The importance of freedom and options in videogames

So I just purchased Medieval Engineers when it was on sale. I was a bit apprehensive to do so and rightfully so. When I picked up the game I wanted to build a Necropolis from Warcraft 3. In case you are wondering what a Necropolis is, here’s a picture of one from Warcraft 3 Battle.net.

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I said Warcraft 3 Battle.Net for a reason… This is why I avoid this place. Sadly this is the only image of a Necropolis I could find…

The necropolis is the large structure in the middle of the image. They are my favorite building simply due to their quirkiness. I mean they’re a huge floating stronghold shaped like two trapezoidal prism’s attached at their base and another smaller trapezoid on top with a large pillar. There is a skull in the middle of each trapezoid which are usually used as a sewerage system.

Now in case you’re wondering, the necropolis is the main stronghold of the scourge. The most famous necropolis is Naxxramas which is a notorious raid in World Of Warcraft and was mentioned in Ashbringer. However there are many necropoli (can I call them that plural? I don’t know but i’m gonna do it anyway) littered around the world of Azeroth and they are used to deploy undead troops.

So naturally being the Warcraft fan that I am, it was the first thing that came to mind when I wanted to start building in Medieval Engineers but sadly it was not to be. Unfortunately, the necropolis is a floating stronghold… however surprisingly enough I managed to make a floating structure by disabling structural integrity (i’ll get to the reason why I dislike these things later). Sadly when I was trying to place a corner slope block, just like in Space Engineers I found out that I couldn’t rotate it upside down. WHAT!?

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The triforce of freedom in all it’s glory.

The irony of this is that I could have easily built this structure in Space Engineers as it is common to have floating objects in space and as such they allow it but why do they even bother to restrict it here? it’s not like it would be harmful to allow us to build upside down slopes, it would just allow for more options. And this brings me to the topic at hand.

Now what makes options so important? I’m not talking about settings and stuff like that. I’m talking about options in general. The answer is simple. Options are essentially the building blocks of videogames. They are what allows us to control what is going on in game. Without options, there is no game. As such every game has options whether it being the ability to move forward and backwards, that’s called giving the player options so even walking simulators have options.

Restrictions on the other hand is a word that I cannot stand regardless of it’s purpose. Restrictions designed to apply realism are what infuriate me the most. My philosophy is that a successful game is one that gives you more options than any other and is presented in a tasteful manner.

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FREEDOM!

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Oh shi-

I did say tasteful…

So why do you take away the option to turn your block upside down? I have no idea why this is so. Do KeenSWH insist that we all build the same structures as they do because as far as I can see, they want to limit our creativity to their own standards. They only want us to build castles and realistic structures. “We can’t have people building floating strongholds, that’s preposterous, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen so we can keep the player on the right track” ~KeenSWH Employee.

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Now on a related note, I also picked up the Stanley Parable on sale and the entire game revolves around options and how they make the character behave whilst mocking every little bit of it which is ironic considering the fact that the game is designed in a linear style to give the player an illusion that they’re playing a linear game but taunting them by adding options that encourage deviance. I will say one thing. I like this game. As a walking simulator I feel that reviewing it is out of the question. You either like them or you don’t but regardless I can at least bring it up in this article.

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Now the Stanley Parable taught me a very important lesson in game design. If it works, let players use it. This goes for anything really. Allowing for freedom in videogames is important and although many games are remarkably linear (such as Grandia 2) those games merely lack the ability to allow for too much freedom and though Grandia 2 is criminally linear as I mentioned in my review, I doubt they could make it into an open world game simply because it wouldn’t work (well it could but until Xenoblade Chronicles it wasn’t attempted).

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JRPG’s are linear by nature. They’re trying to tell you a story and are streamlined in order to make it easier to follow and prevent the player from getting lost or accessing areas that would feel inconsistent with the game’s design. Other games such as Gothic 3 aren’t concerned for this “consistency” and just leave the player free to explore their world with few barriers. Of course this means that game game has way more bugs and glitches than a linear game because there are more options for the player and with options comes more holes to fill.

“Without options, there is no game”

Giving the player options is like planting a garden. Plants need to be tended to every so often, they need water and good soil to bloom. Essentially, the more you add to something, the more work is required to maintain the consistent quality of the game. This is why linear games exist simply because it’s not worth adding more because it just means more work. I know this because my job involves gardening and adding more to the garden just adds more work for me to do, so I naturally decide not to do it even though it would make the garden look a bit nicer, is it really worth it if the plant ends up dead and looks awful?

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Ahh what a beautiful forest…

So as a result, there are limitations in some games like JRPG’s and this is acceptable. However making it impossible to rotate a block upside down in a game that uses the same engine and presumably the same coding language as a game that already allows you to build a block upside down is inexcusable and downright stupid in my opinion because you’re limiting us for no reason.

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Despite all the hype built up for it, the open world that was promised by the developers of Tales Of Zesteria was a blatant lie.

Now before I stop going on about this I want to bring up why the streamlined approach towards JRPG’s appeals to me and why I personally prefer them over WRPG’s. You see, the ability to go anywhere at any time doesn’t appeal to me personally, it’s nice that it’s there but personally what I love about open world games is the ability to build my own structure of linearity by making my own imaginary barriers.

“Essentially, the more you add to something, the more work is required to maintain the consistent quality of the game”

This is why I love games such as Two Worlds 2 which some criticize as being too linear for having plot barriers. This didn’t affect me a single bit however as I am used to it. I’ve played JRPG’s for 16 years now and as such this is just normal to me.

When playing games like Gothic 3 which encourage exploration, I like to make my own imaginary barriers and my own path. I choose to explore each town and dungeon in a particular order to build a structured RPG experience for myself. As such, the freedom doesn’t exactly bother me as I can merely form my own path. Games like Skyrim on the other hand annoy me because the game has you travelling to the other side of the world just to progress through the story which feels completely unnatural. they might as well not have a story at all.

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As such, Open world games have their place. If done right, they can work in story-driven games but if done wrong it can be frustrating for the player who wants to explore at their own pace and aren’t forced to travel beyond their own boundaries just to make progression. But in a way this is a restriction in itself, the restriction is a barrier that prevents you from making progress. This frustrates me a lot.

As a result, adding options can be dangerous at times and require a lot of thinking and decision making when designing a game. You have to ask yourself “what could possibly go wrong with this?” and try to work it out. Problem solving is the name of the game here and problem solving is the job of a game director because nothing is ever too much for a game, it is only as good as you allow it to be. Game directors are working on limited time and money so it’s important for them to prioritize which options matter the most and not to offer any options which may ruin the game’s overall presentation due to neglect.

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I’ll be taking this, thanks!

Every single feature in a game needs TLC for it to be appealing. Adding features is never a bad thing, so long as it doesn’t affect the core presentation of the game. If it’s just an unpolished add on that is separate from the game then it’s fine. However if it’s integrated into the game itself, it could cause problems with the game’s overall presentation. This is probably why KeenSWH removed Ladders from Space Engineers because they didn’t want to work on them. However they didn’t need to remove the ladder aesthetic from the block, that was just stupid and unnecessary in my opinion and ruined a lot of the things I built which relied on ladders. Now they just look silly.

As such, if it’s not game breaking, don’t remove it. Never remove features from games unless they are seriously game breaking (like the DMR in Halo, fuck that weapon). Removing features accomplishes nothing and merely shows that you don’t give enough of a shit to try and make it work. I hate KeenSWH for this and I hope other developers don’t do that same thing.

So all in all to all you game developers out there, please give us as much freedom and as many options as it is possible without ruining the game. Never boycott features without a good reason.

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Thankfully the mods allow us to bypass these barriers and have limitless freedom. Shame the devs can’t do the same.

 

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First Print copies of Star Ocean 5 comes with 3 Valkyrie Profile music tracks in Japan

Now you may or may not know this but I’m a huge fan of JRPG’s and
tri-ace are quite possibly my favourite developers when it comes to this genre. As you probably know by now. tri-Ace has announced Star Ocean 5. Why is this such a huge thing you ask? Because they haven’t made one in 6 years.

So far, the game is looking excellent but there’s still something I’ve been waiting quite a while for and that’s a new Valkyrie Profile game (if you can’t already tell by my avatar, Valkyrie Profile 2 is my favorite game of all time alongside F-Zero GX) and it seems that the long lost Valkyrie Profile series hasn’t been forgotten as first print copies of Star Ocean 5 will include music from Valkyrie Profile.

Now most media outlets have already told you that but the recent stream has confirmed all three tracks from the game which are “Fighting The Shadowy Gods” (battle music) “Hard Chain Reaction” (dungeon music) and “Confidence In The Domination” (boss battle music).

Nothing has been confirmed for the Europe and North American version though. If you’re a big fan of JRPG’s like I am, be sure to get your hands on this game as it’s looking pretty damn good so far.

Grandia 2 Anniversary Edition Review

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Of all the many games to be re-released, Grandia 2 Anniversary is the only time I’ve ever forked over money for a game I have already played. My reasons for this were simple. Grandia 2 Anniversary is available solely on PC. Now considering the fact that PC is my main platform for games these days (subject to change) I chose to purchase the game for convenience reasons, in other words no more plugging in my PS2 to play it. I could now play through this game in all its glory once again and I’ll tell you one thing for sure, the second visit to this game alone was worth every penny… even though I could have done so for free. Grandia 2 is worth another playthrough without a doubt.

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At least they didn’t call it “The Battle Of Good And Evil Anniversary Edition”

Now before we discuss the remaster itself, lets talk about the game. Grandia 2 is the sequel to Grandia 1 and is set in a completely new setting with new characters. Basically the game is completely different from Grandia in a lot of ways. I haven’t played the original Grandia but based on the knowledge I have of the game, it seems to function very differently.

So all in all, Grandia 2 feels like a standalone title and doesn’t require any experience of the first game to enjoy it. If you are looking to jump into the series or are just looking for an amazing JRPG, you could do far worse than Grandia 2. If you’re a newcomer to JRPGs I highly encourage you to start with Grandia 2 as it is quite possibly the most definitive JRPG experience you will ever experience. Only trouble is… you’ll feel a bit spoiled by the end and may struggle to appreciate other JRPGs which fail to meet the same standards in which this game set.

The story of Grandia 2 is straightforward for the most part. It is best described as “A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”. As such, the characters of this game aren’t the usual bunch… save for maybe two.

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Enter Ryudo, the snarkmeister.

The protagonist, Ryudo is what you’d expect from such a satirical-driven game. Ryudo is a lovable, yet sarcastic bastard (that’s an understatement) who takes pleasure in being an asshole. His dark past has led him to become rather cold and pessimistic but his cynical disposition gifts him with a unique, dry sense of humor… often at the expense of others. His unorthodox vocabulary may lead some confused… but others amused, nevertheless the delivery of his lines is priceless. Worth the price of admission in itself. Ryudo is without a doubt the best written protagonist in a JRPG and if you disagree, you probably hug too many trees.

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Personality aside, Ryudo is a geohound (euphemism for a mercenary). Accompanied by his talking pet bird Skye (dubbed by the legendary Paul Eiding), he takes on numerous jobs for cash, usually involving monster slaying among other things. He is renowned for his trade which often invokes resentment among the populace but rather than being bothered by their hateful remarks, he shrugs it off… usually accompanied with a snide gag to put them in their place.

Despite his rough upbringing, Ryudo, unlike most JRPG protagonists doesn’t tend to distance himself from others, rather he tolerates others so long as they don’t get in his way. He is highly sociable though his crude mannerisms tend to turn others away. As a result, Ryudo spends most of his life as a social outcast, save for his partner Skye, he is a lone wolf.

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Bird is the word!

Ryudo later meets Elena, a pious songstress who’s on a mission to perform an exorcism. Elena is literally the definition of a goody two shoes… So much so that she comes across as both obnoxious and frustratingly naive towards Ryudo. Ryudo is tasked with escorting her to an exorcism and takes every single opportunity he can to poke fun at her for her lack of caliber.

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This offers a unique dynamic rarely seen in JRPGs these days and its this dynamic that surprisingly many JRPGs lack. Banter… though not always the pleasant kind. It’s this which makes Grandia 2 so memorable and the characters strong. As more characters join the group, more banter unfolds.

Speaking of unique dynamics, unlike standard JRPGs where the NPC’s talk to you and you walk away, Grandia 2 makes the NPC’s relevant by adding character interaction whilst talking to them as opposed to them talking to what might as well be a brick wall. This gives more life to the world and more personality to the characters and setting. It’s a truly unique experience that cannot be missed.

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In addition, the game has dinner scenes offering even more character interaction, these just simply cannot be missed… unless you’re not interested in JRPG storytelling in which case, you can skip over half the game’s dialogue. They are essentially the skits from the Tales series done right and are usually far more relevant in comparison.

To feed your curiosity, I made a video to showcase one of these dinner scenes:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Overall the story manages to stand out from other JRPGs despite its common approach to storytelling. If you’ve played other JRPGs you’ve likely seen it all before… but just not in the same way. Though Grandia 2 is mostly lighthearted, it can be surprisingly dark at times, sometimes too dark. Despite all this the characters hold everything together so well that you almost forget about the archaic plotline (though if we consider its release date it was pretty unique for its time).

“A run-of-the-mill JRPG experience with an unexpected twist of satire coated in dozens and dozens of euphemisms to keep things clean”

I really like the whole campy feeling this game has. It really makes it feel surreal, in a good way. The characters, particularly Ryudo approach dangerous situations without blinking an eye, usually saying something awesome or witty like a classic 80’s action movie. Sure it isn’t realistic and all… but its a JRPG and I tire of the constant melodrama among JRPG casts, especially if it follows a conventional plotline (White Knight Chronicles anyone?). Despite this, the story is written in a way that it manages to make a huge impact in the latter half of the game and though there’s a tiny bit of melodrama in there, its cut short by the “getting shit done vibe” before it gets out of hand… I’m looking at you Edge Maverick.

It’s this reason that I consider Grandia 2’s story to be purely satire, it doesn’t take itself seriously half the time and when it does, the game still feels like a barrel of laughs due to how generic everything is but you can’t help but love every minute of it. It makes a mockery of generic RPG stories with it’s campy yet well written dialogue which doesn’t hesitate to add some cheesy lines in there to further intensify the satire, it works so well that it makes for a great JRPG story in itself.

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The core gameplay of Grandia 2 could be considered mildly archaic to todays standards but it still manages to stand out from other JRPGs of its time with its unique style of combat. Grandia 2 combines the ATB system from Final Fantasy and mixes it with the turned based style of older JRPGs and instead of using the ATB system to apply tension, it uses it to apply strategy.

Gameplay video:

(Playstation 2 footage)

Grandia 2 is a very easy game to master once you know the mechanics and when best to use them. As such I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers, its one of the best JRPGs to start with. The combat is rather satisfying and never outstays it’s welcome.

Battles follow a simple mechanic called the “cancel” mechanic which allows you to push enemies back along the “IP gauge” (the game’s ATB gauge) to essentially cancel out it’s turn. The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle.

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One of the complaints I made about the original Grandia 2 is that it was too easy. The gameplay on normal difficulty doesn’t punish seasoned JRPG veterans and it led to the game feeling like a cakewalk. Grandia 2 anniversary edition attempts to rectify this with the game’s new hard difficulty. What are my views on hard difficulty you ask? I personally believe it is falsely advertised as “normal” but it does manage to add some extra challenge to the game and I did have a few moments where the bosses nearly kicked by ass but I still never saw a single game over screen. Nevertheless I still found the game to be of a reasonable challenge on hard difficulty and I recommend all JRPG vets to play it on hard right from the get go.

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“Expect an early winter… with lots of snow”!!!

On Hard difficulty the enemies move along the IP gauge much faster, so you have to think more. I enjoyed this challenge a lot more and the game definitely rectified itself in this department. Overall though I’d say the gameplay is still a fun romp, it’s very simplistic but unique. I couldn’t recommend this game any more to newcomers in this department, veterans should play on hard mode like me to get the most out of it.

“The IP gauge may appear confusing at first and if you don’t pay attention, you may get hammered pretty quickly but once tamed, you will find yourself controlling every battle”.

Now in my previous review I talked a lot about the character management but after a bit of research, I found out that a lot of the information I gave was false, sorry about that. In any case, hard difficulty has opened me up to new strategies and has made the character management much more essential than normal which is refreshing.

Sure there are still a lot of imbalances (lotus flower anyone?) but I found that a lot of the moves that I claimed to be useless actually came in useful whilst playing hard mode. Sure there are still a lot of useless moves and spells (I never found much use for freeze at all in this game) but I find that hard mode has opened up new possibilities. As such I can safely say that character management serves a greater purpose than it did in the original game.

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Now for those unfamiliar with the character management of Grandia 2, I’ll explain. Grandia 2 offers total freedom over your character progression. This may turn off some people but it is definitely inviting to those who love freedom. Of course with freedom, there are exploits so I strongly recommend (and this goes for any game which focuses on freedom in character management) that you avoid all guides, forums or any form of conversations over gameplay so that you are not spoiled the fun of character management.

You are given 2 different currencies to develop your character’s skills, much like Star Ocean, you can spend these to put points in skills, moves and spells. These two currencies are special coins and magic coins. Special coins develop moves and general skills, magic coins develop spells and skills relating to spells. These coins are dropped by enemies along with experience so you’re able to break the monotony between battles by developing your character on the fly… not that battles are monotonous to begin with (dat battle theme never gets old).

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Spells are developed separately from characters. Instead of binding spells to each character, there is a pseudo materia style item called a mana egg. These mana eggs can be equipped to any character and whoever equips them gets access to its corresponding spells. Mana eggs are developed exclusively with magic coins and are completely separate from characters. There are several eggs each with their own set of spells. Each egg has 3 pages of magic and to learn them all, you must first master lesser spells and by doing so you will unlock new ones. This makes things a little trickier as you don’t know the spells available in each egg so you have to be careful what spells you want to develop.

Now here we get to the bad stuff. Grandia 2 is an excellent game without a doubt and please note that the vast majority of these issues are found in the anniversary edition and I will notify those issues which are found in said edition. The Playstation 2 version is constantly ridiculed by people for being a bad port. I disagree, the Playstation 2 version worked perfectly fine for me. However I own the PAL version which is said to lack the problems of the NTSC version. Ultimately though, if you live in Europe or the UK, the PS2 version is the definitive version as it doesn’t have any major issues like the NTSC PS2 version has and it’s really cheap. Alternatively you could pick up the anniversary edition if you’re looking for more of a challenge but overall the experience is better on the PS2.

If you live in the US, I would encourage getting the anniversary edition… unless the problems I state would prove really troublesome for you, if so then…*sigh* I’ll have to recommend the Dreamcast version (I hate SEGA and it pains me to recommend anything involving that company).

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H..hey, don’t fall asleep on me just yet, there’s still more to cover in this review.

Now before we look at the anniversary edition exclusively, lets look at the issues Grandia 2 has. For starters Grandia 2 has the tendency to lock you out of areas during certain points in the story and force you along a linear path. Though there is some backtracking to be done, the game loves to block out areas of the map you’ve been to previously, preventing you from returning. This can be quite aggravating if you’re deeply invested in the game’s narrative as there are optional dinner scenes and missable NPC dialogue that you can be locked out of and some of this is worth witnessing. Thankfully there are very few missable items in this game… though there are quite a few. Put simply, if you thought Legend Of Dragoon was linear, you’re in for a nasty surprise. Grandia 2’s linearity feels very similar to Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky… heck the game itself is very similar to Legend Of Heroes Trails In The Sky but superior in pretty much every single way in my opinion.

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Only 2 areas available on the map? Linearity at it’s finest…

Put simply, if you’ve played and enjoyed Legend Of Heroes: Trails In The Sky and haven’t played Grandia 2… what are you doing with your life? Get this game right now! Anyways let’s get back on topic. Grandia 2’s biggest flaw is its lack of optional content. Inability to backtrack aside, I would have loved to have seen some side quests here and there. Sure there are a few minigames (i’ll get to those later) and a few diversions but not enough to truly divert myself from the main story. I would have loved to have gone back to Agear Town and rebuild it back to its former glory like Luin in Tales Of Symphonia but sadly it was not to be I guess.

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My final complaint with Grandia 2 in general is the annoying compass which replaces the conventional minimap making traversing certain field sections a nightmare. Seriously Game Arts, why subject us to this torment? Can’t you just put in a conventional minimap like everyone else?

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Anyways I’ve covered all of the issues with Grandia 2 in general, lets look at some of the issues with the anniversary edition. Before I do lets talk about the visuals. Grandia 2 anniversary edition improves the visuals slightly. The lighting is improved, the terrain looks a lot more polished and there are some other small details that have been improved too. That aside we’re finally going to discuss the issues with this port.

First of all I have noticed numerous crash issues throughout the game (PC gaming as it’s finest ;)). I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to replay certain sections due to crashing. It’s frustrating. Thankfully there is a great abundance of save points in this game which helped out a lot (even if their ability to fully heal your party is exploitable as hell). Still these issues are inexcusable. There have been a few patches here and there so many of the crashes have been fixed though there may be a few un-patched ones still lingering.

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Aside from the random crashes, the other major issue of Grandia 2 anniversary edition is the music synchronization. This has been acknowledged by the developers who claim it is due to framerate issues. Battles in Grandia 2: anniversary edition have the option of running at 60 fps but the rest of the game runs at 30 or lower. Put simply, the framerate is all over the place, certain scenes run at 25 FPS, others at 30, it all depends on how long each scene is played out. As a result, the audio synch is messy so you may not hear certain tracks when you’re supposed to and vice versa.

That’s not to say improvements haven’t been made, there have been several fixes made to the game, including music loop issues. Those are patched now as well as a few major crash bugs.

Aside from all that there are a lot of awkward scenes where parts of the terrain are cut out or certain objects are see through or completely disappear altogether. Funnily enough these issues tend to show up in the game’s more cornier sections which adds some amusement to what would otherwise be an insipid melodrama.

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“We have to ruin this scene… how can we possibly ruin this scene”? ~ GungHo

Finally I’d like to touch on a few more things. The music of Grandia 2 is very dynamic, lighthearted and catchy. The battle music in particular is a real treat to the eardrums. I cannot get enough of the game’s battle music. The music also enhances the emotional investment of the game’s cutscenes in its own unique 80’s cop movie style which Noriyuki Iwadare just loves to display and it gives the game more personality. All in all, the music does it’s job really well and is really memorable, it might not be Valkyrie Profile 2 caliber but it certainly manages to stand out from the rest in this department.

On a final note I’d like to touch on Grandia 2’s minigames. Grandia 2’s minigames are unlike any other game (they’re awful). Grandia 2’s minigames will give you an unforgettable experience (one that will haunt you for the rest of your life). Grandia 2’s minigames are innovative and offer a lot of depth (if you consider incessant button mashing to be depth).

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The first minigame you will encounter pits you in a 1 on 1 contest of strength that will test your skill (ha, more like test your patience). You are given two buttons, one button applies power, the other button applies endurance (just tap the power button 3 times then tap the endurance button, rinse and repeat) it can be quite difficult to manage your power and your endurance (if you have no brain). The rewards for completing this arduous task are worth all the effort (if you like collecting junk that is).

Next up is the nut grabbing minigame, if you thought the arm wrestling minigame was difficult, the nut grabbing minigame proves to be an even greater challenge (challenge? more like ordeal). You are tasked with grabbing nuts from moving pillars before the pink insects drop down and stun you (sounds like a bad Snickers commercial).

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Great minds think alike eh Ryudo?

With all that aside I can say with great confidence that Grandia 2 was worth the second look and that playing the anniversary edition was enjoyable despite it’s shortcomings. I managed to find a lot of new things that I previously missed in my first playthrough. All in all, Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG.

As for whether you should fork over your hard-earned money for it… If you really loved Grandia 2 and haven’t played it to death, I’d say yes, if you’ve played it to death already, I’d give it a miss. If you’re new to the series (or the game) or haven’t played a JRPG at all, the anniversary edition would be worth checking out. All in all, the port has it’s problems (like many of its previous ports) but it also improves on a few things which were lacking in the previous versions. Regardless of which version you get, Grandia 2 is a must play for all JRPG fans and a great game to get invested into the genre. If you’re curious and haven’t tried a JRPG before, I’d say give it a try, you’ll either love it or hate it and if you hate it, at least you’ll know where you stand.

“Grandia 2 is a game that should be cherished and I’m glad it is finally immortalized as a digital classic on Steam so that future generations may too appreciate this legendary RPG”.

Personally I think Grandia 2 is the perfect example as to how a traditional JRPG is executed to cater to all audiences. I would even go so far to recommend it over Valkyrie Profile 2 (my favorite game of all time).

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That may be so… but I feel that this review has gone on long enough…

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Story/Plot: Exceptional
Presentation: Great
Music: Exceptional
Gameplay: Great
Lifespan: Decent Length
Would you replay? Yes
—————————————–
Overall: Exceptional

silver-star-of-awesome sized

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Value: £40.00+

Mafia 2 Review

Mafia 2 was kind of hit or miss for me personally, it’s a game that tries really hard to create a realistic setting and story line but it is held back by several issues that pushed the game into mediocrity.

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So much fun!!!

First of all, I’d like to get the bad bits out of the way so lets talk about the game play of Mafia 2. There are two different sections to play, driving and shooting sections, even a few stealth sections here and there. First of all lets talk about the shooting sections.

Now Mafia 2 is a third person shooter and I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this genre other than it has never appealed to me in the slightest for many reasons and believe me, this game made damn well sure to expose those issues. As expected, I was quite skeptical about the TPS sections and rightfully so.

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For starters, the cover system. I can’t stand cover systems and this game really brings the worst out of them. Seriously there is this one mission where a boss throws seemingly endless molotovs at you which can hit you through cover so you have to leave cover only to be shot by everyone in order to get to the next cover only to be burned again. It was infuriating and after doing some research, it seems I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with this part.

Put simply (consider this a mini rant), I am sick and tired of seeing cover systems in video games. They do nothing but piss me off, they are just awful and for good reasons too. Cover systems are basically just popping in and out and firing random potshots hoping to hit the enemy as opposed to FPS games like Painkiller where you are constantly moving and avoiding enemy attacks.

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The thing that gets me the most is that cover systems aren’t even realistic (unless you count Dishonored or Wolfenstein The New Order which are both games I personally disliked). The biggest issue with cover systems is that you’re in third person. If you want to make the game play feel realistic then do it in first person so that we can only peek in and out of cover to see where our enemies are (like in the two games I mentioned).

If you can see everything around you, whilst being in cover, it defeats the purpose of cover systems in general as it is completely unrealistic that you can see beyond cover on your screen so you know where the enemies are and the only reason why cover exists in games is because it’s realistic, otherwise we’d be running around and dodging bullets like Duke Nukem.

So all in all cover systems in third person shooters are stupid. What they should do instead is remove the stupid hitscan enemies and remove the cover and have you strafe to avoid enemy attacks. Look at the Serious Sam games for example, as much as I ridicule them for their unforgiving and frustrating difficulty, at least they made third person perspective playable and are the only game to do so (Warhammer 40k Space Marine came close but failed simply due to how slow you move).

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Basically the game play goes like this, you watch a cut scene and are thrust straight into a fight, you have to run to cover quickly and mash the left trigger to constantly go in and out of cover and shoot estimated potshots at enemies and keep going in and out until the enemy decides to pop out then shoot them, rinse and repeat. This wouldn’t be so bad if enemies didn’t stay in cover for insanely long periods of time so you’re usually playing the waiting game. This can become quite tedious, especially when you die and have to restart it all over again which brings me to my next problem.

The stupid checkpoint/save system is absolutely awful. I swear, half the game was spent replaying annoying TPS sections just because I got killed by some random blind spot (I’ll get to that in a minute) and brought back all the way to the start of the gunfight so I have to do all of those annoying TPS sections all over again!

I swear, the checkpoints are so spaced out, it’s ridiculous, you’d think that after completing one section that you’d get a checkpoint… but no, instead you get a checkpoint after 2 or sometimes even 3 sections and each section can take ridiculously long due to the horrible cover system. So basically you clear out a room of enemies, go to the next room and get killed by a blind spot.

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This brings me to the biggest problem with the shooting sections, the enemy placement. Mafia 2 pays homage to Red Faction in this regard as the enemies are placed in positions specifically to take you by surprise… or as I like to call, campy AI. I swear there are so many moments where you walk down a hallway and BAM! You get 1 shotted by a dude with a shotgun who was hiding in the room. The biggest issue with this is simply the minimap, it is dreadful. The minimap only displays enemies right when you’ve seen them and by the time the red triangles appear on the map, you are gunned down almost immediately.

There are so many points in this game where I reached the next section only to be one shotted by a group of enemies who appeared out of seemingly nowhere but half way through the game I noticed that this was due to the enemy placement.

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There is this one section where you’re walking down the stairs and there is an enemy waiting for you right at the bottom and they can see you as you are walking down and kill you before you even notice them. There was also a part where I opened a door and was greeted by a shotgun blast to the face.

Put simply, the enemy placement is designed to aggravate the player, just like in Red Faction, only difference is that because Mafia 2 is a cover based TPS, it makes things twice as bad due to the fact that you need to be in cover to survive gunfights, if you’re out of cover, you’re not going to last two seconds and since you cannot see where the enemies are, you get ambushed in every single encounter before you can get to cover. Either that or you hug every single wall you come across… but then the enemies could hit you from another direction.

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So all in all, this game is about trial and error, once you know the enemy placements, know how to react to the blind spots, you’ll beat it easily. Still I hate it when games give you cheap game over screens and make you replay a section you already did 10 minutes ago. That is what Mafia 2 does a lot.

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The stealth sections are decent at best, you can drag bodies and perform sneak take downs and stuff but nothing too fancy. I personally found the stealth sections to be underused and it annoyed me that they usually ended with a huge gunfight essentially making it impossible to stealth your way through a level which was a shame. Also some of the enemy placements can make it a pain as they never seem to want to move. Put simply, Mafia 2 is definitely not a great stealth game.

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Now the driving sections aren’t as bad but can still be frustrating at times simply due to the checkpoint system. There is one mission where you have to escape from the Feds and the police are on your tail immediately, you are also a wanted man. So you have to escape from the police whilst Joe deals with the Feds, sounds easy doesn’t it? Well it is… until Joe tells you to take him to Kingston in which you will have to navigate the map without getting any attention from the cops as you are a wanted man. In Mafia 2, being Wanted means that any cop who sees you will chase you down and that every area is locked down.

The problem is that because there is no checkpoint after killing off the feds, if the cops catch you or your vehicle gets smashed up, you have to restart the entire mission all over again! Seriously couldn’t you at least have given me a checkpoint after killing the Feds and escaping the cops?

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On the other hand, cop chases aren’t all that bad, they never feel completely one-sided (like GTA 5’s cop chases) but never feel too easy. Cop cars are slow in Mafia 2 so you can outrun them with speed, additionally, you can kill the cops yourself to make things easier and since the guns work really well and unlike GTA 5, 4 star cop chases aren’t too hard as long as you have the right guns, if you can time it right, you can kill both cops and take their car. Alternatively you can change your clothes/licence plate when you have escaped the cops to lose your wanted status.

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In any case, thankfully the driving works quite well in the game. Once thing I did enjoy was the speed limiter which allowed you to drive slowly, obeying the laws of the road. This allows you to role play a little which helps immerse you into the world instead of just driving like a complete lunatic all the time like in most open world games.

Speaking of Open World. Don’t go into Mafia 2 expecting an open world experience, sure there is a city to explore but the game is all mission based and the city serves as an extra. Think of it more like Halo 3 ODST’s New Mombasa in the sense that you have a city to explore but there isn’t much to do in it and it’s all broken up into missions. The city kinda acts as a hub between missions rather than a free roaming component as you will always find yourself in the middle of a mission. With that being said, there is nothing stopping you from exploring should you wish to do so.

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Missions are split into chapters which can be loaded at any time from the menu screen

There are cars to steal, shops to buy from and wanted posters to find so there’s something at least. Just don’t think of it as deep as games like GTA, Saints Row or Sleeping Dogs as it’s nothing like them (though it’s probably closest to Sleeping Dogs).

Speaking of collectibles, you can also pick up Playboy magazines in between levels which rewards your keen eye with erotic imagery, coincidence much?

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The game also adds hand to hand combat which feels like a glorified rock paper scissors game. I personally found it to be mediocre as it’s all about reading enemy patterns which can sometimes be quite unpredictable. A lot of it is just rinse and repeat dodge and counter until you see the opportunity for a finisher. That being said, these sections do manage to break things up a bit and add something different though they didn’t get as much use as I would have liked. Sparring against a Mob boss would have been far more satisfying than just capping them in the head as this game shows. On the other hand, the combat isn’t quite on the same level of depth as Sleeping Dogs so I’ll probably take back that statement.

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Mafia 2 isn’t all bad though and it does offer something of worth for those who are patient enough to put up with its issues. For starters, the world itself is very immersive. Seriously I have yet to play a game quite as immersive as Mafia 2. It seriously feels like taking a step back to the 50’s. The city itself is very well designed. The weather change is also brilliant. It feels like the entire city changes when you move on to the next time period. You start in what I presume to be the mid 1940’s around winter time and later on find yourself in the 1950’s mid summer. Heck even the cars change.

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You can also listen to the radio when you’re driving. Sure it’s not a completely new concept and the music isn’t anything incredible (it’s not video game music) but it really gets you immersed in the time period with songs like Dean Martin’s “Let it snow” playing in the background when you first arrive in Empire Bay. In addition, the radio likes to make many references to modern culture claiming that such ideas are ridiculous. There is even a stealth section where I overheard the guards saying “you know what would be cool? If we had a TV program which we could interact with, we could use a controller to move around, it would be so cool” and the other guard makes a snarky remark insisting that it will never happen.

Another great feature is the ability to own and customize vehicles, it’s a nice little bonus which you will almost never make practical use of as missions usually provide you with a car and even if they don’t, you can easily just steal one. Nevertheless it’s still a cool feature and it’s always nice to have a little bit of personalized touches to your ride. Of course it’s not as deep as it could be but at least it had it. GTA 4 didn’t. The vehicles all look very nice too, some great classic looking cars to steal and drive around in. Put simply, the vehicle customization is a good distraction and gives you something to spend your money on (when you’re not buying new suits or guns).

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The story in Mafia 2 is also done quite well though I would have liked to have seen more of it as the game is quite short. The story is presented in a rather gritty approach, particularly near the end, though there are a few comical sections here and there. For the most part it is a serious story though and can get quite dark too (as you would expect from a Mafia game).

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There are all sorts of really interesting scenarios like being thrown into jail for 10 years and experiencing prison life which I thought was a cool addition considering most games tend to skip those parts, it helped me get all the more immersed into the game and opened my eyes to the harshness of 1950’s prison life. Something I really appreciated.

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The characters are hit and miss, some are forgettable, some are pretty interesting. I found Vito, Joe, Henry and Leo to be the most notable characters, they kept the story strong for me, everyone else was quite forgettable (except Marty who was somewhat irritating).

Overall, Mafia 2 is a mixed bag, it’s an interesting experience for those who want an insight on Mafia life and it offers and engaging story and setting. On the other hand, the game play is pretty rusty and often frustrating, especially due to the annoying checkpoint system. Overall, Mafia 2 is not a bad game but it’s not really a good game.

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Story/Plot: Good
Visuals: Good
Game play: Mediocre
Music: Good
Lifespan: Very Short
Would You Replay? No
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Overall: Mediocre

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Value: £7.50

Purchase Mafia II (PS3)

Need For Speed Carbon Review

Now as we all know, EA are a greedy publisher. Their development team Black Box on the other hand are actually not that bad and it shows through Need For Speed Carbon.

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Completely ignoring the controversy behind EA, I’m giving Need For Speed Carbon a fair chance. Need For Speed Carbon is available for many platforms but I chose the Wii version. Why, I have no idea, possibly because I just got a Wii at that point. So I’ll be reviewing the Wii version.

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To start with we have the visuals. I honestly think that the visuals of Need For Speed Carbon are a vast improvement over its predecessors and still hold up well today. All the cars look nice and shiny and there are some great lighting effects on the paint work. The dark neon lit urban sandbox returns from Need For Speed Underground 2 which is good considering the bright, sunny Rockport kinda got tiring after a while, plus it provides a fitting environment to show off the game’s lighting effects.

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I really like Palmont City a lot as it has a lot of cool areas, particularly in Silverton and unlike Rockport which had very few memorable landmarks, Palmont has plenty. This can help out a lot with the police chases as it helps to know where you are on the map and the visuals are a lot bolder and clearer due to the game’s darker environment allowing you to identify light easier. All in all though, I really think Carbon does well in the visual department.

But what really matters in games like this is the racing. First things first though I have to bring up the controls as they are easily the most interesting part of the Wii version. Unlike the other versions, the Wii version utilizes the Wii remote which requires you to tilt it to steer (kind of like a steering wheel). This can turn a lot of people off at first and can seem quite intimidating, its a bit like transitioning from the DK Bongo’s to the Gamecube controller in Donkey Konga, it just feels awkward. The bad thing is that there aren’t any conventional controller options, though there are still a few options here and there which require the Wii remote and nunchuck, I felt that the default controls were ultimately the least clunky of the bunch.

With that said, the Wii remote operates fine by itself. You use 2 to accelerate, 1 to brake and the best bit, A to hand brake. My god I can’t think of any racing game where I’ve ever used the hand brake as much as this, and it handles so smoothly too. This is partly due to the mechanics of the steering which are very fast and surprisingly responsive even on the Wii version. Cornering feels so quick when using the hand brake that you will conquer most corners effortlessly, it’s as if you never need to use the brakes. This does not make the brakes useless however as you will often use them on sharp corners or to stabilize your ride to stop it from sliding around.

In addition, there is speed breaker which can be used by pressing down on the d pad (or from a horizontal position, you press right on the d pad). Speed breaker is so ridiculously abusive though it’s not even funny. Like Nitrous, it regenerates over time, so you can use it on nearly every corner and it’s really fun to do so. This can be a good thing as it makes the game more accessible for newcomers to the series and ultimately makes the game more fun as it’s cool to watch your car drift around corners carrying the weight of all it’s speed. It’s as if they knew exactly how to make an engaging arcade racer.

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As with previous installments, you have your nitrous to give yourself an extra boost, this can be done by pressing right on the d pad (or up horizontally) and can be useful at getting your speed back after a sharp turn. Something new however is crew abilities. Crew abilities allow you to either stop your opponent in their tracks or draft behind a crew member to gain some speed. As if speed breaker didn’t make it easy enough in Most Wanted, now you have another racer on your side who can win the races for you. Talk about hand-holding.

In addition, crew members have rubber band AI. This is usually a good thing since they stay with you, particularly if they’re a drafter but sometimes they get in your way and you end up ramming into their rear bumper with them complaining at you for driving like a lunatic when it was their fault. In addition, it can make a fun challenge to beat your teammate in a race as they generally play on the same level as you making them a tough challenge. Sometimes however your ally can be found all the way back in last place. Sometimes it’s because they hit a wall directly, sometimes a pursuit breaker blocks their way, this can even happen to the enemy racers too which is hilarious.

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To step things up there’s the canyon races. These races are Need For Speed Carbon’s most stand-out feature. Canyon races turn off both nitrous and speed breaker, forcing you to drive with pure skill. The hand holding essentially disappears completely here and whilst the arcade racing mechanics might help a little, the tracks theme around tight corners and thin roads which are designed to intimidate the player. This makes canyon races some of the best this game has to offer, they’re intense and really fun. Essentially, canyons are the ultimate test of your driving ability in the Need For Speed series.

Canyon’s are tough but not tough enough for the Dodge Viper

Police chases make a return and they’re more or less the same as they were in Most Wanted with a few alterations. Police helicopters will no longer follow you on the map, why they removed them is unknown.  Additionally, spike strips are not as effective as they were in Most Wanted and it’s possible to outrun the cops without tires as opposed to slowing down to 0 mph.

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As Palmont is a more cramped space, with lots of corners, there are a lot of quick exits to escape from the cops, and without the helicopters, the police will have a harder time finding you. This makes the cop chases in NFS Carbon a lot more forgiving than Most Wanted and are still just as enjoyable though they can sometimes be a pain. That being said, police pursuits have no impact on your career progression and for the most part you will rarely encounter them, especially not as often as you do in Most Wanted. It is cool to see them return though and not be completely ruined like they are in more recent NFS titles.

Police Pursuits are just as exciting as they were in Most Wanted

Another returning feature is the drift challenges from Need For Speed Underground 2 which have replaced the Drag races in Need For Speed Most Wanted (which I personally hated). Drifts couldn’t be more fun with the Wii remote, not to mention more challenging and rewarding. I swear your arms will hurt after a while as drifting requires you to corner some really sharp turns without touching the railings. The higher the speed the more points you get.

I personally find drifts to be really fun though I can understand how they can be a huge turnoff to some. Still, I find them a lot more bearable than Drag races which were a glorified car frogger simulation with manual transmission (automatic all the way, sorry, I just suck with manual transmission, it’s the main reason why I never learned to drive IRL).

“Cornering feels so quick when using the hand brake that you will conquer most corners effortlessly, it’s as if you never need to use the brakes”

And that pretty much covers the general game play experience of Need For Speed Carbon but that’s not the only thing Need For Speed Carbon has going for it. Like all good street racing games, you gotta have some good car customization. It is something the Need For Speed games have been lacking for a while now and Carbon is arguably the best of the bunch in this category (though some argue pro street which I personally disagree with despite them being very similar as to me, the cars look a lot better in Carbon which makes the customization feel more desirable).

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Like previous NFS titles, you can customize your rims, hoods, add a few vinyl’s here and there but what stands out the most is the game’s autosculpt system. This allows you to freely adjust the shape and size of your cars body to give it its own look. In addition, the number of vinyl slots is now limitless. This is the one thing that annoyed me the most about NFS Most Wanted, the fact that you could only pick one vinyl which was stupid as Underground 2 allowed you to have up to 4. Carbon rectify’s this problem by giving you limitless design possibilities. I guarantee you will never see two of the same car in NFS Carbon… unless they’re deliberately designing the same car.

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Unlike the other games in the series, Need For Speed Carbon comes with its own original soundtrack. Instead of just throwing money at licensed music (which they still do with their EA Trax), they actually managed to design their own to accompany it. So if you don’t want to listen to licensed music, you can just turn it off and still listen to the game’s OST. I actually really like the OST as it’s intense (the cop chases still use the remixed version of The Mann), particularly the music that plays in the canyons which has a lot of heavy percussion.

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The biggest issue with NFS Carbon is it’s length. The career mode is sadly very short, there are only 4 boss fights (each with both a circuit and canyon race) and the career can be a little too easy to beat. With all of its hand holding features like the speed breaker and your crew, the game can easily be beaten in a few hours. The final race however is really tough and it can really suck for people who have a low acceleration car as your opponent is driving the best car in the game with perfect handling down one of the game’s most twistiest tracks.

To make up for this, there is a lot of replay value to be had in NFS Carbon. Aside from the career mode there is also the challenge series. Though it doesn’t offer half as much content as NFS Most Wanted, it’s still there and has you driving some cars that are unavailable in career mode which is cool. In addition there are reward cards which are basically in-game achievements which reward you with new car parts, visuals and cars to unlock in Quick Race (the game’s multi-player). I actually went out of my way to get all of the reward cards in the game and it was a lot of fun replaying the game again each time to get them (though I set up a new alias as I wasn’t fond of losing all my pimped out cars to complete some of the reward cards).

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Here’s proof, proof that I have no life

The Wii version doesn’t have online multi-player but split screen is still there and can still be fun with a friend. It’s pretty bog standard and sadly there is no coop free roam like in Midnight Club 3 but it’s still quite fun for a little bit though you’ll eventually get bored and move on to something else.

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Did somebody call the fire brigade?

All in all, Carbon is a solid entry in the series and is my personal favorite. As a racer, it’s up there, but it ain’t got nothing on F-Zero GX.

Advice to all Wii version owners: Play in first person perspective, trust me, it makes a huge difference. Oh and stick with default controls and learn them. You will grow to love this game.

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Visuals: Great
Music: Good
Gameplay: Great
Customization: Excellent
Content: Satisfactory
Lifespan: Very Short
Multi-Player: Decent
Licensed Cars? Yes
Would you replay? Yes

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Overall: Great

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Value: £25.00

Purchase Need for Speed: Carbon (Wii)

Remember to purchase a used copy!!!

Bullshit PSA: Halo 5 Guardians

So it’s time to live up to this site’s name and talk about industry bullshit. This is the first of potentially many Bullshit PSA’s. These will be very short blog posts about my stance on stupid, condescending business practices this industry throws at us and here’s one of them to prove just how shitty this industry has become.

Now this could be considered old news as I don’t keep up to date with this stuff but I can and will still keep a record. If you haven’t yet purchased Halo 5 and are thinking of buying it, DON’T!

Here’s why. Now microtransactions are obviously the main issue here but it goes deeper than that. Halo 5’s creators 343 made an animated short which proves just how us gamers are treated by these companies. Heck what’s insulting the most is that 343 aren’t even a publisher. Even Moneyvision and EA wouldn’t have the balls to make such a reckless statement but you know what? If we let this stand, we will only make things worse for gaming. If you buy Halo 5, you will be contributing to a company who treats gamers like children. Even if you are an under 12 year old gamer, even you should be insulted by this condescending statement because you’re still a consumer and is US consumers that keep companies like this running… (and shareholders too).

343: “We’re better than you, you suck DEAL WITH IT… and keep giving Moneysoft money so we can keep our jobs”

Here’s the video in question for those who want to see proof first hand:

Halo 5 REQ System Tutorial
(Video property of Microsoft)

This my friends is why I’m glad I don’t own an Xbox One and if you do, you have my deepest sympathy, especially if you’re a Halo fan too. I used to play Halo back during Halo 3 and Reach, though not a long term fan I did have fun playing them back then but to make things even worse is that they have taken out split screen.

Me and my friends used to play split screen Halo all the time. It was like a ritual. We played Smash Bros Melee, then Kirby Air Ride then Halo all day it was just these 3 games and we loved it. Now Moneysoft are forcing players to subscribe to Xbox Live Gold to play their “multiplayer” well fuck you Moneysoft and fuck your black lump of plastic you call a games console. Monthly fees are ridiculous too, don’t join Xbox Live ever, I did and I regretted it. Avoid Moneysoft.

Mount And Blade: Warband Review

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I’m a bit late with this one, too busy playing Mount And Blade Warband to make this review but alas, the time has finally come to review this awesome… if unpolished game. Mount And Blade Warband is the best WRPG ever made, it’s better than Skyrim, Dragon Age, Gothic and pretty much every other WRPG on the face of the earth, I say this loosely because Diablo 1 exists and whilst that is a timeless classic, this game does so much more than Diablo ever did. Put simply, if you want an RPG where you can truly forge your path in an epic medieval world, you’ve found the right game.

Now Mount And Blade isn’t a fantasy game… so it loses a few points for that… oh wait, no it doesn’t, there are fantasy mods, heck there are even Sci-Fi mods. Mount And Blade Warband is everything you could ever want in a WRPG… but there’s more. Mount And Blade Warband is more than just an RPG, it’s a simulation… should you want it to be.

Everybody line up for your beating!

Now sure, pretty much everything about the game centers around war but you can do pretty much anything you want to in this game. Enjoy getting bored trading goods from town to town if that’s what you enjoy, heck you can also be a cattle farmer and heard them to the nearest village where you can sell their meat for a profit. Nevertheless, there is obviously more to Mount And Blade Warband than just that. Mount And Blade Warband is all about gathering a huge fucking army and raiding villages, killing armies of bandits, joining one of the many factions as a vassal/mercenary or even saying “Screw you guys, I’m making my own kingdom and if you try to stop me I will fuck you up and throw you in my dungeon bitches!”

Welcome to my bitch dungeon motherfucker!

Of course war is the centralized feature of Mount And Blade Warband and eventually you’re going to be at war no matter what but there are plenty of other things to do on the side too should you want a change of pace. Admittedly though, you will typically find that this can become a tad repetitive over time but to me, war never gets old. That being said, I can easily recommend this game to anyone who enjoys medieval warfare, go get it right now, you are seriously missing out. For the rest of you… keep reading.

Shot through the heart… and you’re to blame!

Where Mount And Blade excels at is it’s intricacy. Ruling a kingdom is no simple task, let alone being a vassal and you are encouraged to do so only late on in the game. On the other hand you could just choose to stick with your chosen faction… if you want to be a hipster, go ahead. Should you choose to become a ruler, you need to pay attention to your right to rule. Not just anyone can rule a kingdom, you have to be a renown adventurer who has proven him/herself worthy of leadership.

One interesting factor of Mount And Blade Warband is it’s character creation. Upon creating your character you select your gender, facials, character background and base stats. These are secretly the game’s difficulty rating in disguise. The difficulty of Mount And Blade Warband can be customized to your liking. Personally I turned saves on and fight easy ai with reduced damage but I played as a commoner who grew up as an iron smith. The next minute I’m riding off into the wilderness taking bounties and working my way up the ladder, eventually becoming a vassal of the Nords.

Riding on into the sunset…

I spent many years fighting with the company of the Nords… however things started to get out of hand when the Rhodocks, the Sarranids and the Kherjits declared war on the Nords simultaneously due to the Nords recklessness, I thought I could do better, so i rebelled against the Nords and set up my new faction, The Brotherhood Of Arms and though it was a difficult ordeal at first, my past experiences had developed me into a strong ruler that managed to conquer many of my former faction’s lands.

Now of course I make it sound easy, I was playing on the lowest difficulty which just happens to be the default difficulty. I didn’t bother turning it up because I enjoyed the thrill of charging into battle and just wailing my sword around like a mad man. Of course if that’s not your scene then you might choose a harder difficulty or even to remove saving completely so you cannot reload the game. Should you choose to do this though you will really have to think about your actions considerably because if you make one wrong move, you’ll screw everything. Taking over Calradia may seem like a simple feat on the easy difficulty but if you’re playing on the hardest difficulty with no saves it can be nigh impossible. Of course even on the easiest difficulty it’s no free ride but I could play more aggressively as a result which suited my play style.

Once you start the game, you will need to enlist new men into your army. You will be able to hire companions along your journey who can level up and develop as you do (well it is an RPG after all). Character management is a huge part of this game as you don’t just level up your main character, you need to level up your entire army. Of course, leveling up your units is simple enough, they generally start off as farmers with pitchforks/hatchets but they can grow into powerful warriors, archers and even mounted knights. This is where the character management comes in, as your character develops, they will be given multiple branches which can develop them into a completely new type of unit.

Body Surfin’

In other words you can develop your army however you want. Of course the customization for regular units is limited and this is where companions come in. Companions are essentially party members who level up conventionally as your main character does. This means they can have skills which you don’t making up for your character’s weaknesses. Choosing the right companions makes a huge difference, it all depends on your character’s build. If you chose to be a strong, powerful dumbass, you might want to hire a medical companion to heal your troops after battle, you may also want to hire an engineer for raiding enemy castles easier.

Siege towers… the bane of my existence… they take forever to build and once they’re built you have to wait till it reaches the walls…

Of course it’s not that simple, you see some companions just don’t get along and will leave you if you put them with someone they don’t like. This is why it’s important to choose your companions wisely. Worse comes to worse, you can send them on other jobs for a while such as spying on enemies and stuff to calm things down. You can also persuade them to stay if your persuasion skill is high enough.

As a ruler, you will need more than just a single army. Most rulers have several armies in their own faction, so taking them on solo won’t be efficient, especially if your leadership is low. You need to hire other leaders to help you lay claim to Calradia. Upon starting your own kingdom, you will want to hire lords to fight at your side. However, lords won’t fight for you without a cause and you must persuade them to join your cause.

In addition, you will also need to grant them feifs (villages, towns, castles) that you own in order to reward them for their efforts and show your appreciation. That being said, in some cases the tongue is mightier than the sword. Talking your way into people’s recognition for you can often yield great results. One time i approached Knudaar, a nordish lord. Our past endeavours together back when i was a vassal of the Nords had made us close friends… in a bit of a tricky situation, we were on opposite sides. Instead of just lopping his head off, which I could have done, i asked him if he would like to join my new order.

See that red text on the map? Those are feifs, the red text indicates feifs I own… which is all of them. Beat that!

After some careful consideration, he chose to join me against the Nords and with it, all the feifs he had acquired through his efforts as a vassal of the Nords, effectively giving me more territory than the Nords as a result. This just happened to be my turning point in the game. Whilst I barely survived the Nords onslaught on my measly kingdom, by bringing one of their men to my side, I had taken nearly half their nation, essentially becoming equal in power to the Nords.

However, as a result, you must bear in mind that the same can happen to you. Vassals come and go and only the most trustworthy vassals should ever lay claim to a town/castle should you want to keep hold of your territory. Trust works both ways though. If you grant feifs to someone else, a vassal will dislike you more. Once you find yourself with a lot of vassals, this can become difficult to manage so you don’t always want to have so many vassals, sometimes a small team of trusted comrades can become a juggernaut in itself which can lay siege to countless fortifications at your command. On the other hand, recruiting lots of lords can outnumber enemy lords and you can send them on other tasks whilst you’re pounding them in their castle.

It all depends on the lord’s personalities and the only way to test them is by experimenting. As dangerous as this can be, you don’t need to panic as it’s usually pretty easy to tell the greedy lords from the content ones just by seeing which lords get mad when they don’t get a feif. At the start, most lords will want feifs for themselves so it becomes really difficult to balance things, later on however these lords tend to nominate other lords who they deem worthy of claiming a feif. This makes things a little easier. At some point you will find a lord that begins to dislike you. At this point you have the option of either keeping him in your army and pray he stays, grant him a feif or indicting him for treason. The latter will make all the other lords dislike you more so it is only used as a last resort. If you only gave them villages, the first two options are the best choices. Whether or not you should give them a feif depends on their worthiness and greed. Do they have a powerful army? If so then you might want to consider giving them more feifs, if not then just leave them to rot.

 

“Screw you guys, I’m making my own kingdom and if you try to stop me I will fuck you up and throw you in my dungeon bitches!”

 

There are multiple ways to recruit lords. One way is by recruiting exiles, I generally opt to keep exiles in my court. The problem with this is that your court will get full and you won’t be able to get bonus relation gains with current lords when you host feasts. On the plus side, these lords are incredibly patient and leaving them in your court makes other factions considerably weaker. You can also recruit companions, I thought this was a cool idea. Companions are a mixed bag but better than exiles imo.

Begging for scraps at the emperors table? I think not. Executioner, to the dungeon with them!

Instead of begging to join your faction, companions have no intention of holding a feif until offered. Some companions are satisfied with this, others let the power go to their head and get greedy. Oh and companions can betray you as well so be careful. It’s also important to recruit noble companions as common companions will make other lords hate you yet should you want to be a king who values equality, you may choose to do so.

Ok guys… time for a cleanup

There are so many different intricacies to ruling a kingdom and I’m not going to cover all of them but I think you get the picture. Mount And Blade is more than just a simple action game and even the mightiest warrior can lose to politics. Then again a politician with no fighting skill will find their lack of leadership and weakness in battle to cause them great losses in the long run.

Now as i said, there are so many mods for Mount And Blade Warband and whilst native (the vanilla version) takes place in a fictional medieval setting, there are many mods which take place in real life historic settings, fantasy settings and more. If you’re into history and want to experience historic warfare, you might be interested in these mods.

Should you choose to stick with native, there is a diplomacy mod which has a lot of other features which improve the intricacy of ruling, personally i stuck with native but I’m not going to rule out any conversion mods in the future.

Gameplay Video:

Now Mount And Blade Warband isn’t without its issues. It’s not the most polished game out there. There are a few glitches such as the siege tower not moving, clipping and a few other issues here and there. The graphics aren’t the best either, visually the game is ok but nothing special. The heart of the visuals comes from watching the epic battles. There can be 100’s of enemies on-screen which can also make the framerate drop a little, though you can decrease the battle size should you need to fix that.

The AI are godlike… literally

One of the biggest issues with Mount And Blade Warband however is memory leak. After a while, the game hits a massive slowdown and there are also graphical glitches everywhere. This often happens when you’ve had the game on for so long. The best thing to do is to restart the game to recover from this. Aside from that, the game runs fine.

There ain’t nothing a good boot to the balls can’t solve

The combat is very simple. You basically press RMB to attack and LMB to block, basically like Skyrim but you can also press E to kick people. If you’re not using a shield, you have to time your blocks precisely as your weapon can only block one direction. You can attack in different directions based on how you move the mouse. if you move the mouse forward, you will do an overhead smash, moving the mouse left you will do a cleave to the left, moving the mouse right will cleave to the right and moving the mouse backwards will stab the enemy. Guarding is very much the same in this regard so be careful which direction you’re blocking (though in single player, well-timed blocks are automated to block in the direction the attack is coming from). On horseback, combat is slightly different, you will either slash to the side or stab to the front. I never really grasped the controls very well, this is just the gist of it.

Using a lance however is different. The animation is slow and it does 0 damage however if you hit an enemy directly at high speeds with this motherfucker, they will get shafted and likely die instantly. Lances are great for killing mounted units… but not much else. They’re only viable for mounted combat though.

Get off yer high horse knave!

Archery is quite difficult but satisfying to pull off, you have to time the shot just right to avoid reticule bloom. At early levels you will suck at it badly. Later on, you will be more accurate. Throwing weapons have less accuracy but deal more damage. Crossbows have a long loading time but don’t have reticle bloom (from what I can recall).

The soundtrack can be best described as contagious. I can’t help but hum to every tune in battle. The music really gets you pumped up for battle. I personally challenge myself to synchronize my kills to every beat of the music. No other game manages to capture the intensity of battle with it’s music as well as Mount And Blade Warband

There is also a multiplayer mode, i haven’t played much of it because i get killed all the time. I have no comment on it other than it’s totally inaccessible for new players simply due to the huge skill gap. As such i never really enjoyed it personally but others may do. If you have friends and can convince them to play the game, it might be a good idea to try it.

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Whoops…

Ultimately, Mount And Blade is an experience like no other, it manages to capture the feeling of medieval warfare perfectly. If you’ve ever wanted to lead an army into battle, Mount And Blade Warband is the game for you. If you’re not into medieval warfare, you might not enjoy it as much as others. Still if you’re an RPG fan and find this game cheap on steam buy it!!!

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Story/plot: As good as you make it
Presentation: Mediocre
Gameplay: Great
Music: Great
Lifespan: Infinite (though it can get repetitive)
Would you replay: Yes

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Overall: Excellent

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This game doesn’t need conventional scores, it’s the concept itself which makes the game so fun. Mount And Blade is in a league of its own so I highly recommend it if you’re into medieval warfare.

Value: £40.00+

Purchase Mount and Blade: Warband (PC DVD)

Warcraft 3 Reign Of Chaos/Frozen Throne Campaign Review

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Since this review is for both the main game and the expansion, I’m going to focus on the campaign. In any case, the online multi player component might as well be considered dead at this point due to it’s utterly toxic community among other things. Just stay away from Warcraft 3 battle.net at all costs.

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So you say you’re a fan of RTS? But you also like RPG’s? Well this is the closest you’ll ever get (besides maybe Mount and Blade which is more of an RPG than an RTS, Knightshift and Spellforce) Warcraft 3 is at its core a Real Time Strategy with a twist. It presents itself in a similar manner to most RPG’s in the sense that there is a huge focus on storytelling, narrative and also leveling up. All these factors are what make up Warcraft 3.

It’s predecessors, Warcraft 1 and 2 were vastly different from the series’ third installment as they focused on more traditional RTS elements and was possibly an attempt to rival the Warhammer series. It wasn’t until Warcraft 3 where the series’ roots extended beyond what was merely a knock off Warhammer game and became a game of its own.

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Warcraft 3’s game play is similar to that of the tabletop game Chainmail In the sense that you are given powerful units called Heroes. Heroes are the backbone of your army and they plays a huge role in battles as they have many unique abilities which aren’t usable by regular Units. In addition, Heroes are able to level up and learn new skills, just like in an RPG but despite this, there is a level cap reminding you that this is still an RTS at it’s core. As such, you will need units to assist your hero. Units have basic upgrade trees which are very easy to figure out so you shouldn’t have too much trouble in strengthening them.

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Like many RTS, micromanagement is a huge part of Warcraft 3. Micromanagement is a fancy term for multi-tasking. Basically you will periodically have to build buildings, get upgrades and spend your resources as well as controlling your entire army. Picking the right units is easy. Controlling them on the other hand is far from simple. If you have an army of ghouls and you charge into an army of archers, your ghouls are history. Why? Because their armor is so weak. How do you avoid this? That’s simple, by moving your units back when they’re hurt… and that’s easier said than done.

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A good strategy is to surround enemies with your units so they cannot escape

Put simply, if clicking back and forth between your workers, units, buildings and hero’s isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably not enjoy the game play of Warcraft 3. Personally I hate multi-tasking, I’d much rather control my units with vocalized instructions than with a mouse and keyboard. Hence the reason why I’ve always wanted a Mount and Blade crossover with Warcraft.

But before you decide to bugger off, Warcraft 3’s campaign is still fun for newcomers to the genre and it gets you used to the basics very easily as well as putting RPG fans such as myself in familiar territory, despite it’s genre, Warcraft 3 managed to design the campaign in a way that it’s enjoyable for both RTS and RPG fans and I strongly recommend that if you’re a fan of RPG’s to give Warcraft 3 a try for two reasons.

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You can play capture the Illidan!

First of all, Warcraft 3’s format is similar to that of an RPG in the sense that you have creep camps. Creep camps are groups of neutral/hostile enemies that will attack anyone on sight and are not affiliated with the enemy. “So why should I go for them?” you say? Creeps usually carry valuable items on them, as well as gold and XP. Basically in the early stages of game, you will often find yourself battling creep camps to strengthen yourself against the enemy.

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In each campaign, your hero’s stats and inventory get carried over to the next chapter so you will want to scavenge high and low for better items to help you out in battles later. Some items are hidden in crates/barrels which you must destroy to get them. Others are quest rewards, yes there are quests in Warcraft 3, how else did World Of Warcraft become an MMO?

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Quest Complete!

Questing in Warcraft 3 can make either a huge or small difference though sometimes it’s almost essential to do them, particularly if you aren’t a very good player. As such, Warcraft 3 offers many different approaches which doesn’t give it too many merits considering it is after all a RTS and as such it is expected to have multiple “strategies” to winning campaigns, quests are merely one of these.

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In addition, there are some levels, usually interior levels which give you a small group of units and a hero and send you into a more RPG style environment where there is no base to help you and you instead have to rely on your hero and units. If your hero dies it’s game over. These sections are usually quite innovative and as an RPG fan I quite enjoyed them, even if they are a little too easy as you are mostly battling through creep camps. There is one in particular near the end of the game which is actually quite challenging.

This is where the game makes use of puzzles to get from place to place. You will find many circle’s of power, these are used to interact with certain things. In addition, there are switches too, kind like pressure plates which can be used in a similar manner. Some missions meld both traditional and RPG style levels together. For example, one level requires you to send out workers to repair some observatories and you are given limited units and workers to repair with and as such you have to make your way through creep infested areas with limited units, eventually you find a gold mine and are expected to build a base. From here on out you are able to build more units to bolster your forces and you will need to, because the undead have already noticed you and are attacking.

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Put simply if you’re looking for a more innovative RTS, Warcraft 3 is definitely worth checking out as it has a lot of interesting levels which each require a different approach and the pacing of the game makes sure that you are not fed up with the constant base building and warring and provides small-scale RPG sections to break things up so there’s plenty of variety.

In addition, Warcraft 3 has many easter eggs that give the game that extra charm. Units and heroes each have their own dialogue whenever they’re clicked on, click on them multiple times though and they’ll start breaking the forth wall and start bringing up movie references among other things.

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By Elune, it is huge!

There are also many hidden easter eggs which are easily missed. For this reason I highly encourage exploration in each level as there are many secrets to be found. There is even a bonus level to unlock that is easily missed. You can also utilize your abilities to traverse certain areas. Sometimes hidden items can be found in inaccessible areas which require a certain ability to reach. Warcraft 3 might be in real-time but sometimes it never hurts to stop and think.

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All that aside, it’s time to talk about the meat of the package. The second reason why I would recommend Warcraft 3 to fans of RPG’s is the story. Oh boy is the story of Warcraft 3 excellent. It puts most RPG’s to shame. If you’ve played games like Fire Emblem, you’ll probably feel right at home with Warcraft 3’s story… although it’s a lot less Japanese and has a lot more depth and lore.

——–Spoilers for Warcraft 1 and 2——–

Warcraft 3 offers 4 main campaigns (7 if you count Frozen throne) each with its own story line. Campaigns are split into 4 factions. First being the humans, a proud (somewhat too proud), self-righteous old race that has thrived in the Eastern Kingdoms for many years… until the orcs came. In Warcraft: Orcs and Humans (the first game) the orcs ravaged their lands one by one and the humans were pushed back towards the northern kingdoms of Lordaeron. In Warcraft 2, the humans were invaded once again by the orcs but barely managed to push them back and defeated their leader, Orgrim Doomhammer, imprisoned him and sealed his people in internment camps (similar to the concentration camps in WW2).

The orcs appear to be a savage and violent race but in truth they were once a peaceful, honorable race, guided by the elements (AKA the spirits). Despite their peaceful nature, orcs have always been boorish fighters and they are a highly competitive race. Battle is everything to them, it practically rules their entire society, the strong are revered, the weak are shunned. The shaman on the other hand were also revered for their guidance and the orc’s sense of honor kept them in check.

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However, certain events caused the orcs to become bloodthirsty savages. After being imprisoned in the internment camps for many years, they were rescued by an orc named Thrall and were united once more to stand against the humans. The orcs seek to return to their former ways and bring peace back to the lands of Azeroth, though their past provocations had not been forgotten by the humans and the hostility between the two races continues to rage on.

———————–Spoilers End——————————–

Aside from the orcs and humans, two new races enter the fray. These are the undead and the night elves. These two new races bring their own lore to the story line to set up an even deeper world. Furthermore, the Burning Legion, a race of powerful demons have returned to the world of Azeroth intent on destroying all existence. Who will survive? Will the mortal races make amends? Who is this legion? All these questions are answered in the story and I strongly recommend playing it yourself.

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One thing I personally enjoy about Warcraft 3’s story line is the ambiguity surrounding good/evil in each faction. Due to the story being presented in multiple perspectives, it’s easy to empathize with each of the four races (except maybe the undead). In fact there’s more to it than just racial perspectives. Certain campaigns put you into the perspective of a sub faction. These perspectives are usually found in Frozen Throne and give you a completely different hero to play as. These factions may or may not be opposed to their own race but they act independently from the main racial factions.

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Put simply, the characters in Warcraft 3 each have their own sense of morals but no one is truly good or evil (except maybe the dreadlords who are pure evil). Each character has their own demons to contend with (some more than others) and in doing so they may find themselves in situations where their demons influence their actions in a negative way which usually leads to many conflicts between characters among other things.

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Join the dark side, we have cookies!

This makes the characters of Warcraft 3 feel real, they aren’t just cut/paste heroes/villains, they’re just people with strong convictions who are willing to fight for them with their lives. Thus begins the terrible warfare that decides the victor and we love it. That’s what Warcraft is about after all.

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Then again, there is the undead campaign which is somewhat different from the other 3 campaigns. In the undead campaign, you play the bad guy, that’s right, you play as the main villain and you slaughter everyone in your way for nothing more than pleasure. Unlike most games, Warcraft doesn’t have protagonists or antagonists, instead each side is both a protagonist and an antagonist at some point (besides the Burning Legion, which I would just love to play as but sadly Varimathras is the closest we get :/).

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Varimathras is just too damn cool

“Human names all sound the same to me” ~Varimathras

The ability to experience both sides of the coin is something video games should embrace more. I’m tired of games only showing one perspective in their story. We need more games like Warcraft which allows us to experience multiple perspectives for ourselves. As such i find Warcraft 3 to be the greatest storytelling I’ve ever experienced in a video game and it encouraged me to get the books to read more about the lore and having read several of them, I’ve come to the conclusion that Warcraft 3 has some of the deepest lore a video game can offer. Seriously, the lore doesn’t end with Warcraft 3, read all the books and watch the Warcraft movie when it comes out to experience one of the greatest stories established by a video game ever.

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Now with all that aside, time to talk about the little things. The visuals are a notable improvement from the previous games in the series though I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail from a 2003 game, I believe they did a reasonable job considering the time this game was made. The cinematics on the other hand are absolutely stellar. I mean it is Blizzard after all, they do make the best cinematics. It’s like you’re watching a movie.

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The music is done by Glenn Stafford and though his Warcraft 2 music was catchier, Warcraft 3’s music is a lot more epic and orchestrated, particularly in the cinematics which are really well done. It’s hard not to get goosebumps when you’re watching the human campaign ending. The voice acting is also fantastic, particularly the dreadlords. There are also many fantastic lines of dialogue to match making for some epic quotes such as:

“Save your breath human, you’ll need it to scream when I start tearing off your limbs!” ~ Grom Hellscream

Now if you haven’t already realized by the title, Warcraft 3 has online multiplayer but do yourself a favor and stay away. It’s really awful and I’m not going to review it. If you want to know more about Warcraft 3’s Battle.net, I highly encourage you to read this article I made back on the Destructoid C blogs as it will tell you pretty much everything you need to know:

Warcraft 3 Battle.net Blog

Overall, Warcraft 3’s campaign is definitely worth purchasing the game by itself, just be sure to get the expansion with it as well, you can’t just get one of them. Be sure to get both to finish the story. Trust me, Frozen Throne is even better, especially if you liked Reign Of Chaos. I also highly encourage you to try out the books too. As for World Of Warcraft, I have played it and I will say right now that it killed the entire series, don’t play it. I don’t play it anymore, in case you haven’t already gathered.

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Story/Plot: Exceptional
Visuals: Good
Gameplay: Great
Music: Good
Multiplayer: Awful (just putting that out there)
Lifespan: Quite Long (ROC) Decent Legnth (TFT)
Would you replay? Maybe
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Overall: Excellent

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Value: £40.00+

Purchase Warcraft 3 – Gold Edition (PC DVD)

Welcome to the Cynical Gaming Blog

Hello there people of the internet, how wonderful it is that you stumbled across this site. I am known by the names Terry309 and Brainjuice654, if you see anyone by that name, it’s probably me or an impersonator. In case you couldn’t tell, i’m a gamer with a passion for writing about video games, it’s been a hobby of mine for a while now and I have been writing on other sites for a year or so. Over time I’ve had my ups and downs in writing but I can safely say that the time to set up a more personal blog has come.

If you’re here, you either came from Youtube, We Are Just Gamers.com or Destructoid. I linger around there a lot and will still post my work over there. This is just a place to call home, A place I desperately need if I want to be taken seriously. I’m by no means a professional writer and have had zero experience in journalism. I’m just a normal guy like you who just loves video games.

Now you might be wondering why I picked the name Cynical Gaming Blog. Well for starters the gaming industry is a piece of shit. Publishers treat us consumers like lab rats by creating new systems to try and leech as much money from us as possible whilst offering very little in return, I’m sick of it. As a result I’ve grown to accept that being a gamer comes with it’s fair share of cynicism hence the name Cynical Gaming Blog. Plus it’s a simple enough domain name and it’s good enough for me. I don’t need anything too fancy just a title to identify this site rather than just Terry309’s blog which is boring and doesn’t say a lot about me at all.

Here’s hoping I don’t forget the domain name by the time this site is up and if this is the only post you see then I probably have. If so then R.I.P Cynical Gaming Blog… you were like the brother I never had and even though I only knew you for about two minutes, you will be forever in my heart.

RIP

Cynical Gaming Blog

2015-2015

But surely it wouldn’t come to that.

~ Terry 309