Rebuilding Lion’s Arch Should Have Been Interactive

We now know the new improved Lion’s Arch will be in the next content update for Guild Wars 2. After just shy of a year and a half (about a year in game time) after the city was attacked and ruined, it will finally be rebuilt. Unfortunately Arenanet missed a golden opportunity to give their players a way to be personally involved in the rebuilding effort.

You might be thinking to yourself “hey we got a poll and got to pick names of some locations” and yes we did get to do that. However, how important is a name really? As much as I really dislike the name Phoenix Roost, at the end of the day it is just a name. It’s intangible. We got to actually help people evacuate and helped defend the city; why don’t we get the chance to actually help rebuild as well?

gw281I know we aren’t going to get anymore Living Story before Heart of Thorns launches, we’ve known this for quite a while. What we are getting are various events to fill the time between the end of Living Story 2 and HoT and although the rebuilding could have happened as part of the Living Story, nothing says it has to be a Living Story update.

Imagine instead of logging in one day to a completely rebuilt Lion’s Arch there’s a month long event which progresses in stages over the course of the month. Each week could be a new set of events for players to participate in to help with rebuilding. Some events could be as simple as donating various supplies to the cause, others could be more complex.

Maybe there’s a group out there who don’t want Lion’s Arch to be rebuilt? Maybe they feel like having a city which symbolizes the great things the different races can accomplish when they work together is a bad thing because they don’t want peace between the races? There could be events where players need to protect the workers or caravans arriving with supplies. Or maybe even search out these groups and deal with them directly.

There could also be events where the players could more directly help with rebuilding. Maybe help to clear out the harbor rubble or laying boards and bricks to build the different structures. These events could even be sequential where if the goal for one is met, there will be a break and at a predetermined time the next leg could pick-up where the last left off. If the goal wasn’t met the event would repeat until it was.

At the end of all of this we’d finally get to log in and see what our efforts built. Players would get the feeling of being a real part in the rebuilding and feel like they did something which actually made a difference. We could point to a memorial and say “I helped build that” or a building or road or harbor. There would be real attachment there.

gw284The downside of this is it would be nonpermanent content and some players really don’t like the possibility of missing something. This criticism was a big part of Areanet’s choice to make the Living Story content replayable; which was a great choice on their part. However, nonpermanent content still could play a valuable role in Guild Wars 2. As it is once Lion’s Arch is repaired players won’t be able to go back and experience the different stages it has gone through anyway. So it is already nonpermanent content some people will never see.

It’s also worth mentioning this is likely not the last time Lion’s Arch will be at least partially destroyed, and it would be surprising (and a bit sad) if no other major city is ever destroyed. Even though players couldn’t experience a specific rebuilding event again, they likely would have the chance to participate in others based on the same concept.

At the end of the day I’m glad I got to be a part of protecting Lion’s Arch. I’m glad it stayed in ruins for a substantial period of time. I’m glad it is being rebuilt in stages, and it isn’t being rebuilt to be exactly as it was before. I just wish I could have had a hand in the actual reconstruction.

The Problem With “Future of MMOs” Panels

Every year at PAX East there is a panel called “The Future of MMOs” and as someone who enjoys MMOs and really cares about them, I always attend this panel. It isn’t always hosted by the same publication, this year it was done by MMORPG, but regardless of who is leading the panel it always has the same huge failing. The focus is never on the future of MMOs but on whatever games the panelists happen to be working on.

Now you might think to yourself “if the game they are working on isn’t out yet, then talking about their game is the future” and in a very small sense you would be right. The thing is, any MMO currently being worked on and played, even in closed betas, is part of the current landscape. People are experiencing the game and pushing its current development. It might be idealistic of me but when I think of the “future” I tend to think in terms of more than a few years from now.

I’m not saying people currently working on MMOs shouldn’t be on the panel, they absolutely should be. They just shouldn’t be focused on promoting their individual projects. And mentioning the games shouldn’t be forbidden. Absolutely introduce each person and their game, heck even give a quick synopsis of the game; it gives the audience an understanding of where each panelist is coming from. But then move on to the broader topics MMOs face, there are so many to choose from.

Here’s a few choices topics which could easily fill an hour long panel.

The first is “leveling experience versus endgame experience”. Anyone who has played multiple MMOs knows there is often a huge disconnect between how a MMO feels while leveling and how it feels at max level. Often players find the way they were able to play while leveling doesn’t work well when they move on to max level content. The end result is often one of two things. At max level the player discovers either the class they thought they really enjoyed and liked they don’t enjoy anymore, or the player misses out on playing a class they would enjoy at a lot at max level because the leveling experience isn’t fun. In the end this is a problem because it creates a barrier which causes people to stop playing.

Another interesting topic is payment structures and pitfalls. I know many Devs would rather not think about the monetization of their games, but it is a business and MMOs aren’t cheap. No matter if a game is subscription, buy to play, or free to play the choice of which model to go with will have an affect on the game and who is willing to try it. The MMO community has a lot of differing opinions about the payment models and hearing Devs discuss them in an open and honest way could be a really interesting discussion.

A related but huge topic on its own is, how fears about ‘pay to win’ are affecting MMOs. No MMO wants to be labeled as ‘pay to win’ but what does it even really mean? There have been huge discussions, and arguments, in the MMO community about at what point a MMO becomes pay to win. In fact it seems the only thing the community agrees on is pay to win is universally bad. The one thing I haven’t really seen is Devs talk about it, except to say their game isn’t/won’t be pay to win. This could actually be an interesting discussion if people didn’t spend the whole time trying to sell their game.

I’m also not saying mentioning how something is done in a game to illustrate a concept or give an example is a bad thing. There’s just a pretty big line between giving an example and promoting a game. One problem of course is at shows game developers are very much in the “promotion” mode. Breaking them out of this mentality to get to the deeper issues could be problematic, but it also is probably easier than some would assume. I have to think at the end of the day most people making a MMO are doing it because they actually like the genre. And because they work on them they have to at least thought about these issues on some level.

The real roadblock would probably the panel “moderator”. I say moderator in quotes because very little of what happens at these panels resembles moderating at all. Most of the time questions are thrown out, and then there is no attempt to keep things on point. Finding someone who would be willing and able to push back and really lead an in depth discussion of real MMO issues seems like it could be the real barrier. I mean, this year there was one panelist who talked about how no publisher is willing to pay for a fantasy MMO anymore. The kicker was he was sitting between two people who were doing just that. One who’s game has been out and successful for a few years, and the other on a game which just recently came out. It was mind blowing.

A panel which is focused on current issues and how they might or should be solved would be far more interesting than a panel about “why this game I am working on is awesome”. I am probably foolish in holding out hope this might become a reality… but it was be amazing.

Review: Bloodborne, The Unforgiving RPG

Originally posted on Gamebreaker March 23,2015

Bloodborne is a new Action RPG by From Software for the PS4. For anyone who didn’t play Dark Souls the main thing you need to know is… this game is brutal and very unforgiving. Be prepared to die. It is also completely worth the pain if you can take it. For anyone concerned about spoilers, I am going to try to keep away from anything

Gameplay

 As someone who mostly plays MMOs the fact Bloodborne can’t be paused wasn’t a huge issue for me, however not being able to save whenever I wanted to was a bit of a transition from most RPGs I play. There are checkpoints in the form of lanterns which can be activated as progress is made throughout the game (finding new areas, killing bosses, etc…). There aren’t very many of these though, and you have to activate them when you find them or else you won’t be able to use them.
Bloodborne™_20150322132326

Bloodborne™_20150322132326

Bloodborne also functions a bit differently from other RPGs because every time time you zone in or out or die, all the mobs respawn on the map. That is nice for helping gather Blood Echoes (currency), but it can be a bit of a pain when you die after running through a very long section. It also caught me quite off guard at first.

Speaking of Blood Echoes, they are needed for buying new items, upgrading and repairing weapons, and a little thing called leveling your character up. All stat increases cost a certain amount of Blood Echoes and this is the main way characters are leveled. A certain amount are rewarded for each enemy killed, harder enemies give more.

One thing I was at first saddened by and then intrigued by is when I died I lost all the Blood Echoes I had collected (and not spent). However they could be recovered. They were either on the ground where I died, or one of the enemy monsters might have picked them up. If they were picked up all I had to do was look for the guy with the glowing eyes and kill him. However, if you die on your way to retrieve the Blood Echoes they will be lost forever. This resulted in me, rather hysterically, scrambling to pick them up mid Boss fight on a few occasions.

The zones are pretty huge and have a ton of hidden paths. Exploration and repetition are a huge part of Bloodborne. Not only will shortcuts be found, which are hugely helpful after dying, but sometimes a way which had been blocked will become unlocked. For instance in one of the first areas there is a gate which can’t be opened from the side you’ll be on. However, as you explore you’ll find a lever which will open the gate and will let you pass through. Ways which are unlocked in this manner will not reset when you die. I’d suggest checking everything out, and if you get to a point where you can’t figure out where you should be going… look for ladders or boxes blocking passages.

You will die in Bloodborne, accept it now. It’s ok. In fact in order to get your first weapons you have to die in the first fight in the game. So that is gotten out of the way quickly. After the first death the player is transported to the Hunter’s Dream which serves as the player’s main hub. This is where the player obtains their first weapons to be able to effectively fight. Check back often because new things will show up as progress is made throughout the story.

Combat

The combat is very fast paced and the enemy AI is sort of interesting. Nearly all the monsters will use a variety of tactics when fighting, which will change as you level up. However, they are apparently all deaf. There are many occasions where I’d be brutally and noisily killing a mob right next to another one but they wouldn’t even notice. Learning what would and wouldn’t cause aggro was interesting since I was sort of expecting some of the mechanics of stealth games to be in play.

The off hand guns can be used to interrupt an attack, and if timed correctly it can be followed up with a very brutal killing blow. It would be gruesome if it was more realistic, but it always feels like a bit of an accomplishment. This stunning effect doesn’t have as much of an effect on the Bosses, but it is extremely useful for most monsters encountered throughout the game.

Bloodborne™_20150322170315

Bloodborne™_20150322170315

All of the main hand weapons have two forms. They have the smaller 1h version which does slightly less damage but attacks really quickly. The quick attacks are very useful for quickly overwhelming a monster before it can attack back (they’ll also do this to you).

By pressing L1 the main hand weapon will transform into a big two hander (Hunter Axe shown here). As expected this form will be a bit slower but will do more damage per hit. Additionally you’ll be able to hit things further away, and in the case of the Hunter Axe AoE damage is also a bonus.

Combat also seems designed around staying mobile and using the terrain to your advantage, especially when it comes to Boss fights. Range attacks can often be avoided by simply walking after the shot is fired or stepping behind a pillar. For other attacks running or dodging is generally required, though both of those consume Stamina which is also needed to attack. Managing Stamina consumption is extremely important.

The last part of combat to be aware of is the Regain system. When the player takes damage they have a small window of time where they can regain the health by dealing damage. However, this doesn’t mean it is always best to just charge in and be extremely aggressive because what you can get back might be less than the damage you could be taking. Again it’s about finding the right balance and timing things correctly.

Multiplayer

The default asynchronous multiplayer is one of my favorite features in Bloodborne. As you wander around you and other players can leave notes about all sorts of things. Some notes might be helpful, warning you about an impending ambush, while others might be decidedly less helpful. Other players can vote on each note they discover as to if it was helpful or not. My only real complaint with the note system is it’s all prewritten text.

Bloodborne™_20150322173645

Bloodborne™_20150322173645

Also every time a player dies they will leave a red bloodstain where a tombstone will rise, and by interacting with it you can watch their final moments. This is sometimes funny, but it can also be helpful in avoiding potential danger or figuring out how to win a fight. Additionally as the player increases their Insight level they’ll more often see ghosts of other players running around which can be distracting but it also can give clues about where to go.

CO-OP Multiplayer is also available after obtaining the Beckoning Bell and Small Resonant Bell. The Beckoning Bell is how a player invites others to join, and the Small Resonant Bell is how other players signal they would like to join a multiplayer game. There is also an option to set a password so only people you give the password to can join. Each session costs an Insight point and up to 3 players can play together at once.

PvP is also available for people who are interested in it. An Insight level of at least 30 and a Sinister Resonant Bell are required to take part. The goal is for the host to reach the Boss on the map before either one or two other players kill the hosting player.

Technical Aspects

First thing first, Bloodborne is a beautiful game. All of the environments have a ton of detail which helps to set the Gothic/horror setting. All the character models have a ton of detail as well, including hair movement which is often an issue in many games. I often notice when playing characters with longer hair it often moves in just weird ways, which can be distracting. From Software’s attention to detail overall is really impressive.

Overall the game runs really smoothly as well. I had no stuttering or visual issues at all. In fact gameplay was pretty much bug free. The only thing I experienced which could fall into the realm of a bug is when I first start up the game player notes and tombstones won’t load up. However, the first time I go to the Hunter’s Dream and back everything loads up no problem.

There is one aspect which was a good bit frustrating though, the loading screen. Every time you die or go to/come back from Hunter’s Dream you get a loading screen… and it is generally long. My loading screens were so long in fact I started timing them. The shortest one I got was 11 seconds and the longest was 41 seconds, which is almost a minute. Overall the average length of my loading screens was 30 seconds… which was extremely frustrating. I started feeling like the real downside of dying wasn’t losing my echoes and the items I used but the loading screen.

Conclusion

Overall Bloodborne is an excellent game. I didn’t even discuss the story, character creation, or chalice dungeons at all but they are all highlights as well. This game is not easy though. People who get frustrated at dying might have a hard time getting through Bloodborne. Blindly running in and just whaling on mobs will only get you so far, tactical play is really emphasized. Additionally the “tutorial” is extremely limited. Most everything is left to the player to figure out; which is an awesome departure from the norm in gaming these days.

Bloodborne is an Action RPG for PS4 and will be released in America on 3/24 and in Europe on 3/25. It has an ESRB rating of M for gore, violence, and unrated content created by players.

Pax East Interview With Colin Johanson And Isaiah Cartwright

Originally posted on Gamebreaker March 10th, 2015.

During PAX East Guild Wars 2 game director Colin Johanson and lead game designer Isaiah Cartwright took some time to go through their Heart of Thorns demo with me and answered a ton of questions about the upcoming expansion. Unfortunately, there is still a lot information they aren’t ready to talk about yet, but what is available so far is pretty interesting.

Story and Feature Updates

The storyline for Heart of Thorns picks up the very next day after the last episode of Living Story Season 2 ends. This of course means between now and when Heart of Thorns launches there won’t be living story updates. For people who really enjoy the story and seeing the world progress this is a bit of a disappointment because we will have awhile to wait before the story continues.

This, however, does not mean GW2 will be stagnant until then. The recently announced camera changes will be live in the game in a couple of weeks, and they have more unannounced feature changes planned as well. In addition there will be other events similar to the Lunar New Year festival. So while we are all anxiously waiting to see where the story goes next, we won’t be left with nothing new in game in the meantime.

Surveying WreckageGuilds are a main focus in Heart of Thorns

One of the main things I was hoping to learn more about is what they have planned for guilds in the expansion. So far the only thing which has really been announced is the Guild Hall, which although interesting and exciting seems a little light for an expansion. Guild Halls on its own seems like the sort of thing which could be implemented as a major feature patch if there was nothing else to go with it.

Unfortunately they weren’t prepared to reveal anything new for guilds today. However, Johanson did emphasize guilds are a main pillar for HoT. They really want to make having a guild and being in a guild matter in a larger way in the game as a whole. For example making it easier for guilds to work together to accomplish tasks in a collaborative way is something they are interested in.

They couldn’t get into specifics of course, but something which seems likely is improvements to how guild missions work when multiple guilds are trying to do them. For example, rushes currently work really well with multiple guilds, but puzzles are often problematic. Expanding out guild missions as a whole seems a likely possibility as well as giving us new types of content to do as a guild. Also there was mention of more support for guilds doing “non-standard” types of events.

Revenant_1Revenant

The playable demo had a level 80 Revenant available to play with the Hammer skill set and the two Legends they have announced already Mallyx the Unyielding and Jalis Ironhammer.

As previously revealed which Legend the player currently has active will determine what skills are filled in the 6-0 slots. Currently, the functionality is there so the player can switch which ability is in which slot. So instead of having the chain skill in the 8 slot the player could change it to the 9 slot. There is the potential for there to be more skills available than can be slotted (similar to how skills in other professions work) but they haven’t really decided on it yet and they expect it’s one area where the beta will help fill in what is needed in terms of customization.

Hammer as a ranged weapon actually works fairly well mechanically. It is sort of similar to how a Mesmer uses a Greatsword where there are various effects which come out from the Hammer. It’ll be interesting to see how everything functions and works when everyone is playing a variety of professions and specializations instead of everyone playing a Revenant. Though the chaos which ensued might be a good indication of what the first few weeks after launch will be like.

There have been some people out there wondering if perhaps the Revenant will start off at some level higher than level 1 to give players an easier time catching up and to be able to play the new content quicker. However, Johanson did confirm they will start at level 1. So everyone planning to roll a Revenant right away should stock up on those tomes of experience.

Pale ReaversRelease Date and Beta

They’ve just opened up sign-ups for beta here at PAX East and on the GW2 website by signing up for the Guild Wars 2 Newsletter. There won’t be an NDA for the closed beta which makes life a bit easier for everyone. invites will be staggered to slowly ramp up and test their systems. Content testing will also likely be staggered.

One thing Colin was pretty emphatic about is they don’t really have a set release date for the expansion. Heart of Thorns is going to set the foundation for how Guild Wars 2 will grow and expand over the lifetime of the game, so they really want to make sure they have it set properly before release. He expects a lot of changes will happen during beta and they really want to make sure they have the flexibility to adapt to those changes.

Next Week at EGX Rezzed

A lot of the focus here at PAX East has been on getting players into the demo and experiencing the first taste of the new areas and mechanics. Next week at Rezzed the focus will shift a bit to be more on the new Boarderlands map and WvW as a whole. Johanson indicated they have a lot of changes planned for WvW, so next week should be interesting.

Blizzard Hitting All The Right Notes With Warlords Of Draenor

Originally posted on Gamebreaker on Nov. 18th 2014.

Warlords of Draenor has been live for a few days now, and it seemed like a good time to take stock of how everything is going. Having spent a fair amount of time in both the Alpha and Beta I expected the first hour or so of gameplay to be pretty boring. I have been pleasantly surprised in this regard.

I should warn you, that although I am going to stay away from any major spoilers I will be talking about things which occur in questlines and as such there will be minor spoilers. It should also be noted that since I played the Alliance side, any zones or persons mentioned will be related to that.

bannerTanaan Jungle

The questline for Tanaan Jungle is very straightforward and linear, which is why I originally planned to just push through it as fast as possible. I had gone through the questline in Alpha/Beta and already had a general understanding of what should happen. However, there are a several short cinematics sprinkled throughout the zone that really help to both lighten the mood and draw players into what is going on.

One fantastic moment occurs right at the beginning as we are about to go through the Dark Portal for the first time. Maraad and Thrall are fighting through the orcs and doing a great job of it. Then as an orc emerges from the portal Thrall kicks it in the stomach returning it back from whence it came. It was simultaneously a hilarious moment and a “yea way to be a badass, Thrall” moment. Especially nice to see after watching Thrall get his butt kicked by Garrosh for months.

Additionally, every time we meet one of the warlords we get a close up of the warlord and, hilariously their name written in big golden letters so you know exactly who you are meeting. It is a bit campy, but it also is nice to see them get those moments right upfront. In addition, it assists people who don’t know the lore so well put names to the orcs, and each clip is only a few seconds long.

Garrisons

I knew going into WoD that Garrisons we’re going to be something I really enjoyed, but apparently the fact the game is officially live now made it even more enjoyable. I had planned out my entire Garrison before launch right down to when I was going to build the things and when I’d switch out buildings for other buildings. Even so I was a quite excited to build my Barracks and get my first follower. I’m trying really hard not to think of Followers as Pokemon.

One thing I’d really like to see added to Garrisons is an expansion to the Armory mobile app that will allow us to manage our garrisons even when we can’t login. Being able to send followers on missions, or build buildings remotely would be a huge bonus. The basic in-game interface is very similar to a webpage already, so ideally they could build it into the website.

banner2Profession Improvements

I really really dislike leveling professions, it’s the one aspect of MMOs which tends to annoy me often. Going into Warlords of Draenor I was really happy with the change to gathering professions which gives players the ability to collect from any node regardless of profession level. That was a huge Quality of Life (QoL) change. This only left me really having to slog through leveling Jewelcrafting.

Due to time and money restrictions I had only managed to get my Jewelcrafting up to 379. So I had prepared myself for the fact I was likely going to either spend a ton of gold to buy materials, or I was going to have to go back to old zones and do a lot of farming.

However, pretty quickly after arriving in Shadowmoon Valley I looted a scroll which said it would teach me to make Draenor Jewelcrafting items. It didn’t have a profession level requirement, so I went ahead and used it figuring at least I’d have the ability when I got my Jewelcrafting to a higher level. I was pleasantly surprised to see I could use the new Draenor mats immediately to level up my profession.

No going back to old zones. No buying tons of things on the auction house to make tons of things I’d never use and couldn’t sell because no one else wanted them either. I could just start increasing my Jewelcrafting now with the new ore I was getting. This also made me decide I am definitely going to swap out mining for Enchanting after my mine is built. Oh happy day.

Queues, Crashes, DCs, and All The Lag!

Warlords of Draenor definitely had a bit of a bumpy launch. Queues were extreme, in many cases the seeing a queue of over 1k was not unusual. While it isn’t unusual to see queues during an expansion launch these seemed much longer than they normally have been.  I can’t help but wonder if maybe all the realm linking Blizzard has been doing over the last year sort of exacerbated the problem. With the return of many previous accounts I could see how it could possibly overload things, of course we don’t know how many people waited until just before launch to reactivate their account. Either way Blizzard acted swiftly to make improvements and get people in game much more quickly.

Once players did get in game there were a lot of problems with lag in the world and getting to various parts of it. Players often ended up either unable to get to their Garrisons or unable to leave. No matter which side you were on it was frustrating. Blizzard did some maintenance on Friday and Saturday to help with these issues and for the most part they seemed to have gotten most things under control. Of course everything isn’t perfect, as I write this I am unable to hearth into my Garrison.

Some of the problems on launch day weren’t really Blizzard’s fault, someone decided to be “cool” and DDoS them, which was a real drag for everyone. On the upside Blizzard is giving everyone 5 days of free sub time which does take the sting out of the problems for many, though it doesn’t really help people who were planning to go for server firsts in leveling.

flyingOverall Warlords Is Amazing

Like I mentioned previously, connection issues are consistently getting better and servers are pretty stable at this point. There’s no reason to believe Blizzard won’t continue making improvements and making the overall experience better. At this point I’m ready to just kick back and enjoy the expansion. I am also wholeheartedly enjoying not having to rush to get raid ready in time for the first week of raiding. Here’s to hoping we have 3-4 weeks after every expansion launch before we need to get to raiding!

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments Review

Originally posted on Gamebreaker on Sept. 30, 2014.

As a long time fan of most adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, I was quite excited to play the newest game, Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments, by Ukrainian developer Frogware Games. They took inspiration from various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes and combined them all into one interesting package. Furthermore in this game the player doesn’t merely follow along as Sherlock solves the cases, rather the player is the driving force and makes all the investigative choices.

Gathering Information

The main goal in Crimes and Punishments to solve a series of six cases through investigation, deduction and the careful application of deduction; anything else really couldn’t be considered a Sherlock Holmes game. In most games things start off easy and get more difficult and complex, but Crimes and Punishments didn’t follow the formula. The first case is definitely not the simplest case, I’d actually place it about middle of the road in complexity. However, it did do a great job of introducing many of the mechanics involved in gathering information and coming to conclusions. Thinking back, it was nice to have a fairly complex case right upfront and getting the more simple cases later were a nice break after intense cases.

Interviews are one of the primary ways of gaining clues and finding insight into the cases. For every character who is interviewed Sherlock also builds a “Character Profile” in his Casebook. The player is given a slice of time slowed down to look over the interviewee and make observations. There is a blurred list at the start so it’s easy to know when all the clues have been found. To find these clues it’s a simple matter of mousing over the character, though as simple as it is there were a few times where I knew I had just one more clue to find but it took me a bit to find it.

Sometimes while questioning a subject there will be follow up questions, for instance when we know someone is lying. When this happens an extra option pops up, on PC it was press “Q”, then a list of clues to choose from appears. Often the correct clue is something gathered during the character profile, so doing those first is always a good idea. I was a bit disappointed to discover if the wrong clue is selected I was just told to try again. In most other aspects I was able to make wrong choices and deal with their consequences.

For the most part there is very little hand holding in this game. There are prompts to explain how a skill works or what might be useful, but how you work through the case is up to the player. Additionally there are many puzzles throughout the game to solve; from picking locks to mixing the correct solutions to testing something. Sadly, it is possible to just skip any of the puzzles or challenges and the game acts as if you had solved it. Which is good if a player were to really get stuck… but being able to skip all of that stuff really makes a large part of the gameplay pointless.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewSolving Cases

It is quite possible to interpret the clues in a case and come to almost any conclusion, which truly let me feel like I had a really important role in how everything played out. For example in the first case Peter Carey is run through with a harpoon. Sherlock and Watson set-up an experiment to see how difficult it would be to harpoon someone into a wall. The result shows, quite obviously, it’s a fairly difficult task to accomplish. On the deductions page the two ways to interpret this information is either it was done by someone with strength and skill or someone got very lucky. Either way will change how all the evidence fits to conclude different people are innocent or guilty.

However, I was not able to come to illogical conclusions which makes sense for a game about Sherlock Holmes. Any deductions which conflict will be highlighted in red and won’t be used in forming a conclusion until the conflict is resolved. Additionally once a deduction is made it isn’t set in stone. I often went through and made every possible combination of deductions just to see what the different possibilities are. I found this particularly helpful for the hardest cases because it often boiled down to what scenario seemed the most likely to me.

After each case is solved the “punishments” part comes in and the player has to make a moral choice about the crime. Was it cold blooded murder or was extenuating circumstances? Does the murder deserve to hang or is some other arrangement possible? Not only did I get to pick which option I thought fit the crime best, but I got to see the outcomes of my choices and their consequences. This added another layer to the game which also opens areas for personal introspection. When it comes to making moral judgements many games would take the opportunity to preach about what the “right” choice was; Frogwares happily decided to avoid trying to push particular value system.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewSide Theme

Concurrent with the main storyline there is a bit of a side story which comes to the fore near the end of the game. The side story deals with the concept of if people have a right, or even an obligation, to rebel against people in power if they perceive the people in power to be corrupt. I was not expecting the storyline to go there, but after I reached the end and thought back over the whole game I realized the hints had been there the whole time.

This is another area where Frogwares could have used Crimes and Punishments to push a certain agenda, but again there is no preaching. When the time comes the player is completely able to make whichever choice they want and live with the consequences. There is a ton of room for personal introspection into real issues which are actually relevant in the today’s world. Not many video games seem to be able to successfully delve into those areas, and this one manages it brilliantly because anyone not interested in that sort of experience wouldn’t be forced into it.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewTechnical Aspects

The most impressive technical aspect of Crimes and Punishments was the quality of voice overs and animations during dialogue. Each character who was directly interacted with (about 4-5 per case) had a different voice with a bit of a different accent. Even Sherlock would have different accents when he disguised himself as someone else. It was really impressive, and all the conversations felt fluid and natural. The dialogue animation wasn’t perfect, corners of lips and eyebrow movement were often a bit off, but it was still very well done. Even on the close ups the characters skin looked like there was actual depth to it.

One downside to the flow of the game was that there are a lot of loading screens. Most aren’t very long, but some of them certainly didn’t feel necessary. There were, however, two nice consolations for the loading screens when moving between locations. The first is the loading screen is actually an animation of Sherlock (and anyone else traveling with him) in a carriage. Particularly entertaining about this, aside from it just feeling real to the story, Sherlock would often be reading either the Casebook or a copy of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky. The second nice thing about the traveling loading screen is during them the casebook and deductions page are both available to be used, so the waiting doesn’t have to be empty time.

There is a lot of area in the game which is fully explorable, but there are also a great many invisible walls which diminish enjoyment just a bit. Most of the invisible walls make sense and are clearly there because this isn’t a fully open and explorable world. Others seem pretty random and pointless. For example in one area there is a little pond in the middle of a garden. I thought it seemed logical to be able to just walk across it, but sadly there was an invisible wall blocking the pond off. I could walk all the way around it, but I just couldn’t stick a single toe in.

I played the PC version through Steam and I didn’t have any real issues with graphics or sound. There was one minor glitch the first time I went to Scotland Yard, but it cleared up quickly and never happened again. Additionally, the music and environmental sounds worked really well together to set the mood and FPS was consistently smooth.

xbox news main playstation news main pc 2 features 2 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes And Punishments ReviewConclusions

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments is a very strong and intriguing game with a lot to offer. It does have some minor drawbacks such as the load screens and invisible walls, but those inconveniences are really minor when compared to the strong storytelling and the important role of player choice. This game works well for someone just looking for a fun game of solving crimes and equally well for someone who is looking for more of an intellectual challenge and perhaps to delve into their own moral code a bit.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments will be available on September 30th on PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.

Revolution 60 Review: The Next Evolution Of The Mobile Game

Originally posted on Gamebreaker July 25th, 2014.

When I first sat down to play through Revolution 60 I had some idea of what the game was like from previously playing a demo last Fall. I had been intrigued by it because Revolution 60 was trying to offer an experience in a mobile game which I have only ever experienced with PC and console games. A story driven game which is also challenging and fun. I wasn’t disappointed.

collage_lb_image_page2_2_1Story

Revolution 60 is set in a futuristic world where China and the US are competing for control of a space station weapons platform. The player mostly fills the role of Holiday, who is the assassin on a team of elite spies, though there are a few points where the player will also control Min and Amelia. Before too long, the mission starts to go sideways and it’s up to the player to prevent a major international incident from happening and to prevent a psychotic AI from getting free.

rev60_3All of the story scenes are done in a very interesting and compelling way, which flows naturally into gameplay. There are quite a few instances where what seems like a cut-scene will flow seamlessly into an action event. If you are slow on reacting to this it can have dire consequences.

Additionally, the choices made during gameplay affect how the story unfolds, and having a certain amount of reputation with Min or Amelia will open different dialogue options throughout the game. One of the best surprises in Revolution 60’s story was it’s possible to play through the entire game and still fail the mission. And it’s not all dependent on one choice which is made at the end of the game. How the story ends is completely dependent on choices made throughout the game.

Along with the story, the music and voice overs play an important part in emphasizing story points. This is definitely one game you’ll want to have all the sounds on for. The level of detail the environment and character animations also worked well in selling the authenticity of the setting. Revolution 60 is the the first mobile game where I legitimately got so wrapped up in the game I lost track of time.

Proficiency Points

Lack of story isn’t the only area most mobile games fall short on, complexity of gameplay is also a key area which is generally lacking. Revolution 60 uses a number of different mechanics to decide if an action in the story is successful or not.

rev60_1During the entire game depending on how well tasks are performed “Proficiency Points” are earned. Failing at a challenge will subtract points from your total, and succeeding but not as well as you could have will reward less than doing something perfectly. Dying also comes with a Proficiency Point charge.

At the end of the game depending on how many Proficiency Points have been accumulated success or failure of the mission will be determined. Having gameplay throughout the game be a determining factor and not just a single choice is huge and really makes the entire game feel important.

In Normal mode the player does get a couple of tries at succeeding, but like I mentioned previously those extra tries do come at a cost. Sometimes a combination of movements will need to be performed, other times things will need to be done in a certain amount of time, and some times it’s a combination of these things.

Combat

Combat is based on a grid system and as you fight the different enemies you’ll learn certain sounds indicate a certain types of attacks and each attack also has a different animation associated with it. Learning to recognize this information is important because it is possible to interrupt an attack if the you hit the enemy at the right moment, though the enemy can also interrupt you as well.

COM_Capture1-2048x1536-1302053214It’s also possible to chain together movement and attacks to quickly accomplish an attack or dodge. However, if you aren’t careful you might just move yourself into the line of attack. Learning when to go all out, and when to bide your time is a vital skill in getting through combat as efficiently as possible.

Every time a successful attack is made on an enemy a certain amount of energy is earned. When enough energy is obtained and the player is standing in the front row they gain access to a special more powerful attack. These special attacks require specific action events to be done and success depends on how well they are preformed. In most fights each special attack only requires two skill challenges, but later on there are ones which require three or four of these challenges. Also near the end of Revolution 60 every time a special attack is used in a fight it’ll ask for a different combination of action events.

What RPG would be complete without a talent tree system? The system in Revolution 60 is pretty simple, but it is also full of tough choices which all have a direct effect on combat.

There are 9 levels in the game and each time a level is gained one point can be put into the talent tree. In order to get to the most powerful abilities, you’ll only want to pick one thing in each level to put points in. It seems like any combination of skills is viable, but some combinations are clearly better than others.

Difficulty

rev60_2There are three difficulty levels Easy, Normal, and Girlfriend (Hardmode). Easy is designed for kids and people who aren’t really experienced gamers. Normal is where everyone else will start out and is challenging without being overly punishing. Only a successful completion in Normal Mode (meaning the mission doesn’t fail) will unlock the Girlfriend mode. People looking for a real challenge should definitely aim to unlock Girlfriend mode and spend most of their game time there.

My only real disappointment with Girlfriend mode is the tutorial still functions as a tutorial and since you have to get through normal to even play Girlfriend mode, it felt a bit redundant. However, the tutorial passes quickly and Girlfriend mode is a ton of fun if you are looking to be challenged.

Conclusion

My first “ah ha” moment in gaming was when I played Final Fantasy VIII, it was the first game I ever played in which I felt completely wrapped in a world and had a gaming experience which was more than just completing tasks. There was a story I felt part of and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.

ss-013Mobile gaming has existed in a state similar to what I experienced prior to playing FF8 for the first time. There are fun mobile games but they all have the barest story, if any at all. Revolution 60 is pushing mobile gaming to the next level and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Revolution 60 launched on on July 24th in the Apple App Store. It’s free to try, and $6 to unlock the entire game. Even if you only play through once it’s still multiple hours worth of content. Revolution 60 will also be released for PC and Mac later this year.

One last thing; Revolution 60 doesn’t end until after the end credits are done so don’t bug out early! Plus you get to listen to “2-Player Co-op (Player 2 Press Start)”which is a bonus.