TheGameJar Awards: 2014 – YOU DECIDE!

TGJ AWARDS 2014

The title says it all ladies and gentlemen. Through two weeks of messaging, talking and editorial brain churning, TheGameJar crew have narrowed down their choices for TheGameJar Awards 2014.

There are ten categories and this includes the obvious and the not so obvious choices. You may disagree with some of them. Please feel free to debate this on Facebook or on Twitter. In fact we encourage it.

Normally we decide ourselves on what we think has been best for us for the year. But this year, we decided it was time to let you, our faithful, beautiful, kind, excellent readers have a bite at the award giving cherry.

For the first time on TheGameJar, you get to decide who wins EVERY AWARD. Yes we’ve shortlisted it but the power is in YOUR HANDS. It’s like The X-Factor for games except less hair gel, less pay-to-win fixing and less Dermot O’ Leary having to keep a straight face.

A few things you need to know, everything is completely anonymous, it’s one entry per computer and the closing date for this is Midnight on January 1st 2015. So you have eleven days to cast your votes!

Below you’ll find the survey embedded in to the page, or if you can’t see it, CLICK HERE!

Choose wisely and good luck to everything we’ve shortlisted. Their fate is in your hands.

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Total War Arena – Hands On Preview

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CRY HAVOC! AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR! These were words I did not scream at the top of my lungs to my teammates as I flanked my way around a mountain pass. But they were in my head rather poetically as the hoards of Roman armies powered forward. As I took command of Leonidas of Sparta, my little army of an archer unit and two spearmen units charged their way forward to take the enemies base.

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Total War Arena is the new venture into the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre from Creative Assembly and the Total War team. In fact, a completely separate and dedicated Total War team. This real time strategy MOBA, like the rest of them, will be free to play but will give the big scale of the historic battles that the franchise is known for and the accuracy in the units and commanders it uses. So as you would expect, it excels at this. There’s a great levelling system which rewards your battles with unit upgrades, a tech tree, fancy hats (they aren’t just hats they are actual upgrades) and unit customisation. You’ll also unlock special attacks that you can use during the battle between cooldowns.

Battles, battles, battles. The 10v10 real time strategy is very effective and forces you to do a few things. Firstly, it makes think about where you places your troops and how you move them. Much like the Total War games, the ability to flank and hold your archers back to get some good shots on the opposing troops, is essential. How you play the map environment is equally as important as how you play. Charging is a fools errand but being stuck down hill with a unit of archers above you is equally foolhardy. All of this really makes you think about how you approach your movement. Secondly it makes you communicate with your players. This is very much needed with such a large amount of teams and battles commencing and with two different ways to win a game. Having tactics is one thing but talking with others to make sure they work is equally important and using the in game pen drawing system works very well… As long as you understand what the person is saying.

This game follows in a similar vein as World of Tanks in creating a player controlled set up that makes you work with others and using historical military gaming as its set up. The maps we played were very challenging with their own quirks, sneaky ways to base capture or ways to funnel the enemy in to certain death. Which, if we’re honest, is half the fun of these things. The actual combat is easy and smooth and it works very well. Although it can be hard to pull your troops out of a situation if they’re bedded in to a ground skirmish. Well, it would be hard in real life when people are jabbing spears around you and others are smashing their shields in to your buddies. So in this way the game plays very real and in quite the epic scale.

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The upgrading system is privy to in-game purchases, despite the game being free to play. Whilst we are not fully sure how this will work yet, you can use your commander XP to upgrade your units as well as your commander. So we’re guessing the purchases would work in a similar way but we’ll see. The commanders range from the most historically notorious to the entertainment-friendly generals Hollywood has made us love. The aforementioned Spartan is joined by Julius Ceaser, Alexander the Great, Germanicus and their units all have the relevant and correct attire and tools from their period of history. Much of Total War has been their unerring attention to historical detail and with Arena, you get it for free and with a very accessible and dynamic feel thanks to the smooth multiplayer.

The game will be on PC and is currently in Closed Alpha, which means a Beta is surely on the horizon and it would certainly be fun to try. So keep your eyes open. We enjoyed what we played and it’s certainly something that serves the Total War fans and the community very well, as well as the MOBA players and curious minds. Although it might feel a little too refined for the die hard Total War players, it might also allow them to experience something new in either the ingenious way that other humans play, or find themselves some easy cannon fodder for them to destroy.

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LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham – Review

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Greetings caped crusaders! LEGO returns in DC comics form to control your minds, brick by tiny brick and shrink your world… Quite literally. LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham is a LEGO game that is very obviously the product of three things. Firstly, complete and total passion for the DC universe by its creators. Secondly, its a game that has the vast experience of many LEGO games before it. And finally it is the product of a team who were able to fully express themselves and their creativity.

The story of LEGO Batman 3 sees our caped friends chasing after Killer Croc in the sewer to try and thwart another dastardly plan by the Joker. However with the rather large and hypnotising Brainiac looming down on Earth, backed up by the stolen power of the Lanterns, all the Justice League and the assembled villains must join forces to stop a bigger threat. It’s all very amusing and takes advantage of the characters own dynamics and storylines that are easily accessible, even if you haven’t exactly been a big DC or LEGO Batman fan. The story is quite simple to follow and in the great tradition of these games, very family friendly. It’s easily played by all ages due to its very familiar controls and is enjoyed by everyone for being the slightly neutral comical romp it should be and never takes itself too seriously.

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When you have done as many LEGO games as TT Games has, it can almost feel like second nature. This makes the third LEGO game after The Hobbit and Marvel Super Heroes in the last 18 months and whilst the feel of the games aren’t exactly getting tired, if you played them all then you must be someone who really enjoys them or are a massive fan of every franchise they’ve covered. If that’s the case then this game is definitely for you as a DC universe fan. The smash-everything-unlock-cool-things gameplay is as smooth as ever and I’m pretty sure there are less infectious things on the World Health Organisations watch list than this brilliant formula. It’s made all the more infectious by the sheer amount of unlockable characters that there are. Plundered might not the term for the depth of the back catalogue of characters they’ve given an outing to, but they certainly looted with intent to riot. They’re fun, quirky and not all together the most serious (Batcow, Condiment Man, Conan O’ Brian, Kevin Smith) but they are a vast and representative look at the DC universe.

The levels are quite a nice length in most places and the free form way you experience the later levels in the story is quite nice although it does lack a little direction. It’s a good excuse though to go and check out the Lantern planets and their wild, vivid and crazy colour palettes. It is definitely an expressive designers dream and after two games worth of the dark dank nature of Gotham, I’m sure it was well received. That along with some nice tourist attractions around the world and the replay value in the levels themselves for collecting and sight seeing (the moon is fun along with the ability to freeroam the Lantern planets), means there’s always something to do and have fun with in the game. Especially with the inclusion of Adam West and 1960s Batman as a bonus level. It may be one for the fans and the parents out there but if, like me, you grew up with early morning reruns of the show before the Tim Burton movies appeared then this will hit you right in the nostalgia bone.

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Whilst we can’t actually review the extra content that is coming, it is worth saying that if characters are your bag, the DLC on offer will be most fun. Dark Knight Batman from the Nolan movies, Arrow from the TV universe with Stephen Amell voicing… There’s lots to keep you as a fan entertained character wise. Is it worth the season pass money though? Well if it’s your thing to collect all the things then yes. Otherwise it might not be.

We’ve all got our favourite LEGO games. Mine so far have been the Star Wars movies (although the game does feel a bit dated now), Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter’s. So when I have my criticisms of this game, please bear in mind that I know these are different universes and franchises and that they have a different artistic direction.

LEGO games in recent times have been very open world and Batman 3 is not, at least not in the same way. You have a central hub in The Watchtower where you navigate your way through the story, various unlockables and areas to reach those things. But it doesn’t feel very natural to do that beyond the level selection and transport to other worlds. You have to go to the Batcave to do a lot of things and that includes the frankly excellent bonus mission of the 1960s TV Batman. But it all feels very far apart and isn’t very well directed. Not like that of Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings, or even the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier from Marvel Super Heroes. It’s a bit hard to work out where to go and where everything is. Making a great little bit of exploration, sure, but it can get you lost very easily.

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The levels at times, despite mostly being a good length, feel a tiny bit too short. Some of the Lantern planets in the story, although you can replay them and explore them, feel a bit rushed at times. Like they needed to push the story along and not get the audience lost or make them lose interest. It’s a pacing issue and one that I feel all LEGO games suffer from at times after the middle part of the game but it would have been nice to have more time on those planets and some crazier things to enjoy. They aren’t a massive stretch from what the Star Wars games were achieving but they’re obviously much more colourful. Plus I’m pretty sure there are other areas on terrafirma in the DC universe that could have been utilised. Maybe that’s another game though. The occasional mini-game levels however, which look inspired by TRON/Daft Punk, are utterly confusing and to be honest don’t really add much to the game except a “what the hell is this?” reaction moment. I’d quite happily have taken an easy on-screen puzzle if I’m honest and kept them as a fun aside in the Batcave.

Balance is quite a key thing in LEGO games and for you to unlock all the characters, you have to want to unlock them. The balance of what the characters can do with their powers, modifiers, different suits and such is very key to how you play the game. Whilst you don’t want these bonus characters to be required in order to complete it, there is a bit of an overpowered set which you don’t really need to stray too far from. It’s not that bad a thing but it doesn’t really make you explore the other character options. Where as Harry Potter certainly did with their different spells. It would have been nice to have seen some more integration of the characters sets in to the main game for freeplay. I want an excuse to unlock Batcow! Although my only main character based criticism is how the level design of some of the levels really doesn’t like The Flash. Barry Allen moves so darn fast that you usually end up not actually fighting anyone, spinning around punching the air and falling off edges more often than a lemming.

LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham doesn’t really go beyond what LEGO games are known for. But it is a romp that makes you wonder where the heck LEGO games could go next. Ghostbusters would be fun and I’ve always said the Star Trek movies could make good LEGO games, even Doctor Who (nerdgasm). But for now we’ve got to the point of exhausting the franchises we have. Is DC exhausted from this? Possibly. Other than story and environments, there’s not that much more I think that would bring people back to LEGO Batman as this has most certainly ticked and filled every box. A good LEGO game, a fun Batman game but easily consumed. Next, please!

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LEGO Batman 3 Beyond Gotham hits all the right spots for a DC fan and keeps up the great tradition that is now LEGO franchise gaming. It’s simple, easy, family friendly and incredibly addictive. Although at this point the gamer in me wants to see some more imaginative things, bigger, better puzzles and something new along with the smash everything, collect everything gameplay. But you can’t fix something that isn’t broken and LEGO games still work great, and this one definitely goes in the lexicon very nicely.

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– So many characters, so little time

– The Batusi jiving, catch phrase slinging Adam West

– A nice expansion of the DC universe and for the player to see more than Gotham

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[tab title=”Bad Points”]

– Mini game TRON level not needed

– Watchtower hub and utility placement confusing

– The Flash is a bit too flashy and hard to control

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The game is a great thing for DC fans, and a fun thing for LEGO fans, but even though it’s accessible to all, it doesn’t quite hit the interchangeable hairstyle on my LEGO head. There’s loads to do and some great extra bits along the way, along with some excellent worlds to explore. But it can be a bit confusing, easy to get lost and it isn’t a leap forward from the other two LEGO games we’ve already had very recently. It’s fun, but for me it isn’t the best the series has offered. But if you’re a DC fan then this will be brilliant.

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This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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The Record Player (Short Story)

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He sat down with no one except the spectre of what used to be. Surrounding him was a record player, the kind of one you find in the shopping sections in the back of Readers Digest magazines, a pair of headphones, an old vinyl of Hotel California and half a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass filled with some ice. Some might call it a ritual, but for him this was a retraction, or an expulsion, of what was stuck in his head.

Memories have a strange way of making the past recur in the present when it really shouldn’t belong. Much like listening to a band like the Manic Street Preachers or Smashing Pumpkins now when you used to listen to them in the 90s. Are you listening to them now because you like it, or because you’re living in the memory of when they were at their peak of musical creation? All those bands that you hear a new song from on the radio, or you get on CD as a birthday or christmas present because someone remembered you used to like them and it just seems like the right thing to have; they all get old. They all change. They all remove themselves from what they were because there comes a time when you simply cannot live there anymore.

He poured the first measure of his whiskey. It was a little stingy so he added some more. A bit too much. I can savour this one, he thought. He dropped the needle before quickly realising it needed a bit of a blow, to shake off the dusty collection of fluff. Then he dropped it again and the opening bars of Hotel California rang in his ears like an old friend that had come to stay and chat about old flames, lined up in perfect chronological recollection, like pretty maids all in a row. He ran through them all: the first, the other first, the one that should have been first, the one that came after, the one that stayed, the one that left, the one he left, the one they both walked away from, the one that hurt and the one that stung. Those were the memories that needed to leave.

The problem, his old friend sagely advised, was that there was no new kid in town. There was no way to stop that memory creeping in. The present wonderfully suppresses the past like the bourbon suppresses the clouded thinking for truth. It wasn’t the last resort to invite the friend in but it was needed, that clarity. The memory is like that old band, it hangs around waiting for the appreciation it feels its earned but all it does is outstay its welcome and give you heartburn. Acidic stinging making him drop his shoulders more than he comfortably should be and keeping him rearranging his pillow at night before his body is too worn out or just too drunk to stay awake.

“All of this time with the memory is wasted time,” the friend said. “You’re sitting here for what? A chance? A slice of that past? Well it doesn’t work. You don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or any of that fluffy pop crap. You think you’re sitting here pretending to be a victim of love, but you’re only the victim of your own ego.”

He sat and pondered this as he realised he needed to top up his drink and would need to flip the record over too. Ego, he questioned to himself? How can he have an ego if he wasn’t good enough to stay with, if he wasn’t good enough to move himself along? Surely that isn’t his fault? He’s no rich kid, or devil may care punk living life in the fast lane way beyond his years. He was distrustful of love by now. It kept bringing all these memories and old records and empty bottles of whiskey.

“Why do you distrust love?” the friend asked in the quiet moment where he flipped the record over to side B. “If you distrust something then it needs to be alive, an animal or something. The only animal in love is the one looking at you in the mirror when you stare too long after a shower and think your hair can do whatever you want it to. Love isn’t alive, love is a choice. It didn’t choose you and your ego took the hit.”

The memory rose to the closest point his mind has with his eyelids as he closed them and replayed a self-edited montage of what he wanted to believe. He took a sip from his glass and realised the memory was over very quickly, as quickly as the sip from his glass, but it just repeated and repeated like a CD that was skipping. “You see this?” The friend made him look at the vinyl. “This is pure. This has no cracks or blemishes that weren’t designed to be there. This isn’t skipping over same things over and over again. Take another look.”

He looked and the memory went a bit further. It looked at moments of silence, of being sat next to a phone or having social media show him everything he never wanted to see. “You chose this,” the friend reminded him. “Now you just need to realise that this is a choice, try and love again, and see what else is out there. The bands were great, but now they’re old. Not forgotten but hanging on before people chose to not to remember them anymore.” He poured his last generous glass and swirled around what little was left of the melted ice cubes. They had degraded to such a point that they almost weren’t even there, but the outline was hanging on to remind you they were.

He contemplated the choice as the last song played its way in to his headphones. It is a choice, he said. I choose… He pondered. He took the remaining bits of ice out of the glass and leaned back on the floor, his shoulders straightening and bringing relief like a massage. It felt like he was melting in to the floor enough for it to mould around him and capture him perfectly. He lifted his head up slightly and drank the last of the bourbon as the record spun around to the end and he closed his eyes. The memory was gone. The edited one, the full one, all of it. “See you next time,” the friend said, “but remember you chose to be here. Don’t choose to go somewhere you can never leave.”

He opened his eyes and put his hand in the slightly damp puddle the melted ice had left. He closed the record player and took his headphones off. He put the bottle in the recycling bin and went to his bed. He spun himself over once and flipped his pillow to a colder side. Then it was morning and the radio woke him up with a new song by an old band. He switched it off, got up and left.

Never Alone – Review

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Sometimes we are blessed as critics and as players that we have a vehicle with video games with which we can experience art, art that no others have access to. There are parts of video games that you can argue transcend the emergent gameplay they inspire, or the visual treats and beautiful moments where music, visuals and story combine to make some narrative magic. Red Dead Redemption has this in the Mexico crossing. Bioshock has it in the encounter with Andrew Ryan. The Last of Us has it in the ultimate lie. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has it in its unique and symbiotic control method. Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna) has it in its tradition and inspired recounting of storytelling.

never alone 3 Never Alone is a platform game that tells the tale of a young girl, Nuna, who ventures out of her village to find the cause of a blizzard. As she travels, she comes upon the destruction and unpredictability of the elements along with enemies to avoid. To help with this, she befriends an arctic fox that can control the spirits around her.

It is based on the story Kunuuksaayuka, a tale from the indigenous Alaskan tribes retold in a puzzle platformer environment. Environment is something that should be mentioned here because the snowy plains look excellent and show off the Unity engine, with which the game was developed, very nicely. The colour palette might be different shades of icy white but that doesn’t lose any depth in the games backgrounds and levels.

Your arctic fox, a trusty companion who can control and summon spirits that act as convenient platforms, is your secondary player that you can swap between to help solve puzzles. From a gaming standpoint, it can be a little bit clunky at times and isn’t the super smooth experience that the rushing winds and icescapes attempted to convey. There are times that you have to be ready to pick up where you died as the game loads incredibly quickly back in to the action.

Your bola (a weapon of magical stones attached by string to a feather) help to solve some of the dead ends you come upon. The game isn’t that long but it is entertaining while you are playing, highlights being the Northern Lights that steal you away if you get in their path and you frantically being chased by a Polar Bear. The inner Attenborough in you wants to stop and admire the great creature and the gamer in you knows you can’t as you’re about to get eaten. From a gaming point of view, even though the game is over quite quickly, it is enjoyable, and it does give you an emotional story (although nowhere near the level of man blubbering that Brothers attained) that is fun for all ages. It’s easy to play and isn’t really that challenging save a few puzzles that require a bit more thought. In fact, I almost want it to be more challenging at times, but that’s just the gamer in me.

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However, this is where the lines are going to blur because this isn’t just a game. This is a work of art. This game is a beautifully realised experiment in to how traditional storytelling, and how generations that pass down the folk tales, can survive in the 21st Century. The story is read in their native language and the cutscenes are animated in a style reminiscent of the Scrimshaw drawings and carvings. The characters, the girl who is the piece’s everyman and the evil manslayer villain, are all from the folklore of a community and a culture.

Not like a culture that a western society may be used to now we are so mixed and interconnected, but one that has stayed true, has survived hardships and exists like a family. Whilst there is a gaming element, Never Alone strives to be an educational look into something that you might not know about unless you’d seen it on TV, read about it or experienced yourself, and it also strives to find new ways to tell the folk tales that inspired it.

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Folk tales are nothing new in games but they mostly work in an intertextual way. Games like God of War take myth and legend and remake it to tell their own story. Never Alone tells the story that is traditional and has always been told but has found a much more interesting and accessible way to do it than most other folk tales have. The game allows for you to experience the beliefs of Alaskans in a unique way.

It helps to show you how the Arctic Fox is a little rascal but will always keep you out of trouble if you befriend them. It tells you how the world is alive and how the spirits manifest themselves as animals or more human forms with the animal’s features. It shows you how they believe the Aurora Borealis are the spirits of the dead children dancing in the sky, and it shows you many things that a people have believed in and trusted and survived with for nearly 1,000 years.

When you are playing the game and you hear the voice of Robert Cleveland recounting the idioms of the folklore, and you get the connectivity of empathy with Nuna and the fox, you are kind of transported in to the world that these tribes live in. You learn and enjoy their beliefs and you find yourself becoming emotionally attached to the characters. The game completely succeeds in a way that most educational games haven’t since the early 90s when you used to get CD Roms with a computer bundle from your local store.

But whilst educational, your enjoyment of this game becomes more apparent because of how seamlessly it all integrates. The animated cutscenes, the beautiful art of the spirits that the fox manipulates to help you. The stark and harsh nature of the thick ice and destroyed wooden platforms and buildings. You are surrounded by nothing except the ice, the wind, the blizzard and the elements. But all the while, you are sharing your adventure with your companion fox. This transcends to the real world as you want to share this story with others. It makes you as a character, in a sense, Never Alone. The title is no accident as when you learn of the culture behind the game and the tribes, they too are never alone. It is a perfect title for a traditional story being told in a fantastically artistic and interactive way.

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[tab title=”Summary”]

The game itself could be better and a bit more polished in its controls and handling. Although its art design is great, the music and sound are excellent and it is a charming and intriguing tale being told. The experience is that of an educational one of a culture and community in which the indigenous Alaskan tribes have existed for many centuries and are sharing with us in a unique and expressive way. Backed up with some excellent unlockable videos to really explore this life and tradition, Never Alone is a fantastic slice of 21st century educational gaming that I would definitely like to see more of in the future. After all, there are many stories to be told.

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– Easy to pick up and play

– Beautiful art and sound design

– An incredible story told in a traditional way

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– Controls are a bit clunky in places

– Not very long

– Isn’t too challenging to play

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Very rarely do games come along that succeed in educating. But even more rarely do they come along and educate, entertain and create art at the same time. Never Alone may not be a long game, or the most challenging. But it is certainly one of the most immersive in its narration and storytelling, the most true in its design and inspirations and impressive in its environments. A beautifully realised tale imaginatively told in an incredibly expressive medium. If that isn’t art, I don’t know what is.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game

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[author]

Lords of the Fallen – Review

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Lords of the Fallen is a game that takes a lot of patience. It also takes time. It’s not a game you can casually pick up for a few hours and just enjoy, not unless you’re a hardcore, seasoned gamer who lives for the kind of sadomasachistic gameplay the genre typically provides. This multiple death action RPG, which pits your wits against ever more complex and deadly opponents while trying both your patience and sanity, is one of the first for the next generation of consoles but is by no means worse for it.

Full disclosure here, I am not very good at these games. In fact my ability to remain calm and best the tactics of bosses is poor at best, even though I know the tactics I should be (and usually am) employing. Maybe I’m just not quick enough or patient enough. Basically the reason this review is later than you’d probably expect is purely due to my playing of it, and my schedule allowing me to get the most time with it. These aren’t the kind of games I normally play so I’m naturally slower at them. I love watching people play Dark Souls online and I’ve started playing it numerous times before getting too busy. Saying that though, I have found Lords easier and more accessible to start than I have Dark Souls. Just so you know, as it is the game it is always going to be compared to, Dark Souls will be mentioned quite a bit in this review although there are many good reasons for this comparison.

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You will go through a very frustrating time in the early stage of the game where everything will appear too powerful for you and unless you have a few hours to kill then progression in the game will be initally slow. Especially once you’ve got past the first boss. However, after several more hours you will eventually be at a good level in your skills and inventory to have plateaued the difficulty in the general playing of the game, despite occasional enemies being hilariously hard in difficult to fight spaces.

In some regards, this is where Lords of the Fallen actually triumphs over Dark Souls, especially for the uninitiated. This easier gameplay is still challenging yet not too alienating for you to reconsider sinking a good weeks worth of play in to it. You could easily lose a whole weekend and finish the game and still feel quite happy about it. I’ve read and heard others refer to this as your character being too overpowered after a certain point, and if you are a well seasoned gamer with experience of these types of games then you might think that. But for everyone else that isn’t the case. The best way to describe the games challenges and difficulty is that it makes you feel like they are never beyond you despite testing you. It’s more of a “let’s sit down and talk about this” feel compared to Dark Souls’s “COME AT ME BRO!” attitude.

However that is also a bit of a curse as, if you aren’t really the kind of person who will want to learn new tactics and play about with their options, the game can get incredibly slow and laborious for you. You could easily be patient and defeat a boss just using your magic gauntlet’s projectile attack if it’s levelled up enough. But that will take you nearly an hour and time is a precious commodity in the gaming world. Of course, it’s so easy to employ that tactic that you can easily get frustrated, start using alternative attacks, ruin everything and have to start all over again wasting even more time. Although you do get a lovely health boost from your experience ghost (like the souls from Dark Souls when you die) that drops on your death. The Experience system is actually very good. The Risk/Reward idea is well balanced with you either cashing in for safety or racking up the multipliers. Either way, your character’s skill progression is pretty easy to achieve over the course of the game. Even if you do get a little bit overpowered and just use your gauntlet to death.

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But to miss out on the various combinations and weapons on display in Lords of the Fallen would be a crying shame because this is again one of the games best features. Armour is excellently detailed and incredibly varied with everything from clerical clean cloth and plate armour to dirty jagged heavy armour. Every part can be worn independently and is totally interchangable in class and design. Heavy boots and light chest? Sure, why not. They look cool. The helmet armours, especially the face mask based medium armours, are increidbly awesome, invoking memories of Flash Gordon’s General Klytus. The weapons and shields are equally as cool with many different sword and axe options, including awesome drops from bosses like the Persistence greatsword, a massive flaming blade, and the Commander’s Shield. What’s even better is, unlike Dark Souls, the items stats are incredibly easy to understand and compare. Not basic but certainly streamlined to give you the essential damage/defence information that you need to know incredibly easily. Even the rune modifers that the Groot-esque spectral blacksmith helps you unlock are easy to understand, change and modify for the right battle.

Unfortunately this doesn’t lend itself very well to a balanced gameplay type, although I’m not saying that it should particularly. That’s the challenge of course to adapt yourself and your style to these different challenges. But these challenges do come at quite the learning curve, especially if you’ve just spent the past however many hours of the game perfecting what you’ve currently equipped. Ultimately it really depends on how you level up your character. There are three classes but these fairly redundant depending on how you use your experience points and spell points, although once you’ve got the gauntlet up to speed it’s a pretty heavy distance weapon, regardless of your character’s stats. The best go to tactic is speed in these games and that kind of dictates how you set yourself up with your armour and your overall weight that you’re incumbered with. The weapons are rather weighted towards the heavy side too with big, high strength requirement weapons that deal big damage very slowly. These quickly become impractical and the lack of lighter, quicker weapons with decent or modifible damage really makes the balanced/rouge class gameplay a longer, more frustrating experience towards the later parts of the game.

Part of me always questions why we refer to these games as being partly role playing in genre as they never really seem to do something that the genre naturally excels at; Storytelling. Lords of the Fallen has a basic arbitrary plot with several side quests to keep you pleasently confused. Confused because there is no direction apart from a basic instruction. Yes the game is intended that way, and its freedom of exploration should allow you to happenstance on dungeons and intersting areas. But in practice it makes you confused as to where you’re supposed to go, can get you stuck in an area way over your level or just lead to dead ends and locked doors with no apparent keys to find and unlock said doors. The voice acting is ropey in the cliche kind of way and your cast of misfits joke and monolgue their way into the oblivious ignorance that the mostly absent leader Antanas is pulling some kind of Emperor Palpatine style subterfuge over everyone. Yet Harkyn, your Roghar slaying anti-hero presumably on a quest for redemption, is actually pretty cool. A bad-ass monster with a terrible past, yes. But despite his tattoos of shame and whichever bullish way you choose to play him, he still seems to earn the forgiveness of someone somewhere and make them happy, whilst saving the realm that incarcerated him to prison and marked him for life.

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The game is intentionally claustrphobic. This makes battles incredibly hard at times but allows for a very well textured atmosphere with nice particle effects all round. The bigger areas have a nice artistic direction to them as well, with the bridge between dimensions being a stand out visual treat. But there aren’t enough of these to really capture your imagination like Dark Souls and they are a bit too similar. A snow covered monastary made of stone and a rather stone based Roghar realm with occasional smatterings of snow… It must have been quite a bad winter when the art designers drew up their concept pieces. It looks great but is all a bit familiar after a while, which doesn’t help your patience, and never really makes you go “wow”.

If you’re looking for reviews of Lords of the Fallen so you can deicde on whether or not to buy the game, it can be confusing. The experienced players will tell you it’s too easy. People like me will say it’s challengingly entertaining but that you shouldn’t get your hopes up for it being like Dark Souls or Skyrim. Ultimately the game succeeds in what it intends to do, which is be itself. It may not be for you, and the style of the gameplay may seem a bit too slow or weighty for the veteran players and the beginners. There’s life in the game with new game plus mode and different classes to try out but you really need to WANT to explore the options to benefit from it. If that’s your kind of thing then you’ve probably done that already in your first playthrough and won’t have much desire to do it again. Or you may consider that you’ve had enough of the challenge now you’ve bested it. Either way you’ll enjoy your time with Lords of the Fallen but just don’t expect it to scratch any itches other games have left you with and you’ll be pleasently surprised.

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Some might call it Dark Souls ‘lite’ or that it’s too easy once you’ve got your character levelled up. Personally, I found Lords of the Fallen enjoyably challenging and it is a game that, even though I’d never normally go out of my way to play, I actually have. There are things that make it much easier than Dark Souls for the uninitiated in the genre and it does look excellent, although the gameplay doesn’t really allow for a balanced approach. If you’re new to this kind of game and have a Next Gen console then it’d be a shame if you didn’t try it, especially if you’re going to buy Dark Souls 2 next year on reputation alone. Start here, and you will enjoy.

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– Excellent Visuals and claustrophobic areas

– Easy to read stats and excellent weapon design

– Experience System is great and game is open to many tactics

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– Will be a bit too easy to get overpowered for more experienced players

– Levels do get a bit similar in the smaller world

– Weapons, while weighty don’t, really give many lighter options

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As I’ve said, I’m not an experienced player of these games. But I do appreciate them and would love to get in to playing them when I have more time in my schedules. Lords of the Fallen is my entry piece and it should be yours too if you’ve never played these types of games. The visuals are great, the weapons and armours look cool and the game always makes you feel like you have a chance at beating it. A few more options for the lower weight armour classes and more varied classes of weapons would have opened this game up a lot more. But it’s a good marker for our Next Generation multiple death Action RPG’s.

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This review is based on the PS4 version of the game

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