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.

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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.

The Endless Quest for Loot (Diablo 3)

I’ve never played any of the previous Diablo games, and I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about Diablo 3’s state at launch. However, my prior addiction to World of Warcraft had caused me to take a look at Blizzard’s other games, and Diablo 3 had caught my eye many moons before when I tried out the demo on PS3. After a swift recommendation from a friend, I plunged in wallet first and entered the world of Sanctuary.

The story caught me off-guard. I remember that I’d been intrigued by the gameplay, but when I actually bought it around two years ago (shortly after the release of the expansion, Reaper of Souls), I became quickly invested in the actual events unfolding around me. I had also been enticed by the cinematic at the begging of Act IV (spoilers, watch at your own discretion), but I’d mostly attributed its awesomeness to Blizzard’s ever-spectacular cinematic team; seeing it in context with the narrative was a whole other layer of enjoyment.

But that was a few years ago. I completed the game ages ago and have gotten a second character to level 70 alongside my original Wizard. So what am I still doing playing the game?

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The other day, my friend and I were lucky enough to take down a treasure goblin which opened a portal to The Vault. I think I gathered around 40 million gold overall.

Well, Diablo 3 really comes to fruition as a game after its completion. When you finish the story, you’re launched into adventure mode, and that’s where the game really opens up. You can gain infinite amounts of paragon levels which allow you to attribute small enhancements to stats (I’m currently at level 103), and the game becomes a search for gear which will enhance your skills and complement your character’s abilities. I’m currently attempting to gather the set pieces needed to pull off an Archon build for my Wizard… and in all honesty, this is the first time in a hundred paragon levels and countless hours of gameplay that I’ve actually decided to look up a guide on how to build my character, and it’s really given me new motivation to continue playing. There’s countless ways to improve, such as switching up which abilities you use so that they work together to create a unified effect (I currently work with a lot of lightning) or enchanting your gear to have some extra defenses if your character becomes squishy. It’s a never-ending balance of doing enough damage and having enough toughness and recovery, and choosing when to finally move up to the next level of difficulty for faster experience and more rewards.

It’s rare that I become so invested in an RPG that I continue to return to it. Nowadays Blizzard allow you to create seasonal characters, meaning that you start completely fresh (with no shared bank or money with your previous characters) and complete quotas (such as hitting max level) to unlock rewards such as gear and cosmetics. When Season 6 began a few weeks ago I began levelling a Demon Hunter with a friend, but soon decided to continue working on my main character outside of the seasonal game and truly get to grips with the way the metagame works. And I’ve been having a blast.

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Kadala sells you random items in return for Blood Shards. I got ridiculously lucky when searching for a particular set helmet (orange items are legendary, green items are set items), but alas, did not find the particular one I was looking for.

Diablo excels at giving you a sense of progression and achievement far into the depths of the adventure mode. From treasure goblins to cursed chests, to random legendary item drops and even the sound that it makes when it clinks to the ground and the beam of light the shines upwards from it, everything is designed to make you feel accomplished as you romp through the ever demon-infested lands and kill bosses you’ve put down many a time before. And it doesn’t feel monotonous, because you’re always working towards a new, greater goal. The layout of areas is randomised, and if you’re doing rifts then the very lands you’re running through are randomised too. I hope Blizzard will put out another Diablo 3 expansion sometime, but honestly, the updates and continuous re-iteration of game systems is enough to keep me going, so long as they stick with it. Diablo 3 is one of my favourite games of all time, and I’ve only got more gameplay ahead of me.

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Just remember… there is no cow level.

Wait… This Isn’t Tamriel! (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning)

Kingdoms of Amalur is to Skyrim what Torchlight 2 is to Diablo 3. It was developed by one / some of the developers of its predecessor, it’s similar yet different in that it uses more traditional gameplay in place of the popular brand’s newer take on things, and the graphics and general aesthetic is more colourful, and less… gritty. Oh, and it’s also exactly what you’ve been looking for when searching for alternatives to the more mainstream franchise.

Now, as far as I can tell, I’ve just spoken heresy. Some of the user reviews for Kingdoms of Amalur beg you not to compare it to Skyrim, stating that it’s a very different game. And whilst partially, I agree, given its third person driven point of view and its more hack-and-slash combat, I also disagree. Now, to be fair, I’m only ten hours into the game as of now, but I can already see many similarities pop up between the two franchises, such as how stealth, lockpicking and pickpocketing works, how it has persuasion and crime, different guilds (sorry… houses) with their own questlines, and a myriad of other things. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; nor am I saying that this was unexpected, given that one of the lead game designers was prominent in Oblivion’s creation. In fact, this pleases me. There’s enough similarity here to feel right at home whilst still being a completely different and brilliant game.

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Here is my character, fresh out of the intro to the game. It’s… somewhat greener than Skyrim.

Take abilities, for example. Not to bash Skyrim’s exemplary collection of spells (see: fire hands, fire bolts, bigger fire bolts, fire floor), but I’ve always felt that something was… lacking. It is primarily, I think, due to the fact that spells are bought, not earned by levelling up. Not only do you learn them in Kingdoms of Amalur, but you can also put more points into them to make them more powerful. This is, like I mentioned in the introduction, a more traditional take on the game mechanisms of an RPG. It is also, however, better, removing simplicity and allowing far more customisation of your character’s ability to function in combat situations.

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It would seem that my penchant for accidental murder has carried over to Kingdoms of Amalur.

Now can we talk about scenery? I applaud Bethesda’s dedication to make an RPG that doesn’t think it necessary to include every biome, and this fits in with their apparent ideology that fantasy can be gritty and real instead of constantly airy-fairy. It attempts to immerse its players solely in one continent at a time, thereby building a more fleshed-out and believable environment instead of a handful of half-realised lands. And I respect them for that. But, man, sometimes I want to stop shivering when playing Skyrim and find somewhere warm to go bandit killing. And whilst, admittedly, I’ve not yet made it off the first continent in Amalur, I have visited Webwood, an area with an entirely different atmosphere to the surrounding lands. It’s full of, erm, big pink fluffy bunnies.

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These books… they’re not physics based! (They are readable, though.)

Finally, whilst I can’t exactly comment on it’s value as a whole yet, I can say that I’m enjoying the main storyline more than Skyrim, as well as many of the side-quests. The characters have more… character to them. When I arrived at the town of Gorheart, and I went through one of the merchant’s personal possessions and found a diary detailing the loss of her husband and her grief, and then found out more by talking to her about it. I then found notes by her husband’s graveside from his brother who promised to look out for the merchant and, well, I won’t spoil things. But as far as I can tell, there’s no accompanying quest. It’s just story for the sake of story, and it’s more interesting than half of Skyrim’s main questlines. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that they have more than three voice actors per gender. You know, soft spoken, rough spoken, and that one voice which says, “I’m going to betray you later in the questline because I’ve got that shifty voice.”

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It’s good to get away from Skyrim’s physics… oh goddamnit.

It’s a shame there won’t be a Kingdoms of Amalur 2, really. This was a game world unconnected to any other franchise who’s story wasn’t afraid to do things differently, who’s graphics weren’t afraid to look a little fantasy, and who’s game design wasn’t afraid to use tradition. And it does it really, really well. Hell, they even made me like gnomes.

Passive Roleplaying

When you hear about “roleplaying” in an MMO, the first thing that will probably rush to your mind is level 1 human females running around Goldshire Inn sending winky faces and selling their virtual bodies for in-game gold via a series of private messages composed of erotic text, thrown together almost more carelessly than the works of Fifty Shades of Grey. But when you take away some of the more modern experiments with the MMO experience, what was the full name of the genre? MMORPG.

Roleplaying is not about getting naked and kinky with your overenthusiastic level 1, but instead the idea of creating a fictional element to your in-game character. Even when you get past the stigmatic notion of nude dudes swapping pubes, the typical expectation of roleplaying a character is that you walk rather than run, speak as that character would, and imagine yourself to be living in the game world rather than playing it. And some people enjoy this, I’m not knocking it, I find it to be an interesting experiment into fiction. Nor am I denying that this is roleplaying, as that’d be absurd. What I am denying is that roleplaying has to be a different approach to playing the game, and that only a minority of players do this.

In my eyes, roleplaying is done by many of us and we don’t even realise it. Once you spend more than a few seconds in the character customisation screen, choosing your forehead colour and elongating your nose, you may have already started to question just what your High Elf is even doing in Helgen. You don’t even have to flesh out the backstory; just paying attention to the story in relation to your character and the significance of these events is enough to warrant the title of roleplayer. I find that giving your character a good name, personality, and contextual presence within the game world, as well as a set of dashing good looks is enough to enhance your gameplay experience. In all of my previous gameplays, I’d been dashing around the land as Kritigri the whatever-the-race-he-felt-like-choosing-at-the-time, ignoring backstory and killing at will. Now that I’ve actually stopped to give thought as to my character within the game, I’m much more receptive to the world and find that it just can’t be ignord.

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My High Elf, lookin’ sharp. The quest required that I wear the fancy clothes but they remain in my chest at Breezehome.

…yeah, that was terrible.

The most prominent example I have of the difference between passively roleplaying and not is a World of Warcraft character I once had. My friend and I decided to make Worgens, and given the restrictions of class combinations, I ended up making a Worgen Shadow Priest whom I named Kritigrawr. He made it all the way to level 50 before his name, race / class combo and the ridiculous appearance of a wolf in robes bothered me enough to delete him. He has since been replaced with a Human Discipline Priest, and her name is Divinitaine. I have thoroughly enjoyed this change, and have made similar deletions in the past, typically deleting a character whose name was a variant of “Kritigri” (see: Kritigrawr the Worgen Priest, Kritigro the Dwarf Warlock, Kritigru the Draenei Monk) to make more befitting names and races (i.e the aforementioned Divinitaine, Netherwarp the Human Warlock and, ah… Thunker, the Human Monk. The name amuses me.)

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Here is my WoW character Netherwarp, before I found him a decent staff to wield. The robes were intentionally gathered, though; transmogrification allows you to make your armour and weapons look like different armour and weapons, further enhancing your character’s fantasy.

 

Some RPGs such as Borderlands and the Witcher put you into the boots of a character with little to no customisability. From a narrative standpoint, this has its merits and advantages (I’ve only played a little of the first Witcher game but I already very much like Geralt), and your immersion lends itself more to the story of that particular character than your own passive roleplay. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, for I sure as hell know I wouldn’t be able to create as much of a glorious Italian badass as the Ezio Auditore that Assassin’s Creed 2 through Revelations presented me with.

Cleaning the King’s Basement (Hammerwatch)

For those of you not in the know, Hammerwatch is a top down, 2D Gauntlet-esque RPG. That is, to say, a highly minimalised version of Gauntlet. From what I’ve seen you get a basic attack and a mana-costing attack, you eat the food you find to survive, pick up coins and occasionally come across a vendor who can upgrade your attack, defense, or combo maneuvers.

When I first bought the game some time ago I gave it a whirl, died, and went, “Oh, game over is really game over; there’s no alternate progression and the levels aren’t randomised, so I’ll have to do it again. Well, whatever, that was fun.”

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Toasty! Leagues of skeletons are no match for Reece’s mastery of fire!

I wish to go back in time and slap myself in my big dumb face. Randomised dungeon crawlers have spoiled us; they appeal to our short attention spans and throw algorithms at us, which we gleefully lap up as we explore the never-ending shifting maze. Games like Hammerwatch reign us back in and invite us to consider the beauty of manual architecture; secrets are hidden ingeniously, food scattered provisionally, enemy spawns have rhyme and rhythm to them, and treasure is presented on a silver pedestal as opposed to half glitching into a wall somewhere.

The fun really begins when you pull a friend by their ear and get them to join in with you. The sense of adventure and exploration is more than doubled when shared, and the “OH GOD SAVE ME” moments are to be relished. Whilst I’ve never played Gauntlet beyond dabbling in Dark Legacy as a child on the PS2, I’ve read elsewhere that Hammerwatch really brings back the feeling of couch co-op that the old Gauntlet games excelled so well at.

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Wasn’t this the pivotal scene in Batman Begins?

The linearity of the game is to be praised. For the longest time, I thought the game would end after defeating the maggot boss after three floors. I know three floors doesn’t sound like much, but there truly was a rich quantity of content offered and the game came equipped with an expansion and user created campaigns, so I assumed this was the case. I once jokingly referred to Hammerwatch as a game in which you were hired to clean the King’s basement, as the three types of enemies you come across in the first segment of the game are ballistic bats, hardy beetles, and the never ending tide of maggots that spit so much acid at you, the game quickly descends into a bullet hell of avoidance and triumphant spamming of attack when you find that sweet spot devoid of pain.

Well anyway, my friend and I defeated the maggot queen and were surprised when we were met with not a credits screen but a new basement, full of skeleton warriors and archers. “Hurray!” we cried. “These 14 extra lives will make this a cakewalk!”

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This was not the case.

Oblivin’ the Life (Oblivion)

The first Elder Scrolls title I played was Skyrim, and after a few hours of running around, picking up flowers, talking to crisp packets and slaying my very first dragon, I promptly stopped playing altogether.

I’m not saying Skyrim was a bad game. In fact, from what I’ve seen and tried to play if it since my first toe-dipping, it’s freakin’ fantastic. It’s not difficult to see what all the fuss (ro dah) was about. It was just too big for me. My concentration never managed to latch appropriately onto the game. Maybe I just didn’t feel like an RPG at the time.

About a week ago, I decided to play some Oblivion, which I’d had similar experiences with since abandoning Skyrim. I’m not sure what was different, but something clicked. Suddenly, I was fireballing rats and failing to protect the Emperor like nobody’s business. Wolves live in fear of me. NPCs cower at the thought of coming off as rude and being callously cut down, before hastily returning to life in the quicksave prior.

Well, alright, I guess I'll be leaving, then!
Well, alright, I guess I’ll be leaving, then!

I’m a bit of a cheater. One thing I’ve never liked about the Elder Scrolls games – more so in Oblivion than Skyrim – is the limitations of carry weight. So I maaaaybe downloaded a mod which extended my carry weight from 210 to somewhere along the lines of 37,000. I’m a magical Pak Yak masquerading as an Argonian, and it’s goddamn spectacular. That being said, I don’t pick up everything I see. If I’m aware that I have a Dremora Mace in my inventory, I don’t typically pick up one of the other thirty thousand laying around the place. If it’s light, like the good old Deadric Heart, then I’ll probably shove more than a fair share in my endlessly expanding pockets. (I’m quite a sight when I rock up to the Imperial City with my pockets trailing behind me like Santa’s sack.)

I also turned the difficulty down, because I’m an awful gamer. It was default up until the siege of Kvatch, where I was met with a stretch of maybe 15 demons and nowhere to replenish resources. I turned the difficulty down just a smidgen, just a little tiny bit, and I was suddenly dispatching scamps in two swings instead of twelve. I’m not entirely sure what kind of scaling that is, but I’m not going to question it. I’ve been able to experience much more of the game in a shorter span of time due to it.

All jokes aside, I actually find myself interacting with the story and paying attention to characters and plot, far more so than I did in Skyrim. I don’t have the best attention span as a gamer, so this is a rare treat. Oblivion’s gameplay is tugging at me to try out Skyrim again, which I know harbors many improvements in niche, quality-of-life areas. But I’m forcing myself to stay with Oblivion for now, maybe to the extent of finding a quiet corner and reading through the fifty books I picked up to learn a little more about this world which I so ceaselessly charge through without much of a second thought.