A Bird Story Review

A Bird Story Review

The creations of Kan Gao are a perfect example of the power of video games as a storytelling medium. Last year's To The Moon was a warm buffet of soul food and had us hugging our loved ones long after the end credits rolled. Freebird Games' follow up, A Bird Story, tells the story of a young boy and his unlikely friend, a bird with a broken wing.

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Borderlands 2 Review

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By Daniel Murtha

The Borderlands franchise is about as unique as games come in this modern gaming era where everything is some sort of Call of Duty knockoff.  The developers at Gearbox took the loot mentality from point-and-click RPG’s, character progression and level up system from RPG’s, first person perspective and action of an FPS and mixed in some cel-shaded graphics.  The result is a product greater than the sum of its parts, and that’s just the first Borderlands game.  Borderlands 2 improves on its predecessor in every way.

The main improvement in Borderlands 2 is the story.  The first Borderlands had a mildly interesting and somewhat disjointed story, with no real villain and an enormously disappointing ending.  BL2 introduces nemesis Handsome Jack, the evil CEO of Hyperion Corporation, right at the beginning of the game. He wastes no time attempting to have you killed. As the game progresses Handsome Jack’s actions become more egregious and shocking, giving the player a real reason to want to no-scope headshot Jack at the earliest opportunity.  The story takes some unexpected twists and turns that are both entertaining and memorable, add in some other fantastic characters and you have a positively delightful experience.  Here are my thoughts:

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LIKES:

CHARACTERS: Two words: Tiny Tina.  The 13 year old demolitions expert stands out in a cast of awesome characters.  Handsome Jack is a detestable villain and the vault hunters from the first game are fleshed out as NPC’s in Borderlands 2.  Scooter returns as well with some... interesting side missions involving potential love mates.

STORY: As I said above, Gearbox addressed the primary complaint from the first Borderlands by crafting a much more intriguing storyline.  Many of the side missions also add some background to the main story.  For example, one side mission has the player tracking down ECHO recorders that document Handsome Jack’s rise to power in Hyperion. 

GUNS:  More guns!  Lots of guns!  Gearbox does a great job offering a plethora of new weapons and does a much better job this time differentiating between the various  weapon manufacturers.  Tediore guns, for example, don’t reload like other weapons. Instead, you throw them at the enemy causing a grenade-like explosion and a new fully loaded one respawns in your hands.  Pretty sweet.

DISLIKES:

Much like Guild Wars 2, Borderlands 2 doesn’t have anything I dislike. If I’m forced to pick something it would be the:

RAKK!: The rakk are obnoxious in Borderlands 2.  If you hated them in the first game, they’re far worse in the second.  They seem to spread out much more, attack at different times and almost never group together like they did in the first Borderlands.  Sometimes I would spend 10-15 minutes just taking out a group of rakk just so they would not slowly peck me to death.

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CONCLUSION:

If you liked the first Borderlands, Borderlands 2 is a must buy, and a must buy for fans of shooters and RPGs as well.  The new and improved storyline combined with unique cel-shaded graphics makes for a fantastically well rounded game.  Great action, fun co-op, and memorable characters make Borderlands 2 a front runner for game of the year.  It’s also one of the few games that literally has laugh-out-loud moments in it.  A masterpiece no doubt, and so good that I’ll probably end up buying the Season Pass for all the DLC, despite my typical stance against it.  Well done, Gearbox.

SCORE:

9.9-Probably as close as I’ll ever come to giving a game a perfect score, but there weren’t any bugs that I came across either.  That kind of polish is seldom seen in this era of gaming.

Borderlands 2 podcast episode

Guild Wars 2 Review

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By Daniel Murtha

I know ArenaNet’s new MMORPG Guild Wars 2 has been out for over a month now, but I wanted to give the game’s shiny newness enough time to wear off so I could more critically analyze it and give it a fair review.  After waiting a month, however, my opinion of Guild Wars 2 remains unchanged.  The game is an absolute masterpiece; fast-paced and strategic combat, gorgeous artistic style, and cooperation amongst players are just a few of GW2’s highlights.

Will it be the WoW “killer?”  I’ve heard from many different places that it seemed like ArenaNet made a list of all the things people didn’t like about other MMORPG’s and fixed them for GW2. This is a fair assessment in my opinion.  In fact, I am hard-pressed to come up with something I don’t like about the game. Here are my thoughts:

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LIKES

Grapics/Art Style: The graphics are superb, even on my budget video card (GeForce GT 530, not even a GTX.)  Impressive draw distances, cool zone design and awesome concept art loading screens make Guild Wars 2 look stunning.

World vs World PvP: I’m not normally a PvPer because I don’t like to lose, especially while doing one of the things in life that I consider myself to be decent at: video games.  The WvW PvP pits three servers against each other in special zones designed specifically for that purpose, complete with castles and towers and supply points, and oh yeah… siege weapons.  Nothing is more fun than spending 10 or 15 minutes trying to break down a castle gate with battering rams, holding off enemies on the ramparts with ranged weapons and ballistas, then storming the castle and slaughtering the other side after the gate is broken down.  Fabulous.

No Subscription Fee: The game is free to play with micro-transactions for cosmetic items, boosts for experience etc., and a few other helpful but not necessary items.  You won’t feel like you were missing out by not spending money in the game.  There are also tons of good games coming out this fall and Guild Wars 2 will probably be shuffled to the background on occasion, so you never have to worry about cancelling or not getting your money’s worth out of a subscription fee.

There are plenty more likes, but these are the main ones.

DISLIKES

Frame-rate Stutter: I had some frame-rate issues, which is no surprise when 20 to 30 people were all in the same area casting spells and running around while fighting a boss or 50 to 100 people when doing WvW.  Normally I wouldn’t put that in the dislikes as I didn’t expect high frames per second during those situations. But friends with higher powered graphics cards had the same issues.

Broken Quests/Events: This is a minor knock, and one that will be gone with time.  There are several quests, dynamic events and story missions that are broken, especially in higher level areas.  These will no doubt be fixed over time and are no cause for concern.

Not enough time to play: I realize this is a cop out, but there’s really not much to dislike about GW2.  Any minor issues I’ve had were due to my ignorance of the game’s mechanics and/or menus that I promptly dismissed.

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CONCLUSION

If you’re a fan of MMORPG’s, Guild Wars 2 is a must buy.  It really does have that kind of next generation feel to it, and makes older MMO’s feel dated.  It’s such a good game, that it will probably be the first MMORPG I reach the level cap in (despite countless hours playing MMORPG’s, I have never reached the level cap due to excessive amounts of alternate characters).  If you’re interested, read up on Dynamic Events in GW2. It’s a great feature that I failed to explain in the name of brevity.  Overall Guild Wars 2 exceeds the hype it garnered in every way and while it may not necessarily be the WoW killer, it should put a sizable dent in WoW’s numbers. 

SCORE: 9.5

Dragon's Dogma Review

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Two weeks before the release of Dragon’s Dogma, I had barely heard anything about the game.  Occasional references about “cool battles” from the previous year’s E3 were all that hit my eyes and ears regarding the upcoming RPG.  And the developer/publisher was… Capcom?  Definite pass, as I had my falling out with JRPG’s some time ago.  But  a review from a certain gaming publication ultimately piqued my interest.  Surprisingly, Dragon’s Dogma was not a typical Japanese RPG, but was done in the more western RPG, open-world style and was getting some pretty good reviews too. 

Still not willing to commit I decided it was best to download the demo from Xbox Live.  The first of two demos had me standing in an open grassy field featuring a run-down castle in the distance, where my party of 4 battled a giant flying griffon.  I didn’t really know what was going on at the time but I either figured out or was shown how to fire arrows at the giant beast. 

“Kind of neat!” I thought to myself.  Then the magic of Dragon’s Dogma began to shine.  One of my party members called for me to go near them so I obliged.  As I neared the knight, I was flung high into the air in the vicinity of the enraged griffon.  My previously (fairly) helpless character grabbed onto the feathers of the beast and began furiously stabbing with his free hand.  I was immediately sold.  The mage in the party set the mighty griffon aflame, sending him crashing back down to earth and flinging me like a rag doll into some nearby boulders. 

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A magick archer in action.

The battle quickly finished with the griffon grounded and in flames.  Just from the excitement of that battle alone I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game.

It turns out Dragon’s Dogma has some pretty impressive features, including the Pawn system, which I’ll get into in a bit and recommend that people check out. 

LIKES

Graphics:  Dragon’s Dogma has beautiful graphics, complete with impressive landscapes, castles and ruins that made the world feel lived in, telling a tale of former glory.  Nighttime is incredibly dark making for difficult travel, especially at lower levels.  Excellent looking monsters and some of the best looking people graphically that I’ve seen in any game populate the world.

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Epic battles against large enemies are a normal occurance in Dragon's Dogma.

Epic Battles: The primary allure of Dragon’s Dogma is fighting large and dangerous trolls, dragons, griffons, etc.  Each of these battles with the game’s mighty beasts takes a different turn or features different circumstances This helps keep the game and particularly combat feeling fresh.  There’s always something more dangerous waiting in the dark just when you start to feel most comfortable.

Pawn System: At the beginning of the game, the player creates their own “main pawn” which they can customize until their heart’s content.  Looks, abilities, equipment, and behavior are all controlled after creation.  Your pawn is then available for other players to summon into their games to help with quests and exploration.  The knowledge your pawn gains while adventuring with other players is used by you to assist in finding weaknesses against enemies, hidden treasures, and directions to different places.  The player is allowed a party of four, so the help of two pawns from other players is all but required.  The player can summon pawns based on class, abilities, level, etc., or just hire pawns that are wandering around the game world.

DISLIKES

Excessive Backtracking: The game lacks any sort of consistent fast travel system, requiring the player to trek long distances over some of the same paths over and over again to accomplish objectives.  Not a total negative, as it forces the player to be a tad more resourceful with travelling.  I just ended up doing all the possible missions in an area before heading back to home base, but it still would take a considerable amount of time to get to that point. 

Story Disconnect:  There doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation of the reasons behind many of the main story missions.  I can’t tell how what I am doing is helping with the main story objective.  The story is good in my opinion, but some of the story missions seem off topic and just lead to confusion.

CONCLUSION

Dragon’s Dogma is definitely a pleasant surprise and well worth full retail price.  I probably spent a solid 65 to 70 hours playing and could easily spend more.  At this point it’s by far my favorite game of the year topping Diablo 3, Kingdoms of Amalur and even Mass Effect 3.  If you like open world RPG’s this one is definitely worth a look!

SCORE: 8.9