Friday, February 10, 2012

10.000 Samurai

It's hard to critique a MMO game which has been out for some time and gone through a series of patches and game scenarios. I found however, the free-to-play Dynasty Warriors Online (Heavenly Strike), to be almost irresistible, as the original series was one of the most enduring and appealing on the PS2.

MMORPGs are so ubiquitous, with ads for them on virtually every gaming or technology site, that they have become a force to be reckoned with and a veritable social phenomenon. Whether browser-based or downloadable, they are already defining the path of future game offerings.

DWO conocerns itself with button-mashing, combo-stringing, to some extent, as in any given battle you can rack up more than 600 AI enemy kills on your own. Yet it's tremendous fun, based on a pre-existing engine which accommodates many in-game characters. The engine also sports good textures and nice weather effects. You can of course acquire items for your character and level up; I made mine look like Geralt of Rivia.
The camp factor is rather high. The fact that most NPCs move back and forth as if dancing while they stand, coupled with the Sega-like music, may be disliked by some. I'm certain there is a story here, but it's not entirely clear which it might be, other than factions vying for power; some of which are more populated than others, as DWO had its heyday some time ago. The AI enemies tend to swarm you, but that's ok, as you feel like Neo vs. the multiple Smiths in the famed Burly Brawl movie scene.
One of the main objectives is capturing enemy bases, and the tutorials focus on variations of this scenario. There's an honor system which allows you to make rank, which in turn allows you to finally go on campaigns with human friends and foes. Your AI lieutenant will be of great help here, particularly in attaining the coveted Lt. Major rank; or the beginning of your "pro" career, as it is then that other game areas are opened up.
The best course of action is to join guilds, of which there are many, accommodating different levels of progress. It's no use to scan the forums for such an endeavor, the game's menu works far more efficiently. I initially signed up under emperor Liu Bei, who has the least amount of faction soldiers; quite the underdogs. Yet the game is still populated enough, especially on the weekends, when events are held. All in all, you get to experience the Dynasty Warriors universe in the online arena; massive battles certainly go very well with the MMO model.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rise of the Nonhumans

The Witcher 2 is phenomenally engrossing interactive story-telling. A perfect example of this comes straight at the prologue, which is a series of recollections, that can be played in any order, from the title character Geralt while serving king Foltest. In a mysterious turn of events, this ends in regicide and Geralt must flee and attempt to clear his name.

TW2 has garnered several awards, among others, in the story category. Few can offer thinly-veiled social commentary quite like CD Projekt Red, with racial conflicts in a fantasy setting, complete with abusive soldiers during wartime; the game doesn't shy away from portraying class warfare. This tale is one of ample freedom, offering abundant room for thought. Characterization is excellent all around, with top-notch voice acting. Triss Merigold, the sorceress from the first game, to the displeasure of some, is a bit more girlie this time around.

And what to say of the overall presentation, with detailed towns and forests; so grandiose and literary that only poetry could do it all justice. In certain ways, more than a game, with vistas that envelop the player, and transport him to Flotsam and Vergen themselves; certain towns in Poland being the obvious inspiration. It puzzles the mind how the developers have crafted something so deliciously complex, not by lifting straight from the novels, but by presenting the games as sequels to the books. Here, Geralt continues putting together his past, as he is still amnesiac.
Technically, the motion capture on TW2 is fantastic, as best seen in the death animations. The fighting system has been simplified, in contrast to the first game; it's been actionized so to speak. The brawling is now done via QTEs. The in-game map, however, seldom provides information on missions unless you track them. The camera options from the original game, as well as the combat stances, may be missed by some. In fact, the combat reminded me of Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, which is odd, to say the least.
Much has been made of the misogyny of TW2; something curious as, at least, the sorceresses have a powerful lodge. Yet let us be honest. While it is true that a game like TW2 covers a diverse demographic, videogames are, by and large, a male fantasy delivery system, much like a James Bond movie. If a female character of the caliber of Alyx Vance can be procured, then all the better. But if the females in the game will be underwritten; as they usually are in Hollywood fare, then I'm unsure there's something wrong with giving most male players that which they desire quite naturally; attractive women. Where can I get the 1C Company TW2 calendar?
Some have complained that the first half of the game is too difficult, as enemies have the habit to swarm Geralt, yet this is fixed with a simple patch. Perhaps some of those individuals didn't play the retail version? In times like these, it's always worth mentioning that professionals from the game industry are hard-working folk and deserve the gamers' support. And TW2 is a clear example of getting bang for your buck, as there are two adventures in one. Game pirates, go plough yourselves!
The 2D interludes are similar in style to the opening ones from the film Priest and the game Dante's Inferno. Depending on in-game decisions, the story can branch out in two different paths; you actually gain something while you lose something else plot-wise. This, plus the multiple endings, provides the opportunity of several play-throughs. There was one wish I had while playing the recent Bioware games and TW2 granted it; due to its complexity, I could act submissively with someone of importance and then gladly betray him afterwards.*
The beasts are of interest, as they are from Polish and Russian folklore. The cases of the dragon, harpies or the Kayran, mythic creatures, make sense. But what of the water Drowners or forest Nekkers, which, truth be told, appear to be simply territorial humanoids yet are treated as animals? Having said that, the spellbinding Witcher world is valuable for its lessons about the human characters, which easily mirror our modern societies. Relationships are fleshed out, and are never an afterthought. It is telling that a monster hunter ends up killing so many humans; perhaps the real monsters are ourselves. *To be fair, this can also be done in DA:O.