Reviews by YggdrasilsSword

85

Meat Boy + Metal Gear = Meat Gear?

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Stealth Bastard Deluxe

Stealth Bastard is an interesting combination of hardcore 2D platformer and hardcore stealth. This isn't the kind of stealth game where you slowly crouch-walk through the whole level and snipe all the guards with a silenced tranquilizer sniper rifle. Instead of taking it slow, you have to observe your environment, plan your movements, and then leap into action like a ninja. As in Super Meat Boy, you will die often, only to instantly respawn anew. Succeeding in the later levels of the game requires foresight, skill, and perseverance.

70

Kind of Byzantine

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome

This expansion allows you to play as the states of the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire in Crusader Kings II. The mechanics for this culture group are adjusted appropriately so they play as they should. However, the new mechanics make an already complex game even more byzantine. Get it... Byzantine? Anyway, even if you don't play as these states, it adds another layer of depth which could be what some players are looking for. Overall, a decent expansion.

70

Vaguely Amusing, but Fun to Play

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Magicka: Collection

As far as parody games go, Magicka is one of the best, but that isn't saying much. The humor occasionally makes me chuckle, but more often I groan. Thankfully, Magicka is much better as a game than as a parody.

Players play a mage from a Diablo-style perspective. The interesting part is that the player has access to 8 elements that can be used for simple magic or combined into various spells. Adding earth to another element, for example, turns fire into fireball or ice into iceball, but it can't be combined with its opposite (lightning) or the two elements cancel out. Combining the arcane element with another creates an elemental energy beam, while using arcane alone is a simple, non-elemental beam.

Players can further wield more advanced magics by combining elements according to particular formulas, discovered as the game goes on. The result is a game that's fun to play, but not likely to inspire awe. And the proliferation of little DLC packages is annoying for a purchased game, though the larger DLCs that add new campaigns are actually worthwhile.

70

Didn't Play the First One

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

FEAR 2 is an interesting blend of FPS and horror game. I notice that many say it compares unfavorably to the first game, but in my opinion, it still compares favorably to the laundry list of generic FPS and horror games out there. I guess that's the risk when you change too much from the original to the sequel, but I think it's possible that many fans set their expectations too high.

95

A Modern Classic

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (NA)

Dark Souls is the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls, a flawed but enthralling PS3-exclusive game. Dark Souls gave its inherited game model a much-needed level of polish, throwing out some wrong-headed mechanics (World Tendency and carry weight) and trying new, innovative ideas (Covenants and Humanity). The result still retains a vaguely "indie" feel, without it ever becoming a detraction.

For those not familiar with the Souls games, I should begin with the warning in this edition's title: prepare to die. This is a game for those who enjoy a grueling (but usually fair) challenge, not for those who like to breeze through with ease. I've heard it compared to Ninja Gaiden in that regard, and I see the resemblance. But Dark Souls is both a quality action game and a quality RPG, whereas Ninja Gaiden was pure action.

The combat in Dark Souls is beautifully fluid, and feels hard-crafted. In contrast to the limited weapon selection in Skyrim, Dark Souls boasts a myriad of unique weapons of all types, feasible or otherwise. Every weapon group has its own animations, strengths, and weaknesses, making each one feel and play differently. Armor weight has an important impact on one's playstyle as well. No other game has made me feel like my equipment choices mattered as much as Dark Souls does; stats are a relatively small, but still important, consideration. Spending Souls (which are both currency and XP) on weapon and armor upgrades is essential as you encounter higher-level enemies.

The game goes to great lengths to make combat feel realistic: enemies stagger when they take a mighty blow, all attacks feel (and are) dangerous and potentially lethal. The learning curve is steep, unless you're accustomed to the difficulty of classic roguelike games. Beginning players should make heavy use of their shields and their dodge rolls to increase their expected lifespans considerably. I also recommend spending souls on stat and weapon upgrades frequently, as they can easily be lost if you die multiple times in a row, whereas your stats and items can never be taken from you.

Dark Souls also has a bit of an adventure game in it. Precious items are hidden in all sorts of nooks and crannies, and thorough exploration is frequently rewarded. Even checkpoints may be hidden, making the game a lot easier for inquisitive players. If only all games could be so grossly incandescent.

The story of Dark Souls is interesting, but mostly revealed through subtle hints and backstory information. Only a few times in the game is important information explicitly revealed to you, and because two such accounts conflict, one of them was clearly a lie. It's not the same story as Demon Souls, but it has the same macabre flavor.

Finally, there is the multiplayer element of the game. It's completely optional, but relying on it can make certain parts of the game a lot easier. Players can use the orange soapstone to leave pre-written messages on the ground for another player to see in their own game. These are often helpful, though some will try to prank others by giving bad advice that can lead to death. More helpfully, players can spend precious humanity to gain Human Form, allowing them to summon other players as White Phantoms for aid against enemies and bosses; however, this also makes players vulnerable to attacks by hostile Black Phantom players (except during boss battles). Some bosses are insanely challenging for one player, but much easier with a friend or two to help.

Note that the PC port originally suffered from some pretty bad limitations: forced 720p rendering and poor keyboard/mouse controls. The community-made mods DSfix and Mouse Fix correct each of these issues respectively, but a controller pad is still highly recommended. Additionally, the PC version is better in some ways, due to the inclusion of the excellent Artorias of the Abyss expansion, and a popular mod that makes it easier to play co-op with your GFWL friends. The one inescapable issue with the PC version is that you have to use Games for Windows Live, and you will get GfWL achievements instead of Steam Achievements.

85

Metro 2034

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Metro: Last Light

Metro: Last Light is a sequel to the survival horror FPS, Metro 2033. It is not an adaptation of Metro 2035, the sequel to the Metro 2033 novel. Rather, it is a sort of in-between-quel that follows up on the protagonist of the first entry. For those unfamiliar with the previous game, I would list Bioshock as a comparable game in most respects.

The story of the game is pretty engaging, like its predecessor. With Russia devastated by nuclear war, survivors have avoided the lethal fallout by congregating in the metro system, surfacing only with protective gear and gas masks. Metro 2033 blends sci-fi with the surreal, pitting the player against mutated monsters and seemingly supernatural phenomena.

Unlike Bioshock, the element of player choice is present but subtle. In addition to obvious "choice moments," players will be faced with many small opportunities to influence their moral standing. It can be as simple as listening to the plights of others, or choosing not to kill when you don't have to do so. The "good" ending is difficult to get, but both endings are satisfying in their own ways.

80

A Great Combination

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of They Bleed Pixels

They Bleed Pixels is a 2D indie game that combines the tough-as-nails puzzle platforming of Super Meat Boy with a highly satisfying combat system, allowing you to splatter the walls with your enemies' blood, instead of just your own. The combat ties in to the SMB mechanics, as you make heavy use of environmental hazards to punish your enemies. A particularly cool feature is the ability to earn and place your own checkpoints. Not to be ignored is the bizarre mixture of a Lovecraftian Cthulu world and a protaganist who is an adorable, seemingly harmless little girl. And as a little bonus, it has Steam card drops too.

85

A Worthy Sequel, but Not a Reinvention

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Company of Heroes 2

Company of Heroes was one of the few diamonds in the rough in the RTS and WW2 genres, standing out among its generic brethren thanks to its unique and inventive gameplay mechanics. It introduced true cover-based strategy, allowing units behind defensive structures like sandbags or debris to outfight foes standing in the open field. Furthermore, the unique capabilities of each unit, commander, and faction created a myriad of interesting strategies for players to devise.

Company of Heroes 2 holds on to all of the innovations of the original, and makes a few small but clever changes of its own. Taking the game to the Eastern Front of WWII, CoH2 throws out the old factions, bringing in the Russians and a reinvented German faction to represent the Nazi's different strategic goals in the east. I found myself occasionally missing the old factions from Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, but these two new choices are just as good as the four old ones.

While I feared the Russian faction would devolve into "Zerg Rush" tactics, they still rely on smart play like previous CoH factions, using cheap conscript units to merge into and reinforce units on the front line. On the other hand, the Germans instead use halftracks as forward bases to achieve the same reinforcement capability.

The first big change in CoH2 is the addition of winter strategy. Exposure can kill foot soldiers, requiring players to build fires for warmth and to concentrate their forces more in base camps. Enemy tracks are visible in the snow. Blizzards can set in and rapidly increase the danger of freezing. And most interestingly, water freezes into ice, which can break under weight (or due to an explosion) and later refreeze.

In addition, CoH2 has implemented the TrueSight system. It's a pretty clever idea, though not as revolutionary as dynamic cover was. Basically, instead of having a circle around each unit that dispels the fog of war, different units have different heights and sight ranges, and any obstruction tall enough to block their view will also obscure the fog of war. This makes ambush tactics more realistic and satisfying.

Finally, Company of Heroes has taken a page from the book of online shooters by implementing an RPG-like perk system. With these, you can slightly customize your army to enhance the effectiveness of your preferred playstyles. You can also choose your commanders and even unlock new ones, though the commanders are not as distinct from each other as in Company of Heroes. The pre-order bonus commanders appear to be simple remixes of the powers already in the base game, granting only early access to high-level powers. Aside from these playstyle tweaks, there is also a limited option to customize vehicle styles, as in Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor.

75

Borderlands Levels Up

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Borderlands 2 (NA)

The greatest and worst thing about Borderlands 2 is that it isn't very different from Borderlands 1. It's still an ingenious blend of a co-op FPS and an action RPG such as Diablo. On the other hand, it remains fairly repetitive, and the story is still mediocre. Gearbox knew better than to try to change something that wasn't broken, but as a result, the improvements are small, far from a huge overhaul.'

For example, each brand of randomly-generated gun now has a signature effect, most notably the throwaway bargain brand that is more cost-effective to re-fabricate than to reload; you can throw the old gun as a grenade. Overall, guns feel a bit more unique, at least as much as possible when dealing with randomly-generated equipment.

The painfully obvious overhaul would be to allow players to disassemble and craft guns themselves, which would have eased the pain of constantly relying on random loot and equally random shop inventories. Without such a major addition, there's not enough here to distinguish Borderlands 2 from its predecessor. However, if you couldn't get enough of Borderlands, this game is your fix.

80

True Grand Strategy

YggdrasilsSword | July 6, 2013 | Review of Crusader Kings II

Paradox Interactive's Crusader Kings II is one of the best Grand Strategy games on the market today. Its main competitors, such as Victoria II and the upcoming Europa Universalis IV, all share the distinction of also being made by Paradox. This studio mainly does one thing -- making historical simulation games -- and they do it very well.

The main appeal of Crusader Kings II is the sheer extensiveness of the game. You can select any notable nation or province in any year within a 400 year span, and create a sort of "what if?" historical scenario by controlling that region's leader. There are, of course, the obvious candidates: kings and emperors whose names are in every history textbook. Of course, playing as a little-known duke or count can be interesting too, though your goals may be less grandiose. If you couldn't find something to enjoy in a history class, this probably isn't the game for you. On the other hand, college history majors can have a field day trying out every "What If?" scenario they've ever though of.

By default, you can only play as the traditional medieval Christian nations, but the five major DLC packs each add a new culture to the game. Free updates have added the additional cultures into the game world for free, and purchasing the relevant expansion merely unlocks these new groups for you to play as yourself. With these packs, you can play as Islamic, Pagan, or even Aztec rulers, or eschew monarchy entirely and play as a republic. If you get tired of the traditional CK2 experience and want to try something new, playing as one of these alternate factions will definitely enrich your game.

On the other hand, I don't recommend the little $1 microtransaction DLCs. They add background music for certain cultures, or special army models for certain cultures in certain time periods, or special banners for certain nations and ruling houses. They are highly unlikely to impact your overall gameplay experience, and would probably not even be noticed amidst the vast breadth of content already in the game.

One last boon to Crusader Kings II is the great modding community. If you want certain nations fleshed out better, or if you want to play CK2 in your favorite medieval fantasy world, there may be a modder out there who has not only thought the same thing, but has already made that vision a reality.