Friday, September 25, 2009

Play Batman: The Animated Series Theme Music Here

Well, I played Batman: Arkham Asylum. Not to be confused with Batman's AA class, which consists of him punching you in the face until the drinking stops. I jest. Anyways as you've probably heard it is the greatest comic book based game ever made, and I have no desire to disagree. It is an excellent title and fans of good games should try it out. I just wanted to talk about it because it deserves to get more said about it. 

Fans of Batman should also check it out, as it bears little resemblance, beyond Joker taking over Arkham, to the Graphic Novel written by the ever so esoteric Grant Morrison. And fans of good games and Batman have no reason what so ever to not pick it up. Those who might also be interested: Fans of beat-em ups; Fans of stealth games; And fans of games that are just plain old pretty to look at. 

The game is interesting because it exists in a sort of limbo, being moderately placed within the world of the Animated series, but clearly not (the art style and time period of the game are at odds with the show); And yet not existing in the world of the comics either. Perhaps we can expect this to indicate that there will be a separate canon established for Batman's new gaming franchise (which clearly there will be given the amount of praise lavished on it).

And that's all I have to say about it. If you want a full review go check the big boys (or small boys) they've got very nice ones. Hell Yahtzee at The Escapist even enjoyed the bloody game, and he doesnt like anything. The combat is fun and works, the stealth is fun and diverse enough to keep you entertained, the gadgets are gadget-esque and you punch giant muscled giants in the face then ride them around like cattle. What else do you want.

Oh I'll add that the final fight was so out of character and so "gamey" that it almost ruined the entire game for me. The whole event seemed out of character for Joker (GASP HE'S THE END BOSS? what did you think it would be?) but then I suppose you can just argue that the Joker exists as a character who lives to be different. So I'll let it slide. Still "gamey" end boss fights are so friggin' kitschy that I can't bring myself to play the game again. I'll just remember it. 

Oh yea Harley = Pure Hotness.

If I Was Only This Much More Super!

Alright well I've had Champions Online for quite some time now, pushed a character pretty far into the game, level 30, and while I do not feel that I have seen everything the game has to offer, I feel I've seen enough to get a nice impressions/review piece out. Which is interesting because I've put easily 70 hours into the game over the past month and that does not feel like a significant portion of time to offer anything truly concrete about the game beyond impressions.

So lets just dive into it, I enjoy Champions Online. As far as MMOs go it is not trying to change anything, I wouldn't even say that it is trying to perfect what has come before. It is simply trying to exist as an awesome experience for those of us who adore Superheroes and wish we could do that. So put bluntly, if you do not enjoy comic books then you most likely will not enjoy this game. Plain and simple, there is too much service paid to comic book cliches to make it anything else beyond a comic book nerd's fantasy made real. You will venture through cities beating up gangs, you will stop super villains in fantastical bases, you will feign defeat to surprise a villain in their lair. You will find an amazing travel power and most probably beat/slash/incinerate/freeze/mentally assault thousands upon thousands of thugs into what I can only assume is death.

You will have fun. For a time. There is a  problem in that the game tends to keep you in an area just 1-2 hours longer than you would prefer to be. Upon entering a new section there is a euphoric realization of the new sights and sounds before you and how refreshing they are; for me the biggest was the Robot Cowboy section with an amusement park, that just took my breathe away. But then 4-6 hours later the feeling of this grand unique setting was worn off almost entirely as I struggled to make my way through the canyon. Had the game only put me there for 2-3 hours I believe looking back I would only have my Euphoric memories, but now in hindsight I have the two conflicting opinions. One of sheer amazement and the other tedious boredom at wanting to be blown away again. And I was when I did move on, but the cycle continued.

It isn't a horrid scenario but it meshes terribly with the feeling that the amount of content just barely scrapes you along. You need to grab every quest available to push follow the leveling path. Miss one (difficult because you can access a list with all quest givers shown on it which will then highlight them on your map) or worse come across a broken mission and you'll find yourself struggling to keep up with the missions. If they would increase the exp reward (or alternatively lower the leveling requirements) then it would let you leave missions alone giving you different stuff to play through later with alternate characters. 

Luckily the core gameplay is an absolute blast. Combat is a joy, with plenty of options available for you to approach your foes. Do you focus on one at a time and drop them like dominoes one after another. Or do you max your AOE and kill them off in one huge explosion. I honestly cannot tell you which is better, but it keeps things different, sometimes i use my cone attack, other times my single target high damage attack, or my close range flurry of melee attacks, or my sphere aoe to annihilate everything (which also pulls everything in sight to attack me which is dangerous but simultaneously awesome). Combat keeps you paying attention, you have to watch for indicators to block, (which have saved me numerous times from fights I could have lost)  and in general stay on your toes. 
It is true the game requires someone to go over the power set descriptions and delineate everything about them, because often times they have simply left code up that really fails to explain what they do. Thankfully the Powerhouse exists for you go and sample your prospective powers before you are locked in with them (although respecs are possible). So really if you grab a power that doesn't work as you would like it to or expect it to you can only blame yourself for not trying it fully out. 

But how does the game function as an MMO? Well that's interesting because it is true that you will constantly see people, hear their chat logs, and on occasion fight for mission goals. But for the most part, you will be soloing unless you and a friend are constantly grouping (this will also make the game easy as pie for you, as there are very few missions that require more than one person let alone two). The game does not care at all about who last hits or deals the most damage to a target; you hit it once you'll get credit, although actually resources and experience are allotted based on damage dealt. You get credit for your mission just by tagging the target once.
Another unique facet of Champions is how the servers are split into shards, or up to 100 people, this means there is never a need for server transfers, nor will you and your friends ever have to recreate a character because you did not know what servers you were each on.

Of course I really should not end this before discussing the largest perceived problem with the title, the end game drought. I honestly cannot comment on this issue at the present time. I have been busy with plenty of content so far and promises of more content several time a year seems sufficient in my opinion. I will be sure to address this in the future should an issue present itself towards the pro or the con. I will say that playing through with my alts is very tedious. You just do missions you have already done (albeit you do them better the second time around) and aside from playing a radically different powerset (the various powers really do differentiate themselves from each other) there truly is little reason to replay the content beyond utilizing unique powers each go around the proverbial merry-go-round.

Crafting is another issue present within the game. It exists and you can do it, but the main reason is to build very useful healing items and damage shields that can prove their worth in battles that are not going your way. The gear you can craft usually is on par with loot found or earned from missions. The requirement for learning special recipes needs to be explained however, as there appears to be random drops earned from breaking down components. It all adds up to craft system that has some perks but seems more like a bullet point rather than a fully developed feature.  

And I'll end on the positive note. The character creator. It is without a doubt in my mind brilliant. If you can envisage a character concept you can make it pretty damn close to what you want. You will want to make alternate Champs simply because it is a joy flexing the creative potential of the creator and making a robot dragon who uses rocket boots because your nemesis tore your wings off.

I should also comment on the nemesis system. It is very cool. But shows up 10 levels too late. It is very fun building your rival and explaining your feud that led to the nemesis status between them, but the fact that it arrives at level 25 instead of 15 or sooner seems strange. The concept is perhaps the lone unique idea that Champions has and they decide to make you work towards it. I suppose in a game you'll be playing for months to come it will not be a huge impact but I would like to be able to at least form the Nemesis at the same time I make the hero so I can build them around a single, perhaps contrasting, concept. Once you get it though, awesome, nothing like seeing your traitorous brother trying to kill you over and over again.

So in closing. Champion Online. Bring almost nothing new to MMOs. Yet surprisingly still a compelling and unique experience thanks to its central theme of being about superheroes. If you like combat and comics, and are not turned off by the prospect of spending the next year or so playing the same game, then I think you'll find a charming game in Champions. It is clearly not built for everyone, but for those who can find something to relate to. Well they will really enjoy it. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Words Go Here? Seriously!? Go Figure.

So its been quite some time. Lets talk about games. Good games of course. I'd love to be able to dissect horrid games, but I'm just not going to pay money for games that are bad.

So lets talk about games I have played. Street Fighter IV & League of Legends (finally NDA was lifted!).

First lets get Street Fighter IV out of the way. I'm playing it on the PC with a keyboard. Which is interesting, because it falls somewhere between the gamepad, and the arcade stick, certain moves are very easy to pull off once you get the finger motions down, while some are very hard, (I'm looking at you 720-ish degree spins). However my limited time (according to Steam roughly 10 hours) with game has revealed several things to me.

1. Damn I suck at Street Fighter IV. 

2. Damn this game is very beautiful. So much love and care went into making the visual fidelity of this game stunning. The filters are a nice touch also.

3. Damn this game is basically a simpler version of DotA or rather AoS (Aeon of Strife) styled games are basically team oriented real-time strategy versions of the fighting game genre. Much of your success in both genres is based upon the amount of knowledge you have going into the match, and from there quickly analyzing your opponents' play style to figure out an effective counter style. In Street Fighter it consists of learning every character in the game's moves and combos and how to effectively avoid/block or otherwise negate such moves. In DotA exact same thing; you need to understand what skills each hero has, what items complement and counter those skills and further you need to understand map layout, how the fog of war breaks lock-ons during chases and so on. It seems to me the AoS is a logical extension fighting game principles applied to a RTS game where the only function is a competitive multiplayer environment. The core difference being the team environment contrasted against a fighting game's simply One versus One. The sheer strategy and fine skill that is involved in both is surprising. But then any competitive really ultimately falls into requiring effective strategies and sufficient skills to obtain victories so I suppose this is more of a general statement of human competitions in general rather than merely an observation between fighting games and DotA clones.

So, if you enjoy Fighting games, you will probably find Street Fighter IV a worthwhile purchase. Too bad the sale on Steam already ended. Oh and Sagat needs a nerf. What do you mean fighting games don't get patched?

Next up, since I've gone on and on about DotA clones it seems appropriate to move onto League of Legends. So the game functions like DotA, two sides smash grunts at each other forever. Each side gets 5 champions and they vie for their side's victory. They level up gaining more skills and gain gold for grunts, champions and buildings destroyed. The player functions as the summoner. A benevolent god-entity who exists to order his Champion around. You as the summoner are granted two skills that usually have cooldown timers of 2-6 minutes. You also possess runes and masteries. For masteries think WoW talent trees. Slightly buffing your champions stats and abilities. Runes are basically swappable meta-game items that further buff the stats and abilities. You can have 3 pages of rune setups.  For quick swaps of various builds based on what character you use for that match.

The game feels like a logical extension DotA. Which makes sense because the brains behind League created most of DotA as we know it, Mr. Guinsoo, if you will. The game plays out largely similiar to to DotA, with a very similar map to DotA's. Albeit with some subtle changes, shrubs can be used to hide in, which are great for ambushes. Perhaps the most notable change is the shift away from hero kills = team win which very much dominates DotA. Very rare is it possible for the carry to rise up and lead your team to victory as is the case in DotA. Rather effective use of pushes and team defends of your own base are essential to your victory. It is possible to dominate a team through kills, but often unless there is a follow through with a strong base push, champion killing serves little purpose beyond fattening the wallet, although not especially well. 
Further the art of last hitting has been greatly reduced. Denying is out. Although last hitting enemies grunts is still viable to slow passively slow your attack. Towers are absolutely devastating in the League, making assaults very risking without extensive grunt support or having exceptional items are the purpose of tanking.
And the item system. It is probably the best method to use DotA's item recipe system and have it make sense to newcomers to the game. It gives you nice flow charts of what items to buy, lets you skip buying smaller parts if you already have the raw cash, and most items allow you to build your champion in a diverse way. They have stats that boost everything about your Champion: cooldowns, spell power, attack, attack speed, dodge, movespeed, hp, armor, magic armor, dodge, if you want to boost it, odds are there is an item that will grant it.

The style of the game falls directly into comedic hilarity. Which is an interesting choice. Because the game has no desire to make you feel connected to some realistic scenario that might play out in some mythical realm. Simply put the game is aware it is a game and doesnt try to convince you otherwise. Sure they do right up Champion descriptions detailing who these figures are, but really, they don't matter. 

At the end of the day I like it. There are some changes I would like to see with match making; mainly just that the only mode of play available for legitimate matches is the Blind Pick option, whereby you can not see what champion the opposition has chosen until the match has already begun. I want to see all random, drafts, and no duplicates modes made available. This is a very minor gripe that I have though, and largely just works to keep things interesting long after the game has been out.The gameplay is very solid, the controls are tight, lag is non-existent in my experience for well over 90% of games played. All this adds up to game that when it actually launches will keep me coming back for more. Now I just wish I had some friends to play it with.