Wages.  When Larry heads into the bar, he discovers that he has been gone for over 30 years and is now in the 21st century.  Larry is taken aback slightly by this news, but then sets out to chase as many women as he can in this new age.

The actual story takes off once Larry finds a PiPhone in Lefty’s bathroom.  The PiPhone is a prototype with a new artificial intelligence, and it needs to be taken back to Prune headquarters right away.  At Prune headquarters, Larry meets Prune CEO Bill Jobs and his assistant Faith.  Larry attempts to hit on Faith, but she tells Larry that she will only date someone who has a Timber score of 90.  Larry, now outfitted with a new PiPhone that he was given for turning in the prototype, sets out into Lost Wages to meet and date as many people as he can to get a Timber score of 90.  His ultimate goal:  a date with Faith!

From the start, just by reading the previous paragraph, you can tell which direction CrazyBunch went with their story for Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry.  This game really pokes fun at both Microsoft and Apple, but mostly Apple, and the pervasive nature of technology in today’s culture.  Most of the humor that CrazyBunch went with is seeing an out-of-time person like Larry Laffer dealing with today’s culture.  The very first girl Larry meets is a woman obsessed with her Instacrap account and gaining as many followers as possible.  He also meets a woman who is a camgirl on the internet, who is trying to make it big as a stripper.

There is a lot of positives and negatives here when it comes to Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry’s story line.  I did like how the story pretends that none of the other games for the last thirty years in the Leisure Suit Larry franchise exists and that this game is a direct sequel to Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards.  However, while some of the jokes about today’s culture and society were funny, most of it felt forced or stereotypical.  The story is very cynical when it comes to the current status of Tinder dating, the people you met in the dating scene, and Apple products and business practices.  I also felt that the story ended fairly abruptly and without closure.  I know this sounds mostly negative, but the storyline falls somewhere between mediocre and decent for me.

Game Play

Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry plays like a modern day point and click adventure game, very similar to the original game back in 1987.  You use your cursor to look at and interact with the world around you.  By left clicking on an item or person, you look at that item or person.  By right clicking on the same item or person, you will then interact with them, based on what the person or item is.  In some cases, this could lead to death.  Death in Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry isn’t horrible, you get a cut scene explaining why you screwed up and then just get sent back to the moment when you entered an area.

Items you pick up will show up in your inventory screen.  At first, this is represented by a notepad in the bottom right corner of your screen, but gets moved to an app on your PiPhone once you unlock that.  Items can be examined in your inventory, and combined to create other items to solve puzzles.  The puzzles in the game come in a variety of difficulty, but can all be solved with some thought and trial and error.  Many puzzles have you traveling from location to location in order to complete tasks or pick up needed items to complete a quest.  There is no quest tracker, so you will need to remember what everyone needs at any given time.

Your PiPhone becomes your means of interaction with most of the world in Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry.  You can travel via the map and the Unter app, this replaces the taxi system in the first game, and will be able to check on your Timber score and other matches through that app.  Not all of your Timber matches can be interacted with, only the ones you can interact with will appear on your map.  The others just becomes a series of Tinder jokes.

Overall, the game play is exactly what I would expect from an adventure game.  If you are a fan of point and click adventure games, then Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry hits all the right marks.  Nothing new or innovative here, but it all works solidly for what it needs to do.

Aesthetics

Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry won’t win any awards for graphics, but it isn’t hideous either.  The visuals are all done in a very cartoon-like style, reminiscent of other point and click adventure games on the market today.  The areas that Larry can head to are all pretty 2 dimensional and limit where Larry can go.  The design of the locations are all stylized and over the top.  Prune’s store looks like a parody of an Apple store.  Even Prune’s logo looks like a stylized vagina that could pass as an apple, which leads to a funny solution to a puzzle later in the game.  There is a sex shop, a gym, a hipster bar, a pier and even a version of Cancun, Mexico.

What works better than the visuals is the voice acting.  Larry sounds exactly as I would imagine him to sound, and this carries over to everyone you meet.  The voice actors did a hell of a job making each character come alive.  Yes, some of this includes acting out the stereotypes that the character represents, but the voice actor nails the tone of each character.  The music is absolutely forgettable.  I actually had to force myself to listen to it for this review, and it is just very generic background music to cover over the silence between character dialogue.  In other words, it works for its purpose but you won’t remember any of it.

Final Thoughts

Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry  is a good game.  It is a very solid point and click adventure game and is also a very solid entry into the Leisure Suit Larry franchise.  Taking the nostalgia factor out for a second, Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry ticks off all the right boxes to be a successful point and click game:  the humor is decent, the game play is solid, the story line is mediocre to decent, and the graphics and voice acting to a good job in bringing the world to life.  If you only have ever played the first Leisure Suit Larry game, then this game is perfect for you, since it forgets the other 8 games that are out on the market.  If you are a fan of the series, then this game is already on your Steam library.  Leisure Suit Larry:  Wet Dreams Don’t Dry is available now via Steam for $29.99.

Mortal Kombat 11 – A Preview (Xbox One)

This past weekend, NetherRealm released their beta for the upcoming Mortal Kombat 11 and we were able to take it for a spin on the Xbox One.  I was very excited to get my hands on Mortal Kombat 11, as I have played every game in the series since it first came out in arcades back in 1992.  The Mortal Kombat series hit prominence mostly on it’s over the top gore and being the first fighting game to offer up Fatalities, end of match methods of killing your opponent.  Mortal Kombat 11 is technically the 19th release in the series from Netherrealm and continues the story of the Mortal Kombat Tournament where Mortal Kombat X left off.  Let’s take a look at how Mortal Kombat 11 is shaping up.

There wasn’t much accessible in the beta for Mortal Kombat 11, but there was enough to give me the impression of the type of game that Mortal Kombat 11 is shaping up to be.  We were able to access five characters (Baraka, Jade, Kabal, Scorpion, and Skarlet) in three areas of the game:  Solo Ladder, Online, and Customization.  Everything else was offline for the beta, so we didn’t get to see anything of the story line, the Krypt, or the gear system.  The Customization was the biggest change in the MK franchise from the last game, so let’s start there.

Customization

Mortal Kombat 11 will offer different ways to customize your fighter, from the merely cosmetic, to what special moves your character has.  While not everything was unlocked during the beta, what I got to see what exciting in itself.  We had four slots in the beta per character to customize the look, the intros, the outros, and some of the special abilities.  You have three item slots per character that can be augmented during the full release of the game.  For Scorpion, you could change his face mask, his swords, and his spear to different aesthetics.  You can also change the overall look of the character and the color of the costume, but these selections were connected.  You could change Jade’s skin color from dead to alive by changing the base costume she was in.

You then got to change the intro and the outro of your character for each match, along with some of the special abilities that your character had.  For the abilities, you have three slots in which to fill.  Some of these abilities will take one slot, some will need two slots, and some had conflicts so they couldn’t be chosen together since they used the same button input.  Scorpion, for instance, would always have his spear and teleport moves, but you could add in a hellfire breath or amplify a move that is already attached to the character.  This level of customization meant that, even if you were in a mirror match, you had no idea what extra powers or amplifications that your opponent had.  Each character felt and looked unique.  I was really impressed with the depth and ease of this system. Honestly, this system that NetherRealm has devised so far for Mortal Kombat 11 has me very excited to explore and play with.

Game Play

While we only had two options in the beta, either Solo Ladder or Online, I was able to get a great feeling for the upcoming game play of Mortal Kombat 11.  The matches will feel very similar to what they did in Mortal Kombat X, but with little tweaks.  The biggest changes center around the removal of the X Ray System and the introduction of both Fatal Blows and Crushing Blows.  Fatal Blows are the closest thing that Mortal Kombat 11 has to the X Ray System.  A Fatal Blow is triggered when your health hits the 30% mark and can be unleashed by pressing both triggers simultaneously.  This will unleash a combo that, once it hits, is unblockable and will do a significant amount of damage.  Unlike the X Ray Moves, which needed to be charged up by filling the meter, Fatal Blows are used to give the underdog the means to try to level the playing field.  Fatal Blows occur anytime you hit that 30% mark, so you can use them each round if need be.

Crushing Blows, on the other hand, you need to be much more strategic in their use.  A Crushing Blow is a normal move that does additional damage with the addition of a close up shot of the damage that it is doing to your opponent.  This looks similar to the X Ray moves, but only occurs as a one hit combo and does not lead into a series of damaging blows, like the X Ray or Fatal Blows do.  The biggest draw back of the Crushing Blows are that they can only be used once per match, so their use must be very strategic.  Do you use your Crushing Blows to set up a big combo to put away your opponent for good, or do you hold onto them for the next round in case you need to set up a massive come back?

The rest of Mortal Kombat 11 feels very similar to Mortal Kombat X.  The stages all have interaction elements that allow you to shove your opponents face into a cactus, or pick up a speak to impale your opponent with.  Each character can amplify their moves set by using their amplify meter.  You start with two bars that you can use to empower your moves to through in an extra attack or a little extra damage.  The combo system is the same from the last few games, so that will feel very familiar to you.

Fatalities and Brutalities are back and stronger than ever.  Each character has access to 2 Fatalities and 2 Brutalities in the beta.  Honestly, nothing has changed here since the last game.  Fatalities are still pulled off at the end of the match by using a series of directional presses and button presses.  Brutalities can occur when using certain moves when your opponent is near death, and this leads directly to the end of the round by killing your opponent in some gruesome fashion.  As of right now, there were no Animalities or Friendships in the beta, so I have no idea if these are not going to make the final cut, will be unlockable in the Krypt, or hidden by some other means.

The Solo Ladder system is the traditional Mortal Kombat style of solo play.  In the beta, there was the five characters, stacked vertically in a tower and you must face off against each one in order.  You can alter your difficulty before starting the ladder, and could swap out your character between matches.  Online matches were very straight forward as well.  Once you selected the Online match, you were matched up fairly quickly, told to pick a character and a load out, chose a stage and the match begun.  The matches I fought in felt quick and easy to access, without any significant delay or issues in game play.  At the end of the match you had a few options to choose from, like Character Select, Rematch, or Leave.

Looking Forward

Mortal Kombat 11 is shaping up to be a solid game in terms of game play and customization.  The new tweaks to game play feel right and needed, while I really love the customization options that we are getting for the characters.  Mortal Kombat 11 looks great visually as well.  While there are new features that will change the way you approached the matches from Mortal Kombat X, I feel that these changes are for the better and have made the game much more balanced.  By making the Fatal Blow trigger when your opponent is at 30 % health means that you still have to treat them with caution, like a wounded wolf.  This makes matches that may be one sided, still winnable by the underdog.  Keep this game on your radar folks, it’s building up to be a good one.  Mortal Kombat 11 releases on April 23rd.

Dead or Alive 6 – A Review (Playstation 4)

The Dead or Alive franchise has always had an….interesting place in video gaming culture.  While the game play of the series has been top notch, Team Ninja’s oversexualized designs has received more and more criticism over the years.  Just a few months ago, Evo Japan decided to shut down the Dead or Alive 6 Championship stream due to misuse of the game’s replay camera, and models trying to mimic the infamous “jiggle physics” of the series.  It’s hard to talk about Dead or Alive 6 without bringing up this aspect of the game, so I will tackle this in the Aesthetics section of the review and what Team Ninja has done to try to minimize this viewpoint of their games.  But first we have to get through the Story and the Game Play of Dead or Alive 6 by Team Ninja for the Playstation 4.

Story

Fighting games have always had a strange approach to storylines.  It’s hard to make a game about a bunch of characters beating the hell out of each other about character development.  Most games early in the fighting genre history didn’t even try to have a story during game play, you usually just got something at the end of the game when you beat the last boss.  This was built for the arcade systems, but today fighting games must have a single player story mode to reach the largest section of it’s audience.

Dead or Alive 6 picks up where Dead or Alive 5 left off.  Kasumi has abandoned her clan to live as a hermit in the mountains and Helena begins to investigate the appearance of a being with strange powers.  Helena sends out various characters to investigate this new being, while setting up a new Dead or Alive tournament as a test to see how powerful this being is.

The story line is fairly straightforward once again.  Reason pops up for a new tournament to begin, someone sets up tournament and gathers fighters for various agendas and purposes, fighters um….fight, and then the story line wraps up.  What’s different about Dead or Alive 6 is how it is presented to the player.  You now participate in a story grid.  You begin by looking in on Helena and Marie Rose hearing about the new fighter and Helena sending Marie Rose out to befriend this new individual.  Then the player has a choice to follow three new story points, some that follow Marie Rose, another that focuses on Tina and Zack, while the third staying on Helena.  Not all story points end up in a fight, some are just cut scenes that move the story along that path.

While this approach is unique and new, it offers up a very disjointed story to the player.  You will go from scenes of high drama and tragedy to one that is comical in nature, depending on the choice of scenes you select.  You cannot just follow one path to its conclusion either, you can only unlock the next level once certain scenes have been completed.  Being able to follow one characters story line at a time would have been preferable to this mess.  Dead or Alive 6 does offer up two new characters to play as and follow during the story; Diego and NiCO.  Both are decent additions to the already large roster (if you purchased this game, more on this later) but nothing game breaking or overly interesting.

Game Play

While Dead or Alive 6 has major issues in both the story and the public relations department, the gameplay is outstanding and simplified without making it too casual.  At the core of the game is it’s triangle system.  Think Paper, Rock, Scissors but with more pain.  Strikes will beat Throws, Throws beat Holds, and Holds beat Strikes.  The game will prioritize the greater attack over the lesser attack, so the players will need to keep their repertoire of moves varied to prevent their opponent from guessing their next attack.

Dead or Alive 6 also adds in two new systems:  Break Gauge and Fatal Rush.  The Break Gauge is a two segment bar underneath your health that can be used to buff up some of your attacks.  You can do a Break Blow, which will simultaneously parry your opponent and attach for a huge hit, or a Break Hold, the ultimate hold that will take priority over any attack.  The Fatal Rush is an auto combo that can be done when both your segments of your Break Gauge are filled.  Simply by pressing one button four times, your character will perform a massive combo that will push the opponent into stage hazards.  Both of these new systems are designed to make Dead or Alive 6 more accessible to the casual fan, but it does not take anything away from higher level competition.  If anything, it gives us more opponents in online matches because the accessibility has been greatly increased.  Dead or Alive 6 also has a very solid tutorial and practice mode to help all newcomers to the series.

Speaking of Online play, Dead or Alive 6 missed the mark here as well.  Online play is a simple set of options really, which is great for someone looking for a fast fight.  You select Ranked Play and then find someone who has a connection strength similar to yours, join the fight, then either rematch or quit, then move to the next fight.  There isn’t a way to search through fights, and no lobby system if you wanted to hang out and play with a certain group of friends for an hour or two.  Quality of connection was ok for me, the fights felt somewhat sluggish versus offline, but not as bad as some other games out there.

The last thing I wanted to mention about Dead or Alive 6 is the DOA Quest Mode.  This is another single player mode, but you must complete certain objectives set in front of each match to earn costume parts.  DOA Quest is a great way to improve your skills in Dead or Alive 6 by focusing on objectives that are more than just bashing a few buttons, however, the end result is incredibly frustrating.  Once you finish a match, you will earn costume parts, but these parts are for a specific character and a specific costume and are generated randomly.  You could get parts for a character you don’t even own yet.  This is Team Ninja at its worst in Dead or Alive 6, essentially making it so difficult to earn alternative costumes that you would choose to buy the costumes instead.  In fact, their first announced DLC content is for two new fighters and over 80 costumes at a ridiculous $93 season pass.

Aesthetics

Dead or Alive 6 is a gorgeous game, but is still plagued by some aesthetic choices that will make this game work for you or not.  First, let’s talk bounce.  Yes, the “jiggle physics” is back for Dead or Alive 6, but is said to have been reduced due to Sony’s new policy on oversexualization of content.  Honestly, I didn’t see much of a reduction with this, but there is an option to turn off these physics if you so choose.  Many of the costumes have been toned down a bit as well, but you will still have some costumes that are highly questionable as a bathing suit, let alone to wear in a fighting tournament.  Then there is the camera mode.  After certain fights, the game will end with you in control of the camera and it will allow you to free cam around your character and take pictures.  You can also do this during an offline match, but it’s forced on you after certain game modes. It’s annoying at best, but when the camera automatically starts zoomed into a character’s breasts, it can become uncomfortable for some.  This is a rated M game, so know before you buy.

Optional Difficult Discussion Here:  I have been a gamer for many, many years.  I had Pong, so that should tell you how ancient I am.  However, I am also an Historian and an Anthropologist who has watched culture and society change over the years.  When the DOA franchise began, it needed something to set it aside from the other fighting games on the market, and skimpy clothes with bouncing breasts was a great way to go.  Hell, I even bought DOA Xtreme Beach Volleyball so I am just as guilty as enjoying this as anyone else is.  However, culture and society change.  Team Ninja is finding it harder and harder to sell these games in the United States and Europe.  This is why there isn’t a release of DOA Xtreme 3 here in the States and why Evo Japan had to stop its Twitch livestream due to the behavior of its announcers and models.  I am seeing Team Ninja make changes to Dead or Alive 6 to address these concerns, but the game still has a lot going on that makes it a bit cringe worthy in today’s world.  I won’t tell you if this game is for you or not, that’s up to you to decide on this issue, and honestly others should either.  I’m interested to see what the future holds for this franchise and with Sony’s new content requirements.

Resuming Your Regularly Scheduled Review Here:  The stages are just as gorgeous and are well designed with some stage hazards, like electrified ropes or pterodactyls.  The new damage system is just weird to me.  Bits of clothing will fall off in weird ways or expose certain areas of the fighter’s body.  I’m not sure if this really adds anything to the game or not.  It just seemed silly to me.

Sound and music also were top notch in production.  However, I just have issues with the voice acting.  It’s similar to other fighting games on the market where the voice actors just feel like they are going for the cheesiest version of a certain voice from a particular country.  The French accent is just over the top French, while many of the female fighters sound like they are 12 years old.  But, if the worst part of the game is the voice acting, I guess Dead or Alive 6 is doing just fine.

Final Thoughts

Well, there is a lot to chew on this one.  Putting aside the optional discussion on the aesthetics, Dead or Alive 6 is probably one of the best fighting games on the market today for both casual and serious gamers.  Dead or Alive 6 offers deep game play and an even deeper fighting system that is very casual friendly, and no I don’t believe that is a bad thing.  The single player system offers hours and hours of content, though some of it is convoluted and muddled.  The game is gorgeous, it really is.  If you are ok with the aesthetic design choices of Team Ninja in both “jiggle physics” and costume choice, then you have a lot to play here.  If you aren’t ok with those decisions, you can choose to turn the physics off and stay in certain costumes and still have a great game to play.  Dead or Alive 6 is available for the Playstation 4 for $59.99 with all 23 characters, but you can also download the Core Fighters game for free if you want to try before you buy.

Trials Rising Review (PC)

No other game gets me leaning on my couch like a good Trials game. Whenever I play a Trials game I find myself physically moving as if I was actually riding the bike, just to get that extra inch to make it over a barrier or to clear a huge canyon. I have played every game in the series and always look forward to the challenges that the next edition will bring. It took a few years, but RedLynx and Ubisoft Kiev have finally come through with a new version of Trials with Trials Rising. Let’s take a deeper look into Trials Rising to see what has changed in this 19-year-old franchise.

Story

Trials games don’t usually come with a story, Trials of the Blood Dragon being the one notable exception, so there isn’t much to go over here except how the game is laid out. In the single player mode, you begin in North America with the easiest tracks to complete. After completing a few of these earlier tracks, you unlock the Trials University. Trials University is a prolonged tutorial that helps newer riders discover the intricacies of the Trials franchise. The levels in Trials University will unlock as your rider gains levels, this will mean that the skills you learn in Trials University will be fresh in your mind when you need them.

Progressing through the continent will also unlock the Stadium Finals and Sponsorship Contracts. The Stadium Finals are races where you race against 3 other players’ ghosts to see who can reach the finish line first with the fewest faults. The Sponsorship Contracts are generally fun and will help unlock cosmetic items for your rider and your bike.

Unlocking everything in the beginning was extremely easy. Completing the trails at the gold level was easy for me since I have played Trials in the past, but unlocking new stages isn’t based on the level that you completed the previous stage but your rider’s level. You could have reached gold on every race, but if you do not meet the level requirement then you cannot progress until you do. This change, for me, is Trials Rising’s biggest misstep.

Gameplay

The game play of Trials Rising hasn’t changed much at all from the last game. Trials Rising is still a game of using the right amount of forward momentum with the right amount of weight shifting and balance. I used an Xbox controller to play Trials Rising on the PC and it felt like returning to an old friend. The entire game is played using the right trigger for gas and the left stick for weight balance. The new levels in Trials Rising are incredibly imaginative and look gorgeous on the PC.

Trials Rising does introduce a new test to your friendship with the new tandem bike. With the tandem bike, two players can play locally on the stages and each player controls half of the bike’s momentum and balance. This mode is a great addition to the series and brings a whole new look to the stages. Trying to get two people to work together on one bike isn’t easy, but when you complete a harder stage the feeling is great.

What isn’t so great is the loot box system and some of the custom items that you can get. As you level up, you gain loot boxes like what you would find in Overwatch or Apex Legends. A loot box will get you 3 items, which can be an item for your rider, your bike, a sticker, or a pose that will show up on the loading screens. For my first pose, I got the infamous butt-slapping taunt which wore out it’s welcome within the first hour due to the change in music. I like getting items to customize my rider and make it different then the other riders on the screen, but loot boxes have always felt cheap to me and they feel cheap here too.

Aesthetics

Trials Rising looks fantastic on the PC. The levels are interesting, both game play wise and visually stunning. I found myself enjoying the lighting effects as the sun poked through the trees near the track, or the way the Eiffel Tower looked as you slowly climbed up it’s massive girders. The lighting effects on the PC make Trials Rising really pop.

Sound effects and music are exactly what you would expect for a Trials game. The music is fairly solid for the most part, featuring artists such as Anthrax, Motorhead, Stone Temple Pilots and Jurassic 5. There was a lot more artists on the soundtrack that I had never heard of, but that’s not to say that the music was bad. I still remember playing games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater where I loved almost every song and artist on the soundtrack. There are some hits here, for certain, but also some misses.

Final Thoughts

Trials Rising hits all the right marks to make it another great Trials game in the series. While I may complain a little bit about the rider level making the second part of the game a huge grind to unlock stages, the overall game play of Trails Rising is exactly what we need in another Trails game. The addition of the tandem bike is a great way for two people to get into a brawl on their couch, arguing over who it was that wasn’t leaning the right way. The stages are some of the best designed that has come out for the entire franchise, and that is saying something. If you can look past a sizable grind to unlock some of the stages, then I would highly recommend Trials Rising, especially on the PC. Trials Rising is available now on Seam for $29.99.

Ashen – A Review (Xbox One)

Developed by New Zealand studio A44 and published by Annapurna Interactive, Ashen is the latest action role-playing game to try to step into the ring with Dark Souls.  Many games have been compared to Dark Souls in the past, and have come up short.  Does Ashen have what it takes to survive the comparison and establish its own identify?  Or will Ashen end up forgotten in a few months?  Let’s take a closer look.

Story

The story begins with you, a nameless and faceless character, listening to how your world began.  This origin story tells of how your sunless world was created and the inhabitants of this world.  It also tells the story of how your world became sunless with the disappearance of the Ashen, a figure of god-like power and ability.  While you are listening to this story, there is a sudden explosion of light that shines over the land, allowing the people to see clearly for the first time in decades.  This light could be the rebirth of the Ashen, and could mean a new era of light in this sunless world.

Immediately, you set out to discover the source of this light with your first companion, Jokkel.  Just down the way from where you start, you set up your home base in Vagrant’s Rest, after clearing the area of bandits.  You see, not everyone is happy that light is coming back to the world and there are plenty out there that will try to stop you.  From your base, you begin to set out and gather more people that would like to see the Ashen return.  These individuals will head to Vagrant’s Rest when recruited and help you in any way that they can.

Ashen’s story does feel very Souls-like in the sense that you are tasked with bringing light back into a dark world.  However, the story in Ashen centers around community and how you are finding people to help you in your quest to help strengthen this community.  Dark Souls always felt like you were fighting a hopeless battle, that even if you succeeded you were only putting off the inevitable.  With Ashen, I always felt like there was hope.  Success meant that the world was going to be much better off.  The story is compelling, and draws you in every bit as much as Dark Souls does, but with a very notable shift in overall tone.

Game Play

Ashen’s game play is very similar also to that of Dark Souls at first glance. Everything from the combat system, the unique bosses, the open world, and the inventory system can be compared to Dark Souls, but these systems also have their own brand of uniqueness stamped on them.  Yes, at first glance Ashen plays a lot like Dark Souls, but as you get deeper into Ashen’s mechanics, you start to see the differences and they are brilliant.

Let’s start by looking at the inventory system and combat, since this is what you will be doing a lot in Ashen.  You start the game off with a single handed club that will get you used to the combat system.  As you explore and kill enemies, more items and weapons will drop for you to compare and utilize.  Your character can equip a single handed weapon and a two handed weapon in her/his right hand while holding a shield and a lantern in her/his left hand.  You can switch between these two loadouts quickly by a simple button press.  You also have a quick access bar for items that can replenish your health and your stamina.

Combat in Ashen is stamina based.  This means that everything you do in combat will cost you stamina, and if you run out of stamina you have opened yourself up to a butt kicking.  Stamina management is a must-have skill in Ashen.  A few times I went in to hit an enemy and realized that I no longer had any stamina.  Unlike Dark Souls, you cannot increase your characters stats.  Everything is based on your current equipment and weapon loadout, which you can improve by visiting your townsfolk.  

Another huge difference between Dark Souls and Ashen is how the multiplayer is done.  You can absolutely choose never to participate in Ashen’s multiplayer system if you wanted to.  Your companions are good enough to get you through the game without ever needing the help of another human being.  However, if you wanted to tackle the game with others, then Ashen can make that happen as well.  Other human players will join your game and take over one of your NPCs from town.  Similarly, if you join another person’s world, you will do the same.  There is no voice communication in Ashen, so everything must be done non-verbally.  This means you will need to stay close to your companion and really pay attention to their situation.  

Aesthetics

Ashen is a gorgeously designed game, both visually and auditorily.  From the beginning, Ashen looks different then anything else you will play this year.  The voice acting in Ashen is very well done as well.  The actors deliver their lines perfectly, and the narration fits the tone of the story.  Sound and music design both delivers the world of Ashen to you.  

The visuals are cell-shaded, which is nice to see make a comeback without getting overused again.  It was also an interesting design decision to not put faces on anyone in the game.  At first that distracted me a little bit, but as the game progressed I found myself really loving the difference in aesthetic.  The world you explore is beautifully designed, and I cannot express how much I loved the light effects in the areas of darkness.  Being able to drop your lantern to continue a fight with a two-handed weapon was great, but seeing how the shadows and light played around the fight at hand was simply amazing.

Final Thoughts

Being a huge fan of the Dark Souls games, I was very interested in Ashen from the beginning, but that interest was always tainted with a small amount of worry that Ashen wouldn’t live up to the Dark Souls comparison.  Whether that comparison is deserved or not, games like Ashen will always have to face that when it comes to how gamers will see this game.  

What I can say now is that Ashen not only compares well to Dark Souls, but establishes its own identity as a beautiful and tough action role playing game.  If you were interested in playing a Dark Souls game before but felt that the difficulty curve or tone of the game just didn’t sit well with you, then Ashen might be what you are looking for.  While Ashen is not as hard as Dark Souls is, it isn’t a cake walk either.  Multiplayer options can help with some of the harder parts, but I did find that the game’s A.I. was capable for most of the game.  The only negative I can come up with for Ashen is the lack of being able to control your A.I.’s inventory.  You may have to fight a tough boss battle with a companion that just does not have the right gear.

Ashen is a must own for anyone that is even remotely interested in Dark Souls.  Ashen is available now for the Xbox One.

Overkill’s The Walking Dead – A Review (PC)

Overkill Software has been developing their Walking Dead game for more than four years, and it has finally been released on PC.  I, for one, was excited to finally get a zombie game from the makers of Payday that was set in the Walking Dead universe.  That excitement turned into a strong feeling of “meh” during the beta as I quickly discovered that the game wasn’t as fun as I had hoped.  That feeling of “meh” quickly turned to a hard “nope” when it was finally released with many of the  bugs still intact from the beta and for a full AAA release price of $59.99.  What happened?  Let’s dive into our review of Overkill’s The Walking Dead.

Story

Overkill’s The Walking Dead is set in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead universe, but you won’t be playing as Rick Grimes or Michonne.  Instead,  you will play as one of four new characters in Washington, D.C.; Heather, Grant, Maya or Aiden.  You live in the Anderson Camp and will need to gather supplies to help better your camp, or you will need to defend your camp from attacks from zombies or humans from another camp.  The story progresses like it does in Payday, you have a home base and can select different missions to complete.  Each mission has a loose plot to go with it, like gather supplies from the human camp, but other then that don’t expect anything The Walking Dead level of character progression or development.  Since none of the characters from the show or the comic are in the game, at least currently, there isn’t much of a connection between this game and the later two storylines.  This game could have been just a standard zombie game, and the money for the license could have been spent making the game more fun.

While I do knock Overkill’s The Walking Dead around pretty rough for it’s story, it isn’t any more or less then what we got in Left 4 Dead and I enjoyed that game immensely.  What I think disappoints me the most is that this is a The Walking Dead game, and they only use that story as backdrop for this game.  A game set in the Star Wars universe can still feel like a Star Wars game even without the main cast of characters because the universe is so unique.  In a The Walking Dead game, it just feels like another zombie game, and we have tons of those.  This game needed a better storyline that connected with The Walking Dead much, much more.

Game Play

The game begins by allowing you to select one of four characters to take on a mission: Heather, Grant, Maya and Aiden.  Each character is outfitted with different weapons and takes on a different role.  Aiden, for instance, is the tank of the group and starts the game off with a silenced shotgun and silence pistol.  Aiden is great for soaking up damage or getting into the thick of things, but not so great when you need someone taken down from long range and quietly.  That’s where Grant comes in with his silenced sniper rifle.  Party composition matters in Overkill’s The Walking Dead, so make the right decision.

Each character comes with their own specific skill sets and what they can interact with as well, depending on what tool kit you have with you.  Weapons start off silenced, but as you use the guns to shoot enemies, the silencers will start to degrade then finally fail, leaving you with no other option but to go loud.  The issue with that is, of course, noise brings more zombies.  In the level I started testing the game on, we were infiltrating a human encampment and we were doing fine, but eventually all of our silenced weapons weren’t silenced anymore due to degradation and we started to alert more and more zombies.  Finally, we were completely overrun trying to reach our goal.

As you progress through the levels, you find materials that you can use to upgrade the Anderson camp and to unlock other skills or weapons.  The camp serves as a hub for all the other missions to center around.  The game tells you which one to start with, but you could just jump right into any of the unlocked missions you choose.  Overkill’s The Walking Dead is set up very similar to Overkill’s other game series, Payday.  If you are familiar with the basic structure of a Payday game, then you will feel right at home with Overkill’s The Walking Dead.

Ok, but is it fun to play?  Short answer is “maybe”. Overkill’s The Walking Dead can be a fun game.  However, there is no offline or solo play in Overkill’s The Walking Dead, at least officially.  You can start a mission solo, but you will be doing a job that was meant for 4 people.  This means you need 3 other people to play this game constantly, and if you don’t have 3 mates you trust, then you are putting your life in the hands of perfect strangers.  I am not a fan of online only games, I do love to have a solo option or at least the option to play with bots instead of real people.  If 3 of my friends bought this game and would play with me, then I would at least have someone I can rely on.  In some of the games I played during the preview, we would just have one person run ahead, aggro a ton of zombies and then disconnect.

The artificial intelligence in the game sucks, plain and simple.  We had humans just randomly shooting from across the map, and that was increasing the horde activity until we were finally overrun with no chance at all at winning.  Most missions also just had stupid things that you needed to complete before moving onto the next level, like collecting four gas cans to fill up the tank of a forklift to move it a foot and a half.  The horde mode missions are mind numbingly dull.  These are the worst, honestly, just shoot zombie, rebuild barrier, then repeat as needed.

Aesthetics

This is obviously where all the money for the game went, into making it look and sound good.  Overkill’s The Walking Dead is a good looking game.  The art direction and graphics look nice, and the game ran perfectly on my PC without any graphical issues or lag.  The characters are fully voiced in game, and the voice overs are also top notch.  The actors took the job seriously, and it shows.  It’s too bad that this just wasn’t enough to save the game from mediocrity.

Final Thoughts

Overkill’s The Walking Dead is a game that suffered from developmental hell and was plague by mismanagement and misdirection.  What we got in the final product is not worth the $59.99 price tag, not by a long shot.  Boring missions, bad a.i., no The Walking Dead characters, and a storyline that does not connect to either the comic nor the tv show just isn’t worth my time nor my money.  There is a lot that is good here though, and that’s what really hurts.  The voice acting and art are top notch, the different skills and loadouts for the characters are interesting, and the reliance on cooperative game play can be fun with the right group.  While I was looking forward to Overkill’s The Walking Deadthe final product is pretty much D.O.A.  Overkill’s The Walking Dead is available now for PC.

Opinion: San Diego Comic-Con Has Lost Its Soul

By now, everyone has heard about the annual event that occurs in San Diego that has become the Mecca for all things geek. Officially called Comic Con International: San Diego by the organizers, most of us know it as the San Diego Comic Con, SDCC, or simply as Comic Con. Beginning as the U.S Grant Hotel in 1970 with 145 attendees, Comic Con now takes up every square foot that the San Diego Convention Center has to offer, plus many satellite locations throughout the Gaslamp area, and is visited by well over 130,000+ individuals. What many people don’t know is how much Comic Con has changed since its humble beginnings, and how this change has affected many long time attendees and vendors negatively, with myself included.

Time’s Change Old Man! Get Used To It!

Ok, so let’s discuss the elephant in the room first and get that out of the way. First, a little history about me and Comic Con. I attended my first Comic Con back in about 1994 (could be 1993…damn memory), with my good friend Phil. He had told me about Comic Con and said that I should come down with him. I remember walking up to the Sails Pavilion to register, paid my fee (which under $50 for the full con), signed my name on the badge and went in. What I found at Comic Con that day would change my summers for the next twenty two years.
Comic Con was everything that I wanted in a comic convention. I had attended many events before Comic Con and Phil and I even put together our own comic convention in Anaheim (that is a whole other story), but nothing compared to the glory that was Comic Con. For the first five years of attending, the floor never saw more than 50,000 attendees. Meeting your favorite artist or writer was extremely easy and rewarding. I have memories of meeting people like Dave McKean, Jim Valentino, Jim Lee, Mike Mignola, Charles Vess, Frank Miller, Kelly Jones, and Glenn Danzig on the show floor. My original sketch from Dave McKean is still my most prized trophy from Comic Con.

But then 2002 happened. Before 2002, Comic Con had indeed been increasing in attendance. Every year, about 5,000 or so more people found their way to San Diego, but even with this increase the show floor nor halls ever felt over crowded. We were able to just walk right into many of the panels during this time period, with the Ray Bradbury/Ray Harryhausen panel being the highlight for me. But in 2002, Spiderman was shown to the attendees to a massive, positive reception. Spiderman went on to bring in well over $800 million, so Hollywood began to see a connection between positive Comic Con exposure and box office revenues. In 2003, Hollywood began to bring more and more shows, stars, and non-comic properties to Comic Con. This increased presence by Hollywood meant an increase in attendance, with most people coming down to get a glimpse at the movie stars that come to the con. From 2002-2003, attendance jumped 13,000 while in 2003-2004 it jumped again another 25,000 people. This would become the norm from now on, until Comic Con finally sold out its first ever event in 2008. Why was 2008 so special? Twilight.

What this all means is that Comic Con began as a simple convention that celebrated comics and the culture around comics. What it has turned into now is a geek culture event. I have watched the con change from mostly about comics and the culture around them, to anything and everything that someone who considers themselves a “geek” might be interested. Cosplay? Yup it’s there. Movies and television shows? Everywhere you turn. Video games? Yup, that too. Anime? Absolutely.

So, time’s change and things change with them. I get it. I’m one of the old timers that is sitting on my porch, shaking my fist at the kids in cosplay, yelling “That ain’t my con! Let me tell ya ‘bout them good ole days…”. And those kids are shaking their heads, and rightfully so. My final year of going to Comic Con was in 2015, but I was only attending Comic Con for those last few years because it was something that I had done for so long. The crowds are too much, there was less and less things that I was interested in buying on the show floor, and forget about getting into ANY panel, let alone the popular ones without camping out overnight. Comic Con’s Soul was different and it wasn’t something I liked.

Comic Con 2005 (L to R: Ray, Adam, Myself, Phil)

Bud Plant, Mile High Comics, and…..Bob the Angry Flower?!?!

Part of this change from comic focus to general geek focus is the casualties along the way. The cold, hard fact is that comics are far less popular today than they were in the 90s. Comic Con had to evolve in order to stay solvent. However, this meant a shift in the show floor, much to my dislike. Artists’ Alley has become a shadow of its former self, being pushed more and more into a corner, and the Small Press section has tables that sell luchador masks, or naked pictures of girls cosplaying as trademarked characters. This is what the fans want, I get it, but if the section is for Small Press comic writers and artists then keep the masks and porn out of it. One day, there will be a con without Bob the Angry Flower in the Small Press section, and Comic Con will be poorer for it.

But what really caused me to write this essay, was the loss of two iconic vendors from the show floor; Mile High Comics and Bud Plant. Chuck Rozanski, owner of Denver based Mile High Comics, ended his 44 year run in 2017. Chuck described Comic Con as having “grown far beyond its original premise, morphing from what was originally a wonderful annual gathering of the comics world, into a world-renown pop culture and media festival”. Chuck then cites “rapidly escalating costs, and also a dramatic change in the demographics of its attendees” as two reasons to not continue attending Comic con as a vendor himself.

This year, Bud Plant also called it quits from Comic Con. Bud Plant is one of two vendors that has attended every con, from 1970 until present. 47 years straight Comic Con had a Bud Plant booth on the show floor, but not this year. In May, Bud Plant announced on Facebook that they would not be making the trip to San Diego this year. I remember the first time I saw Bud Plant’s booth at Comic Con. When I say booth, what I really mean to say is aisle. Bud Plant had 11 booths that would make up of his section on the floor, and would take up most of the aisle. But in 2008 (the year Twilight made its Comic Con appearance, remember?) Bud Plant has been shrinking his booth count until it was down to just one. Like Chuck, he says that “the attendees these days are, in general, not our customers or they are not looking for books”. He continues to say that “many former customers can’t get tickets or have chosen to stop coming”. Bud Plant will continue to do the smaller shows that focuses on comics and rare books, but will no longer support Comic Con as a vendor.

To me, a Comic Con without Mile High Comics and Bud Plant just isn’t a Comic Con anymore. Well, at least we still have Bob the Angry Flower, but for how much longer?

Comic Con 2012 (Less Hair, More Crowds)

Ok, Grumpy Old Man, but What’s Your Point?

So really, what is the point to writing this? The old Comic Con crowd who reads this probably already feels the same way I do and stopped going years ago, and the new Comic Con crowd is too busy getting the finishing touches on their cosplay and coordinating their Hall H team to get into Saturday’s programming. So, if I’m not trying to convince one side or the other to come over to my point of view, why write this? Emotional closure is why, this is a eulogy. When something has been in your life for so long and it comes to an end or has changed to the point that it no longer fits your image of what it should be, it hurts.

Since 2015, I have undergone many life changing (shattering?) moments that I have had to deal with and say good bye to. I have had to say good bye to two cousins, an uncle, a marriage, two houses and Comic Con. While Comic Con is most definitely the last on this list in terms of priority (hence why it’s taken 3 years to write this), to say that it hasn’t had a major impact on my life is to be insincere.

I do not blame the people in charge of Comic Con for the change, they had to do what was necessary and they succeeded in making Comic Con the premiere event of its kind. Only the New York Comic Con can even come close. I don’t blame the cosplayer, the Twilight fan, the guy selling luchadore masks or the girl selling nude photos of herself in cosplay, each of these people have made Comic Con work for them, just like I did. Each one has something different they want Comic Con to be, and for them that’s great. So, who is to blame for this change? Time. Change is inevitable, either you like it or you don’t, but you can’t stop it. So, Comic Con, keep doing what it is you do. Hopefully, one day, Hollywood will leave Comic Con to the people it was created for, the comic fans.

Comic Con is dead. Long Live Comic Con.

I think I miss this the most…

These are just some of the memories of Comic Con that I keep with me, these are in no particular order and I don’t remember years anymore.

⦁ My son’s first con.
⦁ My daughter’s first con.
⦁ My son’s face the first time he saw someone that he recognized from tv (Adam Sessler from X-Play).
⦁ My daughter meeting Gus and Lindsay from Rooster Teeth.
⦁ Every year my daughter got her Monster High Comic Con Exclusive.
⦁ Meeting Laura Weis and Tracy Hickman, authors of the Dragonlance books.
⦁ G4 Arena meet up with Ray, Adam, and Wyntah.
⦁ Screening of Mimic with Guillermo del Toro who was there to answer questions.
⦁ Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen panel.
⦁ Standing in line to get a beer with Jay Mewes on a golf course in the middle of the night.
⦁ Barely being able to find my way to the Clarion Hotel after having waaaay too much to drink at an after party.
⦁ Meeting Stan Lee.
⦁ Watching Dave McKean whip up a beautiful sketch for me in under 30 seconds.
⦁ Conversation with Sergio Aragones.
⦁ Lunch at the San Diego Burger Company and the crawl back to the convention center.
⦁ Finding The Ring videotape from the street corner outside.

Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire – A Review (PC)

Back in 2015, developer Obsidian Entertainment created a Kickstarter campaign to fund their new game idea.  This new game would be a spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment, which happen to be two of my most favorite games of all time.  The Kickstarter campaign raised over $4 million and Obsidian Entertainment introduced us to the world of Eora with Pillars of Eternity.  To my shame, I never picked up the game.  I always meant to, but with other obligations and games coming my way it never got installed onto my PC.  Three years later, Obsidian Entertainment and publisher Versus Evil have released the sequel, Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire.  Since I never played the first game, this review will be focused on Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire as a stand alone game and whether or not you need to play the first game to truly enjoy the second.

Story

Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire picks up five years after the events of Pillars of Eternity.  The god, Eothas, awakens and reanimates a huge statue underneath your stronghold of Caed Nua.  Eothas destroys your stronghold and absorbs the souls of every living person in the area, including a part of yours.  Being mostly dead, you are contacted by the goddess of death, Berath.  You are restored to life and made Berath’s herald, in exchange for being tasked with finding out what Eothas is up to.  Following Eothas to the Deadfire Archipelago, the Watcher and crew are set upon by pirates and stranded on an island, needing to regroup before continuing their task to find and stop Eothas.

Right away, if you haven’t played the first game, you will feel like an outsider who does not know what is going on or who you are.  Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire will look for a Pillars of Eternity save file to see what decisions you made in the first game, and will modify the sequel to match.  If you didn’t play the first game, you will need to make some choices and will have no idea of the ramifications of these choices will be.  These choices are all made based on how you feel you would have played the first game, if you had.  What type of character do you think you would have been?  How would you have treated others during game play?

The world of Eora is full of lore and backstory.  If you skipped the first one, like I did, you are in for a steep learning curve in regards to learning and understanding the world around you.  If you played the first game, then the sequel will feel like an extension of the story and gameplay of the first.  I highly recommend playing the first game first, if you have any inclination of playing the second.  With that being said, the story of Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire is outstanding.  Characters you meet have depth and feeling, the story progresses well, and is nicely constructed to keep the pace fresh for the length of the game.  But to get the full effect, play the first game before starting the second.

Game Play

Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire is an isometric, role playing game in the spirit of Baldur’s Gate.  You play as a Watcher and can customize your character’s look, stats, and class to fit your play style.  You will be accompanied by many companions throughout the game.  These companions will also change, depending on your actions in the first game, if you played it.  You will also have a ship at your disposal. This ship will be how you get to move around Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire open world environment, exploring the islands of the Deadfire Archipelago.

The game play of Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire is very typical of this type of genre.  Combat is a real-time with pause system, which means everything you do is done in real time but you do have the option to pause combat in order to make a decision or plan your attacks.  Each character has their own set of abilities, inventory, and attacks.  Managing all of this seemed fairly easy to do, especially with the pause option.  Inventory is very typical of a Dungeons and Dragons style rpg, with items that can be dragged into inventory slots, or attached to quick use slots.

Quests are plentiful in Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire.  There are the main questline, as well as secondary and tertiary quests to do, and faction quests also to help flesh out the characters you have chosen along the way.  Obsidian Entertainment made sure that each quest felt weighty, and that there wouldn’t be any fetch quests to do.  While not every quest felt as epic, you did feel that each one had a reason to exist in the first place for story, and not just to help padout game play time.

Aesthetics

Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire is a gorgeous game!  The art direction helps bring the world of Eora to life with it’s vibrant environments and lush landscapes.  The towns feel lived in and real, yet exotic and new.  The world was interesting and begged to be explored, with dungeons and caverns around each corner.  Character models looked fantastic and truly belonged in this setting.

The voice acting was similarly well done.  Every line in Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire is voice acted, you will not have to read a single line of text if you choose not to.  Also, the cast of Geek and Sundry’s podcast, Critical Role, all had a hand in voicing characters in Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire.

Final Thoughts

Pillars of Eternity is on many best lists when it comes to an rpg for the PC.  As a huge PC rpg player, I am really ashamed of the fact that I never picked it up and installed it.  Playing Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire forced me to finally pick up the first game and install it.  I plan on playing both games now as a different type of character to get a better feel for how the games pair up together.  Even though I didn’t play the first game, I truly enjoyed Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire.  The combat is well done and is never boring, the quests all feel like they have purposes, and the world is vibrant and full of lore.  If you want to get the most out of Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire,  you have to play the first game first.  If you have already played the first game, then the odds are good that you already have Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire  and don’t need me to convince you to buy it.  Pillars of Eternity II:  Deadfire is available now on Steam for $49.99 and Pillars of Eternity is also available for $29.99.  For little more then the cost of an Xbox One game, you can have hours and hours of pure rpg goodness on your PC.

Dynasty Warriors 9 – A Review (Xbox One)

Koei Tecmo has released their latest edition of the Dynasty Warriors games with the aptly named Dynasty Warriors 9.  It’s been five years since the release of Dynasty Warriors 8 and Koei Tecmo has moved the franchise to an open world game style.  Will this new direction be an improvement over the already great game that was Dynasty Warriors 8 or will the move to an open world style be bad for the franchise?  I find out with my review of Dynasty Warriors 9.

Story

Dynasty Warriors 9 retells the story Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, beginning with the rebellion of the Yellow Turbans and ending with the fall of Shu.  This time period sits about 169 CE, which is near the end of the Han Dynasty. The story focuses on the lives of various feudal lords and their retainers, as they either strive to save the Han Dynasty from falling or try to replace the Han as the new rulers of China.  The story follows the paths of the three main states that competed for power during this time:  Wei, Shu, and Wu.

The story is broken up into 13 chapters, each with a different character to play.  At the beginning of the story, the player can only select one of the three patriarchs; Liu Bei, Cao Cao, or Sun Jian.  You will be able to play as any of the 83 playable characters that were in Dynasty Warriors 8:  Empires, plus some new characters that have been added to the series.

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is considered one of the four greatest books in Chinese History.  This story has its own series of video games by Koei, starting with Romance of the Three Kingdoms back in 1985.  The last game, Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII, was just released in 2016.  Dynasty Warriors 9 tells the story well enough, and gives the characters good motivation to do what they need to do.  If you know the story, then you know how the game will progress and what each characters goals are.  If not, the game does an ok job of going through the narrative, but could benefit from some more background knowledge for those of you that are not familiar with the end of the Han Dynasty.

Gameplay

So, this is where it all goes bad for Dynasty Warriors 9.  Let’s first address the open world mechanic.  This is the first game of the Dynasty Warriors franchise to go with an open world mechanic, and it fails miserably.  Instead of just jumping right into the chaos that is a Dynasty Warriors game, you must travel to various parts of China in order to access the quests and defeat your opponents.  That usually means a very boring and long horse ride through an empty China.  You will occasionally come across some people to fight, but the land feels empty and uninhabited.  The switch to an open world format was the single worst decision made for this franchise, but it’s not the only bad thing about this game.

Koei Tecmo also changed up the combat system for Dynasty Warriors 9.  Each character gets basically four attacks:  Air attack, Stun attack, Knockdown attack, and a Special attack.  No matter what character you use, you will have access to these same basic attacks, they will just look differently depending on who is doing them.  Iconic weapons are also gone from Dynasty Warriors 9, so each character will pretty much play exactly the same with the only differences being story arcs and visual aesthetics of the characters.

Dynasty Warriors 9 also included a new grappling hook that basically breaks the game completely.  Why support your army in a siege of an enemy fortress when you can simply grapple over the walls, find the fortress’s leader and kill him?  The first fortress I came up to I did what I thought I was expected to do, and that was support the siege machines in breaking down the front door so my troops can invade.  On the second fortress, I simply grappled over the top, found the leader and killed him to take over.  The second the leader dies, the rest of the enemies flee and despawn.

To add insult to injury, there isn’t any multiplayer in Dynasty Warriors 9 at all.  No co-op, no online, no local, nothing. You get a Free Mode that allows you to replay the level you just finished with any character you have unlocked.  That’s it.

I really enjoyed the way Dynasty Warriors 8 played.  I loved the feelings of each character, how they felt different, and how the game put you right into the action immediately.  Dynasty Warriors 9 takes all of that and dumps it out, trying something new.  While that is a good thing for franchises to do in order to stay fresh, these changes just made Dynasty Warriors 9 not worth playing for me.

Aesthetics.

The game has it’s typical beautiful Chinese character design, with each character looking fantastic.  The world looks beautiful, if uninhabited.  But once the game is running and you get into the action, that’s where it all goes wrong.  The framerate is a severe issue and drops drastically whenever there are people on the screen, which is all the time.  The draw distance seems to be way too close for this age of video game consoles and the screen didn’t fit my television with no way to change the size of it.  I honestly felt like I was playing a Playstation 2 game on my Xbox One, Dynasty Warriors 9 just doesn’t feel or look like a game that should be on the Xbox One.

Final Thoughts

Coming from a person who played and loved Dynasty Warriors 8, Dynasty Warriors 9 is a huge disappointment.  I was incredibly excited to get my hands on this game, but that excitement quickly turned to boredom due to the changes made to the franchise by Koei Tecmo.  The open world element does not work for this type of game, or it could if you gave me something interesting to do or look at in between quests.  The combat system has been simplified and, for me, ruined because it has now become just a repetitive button masher.  Finally, the grapple hook just breaks the game, allowing players to bypass obstacles and head right for the boss. Dynasty Warriors 9 will be available March 12th from Koei Tecmo, but I would strongly advise against getting this one.  Just find Dynasty Warriors 8 used and you will be good.

They Remain – A Review (Film)

And now for something completely different from me: A film review!  For my first foray into cinema review, we have “They Remain”, a suspense-horror movie by Philip Gelatt, starring William Jackson Harper and Rebecca Henderson.  “They Remain” is the second film directed by Philip Gelatt, and is based on the novella -30- by Laird Barron.  This film has been released on a limited basis, and I was given a link to the film on Vimeo for review.

Story

“They Remain” follows two scientists, Keith (William Jackson Harper) and Jessica (Rebecca Henderson), who are tasked to investigate a wooded area that was the campsite of a cult that participated in human sacrifice and murder.  Keith and Jessica are dispatched to the forest by a corporation, intent on discovering how the animal ecosystem of the area either helped instigate the cult’s behavior, or how the ecosystem was affected by it.  The pair discover later, that the site they are camping on was also home to a criminal investigation team that was sent to the area to recover more human remains, however had to leave the site earlier than planned due to their team leader going crazy and attacking his teammates.

Jessica and Keith continue their investigation of the area, Keith heading out to plant cameras and recover samples while Jessica stays at base camp testing these samples for evidence.  As time goes on, Jessica begins to hear voices and knocks on the camp’s front door while Keith begins to have visions and dreams of the cult and their activities.  The two continue their investigation into the area’s ecosystems, while continuing to deal with these new developments.

“They Remain” is based off of a short story by Laird Barron, and it feels like it too.  The movie’s storyline comes off way too thin to hold up an hour and forty minute movie.  There are vast gaps in story telling where the characters are either sitting around in the forest, or just looking off into the distance.  This may be meant to build suspense and drama, but it made the movie way to slow and dull for me.  This was an incredibly frustrating movie for me to watch, because I was interested in what was going on but felt like all the good stuff either happened 10 years before the actual movie, or was happening at other places in the forest while I was stuck watching these two.  When the pair begin discussing the “Pleasant Valley Massacre”, I remember thinking that I would rather be watching that movie, then this one.

Acting

Sometimes when the story of a film fails to really entertain, then the acting can save the entire project.  Sometimes the acting is so good or bad, the film is saved in the process.  Unfortunately, the actors in “They Remain” had to deal with characters and dialogue that was so boring and dull, that no actor could have saved this film.  Both William Jackson Harper and Rebecca Henderson just come off as dull and uninterested in the story.  Both actors show very little emotion and read their lines as if it is a to-do list.  I have not seen either actor in any other projects before, but I have heard that William Jackson Harper is fantastic in “The Good Place”.  I need to watch that show, just to see what William Jackson Harper is capable of, because “They Remain” did nothing to show of his talents.

Visuals

“They Remain” is a stunning looking film.  While I don’t know much about the technical terms of cinematography or camera placement in scenes, I was impressed with the visual aesthetics and shots within “They Remain”.  Scenes looked interesting, even if the dialogue and story was flat.  Camera angles made the scenes look good and the forest was an excellent backdrop for what little action the movie had to offer.  The best part of “They Remain” was how it looked.

Entertainment

So, I have watched many bad movies in my lifetime.  Some of these movies are even on my “Favorite Movie” list just because they were entertaining.  I can forgive a lot of stuff in a film, if it’s entertainment and worth my time to sit through.  “They Remain” wasn’t entertaining at all, not in the slightest.  The movie does begin slow and suspenseful, like most good suspense-horror movies do.  You begin to find out the plot of the story, and what the two characters are looking for.  The problem is that, this takes almost 45 minutes before anything even remotely spooky starts to happen on screen.  We are told about a lot of death and murder during the narrative, but nothing really happens to the characters for that long.  And when something does happen, it’s just Jessica telling Keith that she heard knocking on the front door last night and the camera didn’t pick up anything.

As the movie progresses, you keep waiting for something bigger to happen.  Are there still cult members walking around?  Is there something in the area that is causing the murders?  What is hunting the two scientists?  You get none of this, nothing!  The movie ultimately is the story of two scientists, investigating something cool, then go stir crazy because they can’t find anything cool.  That just did not work for me.

Final Thoughts

“They Remain” is a beautifully-filmed movie that consists of a slow, boring story and uninteresting characters, surrounded by something that might have been cool to watch but we never get to see.  “They Remain” is listed as a suspense-horror film and it fails in both regards.  I never felt any type of suspense, just boredom as the characters stare at trees, pretending to be freaked out about the behavior of wasps and ants.  There wasn’t a single moment of horror in “They Remain” for me, not one.  In the end, the material that the film was adapted from wasn’t enough to support a full length movie in it’s own right.  I would definitely skip this movie, if it’s showing near you.  “They Remain” was released March 2nd on a limited release run.