Review: Punch Club

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Sometimes it’s good to take a break from the normal and veer off on a tangent. So… I’m going to take a moment to review a game that’s occupied my time when I’ve not been grinding through Final Fantasy titles…  Punch Club.

Punch Club is a short, retro-sim boxing-tycoon style game. It originally landed on my radar due to it’s throwback-style graphics, but after spending just a little time with it, I was hooked on it’s unique blend of humor and overall gameplay.

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Punch Club is a game where you play as an up and coming boxer. As a child, your father was mysteriously murdered and you’ve made it your goal to uncover the identity of the killer – how so? By working hard, and kicking ass. As the game progresses, the storyline can branch in a few different directions, but the ultimate goal is always to climb the ranks in the boxing underworld with the intention of ultimately uncovering those behind the death of your father.

The game itself is chock full of hilarious 80’s & 90’s pop culture references. These range from video game to action movie references. Everything from the game’s retro 16-bit look, to it’s chiptune soundtrack are pumped with a health dose of nostalgia.

As far as gameplay goes, it’s pretty basic. Your character has three main stats that he can improve to unlock new moves and abilities. These are improved by training (working out). The only problem is, your character gets hungry and tired. So, you do have to stop working long enough to eat and sleep. Of course, eating requires food… which requires money. So… you have to work as well. All of this cuts in to your training time. So the whole game is really a big balancing act. Work enough to earn money to eat – so that you have the energy to train – so that you can win fights. All the while, the in-game calendar ticks by. If you don’t workout frequently enough, you slowly grow weaker.

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So what we really have here is a stat-based time-management game of sorts, with a very entertaining storyline. To be honest, there’s A LOT of grind to be found in this game, and it’s far from perfect. But the entertaining storyline motivated me enough to keep my attention. I just wish there was a way to speed up the clock during some of these monotonous activities. Being able skip through repetitive workouts would be a godsend.

The game itself is fairly inexpensive. Currently, it’s available on Steam for under $7.00. A new “expansion” was just released that adds a few new story-based activities to the main game. Plus, the development community seems pretty active and the game itself is patched frequently.

Punch Club is not the type of game I usually play, but it was unique enough to grab my attention and good enough to keep it for the long haul.

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Difficulty: Average –  This game can be a little tough to master at first. Patience is the key. There’s quite a bit of grind involved in this game, but it’s not as bad now as it was when it was first released. Upon completion of the game, you unlock Hardcore Mode – this ramps up the difficulty considerably.

Story: The story in the game is comical and filled with purposeful cliche’s. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. With that in mind, it’s quite good and very entertaining.

Originality: Punch Club takes a lot of ideas that have been seen before and rolls them into one really fun and unique title. It’s the presentation that makes this game feel new and original.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack in this game consists of old retro-era chiptunes and they are wonderful. The music in the game is catchy and very well done.

Fun: This game is very grindy. That can be a turn off to a lot of people, so be warned. But despite this one complaint, I found the game to be quite enjoyable overall.

Graphics: This title has a 16-bit look and feel. This is done purposefully, and can even be enhanced by enabling a simulated “tube television” effect. There’s certainly nothing new and groundbreaking here when it comes to graphics. But, considering the intentions behind the game, it works very well.

Playcontrol: This game can be played entirely with a mouse on the PC (touchscreen for the mobile version), no issues whatsoever with playcontrol.

Downloadable Content: YES – Free periodic updates. So far, one update “The Dark Fist” has been released. This added a new playable side quest to the main scenario. Note: this update requires you to start a new game to experience the content.

Mature Content: Minor language, crime and violence.

Value:  This game has a lot packed into for the <$10.00 pricetag it now carries. Well worth it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – This game is a refreshing option in a market that often takes itself too seriously. Punch Club is unapologetic entertainment, pure and simple. I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys retro gaming, pop-culture, or just looking for something new.

Available on: Steam, iOS and Android.

Tech: My Tech Picks (Early 2016)

Since my recent posts about tech and operating systems, I thought it might be fun to elaborate on my personal tech choices. So, for those who might be curious, as of January 2016, this is what I use:

Computer Platform:  Windows PC – Even though I have nothing but great things to say about Apple hardware. I find their prices to be a bit hard to swallow. Yes, I’ve purchased and owned Apple hardware. But considering the cash you have to shell out vs the limit upgradability, I’ve decided to stick with custom built PCs for the foreseeable future.

OS: Windows 10 ( 64 bit Version 1511) – At the time of this writing, Windows 10 is the latest offering from Microsoft. Despite what you may read in certain online media, Windows 10 is not filled with NSA/Microsoft spyware. The OS does not record your actions or phone home to some secret location far in the mountains of Washington state. Yes, there is telemetry and data dumps for crash reports, but all of these things can be easily disabled during and after installation. Other settings such as predicative text and search archival are also optionally enabled for use with the Cortana virtual assistant. Don’t like it, turn it off. — As far as stability and modern options, this is the version of Windows to use.

Hardware: My PC is a custom built Frankenstein of both cutting edge and legacy tech. I prefer and use Intel processors, with Nvidia graphics cards. The biggest thing holding me back are my old school mechanical hard disks. I am hoping to upgrade to a solid state or hybrid drive in the near future. My current rig is as follows:

CPU: Intel i7 950 @ 3.07ghz

Mainboard: GA-X58-USB3

Physical RAM:  12gbs

Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960

Sound: SoundBlaster Z

Storage:  Main: Hitachi 1TB  SATA    Secondary:  Hitachi 500gb   External:  Seagate USB 320gb

External Media:  DVD RW & Memory Card reader

Power: 750watt

Mobile: Windows Phone – Nokia Lumia Icon (929) with Windows 10 (1511) – This has been my phone for quite a while. In my opinion, despite being an older phone, it features some of the best hardware available today. This phone boasts a 2.2 GHZ quad-core CPU with a 20 megapixel back camera, and a 1.2 front camera. It features 32gbs of storage and wireless charging. It’s not a “phablet” (which I like) it’s display is 5″. Being a Verizon device, this runs on 4g LTE.  – As I said, the hardware is great but the phone suffers from the poor software support that Windows Mobile devices receive. The OS runs well, but at this time Windows 10 is still buggy on this device. (The Factory image for the Lumia Icon is still Windows 8.1 – which runs flawlessly), but regardless which OS you use, the app gap is real.

Tablet: Microsoft Surface My personal needs for a tablet are very limited. I mainly only use a tablet for reading comic books and doing some light searching while in the living room. Maybe occasionally a little bit of Netflix. For these purposes, the original Windows RT surface is perfect. The dimensions of this tablet vs a standard iPad are better suited for comic reading. Plus the old Surface is much cheaper.  Would I like a Surface Pro 3? Sure… but for now, this suits my needs fine.

e-Reader: Kindle Paperwhite – I like to read. I always have. I love the touch and even the smell of books. So for a long time I resisted the “eBook revolution”. I knew I didn’t want to read a novel on a glaring white LCD. So once I decided to take the plunge into eBooks, I knew that the eInk Kindles would be the best option for me. Amazon features the biggest digital library out there. Nook and other competitors can’t compete. This Christmas, my wife got me a new backlit Paperwhite to replace my old 4th gen Kindle. I bought a nice leather case for it. Now it even feels like a book in my hand. I love my Paperwhite. I can read in the dark without having to stare at an eyeburning screen. The soft light of the Paperwhite is perfect for me.

Virtual Digital Assistant: Cortana – I never thought I’d find myself actually using this type of technology. But once I got the hang of it, it really simplified things for me. I’ve tried and used all three of the big options, Siri, Ok Google, and Cortana and for me, Cortana is the winner with Siri at a close second. Of course, these technologies are all software driven so that could change at any time. But to date, I’ve found Cortana to be the easiest to use and “she” provides me with the most relevant search results. Be it web search or local directions, 9 out of 10 times, she delivers right what I’m looking for.

Web Browser: Firefox – Ever since the release of Internet Explorer 4, I’ve been a fan of Microsoft browsers (until recent years). In fact, if there was an Internet Explorer 12, I’d probably be using it now. But sadly, Microsoft has left IE out to die while they developed their new Edge browser. The only problem is… Edge sucks. At least right now it does. Sure it is fast and renders pages beautifully, but it’s not-feature complete. I can’t tweak it the way I want to. I can’t block ads without editing the hosts file on my PC. And with IE unable to keep up with modern web standards I find myself using Firefox. Firefox offers me everything I need to tweak and customize my web experience the way I like it. The only problem is over the years, Firefox has become somewhat sluggish and bloated. It’s not near as snappy as it used to be. Hopefully, Edge will receive the love and attention it deserves in the future and I can make a switch. I really like the Cortana integration in Edge, but it’s simply not usable for me currently.

Search: Bing – Yes, I’m one of the weirdos who actually uses Bing. Initially, I only used it for images searches. I found a while back that for whatever reason, Bing image search tended to bring me more relevant results than Google. Then when MS rolled out their Bing Rewards to try to snag more users, I entertained the idea for a few weeks and used it while racking up reward points. By time it was over, I was surprised to find it to be just a good as Google. Plus, the layout and design on the page was much more appealing to me than Google. It just sort of ended up being my go-to search provider. Plus, every month of so I can cash in my points for a giftcard, or Xbox Live points, which is nice.

Email and Calendar: Outlook – I’ve been a Hotmail user since back when people still knew why it was called “Hotmail” (HTML — duh), back before Microsoft acquired the company. Sure, I’ve used regular POP mailboxes, and even Apple and Google’s mail products, but I’ve always come back home to Hotmail, Passport, Live, Outlook…. whatever Microsoft is calling it these days. Their spam technologies and privacy policy are some of the best in the business. Plus, it integrates wonderfully into Windows and most other platforms actually.

Office Suite: Microsoft Office 2016 Sure, there’s plenty of competitors these days. iWork, Google Docs, Libra/Open Office – but none of them have the ease of use and compatibility that MS Office does. To me, it’s a must have.  – These days, the easiest way to get Office is through the Office 365 program. This is a monthly subscription service that grants personal users a license to install office on up to five computers. Always up to date, latest version.

Cloud Storage: OneDrive – As a Windows and Office user, I’ve found OneDrive to be a very convenient online storage solution. It integrates well into both Windows and Office 2016. It works with my phone. As a result of using both Windows Phone and Office, I have a ton of free storage. But the pricing for additional storage is more than reasonable and competitive with others such as Google and iCloud.

PC Gaming Services: Steam For PC games, I’m pretty much a Steam only guy. The only time I buy anything on GoG or other platforms is when it’s not available on Steam. In my opinion, Steam has won the day and they are slowly expanding their reach from the office to the living room.

Music Management:  MusicBee – I have a large digital music library, all tagged and sorted. To manage such a huge collection, I need the help of software. For years I used iTunes, but over time, I became very dissatisfied with it. As much as I’d like to use Microsoft’s new music app Groove (it integrates with my phone), it’s just too feature incomplete for me to consider at this time. Luckily, a few years ago I found a wonderful desktop app called MusicBee. I can’t recommend this software enough. It has the look and feel of iTunes, without all the bloat. Plus, it’s lightning fast! Edit your mp3 tags right from the software and search for album art from a number of sources. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Wearables: Microsoft Band 2 –  I’m not really big on wearable tech, but after seeing my wife really enjoying her Fitbit, I decided to take the plunge. After a lot of research I found that the Microsoft Band really seemed to get me the biggest bang for my buck. It features all of the fitness sensors that one might need: Heartrate monitor, pedometer, GPS, barometer, UV sensor. It’s water resistant and also works as a smart-watch. It syncs with my phone so I can read and respond to texts right from the band. I’m still new with this stuff, so I’m learning. But I may actually make a post about this device soon.

Home Gaming Consoles:  Currently at our house we own the following: Wii U, PlayStation 3 (First Gen), PlayStation 4, Xbox 360   (there’s a spare Wii in the closet).

Mobile Gaming: Both my children and I have a Nintendo 3DS. I also have an old PSP collecting dust.

 

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 2)

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My decision to jump from PC to Mac, wasn’t made on a whim. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s apparent lack of vision. None of what they were doing was making any sense to me. Let me be clear, I am more than a PC user. I’m a licensed technician. I can design and build a personal computer from scratch. While I don’t write software, it didn’t take a developer to realize that Microsoft had no real strategy for the future at the time. For me, Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I used it for a few months, and I even found myself defending it against detractors who refused to switch from Windows XP. But more and more each day, I found myself being limited by it. Looking back, I can admit that Vista was a bit of a necessary evil. It was the epitome of Microsoft’s post-dominance “growing pains”.

For some time, I had been a user of Apple iPods and their corresponding iTunes software. Over the span of a few years, I had converted my entire CD library (Over six-hundred discs) to high-quality digital audio. I used iTunes to manage my library. I’m a very particular sort of guy. Some would say I am a perfectionist. I like my entire library tagged, with quality album art, etc. iTunes allowed me to do this in ways that Windows Media Player or other mp3 players never could. So, I was already a user of Apple software and services to a degree. Plus, I had always been intrigued by the beauty of Apple’s operating system OS X. At this point, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform was gaming. I knew that if I purchased an iMac, I would never be able to upgrade and service it the same way I could with a PC. Putting in the latest graphics card was simply not an option. That type of upgrade would require the purchase of a new, better iMac. Which again, would have the same limitation. All that aside, Apple’s operating system couldn’t run the majority of games I owned any ways. That’s when news of Apple’s next operating system (OS X Leopard) hit the web. Leopard would feature something called “Boot Camp”. This was essentially a boot loader that would allow you to install and run Windows on your Mac. So gamers could now simply boot over to Windows whenever they wanted to game. Despite the upgrade conundrum, this revelation, along with my Windows frustrations convinced me to make the switch.

When I first brought my iMac home, I knew that I was in for a learning curve. A lot of things worked the same, yes. But there was just as many things about OS X that worked differently. Not to mention, I had to find Mac-equivalents for all my software applications. Those first few days I did feel a bit lost. On more than one occasion I told myself that I had made a very expensive mistake. But then, things started to click. And it wasn’t long before I began to feel at home with OS X. In fact, I realized that I did indeed find it much easier, and even more pleasant to use than Windows. After the span of about four months, I was a full Mac convert. I used their built-in Safari web browser, their own iWork office applications, I even switched from my Gmail account to Apple’s Mac.com email.

What happened next, cemented that even further. Apple released the iPhone.  Now, I didn’t jump on the first generation iPhone, because I found the cost to prohibitive. Plus, I had a year contracting remaining on my silly Verizon flip-phone. But once the iPhone 3G was released, I was in line like the rest of the idiots waiting for my shiny new gadget. The iPhone 3G was a fantastic device. There had never been anything like it. It was like this missing puzzle piece that I didn’t even know I needed. I found myself completely emerged in this new “ecosystem” that Apple had invented. Everything about my Mac and iPhone worked together. Both the software and services. It was seamless and I was happy.

I was a happy Mac user for a little more than three years. But then the gaming bug bit and it bit hard. Square Enix had just released the beta of Final Fantasy XIV and I HAD to play this game. Until now, I had been an avid Final Fantasy XI player. And when switching from PC to Mac, I simply began playing the Xbox 360 version of the game. Sadly, the console version of XIV was not going to be available for sometime and it was obvious from trying to play the beta on the iMac that if I wanted to play this game, I’d need to find another option.

I began looking at buying a new Mac. But the model with the specs I needed to play the game would cost me around $3,000.00. Building a PC with nearly the EXACT same hardware would only run me about $1,100.00.  The temptation to leave behind this wonderful world of Apple began to pull at me. Microsoft had recovered from the black cloud of Vista, and their new OS, Windows 7 was receiving rave reviews. I found myself in a unique position. Having used both platforms extensively, I could clearly see both the merits and disadvantages of both. I found that I actually liked BOTH. Now I had to make a choice, which side would I choose now? Mac or PC?

To be continued….

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 1)

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This is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but I was never quite able to figure out how to dive in the to the topic. So, I finally just decided to write it and put it out there, for what it’s worth. I know this blog focuses largely on gaming, but geek-culture as a whole has always been an underlying topic as well. That point considered, what’s more geeky than computers? More specifically, computer operating systems. I want to take a moment to talk about that very thing, despite the dangers it might bring.

You see, in the world of geeks, your operating system of choice is a sacred thing. I’ve known fellow techies who are more loyal to their OS than they were to their own religion. Which I find to be both understandable and completely absurd at the same time. I know that sounds contradictory, so allow me a moment to explain. Over the years, I’ve been a user of both Microsoft Windows and Apple products. I am intimately familiar with both. So when I listen to these arguments, I truly see both sides. Allow me to elaborate…

My first experience with a personal computer was being sat down in front of the original Macintosh when I was a young child. By today’s standards, the old black and white Mac is a crude, ancient device. But to me, even as a novice child, I found it to be quite intuitive. I learned to like it quite a bit. A few years later, when my parents purchased their first home computer, they elected not to go the Apple route, but instead they purchased a PC. (Or as we called them back then, an IBM-compatible). This was my first experience with MS-DOS and Windows.

At this time, PCs were on the rise and Apple machines were slowly fading into the background. The entire industry was focused on PCs. As a result, I too became centered on the PC side of things. Sure, Apple still had a loyal fanbase, but Microsoft was the obvious winner in the current personal-computer battlefield. I was just starting to cut my teeth on Windows 3.1, when MS launched Windows 95. But it wasn’t long before I too, became a seasoned 95 user. It was during this era that I decided for the first time that I was a “PC Guy”. I mean, why use Apple? A PC was able to do anything that an Apple computer could do, and often at half the cost. Not to mention, all the new games and software were being developed for PC. Apple was often left in the dust.

It was a really interesting time. The internet was just starting to worm its way on to the radar of the general public. You had Windows as your PC backbone, and on top of it you could run whatever software you liked best. Netscape for websites, Eudora Pro for email, etc. Microsoft won because so many software developers were creating applications that were compatible, or better yet, exclusive to Windows. It was perfect. But then, something happened… Microsoft got greedy.

With the release of Windows 98, MS integrated their new browser, Internet Explorer 4, into the Windows operating system itself. The web browser actually became the computer browser. Seriously. You would browse the contents of your hard-drive from IE. Microsoft claimed this was done to better the user experience, but everyone knew it was simply their way of defaulting users into using their web browser instead of the ever-popular Netscape Navigator. And the secret is, it worked. Over time, Netscape’s usage fell and was replaced by IE. Heck, even I switched from Netscape to IE.  It was a tactic that would later find Microsoft at the center of a large anti-trust case.

Despite this underhanded move, I remained a loyal MS user for the most part. I used Windows and Office exclusively. And as the years went by, I remained loyal to Internet Explorer, even when others were venturing off to new browsers like Mozilla Firefox. I stuck by MS all the way from Windows 98 up the release of Windows Vista. But over that time, even thought I didn’t want to admit it, I saw the company that I loved lose sight of what it once was. Even though MS was still the top dog, Apple had began to emerge from the shadows and creep back on to the scene. The release of the new iMac and OS X operating system had given Apple a fresh coat of polish. Their new iPod product was literally changing the way people enjoyed music… It was a reminder that Apple was down, but not out.

After the anti-trust case, MS lost quite a bit of their mojo. Apple was on the rise now, bigger than ever. In light of Apple’s surging popularity,  other players starting making waves on the scene as well. Google had evolved past just being a search engine. They were now offering web-services like Gmail and advertising. Microsoft began scrambling like crazy to “rebrand” a number of their properties. Hotmail became “Passport”, then “Windows Live Mail”. (Then Hotmail again, and eventually was changed yet again to Outlook). It seemed like Microsoft was trying anything, throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick and what wouldn’t.

When Windows Vista was released, I was quick to adopt it as my operating system of choice. But that’s when I ran into a problem. At the time, I was very focused on audio. I used to record and edit music using my PC on a regular basis. Something changed with Windows Vista  in regards to their DirectSound API, and it directly interfered with nearly every audio program I was using. As a result, I was forced to make a choice, go back to Windows XP, or look for an alternative. At this point in my life, I was now an adult with a busy schedule. I no longer had the time to spend on tinkering with settings, tweaking drivers, like I did when I was a young hobbyist. I needed something that worked, and I needed it now.  That’s when I turned my attention to Apple for the first time. I was lured by their whole “It Just Works” ideology. So, despite years of being a Microsoft loyalist, in 2007 I drove down to the Apple Store and purchases a nice shiny iMac.

To be continued….

Final Fantasy XI: Seekers of Adoulin

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In March of 2013, Final Fantasy XI saw what would end up being it’s final full expansion ever: Seekers of Adoulin. Announced at a time when players had accepted the expectation that their beloved game had been all but abandoned, the news that XI would be a getting a new expansion came as quite a shock. SoA was more than players could have ever asked for. But it’s release was not without controversy. First off, this new scenario saw a number of big changes to the game. First, this expansion was the first in the west not to be available on PlayStation 2. SoA is only available on PC and Xbox 360 for US players. While this may seem trival due to the small number of US PS2 players, it is a still a big reversal from SE’s previous stance regarding PS2 support.

This expansion adds access to a whole new continent. The land of Ulbuka is located across the ocean to the west. It is a bit of a “new world” much like the Americas of Earth. In fact, one of the main focuses of the new storyline is participating in the pioneering of the undiscovered country. Players are able to participate in activities such a “rieves” and coalition assignments that explore the untamed wilds of the new land. Included in this expansion are two new jobs: The Geomancer and the Rune Fencer. These are somewhat trivial in their addition, but the new options are certainly welcome.

When it comes to content, Seeker’s is an expansion almost exclusively aimed at endgame players. SoA has adopted a new “item level” system much like that found in FFXIV to help players gauges the value of new level 99 equipment. Some older pieces can be upgraded to higher items levels, but most of the new gear is obtainable through participation in SoA-exclusive content, such a Delve. Delve is a new super-challenging battle system that focuses on notorious monster battles. It’s extremely difficult, but the rewards are well worth it.

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Aside from the usual expansion-type content, Seekers of Adoulin also ushered in a wave of core-game changes that would forever alter the way Final Fantasy XI was played. The Mog Garden was introduced. This features a small little private island where players can gather and cultivate materials. Players can now farm and gather from one simply location instead of scouring the landscape looking for places and competing with other players. The expansion included a new “waypoint” system that allowed players to warp around certain areas of the game world. This concept was later extended to existing homepoints. Players can now warp to any homepoint in the game that they’ve previously visited. This removed a giant pain-point for players and has really helped to modernize Final Fantasy XI. On top that, a whole new system called “Records of Eminence” has been added to the game. This is a sort of  sub-system of in-game achievements and rewards. Players are rewarded points and experience for completing certain in-game objectives. The points can be redeemed for almost anything; gear, skill ups, etc. This is very helpful considering the scarcity of items on the auction house these day. Not to mention, the experience points granted by completing objectives is great indeed. Making leveling now even faster than ever.

Shortly after the release of SoA, the ability to summon and party with NPC “alter egos” was also added. This is called the “Trust System”. Now players are able to form their own parties with NPCs instead of spending hours recruiting other members for content. While this is a welcome change, in a way it saddens me. It, along with the Records of Eminence system mentioned above, is a silent indication that the game’s population has become low enough to be addressed by the development team.

All in all, Seekers is a very welcome additional to XI. It added plenty of new areas for players to explore, as well as provided challenging and fresh activities for the game’s aging playerbase. Over the course of this last month, I reactivated my subscription and actually spent quite a bit of time exploring the post-Seekers world of Vana’diel. I participated in the new Trust initiative, reconnected with some old friends, conquered some old content on my to-do list and really got a taste for the way the game has changed.

As I mentioned earlier, Seekers of Adoulin is officially the final full expansion for Final Fantasy XI, so my little nostalgia trip will soon be coming to a close. I’ll be making one more post regarding the game itself by the end of the year upon the completion of the Rhapsodies of Vana’diel add-on that is being released for free. This new content is being rolled out between now and November. Until that time, I will leave my subscription active and continue to enjoy the experience that is Final Fantasy XI – quite possibly the greatest video game I have ever played. I don’t make that claim lightly.

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 ** POL Viewer Final Fantasy XI – The Rise of Zilart    –   Chains of Promathia   –   Treasures of Aht Urhgan –  Wings of the Goddess  –  Add-on Scenarios – Abyssea Scenarios –  Seekers of Adoulin –  Rhapsodies of Vana’diel **

 

 

Review: Wolfenstein

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I had planned to spend the next few posts focused exclusively on PS1 games, but I have to admit I’ve been sidetracked due to a few new releases. Often, I will place new PC games on the back burner for a bit. This allows many of the zero-day bugs to get worked out as well as the price to go down. In this case, the latest entry in the Wolfenstein series just came out a few days ago. I LOVE Wolfenstein. Of course, before playing it, I had to catch up with previous entry in the series, a game titled simply: Wolfenstein.

This game is a direct sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I was lucky enough to snatch it up on a Steam sale a few years ago, which is fortunate because these days it is no longer available for purchase on Steam due to some licensing issues. Lucky me.

Wolfenstein continues the adventures of allied solider BJ Blazkowitz. In this game, BJ is tasked with researching the secrets of a strange artifact he recovered from a German gunship. The medallion in question is powered by very unusual crystals that are mined in only one location; the German city of Isenstadt. Naturally, the Nazi’s have the city completely under their control. BJ’s job is to infiltrate the city and hook up with the local resistance movement in attempts to uncover what the Nazi’s are up to. This is where the game begins…

For this entry in the series, we have a very different game than the previous entries in the series. While still classified as a first person shooter, it’s very obvious that the genre has evolved greatly over the years. There’s much more to this title than simply running and gunning down the bad guys. Tactics in this title include taking cover from enemy fire, avoiding detection, and even using environmental weapons to take out enemies.

The game features a very realistic arsenal and a handful of fantastic weapons as well. The gamut runs from actual assault rifles used in WWII, to flame throwers and Tesla weapons. Unlike previous games, each weapon can receive a series of upgrades. These include things like more ammo capacity, better range, or silencers. Upgrades are purchased from an in-game merchant using gold and currency obtained during the course of play.

The game features a pretty in-depth stoyline. The main focus of the game is uncovering the Nazi plot regarding the medallion mentioned above. During the game, BJ will bounce between two different resistance groups operating within the occupied city. As a result, the town itself turns into a hub or sorts, connecting the various levels that the player must complete to progress through the game. Most levels are unlocked by accepting quests (known as Objectives). Typically, each major Objective takes place in a new level. Levels can be repeated and some can even be skipped (if a particular objective is not accepted). Each level also contains hidden currency and secret enemy intel. The intel helps to flesh out the storyline as well as provide hints for gameplay.

The trick to mastering the game is understanding the medallion artifact. The medallion grants BJ special abilities as the game progresses. These include slowing down time, a special shield aura ability and most importantly; the ability to see an alternate reality known as “The Veil”. Certain doors and areas are only accessible while in Veil Mode. Also, this mode also allows you to view enemies’ weak points. So it’s crucial for certain battles.

All in all, the single player scenario is very entertaining and well done. But I didn’t really feel like I was playing a Wolfenstein game. Something just felt a little “off” to me and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. I think perhaps, the game ended up being just a little TOO fantastic and neglected the real WWII air that the other games in the series had. I mean, Nazi occult fantasy is great, but alterverse alien creatures just don’t seem to fit in. I’m playing Wolfenstein, not Half-Life.

Finally, I want to mention Multiplayer. I was really excited to dive in to the multiplayer content of this game. There’s Axis vs Allies Deathmatch,  Stopwatch, and Objective games. These are just fancy names for game styles that we’ve all seen previously in multiplayer shooters. But I was really looking forward to trying them out in Wolfenstein. Sadly, I did not get this opportunity. When I fired up the multiplayer mode and searched for game to join there was…. nothing. I mean absolutely nothing. No browser, no options to choose from… literally nothing. Something about the multiplayer mode for this game on the PC is just plain broken.

I thought maybe the problem has to due to the licensing issues with Steam. So I manually patched the game and tried again. Still nothing. After doing some research, it turns out to be an issue of some sort between the game developers and the Punkbuster anti-cheat software. Apparently, Wolfenstein is no longer supported by Punkbuster, yet the online portion of the game is dependent on it. So… we have nothing. Due to this issue, I suppose if you want to experience the multiplayer content of this title you’ll have to play either the Xbox 360 or PS3 version of game. Good luck with that. Seriously. I mean, look at the picture below:

 Difficulty: Variable–  There are multiple difficulty levels available to choose from. From my testing, these seem to be very well done and appropriate. Personally, I had to spend a little time in easy mode to get a hang of the gameplay before beefing it up a bit. Most of my FPS experience is with games from 10+ years ago, so I needed to have my hand held a bit.

Story: The storyline itself is a blend of history and occult fantasy. Moreso than even the previous entries in the series. It’s engaging and very well done. But as I mentioned, it felt a little out of place when compared to the other games in the series.

Originality: To my eyes, this was a completely new experience in FPS games. But I understand that in reality, there’s actually very little originality here in terms of gameplay. Many FPS games over the last decade feature a duck and cover style play that add a sense of reality that did not exist in the old “zerg and shoot everything” days of Quake and Doom. One thing that does make the game very unique tho, is the Thule Medallion and the abilities that go along with it. This functionality really makes for some interesting gameplay.

Soundtrack: A lot of the in-game soundtrack is military themed and appropriate, but sparse. It is well done, not overused and appropriate for the game.

Fun: I did have a quite a good time playing the game. The main scenario only took me about 8 hours to complete, and that was with every objective conquered. I really wanted to spent a lot of time with the multiplayer. But sadly, that aspect seems almost non-existent.

Graphics: I found the graphics to be very well done. Both the character and environmental textures are excellent. Shadows, lights and even particle effects are spot on. This is a good looking game.

Playcontrol: The default PC controls are pretty standard. I do not have any experience with the console versions. The game used a variation of the WSAD scheme found in most FPS games. No real issues.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2Wolfenstein is a good game, but one that feels very neglected. I really feel that the developers have all but abandoned the title. Which is sad due to the popularity of the franchise. I recommend the game to fans of the Wolfenstein series, and even to those who enjoy WWII games. But if you’re looking for a good FPS to play, there are other games that do it better and that are more accessible. If possible, get the game on PS3 or 360.

Currently available on: PS3 and Xbox 360

Other Reviews In This Series:

Wolf3DRtCW – Wolf ETWolfenstein New Order  – The Old Blood

Review: Diablo III – Reaper of Souls

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Normally, I do not include separate reviews for expansion packs. But this time, I feel obligated to make an exception. I’ve had several weeks to experience the Reaper of Souls add-on for Diablo III and I feel this release deserved a post of its very own.

For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, Diablo III was one of my earliest reviews. Looking back at that review now, I cringe to see just how poor that write-up is. I suppose my blogging skills have improved over time and interestingly enough, so has Diablo III.

When the game was originally released, D3 was a bit of a mess. There were server problems, performance problems, and lots of controversy over the direction in which the game was taken. Over time, a lot of these issues were resolved through patches and changes to the title. The long-promised PVP system was finally added, and not long ago, Blizzard made the decision to remove the auction house system altogether. In doing so, item distribution was radically revamped in the game. Fans rejoiced and I was no exception.

Even without the expansion, Diablo III is a much better game today as a result of these changes. So, what does the Reaper of Souls add-on bring to the table? Here’s a rundown of some of the more important additions:

New playable class: The Crusader
An extra chapter: Act V – Reaper of Souls
Maximum level increased to 70
“End game” content
Difficulty adjustment

Diablo-III-2014-04-01-16-01-18-33

The game still requires an internet connection, but my criticism on this has softened a bit over time. The game servers are much more stable than they used to be, and it seems that Blizzard’s vision for the hybrid single-player/multi-player experience has become a little bit clearer over the last two years.

Aside from new content and patches, several core changes have really made for an all-around better experience. The old tiered difficulty levels have been revamped and replaced with a new system that seems to be a much better fit. The game now offers Normal, Hard, Expert and Torment options. With the hardest option being very customizable.

I was a bit skeptical at first of the direction that the expansion would take storywise, but that too came as a pleasant surprise. I don’t want to spoil anything, but naturally at the end of Diablo III it seems like everything has come to a satisfactory close. Blizzard did a fine job of adding a new angle and continuing the plot. Upon completion of Act V, it is also clear that the Diablo story is far from over.

All in all, I have to say that Reaper of Souls is exactly what Diablo III needed to help round out the rough edges and bring the game to perfection. When looked at as a whole, my original review is now superseded by the breakdown below:

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Difficulty: Varies –  As mentioned above, the entire difficulty system has been redone, and for the better. Normal – Expert modes seem to be a very nice fit. Although later in the game, they do seem to be maybe just a bit easier than they should be. Regardless, this all goes out the window once you’ve reached the Torment option. From here, you can crank up the abuse to your liking. Why would you do this? Well, the harder the game, the better the rewards.

Story: The original Diablo III had a fantastic story, this expansion only adds to that. A few loose ends are tied up and a whole new villain takes the stage. Excellent stuff here.

Originality: This is hard to gauge considering RoS is an expansion. The new Bounty system and Rift system that becomes available upon completing the main scenario is very fun and extremely well done. It really helps keep the game alive even after completion.

Soundtrack:  The new in-game music is fantastic. Very fitting and well done. For an expansion, no expense was spared here.

Fun: Reaper of Souls really does a lot to breathe new life into a two year old game. I’ve had more fun with Diablo III now than I did when the game was originally released. This is Diablo done right.

Graphics:  Not much has changed here. This game uses the same engine as it always has. The graphic options for Diablo III have always been well done. Lighting effects are used well, shadows are well done. Everything is and was beautiful since release.

Playcontrol: No changes here. The game still works and controls as it should. I tried a number of different mice and I encountered no issues worthy of mention.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4- This expansion and the patch the preceded it were EXACTLY what Diablo III needed to make the jump from being a good game to being a great game. The price of the core game has been reduced to a mere $20 in most places. The expansion will still run you $40, but together they still cost what Diablo III cost upon release. In my opinion, if you’re going to experience Diablo III, Reaper of Souls is a must have.

 Available at retail and through Blizzards Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Diablo –  Diablo IIDiablo III :: Reaper of Souls

Rise of the MMOs – Part 2

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So far, I’ve discussed a few of the early MMOs that I have had personal experience with. Of course, for every one I’ve played, there’s many more that I haven’t played. Most the games I’ve mentioned have been successful. But of course, what happens to an online game when it is NOT successful? Think about it for a moment. MMO games are, well, Online. If the game does not do well, there’s a good chance that the company behind it may pull the plug. And if the servers go off, so does the game. What happens to that $50 you spent on the retail box, do you get it back? Of course not. This is the risk of gaming online.

There have been several popular titles that have experienced just this very thing. Some of them like The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, and Star Wars: Galaxies did in fact go dark. Usually, when this occurs, the game developers attempt to have some sort of a sunset period that allows some closure for the players both in terms of storyline and player satisfaction. Others developers just pull the plug on a specified date and that’s it. The later is exactly what is happening to players of Sony’s Wizardry Online and Vanguard titles.

The first failed MMO game that I was follower of was the original version of Final Fantasy XIV.

Boss battle for Final Fantasy XIV version 1.0

Square Enix, the company behind the Final Fantasy series nearly destroyed their reputation with the original release of Final Fantasy XIV. Riding off of the success of their first online game, Final Fantasy XI, the company was admittedly lazy with their second online offering.

The game was beautiful, there’s no doubt about that. But upon release there was almost literally nothing to do. The game had very little content. On top of that, poor backend engineering led to server problems and a number of lag and congestion issues. The game featured a flawed combat system and the design of the gameworld was both repetitive and confusing for players. The title was almost universally condemned by both players and critics alike. As a fan of the series, even I stopped playing in those very early days and turned my attention towards other games.

Backed into a corner, it seemed obvious that Square Enix was going to pull the plug on the game. But instead, they replaced the game’s lead producer and made a startling announcement, something that no game developer had dared do before: they were going to scrap the existing code and rebuild the game from the ground up. And they did just that.

While keeping the service active, and attempting to improve the quality of life for current players, the developers were busy behind the scenes creating an entirely new game engine and content for a relaunch. This is something that normally take an average of five years, Square Enix managed to deliver the final product in just two. Upon its re-release, Final Fantasy XIV was a massive success. It is also my current MMO of choice.

A panned out view of combat from Final Fantasy XIV 2.0

During my stint away from those troubled early days of FFXIV, I found myself seduced by a game known as RIFT. This title, in many ways is very much a World of Warcraft clone. I say this in terms of gameplay, not so much in a storytelling and art direction. But really, that’s ok. RIFT had my attention pretty heavily for several months, but once I reached the endgame content, I found myself bored with it. Apparently, I was not alone. As the game’s population dwindled and profits started to sink, there was much concern over the fate of the game. To resolve this, RIFT switched from a subscription based model to a Free-to-Play model. This has appeared to work very well for the game. Although, I do not play RIFT anymore, I’m glad to see that it did not end up being just another game on the list of deactivated MMO titles.

This same scenario occurred for another very popular title, the long awaited Star Wars: The Old Republic.

SWTOR

From the beginning, Star Wars: The Old Republic looked doomed to fail. The game had been in development for many years and the hype surrounding the title had reached epic proportions. I mean, who does’t love Star Wars? Everyone wanted to play this game. It was supposed to the Warcraft-Killer. I think maybe we expected too much. Signs of concern started even before the game was released. The game came with a premium pricetag both for the standard and the collector’s edition. On top of that, for the first time the Collector’s version of the game seemed to offer more than just a few vanity items. The CE actually featured a whole in-game vendor with a stock of gear only available to those willing to pay the extra money for a special edition of the game. Upon release, the game featured a very rich experience at the beginning, but for players who rushed to reach the endgame content, there was little there. Rather than fail, Star Wars also switched to a Free-to-Play model. However, unlike RIFT, some of the business decisions for SWTOR drew heavy criticism. For example, certain content is locked out for free players. Even some UI elements are unavailable unless you’re willing to pay a little extra. Regardless of these issues, the game does seem to be thriving under its current pricing model. Now… if only I could get that $200 back that I spent on the original Collector’s Edition…

So what’s the next for MMO gaming? As I type this, everyone is keeping a close eye on The Elder Scrolls Online. At this very moment, the game is currently in its Early Access phase. The game goes live for all players on 4/4/14.

The Elder Scrolls is a well respected and loved series of single player RPG games. So its only natural to want to extend that to an online world. Personally, I hope the game is successful. I have purchased the game, and I plan to begin getting my feet wet this evening. But despite my anticipation, the warning signs are already showing…

The Elder Scrolls Online

I participated in the beta test, and much like the original launch of FFXIV, the beta version of the game felt VERY incomplete. Yes, I realize that a beta test is just that, and early TEST. But trust me, there’s some things that should be fully working. I encountered frequent disconnects, incomplete textures and other strange issues during the test. Also, there’s again concerns with this game’s Collector’s Edition. Whereas SWOTR offered a CE exclusive vendor, TESO is offering a whole playable race that’s only available to CE purchasers.

I’m very curious to see what happens with this game. So instead of being an observer, I’ve decided to do an experiment. I’m going to use this blog to chronicle my thoughts on the game. I’m not a huge fan of The Elder Scrolls. I purchased the series Anthology but I’ve only logged a few hours into the most recent entry; Skyrim. I really like what I’ve seen of the series and I do plan to catch up in the near future. But for the time being, I’m a rookie. So to me, this is going to be a whole new experience.

I’m going to approach the game with an open mind and I’m going to try my best to set aside any expectations and pre-conceived notions I may have. The game comes with a free thirty days. I’m going to take advantage of the time and then make note of my observations. If this interests you, please look forward to the posts.

Rise of the MMOs – Part 1

Ultima_Online_cover

The nineties were a truly epic time for gaming. This decade saw many changes in the home console market. Handheld gaming became mainstream. And of course, PC gaming took off at a rapid pace. With the ever growing popularity of the internet, a new concept in gaming began to rise to the surface: online connectivity.

The first online multiplayer game that I ever played was a text-based adventure game hosted by a local BBS. It was called Legend Of the Red Dragon (LORD for short). The game was quite simple actually, but it totally floored me at time. The BBS in which it was hosted could only handle one or two connections simultaneously. When trying to connect during peak hours I’d have to command my modem to dial over and over until I was finally able to get on. LORD is a hard game to explain these days, but essentially, the first time you played it you made a character and you could perform a certain number of tasks daily. This is includes things like fighting monsters, exploring, flirting with the taverns girls, etc. I don’t believe you could participate with other players in real time, but you could leave notes for other players that they would see when they logged in. Also, a log of player actions and accomplishments were posted so that everyone could see what had gone on during the day. At the time, the whole concept was fascinating to me and I have many fond memories of the title.

Example of the LORD interface courtesy of Moby Games

LORD was a watered down version of what is known as a MUD, or Multi-User-Dungeon. These text-based games allowed multiple players to interact together to one degree or another. MUDs were the first “MMOs” in many ways.

The first full blown Massive Multiplayer Online game that I truly experienced was Ultima Online.  I had been a fan of the Wizardry series for many years, and I had recently came off a binge of playing every RPG game I could find on the PC. as a result, I had just finished a marathon of Ultima games and the franchise was on my mind. I remember seeing the game on the shelf of my local computer store and I recall the fierce debate that raged inside my head; do I really want to pay to buy this game and then pay to play it?

I had a somewhat moral objection to revenue model for this game. I had recently read about it in a magazine and I was appalled to learn that the game was going to have a monthly subscription. In my mind, paying for the purchase of the game was enough. I had all but decided to boycott the product, but yet, actually seeing on the shelf – I couldn’t resist.

I played Ultima Online for a couple of weeks, but I wasn’t able to really get a sense of understanding for the title. It looked and played like some of the later titles in the series. But the online element felt rather chaotic. Also, to me, there didn’t seem to be any clear-cut goals to accomplish. Maybe I just missed something, but by the time my free month had expired, I decided that the game wasn’t for me and filed in the back of desk drawer – swearing to ignore these types of “pay to play” games from now on.

Of course, a year or two later I was persuaded into trying the latest and greatest multiplayer title, Everquest. You see, by this time I had moved on from hanging out on BBS forums and I was a full blown Internet user. I used to hang out in an IRC chat room with other local people and all of them were big Everquest fans. They raved about it non-stop. So, I bought the game and indeed, I was impressed by the way the title looked and operated. I was quite ignorant about the inner workings of the game, and I didn’t really understand the community aspect that already formed around the game, but I was enjoying exploring and checking things out.

Everquest

It was only a few days after getting my feet wet with the game that I again decided, this was not the title for me. You see, every time my character would leave town, I would be attacked by a group of players. Being new and inexperienced, I was no match for them. I would literally take one step out of town and BOOM. These guys would kill me. It was my first experience of being griefed by another player. It was all I needed to say “That’s it. I’m done.” Despite this bad experience, the game still intrigued me. I could see the draw behind the game. Everquest reminded me a lot of Dungeons & Dragons. (The tabletop role playing game that I played a lot as a young teen).  I found the setting and most aspects of the game very appealing. But at that time in my life, I had very little patience and being held back by other players was just unacceptable. Today, the game is still active and in fact recently reached its fifteenth birthday. Since the time of its original release, the game has changed dramatically, nineteen expansions and countless updates, the Everquest of today barely resembles the Everquest that I played in 1998. In fact, I believe it is even Free-To-Play now. I’m also sure that the type of player-killing I encountered now has some safeguard in effect, so for the curious, the game might be worth a look. It’s also important to note that Everquest spawned a sequel, Everquest II. A third sequel is also rumored to be on the way.

Due to these experiences, I stayed away from MMO RPG style games for a long time. My multiplayer experience was restricted to first person shooters almost exclusively. Then, one day I saw an article stating that Square Enix was looking for players to help test a new online game, this game would be Final Fantasy XI. This struck a chord with me. I had enjoyed the Final Fantasy series immensely and for the first time in a while, I found an MMO that interested me.  I’m not going to go into too much detail here now, because one day I will post a whole article about XI. But, this game is the MMO that finally managed to hook me. I played the crap out of this game. I have wasted years of my life… seriously. It’s actually kind of sad.

Final Fantasy XI

In Final Fantasy XI, I found the perfect balance I has always been looking for in a multiplayer game. FFXI has a wonderful storyline. So, you’re not just walking around killing monsters and getting stronger for no apparent reason… you’re doing it so that you can continue experiencing the game itself. In fact, everyone is doing this – as a result, teamwork is encouraged. It finally all made sense. FFXI really opened my eyes to the magic of MMO games. Since that time, I have tried several titles over the years with varying degrees of success.

No discussion about MMO games would be complete without a mention of what is arguably, the most popular of all time, World of Warcraft. WoW is the title that really brought MMO games into the public consciousness. I should go on record as saying that I am not really a big fan of World of Warcraft. I have played it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. But by the time WoW popped up on my radar, I fully invested in Final Fantasy and WoW did not offer enough compelling gameplay to tear me away from my home. That being said, Warcraft certainly offers a lot for new players and it’s very easy to get into.  One feature that really set WoW apart from the other games at the time was the concept of player alliances. You see, when creating a character in World of Warcraft, you have to choose between creating an Alliance character or Horde character. This represents your character’s allegiance or affiliation. Originally, this had a big impact on gameplay. You could only befriend and talk to other players on your faction, members of the opposition were considered enemies. This has become very watered down over the years, and the concept really doesn’t mean as much as it once did. In many ways, the World of Warcraft has reached the sunset of its lifetime. Over the last couple years, the game population has dwindled as more MMO games have captured the attention of players. Now, players can often even create characters that are instantly granted maximum level in the game. This is a practice I disagree with.

Regardless, WoW really did wonders for the genre. It introduced concepts and practices that were very much needed and still permeate to this day. For example, in Warcraft, when you encounter an NPC that offers a quest, there is an icon floating over the head of that character. This let’s you know that they have something interesting to say. In prior games like Everquest and Final Fantasy, there was no identifier. To uncover quests and assignments you pretty much had to wander around and talk to every NPC that you encountered. WoW also popularized the Quest Tracker. This provided an in-game log of assignments and your character’s progress on them. Until now, these sorts of things had to be kept track of manually on paper by the player.

Character Creation for WoW

After the success of Warcraft, it seemed that there was a new MMO popping up every time you turned around. Conan, Vanguard, Guild Wars, the list goes on and on. For the most part, I managed to ignore most of these games and stuck with Final Fantasy. But occasionally, I ventured off my tried and true path.

I admit being suckered into buying the original Guild Wars and all of it’s expansions. This game intrigued me with its beautiful art-direction and pricing. You see, unlike most other games, Guild Wars does not require a monthly subscription. It functions off a model known as Buy-to-Play. After paying for the initial boxed software, you can play the game for free. As a result, the content in the game is somewhat limited compared with other MMOs, but there’s certainly no shortage of things to do.

One of other side effects of this sort of pricing I discovered, is the general immaturity of other players. Up until now, I had found MOST other game participants to fairly friendly and mature. This was especially true for Final Fantasy XI. WoW certainly had its number of jerks, but nothing like what I experienced in Guild Wars. I’m not sure how it is today, but back in 2007/2008 you could almost guarantee that the first thing you would see when logging into the game was a line of half-naked women dancing or people arguing in open chat. One time I asked another player if they wanted to team up for a quest and I was told repeatedly to “eat his farts”. So… free to play and buy to play gamers, be prepared to grow some thick skin against this type of nonsense.

The beautiful world of Guild Wars

I’ll be continuing my thoughts on MMO gaming in another post within the next couple of days. If this is a subject that interests you, stay tuned.

Review: WarCraft III (Battle Chest Collection)

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Finally, I have reached the last “old school” PC game on my list. Honestly, we’re not really that old-school territory anymore. WarCraft III is only about ten years old, but it does mark the end of an era for me. This game, and its expansion was the last PC title that I played before my first child was born. As any parent can tell you, having a child changes your life forever. Your attention and priorities change considerably. Once my son was born, there was a period of time, lasting quite a while, that really put a hold on my PC gaming – but that is story for another post.

If you read this blog often, you’ll know that Real Time Strategy games are not my favorite. In fact, I pretty much despise them. Regardless, Blizzard has a way of tricking me into playing their games. I played through WarCraft I and II, and I completed StarCraft. While I could appreciate the games for their vision and quality, I never really walked away from them wanting more. WarCraft III is the first RTS game that changed that for me.

First, let’s be clear, WarCraft III was released in 2002. The era of 3D accelerated gaming was in full swing. Blizzard is not ignorant. Despite being a Real Time Strategy game, WarCraft III is fully accelerated. The graphics retain the cartoonish art-direction of it’s predecessor, but everything looks much better.  The lighting and environmental effects are very well done, the textures are detailed and attractive, everything looks great here.

 

Also, now more than ever, the game is driven very heavily by story. Each chapter and scenario you play through in this title is filled with purpose and helps progress the story along. Not only does this make things a bit more interesting, but it found it helped motivate me and kept me interested in playing. For fans of the World of Warcraft MMO, this game sets up some very crucial themes that are a large part of WarCraft lore.

In this game, there are a total of five chapters to experience. Two of these focus on the story of the Orcs. But there’s also a chapter from the viewpoint of the Humans, Elves and even the Undead. Each scenario presents a good balance of traditional RTS gameplay and story-related content. Each scenario also presents its own unique challenges. (The Undead scenarios were a favorite of mine.) Story elements aside, there’s not much to talk about gameplay wise. The game works and plays like the other titles in the series so far. There are some refinements of course. New features such a experience levels for heroes is a nice touch and helps bring some RPG elements into the genre.

While my recent time with the game focused mainly on the single-player campaigns, the game does feature a multiplayer mode. The community remains surprisingly healthy despite the age of the game. So if this is your cup of tea, you will not be disappointed. Community mods and custom content are plentiful.

Naturally, there is an expansion that adds additional scenarios. These days, the two titles are usually sold together either digitally or as part of the WarCraft III “Battle Chest”. The expansion picks up right where the original game left off in terms of storyline, and features some pretty impressive lore elements. Personally, it is my favorite of the two.

Having played through all of these games over the last several months, it’s quite obvious to see just how well Blizzard’s RTS games have matured over the years. From WarCraft to WarCraft II, on to StarCraft and now to WarCraft III – each game has become incrementally better. So much so that this title actually won me over. – No easy feat.

 

Difficulty: Variable–  This entry in the WarCraft series does offer variable difficulty. I played through the game on the normal setting and found some of the later levels to be quite challenging. Almost extremely so. The game does feature an optional prologue which serves as a tutorial, and the game offers tips and hints as you progress. These help at first, but by the end of the game, you will really need to be on your toes to win. First time players may want to play on the easiest setting until they feel comfortable.

Story: For an RTS game, WarCraft III has some really good storytelling. The story in both the main game and the expansion are very well done and interesting.

Originality: Despite being the third entry in the series, this game does offer enough innovation to maintain a fresh feel. The in depth scenarios, and introduction of colorful characters do a lot to make the game feel like a new experience.

Soundtrack: WarCraft III features an amazing soundtrack. Fully orchestrated tunes that really set the tone and direction for the game. The voice acting in the game is also very well done, albeit a bit overly comical in my opinion.

Fun: As someone who is not really a fan of RTS games, this title still managed to keep me entertained. For the first time in “craft” franchise I found myself actually really enjoying the game. That’s saying something.

Graphics: WarCraft III features some really good graphical effects. Top of the line for its day, the game still looks good in modern times.

Playcontrol: These games are played primarily using the mouse alone. I feel like the UI and overall control scheme here is very well done, if not perfect for the this type of game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – As far as RTS games go, WarCraft III is about as good as they come. Players new to the genre would do good to start here. I found the game to be a good balance of both RPG and RTS elements. Everything from the storyline to the sound and graphics are wonderful.

Currently available: Blizzard Online Store

Other Reviews In This Series:

Warcraft –    Warcraft II –    Warcraft III