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2:35 AM on 06.24.2014

Early Access Review: Divinity Original Sin

(Personal Note: The writing will probably seem a bit jumpy. Sorry about that. If you have any more questions on something specific I'll answer them the best I'm able.)

Having put over eighty hours into the game it'd be pretty hard not to recommend at this point. I had been looking into buying it since it became available on Early Access, but held off. After it went into beta, I honestly couldn't help myself. It looked way too good to ignore any longer and glitches and frustrations would have to be taken in stride. I needed a role playing game with only customizable characters. I got that and the ability to give my characters a personality. It really is an enjoyable game, even in the beta form.
     The game sports a delightfully colorful cartoonish look while maintaining a fair grip on reality. The colors themselves feel sort of like pastels. Overall, the style of it looks wonderful in motion. Every area also in the game feels unique enough to where you'll be able to comfortably play without relying on the map. Even the darker areas of the game such as burning forests and dripping coves feel consistent with the rest of the game's appearance. Character models kind of look like clay, but don't look terrible because of it. Instead, they blend rather well with the world. Spells are flashy and when they hit, they make a noticeable impact. Animations all feel smooth. Each spell class (Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Witchcraft) all have a similar base, but different overall presentation.

     The combat is turn based, but flows fairly fast. Attacks don't take a lot of time to execute and given the tactical nature of skills, battles can end in an instant. Some of the more drawn out battles come from larger groups of enemies, rather than smaller groups of tougher combatants. A lot of effort was noticeably put into enemy placement. This was done to make each battle not only feel unique, but keep players on their toes. There are conveniently placed barrels of oil and water throughout the world and using them to your advantage is nearly vital to survival. Elements play a major role in combat as things like electrified water can stun enemies and iced ground can cause a player to slip. Their effects can be null if your character rolls a high enough saving throw based on your stats. You can also remove hazards from the field through the same use of elements. Fire will melt ice and explode poisonous clouds, while water from rain will douse fires. 
     The number of actions you can take during a turn in battle depends on how many actions points your character has. Everything from casting spells to equipping items and simply moving consumes action points. This ensures that the player thinks about every choice they make for everything that they do. The enemy AI isn't too stupid to walk directly into a fire pit and will generally go after squishier party members before others. They also incorporate tactics of their own will use the environment to their advantage as well if they are able. Unfortunately, melee enemies have a tendency to mob from time to time which makes dispatching them a little easier than normal. Leveling can be a bit of a pain, but isn't too tiresome. Grinding, however, is out since enemies do not respawn as there are a set number of them in the game. There are two side notes I would like to make about the game's difficulty. One, the game does have a difficulty setting that I haven't used myself yet. And two, I'm basing this analysis on multiple play-throughs with only a party of two. There are two companions available in the current build of the game a mage and warrior and there will likely be more when the game releases officially.

     What skills a character can learn are based on the number of points put into that particular school. There are eight different classes to choose from. They are simply warrior, air, water fire, earth, witchcraft, ranger and rogue. The first level in a class allows for you to learn three skills in that class and from there it gradually increases with each until you get to level five where you can learn an unlimited number of for that particular class. There are no limits as to what combinations you make with these classes. However, there is a level limit attached to skills as well which makes it that much harder to strike a balance with more specific role playing characters you make. It should also be noted that physical based characters feel really underpowered compared to mages.
     The character creater comes with eleven pre-made classes. They all range from your standard to pre-built hybrid classes. What weapons you start with are based on the class you choose before further editing it. So if you want to make a warrior-mage that starts with armor and a sword, you would first have to choose either the knight or fighter class, then edit the skills to liking from there. Cosmetically speaking, the game offers up numerous customization options that allow to make your character your own. There are a dozen different skin tones, hair styles, and faces available. Everything seems well made and a finished character actually looks like it belongs in the game it came from unlike some character creator results.

     The story, or what little of it that has been made available in the beta, feels straight forward, tight and fun. The story follows your two created characters traveling to the town of Cyseal to investigate a murder. You are to find evidence of Sourcery and eliminate it with extreme prejudice. Or you could just meander about and until the actual plot comes in. The reason for your characters journey is just a means to an end. What becomes increasingly clear as you move forward with the game's plot is that your characters much more than the mere mortals that they start off to be and they'll learn as much about their past selves as you do as the game moves forward. Your characters can grow to love are hate each other based on the personalities that you give them. Things can even entirely platonic between your characters if that is what you want.
     The way this works is that there are instances where your characters can communicate with one another and from there, you can choose their responses to one another. These events can be triggered by any number of things such one character fleeing from battle or even something simple like finding a note on the beach. The dialogue flows pretty naturally and the game manages quite a consistent tone. The amount of consistency is pretty remarkable considering the pretty diverse cast of characters available even in this starting portion of the game. The writing is delightfully humorous, and even when more dark discussions are had, they are treated with a light sense of whimsy. This doesn't mean that everything is a joke, just that the game doesn't want to take itself too seriously.

-You'll notice that this review doesn't talk about the online portions of the game. That's because I don't play games online and that even extends to this. I'm not against it, personally, and think that the idea of how it works seems nice enough. I can speak briefly of the global chat: It works. That's about all there is to it. If you have a quick question about something in the game then you can drop it in the chat and people will respond to it. The people are decent for an online community and are pretty helpful too.

-The game has bugs to be sure, but every major bug in the two plus months I've been playing the game has been addressed and a ton of smaller fixes are always implemented with each release. The most nagging past issues have been: broken traps, dumb enemies, various graphical glitches, and a few story related makers and queues being "off" The game has never crashed on me even while in beta.   read

6:02 PM on 09.22.2013

The Longest Journey [Review]

The Longest Journey is what its name implies, a long and grand adventure. There is no pretense or hidden message to be had. That's probably the game's greatest charm, having a fun story and protagonist without having to worry about much else. With diverse supporting characters and an interesting story with overall good story progression; The Longest Journey feels well worth your time.

You play as April Ryan, a young, struggling artist attending an art school in not Venice. She's eighteen, sarcastic, and more or less normal. She rents a tiny room at a boarding house designed for varying kinds of art students from sculptors to dancers. She may seem to have a generally pessimistic outlook on life, but this comes mainly from the adverse effects of school and her dreams that seem to become more real by the night. Her sarcastic attitude isn't used because she's too cool or super edgy, it's because she is stressed. She reacts to things the way she does as a way to cope, rather than put someone down. She is not mean spirited or spiteful, and is more caring than she lets on. April's voice actress is able to bring this out flawlessly.
     The supporting cast can come across a bit underutilized, but they are fun and help build April as a character. The voice actors in the game all do a great job with their given roles, but some are repeated as more minor NPCs that stay in the background. While the supporting characters have and maintain their own personalities; this is still very much April Ryan's story. Everything that happens in game is supposed to affect her, and by extension, the player.

The Longest Journey's story spans two worlds. Stark and Arcadia, both in balance with one another. Both are Earth, but neither is really whole. Stark is the our world, a place of logic and machinery. Arcadia exists opposite that, a land of dreams and magic. The year in Stark is 2209, and is a somewhat believable future. It's heavily corporate, there are minor space colonies surrounding Earth, but everything is structurally the same. There are flying cars, but streets and city layouts are the same. People don't dress incredibly zany and aside from a few technological advances, it feels well grounded. Arcadia is more medieval in nature by contrast due its lack of science. It has magical creatures, witches, wizards and other what have yous a plenty. You'll interact with some of these creatures directly, others are referenced, but most are only seen. April is tasked with restoring the balance to these two worlds, while uncovering the mystery of herself, her dreams and a corporate conspiracy.
    The game sometimes has a problem with being a bit too exposition heavy. While the game usually allows the player to soak in the plot through naturally spoken dialogue, it will sometimes get ahead of itself and begin dropping plot points in a way that may leave the player more confused than they should be. This happens only a few times throughout the game, but it can be very tedious when those points come up. The story may also seem to drag on about two thirds of the way in. The plot becomes more of a fetch quest than a series of naturally occurring fortunate and unfortunate circumstances. It does not last too long and it picks back up again at a pace that ramps things up well through the climax.

    The game is in 2.5D, meaning you move around in a mostly static, flat, single frame environment with 3D character models thrown out on top. This look works well for the style of gameplay involved. Graphically, the game can be pretty hard to look at. The game forces itself to fit and run full screen at all times, leading to block-y textures and atrocious 3D. The text in journal entries and dialogue suffer from this as well as it is impossible to read some of it. Though it should be noted that the resolution problem never hindered me from solving any of the puzzles. Musically, the game hits its mark in just about every way possible. The songs presented in the world of Stark have a dark menacing tone to them as they reflect the mood of the people and environment of the city. While in contrast, the music in Arcadia has a more natural and relaxing feel to it.
    On gameplay, there isn't much to say. It's very much a point and click adventure title. You scan the environment for things to use as get over your next road block. There is not much to say here except that the design is competent and people easy to use. Puzzles never seem so out of touch with reality that you'll find yourself giving up them. It should also be noted that when you click on places for April to go towards you have to hit the escape or you'll end up waiting forever for her to cross the screen as she slowly plods forward.

The Longest Journey is all about the journey and it definitely does that well enough to justify its ten dollar purchase.   read

7:10 PM on 05.21.2013

For The Most Part, I'm Burned Out

I am not excited about the next generation of consoles. This is not just some Microsoft hate spiel because of their dreadfully boring conference. On the flip side, I will not be licking Sony's boots either because they have just as much crap going for them in my eyes. Nintendo looks nice but their archaic business is beginning to wear more than just a little bit thin. With all of this news of new consoles and games, I'm completely underwhelmed and I hold no enthusiasm towards the immediate future.

The main problem I have right now is the lack of worthwhile games. I've seen hardly anything tangible beyond shiny trailers and a physics demo from either side. Okay that is not entirely fair to Knack, but I really just can't care for what that game showed me. Infamous: Second Son was a CG trailer featuring a character so edgy the video could have cut if I got in too close. First Person Shooters are not exciting, Diablo III is not a very good game, and that's all of what I can remember from the Playstation conference. That is pretty telling of the system and possibly the industry as a whole. There's a lot there, but there is nothing substantial behind it. The "Let's dazzle them and hope for the best" approach, can not be your main tactic when you are dropping a new console you want people to be interested in.
     And then there is Microsoft and its complete misunderstanding about how to treat its audience. Sales wise, I can see the potential of casting a wider net, but strictly speaking people who buy consoles out of the gate are those who play games because it is something they love. When you fail to present even an inkling of care for that market, you can not hope to achieve much, if any success. Oh that game they showed, Quantum Break. I don't have much to say about since it was as generic of a trailer as one could produce. The exceptionally part about it though, is that they somehow managed to not say anything about the game at all. This is the problem with all CG trailers, you can not discern anything from them gameplay wise and might just be fancy movies. If you do not have anything nice to show me, then do not show me anything at all. Also, Multi-platform games and timed exclusives are not a reason for someone to buy a console. They're not reasons at all.

And on the Wii U side? All I see before me is an empty ever-spanning desert with mirages dancing in the distance. At least they could be mirages, they could be real. I've given up on this endless trek through this dreadful wasteland and wait only for the pain to stop. I've made this journey, twice before in fact, but never has it felt so lonely. Sure, there are others here despite my outlook, but they are all far more enthusiastic than I. Their hope remains with them, my faded hope goes to them,  I shall waste away here.

The unnecessary things about each console are also a major problem, mainly because they treat the basic components of a gaming experience as a problem that needs to be solved. Controllers are the ultimate form of control. They are exceptionally accurate, they are not tiresome, and they are best means to get things done. Taking away the controller or treating it like it is holding gaming back is silly at best. It would be no different if most major PC hardware producers all of sudden ditched keyboards and mice and boasted motion control and speech typing as "superior".
     The user interface for both consoles are nothing to write home about and seem cluttered, drowning in social madness. They both also employ the design over practicality way of thinking. "All we have to do is make sure it's a big square with a bunch of little squares and pictures, who cares they can navigate it smoothly or quickly find what they want?" Microsoft has pretty much circumvented this problem by allowing for voice commands to quickly jump to and from various sections. The problem lies in the voice however as nothing can stop your dick of a brother, who sounds just like you, from saying Xbox TV while you are in the middle of a boss fight in a game. They said it can read different voices, but I hold doubts it is as "stable" as they present it to be. All of this mess is just so staggering and off putting that I can't see how anyone could get behind any of the next generation of consoles at this point. But that's not all! There are a host of other concerns including but not necessarily limited to:

Why is there a share button. (So your friends can watch what you're doing.)
Why is there a touch control pad. (Because INNOVATION!!)
Why do you want me to be on Facebook and Twitter so badly. (Word of mouth. Free Advertisement.)
Why is there lag on the main selling point of the system? (What? We fixed that already.)
Why do I need to install games now?(Because we're trying to enhance your experience.)
Can I buy used games without having to worry about additional fees later? (Haha. No.)
Is it backwards compatible? (What? This is our first console!) or (This new console is so advanced, it can't play games from last generation.)
How many exclusives will be on the system? (TONS!!)
Can I at least see some of them? (Not yet, we're working really hard on them, but i promise they're awesome.)

I'm just going to stick to my PC and be done with it. Exclusives that may be good can wait and most are hardly worth being excited for anymore, if they ever were. Multi-platform titles have had far less shit PC ports in recent years. Factoring in the potential cost of the new consoles from Sony and Microsoft, I can get by with my current rig and probably only have to spend two or maybe three hundred dollars to upgrade to surpass a console generation that isn't even wholly publicly available for purchase yet. That is what I call sad.

It's sad for a lot reasons, but mainly because at the end of the day, we as a consumer and we as a game playing culture lose. We lose to charts and graphs, to number projections, and to men in impeccably sharp suits. Nothing was gained, everything was lost.

...Okay it's not that bad, but it's still pretty disheartening to see the industry making moves like this.   read

1:22 AM on 03.10.2013

Quick Thoughts: True Gaming Perfection

Indie games are growing fast and I know that there is large potential for people, who otherwise wouldn't have that opportunity, to break through and make something great. But, there are good and bad sides to everything and I believe, heavily story driven indie games are the bad of the bunch. There seems to be this misconception that indie games with a focus on story are exceptions to the same judgement we give other games and that they all deserve a free pass when that lack in any form but their strongest. And well, that's just dumb. Figuring out the answer to this problem is what lead me to an obvious answer of what the "perfect game" is.

I think To The Moon had a great story, but I really shouldn't let that be a pass for the terrible everything else in that game (Well, excluding the music, of course). It's bare-bones point and click with a bunch of meaningless "puzzles" thrown in your way to pass itself off as a game. In spite of that, I was kind of excited for the sequel, but then I saw the preview for it and realized it was the same exact thing. If it was called Call of Duty: What "The Fuck" Ever, people would have been more vocal on calling what's obvious bullshit. Well, I guess that isn't fair. The guy also said that he was going to put less effort into making a game and more into creating something meaningful and he also said he was going to put less dialogue into it. Because, like we all know, if you're going to make something and market it as a game, why the heck would you need to make it actually resemble a playable game? This is the same problem I have with stuff like Heavy Rain. There is this notion that so long as you're doing something, it qualifies as gameplay. That isn't true. If you want to make a movie, do that, but don't waste people's time by calling your masturbation project a game.

Alright, let's get back to the title of the blog now that I've explained where I'm coming from. I believe if you want to perfect gaming as an art form (Doesn't matter, but whatever.), try to excel in all areas instead of just one. Instead of only strengthening one position, whether it be gameplay, story or characters, you should try to make your title as attractive to everyone you can. Designers of any kind should strive to make something that feels complete. Trying to manipulate people's feelings or falling back onto a single aspect only weakens something that could be fantastic and truly memorable. Even if you're not great at developing yourself, but want to get your "vision" out, get a kickstarter and hire developers who can work with you on something. Make "art" that feels like a complete experience as a game. That would be, "True Gaming Perfection", I believe. And I think the indie scene is the only place that can actually achieve this, all things considered.   read

9:34 PM on 02.15.2013

The Best Bit: Music

Games are a big mess of bits and bobs that all work together to create a great experience for the player. Characters, music, plot, and gameplay are the major markers for a great game. Not all games get everything right. Arguably, no game gets everything right and certain elements in a game will almost always be done better than others. That's why this blog is here; to tell what the best bits of a good or bad game are. And going by the title and using your brain, you'll know that the "Best Bit" topic for is music. So! Let's go on this.

Music, for me, is the second most important part in a game. Its main role is to reinforce whatever is being expressed on screen. How well it expresses itself, directly impacts how I react to the characters and plot. A boring or sporadic soundtrack can sink a game. Well that's a bit extreme, but I will say that it can make playing through a game a plodding experience. An over abundance of violin and piano pieces won't work either since a soundtrack overridden with those tend to stick out as much as crater on the ass of the moon.

Time for a test: Think of your favorite videogame. Next, think of your favorite moment from that game. What song plays during this sequence? What sort of emotions does the piece bring out? Would you be able to hum or recall its melody without having to run to Youtube to look it up? Now, do the same for your soundtrack of the year for 2012, if you had one. Memorability plays a big role in choosing the best soundtracks. I mean, how can we label them "the best" if we can't even remember their tunes or the situations they envelope. This is why I couldn't get into Journey and it is why could not I understand people calling it the best OST of the year. So I asked a friend of mine the same questions as above regarding Journey. Annnnd they failed, so to speak. They couldn't name hum a tune aside from the one found on the main menu and they could not associate any sort of unique atmosphere or events with the music. Now, I don't doubt he enjoyed the music in the game, but come on. We have to put up some kind of railing to prevent us from falling into the "it's pretty" trap that most games lay out. If we're going to judge what gets game of the year by iron standards, why can't we judge a single aspect the same way?

Let's look at listen to things and talk about how they effect the game and player and stuff.

Bask in this song's greatness. BASK IN IT!

All done listening? Good. Now pick yourself up off the floor and pay attention. That was Grandma from the game NieR. It has a quiet minimalistic melancholic and yet defiant lullaby tone that can immediately be related to what's transpiring on screen. The game's leading lady bolsters up and remembers why she fights. Her grandmother is what spurs her to continue and it shows heavily here. The character speaks, but instead of disrupting what you hear, her voice resonates with the music and, more importantly, the player. "But Wait", you cry out. "Isn't there a piano in that bit of music? I thought you hated that". Well... Yeah you're right I do dislike the use of piano, but on the other hand I absolutely adore vocals and that's where this piece gets it for me. The soundtrack in this game is by far some of the best music I've heard in any form of media and vocals in this track serve to emphasize the lullaby feeling given by the melodic piano.

Now we'll listen to something that doesn't work. For the sake of fairness, I'll post something that's trying to convey similar emotions of despair and determination. And well... Just listen.

Try not to fall asleep! Though, I wouldn't blame you...

The music itself is fine, even if a little boring,at least at the start. It's very light and doesn't immediately feel like it's trying to pound your head in with a "this is how you should feel" hammer, which is nice. It has an empty space feel that works well with the setting of the game and it's simple. Simple is always nice. Then things start to get a bit shaky when the composer, who probably thought you had fallen asleep by this point, felt the need to pound on all of the keyboard keys at the same time in an effort to wake you up. Then he does it again, as though the first banging wasn't enough. Having this happen is the equivalent of attending your typical piano recital and then having someone jump out and yell "REAPERS!!" fifteen seconds into it. It's distracting and just does not fit together with the mood of the scene. After all of that, you're drowned in some of the most homogenized piano and violin swells you'll ever face.We're not done yet folks, we still have one more question to ask: How well does it enhance the experience? Well, it goes about as nicely as one would expect. Even if the music doesn't come across as "You must feel sad now" to you, you're beat in the head with a "REAPERS" club so quick and stealthily that you honestly don't know what to feel. By doing this, the track doesn't give the player anytime to reflect on what's happening. It's like being thrown from a museum for looking at an exhibit and after being thrown out, someone drops a piano on your head along with several violins. This early impression of the music holds a bad omen for rest of the experience since it tells the players that the game designers and music composers have two different things in mind about any given scene's direction.

And that's all for today. Hopefully, I'll post a second part to this pertaining to custom music in games and how to not confuse nonexistent music with creating atmosphere. But that won't be for a long while. The next "Best Bit" will be on characters. Specifically, differentiating between the good and the bad, but only party members. Oh, post your test results down below so I can read them and mock you for them.   read

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