Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII Review

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The very first thing I want to make clear about this title is that it is not for everyone. If you don’t have previous knowledge of the Three Kingdoms period, or if you are not a big fan of strategy games then this is sadly not going to be the game to pull you into them. That being said I personally found this to be an entertaining and interesting game that I can see being a time sink for me way into the future.

I have been a huge fan of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms story for many, many years now and I love just about everything I can get my hands on that deals with the time period and the tales of the heroes and villains of that era. Imagine how excited I was when I discovered that Koei Tecmo was bringing a version to Playstation 4 for the franchise’s 30th anniversary and I was finally going to get the opportunity to step into the period and live a fantasy life from 700 (yes I did say 700) of characters that the game has available.

The story is immensely rich and detailed and is one that is well known in Asia but might not be as familiar to everyone else. It focuses on the Han dynasty and the struggle to overthrow the corrupt court to establish a new regime. The main instigators in the story; Cao Cao, Liu Bei, Sun Jian (later his son Sun Qian) establish three kingdoms of their own causing there to be a period of constant battles and wars. Each of the kingdoms has a huge cast of characters available to the player which can offer a great deal of enjoyment to someone who loves the history of the period.

The game has two different main modes available to play which are slightly different depending on the experience of the player. Hero Mode tells the story of the Three Kingdoms via short battles and events that occur throughout the history of the Three Kingdoms. This offers a tutorial type gameplay to ease the new player into the action gradually so they can get used to the style of game properly. The other mode is Main mode which gives a set of scenarios for the player to choose and then play to try and unify the land under one banner,

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The gameplay itself is menu based and offers a good amount of options to develop culture, commerce and farming. Each of the cities under your control needs to have a steady mix of all of these things to be successful and micro-managing the three options is the key to resource management for the military aspect of the game. Once you have built up a decent set of resources you can then invest them in military by hiring new officers, training new troops or by patrolling the territories you control to increase loyalty in your military. It is through these options and sub-menus with their various actions that the game can become overwhelming very quickly. The highly experienced strategy game player will relish the sheer volume of controls they have at their disposal, however, a newcomer to the genre may find that there is too much to think about even just to make a single decision. This is why the Hero mode is a stroke of genius because it has been developed to expertly take the newbie through the gameplay step by step in a very friendly and welcoming manner. It takes the gamer by the hand and introduces all of the game mechanics in a gradual process and playing through the timeline in this way puts into context the various events that occur throughout the span of the Three Kingdoms era.

The main focus of both modes falls primarily in the relationship mechanic between the various different characters within your kingdom. You will find yourself walking a fine line between allocating missions, throwing banquets and numerous other options to garner the best relationship you can with your chosen targets. If you manage to pull it off successfully you can even cause opposition forces to defect in the middle of a battle, turning the tide for you to force a win.

This may sound boring and tedious but surprisingly the mechanics are sound and the debates between characters play out more like a one on one battle of wit and intellect.

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When it comes to the battlefield the gameplay becomes very simplistic and after a while gets a little monotonous to experience. The amount of units you are allocated in battle depends on your character’s rank. Very little is left for you to control apart from which formation you wish your units to use and when to buff your army which sadly leaves me wanting just a little bit more to get the enthusiasm for the battles going.

There were some performance issues when I played it with movement between cities sometimes dropping fps and stuttering slightly. This was also evident in the battles where the number of units and number of arrows seemingly affecting performance. However, these things didn’t detract from the overall experience too much because the battles weren’t often the focus of my gameplay. My play style was more about the political skulduggery and manipulation of the other leaders.

Ultimately Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII is a decent console version of the game with a great level of detail into the lore and characters of the period. The political and management side of the game is incredibly detailed and allows fantastic customisation by the player. The Hero mode is where the game truly shines in my opinion with a friendly yet comprehensive explanation of the systems used in the game being introduced gradually over time allowing new players to the strategy genre to play without being too overwhelmed with the intricacies.

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Lost Sea review (PC)

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The fun begins in Lost Sea with the choice of the character that you want to take on a journey into the Bermuda Triangle. There is a selection of 8 different characters but the choice is merely a cosmetic one as none of the characters have any abilities that affect the gameplay in any way.  The characters all look very different to each other and they all span different eras in time. This seems to compliment the theme of the Bermuda Triangle that runs throughout the game as you progress.

The initial levels of the game are entertaining enough and are very simple to grasp.  The simplicity of the attacks and the enemy attack patterns are easy to learn and mean you finish the levels without much of a problem at all.  The idea is for you to survive, build up experience by killing enemies, upgrade your player abilities and upgrade your ship abilities. The frustrating thing about the ship abilities was that there wasn’t a playable section where you were in control of the ship it is more of a mechanic to move between the different islands along the way.  To move between the islands the player is expected to collect tablets which determine how many islands the ship will be able to travel to.  Each island also has a rank between easy and hard to allow the player to choose how difficult they want the tablet recovery to be.

This is where another aspect of the game comes into play; you can rescue and recruit various crew members as you find them on the island. The crew members all have different strengths and traits which can help the player to access new areas of the island by building bridges or digging up hidden treasures at various spots on the map. There is not much else to these companions however and they feel like they are an underused asset that could have added much more to the gameplay.  The AI of these crew members is not particularly great and more often than not they will wander in front of one of your attacks as you swipe to kill an enemy or clear a bush from your path.  This gets frustrating at times and more often than not left me wanting to kill them just to have them out of my way.

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The game is very colourful and the art style is one that tells you that you will have fun from the outset and to be fair I did enjoy playing this title.  The procedurally generated islands meant that each time there was a different place to explore and the quirkiness of the characters meant that there was a fun cartoony feel throughout the title. Sadly though the repetitive game play and the limited ways in which enemies attacked meant that playing this for long periods of time just was not possible.  I managed a maximum of around 1 hour each time I played.  This was down to the mechanic that I felt let the game down the most which was the rogue-like, permadeath part of the game.

The steady progression by slowly gaining new abilities, new ship attributes and better crew members are all immediately wiped out upon death of your character. If these skills actually made a huge difference to the game play or made a big difference to the player abilities this may have been more of a plus side but sadly the death effect was more a factor of ‘Oh, so I have to go through all of that again.’  If the player managed to make it to the next set of islands they could warp to those when they next play but again you lose all of the upgrades that you previously had. I think this mechanic is what let the game down for me.  It would have been more appealing to more players to have the chance to save their game or continue after death rather than try to stick to the rogue-like permadeath option.

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The final frustration with this title was the lack of descriptions for the items that you come across when you find them.  The power up items found in chests had no indication of how they should be used or what the effects would be which meant you had to use them to find out what it did. Even a simple quick couple of lines to say what the item did would have been better than leaving the player to guess what to do with them.

I really loved the idea behind the game and the graphics and cartoon like nature of it is a refreshing change to the usual theme of procedurally generated rogue-like games and it is so frustrating that the gameplay just couldn’t quite live up to its looks.  Overall this title is something that will provide some fun for an hour or two but the repetitive gameplay and similarity of the enemy attacks will not be enough to keep you wanting to play for longer.

 

Score 6.5/10

Pros:

Bright Cartoon style

Procedurally generated levels

Easy upgrade interface for player and ships

Cons:

Items have no descriptions for use

Gameplay becomes repetitive quickly

Good for short play sessions but penalises this with permadeath

Mighty No.9 Review (Not So Mighty)

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Picture the scene…. It is the early 1990’s and a kid is sitting in his bedroom glued to a TV screen where he is playing Mega Man on a Nintendo Entertainment System.  Tongue sticking out and eyes wide he tries to jump and enemy and misses…the yells of frustration are momentary because he knows that he gets to play the level again and he will eventually beat it.  That kid was me playing one of my favourite games and which also turned out to be one of my favourite game franchises too.

You can imagine how excited I was when I heard that Keiji Inafune (one of the creators behind Mega Man) was working on a game that was going to be a spiritual successor to the Mega Man game I loved so much.  I immediately wanted to know all about it and followed the progress of the Kickstarter campaign with a keen eye. Not surprisingly there was a huge success with just over 67,000 backers pledging 3.8 million dollars.  This allowed them to change their stretch goals and they decided to release on every current platform available.  However, this is where I feel they were a victim of their own success.  By trying to design for so many platforms they seem to have made too many concessions to accommodate the different platform limitations.

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I desperately wanted to regain that wonder of playing the original game but I tried to maintain a level head and took off my rose-tinted Mega Man glasses to give Mighty No.9 the chance to shine in its own right.

The game mechanics are pretty much the same concept as the Mega Man games in that you are driven towards defeating bosses to absorb their power to help you in the further stages. Sadly, this was where the similarities with the original game ended for me.  The control system felt clunky with the movement animations just as sluggish too.  If you managed to acquire any of the boss powers they felt underpowered to be of much use outside of a few limited battles.  The game also had an annoying habit of killing you in completely unexpected and random ways (crumbling tower landing on your head sound familiar to anyone?) which meant you were sent back to a checkpoint that was a fair ways back through the level you had just worked your way through. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of returning to old school games where checkpoints didn’t exist or if they did were few and far between, but in this case it was a frustration as the completely random nature in which you were dying meant you were repeating the same levels over and over again. What added even more to this frustration was the fact that the cut scenes had some pretty poor voice acting and left me feeling nothing for any of the characters throughout the game, a stark contrast to the Mega Man games where each of the characters including the bosses had their own quirky nature that made people love them.

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It was also frustrating that the only way to get a good score and rack up combos was to ‘dash’ through enemies to absorb their Xel energy.  This same mechanic would also be used to navigate obstacles at times but without any kind of prompt or significant marker to tell you that was what was expected. The end result was a fall off the screen to yet another annoying death, this felt like a punishment for not being able to read the minds of the game developers.  Combine that with the questionable hitbox detection on some of the enemies and you have a recipe that left a bitter taste in your mouth as you experienced multiple deaths that felt unfair and unjustified.  Frustrating to say the least!

The colours in the game seemed like a cheap 80’s kids cartoon, lacking in detail and they failed to provide the fans of the original game with something that could have been cherished and loved. One underwater level even managed to fade out most of the graphics and made the controls even more sluggish – as if to put the boot in one more time.  Sadly this is a game that promised so much, delivered so little and broke the hearts of many Mega Man fans.  Maybe Capcom will step in and try to show us that it still is possible to make a Mega Man game we could all love once more but sadly I think it is highly unlikely.

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Blizzard’s WoW | Hopes and Fears for the Future

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If you enjoyed playing Blizzard’s popular MMORPG ‘World of Warcraft’ and longed for the days when you could take a jaunt into Southshore and kill the Horde or Alliance to your heart’s content, then you would have found a place to call home on the Nostalrius servers. It seems that over 800,000 users registered with the server and 150,000 currently active users agreed that the latest World of Warcraft iteration ‘Warlords of Draenor’ is not a patch on the original experience. An experience that is no longer a playable option through the official Blizzard servers.

In fact, since the ‘Cataclysm’ expansion much of the original Azeroth was changed beyond recognition. In some ways, this was an improvement as it freshened up the levelling experience for those who had been playing for a long time and were levelling up yet another ‘alt’ character through the same old content that they had done a million other times before. However, they didn’t just change the content they started to change the talent tree systems, and also made the levelling experience into a speedy hand-held race to the end level content which was achievable in a matter of a few days in play time. A lot of old school players disliked this and, as the falling subscription numbers confirm, Blizzard started to haemorrhage paying subscribers.

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One alternative for these players was to look to go for a private server which is run independent of Blizzard and is run by a community of volunteers. Now some may argue about piracy and the fact that these users were not actively paying a subscription to Blizzard which is essentially true but they were not paying anything to Nostalrius to play on their server either. It was a community led ‘preservation’ effort to allow people to play a game they loved and keep their interest and community alive. In fact there are servers available that cover each separate expansion so that you can choose which particular version of Blizzard’s worlds you want to play in.

In fact my own experience with World of Warcraft started on one of these private servers as I didn’t know whether I would like the game or not. I played on that server for a few months and decided I liked it so I moved over to the retail servers through Blizzard and purchased a subscription along with my wife and we stayed paying our monthly fees right up until Warlords of Draenor. In total that was around £30 per month for both of us for the duration of approximately 7 years. I can definitely say that I would never have done that if I hadn’t sampled the private server first.

It seems to me a bit suspicious that Blizzard chose this particular time to tackle this group of private servers, as they have essentially turned a blind eye to them for a number of years. Now, with a movie being released soon, a new expansion on the horizon and the creation of ‘Classic Battle.Net’ (The platform to play legacy Blizzard titles such as Diablo II, Warcraft III and Starcraft) could Blizzard be eyeing up the release of legacy servers to entice back some of the subscribers they have lost from the peak of 12 million 5 years ago to the current all-time low of 5.5 million? It would certainly make sense from a business standpoint to entice some of the old nostalgic players back at a time when you are releasing new content to pique curiosity and hope that they jump ship to the current expansion. It does seem however that they also run the risk of alienating a substantial player base that loved and cared about one of their franchises enough to keep the nostalgia alive and to allow others to join in with an experience that would otherwise have been lost forever.

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Am I saying that all of these servers are run in a completely legitimate way with no money changing hands between players and server owners? No, I am not that naive and there will be some shady practices going on out there which Blizzard has the right to chase down to serve notices upon. I can’t help but think that it would have been far more worth their while to work with the community and try to build on what was already established instead of shutting it down. Instead, they are forcing the people who enjoyed the original experience to either play the cut-down and scaled back non-community driven version of WoW that exists in the current expansion, or allow the game they invested so much time and effort into, to turn to a forgotten memory. In any case, the cease and desist notice means that Nostalrius servers will be no more on April 10th of this year. Maybe we will see Blizzard roll-out legacy servers? if they did I would be tempted to check it out for nostalgia sake but would it encourage me to progress through all of the content they have to offer? I doubt it very much as the sense of community just isn’t the same as it used to be.

Black Desert Online review

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Black Desert Online is an MMORPG with a vast open world to explore.  Its features include great graphics and character designs, with a multitude of crafting, housing, mounts and animal breeding to explore.  Topping this off is the opportunity to take part in large scale PvP castle sieges.

So I guess the obvious thing that most people will jump to with Black Desert Online is to compare to the behemoth that is World of Warcraft.  I guess it is an easy thing to do as World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG genre for decades but with Black Desert Online entering the ring, Blizzard may just have to step their game up!

The first thing that grabs your attention in the game is the graphics and the character models. There are eight classes in total and each of them has their own distinctive character model that can be customised extensively before beginning the game. Some of the scenery and play areas in the game are breathtaking, adding vibrancy to the whole fantasy setting of the game. There are a few gender locked classes, which I have to admit was a little surprising considering the expansive nature of the character creation options that are available to customise your character.  This sometimes doesn’t sit well with the fans of the genre, so I wasn’t expecting gender locked classes at all, however, to me personally it isn’t something that bothers me as much as some other people.

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The combat system is fluid and uses manual aiming and positioning of your character, this makes it feel like you are actively part of the action.  Tab targeting is there, but it certainly isn’t a click once and nuke down scenario for fighting.  The fluid motion and the use of combinations of attacks means you can see some truly breath-taking displays of movement when your character is fighting.  Whilst it does have combinations you can use, the basics are not too complicated to prevent a novice from being able to play immediately.  They have successfully managed to move away from the ‘rotation’ mentality that has permeated almost every other MMORPG out there today and, as a result, have a combat system that feels completely different to anything I have played before.  Enemies range from foxes, weasels and wolves to some truly enormous world bosses. These can be fought on foot or on the back of a mount if you so choose.

As far as PVP goes I didn’t have the opportunity to experience any myself as of yet, but the general consensus is that it is a great experience.  The need for skill in the combat system of the game and the fluid movement animations should make PvP an exciting and almost MOBA-like experience for the players.  It is also refreshing to see that there is no faction vs. faction PvP element to this game which is something that I haven’t seen any other game do so far.

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The one thing that did strike me in the time I have spent playing this game so far is that there is so much to do, learn and experience that I have spent most of my time sampling a little bit of everything.  I assume that this is what the game makers intended as it seems to cater for, whatever type of mood you are in and whatever gameplay you feel like experiencing at any given time.  If you feel a little hung-over and want to chill out you could go and fish for a while, feel like some fast and frantic gameplay then PvP is an option, feel like some story based gameplay? then go and do some questing and knowledge gathering. They have each base covered for whatever you would like to do with your gameplay time available.  I have to say that I managed to clock up around 30 hours in the game over the three days of advance access and I barely even started to get into the depths of what this game is able to offer.  Every aspect is covered in this game from guild Vs. guild, warfare, crafting, exploration and so much more that everyone could find something that they enjoy doing.

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One of the most complex systems for me to understand as a beginner to this game was the crafting system. A complex combination of needing housing, nodes and contribution points had me pulling my hair out trying to understand everything that was going on with it all. Once you throw in the employment of workers to gather on top of all that, I just had to leave it well alone to allow my brain to unscramble.

This is where I think the only negative comes in about Black Desert Online and it is something that could really affect the uptake of the game.  The explanation for the different aspects of the game leaves a lot to be desired.  It is either a long process of trying to figure it out by yourself or you have to try and find a friendly guild that will help explain things. However, if you like the challenge of discovering the different nuances of the game out for yourself then this is the perfect opportunity for you.

All in all, it is a gorgeous looking game that will appeal to a lot of people and it is something I would recommend to fans of the MMORPG genres but if you do pick it up be prepared to lose a good portion of your time exploring the areas and getting to grips with the complexities of the different systems.  I will be continuing my playtime with this game as it has so much potential and I will revisit this review at a later date to let you know how I get on with it

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Beat da Beat Review

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Beat da Beat is a bullet hell shooter/rhythm game that has a distinct feel of the old arcade classic, Space Invaders. It is published by Nekki who is responsible for the popular mobile device titles ‘Vector’ and ‘Shadow Fight’. There are versions of Beat da Beat available on Android and iOS as well as this PC version which is available from Steam.

The story of Beat da Beat is fairly generic and involves your girlfriend being kidnapped by aliens while your character chases after them to get her back. There isn’t much to keep interest in that plotline, but strong a plot is not essential because the gameplay and soundtrack can make up for it.

The music is a pounding set of electronic tracks from Waterflame, Lone-X, JBroadway, The Biocide and Levelate, these fit the gameplay extremely well. Interestingly the music is also featured as a game mechanic as the enemies fire bullets to the rhythm of each of the tracks. In the first levels things start off fairly manageable but once you hit those later stages it can quickly become a true bullet hell nightmare with bullets on the screen everywhere coming from every direction. You do have the one saving grace of a ‘smart bomb’ which can clear the screen of bullets and enemies but you are limited to the amount you can use.

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There are different levels of difficulty that you can start on beginning with casual and ending with ‘badass’ but don’t be fooled by the casual setting as it is by no means an easy difficulty to complete. The game also has a practice option which allows you to choose the difficulty level and stage which is a good way of learning the patterns involved in each round.

One drawback to the game was the minimal amount of movement from the different enemies which for the most part seem to stay in one position before they fire, only in the later levels did a few of the enemies shoot while moving. For the majority of players this isn’t something that would noticeably detract from them playing the game, but for the bullet hell enthusiast, this may make things a little too easy.

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Another feature that could have been expanded more and improved was the upgrading of the different ships. To upgrade the ships, you need to collect coins dropped from the enemies but the experience feels a little bit ‘grindy’ as you go through it for fairly marginal upgrades to health, weapons, and bombs. The upgrades don’t seem to massively affect the ship’s capabilities and the biggest choice seems to be the pattern that you want your ship to fire in more than anything else.

As far as it goes this is a solid bullet hell game that has been ported from mobile to PC reasonably well, but it isn’t offering anything particularly ground breaking to the genre although it may offer a start point for players to look further into the bullet hell genre.

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