MercurySteam's Lords of Shadow trilogy has long been subject to “love it or hate it” syndrome. The first installment rebooted the Castlevania franchise four years ago to mixed reception from fans. Many would claim that it was Castlevania in name only, but I would argue that Lords of Shadow was truer to its name than it could handle. Nowadays when most people think of Castlevania their minds harken back to Symphony of the Night, as well they should as it was an utterly fantastic game, but before SotN used the Metroid formula to bring to life the Metroidvania subgenre the series was very much a two dimensional version of what you're given in Lords of Shadow. Generic fantasy enemies, whip combat, and linear levels. But enough talk! Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2; have at you!
The story of Lords of Shadow 2 picks up long after the events of Lords of Shadow and Mirror of Fate, its primary story taking place in a modern day city that has been built on the land where Dracula's castle once stood. After a brief (yet intense) introductory level taking place in the past, Dracula (formerly Gabriel Belmont) wakes from a long sleep to find himself weakened after centuries of wasting away. His “old friend” Zobek would like to team up once again so they can stand together against the armies of Satan, who seeks to return to the world of men.
The final installment in the Lords of Shadow trilogy seeks to overcome many of the criticisms from the first game. LoS was as linear as they come, but in LoS2 we see the Metroidvania formula revived as it features 2 “open” worlds which you traverse in the style you'd expect, following a given path until you unlock a new power and then using that power to follow paths that you couldn't before. As Dracula you will go back and forth between exploring both a modern day city and your glorious castle in the past. That's not quite as confusing in practice as it sounds on paper, there are portals around the city through which you can go back and forth between the two time lines. There are also fast travel points, known as map rooms, to help you get around the city and castle faster, unfortunately they only work for the world you find them in(i.e. map rooms in the castle can only take you to other castle map rooms and vice versa).
Your primary combat style is still that of the whip, but now that whip takes form through a combination of shadow magic and Dracula's own blood. Unlike previous games you also obtain more weapons. In place of light and dark magic Dracula can obtain the Void Sword, for restoring health, and the Chaos Claws, for breaking defenses. Though these aren't quite the same as the magic system from the previous games, they still use the same charge up system from the first game where long combos fill a bar at the bottom of the screen which then causes orbs to spawn that will refill each respective resource. Rather than a list of skills / combos to obtain, LoS2 features a skill tree of sorts for each weapon. Basic button presses stay the same between the weapons, but the function of those combos and the way they play out changes. After unlocking a new combo you can gain mastery in it by using it repeatedly. Once you've fully mastered a combo its mastery can be drained into the weapon, and after doing this with a few different combos your weapon becomes upgraded. It's an interesting system that gets you to constantly try out new combos in the hopes of gaining mastery in them. Overall combat feels fluid and responsive and definitely the most fun I've had out of the three games.
The item powers work a bit differently this time around as well. Now on your D pad you simply have three powers and a final slot for a selection of relics, which are basically beneficial consumables. These relics act as health potions or buffs. There are quite a few types of these in the game but honestly the only ones I ever felt the need to use were the health ones and I maybe used three of those over the course of the game. Your powers are those of the Shadow Dagger, Bat Swarm, and Mist Form. The first two are obtained very early on while the third is a ways in. Shadow Daggers work how Daggers did before, except that now they have no inventory count and instead regenerate over time. These daggers also gain power from the weapon form you're in. By pulling out your Void Sword they gain the power of ice and by pulling out your Chaos Claws they become fire balls (and potent ones at that). The Bat Swarm power is a bit of a strange one. I'm not sure that they have much use in combat, but they seem to be in the game pretty exclusively for one reason.
Here's the deal: LoS2 introduces stealth segments into the game. I'm not sure why, as they feel out of place. I understand that Dracula has lost many of his powers and early on probably could not take the extremely large guards on, but there is never a point where you can actually just say screw it and take them on later on in the game either. While these segments don't make much sense, they are almost always incredibly short and easy to get through. This is where the Bat Swarm ability comes into play. You can use the swarm to distract a guard. Distracted guards don't see what's going on and a second guard will come over to see what the fuss is about. If you walk up behind a guard undetected you can possess said guard for a short time. There are also points in the game with shadowy portals on the ground that, when stood in, allow Dracula to turn into a pack of rats to sneak around or travel through small grates. The only stealth section that gave me any real trouble, and one of the only sections in the game to really frustrate me, was a special lengthy section of the castle where you have to sneak around a boss while avoiding stepping on leaves, of which there are many all over the ground.
There are far less puzzles this time around and none of the large scale puzzles you saw in the first game. The platforming is still around and works pretty similarly; jumping from rung to rung, never with much risk of falling. The one major downside of this game is that, after playing the first Lords of Shadow, you may come into this one expecting a decently lengthy run, but that's simply not the case. If I recall correctly the first LoS took me in the neighborhood of 20 hours to finish, while LoS2 took me about 11 and a half. Now, there were plenty of upgrade gems I could have gone around searching for to increase my health, chaos, and void bars, but I didn't really feel the need to as this game overall felt easier than the first. There are also pins you can collect that open challenge rooms to partake in. Aside from the length, the ending felt a bit out of place to me, though I won't go into spoilers, and the final boss battle wasn't quite as intricate as that of the first game.
Overall while Lords of Shadow 2 has its share of pitfalls and high rises it has far more of the latter. I had more fun playing through LoS2 than I did through either of the former games(both of which I enjoyed as well), so much so that I played the entirety of the game in one day through two sittings. The game is a fitting final installment to the trilogy and if they do attempt DLC I hope it takes the form of Alucard story missions as there was no where near enough of him in this game. Who knows where Castlevania will head next, but for better or worse, this stage of its life is now at rest.
(Note: I'm aware that the fantastic Mr. Carter wrote up a solid review for this, this is mostly just an attempt for me to get back into the swing of writing again. Criticism is welcomed as always.)
Double Helix, developers of the new Strider reboot, have been viewed as a bit of a shaky group in the past. They made such blockbuster titles as Battleship: The Movie: The Video Game and Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters. Probably their most recognizable title was Silent Hill: Homecoming, which seemingly sought to combine the cult magic themed story of Silent Hills 1 and 3 and the psychological themed story of Silent Hill 2, while essentially falling flat on both. People were understandably worried when Double Helix was given not just one, but two old IP's to recreate, but against all odds Double Helix chose a fantastic time to turn themselves around.
Strider is a very old franchise, and one that hasn't received any love in quite a while. It was an arcade side scrolling action game with a ninja theme and was pretty well received. It's seen a few variations, with the NES version and a solid PS1 sequel, but that was a long time ago. The new Strider is what, in my opinion, people really want from a reboot. Strider HD takes what made the original so great: it's fast paced nature and simple yet intense combat, and adds to it with a bit of combat variety, a gorgeous world, and a dash of Metroidvania.
The new Strider starts you off with a very basic move set; you can jump and attack. You very quickly gain a charge up attack, a sliding attack, and then a falling attack after that. It eventually evolves to the point where you have a double jump as well as a dash and kunai for throwing. You also gain multiple attributes that can be added to your basic Cypher (Strider Hiryu's weapon of choice) attacks. The first is the Reflect Cypher which, like it says on the tin, reflects bullets when you swing at them. Next is the fire element Cypher which sets enemies ablaze for damage over time when you swing at them. You also gain an ice element which, naturally, freezes enemies. The final Cypher attribute is plasma, which fires out curved beams which fly forward and then arc and return to you in a boomerang fashion. These attributes can be swapped between on the fly with a press of the d-pad in the corresponding direction.
Many of those attributes can also be added to your kunai and sliding attacks through upgrades. For instance, a reflect upgrade for the kunai will make it so those that miss their mark will bounce off of walls to keep searching for enemies. By the same token, the fire element can modify those kunai to make them stick to enemies and then explode after a delay for very good damage.
There are also a few special abilities to be obtained by the way of “Options”. There are three of these Options; A, B, and C. You'll obtain B first and it serves as a robotic phoenix which swoops down from the sky, damaging enemies in an arc, and doing more damage with each enemy hit. Next is A which surrounds Hiryu with spinning satellites that protect him from projectiles and damage enemies they touch. Finally is Option C, which is a robotic panther which runs back and forth along the ground damaging enemies it runs through. Each of these serves a purpose outside of combat as either a key of sorts in the case of Option A or a means of transportation for Options B and C.
The difficulty pacing is excellent as well, with enemies slowly becoming more and more challenging as you progress through the large city of Kazakh. There is no regenerating health, but there are plenty of health pickups around the world and a small amount of health is restored when you kill an enemy. Boss fights are both interestingly designed and fun to participate in. There are a few fights which are presented as boss fights only to then introduce that enemy as a regular mob, and while these are less interesting fights in the grand scheme of things, the true bosses make up for them.
The game is not terribly long, but with its lineage in mind you wouldn't expect it to be. I finished my first playthrough with a time stamp of about 4 and a half hours and that was with about 65% game completion, meaning there were still plenty of things in the world for me to find.
I have few criticisms for the game but they exist nonetheless. The first of which is a lack of even attempting to tell the player the story. By going into the menu you can read the background of the story, which is pretty much the same as it has always been with all powerful Grandmaster Meio taking over the world and you on an adventure to assassinate him, but it would have been nice to have been told that within the game. Even an old school scrolling text story screen when starting the game would have been fine for me. The other criticism I have is the lack of variety in the environments. Kazakh is a gorgeous location to maneuver around but aside from a level spent on an airship the entirety of the game is spent there.
Overall the new Strider is a triumph among reboots. It captures what made the franchise captivate people in the first place and builds upon it and makes it modern. Fans of previous games will see endless characters and enemies pulled from previous entries such as the flying robotic dragon, robotic gorilla, even Solo and the Pooh sisters. For the ridiculously low price of $15 on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, AND PC, I can do nothing but wholeheartedly recommend this fantastic game.
The purpose of this blog is not to claim one opinion is right or wrong, but rather to (hopefully) incite thought provoking conversation and debate. Have fun!
Over the past couple of years in the video game industry there seems to have been a large movement towards rebooting currently existing franchises. The idea behind these is to bring the franchise to a new audience and hopefully take a new spin on the games without alienating them from past entries. This is extremely useful for a franchise that has been out of sight for many years, as it helps bring an entry to both old and new fans without demanding that people have played the many years old entrees. This process seems to be one that many people dislike. People who love a franchise generally don't want to see all the lore and characters they've grown up with disappear or change into new unrecognizable forms. I suppose the real question when it comes to reboots is where do you draw the line between making a reboot to a franchise or simply making a new IP?
One of, if not THE, most infamous reboots ever created is Sonic the Hedgehog for PS3 and Xbox 360. Sonic '06 as it is commonly referred to is a game which, in the minds of many, sealed the franchise's fate as beyond redemption. The game was a reboot, which suggests that it was the representation of the direction that the developers wanted Sonic to take moving forward. The game was universally disliked with cited problems being long load times, poor camera, glitches, poor plot, and an overall lack of control. The game brought an overly cinematic approach to Sonic the Hedgehog. Some cutscenes in it could easily be confused with scenes from a jrpg because of the huge contrast between what you would expect from a Sonic world and what it offered. It wasn't until Sonic Generations that many started regaining faith in the franchise. But in this case we can probably assume that this was overall poor design as Sonic '06 was not the first 3D Sonic game, it was just the representation of all the things that could go wrong with it. The fact that it wasn't connected to the other Sonic games was the least of its problems.
So let's move to another rebooted franchise: Devil May Cry. DMC has long been a franchise that has prided itself on challenging, impressive combat that mixed gunplay and melee weaponry to fight demons in the most stylistic ways possible. The original Devil May Cry essentially created the spectacle fighter genre (or "Character Action" genre if you prefer that name) and its sequel turned around and did nearly everything wrong that it could. Devil May Cry 3 came around and succeeded in creating the pinnacle of that style of game while Devil May Cry 4 tried to continue it's legacy but things such as backtracking held it back from being all it could be. 5 years later DmC: Devil May Cry hits the scene, this time developed by Ninja Theory rather than the team who brought it to life. The new entry was a huge hit critically but received an immense backlash from a large portion of fans who found it to be a stain on their favorite franchise. Things like the lowered challenge and streamlined combat displeased fans who found the hardcore nature of the former games to be their favorite part. Personally as someone who has always loved Devil May Cry I actually really enjoyed DmC, but even I will admit that it would have likely been better for Ninja Theory to have simply made this a new IP. Though to be fair, at this point (considering sales and fan backlash) it's extremely likely that this entry will be relegated to being a spinoff instead of the basis for a rebooted franchise.
So that's an awful lot of text about poor reboots you may be thinking to yourself. Are there any examples of reboots done well? Absolutely! Just have a look at games such as Prince of Persia. The Sands of Time trilogy revolutionized the Prince of Persia franchise, brought it to mainstream audiences, and did so with a great reception! The recent Mortal Kombat is probably the safest example of a reboot done right, it brought back the prolific fighting game franchise not just as an arcade style game, but as an example of how to properly include a story mode in a fighting game. The latest Tomb Raider entry is also an excellent example of a reboot done well, though there are those who have some valid points about the lack of actual tomb raiding done in it. Metroid Prime also springs to mind when thinking of well received reboots, and what a change that was from its 2D predecessors!
So where is the line? What are the specific requirements that should qualify a new game as worthy of being a reboot to an older franchise as opposed to just turning it into a new IP? Personally I enjoy reboots if they manage to capture what made me enjoy the originals, anything new from there is fine with me, but then I'm a person who enjoys seeing different takes on existing franchises and doesn't like to watch something I enjoy go stale. How about you dear readers?
Video games are meant to be fun. Well, unless they're made by David Cage I guess. The feeling you get when playing a game you truly find enjoyable is one of the best feelings you can get as a gamer, as it's what we strive for. Often times though, we come across games that we hope will be fun, but turn us away instead. Maybe it's the flaws, maybe it's the difference in taste, who knows. Sometimes however, we are able to look past the flaws that exist and truly fall for a game, even when we know that it's got its fair share of problems. That's what I want to talk about today.
No game is perfect, but some do have more flaws than others. For example, a game I really enjoy playing is Dragon's Dogma. I've played through it twice, and every time I know that there are problems there but I just never let them get in the way of my experience. The plot is nearly nonexistant for the entire middle of the game, the pawns don't shut up, and when they do stop talking long enough to act they often don't do what they should. I always notice these things when I sit down to Dragon's Dogma, but I never stop playing because of them. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is another great example of a game with plenty of problems but I constantly think "I wouldn't mind messing around on there some more." Hell, Reckoning is one of the few games I've actually platinumed on PS3, that took some time. Many of the game's sidequests feel like they were pulled right from World of Warcraft, and boy are there a lot of them. The voice acting nearly never fits to the lips of those speaking and the plot, which has you wondering just who you were before you died, leads to a pretty unsatisfying conclusion. All the same, I always have fun when I venture back into the world of Amalur, whether I choose to wield feyblade or chakram.
Every now and then a game comes out that seems to be nothing but flaws. Most recently we've seen the likes of The War Z and Aliens: Colonial Marines, both of which had fiascoes surrounding their development and releases which were arguably more interesting than the games themselves. The War Z wanted so badly to be the next DayZ (a game which I haven't played) but failed to really accomplish much of anything. It was a game that I paid for solely so I could experience just how bad it supposedly was. Of the few hours that I played it I died more to other players than I died to zombies by a long shot. Nothing about the game appealed to me, and yet people play it. They not only play it, they enjoy it. The other catastrophe is Colonial Marines, a game which played on fans emotions and nostalgia for years. Constantly being cancelled or delayed, until finally a glorious reveal by Gearbox of a game that looked like everything they had been waiting for, until those fans got their hands on it and they saw that not everything that glittered was gold. And yet, despite all of the immense hatred that went out to Randy Pitchford and Gearbox, people not only bought it, there were and are people who defend it.
I'm not here to criticize these people. Just the opposite in fact, I envy these people in a way. As I said before, games are made to be enjoyed. If a game can be incredibly flawed but still enjoyed by many, does it say more about the game or the player? To pick up a game, play it, enjoy it, and move on to the next without the disappointment or longing that others feel when playing the same game is something I only wish I could do every time I picked up a game. I don't like to not like things. When I am disappointed by something, I am truly disappointed that I'm disappointed by it, if that makes sense. I could go on for days talking about games that I liked but can see all the flaws in. Likewise I could talk about all the games that I wanted to like but couldn't help be disappointed by, despite how much others liked them, but I think I'll save that for another write up.
How about you? What games do you really enjoy despite their flaws? What is your Kingdoms of Amalur?
I am 24 years old and I have been a gamer for as long as I could hold a controller, thanks to my dad who was interested in video games when he was younger. I've always played a bit of everything, though while I was younger I mostly hung around rpg's. Unfortunately, I never owned my own computer, or even had any real access to one, until I finally got my own laptop when I graduated high school in 2007. As such, I missed out on many of the "classics" as many would call them. Baldur's Gate, Deus Ex, System Shock, and Planescape: Torment were games that I was never able to experience.
I've heard many great things about Planescape: Torment over the years, particularly praising its story. Now, I play video games for different reasons. I play Devil May Cry games for over the top action, I play Elder Scrolls games for large immersive adventures, but a great story? That will cause me to play anything. I love stories, in any medium. I love to hear others' stories and come up with my own though I know I'll probably never get around to writing any down, so to hear that Planescape: Torment had one of the most memorable stories in gaming had me intrigued. When I saw the recent kickstarter for its spiritual successor Torment: Tides of Numenera I decided it was time to make the effort. Upon finally experiencing this classic, I was not disappointed.
As I said before, I didn't grow up with a computer so old school crpg's are pretty foreign to me, any time I've tried them since I've found the combat a bit off putting, so hearing that you could play through the entire game with minimal combat definitely spurred me on. I've also never been a pen and paper rpg kind of guy so games that force you to choose every point of stat allocation from the beginning of the game on are a handful for me without a guide. From a graphical standpoint the game isn't much today, but it's not the visuals that you want to experience here, it's the strange sort of interactive book that this game presents. I loaded it up with the suggested mods as listed by GOG so that it would run correctly on my current setup and began my adventure.
As a story lover I don't think that I will ever forget this game. I have never seen a game with not only such a fleshed out story, but a fleshed out universe. For as interesting as the game's plot is, the universe it takes place in is at least equally interesting. The Planescape universe from what I have learned through the game is made up of many different worlds that are all linked together. These worlds are connected by "doors", each of which are opened by very specific "keys". I put the emphasis on those two words because this is the point, near the beginning of the game, when I knew that I was 100% down for whatever the game had to offer. You see, the "doors" that connect these worlds can be nearly anything. An actual doorway, an arch in the city, an old tree trunk that has fallen over onto another. Equally intriguing is the concept of their keys, which can literally be anything. A tune you hum, a piece of string, or even the want to not enter the door. Potentially, you could be walking through the woods, humming to yourself, and pass under a fallen tree only to find yourself transported to another world with no way to return. The degree to which this is fleshed out is incredible.
The plot of the game follows a character known only as The Nameless One. TNO, as he is affectionately referred to by fans, awakes in a mortuary with no memory of anything, but that's not the strangest of his problems. The Nameless One cannot die. This is no Superman situation where he is impervious to everything but one special type of rock, nor is it a Highlander situation where he must have his head removed. Your character literally can not die in this game, not through plot nor gameplay. If you are in combat and your health reaches zero you pass out and awaken at the entrance to the current area. This isn't to say that he isn't impervious to pain, no matter how much it means that he can mutilate his body. Through the course of the game you can watch (or rather, read about) TNO removing parts of his body to replace them with more favorable ones, such as pulling his eye out and shoving a new one in.
The main story of the game follows TNO as he tries to discover his past as well as his identity, and the things you will see along the way are things that you will likely never see again in your life. A woman gave me her sentient teeth that I then shoved into the jaws of my floating skull companion, Morte. I met a woman who literally steals the desire from other people's bodies (isn't that always the way with women?) I helped a pregnant alley give birth. Simmer on that last one for a bit. All of these things, no matter how ridiculous they get, only accentuate the deep narrative that is being told here. You control this nameless man as he slowly regains his memories and struggles to discover why he continues to die, lose his memories, and wake up again. You meet so many great characters, each of whom is flawed in such a way that they are incredibly believable.
As I mentioned, this game can be played in such a way that combat becomes a very minor part of the game, to the point where you can go through it very rarely ever needing to pull out your weapon. This is thanks to the no less than three character stats that relate to your ability to talk to people. There is so much dialogue in this game it's almost ridiculous. It really does come off as an interactive book more than a traditional video game at times.
I really wish I could discuss all of the crazy things that happened in this game, but this is something that I feel people should really experience for their own. If you are a fan of rpg's or even just a good fantasy story then you owe it to yourself to give this old classic a shot. If just one person reads this at some point and decides "I think I'll give that old game a go" then this was well worth the effort to write it.