Video Game Review: Back to the Future: The Game

Details: Released in 2010. Played it on the PC. Purchased for about five dollars. Five episodes in total that took about two hours each to beat.

When you hear the name Telltale Games (and know a little about video games) you think about games like the Walking Dead. You think about games with branching plot lines, meaningful choices that change major plot points in the game and cause alternate endings. Back to the Future: The Game is not one of those games. You need to remember that this game predates The Walking Dead game. Back to the Future: The Game is a very traditional adventure game that follows a single, linear plot line. Fortunately, that plot line is decent.

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Video Game Review: Heroes of the Storm

Details: Released in 2015. For PC only. Requires an internet connection. Don’t know how many hours I’ve played since Blizzard doesn’t show that information. My player profile is level sixteen.

I’ve played games in the genre of Heroes of the Storm for a long time. I first started over a decade ago with the first Dota game which was just a used map settings map in Warcraft III. The next game I tried out was League of Legends. I went into this game hoping for something new, some new twist on the mechanics established in Dota. What I found was an inferior clone of Dota. While League of Legends was still better than Heroes of Newerth (which was almost an exact clone of Dota), League of Legends introduced some new ideas, relabeled some existing ideas, and took out a lot of the mechanics established in Dota. In League of Legends, I did not find a new experience nor did I find progress. I found a money-grubbing Dota clone with less strategy, less complexity, and what was overall a lesser game.

Now, years later, I’ve replayed League of Legends and, though there’s some progress, League of Legends still strikes me as an inferior game to what is now known as Dota 2. Furthermore, it fails to push the genre into new territory and offer an improvement or at least a distinction from what Dota is. However, where League of Legends fails, Heroes of the Storm succeeds. Heroes of the Storm is a sufficiently different experience so as to fill a need in this genre of video games that is not filled by any other game.

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Video Game Review: League of Legends

Details: Released in 2009 but is updated and patched periodically. For the PC. Free to play, though it will take time or real money to unlock everything. Don’t know how many hours I’ve played, but I’m level thirty and I’ve unlocked around twenty heroes. They don’t display hours played.

I’ve played League of Legends before and I decided to return to it to refresh my memory. In general, it’s a similar game to Dota 2. However, if you’ve invested the requisite hundred hours in either game, the two games are obviously different. This review will mostly be a comparison between the two games.

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Video Game Review: Dota 2

Details: Initially released in 2013, but constantly updated and patched. I have almost 1600 hours clocked into this game. You can play for free through Steam platform on the PC. Current patch is 7.06c. Internet connection is required.

A while back I wrote a lengthy post on Dota 2, but I never gave it a review. A few years have passed and I think it’s about time I gave it a score. Given the constant patches coming out, I’ll try to go a little into the current state of the game. I also plan to write reviews for the other MOBA’s where I’ll go into what differentiate each game from the others, but since this is the first MOBA review, I won’t really do too much of that here.

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Video Game Review: Hearthstone

Details: Released on the PC and mobile devices. Originally released in 2014, but paid expansions are released periodically. Not really sure how many hours I’ve played since Blizzard doesn’t show that information in their client.

Hearthstone is a free to play online trading card game. Two players play against each other, summoning monsters and casting spells. When one player is out of life points, the other player wins. It’s very reminiscent of Magic: The Gathering, but so are pretty much all other card games in the genre.

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Video Game Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Game of the Year Edition

Details: Originally released in 2015. Purchased through http://www.gog.com and their game client. Purchased for about $25. Played on the PC. The Game of the Year Edition comes with all subsequently released downloadable content, including the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. Spent about a hundred and ten hours in the base game, around thirty hours in the Hearts of Stone expansion, and about forty hours in the Blood and Wine expansion. Total time spent in the game: about one hundred and eighty hours.

No spoilers, as usual. 

Now that I’ve played this game, I can understand why this game is so beloved. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does not reinvent the wheel. It does not push some new kind of game. It is an open world, action role-playing game in a time with many, many similar games like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, The Legend of Zelda, and the Batman Arkham series. What Witcher 3 does do is that it pushes the genre of open world games forward, improving on almost every aspect of the genre and producing a game that can be considered essential if you are a video game lover.

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Video Game Review: Terraria

Details: Released in 2011. Available for pretty much every electronic system I think. Played it on the PC. Purchased on Steam for $5.00. I’ve seen it around ten dollars and as low as $2.50. I’ve spent over two hundred sixty hours playing this game and will likely spend even more time. The most recent version of the game I played was version 1.3.4.4. There have been content patches in the past, but it’s unclear if that will continue in the future.

I’ve done it. I’ve finally done it. After a week of playing the game, I’ve finally managed to beat the Moon Lord — in addition to every other boss in the game — in Expert difficulty. However, that only took me about a week’s time to do. That does not account for the other two hundred hours I’ve spent in the game screwing around, exploring, and realizing all my crazy building ideas.

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Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto Online

Details: I’m not sure how many hours I’ve played of the Online part, but total time spent including with the single player is about one hundred and fifty hours. At least fifty of those hours were spent in the Online part. Played on the PC. I purchased Grand Theft Auto V a while ago for $35.00. Grand Theft Auto Online came with it. A lot of additional content has been released since the game came out. It’s unclear if more content updates will be released.

I wrote a review for the single player portion of this game a while ago and I’ve finally played enough of the online component to give an opinion.

Grand Theft Auto Online is an online multiplayer game where players can inhabit and play in Los Santos (the fictional city from the single player) with others over the internet. It comes with Grand Theft Auto V.

Grand Theft Auto Online is essentially a free to play game. It is largely funded by micro transactions. They sell in-game, virtual hats and clothes and cars and boats for in-game money. You can buy in game money with real money from their website or your local video game retailer in the form of Shark Cards.

The good part about this is that after the release of the game, Grand Theft Auto Online has released pretty consistent content updates since and they are all free for everyone who owns a copy of Grand Theft Auto V. Usually, subsequent content updates are marketed as downloadable content and given a price. That’s not the case here. The downside is that all the really cool items that you’d really like to own (e.g. a fast car or a new property) cost a fortune. The game is situated to be fun enough to keep playing, but annoying enough to tempt players into spending real money on in-game currency. This gives the game that shitty, Candy Crush-esque feel. It’s a long, time-consuming grind to achieve any kind of progress in the game. An additional negative is the rampant hacking/cheating present which further impedes enjoyment of the game.

There are a lot of things to do in Grand Theft Auto Online, but most of it is derivative of everything in the single player and short-lived (after playing most things once, you’ll never want to play it again). The only things that I think are worth mentioning are the races, the heists, and the free roaming.

Racing in a Grand Theft Auto game is almost common sense and being able to race other players is fun. With the addition of stunts and a battle mode with rockets and other power ups, the game feels a lot more like Mario Kart than a traditional Grand Theft Auto game.

I loved the Heists in this game, but it was disappointing that there are only five and that it looks unlikely more will ever be added. Each heists generally consists of a few setup missions and then the heist itself, which is a big, multi-part mission where each player will be required to cooperate and perform a distinct function in order to complete. The best and worst part of these missions is that cooperation is essential, which is very difficult to find when you’re playing with some random players over the internet who don’t give a shit about each other.

The best part of this game is that it realizes a dream that Grand Theft Auto fans have had for a long time: we get to inhabit the same city with other players. We can help each other, hurt each other (usually hurt), drive, shoot, or just screw around, all within a persistent virtual world. It’s just fun to be in a virtual world that allows you to do whatever you want while others play in that world with you.

Overall, GTA Online is a fun little distraction that can be fun for hours if you let it. The biggest flaw and best feature of GTA Online is that many of the most fun aspects of the game require a preexisting group of friends who own a copy of the game and will play with you. Otherwise, GTA Online is kind of short-lived and will get boring fast. As a standalone game, GTA Online isn’t great. As an online game bundled together with the Grant Theft Auto V single player, the game is great. I don’t recommend buying Grand Theft Auto V for the Online component alone. I do recommend the purchase if you want to enjoy the single player and already have a group of friends who own Grand Theft Auto V and want to play GTA Online with you.

Score: 6.8/10

Video Game Review: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Details: Released in 2014. I purchased the Game of the Year Edition (comes with all downloadable content) for the PC for $6.99. The main game took me about nineteen hours to beat. The Lord of the Hunt DLC took about two hours to beat. The Bright Lord DLC took about three hours to beat.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a Lord of the Rings story that takes place before the movies. It concerns how the Ring was forged and who forged it.

Gameplay is a combination of the Batman Arkham series and Assassin’s Creed. Combat is similar to the free flow combat established in the Arkham Series. Stealth is also similar. There are towers to discover and lots of collectibles like from Assassin’s Creed.

What differentiates this game from the Batman games and Assassin’s Creed are two things: the Nemesis system and the branding system. The Nemesis system is a persistent enemy system where enemy bosses hold positions in the enemy army and remember encounters with you. For instance, say you come up against an enemy boss (he will have a name and an introduction). You fight him, but lose and die. That enemy boss will now become stronger, perhaps being promoted, and will remember you the next time you cross paths. He will even insult your death the last time. It’s not revolutionary, but it is really fun and gives you an incentive to get revenge on these guys. On the other hand, let’s say you’re someone who never loses their fights. In that case, it’s still fun to go around killing lieutenants, captains, and everyone else up the persistent hierarchy of the enemy army.

Even with the nemesis system, I found the game somewhat boring however. That changed about halfway through the game when the Branding system unlocked. The Branding system is essentially mind control. Halfway through the game you unlock the ability to mind control enemy units and make them fight for you. This mechanic also extends to enemy bosses. The result is that you can effectively take over the entire enemy army by branding all the enemy officers. This was really fun and I wish there was more of this in the game and more systems related to this, like taking over territory or something similar.

Voice acting is fine. The music was fine and what you’d expect from a game in the fantasy genre. Visuals were surprisingly good for a game a few years old. Animations looked good.

The art direction needed work. Most of the game takes place in Mordor, which means a lot of gray to look at. Halfway through you get to place with more vegetation, which meant lots of green to look at. It is still a fairly unappealing landscape to look at however. There are no cities, details, or anything that would add color to the environment and immersion. It’s all just a big area filled with nothing but enemies to fight. I can understand why most people would  be okay with that though since the game is mostly about killing orcs.

The DLC was fun, but I wouldn’t buy it individually. There are a lot of skins and other DLC, but only two that add story. Lord of the Hunt adds story and mostly concerns animals and riding and hunting them. The Bright Lord adds story and deals largely with the Branding system and allows you to control orcs and territory.

Overall, I enjoyed the game and recommend it if you liked the combat from the Batman Arkham series, like climbing towers and collecting things from the Assassin’s Creed series, like Lord of the Rings, and can get the game for under ten dollars.

Score: 6.8/10

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy IX

Details: Originally released in 2000 for the Sony Playstation. Purchased for $10.00 on Steam and played on the PC. Played for about fifty hours.

Many years ago when the most recent Final Fantasy game was Final Fantasy X, I asked my cousin which of the previous Final Fantasy games was his favorite (he’d played all the prior games). His surprising response was Final Fantasy IX, not Final Fantasy VII. Years later, I now get to see what he was so crazy about.

Final Fantasy IX is an old video game and a classic example of a Japanese role-playing game. Although there are some mini-games and puzzles, gameplay consists largely of active time battles. What generally happens is that there are areas where random battles occur (like a dungeon) and areas where they do not. When the character you control walks into one of these battle areas and a battle occurs, you then enter a separate screen where the characters you control take turns attacking, defending, casting spells, or using items to defeat and enemy. Instead of being turn based, the battles take place sort of in real-time in that a gauge is constantly filling. When it fills completely, you get to take an action. Then the gauge empties and you wait for it to fill again so you can take another action. This system is called the active time battle system and is present in a lot of Final Fantasy games. The characters you control in battle can level up and each plays a different role with different abilities and spells to cast. It’s like any role-playing game in that regard.

Like Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII, the game is divided into four acts/parts. At the time, the games were divided onto four data discs so it made sense to do it that way since you had to change discs as you progressed through the game. Accordingly, the world of the game generally changed each time you entered a new act/part and new quests would appear accordingly with developments in the story.

As with many role-playing video games, the weakest part of the game is the gameplay. It is still fun to level your characters and become more powerful and see the animations for new spells, but the primary motivator in a role playing game is its story. The story here, as judged by modern day standards, isn’t terrible for a video game. If you love classic Japanese RPG’s, then you will likely love this game far more than someone who doesn’t.

The premise is this: Zidane and a theater troupe filled with miscreants is hired to kidnap the princess of kingdom. This leads to a chain of events that require Zidane and friends he meets along the way to go on an adventure towards saving the world.

It’s a lengthy story and took me around fifty hours to get through. It’s also a story the Final Fantasy franchise is known for and the kind of story that fans of the series have come to love. Another aspect about the story and this world you get to explore is the mixture of magic and technology. It’s a fantasy story with many elements of a science fiction as well. This is likely one of the main reasons why nerds of the highest order have loved these classic Final Fantasy games.

Visually, this game looks pretty bad. I’m playing on a 1080p monitor and it’s clear that instead of increasing the resolution of the textures, they just stretched them out. The result is a game where most things are very pixelated and it’s hard to make a determination of whether this game looks better or worse than the original version on Playstation. Still, I learned to get used to it and enjoyed the game regardless.

The music in this game is great. This game is one of the last few games that Nobuo Uematsu (longtime composer of the Final Fantasy series) has fully scored. I really enjoyed a lot of the melodies here and, as usual, a lot of these memorable songs stuck with me after the game ended.

Overall, a fun game, though not the best looking. It’s old. I would not recommend this game to anyone though. I would recommend it to someone who loves the Final Fantasy series (specifically Final Fantasy VII) and to someone who loves classic, Japanese role-playing video games. Otherwise, I think you can skip this game.

Score: 6/10