Should I Buy? – LEGO Lord Of The Rings


Who’d have thought that not only would the  gimmicky idea of mashing up LEGO and Star Wars into a videogame for kids not only work, but endure for nearly a decade without stagnating and branch out into some of the most beloved nerd culture franchises of all time? So far it’s taken on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, DC Comics, Harry Potter, Pirates Of The Carribean and now Lord Of The Rings. There was even that Rock Band spin-off that was actually better than Rock Band (not that that’s hard) .

Oh, and next for the franchise? Marvel Comics. No really, they’re making a LEGO Marvel game that will have over 100 characters including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Deadpool, Loki and Galactus. I know!

After that? Almost definitely a Hobbit game. Another DC Comics game to capitalise on the planned Justice League film also really likely. Somebody gets these guys the rights to do Doctor Who and Star Trek. Not just the new revivals either, both new and classic versions of both shows should be made into LEGO games.

Anyway, the question you clicked on this link to have answered is “is LEGO LOTR any good?” Rest assured, it is. Maybe not the best, but certainly up there with titles like LEGO Batman 2 LEGO Star Wars 2.

Squeezing Peter Jackson’s three Lord Of The Rings films into one videogame took a fair amount of compression that really shows at times. Sure, all the key scenes and plot points are recreated but this is one of if not the first time a LEGO game has cut out parts of its source material that could have made great levels, rather than expand small action beats into full levels.

This is most readily apparent with the Return of the King section, where Denethor is completely absent, and there’s no night raid on Osgiliath, no attempt to reclaim it, no trying to take over the Black Fleet, no lighting of the Beacons and no battle in the streets of Minas Tirith.

While it is a shame that both these and sections that weren’t in the film like the Barrow Wight aren’t in the game, the levels that are there are fun, varied and of a good length. Unfortunately, not all the characters are as great. Oh sure, their designs are all spot on but some like Merry and Pippin don’t get that much to do while others like Legolas, Gimli and Sam are so incredibly useful you’ll spend most of your time as them.

While it is fantastic that they’ve recycled the audio from the films, with both Howard Shore’s music and the original actor’s voices, none of the voices were re-recorded to make them better match the heavily shortened cut-scenes. It’s not a huge problem, but the flow from one line to the next isn’t quite as natural as it was in the films in terms of emotion or emphasis.

They’ve made a fairly big deal out of how Middle-Earth is a completely free roaming experience, and you can literally walk from Bag End to the Crack of Doom on the world map, passing through all the key locations. It’s scaled down just enough so that it feels big enough to encompass all those locations and secret collectibles yet not so big that it’s a chore to navigate and even if you do feel that way, there’s also a fast travel system in place.

While there’s just about every character you can think of from the films and a few more like Radagast and Tom Bombadil thrown in, most of them don’t have any innate special skills that make them useful in Free Play, and there’s basically no enemy exclusive skills you’ll need to collect so it can often seem like you’re doing it for its own sake.

There is a way to remedy this, however, with the also much vaunted item forging system. By collecting Mythril bricks, which replace the traditional Gold Bricks, and the appropriate schematics you can craft a large variety of items that give your character access to abilities they don’t normally have. By the time you’ve forged a good chunk of these items, you can pretty much demolish the entire game as characters like Arwen, Eomer, Rosey Cotton, Faramir or Lurtz.

But even this throws up a new problem. That’s not an option until you’ve already completed a good chunk of the game and fun as it is to replay levels and the like, a major part of the fun in LEGO games is going back to find all the crazy secrets as characters you love and/or didn’t get to use the first time round. Sure, the inventory system means that almost every character is precisely as useful as every other, but it takes a damn long time for that to happen. Time you’ll spend playing primarily as Sam and Legolas.

To talk about the controls, there are some problems there too. In order to access the inventory, you have to hold down a button to bring it up, from which you scroll through the items which seem to have no real order to them and pick one out. This is often way slower than just quickly switching to an on-hand character.

Also, most Mithril items can only be wielded one at a time and can’t be placed in a character’s own inventory, so every time you want a new one it’s back into the confusing menu. The only items that do get placed in your inventory (other than ones you pick up from the world map in the levels) are the various cosmetic items like the Goggles, Shimmering Armour and Statue Hat.

Switching characters is something which should be perfected by now, but LEGO Lord Of The Rings contains the most infuriating problems yet. For starters, the ‘press button to open character wheel, hold to bring up big menu’ thing quite often doesn’t register that you’re actually holding the button and just plain switches you over to the other character (at least on the XBOX 360 version). This isn’t too bad in and of itself, but when you’re in the middle of a particularly long or difficult platforming section and when you accidentally switch to Samwise waiting at the bottom and the character you were playing as has jumped halfway back to you by the time it switches back, it is really annoying.

There’s also an odd problem where the game seems to want to keep you as having one Hobbit sized and one human sized character at all times, perhaps to further enforce that Samwise and Legolas are the Gods of LEGO Middle-Earth. See, if you’re playing as Legolas but want to switch over to say, Frodo for his Vial of Earendil, the game will switch you to playing as the Hobbit in the player 2 slot and then change *them* into Frodo whenver you’re in Free Play or wandering the world map after finishing the story. Again, this doesn’t really become a problem until you’re in the middle of a platforming section, but they make up a a fair portion of the levels and a huge chunk of the post-story collect everything stage of the game.

None of this is insurmountable or game-breaking, merely frustrating. Oh, and like all the other LEGO games, there’s a fair few mostly harmless bugs to be found in this game.

Again, I feel like I’ve been way too hard on a game I actually really like. LEGO Lord Of The Rings has all the charm and polished design the rest of the series has, and a greater reliance on sight gags has meant they can keep their trademark humour without compromising the serious tone of the story.

There’s a lot of content, most of the collectibles can either be plainly marked on your world map, or are hidden in easy-to-find places and behind puzzles with an obvious start point in the levels themselves, so you can work through it all at a sold and productive pace without getting it done in a few dedicated sessions.

The puzzles and boss fights have by and large been simplified, but giving that this is a series aimed at kids being more readily accessible to both children and people who don’t frequently play videogames is really a plus rather than a negative. Actually, it’s probably one of the most easily accessible LEGO games out there.

In a sense, it is to Peter Jackson’s film trilogy what the Jackson trilogy is to the books. After a long time, finally a truly great conversion to another medium that cuts, changes and compresses where it needs to in order to fit itself into a new medium.

If it being a fun, long-lasting and well designed game isn’t enough by itself, let it be known that what you see below is real in game footage of an item that actually exists.

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Should I Buy? – Saints Row The Third


Saints Row II surprised everybody by actually by not only good, but pretty damn funny too. Ultimately the process of grinding the same four or five side missions to be able to play the actual story annoyed me so much I gave up about three quarters of the way through so my expectations weren’t particularly high for the third game.

But rest assured, Saints Row The Third is still fun and humorous. It seems to have taken the sequel trope of “go big or go home” a little too much to heart. You begin the game by robbing a bank and firing an assault rifle with infinite ammo at dozens of SWAT troopers and attack helicopters, and ten minutes later you’re dumped in a new city and expected to take on the kinky mafia, a gang of luchadors and one whose design philosophy seems to have been “what if TRON had an anime series.”

There’s pretty much two games going on here, one is an over the top third person shooter that mixes the afformentioned gimps, luchadors, anime cosplayers and army dudes that seem to have been ripped out of Starship Troopers that, while goofy is still fun and the set pieces manage to impress most of the time.

The other is most of Saints Row The Third, the actual sandbox element. Remember how in GTA: Sand Andreas you could get in shootouts with other gangs to take over areas of the city and expand your gang’s influence? Well instead of doing it all in shootouts, The Third lets you buy up properties and take on special Activities as well.

I say “lets”, but “really, really wants you to” is closer to the mark.  Some of the missions consists of support characters introducing you to the activity as contrived ways of taking on the different gangs of Steelwater, and earning money is an important task. See, missions and Activities don’t pay that much and money is now used to buy upgrades to your character and gang, as well as guns and ammo. Each chunk of territory you take control of both gives you a higher income and cuts down on the number of enemy gang members on the map.

The economy system actually works quite well. You can’t buy an upgrade until your Respect has reached the appropriate level, and even then the increasing cost means you have to pick and choose the upgrades you want. Even by the end of the game, I’d conquered the entire city and bought some top tier stuff but needed rivers more cash to buy up everything.

That said, the upgrade system is not perfect. Some options are just kinda useless, like decreasing falling damage. Any time you actually fall from high enough to take damage, you can just use your infinite use parachute yo glide to safety. Or the ability to get cash from bumping into people. It never seems to top triple digits, and would take far longer bumping into random people to pay for itself than the game actually is.

As for the combat, the range of weapons is quite small. There’s the usual array of weapon types and some of the Special weapons are hella powerful, but not all that necessary or practical. Melee combat is quite fun, if only for the “groin attack” button and Heavy Melee button which sends you into a quick time event of graphic wrestling moves and physical violence. Combat is most of the game, and while not the Arkham Asylum kind of so fun you can play just that for hours on end it’s perfectly functional.

Driving works a lot better than Grand Theft Auto with cars having something almost approaching steering and being able to stand a few knocks. Strangely, the game provides two types of vehicle entry. One, where your character walks up to the door at an agonising pace and risks getting stuck on stray textures and another where you can you dive kick in through the window for half a street away. I see absolutely no reason why you’d ever use the first one.

The Activities themselves are a mix of wanton destruction, psuedo-racing and a few eclectic odds and ends.  Each one gets six different iterations  and in some cases, like the Insurance Fraud this is a shame as they’re inventive and fun. In other cases, like Trafficking (which doesn’t actually involve any drugs) are more just chores you’ll slog through. At least you’re often given indestructible vehicles or infinite ammo weapons for them.

While nothing in the gameplay ever really rises above pretty good, The Third is one of those games that’s very playable. I got through it after two and a half days of dedicated playing and still spent most of the next day playing it with a new character. It’s that same comfortable level of being diverse and competent enough to engage but comfortable enough to be able to half zone out and just unwind.

The story and characters are another matter. I was sad that the lack of different walking animations and reduced makeup options meant I couldn’t recreate my British Joker from Saints Row II, so instead I cranked the age up to maximum, gave him floppy hair, a tacky suit and all the facial scars I could and decided I was playing Evil Mick Jagger.

I grew attached to Evil Mick. The Boss has mellowed from II‘s wanton sociopathy into a more level headed character as part of a plot thread about the Saints selling out and becoming celebrities and losing touch with their criminal roots. The male British voice option is very snarky and enjoyable. The other characters don’t endear themselves as much, however.

Your beginning lieutenants are Shaundi, who is angry, and Pierce, who likes selling merchandise and playing chess. Alter on you’re joined by Oleg, who’s pretty much Team Fortress 2‘s Heavy without the gun, Zimos, some kind of ultra-pimp who talks with an obnoxious golden autotuning cane, Kenzie, an ex-FBI computer genius shut in and Angel, a grimly serious ex-Luchador.

The only ones who made an impression on me were Oleg and Kenzie. Knexie especially, seeing as she was a lazy, anti-social shut in who prefers the company of her laptop. Yeah OK, obvious points aside, there were hints of agoraphobia and such that gave her at least a veneer of depth.

Though you don’t strictly have to, you’ll often want to take breaks from the missions to earn cash, conquer territory and upgrade your skills. All sandbox games run this risk, of being unable to tell a cohesive story because of how stop and start players can be about actually doing the missions. The Third falls into it not necessarily by not keeping things episodic enough, but by being too non-linear.

Strange as that may sound for a sandbox game, as soon as you finish Act 1 you gain access to three new lieutenants, each of whom offers missions against one of the three different gangs and while you’re faffing about with them, the actual plot gets put on hold for a few hours. Not only that, but you can have two actual plot threads going on at once depending on which order you play the missions in. Though I’m glad they don’t lock off the islands until you’re done with each one like GTA, it wouldn’t have hurt to lock off the mission threads into a preset order.

The story works best when embracing its silly aspects and just goes for broke, which is a shame because it too often attempts to be serious. It’s a pleasantly coherent silly that plays it so nobody bats an eye when the city’s crime boss is a luchador with ‘roid rage who never removes his mask, or bats an eyebrow when the military start using laser rifles.

Some final points, but the game is bugged up the wazoo. I don’t know if this is just a problem with the XBOX 360 version or because I hadn’t downloaded any patches, but it was certainly a problem. Characters would get stuck inside textures, Follower AI pathfinding was terrible and sometimes Gang Operations would fail to trigger amongst other niggles. But really, niggles is all they were.

Also, the difficulty levels of an Activity is not always truly indicative. Take Mayhem, where the Hard versions are far easier because you get an infinite ammo rocket launcher, or one Medium version of Escort which is by far the hardest because you start at the airport, where all the one lane roads make it much easier for the news vans to hem you in.

Finally, when will a GTA or GTA  style game include radio stations that actually cater to a wide range of tastes? Even the stuff in the genres I actually like was boring and forgettable. I know licensing pop culture classics is expensive, but licensing nothing is better than licensing 98% crap, as you can tell by playing any Guitar Hero style game after III.

So that’s Saints Row The Third. A flawed and sometimes infuriating gem. If you can overlook the slightly wonky design choices and disjointed story there’s a lot going for it. I certainly recommend it if you want a timesink.

Showing, Not Telling: How To Give Exposition Quickly And Effectively


Mild Spoilers ahead for the TV show “Young Justice”.

I’ve been on a binge of the TV show Young Justice recently, a well above average animated show from DC about a group of teenaged superheroes. Season 2 shakes things up by having a lot of important events having happened off-screen between seasons, and as such has a lot of information to be imparted.

Some of it is so clunky it’s near painful, such as when Lagoon Boy tells Nightwing that he used to be Robin so that we, the viewer know that he’s Robin from Season 1. Other times it’s so well integrated and multi-faceted that it looks like it belongs in a textbook.

I’m going to talk about one such time. The video below is not timestamped to play at the important part of the clip sadly (I did try). The section I’m talking about runs from 2:56-3:28.

That was one of the best 32 seconds of television I have ever watched, from a writing standpoint. Seriously, it shows and suggests a number of character traits and a relationship dynamic without ever outright stating any of them. OK, so the name “Wonder Girl” does get spoken, but I’m giving it a pass. Now, I shall list what those 32 seconds tell us.

  1. Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl are partners (2:56-2:57): Both are flying in unison, with a serious expression. Their movements and temperaments match in this shot. It says “hello, these people are here now and they work together”.
  2. Wonder Woman’s physical prowess is established (2:57-3:04): OK, chances are you know that Wonder Woman is hella badass. But this is primarily a kid’s show, and kids (or adults) watching may not know who she is. You can’t count on “she fought in Season One” as a reason for people to know either, as not everyone will have watched from the beginning. Instead, a few brief seconds of Wonder Woman being badass introduces her and some of the gravitas she carries.
  3. Wonder Girl is relatively new to superheroics, and greatly admires Wonder Woman (3:05-3:10): Wonder Girl’s admiration for Wonder Woman is obvious, what with her fangirling right in the middle of battle and all, but what’s interesting is the implication. This does rely on further context, but all the necessary context can be found in the same episode. When Wonder Girl witnesses Wonder Woman’s prowess, she drops her defences and squees over her mentor. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Lagoon Boy and Superboy are all present with their mentors, yet none of them act this. Instead, they work in synch with each other and communicate (mostly) vital tactical messages. Wonder Girl is set apart by her lack of professionalism.
  4. Wonder Woman is a strict mentor, and far more professional than Wonder Girl (3:10-3:15): Wonder Woman sees that Wonder Girl is in danger, and immediately moves in to protect her from injury or death at the hands of her own unprofessional nature, while simultaneously admonishing Wonder Girl for her error. Wonder Woman’s tone is serious, and her expression is unchanged from her entrance. With this we can see that Wonder Woman is calm under fire, able to keep up with the flow of combat, attentive of her surroundings and that she does not let mistakes pass unnoticed.
  5. Wonder Girl, while raw, is a powerful and effective warrior keen to learn from Wonder Woman (3:16-3:26):  Once her mistake has been made clear to her, Wonder Girl composes herself for battle and defeats the two giant alien spider tanks that nearly hit her in short order. Her tactic is a revised version of Wonder Woman’s, using her lasso to destroy the machines from a distance. With this, it’s clear she’s trying to emulate her idol and mentor, but also that she recognises her own physical limits and adapts the tactic to suit her abilities. The next two points are also on this section of footage.
  6. She doesn’t have Wonder Woman’s level of strength: Instead of pulling the whole tank into the air, Wonder Girl is only able to rip off a vital part of the machine (with some difficulty). Also, note how when Wonder Woman uses her lasso, our attention is drawn to the fact that she was standing with both feet on the ground, lifting the machine into the air with brute strength before using its momentum to slam it down. Wonder Girl instead flies up so that she can pull the tank part towards her, which would require less strength.
  7. She’s a fast thinker: Whether she planned it from the beginning or it only occurred to her as that giant hunk of tank was flying towards her, at some point she realised she needed to deal with said tank hunk. Either way, she thought very fast, using a potential weakness and making it into her advantage.
  8. Wonder Woman cares about Wonder Girl (3:27-3:28): This is my favourite moment of the whole sequence, and it was what made this clip stick in my mind. These 32 seconds are a story unto themselves, and this brief smile from Wonder Woman is an amazing cap to it. Despite how strict and serious she is, and how much of a contrast this is compared to Wonder Girl’s demeanour, this smile shows Wonder Woman cares. Not just about her physical safety, but of her growth as a hero. She sees Wonder Girl pull out an impressive move on the fly and is proud of her. These 32 seconds say more about their characters and their relationship than some shows manage in an episode.

There, textbook. Eight important pieces of information delivered with very few words spoken. No need to have whole episode devoted to explaining this, 32 seconds will do. Although, dear Young Justice producers, I still want a Wonder Girl episode. And a Batgirl one. And a Robin one. And I want Zatanna back, dammit!

Why Tidus Saves Final Fantasy X


SPOILER WARNING

Whether you like it or not, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy X is a sombre, dark game. The peoples of Spira have spent 1000 years living to a strict religious code under the very real threat of wide scale death and destruction by Sin; a creature that can only be destroyed by a Summoner who has completed their Pilgrimage and will always come back when it is killed. There have been four such Summoners in the past 1000 years. Most die on their journey. And when you add into that an evil religion and a genocidal maniac, things don’t get any happier.

A lot of criticism has fallen on the game’s lead character, Tidus. His detractors call him whiny, stupid, vapid and all round inferior to Yuna or Auron, the game’s other main characters. I say no. Tidus may not be a great character like FFIX‘s Vivi, but he is absolutely necessary to allowing a player to experience the world and story of FFX and without him, the plot as is would suffer heavily.

If you don’t have Tidus in there, you need to completely rewrite the script.

First of all, the world of Spira contains a lot of key concepts like Summoners, Aeons, Yevon etc. that need explaining to us, the player. Yuna, Lulu, Wakka, Kinahri, Auron and Rikku already know this stuff ad verbatim and likely have done so since they were tiny children. Tidus serves as our viewpoint. The naive newcomer it’s justified to exposit to.

Imagine if, when setting out on her pilgrimage, Wakka said “So where we goin’, ya?” and Yuna followed up with “Well, you know how I’m a Summoner who is training to defeat that giant monster thingymabob Sin…”

Yeah. Wouldn’t work, would it? But Tidus does more than do the Luke Skywalker/Harry Potter uninformed newcomer role. He’s an important source of levity.

He has his moments of doubt and despair, relating to his personal story of being a stranger in an exotic land, his issues with Jecht and as reactions to Yuna’s Pilgrimage. But these are tempered by him being the only party member until Rikku to show enthusiasm and optimism as a rule rather than as an exceedingly rare exception.

Whether it’s cheering Yuna up with the oft-misunderstood and maligned laughing sequence (they’re meant to be laughing extremely forcedly, and at the end of the scene they break down into genuine laughter) or giving Aruon something to snark at, Tidus does a lot to offer a different emotional tone to a scene or plot point than weary resignation.

Also, without Tidus, how would we get anything out of Yuna? She does open up without Tidus instigating it a few times (notably in her “goodbye sphere” in which she leaves messages for her Guardians to find after her death) but for the most part the Guardians who aren’t Tidus or Rikku are just as resigned to Yuna’s upcoming sacrifice as she is.

Without Tidus they could have focused more on the emotional strain between old friends that this foreknowledge puts on her, but this would negate the emotional sucker punch of finding out about the fact that Yuna has to sacrifice herself earlier and would be a lot darker without as many of the light hearted moments the other, Tidus-oriented approach provides.

As Jim Sterling recently talked about on his web show The Jimquisition,  comedy is a very necessary element to tragedy. You need moments of levity and positivity in order to not become some dull depressing affair. He’s nowhere near as good a leading man as Zidane of FFIX, but he allows the tragedy to be stronger through his positive attitude.

Also consider this; Sin is a boring enemy. We don’t actually cares about the giant magic killer whale thingy blowing up towns, because it’s just a big whale monster. The investment comes from the characters, from Tidus’ relationship with Jecht and the corrupt church/crazy Seymour subplot. These are what keep our interest through the slog of going from temple to temple.

Seymour and the Yevon church are stories that operate entirely independent of Tidus, but they also both only engage for so long. The Seymour thread starts in Luca and is basically over by the time you leave Bevelle. Sure, he still turns up to be fought and kill off a shitload of Ronso, but he ceases to factor into the plot in any meaningful way.

This is a shame, as his “kill everybody” motivation could have been replaced by something deeper and he could have been a much more engaging villain with a greater longevity but alas, his potential does get rather squandered.

The other emotional journeys in the game are Tidus’ romantic attachment to Yuna and his relationship with his estranged father Jecht. The romance with Yuna is surprisingly out of focus, more a by-product of  his efforts to keep her spirits up than just him wanting to get his rocks off.

But the relationship he has with Jecht, who has since become Sin (or at least the power source for Sin) runs from roughly Besaid up until the penultimate boss battle. Jecht is a constant shadow over Tidus who has helped inform his entire character. While it may mean that Yuna doesn’t get much of a look in in the end-game emotional stakes, it does ensure that somebody does.

I will admit, you could have replaced Jecht as Sin’s heart with Yuna’s father Braska in order to create a a stronger emotional connection for Yuna at the endgame, though seeing as she only has love and not animosity for her father, I  feel the Jecht choice is superior as it’s not so emotionally one-note. Tidus’ final conflict with Jecht shows how Jecht has matured, accepted his wrongdoings and that he does love the son he mistreated, as well as allowing Tidues to vent his issues and come to accept his father. And tell me his “I hate you dad” line isn’t also saying “I love you” in the subtext.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned the corrupt church of Yevon in the emotional stakes for this game. It does have some emotional relevance for Yuna, Auron and Wakka but Yuna puts it behind her before they reach the Calm Lands and never speaks of it again and Auron’s is more of a “now they finally know” vibe he gives off. Wakka is the only character to be really affected by this and it does serve as a nice little sub-plot for him, but ultimately doesn’t affect the emotional stakes of the game as a whole.

And that’s my thesis. You cannot have the story they told without Tidus, and without his kind of influence, you wouldn’t have a story as good and emotionally complex. I may still have problems with some his characterisation, but I find Tidus to be overall a good character.

Should I Buy? – Warriors Orochi 3


The works of Koei, now Tecmo-Koei, are a rather love it or hate it affair. Koei is best known for its two Warriors series, Dynasty Warriors set in the Three Kingdoms Era of ancient China and Samurai Warriors set in the Sengoku Jidai of feudal Japan.

They both follow the same basic hack’n’slash structure, you choose a character and beat up on folk through a recreation of a historical battle. In Japan they’re well received, but in the West they’ve never really caught on thanks in part to critics deriding the entire series as repetitive regardless of what changes were actually made between iterations.

Warriors Orochi is a subseries which unites the casts of Dynasty and Samurai Warriors into one game. Why? Because it’s freakin’ awesome, that’s why. With WO3 some of the greatest warriors, strategists and leaders of Asian history are united to wage war against demons. See what I meant when I said it was an awesome premise?

Those of you who have played a Warriors game before will find the basic combat mechanics incredibly familiar, as this is essentially more of that. For those of you who haven’t, each character has a one note personality, a ridiculous weapon and can string together a variety of combos from their “Normal”, “Charge” and “Musou” attacks to slaughter waves of footsoliders and the occasional enemy officer.

So, the excuse to have Oda Nobunaga facing off against Guan Yu this time is that several years after the events of WO2, the demon army returns with a giant 8-headed Hydra at the…head of it. Unfortunately, the war against the Hydra goes south and we start the game with only three of the game’s impressive 132 playable characters still alive. And so just when it seems that Sima Zhao,  Ma Chao and Takenaka Hanbie are about to fall, the Mystic Kaguya rescues them and takes them back in time to find a way to destroy the Hydra.

From here the game’s story consists of the various characters using their knowledge of the past and future to revisit important battles in order to turn the war around. This makes for a surprisingly interesting tale, where one character can lament the loss of a close friend, only to travel back in time and save them.

I appreciate and admire Koei’s attempt to craft more engaging and mature stories for their Warriors games over the years, but WO3 won’t knock your socks off in the story department. While it’s perfectly competent in what it tries to achieve, with such a huge cast it can’t ever focus on the development of the major characters that would be necessary for a truly engrossing story.

Attempts have been made to invigorate the combat with a few extra tweaks that keep things flowing faster. For example, you can now combo straight off of a rush attack and switching a character mid combo will make them come out swinging, allowing you to extend your combo with all the tricks your two allies can bring to the table. All these changes work and give you a lot of new options to experiment with.

Unfortunately, most of the characters who lost their unique fighting styles in Dynasty Warriors 7 don’t regain them here, though there has been some effort to shake things up. As a tradeoff for this though, each character is stuck with one weapon style instead of being able to chop and change between two on the fly.

The shared movesets aren’t as annoying here as they were in DW7 because A) you have dozens more characters to play with and B) the focus on the more obscure characters means that you won’t have to put up with the damned Spear and Sword movesets all the time.

Tecmo-Koei have come up with a rather elegant solution to the problem of managing the huge cast. Each mission has a set of “Recommended” characters, who often tie in to the particular story thread at hand. Thanks to the “Growth Points” system, you won’t have to keep on carting a load of level one characters into battle. Growth Points are basically EXP that gets put into a bank from which you can assign them to any character you like.

Though you can get a good few days out of the Story Mode, once it’s done you can’t restart it without making a fresh save. You still get the pre and post mission briefing, but not the connecting cutscenes and such. If you’re not the sort of person who can keep replaying old battles without a sense context, this might give you problems.

Another potential problem is that each battle is very much intended to fill a role within the story, and as such are highly based around completing certain objectives and not big pitched battles. Sure, you can ignore these objectives, but this will often lead to the odds becoming highly stacked against you.

Unfortunately there’s no “Legendary Battles” for each character like some of the other games, or versions of famous battles like Sekigahara or Chi Bi to play. That a few of the maps get recycled isn’t as much of a problem, however, as they’re not that common and each time it does happen, the allied and enemy armies tend to be laid out in completely different patterns.

There are a few other things I should mention. the most important is the lack of English voice acting in this game. Though everything has subtitles, some people may be put off by this (especially as it has that problem where the text is tiny if you’re not using an HD TV).

There’s nothing wrong with the Japanese VAs, though I found myself thrown by how wildly differently some of the characters sounded between versions.  The biggest of these was the contrast between Guo Huai’s deep raspy death rattle in the English version and his high-pitched Japanese version.

The other thing to mention is that this game includes a number of guest character from various Tecmo franchises. Included are Ayane from Dead Or Alive, Ryu Hyabusa from Ninja Gaiden, Joan of Arc from Bladestorm: Hundred Year War, Achilles from Warriors: Legends of Troy and Nemea from Trinity: Souls Of Zill O’Ill. Which is pretty cool.

It’s pretty fair to say that you’ll get out of Warriors Orochi 3 what you get out of any Warriors game. If you’ve never played one, this game is an acquired taste but if it grooves with you there’s a lot to be got out of it.

The various team mechanics and overall polish can make for a lot of crazy combo options, combined with the numerous difficulty settings means there’s a lot here for players who like to master a game to find. If you’re after something casual then playing a few battles on Easy Mode every now and again is a fun way to pass the time, especially with a friend.

But if you’re after a great story then this isn’t the game for you. As nicely as it’s presented, this game is about the mechanics first and foremost.

Warriors Orochi 3 is available on XBOX 360 and PS3, although it is exclusively a digital download for the PS3.


Physicist's revenge

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-18701200

This was the moment Peter Higgs has been waiting 45 years for. This was the moment scientists from the Large Hadron Collider’s ATLAS experiment, at CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) confirmed that they had found a Higgs Boson like particle and have confirmed the finding to 5σ significance (I’ll come back to this in a bit).

Okay, this all well and good, but what does it mean and why should you care?

Well, I can’t answer that. I can tell you why Physicists care and you can fucking well decide for yourself whether you care or not!

Okay?
Okay.

Now, the first question you’re asking is “Why am I reading this blog?”, the second question is probably “what is a Higgs Boson exactly?”. Excellent question hypothetical reader!

In a nutshell it’s the holy grail of particle physics. It’s something that has been sought after for the past 45…

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Should I Buy? – Penny Arcade On The Rainslick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 3


Which, to save me from typing out that mammoth title every time, shall henceforth be referred to as Rainslick 3. The history of this series is a little troubled, the first two being fully 3D hughly linear riffs on JRPGs, Cthulhu mythos style apocalyptia and Penny Arcade’s trademark humour. Though the first one did reasonable business, the second game (despite being superior) only sold half as well and the series was shelved for several years until a deal was struck with Cthulhu Saves The World dev Zeboyd Games. Zeboyd signed on to complete the quadrilogy, their own irreverent humour and use of antiquated JRPG mechanics nicely  matching Rainslick’s.

So how’d it do? Well, for the most part. Obviously there’s been a severe graphical downgrade which unfortunately a lot of Penny Arcade’s signature art that made the first two episodes look so great is missing. Luckily though, Rainslick 3 trawls through the Penny Arcade backlog to deliver a host of familiar creatures like the Broodax and the Deep Crows.

The music, while also a departure from the previous episodes, is enjoyable though not exactly memorable stuff that’d sound right at home in any given 8 or 16 bit JRPG.

Character customisation is obviously gone, in its place is an entirely new combat system with four party members. See, each character has an innate Class, like Brute or Scholar, and characters can equip Class Pins to gain additional classes like Hobo or Tube Samurai which level up and learn new skills just like the innate ones, with the bonus of being switched between the team for different strategies.

I gotta say, some of the class pins are downright worthless. Whether its a lack of skills or just downright terrible skills some will simply not be useful whereas others like the Hobo and the Elemenstor are more useful than some innate Classes.

Items are also pretty useless, though only at lower difficulty levels. At high level play the additional stat boosts and other such effects become much more useful as battles become more protracted.

It also uses the full restore after every battle shtick to both streamline play and to promote the use of as much power as you can muster in each fight, fitting the surprisingly fast pace of the battle system. See, MP starts at zero and you get one point each turn, so you have to play strategic and think ahead. Luckily most techs fall between one or two MP, but anything beyond that won’t see frequent use.

It also has a unique time mechanic that, while a little tricky to get used to, adds another layer of strategic depth to the title. See, when nobody’s doing anything all the icons representing characters and enemies move along the bar at the top of the screen and when they reach the ‘CMD’ section, you get to input the command which won’t come into play until it reaches the end of the bar. But if you use an attack with the Interrupt property on an enemy who’s between CMD and END, they’re sent waaaaaaay back along the bar. Newcomer Moira gets cheap techs that do just this and if effectively used, make boss battles laughably easy as they struggle to get a single turn in.

The secondary Classes are an eclectic mix. The Hobo is a hard hitting bruiser with a powerful poison type effect in the “Hoboism” disease that works so well when given to Gabe, but at the other end of the scale you have classes like the Masochist and the Diva which have weird, weak effects and undesirable side effects. You’re likely to find one good combination and stick with it the whole way.

All in all, combat works really well. It’s more forgiving and a little more laid back than Zeboyd’s previous games, and the difficulty that you can adjust on the fly will allow you to find the challenge sweetspot.

Which is great news, because this game basically is dungeon crawling. Sure, there’s a world map with some shops and such but dungeons are everywhere, to the point where one dungeon has two more inside it.

This is a shame in some ways, as we miss out on a lot of the dialogue the previous games revelled in. It’s still sharp and witty, but most of it is loaded onto the front of the game and the plot seems stretched pretty thin over the game’s many dungeons. Penny Arcade’s great writing is there, there’s just not enough of it.

Despite being plentiful, the dungeons are pretty small and bare. What Zeboyd can do with combat, they do not match in area design. It’s way more a series of rapid fire gags than a string of impressive set-pieces. Well, so long as you’re not in one of the dungeons with a plethora of damn durable monsters, in which case it’s a slow gag that you will just want to end.

I’m not entirely sure where it is that the narrative elements fail to come together. Perhaps its that the villain doesn’t get enough screen time? Or that the game doesn’t explain its plot as well as the previous entries? That the previous two were much more focused in design and location and subsequently much more narratively focused? Probably some combination of the above.

The expansion on the hinted at Brahe family history is interesting, if a little mishandled. Also Gabe, whose childlike enthusiasm and simple-mindedness are somehow even funnier than Tycho’s caustic wit and misanthropy in these games, gets a dramatically reduced line count as the game progressed. Tycho’s ex-wife Moira holds promise but her relatoinship with Tycho is never followed through and she fails to really leave an impression.

But the game is a blast to play for fans of old school JRPGs, easily eight hours long (the length of most single player campaigns in AAA titles these days) and great value for the ridiculously low price they’re asking for it. Seriously, you could buy this game with pocket change…If the pocket change were actually in your bank account cause you have to buy it digitally…

Anyway, I totally recommend this as a fun distraction to while away a couple of afternoons or one dedicated day.

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