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Name's Josh. I'm 25, play pretty much any kind of game, and have since I was old enough to hold a controller.
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Warlords of Draenor is the newest expansion for long running MMO World of Warcraft. It promises to provide a bit of something new in terms of how content is handled but also something old by returning to its roots from a lore perspective. After a very rocky launch and some very long queue times I've reached 100 and played around a bit, so today I want to give you some of my first impressions on this expansion.

Before we get into let me tell you very briefly about my past with WoW, so that you know where I stand with the game. I've played WoW in an on again, off again manner for many years now. I started back in early Burning Crusade originally. Over time I've done everything from PvP to raiding and leveled more characters to max level than any one person should ever do. I was fighting heroic Lich King in content and attempting to go through heroic Bastion of Twilight and Blackwing Descent before Firelands ever came out.

I wasn't entirely sure that I was even going to pick up Warlords of Draenor to begin with. I loved the idea of the new character models that were getting introduced but as time passed after it's reveal and more and more things began changing I started to waver. Learning about how you wouldn't be able to put your garrison where ever you wanted and that entire zones wouldn't be in the game at launch made me question whether I should grab it. In the end, as per usual, the sound of friends having a good time playing around in the pre-xpac patch lured me back in.

The setup for WoD is that after the end of the Siege of Orgrimmar raid in Mists of Pandaria, Garrosh Hellscream, former Horde Warchief, escapes captivity and, with the help of some chronomancy, escapes into the past to the home of his birth; Draenor. Rather than changing the future this creates an alternative timeline and he convinces the old leaders of the orcish horde on Draenor, led by his father Grommash, that he is a prophet of sorts and convinces them not to drink the blood of Mannoroth and instead to create weapons of gunpowder and iron to become powerful and to take over the world on the other side of the Dark Portal.

Rather than go into detail about all the horrendous problems with the launch of the xpac we'll just skip straight to the content. Right off the bat when you start up the new expansion material you're thrust through the dark portal with Khadgar, Thrall, and others to take the fight to the Iron Horde on their doorstep rather than yours. You get to experience a very cool and fun instanced scenario where you'll meet each of the warlords of the Iron Horde and try to take out the Dark Portal. The scenario serves two purposes: to introduce you to Draenor and the enemies you'll be hunting down, and to help those who've used the recently implemented instant 90 boost to get a feel for their class. The presentation for this scenario is fantastic and it's just an incredibly fun way to start off the expansion.

Once you've finished there you'll begin the real leveling experience, getting dropped off in either Frostfire Ridge if you're Horde or Shadowmoon Valley if you're Alliance. I play Horde so I'm afraid that's the only perspective I can give you for the leveling experience. Right away in the new zone you'll be tasked with setting up your garrison, this expansions newest and possibly most interesting feature. The Garrison is WoW's answer to the player housing question that's been getting asked for years now. This is a personally instanced zone where you can place buildings, send followers out on missions, and just hang out if you want.

The buildings you can set up have a range of uses and are categorized by different sized plots. You can set up a blacksmith to either help you get the most out of your blacksmithing profession if you have it or just to help you get access to the blacksmith's daily cooldown of creating True Steel Ingots. You can set up a trading post to one day have access to an auctioneer in your garrison or even set up a stable that will allow you to capture wild animals and train them to be mounts. The garrison and each of its buildings have 3 ranks. You'll get your rank 1 garrison for free right away and you'll have it to rank 2 by the time you finish the first zone. By performing tasks in the new world and killing powerful enemies you'll acquire garrison resources, which can be spent to upgrade various buildings as you progress.

As you continue through the game you'll meet npc's who, after witnessing your skill, will choose to join you as a follower. These followers will hang out around your garrison and can be sent out on missions (think Assassin's Creed style stuff, like the ship managing minigame in 4) which can level them up or give you yourself rewards. It adds a fun little element of micro management to do when you want to take a break from the leveling.

Scattered around each of the zones are various “rare” creatures that have been designed in an interesting new way. Every rare has a specific drop and anyone who participates in killing it is guaranteed that drop, but once you've received it's drop it will no longer be considered a rare to you. These will mostly be blue gear drops useful for leveling, though on occasion you can receive companion pets and toys as well as garrison resources from them. It's a really cool way to get you to explore and anyone who so much as touches the rare before it dies gets the loot so there's no fighting for tags or groups.

There are also really cool treasure spawns in the world that work in a similar manner. While exploring a frost cave I found the body of an orc frozen in ice, only it's hand sticking out of the block of ice. In its hand was an axe that I could click on, and doing so gave me a cool little blue quality one handed axe. Each zone also has “bonus objectives” which will appear on your map. Moving into proximity of one will open up what is essentially just a side quest that offers a substantial amount of bonus experience for completing it.

Another very cool system added in is that every time you receive gear from anything while leveling, be it quest rewards or rare drops, there is a chance that that item will upgrade to a higher item level. You can do a quest that promises to reward you with a green ring with 70 strength and then upon completing the quest it suddenly upgrades to a purple with 85 strength, and upgrades are just frequent enough to feel fair without either flooding you with better gear than promised or being so rare that you feel left out for not getting them.

The leveling experience on the whole was far more enjoyable than I expected it to be, and I've heard similar praise from my guildmates. Having played in BC, getting to return to what you once new as Outland in its original true glory is very cool. Getting to see all the zones as they were meant to be seen and meeting fantastic characters when they were relevant is awesome. As someone who plays an orc I was more than happy to run around with Durotan, chieftain of the Frostwolf clan and father to Thrall, to help fight off the Iron Horde. Out of the 5 zones I went through on my way to 100 the only zone I was really disappointed with was Spires of Arak, which hopes to tell you the backstory of the Arakkoa (the bird people from BC) but there is a lot of stuff there that has nothing to do with them that feels like filler and the bonus objectives there feel like they're more trouble than they're worth.

While you only get the one actual garrison, each zone afterward will have a spot for an outpost that you can set up. Each outpost will have two possible setups that give you something special for that zone. For instance, in Nagrand (the final leveling zone) one of your two options is a corral, which gives you a frost war wolf mount that can be used only in that zone but allows you to fight while still mounted. In Talador (the original form of BC's Terokkar Forest) you can gain access to a very cool artillery strike.

For as much as I enjoyed the leveling experience in Warlords of Draenor, I was equally as lost when I finally hit 100. There is simply nothing laid before you when you hit max level and that is where I truly began to think “Oh dear, this is where it slows down.” In other expansions you would be given dailies to gain rep with various factions to get gear from them, but that simply does not exist this expansion. I've encountered 2 dailies at level 100: one you receive from your garrison and one to go do a challenge mode dungeon. The one from your garrison gives you a choice to either do a solo mission which usually requires you to grind your way through a bunch of mobs until you fill up a progress bar, and the second may be a group version of the first or a mission to go win in Ashran, the PvP island and offers more Apexis Crystals (this expansion's “justice points”).

This lack of dailies was an especially big bummer for me as I had long had my sights on getting to exalted with the Frostwolf Orcs so that I could purchase the fantastic looking mount from them, but doing all of the quests had only left me a bit into revered. I went searching online for how you gain the rest of the rep with them, and do you know what advice I found? Farm mobs. You go to a part of Frostfire Ridge where there are level 100 mobs and you just kill them. Over and over until you finally get the last, oh I don't know, 19000 rep needed to hit exalted at about 5-10 per kill.

Now, that's with me already being at revered (if you're unaware of how reputations work in WoW you start at Neutral and move to Friendly, then Honored, then Revered, then Exalted), having a read through various guides on Wowhead you can see that there is also a reputation called the Laughing Skull clan, which you only have access if you get a certain building placed in your garrison. When you have access to this faction you will not be at revered, but there will still be no quests or dailies for you to do. You will simply have to grind the entirety of the rep out through kills.

This is not good. This is in fact very poor design. Now obviously grinding is at the core of MMO's, but that's why you hide the grinding behind illusions of fun and moderation. Instead of telling someone to kill 5000 mobs in their own time you give them dailies to kill them off in groups over the course of a few days, that way they don't feel like they're having to actually do such a large amount of work.

If you're not one for day to day tasks then you'll likely be focusing on one of two things: PvE or PvP. I haven't gotten to mess around with PvP much yet but I'll tell you what I can. If you're into PvP then you'll likely be doing the same stuff you've always done for the most part. I don't believe there are any new battlegrounds so that will be the same old same old. There is a new PvP zone and I've been there and honestly I can't tell you for the life of me how it works. Looking around online it seems others are equally confused. Also I play on an INCREDIBLY Horde heavy server so I literally leveled the entire way from 90 to 100 and even ventured to the PvP island and I have not seen 1 single Alliance player in the entirety of my time on Draenor. Not one.

If you're more of a PvE focused player, like myself, you'll be grinding through the new dungeons. Upon hitting 100 a number of non heroic level 100 dungeons will open up that require an item level of 600 to enter, which you should be right at or very near after doing your quests in Nagrand. These dungeons are...actually pretty cool. I've done four or five different ones in both normal and heroic and they seem to take themselves seriously.

Bosses have mechanics that matter. In Skyreach there is a boss who will target a player with a giant laser that leaves a trail on the ground, which the player must kite around the room. In Everbloom there is a spider boss who will teach you to kill adds that spawn during the fight or else it will eat them and recover health. The mechanics are meaningful, relatively easy to learn, and do a good job of teaching players basic systems that may come in handy when they venture into more difficult content later.

I am personally playing the new dps setup for protection warriors called gladiator, which is actually a lot of fun and so far seems very viable, but my healer guildmate seems pleased with where healing stands currently. Tanks have enough health to take hits without immediately falling to 5%. You're given time to recognize that a problem is arising and deal with it, without the MoP method of everyone's health bars flying back and forth from empty to full. Looting bosses also has a new mechanic. Rather than one piece of gear dropping and everyone rolling for it, each individual person has a chance for a piece of gear relevant to their spec to drop. So far this seems to work relatively well, and it will obviously cut down on “ninja-ing”.

Overall I'd say my experience with Warlords of Draenor has been positive so far. The leveling is very well designed and the dungeons seem like they'll be pretty fun to gear up in unless you get stuck in a group that just can't deal with mechanics. If you're a day to day kind of max level player you may find yourself disappointed with the lack of non dungeon content at 100 like myself, and I REALLY hope this is addressed in future content patches. I've gone on WAY longer than I probably should have, so I'll cut it here. If you have any questions feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer. Thanks for reading!

*I play Horde on the Mal'Ganis server. You can most likely find me as Gavlan the orc warrior of the guild Kalidon Industries.*

 

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While watching the recent Sup Holmes interview with Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning (an incredibly fascinating watch if you've not seen it!) Mr. Lanning said something that I found particularly interesting. When talking about the events that led up to the creation of Oddworld he spoke about what made other pieces of media stand out before video games. He spoke of unforgettable experiences and how that needed to translate into a video game and it really made me start to think about just how often we've had experiences like that in the gaming industry. So let's talk about that.

Lanning mentioned films like Blade Runner, a masterpiece that still has the power behind it today that it had 20 years ago. It holds this power because of a few reasons; mainly because it isn't a film that feels like a marketing team made it and it didn't go on to be diluted by sequels and spinoffs. I thought at first “Well there are plenty of great experiences in games!” and then I immediately countered myself with “But are they really on that same level?” It's easy to think of games that you really enjoyed, but it's more difficult to really separate the good games from the experiences that are truly unique.

You could probably take the easy way out and say “oh Tetris or Super Mario Bros because they started it all” and that is true, but there also wasn't quite as much competition for something “new” back then. These days we have so many games of different genres. There are so many platformers, so many shooters; we really have to dig if we want to find something truly unique. The most difficult part of picking out these unique experiences is deciding just what makes a game unique, because surely that's largely subjective. I find the challenge pretty fascinating so bear with me while I talk it out.

The first example that pops to mind is Journey on PS3. When Journey came out I constantly heard from sites and gamers that it was such a profound and unique experience and all I could think was “How can a game be THAT good in a 2 hour experience?” I finally bit and gave it a download and I don't think I've ever experienced any game that so truly deserved the hype it was getting. Journey truly is a very unique and powerful experience in such a simple and beautiful way. It's a game that exudes raw emotion. Obviously there are people who may disagree, but I think the vast majority of people can agree that this game qualifies as a truly unique experience.

What else though? I'm already having to default to experiences that are much more subjective. Personally I feel that Jasper Byrne's Lone Survivor is a very unique experience. That's a game that could easily be looked at as just a 2D survival horror which, while different, may not really resonate with many. At the same time though, those who really pay attention to what's going on in the game and the themes and experiences that it holds will find something incredibly deep and meaningful hidden within it.

I'd also say that both of Supergiant's games are incredibly unique and unforgettable experiences for me. Bastion and Transistor have fantastic methods of narration and storytelling that really hit a special chord with me. Now that I think about these games though I can already think of plenty of people who don't see them in as fascinating a light as I do, but when it comes down to it you can always find someone who dislikes something that you love.

I feel like there's an added layer of complexity when it comes to making a game feel unique rather than a movie or book. What kind of things do you think about when you're considering how good a movie was? Well you think about how good the story was, how well the characters were written, how well they were portrayed by the actors, how good did the film look, etc.

Now what about video games? In a video game you could look for every one of those things but you also have to worry about the biggest component: how does it actually play? I could say that Silent Hill 2 contains some of the best story telling in any game, but that's just one aspect of a game. I couldn't say that SH2 offers a unique, or even terribly enjoyable, gameplay experience, and to many that's more important than any of those other components.

I could probably point to Shadow of the Colossus as a great example of these components coming together in a meaningful way. That's a game that is primarily gameplay, very enjoyable gameplay at that, but also features a very special story and a fascinating world to explore. It is unique in both gameplay and story, and as such still receives praise to this day.

Something else to think about is how much should we WANT a new and unique experience from a game? I think it's important to want the best for our medium and for the creators to strive to create something special, but I also feel that it's important that every creator not feel the need to carry that burden of “I have to make something truly unique and innovative or I've wasted my time.” We see this in plenty of mediums outside of games.

Regardless of whether you're looking at movies or music or games you always see what my friend Mike would call “popcorn flicks.” I'm talking about the Transformers and the Resident Evils of the film world. These aren't going to blow your mind in any meaningful way and you may not remember them for very long, but that doesn't mean that they're not fun in the moment if you're willing to switch your brain down to a lazy setting for a while.

Games have these types of experiences as well. You don't play Call of Duty or God of War for a deep meaningful experience, but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't exist. The fact that people are willing to pump such an unbelievably substantial amount of money into those games with every iteration proves that people do want those types of popcorn experiences. More and more these days the titles that really try to be thought provoking and unique are in the indie scene. The problem then becomes standing out from those Call of Duty types of experiences when you've created something meaningful. How do you get people to look away from the flashy advertisements long enough to see this little gem that you've poured your heart into?

I don't know that this is a problem that can really be fixed, at least not in the current market, purely because what publishers seem to want to push into your face are the franchises that they KNOW will sell. They know you'll buy Call of Duty, they know you'll buy Mass Effect, but the amount of risk that comes with something that wants to test the boundaries is more substantial. We've got programs like greenlight for games that have been made but need to be made available and we've got kickstarter for those games that could be made if people would give creators a bit of help, but there seems to be a real need for someone with a real following to dig through these sorts of titles and find the hidden gems to show the world.

Now there are people who are legitimately trying to help make this kind of thing happen. Every so often on Destructoid or Rock Paper Shotgun or Kotaku you'll see a bit of “Hey, here's this interesting thing that we just heard about on kickstarter!” and I know some people on YouTube delve into it with shows like The Greenlight on Jesse Cox's channel or the TotalBiscuit's WTF is?, but it would be interesting to see someone with a following delving into these titles regularly. We've seen some fantastic games come from the indie scene that have taken the gaming world by storm, so how many more could we find if we really looked? The question then becomes will people actually watch such a show and how realistic of a goal is it to reliably find lesser known titles worth mentioning? These are questions I'm honestly not equipped to answer.

If we're totally honest with ourselves we can't really just blame publishers either, because it's also up to consumers to actually fork up the cash for the games that try to stand out. We can blame big companies for only pushing out big sequels and rehashes, but how many consumers are really willing to give their money to these smaller studios? Especially the ones who haven't gotten to prove themselves yet? Lanning also touched on that a bit when he spoke of people not wanting to spend $20 on a game just because it's an indie title, and it is a bit absurd. We're happy to bitch about big companies not giving us quality products but we're afraid that smaller guys might be small because they don't have quality to offer.

This is a very complex subject that just gets more and more out of my league the more I think about it. I'm sure there are far greater minds than my own who have been considering all of these things for far longer, but it's something I just felt like speaking on for a bit. If nothing else I hope it prompts a bit of thought from people and maybe even some discussion. Either way, thanks for reading!

 

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Fenriff
10:16 AM on 11.03.2014

It's been a while since I've done a You Should Try, so today I'd like to tell you about an early access game called Hand of Fate. I know, I know, “Early Access? Yuck!” but this game is looking very promising and is already a lot of fun! So without further ado, let's talk about Hand of Fate; currently in development by Australian studio Defiant Development.

Hand of Fate is a deck building, card based choose your own adventure game with Arkham style combat and RPG elements. An interesting concept to say the least. It was Kickstarted last December and just arrived on Steam Early Access in July. It's received monthly updates since arriving on early access, so it's safe to say that so far they seem dedicated to keeping their project moving forward.

So how do you play a game with such a unique mix of styles? At its core Hand of Fate is a choose your own adventure game, except that the events and locations are all cards. You sit before the Dealer at a table and he will place your player token on the table and set a path of cards face down before it. Each turn you move one space and take part in whatever event is dictated by the card you land on. One full round requires you to make your way through each “level” of cards until you reach the boss.

Your character starts off with the most basic of equipment and stats: an axe, light armor, 100 health, and 10 food. Moving one space consumes 1 food, which also heals your character for 5 health. If you run out of food however, you will begin to starve and lose 10 health instead. Each card on the table that you will move between represents its own scenario for you to take part in. Some can be avoided, but those will also be ones that you could receive rewards for completing. These scenarios can differ greatly, and become increasingly varied as you play through the game. One scenario may simply be a bandit attack where you'll be forced to fend off enemies in combat. Another scenario may give you the option to parlay with a kidnapper to make a deal rather than fight him off.

Going into combat in this game presents you with yet another style of gameplay. Entering a scenario that requires you to fend off enemies will load up an environment and you will take control of your character and use Arkham style combat to survive. You'll even get to see a cool little scene of each of your cards falling down onto the character and becoming the pieces of armor that he has equipped.

With the basic starting equipment you'll only have access to attacks and a dodge, but by acquiring a shield you gain a counter, and gathering trinkets gives you special abilities in combat. One such trinket will allow you to reverse any health loss that occurred within the last 10 seconds, while another will fire daggers in all directions. You can find traveling vendors and healers who will allow you to spend your gold you've acquired to restore your health or food or even buy new equipment.

From what I can tell there are 12 bosses total in the game, and beating each will move that boss's card to the card cabinet, which has 4 rows of 3 boss spaces each, along with a 4th space on each row for a bonus that you unlock for completing that row. These bonuses will permanently boost your character for the rest of that run in various ways, such as giving him better starting equipment or more max health.

Many of the scenario cards will have tokens attributed to them. These tokens are the equivalent of booster packs within the game. Successfully completing a scenario that has a token associated with it will add a token to your rewards pile. Upon beating the boss of the round you're playing you'll be able to activate each of the tokens you acquired to get bonus cards for your deck.

This is where the deck building aspect comes into play. Between rounds you will be able to customize your deck to your liking, and it is split into two parts: your armory and your scenarios. Your armory, naturally, contains all item cards that can be equipped to your character. Armor, weapons, trinkets, etc will all be found in this part. You'll have a set number of armory cards you can have in your deck, which increases as you progress through the game. The scenario deck works exactly the same, except it contains the many scenarios you can encounter. Yes, this means you can effectively customize the experience you'll have each round. Didn't like the Ambush scenario? Replace it with a Mage Tower scenario.

What keeps this interesting is that you will not be able to see what exactly new cards DO unless you've found that card while on one of your adventures. If you have a Mage Tower scenario card or a Fiery Vestment armor card, you will be unable to see exactly what they offer you until you stumble upon it in game. It gives you a great way to add your own bit of mystery and customization to your adventure, but there will always be more cards in your deck than you'll actually encounter on an adventure, so you never know that you'll get the exact ones you want. At the beginning of each round the Dealer will also add a few of his own cards to the deck to further spice things up.

The game has an interesting art style and the cards themselves are beautifully designed. I'd love to own an actual deck of my own like it! If you're intrigued but don't want to rush in just yet, or would prefer to play somewhere other than PC then good news: Hand of Fate will also be coming to PS4 and Vita when it releases. No word just yet on an official release date from what I can tell, but it's certainly looking promising. If you wanna check it out you can find it on Steam HERE. Thanks for reading!

 

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Hey all! I haven't done anything silly in a while, so tonight I submit for the approval of the -Midnight Society- Dtoid Cblogs: the dumbest thing I've ever done, a.k.a.:

 

“The Bathrobe in the Darkness: A Destructoid Fanfic.”

 

Once upon a time there were two twin brothers, Gajknight and Dreamweaver, who lived in the country with their uncle, Chris Carter. Gaj and Dream were the best of pals, true brotherly love held them together. Their true joy was playing video games together. Their Uncle Chris hated video games though. They once convinced him to try A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS and afterward he actually responded with “Meh, 6.5.” Unbelievable.

One day Gaj and Dream went out to play, because what do you think they are, some sort of stupid hermits who just sit in their rooms and play video games all day? Nah bro, that ain't them. They've got lives and shiz. They wandered farther than usual, probably playing hopscotch or some other equally exciting stuff. It started to get dark so they decided it would be best to turn back and head home, before Uncle Chris got worried. As they rose over the hill and their home came into view, their eyes fell upon a horrifying site. Their home was in flames! And not with Rock and Roll either! They rushed down and Gaj tried to push his way inside to find their Uncle, but Dream, always the more level headed of the two, pulled him out of the burning building. He wouldn't lose two loved ones this day.

When the firemen arrived and got the flames under control, one came out to the two young men to tell them that they couldn't find the body of their Uncle, and if he was home when the fire broke out then he probably went down with it. After giving them his condolences and leaving them to grieve, a strange old man approached from the darkness. “Young ones, dry your eyes. Your uncle yet lives.” They turned to the stranger, confused. “Who are you, and what do you mean?” asked Dream.

“I am known as Occams_Electric_Toothbrush. But you can just call me Occam.” “What the fuck kind of name is that? And how did you pronounce underscores?” demanded Gajknight, his poor heart aflame with the grief he had experienced this night. “Listen here you little shit, you wanna save your Uncle or not? That's what I thought. Now take these decoder rings and solve this riddle if you wish to save him: For you it is the day your Uncle disappeared, but for this maniacal man, it was just Tuesday.”

The two brothers looked at each other in confusion, and when they turned back to the old man, he was gone. All they had to show for his brief cameo was a couple of decoder rings and a riddle about Tuesdays. They didn't even like Tuesdays. Dream was more of a Thursday kinda guy. “Wait!” exclaimed Gaj, “What about that guy in the weird red suit?!” “Uhhh...Santa Claus?” “No, that Hoffman guy that's been on the news!” “Oh my god, Reinhold Hoffman! He never shuts up about Tuesdays! What would he want with Uncle Chris?” A good question posed by young Dream, one that Gaj had no answer for. Nonetheless, they knew their next course of action. They would have to venture to the city, and visit the towering...uh...tower of Hoffman Industries.

They visited the home of the too-gorgeous-to-be-a-mere-human-male Dale North, just down the road, who raised corgis of such phenomenal size and power that they could be ridden as mounts. With a smile and a song, Mr. North sent them southeast upon the backs of two of his finest to visit Destructville, [State Redacted]. Arriving at the address of Hoffman Industries, they noticed the city was strangely quiet. No cars, no pedestrians; just what had happened to the once bustling city? Probably some stupid GamerGate shenanigans, but I digress.

The two brothers sprinted into the building, throwing the doors open to find a large intricate, yet empty lobby with a desk at the far end between two elevators. At the desk sat a very bored looking young woman, blowing bubbles with her gum, popping them in such a way that the annoying sound echoed through the lobby. The two had lost a bit of their spark after having finally arrived at their destination, now filling with doubt as to just what they should, or even could, do to save their uncle. They nervously made their way across the lobby floor to the desk, the name Brittany Vincent etched on a small name plate on the desk. Sighing, she began her obviously forced line of inquiry. “Hello and welcome to Reinhold Industries, building the future of tomorrow one Tuesday at a time. How can I help you today?”

“We need to see Mr. Hoffman.” Gaj finally got up the courage to say. “Is he expecting you?” “Umm...I don't think so?” admitted Dream. Another sigh from the receptionist. “I'm sorry but while today is the day you failed to make an appointment with Mr. Hoffman, for him it is a very busy Tuesday. Please-” her second forced line of dialogue was cut short by the phone on her desk ringing. She picked up the phone and just listened for a few seconds before responding the caller with “Yes sir.” and hanging up. “Mr. Hoffman will see you. Take the elevator on your right to the top floor.”

Gaj and Dream looked at each other worriedly, was Reinhold Hoffman himself really expecting them? They stepped into the elevator and pressed the button to go to the top floor. There was no elevator music, just silence. Neither brother knew what to say to the other, nor what to expect when they reached their destination. The ride up was the longest ride of their lives. Finally, with a silence breaking ding, the elevator stopped and opened its metallic doors. The two stepped out of the elevator into an unrealistically dark room. Only the brief bit of light from the open elevator convinced them that there was even a floor. The elevator closed behind them after a moment, leaving them in total darkness.

“Mr. Hoffman?” Gaj asked the abyss. A voice they had never heard gave a reply. “I'm afraid not. You see, there is no Reinhold Hoffman.” With that, suddenly strange lights lit up in the floor to both sides of the brothers. Then another pair in front of those, then another, leading up the room until forming a circle around a large chair with a figure sitting in it, and another figure hunched over next to it. It was kinda like that scene in Chrono Trigger where the party meets Magus in his castle and-you know what, forget about it.

The flames were reflected in the dark sunglasses of the curly haired man adorned only in a bathrobe who sat in the large chair. “He is a fiction. A facade to spread chaos where I can not. I... am Andy Dixon.” “The two brothers looked at each other in confusion once again. “Who?” asked Gaj. Suddenly Dream noticed just who the second figure on the floor next to the chair was. “Uncle Chris!” He didn't even look at them, it was like he was deaf to everything but the tv that was placed in front of him, which he never took his eyes off of. In his hands was a video game controller. “Oh I wouldn't bother with him.” answered the robed figure.

“I don't suppose your Uncle Chris ever told you of his dark past, did he? You see long ago, he worked for me. He had a unique gift you see. He could play every video game in such a time frame that he could practically run the reviews section of a website alone. Really efficient as you can imagine. I mean we're talking about a guy who reviewed games regularly and still took time to max out characters in Destiny. What a fucking nut. Anyway, one day he came to me and said 'Oh Mr. Dixon, my two nephews are coming to live with me due to a convenient plothole that leaves out what happened to their parents or why their names are so fucking weird. I don't want this curse of mine to pass on to them. They must have lives outside of games. Please let me go.' I granted him his request, on one condition: that when the two of you became a reasonable age he would return to me, his apathy towards video games would end and he would write reviews for eternity.”

“Let him go you bastard!” shouted Gajknight, rushing towards the throne of Andy Dixon. Dream chased after him, but as they both approached the circle of lights that held their uncle and the robed man, a shockwave pulsed from the throne and knocked them onto their backs. They sat up and Dream pleaded “Please Mr. Dixon, you have to let him go! Take me instead! I can play a lot of games!” Andy cackled maniacally, “Hahaha ooh, intriguing.” Suddenly, a new voice bellowed from the darkness. “No one is taking anyone today.” With that, a slew of bullets fired into the tv that was holding Uncle Chris entranced, then a strange new figure strutted forward and stomped on the controller that he was holding. Chris's face finally rose, his eyes meeting the strange face of his savior. “Lol, DmC sucks.” It was Sephzilla, the robot police officer!

“Damn you Sephzilla, you'll pay for this!” shouted Andy Dixon. “I'm taking you in Andy, once and for all.” “Not today you robotic retard!” (fuckin sick burn m8) and he threw his hand towards the ground, letting fly a flash and smoke pellet, giving him just enough time to escape. When they regained their senses the two brothers thanked the officer profusely. “Just doing my job fellas. Take care of your Uncle. I have a villain to apprehend.” Sephzilla was gone as quickly as he had appeared, leaving the three of them to finally share a moment together. They were all safe, once again, and they all lived happily ever after, playing video games and having fun. I mean they didn't have a home anymore because that burned down, but they got by somehow I guess. Anyway, the moral of the story is, don't do drugs. And DmC wasn't even that bad.

The End

 

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Tomorrow sees the release of Lords of the Fallen, a game that I personally have been looking forward to for some time. As the release date has closed in though, and preview builds have been seen, the words on many lips seem to be those of disinterest rather than excitement. Over the past couple of weeks I've seen it called many things, and there's a theme amongst them all. “Souls Clone, Wannabe Dark Souls, Dark Souls for Noobs, Clunky Souls.” For a game that we've only seen the first hour or so of there sure has been a lot of talk about it's obvious influences and not a lot about the hope for it standing out.

This isn't meant to be some big “Lords of the Fallen defense post”, just a “Stop deciding a game will be terrible because it seems like another game you like” post. Every new game deserves to be criticized on its own merits, unless it directly relates to another game by proxy of being a sequel or some such.

Not everyone comparing LotF to the Souls series means it in a bad way, but even many of those who mean it in a good way seem to have their priorities a bit off in my opinion. Now, I personally love the Souls games. Dark Souls 1 and 2 are two of my favorite games ever. That being said, I am all for a game seeking to take the base Souls formula and try something new with it. I love it when ANY popular game formula is molded in the hands of someone new. However, it needs to be just that, something new. It needs it's own identity.

I have seen two main types of people in the Lords of the Fallen conversations going on. 1) The “This is stupid, it's just ripping off of Dark Souls but it's bad.” people. 2) The “I love Souls so I'm okay with a Souls clone, but the story telling needs to be like Souls and it needs Souls multiplayer or it'll flop.” people. Let's address both, shall we?

If your entire source of contention for a game is how much it looks like another game, especially before you've played it or even SEEN the majority of the game, you are already not running a very strong argument. Now, what I know of the game is based off of two main things: information put out by the devs and publisher of Lords of the Fallen, and a four hour long stream done by a cool guy on twitch who goes by the handle “LobosJr.” From what I have seen there are indeed many similarities to the Souls games. LotF uses a similar control scheme and seems to have similar ideas in terms of gameplay and a few mechanics.

These similarities COULD be viewed as negatives, but let's look at past examples of derivative games. The biggest one that comes to mind is the Darksiders series. Darksiders 1 was very much a Zelda style game set in a unique angels vs demons story with Devil May Cry 1 / God of War style combat. Darksiders 2 took this even further with a bigger world that still kept Zelda influences and similar combat to before, but now with Prince of Persia style platforming and Diablo-esque loot.

Many people hounded both of these games, the second in particular, for just “stealing” from other games, but it is the combination of ideas that makes Darksiders it's own thing. Darksiders 2 is one of my favorite games, not because it's revolutionary or has an award winning story, just because it is one of the most genuinely fun games I have ever played. More recently we saw similar criticisms lobbed at Shadow of Mordor when it was first getting shown off. “It's just Assassin's Creed in Lord of the Rings” many claimed, and yet what we got was a very enjoyable game.

Back to Lords of the Fallen now; from what we've been shown LotF seeks to take the base formula that the Souls series offers and wrap around it a beautiful gothic fantasy setting, uniquely weighted combat, a new take on magic and classes, and more direct story telling. Art of any medium, be it books, movies, games, etc. all requires derivative works if we want to see something we enjoy become all it can be. You may not have Bayonetta had Devil May Cry not become so popular. You may not have Dishonored had Thief not existed. The fact that a creator chooses to use something familiar isn't necessarily a display of laziness or lacking creativity, it can genuinely be a display of affection for that original inspiration and a desire to build upon it in a new way.

The second type of people I mentioned, those that are okay with a “Souls Clone” but want more things to be like Souls are only holding this new game back from being it's own beast. I have seen MANY people claim that Lords of the Fallen will flop solely because it lacks multiplayer, which, in their eyes, was a highlight of the Souls series. I have played a LOT of Souls, and I very rarely ever take part in any type of multiplayer with it. I leveled my way through the dragon covenant in DSII by dueling, and I can count on my fingers the number of times I've summoned or been summoned in either game combined for a boss. Other than that, multiplayer is little more than a footnote for me, and I have met many who feel similarly.

Your love for one of a game's many features does not make any other game worse without that feature. Similarly many have complained about LotF's storytelling approach, calling it “in your face.” Before these past few weeks I don't think I've ever seen so many people call skippable cutscenes and optional audio logs that play in the back ground while you fight “in your face.” I love the stories in both Dark Souls and Dark Souls II, I think that far too many people overlook the great stories in each, but relegating most of the story to item descriptions is not what I'd consider masterful storytelling.

It's true that in some cases the environments themselves and the npc's tell you the story of the world, but probably 75% of story details are from you reading items (how does so much text fit on these weapons anyway? :P). Even then, you're assuming that because this game has cutscenes and audio logs (the latter of which surely isn't that much different than having an NPC tell you the same thing) that this game's environments will obviously lack the same stories, based off the one environment we've seen.

I've even seen people claiming that they won't buy the game because it uses a set character rather than allowing you to make your own. This game has a story to tell and this character is apparently a part of that story. Do you refuse to buy any game that doesn't let you craft your own character, or is it only because you want this game to BE Dark Souls that it's such a big deal to you?

At the end of the day I have no idea whether or not Lords of the Fallen will be any good. It could be great, it could be terrible. All I know is that I plan on going into it with as little bias as I can so that I can hope to enjoy it for what it offers, not for how it compares to its inspiration. And you can be damn sure that if it sucks I'll be right back here next week telling you ALL about what it does wrong. So until then, thanks for reading!

 

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The Evil Within finally released last week and it met with some pretty mixed reception. Despite what a lot of the reception has been like or all of the criticism I'm going to lob at it today, I found the game to be pretty enjoyable overall. While I had fun with it though, there is quite a bit that I feel should be addressed with it. As such, today I want to talk about what The Evil Within is, as a product presented to us, and also what it could have been based upon what the game offers.

The Evil Within is a strange game. In a time where the horror genre is in such a weird place, Shinji Mikami promised to bring it back to an era when it was well loved and received. What he delivered is essentially that, but it is also a game of two halves. Simply put, the game seems to be at odds with itself. Picture, if you will, two different types of survival horror games. In one hand you have Resident Evil 4; the action packed, tense game that still holds a place in many hearts today, while also begrudged by many others as the first step down the path that has slowly ruined the genre over time.

In the other hand, however, you have something new. A game that threatens to really break the mold, one that has the capability to truly revitalize the staling genre by taking the wonderfully psychological nature of Silent Hill 2 and giving it some old school Resident Evil tweaks, a Last of Us-esque stealth system, modern controls, and an incredibly cinematic look. What seems to have happened with The Evil Within is that these two games were mashed together to make a game that has all the pieces necessary to create something masterful, but chooses to hold it back by playing it safe and seeking to remind people of the other game that Mr. Mikami made that you probably loved.

It honestly feels like the creation of that second game was their intention, but they were worried that it wouldn't be received well; that people would cry for more action, because that seems to be what developers and publishers have decided that we want. If you have yet to play The Evil Within then you may think that I'm overreacting, that surely one would expect a survival horror by the man who created the award winning RE4 to play somewhat similarly, but no my friend. There are scenes in Evil Within, entire chapters mind you, that feel as if they were ripped straight from RE4. Not just similar, but legitimately feeling like you could replace Sebastian with Leon and you would not be able to tell the difference.

There are long sequences in run down villages with waves of zombie-esque villagers with torches and pitchforks climbing through windows and you using all the weapons at your disposal to fight off the seemingly never ending tide as your partner slowly unlocks a nearby door. Out of the 15 chapters in Evil Within I would say at least 3 or 4 of them feel like they take place in locations left over from RE4 development. Now, I thoroughly enjoyed Resident Evil 4 and I'm sure many of you did, but the issue is that these parts of the game are at odds with the rest of it.

The parts of Evil Within that don't feel like RE4 material are by far and wide the highlight of the game. There are fantastic sequences of you running for your life from one terror to find your self falling against gravity until you fall through a wall and end up in an entirely different setting. There are tons of great environments and monsters that mess with your head and make you wonder “just what the FUCK is going on here?!” and I LOVE those moments. Unfortunately, those moments are then broken up by the aforementioned action scenes or a fight in which you can easily get killed from full health in literally one hit.

These one hit kills are not rare either, they come frequently. The ones from traps can mostly be forgiven, as you can spot all traps if you're observant and careful enough, which should be expected of you. However, there are plenty of fights with enemies who can easily kill you in one hit and these can be painful. There is a many limbed, long haired enemy that you've likely seen in trailers or early demos who you have to face on multiply occasions and on any of these occasions if she so much as touches you then you will be locked into an animation from which you must watch your self get ripped apart, regardless of your health. I noticed in many reviews that reviewers felt that the game was unfair, but these one hit death encounters are probably the only times I truly felt like I was up against unfairly balanced odds.

If you want more proof that the game seems to work against itself and seems to be of contradicting ideologies then look no further than its presentation. The developers of The Evil Within went to great lengths to make this game as cinematic an experience as possible. The game runs at 30 fps, with a film grain filter, and a wide aspect ratio with incredibly large black bars along the top and bottom of the screen. When you're going through one of the more finely crafted chapters of the game you can really get into this immersive experience.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, these are quickly broken up. Once you've gotten in the swing of the game and you're wandering through the creepy mental hospital or mansion environments and you're really feeling into the experience, you'll then be pulled completely out of it by a large, ridiculous “CHAPTER CLEAR” screen with a big picture of the big threat from that chapter on a bloody screen with save and next chapter options. These screens serve no purpose but to pull you out of the experience. Nothing good is added to the game by these existing. It's there simply because it was in Resident Evil and that's not a good reason. Why would you go through such great lengths to make me feel like I'm having a cinematic and immersive experience only to rip me from it?

The Evil Within is both a very good game and also a pretty big disappointment, and no these two are not mutually exclusive. This game had all of the necessary pieces to create a new survival horror experience that could have been ranked among the best of the genre, but unfortunately those pieces were stitched together with RE4 threads and made in a way that feels like the safe way out. So many fantastic psychological and creepy moments placed adjacent moments that you feel as if you've already played through 9 years ago. I'd still recommend Evil Within to any fan of the genre, but just know what you're getting into. Thanks for reading.

 

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