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Dark Souls

In Dark Souls the controls are difficult to master but once you do you find them to be almost perfect. Save for a few niceties like a proper jumping mechanic they are absolutely wonderful. People don’t die in Dark Souls because they controls are imperfect. They die in Dark Souls because they themselves are imperfect. However taking any break from Dark Souls means that we will lose the precision and understanding that we have worked so hard to cultivate. So we press on. We become the spirits and stains that dot the landscape and hope that others begin to learn from us. We leave messages in the world to aide those that will follow so they may not be caught off guard.

As we fight the demons and the evils of the world we know that we will not be successful on our first attempt. But we press on because we know that the rewards are worth the price. As we fight these demons we’re struck with the sheer magnitude of evil stands before us each and every time. With each new demon we have a whole new challenge. Dark Souls isn’t there to help you win. Dark Souls knows how to defeat the demons. It’s your job to figure it out for yourself. However there is something that Dark Souls doesn’t know that is ultimately your greatest strength.

Dark Souls has no idea how to stop you. Granted it will throw almost everything imaginable at you in an attempt to stop you. In fact if you move too carelessly it will throw far more at you than you can handle and it will be successful in learning how to stop you. But then once you start over you then take this as a lesson of what not to do.

As we move through the world we care careful note of how many enemies there are and what they do. Not every enemy can be killed in the same way. While you could spend the entire game blocking this will just wear you and your equipment down. Sometimes it’s best the just charge in and other times it’s best to wait and snipe. You won’t know what the best course of action is, however, until you try. Sometimes a kind soul before you will have left a message to help you on your way.

Dark Souls Wallpaper

Nothing shows both the strength and despair of Dark Souls quite like this

Progression in Dark Souls is done slowly and this is the way they intended it to be. Not every enemy is one you can kill. Sometimes it’s best to run. Sometimes it’s best to just steer clear. Sometimes you run in swinging. You will only ever learn which is correct by trying. Once you know you keep doing it until you have it down to a science. You learn the strengths and weaknesses and exploit them. This is not your game. You don’t get to play it your way. The only way to survive is to play it their way.

As we work our way up from the Firelink Shrine and past the aqueduct we’re quickly finding that being overwhelmed is something that Dark Souls will throw at us time and time again. From enemies hanging off the side of a railing to metal covered bulls to a dragon that decimates everything in it’s path the onset of Dark Souls will not pull any punches. However the ways to beat Dark Souls are not always contained within the game. Sometime you must look elsewhere to find the solutions. Dark Souls lives outside of the console. It permeates the world around you and ceases to be an RPG and starts to become a part of your life. It’s like that pet that you tried to hide from you parents or that naughty magazine you also tried to hide from your parents. You don’t want to admit that you’re looking for help but it’s the only way to survive.

It is for this challenge and totally different gameplay that we give Dark Souls a 5 out of 5

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Star Wars: The Old Republic - Signs of War

As we approach the impending end of year deluge of phenomenal games there are few that I am this excited for. I mean yes, Skyrim is a must and with Batman Arkham City having been released earlier in the week and Dark Souls two weeks ago video gamers have already begun their descent into a long season of epic gaming. But one stands out to me as more than just a video game.

I grew up a Star Wars fan. Watching the original trilogy reminds me of growing up and hanging out with my older sister. For me this MMORPG allows me to live in the world I always wanted to when I was younger. But as this trailer shows us, it’s not going to be an easy life. Before I give you the SWTOR trailer feel I should warn you that you may feel a sudden urge to start fist pumping, cheering, and punching Sith.

We appear to be at the onset of an online RPG that will redefine all those that come after it. At least I’m sure that is their aim. Their goals are lofty and all we can do is hope they hit them and then some. BioWare has definitely pushed on with a potentially genre defining offering with SWTOR. It is either going to be a resounding success or sputter out into an overwhelming display of average. But with the fan base and hope behind it I think what will ultimately make or break Star Wars: The Old Republic is how many users pick it up and start playing.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I wonder if that condition is contagious

This gameplay trailer is, in a word, passionate. War is breaking out all across the galaxy and not all of it takes place right out in the open. There is subversion, political intrigue, and all out raging battles. Nothing appears to be as it seams and, in true Star Wars fashion, I think we can assume that there is going to be some losses. The Star Wars Universe has never been about “kicking back, take it easy, and relax”. It’s about uncovering plots, tactics, gaining the upper hand, and (when the need arises) kickin’ up a little dust. SWTOR is showing us that the universe is at a point of great unrest and it can not be won by one or two lone heroes. It is going to take a team effort to ultimately win the war.

This will not be a war won by men in suits alone. There are fights taking place behind the scenes. From Twi’lek dancers shooting soldiers in bars, to shady deals with politicians in Coruscant this war is going to go far beyond the pull of a blaster trigger or hum of a lightsaber. This will be a war on many fronts.

And now…I have goosebumps. Damn you Old Republic.

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Dragon Age II Mark of the Assassin

With new DLC comes new adventures in the Free Marches and another chance to spend time with party members that did a wonderful job of carrying the story in Dragon Age II. However in the case of Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin we not only get to once more spend time with the ones that we already know but video gamers also get to meet a whole new character named Tallis. Note: I wouldn’t click that link until after playing through Mark of the Assassin or watched Dragon Age: Redemption. 

Tallis is an elf on a mission voiced by Felicia Day, but don’t let Miss Day’s normally pleasant demeanor fool you; there is something going on with Tallis that is far more in depth than you are led to believe. In fact the whole of what is Tallis isn’t what you are lead to believe. I’m not going to get into her backstory suffice it to say that she is quite different than any elf you’ve aligned yourself with so far in the Dragon Age world.

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin Gameplay

While 90% of the game is similar to Dragon Age II there are a few tidbits here and there that need mentioning. Firstly the “stealth” aspect of the game. While this could potentially be a good idea it seems rather out of place. In it you have three options for sneaking 1.) Stay out of site 2.) Distract them with a rock 3.) Hit them in the head to knock them out. There is a very small modicum of skill or understanding required, but for me it was mostly “Just knock everyone out and move”My hulking clunking tank is not known for his stealthiness or tact. Were I to use my rogue then yes, this would seem a tad more normal however as it stands it feels like they just wanted to try something new. This is not a bad thing and it could play well in future Dragon Age games, however it just feels tacked on.

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin Characters

Dragon Age 2 Mark of the Assassin Review

Bad Wyvern! That cake wasn't for you!

Second thing worth mentioning is the fact that they did a very nice job taking Felicia Day and translating her into an elf. Facial mapping was spot on and her voice acting (as expected) was sublime. I had not watched Redemption when I began my foray into the Free Marches so I found myself asking “Why am I supposed to care about Tallis?” Even as it ends there is little backstory to her so, while I’m sure she’s nice, I just didn’t care about her. That did not, however, stop me from flirting my tank ass off. This just lends credence to the “Hawke is a Whore” theme that seems to permeate Dragon Age II. The gender or sexual preference of the person I’m talking to doesn’t matter, I’m going to make myself “available”. Loudly if need be.

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin Combat

Third there is the combat. This is the standard Dragon Age II style combat where the more mages the better you are. After one particularly nasty “optional boss” I had to restart my game loaded with mages in my party to ensure victory. While not my idea of the “perfect party” it seemed to make the rest of the game fairly easy. However other than this one optional boss the DLC seems fairly cut and dry.

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin Cameos

Fourth we have this:

Dragon Age II was not without it’s cameo’s and neither is Mark of the Assassin. Teagan makes a comeback and he does so with Isolde who utters a line that proves to be very difficult to remove from ones ears once it decides to pay a visit. Granted Teagan and Isolde serve absolutely ZERO PURPOSE other than to utter the line in the video. It’s for this reason We’re  pretty sure that BioWare threw it in there because of this clip.

This is not the only cameo to appear in Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin, however the others are relatively bit players from Dragon Age II. Aside from one.

A certain bard from Origins make’s a return in what is a very confusing and potentially interesting conversation. Leliana and Tallis have a back and forth that appears to indicate there is a rather rich and deep story there involving some form of deception. Leliana appears to know precisely who Tallis is and what she wants to the point that her very presence seems to unnerve our elven companion.

Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin Story

Finally there is the story. As I mentioned earlier I found myself asking time and time again, “Seriously, who the expletive is this girl and why do I give a flying expletive?” The story winds up being interesting but I couldn’t help but wonder if I was supposed to watch the Redemption videos before I played the DLC. I felt that maybe I was missing out on something. But as interesting as the story was it does not appear to tie into anything in the Dragon Age world other than a way to prance Felicia Day around in Rogue Armor (not that anyone is complaining about that). I’m sure at some point in the story all points will converge into on glorious moment of “Expletive me, that was AWESOME!” As of right now, however, I’m going to be here scratching my head about it all.

All in all it’s a good bit of DLC that takes a decent tick of time to get through. However it feels like it’s a tacked on vehicle for Tallis more than anything related to the lore and wondrous world of Dragon Age. For this reason it holds it back from being truly great and leaves it in the realm of “average”.

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Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Information Revealed

Multiplayer aspects in video games almost feels like it’s tacked on anymore. Many games have the general run of the mill online multiplayer option because, in video games, they want to keep you playing. Games like COD or MW thrive on their multiplayer. In fact in those instances there are people who don’t even touch the single player. However the multiplayer aspects of video games never actually impacts the single player story. It’s just kind of there. This is not to say that it’s not well received or enjoyed, it’s just that in the grand scheme of the in game world it’s totally meaningless.

Mass Effect 3 wallpaper

I'm more excited than I should be about their character creator

BioWare, however, is taking this very concept and putting it to task. Yesterday we were informed that Mass Effect 3 would have online multiplayer. We even went so far as to wager a few hopes from the initial concept. When looking at previous RPG outings into the world of multiplayer we see a very paltry showing of ill conceived attempts to bring a deeper experience. It’s difficult to pull in good multiplayer to an RPG because these are video games based around a story and this story is what drives players to keep playing. To have a successful multiplayer you need to cater to the story. So this is what BioWare has revealed that they intend to do in their official forum.

What is the Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer?

Mass Effect 3 takes place in a galaxy that is about to be overrun by Reapers and  between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 our very own Commander Shepard has been working to rally the systems together to help fight the impending threat. In Mass Effect 3 they are implementing a system known as “Galaxy at War” where you create your own Special Forces agent to team up in 4 player co-op missions. You have a variety of classes and races to choose from, so you can pretty much build your own Mordin if you wanted to.

In Galaxy at War you and your Special Forces teams work together to free territories from enemy control. As you wage this battle to free the galaxy what transpires takes an effect on your in game world. Remember that Shepard is fighting to save the galaxy and with a threat like this he’s not going to be able to do it alone. As you free territories in multiplayer you help your chances of success in the single player campaign. Mass Effect 3 has just said “You games that say ‘Here’s your world, and then here’s your multiplayer world,’ need to step your game up. It’s all one world. Let it flourish or die.”

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Characters and Progressions

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer

This. This is who I want to make for Multiplayer.

The big question is always “What familiar faces from the Mass Effect Universe will we see?” BioWare has stated that in the multiplayer aspect you won’t see any of them. They exist in the single player campaign and are pretty wrapped up with helping Shepard out getting done what needs to be done. However (as stated earlier) can you create your own character from one of the races on the Citadel. If you wanted to create a wicked Krogan tank then by all means tank away. If you wanted to create an Asari then do it. Each race will have their own abilities and skills so with the wealth of potential in the Mass Effect world our hopes are currently high.

As you play you will also able to progress your characters and weapons. This is to be expected but the details of this have yet to be revealed. One could assume that it will operate in a way similar to the single player character progressions. Whether or not your weapon upgrades carry through after each territory mission is one aspect I am personally hotly interested in. I always feel let down after I build a great weapon in a round only to have it taken away when it ends.

Now this is not to say that you must engage in the multiplayer aspect to successfully complete the single player campaign. You can still execute the ideal ending through single player alone. However it seems that the multiplayer component will help to make things a little easier. The forum also sates that this will not be the only way to help achieve victory, but just one possible way and that there are other methods you will employ to do so.

 The key to saving the galaxy is the “Galactic Readiness” level, measured by Commander Shepard’s ability to apply every possible asset – people, weapons, resources, armies, fleets – in the final battle against the Reapers. Players can impact their game’s Galactic Readiness level in multiple ways via the Mass Effect 3: Galaxy at War system, including multiplayer. Other platforms and interfaces will be announced in the coming months. It is important to note that the system is entirely optional and just another way players can have control over your game experience – it is still possible to achieve the optimal, complete ending of the game in Mass Effect 3 through single-player alone.

So what else is in store for us in the Mass Effect world remains to be seen. However this has most definitely caused us at PtC to perk up and take notice. While we frequently enjoy multiplayer this gives us definite cause and reason to engage it in. This could put a weight behind the entire offering that other games have yet to pull off. As of right now everything is still relatively unknown. Either way:

Shut Up and Take my Money

Yeah this says it better than I could.

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Stop the presses!  …or, the typing, anyways.  It’s been confirmed by a multitude of sources that the final installment in Commander Shepard’s story, Mass Effect 3, will feature a multiplayer mode.  The details are slim, but the teasing tagline is ‘Multiplayer Comes to Mass Effect 3: Fight Alongside Your Friends as the Galaxy Goes to War’.

ME3MultiplayerAnnouncement

The Confirmation.

Now this tiny tidbit of information is hardly enough to quell our satisfaction, but it seems this is all we’re going to get for now.  However, what does this mean for Mass Effect 3?  Let the speculation begin!

First of all, I’d like to know how such a feature could even be implemented in a game like Mass Effect.  A game that is & has been so heavily focused on a single player suddenly shifting to include multiplayer?  I just don’t see how the two will mix.  We all have grown attached to our own protagonist, Commander Shepard.  While our Shepards are unique in that we all made different choices and they don’t all look the same, I highly doubt that a bunch of Commander Shepards running around saving the galaxy in one world makes sense.  But then again, I don’t think I want to play as anyone new, because I haven’t spent as much time emotionally investing myself in his or her story.  It would be interesting if BioWare tried to work in playable companions, but do I really want to be Liara over my Shepard?  No.

ME3 Sniper

Was BioWare's first teaser trailer of Mass Effect 3 actually a hint of multiplayer?!

Then, of course, there’s the concern that the time and monetary investment in implementing such a feature will take away from what makes the game great; the single player campaign, Shepard’s story.  While I am a bit concerned about this, I’m not overly worried.  I’m pretty sure BioWare understands how important this final installment is to everyone and that they’ll be sure to take care of the main story and give it the attention it deserves.  I’m willing to show a little faith in BioWare on this one.

My question is, will the multiplayer aspect have an effect on the single player game?  And honestly, what is the goal of having Mass Effect 3 contain multiplayer?  To create a feeling of greater replayability?  To keep up with the latest trends?  It should be implemented for the right reasons, otherwise it will feel very tacked on.  If they were to somehow tie the the single player story in with the multiplayer option, it might feel more appropriate.  But they have to make sure the game is still playable for those who don’t have the option to play online.

I’m eager to hear what else comes out about the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer aspect, and appropriately wary, as well.

-Kat

Update: BioWare has gone ahead and released some information about the upcoming multiplayer in Mass Effect 3.

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As I come home from work I’m struck with the humor behind the fact that I’m about to attempt to relax with Dark Souls. This is, after all,  a video game that most people look at with some sense of woe and fear. However there is something calming about it. It’s a game where you pace yourself and take it slow. It’s not a game to rush headlong into. It takes thought, observation, and an overwhelming “never say die” attitude. It is this attitude that will continue to bring us back into the game.

As the second day begins in  Dark Souls we find ourselves sitting at the Firelink Shrine. When we previously found a bonfire we were met with one option: Leave. Now we can level up, reverse hollowing, and kindle the bonfire. To kindle the bonfire we need specific items that we presently do not have, however when we do we will be rewarded with having more Estus Flasks filled. We don’t really need this at the moment so we can go on without worry. To reverse hollowing means your spend “Humanity” that you may have acquired to become human again. I couldn’t help but think of Bleach while seeing this.

Dark Souls Knight

Wait...a barrel that doesn't explode? What's going on here?

We find that there is little to no direction other than a nearby NPC telling us that we can either go up to ring a bell or down to ring a bell. Judging by the NPC saying something along the lines of “I wouldn’t go down there. Even if I had to I would avoid it,” then it would appear as though venturing downward would not, at this juncture, be prudent. With no map and no direction other than up or down we begin to survey the Dark Souls landscape.

One direction appears to be a series of ruins with that crow that brought us here sitting atop. Just to right of the ruins lies a mountain with a staircase going up. In the distance just beyond this staircase is an aqueduct. In the distance are glowing balls of light. This can only mean one thing. Goodies await. What treasures these are remains to be seen, however we know that no matter what they will remain there until we claim them. This is the direction we must be intended to venture toward.

Since the only direction thus far has led us to believe that we should climb upward in the direction of the aqueduct we decide to venture downward to see just what it is we’re supposed to avoid. As we navigate carefully down the spiraling walkway next to bonfire we find a small open section with a woman behind a metal gate. The gate doesn’t open and the woman doesn’t talk. What she does do is fortify Estus Flasks. Given that the materials required to do so are not with us we make a mental note of this and move forward. As we descend the side of this mountain we take note of just how narrow this walkway is.

This seems to be the case in Dark Souls more often than not. We don’t have an abundance of wide open spaces. For this reason we have to be mindful of our weapon selection. I made the fateful error in Demon’s Souls of not minding my weapons. I would just swing them wildly without a care in the world. My weapons would bang against any wall I came to. Eventually they broke. I did not have the souls to repair them. So there I am stuck in a harsh and unforgiving world without any weapons and no way to get new ones. I wasn’t strong enough to punch some souls out of enemies so after 15 hours of play…I had to start over.

This is not a mistake that anyone wants to make twice. Take my advice when I say be very careful where you swing your weapon. So far we have one longsword and a sword handle. While it’s not ideal, the sword handle is our default close quarter weapon. When need be we tap the right arrow button and swap weapons.

dark souls dragon

Okay, this time I'll try dancing for it THEN stab it in the neck.

Dark Souls is a video game that excels at making the gamer paranoid. Every tight corridor or open sided mountain is a potential for death. This downward spiraling mountain side pathway is no exception. After a very short walk we come to a level waiting just outside of a circular room. In the interest of exploring we enter the room. As we walk across the center we activate a switch in the floor and the walls around us begin to move up. We’re on an elevator moving further down. This won’t do at all. Once we reach the bottom we move right back up. There is exploring and then there is asking for an ass whooping.

During the ascent we notice a message on the ground that we hadn’t before. It seems to be facing off the side of the path. Expecting a “Nice View” message we are shocked to find “Ring Ahead”. Knowing that sometimes in Dark Souls paths are hidden right in the open a downward glance is made. Below us appears to be a small and very narrow path. Edging to the side careful not to overshoot the path we fall. To our death. We have just learned two lessons. 1.) You’re going to die. 2.) Not all messages tell the truth.

Once we come back at the bonfire we quickly work our way back to where we fell to touch our bloodstain and collect our souls. On top of this we plan to leave a scathing message declaring that one to be a liar. As we arrive at the place of our first demise, we scan our options to hunt for our message list and we notice that this time around, we don’t have one. We search high and low and find no way to leave a message.

Moving back up the mountain we are met once more with the option of “which way to go”. We could go the direction that we are lead to believe we should (up the mountain) or go explore the ruins. Once more we through caution to the wind and go exploring. Inside the ruins, tucked behind narrow corridors, and atop numerous stairs, we find multiple souls and something more important: our first Covenant. It takes talking to a him a few times but we are able to form our first Covenant in Dark Souls. This is important because in doing so we can begin to learn new miracles. At this stage we must not have met some prerequisite since we are unable to actually learn anything. But now we know where this man is.

As we pass through the ruins and through a rather serene looking pool we are met with a stairway overlooking a graveyard. As we stop and pause for a moment to survey what lays before us we wait for any hint of movement. There is nothing. The graveyard is strewn with shields, swords, and bones, but nothing is moving. Then suddenly we catch a glimpse of movement. However it is not something with the intent to harm. It is in fact the opposite. In Dark Souls, as in Demon’s Souls, you will see the actions of those that came before you. Those that do well are shown to you while those that perish require you to touch their bloodstain. What we see in the graveyard is the reassuring blue glow of a successful run. Atop a pile of discarded shields and bones we see a brave soldier slash his way to victory. We don’t know what’s out there yet. We just know that whatever it is, we are going to have to kill it.

dark souls flaming enemies

Let's hope my sword kills flaming evil.

Slowly down the stairs we creep since moving too hastily into any situation can result in being surrounded with angry enemies. As we approach the bottom we see the bones start to move. This is what was being fought. We couldn’t see it because Dark Souls didn’t want us to yet. Once more we learn yet another lesson. Dark Souls will trap you. You have to be strong enough to take it on. With a few swings of our longsword we come to the realization that we aren’t strong enough to take on the two skeletons that are now before us with swords and shields. There is however a glowing orb that we want. Greed gets the best of us and we run on to collect the souls. As we grab for it more skeletons come to life and we double back rolling out of harms way. Then once more we see another glowing orb and make a mad dash for it sprinting all the way. As we run past the stairs that will lead us out we notice that even more bones are bouncing up to life. We are now being chased by multiple groups of skeletons that are far stronger than we. There is no making it out of this in one piece. Our only hope is make it to the NPCs on the off chance that they will help us survive.

We grab the last orb and once more roll to the closest thing we have to “safety” and find our way back to the initial stairway, skeletons hot on our heels. As we run through the shallow pool and into the ruins we look behind us to see if the skeletons have given up or are still in tow. As we figured they would be, they are behind us. We make our way back to the man with the miracles with whom we made our first covenant. He just stands there and watches as we fight a losing battle. We can either attempt to persevere or accept our fate and die. We never accept death and go down swinging as we are overrun with skeletons.

We soon come back to life at the bonfire nearby with a noticeable lack of skeletons. Having been two directions and not liked what we have found, we make our way up the mountain towards the aqueduct. Slowly once more we creep as we see three enemies. As the closest sits back and wanders on his own, another who was descending a set of stairs sees us and charges. We take a few steps back and wait to parry his attack. Success! Parry was made and riposte was successful. One down, two to go. We move to engage the closest enemy. He moves to take a large swing at us, opening up his chest for attack. We swing our sword in a flurry of sharp death. He falls and we focus on the knight sitting in the background next to the aqueduct.

What we don’t see is the enemy raining down fire from above. We are engulfed in flame as the knight approaches so we sprint back and take a hit of our Estus Flask. Once we engage the knight he is already swinging. We attempt to parry but are met with failure. He is going to town on us and the best we can hope for is to swing our sword and hope for the best. We somehow manage to bring him down but not before being brought near to death. Once more we must partake in the Estus Flask before turning our attention to the fire ball throwing villain atop the mountain. We wait and time our charge between his throws. As we run up to him and swing we notice that we didn’t pay attention. From behind us comes an enemy wielding an axe while from above comes another with a sword. Once more victory comes as a shock but not without a price. We cannot press forward like this. We can however see a few bright bulbs of light that offer us hope. We climb the aqueduct to collect souls and then see more down by the base. As we navigate back down we notice a third glowing orb in the distance on the far lower end of the aqueduct. Careful inspection of the nearest entry point to the structure yields a gap. Perhaps we missed a tutorial message, but at present we don’t have the slightest idea of how to jump.

But we know there is a way to get there. We climb back up and see a slight outcropping overlooking a narrow ledge in the structure. We drop onto it successfully and slowly and carefully work our way over to the body with the souls. We arrive there and to our surprise it’s not souls at all. It’s a ring that allows us to keep our souls on death. The caveat is that the ring will break once it’s used. One use, no more. We slip it on since we have a sneaking suspicion that we are not going to be making this jump to land successfully.

Once we respawn at the bonfire we know that we have a long way to go. We have died three times today but only once was it by the hand of an enemy. Tonight’s endeavors are at an end. Once more real life steps in and the dogs need tending to. Given the effectiveness of tonight’s performance day 3 will undoubtedly contain a fair amount of grinding.

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Dark Souls Playthrough Journal

There are few games that illicit the reaction that Dark Souls does with video gamers. It is feared and played with an overwhelming sense of trepidation and abject fear that some people vote to simply not play. In fact half the fun of Dark Souls is the sheer overwhelming emotion that can build up in the player. For this reason we’ve decided to document our reactions and feelings as we play Dark Souls.

As we pick up the collectors edition they were nice enough to upgrade every preorder to we initially notice that it is in fact a giant metal case. I find it strange that a video game that spends so much time telling you that it’s going to kill you doesn’t attempt to design it’s collectors edition into something resembling a casket. Dark Souls design notwithstanding the packaging presents us with our first challenge. While I may be alone in this I immediately had to resort to sharp implements to gain access to the game itself. The first challenge was met with a blade and we proved victorious.

Once the PS3 has been fired up and the game has been updated we find ourselves ready to create our character. Having played Demon’s Souls so wrongly by starting with a Wanderer as my first character (was not ready for the pain that ensued) I know better than to pick this class again. As I look through the list of what is available I settle on something simple: the Knight. Through the limited customization options I quickly get into the action. Granted this is not something to be considered a negative in that soon I’m sure I’ll be forgetting that I even have a face.

Dark Souls Bonfire

Little does that other guy know, I've been kicking his ass in a staring contest all night

As the game starts we find our character already dead and chained to a wall in a jail cell. The irony of this is as palpable as the smell of despair and sorrow in the prison that I am contained in. A game that tells you to prepare to die, even going so far as to claim that as the URL for the Dark Souls Website, starts you off already dead. Where Demon’s Souls starts you with weapons Dark Souls chooses to start you with nothing but the hilt of a sword. I am immediately paranoid as to what may wait for me as I leave my dank cell.

I am immediately comforted in knowing that the controls are virtually identical to those in Demon’s Souls. It’s like picking up an old RPG and being given a whole new story. I also see the familiar sites of messages strewn on the ground and as I read through one after the other it becomes abundantly clear that this is the tutorial stage. I’m learning how to swing my “weapon” at creatures who aren’t even attacking back. It’s okay though since the souls they give me on death are what I’m after here. After quickly dispatching three easy beings I’m met with a ladder and my first bonfire. Since we know that enemies respawn at bonfires we decide to explore the surrounding area a bit before resting. There is a large wooden door and a smaller metal door. The smaller door we are unable to open and nothing good can come of a large door so we sit and rest. Now comes time for a little grinding. Running from bonfire to starting cell and back we continually respawn enemies just to kill them. A sorrowful life they lead, to be sure, but their death serves a purpose. We don’t know what’s behind the large wooden door. We just know we want to be ready for it.

After twenty minutes of grinding we are ready to press on. As we open the door we’re struck with how well illustrated the weight of it is conveyed to the player. It is in this that Dark Souls does a phenomenal job of depicting the world around us. There is nothing simple and nothing easy. Even opening a door requires effort. Suddenly a large demon appears and slams the door behind us. In the distance we see another door open and messages written on the ground. “Run” they tell us so we do just that. After all we are armed with nothing but the handle of a sword. This is not known for its damage ability. We flee.

After fleeing the door behind us slams shut and we’re met with another bonfire so we rest for good measure. You never know what’s ahead so better safe than sorry. As we look around the room we see a small unassuming door with a message in front of it. Lessons learned in Demon’s Souls tell us to always be cautious of all new areas and don’t go running in.

We peer around the door while nestled safely next to it to find an archer taking aim at us. The message reads “get your shield”. On the ground a short run from us is a dead soldier with a light above him. This means he has something for us. It has to be the shield. We time our run between the arrow shots and as we get closer to the soldier we see a room next to him coming into view in the narrow corridor. Sanctuary. We dive into the room escaping a potentially harmful arrow. Sure enough the soldier has a shield for us. While not the greatest shield in the world, it’s still a shield. As we run back out to face the archer we charge him with our shield up and ready to take whatever he shoots. To our surprise he turns and runs. As we give chase he makes a sharp left and we give chase knowing that rushing headlong into anything is suicide.

Dark Souls Dragon Fight

And then we just make a tiny cut here, and here, and look! The dragon is now a bunny.

To our surprise this time it wasn’t. It was an easy kill and we backtrack to do some exploring. Through our exploring we find a longsword that is going to come in handy. Once we find all we can we make our way back to where the archer died and find the opening in the wall that was behind him. As we peer down through the drop before us we see the courtyard that contained the first bonfire.  We see a very small drop so we take it and come off unscathed. We look at our new surroundings not fully confident that something isn’t about to come out and stab us in a very brutal way. As we stand overlooking the courtyard to our left is a corridor that leads to nothing more than a dead end. While we do not trust this “dead end” to be truly an end we do not know how to open it. To my right is two sets of stairs, one up and one down. Since down surely leads to the previously locked door in the courtyard we look up and begin our slow ascent up the stairs. Lessons learned from Demon’s Souls teach us that no stair case is without potential for peril.

Suddenly a flurry of curse words comes out as we see a boulder bearing down on us. We do not evade it. We also do not die. This boulder is needed however since behind it it has opened up a wall that contained a dying knight. He gives me a handful of Estus Flasks and tells me a tale of a dead man chosen to come back and save the world. We think he means us. We make our way out of this newly opened hole and we are met with the same two staircases. This time we choose down since last time up seemed to hurt. As I rest at the bonfire my health replenishes and my Estus Flasks fill up as well. Thanks Dark Souls for making this easier on us. These Estus Flasks contain health in times of need and the bonfire replenishes them for us. This kindness is unexpected and appreciated. After another 20 minutes of grinding from bonfire to starting cell we decide it’s time to see what’s up the stairs.

As we climb the stairs we see an enemy waiting for us with a sword in hand. Time to see if we can still parry and riposte. By waiting for the right moment we are able to deflect his attack with L2 and respond with a normal attack with R1. The enemy falls dead. It’s nice to know we can still pull that move off. As we press forward we see a message overlooking a view. Sure to know that it says something to the effect of “nice view” we see it as a trap but still move toward it regardless. Sure enough behind us we can hear the stringing of a bow. We dodge as quickly as possible fearing an arrow in the back. Two enemies with swords come charging at me. As we engage them real life steps in. My dog Maddox has taken my wife’s shoe and is now hitting me with it asking me to give chase. Since I can’t pause Dark Souls I do a dance between melee on the screen and commanding the dog to leave it. Maddox is an asshole. He doesn’t listen. He just wags his tail and looks at me lovingly. He’s lucky I love him so much. As we finish off the two sword wielding enemies and the archer we run back quickly to a point on the level where we know we won’t be hurt. I can then take on Maddox.

We’ve lost a little health so we take hit from an Estus Flask and press on to where we killed the Archer. As we overlook his corpse we read a few of the messages. One tells us that we can have a big hit on someone if we hit attack while falling. We can also do a jumping strong attack. Interesting. To our left is a layer of white fog while before us is an open room. We peer into the room to see a lone knight in the corner. As he approaches we attempt the parry and riposte move again only meet with total failure. He deals a heavy blow, but one we can recover from. After a close battle we dispatch him. We know that our path back to the bonfire is open so we take it and replenish health. We can only guess we are not going to like what’s about to happen through the foggy door so we grind for another 20 minutes. All this grinding is being done yet we have no way to actually level up. This is becoming increasingly frustrating. The pressing need to level up is becoming apparent however the lack of ability to actually do so is rather irritating. Since we can’t level up we now grind to work on timing and combat maneuvers. It’s never too soon to start getting better.

Dark Souls Bonfire

Fancy meeting you here.

Finally it’s time to go through the foggy door. As we push through below we see that large demon that we ran from earlier. Only this time all exits are sealed. We do our strong leaping attack off of the overlooking balcony on which we stand and it connects perfectly. Half of his health is now gone. The fight is going to be manageable. That is until he swings his club. It’s about this time that dodging and rolling becoming a necessary tactic. The moves on the screen are actually being translated to movements in my own physical body. My dogs are watching me. They seem to be judging me. I don’t care. I’ve come this far without dying and I don’t intend to start now.

After working our way behind the demon and dealing a few hits he spins and swings his club. Once more dodging and rolling must be done until we can work our way behind him once more and attack. This battle isn’t as hard as I felt it should be. Once he is dead we collect a key and return to the courtyard bonfire to heal.

Underneath the balcony where we launched our initial attack is another large door for us to move through. Once pressing through here we see a wide open world before us. We however are on a very narrow cliff. Messages tell us to keep moving. Atop the first hill and to the right is a baby bird asking us for “warm and soft”. Duly noted young feathered friend. With some exploring we’re able to find some souls and move toward the very top of the cliff on which we stand. Suddenly a giant raven appears and tells us we’ve been chosen. We’re taken away from this world and onto the next. With the prologue concluded I’m left to wonder just what the hell we were supposed to give that baby bird. I know we missed something but there’s no turning back. I’m fully engrossed in Dark Souls at this point.

We are dropped at a new Bonfire that finally allows us to level up. All the grinding has payed off for us. We’re now ready to kick ass and take names. But since the dogs need to play that shall have to wait until tomorrow.

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Rating: 5.0/ Cointegrated Forex Pairs Ranking 5 (4 votes cast)

Syndicate Agent

I very rarely find myself at a loss for words but when those moments come it typically means one of two things. I’m either in love or I’m very nervous. This was the case with the latest trailer for Syndicate released earlier this week. With a video game that I spent most of my early teen years playing Syndicate by Bullfrog Productions holds a very special place in my heart. Maybe it was the trench coats, maybe it was the flamethrower, maybe it was the ability to amass an army or walking, talking bullet shields.

The trailer that was recently released met with some mixed reviews from many people. Some people loved it, some hated it, however the majority of people saw it with more hope than anything else. In case you haven’t seen it yet go ahead and check it out below.

Now what we see is a typical trailer. They aren’t going to skimp on the action. They want you to buy this game. They want you to fall head over heels in love with it. They want you to watch the Syndicate gameplay trailer and say “You are gorram right I’m going to buy the crap outta this. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” But did you say this? If you’re like me you overanalyzed the heck out of it and you’ve arrived at a few conclusions.

Syndicate Announcement Trailer Pros

A Syndicate is nothing without good agents; they are what make the really nasty stuff possible. So when the trailer starts off saying that you’re taking the role of this agent we can chalk this us as a big plus. The nice aspect of this is that agents are upgradable however the extent to which you’ll be able to play is (as of yet) being kept under wraps, but this does give us some hope.

Still has the mission clock and more importantly we get a much better voice than the one in the first Syndicate game. This is a vast imrpovement over the overly mechanical voice from the original Syndicate. However I can’t help but shake the feeling that it sounds like an attempt at a seductive GLaDOS. It is for this very reason that I will refuse to trust that it is not ultimately going to turn on me and test me in some way.

Sydnicate Announce Trailer Ocean Scene

Just look how outside I am!

It is also very apparent that we are fighting rival syndicates. Now this is not really news since that’s really the entire point of the video game. However we do know that they still aren’t getting along. Ultimately this is what leads us to hope that in some way we will have some form of territory management akin to the original video game. This is something that will, again, remain to be seen.

Now 40 seconds into the Syndicate Announcement Trailer you see someone lose control and do the agents bidding by killing the other person in the room and then turn the gun on their own head. This leads us to one logical conclusion. This can only be the work of the persuadetron? What else could allow a Syndicate Agent to gain access to someone and force them to do their bidding. While the ultimate capability of the persuadetron has yet to be released, knowing that it’s in there makes us happy.

Face stomp at 1:03. That’s all we really need to say about that.

The scale of Syndicate looks rather large. Now it’s not large on the scale of Fallout 3 or New Vegas but it does look like the missions may be slightly more grandiose than Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Now before people get angry with me allow me to explain what I meant by that line. I am not saying DE:HR was small. I’m not saying it wasn’t amazing. What I’m saying was that the missions held a certain claustrophobic feel to them. While it was perfect for Deus Ex: Human Revolution it’s nice to see Syndicate stepping up and saying “Here’s a minigun on the side of a vehicle. Have at it. See that window you’re dangling in front of in the open sky? Yeah just whoop that window’s ass.”

Syndicate Announcement Trailer Cons

syndicate-shotgun

Aaaallll byyyy MYseeeeeelllfff

Only one agent. Part of the fun I had with Syndicate and trying to set up traps. Lining up multiple agents with a brutal mix of flamethrowers and miniguns was a simple pleasure to a thirteen year old boy. With only one agent the trapping and luring aspect won’t seem quite as possible. Okay it won’t be at all possible. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that what they lack in agent quantity they make up for in agent quality.

While I stated above that the world seems more grandiose it doesn’t (from what we’ve been shown) look to be as open. We see no hint of the aforementioned territorry management that we are hoping it keeps up, nor do we see anything as remotely open world as Deus Ex: Human Revolution. While we’re not looking for them to lay out the entire story in a quick 2 minute trailer it would be nice for a tad more information on what we can expect when we’re not stomping on people’s faces while making others shoot people for us.

While it looks like a very fast paced FPS, it still looks like a fairly standard FPS. There is not much in here that really blows our skirts up. It’s still early though, but since Syndicate is scheduled for release on February 21st, 2012 they should be showing us something to get us excited. However a great game is not always great because it brings something new to the game. Sometimes they do something great by taking pieces of what’s worked before and combining them in a way that is simply mind blowing.

Additional Syndicate Information

syndicate fight

Does his thumbs up mean go for the gold?

Now what good is a video game announcement without a little pre-order information to go with it. If you were so inclined to preorder Syndicate you would get The Executive Package bundled right with it. What is the Executive Package you may be asking yourself? Well let me shed a little light on it for you. It’s enough co-op gold to make Trump jealous. You get solid gold version of all loadout weapons, something called “golden dart vision” and gold Syndicate logos during co-op missions.  They seem to be touting the gold angle.

While “fancy pants gold weapons” are interesting I am more intrigued by these missions themselves. Will they be more akin to the old school Syndicate game where a team of agents work to achieve a goal? That would certainly be an interesting angle to the multiplayer.  Looks like we’ll have to wait to find out a little more though.

What we do know from the trailer is that Syndicate looks like it should be fun to play. We’re pretty anxious to find out more about it on our end. But we’ve given you our take on the the trailer, what about all of you?

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Rating: 0.0/ Ross Technology Corporation Stock Market 5 (0 votes cast)

Seems like every time I get online over the last few weeks, I see more controversy over “always online” DRM (digital rights management) restrictions.  Penny Arcade did a comic on the subject, and forums are aflame on gaming news sites from Gamasutra  to Rock, Paper, Shotgun.  The ire most recently stems from controversy over Blizzard’s announcement that Diablo III will require require a persistent Internet connection to play…even in single-player campaign mode.  Does this irritate me?  Absolutely.  Just as it irritated me last year to hear that Ubisoft was doing that very thing with Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and sure, it irritated me more when sure enough, within a month, said DRM requirement backfired on the players.

But here’s the thing that really gets me.  When I saw the quote from Blizzard’s VP that he was “actually kind of surprised” over the backlash, at first I thought, how clueless can this guy be?  But reading the comments attached to the article, I see the problem…the fans lining up on either side of the fence are merely arguing the conveniences of the issue.  The argument of choice for those not offended by this seems to boil down to several variations on “It’s 2011.  If you don’t have 24/7 access to the internet, it’s time to crawl out of your cave, mmmkay?”  Those defending their outrage are actually responding on this level, going into great detail about rural connectivity, monthly data caps on some plans, the reliability of game servers, and whether they can Play On A Plane.

Mass effect 3

You wouldn't pass around an advertisement from Commander Shepard on the Citadel...

Folks…forget those arguments.  They’re valid points, but spending your time arguing about them diminished the reason you should be mad, in my humble opinion.  That reason is, and I want you to say it with me:

“IT’S MY GORRAM PROPERTY AND I WILL DO WHAT I WANT WITH IT.”

I realize my opinion is probably coming from an old-fashioned perception of ownership, and that my outlook is colored by having grown up pre-Internet, buying games on floppy disks and CD-ROM, books made from real trees, music on vinyl records, cassette tapes, and compact discs.  And I am not naive – I recognize the difference between my ownership of a disc and the author’s ownership of the work it contains.  I would not presume to believe that purchasing a CD gives me the right to use it for commercial purposes, or to reproduce and distribute its content to all my buddies.  But that CD – that one, specific CD – that is my property, which I happen to believe I should be able to listen to where and when I like, make copies for my personal use, or install on as many machines as I can cram into my house.

The increasingly intrusive DRM push is based on a lot of fallacies.  I’ve seen these issues raised online before, so I’m not exactly saying anything earth-shattering here, but hey, my soapbox, my prerogative:

1.  Increasingly draconian DRMs stop pirating and don’t punish paying customers.
2.  Piracy is some dread new crisis that will bring the entertainment industry to its knees.
3.  Nobody will pay for art if they can get away with pirating.

Progressively more stringent and frustrating DRM, much like the TSA, reminds me of the saying “closing the barn door after the cows have run off”.  Pirates find a way to hack the copy protection, so technology comes up with a new way to copy protect.  Which – surprise! – pirates are going to find a way to hack.  There is no such thing as copy protection that can’t be cracked.  There is only copy protection that hasn’t been cracked…yet.  And when it is, it is the pirates who have a quality, unrestricted copy of the game, while honest customers are being punished for paying for it.

video game piract

Damn it. We missed "Talk Like a Pirate Day".

Is piracy a new threat?  My parents were rather prolific pirates; you tell me (and while you’re at it, get off my lawn.  And turn that noise down!)  Oh, I didn’t think anything of it at the time…but looking back to the ‘80s, the dozens of games I had for my C64 were largely packed onto floppies with handwritten labels, several games to a disk, with phrases like “Cracked by SuperCoolGuy” on the title screens.  Our sizeable collection of VHS movies consisted of 2 movies to a tape, their titles neatly scripted in my mother’s handwriting, some recorded from TV but many copied over from video store rentals, as VHS was still fairly new and often unprotected.  My folks aren’t bad people…frankly, I think it was pretty common back then because people simply didn’t think too much about it.  Sure, I saw the FBI warning at the beginnings of movies, but my parents never copied and sold any movies or showed them publicly, and it just seemed harmless.  These days, however, every album/movie/game they have is bought and paid for, and I seriously doubt it’s because they don’t know how to make copies anymore; they simply do the right thing, as the vast majority of us do.  And you know what?  Despite the prevalence of pirating I saw in the ‘80s of VHS movies/games/cassettes before copy-protection became standard, the movie/game/music industries still flourished.  Moreso nowadays.

People will pay for what they like.  People can be outright antsy to give their money for what they like.  People will even pay money for something they already got for free – because they know that a dollar is a vote, and because when you’ve really wowed them, they want to say ‘thank you’ with their dollar.  When Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog was released freely on the internet, I fell so ardently in love with it that when it finally became available for sale, I bought it on iTunes…less because I wanted an iTunes copy of it and more because I’d been dying to pay them for what they had created.  And then I also bought a DVD copy as a gift for someone else.  It is also worth noting, however, that this was my first iTunes purchase and will be my last…because I had repeated issues with the “authorizing” the video, first when attempting to put it on my iPod, and again when I got a new laptop and got rid of my old one.  Yes, I managed to fix the issues eventually, but that’s not the point.  The point is that the hassle offended me on basic principle, as it became increasingly clear that I had not ‘bought’ the movie at all, but rather bought the right to borrow it indefinitely, just so long as I checked in with them any time I chose to do anything with it.  And yet we’re supposed to pay $50-60 for a disc we’re not allowed to use when and how we choose.  By requiring the persistent Internet connection, companies are essentially taking your money for a product, but insisting they ‘hold on to it for you’, so they can keep checking your receipt, over and over and over again.

Maybe I’m spitting into the wind arguing about it.  Concepts of ownership when it comes to digital material seem to be changing rapidly whether I like it or not.  But let’s not go quietly.  Don’t let them tell you it’s necessary, it’s inevitable, or that it’s just to ‘enhance’ gameplay.  If buying something does not give you the right to use and enjoy that something, be dissatisfied.  Tell them you’re dissatisfied.  And make it for the right reasons.

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Okay, okay.  So we all know how incredibly excited I am for The Elder Scrolls: Skryim to come out.  I literally cried a little when I watched those developer gameplay videos.  So yes, I am ecstatic for Skryim.

However.

You know what?  I’m also a little afraid.  Aside from the obvious ‘My social life is going down the drain for a month or so after Skyrim drops’, there’s another issue here.  Sometimes, I feel like an overwhelmed video gamer.

Oblivion's Open World

Over the river, through the woods... Damn, must've taken a wrong turn somewhere.

What exactly is an overwhelmed video gamer?  Well, since we’re talking Elder Scrolls, let’s take Oblivion, for example.  Oblivion, I’m sure, is a great game.  I own it, in fact.  I just never played very much of it.  Sometimes, when I’m playing a game with a massively open world, I get overwhelmed with the amount of sidequests and optional content there is available.  I get distracted.  I get overencumbered faster than you can accuse my character of stealing.  I feel… almost lost.  Directionless.  With no major push towards the main quest, I can look at the game as a whole and go, “Wow, I can’t see actually finishing this”.  So I don’t.  With Oblivion, you don’t necessarily have to immediately begin doing the main quest.  In fact, it’s very open ended.  Bethesda is adamant about not forcing you into doing the main quest.  But to me, in a way, that can be harder to deal with.

Okay, sooooo... where to next... ?

Bethesda is known for making their games open ended.  In Fallout 3, once you escape Vault 101, you don’t have to follow the main mission you were given.  In fact, you could walk out into that deserted wasteland and immediately being exploring the opposite direction of where you’re vaguely pointed to check out in the main quest.  And this would be perfectly acceptable, welcomed, in fact, by Bethesda.  But to me, a “I’ve gotta finish every single side quest” type of gamer, this is actually overwhelming.  I think it’s easier for me to be pushed in some way towards a main goal, and then side quests and additional content seems more manageable.  In Fallout 3, I can get easily distracted by a new quest that pops up.  Continually starting a new quest and finishing (maybe) 1 in 5 can be frustrating.

On the flip side, I feel that a game like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2 balances the amount of drive you’re given towards your main goal in the game and still gives you freedom to go where you want, to complete optional side quests.  Despite the epic proportions of those games, I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of possibilities of where to go next, or of how many side quests I was receiving.

The Elder Scrolls Skyrim Logo

This logo strikes both awe and fear in my heart.

I’m like this in real life as well.  I have a tendency to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed by the whole thing, rather than take it and break it down into manageable chunks.  It can be enough to turn me off from large projects.  I would never make a good project manager.  A college report, for example, could be incredibly stressful for me, because all I could think was, “I need to write HOW many pages?!”.  (By the way, let it be known that I am not currently in college; the example is simply that – an example.)

With Bethesda stating that Skyrim will be loaded with additional content, packed into approximately the same size map as Oblivion, I’m scared of getting that overwhelmed, disoriented feeling.  I don’t want to end up frustrated with how many open quests I’ve started and how few I’ve completed.  Hopefully I can push through and keep playing, because Skyrim is definitely going to be incredible.

Anyone else ever feel like this?

-Kat

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