Here’s Why Destiny Needs a Theatre Mode

Impressions and Thoughts From Destiny’s Alpha

After playing Destiny’s Alpha, it’s fair to say I’ve been thinking about the game a lot. It really blew me away, what I was expecting was a small teaser of the game to give Sony yet another ‘exclusive’ to promote at E3, but what I got was much, much more.

The alpha itself only contained a very small segment of the game, but that was all that was needed. It didn’t try throw me into the story nor did it flood me with painful tutorials or tedious early game clichés, it let the experience of discovery speak for itself. I started my journey in a sense of curiosity and wonder, within the first half hour on the alpha I had learnt and discovered just a small portion of what I could do in Destiny, revelling in the fact that I could call my speeder bike at will or jump glide to slam enemies from above. I felt like it was my own story emerging, I wasn’t following a narrative, I was just able to learn, enjoy and adventure  in my own small piece of the universe.

As I embarked upon the creation of my third character (one of each class!) I had a friend visit, and we began discussing what could be done in this game. We were both very much enjoying our time with the title and decided that it would be something we’d love to play in a small group, even thinking of creating videos about the neat things we could find and the antics we’d get up to.

Sharing is the next big thing highlighted in the new consoles, but unfortunately that only lets you capture gameplay from one view on the console, that of the character you’re playing as. You can’t capture sweeping landscape shots, nor can you get the third person and additional shots of battle that you’d see in a movie, but the ability to capture these would vastly increase the quality of content created from this sort of game.

Character Customisation in Destiny

With a focus on individuality, from the design of armors, weapons and the general play style, Destiny allows you to make your own character to ‘be’ in this world. It takes more than just the one first person shot to both showcase that player and the rest of the diverse characters in the group you’re playing with. On top of this, the whole world is both persistent and full of events and randomly generated happenings, the ability to capture and showcase these spontaneous scenarios would be beyond beneficial to the developing culture of unique content creation through Youtube, Twitch and console sharing platforms.

This B-Roll footage from within Destiny really stoked my desire to see a theatre mode in game, containing a wealth of gorgeous footage of landscapes, battles and first person action.

From Halo 3 onwards, Bungie (and now 343’s installments) have all included a theatre mode, spawning a vast array of fan videos, montages and generally hilarious moments from multiplayer matches. While this game is a departure from the Halo series it still contains aspects from the franchise that made it so successful, and aspects that would lend themselves well to both narrative and moment to moment based features.

Red Vs Blue – A huge success for both Rooster Teeth and Bungie

Think about what Red Vs Blue did for Halo back when it began, it brought in a huge amount of viewers to both the show and the game itself, and has since grown into a huge fan phenomenon, with the show reaching twelve seasons thus far. No one could have picked the huge success this little web series would receive, and who knows what the next big series to take off will be.

While I’m sure a lot of players will want to just play the game by itself, either in single player or co-op, something like a theatre mode would really benefit the wider community of Destiny, a community that has already begun to generate fan art and fan videos. It would make it easier for players to start building and telling their own stories within the game, as well as generally sharing and promoting the title. Some may say Destiny is not the type for this storytelling, going beyond simple video recording from a console, but the same could be said for many a game. In the end, with the way the internet works, successful new creations can spring from just about any game out there.

Bungie, if you’re reading this, I’d love to see a theatre mode in Destiny, but I’d love even more to see what the community could do with such a tool to tell and create their own stories within this new and exciting universe your team has created.

Survival Horror Returns with The Evil Within

We go hands-on with two hours of the game

The survival horror genre has been in a bit of a weird place over the last couple of years.

Getting a glimpse of this old school genre in Dead Space, the sequels went for a more action oriented direction, leaving behind the slow paced nature of the genre in favour of bigger set pieces and an arsenal of weaponry.

Resident Evil saw itself follow the action route after Resident Evil 4, and as a result the fans haven’t been so forthcoming of the change. Creator of the Resident Evil series, Shinji Mikami – Formed Tango Gameworks in May of 2010, in hopes of returning to the roots of survival horror.

The studios first title The Evil Within, runs on a heavily modified version of the id Tech 5 engine that currently powers Wolfenstein: The New Order. It relies on t he staples of survival horror, from confined corridors, monsters that jump out at you around corners or burst through doors, scarce ammo in scenarios where you’re surrounded by half a dozen enemies and enemies that you seemingly cannot defeat.

Good old jawless enemy #2456

The Evil Within is at its best when it puts you in situations where you’re low on ammo and you need to strategically think how to approach and defeat the enemies ahead of you. Players won’t just find random ammo scattered on the floor, so they’ll have to rely on smashing open crates in hopes of finding a few measly bullets.

Carrying a pistol, shotgun, bow with interchangeable arrows with different effects, the odd grenade and a knife, Detective Sebastian Castellano has a few items at his disposal to ensure his survival. In a twisted and warped world where evil can be anywhere, and the entire landscape can change in an instant, players need to be on alert.

The Evil Within’s scares don’t come from the random enemies bursting through barricaded doors or monsters that look scary even though they’re present, they come from tense situations where the player is overwhelmed and must think fast, with environments completely changing where you’re in a dim light corridor with a river of blood flowing at you to realising the stairs you just walked down from aren’t exactly there anymore. Whilst these sections are scripted, they do present a nice change of pace and a good sense of claustrophobia.

Whilst the game almost predominantly features blood, there’s a large emphasis on fire within the game, as Sebastian carries around a limited number of matches, which means the only way to truly eliminate enemies with The Evil Within is to burn them whilst they’re still alive.

Whilst you can shoot them and blow their heads clean off, due to the builds early nature and hit detection being a bit off, this unfortunately wasn’t the best course of action to ensure safety. To save ammunition, players can melee creatures and shoot them once or twice in hopes of downing them, here you need to get it in quick, light a match and set them on fire, where they’ll disintegrate into dust.

Be careful though as even though Sebastian carries a knife and can pick up a dropped axe, these weapons only prolong death. They cannot be used to kill an enemy, after attacking an enemy with Sebastian’s knife 3 times, it became immune and proceeded to attack me even though I kept on slashing. This is where the The Evil Within begins with its problems, but we’ll get to that a little later.

Not really useful, when you can’t even kill enemies with it

The Evil Within does rely on a few set pieces to ramp up the tension in hopes of scaring players, various traps lay dormant within Chapter 8 and potentially the rest of the game world, but they only seem to activate when Sebastian triggers them, seemingly unavoidable. Whilst the trap in Ch 8 became tiresome after the first few times, the game’s main build of tension and stress comes from Ruvik.

The hooded figure that you’ve seen in almost all the games trailers, is in full force during both chapters.

As he seems to be the central character of the game, players unfortunately cannot kill him nor do any form of damage to him whatsoever. When he appears, it’s best to turn around the haul your ass in any possible direction. During Chapter 8 where Sebastian is in pursuit of two other characters who are unreachable behind a large bolted door, Sebastian must scour a mansion full of its own secrets and horrors, solving puzzles that include studying the human brain on live subjects whilst listening to recordings.

And the player does this all whilst eluding Ruvik, who materialises out of thin air.

With the ability to hide under beds or inside closets, players are warned of Ruvik’s approach when the lights dim and the screen turns a very dark blue hue. What they don’t know is where he’ll appear, as I found out the hard way after hiding in a closest, I found that Ruvik has the ability to randomly burst from within an enemy’s bodies, and if Ruvik touches you then its game over.

He’s got the “Touch of Death’, so expect to run when you see him, but be sure not to run too much as Sebastian’s stamina meter represents his lack of endurance. Sebastian has little to no stamina, crucial for when you run out of ammo and need to think quick. If you deplete Sebastian’s stamina, he’ll hunch over, breath heavily and compose himself for a few seconds, to which you have absolutely zero control of the character.

During the end sequence of Chapter 4, players will walk down a long brightly light corridor. At the end they’ll come up to a room where a pile of bodies lay on the floor. As scripted, a four armed creature will burst from the bodies, and reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s death in Nightmare on Elm Street, blood will spew in almost every direction. It’s here we encounter our first true horror and must run to safety or else, we’ll die. What will frustrate players about this sequence, is that they’ll easily exhaust Sebastian’s stamina and at times freak out because they’re about to die.

Yet when players reach the final act of this chase sequence, Sebastian miraculously gains unlimited stamina and you’re able to run right up to a closing door and slide under it, completely disregarding the fact that player’s have little no stamina for regular encounters.

You do NOT want to hold hands with that!
You do NOT want to hold hands with that!

Now seeing that the game has a new release date of October 23rd 2014, I can see why it was decided to push this game back, to not only focus on balancing the game but refine certain elements, which in their current state don’t work as well as I had hoped.

The game’s stealth mechanic is extremely hit and miss. In Chapter 8 after successfully entering a study on the mansions second floor, players come up against two enemies feasting on a dead body. Crouching and creeping up for a takedown, almost instantaneously, they’d stand up detect my presence and attack me. No amount of snail paced crouching could prevent this, meaning it’ was time to use up that precious ammo I searched for in every room before.

You can’t down enemies if you slash them with your knife and after a few hits they become immune and begin to attack you. With the pistol however, you can shoot an enemy in the stomach and they’ll most likely go down like a tonne of bricks for a few seconds. At times where you have no ammo but are maxed out with matches, it would be nice if the knife had some better use other than for takedowns.

If that’s not frustrating enough, The Evil Within seems to suffer from an excruciating camera that holds itself too close to Sebastian’s back. Unless I’m mistaken and this is for effect when opening doors and you cannot see what is around the corner, in tense situations or areas where you’re cornered, it’s quite hard to maneuver out of a tight spot due to the camera hugging you. The camera angle in most third person survival horror games is never an easy feat to achieve, so I hope that due to the push back in the game’s release we see an improvement in these areas.

The Evil Within in its current state isn’t necessarily a bad game, it’s got the staples of survival horror and it genuinely features some truly terrifying moments, but it is lacking a few crucial refinements that will hold it up there with the best. Fans of Shinji Mikami will eat this game up and love it, whilst others who aren’t as invested in the genre might find it just another game with mediocre gameplay and average scares.

If the two hours that I had the chance to play is any indication, The Evil Within has the potential to be a truly terrifying experience where playing with the lights off and the volume loud will send shivers down your spine.

Ruvik, not to be messed with
Ruvik, not to be messed with

Murdered: Soul Suspect Preview

Is this the ‘spiritual’ successor to L.A. Noire?

Recently, we were lucky enough to play the first hour of gameplay of Murdered: Soul Suspect, thanks to its Australian publishers, Bandai Namco Australia.

At first glance, it’s very easy to compare Murdered: Soul Suspect to something like L.A. Noire, with the puzzle-like crime solving, but it’s far more detailed and a lot more fun. It’s more than just playing a game with a noclip hack turned on, as it cuts a lot of the fat that L.A. Noire had, but adds a lot of elements that really fleshes out the game and brings the detective game genre back to life.

The game is set in Salem, Massachusetts, you play as Ronan O’Connor, once a young thug, now detective who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. You’re following a lead to track down a serial killer, only to be thrown out a second story window onto the street. You literally have an out of body experience, as you see your own body, lying there, unmoving. Attempting to take control over your own body, you are shot with your own gun by your suspect. 

Ronan’s then appears to enter the afterlife, where he is greeted by his former wife, who tells him that his job isn’t quite done in the real world though, as his spirit cannot move on, and it can’t quite cross the bridge to the other side due to some unfinished business, which happens to be solving your own murder.

Murdered Soul Suspect
It’s not very often that the main protagonist is killed in the first few minutes of the game. Where’s that !UP Mushroom when you need it

You now live in a spiritual limbo, called the ‘Dusk’, where you can see and hear those who are still amongst the living, but you have no real way of communicating with them. However, you can communicate with others in the Dusk, some will help you on your journey, others will be more interested in devouring what’s left of you.

“It’s more than just playing a game with a noclip hack turned on, as it cuts a lot of the fat that L.A. Noire had, but adds a lot of elements that really fleshes out the game and brings the detective game genre back to life.”

As Ronan, you now have to use your defective skills in the afterlife, possessing the bodies of those around you, either to influence them or search their mind for clues, peek to see what they’re looking at or to get closer and listen to what they have to say, all of which will help you get closer to solving your case.

Murdered Soul Suspect GIF 2
You might be dead, but now you’re in the Dusk, which isn’t a safe place to be.

But it’s not all about solving your own murder, you will come across other spirits trapped in the dusk looking for their own answers to their own unfortunate deaths. These side missions appear completely optional, however, they do add to a great level of gameplay and don’t feel at all tacked on.

You are able to discover clues in both the dusk and the real world, whether it’s an item left behind by someone, or a fragment of time that will let your relive a moment from another persons perspective, allowing you to fill in the blanks and moving on into the story.

Your environments while in the Dusk are full of clues to certain cases, some clues harder to find than others, as you will need to use all your new found skills to find them all. Not all clues are required to solve these cases, but for those ‘completionists’ out there, you certainly will be looking in every nook and cranny to find them all.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is scheduled to be released in June, 2014 and is set to be released on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

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.

Get ready The Stick of Truth is almost upon us!

Red Cross Australia Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 Preview

Become Dracula in Castlevania’s most impressive outing to date

Last week the Australian Red Cross, in collaboration with Mindscape, gave the media and general public an early taste of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2. This event aimed to educate gamers on the importance of donating blood whilst previewing the latest vampiric offerings from Mindscape.

This event was a great success, with pledges and blood donation happening during the evening. Awareness of important issues like blood donation in the specific demographic games like Castlevania aim for can always be improved, and this type of event was a really clever way to reach out. I have to thank both Mindscape and the Red Cross for allowing us to come and test out the game, and to commend them on the excellent event held. I really hope we start to see more events like this, focussing not just on amazing new games, but also on important topics within our society. You can read more about blood donation, and even donate on the Blood Service website.

Even Vampire donate blood
Even vampires donate blood

Now, onto Castlevania. During the event the first three hours were playable, taking us through the tutorial, prologue and then giving us a look at the modern-day missions and open world. In a great move for newcomers, the game introduces the core story for the series over the course of a long cutscene to bring players up to speed with the series, and as a person who hasn’t played a lot of the Castlevania games before this, I felt quite comfortable following the plot.

We first meet Dracula as the game opens in his throne room, sitting atop his throne with a chalice of blood. Before long he’s interrupted, the door shakes as it’s hit by an ornate battering ram over and over. The doors shatter and enemies start to pour in; Dracula’s castle is under siege, and our tutorial begins.

The combat is fairly simple but quite well put together. Using a series of light and heavy attacks, plus blocking and dodging, you can reliably knock down enemies health and sometimes even stun them to perform a gruesome finishing move. You soon become quite good at predicting the moves of the basic enemies, but the bigger enemies and bosses mix up the pattern quite nicely. You also gain two different special weapons for use in combat, the Void Sword, which allows you to absorb health from enemies upon hitting them and the Chaos Claws, which can be used to break through enemy defences and shields. These weapons add a nice sophistication to the combat, making you think about how and when to use your weapons.

The more you use your weapons and powers, the more they can be upgraded through ‘masteries’. You can also unlock more abilities and attacks by collecting experience orbs, broadening moves and attacks from the initially somewhat basic combat roster.

Just as you slide into the comfort of fighting basic enemies the game shows you its impressive set pieces, giving us a stunning view over Dracula’s castle under siege. For a moment you can take in the impressive gothic fantasy world that has been created here, before being attacked by a walking siege castle and a shining gold paladin, whose only aim is to kill Dracula.

The golden Paladin, a fierce early game enemy!
The golden Paladin, a fierce early game enemy!

The game has a great balance to it with its enemies and bosses. It’s not too hard, but hard enough to be a challenge. Enemies and bosses will kill you, but this is no Dark Souls; you won’t find yourself throwing a controller across the room because of them. Slight hints and tells balance out the un-blockable heavy hits, and used wisely, the Void Sword keeps you pretty well stocked on health.

Upon completion of the Prologue you are introduced to the modern-day world through a series of (overly long) cutscenes. Whilst the dialogue can get a little overdramatic, the story is intriguing and the voice acting is quite strong, lead by actors like Patrick Stewart and Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame). Regardless of length the lore cutscenes have a great visual style to them, playing out like the pages of a dark fantasy novel across the screen.

Even the in-game or cinematic cutscene have quite a dark feel to them. In one instance, after Dracula’s re-emergence to the modern-day, you are given a real weakness as a shrivelled and old vampire. Directly following this, the game hits the hardest that I saw in its first three hours. In a dark and quite disturbing way you’re forced to murder a family in order to feed to regain your youth and strength, which whilst fitting in with the tone of the game, I found overly brutal. It reminds the player that even though Dracula is the protagonist, he is in no way a ‘good’ guy.

Outside of combat you get an open world to explore in the modern-day, filled with mission based ‘dungeons’ of sorts. I was able to complete the first mission, to in

Gothic architecture and climbing make for some great scenes
Gothic architecture and climbing make for some great scenes

filtrate a science and technology company believed to be a front for the allies of Satan, paving the way for his return. You can smash all sorts of items that litter the area for experience and art unlocks, as well as keeping your eyes open for crystals to increase your health and magic. Lords of Shadow 2 has a very Darksiders feel to it outside of combat. You’ll climb and jump your way through levels whilst gaining powers (such as a crystal that lets you freeze and climb waterfalls), all the while solving basic puzzles to progress.

In the first three hours the game had no really hard puzzles, but almost all of them required a little thought at least. Adding to the puzzles is the drift between the present day and Dracula’s time. You’ll enter a stark modern passageway, or industrial service hatch and come out into a grand ballroom line with chandeliers and torches. It has a beautiful visual style that keeps things pretty exiting all the way through.

Castlevania also employs some stealth gameplay that works well in sections. You can possess rats and hide in the shadows to avoid enemies and traverse passageways unnoticed. Whilst these sections were fun, the game really shines in it’s cool combat and diverse enemy roster.

All in all I very much enjoyed my time with Lords of Shadow 2. With pretty fresh gameplay and an intriguing story it has all the hallmarks to be an exciting entry into the series, and I’m eagerly awaiting it’s release, February 27th, to play more of this game. Once again, a huge thanks to the guys at Mindscape and the Australian Red Cross for hosting the event and giving us a hands on preview of the title!

Conquering Dark Souls II Will Empower and Emasculate You All at Once

Block. Attack. Strafe. Repeat.

Roughly 4 weeks ago was when I purchased Dark Souls: Prepare to Die and whilst I had read up on the other players tales of despair and triumph, I was completely oblivious to just how deep you get thrown in. With a lack of any proper tutorial or introductory quest, I spent 6 hours struggling with various sections only occupied by a handful of enemies.

Suffice to say I felt like a broken man.

Stripped of my muscularity, I felt nauseous at the thought of spending another hour, brutally torn asunder by a measly grunt.

After putting a total of 7 hours into Dark Souls II at 2 separate hands-on sessions continuing where I had left off, I came back to Dark Souls, and the found the game to be much easier however still unpredictable to the careless voyager.

Block. Attack. Strafe. Repeat. Tiresome but crucial.

Dark Souls II is set in Drangleic and is indirectly linked to Dark Souls. It is only after an opening cut-scene, played out in the same fashion as Dark Souls, that players learn they are once again hollow and on a quest for pilgrimage.

Waking up in a shoulder high grassy field in the still of the night of Things Betwixt, players traverse to a small house in the distance which is occupied by 3 ladies and a housekeeper, Milibeth. Dressed in red robes, they welcome you and you begin your journey by giving you the ability to customise your character akin to it’s predecessor.

After you’ve chosen your class and look, you set forth into the savage world and are greeted by your first bonfire.

Back in December Yui Tanimura had an interview alongside Tomohiro Shibuya of FromSoftware with EDGE magazine where they stated:

“Right in the beginning when players first pick up the game is something that I will definitely focus on. To not immediately throw them into Dark Souls but provide a good introduction in terms of what the game’s about and how the game should be played. “Hopefully that adjustment at the very beginning of the game will help draw in players and get them addicted right away without immediately making players feel rejected [by] the game system itself.”

Various sections are blocked off by the white light, which in Dark Souls meant trouble. Players shouldn’t be afraid to enter the white light and practice as this area is blatantly an introduction into the games mechanics.

I strongly urge new players to not ignore this part as they will help you in the long hours to come you’ll spend in the Drangleic which is twice the size of Lordran.

When you’ve fully explored the surrounding area and acquired all the souls you can, the next area showcases the power of the new graphics engine. Exiting a dark cave, players subside on a downward cliff which over looks the ocean in the distance.

Majula, where you’ll spend most of your time

The warms rays of the sun, the swaying grass in the wind, birds flying in the distance, Majula is a place of peace and tranquility. It’s also the perfect moment for the game to showcase its new graphics engine.

It’s the games main hub for the player exactly like Firelink Shrine.

Players can buy new weapons from Maughlin the Armourer, they can reinforce or buy weapons from Blacksmith Lenigrast or much like Demon Souls, level up their character by speaking to the Emerald Herald.

As to not make things too easy of course, players will still need to explore the environment to find hidden secrets. Blacksmith Lenigrast isn’t available from the beginning of the game and you must figure out a way to help him gain access to his workshop.

Resting at bonfires will only replenish your Estus flasks to their current maximum quantity of one, so players need to find Estus Flask Shards to increase the quantity carried, Sublime Bone Dust to increase their healing factor and in the end speak to the Emerald Herald for these items to have any effect.

Lifestone gems can be bought or found, which when used will gradually heal players during combat. One benefit of carrying as many of these items as you can is that you’re able to use them whilst strafing enemy attacks. In an attempt to cheapen the fact that you’re defenseless when healing around enemies, I feel it’s a lovely addition.

It makes the game accessible but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier. You’ll still need to comply with the art of defending, parrying and rolling to come out victorious in battles.

There are a many other ways that Dark Souls II has become more accessible to new players, who wish to enjoy the game and they are evident throughout. Human Effigies replace Humanity and don’t have to be burned at bonfire’s to return to human form. There’s less time spent aimlessly traversing the environment figuring out which path will take you to the last bonfire and more time micromanaging your character, especially since now you can carry up to four different rings.

Rest my child for the journey ahead is a long one

Fast travel has also been introduced in Dark Souls II between bonfires that you find, which again makes the game accessible not easier. One complaint I’ve got with Dark Souls is that, if I’m to do anything in the game, I need to traverse high and low and get lost multiple times to get to a bonfire or even a specific section within an area I now have access to.

In a sense the introduction of fast travel was necessary, especially since the Emerald Herald is the most important character in the game world. It does however mean, players may be less inclined to explore the game world.

Part of this games charm is finding secrets and obtaining the lore of the world, through characters slumped against walls or staring out into the distance from balconies. Explore, and I assure you that you’ll be rewarded for your troubles.

With fast travel the same rules apply as they do when dying , so don’t think this is a system to abuse. Enemies will still respawn and you’ll need to do away with them every time you encounter them. In an effort to minimise players fast traveling between bonfires and farming for souls, enemies will stop spawning after they’ve been defeated a certain amount of times.

I’m not to sure how hardcore players will react to that, but farming to gain higher levels and easily defeat enemies cheapens the nature of the game.

I’m all for this new system.

Players will also notice that unlike Dark Souls when one dies they only become hollow, in this sequel they’ll also lose a portion of their health and slowly decay. It didn’t seem to have much effect on the overall structure of gameplay, but the fact that you’ll have less health means being a lot more careful.

Players will decay the more they die
Players will decay the more they die

Souls did seem easier to obtain during this build of the game and whether or not it was because it wasn’t final, I found myself obtaining enough souls to reach level 30 and I was carrying a good old club with four upgrades and doing away with enemies, no sweat.

Perhaps this was the fact that the game is double the size of it’s predecessor and it gets increasingly difficult the further you get, I don’t know. It may also be for the fact that if one kills an NPC, they can be revived by sacrificing a certain amount of souls at the tombstone where were killed.

What I do know, is that Dark Souls II is just as fun and frustrating.

Certain areas in the The Forest of the Fallen Giants pissed me off, as the game isn’t afraid to pit groups of enemies against you. If you’re not careful they’ll unleash a barrage of small attacks and kill you.

No matter how careful you think you may be, a small momentary lapse in judgement can result in tragedy.

It’s definitely a contributing factor into why this game is so addictive. That sense of accomplishment when you’ve successfully killed a boss with strategy or passed a section you couldn’t hours prior. Surpassing expectations and craftily defeating a new enemy resulting into the acquisition of a new set of armour or shield, definitely encourages players to continue playing.

Regardless of the lack of any coherent direct story, the game never seems to suffer, only the player seems to do. I saw other journalists who hadn’t played the previous game quit after 5 minutes, because they found it too hard.

I hate that.

This game isn’t to hard it has platformer sections where you’ll die from falling too far

Games over the last few years have lowered peoples expectations on how difficult a game must be. The ’30 seconds of fun’ rule applies to many and if a game can’t hold you attention with action in those bursts, it’s not worth your time.

Difficulty levels for various games even when on Hard still do not provide any type of difficulty and many when playing Dark Souls find it extremely difficult because it’s not a game you can just run around swinging you axe and killing everything in sight.

They’d rather give up and move onto something easier than accept the challenge. It’s why I love Dark Souls and why I feel Dark Souls II with all its improvements will definitely be a game to look out for this year.

When I had reached the end of the The Forest of the Fallen Giants and came up against this areas boss (Yes, the game doesn’t pit you against an Asylum Demon of any sort within the first minute) it wasn’t until 30 minutes of trial and error that I finally found a system that worked. I didn’t go back and farm enemies to obtain souls, as that would have only meant my attacks would have done more damage.

I still needed to read it’s attack patterns and successfully roll and escape the attacks. After I had achieved victory I continued forward and found myself hours later a good chunk into the game with no sense of ever stopping, until the preview sessions had finished.

Dark Souls II still retains core elements of the previous game, that sense of exploration and the anguish of dying around the next corner. Players aren’t strung along a bread-crumb trail to reach their next destination, they’re given hints at best.

It’s up to you to figure out where to go next.

Dark Souls II has multiple paths and only through death will one know which path is the right one. It’s a game that’ll punish those who are impatient and reward players with careful structure to their game plan.

Lightning Returns Final Fantasy XIII Preview

Thoughts on the latest Final Fantasy outing

At a recently held showcase hosted by Namco Bandai Australia, I had the chance to check out the next chapter of the Final Fantasy franchise, Lightning Returns. Whilst I haven’t played any of the Final Fantasy games since the series’ inception, I thought it was time to give the game a go and see if I would enjoy it despite being so late to introduce myself to the universe.

I was pleasantly surprised not only by the art direction of the game, but how accessible it was to myself, despite not having a clue about the back-story of either of the characters.

Battle 04_1389702499
Lightning has some flare to her

Lightning Returns is set in the beautiful Nova Chrysalia and takes place 500 years after the events that happened in XIII-2. It is in fact a direct continuation of XIII-2 and it seems many fans aren’t as happy about that as others. As Lightning is awoken by the god Bhunivelze, she learns shortly after the opening cutscene and level that there is a limited time to save the world from the Chaos, to be more precises a total of thirteen days.

During these thirteen days Lightning has, she may set out completing main and side objectives whilst at the same time collecting people’s souls. These souls can be collected by completing side objectives obtained from random NPCs around each of the game’s four regions.

As you collect more and more souls during your playthrough, every day at 6am you’ll be automatically transported back to The Ark; it is here these souls are relinquished in an effort to delay the thirteen day deadline, to give Lightning more time to save as many souls as possible.

The Ark acts as the game’s main hub for Lightning, you may talk to Hope (who is a returning character), as well as using it as good downtime to customize Lightning’s schemata with any recently acquired garb or items.

Your soul is mine!
Your soul is mine!

Schemata to my understanding is a like a class, but rather than having multiple to choose from and sticking to it, you have the ability to customise various aspects and make your own. From garbs, which are your outfit to weapons, attacks and magical abilities.

It is important that with each garb, you equip the right abilities and weapons, as combat in Lightning Returns has been termed the Style-Change Active Time Battle system. This means you can move anywhere within the allocated arena to fight your opponents.

Every enemy randomly appears during the open field and can be engaged or avoided. If engaged directly by attacking, battles will start with the enemy having reduced health.

Whilst 1v1 battles are tedious and boring, fighting multiples enemies requires some strategy and wit. These battles take full advantage of the combat system, and you begin to appreciate the effort you put into customisation your schemata after it.

Certain physical attacks when equipped do area-of-effect damage, which works well in these situations; however they drastically drain your ATB (Active Time Battle) gauge. Much like stamina, this gauge will exhaust if used excessively and needs to restore itself when not used.

Luckily you have three different garbs to seamlessly transition to in battles, so it’s not going to be tough. During my playthrough I felt that the combat in Lightning Returns reminded me of Dark Souls. This is mainly based on that you need to study the enemy attack patterns and counter when necessary, rather than go in guns blazing.

You can unleash a barrage of attacks and drain your ATB gauge, however carefully knowing an enemies movements and attacks may aid you in successfully finishing a battle with minimal damage taken. Just be smart when attacking as if you spam too much, you deplete all three gauges and you’re then left unable to attack until a meter has refueled itself with enough to attack again.

Custom schemata
Custom schemata

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the combat, I did feel as if the lack of any type of dodge or roll ability hindered my appreciation. Various enemy attacks did damage, even when my shield was up and a few random larger enemies would decimate Lightning due to the pure power they held. (Update: It seems the game DOES include a dodge/roll ability. It seems we missed this during our 4 hours play-through. Apologies)

I found myself unable to defeat any of these enemies due to the lack of a dodge ability. All I could do was block and hope my health would not be decimated. Strafing around the ring whilst holding your shield up is effective against many types of enemies, but against the harder ones you stand no chance.

I’m not sure how various new equipment would buff your defense up to negate the damage these attacks deal but at the start, I’d say it’s best to run from any large enemies you encounter.

Unless you want to spend a good 20 minutes or so chipping away at their health.

Access to the Libra during combat is crucial, as this is essentially a codex for every enemy you encounter which describes their weakness and strengths. Some enemies are vulnerable to water or fire, thus hitting them with the correct magical abilities dishes out more damage.

Lesser enemies you need not worry, but again for the bigger baddies strategy is key.

If during any moment in battle you find yourself stuck, an overclock ability is available to you as long as you’ve earned energy points. Overclock slows down everything around Lightning allowing her to release a flurry of attacks in a short period of time.

Overclock is best used when you’ve hit an enemy enough times with their weakness thus staggering them. This is a great window of opportunity as enemies will be vulnerable to any form of attacks and take increased damage.

Again, don’t be careless as you don’t get unlimited overclock’s in battles. I’m not sure the prerequisite to replenish the gauge, but don’t foolishly use it on random encounters.

Battling multiple enemies is quite fun
Battling multiple enemies is quite fun

I only managed to explore the city of Luxerion, whom the main inhabitants are The Order, those that worships Bhunivelze, and a cult, The Children of Etro, who worship the Goddess.

It’s a vast city with many hidden paths and some that don’t open up until certain times of the day.

Most of my hands-on time was spent aimlessly running around struggling to find the clues I needed to progress with the main quest, however I had no trouble completing most of the side quests with the help of my map.

There’s a lot of exploration to be done in Lightning Returns and a lot more dialogue to go through. It’s something that could put a lot of gamers new to the franchise off or those who never really delved into an RPG before.

These games hold a lot of dialogue which is not only crucial to character development but the plot as well, it’s best to never skip any at all.

My main gripe with Luxerion was not the running around with no sense of direction but how bland most of the characters and textures were. Lightning and her supporting cast have amazing models with great detail, yet walk up to a random passer-by and they don’t have the same treatment.

Neither do most of the buildings within Luxerion. In certain cutscenes I noticed walls would be a flat surface with fuzzy designs that were not easy on the eye. Whether it was due to the engine or the fact that the build wasn’t final, I just hope a little more care goes into these vast areas before it’s released next month.

Despite the negatives, Lightning Returns does have it’s merits for those still waiting for its release.

Whilst the setting and characters may not be my thing, there’s no denying that the game has great art direction and a lot to digest. For those who love spending hours diving into these types of games, Lightning Returns will fulfil that desire.

Further into the game, weapon models are amazing
Further into the game, weapon designs are amazing

World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition Preview


World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition Preview

Prepare for battle!

by Jayden Perry

World of Tanks has been a huge success for developers Wargaming.Net since it’s launch in 2011, making it’s eSports debut in 2012. Since then it has amassed quite the following, and will see an Xbox 360 launch in late 2013. It is currently in the Beta testing phase, which I was able to have a good go of to get a feel for the game. The game is free to play, but has paid components to it also, such as resources and consumables packs.

Upon loading up and updating the Beta client you are taken to your garage, the hub of the game. From here, you can buy and customise tanks (including purchasing items with real currency in the store), tweak your settings and jump right into a battle.

Welcome to the garage, your World of Tanks Hub.
Welcome to the garage, your World of Tanks Hub.

Continue reading World of Tanks Xbox 360 Edition Preview