Hi, I'm Nic! Also known as Wrenchfarm. In fact, Wrenchfarm is a much cooler name, lets just use that.
I'm a 28 year old gaming enthusiast. (I feel ancient saying that)
I went to school for about a million billion years and now I have a degree in baloney. I hang in on my wall right underneath my faded and yellowed Grade 8 graduation certificate. I am a bachelor of arts in the field of Honours Sliced Meat Product. Mom is very proud.
Some days I subsist almost entirely upon coffee and blogs. Dtoid keeps me well fed.
I spend way too much time on TVtropes. It is a lotus eater machine, do not enter. You can click one topic and an entire evening will melt into a blur or references and trivia.
I love zombies. I'm not sick of them yet. Yes I know its passe, I know all the cool kids have moved onto vampires and robots (or girls), I don't care.
I come from Canada, but my word processor is set to U.S English. We constantly argue over the spelling of words like color, honour, and such. Please forgive any inconsistencies you may find in my posts, we didn't mean to involve you in our petty squabble and we should stop fighting in front of company.
No, you don't have to leave. We didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable...
Mechwarrior Online is a game where 16 giant stompy robots fight each other to the death with laser guns and cannons that fire shells the size of an average family sedan. If that image tickles your heart, you owe it to yourself to need to download this game and try it out.
MWO is a F2P title currently in Open Beta, a nebulous limbo that seems indistinguishable from full release in every way except that the developers can always blame bugs on "its a beta." The good news is that this means it is totally available and free to play right now.
The bad news is that your first impressions of the game are likely to be a frustrating cluster-fuck.
Your first hour with the game will be filled with questions. Questions like "Why am I exploding all the time!?" Or "Why is my mech a giant oven!?" The newbie Mechwarrior will have to contend with a million systems and rules that the game refuses to tell you anything about, piloting lemon trial mechs, and getting rolled over by pre-made teams again and again before you can even figure out how to stop spinning in one place. Many players will DL the client, play three or four matches, then quietly uninstall MWO and never speak of it again. I think that's a damn shame.
- Our first day with the game was super great!
I love this game. I think it's a game worth playing. But I also think it is a game that is deeply flawed in how it brings new players into it's population. What I want to do with this guide is give you a smoother ride towards actually enjoying it then I had and to fill in many of the questions and resources developer PGI fails to provide new players with (sadly, this will be a recurring theme.)
The rock bottom basics - Control > The biggest stumbling block to many new players is controlling the mech, the most fundamental aspect of the game. MWO has a somewhat counter-intuitive control scheme compared to other FPS games. The most important thing to understand is that your mech is not a giant man, but more like a giant tank. Think of your torso as a turret and your legs like treads. You can swivel your torso one way while your legs take you another.
- A handy mental image to hold on to.
Mechs cannot strafe. This is something that annoys a lot of FPS players coming into MWO. You are considerably less manoeuvrable than most games, so you need to be careful about where you are and where you are going. Don't expect to escape a bad situation without taking some damage.
Throttle acceleration> You can set your forward or backward movement using a throttle that is easily viewable in the HUD. While it is initially a little odd, I soon came to love this feature. You can set a very specific speed without having to feather the controls or use an analog input, letting you easily run in a pack with slower mechs, or continue moving while concentrating on aiming. With default controls standard WASD rules apply and you can cut all movement by pressing X – although a mech has to take a few slow-down steps before fully resting.
Aiming > There are two types of cross-hairs on the screen. One is a big T-shaped guy that stays pretty much in the centre, the other is a O-shaped one that will travel a ways around the screen as you move the mouse. The T represents weapons located in your torso while the O represents weapons located in your articulated arms. It differs between chassis, but most mechs have both and its important to know where your guns are located and what they can shoot at. You may have trouble hitting people below or above you with guns pointing out from your chest, while low hanging arms can be caught on terrain and waist high obstacles.
There is also another form of aiming with guided missiles. Guided missiles require a lock. Pressing R will cycle your targeting between any enemy in your current line of sight or any enemy that a friendly has targeted. This is important because it lets you know where the enemy is, how far they are, and their mech's load out and condition - but more on that later. With guided weapons you need to first R-lock an enemy, then hold your aiming reticule over that target until the targeting circle turns red - at that point you can fire away and your little rocket buddies will do their best to introduce themselves. Make sure to hold on to the lock the whole way through. If you lose it for any reason your missiles will still fly towards the enemies last known location like good little soldiers, but sadly will never likely hurt anybody. How tragic.
It is a good idea to group weapons on separate firing axis/types apart. Which takes us to -
Weapon grouping > Every weapon in the game is a tool with a specific purpose. You don't want to chuck the whole tool box at the enemy every-time you click left mouse, so it's important to group your weapons to separate inputs.
- Notice how the arm mounted lasers are grouped separately from the torso level guass rifle. Missiles are relegated to 4 since you don't always need them at your finger tips.
You can assign weapons to different buttons and groups on the fly in game using the control panel at the bottom right of the screen with the cursor arrows and leftcntrl button. Whatever row the vertical bar is located on automatically becomes left-click, with what is directly to the right of becoming right-click. It's a good idea to leave this on 1 and go from there just to keep things simple.
Setting similar weapons to fire at the same time with a single button press, or in sequence with multiple taps (set by pressing Backspace on a row), is an essential concept in Mechwarrior. You want to make the best use of your resources. An example of simple and effective weapon grouping would be to have a frequently used brawling weapon like medium lasers on left mouse, your more powerful and rarely used big hitter on right mouse, and your less aim dependent missiles set to a third mouse button if you have it, or 3 if you don't. This way you can easily control what weapons you are firing and when.
Vision Modes > Some maps contain vision obscuring conditions like blizzards or very far sight-lines. This is when thermal vision and zooming in comes in handy. You can snap on thermal vision at any time by pressing H. It will make navigating terrain a bit harder, but mechs will pop out like Christmas lights. You can zoom in by pressing middle mouse or Z.
Night vision can be activated by pressing N. It does nothing. In fact, it is actually a little harder to see in the dark with it on. So um, don't press N.
Where there's smoke, there's HEAT -
Heat > Heat is the big balancing factor in Mechwarrior. Present in both live firefights and the mechlab.
Every weapon builds up some amount of heat when fired. If you overheat your mech, you'll temporarily shutdown to cool off. At this point you will be shot at by everyone on the enemy team. You can override this automatic shutdown by slapping the O button (frantically), but usually to suicidal results – you don't want to turn the internals of your mech into molten slag by over-shooting.
Every weapon generates different levels of heat and it's easy to see how things are balanced. Easy to aim and ammo-free lasers tend to build more heat than their heavy and tricky to aim ballistic counterparts. The larger the missile pack, the more it will spike your heat. Firing a LRM5 pack has about the same heating effect as turning on the coffee maker, while the mighty LRM20 is like showering with a flame thrower.
What this means in practice is that you need to be disciplined with your shots and careful not to overheat yourself on the field. In the Mechlab this means you can't just load up as many guns and ammo packs as you want in your mech, you need to make room and tonnage for heat dissipating heat sinks; the more the better. Often it is a wiser idea to make a mech balanced around a few heat-manageable weapons than something with bristling with massive firepower that can only be used every 30 seconds or risk melting itself.
While on the topic, heat is also the reason the trial mechs suck so much.
While PGI offers you a free ride in several outwardly appealing mechs any given week, they are ALWAYS heat sink deficient. A trial Awesome-9M may have 3 kick-ass PPC lightning cannons on it, but you'll only be able to shoot them once before it keels over in heat exhaustion. Combined with a few other chinzy moves (low ammo stores, odd default weapon groups, bad armour dispersion), and it's clear that PGI wants you to get frustrated with the trial mechs as soon as possible and pony up some dough for a real big-boy robot. What happens is most people just reach for the uninstall button. The trial mechs are a horrible unfun introduction to what can be an otherwise very enjoyable game.
Making lemonade with your lemons -
- Use the escape buldge- fuck, I mean pod! Use the escape pod!
Trial Mechs > As I just alluded to, your first missions in Mechwarrior WILL be bumpy since you're stuck with the universally crummy trial mechs unless you pay up (which I don't recommend right away until you're sure this is a game you want to play.)
On the plus side, you never have to pay for any repairs or rearms in a trial mech, so even when you lose you'lll be making money towards a real ride. So don't think of your first few games as actual matches, think of them as THE WORST TURTORIAL EVER DEVISED.
In lieu of any actual in-game tutorial, you're going to be attending the Mechwarrior school of hard-knocks. Learn to control your mech. Play with the different trial rides available. Ignore any and all hecklers in the team chat. Play around with the different weapons at your disposal and see how they work. Any damage you do to the enemy is just gravy at this point.
- Hum... Think of it as a learning experience?
Learn the basic layouts of the limited map selection and general strategies like moving with the team (IE: Cowering behind the Atlas) and capping the enemy base. You might be in a crappy mech, but with judicious firing and cautious play, you can contribute.
The trial mechs vary from week to week, but always feature the full class spread from light 30 ton scouts, to medium and heavy brawlers, to towering 80-100 ton assault mechs. I recommend trying them all just to see how they handle and what you like/dislike about them, but in the end I suspect most will be spending their time in whatever medium or heavy de jour is being offered. The light and assault selections might constantly change models, but they have always been deathtraps.
The main take away from this is DON'T GET DISCOURAGED. It isn't your fault the game has no tutorial and the trials all suck. Just know that the good times are getting closer with every match.
Learning how to blow up mechs (and keep yours in one piece) -
Locational damage > One of the most important concepts to grasp in MWO is locational damage. IMO it's what makes the game me so much fun to play and adds so much of the tactical versatility to the minute-to-minute battles you'll have.
Mechs don't carry a set amount of hit point that are depleted until it explodes. In fact, these things can take a beating! Unlike other shooters where being caught out by the enemy usually means death, mechs in MWO can soak up huge damage; especially if they know how to roll with the punches.
While you will see a percentile health rating next to any enemy you target, that is more of an approximation of a mech's overall state than how close it is to dying. Rather, mechs are made up of several parts (center torso, back torso, shoulders front and back, arms, legs, head, ect) with a layer of armour on each and an internal health value underneath. Each of these components can be individually targeted and destroyed.
In your HUD you will see a paper-doll cut out representation of your mech at the bottom left and its myriad components. Areas outlined in colour still have amour, areas filled in have been stripped down to the internals. The closer the shade to dark red, the more damaged the piece.
You will also see the same paper-doll for any enemy you target at the top right part of the screen. Not only can you see where the enemy is damaged, it will also tell you that mechs armaments. This is essential information! You need to learn to love the top-right of your HUD.
- Looking at the paper-doll we can see this enemy Atlas still has moderate front armour, but none at his back, and his centre core has been fairly damaged through this gap.
Mechs will ONLY go down if their engine is destroyed, both legs are destroyed, or if the cockpit (and pilot inside of it) is reduced to a crater. It is quite possible to finish a round alive and (sort-of) well missing both arms, half your torso and a leg! What this means in practicum is that you generally want to target the centre mass of an enemy where the engine is stored to take them out. Preferably from behind where the armour is thinnest. However, there are other tactics to consider.
Taking the enemy apart, one piece at a time -
Strategic targeting > Armour ratings vary among different components, and are adjustable by the player. But know that the front centre torso will always be packing the heaviest armour. While coring them out from the centre may be a sure fire way to kill a mech, it might be better in the long run to take apart its capabilities rather than going straight for a kill.
Losing a leg will hobble a mech to a crawl. Legs usually pack a lot less armour than the torso and it is practically a death sentence to lose one. While it may be trickery to focus your aim on one pumping leg than the large centre mass of a mech, it may be worth the effort. Legs only have one pool of amour each (no front and back, just one value for all sides and parts on a leg), so it's possible to quickly knock one out while circling around in a light mech already aiming around that level. Annoying little ankle biters.
Many mechs concentrate most of their fire power in one place. The large shoulder "hump" on a Hunchback almost always makes up most of their offensive punch. Rather than trying to bore through a Hunchback's thick chest armour while it slings cannon shells right back at you, it might be smarter to target it's more lightly defended hump first and defang the beast. Then you can either take your time destroying it without taking horrible horrible return fire, or even ignore the now combat ineffective heap for a more threatening target (a tactic that has the added benefit of being a stone-cold dis.)
Hitting where it hurts –
Exploiting weaknesses > You can make yourself a huge threat on the battlefield by learning to spot certain weaknesses or opportunities in the enemy's design.
Mechs packing ballistic cannons or missiles need to store that ammunition somewhere in their internal structure. This can make for a delicious treat; if you hammer the internals of an area storing ammo there is a good chance you will set it off, causing a terrific chain of explosions inside the mech almost guaranteed to destroy it!
Most players trying to save room in their chassis for weapons and heatsinks will typically move ammo to their legs or arms. If you see a mech carrying a lot of combustible weaponry, it might be worth picking around at some of the weaker and less targeted areas to see if you can't cause some fireworks. This tactic works particularly well against the lumbering Atlas mechs. Usually one of the most fearsome opponents on the battlefield, a lot of players trucking LRMs in an Atlas tend to sock the ammo away in the legs while at the same time shaving armour from them to free up extra tonnage for other "crucial" systems. A crafty pilot can take out one of these behemoths using their own munitions against them.
Remember how I said an mech's engine must be destroyed? Sometimes that doesn't just mean the core. The somewhat counter-intuitively named XL Engines are frequently used in certain tonnage-tight mechs as a weight saving measure. XL Engines go the same speed as an equally rated STD Engine, but weight less. In exchange, the engine is spread out more, taking up space in the side torsos. What this means is that taking out the side torso or shoulder area of a mech packing an XL will destroy the whole thing! While an Awesome-9M might have a mighty 80 armour points in its centre torso, the sides might only have a piddly 35. A medium class mech can go toe-to-toe with the big guys if he knows where to aim!
Learning how to identify an XL engine user comes with time. If a mech is moving significantly faster than that type usually does, or is packing a lot heavier weapons than normal, chances are he's made the devil's XL bargain – and should be justly punished.
Gauss cannons are electromagnetic rail guns that fire inert ammo that doesn't explode. Which sucks. Good thing the cannon itself is extremely fragile and will catastrophic explode when destroyed! If you see a enemy hanging a gauss cannon off an easily targetable limb, take it out. Not only will you stop yourself from getting hit by one of the most damaging weapons in the game, you may just take out the enemy in one-go.
Taking it like a champ >Locational damage applies to you too, and learning how to use that to your advantage is what separates the Mavericks from the Gooses.
Try to keep in mind where your critical systems are and what areas are damaged. It's often a far better idea to twist to the side and allow an arm carrying a few heatsinks to take a cannon shell than to let it land in the exposed internals of your shoulder. If you know you are going to take some hit, put the least valuable parts of your mech in the line of fire, or at least spread out the damage evenly so you don't end up with holes in the armour.
Some mechs are particularly adept at this. No model of the Centurion carries any weapons in its left arm, and the specific arrangement of that limb makes it an excellent shield. Armour it up and keep it facing the enemy while making a charge or retreating. The Cent also generally carries a pair of energy weapons in its centre core, letting it keep fire power even after losing both arms and sides. Keep twisting that chest, spread out the damage, and kill the enemy with attrition!
Learning how to best utilize locational damage and recognize opportunities when they arise is one of the most satisfying elements of the game. My tips only cover the surface of the options and tactical choices you can make. It is a skill that comes in time and familiarity. Always keep your potential options in mind.
Rocking the microphone -
- This is the most deadly weapon in the game.
Teamspeak > After you have familiarized yourself with the basics of MWO, GET ON TEAMSPEAK.
Yes, inexplicably, mind-bogglingly, unbelievably, MWO does not support native VOIP. Yeah. PIR made a team based game and took out the most important element of teamwork – communication.
You can still type in team chat, but when the lasers start blazing and missiles are raining down on your cockpit, you probably won't be too inclined to tweet out your predicament.
There are many Teamspeak servers for MWO, two of the best being ComStar North America (teamspeak address: na1.mech-connect.net, password: WordofBlake) and the No Guts, No Galaxy Outreach servers.
I know, I know. It is ridiculous that this basic functionality doesn't exist in the game. Yes, I didn't want to have to use a 3rd party system either. I played for several weeks without using Teamspeak before I broke down and installed it. But the second I did, I was kicking myself for taking so long. MWO is an entirely different game with dependable teammates. Don't make the same boneheaded mistake I made, get on the mic early and often.
Join in and either sit in the looking for group dock (it never takes long) or poke around to dropships with only two or three members. Pre-made drop teams are limited to 4 players for casual games, or demand a full 8 to take on other 8 player teams (I don't recommend the current 8-on-8 format, balance issues.)
The benefits or getting on the mic and talking with others are several fold.
One, even a modicum of team work makes any group or player several times better. Simply focusing your combined fire on one target, having a buddy who can help shoo a light mech off your tail, or even just move in the same general direction helps immensely. I can't overstate the value of even simple teamwork.
Two, people who take the bother to join a Teamspeak server are, generally, better players. Or at least more into the game. You won't run into people who think friendly fire is a great way to introduce themselves. You won't run into suicide farmers (jerks who grind up cbills by intentionally dying as soon as the round begins and joining another game). And the players you meet will probably be flying some snazzy well designed mechs. Not only will they be more likely to carry you to victory than random PuGs, but you might get a few ideas for what kind of mech you will eventually want to design while watching them.
Building your first mech -
The Mechlab > OK, so you've played a bunch of games in the trial mechs and now you have enough cbill space-bucks to invest in your own ride. Congratulations!
The good news is that almost any mech you buy is going to seem amazing compared to the trials, even running the stock equipment it comes with. The GREAT news is you can upgrade and improve your mech to your specific tastes once you own it. This is when the fun really kicks in.
- I named all my mechs after David Bowie songs, but in retrospect I think the stronger tactical choice would have been the Wu-Tang Clan.
The mechlab can look intimidating at first, but it really isn't that complicated once you get into it. While it may seem complicated, the key things to keep in mind are tonnage, hardpoints, and critical slots. Every mech is subject to these limitations.
Tonnage is the total weight of your mech's structure and equipment. Each mech has a hard limit on how many tons it can carry and you want to get as close to that cap as possible to make the most of your mech.
Hardpoints limit what type of weapon can be mounted and where on a mech, energy, ballistic, or missile (including rockets). Keep an eye on not just how many hardpoints of each type of mech has, but where they have them.
Critical slots represent the internal space of the mech and how much stuff you can toss in there. A mech carrying a lot of heatsinks, ammo, or bulky weapons might fill up all its slots before it fills up its tonnage.
Building a mech basically boils down to making tradeoffs to each limitation. Energy weapons are generally light, don't require ammo, and take up few slots. However, they don't hit very hard and run super hot, forcing you to slot more and more heatsinks to support each laser gun you add. Ballistics are heavy and take ammo, but generate less heat. Missile racks are bulky, taking up lots of critical slots just for the weapon, let alone the ammo to feed it.
Bigger engines will let you move faster, and the largest engines even let you pocket extra heatsinks in them, saving on critical slots – but they have a massive weight footprint. You might end up flying around the battlefield at 130kph with only a pee-shooter to back it up. But maybe that's all you need.
It's all about making the right trade-offs to find a play style you enjoy. No single mech can do it all, but you can fill a specific role on a team.
I highly recommend consulting the MWO wiki for exact weight, heat and damage values for weapons and other specs when building a mech. Again, as baffling as it is, PGI doesn't provide even half of this data in game. Extra credit goes to those who go to extra effort I suppose.
I don't want to get too into the specifics of the mechlab and every possible upgrade, it would just take too much space. But some quick tips -
- Almost every mech can benefit from the Double Heat Sink (DHS) upgrade.
- Almost no mech can benefit from Ferro Fibrous Armour. It might save you one or two tons max, but it takes up a bunch of critical slots and will cost significantly more to repair.
- Diversity usually trumps large gambles. A balance of energy and ballistic weapons spread over your chassis is usually better than boating several of the same type. But specialization has a place (especially if you can depend on teammates.)
- Don't undervalue speed. Being light on your feet will let you make a mistake and run away to live from it.
Mech recommendations > I highly recommend running mediums as your first mech or two. Lights are less expensive upfront, but require more upgrades and skill to become useful. Medium mechs offer affordability and firepower while letting you remain somewhat manoeuvrable.
In particular the Hunchback-4SP is a fantastic starter mech. Great out of the box, downright nasty with a few upgrades. 5 medium lasers and two short range rocket packs give it devastating mid-range firepower for brawling. You can also reconfigure the mech into a long-range-missile tosser later, or swap out the 5 MLAS for 2 large lasers for more range, or put in a bigger engine to run at near-scout speeds. A lot of flexibility and one of the best cbills-to-firepower values around.
Centurion mechs are well rounded, most designs capable of fulfilling multiple roles in a battle. Their skinny centre torsos and expendable left arms allow them to take a lot of punishment for a medium mech. The CN9-AL with its right arm energy mounts allows you to equip large lasers for ranged damage that is easier to control and less expensive to fund than ballistic cannons. The CN9-A can make a fantastic scout hunter if the engine is upgrades and you put short range guided missiles in its left torso racks.
Of course you can purchase any mech you want to start with. Just keep in mind that some may be more difficult to control (Jenners) while others require a lot of upgrades to become useful (Dragons) and others are just stupid expensive (ATLAS.)
The grimy underbelly of the F2P world -
Money and value > I feel like I have to say a few things about the pay structure in MWO. F2P games can be very sneaky and underhanded about how they pry money out of their players, and MWO is no different.
I have a lot of misgivings about MWO pay structure. While every mech aside from the "Hero" variants are purchasable in-game using the earnable cbill currency, you can of course shortcut that route by trading real dollars for "MC Points" a typical cost obscuring moon-money system. The more points you buy at one time, the "better" the value. The usual kind of grimy way to make you sink in $30 when what you only want is only $17.
MC points can be exchanged for -
- Mechs (at terrible prices)
- Premium time, which will increase the dividend of in-game currency and experience at the end of each match by 50%.
- Garage bays
- Cosmetic effects (camo, paint jobs, cockpit bobbleheads, ect at not-so-great prices)
- A virtual toy hula girl for your cockpit that costs more than an actual toy hula girl for your desk, sweet!
As much as I dislike the MC point system and find the prices dubious, at the same time I can see things from the developer's point of view. They are a business and need to make money off this game. I just wish they were more upfront about it instead of engaging in some rather unseemly nickle and dime techniques.
I say, if you play the game for a few weeks, enjoy it, and see yourself playing more, you might want to invest in some premium time and possibly a few more garage slots. While I think purchasing mechs and most of the cosmetic junk a huge waste of money, premium time is somewhat more tolerable. And as much as PRI has bungled certain aspects of the game, they are a small studio and could use the support.
Paying appx. $11 for a month of Premium time is far more cost effective than buying a single mech for $8. You will make several times over that value in the cbill in-game currency with that bonus. While it is entirely possible to grind money just on the free-to-play basis, premium time speeds up the process.
It is a personal choice and I wouldn't look down my nose on anyone who decided to never pay PRI a dime, or who dropped $3 to give their mech a custom paint job (but for the love of god, don't waste your money buying mechs you can earn with Cbills.)
The Hero units are also worth mentioning. These are mechs that you can't buy with cbills. They are not full out better than their generic counterparts, but they do offer advantages – just this side of "pay-to-win." The big value is a passive 30% bonus to cbills while riding them. Stack that with premium time and you can make serious cbills. Personally, I think the prices on them are WAY too high, but a player with deep pockets might consider them an investment (I'm skeptical.)
Hope to see you out there!
- Stompy stompy!
MWO is a weird game. It's full of bugs, super complex, and suffers from some baffling choices made on the part of the developers. At the same time, it can be sublime. MWO Rewards a unique combination of reflexes, strategy, planning, and teamwork that can be immensly satisfying when it all clicks. It seems self-serving to call it the "thinking mans" shooter, but that's what it is.
For all it's problems, MWO is one of the most engaging experiences I've had this year and it absolutely kills me that the introduction to the game for new players is so harsh. If you take the time to get a grip on the game, it's super rewarding and fun. If you take nothing else away from this guide, take away this – MWO is worth putting the work in.
One of my favorite parts of Halloween are the masks. Fun superhero helmets and naughty-nurse medical masks. Creepy creatures and frightening villains. The alluringly mysterious and artistic - I love them all. I love them in games too. They might not instantly jump to mind, but masks can be some of the most versatile tools in a developers bag of tricks, letting a clever designer communicate all kinds of information at a single glance .
So seeing as its Halloween and all, I thought I would share some of my favorite masks from the gaming world and how they enhance the titles they appear in.
Vega's creepy blank face
Masks can be a cheap and easy way to instantly establish a character's personality. Take Vega for example, you can tell he's a creep from a mile away.
Just one look through the roster in Street Fighter and you know there is something wrong with Vega. The character select screen is full of tiny portraits - you've got karate guys, jaunty military caps, gravity defying hair styles, and a BLANK EVIL FACE OF DOOM. It practically screams serial killer. The only way it could be more clear is if there was a shifty windowless van in his stage's background.
The best part is that Vega doesn't strap on that unnerving piece of porcelain to conceal his identity or anything so practical of course, he does it out of sheer narcissism. He can't bear the idea that some dirty hobo in a gi might land a random kick and muss up his perfect looks. So hey, what better way to protect your face than a super-creepy mask that stands out like a bullseye and is made out of a material known for shattering into sharp pieces? Flawless, totally not insane logic there.
Vega's mask conveys a level of wrongness and decadence that makes him far more intimidating than his Mike Tyson-look-alike, seven foot tall cyclops colleagues. Who would have thought that a mincing pretty boy would be the most terrifying member of Shadoloo?
While talking about fighting game characters with masks, I would be ashamed of myself if I didn't mention Tekken's Kings.
- DO NOT FUCK WITH THIS MAN
Nothing like wearing the head of a tiger to let everyone know whats up.
Dark Souls twisted family
When it comes to creepy masks, Dark Souls knows no equal. While there is a wide selection to choose from, there isn't a Dark Souls player alive who isn't familiar with the infamous Family Masks. A trio of masks representing aspects of the family (mother, father, and child), most players first encounter them worn on Pinwheel, an inhuman necromancer you face at the bottom of the catacombs.
I love Pinwheel's introduction. The ruined study strewn with ritually hung corpses, illuminated by lanterns held in Pinwheel's bizarre skeletal "arms", the way the faces seem to briefly confer with each other before deciding to rip your spine out. Oooh, gives me chills.
I always wondered if there was supposed to be a deeper level of symbolism going on with Pinwheel's design. Dark Souls is a game that was meticulously designed to have layered hidden meanings in every nook and cranny after all. Pinwheel is one of the least human enemies you encounter in the game. While you fight scads of monsters, at least they are flesh and blood and usually vaguely humanoid, Pinwheel is something else. A ghoul, a shade. He fights by teleporting and creating copies of himself. What you can make out of his body makes no sense, stick-like bones poking out of a cloak. Yet he chooses to wear the faces of familial normalcy. Weird.
The masks themselves are interesting. The order they are placed on Pinwheel, child on top, mother second, father at the bottom – an inversion on typical patriarchal family power structures. The expressions too, the child vaguely half-smiling, the mother's disapproving frown, and the look of frighten shock etched into the father's face. Does it mean anything?
Probably not. It can be an easy trap to fall into, grasping for deep meaning in a game like Dark Souls. Besides, most players won't even care about any of that after facing off against invader after invader wearing them.
Alas for all the coolness of the Family Masks design, they'll best be remembered as typical min/maxing gear for try-hard PvPers because of their unique status buffs. Which would be more of a shame if Dark Souls didn't provide so many awesome ways for players to express themselves with their head gear.
Just like Capcom did for Vega, individual players do for themselves in Dark Souls. While optimal armor sets have been determined, and you do see a lot of players who will wear any mix of gear that buffs their stats to the max, you also see tons of people wearing masks and helmets and outfits to make a statement, often at the expense of utility. These players don't care about having the best defence, they want to establish a personality.
- The Helm of the Wise might not have great defence stats, but invading with it earns massive style points.
When a player drops into your game wearing the reaper-like deathmask and hood of the Dark Wraiths, you'll know exactly what he has in mind. Prim and proper caps and laurels decorate the saintly and sophisticated of Dark Souls, those who want you to know how good they look while fighting evil. Some play it mysterious, cloaking their features behind shrouded hoods or vented helms. Others revel in the bizarre, wearing horned maks with goggles, neck stretching gold-Buddha helms, or the decapitated head of a raging armored bull.
In a game where communication is intentionally curtailed, the masks and helms of Dark Souls let you express an attitude, an idea, to other players with only a glance. They are the players tool for setting the tone and mood of their interactions with other players. I find that to be a elegant, beautiful thing.
Corvo's lovely night at the ball.
Just as masks can be used to convey a character's personality, they can also be used to set the tone of a scenario or express more complicated ideas. Dishonored's mission set in a masquerade ball is a fine example of how evocative masks can be.
Tasked with eliminating the Lady Boyle, you're sent to infiltrate a masquerade party. Hiding in plain sight, combined with a false invitation, Corvo's deathmask is seen as little more than a tasteless joke about the current affairs. The mission is complicated by the fact that there are three Lady Boyle's in attendance, two distractions, one actual target. Its up to you to mingle with the guests, deceive them of your intentions, keep your dagger eager and sharp, and find the opportune moment to strike the real target. Or all of them if your feeling less investigative and more bloodthirsty.
This is such a fantastic set-up it makes me giddy, its easy to see why they used this slice of gameplay so much in the pre-launch hype. It touches on so much cultural shorthand. Its a classic setting for a murder mystery filled with intrigue, only this time with a twist – you're the killer!
Masquerades are always a great setting to establish a group as decadent and corrupt. The shiftiness and double-faced nature of the aristocracy is on laid out in mocking open display – these are people used to hiding their real selves behind a false face, its natural, even fun, for them. The lavishness and opulence of the ball contrasting with the misery outside their walls, the rooftops, gutters, and crawlspaces you use to infiltrate the premises. The conversational warfare of guests exchanging pleasantries, lies, and rumours. It's fantastic.
The individual designs of the various guests masks are calculated to be unnerving. Insects, animals, baby dolls, and two-faced half-masks, they all have an unseemly edge to them. Something unwell. The setting and masks tap into our cultural lexicon and lets us know just be looking around the room that this is a dangerous place to be filled with deeply unpleasant people.
I wonder if the mission is maybe referencing a bit of Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death. A short story about Death (literally) stalking a masquerade ball attended by wealthy fops hiding away from a plague, indifferent to the suffering of others.
Slipping a bit of Poe into your Deus Ex-esq magic assassination game? *swoon*
I love that you can sign the guest-book after you do the deed. It's morbid, but it makes me giggle.
Happy New Years in Rapture
If party masks are creepy when worn by guests at a party, they are downright terrifying in the ruins of a failed utopia worn by half-mad genetically altered freaks. Bioshock loves itself some good creepy masks.
The distressing bunny masks and singed feather head-pieces worn by the citizens of rapture serve a variety of purposes. Much like Dark Souls and Dishonored, they certainly establish a tone and mood. Nothing says "ruins of one man's dream" quite like fancy party dress juxtaposed against mutant scars and flooded lounges. But they do more in Bioshock, sliding into the narrative of the game, communicating a ton of information.
The masks in Bioshock tell a story. A time-line marking the beginning of the civil war and Rapture's descent into anarchy. Ringing in 1959, the political tensions of Rapture explode into full-blown civil war. Normal life in the city all but ceased as citizens took sides and splice-up to protect themselves. By the time the player character arrives a full year later, the one time art deco utopia is little more than a hellhole where the only people left are mutant psychopaths.
Not only to the masks mark the moment Rapture came crashing down, they also say something about the people. The self-hatred and shame felt by what remaining scraps of humanity and sanity these former artists, scientists, and great men of industry have left. Even characters not wearing the masquerade and party masks have their faces obscured – welder masks, doctor scrubs, bandages. Nobody can face up to their true selves in Rapture.
After all that good world building it almost seems silly to bring it up, but Bioshock's fixation with masks also served a very practical purpose. While its a very pretty game, one thing the Bioshock engine or artists or whatever couldn't seem to do well were faces. Check it out some time. For all the beautifully rendered ruins, amazing water effects, and ornate details on a Big Daddy's suit, the facial models in the game are kinda sub-par. But it isn't a big deal since most of the time they are obscured with much more memorable and iconic masks.
It is a fantastic meeting of the artistic and the practical. Turning a weakness into a strength, how very Andrew Ryan!
The many faces of Hotline Miami
Hotline Miami came out mere weeks ago, and it couldn't have come at a better time. This game was made for the Halloween season. Masks are central to both the gameplay and story telling of Hotline Miami.
As a gameplay mechanic, masks are basically perks in Hotline Miami. Aside from the default, each mask carries with it a special ability. The rabbit Graham makes you move faster, Dennis the wolf lets you begin your rampage with a knife, and the greatest mask of all, Don Juan the horse, gives you the almighty power of "lethal doors." Much like many other games, masks are earned through mission performance and found as bonus collectables. They are also a very practical way of making the player character interesting to look at and standout from the rest of the enemies in the games faux 16-bit art style.
- The only perk you need.
But that is hardly what is interesting about the masks in Hotline Miami – it's what they communicate about the game's underlying themes of identity, disassociation, and guilt.
Just like Bioshock, the masks give the game a distinct style. A homicidal rampage committed by a man wearing a rubber chicken mask speaks to its own beautiful type of weirdness, instantly steeping the player in a bizarre surreal mindset. Giving the murders a kind of dream-like fantasy quality that is deconstructed by the rest of the story.
You strap on a mask before each mission, and while this could be seen as a pragmatic step to get away with murder, it quickly becomes apparent that it means more than that. Your nameless protagonist isn't a totally mindless psychopath. You know this as early as the end result of the first mission. Your reward for completing your first task is a scene of the protagonist throwing up in an alleyway over the corpse of a hobo. Not exactly the act of a callous assassin. The game provides a variety of subtle clues that the murders are taking a mental toll on him. Slipping on the mask isn't just a disguise, it's like taking on a different identity, a way of distancing himself from his actions. It wasn't him that knifed up all those Russians, it was Dennis.
But as murders continue, the barrier between his two lives begins to dissolve.
Each rampage is punctuated with a mundane slice of life as the character stops to rent a video or pick up a soda and return to his apartment. As the missions progress, those boring little shopping trips take on a stranger and more hostile edge. Everyone seems to be talking about the murders, reminding him of his actions. His apartment becomes cluttered with empty pizza boxes, trash, piles of laundry. He starts experiencing hallucinations of his victims. You can watch his life is spiralling out of control as the guilt eats away at him.
The opening dream (?) sequence asks "who are you?" It is a valid question. Is the main character the psycho terrorizing Miami's underworld that you control? Or is he the man behind the mask? The man who can't rent a VHS without being traumatized by spectres of his guilt? Is he a decent man forced into a horrible situation, or is he culpable for his actions no matter the complications surrounding them? These are some pretty heady questions for a game about killing people in a pigmask.
In those surreal dream sequences that break up the acts of the game, different masks seem to represent different aspects of the protagonists personality. You are called to the carpet by a jerk in an owl mask. He's hostile, furious at your actions, he condemns you as a monster. The voice of reason comes from a girl wearing a horse mask, focusing on the positive, suggesting there might be a way to escape the nightmare of violence. While a man wearing a chicken mask like you wore when committing the first of your crimes asks you cryptic questions.
I don't know if it all adds up to something with a deep concrete meaning, and it might not be something that is meant to be fully deciphered. But I do find it interesting. Hotline Miami is a very ambitious game, concealing some real thought and artistry under a mask of juvenile death-worship.
OOHH! SEE WHAT I DID!?
- Also, those masks make great material for awesome promo shots/
My brother was gunned down, shot in the back by some kind of floating jet-zombie while running for his life. Three days later I watched my neighbour bleed out on the pavement. Pinned down by heavy fire, her brother-in-law could only watch the life drain out of her as he clutched his useless medkit across the street. My girlfriend was hospitalized in the same battle, the docs say she won't move for nearly a month. Egypt pulled their funding – I hear they're arming citizens in an effort to hold back the invaders, its basically anarchy over there. The Shadow Council, the power base of political high-rollers and corporate mega-billionaires behind the XCOM project are issuing vague threats at me. The message – "Take care of the aliens or we'll take care of you."
Things could be going better.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is game comprised of devious gameplay loops and crushing pressure. Everything about the turn-based tactical strategy game has been weighted and measured perfectly by the sadistic minds at Firaxis to ensure that you never have enough. Never enough money, never enough time, never enough bodies, never any of the other crucial elements of planetary defence the Project is sorely in need of.
The game is broken into two modes. The first is a surprisingly engaging Global theatre where you will be building your base of operations, deciding what sort of desperately needed tech to research in favour over another, and keeping track of the training, health, and psionic conditioning of your troops, all while fending off the demands of the increasingly twitchy nations funding the XCOM Project. I would have never have guessed that some of the most tense moments in this game would occur while back at HQ.
- This isn't a base, its a pressure cooker.
Trying to maintain the high-wire balancing act of keeping all of the XCOM nations happy while simultaneously diverting enough of your budget to advanced weapon R&D to outfit your troops, without neglecting the story driven necessary upgrades, could be a game all in itself. I would not be opposed to a pocket version of the game that kept the entirety of the action in the ready room. Move too much in one direction or the other and the Project may be seriously compromised. A vast network of satellites and next-generation fighters might keep the political power-brokers holding the reins happy, but you'll soon be filling up a cemetery worth of poorly armed squads mostly comprised of high-turn-over rookies. Focus on nothing but the latest and greatest laser cannons, refractive armour, and kit-upgrades for your men and you'll enjoy watching your squad live long and heavily rank promoted lives, all while political support and funding erodes into an untenable situation back home. Stating the trade-offs in such blunt terms does a disservice to the wonderfully over-lapping systems Firaxis has created with XCOM, but I'm paraphrasing. The reality of the Project is a dense network of educated compromises, tactical skill, and a little bit of luck mixing together in a way that makes it impossible to be 100% confident in any action.
While the stress back at HQ can become overwhelming, it is nothing compared to the drama that can occur on the field.
When it comes to actually taking down the alien scum invading Earth, the meat of the game takes place in its turn-based tactical mode where you control the every move of 4-6 crack squad-mates as they engage the aliens on the ground. Battles play out with a tense and methodical pace, and early failures hammer in the importance of taking things slow, always providing cover for your troops, and the infinite value of the Overwatch function which may just give your troops a second chance when unexpectedly flanked.
Just like back home, there is never enough to go around in the field. Even a full six man squad feels pathetically inadequate against the massed invaders, often outnumbering your men 3-1, and each Xeno an equal to one of your own. Character specializations are doled out at random and it is entirely possible, even likely, that you will be short on one of the much needed cogs of your military machine. It can be crushing to lose the only medic in your barracks to an unforeseen ambush, or leaving your MVP sniper at home nursing a months worth of wounds. The XCOM Project has a variety of high-tech baubles and accessories to supply your men, but only precious few of them can be carried into battle, forcing hard compromises in the prep stages before a mission. Even the perks gained on rank promotions can feel stressful. There are very few times that the selection between one perk or another is clear, leaving you torn trying to decide which super-appealing, potentially life-saving skill you can do without.
If all that wasn't stressful enough, there is an easy way to make squad management even more tense.
Every squaddie can be individually customized with their own name, appearance, and nickname. While you can treat your roster like a list of expendable red-shirts and leave them with their default names and appearances (or if you want to be even more dehumanizing, you can brand them with numbers and give them nicknames based on their class) it is far more rewarding to name them after the people you love.
My barracks are full of familiar faces. Family and close friends made up my initial cadre. As the inevitable tragedies of a green commander occurred, the social net of my recruitment drive expanded. Work buddies, people from my Nanowrimo group, even a few Dtoiders entered the mix. Each new face an entertaining prospect, but a bittersweet reminder of all the mistakes I've made up to that point.
- Shawn "The Inspector" went out the way I know he'd want to. With a laser beam to the crotch.
The effect is something of a mixed blessing. On one hand it is a lot of fun. Naming characters while in the pre-class Rookie period then seeing if what they end up specializing in actually reflects their personalities is a blast. Fate seems to understand that my brother has a deep love affair with shotguns and has made him an assault dude in every game I've played, while my hot-dogging buddy Kyle would probably enjoy knowing that as my team sniper he was basically the squad's rockstar (I'm not going to tell him that). To step up to my game-determined role as a heavy weapons guy, I had to slap a badass respect moustache on my avatar I don't actually have – I was flattered, but I don't think I really have the muscle for the job.
Naturally I get attached to these characters. Beyond the practical value of the persistent stats and rank-perks a long-term vet brings to the table, I want these soldiers to survive. It seems a small thing, but attaching a real name and a vaguely familiar - head as distorted by a glass jar - likeness to my squadies changed my perception of the game. Despite what the Shadow Council may believe, there is no such thing as acceptable casualties in my program.
I'm not about to gamble with the lives of my friends and family. Every move I make in the field is carefully considered and every option is explored. I do everything I can to tackle an operation with a minimum of risk. After my first play-through of the game, a realization dawned on me. Looking at the end-game statistics and comparing my lower than average casualties and tendency towards a much higher number of turns per mission to the global standard, I think naming my squaddies after real people who are important to me actually made me a better commander overall. It certainly wasn't due to any kind of natural tactical savvy, I typically have all the planning power and foresight of a goldfish. But the emotional attachment I made to my squad definitely effected the way I played. I was more cautious, focused, and engaged than I've ever been playing a turn-based tactics game.
But that attachment has a sharp edge as well. War is hell after-all. Even playing at my best with every good intention, bad things still happen. I've been in situations where I've had to choose between two of my squad-mates/friends and it isn't a comfortable position. Who gets that solitary bit of decent cover? Which of the wounded is worth the last med-pack? Someone has to take the risk and push-out towards the laser beam spewing Sectapod tank, who's it gonna be? There is a certain amount of guilt that accompanies a button-press that dooms one friend in favour of another. I won't lose sleep over it, but I might be a little extra nice next time I see him or her.
- Is this the last mission for one of my friends?
I don't cry or throw a temper tantrum when some alien douchebag disintegrates one of my virtual buddies. The officer training school always has more Rookies on the line to join and I still have a list of old high-school friends and crushes left in the name hat, so life goes on at the XCOM Project. But with every dead friend that decorates the memorial wall of my barracks, I feel a little pang of guilt. A deep seated knowledge that I fucked up, let a friend down, or worse yet played favorites in a game that plays for keeps.
XCOM is a game about saving the world from little grey alien men and spindly M.I.Bs, from a level of abstraction twice removed from the rigours of combat. You wouldn't think it was a game that could tap into your heart and hit you on an emotional level, but it can, and it will, and it might be the most devious system Firaxis devised so far.
The Darkness covers everything. Thick black ink scrawled along the walls of a once beautiful city, leading me towards a pitch black well. I'm alone, weak, and I'm struggling against my better sense to take one more step into that void. I raise my shield and remember that I paid for the privilege to be here.
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition is more than the PC port that the hardcore crowd clamoured for (and then true to form, "boycotted" in a snarky huff). It is a love letter to fans of the series. A tip of the hat to all those true believes who examined every nook and crevice in the game for meaning. Who poured over art books, translated text files, and subscribed to YouTube channels to dig out every bit of story and mystery from the game. To the weekend Shang Tsungs who organized fight clubs and duels for bloodthirsty warriors looking for a straight fight. With new content and balances specifically designed to cater to the established Dark Souls fan, Prepare to Die has a lot to offer veterans of the series. But is it an experience worth rebuying the same game again? Is it one the uninitiated will be interested in?
Dark Souls is a tricky bird to describe to someone who has never had the pleasure. Calling it an Action/RPG doesn't quite cover it. Yes you have numbers and stats to fiddle with and an open world to explore but this is no Skyrim. You won't spend time listening to long winded exposition or collecting X number of clam shells for the local castle chef. Dark Souls keeps its narrative lean and opaque. A thick tasty steak of mystery. Exploration in Dark Souls doesn't mean looking at a map and heading towards a quest marker. It means peering down a darkened hallway and daring yourself to walk down it.
The Action part of the Action/RPG model is a little easier to define, but tough to truly articulate. You'll be fighting monsters, BIG monsters, and other players. Poking with pointy blades, swinging large blunt things, and maybe even casting off the odd spell or two. Sound simple enough – but utterly fails to describe the truth depth and variety to be had in Dark Souls combat system.
Choosing a different weapon doesn't just mean a numerical adjustment on a spread sheet, but fundamentally changes every aspect of combat. The way you swing your weapon, the way you move with it, the strategies, advantages, and disadvantages each and every piece of equipment has in astounding variety of specific situations. Weapons can be wielded in either or both hands - you can even go crazy and use two weapons at once. You can hide behind a massive tower shield, deflect attacks and riposte with a dainty dagger, or trust in your agility and reactions to dance out of harms way. Magic is always an option, be it a risky but rewarding one. Do you have time to ready up a devastating spell, or is it safer to shrink away and regroup? This isn't even getting into the warehouse of armor sets and trinkets you can mix and match to make an entirely personalized undead avatar.
The sheer variety of play styles and options Dark Souls embraces is almost overwhelming. Not to be overly harsh to Skyrim, but when I play that game and those in a similar vein, I feel like most weapons and spells are just different skins over the same experience. Swords and daggers swing the same, and they're slightly faster than the largely interchangeable hammers and great-swords. You have your choice of magic ball to chuck at the enemy, presumably one might be better than another depending on the enemy. There is a lot of fakery and approximation involved and DPS tends to balance out no matter what you do. Ho hum. In Dark Souls choice matters
Yes, the game is still the sadomasochisticly hard experience its reputation promises, more so than ever to be honest. The new areas and bosses are not shy about bending the player over and teaching you a lesson in humility. It will take even experienced players more than a few tries to prevail with their dignity intact. But lets not get too bogged down in that. I feel like sometimes the games infamous difficulty railroads the conversation. Yes the game is hard, but it is also wonderful, magical, terrifying, and sad. For a piece of art that can stir so much emotion out of an invested audience, it seems trivializing to go on and on about how many times you'll die to those asshole Silver Archers in Anor Londo.
I've never played a game that is as deft at toying with your emotions. You want to talk about horror games going stagnant, I say look to Dark Souls for inspiration. The high risk of losing precious souls and humanity combined with the ruthlessness of the enemies and oppressive atmosphere makes for one of the most tense experiences to be found. The use of sound can't be understated. With a soundtrack silent except for boss fights (each of which has a custom identifiable theme that characterizes the fight) the ambient noise becomes deafening. Every creak and clink is a jackhammer in your ears. A quiet hiss from an unseen creature is a devouring monster in your imagination. And when you get that dreaded message, when you hear the tell-tale sound of a Dark Spirit, another player, invading your world, you'll panic, trust me.
You meet characters who share scant precious words with you but become best-friends-forever in this dark sad world. Sunbro Solaire, bumbling knight Siegmeyer, and resident sociopath Patches - all of them work their way into your heart. Its thrilling to run into them in the wild and it's profoundly sad when fate takes them away, or worse yet, forces your hand against them (well, maybe not Patches, some people are just asking for a clubbing). Dark Souls doesn't have the largest cast, but it is one of the most impressive. Every character has his or her own story and motivations, most of which is never explicitly stated – its told through their costumes, personalities, and actions. That's great writing. A few scattered lines of dialogue and some telling item descriptions from their possessions establish characters you'll carry with you long after you leave Lordran.
- Big love for our Brolaire
It isn't just the NPCs that make an impression. The oppressive loneliness and hostility of the world makes every brief encounter with another player special and memorable. While you might run into 20 other players on a Battlefield server and not remember a single one specifically, people in Dark Souls stand out. The way they look, the way they fight, the little hesitant half-steps or arrogant sprinting ahead. For a game that tries to obscure communication between players, personality and social dynamics abound amongst the player-base.
While those interactions are still as memorable and special as ever, I'm deeply disappointed to report they are also no more reliable than before. You can still fritter away hours of your life trying in vain to recruit help as summon after summon fails. Invading is the same crapshoot it's always been, and although I haven't experimented with it myself, the community consensus seems to agree that the world infecting Gravelord covenant is still broken.
To me this is the biggest missed opportunity of the port. In the lead up to release while all the angry nerds were foaming at the mouth about Windows Live and purported resolution locks, all I cared about was a smoother online experience. I really wanted to see those problems straightened out, and while it isn't a deal breaker (I've played hundreds of hours facing the same issues after-all) it does bum me out.
But how did the rest of the port turn out? Well that is a more complicated question.
The bad news is the game in its default state is indeed resolution locked. On my monitor it looked pretty much like the console version, maybe a little more blurryness here and there on some textures at some distances. Livable to play, but disappointing for those hopping for a big graphical jump in quality.
TIME TO BREAK OUT THE PITCH FORKS AND FIRE AMIRITE!?
Thankfully a resourceful modder from the NeoGAF forums prevented a mob killing at From Software's office and created a fix to the problem before most people had even finished installing the game. Letting you run the game at as high a resolution as you want, THIS is the graphics jump people were looking for! At 1920x1080 Dark Souls is a strikingly beautiful game. From the detail on a hollow's potmarked flesh to the grandeur of Anor Londo's great cathedrals, Dark Souls has never looked better.
Not only is this the best looking Dark Souls yet (with the fix), it is also the smoothest running. Even with the resolution cranked and filtering options on, the game ran at a rock steady 30 FPS on my modest desktop. The Blighttown slide-show has been cancelled! Being capped at 30 FPS seems to be a sticking point to same breed of whiner who claimed to have boycotted the game (funny why they should care now... Its almost like they bought the game because they're full of shit...), but to me, as long as the game never chugs I'm happy. From Software might have dropped the ball on the network issues and native resolution, but you have to give credit where it is due, they finally defeated the chop.
Don't worry, the bitching isn't over. Keyboard controls are absolute garbage, a gamepad is a must. If you don't have one already, add another $40 to the price-tag of the game or don't bother with it. Now I'm sure some of my difficulty with the mouse and keyboard comes from my ingrained familiarity with the pad controls for Dark Souls, and some menu tweaking might improve it, but I thought it was utterly unplayable. The mouse look was twitchy, WASD movement stiff, and the layout of controls (attack, defend, parry, switch item, use item, ect) seemed bizarre and foreign to me.
But the port is only one part of the Prepare to Die Edition, we also have new content to explore. Sweet succulent new content.
Dark Souls is a game of repetition. You die, the enemies reset, you try again. You play through once, you play through again in New Game+, you play through again with another character with different stats. One of the great joys of the game is the slow mastery of it. From finding a boss fight impossible, to making it doable, to making it trivial.
But there is nothing quite like that first time. While I embrace the mastery of the game, I'm often wistful for the first time I played. When a new deadly surprise lurked behind every corner. The hesitation before creeping through a new bosses fog gate and the dawning horror of first exploring areas like the Tomb of Giants. So I cherished my visit to the ancient land of Oolacile, the location of the expanded content, and all the exciting new ways to die and secrets to be discovered.
Oolacile is a land referred to in bits and pieces in the main game. A kingdom from a more civilized time, Oolacile was the birthplace of subtle sorceries quite unlike the soul magics of the Vinhime Dragon School. It was also the source of mythic relics thought to be lost forever when the land fell to darkness long ago. The DLC explores just how that happened and the lands connection with the legendary Abyss walker Artorias and the fate of his fellow Great Knights.
Now did that last paragraph give you a boner? If so you should probably just go ahead and buy Prepare to Die. If you're one of the fans (like me) who has invested in the lore and story of Dark Souls, than this is pure fanservice. A chance to rub elbows with some of these mysterious figures only hinted at through trinkets and decorations in the main game. A chance for real answers and concrete facts in a world known for its lack of them. For anyone who has tried to imagine what these characters would look like -speculating over scraped designs and half completed concept sketches- you owe it to yourself to see them as fully realized characters (and sometimes enemies!)
If you don't care about any of this nerdy crap or are new to the party, well you might not geek out as much on the new content, but you'll still be happy to play through it. It is slipped seamlessly into the game accessed in a similar manner as the optional Painted World and second trip to the Asylum areas. Tucked away separate from the main game, but still feeling like a natural part of that world.
The actual areas you will be exploring are some of the best looking and designed in the game. The facade of Oolacile has an almost comic Alice in Wonderland feel to it, magical forests and talking Mushroom-People are a jarring twist from the usual dank depression of Lordran. But don't worry, there is the taint of the Abyss slowly creeping out from its pit of darkness, twisting and corrupting everything in its wake to make things feel more familiar/terrible.
Everything about Oolacile carries the themed of ruined beauty, the bosses and enemies are no exception. Tainted Dragons and fallen knights, the new challenges manage to be both majestic and horrifying. Some of the best designs in the game can be found here and you don't want to miss out on these fights. Without getting into spoilers, the fate of the small people of Oolacile and what you find in that great Abyss is appropriately both terrifying and tragic.
There is also a slew of new equipment and skills to be found in the new content like you would expect. Some of it seems a little extra-good, a slight prodding towards the DLC when it's released to consoles? I can't help but be a little cynical when I see arguably superior gear hidden behind a pay-gate in a multiplayer game. But I have faith in the PvP community. We might see a fad on some of this equipment during the initial hype, it will die off as weaknesses are discovered and counter builds are explored.
PvP balance seems to be a pressing issue in Prepare to Die. With a new arena to fight in providing the stage and a truckload of minor tweaks providing the meat. The casual or new player won't even notice the changes, but they've rocked the established metagame to it's core.
I was a little worried when I first saw the arena system. A special area where players could specifically line up for one-on-one duels, two-to-a-side team matches, or bloody four man free-for-alls in a risk free environment. This seems to be a response to the die-hard PvP communities that have sprung up, officiating the unwritten and wholly unreliable rules of etiquette that govern a Dark Souls duel and providing a place aside from the rest of the game for it.
The streamlining didn't seem to jive with the Dark Souls aesthetic. Call me pretentious, but I worried that it might upset the Punk-Rock ad hoc nature of the established fight club structure; IE finding a cool place for a fight and fucking duelling at it. One of the charms of Dark Souls is the freedom it provides. While it may be polite not to heal during a duel, the fact that the option is there to temp cowardly heels is something that gives fights an extra degree of tension. Not to mention the thrill of triumphing over an estus-chugging low-life.
Turns out I didn't need to worry, Punks not dead yet. Mainly because the duelling grounds flat out DO NOT WORK. I waited and waited for literal hours on the different platforms to test it out and never got a single bite. I've seen similar reports online of eternal PvP limbo while other claim is works OK-ish for them. Not a thrilling recommendation. While I had mixed feelings about the new arena, I would certainly have preferred it to be a functional option. To quote our favourite cultural touch-stone - the fact that they did the trick poorly is the greatest insult of all.
Aside from the arena being busted I'm very happy with the direction From Software is taking the PvP in. It seems like they legitimately listened to the communities complaints and suggestions. Without delving too far into neckbeardy specifics, I was thrilled to see two very common pieces of PvP gear, the ninja flip granting Darkwood ring and the critical-hit boosting Hornet ring severely nerfed. The ninja flip was hacked to the knees, now only available to the lightest of equipment sets, and the Hornet's sting was blunted to a more reasonable 30% damage boost from the ridiculous 50%. No more acrobats in full plate armor flipping behind you for a one-hit-kill!
Some more subtle changes to stamina consumption, attack speeds, and a few new spells catering to PvP have shaken up the Dark Souls online world. I cannot wait to see all the new builds and techniques people come up with now that the old ways are dead. It is a very exciting time to be a Dark Souls uber-nerd.
But is it one worth the cost? For the Dark Souls vet, is the new content and better graphics (predicated on the idea that you WILL get the mod) worth investing in? Do you mind risking spoilers and holding off to the apparent Fall/Christmas release of the DLC for consoles, or is that a major concern for you?
If that is a serious question weighting on your mind, just go ahead and buy it. I know as a person who has been obsessed with Dark Souls for almost a year now, I found it worth the price of entry – and I even had to pony up for a controller to play it. If you have a passion for Dark Souls your faith and dollars will be well rewarded with Prepare to Die.
If you are a newcomer or someone who has been Souls-curious for awhile but never quite made the jump, this is the best version of Dark Souls available hands down. All things being equal, this is the version to get.
And you should play this game. It's a masterpiece. Even with the frustrations of its network problems, with its broken arena, useless Gravelords, and sometimes impenetrable mechanics, this is still a deeply beautiful game that is unlike anything else on the market (well, aside from Demon Souls.)
Maybe I'm gushing a little, but I truly believe this is one of the best games ever made and the PC version is (so-far) the greatest expression of it. In a decades time I think people will talk about Dark Souls and game design the same way they talk about Zelda and Deus Ex. Legendarily progressive and insightful games that set the standard for those to follow. Dark Souls might never spawn direct imitators like those titles have, but it should certainly inform developers of the possibility and power of real player freedom, choice, repercussions, and meaningful online experiences in a game.
Dark Souls isn't always the smoothest or most accessible game, but the reward for putting up with its quirks and foibles is something no gamer should miss.
Injustice Gods Among Us got my attention as soon as it was announced. A DC franchise fighting game based on the surprisingly good Mortal Kombat 9 engine? Yup, count me in.
The roster is already looking good. Batman and the other big hitters are all there like they should be. Harley Quinn is there, making the Joker's eventual appearance a shoe-in (like there was any real doubt about it). More interesting through is the promise of the massive Solomon Grundy, a hulking beast of a character and kind of a deep cut from the DC Universe. If they are willing to pick a guy like that, it shows excellent promise for the rest of the cast.
I was so excited when I heard new characters were being announced at SDCC. "Who could they be? Will they be any of my favourites? Oh man, it's, it's...."
Nightwing and Cyborg?
Oh no. No no no. Out of the entire vast DCU, they picked out two jerkwads from the dork ages? Former Teen Titans, is that what the public is clamouring for? Cyborg always seemed like a leftover from the Rob Liefeld design school of metal and guns to me (although sadly he predates that) and Nightwing? Goddamn. I'll never understand the fandom he has.
We can do better than the likes of those two. We can find better characters than a walking kitchen appliance and ageing heartthrob with a baton fixation. And more importantly we can find better fighters.
Injustice represents a great opportunity for Nether Realms to experiment for MK10. They have a licence that guarantees a certain return no matter how the game turns out – whether if it's a tournament-ready blockbuster or written off as a casual button-masher, the presence of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman on the cover is going to move units. Now is the time to get a little risky and try new things.
It's an idea the developers have already expressed. One of the chief complaints about the MK series has always been how similar each character plays to one another, that the only meaningful distinction between one ninja dude and the next is their special moves. It's a rep they tried to shake in MK9 to debatable success; adding in unique normal moves (regular button presses) and attempting to differentiate the cast in more meaningful ways. Their trying to tackle the issue more aggressively in Injustice by adding in large characters like Grundy who play differently from the normal sized cast, and including stage obstacles that are manipulated differently between power and gadget characters.
It's a great start, but I think they should go crazy with this title. Try out characters, fighting styles, and moves that would be too risky to put in a MK game proper. This is a comic book world after all, so lets use some imagination!
I've tried to come up with a few characters that I think would lend both a interesting personality and dynamic to the cast, as well as a unique variation on the gameplay.
Nether Realms Studios is doing the whole dark and gritty thing for Injustice, and I get that. These are the people behind Mortal Kombat after all, it only makes sense for them to stick with the type of character designs they know (leather, studs, corsets, all the makings of a BDSM weekend).
But c'mon, they can put in one silly character for dudes like me that enjoy playing the clown.
Plastic Man is a living cartoon. Able to stretch, contort, and warp his body into any imaginable form, he's an invulnerable, immortal, power house of a hero.
And he's crazy.
Flippant, irresponsible, and semi-4th wall-aware long before Deadpool was doing it, the only reason Plastic Man isn't one of the most powerful figures in the DCU is because he's too much of a goofball to bother. It is a rare character who can go toe-to-toe with Superman and still crack jokes while eating a megaton punch.
Too much grimdark in a game can be off putting, especially with a licence like DC. I understand Nether Realms wants to put their stamp on it, but I'm not sure how crazy people are going to be watching beloved heroes like Superman mercilessly pound the crap out of each other. Plastic Man would inject a much needed shot of levity into the mix.
As far as fighting style goes, the sky is the limit. Street Fighter mainstay Dhalsim would be an obvious inspiration. With his long stretchy limbs, Plastic Man could poke and pester his rivals with long range normals from across the screen. The MK series has never had a character like that and it would be a good opportunity for them to branch out and little and prove that Injustice is more than MK9 with some DC skins slapped on it.
But why stop there? Plastic Man is a character that thrives on imagination! Let him turn into a ball and bounce across the stage! Let him change the angle of his jump or stay in the air by flapping giant ear-wings or turning his head into an umbrella! Have him reflect projectiles by catching them in his elasticized stomach and slingshot-ing them back! This is a fun character and his play style should reflect the variety of his power-set. A guy like Plastic Man could really break the mould, let the devs go crazy, and spice up the gameplay.
That's what Darkseid brings to the table.
Darkseid is the baddest of the bad. Despot ruler of a hell planet and god-killing omnicidal maniac, Darkseid is one of the biggest threats in the DCU. I can't think of anyone scarier for the heroes to get in the ring with. And the game needs that.
Have you seen Superman in this thing? Floating above the ground, smug as hell, tossing around cars and power bombing his opponents from orbit? We need a villain who can match up to that kind of power, and Darkseid is the quasi-deity for the job.
I'm picturing him standing feet above the rest of the normal cast. A "big" character, but not big in the same way as Solomon Grundy, who fills up the screen with his hunched massive body. For Darkseid, I'm picturing a wall. Ramrod straight posture, arms folded behind his back, menacing heavy footfalls when he advances.
Mortal Kombat has relatively few grappler characters, so I think this is an area they could diversify in. I'm picturing a bit of Jax and Hulk in the design, dashing forward punches and slow but long reaching kicks with super-armor on them to let him soak a hit while getting in close. And once he does? That's when the grabs come into play. I want to see Darkseid casually slamming the bodies of DC's finest around like ragdolls.
Mortal scum are beneath him, and it should show in the way he fights. High damage attacks that really rub it in with dismissive brutality and boot stampings. A guy like Darkseid is far too arrogant to consider a douchebag like Nightwing a threat (and really who could blame him), his animations and vocal samplings should reflect a certain level of disdain and disbelief that these costumed nutjobs would have the gall to step to him.
Of course Darkseid isn't just a bruiser, he has a suite of Omega powers to consider as well. Everything from telepathy, shrinking, and of course his infamous Omega Beams. I would probably constrain these to large super moves. It would be a little much if he was spewing lasers from across the screen and doing grappler style up close damage. But used in a canned animation sequence like we've seen from the Flash and Superman, he could have some very impressive finishers.
OK, so it's practically a given that Green Lantern will be in the game. But which one?
Hal Jordan is the best known classic GL, and the recent beneficiary of a major motion picture, so he's the likely candidate, but I've always preferred John Stewart of JLU fame. Maybe it's because I don't have a huge history in GL comics, or maybe John is just that much of a badass. I always enjoyed his dialogue and the sensibility he brought to the Leauge, a professional soldier amidst the spandex-set. In any case I think he would be a surprising and fun choice over the standard.
But you know who would be more fun? Sinestro. The preening, conniving, Yellow Lantern villain that's plagued the galaxy and earth for years now. I'm not expecting Sinestro to take GL's spot on the roster anytime soon, but I think he would make an excellent DLC alternative costume choice.
A lot of gamers hate DLC, especially for fighters. And who can blame them when you look at things like Street Fighter X Tekken's on disc debacle, or the disproportionately expensive extra characters in BlazBlue, or frankly decadent costume costs in SFIV? When a game costs $50 for thirty odd characters, multiple stages, sound tracks, and all the engine work, it seems unbelievable to charge another $5 for one freaking character or a few different shirts to stuff your favourite fighter in.
But the reality of the market is that companies need to make more back on a title than just the initial sale will cover. To Nether Realm's credit, MK9 has had the best model of DLC support for a fighter yet with it's season pass system providing multiple new characters, costumes, and extras for a reasonable-ish cost over a year. But maybe we can do better.
- Now that's my idea of a mirror match
New characters are always the highlight of a DLC pack, but also expensive to make. I understand that DLC is supposed to make money for the company not cost it, that's why they mostly push costumes and such. But why not meet in the middle? GL and Sinestro are both power ring fighters, both average human size, they function essentially the same. Why not release Sinestro as a quasi-character; a costume swap for GL, but with added voice support and new intro/victory cinematics? Turn the ring effects yellow, give him a new voice actor with appropriate dialogue, and let him loose.
I know I would feel more comfortable paying for an expanded roster and variety than simply a different pattern of green and black leotard, even if it is a bit of a shuck. Not to mention it would spice up mirror matches, no more trying to remember what shade of dude you are. If Injustice is going to be a test bed for new ideas lets see some experimentation, I bet I wouldn't be the only one who would prefer this kind of DLC.
It's always a problem when you bring a bunch of different characters of varying power levels together in a game like this. Why would a mega power like Superman ever worry about the Joker spraying him with acid from his boutonniere? The typical solution to such a problem is to just shrug and say "it's magic"
And nobody is more magical than Zatanna.
I don't actually know if they are going to go the same route as DC vs MK and blame every inconsistency on magic, and I don't care. Zatanna should be in the game no matter what. She's an underused character that's just dripping in charm and personality. In a game world dominated by planet shaking titans and brooding mental patients, it's a refreshing change to have a character that embraces mystery and whimsy while still being able to keep up with the big dogs.
The female characters in MK games have always tended towards fan service of one type or another – military goddess with murder thighs, skimpily dressed ninja girls clasped in chains, four-armed and leopard spotted (hey, some people have different tastes). As much as I would love to see the guys at Nether Realms express a little more taste and variety, I don't see them reinventing the wheel anytime soon. At least Zatanna could fit with their design goals without being as obviously trampy. Decked out in her stage magician costume with top hat and tuxedo vest, Zatanna's sexy, but not in the "runaway truckstop girl" way Harley seems to be rocking. She's also a bit more fun than the Stockholm syndrome stripper or the super-aggro Wonder Woman.
- Her fearsome "Bunnyality" had to be taken out due to ESRB pressure
Zatanna's powers are rooted in the mystic and arcane with a dash of Vegas showmanship thrown in. I think this is a great basis to make a fighting game character out of. Teleportation and incapacitating effects have always been big in the MK games and this is a character that is completely at home with those abilities and can put her own magical spin on them.
Some of the most interesting mechanics in MK came from moves that created a screen hazard, Sub-Zero's ice clone, Quan Chi's floor traps, and Sektor's bombs. I think a character like Zatanna, versed in mystic runes and bindings could have a field day with similar moves. Combine that with some interesting mobility, low health, and odd normal moves and you could have a uniquely annoying high-risk/reward character. Pestering the opponent with hazards and setting up those Rube Goldberg combos we love to watch (and only wish we could perform), but always at risk of having that glass jaw shattered in an instant.
Gorilla Grodd/Ultra Humanite
I want to fight an ape. There, I said it.
Gorilla Grodd seems like a perfect fit for this game. Originally a super whacky Silver Age comic ape, Grodd has been retconned and rewritten into a blood thirsty tyrant – he'd fit right in with what Nether Realms is going for.
He's also a good candidate for an alternate costume/character swap. The Ultra Humanite has changed forms a few times, but to me he'll always be like his DCAU incarnation - an albino ape that talks like Fraiser with a huge brain shaped cranium.
Physically Grodd and Ultra Humanite are very similar characters, super intelligent apes and all that, so there is no need to change any movesets or anything. But they have very distinct personalities. Grodd's become so angry and feral in recent years, while the DCAU Ultra Humanite had this lovely foppish charm to him. A stuck-up nerd trying to listen to opera while a prison brawl breaks out. If we have to have DLC costumes and that kind of extended support, I would rather have the chance to play as a different personality than just Grodd with purple fur or body paint.
- Why do all the super intelligent apes end up in jail? Fucking social bias man, that's why.
If Nether Realms really wants to make Injustice pop and bring in new types of characters, they need to do better than adding in a few big guys. Imagine fighting an ape – intimidatingly big, yet frighteningly fast. Long primate arms clawing at you from half a screen away. Obviously I'm picturing a bit of Blanka-inspired feralness in there, a lot of weird normals that come out totally different than most characters.
It would also be a great opportunity for them to mix in their lauded "stage interaction" gameplay in a way that's deeper than kicking a dude into the wall. Remember old school SF2 Vega who had extra mobility in his home stage climbing on the fence? Grodd is a monkey, the kings of swing. Get him swinging from the rafters or hoping onto debris, show us how to use terrain in a 2D fighter. Make him perform markedly differently depending on the stage selected or his position in a stage and see if it works out or not. All this terrain stuff seems like a gamble already, they might as well make a character that really tests the limits of it and see if anyone ever uses him (or just screw him over by constantly picking the training stage).
And yes, this is all my elaborate excuse to have an Gorilla City stage in this game. The only thing I want to do more than fight an ape is have a audience of apes cheering me on as I do it.
Every fighting game needs a cheap-ass end boss that utterly dominates the rest of the cast (at least in the hands of the CPU). But a game like Injustice needs something that will fit a narrative structure too, an antagonist that makes sense for both heroes and villains to be up against. Amazo can fit both roles easily.
Nevermind the dorky name, Amazo is one of the heaviest hitters in the DCU. An android with the ability to absorbs and replicate any meta-human power it encounters, Amazo can take the strengths and moves of the entire cast, or even duplicate a character wholesale. In this way he is very much in line with his boss predecessors like Shang Tsung and Seth of SFIV, a character with all the options open to him. Nothing is quite as frustrating as a character that beats you at your own game, and IMO frustrating is what a fighting game boss character should strive for.
I would love to see Amazo busting out all the best moves of the rest of the cast. Superman's flight, Flash's speed combos, Plastic Man's extending limbs. He can rip a page right out of Shang Tsung's book and have moves that leech his opponents vitality or attack power. There is a lot of variety to be had there.
I don't know what kind of story Nether Realms is cooking up for Injustice, but as far as threats that are equally imposing to both heroes and villains, Amazo isn't a bad choice. He's usually depicted as merciless android with little concern for Asimov's Three Rules of Robotics, or overtly evil in the chaotic "lets burn everything to the ground" sense. Even badguys have a vested interest in staying alive.
I won't deny that Amazo is another deep cut, a character that might not ring with familiarity to the casual comic audience. But to me that's a good thing. One of the more interesting aspects of these mash up fighting games is exposing a wider audience to lesser known characters. Before UMvC3 came out, Rocket Racoon was virtually unknown in the mainstream, now we're hearing rumours about a possible Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
- Plastic Man knows all the big money is in the extended merchandising rights.
My list of weirdos and simians might not be even close to what we see in Injustice, and that's fine. This wish list might be my personal character choices, but what I'm more concerned about is the ideas. I want Injustice to be fun and different. It's my sincere hope that they take risks with the design, step outside of the MK mould and deliver something special.
Except for the apes. I really want apes in it. Are you listening Nether Realms?
I love jolly cooperation. It's a big part of why I keep coming back to Dark Souls. I've spent entire evenings with my summon sign down in a tough place like Sen's Fortress or the New Londo ruins, lending my ghostly hand in aid against the forces of evil. It's addictive to me. Of course I enjoy the act of helping others and getting to repeat some of the game's amazing boss fights, but I also just really love seeing what kind of characters other players come up with. It's always amazing when you pop into someone else's game and see some half-human-half-dragon hybrid wearing a dainty skirt and shouting monsters to death.
But recently I've noticed a disturbing trend. In one of my favourite places to co-op, Anor Londo (home of everyone's favourite boss duo Biggie Smalls), I've seen player after player skulking through the cathedral clutching the Drake Sword.
The Drake Sword? Really?
- The giant hammer is nasty, but what hurts most are the blows to your self esteem.
The Drake Sword is the worst kept "secret" in Dark Souls. A sort of bonus weapon you can acquire near the beginning of the game by (I shit you not) painstakingly shooting a dragon in the tail about 50 times with a bow and arrow.
If you get the Drake Sword at the first opportunity you can, it's amazing, a huge jump in power. Enemies you had to hack and chop away at with your Longsword or Bandit Knife can be dismissed with a single swipe of it's scaly blade.
The problem is the Drake Sword doesn't grow with your character. It does its 200 damage no matter how many points you plop into your strength or dexterity stats (OK fine, a small caveat – it can be upgraded with the use of very rare Dragon Scales, but lets not get bogged down in neck-bearding ).
But of course, the enemies keep getting tougher and tougher.
By the time you get to Anor Londo, you'll barely be able to scrape an enemy with it. Coincidentally, this is the area of the game where many players chuck DkS into the bargain bin for the next poor sucker to find.
The problem is actually two-fold. Not only does the sword lose its luster when the going gets tough, but since you've been able to crutch on it's power early on, you might not have picked up on some of the skills and tricks you need to survive.
The frustration of failing despite using the "cheater gear" can crush a player's spirit. And it's all the more tragic because it's a completely false impression. The Drake Sword has it's time in the sun, but ultimately you need to swap it out. It isn't a super weapon at all, just oddly overpowered for the part of the game you can get it at.
- Make friends with this guy.
The truth of the matter is that the Drake Sword really isn't all that. With a little upgrading, and a few points in the right stats, even the humble Longsword (junky starting gear for the Warrior class) can rival it. And I don't mean eventually, you can get this going on at nearly the same point of the game - and for less grindy work!
One of the best parts of DkS is the mystery of it. From Software never spells anything out for the player, leaving the next step, the best tactics, and even the story of the game all for the players to figure out for themselves. I love it. But if I had to say the lack of explanation hurts the game in one place, it's the stat screen. Everyone would have benefited with some clarification on this confusing ass jumble of numbers.
See most weapons have a value called "Scaling" on one or more stats, marked with a letter grade. What that means is that you will get a small amount of bonus damage for every point you have in those stats when using that weapon. The higher the grade, the bigger the bonus. Taking the Longsword as our example, looking at the equipment screen you can see it has a C ranking synergy with Str and Dex, where the Drake Sword has nothing.
But that's not all, you can also upgrade the base damage of the Longsword at the nearby blacksmith (or with your own smithbox if you make the investment) with an item called titanite. Now titanite can be bought at the blacksmith for 800 souls a pop, but it also drops fairly frequently from most of the enemies in the Undead Burg area, so you are bound to pick up a few for free just running around.
You can upgrade any basic weapon to +5 at the start of the game (and even further a little later) for 200 souls a level. Even in a worst case scenario where you have to buy all 10 titanite shards, you're looking at a mere 9000 soul investment to tink up your weapon. A number of souls you can easily make by looping the surrounding area twice, or by Jolly' Co-Oping ONE person with the gargoyle boss.
My most recent character was able to do 155 damage using a +5 Longsword with a VERY modest 13 str and 20 dex. Even though the basic damage is only 120, the added bonuses from str and dex scaling gave it more than a 30 point boost.
With a tiny bit of effort you can have a weapon that is only a little bit behind the Drake Sword at the same point in the game that will in fact grow with you and get even better. And you didn't even need to spend twenty minutes flinging arrows at a dragon to get it! You earned the souls to upgrade the weapon and your stats ACTUALLY PLAYING the game.
- Tell me this doesn't look like more fun than pestering the Hellkite Dragon.
Once you understand how upgrading works, the world becomes your oyster. Many weapons become totally viable and you can pick and choose based on your personal fighting style or vanity as you please.
As you get more embers and materials for the blacksmiths to work with, you can upgrade your weapons with elemental or magical effects. The flashiest versions like Lighting damage strip the weapon of any stat scaling in favour of raw damage, and a lot of players opt for that route since it's undoubtedly effective. But don't throw the baby out with the bath water just yet. There are still advantages to working the basic upgrading path and the more esoteric upgrade options.
Pick up Richard's Rapier. Who cares if it has so-so base damage, when you take it to +14 it has A-Ranked scaling on dex! Pump up that dex, and while you're at it toss a MagicWeaponbuff on it to multiply that damage even further. Have fun poking Smough to death in his Buddha belly while looking like hella royalty.
Or how bout the Large Club. It's... well it's a huge chunk of wood. Pretty humble. But if you take it all the way to +5 Occult, it gets an A ranking on Faith, allowing your little worshipper (perhaps already heavily invested in the faith stat just for the miracles) to swing around a God killing heretical tree trunk that never runs out of buff.
It is a wild system if you're willing to give it some thought and creativity. Lighting weapons are a great option, but there's a lot more out there; Certainly a lot more than the boring ass Drake Sword.
- Once you know how to upgrade your weapons and armor, you can make any set viable. Go ahead and make your own character your way!
Which brings us back to the original point of this blog and my personal question. What is the deal with the Drake Sword anyway? Why did From Soft put it in the game and give it to players to early on? Why can you get this piece of super-powered gear at the start of the game, that only leaves you high and dry feeling like a chump a few hours later?
Well, there are two interpretations I can see.
Charitably, you could say that From Software knew they were making a ball-buster of a game. DkS didn't get its controller tossing reputation for nothing after all. Maybe From Software took a look at play testers stuck early on, or just decided to be merciful, and wanted to put in something that would give struggling players a boost till they found their sea legs. Balanced so that it's initially a big lifesaver, but eventually needs to be discarded – hopefully at a point where the player understands how the game works.
But well. These guys made Dark Souls. I don't think mercy is a big part of their vocabulary.
A more cynical person may look at the design of the Drake Sword and think it's a trap. A weapon designed to encourage laziness and overconfidence in the uninitiated. A weapon that is paced juuust right to fail the player once they've made it past a threshold where the thought of backtracking is almost unbearable.
See, Anor Londo (where the Drake Sword really starts crapping out on you) is accessed through magical means after a gruelling trek through Sen's Fortress. Nobody, and I mean nobody, relishes the thought of taking another trip through the Funhouse (torture castle) and whatever they've completed of Anor Londo to get back to the blacksmith and try and figure out a new weapon. In fact, many players might not even know you can backtrack at that point. I imagine most would rather just roll up a new character (or break the disc in two and burn the shatter remains).
Is this a fair interpretation of From Software's intentions? Would they really troll players like that? I don't know. On one hand it implies a deep level of maliciousness on their part, but on the other hand they made the Tomb of the Giants.
- Hope you love skeletons, darkness, and despair!
Maliciousness is at the core of the game. Ever get cursed in the sewers? Not fun. In fact, if anything the game isn't as mean as they originally intended. Post launch patches have significantly decreased the difficulty of the game and have added some player-friendly quality of life improvements.
You can look at some of the dark ideas that got dropped or never really panned out to see just how wicked From Software can really get. Did you know that the Black Knights were originally envisioned to be wandering around? Just randomly strolling areas and occasionally surprising (ambushing) players with a visit (six-foot sword cleaved through brains to balls). They're tough enough when they stay put in easily avoidable areas.
Or how bout the Gravelord covenant that allows members to put a hex on other players games, adding horribly over powered black phantom enemies to the game. Unless your a die-hard player, it's probably never happened to you because the system for it is broken and unreliable. THANK GOD.
I've been hexed twice and I don't mind telling you that it made the game damn near unplayable for me. Trapped in a cursed version of the Painted World (the one area in the game you can't escape from without beating) torn to pieces by demon-powered Wheel Skeletons; I learned the true meaning of despair in that dark pit. Imagine if the system worked and you got Gravelord infected all the time.
Still, even taking into account the developers sadistic tendencies, designing the Drake Sword as an intentional trap would be a pretty dick move and not really like the other ways they delight in tormenting their fans. It's hard to say whether they planed it like that, or if it was just a horribly back-firing olive branch. The ONE TIME they tried to be nice and it ended up becoming a time bomb in the unsuspecting players inventory. In fact, I like that idea the best. The minds behind From Software are just such a wellspring of cruelty that even when they try to be kind they just end up causing suffering.
Whatever the reason, it probably doesn't matter to all the poor Undeads I saw struggling through every single inch of Anor Londo. They've fallen into the Drake Sword trap and the only escape is learning how the upgrading system really works. Hopefully they'll figure it out before their spirits break completely (which is likely to be around the time they meet the Four Kings).