Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Legend of Grimrock

There was a time when, if you mentioned RPGs, gamers would envisage a party of brave adventurers trudging through a mysterious dungeon, armoured warriors and robed wizards slashing and blasting their way through hordes of loathsome enemies. Of course, finding magnificent treasure was part of the experience, as was dealing with frustrating lever and key puzzles that inspired euphoria when solved. What has happened to the RPG genre since then is a matter of (fiercely argued) opinion, but it has undeniably gone through changes.

RPGs ditched the tile-based movement system, and have offered us rich stories that took us through a variety of environments, even... wait for it... outdoor forests and deserts. Games like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights increased class customisation, skills and roleplaying choices. Story, dialogue and choices were a focus in these games. Other RPGs, perhaps most of them, became too action focused, losing the simple strategic appeal of the aforementioned older games such as Eye of the Beholder and The Bard's Tale. These newer RPGs focused on grinding and were too easy, turning the hero into a mighty avatar for the player to live vicariously through.

There remain gamers who think a real RPG forces players to take the role of weak amateurs, barely skilled in their chosen profession, and somehow manage to survive. Eventually your party would become impressive and powerful, but every morsel of experience, every magic sword and bejewelled arcane necklace would be hard fought for. Dungeons and enemies would constantly throw surprises at you. Oh, and you must make sure you feed your characters regularly and keep your torch supply up, otherwise you may die of more natural causes; or just get lost.

The Legend of Grimrock is for those gamers.

Very similarly to the Eye of the Beholder games, The Legend of Grimrock casts you as four prisoners thrown into an ancient and deadly dungeon, your only hope is the proclamation that should you survive to escape the hellhole, you would be acquitted of all charges and released to live your life. Despite the moodiness and quality of the introduction and cutscenes, they are simple and the story is almost negligible.

The customisation of your prisoners is complex enough to be engaging, and to make sure repeat playthroughs will yield new experiences. However compared to many RPGs, it is relatively basic. There are no excess stats or skills that are not necessary to survive. This is not a story-driven or interactive RPG. Your characters will explore every inch of the fascinating, dark dungeon ahead of them, moving tile by tile. Complex yet logical puzzles involving levers, pressure plates and placing gems in sockets, abound. They do not get boring, and the difficulty of these conundrums slowly escalates. The puzzles are largely satisfying to solve.

Of course, the dungeon is populated with all sorts of deadly denizens, both beastly, demonic and humanoid. The fauna of the aforementioned hellhole is very diverse, with each and every floor bringing forth beautifully designed creatures and requiring different strategies.

Speaking of strategy, this extremely difficult game does encourage you to exploit the system as much as possible to survive, attacking enemies with all four of your characters, and then retreating. This is a result of the countdown tied to all of your attacks, from simple swings of steel, to spells. Some monsters, such as ogres, are  capable of decimating your intrepid adventurers in short order, and usage of items such as potions, and conservation of spells and abilities, is essential to survive your stay in Grimrock prison.

Graphically, the game is old, but only by a few years. Fans of this kind of game will find the graphics more than acceptable, considering how old-school the gameplay is. The design of the dungeons and creatures is intricate and, in the case of the creatures, colourful. The dungeons are dank and tend to repetitive, but that is the nature of dungeons. Overall, the graphics are relatively new and they present the enjoyable old-school gameplay of yore with tolerable and easy-on-the-eye visuals.

Sound-wise, the game is fine. Footsteps, the snarls of enemies, weapons and spells, are all crafted aptly. Music is somewhat lacking, but this was likely a deliberate decision, in order to increase tension and encourage players to pay attention to noises- which is actually important in this game.

The Legend of Grimrock is tailor-made for people who enjoy games that provide a basic framework for fun, and lets users use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Being willing to use your noggin to persist at some of the harder puzzles and encounters, is also helpful. Character creation lets you choose four races: Human, Minotaur, Insectoids and Lizardmen. Enemy designs are equally imaginative. However, the bulk of the game is exploring labyrinthine dungeons inch by inch, dealing with sometimes repetitive, yet challenging puzzles, fighting wave after wave of enemies (but note, there luckily is no respawning except in a few areas where it is necessary for puzzles). On top of surviving the dangers of the dungeon, torches and food supplies must be kept up. It is a brutal, difficult game of survival and resource conservation. It is also very fun. You must fill in the blanks about what your characters did to be thrown into the dungeon, and what the world you inhabit is like. The cutscenes provide additional motivation to keep on moving, but the gameplay is the real treat.

Though the game is unforgiving, your characters can become equally mighty and intimidating. Skills can be levelled up as experience is gained, and gradually your characters will be decked out in more and more impressive gear. But, and this is the mantra for games of this nature, you must earn every inch of ground you take and you must earn the treasures awaiting you, by staring danger in the eye. For $15 on Steam, for about twenty hours per playthrough, the price is much more forgiving.

Look out for the epic, dark fantasy ebooks of Goodreads-rated author T.P. Grish at: 

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Borderlands 2

The first Borderlands was a 2009 shooter that mixed wacky, gleeful shooting gameplay with diverse RPG customisation. Borderlands 2 is set to launch in September this year, continuing player's adventures in the cell-shaded world of the innovative shooter.

Many aspects of the sequel remain true to the original game. Borderlands 2 promises to be a colourful, humorous shooter that focuses on wild customisation and frenetic shooting gameplay. You choose between distinct characters with their own unique skill trees and ways of slaying enemies, some focusing on brute strength and enhanced firepower, and others on debilitating and restorative types of sci-fi/magic powers.

The Siren class can encase enemies in a 'phaselock' that holds them immobile hovering over the ground, while you and your allies can fire away at them. Upgrading the ability can cause enemies who perish while phaselocked, to release healing orbs that rejuvenate the health of you and your allies.

The appropriately named Gunzerker can wield dual weapons akimbo style for brief periods of brutal fun, and can taunt enemies, drawing hem away from less hardy allies and conferring buffs and health regeneration upon the resilient warrior. An upgraded ability can cause the rate of fire from weapons to increase in relation to how quickly players can tap the alternating triggers on the controller.

All classes can utilise every single weapon type in the game, and speaking of weapons, the game will continue its predecessor's feature of giving players an almost unlimited variety of guns and gun combinations to wreak havoc with. Fire-infused sniper rifles, shotguns with the ability to shoot rockets, and other kinds of craziness will be abundant in Borderlands 2.

The sequel aims to bring a more coherent storyline and quest structure to the series. Instead of merely hunting down mutants and psychos, there will be inhabitants with quests to offer, and quests will offer you more incentives than just enjoyable gameplay; being part of an interesting storyline featuring more memorable personalities. Many bugs from the first game are going to be addressed and improved, such as the problems faced when driving vehicles ov
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er the sand box terrain.

One other important aspect that will remain the same, however, is the preponderance of bizarre enemies such as berserk mutants, suicidal robots and gargantuan armoured beasts with foul-mouthed midgets strapped to their shields. The vibrancy, insanity and imagination were part of the winning cocktail of the original Borderlands, and it seems that these vital elements will make a return in the sequel.

Look out for the epic, dark fantasy ebooks of Goodreads-rated author T.P. Grish at: 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

New Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii, Oh My!

The current generation of consoles have had a tumultuous reign that has redefined the way video games are played and viewed. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 fans enjoyed games with ever-increasing complexity of controls and gameplay, cinematic triple-A experiences and fascinating indie treasures. Motion controls, introduced for the first time as a workable and mainstream product by the Wii; have been adopted by Sony and Microsoft, and the calibre of games being released with motion compatibility is improving steadily. Casual games have exploded, giving a majority of people an avenue into games, and an entry point into core games.

So... as the mighty consoles of our day near the end of their lives, what is next?

Restrictions and enforced Internet compatibility, it seems. Rumours (unsubstantiated, but ostensibly reliable) describe a new Xbox that requires an Internet connection to be constantly on in order to play games, an Xbox where used games will only allow the buyer to play a kind of 'demo' mode, with the real game requiring further payment to activate. The allegedly titled PlayStation, 'Orbis', will also require an Internet connection to start up games, and shares the restriction on used games. Backwards compatibility will not exist with the Orbis according to the speculation, with details remaining sketchy on whether it will be provided with Microsoft's offering. If you despise heavy-handed restrictions on how you can play your games, perhaps it is time to stock up on current-gen games before the 2013 holiday season.

That's right, the consoles are said to be available to the public in the festive season of 2013. They are apparently being delivered to beta testers and screeners already.

Those who are unfazed by the newfound restrictions will be pleased to know that both consoles will have roughly double the processing power of current high-end computers, with the upcoming Xbox featuring between four to six cores.

Users will be forced to register all their games with a single PSN or Xbox Live account, and it is possible that the main means of acquiring games will be not with the dvd, but with Internet downloads.

For information about the Wii U, read the earlier article in this blog.

I am looking forward to more information about the consoles, that is, information that does not tout their DRM  schemes, but the actual gaming experience they are selling to consumers. After all, it is about consumers, isn't it?

Look out for the epic, dark fantasy ebooks of Goodreads-rated author T.P. Grish at: