Lords of the Fallen Preview

Lords of the Fallen has already had its share of comparisons, and it’s easy to see why. Being treated to a demonstration of a level following the anti-hero Harkyn, the new game from Deck 13/CI Games could easily be accused of ‘ripping off’ other franchises like Dark Souls, Darksiders and the like. Even the executive producer Tomasz Gop was formerly involved in The Witcher series. So it’s something they freely recognise but want to distance themselves from.

However I saw something different. I saw a game that, whilst with RPG elements, owes a lot more to its action and its combat. The player’s ability to have choices in how to handle a situation (gung ho, using the environment, using magic) makes the combat look very easy.

It’s all about timing, learning to use the combat system and followed up by how you want to you use it. In fact, I would say that as a game, its gameplay owes a lot more to franchises like Dynasty Warriors than its visual credentials portray.

“With the art direction, this definitely isn’t dark fantasy… It’s more of a high fantasy,” Tomasz told me.

Seeing the current build on a big high definition screen certainly helps to show how good it is.

“The old pen and paper Warhammer series was also an inspiration… but we want it to be more arcade, [in the] Dark Souls/Tekken kind of way.”

lords of the fallen 1You can see what he’s getting at as well. The third person, almost hack and slash, style of the game certainly gives you a very easy pick-up-and-play atmosphere, which is where I got the echoes of Dynasty Warriors. Even just watching it, you could see that as an introduction game for someone who’s never played one before this would work excellently.

That’s not to say that the game is too easy. There’s going to be, depending on the gameplay style, around 20 hours of play in the game. That being said, once you’re in the rhythm though, it’s easy to see this becoming an Internet speed-run favourite. The way the game sucks you in though isn’t its story, or its next gen graphics or enjoyable smashing of nasty skulls. It’s that your anti-hero Harkyn has ‘credibility’.

The game’s lore and entire creative side has been started from scratch, so everything in here is brand new.

“What’s important is not realism but credibility, and the credibility in here means that we want people to believe that Harkyn is actually a guy who can learn things. He could actually wield these weapons, he can actually fight them because he knows what it takes to survive.”

That is something that comes across and makes you connect with Harkyn despite the RPG element of the game being rather secondary to the action and tactical nuance needed for the combat system. Again it means that things are not just there to be powerful or to make yourself heavy or affect your gameplay, but it can just look cool and be fun for, as I put it, kicking ass.

“I’m really fond of the design of the armours of this game,” Tomasz pointed out. “There’s so much detail, I love looking at this and hinting towards people ‘you might want to try this because it looks cool.’”

Lords of the fallen 2

This could be, if you forgive the two MMO games coming soon, the first fantasy action/RPG to land on the next generation consoles. Its combat is easy to pick up and play, like Ryse you could surmise, and its RPG element isn’t so deep that you need expert advice on a D20 and a history of mages to embrace it.

Due in the winter months of 2014, you can expect Lords of the Fallen to fall quite literally into your Christmas laps for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Of course at the moment there’s no word on if the Xbox One version will hit 1080p. But if it’s a choice between the game being finished and the resolution holding up other releases, we got the feeling the release would be more important.

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Enemy Front Preview

THE NAZIS ARE BACK, THE NAZIS ARE BACK!

Real Nazis of course, not those zombie/alien/mutated/alternate reality ones, genuine Nazis. In the context of a video gaming sphere, WW2 games have been gone for a long time.

CI Games have decided that, given the slew of future shooters and ‘modern’ combat games, it was time to revisit the events of the Nazi machine, complete with chain smoking commanders, and plop us down in the middle of resistance fighting in Enemy Front.

The concept is pretty easy to grasp, you’re an American newspaper reporter who is trying to get stories from rebels behind enemy lines, until you’re eventually more of a shooty-shooty sneaky-sneaky mercenary than a journalist.

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I managed to get some hands on time with the game and bag a few words with Steve Hart, the executive producer of Enemy Front.

CI Games are of course no strangers to shooting things, having been responsible for the Ghost Warrior series. This game is set more towards the end of the war, exposing the German’s attempts at nuclear fission and splitting the atom.

This then sees you going from various different locals in Europe that, seeing as it’s been a while for a WW2 shooter, gives you a nice feeling of actually belonging there. The textures and overall feel of the environments – be they the French countryside, snowy Norway or the rubble of Warsaw – seem to escape that maligned browny-greyish tinge that so many WW2 games possess.

Thankfully this is something that the Cryengine tackles very well, along with the lighting elements.

“Each area has its own texture set,” Steve Hart told me. “We’ve got dynamic lighting passes for each level… They’re so far removed from any other WW2 title. It’s been in development now for two to three years… [the art team] have worked tirelessly on it.”

So a lot of effort has obviously gone in to the visual artistic direction.

Including the weaponry. Every weapon is lovingly recreated from the authentic guns complete with accurate reloading animations. It could be classed as a good historical document on the weaponry.

“The development team really pushed to get the bespoke animations,” Steve tells me. “The team are big WW2 nuts and military nuts and have put the extra effort into creating it.”

Why do a WW2 game though? Well, according to Steve, the market is ready for this now.

“People are after something like this now and CI Games (a Polish company) wanted to get across the whole Warsaw uprising story.”

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The game isn’t just this run and gun shooting affair though, given the companies history of sniping games. The game gives you a HUD that incorporates a stealth system. You can, or at least attempt to, give yourself a sneaking edge and are given the tools to do so, such as binoculars and tactically tracking the soldier’s patterns, even a record player hiding somewhere for distraction (good luck if you can find it, I did – ner ner de ner ner).

Of course the one thing that some of you may have already guessed is that this is now a last-gen release, coming out on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC later this year. It will also feature the obligatory multiplayer modes we come to expect now. Graphically, the older consoles may struggle a bit more with the visuals, compared to the PC version but hopefully time will tell when we get closer to release date and see some more and play some more.

For now, it is a thoroughly enjoyable WW2 shooter and a return to a gaming environment long abandoned nearly five years ago, but now a bit overlooked and ready for a return.

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Enemy Front by CI Games is due to be released on June 10, 2014 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.

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Knowing When to Quit – A Writers Tale

In what is becoming a monthly blog, apparently, I’ve decided to write something.

The reason why I’ve decided to write something comes as a bit of a shock to me and possibly a few others. It is partially a response to a BBC Writersroom blog by Sally Stott on how and when you decide if you should quit writing, if you even do at all. In a completely coincidental irony, before reading the blog, I was reading George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London” which follows the now famous writer in a time he was at most his most impoverished.

Money of course rules the world. According to the BBC I am unable to live where I currently live. In fact I’m about 30 miles closer to London than I can afford to be. The eternal debate between whether or not a writer should stop in order to earn money so that they can buy rice and canned tuna fish is something that runs through all of our heads. In fact I should change ‘writer’ in that to ‘artist’ as this affects pretty much anybody starting a creative industry endeavour.

Of course the issue is that I should work full time and write in my spare time. Which is right, in theory. Before life gets in the way and everything else comes before writing, like personal hygiene, effective nutrition and sewing those work trousers back together in the butt seam (as you refuse to buy new clothes for something you only see as temporary) thanks to ineffective nutrition.

Then of course there’s the bullish attitude that you should never quit and suffer the indignities of poor income, lack of any social standing and of sewing those jeans back together in the butt seam as your non-existent nutrition has rendered them well worn.

The trick though is getting a job writing, or in the same industry, right? Well… Not exactly, which is where my current experience comes in.

I have spent the past year after graduating University trying to get a job in the industry, to getting a semi related job in an industry followed by any job at all. This cycle has repeated several times and if you know me personally then this story is more worn than my jeans. However something has changed mentally in my approach to this.

I have worked actual jobs during my time out of University. Three in fact. Two of them temporary and one of them currently part-time semi freelance work writing. That’s right, I’ve actually achieved the dream of being paid for writing. I also offer my services to a gaming website where I thoroughly enjoy my work and what I write. Whether or not you consider it a portfolio builder or a hobby, whatever. I love the video gaming industry, I always have and it’s full of exciting and interesting people and propositions.

However, that hasn’t stopped me needing that demonic invention of the Mesopotamians and the Babylonians. And I realise that the pursuit of economic stability has become a very important, and practically unachieved, goal of my life to date.

Then I turned 30. Actually turned 30, three weeks ago. 30 didn’t even exist as a potential age before I was 25. Maybe it was immaturity on my part, or a weird reluctance to accept that my life was going nowhere when I was 25. But now, it’s here, it’s happened and a revelation or two made themselves known.

Firstly: That I was actually pretty good at this writing thing and I should realise that I have a paid and unpaid job doing it. However, I haven’t done enough of it. Along with my quite frankly pathetic and chemically influenced self-esteem (which all writers seem to have), I have found many distractions to avoid doing that, those being playing video games, diving into YouTube (something I still want to do more of and think I could do well with), and spending an entire year constantly applying for jobs that seem to be impossible to get.

The applying for jobs part of that is the most self destructive thing I’ve ever done. I’m no stranger to unemployment. I’ve been unemployed three times in my life, all voluntarily or due to study, which is technically voluntarily. But this past twelve months, especially riding on the crest of a wave of productivity and of self confidence in my ability, has destroyed every bit of positivity I’ve had. It saps all energy you have and you don’t want to write anything at all if you spend so long on individual things, only for them to amount to nothing. You just want to drink beer.

Secondly: The one thing I did write and ran with, a sitcom pilot, was well received by people who helped me work on it. It got through the first round of the last BBC Writersroom submissions of 2013 (see the earlier BBC blog link again). Of course there’s no feedback this way so I know nothing. But, I also sent it to Red Productions Company in Manchester, a company I have a lot of time for who created one of my favourite dramas, Casanova.

They did give me feedback with the rejection letter. They had read my script. I know the BBC did too but to have a physical letter in my hand that says they read it and enjoyed it (regardless of the ‘but’) is an incredible feeling for a new writer. The feedback was so incredibly positive that my confidence in my ability was reassured and my remembrance that I always need to learn was further instilled. So I applied to go on a playwriting course at RADA which I hope will tackle some of the issues I had and help in developing future projects.

The summary of these revelations, and I suppose a response to the BBC Writersroom blog, is that you need to know when to quit. Sanity is secondary to money and family support but all are essential. Get out of the fire for a bit if its burning. But there’s a more important and secondary proposition which is: knowing WHAT to quit. I’m in a lucky enough position that I’m able to live where I do, even though I can’t personally afford it. I am a good writer (don’t mistake that for ego, I’ll hate myself tomorrow no doubt). But more importantly, I should have the confidence in myself, and so should anyone else in this position, that I should just do what I’m good at … Writing.

All the jobs in the world will pay my bills and leave me no time doing what I wanted to do. How can I ever progress as a writer if I’m too busy concentrating on other things to actually produce any writing?

So, I’m quitting. I’m quitting what I’ve spent the past twelve months doing until I can’t ignore it anymore, which is basically economic procrastination. I’m with Aristotle on this one. My words are my barter… Remember that next time you think you should quit.

The Elder Scrolls Online Review

the elder scrolls online review feat

 A thousand years before the Dragonborn was summoned to the Throat of the World and around 800 years before Uriel Septim was slain and the gates of Oblivion opened up around Cryodiil, there was you, caught in the events of the Elder Scrolls Online.

The Daedric prince Molag Bal is realising his machinations of world domination and will combine both the hells of Oblivion and Nirn. The Imperial City is in the middle of a battle between the three factions, each forced to coexist in an uneasy alliance to fight evil as they wrestle for control. After escaping prison (Elder Scrolls cliché number one), you awake to find yourself in the world of your faction. Your only guide on this journey is The Prophet, an observer you helped free from prison, who is trapped elsewhere and that only you can see and hear. And so you find yourself leaping from quest to quest, putting things right that once went wrong, hoping that the next… No, wait. That’s Quantum Leap.

People that played the beta realised that the introductory story arc was long and fairly uninteresting with drawn out moments of conversation with little to no action. So in the full release, this has been cut down and altered to get you into the action quicker. Like most Elder Scrolls games you start in an attempt to flee your incarceration, for reasons never to be explained, and end up in a town ready to go literally anywhere in an expansive and lonely world. Except it isn’t that lonely anymore. The story arc however doesn’t really collaborate with everything in the right order and the secondary characters and hours of questing that you start doing first is in retrospect completely unimportant and counter productive to the progression of the main story. So much so that once you get around to it, you’re confused by both strands and really don’t care.

the elder scrolls online review 3In a RPG like Skyrim, you want to spend time immersing yourself in the story and take note of every character’s narrative and impressions. In an MMO you want to raise yourself by levelling and get the best loot to do the hardest dungeon challenges and PvP battles. And so you really do just find yourself clicking through all the carefully scripted and expansively voiced dialogue with wooden characters and acting to get to it and really, you give up caring. I say carefully scripted, at some points, you don’t even get that. I’ve seen an NPC quest where you must avenge a man by slaying a creature that ate his foot, whilst he clearly still has both feet. Also (in a horrible hodgepodge of editing to facilitate the introductory story cut) the great Dumbledore himself, Michael Gambon, who voices The Prophet, has to be substituted for an audibly poor voice-alike to accommodate the change in narrative.

It is written with a complete onus on the solo adventure, and as the word ‘online’ suggests, you are far from alone. With the online universe, it’s very hard to sell that story with a level 6 Wood Elf jumping up and down beside you like a hyperactive child who’s snorted ten lines of pure sherbet. My disappointment stems from the fact that it feels like a substandard Elder Scrolls game and the core ideal of the lonely player in a huge world discovering their story, and that true sense that you are changing things in that world with your actions, has suffered with the leap to MMO. It sadly means that questing can feel quite laborious and unenjoyable at times.

That being said…

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Once you have stopped caring about the game’s failing as an Elder Scrolls title, and comparing to its predecessors, you realise it isn’t those Elder Scrolls games  you enjoy and that this is a totally different beast. For all the narrative criticism I have, as a game it’s actually quite enjoyable to play. You need only look at the visuals to see it.

As far as MMO’s go, they need to be easy to run but also visually appealing and not a complete recycling of textures in the various places. The world itself is beautifully realised and if you can run the higher graphics, you will not find a better-looking MMO. There are early points where you are around an area for a while and the textures begin to bleed their familiarity into your eyes but other than that, it is a wonderful place. I’ve been playing it on a Mac. I started with high graphics and it worked well and looked stunning. I’ve since reduced the setting to give myself a better frame rate and it still looks good in comparison to its contemporaries.

I’ve not had any problems at all with bad clipping, lag spikes or any such connectivity issues in the game, apart from the launcher being pretty sketchy about any errors and log in fails. Clearer information that the login has failed due to your subscription elapsing would help enormously. To play however, it is incredibly smooth and the gaming experience is all the better for it. The first person view is good, but really doesn’t lend itself to the MMO environment that well when facing multiple enemies. The third person view however is great, easily adjustable and the HUD is brilliantly designed to allow for easy ‘hack and slash’ attacking without character boxes and inventory disrupting the view.

the elder scrolls online review 2Once you learn the HUD and get into the levelling system, which is a hybrid of Elder Scrolls basic Magic/Health/Stamina and the WoW style attack skills system, you realise that this game is actually a very good MMO. The learning curve is incredibly easy and the world design, unless you just wander off like an idiot, is very careful to level you correctly and keep you in areas that don’t make you lose enjoyment by going in too deep. The fact that there isn’t a Player to Player trading system like an auction really does help to keep you more on top of your inventory and stops people getting too overpowered due to their economic nuance.

The inclusion of the crafting system inspired by Skyrim is also very welcome. Food is much more MMO-based and useful as a tool than other Elder Scrolls games and the combination of that, drink and such as Provisioning is excellent. The ability to make your own weapons is also very well executed and whilst you don’t really think of it as much as you do in other MMO’s in looking for ore, you will occasionally spot an ore and you can casually level yourself as a blacksmith with very little change to the overall progression of your game.

In fact The Elder Scrolls Online plays so well that my only grumbles about the gameplay are very minor ones. When you find an enemy, their body will have a small red aura about it to indicate that it is an enemy. However the health bar of that enemy is red with white text displaying what it is and what level. Unfortunately every single character and player has the same health bar and white writing. I’d much rather have enemies more clearly indicated in their health bar as, as soon as I get to two or more around me, along with fellow players, it can be confusing.

The only other grumble I have is that sometimes the hit box is a bit glitchy. Especially if you are all up in their face or visa versa, you seem to lose the hit box of the enemy but you yourself will take damage. So you need to have an amiable gentlemanly distance about your melee combat. The same goes for accessing crates/boxes/etc. The game feels like the view point has been designed for the first person mode so when you spend all of your time out of it, it can be a tad annoying to find the right position to access things.

The combat is actually quite good though. You never feel too over or underpowered and enemies will only punish you if you’ve been stupid and run headlong into a throng. Resurrection wayshrines are also decently interspersed. Sadly my time flying around on different quests means that I haven’t experienced dungeon raids or PvP first hand. But from what I’ve seen, it is a good system. Cyrodiil is the setting for the entire PvP arena and you end up naturally gravitating towards joining a group and experiencing the collective battling. Despite it being a game of attrition rather than level or strength, there is a lot of reward for creative tactics and smart coordinated assaults as you attempt to take the Imperial City.

You have to argue with yourself a bit over whether it’s worth the money and if you’ll keep it up. One major sticking point, especially compared to its competitors, is its cost, as it is the most expensive MMO and PC game at the moment. I’d say it’s worth the try for 30 days, although unless the subscription costs come more in line with what is affordable in reality then it may not keep a large enough player base. When it comes to around the console releases however, this may be a very different story and I’m sure that will affect the pricing of the PC version massively. Especially given the relative failure of other MMO’s at higher prices like Star Wars: The Old Republic and The Secret World, the console market may force the price to be more competitive. Keep your eyes peeled.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

Elder Scrolls Online fails to live up to the hype created by the title when it comes to telling a story which sadly detracts from that fact that, if you can stomach it, it’s a very good, easy to learn game that rewards your faith in it.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]- Excellent learning curve and gameplay system.

– Great graphics.

– Runs very well regardless of system.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Very expensive.

– Horrendously constructed narrative.

– Doesn’t live up to the name.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why a 7?”]Because the game itself is not bad. Sort out the cost, stomach the failure of an introductory story and you’ve actually got something quite enjoyable.[/tab]
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Trailer


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Screenshots

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SingOn Review

SingOn feat

This is the strange thing about this review – SingOn isn’t strictly a game. I mean there are gaming elements to it of course, but the truth of it is this is more of an app than a game.

SingOn is a karaoke ‘game’ that is coming for the PS3 this week for its initial release. However its plans on household domination are hoping to be stretched to most consoles and even Smart TV’s. That’s because all this game/app needs is an internet connection. SingOn boasts a rather large catalogue of over 1,000 songs of various different genres. How? Well because, in the words of Tommi Halonen, Executive Producer of SingOn, it is “a streaming entertainment service rather than a gaming title.”

SingOn will have an ever-expanding catalogue of titles on a weekly basis. Unlike the rhythm games that proliferate and, let’s face it, spam our DLC sections on the stores; it will all be streamed to the game. Much like a karaoke Spotify if you will. The idea is that this is a social game that everyone can play. Halonen, who does a mean version of ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams by the way, expanded on this further to me, saying:

“It’s a party game, it’s a family game, it’s for everybody basically. That’s why we have such a wide range in the catalogue.”

SingOn SeanWhich is a good thing to point out. At launch the catalogue will be fairly substantial with everything from rock, heavy metal and pop going up to be streamed. I managed to throw in a few verses of Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has It’s Thorn’ and some ‘More Than Words’ by Extreme. But there will be very regular updates, at least weekly if not more often.

“That’s one of our strengths,” Tommi pointed out to me, “for example, we keep updating the UK chart, so whenever there are new hits coming on radio players and Spotify we can put it on within the week, which is something no one has ever done before.”

In fact the benefit of this is that, because they are all Karaoke songs, there isn’t anything of the red tape horror of copyright legislations and all that palava from record labels/publishers.

In my most humble of moments I asked Tommi “What if I’m crap at singing?”

”It doesn’t matter. We have a few voice changing features. We have TuneOn which auto tunes your voice.”

So now you have the facts, you can have the review.

In fact there are two modes. There is the auto tuning function, which is pretty good, and there is a RoboOn voice, which emulates the kind of Daft Punk style electronic voice to the song. Advance warning, the latter seems cool, but if left on, the novelty will quickly wear off. If you do this and have hyperactive kids or irritating friends, it’s best not to tell them about it.

The service works very well indeed. The streaming of songs is quick, the words come up and your lyrics appear on the screen with an excellent sparkly fill. You’ll also get points (ala rhythm games) in order to judge your performance. This is where, as a veteran player of these games, I did notice a slight latency issue. But that could also have been me jumping the gun in anticipation of the lyrics. Something that familiarity of songs occasionally does. So in that regard the service is very good.

The catalogue is already as varied and open as it can be. In fact the only thing I noticed it was missing was musical theatre. Which, knowing several performing artists and their love for karaoke, is probably for the best unless you want to burn out your PS3 from overuse.

The social element is certainly something this game pulls off pretty well. The playlisting function and the ability to search while the songs are running is excellent. It’s smooth and it isn’t intrusive at all. So there isn’t any of that dithering silence between songs. You can get up, swap things around and have a continuous stream of people warbling their little souls out without the irritating pauses and indecision.

SingOn

So where are the negatives here? Well… You of course need a microphone. SingOn can use any mics from SingStar, Rock Band and Guitar Hero automatically. Which certainly solves the issues for console owners that have them. If not you can get them easily second hand or in a shop for cheap enough.

How much is it going to cost me, you ask? Now there are a few options here, you can have a three hour pass for around £3, a 2 day pass for £6 or a whole year for around £50. Really your choice here is a justification of how much you want to use it. The app itself is free and includes ten songs, also for free. If you think you have a party coming then your options are there. Certainly beats a DJ and people arguing over the iPod anyway.

Essentially, what you need to know is that I had a lot of fun with it. It certainly is a social game though, best enjoyed in the company of friends, family or people who are too drunk to be classified. It isn’t a game like your Rock Band’s or Guitar Hero’s. If you’re having a house party, it’s certainly something awesome to have on without the clunky, bad quality karaoke machines you can get from catalogue stores. But hey, it’s free so give it a go.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

It’s an app, not a game, which streams karaoke songs to you so you can sing your heart out (butcher) your favourite songs without downloading. The expanding catalogue and UK Top 20 deal will see it remain joyfully up to date too.

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[tab title=”Good Points”]- Streaming works very well.

– Large ever-expanding catalogue.

– Easy to use.[/tab]
[tab title=”Bad Points”]- Mic needed.

– Pricing options need you to work out how much you’ll play it.[/tab]
[tab title=”Why an 8?”]It is exactly what it says it is and does it well. A wonderful social gaming experience.[/tab]
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Screenshots

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