Heroes of the Storm Review

I’ve always hated MOBAs but leave it to Blizzard to craft the most enjoyable team hero brawler I’ve ever played.

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Read the full review at CG Magazine

heroes of the storm

I hated MOBAs. These weird games that called themselves Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas have all but supplanted my beloved Real Time Strategy genre. Requiring minute micromanagement, synchronized teamwork, and a critical familiarity with dozens of heroes and hundreds of abilities, MOBAs are not exactly known for their accessibility.

Leave it to Blizzard, the masters of gameplay iteration, to create by far the most accessible and enjoyable “Online Hero Brawler”. By leveraging their famous stable of larger-than-life characters and streamlining every single aspect of the genre, Blizzard have crafted one of the most enjoyable team multiplayer games I’ve played in years.

Read the full review at CG Magazine

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Ori and the Blind Forest

With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Moon Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: March 11, 2015

rogues adventure

In many ways Ori and the Blind Forest has become the new standard for typical indie games; gorgeous 2D art, hardcore platforming, and a whimsical, faerie tale-like story. It also helps to be published by a giant like Microsoft. Thus it’s easy to initially dismiss a game like Ori. I know I initially felt a been there-done that vibe, even when the great critical reviews started rolling in.

I finally decided to take the plunge when it went on sale during the Steam Summer Sale, and now I’m ashamed at myself for dismissing it so quickly without ever having tried it. With its perfectly balanced difficulty, simple but emotional story-telling, and intriguing world, Ori and the Blind Forest is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

rogues adventure

The story centers on the titular little spirit creature that becomes lost from its parent tree during a great storm. In searching for Ori, the great tree ends up burning through the forest, and the giant owl named Kuro fights back by stealing away its light source. It’s up to Ori and little tree spirit companion Sein to gather together the other elements around the forest and restore the tree’s light.

I’ll understand if that little story causes a hefty amount of eye-rolling. It’s difficult to convey how well the relatively simple tale is effectively told using poetic narration (translated via text on screen by the tree spirit – who sounds like an operatic Jabba the Hut). There’s very little dialogue; Sein is the only one that really speaks to explain about new abilities or tasks, while Ori’s journey and Kuro’s backstory are told via beautiful cutscenes. The presentation is just fantastic.

The gameplay is pure metroidvania. The beautiful forest can be easily navigated thanks to the lovely in-game map, probably one of my single favorite feature of the game. It’s a really great map. If you’re game has a great in-game map, chances are I will love it.

rogues adventure

Ori steadily gains new traversal abilities, allowing it to climb walls, float, bash through rocks, and stomp through the ground, gaining access to new areas and previously unreachable goodies. Collectibles come in just three flavors, life and energy cells that give you more…life and energy, as well as ability cells that are essentially big experience point boosters. These can be spent on three different skill trees to grant Ori various passive buffs and help, like revealing secrets on the map or granting double and triple jumps.

Without any loot or weapons, Ori’s sole means of attack is through the spirit Sein, a constant hovering point of light that fires off a rapid burst of fireballs at the nearest target, not unlike Dust’s companion in Dust: An Elysian Tail. Enemies are auto-targeted once they’re in range, allowing you to focus on avoiding their attacks as well as the many traps and pitfalls that remain a constant threat.

The game is challenging as hell, and it knows it. The biggest innovation comes from the ability to expend energy to create manual save points called Soul Links. In the early game I was quite nervous about hoarding this ability, but by the midpoint I had so much energy it was never an issue. Good thing because creating constant Soul Links becomes imperative if you want to minimize redoing a particularly difficult section over and over. The stats screen ominously keeps track of your deaths; by the end of the game I had over 150.

rogues adventure

Though the gameplay is metroidvania, the actual structure is more akin to The Legend of Zelda. Each of the three main areas you travel to after meeting the tree first has an object you must acquire, followed by a dungeon that must be completed. Each of these dungeons has a unique hook that utilizes a certain ability or feature in all its puzzles and platforming challenges, like the shifting maze of the Misty Woods or the gravity-defying orb of the Forlorn Ruins. It made each area have a really unique spin on top of its lovely aesthetics.

Pretty much the only complaint I had while playing was the complete lack of fast travel. Most metroidvanias have some sort of limited fast travel between certain areas, allowing for some quicker means to backtracking and gaining previously missed collectibles. Ori and the Blind Forest has no such convenience, and the world is just big enough to make me really miss it.

Ultimately it prevented me from going back to some of the more remote areas to gather the last few pick-ups I had missed (I left most areas at around 95% completion). At least one area you were prevented from returning to after beating due to story reasons – an aspect I wish we would’ve been warned about.

rogues adventure

The story ends up being predictably sappy and sentimental but it’s wrapped up in such a beautiful package that I couldn’t help but be swept up in Ori’s plight. The scripted and challenging gauntlet sequences with Kuro are the right mixture of stressful and fun, though the shine wears off when you have to repeat them more than half a dozen times. The final one is especially brutal, allowing little room for error. I found it annoying that I was simply prevented from using a Soul Link to at least create checkpoints for myself.

At around 10 hours Ori and the Blind Forest never wears out its welcome. New abilities come quickly and the world is a joy to explore, discovering new secrets and gameplay mechanics. Wondering how the hell you reach an unobtainable goodie, only to smugly return later armed with your handy new ability is par for the genre, but Ori really creates a satisfying experience with its intuitive map design and streamlined experience.

rogues adventure

Pros

  • Beautiful artwork and world design
  • Perfectly balanced and steady ramp of challenge and difficulty
  • Effective story-telling and presentation
  • Streamlined experience focuses on all the best parts of the genre
  • Soul Link mechanic is brilliant

Cons

  • No fast travel or teleportation system
  • Numerous scripted chase sequences are especially difficult, and offer no checkpoints or Soul Link usage

Final Say: Beautiful, poignant, challenging, and fun, Ori is easily one of the best metroidvanias I’ve ever played.

New Article – LEGO Jurassic World Review

By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

lego jurassic world

Platforms: PC, Mac, 3DS, PS3, PS4, PSVita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One
We played on: Wii U

LEGO Jurassic World is the latest in a long line of franchise-ready tie-ins crafted in LEGO form.  LEGO Jurassic World continues the trend of breaking and building objects, unlocking and using a wide variety of characters, and offering a large amount of replay value through hidden items and puzzles. By combining some pretty tense PG-13 movies into the humorous slapstick LEGO style, LEGO Jurassic World creates a fun if occasionally awkward experience.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

My Top Five Games of the Year (So Far)

I rank my top five games from the first half of 2015, and also list my five most anticipated games for the second half.

Why wait until the end of the year to rank my favorite games? I want to talk about great games now!

I’ve done a Top Ten list at the end of each year for the last four years, but this is my very first Top Five for the first half of a year. It’ll be a fun way to highlight some games that may be pushed out by year’s end, as well as reminding me of their greatness when it comes time for the final ranking. I’ll also list My Most Anticipated Games for the second half of 2015.

For reference, read my Most Anticipated Games of 2015 (written in January 2015).

 

My Top Five Games of the First Half of 2015

 

5) Evolve

evolve

I’ll admit that overall Evolve was a disappointment in total staying power, but for a good month when it came out it was all my friends and I played and talked about. Made by the Left 4 Dead developers, it was the closest game I’ve played that emulated that great co-op and survival aspect of those classic zombie games. Unfortunately the emphasis this time was on PvP, and the asymmetrical style and game modes made the experience grow a bit repetitive.

 

4) MASSIVE CHALICE

massive chalice wallpaper

I was a big fan (and backer) of MASSIVE CHALICE’s Kickstarter campaign, and absolutely loved how Brad Muir and Double Fine handled production. Bi-monthly live streams were fantastic and the Early Access beta was superb. Now I’m finally playing the final release and couldn’t be happier with this unique XCOM meets Rogue Legacy’s Traits. The breeding metagame is fun and challenging and the tactical combat scratches all the right itches. A real treat that perfectly delivered on its promise.

 

3) Splatoon

splatoon

Splatoon wasn’t even on my Most Anticipated list and really came out of nowhere for me. I’d only just recently aquired a Wii U and wasn’t sure about this quirky team shooter from Nintendo. Fear not, as Nintendo really struck gold with an amazingly simple but brilliant concept of covering arenas in paint. The short three minute matches ensure a steady stream of fun, and the post-game free additions and updates have been impressive. The only thing keeping this one from being nearer the top is the terrible local co-op mode, where it loses out big time to last year’s Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.

 

2) Heroes of the Storm

heroes of the storm

Another game that sprung onto my radar. I’ve hated MOBAs for as long as they existed. Even when my friends were super into DOTA 2 I just couldn’t get into it. Leave it to Blizzard to draw me in with their streamlined gameplay, much shorter match lengths, and awesomely familiar characters. I’m super addicted to HotS and my friends and I practically play every evening. I easily see it as becoming this year’s Hearthstone (which I sunk over 140 hours into last year).

 

1) Pillars of Eternity

pillars of eternity

It took me 70 hours and two and a half months but I finally completed Obsidian’s latest Mangum Opus. I’ve always been a huge fan of computer RPGs but only just played and finished the highly revered Baldur’s Gate II last Summer. Pillars of Eternity is both a lovely spiritual successor to the golden age of cRPGS (late 90’s/Early 2000’s) and a great game with tons of wonderful innovations in its own right.

The intricate yet accessible combat system is wonderful, and the writing is absolutely top notch. For someone that went back to back to back with 70+ hour RPGs (Divinity: Original Sin, Dragon Age: Inquisition), Pillars still managed to completely enthrall me. Another title I was super proud and satisfied to have backed on Kickstarter, and a tough one to dethrone in the second half of the year.

 

Both Batman: Arkham Knight and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were on My Most Anticipated List, but I still haven’t played them. Neither was probably going to be a Day One purchase; my gaming plate is consistently full and I have the luxury of waiting for most games to be deeply discounted before jumping in (and patches/updates to fix the game).

I definitely see myself playing both games before the end of the year when I have a bit more time. I’ve heard great things about both games. I’ve also recently acquired a few indie darlings in the last Steam Summer Sale, such as Crypt of the Necrodancer and Ori and the Blind Forest that I still need to play.

 

My Top Five Most Anticipated Games of the Second Half of 2015

(alphabetical order)

 

Cosmic Star Heroine

cosmic star heroine

The only game on here without a definite release date, Cosmic Star Heroine is another Kickstarter game being made by a developer I love (Zeboyd). Zeboyd understands old school JRPGs like no one else, and crafting a game in that SNES-era style using their subversive and funny writing and innovative mechanics sounds just peachy. Everything I’ve read and watched looks like it’s shaping up wonderfully and I hope we get a chance to play it this year.

 

Fallout 4

fallout 4 dog

Fallout 2 is one of my all time favorite games, and the franchise in general is one of my most beloved in gaming. Fallout 4 was an inevitability but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. I already know I’m going to love it and drop dozens (hundreds?) of hours into exploring another post-apocalyptic wasteland.

 

Just Cause 3

just cause 3

Just Cause 2 was an amazingly fun open world action game that eschewed any real characters or story-telling for pure mayhem and freedom of destruction. I especially loved the fun ways Rico could traverse the world, using his infinite grappling hooks and parachutes. If JC3 is just JC2 but more, I’m totally on board with that.

 

Super Mario Maker

super mario maker

This one has kept me attention for a while but it wasn’t until E3 and the Nintendo World Championship that I really set up and said, “Whoa.” My wife said we had to get this game and I swiftly agreed. The ability to make your own Mario levels sounds simple on the surface, but the incredible amount of tools and freedom to manipulate each object looks astonishing. I trust Nintendo to make it incredibly user-friendly and fun. As long as the online and sharing components are up to snuff, this could be a huge hit.

 

XCOM 2

xcom2 announcement

Despite being a big fan of tactical strategy games, I was late to the party with XCOM. I jumped on with Firaxis’ excellent remake back in 2012 (my #4 game of that year). Since then I’ve put 150 hours into XCOM over several playthroughs. I adore XCOM: its brutality, its emergent story-telling, its trend-setting UI and turn-based combat. My wife even bought me the XCOM board game for an anniversary present. To say I’m super excited for XCOM 2 would be a pretty big understatement. GIVE ME MORE XCOM!

 

There you have it! Can’t wait to revisit this list when it’s time to make my final top ten list at the end of the year. Will my anticipated predictions hold up? Will these Top Five make it to the final round? Stay tuned!

Rogue’s Adventures Season Five Recap

From Portal 2 to Assassin’s Creed IV I recap another awesome Season of backlog gaming.

Follow @RoguesAdventure for live tweeting and screenshots, join the Rogue’s Adventures Steam group for updates, and Follow me on Twitch and Subscribe on YouTube for videos.

Read my Season One Recap
Read my Season Two Recap
Read my Season Three Recap
Read my Season Four Recap

Rogues Adventure Season Five collageWelcome to my bi-annual Recap for a full Season of Rogue’s Adventures! If you’re new, Rogue’s Adventures is what I call the organized playthrough of my never-ending backlog of games. Started back in 2012, I schedule a collection of games to be played over the course of five to six months. I live tweet my reactions and screenshots, occasionally live stream and record video, and always write a full retro-review of the title under my Final Thoughts banner.

Season Five encompassed the first half of 2015. Continuing the trend from Season Four, I mostly played more recent titles released in the last few years that had become deeply discounted. Both Shadowrun: Dragonfall and South Park: The Stick of Truth released just last year. The oldest title on Season Five’s schedule was Cthulhu Saves the World (Dec 2010).

If there was an unexpected trend in this Season’s crop, it was humor. Six of the Nine total games I played were crafted with a humorous bent, and all of them hit the mark superbly. Portal 2 lived up to its beloved hype, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon fully embraced its over-the-top 80s ridiculousness, and South Park: The Stick of Truth perfectly captured the irreverent but clever tone and jokes of the show. Humor is a very tricky thing to pull off but all of them tickled my funny bone in their own unique ways.

This Season was also about trying new things. I’d never before played a Far Cry, Call of Juarez, or Assassin’s Creed game. The first two were silly, short, and enjoyable spin-off games that let me play around with the gameplay without having to devote dozens of hours. With Assassin’s Creed I finally saw one that had a theme and setting I just couldn’t resist – pirates!

I’m also pleased that for the first time ever in a Season of Rogue’s Adventures, I really didn’t have any major disappointments. Every single one of these games was fun to play and a positive experience, though some certainly more than others. Ranking them proved to be quite difficult.  Continue reading “Rogue’s Adventures Season Five Recap”

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

An amazingly fun open world pirate adventure that would better served without the Assassin’s Creed franchise trappings.

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

AC 4 Black FlagDeveloper: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: October 29, 2013

 

Assassin’s Creed is one of many major game franchises that I have never played, and never had much interest in (see also Metal Gear Solid, and any horror franchise). I didn’t have anything particularly against it (other than Ubisoft’s terrible treatment of the PC) but the historical settings didn’t really excite me, and the themes seemed a bit dour and serious for my taste.

Enter Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, my first Assassin’s Creed game. Black Flag takes place in the early 18th century, during the height of merchant trade, colonization, and pirates along the new world and the Caribbean. I adore the pirate theme – the ships that act as your mobile command center, the unique combination of swords and pistols, the dichotomy of lawlessness and imperialism. It translates so well to gaming it’s a shame we haven’t seen more pirate games. I still count Sid Meier’s Pirates! as one of the best, and the remake is over 10 years old.

Thus I finally decided to give an Assassin’s Creed game a chance, after a hefty Steam sale of course. Black Flag immediately immersed me into its fun world of pirate assassins, naval combat, and the open world of the Caribbean sea. In many ways it embodies the modern AAA video game – dumb story, cliché characters, incredible production values and tons of collectibles and modern gaming conveniences.  Continue reading “Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag”

New Article – LEGO Worlds Early Access Preview

LEGO Worlds expertly captures the feel of playing and building with LEGO bricks with the addictive open-ended exploration and building of Minecraft.

Read the full Preview on Pixelkin

lego worlds

The biggest and most obvious inspiration for Minecraft is LEGO. Those venerable little stacking bricks rose from humble Danish beginnings to become one of the most popular toys in the world. Over the last decade, the brand has successfully expanded into video games using its incredibly lucrative licensing deals, making games of popular franchises like Star Wars and Batman. The focus on kid-friendly, cooperative gaming has made these games hugely popular for families.

Now we have finally come full circle, as LEGO returns to its block-building roots by lifting core gameplay from Minecraft. LEGO Worlds was recently released in Early Access on Steam, meaning the game is still in active development, but can be purchased and played right now. Despite a current lack of major features like multiplayer, LEGO Worlds expertly captures the feel of playing and building with LEGO bricks with the addictive open-ended exploration and building of Minecraft.

Read the full Preview on Pixelkin