I recently got my hands on a preview copy of Eschalon Book 3. Since this was a preview of the final release, and not the final release, I’ll be giving my thoughts on the game while ignoring any and all issues with the game’s running stability, as those aspects have not been fine tuned for this build.
The two easiest words I can use to describe Eschalon Book 3 are intense and intimidating. The character creation is similar to a D&D character sheet. There is an easy way around this, where you simply choose one of the classes and let the game build a character for you, but doing this leaves every single attribute to the discretion of the system. You will have a character that works in the class you wanted, but you will not have chosen their gender, name, race, religion, or any of their unique skills. I chose a randomized character, not knowing that the attributes I had my character randomized.
Difficulty selection is done in a very interesting way, in that you don’t select a difficulty at all. Instead, you choose whether or not to use four different rules. The first rule makes food and water a requirement for you character’s survival. The second makes your weapons degrade with use. The next two get into insane territory. The third rule makes the player unable to save or load the game while diseased, poisoned, critically injured, or near enemies. It is worth noting for this rule that I was diseased almost immediately after starting the game, and remained diseased for several hours as I could not afford to cure myself. The fourth rule makes any probabilities seeded instead of random. This means that if you are trying to hit something, instead of doing a 20% probability dice roll each time, the game follows a pattern to ensure you only hit that thing 20% of the time. Depending on the rules you pick, you are assigned a difficulty level that describes your gameplay. Each level affects the score you will receive with either a penalty or a bonus. I wanted to at least stay at Normal difficulty, but hate weapon degradation, so I activated rules one and four.
After you have created a character and selected the difficulty rules you are given a brief story introduction. Your character was attempting to destroy two powerful items known as crux stones. Alien Voldemort showed up and tried to kill you. He failed and destroyed one of the crux stones, teleporting you without your memories some place far away. You wake up lost, confused, and with the Crux of Fire. Your goal is now to find out more about the Crux of Fire, and the land you are in. Another goal is to not die. This one’s going to prove a bit difficult.
This game is hard, from the moment you start any combat whatsoever you’ll understand this. When you are a level one character you’ll spend most of your combat time wishing you weren’t constantly missing your targets. I started as a ranger, which is sort of hard, given I had no weapons skills other than a bow and arrows are hard to come by and get wasted because of all the freaking missed shots. The one advantage to the gameplay is that it is entirely turn based. You don’t have to worry about getting everything you need lined up quickly, but rather with as few actions as possible. If you need to open your inventory, you won’t be attacked a bunch while searching for the items you need. Only when you use an action to actually use the item.
Once you’ve managed to actually get yourself a character that can handle fighting cock roaches (this takes a lot of time) you’ll note that you must now go and face greater challenges. It’s not possible to grind in Eschalon, as enemies don’t respawn. This has upsides and downsides. It does make for a better gameplay flow since you can’t just beef up your character so that all things in your path are like mere insects. But it also means that you can’t level to just the point where you feel comfortable with the difficulty curve. You have to handle whatever the game is going to throw at you. The other issue is that the game is entirely non-linear. You are meant to explore new areas and complete quests based on what you are capable of. Without the ability to grind, you’re generally left finding out where you should go by entering an area, having a near death experience, and then running away. This often wastes your food, water, and gold on recovery.
Overall, Eschalon Book 3 is a fun game if you enjoy a seriously difficult RPG. Its story is based around total mystery, its world is entirely unknown, and it is seriously freaking hard. You don’t enter the game feeling like the messiah from on high that all have awaited. Instead, you feel like some jackass with minor combat skills being thrown into a situation that you are not prepared for and hardly understand. This makes Eschalon Book 3 a realistic and engaging game.
The fun thing about indie developers is that you never know when they are going to come up with something unique. Take for example Rollers of the Realm, by developer Phantom Compass; it combines video game pinball with a role-playing game (RPG).
Since a majority of your gameplay will be playing pinball the story is kept light, but engaging. You start as the Rogue. She has come to town with her dog looking for some easy targets. Eventually her dog gets kidnapped by the town blacksmith who wants to make the dog his dinner. The Rogue encounters a drunken Knight who decides to help her recover her dog and a Healer who wants to help defeat the blacksmith. You work your way through different pinball tables, which represent various parts of the town, until you finally encounter the Blacksmith in his forge. When you finally defeat him you find out his brother is the evil Baron of the realm and now you have to hide in an outlaw camp to avoid capture. Here is where your adventure really starts.
The gameplay mechanics are your typical video game pinball: flippers, bumpers, teleport holes, rails, etc. What makes it different is that each character in your party is represented by one of your balls on the table. Each ball has its own specialty. The Rogue has the ability to steal gold from characters on the table and does "backstab" damage to enemies. The Knight is a larger armored ball that can do more damage and can break boxes easier. The Healer can heal your flippers and has a special power of bringing back lost balls, if you have enough mana. All the balls can generate mana by hitting things like torches and other special items on the table. The other characters can also use the mana pool in order to activate unique magic powers. The Rogue can summon her dog to the field for "multi-ball" action and the Knight can temporarily block the gutter so he can't "die." You can swap between the balls as needed by trapping the ball with one of the two main flippers and then selecting the character you want.
As you play you gather gold. This gold, in typical RPG fashion, can be taken to shops where you can purchase items to upgrade each character. You can even add new members to your party by "hiring" them from the shop.
The tables play out much like any other pinball game; somehow make the balls into certain places to progress further. Other times you have encounters where you have to defeat all the enemies on the table. For the most part, the pinballs physics are sound given that there are certain exceptions for powers of the characters. Difficulty does ramp up as the game progresses; you'll even eventually get tables that are multi-tiered that you have to work through section by section to clear the whole table.
I love both video game pinball and RPGs so for me Rollers of the Realm is a bit of a no brainer. I do have frustrations with the pinball aspects, but then again I have those same frustrations with regular video game pinball. I may love the genre, but I am no master of it, so sometimes trying to manipulate a ball to go into certain places can be a little bit of a challenge.
I am really enjoying Rollers of the Realm. There is an arena mode that you can open up after a while that lets you "grind" to earn more gold so you can buy those power ups you just know you are going to need for later levels. In fact the one complaint I would have is gold seems to be hard to earn so grinding takes a bit longer, but if you've spent any amount of time in World of Warcraft you know grinding all too well.
I say if you like video game pinball definitely check out Rollers of the Realm, the characters and powers add a unique twist on the normal fun game of pinball. If you are an RPG fan it might be hard call to recommend. You have to be up for something very different than what you are used to as far as "adventure."
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.
Larian Studios revealed the Divinity: Original Sin trailer at this year’s Gamescom. Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition is being published to your Playstation 4 and Xbox One this Autumn by Focus Home Interactive.
This classic RPG game has turn based combat that will keep you on your toes (or on the edge of your couch if you prefer), use your spells and abilities to take out your enemies alone or with a friend. In Divinity you will be able to explore the world of Rivellon by yourself or in co-op mode where you will share your couch and the screen. Stick together and you will be on one screen, wander apart and you will automatically be moved to a split screen! For more info check out www.larian.com
Bigmoon Entertainment is bringing Demons Age to the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC in 2016. Demons Age is a turn-based, fantasy, role playing game developed by the people who brought you Trapped Dead: Lockdown and Space Empires V: Battle for Artemis.
In Demons Age you will set up your character and be able to hire a cast of diverse characters to help you in your adventure. You can play a single character or in party mode. Level up by following the main story, solving puzzles, and performing side quests. Watching the video you can see that it has that classic dungeon crawler feel that makes me reminisce about my days playing D&D. So if you want to don’t want to roll your dice for your Listen check find out more info at http://www.demonsage.com
After the phenomenal three episodes of Telltales “The Walking Dead: Season 2”, it was about time that we experienced our 'breather' episode. Just like any form of episodic storytelling, there comes a time where events seem to slow down in order for the audience to catch their breath.
Although this episode has turned down the excitement factor a notch, that doesn't mean to say that we weren't treated to a lack of drama. The stakes were as high as ever for Clementine and her rag tag group, but for the majority of Episode 4 we were experiencing the calmer side to the zombie apocalypse with intermittent bursts of violence and difficult choices.
Throughout the episode, we experienced Clementine dealing with loss once more. Telltale has become renowned for making each death feel purposeful to the narrative as well as the consequences. As an audience we become attached to the supporting cast, which in turn makes each decision all the more gut wrenching and saddening.
However, 'Amid the Ruins' fails to capitalise on the successes of previous episodes, and manages to make each consequence feel cheap and lacking any form of emotional depth. It's almost as if the writers realised the supporting cast was too big for their story, and used Episode 4 as an excuse to get rid of the extra baggage.
Characters were dropping like flies left and right in rapid succession. So rapid in fact, that there was hardly any time to dwell on the choices you made; and in some instances the characters vanished off screen, leaving you feeling unsatisfied and previous episode choices hollow and unnecessary.
Moving on from the unsatisfying take on character deaths, we see Clementine spending the majority of the episode with the unknown character Jane who we met in Episode 3. Through Jane we get a chance to witness the pros (and cons) of surviving as an individual, which brings up the question of how important it is to have family in this new world. Should Clementine be bogged down with the groups responsibilities or take the route of Jane? It's almost as if Jane is what Clementine would be if she went alone and turned her back on the group.
The majority of tensions and conflicts that arose in previous episodes were disappointingly swept under the rug as the group began to focus on new problems. Unfortunately, that made me question whether or not my previous choices made an impact and dampened the idea that previous decisions would effect future episodes.
On top of these minor inconveniences throughout Episode 4, there were some brilliant scenes between Clementine and specific characters. One such scene revolving around suicide and the other concerning the decision to leave someone behind. Again as brilliant as these scenes were, they were never fully resolved and instead swept under the rug and replaced with new dilemmas.
Overall, Episode 4 of Telltales 'The Walking Dead: Season 2' was a lacklustre effort from the storytellers. Previous decisions and consequences felt useless and evaporated without resolution, only to be replaced with new problems that Clementine had little influence on.
These nagging problems overshadowed some key scenes that proved once again how brilliant the writers of the game are. Although the suspense from the previous episodes has all but fizzled out, I am still hopeful that the Season 2 finale will do the game justice.
The next Mass Effect video game is shroud in mystery
Fast forward to the present and it appears as if die-hard Mass Effect video game fans may be ready to give Bioware a second chance. Bioware, on the other hand, seems to be slow to reciprocate. It looks as if Bioware is taking its time to create, design, produce and ultimately deliver the next Mass Effect video game. To date, little is known about the next Mass Effect video game except there will be a whole new set of video game characters which will exclude Commander Shepard.
Bioware has announced they will be taking it slow on the Next Mass Effect to bring a good, quality video game to you, the video game player, instead of rushing to develop another video game. The company has also been relatively quiet about the storyline, the characters, type of characters, i.e., aliens, astronauts, etc. The two facts known about the next Mass Effect video game is that it will not be called Mass Effect 4 and that Commander Shepard will not be featured anywhere at all in the game. However, the location of the video game story as well as the action will be set in the same Mass Effect universe from the previous video games in the series.
Commander Shepard will not not make an appearance in the Next Mass Effect video game.
Just how slow is Bioware taking to make the next Mass Effect game? The answer is "very slow." Progress is being made -- but it is being done at a relatively slow pace. A few days ago, it was reported there were new graphics created for the next Mass Effect video game by developers within the span of about five hours. Of course we were not privy to look at these creations which could be due to a number of reasons. One of the main reasons I think Bioware is hush-hush about the next Mass Effect video game is they are taking their time to search for or create a story that will resonate as favorable with video game players as the former Mass Effect video game did -- sans the poor endings.
Until a name is revealed for the next Mass Effect, Bioware appears to not mind in the meantime, if the upcoming video game is called the next Mass Effect -- just do not call it Mass Effect 4. According to Bioware Chief Yanick Roy -- calling the new game Mass Effect 4 would be a disservice, since the Mass Effect triology is complete, and a new story will emerge. In other words, it would be misleading to name the next video game, Mass Effect 4 when it will not be a sequel for the previous video game.
Commander Shepard will go; Mass Effect universe will stay
The latest rumor regarding the next Mass Effect video game is Bioware may do a reveal at the June, 2014 E3 Expo while others say nothing will happen until around 2015. With E3 just a few months away and if Bioware makes an announcement-- hopefully more will be revealed about the next Mass Effect video game, including when it will be released, as well as its name.
The next Mass Effect video game will be rated M for Mature and is expected to be playable on the previous and next generation video game consoles. As a side note -- given the volatile atmosphere and competitive nature of the video game market, I would not be surprised if Bioware decides to speed up its production and complete the next Mass Effect video game -- sooner than later.
For a while, I had really wanted to play the Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and got a digital copy of the Game of the Year edition on PSN Christmas sale for 7 dollars. I thought I was going be playing an action/adventure game, in the same style as the Batman: Arkham game series, with the added game play features of being able to do in depth plots against enemies or even turn them to my side. What I ended up with was a great game that made me question a number of things that I hadn’t really considered. It made me rethink my thoughts on how society, and myself, look at what is deemed justifiable in dealing with conflicts with people, or creatures in this case, that are different from what is put forth as normal. I had to look at myself, and how I felt about what I was willing to do to further my own agendas in the game world. In the end, as corny as it sounds, the game wasn’t just another game to me, but a mirror I had to look through, and make a judgement about the type of person I was and the real world I lived in.
First, let’s back up and explain what the game is and how it works. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game that takes place in the J. R. R. Tolkien created universe from his books including “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”. It has combat similar to the games belonging to the Batman: Arkham series that have event driven actions like being able to block or dodge when enemies are about to attack you. In the game, you play as Talion, a Ranger who, with his brethren, guards the gates of Mordor, a region ruled by the Dark Lord Sauron and his army of evil minions including creatures known as Uruks. Talion’s backstory is that he was made to become a Ranger and sent to guard this gate, with his wife and son in tow, because he murdered a man that attacked his wife. After years of this, the gate is attacked by an army of Uruks led by a commander known as The Dark Hand. Talion and his family are captured, and used in a ritual where they are murdered to bring back the spirit of an Elven Lord named Celebrimbor. Talion awakens in Mordor in a state of being alive, but is unable to die with Celebrimbor inhibiting his body. Celebrimbor is a Ring Wraith, a being with all types of spirit powers, and, being in Talion’s body, allows Talion to use these powers. Talion swears vengeance against The Dark Hand for the deaths of his family and himself, but has an army of Uruks in Mordor deal with before he can get close to him.
The game’s main mechanic is that the evil army of Uruks has loose groups within it that are run by Captains, and these Captains can have Warchiefs above them. I’ll refer to both as targets. These targets can have attributes that give them positive abilities or exploitable weaknesses. The attributes can be combined in procedurally generated targets to allow things like one to be invincible to stealth attacks and weak to ranged attacks while another can be invincible to both and have the ability to track you down anywhere in the game world. This means that each can be uniquely different from each other, and their strengths and weakness are unknown to you until you dig up information on them or directly face them. You gather information on targets though finding specific human slaves of the Uruks that act as informants or finding a cowardly type of Uruk designated as “Worms” who you can interrogate. If you face a target without knowing this information, it can easily lead you into another mechanic in the game involving failure. If you die in the game, your enemies get stronger. If you are killed by a regular NPC enemy or targets, they can be promoted to a higher rank, making them stronger with new strengths and less weaknesses, and making the game harder overall. This leads to a very satisfying game loop of getting information on a target, planning your attack on them, and carrying it out within a mission directly connected to the target or finding and executing it on them in the game world. It turns into an actual gameplay loop when the game generates new targets to replace the ones you’ve eliminated. The loop starts to wear thin around the middle of the game, until it introduces the Branding mechanic. This changes the game, and takes it to a new incredible level. For me, it gave me pause and made me question things that I had never really thought about before.
The Branding abilities allow you take some form on control of enemies. Branded regular NPC enemies are not hostile to you, attack other enemies that are attacking you, and can be given simple commands or be acted upon by other connected abilities. Branding targets causes any enemies under their control to act the same towards you and allows you to give them actual commands like attack another target, give you full information on another target, or get initiated into the service of a higher target in order to later betray them to you. These can open up missions around them where you use the branded target against the intended target. The game is transformed from a tactical murderfest to strategic war chess. You go from killing any that moves to protecting valuable branded targets, holding back in battle to make sure you aren’t killing new allies, deciding which of one of your pals to send against a target, and setting up your own hierarchy of generals to suppress other targets from gaining power. This is where the questions started coming in.
Uruks are, by their nature, murderous psychopaths that hate and scheme against each other and will kill your character, Talion, without a second thought. Talion has no love for them either, even the ones that are working with him of their own free will to further both their goals. I had no problem with any of this since video games and popular fantasy based media have always taught me that evil things need to die for the greater good. I slaughtered them with impunity and usually enjoyed it. Branding, in the game’s story, is the ability to alter an enemy to be enslaved to your will. The option was more beneficial than murder, so I had no problem with it at first. When I have heard people talk about this game, they speak of having some affection towards their favorite branded target, but that was not my experience. It was when I had to protect branded targets that were of strategic value to me before sending them out on dangerous missions that the nameless Uruks started being more than fodder. I started seeing them as people I was dealing with in the game, and that I was using them as if they were slave labor. I began to wonder if I was any better than them. Uruks, in the game, employed human slaves to do their manual labor, and I had been willing to slice open the slave masters for their crimes with righteous fury. I was supposed to be the good guy but started to feel like I was crossing a line.
In both the real world and the game story, there is the idea of using the enemy’s weapon against them. In the game, the weapon is the Uruks, who are represented as people created for evil intents, but they have the ability to reason and have some type of culture. The Uruks went from being generic game NPCs to a people that were made different by their origin and shaped by the makeshift society that was born of it. They were being used as throw away soldiers by their creator and I was doing the same when I had the power to do so. What made me different than the great evil I was facing? It led me to think about the nature of slavery for the purpose of eternal warfare and my predilection for killing earlier in the game, and wondered which was more merciful. Are all things truly fair in war especially for those in the middle of it? I started thinking about these things in reference to my own family background.
In reality, I am an almost 40 year old black man, who is a husband and father of three, living in the American South. I have memories of my long departed great grandmother telling me stories of picking cotton with her mother. She was born in the late 1800’s, a couple decades after the official end of slavery, but former slaves and their families still worked the cotton fields for low wages. That was all they knew how to do to make a living. It was arguably another form of slavery where a people were made to work for someone else’s benefit with little in it for themselves. This is the lens I looked at these questions through. Slavery, in all the forms it has taken throughout human history, is an abomination of the combining of ideas that there is a lesser people, race, or group that aren’t deserving of human compassion and that there is a need so great that the lesser must be used to satisfy it. That stuck in my mind as what I was willing to do to the Uruks. That was where some of the game themes end up going, from my perspective, but it is not the game that asked the questions, but me looking at myself for answers. I had to make the distinction of what the game was conveying and what I was getting out of it.
For others who played this game, they will probably see things different from me, ask different questions, and get different answers if they bother contemplating any of this at all. I can give you what I took away from all of this, my personal opinion of it and where I ended up. I really liked this game, and did a 100% completion playthrough of it. While the game presented an interesting setup that gave birth to thought provoking questions, it did not ask the questions nor answer them. I don’t hold it against it and I take anything away from the great experience it gave me. My parting feeling on it is that the game should be played for what it was, but the player should be the one to keep these questions in mind and remember the lessons that human history has taught us. In the game, I finished it by killing and enslaving the Uruks as I needed to be successful, and let the game be the game. In reality, I came to the conclusion that the ideas of enslaving people for whatever reason, greater good or otherwise, makes you just as much a villain as anyone else. My hope in writing this article is that gamers, when playing this or any other game, will be willing look deeper into the themes that they are presented, and discern the true realities of what it is truly delving into. You just might find that the game’s great idea might be based on one of humanity’s worst.
SMH - Shaking my head about the "third" party funding of the Shenmue 3 kickstarter which successfully ended on July 17, 2015. If you haven't heard, Sony is the "third" party. Yes -- I get that Shenmue 3 was a long awaited video game, and yes, I understand the ultimate goal is to get full funding of a video game to make sure the video game actually comes to fruition. What I do not get is a video game that garnered over $6 million dollars while at the same time having the financial backing of a major company like Sony.
Call me naive, but I thought the purpose of a kickstarter was to be the primary funding vehicle to ensure there is enough money to follow through on making a video game or whatever project the funding was being asked for. I was unaware, until I did some research, that Shenmue 3 was guaranteed to be made regardless -- mainly because of the backing of a giant software/hardware company like Sony. It's news to me that a kickstarter can be used to subsidize the funds a company already has earmarked for the game. Since that company is Sony, I'm sure the amount funded for Shenmue 3 is in the millions.
Let's talk numbers. The requested amount for the Shemue 3 kickstarter was $2 million. The kickstarter's goal was reached when over $6 million was raised at its conclusion. It was indicated the game would be produced if only $2 million was raised; however, if $10 million dollars were raised, there would be more of an "open world" for the Shenmue 3 video game. It's my understanding some gamers and backers of the kickstarter wanted to know more specifics about what the funds would be used for; however, this information was not provided. This nondisclosure did not seem to negatively impact the funds raised for Shenmue 3 during the kickstarter. In fact, Shenmue 3 broke records by being the first video game to raise the largest amount of money within 8 1/2 hours of the kickstarter being announced.
So just what was Sony's part in the funding, other than guaranteeing the game would be produced? Well, when the Shenmue 3 video game is completed, it will be playable on its gaming system -- the PlayStation 4 as well as the PC. Sony is also the publisher of the video game. Given its deep pockets, Sony has stated that additional funds will be provided to market the video game for its PlayStation 4 video game system.
Even though it was not specifically stated in the kickstarter that Sony is involved in the funding, the partnership of Ys Net (developer) and Sony was mentioned during an interview with Sony's Adam Boyles. It was also inferred the kickstarter was used as a means to guage the level or range of interest for a Shenmule 3 video game to be produced.
A question that begs to be asked and answered is how much money did Sony provide to ensure Shenmue 3 was made. For now, mum's the word since, to date, Sony has not divulged the amount. I'm sure this amount is and will be sizeable.
My thoughts are with all of the other hardworking developers who may have dreamed of having a kickstarter, or who may have even had one; however, were not given the extra boost of being backed and funded from a multi-billion dollar company like Sony. My advice to these developers is that even if a strong backing from a large company for your video game is not forthcoming, continue making exciting games that will be of interest to gamers on a large scale. In other words, build a better mousetrap, I mean -- build a better video game, and the gamers will fund your project, maybe even to level of success experienced by the developers of the Shenmue 3 video game.
Shenmue 3 is scheduled to be released December 2017.