Watch_Dogs (PC) Review

posted in: Games, Games Review | 0

Watch_Dogs has been a long anticipated game, ever since it’s incredible surprise reveal at E3 2012, 2 whole years ago, we’ve been dripfed only small amounts of information on it. Over those 2 years, dramatic changes were made, the graphics were downgraded, and the game was delayed multiple times, a trend we hopefully won’t see when ‘The Division’ eventually comes out (announced E3 2013).

watch_dogs 2014-05-26 21-35-56-60

Watch Dogs is a sandbox action game following hacker Aiden Pearce in a long and twisting tale filled with drama, troubled history, and plenty of murder. The story at it’s core is Aiden trying to find out the reasons behind the death of his niece, a probing which naturally escalates and escalates and gets hilariously out of control in a way which only sandbox videogames do, it’ll lead you around a fairly large map (supposedly 7 minutes drive end to end from what I hear) across around 4 islands, a mixture of high rise business, suburban city, industrial area, and countryside. To my surprise, I found myself quite heavily invested in the story, which is something that rarely happens, the characters are written well and Aiden as a character is quite easy to sympathize with (despite the hilarious amount of murder). I would find myself playing for a few hours at a time every time I started up the game, fueled mostly by the desire to see how the story plays out.

watch_dogs 2014-05-25 12-13-07-49

The main gameplay hooks that distinguish this game from others such as GTA or Sleeping Dogs is the hacking, a fact you probably already knew as it’s more or less all they have been marketing – and for good reason, the hacking system does a fantastic job of distinguishing watch dogs from its kin, even if the way’s in which it is used can start to become somewhat laborious towards the end of the games 15-20 hour campaign. Hacking can be used in a bunch of ways, the most common way is to use it to infiltrate camera systems, letting you get an advantage over guards (so you can sneak or kill easier). You can also use it during combat or driving to interact with the environment and allow you to escape pursuers or gain easy kills. There are also some hacking minigames used to gain entry to areas or to progress the story. It all sounds somewhat bland on paper but in practice it makes for some great gameplay, cutting off a swarm of police by raising a bridge as you jump over it while it ascends is an incredible feeling, triggering a blackout before sneaking or shooting your way through a room full of guards is even better. I should add also that the blackout hack is one of the coolest ‘weapons’ we’ve had in a videogame for a long time, even if it essentially acts like a cloak, the visual spectacle of a whole city shutting down around you is incredible.

Driving is pretty solid, the former being slightly slippery compared to similar games in genre however you will adapt eventually, bikes are still my go-to, as usual, a note however to PC users on keyboard, leave your mouse alone when driving, as touching the mouse will force a manual camera which often results in a headache.
Shooting feels good, with weapons having a significant amount of power to them – and a surprising amount of kick, expect to have to reposition your crosshairs after each shot or burst. Headshot detection is pretty solid, which is always a good thing for anything involving crosshairs. There felt like somewhat of a lack of weaponry, this is perhaps untrue in a theoretical sense, with the game having maybe 10 types of pistols, however there always seems to be 1 weapon best for the job, a fact not helped by a star rating system shown next to all of your guns – why would you ever consider using something rated 1 to 3 stars, when there are 4 and 5 star weapons available virtually from the start of the game? (via shop).

watch_dogs 2014-05-24 23-00-40-96

Mission variety is about the standard for a sandbox game, a mixture of infiltrations, assassinations, police escapes and escorts. There is one new type of mission, an escort where you aren’t around, essentially having to use the camera feeds and hacking to help an ally move around an environment without being spotted – it’s a novel concept, though not the most exciting, and in one of the two missions it is presented it results in an instant game over, which can be frustrating. Other than the campaign, there are a bunch of gang clearout missions, convoy disruption missions, races and so on, as well as CTOS tower sidequests which function similar to the lookout towers in assassins creed. Completion of the sidequests and collectibles is awarded with an extra mission which is tied to that collectible/quest, which is a neat feature and nice incentive for replay value.

Graphically the game is pretty, maybe not quite as next gen as we would have hoped going by the initial reveal footage. but personally I think the game looks great, and runs surprisingly well, I did however have some issues with framerate consistency – where the game would stutter despite being at 60 frames, this issue was mostly fixed by restarting the game every hour or two. The lighting in this game is top notch, with some great lighting effects which react to the environment appropriately, the darks are dark and lit areas are properly lit, which sounds like a no brainer but really makes a huge difference in building an atmosphere – especially when you can turn of all the lights at will by hacking. The game also does some interesting ‘tricks’ on occasion which were kind of neat, though annoying at the same time as I kept on thinking my graphics card was on its way out (turns out, i was just being hacked…)
The sound effects and sound engine are good, and the music that stirs up during story events fits pretty nicely. I however wasn’t a fan of any of the ingame radio tracks, which were all a little too in my face for personal preference – I spent most of my driving trips with the radio off.

It’s worth noting also that Ubisoft have done a fantastic job at making a living city, civilians are plentiful which really helps make the city feel real. They also have their own little schedules, they talk to each other, they rap in the alleyways, they line up to use the ATM, they panic when they have a car crash (after you fiddle the traffic lights of course) and scream appropriately when you pull out a gun or try to run them over. It’s a minor thing also but I absolutely love sandbox games that have a working train system – you can board at a platform and ride inside the train to your destination, and that to me is magical, particularly when you see the graphics engine doing its thing with bloom.

I don’t think I had any major issues with the game, aside from a few technical ones. There are a few segments where the checkpointing could be more forgiving and less annoying, for example checkpointing just before a scripted scene which is unskippable is annoying. Probably the biggest annoyance I had with the game was with the police helicopters – a ridiculously powerful force that comes with a police sniper and is very hard to evade, the sniper will shoot your car periodically, or cut the middle man out and just shoot you every few seconds that you don’t have a roof over your head. The game does provide a ‘disable helicopter’ hack, however for some retarded reason it is impossible to position the camera in a way to actually target the damn thing – if the chopper is directly overhead, you are basically screwed. As a beside, it feels like many of the extra sidequesty sort of missions aren’t actually that satisfying to complete, and outside of the gang hideout sidequest line, it feels like there isn’t much opportunity to find some enemies to kill if you want to do so after completing the campaign, a ‘replay campaign mission’ feature also seems to be missing. Another odd thing is there is no way to shoot out from your car or bike while driving, perhaps this is a deliberate choice to emphasize Aidens profession as a hacker rather than soldier, but given he can wield a sniper rifle or LMG just fine, it seems odd he can’t poke out the window and shoot at cars.

I was unable to partake in the multiplayer stuff, but the small glimpse that the campaign provided into the multiplayer world made me upset, as it looked really cool, I would love to try invading a players game at some point and out-hacking another player on the streets of chicago.

watch_dogs 2014-05-27 10-43-16-23
I feel it’s important to remember that this is a brand new IP, a brave proposition in todays AAA gaming market, where shares and profit tend to take centre stage over innovation. Sure it maybe isn’t as fleshed out as similar games, or the long running GTA series or AC series, but then it hasn’t had 7 games to refine itself yet. There is a ton of things I would have loved to see in – the ability to take to the skies, a customizable base/cars/weapons, more things to spend my money on and so on, but we can hope these will make it into future games in the series.

 

Verdict:

Watch_dogs for me at least, lives up to the hype. A fun game with an engaging if somewhat cliche story, a ton of good shootout scenes and some truly stressful police chases.

Approximate Game Length : 15-20 Hours campaign
Actual Worth / Online Price: £25 / £35 = 0.714
Should you play it : Yes, probably the best sandbox game on PC since sleeping dogs

Rating: 4.5/5

[kad_youtube url=”http://youtu.be/qWStNsbAYvM” maxwidth=800 ] ^vid of me being super good at the game.

 

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC) Review

posted in: Games, Games Review | 0

Wolfenstein: The New Order is an FPS by Machinegames, set in an alternate reality where the Nazis won the second world war. You play as Blazkowicz (who may also be referred to as the rather unfortunate ‘B.J’) and guide him on his mission to kill all of the nazis on his own.

wolfen

 

The new Wolfenstein can best be described as a new retro shooter, in the broadest of terms, it is a game which tries to take the good parts from new shooters while trying its best to incorporate it into a retro shooter fashion – the end result is a game which almost comes across as a weird kind of homage to itself, and it manages to do so while maintaining a serious face. I don’t think ive ever seen a story about 1 man killing thousands of nazi’s be told so seriously before, incorporating surprising amounts of drama, character development and surprises, this isn’t a bad thing at all, but it’s just surprising to see them not go down a more comedic parody style route with it.

Surprising amount of drama for a brainless linear FPS
Surprising amount of drama for a brainless linear FPS

At its core, Wolfenstein TNO is a linear shooter, with some elements of occasional stealth. it is possible to skip enemies or small segments of the level at a time if you are able to sneak through properly, at worst it’s an easy way to take out a few enemies before starting up the fight guns blazing. These brief moments of stealth – along with some small breather periods and story segments – are a great way of breaking up the otherwise monotonous gunplay. For the most part however, you’ll be walking along to the next objective, and shooting everything in your path. it’s a good thing then that shooting is pretty satisfying, with weapons having sufficient power to take down most grunts in a few shots, or a single one to the face, the armored enemies are a little more obnoxious and slow down the pace of the game slightly, but perhaps this was just because I was on hard mode. I was slightly disappointed at the lack of weapon choice, with only the basic subtypes represented, though to their credit, each of the weapons did fill their niche well. Gunfight areas were pretty designed in most areas – a mix of tight corridors and corners and then more open segments which allow the player a little more freedom of which way to approach the encounter.

WolfNewOrder_x64 2014-05-23 18-40-08-57

I mentioned earlier a fusion of new and old FPS, some examples of this would be the health and armor systems, which are old school style instantaneous pickups (the game does let you regen to 20, or the nearest multiple of 10 after a few seconds however, preventing unwinnable scenarios), the presence of ‘overheal’ as a feature is also hilariously retro. Another mechanic is the weapon system and accuracy of these weapons, you can hold your entire arsenal at once, and dual wield almost all of the guns at no penalty, guns shoot fairly true even without ADS, meaning akimbo assault rifles or shotguns can be (and often is) the best choice for most of your battles. On the flip, the game features a perks system which unlocks based on fulfilling critera, these perks provide small boosts like magazine size or max holding capacities.

Graphically the game is very nice, with ID tech 5 doing a fantastic job of keeping the framerate at a smooth 60, though sometimes not being quite fast enough to stream in textures if I turn around too fast. I played through on medium-high settings and had no issues with framerate even on an older PC, the game still looked fantastic in my opinion, with plenty of fancy graphical effects, and one of the more impressive depth of field effects i’ve seen in a video game. Sound and music is also pretty well done, with weapons having a good sound to them and the engine rendering sfx, echoes and chatter well for my 5.1 setup, music mostly being low-key but noticeable, aside from towards the end of the game where it goes a bit max payne 3 finale and becomes more prominent.

I did have a few complaints with the game, the subtitles option seemed to be weird, I set it to only show during foreign chatter, yet 2 english characters could be speaking and it would only display subtitles for one of them. Enemy AI is thick as mud and rarely try to use any real tactics other than hiding behind a piece of debris and popping out every 4 seconds, they did flank me a few times, but these were few and far between. My largest complaint is the lack of any auto item pickup, resulting in the player having to mash E to pick up ammo, health and armor – ammo in particular can be dropped in quantities as small as 5 bullets which mean you often are forced into sprinting around the last battlefield graveyard spamming E to pick up all of the drops before being allowed to move on, it sounds like nitpicking, but when my stats say I picked up 1500+ items during the course of the game, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my keyboard.

The game is on the longer side for a linear FPS, averaging maybe 8 or 9 hours for a playthrough. The game also boasts multiple timelines, without going into specifics, these two timelines feature different characters which provide their own skills and dialogue, changing up the layout of levels slightly as well as altering the story a little. It’s a little odd they decided to include no multiplayer at all, other than the other timeline playthrough and some collectibles, there isn’t a whole lot to bring you back.

WolfNewOrder_x64 2014-05-23 21-56-28-44

Verdict:

Wolfenstein: The New Order was better than I expected, it manages to capture the feel of the FPS games of old without sacrificing new improvements the genre has introduced. Even with its surprisingly long singleplayer, the gunplay is satisfying enough to help players see the game through.

Approximate Game Length : ~8.5 Hours main story
Actual Worth / Steam Price: £15 / £35 = 0.42
Should you play itFor genre fans, those who enjoy FPS games will find a refreshing change of pace from todays slew of modern military shooters. While those who dislike the genre can safely skip this one safe in the knowledge that it does nothing groundbreaking.

Rating: 4/5

MCM Expo 2014

posted in: blog | 0

A sort of standard day of MCM this year, they did change the layout and seem to make it generally less accessible than last time though. The previous times ive gone, you just walk inside and purchase a ticket, this year however it seems they had changed the setup and now you had to queue around 2 hours to get a ticket for entry (£12).

As such, kind of arrived there and just walked around outside and looked at all the cosplay (and there was LOTS of it), met up with some university friends, had a chat, stared at all the people..

Eventually, rain happened, like, crazy rain, as a result, the entire line for the queue had disappeared, and everyone outside with wristbands rapidly went back inside – a chance opportunity for scum like myself to sneak their way in, and so I did. Even though it was cramped as shit inside, still some interesting stuff to see inside. I didn’t get a chance to try Evolve sadly, the queue for that was too long. I did however pick up another lock knife (as is MCM tradition now) and a helix fossil keychain, so i can praise lord helix wherever I go.

Transistor (PC) Review

posted in: Games, Games Review | 0

Transistor is the latest game from the decidedly not so one-hit-wonder studio ‘Supergiant Games’, a short action adventure game with incredible soundtrack and art style, and an interesting isometric perspective.

tranz

Transistor attempts to tell the story of ‘Red’ a singer who has come into posession of the Transistor, a sort of half sword half microchip device which is capable of manipulating the world around it, the game is essentially a completely linear pathway interspersed with set battles with ‘the process’, the game lingo for enemies, this description on it’s own probably isn’t selling the game very well, and it is fact that you literally fight-walk-fight-walk over and over until you beat the game, and yet when both the walking and the fighting is done so well, you’ll find little to actually complain about while playing.

The linear path you walk is a beautifully crafted world brought to life by some amazing art direction and more subtle graphical effects which put many larger studios to shame, the whole game is backed by a great soundtrack which while not immediately recognizable or memorable, serves very well to fill in the quiet and immerse you into the game’s world.

trans5

Transistor’s story unfolds primarily through the transistor itself – which houses a soul, the transistor behaves similarly to the narrator in Bastion, almost constantly chattering away about the environment, the story, your actions or otherwise, it is, I suppose, their tried and tested formula, and again similar to Bastion, it works very well here. For the most part, the story in the game isn’t actually told very well (in my opinion), players will be expected to put in some effort of their own to listen to the audio logs and messages left for you in the world, and even then you may find yourself having to fill in the blanks on your own.

trans1

As mentioned earlier, combat is the other major component of the game, your path constantly being barred by set encounters and enemy layouts. This set encounter system has a few benefits to the developer, being able to properly design each fight almost like an arena battle for one, as well as setting the pacing for leveling and difficulty in the game. Beating a fight provides XP and subsequently levels, these levels however do not affect your character in a convention RPG sense but rather provides a choice of new skills and perks, these skills are impressively deep and so each level is akin to gaining a whole new power, a comparison perhaps understating how much of a new experience a single skill can provide.

Before I elaborate on that, let me talk about the fight system – an interesting mix between active hack and slash (where you can attack and use skills similar to in Bastion), and command based fighting. Hitting a button will freeze time and allow you to move and queue skills on enemies, hitting the button again will unfreeze time and cause your Red to speed around the battlefield executing all the commands before becoming fatigued and needing to recharge (where you can only move and no longer use skills). It’s a novel system which I disliked at the start of the game but came to appreciate towards the end of my playthrough, it allows the player to switch between action and carefully planned actions at the press of a button, and allows the game to also introduce concepts like stagger, backstabs and collateral (line AoE) attacks which further add depth to the fighting. As a side note, the battles in the game can be fairly hard, particularly at the start of the game when you are still working out the combat system, this is offset by it being hard to fully die, being reduced to 0 health will throw you into command mode, and being hit while at 0 health and command mode on cooldown will make you temporarily lose one of your skills (making for an effective 3 lives before a game over screen, which will throw you right back at the last checkpoint anyway.). If you do want to give yourself a harder time, the game also has the halo style skulls system which will trade extra XP for harder enemies or conditions.

Right, now that’s out of the way, the skill system – You get 4 passive slots, 4 active slots, 2 augment slots per active slot and then a ‘memory limit’ which essentially acts as your equip power limiter. Each skill then has different effects depending on what type of slot it’s put into, for example, lets take the cluster bomb skill: on it’s own it will shoot cluster bombs, but augment it onto the ‘summon friend’ skill and it’ll make 2 smaller allies instead of the one big one you normally get, if you fancy it as a passive skill instead, you will now make decoy clones when you get hit. It’s this depth to the skill system and relatively large skill pool that allows the combat in transistor to remain fresh through the game, and into new game+.

trans12

That last point brings us nicely into my primary complaint about the game, it’s depressingly short, running at a mere 4 hours for first playthrough. I can appreicate a game trying not to overstay it’s welcome, but I feel like Transistor could have been longer without having to rely on new game+ to satisfy. It also seems very strange that the game isn’t long enough in one playthrough to even allow you to level up to anywhere near max level, and following on from this, if the game is designed to be played through at least twice, why can I not skip cutscenes on my second playthrough?

Sidenote: I didn’t really care much for the PC control scheme, the game was definitely designed with a gamepad in mind.

Verdict:

Transistor is a joy to play, and has a surprisingly deep combat system. It’s primary shortcomings are in it’s length and overly linear game design.

Approximate Game Length : ~4 Hours main story
Actual Worth / Online Price: £8 / £15 = 0.533
Should you play it : Yes, especially if you enjoyed Bastion

Rating: 4/5

trans11

Life – May 2014

posted in: blog | 0

Website

Hope y’all like it, it’s very slightly more minimalistic than I had in mind, and try as I might, couldn’t really think up a good logo/emblem thing, but I think the banner looks pretty clean. Instead of heavily editing the default wordpress theme like I did for V4 (aka. a LOT of css editing) i’m using the Virtue theme this time, it required a fair bit of work to get it to look how I wanted it, sure. But in general it was pretty easy and fast to get going. The layout isn’t exactly what I wanted, but beggars can’t be choosers, and the alternative is to learn how to make a theme from scratch, so i’ll deal with it.

 

Games

Suddenly, ALL the games are out or coming out, and i’m sitting here stuck at work (literally, im typing this at work from a British Gas office). Child of light is on my laptop at home, but other than that, wolfenstein came out yesterday, theres also supergiant’s Transistor being released later today, and then watch dogs is at the end of this week I believe. It’s a nice change from the massive drought of games we had over winter/spring, but at the same time, Dynasty Warriors 8 XL was released on PC the past week as well, and i’ll be honest, all I really want to do is just play that (slaughtering one mirrion troops at hulao gate never gets old)

 

Other Life

Went up to Warwick for a friend’s housewarming party on the weekend, was pretty nice, and I’m sort of jealous that I don’t have a job good enough to actually afford to get my own place – not only that, but given my current work schedule i’d hardly spend any time in the house anyway. I really can’t wait to get somewhere of my own, just so that I can decorate it exactly the way I want.
The party itself was fairly neato, just a small gettogether with university friends, we drank lots and played cards against humanity, the Icelandic Schnaps I bought turned out to be fairly vile, like a mix between vodka and sambuca or something, grim.

 

Next Holiday

Turns out it’s not going to be Thailand as I thought, though that’s still on the calendar, penned in for early July. Nope, in 3 weeks or so I will be off to Tallinn, Estonia for a few days to meet up with old internet accomplice l-fel. I originally spent some excess annual leave to book the days off for e3, but after recently cleaning up the travel page on my blog I got a real urge to just do something spontaneous and get out there and see more of the world. This kind of got the cogs turning and I got the idea to go and watch E3 at l-fels house, and at the same time see what Tallinn has to offer. It wouldn’t be a bizarre adventure if I stayed at home and just went to work every day right?
So yeah, it’ll be just 3 nights, and probably significantly less eventful than other full fledged holidays I’ve been on, but at the same time, im almost not looking at it as a holiday and more of a just ‘meeting an old friend’ kind of trip. Regardless, i’m excited but slightly scared too.

 

Work

More on this when it happens, but the British Gas windows 7 upgrade project seems to be coming to a close, there is only 2 weeks of deployment and support left, and then we’ll be moved on to other projects. Some of my colleagues are moving onto a government project replacing a few tens of thousands of computer units, it looks like i’ll be on the Boots (a pharmacist) windows 7 project though, upgrading about 10-15 computers at night after the shops have closed.

 

Home

Seem to have gotten much closer with my brother recently, a good sign perhaps that he is finally starting to leave the teen angst phase of his life, where everyone is out to get him etc. It’s nice that he can take a joke now, and I feel like many things recently have helped us bond and spend time together, korean TV show Running Man, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, and games like Dynasty Warriors have helped us get back to where we once were

 

v5 is in the pipeline

posted in: meta | 0

Approximately 1 year since V4, and i’ll be honest, im not really digging the green as much anymore.

Minor also, but i generally tend to not ever update until I switch versions, because I am terrified of everything breaking, so im about 20 versions behind whatever is the current version of wordpress.

Aims/Goals for V5 Site redesign
– allow more horizontal space in post body for photography
– Widen the website design in general, current website is designed with a width of 1040px, the current average resolution has increased to 1366×768 (even though it’s very likely that my average viewer is using something much higher given the content is primarily aimed at gamers)
– return to my ‘roots’ with a blue theme
– establish a more professional, grown up look
– try to make a logo

So far it’s looking like grey, blue, lightblue but we will see. I’ve never really been a massive fan of websites that are too white, purely on the basis that they hurt to look at for too long. If anyone has any good wordpress themes they think I might be interested in, do link.

Hopefully I can get it all done and ready before I go on my next bizarre adventure to thailand at the end of June.

Dark Souls 2 (PC) Review

posted in: Games, Games Review | 1

Sometimes in life, you come across a game that infuriates you, yet for some reason, against your better judgement, you can’t stop playing. Sometimes it’s for the achievement (Ninja Gaiden 2), sometimes its for the small moments of glory (League of Legends), and sometimes because you want to see what all the fuss is about.

DarkSoulsII 2014-05-04 21-37-48-19

Dark Souls 2 fits nicely into that last category, I installed Dark Souls (1) ages ago, but it’s clunky control system, dark boring castle interiors and bullshit boss encounters got the better of me, and so I abandoned the game after maybe an hour or so of playing.
Dark Souls 2 came around a few weeks ago, and once again, against my better judgement, I thought I would install it and see what the big deal is, after all, any series that reaches its 3rd installment must be doing something right.

DarkSoulsII 2014-05-04 20-45-10-88

My initial impressions of the game were awful, after stumbling out of the tutorial area, I had managed to find my way to my first dungeon, for anyone who has played the game, the first area I found was Heide’s tower of flame, an area filled with 15ft giants who are able to kill you in 2 hits – and a major step up from the humanoid bandit enemies I was supposed to be fighting in another area. The frustration was overwhelming, these were enemies that were not unkillable, but so unfairly hard that it was somewhat akin to trying to complete the street fighter ‘punch the car’ bonus stage, only the car is allowed to move around and punch you back.

Eventually, after an hour or so of trying out different classes (to see if it was my class choice that had made the game so ungodly unfair) I finally found the forest of giants, the first area of the game that the player should visit, and from there the game became more manageable. As it turns out, Dark Souls 2 is significantly more of an RPG than I had been informed of, a land where skill is not the major factor, but gear and player levels, once I had figured this out, the deaths started becoming less frequent, and the souls started racking up.

DarkSoulsII 2014-05-05 16-28-37-91

A few long play sessions later, and I understand the appeal of Dark Souls, it’s the tension and progression. The tension comes from the fact that just about any enemy in the game can kill you given enough time, even 25 hours in, if I were to get swarmed by enemies in the first area, there is a possibility of death. Dark Souls is not a game where you level up and then zone out and farm enemies, this is a game where you pay attention or find yourself staring at the game over screen, this tension gives the game it’s life, the long spacing between checkpoints serving both as an achievement, and to give emphasis to the player’s life – it’s only when death means having to replay 10 minutes of content, that you start to truly care for your character’s wellbeing.
The progression appeal is a little simpler to understand, but still ties into the tension aspect, every bonfire checkpoint is an achievement, every killing blow on a boss is a sigh of relief. These moments of glory amongst the slow well thought out enemy dueling has given the game it’s life, and it’s almost surprising if you consider that these moments are almost exactly the same ones used in the 8 and 16bit era – kill enemies, progress through area, fight boss.

DarkSoulsII 2014-05-06 12-02-05-26

Other than these key elements, Dark Souls 2 is able to do a lot of things right in terms of game mechanics, some of the things I liked:
– Path / exploration freedom, the fact you can technically skip entire areas if you want, as well as the option to choose which path you want to tackle next
– You can kill all the NPC’s (I haven’t, but i could…)
– Lots of weapon choices, even if most of them suck and can barely be swung.
– The ability to spec your character out however you want
– Clever vendor / NPC unlock system which is tied in to the story
– Good variety of areas and bosses

The game is not without it’s downsides of course, for every good moment, there are undoubtedly 3 times you swore at the screen. Here is a list of things which pissed me off:
– Some enemies have gigantic mismatched hitboxes (meaning you get hit even when standing behind them)
– Hitstun as a mechanic is the most obnoxious and irritating thing ever created
– prominence of one hit kill attacks
– way too many instant kill pitfall traps
– the button for jump is L3, who thought that was a good idea?
– Some areas feel designed to make you angry (iron keep)
– Some enemies kill you before you have a chance to do anything
Note however that many of these things are mechanics which I just disagree with, but are probably essential to dark souls as a whole. I personally hate the stamina system, and think hitstun is worse than hitler, but these two aspects are arguably what seperates the game from others in the genre. (I still don’t have to like it though.)

DarkSoulsII 2014-05-06 16-32-23-36

Of special note in the game, DS2 has practically no guidance, almost never in the game will they spell out what you are supposed to be doing. This has its perks and weaknesses, for example, it feels great to progress through to different areas and play through the game without being told to do so. On the flip side, it took me 30 hours to work out how certain mechanics of the game actually work, and there are other segments which require an unfair amount of information that you would probably never figure out on your own..

Graphics and audio on PC are pretty good, while not the most pretty game in the world, Dark Souls 2 has some good lighting effects and does depth of field effects pretty well, my only complaint is many of the areas can look a little barren with just a big texture applied over the lot.
Audio is minimalistic but fairly high quality, useful as you may find yourself hearing enemies through doors or walls, as an interesting side note, your character will still produce a ‘shanking’ noise when you punch an enemy to death, knife hand technique or something idk.

Controls on keyboard are kind of sketchy, admittedly I just plugged in a 360 controller for an ‘authentic’ experience (though at 60 frames per second eheheh). On that note, the PC port of DS2 is good, with a wealth of video options that can be changed, and support for 1080p as default (no idea about higher), it runs at a pretty constant 60fps on my aging gaming PC. It is also surprisingly stable, with 0 crashes or glitches happening over my entire playthrough, something or a rarity.

DarkSoulsII 2014-05-11 12-46-31-32

Verdict:

Dark Souls 2 is a 16bit era Action RPG game, brought forward to the modern age, complete with a brutal difficulty and lack of any guidance. While Dark souls 2 won’t be for everybody, underneath the clunky animation and archaic japanese game design lies a game which is fun to explore and unravel.

Approximate Game Length :  30 Hours to finish game, unlocks new game+
Actual Worth / Online Price:  £23 / £23 = 1
Should you play it : Yes, but be prepared for fury. I have literally never been more angry at a game in my entire life.

Rating: 4/5

Sidenote: 116 deaths in my playthrough.

Ps. Don’t pull the switch. Just don’t.

Iceland 2014 – Travel Tips

posted in: holiday, Iceland 2014 | 0

A few tips and recommendations based on my short time in Iceland:

– Take the Golden Circle Tour, it’s an established route for good reason, with some fantastic views and photo opportunities

– The IcelandExcursions tour/travel company (AKA Gray Line) proved themselves reliable during our stay, we used them 4 or 5 times over 6 days and they always left in good time, and provided additional transfers back to our hotel, even though it was further than the other passengers.

– Selandjafoss and Skogafoss waterfalls on the south side are fantastic, but check the weather if you plan on going as far as Vik and Dyrhólaey, high tide and high wind will make your trip worthless as it blocks off access to areas, unless you fancy wading through the ocean that is.

– You can get away with not changing any currency to ISK, almost all shops have a card reader and accept card, even the hot dog stand. Feel free to use your card to pay for that single cup of coffee, you may need to as currency exchange shops are hidden away if they exist at all.

– Don’t get ill, I have no idea where Iceland is hiding it’s medicines, but I went looking for cold and sore throat medicine in a multitude of small and large supermarkets but couldn’t find anything. It may be worth packing a box of paracetamol and box of cold/flu medicine just in case.

– Beware Liquorice in disguise, especially chocolate. Many of sweets are packaged without pictures, check the ingredients if in doubt, do not let nuts on the surface fool you.

– Be prepared to spend a lot on food, the average dinner meal will probably set you back £20, with a lunch of soup and bread averaging in at around £8-12

– Water is served in all restaurants, free. Similarly, tap water is supposedly very clean in Iceland, so don’t be afraid to pick up a cup in your hotel.

– If staying in Reykjavik, pay attention to the church at the top of the hill, it can be seen from most places around the city, and is useful in estimating your location in the city.

– Bring a unique/bright towel to the Blue Lagoon, or don’t bother. I took a plain blue one there, and ended up bringing a strangers towel back home.

– Photographers should keep a small absorbent towel (I used paper towel) as well as their usual lens cleaning cloth. Your camera WILL get wet if you venture anywhere near the waterfalls, as long as you aren’t there for too long the camera itself will be fine, but wiping down your lens between shots will be required.

– Similarly, Photographers will probably want to bring stabilizing equipment if you want to shoot at night or do long exposures on waterfalls, the latter you can get away with doing by hand if you have something to lean against, but anything longer than 1/8 is going to blur without a tripod or equivalent.

– Hiking/climbing shoes are overrated unless you are doing some serious adventuring. I’m not saying your high heels are fine, but trainers and the like will be adequate, they may get a little muddy though depending on time of year. (If you are going when it’s snowing, this advice is probably irrelevant to you)

– Hiring a car is very useful, sights are prettier with less people cluttering about taking pictures and will let you get some better pictures of your own. When we took this picture there were maybe only 8 other people in the area, and would likely be an impossible feat with a tour group. It goes without saying also that you can spend as long or as little time as you want in a spot without worry of your bus leaving. As an added bonus, you now have storage space and don’t have to worry about people stealing it – great for carrying your hiking boots, tripods, liquorice filled chocolate bars, etc.

– Go to sjávargrillið near the rocket church on the hill, their 4 course meal is a fantastic offering at a reasonable price (for a fancy meal), it also includes small portions of puffin and minke whale.

– Following on from that last point, DO NOT BUY A WHALE STEAK MAIN unless you are sure you like it already, the small strips of meat we were served at the seafood grill meant we could at least sample it without fully committing, I would hate to see someone spend £20 on a whale steak only to find out they don’t like it.

– The famous hot dog stand probably has the cheapest fizzy drinks in Reykjavik, also hot dogs.

Iceland 2014 – Day 6 – Rocket church, graduation and departure

posted in: holiday, Iceland 2014 | 0

Our final day in Iceland saw us check out from the hotel fairly early, we had a shuttle bus booked in for 12:30 to take us to the airport so we only really had a few hours in the morning to do some final sightseeing, yet a few hours is all we really needed to finish up the remains of the Icelandic capital.

20140427-IMG_0551

We set off once again for the church, which we had already taken upon ourselves to nickname ‘the Rocket church’, on account of the fact that it looks like a rocket. Yeah.
It was open today, so we had a little look inside, we had arrived just in time for a choir performance, their voices echoed through the church while I was snapping pictures, it was very serene and calming.
As we turned to leave, the choir left, and in their stead was a man to play the gigantic pipe organ situated at the back of the church, we stuck around to listen and marvel at it for a little while, this huge organ had 4 layers of keys, a few dozen knobs and a whole piano of footpedals at the bottom, it was genuinely impressive to see him able to play it at all.

20140502-IMG_1309 20140502-IMG_1319

Exiting the church, we saw a small pack of teenage girls dressed in parrot outfits, odd. We had seen some guys in dinosaur costumes earlier but didn’t quite understand what exactly it was we were looking at yet, I kind of hoped it would turn into some sort of dinosaurs VS parrots flashmob pillowfight or something but the truth wasn’t quite as cool – though still impressive. Someone must have mentioned something as I brought up my camera, as they started yelling and waving as I began to take some pictures of them.

20140502-IMG_1328

We walked around the town for a little while longer, then eventually started heading back to the hotel.
Iceland seems to be home to a fair amount of graffiti, the majority of it, trash tier scribbles, but every now and then you come across some really impressive, huge works of art, reminiscent of the beautifully crafted murals found in Jet Set Radio, being the final day, and short on content, here are a few of some of the more interesting walls I saw…

20140501-IMG_1263 20140501-IMG_1264 20140501-IMG_1269 20140501-IMG_1270

Along the path back ‘home’, some loud dance music could be heard over in the next street, intrigued we took a peek, only to find out why there were packs of parrots and dinosaurs walking around the city this morning. A massive schoolyard filled with teens dressed in different costumes, it is their graduation day. They take turns going up in their groups, performing a dance routine and then saying a few words before cheering, high-5ing each other and then swapping for another group, where the cycle repeats. It was really interesting to see something like this, just because I personally don’t think i’ve seen anything as odd in the UK, especially for a school leaving thing.


That pretty much makes up the last of the holiday, the rest of it was coach rides, sitting around in the airport, sitting on a plane, and then sitting on the motorway… Where I got to find out that my PC had shit itself while I was away, and lost a whole bunch of settings for some odd reason… at least it still turns on I guess.

I had a fantastic time in Iceland, took some 700 photos over 5 and a bit days, and felt like I really got to see a different country. Many of the places I visit are cities, but I can honestly say Iceland was unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been, filled with friendly locals, gorgeous scenery and natural wonders aplenty. I would definitely recommend it to anyone that can appreciate a great view, I bet it looks even better at winter when enveloped in snow, but we’ll have to cross that bridge another time. As always, I hope you enjoyed this holiday blog as much as I enjoyed documenting it, and we’ll see you again in July for Thailand and Singapore.

Iceland 2014 – Day 5 – Journey to nowhere, Waterfalls and Reykjavik harbour

posted in: holiday, Iceland 2014 | 0

We had our sights set on a few spots in west Iceland this morning, in particular a cave which had a tour group leaving at 12am. But first we thought we would take a look at the gigantic dome like structure which can be seen from most of Reykjavik, The Perlan (Pearl), it’s base is apparently water cooling towers, but fashioned into a full structure, complete with what is apparently one of the best restaurants in the country on top. We had a little look around on the observation deck, then went on our way.

perlan iceland 20140501-IMG_1166

After driving out of Reykjavik and under possibly the longest tunnel i’ve ever seen, we found ourselves in the the middle of nowhere, literally miles of roads with no cars, a backdrop of mountains, and just barren land or fields in every direction. We were aiming for Fljotsunga caves, however the directions provided both on the website, and on signposts lead us through a small forest, and a few miles of dirt roads, driving on which not only lead to one of those cartoon dust clouds behind our vehicle, but a small dust cloud creeping up through the inside of the vehicle as well – which was a first for me. After following the series of horrific directions, we were lead to a closed fence preceding what looked like a farm.
Ridiculous waste of time :/

20140501-IMG_1256 20140501-IMG_1175 20140501-IMG_1178

We retraced our tracks and went for some nearby waterfalls instead, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t betray us. Hraunfossar eventually welcomed us off the winding road, a beautiful collection of small waterfalls bleeding through volcanic rock and leading into a river. The water here was an amazing shade of green where the water hit the river, and as usual, the clarity was beautiful.

20140501-IMG_1187 20140501-IMG_120120140501-IMG_1246

We had a little hike around the area and really took in the scenery. A few minutes upstream was another waterfall, Barnafoss, or the ‘childrens waterfall’, so named because two children fell to their deaths there whilst walking over a stone archway, the mother had the arch destroyed to prevent future tragedies, and if i’m honest, probably a good call because those were some hella jagged rocks and very powerful current. The white water cascading downstream around a natural rock chicane had already shown off it’s strength by apparently pounding its way through a giant rock that had been in its path.

20140501-IMG_1223 20140501-IMG_1227 20140501-IMG_1242

With not much else planned for Western Iceland, and a deadline for our hire car to be returned, we headed back to Reykjavik, stopping in a small village along the way to find something to eat. Here we found a small hall owned by a family who apparently hadn’t even opened yet, they did however have some soup and bread and offered to sell us some, an offer we decided to take up as villages out in the barrens were far and few between. As we sat eating, the family themselves actually started eating too, was very strange yet somewhat comforting at the same time, it felt very private and intimate. Also the daughter was kind of hot.

20140501-IMG_1255

Finally back in Reykjavik after a 100km or so, we had a little stop in the hotel to refresh ourselves, it’s worth pointing out also that our hire car had been thoroughly trashed because of the dirt roads we had been riding on, the new Toyota Yaris now looking like an exhibition piece from the local rally team, with a thin layer dust not only on the outside, but in the crevices between the doors and the inside the doors as well (how the hell?).

Once again, our evening was a casual walk down to Reykjavik city centre, we had gotten somewhat confortable with the 20 minute or so walk from our hotel, and have the route down pretty well now, we decided to take a different route to get down to the harbour faster, as we had already traversed the eastern side a few times prior.

Back on the waterfront, it has become evident that EVE Fanfest 2014 is in full swing, today is officially the first day of the event and already the city feels more lively, and there are way more long haired nerds walking about. We passed by the EVE Universe Monument ‘Worlds within a world’ by the harbour, a respectably tall monument featuring a few hundred plaques at the base, these plaques are engraved with over half a million screennames of EVE online players, and is kind of impressive to look at and search through. While we were there taking photos, at least a dozen people came by and looked like they were searching for their own names on the monument.

20140501-IMG_1274 20140501-IMG_1277

Dinner today was at the prestigious ‘Kopar’ on the harbour front, being our last proper meal in Iceland, we went big and went for the 9 course ‘Kopar adventure’, a meal of… Icelandic scallops, cod tongues, fried gherkins, Catfish with pistachios, Beef cheek bourguignon, Red fish, and then finished with deconstructed cheesecake, chocolate lava cake, and apple, pear and blue cheese crumble. Here are a few of the better photos. Also, while eating, a huge party of maybe 20 came in, and were all assumedly EVE online developers or executives, shame I don’t follow that game at all because im sure that would have been an easy autograph or picture of someone if i actually knew anyone.

20140501-IMG_1281 20140501-IMG_1296 20140501-IMG_1297

And so ends the bulk of my Iceland trip, tomorrow we are planning on taking a trip in the morning to the rocket church again to see what is inside it (my father is christian) and will probably take another walk around town, but our shuttle bus to the airport is at midday, at which point it’ll be off back to civilization and away from all of the waterfalls, on the plus side, i’ll actually be able to go outdoors without a coat, ski socks and hat.