OXCGN’s Hand of Fate Review


Hand of Fate melds together the strategy of a role-playing game, the collection of a card game and the combat and action of a video game into a beautiful mold. These elements work in harmony creating an enriching and addictive experience that sadly transforms into a somewhat frustrating game.

The premise of this game is to defeat all twelve bosses on separate adventures, starting off with a clean slate each time. You’re given a set amount of resources and default weapons and armor that improve as you defeat the big bosses. When you enter each level cards are rearranged with different faces hidden under them. You step from card to card aiming for the pathways that lead to another formation of cards that eventually leads to the boss.

Each card has its own unique place where you might encounter ambushes, shops or events that proceed according to your decisions. These events are beautifully scripted and give a genuine RPG feeling to the game especially by how it’s conducted. Similar to rolling a die, you pick a card at random that tells you if you’ve failed or succeeded at your decision. This is fine the first couple times that you do it and it’s incredibly satisfying when you succeed, but this mechanic quickly gets repetitive because of the small variety of cards at your disposal.

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As you progress through each level, your character unlocks cards to add to your deck, which is customisable each time you start a new journey. You unlock shiny new armour and weapons, different types of enemies and new places to stumble upon that all feel too similar. You will always have multiples cards of the same type and be forced to visit the same areas again and again because sadly there aren’t enough cards to make each battle or choice fresh. Also since so many of these cards work through pure luck, it’s frustrating to die without using your actual skills.

Despite this the game’s combat is incredibly fun and when you get to participate in fights it’s exhilarating. You can counter, dodge roll, stun and attack your enemies during a battle in an enclosed arena. It’s always a mystery how many baddies you’ll be facing and if the environment will be hazardous as well. Most of the time traps will be your greatest foe, chipping away at your health as you try to hold back some skeleton or lizard creature. Some of the fights get quite hard, especially as you try to keep your eyes on every opponent, but the controls work smoothly giving you a chance to win each battle. The counter system is forgiving, executing your moves perfectly even if you press the button a bit too late.

Before you enter these battles, you must be aware of how much health you have, what blessings you’ve received and most importantly, how much food you have left. Each time you step onto a new card, you lose one bit of food and if you reach zero, you’ll loose 10 points of health every turn. If you end up loosing all your health, it’s game over and you must start the journey to the boss all over again.

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The design of the game is brilliant with the must stunning backgrounds, enemies and a decent soundtrack. I must also add that I did have some technical issues with the game freezing after defeating bosses that annoyingly deleted my progress.

Hand of Fate merges some really strong ideas together and despite its flaws I enjoyed this greatly. If you forget how it mostly determines your characters fate by luck, you’ll have a great time trying to build up your character and defeat all the bosses. For an indie title it is well worth the money and the developers have definitely done a brilliant job.

TL;DR

Hand of Fate combines the combat from video games with a role-playing card game in a perfect blend. You go on adventures multiple times to defeat bosses whilst surviving attacks. A lot of your progress in this game will be determined by luck, which is vexing. It still is a fun game to play and as you build you card deck and defeat your foes you will be extremely satisfied adventuring till the end.

Pros:

+ Concept is executed brilliantly

+ Fun combat

+ Beautiful design

Cons:

– Based too much on luck

– Technical issues

7.5/10

This Xbox One review copy was conducted by a digital download code provided by Xbox Australia. 

OXCGN’s The Division Interview


Chatting with Ryan Bernard at EB Expo!

The Division is a title that is looking better and better with each trailer we receive. During the recent EB Expo I was lucky enough to have the privilege of talking to Ryan Bernard, Game Director on the Division, about the title, narrative and tech of this title.

Jayden – The narrative you’ve crafted for the Division feels like it’s something really fresh amongst many other anarchic or post apocalyptic tales in games. What were some of the challenges in creating a story like this that doesn’t feel cliched or overdone?

Ryan – I would say, it came up because we needed a new unit, a Clancy unit, that would fit into the spectrum of what we have, with such a rich background of games. You have your Ghost Recon, you have your Splinter Cell, how do we create a unit that fits into that spectrum with something different, an online and an RPG focus. That really spawned the thinking that ‘okay, this needs to be a response unit’. Many Clancy units are tactical, kind of strike units, where they go in before something happens or go in and assassinate the terrorist leader, so to bring something fresh we wanted a unit that responds to the bad thing that’s happened in our game.

I think that right there really set us apart, and then the fact that we’re domestic, all in the US, and you’re dealing with a catastrophic, global scale, awful thing in ‘Mid crisis’. I know you mentioned apocalyptic but we like to use ‘mid crisis’ because things have not yet crumbled to something like Children of Men where everything is lost, we’re still on that verge where there’s something to save.

Jayden – Through the trailers you’ve released, you’ve packed a lot of emotion into them, whilst retaining quite a bleak tone. How do you manage to reflect that through the gameplay?

Ryan – I would say it’s a balance. Because we’re an action RPG I’d say there’s moments where it’s very ‘not that’, not that emotion we see in the demos and CGI, but really with the narrative we talked about before, and the quieter moments in your own base of operations and in game, and with the elements of exploration, these ’emotional’ sections are really where we hit that note. At our core we’re an action, combat RPG, so a lot of what you’re doing is dealing with these factions that have risen up around New York and taking them out by force.

Jayden – With a narrative like this, has it been a challenge adapting it for online and cooperative play?

Ryan – It’s hard to have, especially when you make a game where you want it to be about player choice and an open world. In this years demo we introduced a new tool for the agent, which is called ‘echo’, and it’s actually part of that narrative. We don’t want to take the controller out of your hand ever, or as little as possible, so there are no cutscenes in the Division. So what we have is this tool where you and I might come into an area and get some digital information, some close-circuit camera footage, part of a conversation, any type of digital material that’s evidence in that area, and if there’s enough you can recreate the scene that is frozen in time.

It’s in the world, and it’s totally optional, so if you’ve already seen it you can move through, it doesn’t stop us or remove us from the game, so we use that tool to work with our team.

Jayden – The game uses a lot of tech you’d see in something like Watch Dogs, whether it be things like mobile controlled drones in game or the second screens outside of the game, have you been able to use feedback from the reception of these titles to improve them in your game?

Ryan – I think what we try to do is look at everything that’s out, not just Watch Dogs or Ubisoft games, to make sure we’re making the best decisions with the time we have and what we’re trying to hit with the game, and so I’d say we’re always looking at what’s just been released or previously released to make sure we get the best game possible for launch.

Jayden – Recently a lot of games like Watch Dogs and Destiny have fallen victim to a kind of over-hype that has led to a bit of a downfall in their success at launch. Is this something that is intimidating or challenging in developing a game like the Division?

Ryan – Intimidating, I don’t know. I mean it’s definitely a challenge, but I think the team looks at it like a positive challenge. It’s definitely known that these types of games have big anticipation, you have a game like ours where it’s a huge open world, hitting the notes that a lot of people want to play and want to be here now, now, now, generating a kind of ‘monster’ of anticipation. All you can do is make sure you think the game is good and hitting what you needed to hit, and wait to see what happens when we launch.

I’d like to thank Ubisoft Australia and Ryan Bernard for the chance to chat about the Division at EB Expo 2014.

Jayden Perry ©2014

OXCGN’s Ar nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star Review


Ar Nosurge was a new experience for me. It would be a lie to say it wasn’t a unique and interesting title, yet more often than I would like, it was difficult to connect with. Ar Nosurge continues the story of ‘Ciel Nosurge,’ a PSVita exclusive; also unfortunately exclusive to Japan. Ciel Nosurge introduces a lot of the lore and back story of the planet Ra Ciel, setting of Ar Nosurge, and throughout the game, this disconnect from the context of what I am actually doing proved a significant turn off. This game, however, brings something new to the JRPG playing field with an interesting combat system and unprecedented depth in character development. With tons of anime tropes and shout outs, this game would make any JRPG enthusiast squeal (though the excessive skin shown on barely 12 year old girls just does not go well with me, but that is another story.)

 As I mentioned, Ar Nosurge is the sequel to a game not available outside of Japan. I did not know this going into it, and well into the game while still suffering from what-the-hell-is-going-on syndrome, discovered this unwelcome fact. After reading up on Ciel Nosurge, things made a little more sense but I still felt completely disconnected to the story. This left me with a pretty shallow view of what was going on, and little motivation to find out more. Ra Ciel is a planet in turmoil, divided across the Humans, and the alien Sharl, who use Songs and Music as a magical source, an ability contracted by some humans. Constant conflict between the races is being ignited further by an aggressive cult of Humans that worship the Sharl. Beyond this, the story is a little vague:

Why does this cult want to destroy Humanity? Reasons.

Why are my characters the ones who must save the world? Because.

What am I even doing here? Things.

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Where Ar Nosurge redeems itself in storytelling lies within the characters. The depth and extent to which the characters are explored is something quite unique about the series. Going into your character’s minds, literally, through Genometrics allows a unique insight into the thoughts and overall psyche of each character. Their relationships (though cheesy and occasionally overbearing) are engaging and interacting with your characters on this almost metaphysical level is an uncanny but welcome bonding experience.

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Gameplay in Ar Nosurge is as complex as the deeply explored minds of its characters. With 5 major, lore-driven gameplay mechanics, it is as easy to become as lost in a menu as it is in the story, and not the good kind of lost. Starting with exploration, it plays as any other RPG would: wander around different maps collecting items, talking to characters, and interacting with your companions. However, in Ar Nosurge, one should take the word “exploration” with a grain of salt, as the maps and paths through the scenes of the story felt very linear and guided. Sure, you could travel to any map at any time, but each section was effectively a corridor with some rooms sticking off the side that led nowhere in particular. As a more traditional RPG fan: Elder Scrolls, Sacred, Divinity, etc., I am unsure if this is typical for a JRPG, but dropping the ‘J’ it was a little underwhelming.

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Ar Nosurge’s combat system is certainly a unique take on traditional turn-based fighting. It is completely normal to annihilate 7 waves of enemies in one turn. Yeah. Combat works based on a set of four moves, mapped to the controller’s face buttons, and each carries a different action point value. However, if you combo moves in the right order, you can completely regenerate your action points and start all over again in the same turn. In the tougher battles, it takes some fairly decent strategizing to plan out when to attack and when to end your turn with a guard. It does not really go beyond “fairly decent” strategy, but it takes a long time for wiping out entire waves in one move to become less than satisfying. Battle encounters come with an obnoxious warning system while exploring; it is not the right game to require a warning for its battles. Starting off with full health and action points leaves little consequence for encountering a battle “at the wrong moment.” There is not really a wrong moment.

Ar-nosurge-Review-22.09.-01jpgAside from wiping out the entire encounter by yourself on combos, your travelling companion comes with her Song Magic, which you can charge over the course of an encounter and then unleash at any time. The longer you charge the more damage your song magic does, and there weren’t many instances where this did not finish the encounter. In short, it is an overpowered finisher. Even in boss battles, song magic and action point regeneration combos sapped any real challenge from combat. Regardless, the fast-paced total annihilation of mass amounts of enemies brings back the Dynasty Warriors satisfaction of mass destruction. It is a relatively welcome change from more archetypal JRPG turn-based combat.

The last three gameplay mechanics are where the anime really starts to show, at least for me. Plus, it is hard to deny the glowing anime beacon that is this:

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Above is ‘Synthesis’, a mode wherein you can use ingredients you have found, along with recipes you have unlocked, to create different items and poultices to improve song magic, weapons, and any number of stats. It would be a better system without the intrusive musical numbers performed by three characters, two of which just do not suit the scenario. The whole thing is utterly ridiculous.

Another ridiculous, if slightly less so, mechanic is ‘Purification,’ where your characters get in stereotypically revealing swimwear and bathe together, engaging in deep, personal conversation and getting to know each other more. Honestly, the innuendo is endless. As well as improving character relationships, you can install Genometrica Crystals you have collected to increase your characters’ powers. These two systems would be a little more bearable if they were not both accompanied by such unnecessary fanfare. It is humourous once; maybe twice.

Genometrics Nay

Finally is Genometrics, the interesting part. Genometrics is the process by which a person gifted with song magic, the story’s heroines, can bind their heart to another individual. This other person “Dives” into the heroine’s soulspace to help them unlock their powers by exploring and influencing the raw personality of them; leaning them towards introverted, extroverted, masochistic, or sadistic tendencies. Genometrics plays like a manga-graphic novel, in which you more or less follow a pre-written story through, but can stop and make some choose-your-own-adventure-esque decisions to influence their heart and unlock new songs and crystals. As well as gaining access to new magic and power-ups, you gain incredibly insight into the different characters and explore, literally, deep into their minds and souls. In an almost beautiful mechanic that explores characters in a way not seen in any other game.

Pros:

  • Combat is fast paced and satisfying.
  • Characters are extremely in-depth and well written.
  • Genometrics is a totally unique and welcome exploration of the characters.

Cons:

  • Combat is not very challenging due to song magic.
  • Story is lost of context due to region-exclusive prequel.
  • Story is vague and ultimately pointless.
  • Purification and Synthesis are plagued by unnecessary anime fanfare.

TL;DR

Ar Nosurge is an interesting step in a new direction for JRPGs. It has brought a new evolution to the genre that if adopted by other series’ or developers could bring out a JRPG renaissance. The story is lost to the region exclusive prequel and is ultimately pointless; the true story lies in the development and growth of each of the characters, and that is Ar Nosurge’s redeeming quality. Fast-paced and satisfying combat coupled with interesting skill and statistic development, though plagued with unnecessary additions and lack of challenge, still leave behind a unique, playable experience. If you are a JRPG enthusiast, you will love Ar Nosurge. If you are a character buff, who looks for personal development over the major story, you will also love it. If you are just an RPG fan looking for something a little different, you have right to be wary, and would be better off coercing your JRPG fan friend into buying it, and then borrowing it.

6/10

Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star was provided to OXCGN staff for reviewing purposes.

OXCGN’s Tales of Xillia 2 Review


I haven’t played a Japanese role-playing game for a while, spending countless amount of hours struggling to complete them so playing Tales of Xillia 2 was a great experience, allowing me to get caught up in a interesting world and its characters.

It starts off a year after the last game setting you off with a new character in a changing world. You play as Ludger, a young apparently voiceless newbie chef whose life turns upside down after coming into contact with a young girl named Elle who has a stopwatch similar to one that Ludger receives, and together they get tangled up in a terrorist attack on a train that your mysterious brother is somehow involved in. After this incident, Ludger and Elle are terribly injured and your healers decide to force you into debt to pay off your medical bills. You are then pushed into two plots: paying off your debt and the mysteries of these watches.

As usual for a JPRG the story can get somewhat confusing, and as a newbie to the series it was quite helpful having a codex to refer back to whenever the plot felt too complicated – at times new characters would be introduced and everyone in the game seemed to know them while I was there, feeling clueless, wondering who the heck these people are. Despite lacking some Xillia knowledge it was easy to get swept away into the narrative, absorbing the world as it is – on the edge of chaos.

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The story is presented in multiple chapters, making the game feel episodic. The only problem with this lay out is that in-between each chapter you are forced to do side missions to pay off part of your debt to progress to a new area. This isn’t much of a pain when you find character missions, as they give you a chance to learn more about your sidekicks and expand on the game’s plot, but when you have to do countless amount of jobs where the objective is to defeat this many monsters or collect particular items it becomes tedious quite fast. With each chapter having a short length as well it felt like I spent more time running around doing lame side missions when all I wanted to do is jump back into the plot.

The narrative is shown through multiple ways: random pieces of dialogue as you walk around, text based conversations where there are images showing each characters emotion, average cut scenes that are the main form for passing on the story and beautifully anime-styled cut scenes which, although few and far between, are an absolute delight to watch. During most cut scenes you sometimes have the choice between Ludger’s dialogue, picking between two answers. I enjoyed feeling like I had some part of the story and helped shape it as it progressed.

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Each scene had sometimes awkward, simple dialogue, as what usually happens when translating from another language to English, and is presented by a solid voice cast that encapsulates their characters perfectly. The only voice that sounded off was Elle’s. She was most of the time quite a pain to listen to with her screechy nagging which is super hard to tolerate. The best character by far though was the adorable, chubby cat Rollo who somehow managed to always be a part of the adventure.

These characters explore a beautifully crafted world, with multiple areas which all have a unique look to them. They are filled with some variety of enemies but you will see some enemy models mimicked with a new coat of paint. As you explore these areas, you are given the choice to participate in combat, which is refreshing. It’s nice to know you won’t be forced to fight these enemies and you can just progress to a new area or go searching for items.

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When jumping into combat though, it is quite fun. You mostly mash buttons as your character hits enemies and have the choice to switch between weapons – guns, swords or a hammer, although there didn’t feel like a difference between each piece of equipment, and majority of the time I found myself using the blades as they are the easiest to use. During battle you also have the choice to change your allies behavior (either working together or going solo), use special moves and activate your watch for super, strong Ludger time.

As you fight and gain experience you jump up levels, though the system to upgrade abilities is confusing and makes you feel like you have little control. You upgrade your abilities through a thing called Allium Orb. Pretty much you assign an orb to your character that has its own unique abilities, as you progress these abilities are unlocked and then you equip these skills for battles. This system of leveling up is hard to keep track of and annoying to fiddle around: I just didn’t want to bother playing around with this upgrading system – especially when I felt like I wasn’t seeing results.

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The difficulty curve through the game didn’t feel like it changed much, making most battles quite simple. It seemed to jump as soon as you had to defeat a story boss though, which was vexing. I’d rather not grind for hours to win against one guy and then be subjected to fighting super weak enemies, and this happens quite a lot during the game. Being bombarded by average opponents also meant that I didn’t feel like I got to make most out of the combat system. It seems complicated and there are many things to switch and change, but I didn’t have any need to.

JRPG’s are not common to play and Tales of Xillia 2 is a good one if you’re looking for that. It has a good story filled with a strong cast, interesting combat and beautiful artwork but there is nothing that amazes me. It’s overall a good game, and works great, although there isn’t one aspect of the game that grabs me and makes me say you should play it for this!

Pros:

+ A fun, intricate combat system

+ Good story explored with solid characters in a variety of ways

+ Rollo the cat!!

Cons:

– Confusing leveling up system

– Bad difficulty curve

– Nothing particularly amazing

TL;DR

Tales of Xillia 2 is a great JRPG with an intriguing story and a stunning world. You will get tangled up for hours with enjoyable combat and interesting characters, though I recommend playing the first one to add more to your gaming experience and to fill in the blanks about characters and the events before this game. The only thing is this game doesn’t have anything that stands out to make it amazing: it has great combat, story and art that merge into a great, though not outstanding, game.

7.5/10

This review was conducted by a promo copy provided by Bandai Namco Australia. 

The Living, Breathing World of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt


Geralt’s Grandest Adventure

If there’s one thing I take away from checking out The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at E3, it’s that CD Projekt Red are on track to create a huge living, breathing world.

With the use of a new game engine, Wild Hunt aims to be the RPG that CD Projekt Red have always wanted to make. Due to limitations of the previous engine, the developers had to make a choice. They could make a game that had a deep, interwoven narrative structure with branching outcomes, but had a smaller world. On the other hand, they could create a big expansive world, with a barebones narrative.

What I was shown during the 45 minute hands-off demo was a world that felt like it exists even when you’re not around. A world that is alive. A world that is in trouble.

One thing leads to another…

Geralt’s main point of call during this demo was the city of Novigrad, a city that has something for everyone, no matter their race or social stature. As Geralt approached the city walls, it was evident that CD Projekt Red have spared no attention to detail when the creating the world.

From the way the land is shaped, the world isn’t simply a flat plain with some hills in the distance, hills, gullies, ditches and uneven terrain give the world an authentic feel. This terrain is then used to dictate where objects and buildings are placed within the world. Farms make use of what flat terrain there is to plant crops which flourish in specific areas, while being situated close to water for survival and irrigation. Houses are situated in any free space possible, whether that be just off the main path, or on the side of a ditch if need be.

Monsters come in human form too.
Monsters come in human form too.

Novigrad has much to offer, as it’s the biggest in the world of Wild Hunt. Lucky for us there is plenty of Witcher’s work to be taken up on. In the demo, Geralt is collecting on said Witcher’s work, as he has the head of the Griffin he fought in the latest cinematic trailer for Wild Hunt.

Geralt arrives at one of the local watering establishments to claim his prize: information on an ashen-haired woman he is searching for.

As we know in many games, things are never so straightforward. Instead of getting a simple answer, Geralt was told to venture to a swamp region in No Man’s Land, and search out a creature named Johnny who was seen in the woman’s company.

All about the journey

With our next objective known, Geralt sets off to this swamp region. As we left the city, I noticed the A.I. react in various ways. A rainstorm rolled in as we left the city walls, and people scrambled to get inside or find something to shield the rain. We were told NPCs react in various ways, all depending on weather and time of day. So while one player may experience a busy street or path to navigate, others may find they are the only souls on the road.

What this amounts to is that players will get varying experiences from one another.

We are then told by the devs that in the interest of time, Geralt will need to fast-travel to the swamp region, as it would roughly take 15 minutes real time to traverse at full horse gallop. If that’s not a sign of how big the world is, I don’t know what is.

It's not all sunny skies and rainbows.
It’s not all sunny skies and rainbows.

In no time at all, Geralt makes his way to the swamp region in No Man’s Land, a dull and brooding place in stark contrast to the bright vistas we had just experienced at Novigrad.

Using his keen monster tacking skills, Geralt easily is able to locate traces of Johnny, in order to follow them to his current location. Upon locating Johnny, Geralt discovers he is a godling (a small, Gollum-esque creature), and it’s quite difficult to pry any information out of him. It turns out that he’s lost his voice. Well, stolen to be exact. A group of  harpies are responsible, and in true RPG fashion, Johnny needs you to retrieve said voice before he can help you.

Geralt then sets off to the harpies’ nest, with Johnny in tow. Along the way, we are able to see Geralt’s magic in action, as a pack of drowners emerge from the marshlands. All your favourites from the previous games return, and look much better this time around. Igni really looked dangerous this time around, effortlessly incinerating those pesky drowners.

After that little mishap, Gearlt continues on his way. The brooding marshlands then give way to breath-taking views of mountainsides. What amazed me was this seamless transition with no loading time. It really made it feel like a coherent world, instead of a bunch of unique areas pasted together. And with a keen sense of timing, the devs chimed in to tell us everything is explorable, with no hidden barriers.

Some stunning landscapes await fans.
Some stunning landscapes await fans.

See that mountain? You can scale it. That island off in the distance? Take a boat out there. Or if you’re desperate you can swim. Hearing statements like these really gets the RPG fan in me excited.

We spy the harpies’ nest on top of a mountaintop, thanks to the harpies themselves circling them. The player has a few ways of reaching the peak, much like the remainder of the game having multiple paths. You could just simple waltz up the path into oncoming danger, or you could think smart.

Witcher 3 has a lot more verticality this time around, whereas the previous two entries were more like flat canvases. Therefore, Geralt is able to navigate a cliff-face in order to sneak up on the nest. Upon reaching the top, Geralt only has to deal with a couple harpies who have stayed to guard the nest. Instead of using his trusty silver sword, Geralt debuts a new weapon: the crossbow. Perfect for engaging aerial monsters, the crossbow was the right tool to ground the harpies, in order for Geralt to be able to dispatch them with his trademark sword.

Geralt is then able to claim his prize, this time being Johnny’s voice contained in a bottle. Upon restoring the gift of speech to the young godling, Johnny can’t help out much regarding the whereabouts of the ashen-haired woman, but can take Geralt to someone who does….

Prepare to Hunt

With that, our time with Witcher 3: Wild Hunt came to a close. It was truly an amazing world to visit, one that is seamless and coherent. One that seems to continue on with or without your presence. The guys at CD Projekt Red told us that everything reacts to the world around it. Certain monsters may only appear at either day or night. Some quests may only be available when a person is present during a particular time of day. No longer do NPCs or enemies sit around waiting to dote on the player anymore.

What’s more to say? Come the 24th of February 2015, I for one cannot wait to jump into the shows of the legendary White Wolf, and see what this living world has in store for me.

© Daniel Geikowski 2014

The Witcher 3 Preview


The White Wolf Returns

Sitting down at a tale with a half a dozen other journalists from the Australian games industry, I was quite excited to finally get to check out The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, even though this presentation was only going to be me sitting in that chair wanting this game all the more.

At the helm and ready to finish of a very long week of constant presentations, Head of Marketing and PR, Michael Platkow-Gilewski and QA Analyst, Lukasz Babiel, took us through the next 40 minutes of what we can expect from their latest offering when it’s eventually released.

A small fort of sanctuary and peace
A small fort of sanctuary and peace

Throwing us straight into the deep end, we found ourselves roughly half way through the game watching Geralt of Rivia set a path to meet an old friend by the name of Crach. Needing to travel to Crach’s castle, Geralt finds himself at the Gates of Crait arriving on horseback.

Geralt meets with Crach and shares the little information that he knows.

The village of Dalvik had been burned to the ground by the hands of the Wild Hunt, a seemingly unstoppable force that Geralt has crossed paths with in the past. As he learns of a sole survivor that has fled to Fayrlund, Geralt sets out to find Bjorn, and extract any information he can as to the direction of where the Wile Hunt veered off to.

Said to be 35 times larger than The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, a slew of new transportation methods have been introduced to allow the player more freedom. From boats to horseback riding, CD Projekt RED have accommodated for every scenario the player may face. Due to the games sheer size, it’s hard to miss what else has been included.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a persistent living world, where the weather can change ones vision and alter a persons character, heavy rain will hinder a players vision in the distance whilst gusts of winds will sway bushes and trees. Day and night cycles will feature a slew of different characters and creatures that only appear during specific time frames.

Off beaten paths throughout the game world will feature events that players can choose to ignore or intervene, depending on their mood. During the presentation we were shown an incident where a group of bandits had a house surrounded and threatened to burn it down. Here is where we got to see the games revamped combat.

Geralt’s swordsman skills are improved over the previous outing, noticeably with his swordplay skills. Selecting Geralt’s sword from a scroll wheel menu that holds both weapons and signs, players won’t have the need to pause the game halting combat just to select which weapons they feel would be best.

Featuring a much more fluid animation sequence, combat looks to be more seamless. Combat will play out in differences scenarios thanks to Geralt’s 96 new animation sequences when swinging his sword. With signs being significantly faster to use, they can be integrated during combat to create a more offensive attack.

With that being said Signs can also be used with their secondary function. The Igni sign can not only be used in combat but if you hold it down you’ll create a flamethrower effect, engulfing enemies in a fiery blaze.

Stand back I say!
Stand back I say!

After dispatching the three bandits, the lone resident thanked us but warned us that due to our actions, the group the bandits belong to will search for us, and not rest until we’ve been properly dealt with for what we’d done. An indication of bigger things to come as most of what you do in this game whilst not altering the ending at all, will change the way your game plays out.

Exploring another off beaten track we come across a tower in ruins which is explained to be a Point of Interest, certain sections on the map which are said to be inviting to the player to explore. Search surroundings for any hidden items, find out more information about the land or activate a side quests which whilst not pivotal to the main story-line can indulge the player in something to pass the time.

Seemingly peaceful it’s unfortunately occupied by a Fiend. Fiends are large creatures with large horns that charge at the player and like any large creature gets stuck in the wall should you successfully evade its attack. Whilst in any other game this would seem like an easy battle, the Fiend has a third eye that it can use to its advantage.

Pulling the player into a strange darkened world, sight will be hindered giving the Fiend an advantage over the player. Casting the Quen force field over the player would allow an even playing field and give you enough time for the Fiends hallucinogenic effect to run out. Playing it smart and only attacking when need be, once enough damage is dealt to the beast the Fiend runs off back to its hideout.

This prompts another side mission to be activated, resulting in Geralt having the ability to track down the now injured fiend.

Watch the Fiends rush attack
Watch the Fiends rush attack

In the interest of time, it was decided that we would continue along the main path Geralt had set out to complete. Arriving at the town of Faryrlund, Geralt tracks down Bjorn and extracts what little information he can from him about the Wild Hunt. Bjorn proceeds to explain the destruction that the Wild Hunt caused, proceeding to board a ship once there was nothing left of the village.

Cutting the conversation short, the player in interrupted when Bjorn’s day goes from bad to worse at it is announced that Bjorns brother had been murdered. Gathered around it is clear that Bjorn’s brothers is tangled within roots sprouting from the ground up. As explained by the elders of the town, Harald, explains that this is the doing of the woodland spirit that has been kept at bay by the killings of the townsfolk.

The younger members led by an enigmatic Sven, request that the monster hunter do his duty by slaying the beast and it is only at the request of payment that Geralt would even consider wasting his time with such a petty quarrel. As to not make the wrong decision players can traverse the woods in search of the beast that he could potentially be dealing with.

Using Witcher sense, Geralt is able to identify stones with claw marks as well as strange prints on the ground. Once enough evidence is discovered players bestiary menu will open up and the player can identify that a Leshen, is the beast that haunts the woods. Here players will learn information about the way the beast attacks and how to potentially kill it.

Returning to town, two options open up for the player side with Sven and kill the beast or Harald, and offer some form of sacrifice to keep it happy. Deciding that gold is more important, Geralt discloses to Sven that the Leshen is immortalized by a ‘marked one’, and that the only way to indefinitely kill the beast is to either kill or cast out this person. Activating Witcher sense to identify the marked one, Sven explains that it could only be Harald due to him having opposite opinions of how to handle the situation.

The atmosphere in Wild Hunt is amazing
The atmosphere in Wild Hunt is amazing

Taking this into account we approach Harald but see no clear signs indicating he is marked, in the corner of our eye though a woman giving off some form of trait appears to be marked. A woman who earlier on, had been flirting with Sven and and one that Sven had great interest in. Explaining that she must be dealt with to Sven, Geralt heads back into the woods in search for three totems that must be destroyed to make the Leshen appear.

As Geralt progresses the Leshen summons roots from the ground in order to incapacitate Geralt successfully burning down the totems. Another one of the Leshen’s traits, a murder of crows, circle around each totem in succession until finally the Leshen reveals itself. This battle can play out in a number of ways, close up the Leshen does the most damage with its lengthy reach.

At medium range, the Leshen will summon the same roots as before and at any distance too far away for the Leshen to attack it will de-materialize and cover as much ground as possible. Evasive maneuvers and smart attacks will be key in taking down this beast, as at any range a mistake could prove costly. There’s no need to rush in and swing your sword left or right, because the damage the Leshen does could knock you down in one hit and it’s game over.

Upon defeat Geralt grabs his trophy as proof of the beasts defeat and returns to the town. Upon his arrival he finds out that Sven and his group of merry men went a little crazy in handling their business and they pay Geralt his fees. A small cut-scene plays out that tells us the town only survived a measly 3 months after the Leshen’s defeat, as they were pillaged.

This cut-scene doesn’t always follow on right after completion, these are encountered hours later into the game. It was explained if we had sided with Harald and the elders, there would be a different outcome for the village. We could have banished the marked one but it may have not been quite as effective regarding easing the Leshen’s wrath. Sacrificing a wolf on an altar could have kept the Leshen at bay but for how long?

It’s great to hear that no matter the outcome direct or indirect your decision will always have an effect on those around you. If you were to visit the town of Fayrlund post-Leshen then it would be in ruins full of ash and rubble with no signs of life.

It’s a little sad to see that the game has been delayed to 2015, because it was already looking stunning and gameplay was fluid. Certain visual effects hadn’t been rendered yet and there were still lots to do, the extended development time only means more improvements for the finished product. A game that is 35 times larger than its predecessors needs a lot to occupy the player.

The Leshen awaits
The Leshen awaits

OXCGN’s Dark Souls II Review


Nope. No, no, hell no. Ok. Shit.

I was fairly late to the party with Dark Souls, having only purchased the game in January of this year. I knew going in, difficulty was what the game was reknown for, but at its heart there was a vast world to explore and lore that players needed to uncover for themselves.

Dark Souls was not a easy game, cutscenes only introduced bosses and dialogue from characters that populated the world were vague at best. Failure was punishable by death and success was rewarded with souls and equipment to help you in your long journey.

Dark Souls II follows the same route as it’s predecessor and whilst not directly linked to Dark Souls, it’s connected in a bigger picture kind of way. Through dialogue, players will be treated to little tidbits of information that’ll help to explain the story behind Drangleic.

Bonfires are crucial, make good use of them
Bonfires are crucial, make good use of them

As a traveller you bear the Darksign, a mark which symbolises the curse of the Undead. Lured to Drangleic in search for a cure to their affliction, you are tasked by the Emerald Herald to search for larger more powerful souls in order to stay sane, your objective is crystal clear. With a simple task at hand, it’s easy to get lost in the land of Drangleic as Majula, the games central hub, branches out into multiple paths.

Many NPC’s that you encounter along your journey will end up in Majula. It’s a safe haven where those who have been drawn to Drangleic can rest, gather themselves and try to make sense of what brought them here. It also holds many secrets for the player to find, that’ll aid them moving forward.

By now many will know that in Dark Souls II, certain gameplay mechanics have changed. Whilst the combat is tighter and features a much broader realistic moveset, health replenishment has changed. Players no longer start with 10 Estus Flasks, they must find Estus Flask Shards scattered through Drangleic and return them to the Emerald Herald to increase their count.

Sublime Bone Dust will increase their healing factor but can only be burned at the bonfire in Majula. Lifegems which are crystalised souls can be consumed during combat and allow you to slowly move whilst using them. This gives the player a small window to breather when a battle gets to hard.

It’s through this ingenious structure that Dark Souls II ascends itself above the pack, whilst players must return to the Emerald Herald to level up using their acquired souls, burning various items at bonfires adds a whole new level of intensity to the game.

Whilst many action RPG’s allow you to choose your difficulty from the get go, Dark Souls II starts of with the default difficulty mode of what I like to call “Brutal”. Methods exist to allow the player to alter the challenge as they see fit by joining the Covenant of Champions, which will increase the challenge ahead by throwing more foes in your face with a larger range of attacks.

Burning a Bonfire Aesthetic will increase the intensity of its enemies around it and New Game + which is a whole new beast, is said to be as brutal all of these combined. I’m roughly 5 hours into NG+, and can safely say, that as a Knight I found my first playthrough a breeze. Mainly due to my high Strength, Dexterity and Adaptability, I wasn’t ready to go forward as The Deprived.

Even playing as the Swordsman for roughly 5 hours gave me trouble. When up against two of the games early bosses I struggled to find an opening to attack whilst taking as little damage as possible. A testament that I wasn’t quite rerady to tackle this game with anything other than a class I was familiar with.

With NG+ however. I could see the holes in my Knights attack and defense and this was due to the fact that I was never challenged enough by the enemy AI. I never sought to improve my fighting technique because up until this point, it had worked. When one uses the block and attack technique throughout the whole game, it’s difficult to change it when an enemy’s attack patterns change.

Players need to carefully deconstruct an enemy and their attacks. Rolling is much more fluid and nimble enemies will use this to their advantage. If you’re not always moving an enemy can break your guard, leaving you open for a barrage of attacks. Anything that you can do the enemy can too, so be smart. Read your enemy and be patient, don’t rush in swinging that blade, sit back, block and let your enemy tell you everything you need to know about them through the way they fight.

Now with a greater challenge at hand, players are allowed to equip up to 4 rings each with their own unique buff to aid in battle, and rest assured you’ll want to find as many rings as you can and vary up your combinations.

As players die during the state of being hollow, they’ll notice their health slowly start to degrade roughly 10% at a time until almost half their health has been cut off. The only way to increase it back to normal is to use a “Human Effigy” to become human again. If you are low on effigies and require them to summon NPC’s to aid you in boss battles, players can equip the “Ring of Binding”, which will lessen the degradation of health whilst Hollow.

Whilst FromSoftware have included a slew of new ways to punish players they’ve countered that by ways that players can negate these effects. Do you sacrifice half your health bar to wear 4 rings which buffs statistics or are you that concerned about having full health, you don’t mind one less buff to aid you in battle?

Horror in Dark Souls II, stands 10 feet tall
Horror in Dark Souls II, stands 10 feet tall

Only through trial and error and a lot of patience, will players start to see that Dark Souls II combat has multiple layers rather than being a simple hack and slash title. Players only now need to find a single ember to allow themselves to infuse weapons with various effects. No longer must you ascend a weapons to +10 before you can infuse it with boss souls. You can just trade these souls for your defeated enemies weapon or shield and keep others for yourself if you need the souls.

This will allow you to spend more time crafting fighting styles with pikes, swords, greatswords and axes to name a few. My trusty club, purchased off a merchant done me proud and lasted me the whole game only ever switching to my sword, because weapon degradation played its part.

Resting at a bonfire will repair a player’s weapon if it hasn’t broken, but it also means the world around them will restart brand new. If any given section is too hard and the player dies multiple times, the game will register and cease to spawn enemies at said bonfire.

This is due to players in Dark Souls farming various sections for souls and to also encourage progression. It’s a nice touch, but it takes away from the satisfaction of finally overcoming a challenge.

It’s the easy way out, and if you take away the challenge then the player can’t exactly teach themselves how to become better.

FromSoftware have developed a game that will require a player to induce multiple playthroughs, due to the many secrets one can uncover and the increased challenge that it offers as you progress.

In the 60 hours I spent in Drangleic, I never once found myself tired of exploring. FromSoftware have done a fantastic job in crafting the transition of every area to make it feel natural. From Heide’s Tower of Flame to No Man’s Wharf, one cannot fault the amount of work put into the environment. Presentation is at an all time high with each environment as unique as the last and offering various stages of horror.

Sprawling catacombs filled with tombstones to large castles filled with multiple rooms, staircases and tight hallways induced with fear and a sense of dread of what’s to come. Coupled with a bone chilling soundtrack, Dark Souls II is as atmospheric as a game can get.

Opening up fast travel between every bonfire from the start of the game is an easier method of transportation, and allows the massive world of Drangleic to be more accessible. It doesn’t however make the world less treacherous in that sense.

The newer engine compliments these backdrops with stunning lightning and whilst up close the game’s textures aren’t that pretty from afar they are majestic to look at. Sacrificing protection for a torch in various areas could prove costly, as if you favour the light you will be open to an array of attacks and exhausting your stamina will prove fatal.

The Gutter is where the lightning engine is most evident, lighting torches and seeing them from afar in the dark as this small speck of light knowing that you’ve come so far any mistake could prove costly.

With improved visuals, battles have also intensified thanks to the newer engine. One battle takes place inside a boat, and the longer the player takes to defeat his foe the higher the water rises incapacitating your movement to a minimum.

Other battles will see enemies react differently once they reach a certain threshold and unleash an array of attacks or call upon lesser minions to help them defeat you. The new engine has allowed FromSoftware to increase the intensity of battles by how the environment and others factors contribute.

There’s plenty to appreciate from this game, which is running on consoles that are now just under 8 years old.

Pyromancy at its finest
Pyromancy at its finest

Whilst many will appreciate the improved graphics engine, one cannot forget the excellent job with the art direction. The horrors that lurk throughout Drangleic are all crafted to perfection. No enemy is depicted by hanging flesh, rotten skin or maggots crawling out of them for that “Wow” factor. Much like the Gaping Dragon, they’re all depicted in an artistic manner that compliments the game.

This is how horror should be and there’s very little to hate in this game.

A lack of direction will set players back some hours on their first run and this is something many may come to hate. I found myself stuck at a certain point, because I had no clear direction of what to do or where to go. The Souls series is known for its lack of handholding and its evident here.

Something as simple as talking to a certain NPC to activate the next area was all that was needed but because I’m new to the franchise it’s something that I wouldn’t have thought if I weren’t told. Other players found themselves stuck at the same spot and messaged me for help whilst I had others request assistance for certain boss battles or areas that I had no difficulty reaching.

It didn’t hinder my appreciation for the game, only because it allowed me to explore each area in great detail to see what I was missing. In doing this, I found hiddens chest with items of interest, souls and plenty of other goodies.

It really goes to show how explorable this game is and how much there is to see.

Due to having such early access with the game I was unfortunately unable to try out it’s new multiplayer component with Covenants. The inability to be invaded at any given moment or to invade other players world was a little disappointing, but I’ll be sure to do a follow up when the game launches and others have started their NG+ playthrough.

There is a sense of fear however, as players can now be invaded whether they’re Human or Hollow. Red Phantom NPC’s will invade you depending on which covenant you’re apart of. They become much more frequent through the later stages of the game and one must always be on alert when a message pops up that they have been invaded.

A revised combat system, improved Covenants, a much larger world to explore and a more straightforward story has allowed Dark Souls II to easily transcend from it’s predecessor, combining the best of Demon Souls and Dark Souls. Minor bugs aside, this is a worthy sequel, and if players wish to get the most out of it they’ll need to invest.

The games combat is only the icing on a cake with many layers, that they all compliment each other beautifully.

A constant fear that at any momnent, you can be invaded
A constant fear that at any momnent, you can be invaded

Pros:

+ Crafted with the need for multiple playthroughs

+ New Game + doesn’t just increase enemy health it adds new enemies and combat animations

+ Drangleic is vast open world with much to explore

Cons:

– Bugs negating enemies to statues not registering your presence

– No connection to the servers meant no ability to try out Multiplayer before release

9.5/10

Review conducted with a promotional copy provided by Bandai Namco Australia.

Check out the “Dark Souls 2 – How to Play Video”

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Get Ready for Douchebag in South Park: The Stick of Truth


After multiple delays, The Stick of Truth is finally here!

The first hour of South Park: The Stick of Truth is full of crude humour, references to many of the shows episodes over it’s 17 season run and features solid turn-based RPG gameplay, that’ll satisfy any fan of the genre.

Seated a mere metre away from the TV, I didn’t know what to expect from the game having not recently watched South Park. With Trey Parker and Matt Stone at the helm as the writers of the game and ensuring The Stick of Truth is a service to the fans and non-fans, It’s safe to say that despite myself not picking up many of the references I still found the game extremely funny and enjoyable.

Through dialogue which is in tone with the show, one can’t just rely on crude humour to make a game’s successful. Luckily The Stick of Truth is a solid RPG turn-based title which features strategy and patience.

Game intro 1
Behold; The Stick of Truth

Opening up with a cinematic set within a fantasy realm with Cartman (eerily resembling Gandalf from The Lord of The Rings) narrating, we’re introduced to am epic lifelong battle against both humans and elves for who will control The Stick of Truth, a mystical staff that controls the universe for whoever wields it.

With the tone set, we arrive at the character customisation screen, here players can choose their character features from basic hair colour, scars and skin colour. Once completed we’re introduced to your characters parents, and through this cut-scene we know that you’re the new kid in the neighborhood and you come from a dark past which is only referenced at the start and never again.

What position this will play in the later stages of the game remains to be seen but it’s definitely something to keep in the back of your mind. Set with a task to make some news friends the first person who you come across is Butters who is locked in a battle with an Elf. Punching the kid and giving Butters a hand, he agrees to take you to Kupa Keep, the home of the Wizard King.

As Kupa Keep is your characters hub point it is here that you will not only learn the basics of combat but learn new skills and have the ability to purchase new weapons for your character. You also have the chance to name your character what ever you want, but with Cartman being Cartman, he insists on the title Douchebag.

New kid 2
Choose your class

Combat in The Stick of Truth is multi-layered, in a sense that every new battle will add a new level of strategy. Players must specifically choose the correct ability or attack for multiple enemies. During the course of the combat tutorial Cartman will teach you the art of attacking by pressing the corresponding buttons as well as how to time a block.

As you progress further into the game you’ll come across multiple enemies in a single battle and you will learn how to correctly identify which to attack first.

In a sequence where I was up against an enemy with a shield and one with a bow, I was instructed to attack the enemy with the bow. This was due to the fact that this enemy had no shields or armour and was extremely vulnerable to either a physical attack or my own arrows.

Upon defeat, the enemy closer to me would let his guard down and change his stance from riposte to attack. It meant that rather than using a ranged attack, I could hit him with my sword and deal massive amounts of damage. If I were to attack him first with a physical attack, his riposte would have dealt massive counter damage to me and it wouldn’t have been the smartest move.

This is where The Stick of Truth shines, in that combat never gets boring. Characters have the ability to use items during battle which do not exhaust your turn. Whether you need to heal, increase your mana or PP, it’s crucial you take your time with important battle sequences.

Enemies come in different shapes and sizes, upon the first hour of my play-through I came across multiple enemies each requiring different levels of strategy to defeat. With those wielding shields or heavy armour, physical attacks are required to break through these before being able to deal damage. Ranged attacks for those you cannot reach or in riposte stance and much more.

There really is a heavy emphasis on the combat within this game as to not rely solely on it’s story or reference to the show, and I applaud both the creators of the show and the development team for this.

South Park is also littered with hidden secrets and items and enemies lurking behind every corner. If you do not wish to engage in battle, simply run past the elves to avoid or much like Lightning Returns, if you attack first you’ll garner an upper hand at the start of the fight.

Douchebag can talk to anyone and make new friends, which can be viewed on your social media page, and the more friends that you make the more perks you receive. Leveling up your character after garnering enough exp, allows you to level up multiple attributes and searching the environment, you’ll find items scattered through out as well as plenty of spare change to help you in your quest.

Welcome to Kupa Kelp
Welcome to Kupa Keep

With the game coming out this week there’s not much else to say, apart from the fact that it’s good. Those that have been anxiously waiting for The Stick of Truth will not be disappointed in the slightest. There is a lot of fan service in this game and again for those who don’t even watch the show, unless you can handle the type of humor that South park portrays, stay away.

If you’re easily offended by fart jokes, anal probing, vomiting and much more this isn’t the game for you nor is it a game for any young child.

If however you love South Park or garner a chuckle from the occasional fart joke then by all means pick up The Stick of Truth and enjoy it. Watching children get into and act out a fantasy world and completely getting into character is simply awesome to see. It’s brings back memories of my childhood where I’d team up with my own friends at their house and run around shooting each other with Nerf guns.

Screen
Get ready The Stick of Truth is almost upon us!