A great new Ubisoft game about getting 3DS StreetPass
A great new Ubisoft game about getting 3DS StreetPass
First Official pictures of Sony’s PS4 controller. Hopefully picture of the actual Playstation 4 console will be released soon. Click on the pictures for a better look.
Today, I look at some games I’ve been playing recently- Quantum Conundrum (which I liked a lot), Rayman Origins (which I liked a lot) and Diablo III (which I didn’t)- and pimp my new album of videogames tunes. Below are links to two free tracks from the album as well as links to buy the album on CDBaby. The full album and songs are also on Amazon, iTunes and other Digital Download Stores.
I take a look at Max Payne 3
From the makers of Max Payne 3′s cutscenes
This week, I look at the sequel to OBLIVION.
It’s SKYRIM, A Game From Bethesda
It’s a short podcats but see if you can make it through without an arrow in your knee.
Developed by From Software. Published by Namco Bandai Games. Available on XBox 360 and Playstation 3.
Dark Souls (also known by its popular nickname “Our Souls”) is an action-RPG, but it’s no Skyrim. It’s also no Skyward Sword. Dark Souls doesn’t guide you, it doesn’t have a map screen, and it doesn’t even let you pause. Dark Souls clings firmly to the gnarled, thorny roots of action games past. It borrows the framework of the infamously difficult Demon’s Souls, and tempers it to produce a game that’s even tougher. If you played Demon’s Souls, you might think you know what to expect from Dark Souls, but trust me, you’ll be surprised at just how cruel this game can be. If you have the constitution for it, Dark Souls will likely absorb you and hold you to its very end, but its mean tricks, as well as its technical problems, hold it back from the glory of its predecessor. Only the very strong, and the very forgiving, need apply.
The story…um…you know what? I don’t remember much of the story. It just didn’t stick with me. The game has an evocative, but insubstantial intro that says something about dragons, and zombies, and people going mad, but after that, it’s pretty much forgotten. There’s plenty of lore to glean as you play the game, but most of the quest feels by-the-numbers, and it lacks gravity, so screw it: all you need to know is that your character’s escaped from an asylum for zombies, and now he or she has to explore a rugged fantasy land and slay a bunch of demons.
I think the reason that the story doesn’t adhere is that the game has a decentralized structure. Demon’s Souls had a basic hub-and-spoke design, with a central Nexus that would fill with helpful characters as the game went on. Every time the player cleared a level, he would return to the Nexus and touch bases with those characters. This consistency created an effective connection between the player and the game world. Dark Souls has a sort of hub level called the Firelink Shrine where a few allies congregate, and it connects to a number of other areas, but only one of those areas is suitable for low-level characters. The road to that area continues away from the Shrine for hours and hours, and in time, the Shrine, and the characters appearing there, are marginalized.
Some have described Dark Souls as being an “open world” game, but that’s inaccurate. While many of the game’s environments seem vast, with distant horizons and terrific views, it’s all just illusory. The surface area that the player can actually traverse is really quite limited. It plays a lot more like Metroid Prime than like Skyrim. It’s a network of long, twisting passages sporting the occasional shortcut and dotted with bonfires.
These bonfires are checkpoints, where players can rest to recover health, increase in level, repair equipment, and stash excess items. Most of the game is spent trudging through dilapidated buildings, claustrophobic tunnels, eerie forests, and poisonous swamps, fighting monsters and dodging traps, all the while desperately hoping that that next precious bonfire will be just around the corner.
This is a fantasy game, so the action here is all about swords and shields, bows and magic. Players will have to get eyeball-to-eyeball with the game’s hideous creatures, and only fancy fencing will see them through. The controls and moves in Dark Souls are nearly identical to those in Demon’s Souls, so those familiar with the earlier game will feel comfortable here. Players can perform quick attacks, strong attacks, and take up single-handed weapons with two hands for added power. They can block with their shields, or swing them to parry incoming strikes and stun enemies, though the timing for this move is much trickier than it was in Demon’s Souls. Friendly NPCs will sell players a variety of powerful spells, but the player is required to wield a wand, talisman, or special flame in one hand to cast them.
Players are free to develop and customize their characters as they see fit: there are no set classes in the game. Equipment and spells are limited only by the player’s stats. These stats are increased by spending souls collected from fallen enemies at bonfires. Each level up means one additional stat point. While Vitality, the stat that defines your character’s Health Points, will obviously require some attention, my recommendation is to pour a good chunk of souls into the Endurance stat, as that will lengthen the extremely important Stamina Meter.
Every action performed in combat takes a chunk out of the stamina meter. Attacking, running, rolling, and blocking all knock it down, and you’ll have to lower your guard for it to refill quickly. Some of the monsters in Dark Souls are enormous, and they use attacks designed specifically to suck stamina. If the player blocks an attack that empties the stamina meter, his guard will break, and he’ll be stunned. If the attack is heavy enough, the player could lose health as well. Since even the easiest monsters can kill a player in a few hits, and since they often attack in well-choreographed groups, a conservative approach to fighting is essential. The mantra for this game is “Wait, then hit.”
Watching and learning will only do so much for a player, though, and education by death is simply necessary at times. Upon death, players drop all of their souls (money), and another precious resource called Humanity (explained below), and they are shunted back to the last bonfire they rested at. If the player can make it back to the spot where he died and touch his own bloodstain, he will get that money and Humanity back. If he dies again before he can get there, those resources are gone for good. The problem is that when the player is returned to the bonfire, any monsters he slew and any traps he set off will be returned to their original states, so he’ll have to deal with them all again.
The good news is that the player isn’t alone in her journey. Players from her console’s respective network can aid and interact with each other in the same unique ways that they did in Demon’s Souls. The simplest method is by leaving messages: glowing orange notes scribbled on the ground. Messages written in your game world will appear in the games of other players, allowing you to give advice or warn them of traps. Of course, messages can also be left to intentionally deceive and harm others, though I don’t personally see any upside to this. Since most of the gameplay is asynchronous, pranksters will never get to see if their tricks actually work.
The game limits the terms and phrasing of messages, but it’s still a bit more flexible than Demon’s Souls was. Sadly, this increased freedom also opens the door to dumb jokes. During my playthrough, I found that quite a few members of the Playstation Network fancy themselves comedians. One message, set beside a brawny, hairy blacksmith warned me to “Be wary of rear.” Another one, set down at the entrance to a battle with a buxom demon woman, said “Amazing chest ahead.” And even though Dark Souls is classified as a Mature game, it seemed like I couldn’t move twenty feet without finding another instance of the embarrassing “Need head.”
Aside from writing messages, players can interact in a more hands-on way by offering to join each other’s games to play cooperatively, or indulge in PvP duels, or even invade other player’s games to play cat and mouse. The rules and requirements for these actions, especially invasion, have been tweaked a bit since Demon’s Souls, but they function in the same way, so they’re not especially groundbreaking anymore, and latency usually sinks them so they’re futile and pointless anyway.
In fact, most of the features in Dark Souls aren’t especially groundbreaking, simply adjusted. The peculiar Body/Soul form system from Demon’s Souls has returned, but this time your character shifts between Human and Hollow forms. Death turns your character to a zombie-like Hollow form, but consuming a special item called Humanity will allow the player to return to Human form at any bonfire. There are small benefits to Human form, but nothing so significant as the Maximum Health cap shift from Demon’s Souls. In fact, your Health bar won’t change at all between forms, so bothering to remain Human isn’t all that important in Dark Souls. What is important, though, is the use of Humanity to kindle bonfires, an act that permanently strengthens the fires, and allows players to increase their healing capacity.
Healing in Dark Souls works very differently from how it does in Demon’s Souls. In Demon’s Souls, you had healing grasses that could be farmed from fallen monsters and stockpiled in great numbers for especially tough areas. In Dark Souls, the grasses are gone. Instead, we get special permanent item called the Estus Flask: a bottle of healing potion with a limited number of doses. Once those “swigs” are swallowed up, the player will have rest at a bonfire to get them back. A bonfire that hasn’t been kindled fills the flask with five swigs. This means that for a majority of the game, players are allowed only five heals for each dangerous trip between bonfires. Combine this limit with the toughness of the monsters, and the poky rate at which your character actually drinks from the flask, and you have a very unforgiving healing system.
It might sound confusing that a sequel that’s so similar to a game I loved so thoroughly could be a disappointment, but something went wrong somewhere, because I have a laundry list of complaints that doesn’t end with the limited healing. First off, the graphics just aren’t that great. The textures are dull and muddy, and they look smeared and indistinct in places. The Firelink Shrine looks less like an overgrown ruin than a set of blocks smudged with green. Armored characters look like they’re draped in onesie pajamas. Even the game’s UI has a rough, cheap look. Compared to the clean and stylized design of Demon’s Souls, the style of Dark Souls looks plain and unfinished. In large and highly detailed areas, such as the infected Blighttown, or the flooded New Londo Ruins, the frame rate struggles and chugs inexplicably. Maybe it’s because Demon’s Souls was a PS3 exclusive, while Dark Souls was made for two consoles. I’m guessing there just wasn’t enough time to optimize two versions of the game.
The combat generally handles well, and feels satisfying, but it too has some serious flaws. The game provides a lock-on system similar to Zelda and Bully, but it’s unreliable. Many times I would run up to a monster, center it on the screen, hit the lock-on button, and then watch in surprise as the game targeted a monster several feet to my right. Disruptive, strange, and unacceptable.
Another problem is that the combat rules aren’t consistent. A significant aspect of combat in the Souls games is adjusting to the environment to avoid hitting walls. Using broad, swinging attacks in a tight space will cause the player’s weapon to bounce off the wall. If an enemy does this, however, its weapon will swing right through the geometry, often striking the player unexpectedly and unfairly. Strange as it sounds, I died a few times as a result of these magical, wall-piercing weapons.
The worst problem with combat, however, is the input lag. Every once in a while, the attack button just won’t do anything until a nearly a full second after it’s pressed. Of course, this is also usually at the same moment that the player’s target is swinging back, so the player will end up getting hit. This lag doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s infuriating. Even after a few game-balance patches, the lag remains. In a game like this, one that demands the utmost precision and technique to win, this is outrageous and unconscionable.
I haven’t even mentioned some of the other deliberate attempts the game makes at being mean. Several of the game’s levels manufacture tension and difficulty by forcing the player across narrow or invisible floors suspended over insta-kill pits. The sewers in the game are infested with basilisks that can curse the player and halve her health meter until the curse is removed, using an expensive item sold by a single merchant. If the player is cursed again before getting cured of the first one, her health meter will be quartered, and so on. Then there are the crawling spider’s nests, who can inject the player with eggs that siphon a portion of all earned souls. If left untreated, these eggs will expand and permanently engulf the player’s head, making it impossible for that player to wear a helmet.
The bosses are so powerful and so dangerous that the only effective strategy for beating them is to wait for them to use their slowest attacks, rush up and hit them once, and then back away. Get greedy and try to hit them more than once, and you’ll probably get hit and die, or at least run like hell and reenter the pattern all over again. Every boss fight requires immense patience and nerve, but they all basically work the same way. There’s very little variety. And once I beat the last one, I found that even the good ending just wasn’t all that good.
What the hell am I doing to myself, anyway? I have completed a fifty-hour trip through a hopeless hell, and for what? So I could say I beat Dark Souls? Who cares? After several hours of suffering through endless boss fights, unreliable controls, and infuriating traps, I began to wonder who or what I was playing this game for.
In a promotional video made at the game’s release, From Software’s producers said that the appeal of the Souls games is that they’re “spicy.” They hurt a bit to consume, but they provide a unique satisfaction. That might be true, but more recently, I read another interview with From that said they likely won’t be making any more Souls games because of the backlash they’ve received from fans over poor online performance (which I suspect might be responsible for that hideous input lag). I suppose I should feel let down about that, but I really don’t, not after what they did to me here. Dark Souls has the combat, the atmosphere, and the ideals that I like, but it trips up in critical areas, areas where Demon’s Souls did just fine. After this little adventure, I just don’t have any Soul left to give.
Controller1.com Rating: A cautious 2/3 for Demon’s Souls lovers, 1/3 for everyone else
A review of Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Also a look at how a rumour spread faster than anything Einstein could conceive of.