Category Archives: Reviews

Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013


This is one game I never really thought I’d get into, but turned out to be very addictive. And in case anyone is thinking this, yes, I know that it seems odd reviewing a game labelled 2013 at the start of the new year. Deal with it.

If anyone's wondering, Krenko is bloody difficult.

If anyone’s wondering, Krenko is bloody difficult.

The game is exactly as you would imagine, the card game Magic: The Gathering but computerised. In terms of controls, its very easy to get to grips with. The rules of MtG can seem intimidating and a bit confusing to beginners such as myself, but I think playing it on the computer was a blessing in that respect, as you won’t be allowed to play “badly” (i.e. break the rules by accident), so it’s easy enough to learn as you go.


Briefly; the goal of the game is reduce your opponent’s health to 0 from 20, using creatures and spells. However to directly attack the other planeswalker (opponent), you’ll need to get past their creatures, which can block damage and protect yourself and your foe. There are various and interesting cards you can play to improve your odds, such as creatures (to attack and block damage), sorceries (basic spells), auras (to buff up your creatures, or to debilitate your foe’s) and enchantments (to provide passive bonuses to you).

duels-of-the-planeswalkers-2013One of the main features of the game is the deck manager, whereby one can customise which deck of cards they play with (between 60 and 100 cards are allowed, although fewer is generally better). By playing  and defeating opponents, or by simply paying for “deck packs”, new and more powerful cards are unlocked, allowing you to further customise and improve your deck. The one downside I have with this aspect of the game is that you cannot construct your own deck from all the cards you have access to; i.e. one cannot mix and match cards from two decks that you like into a deck that suits your style of play, you can only customise the presets, using the cards that come with it and which unlock for it. However, this is a fairly minor gripe, as there is still plenty of scope for tweaking your deck to your preferences.

magic2013_1There are numerous modes to play; a pretty normal campaign mode, playing AI opponents one-on-one. “Planechase”, seen above, where four players battle each other at the same time, with different “planes” active at different times which provide varying and deadly effects to the battlefield. “Two-Headed Giant” mode is a form of co-op, whereby two pairs fight each other, each player playing individually, but each pair shares a single life total, starting at 30 instead of the usual 20.

So, that’s it! What are your thoughts on Duels of the Planeswalkers, or just MtG in general for that matter? Favourite deck, favourite colours of mana? Let me know in the comments below, thanks for reading!

First released: June 2012; Published by Wizards of the Coast; Developed by Stainless Games

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The Infernal City & Lord of Souls

These two books, written by Greg Keyes, follow on 40 years post-Oblivion-crisis. I’m finding it hard to decide whether to write this as two parts or one. My instinct says two, but you really could (and I am half considering doing this) staple the back cover of The Infernal City to the front cover of Lord of Souls and not a lot would change. Which is my way of saying that, while they are two books, it is very much one story, one set of characters, and one overall story arc. So as compromise, I’ll do them separately, but in this one page, so here goes.

1. The Infernal City

Umbiel_Infernal_CityThe first part starts, puzzlingly, with an account of a few sailors spotting a big, flying city, before switching to a man called Sul, who appears for all of about 2.5 pages before moving on. I know this was the point, to move between characters (as the blurb alludes to), but I quickly found myself not working out who was who, nor which character had which name, nor what they were doing, nor where. The plot evolves into revolving around three central characters, Annaïg (a 17 year old Breton girl living in the Black Marsh town of Lilmoth), Prince Attrebus Mede (son of the Emperor Titus Mede, who eventually assumed control of the Empire after the events of Oblivion) and Colin (man with unimaginative name, spy). The stories of these three characters play off each other, before eventually more or less joining up later on, as they strive to somehow stop the floating city of Umbriel.

I think the best way of summing up the general idea of these books, without giving away plot points, is that if you approach it with an Elder Scrolls mindset, you’ll think they’re not too bad. If you’re looking for well written books, prepare to be disappointed. Thankfully I approached them from the former viewpoint, and enjoyed many of the references and ideas related to Oblivion. And in its favour, the book does a good job of being descriptive and creating nice, interesting environments. However, the manner in which the plot and characters are written leaves a lot to be desired.

2. Lord of Souls

LordOfSouls-coverMuch the same as above (see section 1.), but located in the more familiar territory of Cyrodiil, which is nice. There’s the usual plot developments and twists, and it wraps the story up in a nice (albeit predictable) way. All in all, fair.

If anyone’s read these books, what did you think of them? Better than fair, worse?

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

2013-08-25_00001Another game from Firaxis and 2K, but not Sid Meier this time, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a tactical shooter from the same people as the previously reviewed Civ V. A good way to think of XCOM is that it is like Civ V, but with Aliens and with a big ol’ underground base, and with squares instead of hexagons.

Gameplay revolves, once again, around ordering your units about, placing them well and upgrading them. As your guys get exp, they will specialise into a few classes, such as snipers, support and heavies. You’re tasked with saving civilians, general alien killing and a bit of saving humanity while you’re at it.

2KGMKT_XCOMEU_SCREENS_PCUI_ChangeElevationOther than that, the rest of the game is spent in your underground lair base building new facilities and researching new techs to repel the alien invaders. You’re also in charge of positioning satellites around the Earth, and responding to specific alien invasions to help reduce panic around the world.

Clearly, I wasn't great at this.

Clearly, I wasn’t great at this.

What are your thoughts on XCOM: Enemy Unknown?

First released: October 2012; Published by 2K Games; Developed by Firaxis Games

Sid Meier’s Civilization V

This game: good, but lengthy. Most strategy games (eg Age of Empires) have games that last around two, three hours? Civ V, which has game speeds quick, normal, epic and marathon, takes at least four hours per game, in my experience. And that’s on quick pace! In short, you’ll need a long time to get through a game in one sitting, but it is rewarding. I recently finished a game on marathon pace, which took me more a less one week’s time.

The game starts you off with a settler to found a city, and a warrior to fight stuff. From there, you grow your empire, by constructing buildings, founding new cities, exploring, training units and fighting foes.

Barbarian attacks: A bloody nuisance.

Barbarian attacks: A bloody nuisance.

As may or may not be clear from the above image, Civ V is a turn-based-strategy game, and works on hexagonal tiles. Whereas in the more familiar Age of Empires games (along with others) you can just about place units and buildings wherever you want to, the hexagonal grid limits your choices. Far from being a nuisance, this really puts strategy first. Learning where to place your archers, tanks, warriors, knights, cannons, etc, and on what type of terrain, really is satisfying. When exploring, if you place a unit on a hill they will have a better vantage point to survey the lands around, that kind of thing. For me, this makes terrain types (jungle, hills, rivers, etc) and placement of units and cities one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.

An archer unit defending the border against invading barbarians.

An archer unit defending the border against invading barbarians.

Similar to most strategy games there are scenarios you can play, such as 1066, but in my humble opinion, they’re of limited fun. And while we’re on the subject of things that aren’t quite fun in the long term, music. It must be difficult for a game that can last days to make enough music that is interesting. The music is specific to each civilisation, and develops as the game goes on, but hearing the same thing again and again tends to grind my gears.

A fledgling Persian empire.

A fledgling Persian empire.

The expansion pack Gods & Kings, released in June 2012, adds some new leaders to play as and a few new scenarios, but more importantly, a couple of new gameplay features; faith and espionage (ie religions which spread through populations and cities, and spies which can steal information and technologies from other players).

Custom Buddhism, ftw.

Custom Buddhism, ftw.

That being said, the expansions are fairly expensive, and you can get away without them.

An expanded Persian empire, with armies along its borders.

An expanded Persian empire, with armies along its borders.

For my money, it’s a brilliant game with a few flaws, but one where you really will get your money’s worth, given the amount of time you will likely spend playing it. What are your thoughts on Civ V?

First released: September 2010; Published by 2K Games; Developed by Firaxis Games

Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins is in-depth, thought provoking, brutal, fun and expansive. I’ve read a lot of criticisms of this game, but in my opinion, having played through recently as a mage character, DA:O really is one of the best single player RPGs around.

You play as a Grey Warden, an order of legendary warriors, rogues and mages, dedicated to fighting the darkspawn, evil creatures who periodically return in an event known as a Blight to screw things up for everyone. If you’ve ever played the Gears of War games, darkspawn look pretty similar to the Locust from that. And, as you might expect from any Bioware RPG worth its salt, you’re backed up by an array of loyal companions, from assassin to templar, from dog to dwarf, pious rogue, stoic warrior, from wise-cracking sexy mage to old “do-gooder” mage. It’s a full house!

Would also be an excellent line-up to a medieval fantasy themed sitcom.

Would also be an excellent line-up to a medieval fantasy themed sitcom.

The meat of the issue, of course, is combat, and DA:O has this down in spades (to continue to poker analogy). Fights are more active than in the KotOR games reviewed previously (see KotOR and KotOR2), and combat is more flexible and fluid. Importantly though, not only does the combat function well, it looks fantastic. Every skill and spell looks good, and auto-finishing kill animations make slaying darkspawn, ogres and (0f course) dragons even more satisfying than before.

Along with all this comes the usual array of RPG elements, such as thieving for the rogues, merchants and side-quests. No real faults here, but nothing much to shout about. There is a nice amount of revisiting past locations to complete new quests, which helps to pad out the gameplay nicely. As questing itself goes, DA:O sticks to the basics, which is no bad thing indeed.



However, I feel I must rant about one quest during the main story in particular, one quest which actually made me give up on the game entirely when I first played through it.

The quest in question is called Lost in Dreams, and, without wishing to spoil any of the story, occurs when you are ascending the mage’s tower. You become trapped in “The Fade”, the dreamworld in which spirits and demons inhabit. Your objective: get out of this dreams to carry on climbing the tower. Simple? Hell no. If I remember correctly, without using a walkthrough, this sub-quest took me somewhere in the region of two hours. And that is two hours where you have no party members with you, travelling back and forth through different dreams realms with no real guidance or clues as to which way to travel. In short, it is quite literally a nightmare. As such, I’m putting up a walkthrough to the section here, but even following this guide to the letter, which I thoroughly recommend, it’ll take a fair amount of time to plough through this arduous section.

Other than that, the story is decent, though won’t stretch your preconceptions an awful lot. However, take a look at this trailer.

In a word: Awesome

First released: November 2009 ; Published by EA ; Developed by Bioware, Edge of Reality

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II (2/2)

(Apologies, Steam was being stubborn and not letting me take my own screenshots of the game, so I had to source these images from Google.)

So, here’s the second part of my KotOR playthrough review, which is on KotOR II: The Sith Lords. Set (as you might expect) after the events of the first game, you play as The Exile, a jedi who fought in the Mandalorian Wars and was exiled by the council as a result. First off, the plot is definitely a step up from its predecessor, with the story KotOR II: TSL being much more complex and rich, and playing off the different motivations of different characters. This also translates to the morality system, which as before boils down to being “good” or “evil”, but this time around the choices made are not so clear cut, and there is not always a right answer to every problem.

Though there is a clear right answer here.

In terms of combat, KotOR II takes what KotOR started with and builds solidly on it. Same basic mechanics, but with a greater selections of feats and force powers to choose from, including lightsaber forms (passive bonuses/penalties you can choose to suit your style). Unfortunately, and I’m not sure if this was intentional or not when the game was developed, since the levelling process is slow many of these feats you never get around to acquiring. There is also the option to have two weapon loadouts, enabling the player to quickly switch between, for example, a blaster and a lightsaber, allowing your character to be more versatile in combat. Auto-regen of health is now implemented, and is a welcome addition in my opinion, saves time waiting for your force to regen so that you can cast heal or waste medpacks! My only negative thing to say about the combat is that if you invest in the flurry feat-tree and acquire Master Flurry, it has no penalties at all, you just get an extra free attack per round. For me, it’s overpowered, and I preferred the first game’s style of reducing the penalties (lower defence and chance to hit) but without removing them entirely.

One criticism, for better or for worse, of the original KotOR was that a fair amount of gameplay was required before the player character could train to become a jedi (before that point, you played as average Joe). KotOR II kind of solves that, by starting you as a jedi class from the word go, giving you almost instant access to start learning force powers. The downside being, however, that it takes a surprising amount of time before you can build your first lightsaber, necessitating travelling to multiple worlds to acquire all the parts you will need.

Again, there is a menagerie of companions to choose from on your journey: Atton (wise cracking rogue), G0-T0 (somewhat shady business droid), Mandalore (leader of the Mandalorians who are trying to rebuild), Bao Dur (expert technician with an awesome robot, plasma arm, thing), Kreia (your mentor and advisor jedi), Visas Marr (a sith apprentice), and a couple of companions who arrive only meeting certain conditions. The Handmaiden if you are a male Exile, or the Disciple if you’re female, and Mira if you’re good, Hanrarr if you are evil. To top off this list, our little friend T3-M4 returns, as does HK-47 (if we decide to rebuild him).

As a side note, and one which I didn’t notice made too much of an impact on gameplay, your alignment will shift your companions alignments over time. ie, if you are slaying innocents left right and centre, your companions will start to fall to the dark side too.

Some familiar locations make another appearance in this game: the plains of Dantooine and the now ruins of Korriban. New locations include the Peragus Mining Facility, the floating city of Telos (which is oddly reminiscent of Taris), Onderan and the crime-ridden world of Nar Shaddaa.

Overall, as with the first game, KotOR II looks beautiful, good soundtrack, nice environments, and even the combat looks nice, with varied more-varied animations for each type of attack, which keeps melee combat looking fresh. However, when writing about this game, there is one point that cannot be left out: It’s buggy like hell. Seriously, save often. They range from minor annoyances, like companions getting stuck on things, to game breaking bugs such as the one in the image below, from the Telos Academy. (By the way, I’ve had that particular glitch numerous times, and I think the way to solve it is to try and put up a fight when you’re asked to surrender your weapons, fair warning.)

With a lot more variety and complexity, this game is certainly worth playing, but in my honest opinion, it is the first game, KotOR, that is the classic out of the two. Mainly because it has less bloody game-breaking glitches… What was your experience of this game?

First released: December 2004 ; Published by LucasArts ; Developed by Obsidian Entertainment

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (1/2)

It’s safe to say that I know KotOR like the back of my hand, seeing as I’ve been playing it for ten years straight now. I may have a soft spot for RPGs in general, but looking back at its release and playing it for the very first time, very little has changed in my mind, I still love this game to bits.

What really sticks out at me about KotOR is the level of control you have to tailor your character and your party to your needs. As you might expect, you play as a jedi in the old republic, thousands of years before the events of the films take place. But by no means does that mean you’re limited to playing as Mr Standard Jedi, no no, you can choose whether you dual wield or not, wear armour or not, use the force or not, even if you want to use a lightsaber at all! Though, let’s be honest, most of us want to go hack-and-slash through some droids. The combat is best described as dice rolls, but no knowledge of 20-sided dice is needed to be able to build a good character, and the combat still flows smoothly.

Like a fish

Like a fish

As in almost any Bioware RPG, the morality factor is central to the way the game plays. It’s up to the player to decide whether they go the ‘holier than thou’ route by being nice and helpful to everyone, or the ‘unnecessarily evil’ route by killing everyone, essentially. Unfortunately the good/evil system does boil down to those two choices a lot of the time in KotOR, but there are some head-scratchers in there. As it happens, on my most recent playthrough, I was a chaotic, evil, dual wielding Sith warrior. Because, why not?

On top of the level of customisation you can add to nearly every weapon and armour in the game, you have almost free reign on which companions you choose to take out with you into the wild world, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Carth (soldier, decent ranged fighter, but whiney), Bastilla (also whiney), Mission (street-smart rogue), T3-M4 (loveable utility droid), HK-47 (everyone’s favourite psychotic assassin droid), Canderous (big tough guy), Zaalbar (standard wookie), Juhani (awesome melee jedi), and finally to Jolee (comedic, cranky old man, excellent at buffing). There really is enough choice to complement whichever type of character you want to play as.

While the worlds and locations you will visit tend to be somewhat linear, the environments are beautiful and varied, with a soundtrack to each that enhances each area. From beginning in the sprawling city-planet of Taris, to the farmlands of Dantooine, the desolate world of Korriban, the ocean city of Manaan, the jungles of Kashyyyk and the desert wastes of Tatooine, there is enough variety to keep the adventure fresh and interesting as you go.

And the plot? Well, let’s just say that it’s not going to blow your socks off. As plots go it follows a fairly straightforward path, with nothing much happening throughout the bulk of the game. However, the main story is supplemented by side quests, and quests related to each of your companions, adding some much appreciated extra hours to the game. Along with a certain plot twist (which will not be spoiled here, fear not), there is enough to keep the player entertained through to the last minute of gameplay. With excellent voice acting on par with any quality Bioware game, and featuring such talent as Phil LaMarr and Jennifer Hale, the conversations and cutscenes are well worth paying attention to.

Classic droid

Classic droid

All in all this Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is a classic, make no mistake. If you haven’t played it before, I recommend giving it a go. Any thoughts on KotOR?

First released: July 2003 ; Published by LucasArts ; Developed by Bioware

Lord of the Rings Online

Seeing as I’m still living at university, post-exams, I have a lot of time on my hands, so an MMO seems a good place to start.

I’m not an MMO person, in general (although I can understand the companies needing money to maintain the servers, etc, I don’t like subscriptions. I’m poor.), but I that’s where “free to play” games are a blessing. No subscriptions, woop woop! There are lots of free to play MMOs out there, but I’m playing LotRO because why not? And I love Lord of the Rings.

Riding my horse like a badass through the Eastern Bree Fields.

Riding my horse like a badass through the Eastern Bree Fields.

Having said all that, LotRO isn’t quite a free to play game, in that you will be constantly hounded to make in-game purchases using their Turbine Points system. VIP members of the game (who DO play a subscription fee monthly) get free Turbine Points every month, plus they don’t have to buy as lot of the things that the free to play people do (such as a skill from the LotRO store to let you ride horses, extra backpack space, additional slots for your character to improve his/her stats, etc), so they really are nudging you towards either (a) buying more of their points, or (b) going VIP subscription. However, you can get by without spending a penny on this game, so we’ll take that as a positive.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s standard MMO from start to finish. Questing, looting, side-questing, killing wolves, looting, skirmishing, auto-attack, classes, and more looting (hence why they charge you for extra backpack space, sneaky buggers). If you’re familiar with any MMO, and let’s be honest, they all more or less play in the same kind of fashion, you’ll pick this up pretty quick. If not, it’s simplistic, with standard WASD-movement, right click to attack/loot, you’ll be all over it in no time.

With the community, in a few words: not too bad. I suppose it’s dependent on the server you’re on and the people you meet (I’m on Withywindle, by the way, name: Fendeviper), but in my experience the people are usually friendly and not too weird, unlike most of the people I met on WoW… And this definitely helps when finding fellowships (groups) for questing, kinships (guilds), or to do skirmishes or instances. The latter two are great ways, when you get access to them at lvl 20, to level up quickly and earn currency to buy unique items/weapons/armour, or to upgrade and customise an AI ally to use in skirmishes.

That’s about all I have to say about it. If you have Steam, it’s easy to install and entirely free. If you have an excess of time on your hands, and a tolerance for MMO grinding, this is a good one.

Anyone out there playing LotRO at the moment, or used to play it? If so, how did you find it?

First released: April 2004 ; Published by Turbine and Midway Games ; Developed by Turbine

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