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Abyss Odyssey Review (PC)

I have no idea what to think of this game. It's really weird, but not in any quantifiable way. Or at least not one that I can easily verbalize. It is so janky with everything it is trying to do that it is infuriating to play, but at the same time I can't just dismiss it as some crap game that no one should play. I'm so confused right now.

Abyss Odyssey is about a wizard. This wizard is so powerful that he fell asleep and created the eponymous Abyss, this huge network of connected rooms filled with monsters, treasures, and weird black and white levels that come right the fuck out of nowhere. He also created Katrien, as well as the Ghost Monk and the Pincoya, who you will play as. You must journey through the Abyss to wake up the wizard and put an end to his nightmare. Along the way you'll find pages from the wizard's journal which will tell more of the story and maybe explain some of things that happen because of the wizard's dream.

This game is very stingy with information on how to play it. One of the biggest aspects of the game is its fighting system. If you've ever played a fighting game then you know that a good training mode can really help you enjoy the game more. At least for me it can. In this game we get a single page with the buttons you use for attacks that you have to navigate to inside of a menu that's in another menu. You're never told that holding the stick forward, up, down, or not at all will change the type of basic attack you do. In a way, this can be very good. Having tutorials out the ass on a game can be really irritating, especially if it's a style of game that you basically know the controls for, and it's something new then it's rewarding to be able to figure out the controls on your own. But this is a fighting game style system, where knowing what the buttons do is crucial to being able to play it.

Even when it does tell you information it can sometimes be misleading. When you die in the game, you're given a chance to come back. You immediately respawn as a soldier, which is a different soldier depending on who you're playing as, and if you can make it back to an altar you will be revived at full health and can continue on. The text box that told me this appeared when I approached what I thought was the first altar. It had a floating stone mask that broke when I got near it, I could set a check point there, and configure my skills. Going through this area I died. I came back as a soldier and made a mad dash for the altar. When I got there, nothing happened. I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to get it to come back but I couldn't. So I moved on. Turns out there's a second kind of altar, and it's this one that lets you respawn. Why the hell would the note about respawning at altars appear at an altar you can't respawn at? With this other altar I also found a merchant who sold me weapons and potions and the like. He also had camp tokens. Camp tokens are what you use to set checkpoints at altars so when you die for realsies you start from there and not the starting town. I had no idea how to get my hands on one of these things and I didn't come across the merchant until my fourth or fifth attempt because I didn't know there even were merchants in this game. It didn't help that he blended into the background, though.

This is a problem that does carry to later in the game. As you go deeper into the Abyss the levels start to change. You start out in standard dark caves, but then you get ice levels and lava levels and plant levels. In the plant levels, stationary enemies that shoot poisonous barbs at you or launch vines out blend in with the environment. I cannot tell you how many times I'd be running down a path to all of a sudden realize one of these things was in front of me. And the poison barb plant thing keeps shooting at you so you could easily get to point where he gets to juggle you a bit by having you getting damaged by the poison, making you unable to dodge the next barb he shoots, which poisons you again.

Speaking of juggling, the combat system in this game is not great. It feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point where it almost feels unplayable. I mentioned earlier that the direction you're holding the stick affects what kind of attack you do. With Katrien, holding the stick forward makes you do a two hit combo, while not holding the stick in any direction is a three hit combo. But you have to come to a complete stop before it registers that you've let go of the stick. I would be running along and stumble into a random encounter with a group of enemies, which normally I hate because fuck random encounters but here I don't mind it because it doesn't interupt the flow of gameplay, and I would let go of the stick to do the three hit but if my character was still finishing the stop running animation she would do the two hit.

But even when you get the hang of that part of the combat it still feels weird. Any time I've gotten a combo higher than three was total luck and I could never recreate it. Cancelling, which is kind of a core part of fighting games in this day and age, is a special skill that you can deplete and have to wait for it to recharge. And you start out only being able to cancel once, so if you end using your cancel to dodge out of the way of an attack and you get hit anyway because the dodging in this game only works sometimes, you have wasted that cancel and now have to wait for it to recharge before you can cancel out of an attack again. It all feels so clunky and awkward, but at the same time weirdly engaging. Around my ninth tenth attempt I started to get into a rhythm and was actually doing pretty well. It was so bizarre, but I felt like I was starting to understand it. That eventually fell through and it went right back to being bad, but that feeling kept coming back.

I only ever felt that with Katrien, though. The Ghost Monk and the Pincoya I never understood. The characters, while the control the same, have different weapons and attack styles. Katrien uses one-handed swords and is quick than the others (I think). The Ghost Monk uses two-handed swords and is slower but stronger than the others. The Pincoya uses staff weapons which gives her more range than the others. I never felt like I was finally getting the Monk or the Pincoya. I would've needed to play hours and hours of them and I just didn't have the time or the interest.

All the characters also have a magic attack. It's the exact same for each of them and does the exact same thing. Once the mana meter is full they send out a ball of light that deals a lot of damage to anyone caught in it, and when they die their soul falls out. You can then collect one of these souls and turn into that enemy. Aside from bringing you back up to full health when you turn into them, I have no idea why you would want to do this. It's just another new move set you have to figure out.

This game was also sold on the platforming, and it feels as bad as the fighting without the benefit of the clarity I sometimes got. The turning is what really kills it for me. When you change the direction your character is moving or facing, it takes a bizarrely long time. Not that long, but long enough that you can notice it and really feel it. And you can only change direction while you're on foot. Once you're in the air, you have a decent amount of air control but you're always facing the same direction. So if you try to jump up a wall that's behind you, you have to wait for your character to turn around and then jump it. It's a small thing, but it's also a very important part of platforming to have a fluidity of movement. This doesn't feel fluid. It feels like a rusty system of gears.

Finally there are RPG elements. You earn XP to level up your character which unlocks new special attacks and skill points to unlock more cancels and level up your special attacks. It's pretty basic and doesn't add much for me. But with the RPG elements comes random weapon drops or finds, which don't make a whole lot of sense in game. Each of the three characters can only use one type of weapon, and they can't pick up other types. So it doesn't make a lot of sense when I'm playing as Katrien and every weapon I find is a two-handed weapon. If you were able to pick up these weapons and sell them to the merchant for gold that'd be one thing, but since I can't pick them up at all, let alone sell anything to the merchant, it makes no sense as to why they would be there.

Even with all of that bitching I just did, I find the game oddly okay. Yes, the fighting and platforming are very awkward, it's an awkward that you eventually accept. Yes, the game doesn't explain shit to you, but if you keep bashing your head into it over and over you'll figure out what most of it means. Add to that a premise I think is interesting and graphics that look fine, this is a game that I can't say is good but I just barely enjoyed it, too. Take that for what you will.

  • Published in PC

Review - Divinity: Original Sin [PC]

Growing up, I always felt western role-playing games on the PC were underrated. Maybe it's due to the fact that I was only two years old when Wasteland was released. Ten years later when I was enthusing about Baldur's Gate, most of my twelve-year-old buddies were busy anticipating the release of the next Final Fantasy game on console. I mean, yes, I love Japanese RPGs as much as the next gamer, but the communities for the computer games I grew up loving always seemed scarce or closed in by comparison.

Fast-forward to the current era of gaming where we have the introduction of Steam and crowd-funding websites, and a different picture is emerging. In an arena where consumers can have direct involvement and influence on the types of games they want to play, there has been a reemergence of these very games. And while the Divinity series of games may not span as far back as some others, they certainly have harkened to this earlier era of RPGs in their latest release Divinity: Original Sin.

The game was completed and enhanced through Kickstarter funding. Different aspects of gameplay were unlocked as levels of the funding were reached, and thanks to all of those who contributed, the game is intricate and vast. The self-published title from Larian Studios also runs on their own engine, complete with a tool kit for designing customized levels. While the game is available on Mac and coming soon for Linux, mods for the PC version are available and can be published through the Steam Workshop.

Divinity screenshot1

The first thing you'll want to do with the game is decide whether to play the campaign in single-player or drop in multi-player mode. Both modes require you to create two characters. You will choose the name, sex, appearance, portrait photo, and class for each character. Advanced players can mostly disregard the pre-built classes, as the Divinity gameplay allows fluid and complex class building. Don't feel like you must limit yourself to be strictly caster, ranged, or melee. Various items found in the game, along with perks, traits, and skills, allow you to reach outside of basic class structures. Customization is more involved than the RPGs the game emulates, but it's still more simplistic than a lot of modern RPGs. The game offers a variety of skin tones and hair styles, but sadly falls short in offering any variation in body type. Once you have your character looking stunning, it's time to give them a voice (three options per gender) and most interestingly, an AI personality. AI personalities, such as Loyal, Knight, or Rascal, are more than just clever fun for dialogue- they offer unique insight and development for your playable characters.

You start the game with only two characters, but you can add certain people you encounter to your party. You have the ability to change their gear and assign skill points, as well as control them in battle. However, they are still separate from your main characters, as you cannot speak for them. If you choose to play multi-player, LAN or internet connection are available for drop in/drop out gameplay. The person hosting the game can assign characters to those who join and also determine whether they can change certain aspects such as gear or skill points. I absolutely loved the simplicity of playing in multi-player. However, it would be great to have the option of more than two original characters for a team. Events in the game don't just happen to your characters, your characters also take time to reflect upon events and even their own actions. This is where the exciting addition of the AI personality really shines, allowing the player to create exchanges between their characters. The options chosen in many dialogue exchanges not only shape the character in the player's mind, but they also contribute to certain traits gained through gameplay. For example, if a player chooses kind options, they can receive the Compassionate trait, which gives them a bonus to critical hits. If a player chooses to be cruel, they can receive the Heartless trait, which increases their chances to hit while backstabbing.

Divinity screenshot2

Another unique aspect of the game is the bartering system. The game still offers vendors for particular items, but player purchases are not limited among them. Every person in the game offers not only a chance for better information and possible quests, but a selection of items they are also willing to trade. This is one of the ways that the game really emphasizes thorough exploration. And if talking to every person in the game isn't enough, there is also the option to take on the Pet Pal perk, which allows your character to speak with the various critters found throughout the game. Aside from humorous banter and the realization that the animals are more pleasant company than most of the humans, this perk can also help provide solid clues to solving quests and puzzles.

Talking to every creature great and small isn't the only thing that will take some time. Turn-based battles set the pace at self-determined and much slower than an action RPG, especially if you're playing multi-player. This, along with the ability to see rolls for each action, really give the game an old school tabletop feel. The battle system is quite easy to learn, which allows the player to focus on customization and tactics. With every move and attack costing action points, it's important for players to understand what each spell and skill can do. It's also vital to pay attention to the hit percentage that will pop up, along with the area of damage, since friendly fire is very possible and likely with certain magical and elemental attacks. The battle system here allows the player's inner strategist to really shine as they discover attack and elemental combinations. There are many barrels filled with water, oil, etc, but spell casters can also create elemental changes, such as rain. Use these abilities together to create poision gas clouds or electrically charged steam. The creative battle techniques are really what set this RPG apart not only from action RPGs, but also from other turn-based RPGs that place far less emphasis on atmosphere and status effect combinations.

The basic gameplay is straight-forward and great fun to explore, and once you've felt your way around most of the game (which will take many hours depending on how thorough you are) you might get the itch to take your creativity to the next level. Divinity: Original Sin does a fantastic job of merging the organic feel of tabletop with the best offerings of contemporary gaming technology. The next step in staying true to these roots is to allow players the ability to build levels within the game's engine. The engine is solid and provides for smooth gameplay even on less advanced set-ups, though my one small complaint is load times, which of course vary by computer. The Divinity Engine Toolkit is far more advanced than many level editors in other games of its ilk. As a player who loved to create levels in games like the original Warcraft games and Lode Runner, I had all the creative will, but very little of the modding and world editing advanced knowledge. Larian has provided many videos to help those who are newer to level editing on this scale. The step by step guidance was extremely helpful for me, and while building levels this way is definitely more complex and time consuming than in other games, it also creates a more detailed and personalized product.

Divinity screenshot3

Divinity: Original Sin is a sampling of some of the best offerings from both old and new schools. A fitting homage to the games I grew up playing, it also establishes an identity of its own and can be grouped in among the best of the genre. It's a fine example of what can be achieved when a good balance between a development/publishing team and players is created. Between all of the creative ways to construct in the game and the sprawling world to explore, the game brings apt innovation to an already solid genre.

SCORE: 9/10

  • Published in PC

Star Trek Online 4th Anniversary Event and Season 8.5

January 30 2014 was Star Trek Online's 4th year anniversary, and besides the fun and prizes normally included in an anniversary there will also be a release of an episode of Season 8.5 called “A Step between Stars” with actor Tim Russ starring as Admiral Tuvok. Season 8.5 will be introducing a Brand-new Ship Management System, new episodes, a new PVP arena, and so much more. There will be three rewards you can receive by playing episode “A step between Stars” three times or you can receive a single one for playing through once. On the first playthrough you will be rewarded with 400 Qmendations. The Qmendations can be used for the Anniversary event reputation project.

 

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