Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim (2012, RPG)

A Quest only for the Dragonborn

Graphics -9.5
Sound -9
Gameplay -8
Difficulty -8
Overall - 8.5

The Elder Scrolls Saga continues in this epic action adventure game set in the Norse land of Skyrim. Developed by Bethesda Studios, Skyrim closely resembles its other works such as Fallout 3. But make no mistake Skyrim is a world apart. The game often makes references to previous Elder Scrolls games such as referring to the "Oblivion Incident" as well as Morrowind Hence keeping true to its roots.
Skyrim offers a huge and open world, even from the get go you are allowed to explore this huge huge world. Spreading well over a 30 square miles, you'll spend hours upon hours of open world exploration and questing.  Filled with Dragons, monsters, wildlife and the occasional bandits Skyrim can be a dangerous world to explore at first. But as you gain in power traversing this world can be as easy as a walk in the park. You might be thinking with such a huge world exploration might get tiresome. This is where Skyrim truly shines as a open world game. Boasting arguably gaming's most beatiful graphics, travesing through Skyrim can be a feast to the eyes.
Just as its predecessor Skyrim offers you to play as a wide range of classes and races offering a high degree of re playability. And while the game has classes such as Mages, Warriors, Rouges and Archers Skyrim does not make a huge fact of it and hence does not limit you from developing your character the way you want. Hence your mage will not face penalties for waring heavy Armour nor will your Knight be limited in spell casting. As long as you have developed your character in a way that has met the basic requirements of the skill, you are good to go. This by far is one of Skyrim's best features. 
Expect to meet plenty of Dragons. Most of them will be unfriendly
While Skyrim is similar to Fallout its Leveling and Quest mechanics differ a lot. There is no concept of Experience points in Skyrim, instead you gain levels by leveling up your abilities. You can level up your magi skills, warriors skills or thief skills by virtue of use. This means you are not thrown in to the class you decide at the beginning of the game (as is the case of many games) but instead need to build up your character according to the class you want. If you want to build a tank that can hold up loads of damage you need to improve heavy Armour, shield and health skills. Else if you want a sniper that can take out targets from afar you need to focus on archery, stealth and light Armour skills. The choice is yours and make no mistake there is plenty to choose from. Leveling your lower level skills is easy a few clicks here and a few more clicks there and you easily level up your skill. However higher level skills can be time consuming and tedious. Skyrim does however give you a method of improving skills via NPC's but at a cost. You'll have to do a few quests or spend some gold in order to level up the skill in this manner. When you improve enough skills you level up. And at each level up you can improve either your health, magic or stamina ( need for melee combat) by 10. you also get a perk per level that you need to use wisely.

So might you ask what point do quests play. We''ll apart from holding this fabulous game together via its story line they also provide rewards such as skill upgrades, gold and  special items. In general quests can be broken into Main Quests, Sub Quests and Repeatable Quests. Main Quests do not necessarily mean it is tied to the main story line. Just as in Fallout 3 These quests branch out but are held together by a common story bond and provide a nice backstory to Skyrim. For example your main quest may be to fight dragons but at the same time you can choose to help one of few factions within the game. Sub Quests usually start off from some gossip or some reading material.  These can develop into main quests or just end quickly. Finally there are repeatable quests that are there to help you horn your skills and make some extra cash.

Other aspects include Creating items and Owning a house. Item Creation is a huge aspect in the game and it has 3 skills dedicated to it. Blacksmithing allows you to build and improve weapons and Armour, Enchanting allows you to add special effects to them such as fire or frost damage bonus to weapons and finally Alchemy allows you to create potions that might give you the extra edge needed to win a battle. Apart from this you can also own your very own house and even get married. Build up enough reputation within a kingdom and the Jarl ( King / Queen ) may appoint you as a Thane ( Sort of a Knight) and if you can pump in enough cash you can even buy your own property.

Making your own items can be fun

The gameplay is a absolute blast. You'll spend on average 100+ hours battling a wide range of enemies including Dragons. And in no way does the game limit your ability to engage in battle. Spells, Arrows, Stealth or Brute Force. How you kill your enemy is up to you to decide. This experience is further improved when you consider the games seamless combat mechanism. The only downside is that when your character reaches a high level you can pretty much blast off all enemies with  relative ease, even on the hardest setting. 

To aid you in your endeavor you can choose a companion. These companions are however few and far between and their AI is kinda messed up. Often they'll act as pack mules carrying the extra weight rather than do anything useful.  

As huge as Skyrim is it is inevitable that it is filled with its fair share of bugs. Graphic glitches, Broken side Quests and the rare crash may hinder your progress but thankfully these are few are far between and wont bother you too much. There are also other aspects of disappointment. These may contain Spoilers so you may not want to read on. Unlike in the Fallout series where almost every decision you made had a impact on the end game Skyrims decision making seems very shallow. And in some cases the game doesn't even allow you to choose. For example in one quest you must bring a priest in as a sacrifice. Once you trap him the dreada ( God like creature) traps you as well and forces you to kill him. This didn't bode we'll with me who happens to be a goody two shoes. Incidentally the main reason that your decisions don't count is the fact that there is no end game. Yes as unbelievable as it sounds there are no cinematic, no lengthy cut-scenes, no nothing. Which leaves you with a huge emptiness, especially if you decide to complete the Dragon-born quest line first. Finally the PC version does feel like a port at times. Lack of hotkeys, average inventory management system and pathing that sometimes do not work are some examples of this.

In summary these flaws are generally highlighted for someone who has played the Fallout series. You just cant shake that feeling of how complete the game would have been only if it had improved these aspects as it is in Fallout. Having said that Skyrim is a wonderful game that you would enjoy for hours to come. Even the most hardcore hater would play this game for what seems like a eternity. And with the endless amount of mods and DLCs streaming in you can expect plenty of bang for your money.

The Bottom line:
Skyrim is everything you could ever hope for in a sequel. And you'll play endless hours adoring, questing and enjoying every single aspect of it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Fall: Last days of Gaia (2004,RPG) Review

A Post Apocalyptic adventure

Graphics -7.5
Sound -8
Gameplay -8
Difficulty -8
Overall - 7.5

Developed by Silver Style, the people who brought you Soldiers of Anarchy, The Fall: Last days of Gaia is a a German RPG set in a post apocalyptic era. In someways the game resembles the Fallout 3 saga. You can even describe it as a toned down version of Fallout. But the post nuclear atmosphere and setting is pretty much the only thing that the games have in common.

Set in the year 2083 "The Fall" boasts a very large and open world to explore. In it humans have fallen back into a primitive anarchic state. The player must explore and quest and kill in order to survive this harsh and mysterious environment. The opening music provided by Darkseed provides a nice intro into the game. But in terms of sounds theres nothing really thats out of the ordinary. Ambient sounds, music, and in game sounds are OK and tied with decent graphics provide enough material to keep you entertained. 

Gameplay centers around you and a set of fully controllable support characters, killing, traveling and doing all sort of stuff to get the job done. Quests are decent but again are nothing out of the blue. Theres some level of options available to you to complete your quests but don't expect them to be mind blowing. The combat system is pretty smooth and decent. Combat is done using a wide array of weapons and in real time, but you can pause the game and think over your strategy at any point. A huge difference from other games is that the Fall allows you to have upto six characters in your squad. So you'll spend a lot of time tinkering with your teams gears just trying to find the perfect team combination. In terms of storyline there's nothing too dramatic. A few plot changes here and there and a few sub quests that attempt to fill some plot holes are the most you can expect from it.

Alas for some reason the English version of the game was cancelled. All speech and dialog is in German so i cant really comment on the voice acting.  You can however find a fan made patch that provides English text. In conclusion the game is pretty good but you always get that feeling it could have been so much better.

I never liked going into the wastes alone.

The Bottom line:
The Fall will appeal to most players who are fans of RPGs. But when you consider there's no no English version available along with the unpolished graphics and gameplay, you are conconstantly reminded that this game could have been so much better,

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Nexus: The Jupiter Incident (2004,Space Sim) Review

A rare gem of a space sim

Graphics -8.5
Sound -7
Gameplay -7
Difficulty -7.5
Overall - 7.5

Spaced based simulations that allow you to control a space ship have been on for a while. Star Trek, Dark Star One and X beyond the frontier are some of them. Boasting some of the best graphics of its time, Nexus : The Jupiter Incident is an valued addition to this category.

Gameplay revolves around you being able to control all aspects of a star ship named the "Angle wing", Which incidentally get into your hands during a "incident" that occurs near Jupiter, setting forth the game name. Your objective of course is to use the resources available to you in determining the outcome of a alien war that you are thrusted into. The games greatest asset has to be its graphics. Boasting top of the art graphics of its time, Nexus has a superbly enrich visual environment that would grab your attention in awe. Even today (2012) the graphics would be pretty decent compared to other space based simulations.

Behold the Arch-Angel in all its glory 

Playing through the game you would find startling similarities to games such as Homeworld and Star Trek Command. However Nexus adds its own unique touch allows it not to be classified as another copy cat. Missions vary from Direct assaults to support actions as well as stealth. Giving you a multitude of choices to achieve your goal. And while the controls are simple and easy to use you must have good knowledge of how each aspect of the game functions in order to be successful. For example the ships weapons do different type of damage versus shield compared to heavy or light armor. And although the tutorial gives you enough instructions how to play the game you would benefit from reading in depth aspects of how the game functions. The story is also decent enough to keep you entertained throughout the game.

Nexus is not just a Strategy / Simulation hybrid. it also has role playing elements to it. And when there are games that have messed them selves up by putting too much into the game, Nexus on the other hand does a fabulous job of mixing and perhaps more importantly balancing these elements. Multiplayer also plays well provided that you can find players to play with.

Who said going to war was easy ?

Alas as all good games Nexus has its own dark side to it. While the in game sounds are great the voice acting at times can be a little off. You'll often encounter situations where your hearing senses are enriched with explosions are lazer beams only to be instantly turned off by horrible voice acting. And while the missions are pretty well designed, some missions such as stealth missions can be a real pain in the back. This factor is further elevated by the fact that the game can be a little hard and the fact that you cannot save during missions.

The Bottom line:
Nexus belongs to a rare breed of games and can appeal to anyone that loves space based capitol ship simulation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001,RPG) Review

An RPG Classic

Graphics -5
Sound -7
Gameplay -7
Difficulty - 8
Overall - 7

 In a time where all adventure games for the PC seem to be console ports or have been designed keeping consoles in mind I decided to search for a true PC adventure game. And that search resulted in me finding Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura. I know.. I know even the name doesnt sound too cool and even i was skeptical at first. But having played the game i must admit that it was a true suprise package filled with a lot of good and a lot of bad stuff.

Set in a alternate universe Arcanum's setting is by far one of the most unique settings i have come across. Elves, Humans, Dwarfs, Gnomes and all other types of humanoid creatures live in the world of Arcanum along with hideous monsters that you would expect to see in a Dungeons and Dragons adventure game. But the game is set in a industrial age where these creatures have either accepted or rejected the advancement of technology.
Technology plays a important part in the world of Arcanum

 As the player, you get to create a character from among one of listed races above. You also have to define your stats in such a way that's either tech heavy, magic heavy or in the middle. Gameplay wise its similar to classics such as Fallout and Ice wind dale with a heavy reliance on adventure based questing. Combat can either be done on a turn by turn basis or in real time. You get to adventure along with a set of party members that are not fully under your control. And as you gain more experience you can choose to improve the set of skills that you have chosen. This sounds very typical of a role playing game of the early 2000s. But for me Arcanum seems to have done a bit too much in trying to incoporate a lot of new concepts while not sacrifising existing aspects. This leads to the creation of a game that at first can be both interesting and overwhelming for the player. The lack of a tutorial of course can further confuse new players and you may have to rely on your experience of playing similar games to move forward.

Arcanum is full of weird and dangerous monsters.

The world of Arcanum is open and huge world. And if you decide to complete most of the quests its likely to keep you entertained for a very long time. The story is at best mediocre and really serves very little purpose. The game tries to lure you into a interesting and compelling storyline, but with too many loose ends and a very high degree of complexity you end up wondering what your purpose was in the first place.

The other aspects such as graphics and sounds aren't that great. And i would rank the graphics and sounds of Arcanum lesser than games such as fallout and Ice wind dale. To give credit to the game it has very few bugs so you should expect smooth gameplay. But the game is broken in other aspects such as leveling and combat that tarnish its image.

The Bottom line:
Arcanum is not the best game out there. But it should appeal to players who like old school RPG Games.