Video Game Review: Borderlands 2: Game of the Year Edition

Details: Originally released in 2012. I purchased the Game of the Year Edition (doesn’t include all DLC) on Steam for PC for $8.80. I then purchased all five Headhunter DLC’s (all extra story content are in the Game of the Year Edition and the Headhunter DLC’s) for around $4.50 and the Ultimate Vault Hunter Pack 2 for another $2.50. In total, that’s about $16.00. I spent about seventy-five hours playing through the game.

I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings on Borderlands 2. Sometimes, the game is really fun. More times than necessary though, this game is freaking boring. So much so that I’m not sure I’m going to ever play a Borderlands game again. I haven’t played Borderlands 1 or the Pre-Sequel and I know there’s no Borderlands 3, but that’s probably in the pipeline.

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Video Game Review: Back to the Future: The Game

Details: Released in 2010. Played it on the PC. Purchased for about four 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: 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

Video Game Review: Undertale

Details: Beat the game in around eleven hours. Played it on PC. Purchased the game on sale from Steam for about $5. No voice acting, all text based.

Undertale is an independently published video game, funded on kickstarter.com, and was centered on the idea of a traditional role-playing game where no one has to get hurt.

Firstly, the visuals need to be addressed. If you are intolerant of the look of old, 8 bit pixellated graphics, then this game is not for you. Watch the trailer to get an idea of what you’re in for. If you can tolerate or enjoy these kinds of graphics, then I thoroughly recommend this game, especially at the five dollar price point. Furthermore, this game isn’t always a true 8 bit visual experience all the time. The game plays with your expectations and sometimes does things with the visuals that an 8 bit game should not be capable of.

Speaking of overturning expectations, the story does a great job surprising the player over and over again. The premise is this: you are a child who has fallen into down a hole into the kingdom of monsters. You have to make your way through the kingdom of monsters and get back to the surface. There are a lot of interesting characters in the game. Despite a lot of dramatic moments, this game is mostly a funny game and draws from many places for its humor, like from internet humor.

There are multiple endings to the game depending on how you play the game. As per the core idea of this game, the primary choice to make is whether you want to hurt your enemies or spare them. I’m not going to go into it further because there are a lot of twists and surprises in this game. If you are unsure whether you want to play this game, I will write a minor, easily missed spoiler at the bottom of this post which will give you a taste of the surprises in store for you if you play this game. I enjoyed the story greatly and found the ending I got surprising and satisfying.

The music in this game is one of the best parts of this game. It is some of the greatest 8 bit soundtracks I have ever heard, perhaps even the greatest. The music is surprisingly complex and catchy for this kind synthesized soundtrack.

The weakest part of this game, like in most role-playing video games, is the gameplay. Gameplay consists mostly of puzzles and combat. Puzzles vary, but were not too difficult to me. Combat consists  of controlling a heart-shaped icon and dodging obstacles that come at you. Think the Space Invaders video game, except expanded. This takes that idea of dodging icons and ramps it up much further. Even still, it’s kind of boring and difficult at the same time. I died a lot of times in combat and found myself frustrated at times. Sometimes, I just wanted to quit the game because not only was the combat hard, it was boring and repetitive.

Overall, this was a fun game with an engaging story. I would recommend Undertale if you can tolerate the old-fashioned visuals and can get the game for five dollars or less.

Score: 6.8/10

 

 

 

SPOILERS BELOW

So when you first start the game, you’re found by a motherly, talking cow who takes care of you. When you try to leave her house, she obstructs your way and you have to fight her. If you figure out how, you can spare her and not kill her. The first time I fought her, I just killed her. I felt bad about it afterwards and reloaded my save file and figured out how to spare her instead. In my second play through and before I fought her the second time, I took a nap in a bed and dreamed about how I killed her the first time, something that did not happen in the prior save file. After sparing the talking cow, I encountered a talking flower who confronted me and told me that he saw me kill the talking cow in my last playthrough. He asked if I thought no one had seen it and if I had thought I got away with it by reloading my save. The flower went on about the flower had a similar power to save and rewrite reality, similarly to how I had reloaded my save file. This encounter freaked me the hell out and changed how I played the rest of the game. What’s amazing to me was that if a player did not kill the cow and reload the game, then they would likely have never had this encounter or at least had different dialogue when they met the talking flower.

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins

Details: Played on the PC and through Steam with a Xbox 360 controller. I bought the game and the season pass (that means all the DLC) for about ten dollars from http://www.bundlestars.com. Took me about twenty six hours to get through the game and the Cold, Cold Heart DLC. About twenty three hours were spent on the main game and three hours on the Cold, Cold Heart DLC. Important: there is no online multiplayer. I read somewhere that the servers that supported multiplayer went down. If you buy this game, you are only paying for the single player portion. There were some minor bugs.

I originally dismissed this game and was never going to play it because it was the one Batman game that was not made by Rocksteady. After playing through Batman: Arkham Knight and hearing all the references that were made to this game and that Arkham: Origins is canon, I changed my mind.

This is a good game and it holds up really well despite it’s age. My biggest mistake was to play this game after playing Arkham Knight. Arkham Knight is undoubtedly a better game; it looks better, plays better, story… is a little better. So when I started this game, it was undeniable that this game looked worse, felt worse, and just lacked what Arkham Knight had. However, after a few hours, I got over and really enjoyed the game.

Gameplay is derivative, if you’ve played any of the Batman: Arkham games, you’ll know what your getting into. In fact, gameplay is almost identical to Arkham City. The same gadgets are used as are the enemy types your fight. If your unfamiliar with the Arkham series, gameplay is divided into a few types. First, there’s stealth, where you try to clear and area of enemies without being detected. Then there’s the free flow combat which generally consists of trying to dodge, counter, and chain together enough attacks so that you can land your finishing attack. Boss fights generally consist of a combination of combat and stealth. There are some puzzles and platforming.

There are also investigation portions where you investigate a crime scene and try to recreate the crime. These portions of the game are minor, yet what I think this game does better and more often than any other game in the Arkham series. I think it often gets glossed over that Batman is a detective and it’s a lot of fun to try and solve crime mysteries and track down criminals. It adds color to the game to see Batman trying to solve crimes that are not necessarily of the super villain variety. Unfortunately, the crimes you solve are fairly repetitive and uniform.

Visually, the game looks great. The art direction is fine, although it’s not as detailed or filled in as a Rocksteady Arkham game. If you’re not as obsessive of a fan of Rocksteady as I am, you probably won’t even notice it so don’t worry about it.

The music is great. Loved all the tracks.

The story is surprisingly good. I was expecting something half assed, but it goes into a lot of Batman lore. It started a little slow, but built up and it was fun battling and interacting with the characters of this fictional world. The only nitpick I would point out is the reliance of pre-rendered cut scenes versus using the in game engine. I prefer Rocksteady’s method of showing off how good the game looks by using the in game engine for cut scenes. It’s also less jarring.

Furthermore, while I did enjoy the story, some of the big reveals/surprises were spoiled to me by various websites. I’d advise not spoiling the game for yourself if you intend on playing it. There are some plot twists and surprises which are worth preserving if you can.

The voice actors all do a great job. After three Arkham games, you just come to expect to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill every time one of these games come out. That they are not present here is a little jarring. However, the lack of Kevin Conroy makes some narrative sense in that this is a prequel; Batman is younger so it kind of makes sense he sounds different.

Score: 7/10 I had fun with this game, especially since I only spent around ten dollars for it. I recommend it if you like the Batman Arkham games and can get it for around the same price.