Christmas is over. The two super hyped "next generation" consoles have released to massive sales even with very limited libraries. Everyone has finished the launch titles they were interested in and the rest have not come down to the magical preowned pick up price yet. There is nothing new on the horizon with naught but a trickle of ports and indie games to keep gamers going until the tail end of march when the next big system sellers Titanfall and infamous: Second son come out.
Looking at the respective stores for new releases each week is like looking for a snowball in the desert.
So these next gen consoles are relegated to being pretty dust collectors for the time being as gamers look elsewhere for the next gaming fix.
PC & iOS seem to be evergreen sources for games however this January again both are rather sparse on the release front. However there is one shining beacon through the bleak winter: Baldurs Gate 2: Enhanced Edition.
Originally released back in 2000 (14 years ago at time of writing) based on Advanced D&D mechanics Baldurs Gate 2 managed to sell over 2 million copies, no mean feat considering how complicated this system is.
Combining the original campaign Shadows of Amn with both add ons Throne Of Baahl and Black Pits 2: Gladiators of Thay, there is a massive amount of content contained within, encompassing hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Baldurs Gate 2 features the traditional Isometric RPG with movement and actions controlled via mouse clicks and hot keys (if you so desire). It's very simple on the surface but as soon as you dig into the menus and all the options available for each character within, things start to get real complex, real fast. This is not a game for the casual gamer.
This is further reinforced by the steep difficulty curve, beginning in a dark dingy dungeon (as is common with many RPGs these days) with a group of up to 4 (depending on conversational choices) facing off against ever growing groups of goblins swiftly becomes tricky if you don't have your wits about you. Upon finally exiting this dank dungeon you are greeted with a diverse interesting world to explore and the adventure can truly begin. I wouldn't like to spoil the story for those reading this review but I will say that it's not exactly Lord Of The Rings in terms of quality but it is a compelling story nonetheless that is well worth playing through and has more than a few twists and turns along the way to keep you guessing.
For this enhanced edition, several new areas have been added into the main game which are all presented organically into the main quest and extend the playtime still further, if you were to attempt to see everything in the game you probably wouldn't need to play anything else till the summer.
Yes there's nothing groundbreaking or particularly new here but this is the best version of one of the greatest RPGs ever and that in itself is to be applauded. The graphical update is noticeable and more than acceptable but can't quite quite match the polish of more recent games of a similar ilk such as Diablo 3. The soundscape is well crafted and everything is as you would expect sword clattering, box opening noises are all present and correct and the score is well realised. The voice acting is fairly good though the characters aren't quite as well realised as they could have been.
Throne of Baahl adds more of the same adventuring contained in the main campaign but here it finishes up the story started in Child of Baahl, which can be found in Baldurs Gate: Enhanced Edition.
Black pits 2: Gladiators of Thay is the weakest part of the package focusing on gladiatorial combat confined within an arena whilst it looks and plays just as well as the rest of Baldurs Gate 2, the lack of freedom holds this section back with it's lack of a sense of scale and without a particularly compelling story it's rather a damp squib when compared to Shadows Of Amn and Throne Of Baahl.
Overall this is a great package and unlike other so called enhanced/definitive/Goty packages it is fairly priced at $24.99.
Baldurs Gate 2:Enhanced Edition is available now on iPad, PC, Steam and Mac.
42 Level One
Most epic fantasy has a lot of thanks to give not only to Tolkien, but to his inspirations: mythos and lore. In this same way, much of modern fantasy that occupies tabletops and gaming consoles can tip a hat to Forgotten Realms for the depth of their universes. It's hard to escape the influence in most games set in medieval or high fantasy. Expecting Perfect World and Cryptic to bring something new to the table when presenting their free-to-play MMO, Neverwinter, is a bit much considering this framework defined the genre. Yet they still brought innovation to the table, just with focus on MMORPG functionality.
This isn't to say Perfect World changed how they monetize FTPMMOs. They have a solid structure that has worked with their many other titles, and they know better than to mess with that. For those new to the program, however, things can be a little daunting. I get that the urge to rush into the gameplay is strong, and you probably feel you have a pretty good grasp on MMOs in general, (at least I did), but it's important to pay attention in the beginning of the game. Not everything you need to know is spelled out for you, but the game offers access in game to wikis and provides tips in load screens. You can also do a quick search and find plenty of fanmade wikis to aid you, as well. Learning as much as you can as early as you can will benefit you, because there are a lot of things going on here.
First, there is normal gameplay. The controls here are decent once you get used to a targeting system that is a little unorthodox for third-person RPGs. (I did, however, much prefer the controls here to the ones found in D&D Online, but maybe I just didn't give those enough time.) My biggest gripe with a targeting system where you aim instead of click on targets is how often line of sight is easily broken. (This is especially a headache if you try to heal an individual in a full on battle.) When targeting enemies, however, there is a bit of an auto-aim that adjusts your character's focus while you are in attack mode. The controls are fluid and responsive. I have always been a double-click the mouse runner, but learning to use WASD full time was not difficult, especially since it's pretty standard. The rest of the key-mapping is intuitive and easy to remember, and also entirely customizable.
Speaking of customization, the character selection screen is pretty darn good. Players can choose between some of the most prominent races in Forgotten Realms, such as halflings, half-orcs, dwarfs, and even the drow eventually, with more races to come. Tieflings are also an option, creating some of the most impressive looking wizards you'll see running around in game. Individual tweaking of character appearance is detailed (though not quite as much as in PWI or other Cryptic titles) and impacts both facial structure and body structure. A wide range of tones are available for skin, hair, and other features. There are also three body types available, including a “heavy” preset, which can be altered using individual sliders for each body area.
Class is not limited to race, though different races have abilities consistent with specific class types. There are also more classes that will be added to the game over time. Attributes are chosen by rolling, which is a nice touch. One of the best parts of creating a character is choosing their background and deity alignment. You can also add a character history while creating a character, or at any point during gameplay. Just be sure to save this text in another application, because I encountered a glitch that repeatedly erased the character history I wrote for all of my characters. Only two character slots are available per account, with additional slots available for purchase. Some gamers choose to create multiple accounts to get past paying, but keep in mind that purchases made on one account with real money will not transfer to other accounts.
Speaking of the many forms of currency, how do they work? Well, the Zen currency is used in all of Perfect World's game incarnations. It allows you access to exclusive items, but there is also a variety of game currencies that can be achieved through different means as you progress in the game. Each currency relates to a specific market, granting access to things such as augmentations, profession items, and potions. Astral diamonds are the in game currency that can be acquired and traded for Zen to be spent on exclusive items. The amount of astral diamonds needed for these items is very high, and it takes a lot of work, but there are ways to avoid spending real money to get some of the real money items.
Astral diamonds/Zen also help to unlock Nightmare Lockboxes that are found in the game. While most of the drops in the game at lower to mid level are good, they all lack a certain legendary quality. The character will have many chances to collect these dropped lockboxes. They contain very rare items at random, but require a large about of astral diamonds or the purchase of Zen to open. At this point, there are aspects of the game that resemble a pay-to-win structure. I personally prefer when games stick to purely aesthetic purchases for real currency. On the other hand, you are required to pay nothing for a game that will likely provide you weeks upon weeks of enjoyment.
I had no real issue with the currency system because I've always been more of a PvE player, but there is a PvP arena that allows party vs party combat. It can be really invigorating provided you're in a solid team. If you prefer solo or small group play, the game is set up for that, too. I found the rogue and cleric to be very fun in solo play. You can also unlock the ability to use a computer controlled companion that you train and summon to help you. Keeping up with the timing of their training, on top of timed profession building, means your character has a lot to focus on while they strive for the current level cap of 60. Professions work like time-based quests found in social gaming apps, so they can be performed in the background at all times. There are dungeons and skirmishes available, each performed with a full party of five players. Queue up for these events while you work on other parts of the game.
All of the things I'm describing are achieved at level ten and higher, but you can only realize how fun these things are if you make it past the beginning of the game. Granted leveling is quick, and the beginning is relatively short, but the story here is drab, dry, and a sorry follow-up to the awe-inspiring opening cinematic. The story and fighting abilities vastly improve as the player levels, and my personal favorite feature of the entire game is introduced at level 15- The Foundry. The Foundry allows players to create their own quests and campaigns within the game. Some of the stories you can play, created by individuals from all over the world, are varied, creative, and an excellent way to level outside of the main quests. You can create your own campaigns, but this varies from the tabletop version. Even with a vastly adaptable tool kit and a cornucopia of base content to configure, there are limits simply by using the visual representation required in game. That's not to say the limits prevent any worth- the Foundry is an amazing addition to this gameplay format, and does a fantastic job at resembling the creative nature of tabletop itself.
The truth is, as a lifelong fan of the Forgotten Realms and nearly every game released from this universe, I had high expectations. In some ways, I was disappointed. I maybe expected too much from the story given my nostalgia for other games set within Neverwinter or Baldur's Gate. Neverwinter is a game that takes a little time to ease into, but it's worth the investment. I'd even say that in-game purchases with real money are warranted, provided you like the game enough to keep playing as it grows better and better. Beware of glitches that can cause things like character histories to be erased, or even prevent you from using an ability or potion here or there during battle. (I encountered the latter infrequently, and I'm sure the game is constantly patching and fixing these things.) One of the most compelling features of Neverwinter is the constant attention to improving the game and adding more features, including endgame PvE and PvP opportunities. This, along with character created Foundry campaigns and a seeming desire to incorporate the essence of tabletop magic, lead me to highly recommend at the very least trying this game if you are a fan of Forgotten Realms and MMOs.
Perfect World Entertainment has announced the date that Neverwinter: Strongholds will be released on the PC. The action MMORPG is set in the world, which was created by Wizards of the Coast, of Forgotten Realms, and will be released on the PC August 11th. At release the gameplay will focus on player-vs-environment then move on to player-vs-player in September.
If you want to get all nostalgic, and don’t want to wait for Strongholds, but don’t want to pull out the pencil, paper, and dodecahedrons Neverwinter is free to play, is filled with fast-paced combat and what any good Dungeons and Dragons game has, DUNGEONS! And maybe you’ll see your favorite Drow while you adventure. You can check it out on the PC and Xbox One and free if you’ve got Xbox Live Gold. Check out http://www.playneverwinter.com for more info.
Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment announced a new Neverwinter update coming to your Xbox this September. Neverwinter: Elemental Evil will bring you four new expansions to get your Forgotten Realms fix (arguably the best D&D campaign setting ever), you will now be able to explore the Elemental Evil, Fury of the Feywild, Shadowmantle, and Curse of the Icewind Dale.
For all of you adventurers that have maxed out your characters due to your incessant need to explore Faerun, you will now be able to level up even more due to an increase in the level cap from 60 to 70. Or you could start a new character with the new Oathbound Paladin (or not, we all know those uppity paladins are always hard to adventure with!). For more info check out http://www.arcgames.com