Author - Judgeman

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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


“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.


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.

Sound BlasterX H7 Tournament Edition Headset – A Review

It’s that time of the year again!  It’s the season of new gadgets, peripherals, and hardware that gamers would love to see as gifts.  Today, I am looking at one such beauty, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset.  With it’s sleek new design, new software to get the most sound out of your games, and can be connected up to multiple devices, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset may be my new favorite headset for pretty much everything.


The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset has the basic same design as the H7 edition does, but sports a lot more red trim.  The wiring, the inside of the ear cups, and the cable are all red, compared to the stark blackness of the H7.  The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset also features a brushed metal look to the ear cups.  The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is made up of the same materials as the H7 and is incredibly comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.  The reinforced steel headband and aluminum architecture gives the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset a very solid feel to it, while still maintaining a light weight that does not wear you down.

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is also designed with a tilt driver, which creates a mini acoustic chamber within the ear cup.  This really allows the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset to separate sounds in game, to give you a much clearer and crisper sound experience overall.  But what really separates the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset from the original H7 is what’s inside.

Audio Performance

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset has been completely redesigned to give you a much better audio experience then the H7.  Specifically, the new 50mm FullSpectrum drivers, deliver incredible sound.  Rated at 118dB/mW, the drivers delivers clearer, louder, and more accurate sound production than any other headset that I have used before.

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset comes with two ways to connect the headset to a device; USB or analog.  In USB mode, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset uses the X-Plus Sound Signature, which allows you to customize your profile to match the game you are playing, such as Overwatch, DOTA 2, or Call of Duty.  USB mode also allows you to customize your experience by using the BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro software.  This software allows you to customize your profiles, provides an equalizer, and even has a voice modulator.  Analog mode is designed to be used with your music devices, such as your phone or Ipod.  The analog setup provides a solid, default profile that works great with music.  You are also able to connect your Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset to your Playstation 4 or Xbox One, making this really the only headset you need.

The detachable microphone has also been redesigned.  The microphone picks up your voice and cancels out surrounding noise, so that you can be clearly heard by everyone on the opposite end.  I used the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset for our monthly Dungeons and Dragons game online, and was pleased just how well the microphone worked.

Final Thoughts

The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is an all-in-one headset that delivers a clear, clean, and crisp auditory experience no matter what you are doing.  With seamless connection between your gaming consoles, audio players, and PC, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset can be used for everything.  The newly designed aesthetic gives the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset a cleaner look than the previous H7 Headset, and the updated and improved drivers and microphone gives the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset the edge in performance as well.  My only knock on the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset has nothing to do with the headset itself, but more of the way the Xbox One controller was designed.  Unless you have the Elite controller, you will need to buy the Xbox One Stereo Headset Adapter to be able to use the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset on the Xbox One.  Other than that, the Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is an excellent choice for an all-around headset.  The Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset is available now for $99.

Sound Blaster X H7 Tournament Edition Headset

(5 out of 5 Stars)

Total War: Warhammer 2 – A Review (PC)

Creative Assembly and Sega have just released their latest game in the Total War series with Total War: Warhammer 2.  Ok so full disclosure here, I have been playing some version of a Warhammer game since the late 80’s and have been in love with the lore and the land ever since.  While I play more Warhammer 40k, there is tons I enjoy from the Warhammer Fantasy setting, from Blood Bowl to their mmorpg, Warhammer Online.  Total War: Warhammer 2 is a turn based and real time strategy game in the Total War scheme, meaning you are dealing with vast armies at your control.  Spending most of the early games on historical battles, the last two Total War games have been set in the Warhammer universe.


Total War: Warhammer 2 is set in four new lands from the Warhammer universe:  Ulthuan, Naggaroth, The Southlands, and Lustria.  The Empire, Greenskins, Dwarves, and Vampires from the last game are no longer options to play, now you choose to play one of 8 campaigns selecting either the High Elves, Dark Elves, Skaven, or the Slaan.  The story changes depending on which lord you choose and what army that lord belongs to, but there is a base story that has set up the conflict in these lands.

A millennia ago, Chaos began to invade the land of Ulthuan and threaten the very existence of the world.  Caledor, with the aid of the Slaan, created a vortex that would help disrupt the Chaos energies and to rid the world of the Daemon legions. However the plan was only partially successful and although Chaos was weakened, it continued to leak into the world. Caledor and the mages  became trapped within the vortex.  There, the mages continued to cast spells keeping Chaos weak and contained to the Chaos Wastes.

In the present day, a comet disrupts the vortex, weakening its hold on Chaos. This is felt by all the races of the land surrounding the vortex, and draws out the High Elves, the Slaan, the Skaven and the Dark Elves.  Each faction has their own plans for the vortex and the Chaos energy trapped within.  Depending on which faction you choose to play, you will either be fighting to preserve the vortex and prevent the spread of Chaos, or fighting to bring the Chaos energy under your control so you may be able to conquer your enemies.

Total War: Warhammer 2 is steeped in Warhammer lore.  The only issue I can see someone having with the story line is not being able to play as your favorite faction.  If you are not into the four factions available in the base game, then I can see it may not be as fun.  However, the storyline is solid and lives up to the great lore that Games Workshop has built around the Warhammer world.  The four factions are fascinating to me, even if they are not my chosen races to play in Warhammer Fantasy.  The High Elves are your typical good faction, the Dark Elves are debase and violent, the Skaven are just fun, and the Slaan are very colorful from an aesthetic point of view.

Game Play

The gameplay of Total War: Warhammer 2 gameplay has some basic mechanics that works for all factions, but also has some unique traits that are only found in the faction that you choose.  The basic game is a combination of turn-based overland mechanics and real time strategy combat mechanics.  In the overland, you will make decisions that affects your faction, move your leader to attempt to intercept forces, and make decisions in terms of army makeup, economy and what to do with prisoners of war.

During combat, Total War: Warhammer 2 plays like a typical real time strategy war game.  You drag to select your troops and right click to move them to secure a section of forest, or to charge into combat.  Of course, there is much more to the game play then that in terms of tactics and strategy.  Your lord is an individual unit that adds combat bonuses to soldiers near him or her.  Depending on the troop type, the troop will react differently in combat and you will need to decide the best way to utilize that unit.  Your units can also retreat or go into a full blown rout if they take too much damage.

In addition to this, each faction has a different and unique gameplay element that occurs in game.  The High Elves have an intrigue element that allows them to influence other factions, economic situations, or diplomatic status.  The Dark Elves love their slaves, and can use these slaves to raise money or build structures.  The Slaan have the geometric web, which helps boost your provincial edicts, this will help keep your armies feed and funded.  Finally, the Skaven relies on food, the more food you have, the better your army is.

Total War: Warhammer 2 is by far my favorite Total War game in the series.  While I initially wasn’t drawn to the four factions, the gameplay of Total War: Warhammer 2 is so refined and complex that I was drawn into the faction and enjoyed every second I spend with the game.  Not that it was easy, my mind still struggles with these types of games.  While I love the Skaven faction personally, I found them the hardest campaign to play.


The aesthetics of the Warhammer world are well translated over to Total War: Warhammer 2.  The armies are dripping in aesthetic, from the polished armor of the High Elves, to the multi colored plumes of bird feathers on the Slaan.  The cut scenes are not fully animated, they are more like moving paintings then computer generated cut scenes, but the in game visuals are gorgeous.  Add in the vast amounts of individual troops and units that you can have on the battlefield and you will need a pretty beefy PC to keep up with the action.

The voice acting for Total War: Warhammer 2 is also very well done.  The Skaven speak in their typical jitter-speak, fans of the series will understand what I mean by that. The soundtrack is a beautiful thing to listen to and seems to know right when the tense moments happen to kick into high gear.  All in all, Total War: Warhammer 2 is the best sounding and looking game in the Total War franchise to date.

Final Thoughts

Total War: Warhammer 2 is a thing of absolute beauty.  My initial disappointment of having to play one of the four factions that I was not a fan of, quickly disappeared once the game started.  Everything about this game is a hit, from the resource management systems, to the political systems, how you upgrade your armies, and the actual combat.  In trying to find something to critique about Total War: Warhammer 2the only thing that I could come up with is that I wish I wasn’t so damn bad at it.  Even better news is, as I write this review, a free expansion called Mortal Enemies was released today that added over a hundred factions to play as. So even if I did complain about the four races in Total War: Warhammer 2, there is a free expansion that fixes that right up.  Total War: Warhammer 2 is a fantastic game and one of the best that I have played this year.  You owe it to yourself to pick it up.  Total War: Warhammer 2 is available now on Steam for $59.99.

Total War: Warhammer 2 Review Score

(5 out of 5 Stars)


Dishonored: Death of the Outsider – A Review (PC)

Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks have released the latest game in their Dishonored series, with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.  Designed to bring the “Kaldwin Era”, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is an stand alone game that runs about 8 hours from start to finish.  The decision to make Dishonored: Death of the Outsider a stand alone game and not dlc is in part due to the poor sales of Dishonored 2, which I thought was a great game.  Because of this, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider falls in between a full release and dlc, both in terms of content and price.  Is it worth your time?  Hopefully, I can shed some light on that and help you make up your mind.


Dishonored: Death of the Outsider begins after the events of Dishonored 2, with Emily Kaldwin back in power and restoring the Empire after Delilah’s rule.  You begin as Billie Lurk, former assassin under Daud’s mentorship, who is suffering nightmares about losing her eye and having her armed ruined.  Billie hears news that Daud is being held captive not far from where her ship is docked, and set’s out to face her former mentor.  Daud is being held by a group called the Eyeless, that has found a way to cancel his Void powers.  Once rescued from the Eyeless, Daud asks Billie to help him finish one last job; to kill the Outsider.  Billie agrees to help Daud, and then is visited by the Outsider who replaces her arm and eye with artifacts that imbues Billie with Void powers as well.  Billie then sets out to find a way to kill the Outsider for Daud.

Story wise, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is a fitting end to the Kaldwin story line, but a little unsatisfying in the game play department which I will get to in the next section.  The story of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider fits perfectly with the other two games, and brings the last loose end to a nice conclusion.  Seeing Daud and Billie together again, facing off against the Outsider, feels right and proper.  The story is just long enough to make sense and feel right, without having to put more content into the game to push it to a full retail price.  For old players of the Dishonored franchise, this will give you a nice ending to the series and will still leave you wanting more later.  If you are new to the franchise, then this is the worst game to start with.  Pick up Dishonored, then go from there.

Game Play

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider plays mostly the same as the other Dishonored games in the series, but with a few tweeks and changes.  Because this is the third release in the franchise, I’m going to just focus on the changes.  If you want to see how the other games played that came before, check out our reviews of those games.

First huge change in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is the removal of the chaos system.  That’s right, kill away my little psychopaths, kill away!  Killing people no longer causes the game to change and become more chaotic, with more plague rats wandering around.  You still need to worry about combat alerting guards, or corpses being found, but there are really no consequences in subsequent levels if you murder everyone in the room.  I am of two minds with this change.  On one hand, it does really loosen your blade and plays much more like an action game.  On the other hand, yeah it plays like an action game if you don’t care about killing people.  Of course, if you went high chaos in the other games before, then nothing really has changed and you can just keep killing people.

Another big change is that you are awarded all of your powers at once, there is no leveling up in this game.  I have a feeling this had to do with the length of the game, being shorter than the main games there wasn’t time to give you your powers piece by piece.  Billie gets a few new abilities this round, displace and semblance being two of them.  Displace allows you to set a marker in the level, then return to that marker at any time.  This is really handy when things really go downhill fast and you need a quick escape.  Semblance is the more interesting power of the two, it allows you to copy the face of an NPC and disguise yourself.  As you move in disguise, your power will drain.  If you stand still, you can use Semblance indefinitely.

Billie also gets a few new gadgets, some based on former ones that you are used to.  Her hook mine is a fun one to play with, set the mine and wait for your enemy to come near it.  As soon as they do, they are lifted straight up into the air by the mine.  This can be non-lethal if you choose, but setting two mines together will tear your enemy apart.

You can also pick up contracts before you begin a mission.  A contract is an optional objective that you will need to locate and complete to earn extra money.  Contracts vary in difficulty, and add another level of complexity to the mission.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider plays similar enough to make it feel exactly like a Dishonored game, there isn’t anything here that is new and exciting but also nothing here that is terrible or not fun.  I understand the design decisions with the skills, due to the game being about 4 hours shorter than the base game.  Everything here works well, even if removing the chaos system feels weird.  Even as I write this review, I am still not sure how much I miss that system.  Not having it in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider did not hamper my fun or ruin my time with the game at all, but it still feels weird that it was missing.


Dishonored: Death of the Outsider looks just as good as Dishonored 2 does.  Level design is interesting and we get to see more of the towns we did in previous games.  What is missing visually is the thematic level design that we have seen before.  Again, I attribute this to time in development and the fact that the game is being released at a lower retail price point.  Levels are well designed and interesting, but nothing compared to Jindosh’s mansion in Dishonored 2.

Sound and music are just as solid as ever.  The voice actors all return to complete the series, and the high quality of acting continues in Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.  Music design is just as good as it has been in previous games.  Again, nothing new but that is not necessarily a bad thing sometimes.

Final Thoughts

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is an interesting child of the Dishonored franchise, not quite adult to sit at the big table with Dishonored and Dishonored 2, but definitely much more grown up than the DLC releases of those two games.  Ultimately, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider feels more like an extended DLC to Dishonored 2 then it’s own release.  That’s not to say you don’t get your money’s worth.  You get about 8 hours of game play for about $30.  The story finishes the Kaldwin Era storyline quite well, the game play is more of what makes a Dishonored game good, and the game looks fantastic.  You won’t get any type of leveling system, nor will you have any true repercussions for your actions with the removal of the chaos system.  Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is an easy sell to anyone who has played the other two games.  In fact, you probably already have this game by now.  If you have played the previous games, but haven’t pulled the trigger on Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, it really comes down to whether or not you want more Dishonored.  If you do, then this will be a nice additional fix until they decide how they want to move on after finishing the Kaldwin Era story.  Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is available now for $29.99 on Steam.

Dishonored: Death of the Outsider Review Score

(4 out of 5 Stars)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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