Looks like ES5 is Being Worked on and May Come out in 2010?
Intelligent Systems Fire Emblem series has been around for nearly two decades dating all the way back to Famicom. Unfortunately it took 13 years before the series finally made its way to western markets. Over the several years it has been here, Fire Emblem has already gathered quite a large fan base, and now with the tenth installment (fourth in North America and Europe), can Intelligent keep the quality next to its predecessors or their other classics including Super Metroid?
Before there were any role-playing video games, there were pen-and-paper role-playing games. This week brings the sad news that one of the founders of the most famous analog RPG has passed way. Gary Gygax, cocreator of Dungeons & Dragons, died on Tuesday at the age of 69. He had suffered from heart problems.
Gary Gygax: 1938-2008
The news was first announced on the forums of Troll Lord Games, the publisher of Gygax's most recent works. It has since been directly confirmed by the company, which will post an announcement on its Web site later today.
Gygax was best known for helping create Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and pioneered tabletop RPGs. The first D&D rulebooks were released in 1974 by TSR, Inc., the tabletop RPG company Gygax founded with Don Kaye the year prior. Since then, there have been three full-fledged reworkings of D&D, numerous revisions and updates, and dozens of additional rulebooks, settings, and campaigns.
Since TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast in 1997, the game has seen even more expansions and updates. The company released Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition in 2000, and Dungeons & Dragons 4.0 is scheduled to ship this coming June. Although Gygax hadn't had much direct involvement with D&D for many years, he developed and contributed to many RPGs, such as Gary Gygax's Fantasy Worlds from Troll Lord Games.
If not for Gygax's contributions, video games would look much different than they do today. D&D's systems and mythos led directly to many marquee video game RPGs, including the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights series from BioWare. Its influence can also be seen in many other modern fantasy RPGs, including The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and World of Warcraft. Another of TSR's pen-and-paper RPGs, Star Frontiers, was the precursor to many science fiction RPGs, such as Mass Effect.
Lost Odyssey doesn't push any role-playing game boundaries, though that won't come as a shock to anyone familiar with Mistwalker's previous game, Blue Dragon. However, in the case of the developer's newest effort, that isn't always a bad thing. Yes, there are times when it feels like more of a relic than it does a true next-generation game, particularly in light of the tweaks made by other modern Japanese RPGs such as Persona 3 and Eternal Sonata. Yet while it may borrow liberally from the genre's older gems, Lost Odyssey is a game worth playing, most notably for its fascinating story and its brooding protagonist, Kaim.
Jansen is the perfect foil to Kaim's constant seriousness.
Kaim, along with several other characters in Lost Odyssey, is immortal, though the origin of his immortality is left purposefully unclear at the outset of the game. It's hard to get a handle on Kaim at first; he's the strong, silent type, the prototypical moping hero with a soulful scowl and a deep well of unfathomable secrets. The game takes its time with his character development, but as information slowly unfolds, it's hard not to empathize with his internal struggles. But he doesn't struggle alone, and Lost Odyssey doesn't neglect the rest of its fascinating cast. Lady pirate Seth, kind queen Ming, the noble Tolten, and several others provide ample companionship, and their lives intersect in some surprising--and not so surprising--ways. It's a serious tale, but comic relief is plentiful, and most of it comes from inadvertent spy Jansen, a flamboyant ladies' man who manages to be both annoying and irresistibly charming.
Lost Odyssey is about its characters, not about its plot. In fact, the main story follows a more or less predictable path, pitting you against a villain you spend half the game knowing very little about. No, it's about self-discovery and the timelessness of the relationships we develop. Kaim and his immortal companions unlock memories during the course of the game, and they are presented in simple but effective sequences in which the memory is recounted via stylized text, accompanied by pretty static images and subtle music cues. It makes for a good amount of reading, but if you skip past these memories, you will miss the game's most touching and heartfelt moments. The main story doesn't often reach those same heights, and a good number of the game's countless cutscenes ramble aimlessly and end up feeling like filler. Yet Lost Odyssey's concluding hours, as predictable as they are, make you feel, and that alone makes this a saga worth experiencing.
This yarn takes place in a fully realized fantasy world in the midst of revolution both political and magical. On your journey you'll certainly see your share of clichéd caves and forests, but there are plenty of beautiful vistas to behold: rocky seaside cliffs, looming castles swarming with mysterious spirits, and portside towns with colorful cobbled streets. Lost Odyssey's art design clicks, from Kaim's lazy strand of hair to detailed enemy-character models. The depth-of-field blurring that stuck out in Blue Dragon is used more subtly and to greater effect here, particularly during the game's most dramatic scenes. However, on the technical side of the coin, Lost Odyssey is a near disaster. Nothing here should be taxing the Unreal 3 Engine, yet the game suffers from a grossly erratic frame rate. In a turn-based RPG, that's not a game killer, but it's so prevalent that it often charges through the fourth wall to remove you from the fantasy and remind you that you're playing a game. Insanely long loading times follow suit, to the point where you will wait close to a minute after a cutscene, only to discover that another scene follows. Make no mistake, Lost Odyssey is an artistic beauty, but in light of other games that use the same engine--and other RPGs on the platform--it doesn't look so incredibly good that it should perform so poorly.
Aim rings add subtle but noticeable effects to the flow of battle.
Thankfully, the game is an aural delight, and it owes a lot to its pretty soundtrack. Some of the soundtrack is predictable, like the Final Fantasy-tinged battle music, although that's not too surprising when you consider that the score was created by longtime FF composer Nobuo Uematsu. Still, many of the tracks are standouts. In particular, the atmospheric strains played during unlocked memories are wonderfully moody and match the text perfectly. The English voice acting isn't bad, and Jansen, Ming, and Kaim are particularly well voiced. On the other hand, Mack and Cooke are acted with the usual hyperactive hamming that child characters so often fall victim to. Regardless, there are other language options, so if you'd rather listen to the original Japanese voice cast, you have the alternative.
The gameplay itself doesn't reach the same zenith as the story, though it's solid in and of itself. Combat is your standard turn-based affair, though there are some twists, chief among them the aim rings. Any character can wear a ring that confers upon its wearer one or more bonuses, such as a chance of inflicting poison, extra damage against spirit enemies, and so on. This isn't so special on its own, but the effectiveness of the bonus is completely reliant on your actions in battle. Whenever you order a party member to perform a standard attack, a circle will appear around your target while a larger one encircles the screen. To receive the full benefit of your ring, you hold a trigger down to shrink the larger circle and release it when it has shrunken to the size of the smaller one. The better your timing, the more potent the bonus, and if you are too far off, you don't get any benefit at all. You craft the rings yourself with ingredients you can purchase from merchants or find in the spoils of battle, and it's as simple as heading into the game menus and choosing which ring you wish to fashion. The bonuses themselves don't seem all that potent on their own, but equipping the right rings against the right enemies, along with the subtle effects of other items and spells, can have real consequences in battle.
Lost Odyssey features eye candy galore, but it chugs more than it should.
Another addition to the combat is the defensive bonus applied to characters positioned in the back of your formation by way of the strength of those in front. As front-facing combatants get attacked, that bonus depletes, which makes attacks against those in the rear more powerful--and this applies to your enemies as well as to your own party. This gives way to some interesting spells and abilities, along with some tactical considerations, given that you can't always easily do damage to the powerful spellcaster in the back without first weakening the lesser enemies in the front. Of course, there are other considerations in play, such as attacking enemies that have an elemental affiliation with a spell of the opposing element. Nevertheless, both rings and guard bonuses are slight but welcome additions to the formula.
Unsurprisingly, spells and abilities are the most important facets of Lost Odyssey's battles. Be prepared: Many of these battles are challenging, so you'll need to have a tight grip on each character's unique skills. Mere mortals have more or less predetermined skill sets, so their roles in combat are generally obvious. On the other hand, immortals have just a few innate skills; instead, you need to learn more of them from mortals by linking to them and battling together until the immortal has gained use of them. Once every available character has joined your party, this brings up some unique possibilities. Is it worthwhile to bench one mortal in favor of another, simply in order for Seth to earn a desirable spell, even if that mortal isn't the right choice for your current circumstance? Do you bring in another immortal, knowing he will revive after defeat in a few turns, and forgo an active link for the time being? Either way, Lost Odyssey finds a pleasant balance between preset character roles and player-controlled development.
Although these additions are welcome, they aren't groundbreaking, and other aspects of the game are decidedly old-fashioned. Combat intro sequences are far too long and take the time to showcase the most uninteresting elements of the battle environment before focusing on the characters themselves. Protracted introductions are part and parcel of turn-based RPGs, but in Lost Odyssey, they plod on interminably, taking a lot of time to show absolutely nothing of interest. In fact, many of the game's less savory elements are also sluggishly paced to the point of boredom. At one point, you'll have to endure two yawn-inducing fetch quests in a row; a short time later, you'll light a series of torches in a minigame of sorts that reduces the emotional impact of the surrounding scenes and feels pointless. Other annoyances crop up as well, such as an area littered with holes that are hard to see; if you fall into one, you're sent back to the start of the dungeon.
Kaim doesn't always have a lot to say, but his memories speak volumes.
Getting the most out of Lost Odyssey will require a bit of patience, even from those used to the slower pace of the genre. However, the gameplay subtleties and character-driven narrative are rewarding enough to make it worth the occasional frustration. No, the game breaks no new ground, and it suffers from some inexcusable technical glitches. But if you stick with it, you'll find a compelling emotional drama, delicate adjustments to an age-old formula, and a unique and balanced skill-development system. Kaim's journey is a memorable one, and if you like turn-based RPGs, you'll want to experience it for yourself.
Developer BioWare has always been at the forefront of progressive storytelling in games, so it's no surprise that Mass Effect's story is one of its best yet. It's got a unique take on the chase-the-bad-guy-across-the-universe plot, and just when you think you've got everything figured out, the game throws you yet another surprise. BioWare has created a politically charged universe with an exhaustive backstory and filled it with a bunch of interesting, multifaceted characters. Combined with an exciting and unique combat mechanic, it makes for a fun and absorbing experience that you'll want to see through to the end, just to see how everything turns out--even if the game isn't perfect by any means. In fact, it's surprising that so many small annoyances and glitches made their way into a game of such general high quality. Still, most players will be able to look past them and enjoy Mass Effect for what it is: A terrific role-playing game with great production values and fun, exciting action.
As in most role-playing games of this nature, you begin by customizing an avatar. You play as Commander Shepard, potential savior of the galaxy, but there's plenty of room to mold him or her as you see fit. Physical customization isn't as deep as you'll find in something like last year's Oblivion, but the system is relatively robust, letting you choose from a variety of preset features, and even letting you round everything off with a scar. Shouldn't every badass commander have one? Of course, you'll also choose a **** In this case, you've got six to choose from, each with various strengths in combat, tech, and biotics (Mass Effect's sci-fi equivalent of magic). More impressively, you will select a few autobiographical tidbits--and these choices aren't just for show. Through the course of the game, characters will refer to your past, and your resulting dialogue options will allow you to react to their comments with various degrees of humility, wistfulness, and scorn.
The narrative is pure space opera, yet there's no denying that BioWare has created a tale of surprising depth and appeal. Surprise number one: Humanity is not the political center of the universe. We don't have a seat on the galactic council, or even a representative on the Spectre squad, an elite group of special forces whose members are given wide berth to solve political and military challenges as they see fit. In the meantime, a Spectre has gone rogue, ransacking ancient artifacts and unleashing the violent, robotic Geth race on an unsuspecting galaxy. As Shepard, you pursue him across the Milky Way, visiting one alien world after another and discovering the fallen Spectre's intentions along the way. He isn't the best villain ever created: He disappears for the bulk of the game, which makes finding him feel less urgent than it should. Still, the journey to the game's exciting end is one worth taking.
In true BioWare fashion, you'll be navigating through loads of dialogue trees throughout the game, and how you respond can have life-or-death consequences--though you shouldn't take that to mean that you need to brood over every decision. Oftentimes, multiple choices have the same result, a somewhat transparent trick that makes it seem as though you have a lot more impact on the conversation than you really do. At important junctures, however, your decisions can affect how missions play out. You can turn friend to foe, console (or devastate) a suicide-attack victim, or exploit evil corporate executives for fun and profit. And it all plays out amid an intricate melodrama of political intrigue and racial prejudice, and in a galaxy populated by fascinating, complex characters. There are pages ripped from the Star Wars and Star Trek playbooks, certainly, but quirks such as the interesting speech patterns of the overly-formal Hanar alien race, or the nomadic structure of the Quarian flotilla--a galactic government that's always on the move--make Mass Effect's version of the Milky Way a unique one.
When navigating dialogue, you'll also be earning paragon or renegade points, which is the usual light-versus-dark system we've come to expect from the developer. Unlike in Knights of the Old Republic, however, your decisions here will not affect any abilities you have. However, the intricate relationship between the story and the game proper means that these decisions still affect gameplay--though that effect is usually an indirect one. More interestingly, your paragon and renegade meters are separate, rather than being at opposite sides of a single spectrum. It's a subtle but effective choice that lends itself to Mass Effect's shades-of-gray fiction, where light and dark aren't mutually exclusive.
The main quest starts you on a huge space station called the Citadel, but takes you across a small series of planets before reaching the game's exciting final moments. Not that you're stuck with the main story, since you can pick up a good number of side quests along the way. Some of them are simple and relatively self-contained, while others will send you across the galaxy to uncivilized planets and derelict spaceships. This involves bringing up your galactic map, selecting a destination system, and going planetside to kick some alien butt. There are multiple regions to choose from, and often multiple solar systems within them, but while that sounds intimidating, it's not nearly as mind-bogglingly huge as you would expect. In any given system, you can usually only land on one planet--and on each of these planets, there are usually only a few things to do before you get to your destination. More surprisingly, once you've finished the mission, there's never a reason to return. Aside from the annoying thresher maws (more on these later), there aren't any hostile indigenous creatures, so once you've dispatched your foes and scavenged for loot, it's time to move on.
When you first land on a planet, you drive around in a rover called the Mako. The thing's possibly the most resilient vehicle ever created in a game. You get dropped onto the surface from hundreds of feet in the air and drive up impossibly steep mountains without much difficulty. Too bad that the driving portions are undoubtedly the weakest of the game. The weird bouncy nature of the rover and the fact that gravity is the same on every world (even Earth's own moon) are both suspect issues, though they don't really affect gameplay.
The rocky planetary design and Mako combat mechanics can really be a downer when combined together. You can spray machine gun fire or launch shells at your foes, and it works fine, provided you are on the same level as your enemies. However, the Mako's turret, for whatever reason, can't move up or down. The result is that bullets don't necessarily land where your crosshair is, so if you're on higher terrain or your target is too close, those endless clips you're unloading are useless (though you can hit enemies above you without difficulty). It's sometimes maddening, since in many situations, the enemy base is nestled below you in a crevasse, and you're forced to either get in closer (often a death sentence in an area swarming with tough foes like the robotic Geth colossi), or get out and try to take on the toughest foes of the game on foot. Be careful if you get out of the Mako in areas like these though, since your adventuring party can slide into a deep valley and get stuck very easily, which forces you to either return to the Normandy (your ship) and return to the planet, or reload a saved game.
The other issue here is with the aforementioned thresher maws, which are sandworm-like beings that burst from the ground, spew deadly goo at you, submerge, and emerge elsewhere. These encounters can be really exciting, since the things are tough to take down and keep you on the move. The problem is that the game doesn't check on the Mako's position before respawning the thresher maw. Multiple times, we had the creature emerge from directly underneath us, which either resulted in an unavoidable insta-kill or getting stuck in the thresher's geometry while the camera jittered madly. That's just not fun, and you will find yourself avoiding flat expanses on planets just to avoid these problems.
Thankfully, on-foot combat is a lot of fun. You'll accumulate six total teammates, two of whom can accompany you on missions at any given time. They have a variety of talents, and each of them is special in his or her own way. There's a variety of guns to choose from, from pistols to shotguns to assault rifles, and each weapon can be outfitted with various upgrades that may increase stability, add scanners that bypass disrupted enemy radar, and more. You can also outfit special ammunition, though you always have unlimited ammo.
On top of that, some characters have magic-like powers called biotics to mess with. It's worth noting, however, that these powers are focused on manipulation rather than direct offense. You can push enemies back with the throw power (awesome to behold at higher levels), lift them in the air, or create a vortex that sucks enemies toward it (another great use of Mass Effect's fun combat physics). Engineers have some nice abilities as well, such as the ability to sabotage weapons from a distance, which makes your enemy's weapon explode, or the power to turn robotic enemies against your own foes. As a rule, your teammates aren't a liability, though they aren't governed by the most advanced artificial intelligence we've ever seen. But provided you micromanage them as described below, you'll not only be getting the most out of the experience, you won't be apt to notice any drawbacks to the AI.
The combat feels like it belongs in a third-person shooter at first, but if you continually approach it this way, you'll die. A lot. Like in many previous BioWare RPGs, you're meant to pause, survey the situation, and perform your actions. As long as you stick to that method, you'll find combat to be a lot easier than it first appears. You can set your party members to automate their actions, simply perform defensive powers on their own (the better choice), or only perform powers on your command. Holding the right bumper brings up the command wheel, which lets you assign orders to your companions, as well as perform your own abilities. You can also take cover behind walls or other objects, though this mechanic isn't all that helpful. Once you get into the groove, battles are rather enjoyable, with a flurry of bullets and biotic powers flying around. The joy of flinging the Geth around, filling them with shotgun shells, and watching them drop from the ceiling after lifting them in the air is a joy few RPGs can approximate.
The spoils of battle are always a fun reward for a job well done, and loot ramps up pretty well. You can also open up various lockers and containers for more loot, though it's best to level one of your party members in the decryption skill for the more difficult-to-open ones. To open locked containers, you have two equally odd choices: Either perform a minigame that resembles the overdone contextual button presses we've seen in far too many games of late, or smear omnigel on the container, which is an all-purpose goo that opens cabinets, repairs the Mako, and, we suspect, may also eliminate ring-around-the-collar. It sounds like a silly mechanic, but all things considered, it's a perfectly legitimate way of keeping the user engaged in the looting process, and it makes you feel like you earned the resulting spoils.
As you can imagine, you'll be doing a lot of fiddling with your inventory, what with all these weapons, upgrades, and party members to deal with, but this is another stumbling block that could have used some streamlining. The menu interface isn't terrible, though on its own, it's a bit clunky. But it's the little things that add up in a game that requires you to spend so much time in menu screens. First annoyance: In some menu screens, you can't hit a button simply to escape to the previous menu. For example, in the weapons upgrade menu, if you decide you don't want to make any changes, you can't just leave the menu--you have to choose something, even if it means scrolling to the top of the list and selecting the same upgrade you already had equipped. In other cases, such as when you convert an item to omnigel, the menu jumps back to the top of the list, which is vexing. You can't even deselect a power from the ability wheel in combat once you've chosen one. You can change the skill, but on the frequent occasion where you will want to change your mind after selection and not cast one at all, you're stuck wasting a skill and waiting for it to recharge.
Other problems rear their heads as well, such as the occasions when you or your party members get trapped on level geometry, which forces you to reload your last save. But you'll be apt to forgive them in light of the depth and variety to be found here. It's fun to get to know your crew, conduct a clandestine romance, or turn Shepard into a hard-line exclusionary (or a racially sensitive diplomat). You could finish a fairly complete play-through in 40 hours--standard for a role-playing game--but there's enough contextual content to make it worth a second play, if only to explore your renegade side, try out other romance options, or see another of the multiple endings. On the other hand, if you ignored the side quests and stuck with just the main storyline, you could be done in 15 hours or less.
Mass Effect's visuals are excellent. Facial animations are among the best in gaming: Characters move their lips believably with the dialogue, further expressing themselves with subtle tilts of the head or with a slight raise of the eyebrows. Character models are beautifully detailed, such as with your Krogan teammate Wrex, whose every wrinkle and ridge is carefully textured and molded. There are some technical hitches, however. The framerate can dramatically dip at the worst possible times, and there is a lot of texture pop-in. There are also frequent load times--some of them hidden by elevator rides, others popping up in the midst of exploration. Nevertheless, Mass Effect looks wonderful. From an artistic perspective, the game looks great, if not quite original. Planet outposts tend to use only one of two interior layouts, and environments owe a lot to games and films of the past (much of the game's look wouldn't be out of place in a Halo title). But even with the obvious inspirations, Mass Effect still conveys its vision clearly, thanks to meticulous character designs and dramatic set pieces, such as the Citadel itself.
It's also one of the best-acted games in recent memory. An all-star cast including such well-known actors as Fred Tatasciore and Seth Green bring Mass Effect's characters to brilliant life. Not once will a drab line delivery or overzealous histrionics get in the way of your immersion. The soundtrack is evocative, with just the right amount of sci-fi shimmering to round out the occasional symphonic swelling. Sound effects are great across the board, from the robotic yammering of the Geth to the din of a planetary blizzard filling the room with its high-powered whooshing.
All told, Mass Effect is a great game with moments of brilliance and a number of small but significant obstacles that hold it back from reaching its true potential. But in the end, if you like RPGs and want to spend some time in an absorbing sci-world populated with a bunch of unique inhabitants, you'll definitely have plenty of fun with this one.
Assassins Creed Review
Assassin's Creed will stay with you long after you finish it. Here is one of the most unique gameworlds ever created: beautiful, memorable, and alive. Every crack and crevasse is filled with gorgeous, subtle details, from astounding visual flourishes to overheard cries for help. But it's more than just a world--it's a fun and exciting action game with a ton of stuff to do and places to explore, rounded out with silky-smooth controls and a complex story that will slowly grab you the more you play. Make no mistake: Assassin's Creed is one of the best efforts of the year and a must-own game for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners.
Not enough can be said about the living, breathing world that you'll inhabit in Assassin's Creed. As assassin extraordinaire Altaïr, you'll explore three major cities of the Holy Land in the 12th century: Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre. Each city is beautifully rendered from top to bottom and features meticulously crafted towers that reach for the sky, bustling market squares, and quiet corners where citizens converse and drunks lie in wait to accost you. As you wander the streets (and rooftops), you'll push your way through crowds of women carrying jars on their heads, hear orators shout political and religious wisdom, and watch town guards harass innocent victims. Altaïr has a profound effect on this world, but the cities are entities all their own, with their own flows and personalities.
The visual design has a lot to do with how believably organic everything feels. The cities are absolutely huge, and though you don't get full exploration privileges in the first few chapters, they eventually open up to let you travel seamlessly from one side to another. Everything is beautifully lit with just the right amount of bloom effect, and almost everything casts a shadow, from tall pillars to Altaïr's cloak. In fact, sometimes the shadows get to be a bit much and may make you think for a moment that there is artifacting on your screen, when in fact it's a character's head casting a shadow on his or her own neck. Every object, from scaffolds to pottery, is textured so finely you feel as if you could reach out and touch it. Animations are almost as equally well done. Altaïr scales walls, leaps majestically from towers, and engages in swashbuckling swordfights that would make Errol Flynn proud. And he does it all with fluid ease, generally moving from one pose to another without a hitch. Minor characters move gracefully as well, though one of the game's few visual drawbacks is the occasional jerky animation on the part of a citizen. However, it's easy to forgive, considering that the cities are populated with thousands and thousands of individuals. In fact, these tiny blemishes are noticeable only because everything else looks so incredible.
What you hear is even more impressive than what you see. At the top of a temple, you hear little but the rush of wind, the twittering of birds, and the barking of a far-off dog. In the most populated areas, your ears will fill with the din of street vendors, the pleas of beggars, and the occasional humming. It's never too much, though, and the game does a good job of making sure you hear what you need to hear (for example, the cries of citizens who need your help), without filling your ears with pointless noise. All these effects, along with the clangs of swords and groans of assassinated foes, are outstanding. The voice acting of the supporting cast is similarly remarkable. Conversations are completely believable and delivered with the perfect amount of solemn dignity. Oddly, the weakest link is Altaïr himself. Actor Philip Shahbaz does an all right job, but he isn't up to par with the first-rate acting of his fellow troupe. Rounding it all out is a beautiful orchestral score that is most notable for its subtlety. Many of the game's most impressive moments are accompanied by lovely musical themes that add even more threads to the game's rich living tapestry.
Fortunately, the story that binds it all together rises to the occasion. Actually, there are two related stories in play. The unfolding drama of Crusades-era Palestine is a mere memory, forcibly pulled from a modern-day bartender named Desmond by a resolute researcher using a machine called an animus. The memories aren't Desmond's own--they are Altaïr's, stored safely in the hapless subject's genetic code. We follow Altaïr as he assassinates nine public figures at the command of his master, and as the common thread that ties these men comes into focus, so does the true identity of Desmond's captors. There are no cutscenes in the traditional sense; every bit of story exposition and dialogue flows smoothly from the gameplay and takes place entirely within the game engine. The ending is confusing, and it blatantly leaves open the possibility of a sequel, but it's a small blemish on an otherwise stirring tale. Altaïr's world is not one of absolutes. His assassination targets aren't always evil, and Altaïr isn't always likable. As he is fond of reminding us, "Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
Of course, such an authentic world would be meaningless without a lot of fun things to do in it. Thankfully, Assassin's Creed is endlessly entertaining in that it features a fine mix of stealthy exploration, tight platforming, and exciting combat. To discover the whereabouts of your assassination targets, you must first follow up on possible leads. There are several different mission types in this regard. In some cases, you sit on a bench and listen in on secret conversations. At other times, you will closely follow someone carrying an important letter that you'll pickpocket. Alternately, you can beat the information out of your target. Most missions are relatively easy to pull off in the early stages of the game. But once the guards and townspeople start recognizing you (or you alert them to your presence too close to the scene of one of your crimes), they get a little tougher.
There are also some optional tasks, such as rescuing innocent townspeople from the clutches of guards. The reward for doing so is a group of vigilantes who will hang out in the area afterward and hinder any foes chasing you. It's also a good way to try out Assassin's Creed's combat, which is surprisingly satisfying, considering the game's focus on sneaking around. You can pounce on enemies using your hidden blade (an incredibly rewarding one-stab kill), or use throwing daggers to take enemies down from a distance. However, your sword is your melee mainstay, and though the hack-and-slash combat may seem simple at first, it gets more challenging once you unlock the various countermoves. Often, you'll have a dozen or more attackers to fend off at once, but though these fights can be a little tricky, you'll never feel as if you're in over your head. In fact, the few circumstances in which you are forced into combat--such as a late-game boss fight against a seemingly endless crowd of attackers and their leering leader--are challenging and require some pitch-perfect timing to counter every strike and lunge.
Nevertheless, brute force is rarely the best way to handle a situation. You want to slink unnoticed through the crowds, but you can draw attention to yourself in a number of ways--whether it be galloping past a guard station on a horse, knocking pottery off of someone's head, or getting so frustrated by the various beggars that you fling them away from you. (And trust us--these are the most aggressive panhandlers you'll ever meet.) If you antagonize the guards, they'll give chase. Yes, you can stick around and fight, and though it's never the easiest option, breaking stealth does not damn you to death like it does in other sneaking games. But why not lure them to a rooftop? Once up there, you can grab them and fling them to the street below. Or if there are too many of them, you can jump across the rooftops gracefully until you find a hiding place, such as a nice bale of hay or a curtained garden. Once you're hidden, they'll break chase and you'll be free to roam about.
You can also seek refuge in small groups of scholars who serve as mobile hiding places. It's a bit contrived to walk into a stationary cluster of scholars and have them suddenly start moving simply because you're there, but it gets the job done. Actually, if there's any drawback to the usually excellent gameplay, it's how synthetic certain elements feel. Vigilantes are always in the same spot, missions reset if you don't get them right the first time, and those same guards will be harrassing that citizen, an hour after you pass by. It's easy to forgive these quirks though, given the easygoing flow of the world surrounding these pockets of gameplay.
Climbing up buildings and jumping around the rooftops is fun and breezy, thanks to effortless controls that strike a great balance between ease of use and player input. You can leap across alleys and scale walls with the pull of a trigger and the press of a button, and though it's possible to launch yourself from a wall or hurtle through a vendor's booth by accident, these moments aren't very common. You'd think that a city specifically designed to let you climb structures and caper about the roofs would look overly artificial, yet there's never a moment when you will think to yourself, "Wow, that looks like a place where I'm supposed to jump." The architecture looks completely natural, which makes Altaïr's abilities all the more exciting to pull off. The environments don't look as if they were created for him to climb around on; he just uses the hand he's been dealt, as any good assassin should.
In Assassin's Creed, the greatest joy comes from the smallest details, and for every nerve-racking battle, there's a quiet moment that cuts to the game's heart and soul. Climbing towers to uncover portions of the map is a simple mechanic but forever satisfying, thanks to the beautiful vistas and soft musical themes that accompany the view. Even the drunks that pester you are amusing and fun, though their constant shoving is more than annoying, especially if you are trying to pickpocket a pedestrian or eliminate a target without a fuss. It all makes your missions that much more compelling, and you'll be inclined to explore every nook and cranny and take on every optional task, just for the fun of it. There's a ton of stuff to do, and even when you've exhausted your official tasks, you can search for the collectible flags and crosses strewn around the cities and countryside. You could probably plow through the main quest in 20 hours if you're lucky, but completists might spend close to 50 hours finishing every quest and gathering every collectible.
There are few differences between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. PS3 owners are blessed with a slightly more solid frame rate, although the 360 version features a little more contrast in the lighting, so it's pretty much a wash. But regardless of which platform you go with, you'll have an amazing and unforgettable game. Assassin's Creed is the kind of game you tell your friends about, and one that should be in your collection.
Mass Effect Alien Races Revealed
Published October 11, 2007
As one of the first human beings to step onto the galactic stage, you face a grave threat that may destroy all of civilization.Travel across an expansive universe, exploring the uncharted corners of the galaxy, searching for pieces of the truth in order to discover how to defeat the coming destruction in Mass EffectTM. Get an advance look at the races you'll encounter during your epic adventure.
The Turian Hierarchy
The Turians are the greatest threat to Alliance interests. While the Batarians are more openly hostile, they are a second-rate power. The Hierarchy is powerful, stable, and proactive in suppressing perceived threats. There is continued friction between jingoistic human and Turian organizations, who wish to "settle" the diplomatically-resolved First Contact War.
The Asari Republics
The Asari are a moderate threat to Alliance interests. Their economic power and diplomatic reputation allow them to wield persuasive influence. Fortunately, their military is barely more than a collection of local warrior bands. Soldiers are well-armed and exceptionally skilled, but do not possess sufficient organization for large-scale military campaigns.
The Salarian Union
The Salarians are considered a moderate threat to the Alliance, but share certain similarities in mindset. They are politically liberal, often at odds with the conservative Turians and centrist Asari.
It is universally acknowledged that the Salarians possess the finest intelligence services in the galaxy. Our own counterintelligence agencies are constantly uncovering Salarian agents and cyberwarfare incursions.
Salarian culture wholly embraces the concept of the preemptive strike. They find the idea of a declaration of war foolish, and the idea of waiting for a known enemy to attack preposterous. In every war they have ever fought, they have struck first and without warning.
The Illuminated Primacy (Hanar)
The Hanar are an inoffensive third-rate power, and considered a minor threat to the Alliance. They have little interest in interacting with other cultures, due to a cultural obsession with manners and politeness that verge on monomania.
The Vol Protectorate
On their own, the Volus are a minor threat to Alliance interests. However, several hundred years ago they became a Turian client race, exchanging their mercantile prowess for Turian military protection.
The Volus possess an economy out of proportion to their modest resource base. They are aggressive traders and industrialists with a keen grasp of exchange and finance. Many of the galaxy's largest banks, holding corporations, and manufacturing cartels, such as the Elkoss Combine, are owned or managed by Volus. They also regulate the Citadel's complex galactic economy.
The Courts of Dekuun (Elcor)
While the Elcor are territorial about any area they consider theirs, they have no interest in aggressive expansion. They have a small military and are no threat to Alliance interests.
The massive bodies of the Elcor cannot move quickly. Fortunately, they are extremely tough-skinned, and can carry incredibly heavy equipment. Elcor warriors don't dodge incoming fire-they shrug it off or endure it. They don't carry small arms, their broad shoulders serve as a stable platform for the same size of weapons typically mounted on Alliance fighting vehicles.
Quarian Migrant Fleet
The Quarian Migrant Fleet includes several hundred warships, but due to their precarious existence, cannot be considered a creditable threat. The Quarian military does not attack others-it defends the Fleet. Thus far, the Alliance has not been required to block Quarian access to human-claimed systems.
The "keepers" of the Citadel are not considered a threat by Alliance Intelligence. They appear to be genetic constructs, simple-minded biological androids created by the Protheans to maintain the structure of the Citadel station. When the Asari discovered the Citadel, the keepers were already doing their duties. They continue to do so to this day, following apparently instinctive routines and blithely ignoring the millions of aliens that have settled in their home.
There is no known way to communicate with the keepers. Attempts to take them into custody for study cause the creatures to undergo a sudden "self-destruct," with a form of acid being released internally. The affected keeper literally melts into a puddle of proteins and minerals in less than a minute.
No matter how many keepers die due to old age, violence, or accident, they maintain a constant number. No one has discovered the source of new keepers, but some believe they are grown deep within the inaccessible core of the Citadel.
While most genre-bending games are content to dissemble just one convention, Overlord takes on two. Not only does it attempt to subvert how you perceive Tolkien-esque high fantasy by essentially putting you in the role of the dark lord Sauron, but the game also plays like a real-time strategy game masquerading as a third-person action RPG. It's all very promising, since real-time strategy games can be such slaves to convention; and it's rare for a game to focus so exclusively on encouraging you to explore your darker impulses. Though the game's controls take some getting used to, and its exploration of evil could use a little more bite, it's generally pretty successful.
As the titular overlord, you begin the game having just been resurrected by your minions, and your dark kingdom is in shambles. Your dark tower is a ruinous mess, you've got but a handful of subservient followers, and the local villagers are cowering in fear of forces other than yourself. This simply will not do. Powerful practitioner of might and magic that you are, you could go the hands-on route in rebuilding your tower and crushing the wills of the peasants; but then, what's the point of being the overlord if you've got to do everything yourself?
This is why you have minions, the scampering, mischievous little gremlins that are the heart and soul of Overlord. Though the game presents itself as a third-person action RPG where you control the overlord, it's more of a real-time strategy game. Either way, it's a very good-looking game, with the kinds of soft lighting and quaint high-fantasy settings that characterized Fable, though once you get past the aesthetics, it proves to have more in common with Nintendo's Pikmin games for the GameCube. Though you can perform some basic magic and melee attacks as the overlord, it's your minions that will be doing all your heavy lifting. The control scheme for Overlord is a little unusual, since you'll be controlling the overlord's movement as well as the minions'. The PC version offers both mouse-and-keyboard and dual-analog gamepad control schemes, and they're both totally useable, but they've both got their fair share of quirks.
Thankfully, the minions are generally pretty smart. They'll follow you around diligently, and if you take a route that they're unable to follow you on, they'll either stop in their tracks rather than commit hara-kiri, or find an alternate route. You can control your minions' movement directly by sweeping them around using either the right analog stick or the mouse, depending on which control scheme you've chosen. Alternately, you can lock onto certain objects, or simply point in a general direction, and your minions will head over there and perform the appropriate action. If the object can be smashed, they'll smash it. If it's an enemy, they'll attack it. If it's something they can use, such as a weapon or a piece of armor, they'll equip it. If it's gold, or a potion that restores health or mana, they'll bring it back to you. You'll also find lots of quest-specific items that require a team of minions to carry to specific locations, as well as various path-blocking obstacles. You can also command your minions to stay in a specific position, effectively guarding it.
Death doesn't even seem to bother them too much--nor should it, since they're pretty easy to replace. Every time you kill something in Overlord, be it man or beast, it leaves behind a little piece of life essence, which you can collect and store. For every piece of life essence you have, you can summon another minion, though there's a limit to the number of minions you can have at your command at one time. Simply watching the minions carry out your will can be fun, because you get the sense that they really love their job. They scream and cackle gleefully as they latch onto an enemy, and they beam with pride when they return to you with found treasure. Though you'll hear many of the same exclamations from your minions over and over again, the voice work brings a lot of personality to your swarming horde, and to the game in general. Watching your minions wreak havoc can be so satisfying that it makes up for a lot of the problems that the game develops.
Overlord starts out strong, and the first few hours offer some light and easy fun as you sweep your horde of minions across the countryside, slaughtering sheep and peasants and pillaging anything that appears even remotely pillageable. There are some RPG trappings to the game, in that you can upgrade or buy new weapons and armor, learn new spells, and increase your capacity for health and mana, as well as the number of minions that you can control at once. Still, the story is pretty linear. You might have more than one quest available to you at a time, but usually you'll find that one of those quests cannot actually be started until you finish another quest. As the shadow you cast over the land continues to grow, you'll face halflings, elves, bloodthirsty unicorns, an undead horde, dwarves, and more. In addition to the all-purpose brown minions you start off with, you'll earn the ability to summon more specialized types of minions. Red minions are fire adept, green minions are impervious to poison and have some minor stealth abilities, and blue minions can travel through water, are strong against magical enemies, and can revive fallen minions.
The game takes its time introducing the different types of minions, and you'll be several hours into the game before the strategy elements of the game start getting complicated. The tightly designed environments of Overlord are very deliberate in their layout, often requiring you to direct a single type of minion. It's not difficult to alternate between controlling one type of minion and another when you're not under the gun, but there are certainly moments where it'll feel like you're struggling against the controls as you're juggling multiple groups of minions and trying to issue a series of specific commands. Luckily it's not hard to toggle the camera from a behind-the-back third-person perspective to a pulled-back overhead perspective, both of which prove useful in different situations. It's certainly satisfying when you're able to get past one of the game's involved boss fights, even if it's partially out of relief that you won't have to deal with that again.
As much as the game likes to cast your character as a ruthless and malevolent overlord who cares for nothing but power and chaos, your capacity for true, genuine evil feels a little limited. Motivations aside, the nature of the quests you take on aren't that different from what a high-fantasy hero would be up to. Yes, you can choose whether certain characters live or die, and there are situations that can be resolved with varying degrees of bloodshed, but the choices you make have little impact on the course of the game. Good and evil are subjective concepts, and if there are no real negative consequences, there's no way to determine if your actions qualify.
Overlord is an enjoyably mischievous experience that blends real-time strategy and RPG elements to unique ends. The satisfaction of running amok with your legion of wickedly enthusiastic minions is what makes Overlord worth playing, and it's plenty compensation for controls that you'll occasionally struggle against and the limitations on just how evil you can really be.
The Witcher Q&A - Making a Fantasy Role-Playing Game for Grown-UpsChief designer Michal Madej discusses this upcoming fantasy role-playing game about a morally ambiguous hero. By Staff, gamespot Posted Jun 1, 2007 9:53 am AEST
Slaying monsters is pretty straightforward in a lot of role-playing games. You play as the good guy, and the monsters are usually completely evil. That's certainly not the case in The Witcher. In this upcoming single-player role-playing game based on the works of Polish fantasy novelist Andrzej Sapkowski, you'll play as the antihero Geralt of Rivia, a magically mutated assassin trained from birth to hunt down and slay monsters in a medieval fantasy world where there are no black-and-white decisions. Polish developer CD Projekt hopes to capture the moral ambiguity of Geralt and his world in the game, which will have you making a myriad of tough decisions that will affect the story. To learn more about the game, which is due out in September, we turned to Michał Madej, chief designer of The Witcher.
GameSpot: Aside from the March update and last year's Leipzig games convention, we haven't seen The Witcher for almost two years. Can you give us an update on where the game's currently at in development, and have there been any major changes in the past year?
Michał Madej: We learned a few lessons about development in the last two or three years. We have learned from our mistakes, but now CD Projekt Red is running like a well-oiled machine; everything goes according to the plan. We gained a lot of experience, and I can say that the game is finally what we wanted it to be.
The Witcher has essentially reached the beta phase, and everything is going well in terms of production. We have tight development schedules, and quality tests are being done both by us and by Atari's quality assurance team. We're now polishing everything and are focused on testing, testing again, and more tests.
GS: This is a very mature role-playing game, and it deals with a lot of adult themes. This is partly because it's based on a popular Polish fantasy series, but how have you approached this in the game?
MM: First of all, we established that we want to treat gamers seriously. We don't want to sell them a cheap story about some great hero saving the world. When we made this decision we didn't realize how serious a step it was going to be. We had to work out every detail that would make our story "mature." In his books, Andrzej Sapkowski never avoided harsh topics like violence or racism. We decided not to change his **** and to make The Witcher a more mature game. We want to get the attention of gamers who are interested in a deep story and the consequences that come along with making tough decisions throughout the game.
GS: How open-ended is the world in The Witcher? Will players be able to go off and explore anywhere you want at any time, or will you tightly restrict where players will go?
MM: As for the gameworld, after some discussion, we came to the conclusion that an entirely free world, as seen in games like Oblivion, wouldn't exactly suit our plans for the game. Hence our decision to somewhat limit the player's freedom, naturally in exchange for huge, original, and intriguing locations full of interesting non-player characters.
Moreover, if you look at some of the games known for their entirely free worlds, you'll find that the dynamic and smooth advancement of the plotline is sometimes difficult. That's why we've focused on creating a world with some limitations to freedom, but with huge locations, where the player will always discover something new to do or see.
A large, free-roaming world is great for massively multiplayer online games, but in single-player RPGs it's better to do something to keep players interested all the time with changes in the story, locations full of interesting NPCs and events, and so on. But, I want to say it once more: The world players will enter in The Witcher is big enough that they'll be able to spend many hours just exploring.
Making Choices with Consequences
GS: One of the game's most intriguing aspects is that it will give players lots of hard choices that have short- and long-term consequences. Can you give us a new example of how this choice system comes into play in the game? How challenging is it to create all the possible story outcomes?
MM: You can't really make a good RPG without giving players the ability to make choices. The Witcher is no exception. One of our original goals for the game was to provide the player with great liberty of decision, and to ensure the player's choices would have a significant impact on the plot. The world of The Witcher is one where there is no clear distinction between good and evil, so the player must occasionally make very difficult decisions. One of the newer features we've implemented is a flashback system that conveys to the players some of the decisions he's made to trigger recent plot events. It's proven to be a great way to show players the impact of their actions.
I'd really rather not provide any new examples, as flashbacks are generally very important to the plot and we don't want to say too much about the story; we want players to make these decisions themselves. I can assure you that you'll find many opportunities to make meaningful decisions and see the consequences in The Witcher.
GS: Just how flexible is the story? Are there still the multiple endings? How much replayability is there? Can you have dramatically different experiences if you play through the game and make different choices?
MM: The Witcher has three separate endings, and the ending you see will be tied to the choices made in the game. Differences between the alternate endings are huge and concern many aspects of the gameworld. The player will have to make a lot of tough choices that will put the lives of friends and foes in danger; and in the end, the player's allegiances and decisions will determine more than just Geralt's destiny.
In a single play-through, it's only possible to learn about 60 percent of Geralt's available skills, giving players the opportunity to enjoy the game in a different way in subsequent adventures. The differences in character "builds"--the different ways you can customize your character--are very visible. But this is just an additional feature. Replayability, above all else, is based on the possibility of making different choices each time.
GS: The Aurora Engine that you licensed from BioWare barely looks recognizable in The Witcher. It looks pretty amazing. How much work did you put into the engine, and what are the enhancements that you've made?
MM: Step by step, we have modified over 70 percent of the engine, mainly on the rendering side (which makes use of DirectX 9), game mechanics (combat, character development, and so on), as well as the toolset, which we call D'jinni. The graphics engine now matches the level of modern first-person shooter games--we have all of the state-of-the-art technologies such as pixel shaders and normal mapping.
We had to make modifications to the engine in order to implement real-time combat and the specific characteristics of the Witcher. The D'jinni toolset is a brand-new tool that could be the subject of an entire interview. All I can say is that we have managed to create a modern and powerful tool. All of the operations connected with the development of the game are now done with the use of just one application. What's more, the implemented changes can be observed in real time while actually playing the game. This really is a cool tool.
GS: What sort of system requirements are you looking at to run the game smoothly?
MM: The hardware requirements will be announced very soon, but I can already say that The Witcher's hardware demands are reasonable. In order to fully appreciate the game's visual potential, however, higher-end equipment will be necessary. Such is the inevitable compromise, in order to have a product both accessible to the average player and one taking advantage of brand-new computer technology.
GS: Finally, is there anything that you'd like to add about The Witcher?
MM: We will have some new gameplay videos very soon to show everyone how the game is progressing and how it actually looks in motion. Interviews and screenshots are great, I know, but there's nothing like seeing the game in motion.
GS: Thank you, Michał.
32 square kilometres, varying climate regions, six large towns, a multitude of villages and countless caves and dungeons - plus a tight network of roads... Antaloor has lots to offer you!
To help you with your orientation in Antaloor, the developers are giving you a sophisticated map, with 3D landscape models and comprehensive special information. The huge colour poster measures 75 x 55 centimetres - and besides ****c elements like roads and villages, there's lots of additional info on it as well, such as teleport stations, vital locations for the main quest and important trading spots! So everything's ready and waiting for you to start your adventures in this fantastic new RPG world! By the way, there's more good news... the map is in BOTH the "Two Worlds" versions - the Royal Edition and the Normal version. You will find the map here.
Quoted from the official site it self, thanks captainraa for finding it
http://masseffect.bioware.com/downloads/ Mass Effect's Fan Kit
Download the fan site kit to help make your Mass Effect fan site rock the galaxy. The kit is packed with graphics and information including concept art, wallpapers, screenshots, Photoshop source files, and avatars. It also contains cool web widgets such as buttons, logos, and renders to make building your fan site a snap. While you download, check out the official fan site forum thread.
Also I hope people like the new banner
I made a new icon for the union, I forgot all about it. In fact I havn't changed it since the start of the union.
I will be posting a new banner soon and can't wait to see our unions new look. I'm glad to see that many people are supporting our union with wearing sigs and tags. In the next few days I'm going to try to invite heaps of people, hopefully my personal invitations will be enough for people to join.
There are lots of upcoming games which means we're going to here a lot of news, can't wait for some of the games such as Mass Effect, Two Worlds and othera.
Review by Gamespot
As if to answer the decades-old query posed by Iron Maiden in the single "Can I Play With Madness," Bethesda Softworks brings you The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles, an expansion in which you most definitely can play with madness. Shivering Isles is an expansion to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and introduces a new world along with a lengthy major quest. It also includes several minor quests, new spells and items, and dozens of completely insane characters with which to interact. The theme of the new world is madness, which is manifested in the batty characters and the twisted yet beautiful landscape. Aside from the new realm, there isn't anything in this expansion that will significantly alter or enhance your experience with the rest of the game. So if you're content with Oblivion, you won't miss out on any integral updates if you decide to pass on Shivering Isles. However, even though Shivering Isles isn't a must-have expansion, it's an excellent value based on the amount of content alone, and a great excuse to revisit an already excellent game.
Once you've installed the Shivering Isles content, you can access it at any time with any character, regardless of your progress in the rest of the game. Soon after starting, you'll hear a rumor about a mysterious portal that suddenly appeared on an island in Niben Bay. As any adventurer worth his salt knows, the only thing to do with a mysterious portal is throw caution to the wind and dive right into it. You're greeted by an oddly dressed fellow named Haskill who explains that you've entered a portal to the Shivering Isles, which is the realm of the Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath. The world is divided into the colorful, eccentric realm of Mania and the dark, paranoid realm of Dementia. The two different realms and their inhabitants share a less than harmonious, though not overtly hostile, relationship. The ruler of both realms is Sheogorath. It's up to you to act as Sheogorath's servant to carry out his delusional demands and rise in rank in the Court of Madness.
For the most part, serving as the right-hand man of the Prince of Madness is just as fun as it sounds. The prince will send you on a lengthy series of quests, and as you complete them, you'll gain rank, eventually rising all the way up to claim the title of Madgod of the Shivering Isles. Most of the quests involve crawling through huge, complex dungeons to gather artifacts and defeat enemies. Some of the quests are interesting and cleverly designed. In one early quest, you have to activate an ancient dungeon that serves as a trap for wayward adventurers who find their way into the isles. Once the dungeon is activated, you get to watch as a party explores it. You can press buttons to either send monsters to kill the adventurers or play tricks on the adventurers to drive them all insane. It's an entertaining way to indulge your sadistic side, which is heartily encouraged in the realm of Sheogorath.
Later in the story, the game resorts to sending you off on a seemingly endless string of simplistic fetch quests, which do get tiresome. It doesn't help that most of the dungeons you explore look identical, which will give you a strong sense of déjà vu. To help break up the main story quest, there are plenty of side quests you can pick up by talking to people in the two main towns. Many of these quests aren't particularly involved, but they're offbeat and weird enough to provide a nice diversion after hours spent in dungeons. You'll meet one gentleman who is afraid to sleep indoors because he thinks the walls will collapse on him, so he commissions you to find him a suitable place to sleep outside. Another man hates his life but doesn't want to commit suicide, so he hires you to kill him and make it look like an accident. At the very least, these quests lend a bit more character to the world by having you interact with the various interesting people who are each a bit crazy in one way or another.
The Carroll-esque world of the Shivering Isles is an entertaining place for a while, but after immersing yourself in a world of madness, you might start to feel a bit touched yourself. Most of the characters are harmlessly nutty, but some of them are downright annoying. Sheogorath himself is one of the most annoying characters you'll find in any video game. The prince almost always talks by shouting and rarely ever makes any sense. Screaming incoherently in a Scottish accent wasn't funny in Austin Powers, and it's not funny here. The prince's voice is so grating, and his dialogue is so inane, you'll probably want to either turn down your sound or click through the conversation as quickly as possible. On the other hand, Chancellor Haskill is a great character whose subtly sardonic tone and dry wit are often quite funny. The rest of the inhabitants fall somewhere between the two extremes, and most of the characters you meet are entertaining in their own ways.
The world of the Shivering Isles also takes on the physical characteristics of the scrambled psyche of the prince. The landscape looks quite different from anything you'll find in Tamriel or Oblivion, and it's all very pretty. From the starry pink skies to the towering phosphorescent mushrooms, there are plenty of great views to admire. But beneath the psychedelic sheen is a world full of monsters waiting to tear you limb from limb. You'll have to fight giant insects, crawling trees, primitive humanoid amphibian creatures, and an entire army of knights known as The Order. Most of the enemies look good, animate well, and put up a respectable challenge in a fight.
To combat all those enemies, you will get new weapons, armor, and spells. If that's not enough, you can make your own weapons and armor by collecting materials and recipes. You can collect amber or madness ore and take it to the blacksmith in Mania or Dementia, respectively. Using the material, you can have the blacksmith forge powerful weapons and armor. The items might not replace your current gear, but at the very least, these forged items will fetch a high price from any merchant. Of course, in addition to forged items, there are plenty of treasures for you to discover in the Shivering Isles' many dungeons. By the time you're ready to leave the Shivering Isles for the greener fields of Tamriel, you'll likely be a very wealthy hero. In addition to the new items, there are a few new magic spells in the expansion, including an amusing spell that lets you summon Chancellor Haskill to ask him for advice.
Shivering Isles looks fantastic and runs fairly well most of the time, although the stuttering frame rate problem from Oblivion carries over into the expansion as well. On the PC the game also has some stability issues. The game crashed multiple times on two different systems, and locked up one system several times throughout the course of the game.
It will take you a good 20 hours to complete the major quest line, but there's plenty more to do afterward. With all the side quests to complete and territory to explore, you could easily spend 30 or 40 hours or more losing your mind in Shivering Isles, and you'll find that your time there is well spent. The quests, characters, and world in Shivering Isles are all as creative and intriguing as in the rest of the game. Oblivion was huge before, but now it's bigger and better than ever.
Since our first time spent with The Witcher at E3 back in 2004, its promise of a gritty and realistic fantasy game has intrigued us. Although the game's been in development for longer than was first anticipated, Polish developer CD Projekt recently signed a publishing deal with Atari, and the game is now slated to ship later this year.
Previous coverage of the game has highlighted some of The Witcher's combat and decision-making aspects, but in a recent trip to the studio in Warsaw, we got some respectable hands-on time with the latest version and adventured through three other distinctive sections of the game.
The first section was near the beginning of the game, with some cutscenes that set out the story. The lead character is Geralt, a witcher--a character trained from childhood in the art of combat and endowed with some magical powers. According to the game's fiction, witchers used to be part of a long-standing institution whose members would traditionally kill monsters in return for money, but because the sorcerers who knew how to create them are extinct, they are now a dying breed.
Geralt himself has been missing for a couple of years prior to the game's opening, which sees him found lying in the forest by some fellow witchers. Laid on a cart, he's taken back to Kaer Morhan, an old castle which serves as their base of operations; but before we find out why Geralt's been absent for so long, the castle is attacked.
The battle that ensues serves as a useful tutorial for the game's combat. Most actions are performed with either the left or right mouse button, including basic attacks and follow-up combinations. Geralt starts out with a pretty bare set of talents, but as you progress through the game, you'll be able to develop his skills considerably--although you'll have to pick and choose, as it's not possible to max them all out.
After you fight alongside the other witchers to take down some of the oncoming henchmen, one of the walls blasts open to reveal a huge monster and a mage. The monster is less of a concern, because witchers are trained to fight beasts, but their magic is no match for that of a mage.
Speaking of magic, there are several different types, relating to specific "signs." These can produce fire effects, which can be helpful when attacking; a shield, which protects you from harm but prevents you from inflicting damage; and a stun, which can lead to one-hit kills in the right circumstances.
Witchers can also drink potions to heal or strengthen themselves, but these substances are highly toxic, and you can drink only a limited number before you'll start losing health. It's possible to track this with a toxicity meter, though, and there are antitoxin potions that will reduce this level--while also canceling any positive effects you're currently experiencing.
Before taking on either the creature or the mage--which we tried out later on--we fast-forwarded some way into the game to pursue those responsible for the attack on the castle. Our journey brought us to a village just outside the city of Vizim, which looked a little run down. The villagers seemed to be getting on with their own lives, and it was possible to walk up and speak to anybody.
In fact, interacting with even the background characters dotted around the place can be vital, as they can give you clues or new quests, a bit like in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. One peasant woman we spoke to complained that she had no food for her children, so we offered her some bread. As thanks, she went on to tell us more about her story, which gave us some further insight to the world around us, including a hint about a quest we were on.
All the game's quests are tracked in a journal, which keeps you informed about those you are on, and where you'll need to go next to continue. For the specific mission we were on, we needed to pay a visit to a riverside shack, where the leader of a local bandit group was residing. We'd previously learned that he had information on our quarry, but first, we'd need to gain his trust. So, a simple trip further down the river to dispatch some monsters that had been causing his trade business some issues was in order.Racism, seduction, and a whole lot more
The actual encounter turned out to be more complicated, however, because no sooner had we killed the monsters than some elves turned up. Unlike in other games set in a fantasy world, elves and humans do not get along in The Witcher. In fact, the elves have been persecuted so thoroughly here that they have almost all disappeared, and those that remain pursue a hard-line political vendetta against the humans, perpetuating the ill will by perpetrating acts of terrorism on so-called innocents.
Their appearance at the riverside was therefore something of a surprise. After talking to their leader, we learned that the bandit boss we were helping was involved in some shady dealings with the elves, so we then had to choose whether or not to get involved in the transaction ourselves. This is a good example of how your decisions in the game can have a variety of consequences, with some actions yielding short-term gains but making things more difficult in the long run, and vice versa.
After following through on this quest, we went back to the village, where we spoke to another peasant woman, who bemoaned the general lack of attention being paid to her. We gave her some flowers to cheer her up, and she responded very positively. In fact, the implied result was a physical relationship, although this was represented only with the awarding of a collectible card--there are a number of these to find through the game, though not all relate to the seduction of peasant women.
Moving forward in the game once more, we followed some clues to a graveyard and found some half-eaten corpses. We battled a few zombies before chancing upon one who could actually speak. This one alerted us to the presence of some elves, apparently holding some townsfolk hostage. Upon further investigation we discovered the elves outside a crypt which held townsfolk about to be killed by a zombie, and we were faced with another difficult choice: killing the elves, or rescuing the peasants. This was another one of those choices for which we had to carefully consider the consequences.
Finally, we returned to the early scene at Kaer Morhan, to sample the boss battle section there. Following the attack on the castle we needed to choose whether to tackle the monster or the mage. Luckily, we had a chance to try out both fights--although you'd normally have to reload the game if you wanted to try each alternative. From what we could tell, these significant fights are more involved than the regular ones, and they contain deeper tactical considerations. Without divulging any spoilers, we'll say that you'll need to work out what your opponent's weaknesses are, and straightforward hacking won't always get you very far.
Visually, the game is looking really nice at the moment. We've talked a little bit before about the licensed BioWare engine, and CD Projekt has clearly worked hard to get the most out of it. The scenery is in turns lush, eerie, and atmospheric, with realistic weather effects and a lovely day-night cycle. From what we saw, very little of the game uses recycled graphics, so the different locations each have a unique feel to them.
At this stage of development there's still some work to be done on the voice acting, which, for a game that focuses squarely on an immersive storyline, is pretty important. However, the music seems to be mostly in place, and based on the few hours we spent with the game the score sounds impressive.
Overall, the game seems to be a promising action RPG as CD Projekt looks forward to a release later this year. What's clear is that the world of The Witcher is a complex place, with real-world themes and consequences for your actions and decisions. These themes, such as racism and persecution, as well as the political backdrop, should add some real meaning to your choices, while the brooding atmosphere will hopefully help emphasize an engaging story. Check in with GameSpot for more coverage on The Witcher between now and the game's release this fall.
Hands on with the latest Oblivion expansion Shiverin Isles.I can also confirm that the expansion will be released in March 07.Look here for the details
GRAPEVINE, TX – February 2, 2007 – SouthPeak. Games, a leading independent videogame publisher, is thrilled to announce that Two Worlds, its massive, open-ended role-playing game to be released this spring for the PC and Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, is having its online component greatly expanded. Whereas formerly Two Worlds was to allow up to eight players to adventure together online, the game will now support thousands of players online at one time.
"Reality Pump was in the fortunate position of being both ahead of schedule and given some extra development time, so they could truly bring out the full potential of Two Worlds," said Katie Morgan, Executive Vice President of SouthPeak Games. "In our opinion, the best things in life are those that are shared with friends, and the more friends the better!"
Online players of Two Worlds will now be able to join parties that are competing against others to solve quests, battle other players in the arena to gain glory, form armies to storm enemy cities, arrange and compete in horse races, or simply socialize in a medieval pub. Like the single-player experience, the massively multiplayer online component of Two Worlds will offer an opportunity for the players to affect and change the lands they live in.
About SouthPeak Games
SouthPeak Games has been publishing and distributing entertainment software since 1996. Recognizing the market need for an independent publisher, SouthPeak is focusing on marketing games from top-notch developers for all popular game platforms. Leveraging its outstanding distribution experience and retail strength, SouthPeak is currently launching new game titles in Europe and North America.
About Xbox 360
Xbox 360 is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.
However, given that this game could pretty much become one of the most beautiful RPG titles I've seen since, given the structure is set around the basic Japanese style of RPGs, it really is quite impressive.
If you've any interest in this game...you know the title and you should keep an eye out for it. Because, once this game is scheduled for release by the 2nd Quarter of '07, I don't think anyone would pass up an opportunity to let this game pass them by.
I know for one thing, I will be keeping my eyes on this game. And I don't aim to miss an opportunity to miss something as beautiful as this...by the way, be sure to check out those "image links," they'll show you just how pretty a game like this will be on the 360.
New expansion for Oblivion out in spring...inside for more.
Merry Christmas everyone...for tommorow (I won't be on).
I hope you all have a great christmas with all your famalies and I'll see ya on boxing day