Your Endless Virtual Vacation (Tower Unite)

Tower Unite is a social, minigame driven MMO which boasts the promise of no microtransactions to ruin the fun. It began life as a GMod server – called GMod Tower – and whilst it was an enjoyable experience, it was largely held together with sticks and tape, from what I could tell. Its successor, Tower Unite, is instead built in the Unreal engine, and is no longer free to play, to the game’s own benefit. The servers and developers will have proper funding, and everyone in the game is going to be on the same level of opportunity as opposed to donors holding certain privileges. Tower Unite is still lacking in content when compared to its predecessor, and is admittedly riddled with bugs from time to time (though not unplayably so). But I’m going to tell you why it’s worth picking up even in its current state.

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Uh oh

I’ll address the level of content immediately. Lacking though it may be in comparison to its predecessor, it still boasts a fair amount of activities to keep you occupied. As far as minigames go, you’re able to choose from a wide variety of courses in Minigolf and Ball Race (a super-monkey ball style game). The newly released Little Crusaders is quite fun – lots of little crusader players versus one player driven dragon – though it currently only has three maps. Virus is a decent to mediocre shooter that some players may recognise from other FPS games, though this also has little in the way of maps. And I can’t speak for the final minigame, Planet Panic, because I’ve not found an open server the two times I tried to play it. I believe it’s a horde-mode game type. These minigames are all quite fun, each clearly having care and effort put into them. You’ll definitely play them for more than just the currency they award you for winning; I typically find the earning of Units to be a bonus rather than a motivation.

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Get down here dragon. You do not belong up there.

That’s far from all there is, though. If you join a Lobby, you’ll be placed into the main world of Tower Unite. The Lobby, as well as being a rather pretty place to explore, contains multiple shops, a few activities such as the Typing Derby (a typing speed game) and Trivia, and some other locations such as the Cinema (almost identical to GMod Cinema) and the Casino. The Casino is where you’ll typically find most of the players in the lobby, and I’ve spent a few hours there myself. The existence of a Casino in modern day games typically sets off alarm bells but, as you’ll recall, there are no microtransactions in this game, and the machines in the Casino are actually rigged slightly in your favour. They’re also by no means the best way of earning money, with the grand appeal being the constant attempt to hit the jackpot on various slot machines. The last thing the Lobby serves well to do is preview upcoming pieces of content, with some buildings being shown as “under construction”. I’m personally hyped for the eventual completion of the Arcade.

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Here’s what your starter house’s main room will look like. Behind me is a very generously sized backyard and beach.

One thing that drew me to this game, and to its predecessor, is the ability to own and extensively customise your own condo. This is what you’ll likely sink most of your Units into. Upon buying the game, you’re given a very generously sized and located player home, a modern building on the beachfront that’s decently sized and has more rooms than I’ve been able to furnish as of yet. You can place furniture literally anywhere you like, with complete freedom of placement and rotation, no matter how ridiculous. That means armchairs on the ceiling. You can paint your floors and walls different colours and textures, as well as save different house templates, meaning that you could theoretically have multiple different interiors depending on the occasion. And, most enticingly, the media services that allow the Cinema to be a possibility also apply to buyable televisions for your home, meaning you can invite your friends over to your virtual house and watch Youtube together, making it a brilliant virtual hangout.

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This is the life.

None of my friends have picked up the game so far – not for want of nagging them – but even so, I find myself drawn to the social aspects of this game unlike any other MMO. I’ll happily talk to others gambling their souls away in the Casino, or start using voice chat in a particularly enjoyable minigolf lobby. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes Tower Unite different in that aspect to other games. Maybe it’s the second life nature of the game. Rather than focusing on gameplay and ulterior motives and goals, or finding hostility in open world interactions, I’m simply enjoying a virtual holiday-esque experience with those around me. Either way, it’s an aspect of the game that keeps me company, and prompts me to recommend it even to those who would be playing alone.

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You BASTARD

Despite all of this, I’ll admit that after 19 hours of playing, I feel like I’ve played a lot of what’s currently to offer. There’s only so many times you can pull the lever at that slot machine or fail to hit a par on most golf courses before you crave something new. There’s plenty of content that needs to be added, such as more clothing options, more minigames, and maybe some quality of life improvments when it comes to hosting game lobbies, like kicking people and being able to host a server for more than just the one round of a particular minigame. (And please, for the love of god, fix hair clipping through hats). But I doubt it’s something I’ll uninstall any time soon, and I’ll be following Tower Unite’s progress very eagerly over the coming months and – hopefully – years.

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Kritigri’s Top 5 Games Played During 2016

So it’s around this time of year that every starts making their top 10 games of 2016 lists, but as somebody who only got a decent gaming in August and was subsequently too busy playing all their older games in glorious 60fps at ultra settings, I’ve not exactly played much of this year’s games. So instead, I’ve created a list of the top five games that I’ve either started playing, or played the majority of in this year. So, without further ado:

5: The Elder Scrolls: Online

This game has a bad reputation for launching with a subscription fee, with many features of Elder Scrolls games missing, and apparently most inexcusably, for not being multiplayer Skyrim. Since launch, however, the mandatory subscription fee has been waived, a plethora of updates have polished the game and brought it up to standard, and whenever the game goes on sale, a rush of excited new players give negative reviews of the game for it not being multiplayer Skyrim.

ESO is a great MMO in its own right, and it might have been higher up on my list had I not only scratched the surface of it. While it’s true that I have 75 hours logged in the game, you can pretty much divide that number by 10 in regards to how much experience that’d give a gamer in a typical RPG. My character is yet to hit level 30, but I’ve very much enjoyed working my way through the quests in Stonefalls, Deshaan (both provinces of Morrowind), Shadowfen (part of Black Marsh) and have recently arrived in Windhelm (part of Skyrim, though the not the entirety of Skyrim is in ESO… for now.) I find the storytelling to be unique and interesting, and the fact that every quest and NPC in the game is fully voice acted is an achievement not to be sneered at, considering the sheer size of ESO’s Tamriel. The quest objectives themselves may be somewhat copy/pasted, but this is a problem – a trope, even – that many (if not all) MMO’s are doomed to follow.

So far, the only downside to ESO, for me, is that I mostly play alone. When I joined WoW some years ago, I was able to find a social guild that I could talk to before I’d even hit level 30; in ESO, most of the ‘social’ guilds I’ve joined say almost nothing to each other except for when they need somebody to join them for a dungeon. Perhaps it’s simply bad luck. More likely, it’s me missing my WoW guild. But this is a personal downside; ESO is actually a very solo friendly game.

4: Assassin’s Creed 2

Okay, so I’ve played AC2 before. What I really mean with this listing is the entirety of the Ezio trilogy. But I chose AC2 specifically because I believe it had the perfect amount of collectables and side-missions to complete, and was the most fulfilling experience of the three games.

The Ezio trilogy is a masterpiece of storytelling, and this is coming from someone who appreciates both the past and the present aspects of the story. Ezio himself is a truly likeable character, and the fact that we stay with him from his birth to his elderly life and watch him mature only increases my connection to the character. I also loved uncovering all of the templar conspiracies in the format of Subject 16’s scraps of code, and getting a sense for the wider narrative of Assassin’s Creed. I recently wrote a full blog post on the games here.

3: Grand Theft Auto V

More specifically, GTA Online. More specifically still, the PC version. More specifically still, the Cunning Stunts DLC. Because there’s a reason why the people of GTA: San Andreas Online went through the hassle of modding in silly midair stunt ramps, and Rockstar recognised this and capitalised on it wonderfully. It may help that I’m a longtime fan of the Trackmania series, but this is the first update to GTA: Online to really grip me. There’s a decent selection of tracks (plus you can make and share your own), and I’ve always loved the way cars handle in GTA V. Plus, it’s yet another wonderful way of making in-game money and numbing the microtransaction-enforced grind to get the things you want.

I’ve written more about the game here.

2: World of Warcraft: Legion

What, not number 1?

Anyway, if you’ve been reading this gaming blog over the last 5 or so months, you probably got a little sick of hearing me talk about WoW. Namely, I discussed it here, here, and here. And yes, I went on to play many hours of the expansion, partaking in dungeons and guild raids (for the first time) and world quests and all of the amazing things that Legion has to offer. In fact, I pretty much tunnel-visioned the game for 4 months straight. And Legion has so much content, you could never keep on top of it all. Blizzard more than made up for the barren of dead content that was their previous expansion.

But I burned myself out on it. I have no doubt that within a few months I’ll be back at it again, but I’m currently taking a break. For once, this was not because I’d log in and wonder what I could possibly do with my time, but instead, because I’d log in and be hit with a wave of indecision with so much choice. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but when you burn out on a game, you burn out all the same, whether it’s because of there being not enough content or just because you’ve played the damn thing for 4 months and ended up dreaming that the next raid tier was released early and got a little embarrassed and decided to focus on other things.

But that’s not why this game is in second place. Legion would be number 1 were it not for a game that actually trumped it.

1: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

At the beginning of the year, I was getting a little fed up about how bad my attention span was. For instance, I recognised that I had started up maybe four different saves of Skyrim over the last few years, always getting to Whiterun and then failing to continue, even though I was having fun. So, as part of my New Year’s resolution, I decided that I was going to 100% complete Skyrim. As in, get all 75 achievements, which include hitting certain levels, completing multitudes of quest lines, doing crafting, doing DLC, doing damn near everything there is to do besides clearing every single dungeon in the game.

And I did it.

I don’t think any game has held onto me the way that Skyrim has. I love the sassy NPCs and the physics bugs and the skill trees and the combat system and I love that I know the game inside-out enough to start a second playthrough with the Special Edition and know every nook and cranny but still not be bored. I love that after 170 hours I can still find a random encounter that I’ve never seen or play a fully unique quest that I never knew existed, that I can replay the civil war as a filthy Stormcloak instead of a faithless Imperial, that I can build a house again, that I can learn archery and sneaking and blind bloody murder and that I can look away from my screen and realise that 8 hours have gone by and that the real world still exists. I love that I still have so much to learn about the incredibly expansive, unique and hard to wrap your hard around lore, and that I can do this by deciding to go book collecting for my own library.

I’ve always said that my favourite game of all time was Ratchet and Clank 2 but I think we have a very strong contender here.

I’ve not even tried mods yet.

Honorable Mention

I feel like I owe Kingdoms of Amalur an apology. It should have been on this list. I bought it in February and played 9 hours of it and absolutely loved it, but for whatever reason, I stopped right there. And I always meant to get back to it, and I didn’t. But I feel like it’s another big, open-world RPG that I might just go ahead and 100%, because it is a rich, colourful, unique world that deserves attention.

Maybe 2017, eh?

The Travels Ezio Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed: 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations)

When Assassin’s Creed 1 was announced as a launch title for the PS3, I remember being somewhat interested, but ultimately, I never ended up playing the game. In fact, I kinda forgot about Assassin’s Creed altogether. It wasn’t until I decided to watch a Youtuber do a playthrough of Brotherhood that I really became interested in the series, and I bought and played 2 on PS3 some years ago.

Since then, I’ve been keeping a loose eye on the series, and in the recent Steam Autumn Sale I decided to pick up 2, Brotherhood, and Revelations. This was motivated partly by the fact that The Ezio Collection has recently been released on PS4 and Xbox One, meaning that everyone was talking about my favourite Italian in gaming once again. (Sorry, Mario.)

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Moments like this make me glad to not be afraid of heights!

From a narrative standpoint, it has been very interesting to see Ezio grow from a boy to an old man. I’m a sucker for lifelong narratives, and I’m currently halfway through Revelations and still finding great interest in the machinations of old man Ezio. (I could happily go on about my interests in lifelong narratives and life from the perspective of the elderly from here, but that’d be straying too far from gaming territory. Suffice to say it is a topic that interests me greatly.) But aside from Ezio’s story, I’m also greatly enjoying the story of Desmond Miles, the protagonist outside the animus who is using it to relive the memories of his ancestor, Ezio. Whilst some only care about the stories of past Assassins, I find myself drawn in to the sci-fi portions of Assassin’s Creed as well as the historical, though I hear this is significantly toned down in later games.

I have to say, I believe Assassin’s Creed 2 had the perfect amount of side missions and collectables. Whilst I’d not run around collecting 100 feathers myself, I found that outside of missions, the Subject 16 puzzles, the viewpoints, codex pages, Assassin Tombs and Villa management were enough to keep me satisfied. After 2, I feel that it gets a little out of control. I enjoyed the Borgia towers in Brotherhood, but they added Borgia Flags in addition to feathers, city management in ways of buying stores, investments, extra missions as rewards from 100% synchronisation, animus trials and more. And in Revelations, there’s still more to do. Though, I will admit that I am perhaps biased as somebody who is playing the games back-to-back, rather than as somebody who is waiting a year between games as they were developed.

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Assassin’s Creed has boasted odd glitches since long before Unity.

I’ve never really been one for stealth games, but Assassin’s Creed is somewhat different with how you move around the city, between crowds and across rooftops. Anyone familiar with the series will know of its uniqueness (if you can call a game with 9 main titles and a remaster ‘unique’ anymore). It’s not all about stealth, though; Assassin’s Creed has some satisfying swordplay, though I’ll admit that it becomes maybe a little too easy when they introduce kill streaks in Brotherhood. You kill one guard, you kill the entire crowd, so long as you time it right.

Parkour is also a huge element in the games, and the completely parkour oriented levels (i.e the Assassin Tombs in 2 and the keys in Revelations) are probably some of my favourite parts of the series. I love being presented with something seemingly insurmountable and being able to work my way there through conveniently placed nooks and crannies, leaping from one deadly hazard to the next. And Revelations definitely kicks it up a notch in terms of how dangerous it looks; there have been many sequences where a ledge will crumble as you grab onto it, and suddenly you’re kicking off of a falling rock and onto the parallel ledge, barely escaping your terminal fall. It can also be a source of frustration in the general run of things, though, as many times I’ll find myself running up a wall instead of past it, or leaping off backwards when I meant to simply jump.

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That’s, uh… that’s some good finger strength right there.

I only bought up to Revelations, but in a massive stroke of personal luck, Ubisofts free Ubi30 game this month is Assassin’s Creed 3, the very next game in the series. I very much look forward to playing it.

Kill, Loot, Die, Repeat (Overture)

In the recent Halloween Steam sale, I focused on looking for super cheap arcade style games that I could waste my time on in small bursts. This was partially because there wasn’t too much in the way of larger titles on sale this year, but also because I’m a little… entirely broke. But, regardless, I have come across a nifty little game called Overture for 40p.

Overture is an action-adventure roguelike which draws heavy inspiration from hits such as Diablo, Realm of The Mad God, Zelda, and The Binding of Isaac. Explore vast randomly generated dungeons and slay hordes of cunning enemies!

The mixed reviews initially put me off. I saw many complaints of people dying too quickly and unfairly and not even knowing what killed them, but having played the game for myself, I believe that these players have simply been running into enemy-spawning traps and failing to utilise the game’s running mechanic to evade the ambush. That being said, this game is a bit of a roguelike that you have to throw yourself into and die repeatedly to progress. If this doesn’t suit your playstyle, then this may not be the game for you, though I’ll add that the sense of progression is well implemented, and deaths feel more like a small hindrance than a punishment. The speed at which you can die if you’re not careful can make longer runs feel very rewarding.

Here’s how it works – you have four classes of hero to choose from, each containing some sub-classes that you can play individually. In the game, monsters and barrels and other assorted environmental caches drop gold, which fill your character’s XP bar for that run. When you level up, you get better stats. This gold also carries across runs, and can be used to purchase upgrades for your characters. These upgrades increase your character’s base strength when going into the dungeon, essentially guaranteeing you progress on even the most catastrophic of runs. So while this game may seem like you’re bashing your head against a brick wall at first, you’ll swiftly start to notice your character getting stronger and dominating the earlier stages that previously gave you trouble.

Loot does not carry over between deaths, but it is extremely easy to see what is an upgrade for your character on the fly. In Overture, you’re not going to be sitting in a character screen humming and hawing over which statistics you want to gain and sacrifice between two different sets of robes. Rather, you’ll run over a treasure chest at some point and a shiny trinket will drop with green bold text saying +ATT, +MRGN or something along those lines.

One issue I can understand is screen clutter. I often find myself running into an enemy and being damaged before realising what’s happening. I can fully understand the confusion about ambush traps and not understanding what’s attacking you under the sea of numbers and pixellated gore. But I also have to admit that I find that to be part of the challenge. This is a heavily action based game that relies on reaction speed, and realising that there’s a skeleton popping out of the ground to skewer you on a bone kebab is just one of the aspects of the game that you need to be on the lookout for.

My only other criticism in this game is the achievement system. There are four achievements – one for completing the game with a character of each class. There’s plenty of opportunity to give players achievements for upgrading their characters, reaching certain floors, collecting particular loot or slaying particular bosses. But this isn’t something that a lot of people will care about, and I’m aware that many developers don’t bother with achievements at all. Just a little personal gripe.

Anyway, the game is usually £3.99 (which I wouldn’t call unfair), but it sometimes goes on sale for much cheaper. If you want an easily pick up and put down-able roguelike to throw yourself into which isn’t a platformer or a tactical dungeon crawler, then I’d point you in the direction of Overture.

The Life of a Pretend Millionaire (Grand Theft Auto V: Online)

I bought GTA V on PS3 when it first launched back in 2013, and since then have kind of regarded that as a bad move, given that it was £50 and I didn’t even play it all that much around launch period. In fact, since owning it on PS3 I’ve hardly ever booted it up, save for when me and my friend want to fuck around in a private session. But he eventually upgraded to the PC version, and the game becomes somewhat significantly less fun when you’re running around a private session (or public session populated by 12-year olds with a Michael Bay fetish) on your own. But according to my Rockstar Social Club statistics, I’ve played over 50 hours of multiplayer on PS3, so I suppose that it did sort of pay off in the end.

Well anyway, I finally upgraded to the PC version last week and whilst I’ve still not had a chance to fuck around with my friend in a private session as is my usual go-to for the game, I did decide to give the actual multiplayer a try. Whilst I still prefer the relative safety of a private session to the insufferable explosive hell that is public sessions, I’ve found in GTA V the multiplayer racing game that I’ve always wanted. So long as the host isn’t a dick and the racing isn’t “GTA-style”. The recently released Cunning Stunts DLC has made up the bulk of my activity; for those of you who are unaware, it give players the option to race in the more arcade setting of loops, ramps, and mid-air racing rather than the typical street-racing that was in the game before. I’m willing to bet that this was a decision made after reviewing the popularity of similar-styled racing on hacked tracks back in GTA: San Andreas multiplayer. I certainly approve! Winning a hard-fought race of multiple players in this game is so rewarding, both mentally and in cash and RP.

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Weeeeeee!

One issue that people have with GTA Online is the microtransactions. I’ve heard it said before that they purposefully put the free new DLC at ridiculous in-game prices so players are forced to buy it via the purchasable cash cards. And sure, that’s certainly true to an extent, it’s their business model. But I’ve found that it also isn’t unobtainable through standard play. I’ve only got 5 hours played of GTA V on my Steam account, but I’ve already made over $250k just from chilling out with some Cunning Stunts matchmaking. And of course, it’ll take me a fair amount longer to reach the millions necessary for some DLC content, but it’s certainly not an unreachable goal for those who do play the game for fun and not to grind out money. And I’m not actually attempting to save up for any particularly expensive content; I’ve actually spent some of it on some car modifications and stuff, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like such a grind to me.

Loading times and UI issues are legitimate criticisms, though, and they have been since the game’s release. There’s plenty of annoying nitpicky stuff, such as the inability to start a private online game unless you’re launching into it from the single-player campaign. When in multiplayer, I had a very hard job trying to find out how to simply play offical Cunning Stunts races with matchmaking, and there’s still no way of knowing whether the lobby you’re joining is going to be an active one with 10-16 players or one with 4-5 who then leave. And the waiting times between races border on frustration at the best of times. At the end of a race, you have to look at who won, wait for everyone to like or dislike the race, go back to the lobby, wait for the host to decide to start the game, choose your car / outfit or whatever, and wait for everyone to ready up before a final loading screen. This can take up to 5 minutes, based on personal experience, and depending on the length of the race, you’re looking at actually racing for about half the time that you’re online.

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It is surprisingly difficult to get a picture of one’s entire garage.

One thing I do love about GTA Online is the progression of ownership. When I walk into my garage, I like being able to look at my vehicles and remember where they came from. Many people just have a collection of supercars, I’m aware, but my supercar shares a garage with my Bifta (off-road buggy style thing), my suped-up mini, my Banshee (favourite car in the game), my two muscle cars (one stylish and one for casual open-world usage), that free sports car they gave everyone (an Elegy), my original stolen and insured car that I began with, and more. The other day I walked into my downtown garage and found one of the slowest cars in the game that I’d hijacked and painted pink in a free-roam session a few years ago with my friend. The memory brought an instant smile to my face.

So yeah, I’m having a good time with GTA, and I don’t regret buying it a second time. On PC it looks gorgeous. I should probably play some single-player, too, because I remember being interested in the story the first time I began it. Plus, if I remember rightly, they give you plenty of the DLC multiplayer cars for free in a garage somewhere for a test-drive. So if you need me, I’ll be zooming off the edge of Mount Chiliad.

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The Pimp Wagon, in all its glory.

Pokemon Sun and Moon Special Demo Version

Whilst I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth for the next Pokemon game as much as other people are (for I am still fully ensnared in the videogame crack den that is WoW: Legion), I decided to give the demo a go when it released today (see: 2 days ago, when this post was written). For those who are unaware, the modern Pokemon demos are typically standalone experiences that introduce the player to the setting and key game innovations for this iteration of the franchise. In this case, it document Sun’s (the main character who you’ll be able to rename in the main game) arrival to the first island in the game, and gives you some two main areas to explore: the town, and what would typically be called a route.

The first thing I noticed was the movement. In Pokemon X / Y, they allowed the player to move outside of grid-based movement for the first time in the franchise, although this was still restricted to roller-skates and bike riding. They expanded on this in Omega Ruby / Alpha Sapphire (ORAS), allowing grid-based movement only if you used the D-pad. In Sun and Moon, they graduate from this entirely, adding smoother running and walking animations and removing all remnants of the oppressive grid-based system.

But that’s only one minor improvement. From what I’ve gathered from the demo, one of SuMo (Sun and Moon)’s key selling points is its iteration. There are many quality-of-life improvements that are a great welcome from a game which has a tradition of following a set schematic, and the main game seems set to stray from tradition in more ways than the minor quality-of-life updates. But as far as they go, I was pleased to see they’ve added a way to check what stats have been buffed and debuffed during the battle. They’ve also added a system wherein you can see what moves are not effective, effective or super effective against an enemy if you’ve beaten them before. Part of me welcomes this change greatly, as the National Pokedex is getting too large to remember the types of every single Pokemon, though I do worry that this will devolve the game into less tactics and more mindless button-pressing.

I was never all that sold on the setting of Alola itself. I’m not a holiday island kind of a guy. But playing through the demo, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the cultural quirks which differed from the other regions. And that’s just as well, because they’re going all-out on this; the professor isn’t even a professor, because they want him to seem more laid-back. I’m a fan of what we’ve seen so far from Kukui and the, er, the rival dude who’s name escapes me. I even found myself enjoying Team Skull; there’s a big danger of them simply becoming edgelords, but they were actually somewhat amusing to me.

They give you a Greninja for the demo, and so far there’s been no indication as to whether you get to keep him or anything else from the demo to take to the main game (as was the case with the ORAS demo). At one point you get to use a Pikachu, and that was during the (frankly odd) trial where you had to go and sneak pictures of Pokemon, who would subsequently attack you. I have a feeling that that mechanic is going to be one of those features that Game Freak try to promote but ultimately ends up falling by the wayside. At the end of the trial, there’s a boss Pokemon, which is basically one of the earlier Pokemon but in a different form – which then assumes another, fiery form… it’s confusing. I’m not entirely sure I like that particular direction the game series is heading in.

Z-moves are cool, though. I’m not sure I was ever fully sold on mega-evolutions and having to mega-evolve your Pokemon in each fight to get the best out of them. Z-moves are SuMo’s mega evolution type game-changer. Whilst you only got a chance to use it once in a demo, I’m assuming that you can only use them once per battle, and that they do a hefty portion of damage. And the animation was awesome… though I can see it getting somewhat annoying once you’ve seen it a few dozen times, because it does take around 10 seconds to complete.

And then the demo ends but not really because New Demo Plus. You get to go back to the demo zones and ride a Taurus around, which is another feature coming in the main game that I absolutely love. It beats the bike by miles. Not only is it really fast – and has a charge move that goes even faster – but it also has utility, seemingly taking the place of Rock Smash as you barge past rocks and open up new areas. Speaking of which…

The area you can unlock with this charge is a kind of mini Safari-Zone. And I’m talking oldschool Safari Zone. There’s no time (well, step) limit, but they give you a certain amount of Pokeballs and chuck you into the long-grass, telling you to catch yourself some pocket monsters. However, demos being demos means there’s only three to catch – Pikipek, Yungoos, and Rockruff, so that gets stale pretty quickly.

And that about sums it up! I look forwards to playing the full game when it’s released. I should probably go and work on completing Pokemon Yellow so I can transfer those guys over…

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“Hey Slowpoke, can I leave the demo area?”

Starting Dragon Age: Origins

So a year or two ago I bought Dragon Age: Origins and played through the first 3-4 hours of it, and while I did enjoy it, I ultimately got distracted by other games or things to do. However, since 100% completing Skyrim a few months ago (oh yeah, that happened), I’ve been on the prowl for another RPG that doesn’t have the letters MMO stuck in front of it, and I decided to give DA:O another go.

Whilst I originally rolled a mage character, as I typically do in most RPGs, I decided to go for something a little different this time. I’m a city elf warrior who specialises with dual-wielding, and I’m currently torn between whether I should put my upgrade points into strength, agility, or constitution – strength for the armour, agility for the abilities, and constitution for general all-round not dying-ness. But this little indecision only occurs for a small amount of time when levelling up, and isn’t even really a legitimate gripe with the game. I’m aware that as somebody who started PC gaming when they were 12 in 2007 (and even then favouring consoles until I was 18), I’ve had it easy as far as stat attribution goes, as most RPGs have watered it down significantly since the days of yore.

Anyway, as somebody who already played through the mage starting experience (it was a Harrowing time, geddit?), it was interesting to see the beginning of another character’s adventure and how it differed from before. They all funnel into the same place eventually, of course, but I actually found myself enjoying the city elf scenario more than the mage one, probably because I can identify somewhat more with a character who isn’t shooting fireballs every which way from the get-go. And from what little I’ve seen of Bioware’s storytelling so far, I continue to find myself easily immersed and thoroughly entertained by the characters and the response choices you can choose between. One day I will have to make a character who goes down the purely evil route, because some of those options are very intriguing.

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My main character, Gardon, bears a striking resemblance to one of my closest friends and it’s getting to be somewhat distracting!

The combat is interesting. It feels to me between a combination of a tactical turn-based system and an MMO’s ability / cooldown system. And I have to say it works very well. I love that I have the ability to simply pause the game at any point and flick between my party members to determine what they should be doing and if they need to sip a quick potion. I do find the tactical view somewhat redundant due to the fact that in third person mode, I can see further ahead and around me, but that might be a perk of modern PCs that weren’t accounted for at the time of the game’s release in 2009.

Whilst Dragon Age: Origins is getting on a bit in age now, it’s aging well, both graphics and gameplay wise, and feels to me like a solid combination of WoW, Skyrim, and a Telltale style narrative. DA:O obviously preceded the latter two listed games, but I’m just applying my own experiences retroactively as similarities. If I manage to complete DA:O you can expect another blog post about it, and perhaps I’ll look into Dragon Age: Inquisition at some point too.

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This guy was a bit of a bastard to kill. And he’s only the first boss in the game!

I’m putting this at the bottom of my blog post as it’s somewhat of a sidenote. Since I got this new PC a few months back, I’ve been going back and playing some games that I’ve already played on my laptop, and finding them inexplicably more enjoyable. I’ve come to the conclusion that my laptop’s constant struggle to keep a consistent framerate probably had something to do with it, and the smooth 60 frames I’m seeing all around nowadays is enabling me to focus on the gameplay rather than because subconsciously sidetracked by technical issues. And the ultra graphics options are always a nice bonus, too.