Category Archives: Gaming

Skeptical Plays: World of Warcraft [PC]

Earlier last year, I found myself returning to the World of Warcraft, a game which I had walked away from in disgust nearly five years ago.  I had not planned on staying, and in fact, nine months on, despite my currently active subscription and daily play time… I kind of still haven’t.

Despite being a socially awkward misanthrope with zero people skills, MMOs for me have always been about the people, and most of my enjoyment had come from being able to meet and interact with like-minded fans of the genre. However relating to (and fitting in with) the rest of the community has always been one of my biggest issues, and even after years of my clumsy attempts at socialising, I still have not managed to find myself a static group of friends to play with, nor a guild where I felt truly welcomed or at ease.

Part of this comes down to my hatred for the game’s focus on loot and gear levels, and this ugly, obsessive, all-consuming greed that seems to bring out the darkest side of its community.  I despise how elitist and excluding its players can be; how groups and guilds pick people for content and memberships based on their characters’ item levels, with no consideration at all for the personalities behind the gear on-screen.

This, is further enhanced by my hatred of the modern day’s approach to end game, with its singular focus on repetitive, short, fast paced raids.

Part of me miss the old Vanilla days, back when dungeons and raids were long and gruelling experiences.  Random groups were much harder to come by, and as such they were taken more seriously by the players.  Folks were more likely to play nice, since failure due to a lack of teamwork (or being kicked due to assholeary) would usually mean another three plus hours of shouting “Looking for Group!” on the chat channels.

Many older players would look back on those days with disdain, but me?  I loved them.

It is an obsolete style of game-play which is no longer plausible today, with the modern day fast paced dungeon designs and the advent of randomised queues. However back then random Pick-Up-Groups were where players liked myself went to bond with like-minded folks, sharing common goals.

We did not have the cross-realm features back then, so it meant we would repeatedly encounter and group up with the same set of players over and over. It was how people build up their reputation within the community; how folks developed mutual trust and respect; and how strangers, became brothers.

Wanting to become more connected to the game and its community, I have gotten in touch with an old contact from my list in-game, and have been for the past month grouping with her and her guild, chatting and levelling, and helping with raids.

Unfortunately I am sad to report that my time spent with them only served to further highlight my frustrations with the game.  I miss the olden days, where entire guilds would get together in-game regularly for social events (cross-guild events even), and groups would run around laughing, joking, questing, and exploring the lands together.  It is a stark contrast to the game I see today, where it is filled with people who would only log on for raids or loot.

I find myself surrounded by friends who are reluctant to help out with content just because they already have the loot or the achievements they needed, and their participation would not benefit them in some way.  This self-serving nature is a common trend I am seeing, and it is particularly heartbreaking for me.

Furthermore,  I find myself once again in the position of being excluded for content for one reason for another. Being excluded by random strangers is frustrating enough, but it is decidedly worst to find yourself on the outside looking in when supposed friends are involved.

Not sure if it is the skeptical or the misanthrope side of me speaking here, but I am starting to feel that perhaps all people are inherently greedy and self-serving, and that perhaps I have been wasting my time all these years, trying to find true camaraderie and friendships in these online games.  That perhaps I should just become a vegan, and go hug a tree (or a dolphin)… or something.

I just don’t know any more.

Anyways I am mainly writing this post as an excuse to post some old screenshots.  But who knows, I MIGHT come back at a later stage and do a proper blogging thing where I report on what I have been doing in-game.  As always, I guess, only time will tell.

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NOT A Review: Serena [PC]

Clocking in at around maybe 30 minutes of game time, Serena is a short explorational point-and-click adventure title from the developer Senscape. Released as a free title, this is effectively a glorified tech demo, created to show off the engine used in their upcoming crowd-funded game, Asylum.

The premise is simple.  “A man sits in a distant getaway cabin waiting for his wife Serena.  How long has it been?  Where is she?  Things in the cabin evoke memories, and the husband comes to a disturbing realization…”

With over 40 contributors providing their wit and talents, and described by the developers as a (twisted) love letter to the adventure gaming community, this is certainly an impressive sounding title.  Unfortunately, the game itself – while not necessarily a bad game per say – failed to live up to the supposed pedigree of the developers, and I walked away feeling unimpressed by the experience.

To be fair, I was originally quite positive about the title despite its faults – if not for the actual game itself, then at the very least for the premise, and for what they have tried to achieve.  However, having had some time to reflect (and me being the skeptical bastard that I am), I am sad to report that the game have left me with a rather sour taste in my mouth.  The whole project just felt too much to me like one big collaborative marketing campaign, designed to provide opportunistic self-promotion for a bunch of small unknown and unproven indie companies, fronted by talents with dubious track records.

Serena is currently available as a free download on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux, with iOS and Android versions still to come at a later date.

S +

  • Attention to details.  A lot of seemingly unrelated little details have been added to the environment, giving the game and its characters an air of mystery.
  • Ambiguous ending.  While it did feel to me like lazy pretentious writing on the developer’s part, it does open the game up for interesting player interpretations.  In fact, I can go as far to say I had more fun reading forum discussions than I had playing the actual game itself.

S –

  • Ambiguous writing.  The predictably vague story I felt gave the game an illusion of depth which perhaps really wasn’t there.
  • Uninspired gameplay and story that seeks to emulate recent titles of the genre, but fails to the strike the same emotional impact.
  • Does not live up to the promise of “an extremely depressive haunting story that will challenge the players’ intellect (and temerity)”.  This game provided zero challenge – a completely linear title with the only gameplay consisted of literally clicking on every single clickable item multiple times.


NOT A Review: KickBeat [PC]

KickBeat is an innovative rhythm game with a Kung Fu theme, featuring fully 3D characters and high-energy music.

In other more traditional rhythm games, the actual gameplay often takes place in a separate abstract 2D interface, while eye candy characters move along to preset scripts in the background.  With KickBeat however, the developer Zen Studios have decided to switch the focus to these background characters – by supposedly getting rid of the standard bars, arrows, button icons, and other similar action cues, and instead replacing them with fully animated 3D characters which the player actually get to control and react to in real time.

Players of the game can expect music from a diverse lineup of artists, from well known bands such as Pendulum and Marilyn Manson, to indie musicians Celldweller and Blue Stahli, to hidden talents like electronic music producer Voicians and Taiwanese rapper Shen Yi.

The version played was the PC Steam Edition, but the game is also available on the PlayStation Network for the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita platforms.

KB +

  • Striking stylised art style.
  • A shallow but interesting, whacky plot.  There exists a magical Sphere which somehow contains all the music in the world – past, present, and future.  Unfortunately an evil corporation have attacked the Sphere, stealing its music.  Taking on the role of Lee, a trainee Kung Fu monk, and of course the Chosen One, the player must now single handedly take down this corporation and restore music to the world.
  • Fun gameplay with decent re-playability.  Aside from the main story campaign(s), there are four other game modes available, including a Beat Your Music mode, where players can generate custom levels using their own music tracks.  There is also a global leaderboard, as well as a large number of of unlockables to go for along the way.

KB –

  • High erratic difficulty.
  • Visual cues have changed, but the gameplay…have not.  Unfortunately the whole beat’em up/rhythm game fusion does not quite live up to the premise.  The core gameplay is still basically a series of rhythm gaming style Quick-Time-Events, complete with on-screen visual cues.
  • The beat’em up elements can be at times detrimental to the gameplay.  The masses of on-screen enemies can be distracting, making it hard to pick up on the QTE visual cues, while the beat’em up moves and characters can confuse some players into attempting (and failing) to play the game like a proper traditional beat’em up.
  • Beat Your Music mode execution is flawed.  While the game does allow the generation of levels using custom tracks, the process requires a lot manual tuning and adjusting, making the whole mode a pain to play. Plus, I could never tell if I have tuned my tracks properly, since the action in the my levels never seem to correspond to the music.


NOT A Review: Gone Home [PC]

Gone Home is an interactive exploration simulator, a story exploration game from The Fullbright Company.

“It is June 7th, 1995. 1:15 AM.  You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty.  Something’s not right.  Where is everyone?  And what’s happened here?  Unravel the mystery for yourself in Gone Home.  Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there.  Open any drawer and door.  Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues.  Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.”

Clocking in at around maybe 2 hours, the game offers the player a rather short but surprisingly deep and emotive experience.  Here the story is not directly revealed to the player.  Instead, utilising a system of passive story telling, characters and story fragments are revealed to the player through semi non linear exploration, and it is up to the player to piece together these fragments for themselves to form their own cohesive story.

Not going to say too much more since doing so might spoil for the game for anyone who has yet to experience it.  However I am gonna say this – you CAN go home again.

GH +

  • Personal, emotive experience, with a cast of believable and fully developed characters – amazing feat considering the fact that there are no actual NPCs present in this game.
  • Passive story telling through exploration.  There are no instructions, no enemies, no puzzles, and no actual plot to speak of.  The game leaves it to the player to create their own profiles of the characters, as well as their own stories and chains of events based on what they find around the house.
  • Flawless attention to details.  The house the game sets in is fully realised, filled to the brim with the family’s personal and everyday belongings. What the devs have created is not just another soulless building in a game, but rather a real home, and with it a real family, complete with real hopes, fears, and dreams.
  • 1995.  The 90’s setting is a HUGE plus for me, since the 90’s was by far the most treasured part of my childhood.  Filled to the brim with The X-Files and other pop culture references; SNES cartridges; VHS and audio cassette tapes; CRT TVs, and more – this game is not only set in 1995, but is in fact a true tribute to that period.
  • Developer Commentary Mode.  More than an hour and a half of audio commentary from the developers of the game.

GH –

  • The ending.  The game did not end the way I thought it would, and thus did not have the impact that I was expecting leading up to the end, which unfortunately left me somewhat disappointed.  Not going to say much more here, since I do not want to ruin it for anyone.  However, I do want to stress that even though I am listing it as a minus, it is NOT a bad ending for the game.

X-Files, American Gothic, Red Dwarf, Picket Fences...Deserves Game of The Year just for THIS alone. A true tribute to my childhood.

X-Files, American Gothic, Red Dwarf, Picket Fences, Space: Above and Beyond, Chicago Hope, Full House, Step By Step, Robocop, AND Attack of The Killer Tomatoes?  Deserves Game of The Year just for THIS alone.  A true tribute to my childhood.


NOT A Review: Heroes of Dragon Age [Android]

Heroes of Dragon Age is a Free-To-Play strategic, CCG-inspired 3D combat game from EA Swiss Sarl.

Here the goal is to build the perfect squad, using a combination of tabletop-like figurines based on characters from across the beloved Dragon Age universe, including rare dragons, giant golems, and other devastating creatures – each with unique abilities, stats, and factions.  Once gathered you can then send your squad out to face epic quests and boss battles, giving you the chance to relive places, times, and storylines straight from the franchise.  And of course, there is also the online leaderboard, where you can fight for eternal glory by facing your squad off against other random players’.

The premise has a lot of promise, however despite the slight strategic elements present, the gameplay is simplistic to the point of being non-existent, and fails to deliver.  It is not helped by the limitations placed upon the game by the Free-To-Play model either – unfortunately at the end of the day, it is almost impossible to advance in the game without paying for premium content, making this a strictly Pay-To-Win title.

– 

HDA +

  • Impressive graphics and character designs.
  • Random drawing of characters as ingame rewards.  Supposedly all of the characters have a chance of being drawn – but non-paid drawings have extremely lower chances of winning you the higher grade and the more useful characters.  This strangely gives the game an almost addictive quality, since you are constantly wanting to reach that next “just one more” reward drawing.

HDA –

  • Restrictions and the Free-To-Play gameplay designs makes this game almost unplayable without paying.
  • Difficulty of the main story quests makes it impossible to proceed in the game without the more powerful higher grade characters – and unfortunately the higher grade characters are next to impossible to obtain without paying.
  • The same problem exists for the leaderboard side of the game, where you are faced off against players with much higher grade characters, making it impossible to compete without higher grade characters of your own.
  • Elements like character factions and abilities add supposed depth to the gameplay.  However any depth proves to be artificial, since all strategy are overpowered and rendered inconsequential by the grade of your characters.


Skeptical Plays: Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn [PC]

This post is really just an excuse for me to log on and post some screenshots from the stunning Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn.  These were all taken recently, from the currently running Heavensturn event.

It is a short event, with the whole quest chain clocking in at just under an hour. The story revolves around a small group of traders from the Far East, who were unimpressed by our chocobos, and have travelled to our shores with the wish to introduce, as a replacement, exotic creatures known as…  horses?  And yes, before you ask it really is as silly as it sounds.

The Heavensturn event started on Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 15:00 (GMT), and is due to end on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 14:59 (GMT)


NOT A Review: Marvel Puzzle Quest – Dark Reign [Android]

Marvel Puzzle Quest: Dark Reign, from the developer Demiurge Studiosis a variant of the game Puzzle Quest, a gem-matching puzzler with RPG elements. Some mechanics have been altered to fit the game into the Free-to-play model, however, the simplistic core gameplay remains virtually unchanged – enter a battlefield with your chosen hero characters, and then match up lines of three or more gems of the same colour to attack your enemies, with the goal of lowering their health to zero, before they do the same to you.

Initially I had avoided the game, being skeptical of  its F2P model, having heard complaints of it being pay-to-win.  However my skepticism proved to be unfounded.  Everything ingame can be unlocked with minimal effort (for the most part), and all without paying a single cent.  And indeed the game does an amazing job drip feeding its players little chucks of carrots, with ingame currencies and free new playable characters being awarded at every possible turn.

Being definitely NOT a fan of mobile or F2P titles, I have to say my current addiction to this game surprised the heck out of me.  But, at least I’m not playing Farmville or Candy Crush, thank god for that.

[EDITED 30/01/2014:  The game was patched today (Data: 175039.0.175039), with changes to the gameplay which completely destroyed the Free-To-Play playability of the game for me.  This game is now unfortunately absolutely Pay-To-Win.  Previously you were given three chances to defeat your opponents in the live events, giving less powerful players the chance to rechallenge and wear down more powerful opponents with repeated attempts.  If your opponents proved to be more powerful, you were also able to give up on a challenge before your three chances were used up without losing points or ranking on the leaderboards, giving even lower-tiered teams a decent change of earning high level tier rewards.

However with this patch you are now only given one single attempt per opponent, and you now immediately lose points and ranking placement upon losing.  Experiences will vary, but from the few hours I have played since the patch I am sad to report that the team with the higher tier and level heroes will pretty much always win, giving the average player no chance of winning useful rewards unless they are willing to pay.  NOT impressed at all.]

MPQ +

  • Marvel license.  All the Marvel characters you have grown to love (and hate), complete with alternate costumes.
  • Non-restrictive / non-intrusive Free-to-play gameplay.
  • Evolving storylines – story events introduces regular new story elements and characters.
  • Regular competitive events with tiered rewards.

MPQ –

  • There are light strategy involved, but unfortunately most of the gameplay is heavily based on luck.
  • Competitive leaderboard gameplay requires minimal skills.  The more you play, the more points you will accumulate, so basically the more time a player has the higher they will rank.  This can get frustrating for the more casual players, or for those of us with jobs and lives.  With the changes to the game it is now heavily biased towards players who are willing to pay.  The main storymode is still playable for your average Free-To-Play player, but sadly it is no longer plausible for non-paying players to remain competitive in the live event portions of the game, which unfortunately is where all the new and more powerful and interesting characters are unlocked.


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