Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Minecraft In-depth Review

It's a game that has taken the world by storm; it has emerged overnight and has sold millions of copies. And do you know what? It deserves it. It's a basic yet ingenious concept that makes the game so wonderful. Minecraft is an excellent example of "sandbox" gaming in its purest form. You are in a world with virtually no restrictions and you are free to do whatever you desire. There's no set goal or target, nor is there any real structure to the game. Minecraft is your world and how you play is entirely upto you. As well as the freedom being its ultimate strength, one has to say that it can serve as an equal downfall. Some players simply won't be able to grasp having no objectives. Others will embrace this feature with open arms. You will either love this game or hate it.

The world is made up of simple building blocks. You know how they say that the elements (on the Periodic Table) are the building blocks of the universe? Well, it's just that. The land, leaves, and animals are all made of blocks. Needless to say, if you don't like simple graphics, this game will be an eyesore. Even then, the designers have tried their utmost best to make the atmosphere vibrant and colourful.
Simplicity can be beautiful

The game revolves around a simple mechanism of "break in order to build". Minecraft is based around building your own world from the resources available in the environment. For example, the trees provide wood as their resource, which is one of the fundamental resources required for other activities such as mining or crafting. Once you understand this basic mechanic, the possibilities become endless. It's an extremely addictive concept. Perhaps one of the negatives in the game lie in this trial and error approach. There's no tutorial or help for any newbies; it can become frustrating at times to figure out certain things. This is why experimentation is so crucial to this game, however it often felt as an obstacle towards truly enjoying the game (for me). Albeit this is no major problem, you can easily utilise some external websites to guide you through the processes. Some may argue that experimentation is one of the brilliant ideas in the game yet, for me, it feels daunting as you plunge right into the depths of the game with no aid.
The huge resource system
Things may all be hunky-dory during the daylight hours but when the veil of darkness covers the world, things aren't the same. During the sinister twilight hours, hostile creatures spawn and the players (and creatures alike) are given an objective: survival. The armed zombies, spiders and skeletons only have one aim and that is to kill you. At this point, it's advisable to build a fortress or shelter of some kind in hope of defending against these creatures. Conversely you can take a weapon and brave the creatures of the night. A word of warning though, Minecraft was never truly designed for you to decimate hordes of monsters; you'll die swiftly especially if you're inexperienced. The most effective method is finding safety in your shelter; making use of your structures is the best defence. This perilous element to the game isn't necessary as you can choose "Peaceful" difficulty and avoid it completely. Although, I personally feel that the danger element is essential for you to truly become engaged with the game.
Eeeek! Zombies!
Once you have figured out the initial concepts of the game, the core-model is extremely forgiving. Minecraft doesn't possess a real-world physics game engine thus your structures won't crumble if they are unbalanced or a paradox. Do you want a mid-air empire? Sure, it's all possible! The game is designed for you to express creativity. The game's job is to simply let you create. There is one limitation though. Fire; it's incredibly merciless. It'll devour your entire island in a matter of minutes.

Even though the game is forgiving, at the same time it can be unforgiving. It's madness! No matter how safe you make your impenetrable fortress to be, a moment of complacency will result in death. Forgetting to place a torch in a room can result in your face being ravaged by a zombie in the morning. Creepers also add a sense of challenge to the game as these devious creatures explode. Yes, explode. Say bye-bye to your hours of work in a matter of seconds.

All in all, Minecraft is a beautiful game that can be equally rewarding, charming and entertaining as the many other games out there. Don't be deceived by its looks, the game is most certainly worth its price-tag. The wonderful thing is that the game possesses endless opportunities for upgrades. Notch and his developers are constantly adding new things to the game. Things like wolves, snow, weather cycles and much more. The game can only get better from here. There's even a multiplayer mode in the game. Minecraft is pure genius; it's simplicity at its best.


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm Trailer Unveiled

A brief glimpse of the follow-up to Blizzard's Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, called Heart of the Swarm, has been leaked onto Youtube. The video shows characters Kerrigan and Jim Raynor in the small cut-scene. The Heart of the Swarm is said to be focused on the Zerg this time around, similar to how Wings of Liberty revolved around the Terran aside from a couple of missions. The expansion is hoped to be released in 2012 on both PC and Mac, probably just after the release of Diablo III. When Wings of Liberty was released it went on to receive the Best PC Game of the Year award; Heart of the Swarm is certainly going to be a highly anticipated game, if it isn't already. Here's the trailer for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Darkspore In-depth Review

From the makers of the best-selling game The Sims, Maxis has moved into a whole new direction with Darkspore. The name is slightly misleading as Darkspore has no real connection with Maxis' last release "Spore". Instead the game is orientated more towards a hack 'n' slash genre quite similar to Diablo. It's a decent effort by Maxis but some elements feel out of place.

Customisation galore!
It's the level of flexibility and customisation that shines; it's probably the definitive feature that makes it stand out from other Diablo-clones. You can create a unique slant on a standardised creature from the very beginning. There are various colours and visual options for your hero. There is also a huge amount of versatility in armour and weapons; there will simple be nobody who has the exact same customisation as you. You even have the option of switching between three characters throughout your journey. It's quite reminiscent of Pokemon, I can almost hear Ash shouting in the background "Go Pikachu!"... Not only does this make the gameplay ever-changing but it also makes it even more flexible.

The graphics are simply top-notch. The visuals are smooth and stunning. Moreover the sci-fi setting brings a sense of freshness to a genre which is almost dominated by medieval dungeons, castles and other traditional fantasy settings.

Colourful atmosphere
The storyline, however, is quite basic to say the least. There are some interesting concepts here, but they are poorly executed. Most of the time your AI is simply telling snapshots of background information pertinent to your current mission. It's not a very engaging method. You never interact with your AI or any of the other creatures thus the storyline feels bland. This is definitely the game's weakest department. The game's storyline just doesn't develop after the opening scenes.

On the other hand, gameplay is better than the storyline: it's fast-paced and enthralling. You battle through hordes of creatures and receive lots of rewards like with any dungeon-crawler. The reward system is extremely addictive and makes you want more everytime. Not only that, but Darkspore's major feature is the ability to unlock and customise twenty-five heroes. Each of your classes can be heavily customised in the aesthetics department as mentioned before and each class possesses four unique abilities. This makes it essential to strategise which three creatures you take in battle. The actual combat system is quite simple yet enjoyable which makes it approachable for even the most casual of players. Another positive attribute is its multiplayer option. It does make the game a lot more exciting when playing with other people as the game's levels feel extremely similar each time albeit the scenery.

Straightforward combat
Overall, the game does possess some positive qualities. The depth of customisation will keep anybody entertained and the simple battle system is great for the most casual of players. However the poor execution of the plot and the repetitiveness of each level conveys Maxim's inexperience in this genre.


Friday, 27 May 2011

Diablo III: Runestones

In my opinion this is the most fascinating update to Diablo yet. Runestones allow a player to customize each and every skill he/she possesses to their own liking. Not only does it change the mechanics of the skill, but it also redesigns the aesthetics of the ability as well.

There are five runestone types: Crimson, Indigo, Obsidian, Golden and Alabaster. Each runestone affects each skill differently. Runestones also differ in rank; the higher the rank of a runestone, the more dramatic the effect on the skill. Experimentation and discovering your playstyle is a must here as the possibilties are limitless. Not only is there a talent tree system, but the addition of this complex system will diversify gameplay even more. For once in a game, it may be enjoyable to play the same class again and again...

Diablo III: Mercenaries

Terribly sorry about the long wait till my next update, I've had a lot of exams recently. Anyways, the Blizzard conference call has confirmed a Q3 release for the beta! So be prepared to hack 'n' slash by September 2011 (at the latest). What this confirms is that Blizzard are still aiming for a 2011 release for Diablo III; keep your fingers crossed...

The first update I'd briefly like to cover is the Mercenary system. Basically Blizzard wants every single player out there to have an enjoyable co-op experience with Diablo even with single player campaign. Their target is to make it feel as if you are assisted by a trustworthy sidekick throughout your epic journey. In order to keep the gameplay as swift and smooth as possible, the mercenary will upgrade his/her own armour him/herself. Each NPC has their own ability tree as well, so you can specialise your mercenary to your own requirement! Perhaps you lack healing, so your follower can be a humble healer. Or perhaps you just want to tear down your enemies ruthlessly, then maybe a DPS build is in order. 

I guess I forgot to mention the most important detail... There are 3 mercenaries you can choose from: Enchantress, Scoundrel or the Templar. The three characters will be central figures in the main storyline. Wait! What if I want to try all of the companions? Don't worry, you can obtain all of them, it's just that you can only have one in battle with you. The rest stay at your base camp and you can switch your companions whenever you desire! But what if my Templar is gaining some dust? Again, don't worry. Blizzard have optimised the system so the mercenaries auto-level as you progress through the game so you don't waste time grinding them to your standards. What Blizzard is saying though, is that these followers are a viable option only in Normal mode; they'll be virtually ineffective in the harder modes. Therefore Blizzard is encouraging you to use their Battle Net system and play with other people around the world. Overall it seems to be a pretty neat inclusion in the game.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Rift In-depth Review

Rift may seem like an ordinary MMORPG with much of its core gameplay being very similar to World of Warcraft however there's a layer of complexity behind many important aspects of the game providing a steep learning curve. This may dishearten a few newcomers, however behind the complexities is a deep, engrossing world. It's an extremely refined new MMO, with great server stability and very little lag.

The hostile world of Telara
You are immediately thrown into the chaotic world of Telara; the introductory areas show great conflict with many explosions and portray a struggle defending the hordes of enemies from the Plane of Death. Regardless of the faction you choose (Guardians or Defiants), the starting area leads to a climatic encounter with Regulos, a dragon that ultimately transports you through time. It's a fast-paced and exciting opening, but the emphasis on the story soon after rapidly dissipates. But as the story-telling lessens, the complexities increase. You will be in possession with three "souls" before you even leave the starting zone. Souls are fundamentally your class talent trees. As you level you can put points into these soul trees, unlocking more rewarding skills found deeper in a tree.

The game offers four character archetypes: Mage, Rouge, Warrior or Cleric. Your class determines which of the 9 (out of 36) souls you will possess. The beautiful thing about souls is that there is a huge variety of talent options resulting in a versatile gameplay experience. All classes can heal, do melee damage, range damage and (with the exception of the Warrior) can heal. Probably the exception to this rule is the Mage, who tends to specialise in only one school of magic as skills from other souls do not combine well with each other. This results in a much less diverse experience with the mage, however it does make it easier.

The task of figuring out which souls combine well is probably the most daunting one in Rift. It's confusing for even experienced players and the lack of restrictions in the talent trees can make it so that you create a character who doesn't excel in anything particular. But the freedom also allows for creative builds and some powerful ones are bound to surface. Souls truly define your character and your playing experience, more so than any other game I've played before. The flexibility of this system allows one class to play many roles.

The Mage

The PvP system is a lot of fun in Rift. There are four warfronts that you can unlock at different levels, and while they all conform to the types we have seen in other MMOs- capture the flag, capture bases etc-  the maps are unique and well designed for strategic gameplay for all classes.

As well as PvP, the game also possesses a questing system and dungeons (with many raids at the level cap). It's a system that is similar to World of Warcraft Cataclysm, with a handful of hubs slowly moving your character across the zone. It's slightly sluggish, and the quests themselves are nothing special; most of them are just kill/collect. Eventually this does feel repetitive and boring...

Now, for the unique part of the game: rifts. This is what makes the game fresh and revitalising even when monotonously questing for hours. Rifts are gigantic holes in the fabric of the world which allow creatures from other dimensions to enter Telara, our world. If left open long enough, the monsters will destroy your questing hub so it's a good idea to prioritise closing the rift. Most rifts will attract a multitude of players, so grouping is possible. The group system is well designed and is minimal fuss; the system automatically detects players next to you when there is a rift nearby and asks whether you want to join their group. Even two groups can merge together with this simple mechanic- it saves a lot of time. Rifts are spontaneous and are well rewarding making them a fun experience for all players. Sometimes a world-wide rift (invasion) occurs causing havoc across the entire zone. Invasions offer greater rewards, and will encourage more player involvement. The feeling is truly epic and makes the world feel ever so dynamic and changing, unlike many other games where the world remains static. Rifts are one of the game's strengths though sometimes it feels like a weakness as well; it's off-putting at times when you don't want to encounter an obstacle while questing or when there are limited players online.
Some rifts are a true spectacle

Telara is a world which must be explored. Although Rift may not bring many innovative ideas to the table, it is polished in almost every aspect and this results in a satisfying experience. The lush environment and the detail of the world are breath-taking and outweigh the negatives of the game. Trion's support for this game has been excellent and their service in fixing bugs, and providing regular patches have been great. There's a steep learning curve but once it has been overcome you will find Rift to be an extremely immersive experience.

Overall this game deserves 8.5/10

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Diablo III: The Demon Hunter

Dual-wield crossbows, explosives, traps and shadow magic. Combine all these and what you get is a dark, mysterious ranger capable of eradicating an unfathomable number of enemies. Her sworn objective is to destroy the creatures of the Burning Hell, never resting until the impossible task is complete.

The stare of vengeance
Every demon hunter has an inward force which drives them to fight hellspawn; a past experience of some sort. Most have a stereotypical story of being the lone survivor of a demonic invasion, later being taken in by another demon hunter. There is something within all demon hunters that gives them strength to resist the demonic corruption which would drive lesser men to insanity. The hunters hone this very power and channel it to use the demon's power as their own weapon, thus allowing the use of dark magic. The demon hunter isn't restricted to range weapons, however she is the core-archetype of the ranged class. As a result a very small number of skills will revolve around melee, if any at all. At the present moment, there is a very limited knowledge base for this class; only a handful of skills have been revealed, with no skill trees having been released either. The unique resource for this class is still under development as well. All I can say is that demon hunters are swift attackers that will rely on strategic gameplay. Here's the video for some of the skills revealed so far:

The skills respectively:
Fan of knives: A volley of knives which damages any enemies within its small radius heavily, possibly the shortest "ranged" attack.
Bola: The ranger fires a rope with explosives attached around it, dealing minimal impact damage but considerably more explosive damage.
Molten arrow: A linear trajectory which pierces through enemies and deals serious fire damage. The seared ground deals AoE damage to any foe who walks over it.
Grenade: Small projectiles which explode after a couple of seconds, they can ricochet and bounce off other obstacles making them tough to aim precisely; best used for large crowds of enemies.
Entangling shot: Slows the enemy while dealing damage. Nearby enemies may be chained as well.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Diablo III: The Monk

The name is extremely misleading as first impressions would suggest. However, after thinking about it rationally for just a few seconds, the masterful martial art skills of the Shaolin monks spring to mind. The Diablo monk quite simply epitomises hand-to-hand combat. The bone crunching blows combined with the awesome speed that the monk dispatches his foes results in a powerful class to say the least. This warrior is the bastion of justice with light being a crucial element in the majority of his abilities.

The confident stance
says it all
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the monk is his unique combat system. Many of this monk's offensive skills are split into three segments that are triggered in stages. As a result the monk can produce combos of the different stages of different skills into unique chains; all that's missing is a hit-counter and the system will be extremely reminiscent of a classic fighting game. The monk focuses on holy energy, amalgamating beautiful shades of gold, white, silver and blue throughout various skills. Agile yet fragile; the monk is the opposite of the barbarian. The monk utilises the unique "spirit" as its resource pool for skills. Spirit is generated by using normal attacks and combo skills and is spent by using other skills. It's designed to keep gameplay as fast and thrilling as possible: the more you kill, the more you can kill. However, as mentioned above, it's interestingly balanced with the monks limited health supply providing for challenging gameplay. The monks' skill trees are still unnamed with only a limited number of abilities being revealed at the present time. Two out of three trees seem to focus on offensive skills, judging by the skill names such as "crippling wave" and "seven-sided strike". The other tree focuses on more defensive skills.
Without any further delay here are the skills:

In chronological order:
Crippling Wave: A blast of holy energy that works best in a three-strike combo: The first strike slows the enemies; the second will reduce their damage; the third strike is the most devastating in terms of damage as well as how it resets the two effects' duration.
Exploding Palm: One of the most destructive skills on display. Again it's split into three separate attacks, the first two of which do normal damage. The final attack, although seemingly normal as well, works like a ticker-timer bomb. The final blow deals a moderate bleeding damage which increases exponentially when the enemy moves until it dies and explodes into bones and flesh. The explosion also deals damage to nearby foes.
Way of the Hundred Fists: The monk plunges forward dealing a wave of punches, the third "stage" deals a small explosion dealing knock-back damage. The speciality of this move is that it doesn't need to be repeated three times in succession in order for the three attacks to be repeated.
Impenetrable Defence: The monk swings his weapon around himself furiously creating a luminous, impenetrable bubble which deflects any projectiles back in the same trajectory they came from. It also works with melee skills and provides 100% dodge for a limited time.
Seven-Sided Strike: The monk rushes forward and an ancient glyph appears below him. He strikes the enemy seven times and jumps from opponent to opponent.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Diablo III: The Wizard

Reckless, raw and rebellious are some of the characteristics of this individual. She uses magic to her own nefarious ends; magics forbade for over a millennia to preserve authority and balance. This untameable, headstrong youth neglects any tutelage and dabbles in powerful ancient magics. Negativity may surround this class, but surely enough, only in terms of lore...

Power doesn't lie
in experience
It's the generic mage class albeit in my eyes it's the most interesting class. Even though it has a striking resemblance to the sorcerer from both Diablo I and II, there is a fascinating aura surrounding this class. The wizard in Diablo III has honed her expertise within all schools of magic, wielding immense powers in arcane magics, temporal distortion and even dealing with the stereotypical fire, lightning and ice magics with ease. The wizard's resource pool will be Arcane Power. I'm judging that the wizard will have an ample supply of "Arcane Power" at her dispense though at the cost of a limited health supply, as is the case with all mages. The wizard can finely tune her expertise within one of three schools: Storm, Arcane or Conjuring. Storm skills seems to focus on devastating large numbers of enemies with AoE (Area of Effect) attacks such as tornado and blizzard, though it somewhat lacks passive skills which the other trees provide. On the other hand, the Arcane tree contains a wide array passive skills to bolster various aspects of the class as well as holding some defensive and offensive capabilities. Finally the conjurer class, no surprises here, focuses on summoning objects and other phenomena to deal damage as well as providing many temporary buffs.
Here are some of the stunning abilities of the class:

Here they are in order:
Disintegrate: A beam of raw energy dealing considerable damage to anything in its linear path.
Electrocute: A bolt of lightning arcs from the Wizard's fingertips, damaging and slowing the enemy.
Teleport: Move instantly from one location to another, however it carries a considerable cool down time making it viable only for emergencies.
Magic missile: Purple projectiles which deal damage to the enemy.
Slow time: A bubble of temporal distortion, slowing down any enemy or projectile within its radius; the most interesting skill by far from the limited selection at the present time.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Diablo III: The Witch Doctor

Frail, trembling, and slightly hunched-back; the witch doctor is depicted as being physically weak. However his superior spiritual and manipulative abilities make him a fearsome adversary. His powers range from being able to control the minds of enemies, summoning undead creatures without the need of a corpse, to lobbing alchemical projectiles which inflict tremendous damage.

Never judge by looks
The witch doctor is a new class which has been introduced in Diablo III, it's features are reminiscent of the necromancer's from Diablo II. Generally speaking, the witch doctor's style of killing is indirect, often bringing mass-confusion, minions and curses to the battlefield. Nevertheless the witch doctor still possesses  some more "direct" attacks which are just as potent as other classes. If anything, the witch doctor will require more strategic-style gameplay in comparison to the destructive barbarian. The witch doctor possesses the stereotypical mana system found in abundance throughout many RPGs making it similar to a caster archetype. The witch doctor can diversify his role through three skill trees: Zombie, Spirit or Voodoo. The Zombie tree, in the main, will focus on the summoning aspects of the witch doctor. The Spirit tree, true to its namesake, will favour controlling the intangible spirits of enemies, conjure spirits themselves, or manipulate the witch doctor's spirit itself. Finally the Voodoo tree specialises in offensive skills, though it can supplement the Zombie tree by summong "fetishes".
Here are some of the unique chaos-inflicting skills shown in the video below:

Here are the skills respectively:
Mass confusion: The witch doctor brainwashes enemies to fight on your side for a short duration.
Soul harvest: An aura of raw-spiritual power which disintegrates enemies and restores mana as well.
Fire bomb: A demonic projectile which explodes inflicting damage in a small area.
Horrify: A large projection of the witch doctor appears inducing fear within enemy mobs.
Locust swarm: Directs a plague of locusts which spreads ferociously among the horde of enemies.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Diablo III: The Barbarian

The barbarian is quite simply the incarnation of brute force. The immense, near-legendary physical stature of the barbarian strikes dismay within allies and foes alike. The barbarian dispatches his enemies in a primordial, savage manner; they are truly the "dual-wielding furies of combat".

The trademark "guns"
Players will be familiar with the barbarian from Diablo II; not much has changed since. The barbarian is the archetypal melee class who has the uncanny ability to dual-wield weapons, nothing special. However what is different is that the barbarian utilises a new system called "stamina". The barbarian must dispense some stamina in order to use his skills. Coupled with a new stat called "fury", which is required for more destructive skills, this creates unique mechanics for the barbarian which are dissimilar to other classes. For example, when enough fury is gained the barbarian invokes powerful whirlwinds and goes into a berserk rampage. The result is that he literally decimates his opponents.
The barbarian possesses three skill trees: Berserker, Juggernaut and Battlemaster. Well, judging by the names, defence isn't a natural part of the barbarian's style.

Here are some of the confirmed havoc-wreaking skills of the barbarian shown in the video below:

In chronological order...
Cleave: A vicious swipe of the sword which destroys anything in its swing.
Groundstomp: An enormously powerful stomp causing any enemies within range to be dazed.
Leap: A terrific jump into the midst of his enemies resulting in a circular aura of electricity striking anything within radius.
Seismic Slam: The barbarian smashes his fists ferociously within the ground creating a linear earthquake wiping any enemies in front of him.
Whirlwind: A 360 degrees continuous spin which can be controlled to decimate hordes of enemies.
Be sure to submit your views of this class in the comments!