Thursday, October 25, 2012

Of Orcs and Men: Review

Recently, Focus Interactive added another game onto the PSN.  It is the downloadable version of their latest RPG, "Of Orcs and Men."  It sounds really neat to play out the familiar orcs vs. humans story from the side of the orcs.  Let's jump into the Stay at Home Dad Gamer's review of:

I think the graphics are well made.  It definitely uses the more "earthy" tones of gray and brown you see in many western RPGs, but thankfully there are numerous orcs and goblins running around to add splashes of green.  The orc models look muscular and detailed.  You can clearly see their bulging muscles, veins and the like.  The settings also look appropriate.  Sewers have a damp and slimy appearance while castles look cold and dark.  I really like the look of Arkail's armor, too.  Armor all looks unique and interesting with lots of small details.  At first I wasn't sure I liked the smoky look the screen took while Styx was in stealth mode, but it quickly grew on me.  One thing I'd like to add: while these aren't the best graphics I've ever seen, I haven't encountered any texture pop-in or loss, which is a plus.

The music is what you would expect from a fantasy game.  Sometimes the battle music sounded a little weird, as though there was random woodwind instruments thrown in.  Now for the voices.  Main characters Arkail and Styx sound great.  They sound their parts and deliver the lines exceptionally well.  The other characters range from ok to not-that-great.  They don't talk near as much as the two main characters, so it doesn't bother me much.  The only thing I don't like about the audio is the sheer amount of F-bombs.  When playing around my kids, I had to turn the audio down low and skip dialogue that had "adult language" near the end (so I had time to read it).  I guess it could fit into the game's world (that our swear words exist), but I honestly didn't expect it.  I learned to work around it, but just be aware that it's there in case your time to play is when rugrats are around.

"Stick to the story, we found him like this."

It looks and sounds fine, you say, but how does it play?  I will first admit I thought this was an action-RPG, even after watching the trailers.  After playing I realized it's a lot closer to a traditional RPG.  You can drastically slow down time to select a queue of up to 4 attacks and targets.  This allows you to tailor-make attack chains and coordinate attacks between the two characters.  A simple button press switches which character you are controlling.  When you close the attack wheel, time resumes and the attacks are carried out.  It took me a while to fully get used to the combat system.  I actually like it, since it seems drastically different from most other games that I have played.  You get some variety to your skills, and can custom-make chains based off what you need at the time.  Do you need to hit lots of guys, or stun and debuff a single target?  It's your call.  Also you can just hit the X Button and it will fill in the generic "attack" option.

Admittedly, the battles can feel a bit like a crap shoot.  With Ark and Styx, I could easily take out small groups of 2 or 3, but 4 could be troublesome early on.  Once I had an AOE attack that didn't instantly fill my rage meter (or close to it), I could comfortably take out up to 6.  Just for reference, there are several fights that have you facing 8 or more enemies.  With the proper micromanagement, a bit of luck and a strategic assassination, few battles provided frustration to me.  Realistically, if you dodge/deflect a blow, who is targetted and if you hit can change the flow of  battle drastically, so that "bit of luck" seems more important here than in most games.  That's my only real complaint with the battles.  Sometime I would get destroyed in a fight with 5 guys, and next I defeat 7 without even losing 1/4 of my HP.

There are many side quests to do, but most areas are corridors, so there isn't much exploration.  You might need to do 2 play-throughs to get all the trophies, unless you start on the hardest difficulty setting (I don't like to do that) or do a little saving/reloading.  I like that armor is upgradable with "trade point", since you don't carry cash, making a good piece of armor better.  It would have been nice to see how the upgrade will improve the armor before doing it, though.

Going by the trophies, there are five chapters in the game, and the first took me about 8-9 hours.  My compulsive nature had me do all the sidequests.  Chapter 2 was about 4-5 hours, however.  The game seems to be a bit on the short side.  "Of Orcs and Men" sells for $49.99 on PSN, which is a decent price for a new release, and an RPG at that.  Total time playing through the game I estimate to be around 30-40 hours, so you can do the math and figure if that's enough time for your money.  I know I've paid more for games that don't last me as long (*cough*cough*godofwar*cough*), so I'm fine with the length of the game.

"Remember when I said I'd kill you last?  I lied."

What about the trophies?  A good chunk of them are for finishing the chapters and the many sidequests in them.  Others are for doing normal things in-game, like maxing a skill tree or equipping a full set of upgraded armor.  None seem really hard to get, or require you to go a lot out of your way.  I would like to note that the numerous side quest trophies are missable, since you move on from the areas.  Just be sure to talk to all people in the hubs if you care about "catching them all".  The only trophy I would see myself having difficulty with is the gold for beating it on the highest difficulty setting.  Knowing how to play and what skills/stats to choose would make it doable, if not time consuming.

All in all, I am having lots of fun playing Or Orcs and Men.  The battles might still sometimes feel a bit random if you win or lose, but I still like playing it.  The story is interesting to me, the characters are good, and I really like wading into a group of humans, swinging my club around, and laying them all out.  Once you get used to the intricacies of the combat system, hopefully you will enjoy it too.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Under the Weather but Working

My review of "Of Orcs and Men" will be up soon.  I've been sick the past few days, right on the tail end of my parents visiting.  I was glad to see them, since my mom will go into radiation therapy soon (ugh) and won't be able to come visit for a little while.  I'm also very happy to have picked up a part time job.  As stated before (I think), it's 10-20 hours a week, and seasonal, but I'll happily take it.  It's actually a new store for the company, so they will keep about half of the seasonal people to actually work there.  That's a better average than any other place I worked seasonal for, that's for sure.  We will see how that goes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Retro City Rampage- SAHD Review

Thanks to VBlank, I got my hands on a copy of Retro City Rampage to review, so let's dive right in!

Once this thing hits 88mph...

Easily the first thing you notice is the super retro graphics.  If you don't like that style, then A. you didn't play games in the 80s and B. this isn't your game.  For the rest of us, this is a faithful throwback to the games of yesteryear.  I like the 8 bit style, but my favorite by far is the Nintendo-looking cut-scenes (see the next picture below for an example).  I loved those on the NES, and they look just as good here.  Another great thing included in the game are several filters.  It can change the arcade cabinet frame (if you have it), and slightly change the graphics to emulate the old systems. My personal favorite is the gameboy filter.  The playable screen is smaller, but it looks exactly like an old Gameboy game, and the music and sounds even change!  I'm a fan of small details, and the attention to detail in the filters gets my approval.

As is the case with the graphics, the music is also very retro.  They sound just like they came right out of an old NES game, which is a perfect fit.  Another cool touch is the different radio stations in the game when in a vehicle.  There's actually a fair bit of music in this game, which I did not expect.

The controls are pretty good.  The only issues I have is the auto targeting (hold attack) sometimes picks a seemingly random target.  Also, at first I had the vehicle controls on manual, which was very awkward.  You turn the car based on it's orientation, which works when not in top down, non rotating view.  After switching it to automatic, the vehicles controlled exactly how I wanted, so that problem was solved fairly quickly.

Da da da duuuun!

Another issue I have with the game is the difficulty spikes.  A few missions were completed with no difficulty, but a few had me swearing at the screen.  Occasionally, this was because the mission objective was not clear.  An example:  the mission said "Use dynamite to clear traffic".  I have a timer, but what it wants is for me to blow up 20 cars.  This counter is up at the top of the screen and didn't stand out until I looked around trying to figure out why I failed the mission the first time.  This problem also occurs in the arcade challenges.  Most start out with some objective that may or may not help you understand what you have to do to score/get medals.  It's frustrating to be sure, and there's no extra help in the game.  Very retro to a fault.  Getting the trophy for getting all golds will involve a lot of retrying, that's for sure.

After doing the first few missions, I saw my completion percentage was in the teens.  That was a bit misleading, since there are over 60 missions to do and many "arcade challenges".  Usually these involve using a certain weapon to get x kills or y points or other various timed challenges.  I like that these can be done on the map, or from the main menu, if you are just looking to get those gold medals without tracking down its location after unlocking it.  While some of them are frustratingly difficult, there's lots of other stuff to do to blow off steam (read: run over tons of people).  There's even an arcade that has 3 parody minigames and several collectibles (my favorite is the invisible walls).  Just like the GTA games, there is a huge chunk of things to do, or even just spend time screwing around.

If you buy the game on the PSN, you get the PS3 and Vita versions, which is amazing if you happen to be one of the 10 people who has a Vita.  A great touch is the Free Roam mode gives you max money to start, which means you can buy weapons and other crap to your hearts content.  That's great for pick up and play.  The trophies have several "get them for doing next to nothing", but several involve skill.  I'm not likely to get the gold medals on all challenges or a 99x multiplier, but the rest should be obtainable for most gamers.

Yes, paper boy.  Yes, they still try to kill you.

If you enjoy parodies (which I very much do), I think every screen of this game has some sort of reference to something else.  Some are far more direct than others, but I didn't feel they were forced, since the point of the game is to make reference to tons of stuff from the 80s and 90s (also a few current things).  You can purchase lots of custumization options for Player (yes, that's his name), including hairstyles and hats.  You can even play as unlockable characters in the Free Roam.  One last small touch (since I like those so much) that I loved was equipping the "Biffman" suit and using "Biffarangs".  When you attack with them, it bothers to write out the Adam West Batman sound effects.  Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.

So, last and not least: is it fun?  Yes.  Even though there is lots of frustration with the challenges and some missions, the GTA-like structure of the game means you can just run people over until you feel better.  Or just wander around finding parodies.  Getting the PSN version is what I'd recommend if you ever think you will get a Vita, since you get a "twofer".  In closing, what I really want to say to everybody is:  If you grew up  in the 80s and 90s, you need to at least try this game!  There's so much content and so many references crammed into the game, this really is a love letter to 80s gaming, so go ahead and read it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rental Review: Borderlands 2

Thanks to a promo from Redbox, I was able to snag Borderlands 2 for just over a day.  When she wasn't working, I went co-op with my wife for half of that time.  She suggested that I should write up small review for it.  So even though I have yet to get a review copy, I can still give a quick review.

Graphically, it looks very similar to the first.  If you didn't like it before, you mind isn't going to change.  One thing I liked was the setting.  Instead of the deserts of Pandora, you are in the tundra of Pandora.  I hope the whole  game doesn't take place there.

The gameplay is very similar to the first as well.  The controls didn't change much, which is good.  They were fine last time.  The skill trees for each character are vastly improved, however.  A lot of the high-tier skills actually change how a special move works.  For example, Axton (the Commando) can get 2 barrels on his turret, have 2 turrets, have the turrets stick to walls and ceilings, and even have an aoe nuke when he summons it.  Also, the Siren plays much differently than the first game.  I still say they should have just picked another name for the class, regardless of the 6 sirens in the galaxy crap (even though everyone can make as many as they want...).

The sound is still good.  Fitting music, and the voices are great....well, except for Scooter.  I'm sure it's not the same VA as last time, which is a shame.  The character is still awesome, but I miss the old voice.

Overall, the game is still fun.  Co-op was a blast, even with the scunched screen.  Thankfully the bank is build into the main game and not part of one of the worst DLCs in history.  Also, a small bank that is cross-character.  Yes!  One complaint I have is all the returning characters.  Granted, I wanted the last game's players back in, that's fine.  But they reuse Ned, Marcus, Tannis, Crazy Earl and probably others.  I felt they had enough time in the first game that I would be ok if they didn't really show up.  Especially Crazy Earl.  Why the hell would all these characters just happen to move to the same area that you explore?  It feels forced.  Overall though, great game that I look forward to getting.  Eventually.  When I can afford it.  Which will be when it's like $20.  Ugh.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Quick PSP Impressions #3

Here is the last batch of impressions from the glut of PSP games that I got a chance to play somewhat recently.

Z. H. P.
This was a game I wanted to pick up after seeing the trailers for it, since I love NIS.  The plot is funny, but a little too much "let's make fun of this poor sap you play as" for my taste.  The writing is good, though.  The game is a dungeon crawler, similar to Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.  The power up grid was big and I could see lots of potential min/maxing there, but it also seemed a bit more complicated that it should be.  It was kinda fun, but I never had enough money (especially for my Prinny wife), and the weapons ran out of durability too quickly for me.  I would pick it up if the download went on sale for $5 or so, but I was a little disappointed in it, to be honest.

Cladun x2
Like Z.H.P. above, this is a mystery dungeon style game.  I actually enjoyed it a bit more, though.  The movement is free roam (as opposed to Z.H.P.'s grid based) and feels more fluid.  The combat was faster, the player can dash and slide while running around.  An added plus was that you can customize your character when you start, and fully customize them later.  Party members and magic circles was almost too confusing, but I understood it pretty quick.  I was looking to pick this one up sooner rather than later, but I ended up picking up Legasista for PS3 instead.  It is basically the PS3 version of Cladun with high-res graphics.  I'll see how I feel after I beat that game before revisiting the idea of picking this up.  Also, I read that transferring the character creation data to the Vita is a pain in the rear.

Last and least is a game called Venus and Braves.  I really didn't like it, which is sad because the PS2 one looked great.  The PSP one was supposed to have Tales characters thrown in too, but I'm not going to get that far.  It took too long to get to a save point, the battle system seems needlessly complicated and...well, I just didn't have fun in the 30 mins I played.

If you would like more in-depth impressions of any of these titles, let me know in the comments and I can write them up, time permitting.  Thanks.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Last Few PAX Impressions

A few weeks ago I was at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), and checked out a few of the upcoming offerings.  A few impressions will be written right here, a few will be with our friends at the XPound, and the rest will be podcasts on YouTube (mine and the XPound's).  Sorry to send people all over the place for this stuff, but I wanted to give some exclusive content to different places.  I have to spread the word, so here are a few impressions from some games at PAX.

Lord of the Rings:  Guardians of Middle Earth (PC)
Do you like League of Legends, but wish it had more Gollum?  Then this might be the game for you.  As far as I can tell, this is DotA with the Lord of the Rings IP.  If either is your thing, you probably already know more than I do about it, and if not, check it out.

Ragnarok Odyssey (Vita)
I actually like the 2 weeks I played of Ragnarok waaaaaay back in the day, so I was interested in checking this out.  It is a 3D action RPG set in the Ragnarok world.  I started in the middle, so I don't know yet if there are classes or player customization, but I hope so.  The game was pretty fun, as it played somewhat like Phantasy Star Online 2.  While the DS Ragnarok game seemed more faithful to the PC game, this was definitely fun.  If I had a Vita, I would pick it up.  Well, since I will eventually get a Vita, I will pick this up at some point.  I hope it has some multiplayer, but that it isn't necessary, since I doubt I know anyone that will play this.  (Get on that, DTJAAAAM!)

Street Fighter x Tekken (Vita)
I knew it would start off well when I kept trying to press the right analog nub as the X Button, haha.  Anyway, it played ok, but the sticks kept getting in the way while I was trying to play.  For some reason, it didn't feel as smooth as UMvC3 on the Vita.  Also having to use the shoulder buttons makes it more complicated that its console brethren, since you can't just plug in an arcade stick if you want.  Even though you have to buy the extra characters for those versions, there are better ways to get your SFxT on than the Vita version.  Heck, there are better ways to take a fighting game on the go (MK9, UMvC3, etc.) than this.

I also tried out Fruit Ninja for the first time, so I could get a code for the 8bit "expansion".  I have the Kinect version, but have never gotten around to playing it.  I tried the Ipad version, and it was kinda fun.  I see why people were all over that game...about 2 years ago, haha.  I'll have to start the XBLA version soon.  I also tried an indy game, that unfortunately I don't remember the name of.  It was a lot like the first Legend of Zelda, and it even had a survey in the demo so the guy could improve it.  I wish more demos actually had that in them, but only if the right people pay attention to them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Few Quick Notes

I finished playing the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning DLCs (Dead Kel and Teeth of Naros) and I really liked them.  Well worth the asking price if you do all the quests there, and even better if you can snag them on sale (which I did a few weeks ago).  At first I though Dead Kel was a bigger area than Naros with less quests, but more quests open up as you do the main story of it and several open up after the keep is completed (probably the coolest house in the game).  Naros was great as well, although a little predictable.  Of course, I do really like floating cities, so that could explain it.

Thankfully I might be getting a part time job for the Christmas season.  This will be great, since we might be able to go from losing $400+ a month to losing...well, hopefully nothing, but we will see.  Don't worry, I will still be a S@HD Gamer!

Last and certainly not least, I'm happy that a European RPG called "Of Orcs and Men" will be coming out in the US.  The trailers look really cool, and the game looks fun.  Also note that I loved Two Worlds 2, Divinity II, Risen and Arcania, and it looks like it will fit right in.  As much as I'd love an Xbox 360 physical disk version, US seems to only be getting PC digital and PSN releases.  I'm ok with that, and we'll see if I can get a review copy of that!  Wouldn't that be sweet?  Trick question, of course it would.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Realms of Ancient War Review

Welcome to Monday night R.A.W.?

As an avid RPG and Action-RPG player, I'm always on the lookout for new games in the genre.  So when I heard about about Realms of Ancient War, I knew I wanted to check it out.  I dragged along my "Player 2" for all the hacking, slashing and dungeons we could handle.

Let's start with the graphics, since you will likely see the game first.  The graphics are good.  The style is a little more dark and gritty (think Sacred 2), as opposed to the more cartoon-y style of Torchlight and Arkadian Warriors.  And I do mean dark.  I had to turn up the brightness a few clicks so I could see everything.  The environments are very detailed and unique.  They aren't randomly generated, and that shows with how nice they look.  There's lots of little details that I like, too.  For example, in the desert there are scorpions that roam the sands (sometimes too many, though) and flies buzzing around corpses.  Lastly, the armor that you can wear in the game looks cool, but several pieces look the same on all three characters.

The best way I can describe the sound is average.  The music fits, but isn't memorable.  Voice acting in the game is average as well.  While it isn't the greatest you have ever heard, it gets the job done and the voices fit.  One problem, however, is that there isn't a noise when your weapon hits the enemy.  This can lead to confusion on whether or not you hit an enemy.  It also lessens the impact of an attack, making the combat less visceral.

Now we get to what I think is the best part of the game.  Each skill/attack is custom mapped to a face button on the controller, and a flick of the right stick shifts the palette to another 4 skills.  The part that really stands out to me is the "Focus" skills.  Once purchased, these will be linked to the prerequisite skill and activated by holding down the corresponding button.  This will not affect the cool down of the the prerequisite skill, so you effectively get more attacks attached to the limited face buttons.  I really like this idea!  Plus, I got to annoy my wife by always yelling "Hadoken!" when using the Focus skill for the Mage's fireball attack.

You might be wondering why I said "cool down" earlier.  All skills in the game require mana and have a cool down.  I understand your hesitation, since I had it too when I learned about it, but it is actually pulled off really well in this game.  While melee and ranged attacks take mana and have a cooldown, they take very little and are ready instantly so it's not an issue.  Mana regeneration is also really high because all skills take it, meaning I actually use my skills instead of hoarding my MP.  And with the hordes of enemies you have to fight, you will need to use all the skills you can.

Will you fight lots of enemies?  Yeah, you could say that.

Of course, not all is perfect in this realm either.  A mini map would have been really useful, as would a dodge or block maneuver.  With how quickly you can get trapped and/or die, this would have literally been a life saver.  Since the skill palette swap is mapped to the right analog stick, there is no camera control.  This wasn't as bad as I thought, since I would've only liked to rotate the camera in a few instances.  Also, the experience gain seems very random.  You cut through hordes of enemies for seemingly little experience, only to level up when you least expect it.  Last but not least, I would like the skill descriptions to have actual numbers instead of vague wording.  What can I say?  After playing RPGs for years, I like my numbers.

Each stage takes about 30 minutes your first time through, if you are looking for all chests and whatnot.  Length-wise, the game is good.  It doesn't drag out and it's not over in an hour, leaving me feeling that the length was about right.  If you are interested in the achievements, your time will triple since you have to beat the game with all 3 heroes for one of them.  The rest of them aren't very hard or lengthy, which can be good news if you are a gamerscore hunter.

Lastly I'll talk about the co-op.  I had lots of fun with it.  This style of game is always more fun with another player, and this is no exception.  If you have a buddy to play with, I would say it's worth the $15.  With two people to battle the hordes of monsters, the game is made easier.  Death isn't as strict, since if the other player can survive for five seconds, the dead player will resurrect instead of just paying a lifestone and heading to the checkpoint.  Unfortunately in that situation, the camera will keep the dead player in view, so you can get trapped while trying to live those precious few seconds.

While a lot more fun, the co-op is not perfect.  For whatever reason, there is no online play, so if you don't have a buddy nearby, that may be a deal breaker.  If you can only play this game solo, definitely check out the demo first or wait for a sale.  Also, the second player isn't saved, so they lose any loot/money that they carried when you end the game.  There is a workaround, but it would have been better to just have another save of that character, or to just use any other character's save.  So while online co-op would have been nice, at least there is couch co-op, which unfortunately most companies forget about.  Some of us actually have someone in our house to play with!

To end here I'll leave you with a story.  To try out the co-op, I enlisted the help of my wife.  We've gone through lots of two player games over the years, so I knew she would want to try it out with me.  When we started out, she lamented the camera controls, the only saving after a level, and that it didn't save the second player.  The longer we played, the less she mentioned them.  The next day when she came home from work, she had a big smile on her face while asking, "So, are we going to play again?"  I wasn't the only one who really liked the co-op it seems.