Sunday, 27 November 2011

Giving Bitmob a Try

I've been writing this blog for around 7 months now, and while I am enjoying it, I have one major problem: I don't know how well I'm doing. Since I've had no previous experience in writing articles and reviews, the only knowledge I have is my own. Editing, in particular, is something I've mostly guessed at. That's not good enough if I want to eventually write professionally.

I've come across a website named Bitmob, which seems like a good place for amateurs looking to improve their writing. I only started visiting it last week, but I've already learned a hell of a lot about editing, as they have some great articles on the matter. If I were to look back on some of the stuff I've written here, I imagine I'd find plenty of cases of stylistic features that should actually be avoided.

They have a team of staff writers, all of whom have had plenty of experience writing within the video games industry. Voluntary writers can submit their own articles, and the Bitmob staff pick out any they deem front-page material, edit them, and put them up alongside their own posts. Along with a few writing exercises every now and then, the whole thing seems to be designed to help rookie writers improve their work.

I'm going to try it out. I need feedback, and this seems to be the place to get it. There was a post last week, asking for more articles about Skyrim. That seems like as good a place as any to get started. I wrote a short piece about the game I've been obsessing over for the past couple of weeks, and I've spent some time focusing on editing, paying attention to some of the advice I've read.

From now on, I'll be writing articles for Bitmob. I haven't decided what I'm going to do with this blog yet, but if I do happen to have any regular readers, you can follow me on Twitter, where I'll be posting links to any articles I write for Bitmob.

If there really is anyone out there, thanks for reading, and may your nets always be full!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

This Week, I 'Ave Been Mostly Playing (14/11/11 - 20/11/11)

Skyrim (PC)

Like so many others, Skyrim has me. The amount of buzz surrounding this game is incredible, and I can't remember the last time I heard so many people talking about one game. It's strange to think that it was only two games previous that the Elder Scrolls series wasn't that well known, and was mostly for hardcore western RPG fans. I'll admit that I didn't even know what Morrowind was until a few years after its release. By the time Oblivion came out, a lot more people knew of the series, and now the latest entry is towering over this year's Call of Duty game, with at least 3 times as many players. I guess you could say the series has... gathered steam (ho ho ho).

It's all I've played this week, and I'm enjoying it a lot. I skipped Oblivion, but I heard that it was a little repetitive, and empty compared to Morrowind. I did play some of the third Elder Scrolls game and enjoyed the open world that, despite its size, was still packed with things to see and do for the inquisitive explorer. Skyrim seems to follow that style, but looks a lot better, and brings in a slightly streamlined skill leveling system that makes it more accessible. I appreciated that, for once, I was able to begin playing this game without too much prior planning. I merely decided on a race that started with bonuses to the skills I was interested in, and they've developed naturally as I've played in my own preferred style.

I've barely touched the main storyline. Whenever I'm on my way to the next objective, I find caves to loot and new quests to embark on. Merely visiting a new town fills your quest log up with plenty of opportunities to completely ignore the main questline and enjoy the feeling of freedom.

I decided on an orcish character, as I tend to favour orcs in any game that doesn't represent them as dumb beasts. I'm going with my usual approach of wielding a one-handed weapon and shield, and playing defensively, bashing enemies in the face with the shield and striking when they're open to attack. It's working out well. Meanwhile, I've been dabbling in a bit of smithing and enchanting. I love crafting in RPGs. It's even better when you can actually use the stuff you create. I'm currently working on a full set of orcish armour, in order to look the part.

I haven't decided between the Stormcloaks or Imperials yet. It seems there are plenty of reasons not to join either, but it's probably something you should get involved in at some point. I guess I'm leaning towards the Imperials at the moment, seeing as the Stormcloaks hate everyone that isn't a Nord. Yes, the introduction to the game gave a pretty good reason not to join the Imperials either, but hey, we all make mistakes. Maybe they deserve a second chance.

Anything Else?

My druid reached level 83 in World of Warcraft, and we're nearly done with Deepholm. I still have Arkham City to finish, but it's really difficult not to play Skyrim when I sit down to do some gaming. I'll try and get round to it this week. All it would take is to log out of Steam. I can never remember my password, and the effort of resetting it might serve as enough of a block to sway me towards switching the PS3 on instead.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Review: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Release Date (PS3, Xbox 360): NA: November 16, 2010 EU: November 19, 2010 AUS: November 18, 2010 JP: December 9, 2010 
Release Date (PC): NA: March 22, 2011 EU: March 18, 2011 AUS: March 17, 2011 JP: June 3, 2011
Developed By: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Singapore, Ubisoft Bucharest, Ubisoft Quebec, Ubisoft Annecy
Genre: Third-person action-adventure
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac
Platform Reviewed: Playstation 3

This review focuses on the single player component of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. With Revelations now out, most players of Brotherhood's multiplayer will have likely moved on to the latest game in the series, so to review it would perhaps be somewhat redundant.

Annual releases of the same franchise are becoming a common thing. With such little time to improve on the previous game, you might wonder if it's worth investing more of your own time and money into something that could be a little too familiar. That's why Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is a big surprise. Released only a year after Assassin's Creed 2, you may be fooled into thinking it was a convenient way of putting out a game in the series with multiplayer in it, with a mandatory single player mode tagged on as a formality. After all, it would have been simple enough to continue Ezio's story just by putting out more DLC for Assassin's Creed 2. But what actually we have here is a follow up that proves its worth as a standalone entry in the series.

Set immediately after the events of Assassin's Creed 2, Desmond Miles is still looking for the piece of Eden and is once again thrown into the time of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the hooded hero that has grown into a wise, skilled assassin. And he really has come a long way from the boyish rogue he was at the beginning of the previous game, which is made very apparent when you experience some of the flashbacks Brotherhood takes you on. After an attack on Monteriggioni by the Templar Borgias, Ezio travels to Rome with his family to take revenge, and put an end to their tyrannical rule over the capital city.

When in Rome...

The game starts out slow as it has to cater for anyone new to the series, and spends a good few hours refreshing your memory of old Assassin's Creed concepts, while introducing you to the new ones. It's not until a few chapters in that the story reaches a point where it can truly open up and allow you to take on all the different gameplay elements Brotherhood has to offer.

Every action you take as Ezio is a step towards taking down the Borgia. The main story missions are traditional in the sense that they have you taking out important Templar figures using the proven methods of assassination you learned in the last game. Meanwhile, every side mission has you disrupting a specific part of their rule. Side missions are plentiful, and involve tasks such as taking control of Borgia guard towers, destroying war machines, and rebuilding derelict buildings to gain support of the citizens. Rather than feeling like arbitrary tasks that have been tacked on, each side mission you complete ties into the story of taking down the Borgia really well, and the more you get involved with them, the better experience you have as a whole. 

Not only that, but many of them are just plain fun to play through. Special mention has to go to the sabotaging of war machines sequences, which feature scripting on a level that you'd usually only expect in the main line of missions. You also encounter new game mechanics when you get to spend a little time trying the machines out before their inevitable destruction. It gives the impression that the developers put equal amounts of effort and polish into every aspect of the game, rather than just focusing on the main sequences.

If that weren't enough, many of the main and side missions have optional challenges too, in the form of '100% sync' objectives. An example of this could be during a combat heavy section, where you're tasked with not losing more than 3 squares of health, or you'll sometimes get out of the ordinary goals such as staying out of water that would have otherwise made for a convenient escape route. You can play through the entire game without paying any attention to these, but completionists will find themselves busy trying to get 100% in every mission. It provides an extra challenge to those who may find the main objective of the mission too simple.


One of the drawbacks of Assassin's Creed 2 was the eventual repetitive nature of the combat. It generally boiled down to waiting for an enemy to attack and countering, which felt slow. Brotherhood improves on this with a new kill streak ability, which allows Ezio to smoothly move from kill to kill, cutting through large crowds of guards with ease. 

It's still on the simple side, and it doesn't seem like Ubisoft's goal is to actually challenge the player during combat anymore, which may not even be possible without a major overhaul to the system. While that would have been appreciated to make combat more engaging, the increase in overall fluidity and speed means that it at least doesn't suffer from repetitiveness as it once did, and always feels satisfying.

Sneaking is still where the real danger of failure applies, and there are plenty of sections where detection isn't an option, forcing you to use all your assassin skills to remain unseen. There were times in Assassin's Creed 2 in which this created an unnatural spike in difficulty, but Ezio now has a few more tools at his disposal to relieve some of the frustration you may have felt in his last outing. A crossbow makes for a more suitable silent, ranged weapon, as opposed to the noisy pistol you had last time (though you can still use this, if you like everyone to know where you are). 

The only problem that comes up in these sections is that it sometimes seems that the game wants you to play through the sequence in a very specific way, and it's not always clear what that is. If you don't catch on, sometimes even the most logical of plans can fail simply because you're unaware of what is and isn't permitted.

With a Little Help from My Friends

Of course, the title feature of Brotherhood is just that; the brotherhood of assassins that you take charge of. Recruits can be found causing civil unrest, and when aided, will join your cause in liberating Rome from the Borgia. These brothers and sisters in arms can then be called upon at any time, subject to a cooldown after each use, to take out any target in Ezio's sight. Since this doesn't count as detection for Ezio, it can make for a really powerful tool in sneaking through a heavily guarded area, or for keeping enemies busy while you're chasing down a specific target. And most of all, it just feels really stylish to whistle, and have a fellow assassin instantly leap off a nearby building, striking your enemy down.

Recruits can be trained up through a new system of overseas missions that they can be sent on. Missions have a varying difficulty level attached to them, with a proportionate reward on offer when successfully completed. Up to 5 recruits can be sent on one mission, and the combination of recruit levels, mission difficulty and number of assassins add up to a percentage chance of success. Once sent on a mission, assassins are unavailable for around 10-20 minutes, so there's a lot of management involved in sending away recruits for training while keeping some available to help you out on your mission, at least until you unlock more recruitment slots by completing other side missions. All of this is done through menus, but it does well in creating the illusion that you're heading up your very own assassin's guild and taking on Templars across Europe. If you put enough time into it, you'll ultimately be rewarded with a small army of Ezio clones. A sight to behold.

Presentation... by Da Vinci?

This is a beautiful looking game, more so than Assassin's Creed 2, which was a great looking game in its own right. 15th/16th century Rome is just as majestic as you would imagine, and it all seems to be down to some dramatic improvements in lighting and shadows. The framerate is a little more consistent now, but still suffers from slowdown in busier areas due to the massive scale of the cityscape. The music still consists of a romanticised Middle Ages style, with some dramatic pieces to accompany the more action orientated sequences. The voice acting is, as always, brilliant, and each actor is on top form, smoothly interlacing Italian into English when the script calls for it.

The main drawbacks of Brotherhood are mostly technical. Loading times still feel just a little bit too long, which is noticeable if you find yourself failing a sequence a few times in succession, leading to some irritation. It also still suffers from interface overload, as the screen can become busy with distracting prompts which often aren't necessary. They can also pop up at inappropriate moments; one that comes to mind being a romantic scene in the beginning of the game which was hard to take seriously when a loading icon kept appearing, yelling "video game!" profusely.


These are only small complaints, however, as Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is pure fun throughout. "The sum of its parts" is a term often thrown around when it comes to video games, but in this case, it describes the game in question perfectly. Every mission and gameplay element, whether side content or part of the main campaign, adds up to form a plot about rebellion and uprising that you always feel fully invested in. 

Considering this is a sequel to a sequel, Brotherhood fully earns its place in the Assassin's Creed series by improving on the previous entry in many ways. For the developers to have achieved that only a year after releasing their last great game is no simple feat.

Rating: 9/10

Sunday, 6 November 2011

This Week, I 'Ave Been Mostly Playing... (31/10/11 - 06/11/11)

Trophy Huntin' wasn't working out. It seemed like a good idea when I started it, but I've discovered that some achievements and trophies offer very little in the way of something to comment on. Team Fortress 2 is a good example, as most of its achievements are earned by accident. On weeks where I'm playing a game that dishes out frequent trophies for even the smallest thing, I end up with quite the intimidating list to tackle. One look at all the plot-based Arkham City trophies I got this week made me realise it was time to scrap Trophy Huntin'.

So, I'm giving this format another try; a casual overview of what I've been playing during the week. This blogging thing... it's a learning process.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

Finishing one set of distracting side-quests led to another. After completing the fantastic 'Leanardo's Machines', I just couldn't bring myself to continue with the story until I'd paid a visit to each of the Romulus shrines, which would eventually lead to the locked treasure room. For once, I hadn't read any spoilers as to what was unlockable in the game, so I had no idea what I was going to be rewarded with. It makes for some surprises, and without spoiling anything, the reward for destroying Leanardo's machines came completely out of nowhere and provided a new, fun way to travel around Rome, and even pull of some ridiculous looking assassinations. The eventual reward for completing all the Romulus shrines was more traditional, but still worth it.

I've really enjoyed the assassin guild system, which allows you to train up your recruits by sending them away on missions around Europe. It may feel more involving than it actually is, but it keeps up the illusion well. The outcome of half a dozen Ezios to call upon at any time is worth the time spent training them up.

With side business taken care of, I finally found myself on the home straight. The last few sequences weren't particularly long, but built up to a suitable climax. There was a strange moment where, in the penultimate Ezio sequence, the gameplay became absolutely terrible. For plot reasons, you were unable to use any weapons except for a certain item you'd recently retrieved. Using it didn't make a lot of sense, and I'm still not convinced I worked out the correct way to complete that section. I ended up calling on my assassin recruits to do the killing for me, but I can't imagine what it'd be like for someone who hadn't paid a lot of attention to assassin leveling. A minor glitch in an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable game.

And I finished it. I'm glad it was 1am when I did, because it was the perfect time to have my mind blown. The ending had me interested in Desmond's story for the first time ever. That's how much of a shocking cliff hanger it was.

I'm looking forward to Assassin's Creed: Revelations, but I'll probably give it a few months before playing it, and let the hunger for some more assassin action build up.

Batman: Arkham City

I'm not going to hide it; I was a massive fan of Arkham Asylum. The combat was engaging, the gameplay was solid, and there was a generous amount of Batman villains, all of which were very well represented. So far, these qualities have all been carried over to Arkham City.

Though a lot of time is still spent inside buildings, the environment feels a lot more natural now that it's a city, rather than the confines of an asylum. It means you run into more spontaneous brawls, and even groups of armed henchmen outside of the structured stealth rooms. It also allows for a lot more side missions, all of which are distracting me just as they did in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. The Riddler's puzzles are back, but there's a much needed sinister edge to them this time, as there are now hostages involved that can only be rescued by playing his insane games.

The Catwoman sections seem interesting enough, but only from a story point of view. She plays mostly the same as Batman, with a few moves swapped out to be more Catwoman-esque but retaining the same function. They do tie in well with the main story though, and I'm glad I'm not missing out. Whether or not it'll be a significant hole for those who buy used copies of the game, I can't say just yet.

World of Warcraft

My alt, the troll druid Grimtoosk, is still making his way to level 85. He reached a milestone this week and hit level 80, so our little leveling group is finally up to Cataclysm content. It doesn't seem that long ago that I took my orc warrior through these zones, but I'm enjoying them again all the same. Hopefully we might hit a few of the dungeons while we level, as I'm still yet to see any of the Cataclysm 5-mans. It's about time I picked up the tanking reins once again.

Friday, 4 November 2011

DLC: The Cupcake to the Expansion Pack's Gateaux

The age of downloadable content (DLC) began with the rise of the online platform for consoles, as well as internal storage space and the ability to install game data. Previously, it was mainly PC games that received additional content in the form of the much meatier expansion packs. Though console hard drives began with a small amount of storage space, there was the potential for expansion packs to become a trend on consoles too.

However, the console market is very different from the PC gaming market, and that's most likely why DLC rose as the dominant method of adding to existing games. For console owners that had never really gamed on a PC, it might have appeared as a strange, alien concept to pay £20-30 for extra content in a game they'd already paid full price for to begin with. The appeal of DLC is that it provides content in smaller, more affordable, easy to swallow chunks.

Whether for good or for bad, DLC has spread to PCs and has begun to stamp out the expansion packs we once knew. Take Civilization V, for example; past Civilization games have had one or two expansion packs, including the rather successful Beyond the Sword for Civilization IV, which included new mechanics, units, buildings and a multitude of playable civilizations. Since the release of the fifth game in the series, several playable civilizations have been released as individual DLC packs. It's looking less and less likely that there's even going to be an expansion to Civilization V, because Firaxis are leaving themselves with less to put in it. The result is that even though we are getting some of the extra content we're used to, the big expansion pack that provides something of an overhaul to the game is unlikely to ever see the light of day. Though games like World of Warcraft and The Sims 3 are sticking to tradition, in many cases, the expansion pack is dying out.

I see several problems with the DLC model, one of which is that, whereas you knew you were getting something substantial with an expansion pack that almost felt like an entirely new game, you can never be quite sure what you're getting for your money with DLC. How many hours of gameplay are you going to get out of it, and is it worth the cost being asked for? You can't really be sure until you take the plunge and play all the way through it. There's not a lot you can do if you finish the content in a couple of hours and feel dissatisfied.

We're potentially getting less out of a full release too. Cosmetic items such as costumes used to be unlockable, but are now only available for a small fee. Detaching this content from the main game has also led to pre-order nightmares such as with Batman: Arkham City, where several different stores in the US were offering a different costume for Batman if you pre-ordered from them.

From an enthusiasts point of view, several DLC packs released over the course of a few months to a year can fragment the experience. When you return to a game that you finished months before, it takes a while to refamiliarise yourself with the controls, gameplay elements, and the storyline. To achieve that re-integration and still have plenty of time to enjoy new content afterwards was possible in an expansion pack. It brought you back into the game's world, and you were reminded of all the great things that you enjoyed about it the first time round in a fresh new experience. It was almost like rejuvenation for a game you thought you'd left behind. DLC, on the other hand, brings you back for two or three hours, then asks you to spend more money on a another pack that's usually completely unrelated and disjointed from what you've just completed.

You also have to ask yourself if it's even worth returning to a game you've moved on from for as little as a couple of hours. This was my experience with Mass Effect 2. I thoroughly enjoyed it when it was first released, but never revisited it to try out any of the DLC afterwards. Short stories were released, introducing new characters or revisiting old ones, even tying up certain plot arcs that have been part of the series since the beginning. But I've had no desire to dive back into Mass Effect 2, even though there's new content waiting for me. This may be all down to personal gaming behaviour, but when I'm ready to start something new following completion of a game, I look for something I can really sink my teeth into. A short, fleeting visit to an older game just isn't something I'm looking for.

It looks like DLC is here to stay, though, as it's seen great success in a business sense. Rather than resist it, I just have to hope that there are developers that can make it work. After recently playing the first Portal 2 DLC pack, I may yet be convinced.

It seems like a winning formula; Portal 2's co-op doesn't really focus on an overarching plot and is more about pure Portal gameplay, which just so happens to be very strong, even without the set pieces of the single player. It still had the problem of re-adjustment to game mechanics, but I happily played through each new chamber with my co-op buddy, and can safely say that I would pay for more. The puzzles were more smartly designed than ever before and posed a satisfying new challenge.

But the real reason I returned to Portal 2 at all was because this DLC was free. With the absence of a price tag, even I couldn't resist at least trying it. Steam downloaded it without me even noticing, so it was all ready for me to play without having to do anything at all. It lured me in with promises of no commitment, and now I have a taste for it.

It's a skill that developers are going to have to pick up if they want DLC to be accepted by the non-believers. Those few hours are going to have to be jam packed with so much quality that we really feel like we've made a valuable purchase. No longer can they provide more of the same and expect us to be sold by the mere addition of some extra plot. It wouldn't hurt, either, if developers followed in Valve's footsteps and started offering their initial DLC packs for free as a taste of what's to come.

I'll miss expansion packs, but I have to hope that there's potential for the DLC model; potential that hasn't yet been fulfilled.

Saturday, 29 October 2011


Blizzcon has been and gone, and we now have the name of the next World of Warcraft expansion: Mists of Pandaria. This is a very risky expansion that doesn't follow the usual format of being centred around a known villain. Instead of all the hype being focused around taking on lore favourites, such as the Lich King or Deathwing, Blizzard now has the task of building up excitement for the overall experience, and is hopefully ready to present a storyline that's just as epic as you would expect.

From what I've seen, opinions are divided on Mists of Pandaria. Blizzard is either going to surprise, disappoint or prove a lot of people right.

Pandas, You Say?

The headline feature of the new expansion is the introduction of the pandaren race into World of Warcraft, as well as their homeland, Pandaria. The race of anthropomorphic pandas has actually been around for some time, and made an appearance back in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne as a neutral unit. Still, by bringing them to the forefront of Warcraft lore in the new expansion, Blizzard has surprised many who may have only heard of them as an old April Fools joke.

It's easy to agree that a race of pandas seems a little out of place in a fantasy setting, but from the look of the artwork we've been treated to so far, they've made it work. It came as a relief that they don't look overly silly as you might first presume they would. Once you get over the fact that you're looking at a fluffy panda warrior, the creature you're seeing starts to become endearing. Somehow they fit in with the rest of the races, and I can easily imagine them fighting alongside orcs, tauren and goblins (my pandaren is going to be Horde, obviously).

The land of Pandaria also seems to be in keeping with the rest of Azeroth. I've always enjoyed the variation in landscapes when travelling between Kalimdor, the Eastern Kingdoms and Northrend, so it's interesting to now see an Asian inspired continent being added. What's impressive is that they've taken this Asian theme and made it look like it still belongs in World of Warcraft.

Furry Fists of Fury

Another risk that Blizzard has decided to take on is the introduction of a new class; the monk. The death knight, introduced in Wrath of the Lich King, caused all sorts of balance issues that have taken a lot of work to iron out, so it does appear to be very brave of them to be adding another new class so soon. Perhaps the revamped talent system (covered later) has somehow simplified the process of adding a new class. Whatever the case, a new class is always exciting, especially one that will have the low level zones full of pandas fighting boars and raptors.

The monk is a melee class that will rely primarily on his or her fists. The roles of dps, tank and healer will all be available to the monk, most likely in an attempt to increase the numbers of tanks and healers to shorten queue times for dungeon groups. I'm very much looking forward to following in the footsteps of Chen Stormstout and taking on the illusive title of Brewmaster, which will be the tanking specialisation for the monk.

War! Huh!

After putting down some of Azeroth's most troublesome foes, many were wondering "who are we fighting next?" It came as a surprise then, that Blizzard answered with "each other." Mists of Pandaria will further the story of the growing hostility between the Horde and Alliance.

It's been building up throughout Cataclysm, and Mists of Pandaria could be when it all comes to the crux, and full on war breaks out between the two factions. Thanks to certain events in Northrend, and a shift in leadership to a more vicious, warmongering chieftain, the Horde is fragmented, while the Alliance is standing as a more powerful, united force than ever. I'm sure it's not going to be quite as simple as one side against the other. Blizzard loves its shades of grey.

Cookie Cutters

Possibly the most drastic upcoming change is the revamped talent system. Talent trees, which have been in the game since the beginning, are to be thrown out. Specialisations will remain, so there'll still be such a thing as Arms, Fury and Protection for a warrior, for example. The difference is that you'll now be automatically given the abilities and bonuses that would have been in the talent tree, and you'll only make a choice once every 15 levels between 3 different talents. The aim is that none of these talents will be mandatory, and that it will all come down to personal choice and how useful you'll find them for your own style of play.

As expected, I'm seeing the knee-jerk words "dumbing down" being blurted out all over forums. If you actually stop and think about what's happening here, Blizzard is just removing a redundant system and replacing it with something that'll allow for more character customisation than ever before.

When a character reaches the level cap, the majority of WoW players will look up the talent spec that's best for their character, because someone has crunched the numbers and worked out the most optimum way of distributing talent points. It's usual that you'll find a 'cookie cutter' spec, with a few talent points left over to make your own choices with. Since you're only going to be putting yourself at a disadvantage by taking anything other than the optimum talents, most players will copy the spec they've found, and dump the remaining points in some filler talents.

The only part of this that Blizzard has removed is the mindless allocating of points to the talents that someone else has worked out as the 'correct' ones. Looking at the new warrior talents (my class of choice), it looks like I will have some real decisions to make that could change my style of combat significantly.

Of course, another advantage that comes with this is that players who DON'T do their research when deciding on their talent build no longer have the risk of ending up with a sub-par character. Coupled with the item level restrictions on the dungeon group finder, putting players on equal ground like this might be one more step to making pick up groups a little less painful.

Not All About Raiding

I don't raid, these days. I did once, and I enjoyed it, but through all the repetition and scheduling, it's a lifestyle I just couldn't keep up with in the end, at least not if I wanted time to play games other than WoW. I'll probably give the raid finder a try since it'll require less of a job-esque commitment than regular raiding, but I still need something more to keep me entertained at the level cap, or I might find myself just endlessly leveling alts.

That's why I have a great amount of interest in some of the new in-game activities announced.

PvE scenarios, for a start, could be a brilliant evolution of the now abolished group quest. The problem with group quests was that they only worked during the first month or so of an expansion, while everyone was leveling. Several months down the line, it's difficult to find enough people to help you with group quests as most people are done with leveling altogether until the next expansion. By moving these types of quests to the end-game and integrating them into the group finder tool, they could work again. Not only that, but by turning them into a series of quests with an ultimate goal, they should bear a little more meaning. The rewards won't hurt, either.

Dungeon challenges could add new life to the 5-man dungeons that would otherwise grow stagnant. Just as achievements nudged players into doing things they might not have usually thought of doing, challenges that reward medals (read: bragging rights) and vanity gear for transmogrification should offer plenty of fun goals for non-raiders and raiders alike to strive for.

And then there's pet battles. Let's take a look at the feature list:
  • Companion pets can be leveled and used in battle against other players' pets. 
  • You can capture wild pets, some of which will only appear in certain locations, at certain times or during certain weather conditions.
  • You can train up a team of battle pets.
  • Combat will be turn based, with each pet using a set of abilities.
  • Pet masters will be found all over the world. When beaten, your pets can take on one of their abilities.
It's not in the least bit subtle, is it? I wouldn't be surprised if Blizzard decided that being part of the Alliance or Horde denotes playing Blue or Red version of WoW, respectively.

For now, I'm going to call it an interesting idea and leave it at that until I can actually try it out for myself. Playing Pokemon while playing WoW is not something that's ever had a place on my wish list of features, but if Grymtooth the Hallowed, equipped with the Horseman's Helm and Blade, can send his Sinister Squashling into battle and strike fear into pet battlers everywhere, I might be on board. Maybe we'll all unwittingly catch pet battle fever, and there'll be an entire section on Elitist Jerks (The Elitist Four?), theorycrafting pet teams. Who knows?

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Trophy Huntin' (25/09/11 - 22/10/11)

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood 
(Playstation 3)   

Complete DNA Sequence 3

This sequence acted as another introduction to some of Brotherhood's mechanics, focusing on the various guilds (thief, courtesan and mercenary), which I haven't paid much attention to since. The different NPCs act the same way as they did in Assassins Creed 2, and you now get to choose which of them to deploy in each district. Honestly, with all the other tools Ezio has at his disposal, I've rarely made use of thieves, courtesans or mercenaries. Fellow assassins make them a little bit redundant.

Principessa in Another Castello
Complete DNA Sequence 4

With regards to stealth sections in games, I've been spoiled by Metal Gear Solid. It was the first game of its kind that I played, and got me used to playing with a radar that clearly pointed out the field of vision of guards. Many games that have you sneaking about don't include such a luxury, and I generally choose head-on combat when given the option.

Escaping from the manor in this sequence, fighting my way out was indeed an option. But Brotherhood hit me with another of its '100% sync' objectives, challenging me to sneak out without being detected at all. Usually, I wouldn't have bothered with remaining stealthy as killing is so much quicker and easier, but a challenge like this is not so easily ignored.

Surprisingly, I had a lot of fun approaching the mission this way. It required some concentration and observation, but it really made things interesting to be playing in a totally different style to what I'm used to. Thank you, Brotherhood, for putting me in touch with my rogue-ish side and making me feel like a true assassin.

Complete DNA Sequence 5

More of the same; sneak in, kill a guy, run away. The target was one of those annoying debt collector types hidden behind a small force of armed help. I hate characters like that. Ending him was a pleasure.

Forget Paris
Complete DNA Sequence 6

Attack of the pallet swap guards! The blue uniforms mean they're French.

One of the things I enjoy about Assassins Creed is the variety of scenarios you're given. This time, I led a fairly sizable group of men, all disguised as guards, right into the middle of the enemy's base. There was no giant wooden rabbit involved, unfortunately.

Undertaker 2.0
Discover the Shrine in the Catacombe di Roma

That's the second of the Shrines of Romulus done, and I believe there are four more to go. There's a locked off room with a big, shiny treasure chest in the middle of it that I can only get to by completing all the shrines. I'm sure curiosity won't let me complete the game without finding out what the treasure is.

Destroy the Machine Gun

Destroy the Naval Cannon

Destroy the Tank

As far as side missions go, Leanardo's machines have to be the best in the game, by far. The amount of scripting in them is impressive, and these could easily be part of the main line of missions.

I'm glad I did get myself acquainted with sneaky tactics in earlier missions, as all of these have included a section where detection is an instant fail. They require a lot of patience, but the pay off is that you get to play with a unique weapon of some kind, before destroying it for good so that it doesn't end up in the wrong hands.

So far, I've fired a machine gun from the back of a horse and cart during one hell of an escape sequence, fired a cannon from a small boat at the sails of some gigantic ships, and driven a tank. That last one doesn't even need further description. It's a tank.

Home Improvement
Renovate 5 buildings in the Antico district

I've got to the point now where money is no object. If I see a building pop up on the minimap that hasn't yet been renovated, I'll do so. It's not something I've had to pay much attention to; I'm just idly rebuilding Rome, as you do.

Recruit 3 Assassins

This is the game changer, so much so that the game has been named after it. Having a guild of assassins that can be called upon at any time, at any location is unbelievably useful. Where they actually come from, I don't know, but they're very efficient and will arrive at the scene as soon as you make the call.

Best of all, having your assassins spotted by the guards doesn't count as detection for Ezio, so it's a very convenient way of removing a few pairs of eyes (not literally, blurgh) when you're trying to stick to the shadows.

Dust to Dust
Find 1 Artifact in 2012

Scanning the list of trophies, I found that this was the only one I had left that I'd need to obtain as Desmond.

Reluctantly, I returned to the present to grab it, before stupidly sticking around long enough to check Desmond's emails. I'd gone from the epic tale of a guild of assassins trying to overthrow Rome's evil dictators, to the story of a stolen yoghurt. And then my face rested firmly in my palm.

Spring Cleaning
Kill a guard with a broom

Trophy or not, why wouldn't you?

Your Wish is Granted
Throw money in a well    

I wished for a trophy. It came true.

Katamari Forever (Playstation 3) 

Single Player
Played through 50 single player Requests in a row

I never did finish Katamari Forever. Last time I played, I got stuck on the level that involves lighting a bonfire with a fiery katamari that annoyingly extinguishes when you're several minutes in. Loading it up again this week, I completed the level on the first attempt. It's an odd phenomena, but I find that happening quite a lot.

I made a lot of progress after that, before hitting another wall with a level that has me increasing the temperature of a katamari up to a certain point. Cold items are my worst enemy, and they are everywhere.

World of Warcraft (PC)

Character: Grymtooth (Orc Warrior) (Formerly Grimtooth. Transferred to a server where the name was already taken... /sniff)

Working Around the Clock
Obtain 525 skill points in two primary professions

Blacksmithing was a lot easier to max out this time around. I now have even more stuff to sell for profit! I'm sitting on a respectable 50000 gold right now. Let's see if I can double that by the end of next month.

Character: Zulgrim (Troll Death Knight)

Dual Talent Specialization
Visit your class trainer when you are at least level 30 and activate your Dual Talent Specialization

I wanted to try my hand at some group quest soloing, and picked up a second specialization (blood) purely for that purpose. It worked out pretty well, and I managed to finish all the group quests in Hellfire Peninsula all on my own.

Character: Grimrott (Undead Hunter)

Level 10
Reach level 10

Another alt? Since returning to the game after Cataclysm's launch, I haven't really touched the Eastern Kingdoms. There are a few things I want to do before the end of the expansion, and completing all of old world zones again is one of them. I started this undead hunter, and I'll be sticking to the Eastern Kingdoms while leveling. I'm sure there's a lot of new lore to discover there, and I don't want to miss any of it.

Team Fortress 2 (PC) 

General Achievements

Accumulate 1000 total kills

1000 people have been unable to "outsmart bullet."

Impenetrable Defense
Successfully defend Dustbowl without giving up a capture

Dustbowl has become a favourite map, alongside Badwater, and tends to be part of our weekly rotation. I don't know what the blue team were up to, but apparently it wasn't pressing forwards.

Demoman Achievements

There Can Be Only One
Decapitate your nemesis

I finally picked up the sword to go with my chargin' targe. I've never really played a demoman, but I've been killed many times by one charging towards me, sword swinging. Turns out it's quite fun when you're the decapitator, rather than the decapitated.

Spy Achievements

Counter Espionage
Backstab a disguised spy

I could claim that I've been observing spy patterns, and learning all their tricks, but I think this happened when a spy disguised right in front of me. A fluke, as usual.

May I Cut In?
Backstab an enemy and the Medic healing him within 10 seconds of each other

I crafted myself 'Your Eternal Reward', a knife that instantly disguises you as whoever you kill, and doesn't show the death animation to anyone around the victim. It's as if the kill never happened. This unfortunate medic didn't notice that the heavy he was healing had actually become me. It's a fun knife.

A Cut Above
Kill a gun-wielding Spy with your knife

I tend to panic when I'm discovered as a spy. Instead of switching to my gun, I usually flail around with my knife. This time I was lucky enough to be discovered by a spy who was a really bad shot.

Engineer Achievements

Quick Draw
Kill a spy and two sappers within 10 seconds

The Wrench Connection
Kill a disguised spy with your Wrench

"Spy sappin' mah sentry!" Both of these achievements were earned at the same time. This spy clearly hadn't realised you're supposed to run away when you've sapped a sentry gun, as it always results in an angry engineer, swinging his wrench around.