Sunday, April 9, 2017

Person of Interest (Massive Spoilers!!)

I finished binge-watching the last 3 seasons of person of interest over the past couple of weeks. I had been watching the show on and off for a few months now but as the overall narrative started to become more prominent compared to the case of the week format i started to enjoy it more and more. Now after finishing it i'm in PoE withdrawal finding it diffcult to say goodbye to all these amazing characters and the machine. Honestly the only other time i felt this depressed after finishing a series was when i finished reading the final book of the "Wheel of Time". Leaving these characters feels like saying goodbye to friends.

Some awesome things i just cant avoid gushing over  -
  • Season one finale where Reese looked into a camera and told the machine to help him -- for the first time i realized what the scope of this show could actually be.
  • Terminator Reese in general was cool :D
  • Season two end - godmode engaged!
  • Samaritan coming online and the ending of season 3. Maybe i'm stupid but i never saw it actually coming online. I always thought they would manage to prevent disaster in the end. The reveal that root's plan was just to enable them to live to fight another day sent me reeling at the implication for the future.
  • Beginning of season 4 was sooo strong.
  • Season 4 finale followed the tradition of amazing final episodes - raising the stakes and the challenge to a hopeless level for team machine.
    • "CAN. YOU. HEAR. ME?" Reese - "hell yes!" Me - "OMG nerdgasm"
    • MAchine's mesage to Finch at the end had me in tears
  • Season 5 beginning as they try to salvage the machine was well done. I liked they didnt just plug it in and viola; it almost didn't work out.
  • All the machine and finch flashbacks where he teaches it were very touching.
  • Finch and Root debates and similarily Harold's conversation with Elias were fun and tense.
  • Shaw was pretty cool and her joining the team and how similar and yet different she and Reese are was fun to watch.
  • Lionel was a bright ray of sunshine with his humor in the show. I never expected him to be such a good character or to grow on me so much when i was watching the first season.
  • Root's entire arc of redemption was very fulfilling and even though her dying was sad, I think they machine taking on her persona was appropriate since she and the machine were both "capable of immense destruction but chose to do good instead". But her death hit me hard even though i knew since season 4 that she would end up dying. In a way the machine using her persona kept the wound fresh and reminded us of her sacrifice whenever it/she spoke.
  • The machine's conversation with Finch about her sorrow for Root's death had me in tears.
  • The finale till the last three minutes had tricked me into thinking it was going to just a depressing end for everyone. It didn't turn out to be roses and sunshine exactly but still that was, i guess, the best outcome that could've been hoped for.
Now on to the struggle of finding a new show and/or series of novels to keep me distracted. I hear Westworld (also by Nolan) is getting great review . . .

Friday, June 10, 2011


Its been a long time since I wrote on this blog. A long time. A pretty long time. A dang long time.

Stuff has been happening. Life's pretty hectic. Last month has been full of the trial med school tests I signed up for - in order to prepare for the eventual showdown next year. I've practically been traveling 250 miles each weekend to sit the tests. It doesn't help that most tests are scheduled pretty early in the morning - meaning I had to wake up practically during the night to make the trip, then sit the exam, then return - to do it all over again every (and sometimes twice) week. The time between these trips is spent studying  . . . and playing Starcraft 2.

 Physics and bio are rough task masters. By the end of the day I'm tired as hell (not necessarily by just studies  . . . shhh) but pleased by the fact that I've learnt something new. Until the next day that is, when the delusion is lifted when I'm unable to solve any problems. And don't even get me started about chemistry. Because . . .I don't know WHERE to start. I haven't even made up my mind whether I love or hate the damn thing. Maybe a bit of both? Who knows?

The other thing occupying my time is, of course, Starcraft 2. And I didn't post about it because there isn't anything that I can say about that game that hasn't been said already. With the huge community of starcraft nerds and it’s astoundingly awesome and exciting pro-scene, anything I say is only going to be redundant. That being said, much of my free time has went into watching pro repays and the highly entertaining and educational videos of Day[9] and MrBitter. Any starcraft gamer must check them out.  

The exams end next week so I will start posting stuff again. There will be a few changes though. No book reviews for one. I thought of writing book reviews because I wanted to talk about the books I read. But I realized fairly soon that writing a book review actually doesn't give you enough leeway to 'talk' about it - discuss what you liked and hated. It restricts you to vague expressions. And there are bucket loads of book reviewers out there. They are a better source of opinion if you want a review. I'm no authority on books. And I don't want to be.

So, from now on, if I read a book and want to discuss it, that's what I will do. No stupid review that restricts me to articulate anything remotely coherent, no sir. I will write a post about the book in its full 'spoilery' glory and anyone who already hasn't read it may be damned. Oh ok, don't glare at me, I will specify the beginning of spoilers. One good thing about this approach is that I am free to gush about a book  and all that sort of good jazz, without a care about the 'professional, factual, emotionless' way of a book reviewer. These guys show less emotion than a biology professor dissecting a frog. I'm looking at you, WeirdMage!

Some other changes may be in the air, but I haven't given much thought to that. I 'MAY' stop writing for since I don't get much time for that sort of a thing and Shaun has gathered a good slew of dedicated writers for his website. I don't want to give it up, but seriously, I haven't produced any good content in a long while and future prospects aren't looking good.

Anyway, that's all for this post. Hopefully, there will be one soon. Probably. Hopefully.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Review - Total War : Shogun 2

Review – Total War : Shogun 2

A couple of weeks ago, I woke up to find a copy of Shogun 2 delivered to my doorstep. Forgoing all my routine schedule and obligations I excitedly put the disk into my PC while rubbing my hands in glee – I was already planning how to subjugate Japan to its rightful Shogun.
Fast-forward four hours. Playing confidently at ‘Legendary’, I was  commanding my behemoth of an army, as the skies roared and clouds poured  – I assumed the heavens themselves were mourning the end of a once-great clan as I massacred them today to prove my valour. I couldn’t care less.
Suddenly I spied the enemy general rushing alone towards my line of spearmen, as if embracing his inevitable death. I started in surprise and disbelief. Has all my months of  anticipation meant nothing? Is this how CA repays my faithfulness to the Total War series? Have they truly learnt nothing front the previous disasters? Sighing in disappointment, I ordered my samurai forward.
Cheekily the enemy general turned any started galloping back to his forces – a meagre contigent of archers  . I angrily commanded my cavalry to chase the fool and started distractedly admiring the hats of my samurai. Atleast they nailed the graphics perfectly . . .
Apparently, that’s when the AI decided to show me the middle finger.
As I raised my eyes to the screen I stared in amazement as suddenly enemy troops burst from the forests and attacked my flanks. Panicked by the ambush, I panned the screen towards my archers to find them being slaughtered by the cavalry that had circled to the back of my army when I was focusing on their general. It was a crushing defeat.
Over the course of the next twenty turns, my army was in shambles, my army was in shambles, my trade routes annexed, my clan capital itself conquered.
I rushed outside to get a breathe of air and calmed myself. I returned, humiliated but determined, turned down the difficulty and started again. It was going to be a long nights.
Alright, I admit that was a bit too over-the-top and dramatic. But the mere fact that I can say that for Shogun 2 shows that CA has learnt from the past. Had I dared to say anything even remotely similar for Empires I’d have gamers in nerdrage running after me carrying pitchforks and laser blasters. But I digress.
After the ambitious but flawed products that were Empire and Napoleon, CA took a lot of heat from fans. Although I admit that I loved Empire, it was only DarthVader’s DMUC mod that allowed me to enjoy it. It seems Creative Assembly took the hint and crafted a game worthy of that ‘Total War’ logo . I hereby declare that as the series returns to its roots; we have the best Total War game yet in out hands.
When I first read about CA taking the ‘Zen’ approach with Shogun 2, I was worried that the game would be dumbed down in response to the negative reviews by the fans.  Thankfully, it was not to be so. Yes, the unit count is reduced from 300 to 30, but it allows you to rely on tactics rather than minor difference in statistics. The gameplay, I’m pleased to say, is deeper than ever. In fact, even that unit-count-reduction-thingy is to promote tactical thinking instead of forcing you to memorize the statistics of each damn unit.

The game is set in the ‘Warring-States’ era of Japan. The ruler has become a figure-head & the nine great clans clash for superiority. You take control one of these clans as you fight, negotiate, assassinate and plot your way towards controlling Kyotalo, and the rest of Japan,  by establishing the new all-powerful Shogunate.
The clans are differentiated from each other mainly by their starting positions and perks – one clan may have mighty infantry, another may sport superior navy and a third yet may excel at finance – although they have access to mostly the same units. Playing through each of the clans is a unique experience as all of them are geared towards a certain style of gameplay and strategies. Hell, my experience with the same clan itself was different in two different playthroughs. So, there is a LOT of replayablilty to be had here.
The greater complexity comes through the research choices and the added RPG mechanics to the game. Previously, the game itself appointed traits to your generals. Though you may still get a couple of those, but mostly YOU chose what you want your general to specialize in when you allot points in a branching skill-tree as you level up. The same concept applies to your agents. You level up by using your generals & agents and then assign points in their respective skill trees and choose their retinue which grants them added bonuses.
Speaking of agents, diplomats have been scrapped in Shogun 2. Instead, there is a separate diplomacy tab which pulls up a menu where you can engage in negotiations with any of the clans you have discovered. Instead of the influence rating of your diplomats, the ‘honour’ of your clan leader is considered during negotiations.  This, in my opinion, is a good thing – it was too irritating micromanaging those pesky critters every turn and building up their influence rating before they could be of any use.
The spy and assassin have been unified into the ‘Ninja’ – which is infinitely cooler. The ninjas can spy as well as sabotage building and armies and assassinate characters. Then we have the ‘Metsuke’ – the Japanese secret police – who counteract opposing ninjas and bribe enemy characters to join you. The monks can demoralized enemies, convert characters to your faith and incite rebellion in settlements. Keeping one of the agents with your forces also has benefits – a ninja will give a movement bonus to armies on the campaign-map, Metsukes provide a bonus to the loyalty of your generals and increase repression in settlements and monks increase the morale of your forces. A carefully planned use of diplomacy and agents can go a long way towards crippling powerful foes and grabbing their territory. And its bloody good fun too.
Religion doesn’t play as big a role here as it did before. Since most of the clans follow Buddhism, religion only factors in if you choose to switch to Christianity which grants you access to powerful gunpowder units, superior navy and increases through rate at which you master the Chi (financial) arts; the cost is a  penalty to your daiymo’s honor and inability to recruit powerful monk units.
The research or ‘Arts’ – as they are termed in-game – are divided into two branching pathways: ‘Bushido’ or warfare and ‘Chi’ or finance. You need to decide the sequence in which you research these arts. The ‘Chi’ arts increase your financial output and grant access to upper-tier financial structures while the ‘Bushido’ pathway grants warfare bonuses and access to better units. Balance is necessary as focusing solely on one will inevitable lead to ruin. This adds great strategic depth as the entire strategy of your game may depend on your research choices.
When it comes to land battles, little has changed except in sieges. Instead of the great stone walls and the simple architecture favored by the west, the Japanese walls can be scaled by infantry but the interior of the castle is a maze of interlinked corridors designed to trap and kill invaders. So, instead of mindlessly bombarding enemy walls with siege weapons, siege battles here are tense tactical affairs as you fight to avoid being trapped and surrounded. Whether attacking or defending, seige battles are infinitely more enjoyable and rewarding.
The naval battles, on the other hand, have been completely re-vamped. Instead of the wind-driven ships in Empire, Japanese armies consist of oar-powered floating fortresses. The warfare is more tactical as you move your ships to board those of your opponent;  while archers whittle down enemy troops – all this in contrast to Empire where the navy with the biggest ship with the largest cannons always won. But still, although navigation is easier and the battles are a visual treat, they are not as much fun as those on land. The pace of naval warfare is slow and it is a chore to successfully board ships. You will have fun in the beginning but you probably wont fight out all of them – after some time, the autoresolve button starts to look really attractive.
The AI here is better than ever and will give you a pretty hefty challenge on higher difficulties. It is more aggressive, both in battles as well as with its agents and ruthless in negotiations. But it still is not perfect. Enemy forces may still roam about aimlessly after you repel the initial attack in seige battles and it still doesn’t commit its archers into flank attacks after their ammo is depleted. On the campaign map, the AI sometimes doesn’t defend its settlements properly – repeatedly I saw one of the great clans ‘Oda’ fall in the first turn, which is plain ludicrous. Still, the AI acts sensibly most of the time – it makes good use of terrain, uses spear units against cavalry charges and properly carries out cavalry hit and run tactic. In the end, it surprises you with clever tactics way, way more than it does with occasional stupidity – even though it messes up SOMETIMES, it more than makes up for it most of the time.
Although the changes in gameplay mechanics, as I mention above, are pretty significant, the greatest changes are in the general aesthetics and feel of the games. Everything in the game is designed to reinforce the feeling of an experience set in Japanese era and it is executed flawlessly. The interface has been completely revamped and redesigned and is better looking as well as more user-friendly. Everything from the design of the loading screens, the campaign map & unit-cards to the accent of your advisor & war-cries of your troops to the brilliantly rendered videos of your agents in action scream Japan. For the first time, Total War has an in-game encyclopedia detailing every aspect of the gameplay. Even here, the game exhibits ample character – the descriptions as littered with quotes, verses and haikus taken straight from Japanese culture.
The graphics and sounds in the game are well done and further the immersion. The campaign map is beautifully designed and has the best fog of war in a game yet – Instead of being enshrouded in a  dark or foggy mass, the undiscovered regions are shown as a painted map on parchment. On the battle map, the attention to detail on the models is perfect, down to the armor and face-masks of every soldier. The fighting animations are fluid as soldiers couple off into separate skirmishes instead of poking their weapons in the air. The weather effects are impressive and its especially fun to watch a sieges battle unfold with a rainstorm pouring from above.
The sound effects are, again, awesome and evoke a mood perfect to the context. The campaign has a soothing atmospheric soundtrack while the drums beating during battles evokes a sense of urgency and tension.
The multiplayer features have been greatly overhauled. The drop-in battles and Co-op campaign from Napoleon are back, but the greatest feature is the avatar conquest mode – a sort of campaign where you are dropped on a simplifies version of the campaign map divided into territories. You start with basic troops but with each conquest, the new territories unlock better troops. Warfare also brings experience to your general who can level up to earn abilities, upgrades and retinue. You also unlock armor for your general’s avatar via steam achievements & specific armor sets grant interesting bonuses to your army. Its a simple but brilliant formula – elevating the addictiveness of the game to greater heights.
Whether it is the deep and challenging gameplay or the profoundly immersive experience, the genius of Shogun 2 cannot be over-emphasized. Its a game you will drown yourself into & you won’t care a whit for the number of friends or hours of sleep you have lost when you finally resurface.

Gameplay -                           10
Aesthetics and Interface -   10
AI -                                       8
Graphics -                            9
 Sound -                                10
Value for money -               10
Multiplayer -                       10

OVERALL –                      9.5

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Best Starcraft Advice Ever!

Recently, I've taken to creeping around Dawn of War and Starcraft 2 forums reading up strategy discussion threads. Although I intend to talk about experiences and tidbits later, there is one thread on the official Starcraft 2 forums so hillarious that I HAVE to put it here. Enjoy.

Disclaimer : In no circumstances do I advice you to follow any suggestions in this post.

Callofduty :
Hey there guys!
I am completely screwed on which race to play...
So. Do you guys recommend Zerg, Protoss, or Terran?
Because right now I am mainly sticking with Protoss and Zerg and TRYING to learn Terran but can't realy grasp TvT... which basically brings me down to this.
TvT = I can't do.
PvT = Can't beat Mech/Ghost/Marauder drop play.
ZvP = I can't beat this for crap.
So what do you guys recommend?

Obsidian :
Go Zerg if you want to cry about how underpowered your race is.
Go Terran if you want everyone to laugh at you when you cry about how underpowered your race is.
Go Protoss if you want to watch everyone cry about how overpowered your race is.
UberNuB :  
Protoss if you like to win at the 15 minute mark (and otherwise be afk).
Terran if you like to win at the 6 minute mark (or otherwise lose).
Zerg if you hate your life because you can't win at any minute mark.
November :
Play Toss if you like attack moving with a gigantic army
Play Terran if you like harassment and micro
Play Zerg if you want high blood pressure
Edel :
Listen, Calli, we're going to need to break this down, officially. So no stupid comments. And no interruptions. So help me, Calli, if there's an interruption I'll psi-storm your mineral line.

Now, you need a specific race, which leaves 3 options.

Zerg is pretty cool. You get to be angry. You get a sense of injustice. It'd be good if you were a feminist, or if you just think the queen's voice is sexy. Imagine it. ''We require more minerals.''
Aww yeah. You know what that means, don't you? Do you like that? You're sick. Cut it out. Children roam these forums.

Protoss is pretty chill. You get to call yourself a brotoss and imagine a sense of brotherhood with countless nerds who couldn't get into a real college nerd-fraternity because, let's face it, there's no such thing. This isn't a movie. Fratboys are morons.

But you'd also be the most vulnerable to cannon rushes and 6pools. Do you like those gamers who got neural parasited by a retarded infestor spent $60 dollars to play 4minute games? Do you want to die almost immediately, unfairly? Your name is CallofDuty, so I'm guessing, yes. Protoss is a definite maybe.

Terran has a lot a unique advantages. Terran is the only race where all the units can talk to you. Are you lonely? Do you need to be constantly reminded through your headphones that you're not alone in this crazy world? ''SCV ready''. Boom, you made a friend. There's a lot of BM out there, friends are valuable.
Plus, each supply depot has a family inside. Sort of like... an old friend's family who thinks you're really successful and is always happy to see you. The younger children look up to you. And when you call in a supply drop? That's a puppy being delivered.

So what've we got, Zerg, Protoss, or Terran?

Zerg, you Do use capslock, and I am kind of running out of patience with you, so I wanna say go zerg, but you've come to the forums for serious help. This is not the zerg way. Not zerg.

Protoss, have you ever noticed that during boarding at an airport, there's like 4 creeps with express boarding, 90 people boarding in A, 200 in B, and you always get stuck in C with like 2 hipsters that bought their tickets an hour ago? Well if you were Protoss you could just teleport to whereever the hell you're going. Or you could cut those hipsters in half. Protoss is definitely for you.

Terran, look, I don't need to tell you whether or not to be terran. I've already told you to be Protoss. I'm not your dancing monkey.

The monkey does not dance, Calli.

Now you're ready to climb the ladder. You're in bronze, Calli, and that's okay. Just slam your face against the keyboard til you get to silver. Let your little sister play til you get to gold. And when you fight your way up to plat, let me know what you did, cause I haven't figured it out yet. Thanks, in advance. And you're welcome, in advance.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Better Fable . . .

While it was declared at the outset that Fable 3 would be getting a PC release, PC gamers needed to wait till May for the release; even though the Xbox version was released last October. The developers didn't care to give any specific reason for the delay, except for acknowledging the fact that work on the PC port didn't begin until after the console version was shipped.
Still, it seems the delay will turn out to be better for PC gamers since the developers seem to be intent ironing out most of the glitches and issues with the console version along with making it a PROPER PC port rather than a half-baked product.

Fable 3 lead designer Josh Atkins says that "most developers tend to just rush games out onto the PC; they do the very quickest port they can and they try to do it as a financial model; rather than trying to make something that at least plays like it was designed for the platform, and respects what the platform does.”

So, with Fable 3 will get a smoother PC experience than most console ports like a intuitive control scheme, proper mouse support and, hopefully, better graphics customization options.

Another notable addition is the increasing in difficulty with the new 'Challenging' mode. Atkins says “When the difficulty came up we were talking about what would PC players want. What would be important to them? The additional challenge, or the choice for additional challenge was something that we thought was important".
“Figuring out how to do that in a way that was both efficient and fair was challenging. We didn't just move sliders around: we actually sat down and looked at the creature types and looked at them as individuals. Rather than just say, “This one now does 10 per cent more damage,” we made them a little faster, which gives them the perception of being a little bit smarter.”
So, although the new Challenging mode doesn't hold a candle to, say, the Fallout : New Vegas Hardcore mode as it focuses mainly on more tactical and difficult combat; its definitely an improvement over the console version which Atkins admits was designed to be easy for a console audience.
In addition to this, there are some other changes including more interaction with environment and changing the quest structure to make the experience less grinding.

Although we can't declare how good Fable 3 will be until we can get our hands on it in May, things are certainly looking brighter for the PC port and we can only hope that the final game does justice to our expectations. Still however good it turns out to be, it certainly can't hope to match the behemoth that is called The Witcher 2 : The Assassination of Kings . . .

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review - Dawn of War 2 : Retribution

Relic entertainment is well known as the developers who popularized the squad-based RTS genre with their Dawn of War and Company of Heroes games. They are also well known for their awesome stand alone expansions – the original Dawn of War has three freaking stand-alone pieces of added awesomeness that managed to top the original in every possible ways. So, it couldn’t be a surprise that they would release yet another expansion for their acclaimed Dawn of War 2, not when Chaos Rising got even better reviews than its predecessor.

One great thing about Relic is that they never cease to innovate. They go ahead and experiment when most other developers would sit back, enjoying the spoils of war in total complacency. A great example of this would be their Homeworld series of three dimensional space-based RTSes. Last week I picked up Homeworld 2, released back in 2003. I haven’t given it much time, but so far it plays as great as it looks (the graphics are remarkable considering when it was released).

My point here is that the original Dawn of War was so freaking successful that Relic could’ve just polished up the game-play and graphics, patched in a new story and released the sequel. But they went ahead, changed the basics of the game adding in the great RPG mechanics we love, cuz “why the heck not?” Yes, DOW2 was criticized in the beginning but most people realized that relic was going in the right direction. I admit that DOW2 campaign was kinda repetitive in the end, but I still loved it. Chaos Rising only improved upon it.

With Retribution, Relic aims to give us choice and flexibility. The campaign follows mostly a similar pathway as in DOW2 but resource management has been introduced; sans the pesky based-building stuff. So, you have a choice with almost every race. You can choose to take in your four heroes and use the resources you get to upgrade them for the duration of the mission. Or take some powerful honor guard and vehicle units and the resources will be used to buy reinforcements for the squads. This is a nice option if you preferred the original DOW approach or if you just wish to forgo the micromanagement part and get the thrill of steamrolling with a large army for a change.

And yes, I did say ‘with almost every race’. Rather than playin with the same Space Marines for the third time round, you can choose to play with any of the six races in the game – Space Marines, Orks, Eldar, Chaos, Tyranids and the Imperial Guard. The campaign itself remains largely the same, with many of the same missions; but this approach is certainly better than forcing people to play with a single race – one they may not even like. For those who fear playing through the campaign with a different race wont be fun consider this – in DOW2, you just got the space marines and played through the same bunch of maps in campaign again and again; in Retribution, no map is repeated even once in the game and each of the race is so different from the others that it is a new experience every time. Admittedly, you would have to be a pure DOW nerd to play it with each of the races (like me) but the campaign is good enough for three to four playthroughs.

All the races have diverse heroes and units, paving way for a unique and fun experience each time round. The Imperial Guard for example have the Commissar, a hero unit that encourages friendly squads by shooting one of their squad members to motivate the rest of them to fight harder and a General who can call in reinforcements. The imperial guard are squishy, admittedly, but they have some pretty impressive tanks.
 The orks heavy weapons specialist gets the perk to explode when using any of his abilities – he exploded on teleporting into a group of enemies, exploded on activating his force field and explodes on activating his explosion ability – Static Charge.

The chaos units and level up abilities revolve around their four gods. The best Chaos unit is the Plague marine who spreads a disease that heals Chaos units and damages enemies. Its later abilities allow killed enemies to zombify and get up to fight as friendlies. The upgrade path you choose makes for pretty diverse tactics – for example depending how you allocate points your shrines work in the battle – they may call in reinforcements, cloak nearby units, spew out daemons or fire doombolts at enemies.

Rather than recycle the same old heroes for the Space Marines, Relic has changed the formula for them too. The Scout hero is the same and the Force Commander is rather similar but there is a new Techmarine who specializes in deployables, turrets and stuff and a mysterious unit called the Ancient who can take on any role depending on how you spec him – jump assault, tank or heavy suppression weaponry.

The elder are a bit different to get into since they employ their mobility and abilities rather than brute force. There is the Farseer who has the ability to slow down time around her, causing foes to move slowly while the Eldar move and attack normally. But one of the coolest heroes is the Autarch who has an ability similar to the jump-packs of the assault marines except that he drops explosives on the part of the battlefield that he jumps over creating a deadly line of explosions behind him.

It’s a shame then, that the Tyranid campaign is so much weaker than the others. Much of this is because you control only a single hero (is would be illogical for there to be different heroes due to the whole hive-mind thing). The loot is therefore less much of the Swarmlord’s abilities consist of spawning various reinforcements which is rather uninteresting. The different squads themselves hardly provide any diversity and the most effective thing is to spam the cheap and easily-replaceable low-tier units anyway.

Still, five good campaigns is an awesome thing, and we haven’t even started talking of the multiplayer yet.

One of the best things in Retribution is that G4WL has been scrapped and match-making is now done via Steam itself which is noticeably faster. Not only that, but Retribution allows you to play as the older races even if you do not own the previous DOW2 games.

The skirmish multiplayer is mostly the same with the addition of the Imperial Guard. Its fun but tough getting into since DoW has its own dedicated community of multiplayer geeks – I’d recommend you practice a bit with the AI before jumping into online matches. There are two modes and in my opinion Annihilation is definitely better. It allows for more tactics as well as more exciting game play when you are rushing to wipe your opponent’s base. On the other hand Control is hardly fun, since you can always retreat your endangered units and an early start always leads to winning the round anyway.

The there is the Last Stand – a co-op mode where you and two allies are choose a hero and are tasked with surviving increasingly tougher waves of enemies. At the end of each map you get experience points and level up which in turn unlocks more wargear. Retribution adds another map – The Anvil of Khorne - and the Imperial Guard hero to the Last Stand. The Last Stand the best mode in the game – insanely paced and exceedingly visceral. I’d go as far as to say you should buy the game just for the Last Stand mode. I don’t lie when I say that as good as the campaign was, I had to force myself to play it for this review since I didn’t want to play anything except the Last Stand. In the first week after getting DoW2:retribution I clocked in a whopping 35 hours into this mode alone. If that isn’t indicative of a ridiculously fun and addictive experiences, then I don’t know what is.

With Retribution, Relic has nailed the game-play perfectly. Though Retribution has its flaws, the insane amount of content and replayabilty make them easy to overlook. For a stand-alone expansion that provides 5 awesome campaigns, a fun multiplayer and the addictive Last Stand mode for just 30 bucks, it was great value for money. If you haven’t picked it up already, you owe it to yourself as a gamer to play it – whether you are DoW nerd or not.

Note – Relic released a free update on 6 April that, in addition to various bug-fixes, added 12 steam achievements for Last Stand (two for each hero) each of which unlocks a new piece of wargear.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Skyrim : Improving Upon The Traditions

With me finishing Dragon Age 2 and The Witcher not being out for a couple of months, I was at an all time low. Sort of. So, in the meantime, I decided to go crawling about the web gathering what information I could about Skyrim and post it here to worsen everybody else's Elder Scrolls itch too.
After announcing Skyrim, Bethesda was kinda tight-fisted with information it, just periodically giving out trickles of info to keep the ES nerds drooling. But by now, we have a good enough picture of what is to come. So, here is all the bits I found:

Storyline a.k.a. We Got Those Big Winged Reptile Thingies Now

Yep. That's what I'm Talking about
Skyrim is the frozen Nordic nation between Morrowind of freaky elves and Cyrodrill of beautiful vistas. It is supposed to be ruled by nine holds but war has broken out and chaos abounds. And then, the dragons arrive.
The game is set 200 years after Oblivion, the Septims have all died out. The Septims are the Dragonborns, their bloodline gives them the power to use dragon magic. The Dragonfires (from Oblivion) are supposed to keep the mortal world safe. With the Septims out of the way, the barriers burst, but instead of  demons, dragons come to ravage the lands.
You start the game in a prison (like every freaking ES game), but apparently you are the last remaining Dragonborn and so you gotta save the world. And you will be just roaming around killing stuff, looting dungeons, taking side-quests, joining guilds and looking at the sights, you bastard.

The Visuals a.k.a. Staring In Wonder While Dragons Eat You
Be Careful, Or You'll Keep Staring While Someone Whacks You To Death

When Oblivion came, it was the best dang thing in terms of graphics. But times change, and Fallout 3 and NV suffered a lot of heat for the dated visuals. Bethesda finally acknowledged the fact that we gamers invariably are graphic-whores, as much as we may deny the fact, and created a brand new engine for Skyrim. We will have dynamic lighting effects and enhanced visuals; cool stuff like wind affecting leaves and branches and dynamic snowfall.

The character models too, thankfully, are overhauled and NPCs are really nice looking. As shown in the screen-shot here. During dialogues, you are no longer zoomed-into the atrocious character models, NPCs move around doing their thing while talking to you; its a subtle but noticeable improvement.

The RPG Mechanics a.k.a. Begone Pointless Repetition
The leveling-up by doing system in the previous iteration was a great concept, but with crappy implementation. You chose a few major skills and advanced in them to level up. Not only did it create messed up unbalanced characters due to bad selection of skills, but it lead to employing cheap tricks to level up, detracting from the fun. It was also unintuitive for the newbies, who spent dozens of hours playing only to wonder where they went wrong.
Bethesda scrapped this complicated system in Skyrim. Now, there are no major skills. Everything you do advances the relevant skills, and all skills contribute to your level.
A system of perks is introduced taking que from Fallout. There are perks relevant to the various weapon classes and magic schools which you choose every time you increase in level. The leveling-up itself is twice as fast as in Oblivion. There is no level cap, skill progression just slows after level 50.

Game Mechanics a.k.a. Scaling, Radiance and What-not
Oblivion was infamous for excessively scaling everything to your level, ruining the since of progression that is so integral to RPGs; to the point that a level 1 character could potentially finish the game. Scaling is still there, albeit now its much more flexible like in Fallout 3; which was pretty effective while still allowing you to roam freely rather than locking you out of certain regions due to your level.
Bethesda is also employing a system to make the story and quests more flexible according to your gameplay choices. The system is called Radiant Story, which is sure to raise some eyebrows considering all the hype about Radiant AI in Oblivion and what it eventually amounted to. Still, the concept is interesting and may even work out. If a quest is set in a dungeon you have already explored, then the game will switch the location to some other dungeon. Or instead your Brotherhood assassination target being some unknown bandit/guard/count, somebody you won't give a damn about, it will be some NPC with whom you have spent plenty of time.
Radiant AI itself is back, and much improved. So, when you now break into somebody's house, rather than just staring at you, their reaction will depend upon their disposition. A friendly character may offer you a place for the night while a stranger will run off screaming for the guards.

Combat Mechanics a.k.a. Using Those Pointy Things and Colorful Displays Better

Bethesda says that they wish to bring about a sense of involvement in combat for the gamer in Skyrim. In Oblivion, there was a detached feel to the combat. noting that the dynamic system of blocking and attacking of Oblivion has a lot of potential, Bethesda made it more dynamic by tweaking some things. Instead of the slow heavy feel of weapons in Oblivion, the combat is faster and more visceral. There are various weapon related perks and weapon and enemy specific finishing moves have been introduced. You also cannot run backwards like in Oblivion, so you have the choice to stay and fight (stupid) or turn around and run (coward)
The greatest change, however, is dual wielding. You can chose to wield a dual-handed weapon, a weapon and shield, two weapons, a weapon and a spell, or even two spells in each hand. Not only this, but you can equip the same spell in each hand which will increase the spell power considerably. Bethesda tentatively hinted that they're looking into implementing a mechanism to combine spell effects by using two different spells in each hand. If properly implemented, this could turn out to be one of the best combat mechanic in RPGs. Although, I think we will see less use of two-handed weapons, since they won't allow the flexibility to use a spell in the other hand. And what happens when some nutcase equips a shield on each hand?
The magic schools are still present, though there are some changes. The Mysticism school has been done away with and its spells are distributed among the others, mostly the Alteration School. So Alteration a good choice this time around, it used to be pretty meh before. Enchantment skill is reintroduced from Morrowind. I hope it is implemented better this time, it was useless in Morrowind, since there was always a pretty hefty chance that your enchantment may fail and people usually got their stuff enchanted from stores.
The spells in the school of Destruction are much more flexible now : the fire spell, for example, is not just a fireball. You can use it as a flamethrower or plant fire traps in the ground. This, coupled with dual wielding, can really add to the tactical aspect of the game.

Dragonshouts a.k.a. Three Word Phrases of Awesomeness
As I said before, you are a dragonborn. This gives you access to a whole new kind of magic : Dragonshouts - these are three word phrases in the dragon tongue and function as powerful spells. What can be more cool? The way you get them. You first kill a dragon take its soul which allows you to learn its shout. Then you find the words of that shout from glyphs in tombs. There are more than twenty shouts to learn, ranging from a Jedi-esque 'Force-Push' to teleportation.

Archery a.k.a. From Peashooters to Snipers
All of us remember archery from Oblivion. It was fun, especially with enchanted equipment, but anything except rats were turned into pincushions by the time you killed them. It involved a lot of aiming and moving back, which was not only unrealistic but also quickly became tedious. The arrow physics themselves were rubbish, it seemed you were throwing them, instead of using a bow.
The archery system is revamped in Skyrim. Arrows are much faster and deadlier this time around : most foes can be killed in one or two shots. This is compensated by the fact that arrows are rare and expensive; no longer will you be chugging around a couple of hundred daedric arrows.

The Interface a.k.a. Finding a Pin in a Haystack
The Interface in Oblivion was a bit unintuitive and left most of wanting. The developer assure that the Interface is much better this time around. Game director Todd Howard says that the new interface is inspired by Apple's iTunes. Hitting a button will bring up a sort of four-point compass; each point for your inventory, skills, journal and map. The loot is sorted in proper categories and 3-D models of everything can be viewed with all their characteristics. Any item or spell can be 'bookmarked' to a favorites menu for quick access. The skill menu is essentially a view of heavens to three major constellations : each for warrior, mage and thief. Each time you choose a perk, a star in the constellation lights up.
There are plenty of other distractions ranging from salvaging ore for crafting your own weapons and armor to finding alchemical ingredients for potions. Skyrim will feature five huge cities, more than a hundred dungeons and a plethora of guilds; so you can be sure there is hours upon hours of side-questing to be done. Or if you're in the mood, you can always stop being a jerk and actually go and save the world from those asshole dragons. Food for thought.

From all these details, I anticipate a great experience from Skyrim. But November seems far far away, and I'm hungry for some RPG stuff. Now where did I put that disc of Fallout : New Vegas . . .

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Braving The Planes

Planescape : Torment
The one thing I can confidently say about the hardcore PC gaming crowd is that we love our RPGs. RPGs have been in practically since the beginning of mainstream gaming; they're hot now; they'll continue to be big in the future.

So, what is special about them that lures us to lose days of our precious lifespan into these time-sinks? Is it the world and its people that only we can save? The choice we make to influence the flexible plot? Or all the side-quests and exploration that we undertake, and the-world-that-needs-saving be damned? Maybe its just that shiny pointy new katana I found that does enough fire damage to make me feel like a balrog? The lure of dungeon-hunting, people-killing and corpse-looting? Or the basic human instincts to flirt with your companions to advance to second base and beyond - particularly since I'm currently struggling with the dilemma of choosing between Isabela and Merril in Dragon Age 2 . . .

There's no single answer. Maybe its all of them. Basically the main thing that RPGs provide us is the sense of progression, and the sense of control. That is the reason RPG elements are being incorporated in other genres too - to make the gameplay more deep and involving.
But I digress. This article isn't supposed to be about why RPGs are great. And it isn't supposed to be about modern RPGs anyway.

Forget your Dragon Age 2. Forget The Witcher. Forget Skyrim. Today I take you to a journey towards the very roots of RPGs. I talk about the grand-daddy of them all. I talk about Planescape : Torment.

Over the years RPGs have evolved, yes. The graphics and gameplay mechanics have certainly improved. But, except for a few instances, we do not get a great plot or memorable characters.
Enter Planescape. A game released in the Baldur's Gate era, with the same isometric perspective and D&D mechanics. But its the setting, plot and characters that set it apart from everything else.

The game is set in the planescape multiverse - an intersection of all the different planes of existence, with its capital city Sigil.
 You, the Nameless One, wake up in a  mortuary, with a real bad case of amnesia - you've no idea of who you are or how you got there. Eventually you realize that you're immortal & people recognize you (not all in a nice way, I might add) you've lived plenty of lives before, worked nearly every profession - which makes way for an interesting mechanic - you can freely switch between being a fighter, a mage or a thief; since you are not learning, you are remembering; you've done all that before.

THIS is the Nameless One. Hello Ugly . . .
Thus begins your journey in search of your identity and the reason of your immortality. Oh and you've also lost your journal, so you gotta look for that too. And this is what sets Planescape apart from the myriad other RPGs; its not a quest to save the world, but a quest of self-discovery.

Right off the bat, you will realize that Planescape puts much less emphasis on combat; the meat here is in the character interactions. You read through a fantasy novel's worth of dialogue, and its absorbing and fun, varied and entertaining; and sometimes its remarkable enough to make a deep impact upon you. You approach quests and interactions depending on your preference - an intelligent character will perceive small details and use them, a wise one will sway others with philosophical implications, a charismatic or strong character will charm & manipulate or intimidate others. You often get the choices to bluff, play dumb, lie or speak truthfully in the dialogue. All these things impacts your alignment, and the ways the plot unfold later on.

Your companions take the game to a whole different level - believe me when I say that they are the best you have ever encountered in an RPG. Where else will you find companions such as these : a disembodied skull called Morte who has a crush on zombie chicks & is adept at swearing & taunting others, a weird-talking weirdo(!?) from the planes of order, a succubus who has given up sex (a shame!), a restless vigilante of a spirit trapped in an ancient suit of armor or a rat-tailed half-demon lass capable of trading insults with even Morte.

Many other characters you meet are pretty interesting and memorable. They may range from wiseguys and know-it-alls to freaks and madmen, all fun to talk to in their own way. One instance I remember was such : I had decided to play a totally evil character (as in chaotic evil, doesn't get better than that) until I met a poor wretched fellow looking for his sister. I intimidated him into handing me over all his money for my help, but after the subsequent dialogue and his forlorn response, I just couldn't bear to do that. And that was just the impact of the dialogue sans any voice-acting! Go figure.

Seeing how ugly The Nameless One is, I'm not surprised the succubus gave up sex
This is an RPG in the true sense of the word - a game where your character influences your approach, the plot is something original and intriguing, and ever random people you meet leave an impact on you and has just dang awesome companions.

If, fellow traveller, you are impressed by my long awe-induced rantings and are ready to leave behind your precious high resolution textures and 4X Antialiasing to journey into the world of planes, you need to grab this - a bunch of mods and tweaks (installation instructions included) - these range from gameplay fixes, tweaks to a widescreen and high resolution mod. These are essential to play the game on your modern rigs.
Until next time, people. I gotta find out why that inn has a burning man hanging there. . .

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Oldies I Wanna Revisit

2011 is the largest year for the gaming industry in recent times. In March alone, there was a veritable flood of gaming titles. And though there are a healthy number of new franchises coming out (Homefront comes to mind), 2011 is especially remarkable for the number of sequels to many existing great franchises. We've already seen Dragon Age 2, Two Worlds 2 and Dead Space 2. Shogun 2 came out yesterday and there are plenty more to come this year. Although there are plenty of new titles for us to play around with, till we wait for even more of these awesome sequels, these are some of the games I am tempted to revisit as I wait for their sequels.

1. The Witcher - Witcher was one of the best RPGs in recent years, providing one of the best plot progression and choices to be seen in a RPG title. Acclaimed for its mature approach and blurred moral themes, it was nevertheless critiqued for plenty of bugs; translation errors and long load times among other. Then CDProjekt went overboard and released “The Witcher Enhanced Edition”, ironing out almost all the issues and improving graphics, making the game a must-play for any RPG fan out there. With Witcher 2 coming out in May, providing the ability to import your save games, there is plenty of incentive to revisit the world of Witcher with Geralt.

2. Batman Arkham Asylum - Breaking the mold of rubbish superhero games that we've become used to, Batman: AA was a refreshingly great game that told the developers how to do superhero games right. It provided great flexibility: A great action cum stealth experience for the casual gamer, while providing an immersive experience for the die-hard Batman fans with plenty of challenges, collectibles, tapes and more all highlighting batman lore and back-story. Batman Arhkam City is coming in October, promising a sort of open-ended sandbox-ish take with the sequel, with plenty of new mechanics, but we can very well play around with the original till we get out hands on it.

3. Sword of Stars - The original SotS was released in 2006, about the same time as Galactic Civilizations 2. It provided a refreshing take on the 4X genre, replacing the intensive spreadsheet-esque management many of the 4X titles get bogged in with streamlined approach of managing the economy with various sliders, while still maintaining strategic depth by implementing two great mechanics - the different FTL-transport systems of the various races and a wholly randomized tech tree. It was mainly criticized for its unfriendly interface, which was eventually improved with the two expansion packs. These expansions also added two new races, with their own FTL systems, making the total to 6 diverse races. SotS2, which will expand upon its predecessor's game play and continue its storyline, is slated for a Q3/Q4 release. Meanwhile "Sword of the Stars: Complete Collection" was released combing all the expansion packs in one retail package, a solid entry-point for those new to the SotS world.

4. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim comes out in November, possibly the greatest among all the RPG releases this year, promising even better game play and mechanics than its great predecessors. While that is all great and fine, the wait maybe too long for some of us wishing to immerse themselves in the world of Elder Scrolls. Of course, we’ve played Oblivion and Morrowind to death, but that's where the great modding community comes in. With plenty of great overhaul and quest mods. Oscuro's Oblivion Overhaul and Martigen’s Monster Mod come to mind.
Of course, there are those who may argue that Oblivion was dumbed down and Morrowind is where the meat of game play is. For those people who wish to revisit the vast and unforgiving Morrowind, but have grown too used to great graphics, take a look at the "Morrowind Graphical Project 2011", a 1 GB compendium of all the great graphics mods out there (take a look at the in-game scenes below). Also check out the small but nifty Magicka Regen mod and Faster Movement mods for a better game play experience.

5. Mass Effect: Mass Effect 3 comes out this year (hopefully!), and while we wait for its release, we can go back to the previous two games to refresh our memory and maybe make all those little choices which we would like to see developing out in the finale.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trials And Tribulations

Currently, I'm staring into the maw of the worst monster ever. Actually, there may be worse things in the world, but for a student, its the worst nightmare.

Yes, you got it right, EXAMS!!!!!! Could anything be worse. Hmm . . .difficult question, but I'm sure getting struck with food poisoning a couple of days before said exams will definitely qualify

Yeah, so I'm in a really f--, err, bad position. So keeping it short, since I'm really tempted to spew words I'd rather not on my blog, the fact remains that there will be no new posts for about three weeks. But be ready for a literal barrage afterwards.

In the meantime, pray that I get through this and survive to tell the tale.

This is 'Yours Truly', signing out.