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Gaming on the Big Screen: Optoma GT1080 projector review
Posted on: Sunday September 21, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

There was a time when the notion of a 40 or 50-inch living room display was the stuff of dreams, but now it is commonplace, delivering an immersive gameplay experience through large, pin-sharp imagery - but what if we want to go bigger and really replicate the epic, cinematic feel that many triple-A titles are striving for? We could sit closer to the display or adopt a desktop set-up to help bring us closer to the action, but this still falls short of replicating the true big-screen experience at home. HDTVs can't really deliver, but projectors can, offering up mammoth 100-inch images for the cost of a conventional living room flat-screen display.

When choosing a projector for gaming in the average living room, there are several things to look out for: low input lag, fast panel response to reduce motion smearing, and a high level of brightness to give images enough pop to work in lighter coloured environments. Throw ratio and distance are also important, as these determine how far away the projector needs to be from the screen in order to produce a large image. If you are planning to fire up massive images in a small room with only two to three metres' clearance from one end to the other at best, a short throw projector is probably the best option.

With that in mind, the Optoma GT1080 caught our eye as it covers several of our requirements. Marketed as a short throw projector aimed specifically at big screen gaming in small rooms, it retails for around £650 and can produce a 100-inch image from just under a metre away. Featuring low input lag and a whopping 2800 lumens brightness, the projector sounds like it could be a good choice for gamers looking to enjoy a big screen experience in less than ideal viewing conditions.

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D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die Review
Posted on: Friday September 19, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

"Look for D," she says, and I giggle. Internet culture has ruined the fourth letter of the alphabet, and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is drowning in D-driven dialogue. "I must find D," he says, and I become a puerile manchild; every line becomes a double entendre, and I can barely contain my laughter.

Perhaps you don't know why nine-year-old me is so tickled; you've never heard the lewd interpretation of the letter D, and that's OK. I suspect that D4 creator Swery 65 didn't intend for his lines to take on such sexual meaning, so feel free to disregard the naughty undercurrent. But I also suspect that Swery would approve of my salacious laughter. D4 is insanity distilled into adventure-game form, more self-consciously wacky than another Swery game, Deadly Premonition, but more human, too. Or, at least, as human as can be expected for a game in which a grown woman preens herself like a cat and sells you lollipops in the privacy of your own home.

Phillip appears to be high. And you might suspect the same of yourself while playing D4.

Ah yes--that woman is Amanda, and it's never clear whether she is (or was) a real feline, or even if D4 protagonist David Young sees her as everyone else does. She slinks around David's Massachusetts apartment, and swipes and hisses at him like a real cat might on occasion, perhaps due to his inconsistent Boston accent, which comes and goes more often than D4's connections to reality. I recommend cutting the man some slack, however: he lost his wife (and presumably his unborn child) to a violent murder stemming from ex-cop David's detective work, and his unwavering goal is not just to expose the murderer, but to alter the past in the hope of reuniting himself with the love of his life.

David's in a unique position to do so thanks to his ability to transcend time and space by inserting himself into the past, though it's best not to spend too much time parsing the specifics of David's skill: logic is a rare commodity in D4, though every event and possibility makes a certain kind of intuitive sense. It would be easy to dismiss the game for its apparent stupidity--this is a game that features a flamboyant (and seemingly gay) fashion designer who claims his mannequin to be his significant other, after all--but D4 is very smart about its stupidity. In cracking open one of the game's many magazine articles, I discovered a shrewd and self-aware essay on the insular nature of Japanese culture that compared Japanese social evolution to natural evolution on the island of Galapagos. I didn't expect such thoughtful commentary in a game whose gestures are so very big and loud, yet that commentary is a reminder that when you laugh, D4 is laughing with you.

You can change different characters' outfits, and even remove David's facial hair. That won't keep other characters from talking about your (nonexistent) beard, though.

Like the point-and-click adventures it harks back to, these first few chapters of this episodic game are primarily concerned with narrative, and they accordingly lift ideas from other games that share that inspiration. D4's connection to Myst manifests in the way you move from one pre-prescribed node to the next, rather than walk freely. From these locations, you can swivel in 90-degree arcs, or look slightly to the right or left, to view and interact with the people and objects around you. In other respects, D4 resembles Heavy Rain and Telltale's Walking Dead games, in which you perform timed button-presses and stick-wiggles (or arm-swipes and fist-bumps, if you prefer to interact with the game using Kinect, which you can do from beginning to end) that vaguely relate to the melodramatic action occurring on screen. L.A. Noire, too, is invoked in the way D4 has you examining environments and seeking clues to the mystery at hand, though you won't be exercising any ingenuity to decipher what you find: David follows the evidence to its proper conclusion once you collect it.

Like the games it sometimes mirrors, D4 is less concerned with specific interactions than with the events they accompany--and it's those events that make the QTE, that widely-hated embodiment of game-design sloth, so joyous in this context. A fistfight aboard a mid-flight jet is a pas de deux of pain in which David engages in ballroom dance with a frightened passenger, hits a baseball with a plastic limb, deafens his opponents by screaming through a megaphone, and dislodges a glass eye, all while cavalierly blowing bubbles. Mimicking these actions using the Kinect enhances the connection you feel with these preposterous moments, which makes it a shame there aren't more of them. Basic events like turning and touching aren't so compelling, even with motion controls, and for all its improvements, the second-generation Kinect still doesn't correctly react to every movement. There's no shame in using a gamepad; doing so makes the slower stretches more tolerable.

D4 is insanity distilled into adventure-game form, more self-consciously wacky than another Swery game, Deadly Premonition, but more human, too.

D4 gets serious on occasion--and such moments work surprisingly well given the game's general lunacy.

There are enough of these stretches to make the game occasionally drag, though even the monotony has its own brand of D4 charm. A tall man wearing a surgical mask appears from time to time, ready to confuse you with cryptic comments and piercing stares while he menacingly plays with a knife and fork. He has little to say but uses a lot of words to say it--short words that he stretches into five-second phonetics until you're ready to scream "Just get on with it!" When not grinding to a halt, D4 occasionally enjoys engaging with stereotypes so exaggerated it's difficult to tell whether Swery intends to mock the people that perpetuate those stereotypes or the individuals that demonstrate them. Authorial intent aside, I wasn't always laughing. That aforementioned fashion guru, for instance, is a hyperactive vessel overflowing with every effete mannerism imaginable--and the stereotypically gay behaviors he doesn't personify are brushed onto a perpetually snide flight attendant.

D4's charm and cheekiness typically mask its discomforts, however. David's ex-partner Forrest Kayson (a carryover character from Deadly Premonition, though gussied up in a suit and facial hair here) is a Hoover on two legs, vacuuming up frankfurters four at a time. I cannot remember what the conversation was about; all I can recall is the gross and hysterical display of gluttony gone mad. Even when D4 goes wrong, it's difficult to stay mad at it. Depending on the order of the options you choose, you could respond to a query of 'What's wrong,' with a second 'What's wrong?'. Elsewhere, a quiz minigame (one of several small detours D4 provides) responds to a correct answer with dialogue assigned to a different and incorrect answer. Little errors abound, and in a game meant to immerse you, they might have been distracting or even game-ruining.

Click above for more D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die images.

D4 is not an adventure you get lost in, however, at least not in the way you get lost in Mass Effect or Red Dead Redemption. No--D4 is both the game you are playing and your cooperative partner. I was never not aware of its 'game-ness,' I was never swept away into its world, I was never not aware of the real world around me. I do not mean those statements, however, to serve as a criticism. On the contrary, D4 and I laughed together at its own absurdities. How could we not? The game gamifies its own mechanics, for heaven's sake, awarding you points for thoroughly examining your surroundings, and taking them away when you interact with people and objects. There are even online leaderboards that somehow rank you against other players, an absurd and unnecessary feature in an absurd game that doesn't benefit from it in any meaningful way. No, I believe D4 understands itself, and I understand it too. It speaks an unusual language, certainly, and I couldn't blame anyone for finding it nigh incomprehensible, or just plain barmy. But if you're foolhardy enough to buy what it's selling, then welcome to the D4 Appreciation Society. There are worse clubs to belong to.

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review
Posted on: Friday September 19, 2014 Tags: game reviews, playstation Source:

Disney Infinity returns with Marvel's mightiest in tow, but does it build on last year's excellent foundations?

Last year’s Disney Infinity brought toys to life without ever forgetting the fun of playing with toys. In that version, it’s not unusual to find Mr. Incredible riding the Muppet mobile around Cinderella’s castle firing a toilet-paper gun. The core playsets, meanwhile, are great in a different way - they expose kids to a variety of gameplay experiences, from hack-and-slash combat to naval warfare, skateboarding, and stealth.

For Disney Infinity 2.0, I expected a major advancement in gameplay on top of the addition of Marvel’s mightiest heroes to the party. The name certainly implies it. But while it brings some smart improvements and Toy Box mode continues to evolve and impress, elsewhere this sorta-sequel feels more like a downgrade.

Continue reading…

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review
Posted on: Friday September 19, 2014 Tags: game reviews, xbox one Source:

Disney Infinity returns with Marvel's mightiest in tow, but does it build on last year's excellent foundations?

Last year’s Disney Infinity brought toys to life without ever forgetting the fun of playing with toys. In that version, it’s not unusual to find Mr. Incredible riding the Muppet mobile around Cinderella’s castle firing a toilet-paper gun. The core playsets, meanwhile, are great in a different way - they expose kids to a variety of gameplay experiences, from hack-and-slash combat to naval warfare, skateboarding, and stealth.

For Disney Infinity 2.0, I expected a major advancement in gameplay on top of the addition of Marvel’s mightiest heroes to the party. The name certainly implies it. But while it brings some smart improvements and Toy Box mode continues to evolve and impress, elsewhere this sorta-sequel feels more like a downgrade.

Continue reading…

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Review
Posted on: Friday September 19, 2014 Tags: game reviews, playstation Source:

Disney Infinity returns with Marvel's mightiest in tow, but does it build on last year's excellent foundations?

Last year’s Disney Infinity brought toys to life without ever forgetting the fun of playing with toys. In that version, it’s not unusual to find Mr. Incredible riding the Muppet mobile around Cinderella’s castle firing a toilet-paper gun. The core playsets, meanwhile, are great in a different way - they expose kids to a variety of gameplay experiences, from hack-and-slash combat to naval warfare, skateboarding, and stealth.

For Disney Infinity 2.0, I expected a major advancement in gameplay on top of the addition of Marvel’s mightiest heroes to the party. The name certainly implies it. But while it brings some smart improvements and Toy Box mode continues to evolve and impress, elsewhere this sorta-sequel feels more like a downgrade.

Continue reading…

Cannon Brawl Review
Posted on: Friday September 19, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

In Cannon Brawl there are two castles, one positioned on each side of a peaceful valley. This circumstance is, of course, intolerable. There really ought to be just one building, and your job as the player is to bring about such a future, even as your opponent--whether controlled by a second player or just the devious computer--tries to turn your base into a pile of rubble.

You may recall other games that employ a similar setup. CastleStorm comes to mind, for instance, with its pleasing blend of crazy action and tower defense mechanics. While past games prevent this new effort from offering much in the way of surprises, though, lingering familiarity ensures that genre devotees will be able to get right down to the business of castle demolition.

What good is a medieval castle without rocket-launching turrets and satellites?

When a round begins, you find your castle positioned near the edge of a cramped map. As rousing battle themes pipe from your speakers, you stake your claim to verdant hills and blue skies, to deserts so yellow you might wish you could vacation within one. Floating landforms populate the foreground, which you and your opponent can blast away with shots from cannons, lasers, and other such contraptions, almost like you might in a Worms game. There's no turn-based respite, though, in spite of the cheery vibe; you make your decisions and you execute all plans on the fly, with as little hesitation as possible. Speed is a necessity, or else you might line up a beautiful shot just in time to find out that your laser tower has been blasted to smithereens by a roaming ball of explosives.

In a game of this sort, an intuitive interface is vital. The developers at Turtle Sandbox put the player in charge of a flying airship, and that approach pays dividends. Using your keyboard or a gamepad (the latter works particularly well), you can pilot the ship anywhere you like without having to worry about taking damage. You must make quick trips back to your castle to grab new structures, then plop them down at key points along the map. Your expansion options are limited at first, until you have placed enough surveillance balloons, mining camps, and other such attractions along the way. Then you can dock with a given point of interest--for example, a rocket launcher--and direct its actions. Although there are times when dropping buildings and docking require excess fiddling, particularly when too many structures are in close proximity, the interface works beautifully and allows you to work at the brisk clip gameplay demands.

There's no turn-based respite, though, in spite of the cheery vibe; you make your decisions and you execute all plans on the fly, with as little hesitation as possible.

Naturally, there are complications. Though some buildings regularly perform a specific task without your direction, most of them are useless without orders. They also must go through a cooling period, which means you can't simply rely on a single device to secure victory. Instead, you constantly must move your airship from one spot to another, adjusting for rapidly evolving combat and a changing landscape.

As the game begins, there are only a few offensive measures available. Even once you advance far enough in the campaign that your list of options expands, you can bring along only a handful of tools. You almost always have to survive without something important, and your computer opponents are great at adapting to diffuse any winning tactic you might employ. This means that if you try one technique in a round and it fails for a particular reason, switching to a different one the next time around is no guarantee that you'll find success: the AI could easily adapt and catch you by surprise in some other manner. Such adaptations keep matches interesting, because you always have to stay on your toes and watch for attacks from a few potential directions even as you replay the same map.

The land is full of castles to destroy.

You also need to decide which airship captain to bring along for the ride. Each one grants a different sort of boost. One lets you form repairs if you get close to a building that has taken damage. Another one allows you to start with extra gold and also enables you to harvest resources more efficiently. The first captain you meet, however, may be the best one of all. She reduces the cooling period for everything, which becomes so important by the end of the campaign that any other captain feels like a handicap.

One problem with Cannon Brawl is that it gives players access to a bunch of cool toys, but most battles ultimately play out in the same manner. You start by claiming as much territory as possible and building mines. Then you drop a few towers and dart between them, firing shots at your opponent and hopefully taking out his or her resources before the tide of battle can turn against you. Your greatest ally besides speed is momentum, and the combination of the two often wins out against the more creative and interesting approaches that the the game allows you to explore. When there's little reason to rely on more than a few basic turrets that are dependably efficient, unlockable content is nothing more than window dressing. Even in online matches, simple strategies easily overwhelm opponents using more varied forms of weaponry. Over time, you earn experience points that allow you to access additional pilots and structures in the armory, but when simple tactics are so effective, it's difficult to drum up the enthusiasm required to unlock them.

You were a shining star, enemy castle, but now you are no more…

The game's difficulty level already feels punishing enough when you play on the higher settings, because suddenly your opponent moves with a distracting (and distressing) level of precision. Almost before a round even begins, it throws up shields, health-regenerating towers, and upgrade cannons. Meanwhile, you might still be struggling just to get a few balloons in the air so you can start mining. Such battles commence with momentum and resources already working against you; the obstacles are hardly insurmountable, but if you want a fair conflict, you're better off finding human opponents instead.

Cannon Brawl is interesting enough to enjoy in small doses, but it wears out its welcome once you realize its efforts to inject a little variety into the proceedings only go skin deep. If you can find a few friends at a similar skill level to challenge, you'll likely enjoy several hours of strategy mayhem. Otherwise, you're better off in another castle.

Wasteland 2 review
Posted on: Friday September 19, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

26 years is a hell of a long time to wait for a sequel, though it's arguable that Wasteland 2 is as much an alternate Fallout 3 as it is the continuation of the original post-apocalyptic role-playing game. At the very least, it's the two branches of the family tree finally wrapping around each other. Here, Wasteland's more whimsical apocalypse and tongue-in-cheek style - where you're as likely to face giant mutated rabbits and toads as radioactive scorpions - meet Fallout's combat, exploration and interface. Also its feel. And its moral choices. While original Wasteland was definitely this game's alma mater, it's obvious where it got its PhD.

Old schools don't get much more compatible though, and Wasteland 2 wastes little time carving out, or reclaiming, its own identity. It's a party-based game from the start, with your four-man team a group of Desert Rangers sworn to defend the people from the raiders and robots and monsters that plague their lives. From your radio you find out about trouble in need of troubleshooting, often literally, care of returning character Vargas, and then you go where you're needed rather than simply stumbling around.

Your badge is both a symbol of hope - albeit one tarnished of late by the Rangers' less-than-stellar ability to get things done - and a target on your chest guaranteed to draw the worst of the Wastes' attention. In Arizona, your job is largely to make it mean something again while repairing radio towers to get a fix on an incoming threat with a personal grudge against the Rangers. Later, in California, it's to make it a symbol for good in new territory and stop that threat as time permits.

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Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 review
Posted on: Thursday September 18, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

The King is dead. Long live the King. Nvidia has discontinued its flagship GTX 780 Ti, replacing it with the brand-new GTX 980, powered by its new Maxwell architecture. It's the fastest single-chip graphics card money can buy - but the takeaway for many will be that there's no revelatory performance increase over Nvidia's existing top-end hardware. This is a refined, ultra-power efficient replacement with a relatively small performance bump, as opposed to the next big new thing in graphics technology.

Maxwell's power efficiency shouldn't be so readily discounted though. Performance graphics cards typically consume an absolute maximum of 250W - at full-pelt, that translates into an awfully large amount of heat. Hot chips need cooling, in turn requiring elaborate cooling assemblies, which can produce unwanted noise. The GTX 980's TDP limit is a mere 165W, so the implications here are obvious - the GTX 980 is capable of being deployed in a much larger variety of PCs: living-room small form factor units being the obvious example.

Our review card features the premium metallic chassis introduced with the GTX Titan - clean, industrial, cool and quiet. From an aesthetic standpoint, differences are relatively minor - the PCB backing of the older Nvidia cards has given way to a plastic shroud that more fully encloses the components. A plastic tab on the rear of the unit can be removed in order to facilitate better airflow, but the major differences come on the back-plate: Nvidia's established line-up of dual DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort gives way to a new arrangement: one DVI, one HDMI and three DisplayPorts. The new array of ports has been designed to facilitate easier set-up of surround G-Sync - which still requires DisplayPort to function. Also of interest is that the HDMI port is based on the 2.0 standard, meaning support for 4K resolution at 60Hz.

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Neverwinter Updated Review
Posted on: Thursday September 18, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

It wasn't the promise of new lands to explore to dragons to slay that brought me back to Neverwinter; it wasn't even (at first) the opportunity to try out new classes. No, after an absence of several months, it was the opportunity to use the race-changing feature to transform my humdrum human great weapon fighter into a gloriously-bearded dwarf that sent me back into the arms of developer Cryptic's Dungeons & Dragons online role-playing game. And against all expectations, I embraced it, if only for a little while. Neverwinter's combat still excels all these months later, and the time since launch has given it a semblance of an endgame it previous lacked.

Seconds in, I could see that Neverwinter's combat had retained its sense of power and explosive immediacy. My great weapon fighter, newly shrunk to dwarven size, swung his blade with a flick of the left mouse button and exploded in a frenzy at a touch of the tab key. Neverwinter's focus on action lacks the novelty it once commanded in the days before WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online stomped onto the scene, but few MMOGs do such a good job of capturing the experience of clobbering baddies with sharp, shiny blades. Somewhere, we're led to believe, an adherence to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons serves as the foundation for all this, though that connection is a notable loose one. Consisting mainly of three action bars and two daily skills, the combat system provides the kind of fun that could catch on well when Neverwinter makes its jump to the Xbox One later this year.

The lore here is weak, but the world at least captures the "feel" of D&D.

The combat holds up so well, in fact, that my time "sampling" the newish hunter ranger introduced last December turned into a leveling extravaganza that had me pushing to the level cap in just a few days. For leveling, it's probably a personal record. The absence of this staple fantasy class stung at launch, but it seems that slight wait wasn't for naught. There's a pleasing Legolas-style quality about the class: hit tab, and the iconic bow is switched out for a hotbar dedicated to finishing off enemies with a pair of lengthy daggers; hit shift, and he darts out of harm's way in an explosion of leaves.

I also found some of that excitement in the new scourge warlock class. I only toyed with it across 10 or so levels, but that was enough time for the class to attract me more than similar classes in games such as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. Here again, the focus is on movement. Press shift, and the warlock hovers across the landscape towards the next target, occasionally blasting foes with flames that cause them to rise from the dead as minions. She provides healing energy with the damage she deals, and her fluid attack animations make her great fun to play. With the hunter ranger and the scourge warlock, Cryptic proves that good new classes will bring back players who have left for other (presumably greener) pastures.

The downside of my fling with the hunter ranger was that I had to experience the 12-50 leveling content all over again. Little has changed in this regard. As it was at launch, the core levels all feel as though Cryptic studied plumbing schematics for the leveling system, with the heroes themselves acting as Drano as they clear out the gunk on the way to the boss at the end. Sometimes you'll stop to pick up quests from non-player characters who spout stories that are never interesting enough to stick around listening to, and sometimes you must flip a switch instead of ram a sword through a goblin's heart. Neverwinter is beautiful at times, particularly in the forests of the Blackdagger Ruins and in the snow-capped mountains of Icespire Peak, but it never quite manages to rise above generic fantasy and assume an identity of its own.

A dragon. In a dungeon. How appropriate!

That identity is what made past Dungeons & Dragons games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights so memorable. If you find a trace of that spirit here, it’s in the user-made quests found within the foundry. Cryptic may withhold key features such as loot distribution from player designers in the creation interface, but the scenarios themselves are filled with old pen-and-paper D&D scenarios come to digital life. Some are episodic, and thus provide a reason to venture back to Neverwinter when Cryptic itself is in a content drought. If the content stumbles, it's only because the rating system doesn't rotate out new entries as much as it probably should. One entertaining foundry mission called "Tired of Being the Hero" has barely budged from its top spot since the days shortly after launch.

But where do other people fit into all this? Neverwinter is curiously asocial for an MMORPG, even in the cooperative dungeons that usually form the foundation of long-lasting friendships in many of its competitors. They excel in visual appeal but fall short of any real challenge; most of the time, you're fine just chopping through foes and bosses as long as your healer isn't asleep. Healers don't even need to pay that much attention. The AI-controlled companions that heal you and aid your damage in the basic level content are allowed to follow you in, leaving Neverwinter's challenges just a notch about knowing when to stay out of the fire.

And if you talk? Humorously enough, Neverwinter's popularity across multiple countries means it's not terribly uncommon to save the world in groups of four people who don't understand a word you're saying. There's a nice "citizen of the world" vibe about its community, sure, and it serves as a nice break from the name-calling and petty arguments you find elsewhere. It's not good, however, for forming the social bonds that games like this thrive on for longevity.

Neverwinter's combat may be fun, but its quests are as bland as they come.

For the MMO connoisseur who's more interested in wrecking his or her fellow players rather than working with them, Neverwinter also has a fun multiplayer component, but its battlegrounds are a mass of imbalances until you get to 50. Reaching the level cap unlocks the dwarven fortress of Gauntlgrym, however, and there's some fun in its 20-versus-20 battles that capture the thrill of sieges while demanding a modicum of strategy.

Most of these options existed before. The succeeding months have brought an identifiable endgame to Neverwinter that adds vitality to the game apart from the tired imperative to level an alt. These are Neverwinter's campaigns, which shuttle you off to familiar locales like Icewind Dale for the promise of sweet loot if you can stomach the unyielding repetition of daily quests. In their favor, most of these manage to escape the tube-like progression of the core zones, opting instead to dole out quests from a central location that sends you to victory among various points of the compass.

Taken together, Neverwinter's design would fall flat in a traditional subscription MMORPG, but it doesn't rank far below Path of Exile in terms of providing so much great content for so little. It also isn't as insistent on robbing you as the bandits who prowl its sewers; indeed, it's quite possible to reach the level cap without any assistance from the cash shop. Neverwinter seems to want to be the type of game that you can drop into with few complications after an absence of a few weeks or months, and it does this well.

The downside of all this is that the items you can buy are a bit on the pricey side, as if to make up for its otherwise liberal model. That's always been the case, but this tendency was most egregiously emphasized when Cryptic recently listed the price for the new Dragonborn race at $75. That borders on farcical; Skyrim sold for less when it launched. And as cool as they look, I'm not sure I could ever shake off the fear of what other players would think about my spending habits as I hulk about with my spiffy tail and scaly skin.

It's hard to hold this against Cryptic, however, since the studio gives away so much for free. Tossing money at Cryptic for lesser purchases, such as accelerators for training minions or finishing crafting tasks, certainly makes life easier, but I accomplished my recent race to 60 with my Hunter Ranger without once spending a penny. I felt a little ashamed, in fact, as though I were pirating.

But that frantic, free run up to the level cap says much about Neverwinter; in spite of its many flaws, it always manages to entertain with its movement-based combat and unrelenting action. Lose yourself in its trance, and it achieves and maintains a level of addictiveness that flags all too soon in other free-to-play MMORPGs like TERA: Rising. In a genre that's increasingly overcrowded, Neverwinter manages to establish itself as a game that's never fully boring, never too eager to rifle your pockets, and, well, never quite fun enough to stick around in for too long.

Hyrule Warriors Review
Posted on: Thursday September 18, 2014 Tags: game reviews Source:

For better and for worse, Nintendo has never shied away from taking its first party franchises in unexpected directions. Donkey Kong has been all over the map, from 2D platformers to a Mario 64 wannabe to bongo-controlled GameCube games. Star Fox traded in his pilot’s license for a staff in Star Fox Adventures. Metroid found success in first-person with the Prime series, only to disappoint some fans later on with the Other M experiment.

One franchise that Nintendo has never tinkered with to this degree is The Legend of Zelda. Possibly their most critically revered franchise, the detours the series has taken have focused more on unique gameplay mechanics (sailing in Wind Waker, manipulating time in Majora’s Mask, transforming into a wolf in Twilight Princess, etc.) than on genre-changing sequels. That’s why the announcement of Hyrule Warriors caught almost everyone by surprise. The relatively unsullied name of The Legend of Zelda (we won’t count those CD-i titles) has joined forces with Dynasty Warriors, a series with a less-than-stellar reputation that nonetheless possesses a following that’s warranted sequels in the double digits.

Numerous familiar faces team up with Link.

Hyrule Warriors is exactly what most people would envision when asked to conjure up the image of an Omega Force-developed Zelda game. Through and through, this is a Dynasty Warriors game that’s seen the characters and locations of The Legend of Zelda dropped into it.

To be fair, the nonstop barrage of Zelda references isn’t half-baked. Omega Force is clearly a fan of Link’s adventures, and reminders of this are everywhere. Locations from Ocarina of Time, Twilight Princess, and Skyward Sword make up most of the battlefields, so you can look forward to slaughtering hundreds of enemies at Lake Hylia, Gerudo Desert, Skyloft, Ganon’s Castle, and plenty more. Playable characters run the franchise gauntlet, including mainstays (Link, Zelda), side characters (Impa, Darunia, Midna), and the blue-haired newcomer Lana.

Taking control of these other characters is one of the great novelties of Hyrule Warriors. In a series that’s always forced us to play as various incarnations of Link, taking control of the franchise’s other memorable characters proves to be one of the best elements of the experience. Each of them features a variety of unique special attacks, many of which can take out dozens of enemies in a flashy spectacle. This gonzo approach to combat can be a fun alternative to traditional Zelda gameplay. Whereas the main series has players placing and throwing single bombs in measured, specific fashions to open a door or defeat an enemy, Hyrule Warriors unleashes a barrage of bombs indiscriminately with one button press. It looks like a Zelda game at first glance, but Hyrule Warriors doesn’t take long to establish its wildly different gameplay.

The new character Lana joins the Legend of Zelda mainstays.

Unfortunately, that’s what brings down the experience as a whole. Dynasty Warriors games have earned their reputation as repetitive, mindless button mashers. There’s certainly a specific audience for this, but Hyrule Warriors does little to appeal to those that don’t already belong in that group. Even as a huge Zelda fan, the novelty of revisiting iconic locations and playing as characters that aren’t named Link wasn’t enough to make me look past the gameplay. Fighting as Zelda is pretty cool at first, but the effect wears off when you’re jamming the Y button for the 500th time as you slash through another castle full of mindless skeletons. A few battles against larger boss characters help to shake things up, but these are few and far between.

Elements of the game attempt to deepen the experience, but they’re mostly of the basic “find new weapons, collect materials to craft items, pay rupees to level up quicker” variety. Taking a trip to the in-game bazaar between missions is a nice way to tweak your weapons before your boots are back on the ground, but it certainly doesn’t distract from the mindless slashing you’re required to do 95 percent of the time.

If you want to tackle these repetitive missions more quickly, a co-op mode is in place that allows a second player to use the GamePad. This does cause the framerate and resolution to take a noticeable dip, however. It’s by no means unplayable, so playing with a friend is a nice alternative if you’re tired of slashing through the hordes solo.

Great Fairies can turn the tides of some battles.

If you’re a Dynasty Warriors fan that has stuck through its countless sequels and spinoffs and still aren’t tired of the formula, then Hyrule Warriors offers plenty more. If you’re a Zelda fan on top of a Dynasty Warriors fan, then it’s an obvious slam dunk. It has a full story mode, a free mode that allows you to play as any character, and even an NES-inspired adventure mode that has you completing challenges and collecting items across a map inspired by the first Zelda title. There’s no shortage of content, assuming the core gameplay is something that’s up your alley to begin with.

Hyrule Warriors is an odd move for Nintendo, but it’s one that will make a specific audience of the gaming world very happy. As someone who loves Zelda and is lukewarm at best on Dynasty Warriors, I appreciated the references to the former while becoming frustrated at the bare-bones gameplay of the latter. This quirky offshoot is better than any Dynasty Warriors game I’ve played, while simultaneously being the worst Zelda game I’ve ever played.

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