Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Assassin’s Creed III: Hidden Secrets DLC for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC

Ok, just a quick one today. It’s no secret that I was unbelievably disappointed by Assassin’s Creed III, but despite that I still bought the Season Pass. The reason? See, starting soon is a three part DLC series starting known as ‘The Tyranny of King Washington’, set in a parallel universe in which George Washington crowned himself king, and Connor must take him down. I think that this is incredibly awesome, to the point that I’d happily put up with more Assassin’s Creed III to see how this plays out. With the Season Pass comes this pack, Hidden Secrets, a collection of the Pre-order and retailer exclusive DLC for the game, which I decided to give a go, because it was basically free.

This DLC is made up of a couple of new naval missions, which as the best part of the main game are certainly welcome, as well as a less successful new ‘Pegleg’ style mission set in a Mayan Temple. The Mayan Temple looks great though, with a pleasant jungle feeling rather than the forest of the main game. Of course, nothing is actually done with this different setting, but it…erm, still looked nice?

There’s no plot linking these missions, or any real sense of context, but considering that this is simply a collection of separate DLC packages this isn’t really surprising.

The Mayan mission, the main draw of this pack, sadly exposes a lot of what was wrong in this game. The structure is entirely linear, with an overreliance on scripted events with a constant wrestling of control away from the player. This DLC is also incredibly short; to complete all the new missions shouldn’t take you more than half an hour.

The Hidden Secrets DLC pack is most certainly not worth the money if bought separately of the Season Pass. I cannot emphasise this enough; do not buy this DLC separately. However, if you already have the Season Pass, give this a download, why not? If only for the new naval missions, which ran out in the main game far too soon. news_hidden_secrets_dlc_710x390tcm1976104


Borderlands 2: Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

If there is any company which single handily justifies DLC it’s Gearbox. I thoroughly enjoyed the Captain Scarlett DLC for Borderlands 2, and so had high expectations for Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage. This DLC manages to exceed its arena based structure to deliver something really quite surprising and different.

Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage doesn’t quite make the good first impression that Captain Scarlett did. The actual environs in which this DLC aren’t exactly particularly inspired. The ‘Badass Crater of Badassitude’ doesn’t live up to its name, with the only interesting location being the hellish industrial site known as the Forge. Considering the beautiful and unique vistas of the previous DLC it’s a shame that this isn’t on display here, but Mr. Torgue exceeds Captain Scarlett in other ways.

The eponymous Mr. Torgue is an excitable arms dealer who has decided to stage a tournament on top of the opening to a Vault, to answer a prophecy which states that the Vault will open when the champion of Pandora spills the blood of the ultimate coward. Piston, the current reigning Champion, tries everything in his power to sabotage the Vault Hunter’s rise through the ranks.

The actual plot of this DLC isn’t up to much, and is certainly weaker than that in the Captain Scarlett DLC, but it makes up for it by being incredibly funny. This DLC was absolutely hysterical from start to finish, particularly in the ebullient shouty delivery from Mr. Torgue, a wonderful character who I hope appears in further releases from Gearbox. The return of the brilliant Tiny Tina in the role of the Vault Hunter’s trainer was extremely welcome. Although I couldn’t have cared less about the story, with Piston being a rather weak villain, never as compellingly hateable as Handsome Jack, I thoroughly enjoyed the relentless hilarity of this release.

There’s really nothing new gameplay wise in this DLC, with the exception of the requisite hordes of new loot. There are some fun and interesting boss battles, but they were all disappointingly easy at my current level of play (mid 30s). I reached this level in one playthrough, and little effort put into grinding, so this easiness was rather disappointing. That said, the basic gameplay is as fun as ever, and I certainly appreciated the effort Gearbox put into the boss fights, easy as they were.

The presentation, from the visuals to the voice acting, was as top notch as we’ve come to expect from Gearbox. It’s so great that there are companies out there who don’t treat DLC as an onerous obligation (*cough* Vigil *cough*) but instead work hard to create something that genuinely stands alone and provides good value for money.

There’s really not a lot to say here; if you liked Borderlands 2, you’ll enjoy Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage, another excellent release from Gearbox. Here’s hoping that the next DLC, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt, lives up to the high standard set by it’s two predecessors. Borderlands-2-Mr-Torgue-s-Campaign-of-Carnage-DLC-Now-Live-on-Steam

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

It’s kind of hard to believe that ‘The Wheel of Time’ has come to an end. Begun in 1990 with The Eye of the World, the series has spread now to fourteen novels, surviving the death of its author, Robert Jordan to come to a conclusion 23 years later. ‘The Wheel of Time’ is one of the first fantasy series I read when I first came into the genre, but my experience with it has been somewhat uneven. After the excellent first six or so novels, the pace slowed to an unbelievable pace, tortuous even by the standards of a genre unfortunately given over to padding and waffle. This all culminated in the truly dire tenth novel, Crossroads of Twilight in which almost nothing happened. I have never read a book so long containing less content. Despite this, I didn’t give up on the series, as the world of ‘The Wheel of Time’ is one of the most fascinating in the genre with a cast of characters as varied as it is vast. Although things picked up slightly in the less terrible, if not exactly riveting, Knife of Dreams, things weren’t looking good for the series until the unimaginable happened and Robert Jordan tragically died. The choice of Brandon Sanderson to finish the novels was an inspired one; my admiration for Sanderson will be old news to anyone whose read my five or so reviews of his novels, and as harsh as it may be to say, Sanderson rescued ‘The Wheel of Time,’ delivering in The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight the best novels in the series since the sixth, Lord of Chaos. Sanderson used those two novels to snip off some of the vast amount of loose ends Jordan had left hanging at the time of his death, so that A Memory of Light, the final novel, can focus upon the one thing which the series has been leading towards since 1990; Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle.

A Memory of Light focuses its setting upon a few battlefronts in which most of the novel takes place. Jordan & Sanderson create an appropriate sense of the scale of the conflict, as we see long time locations such as Caemlyn torn to pieces. We also witness significant appearance thus far of Shayol Ghul, the demesne and prison of the Dark One,  with much of the novel taking place in the Blight. Jordan’s lengthy and, at times somewhat tiresome, worldbuilding is justified in this novel as it allows us to truly feel what is at stake. We know the cultures of Andor, of Illian, of Amadacia, of Tear, of the Aiel, and many more, and we don’t want them to end. This novel isn’t given over to worldbuilding, it’s world destroying, which is all the more tragic for the effort made to build up the setting by Jordan in earlier novels.

The novel opens with Caemlyn under Trolloc attack, as Talmanes and the Band of the Red Hand desperately attempt to preserve the city. The novel is fundamentally centred around six different conflicts, all vital to the success of the Light over the Shadow. We have Elayne’s attempt to preserve her nation of Andor, the attempts of the White Tower under Egwene to stem the tide of Trolloc’s out of Kandor and Lan’s desperate attempt  to hold Tarwin’s Gap in Shienar, under the command of the Great Captains Davram Bashere, Gareth Bryne and Lord Agelmar respectively.  We also have the more intimate conflicts playing a key role, such as Perrin’s battle with Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod, the internal conflict in the Black Tower between those Asha’man loyal to the Mazrim Taim or Logain and, finally, the assault on Shayol Ghul and Rand al’Thor’s final conflict with Shai’tan, the Dark One.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and I found myself pretty much entirely captivated from beginning to end, something I haven’t felt in a Wheel of Time novel in a long time. Plenty of long term mysteries get solved, and most had satisfying solutions. We finally find out what Demandred, the most mysterious of the Forsaken, is up to, and the answer caught me entirely by surprise, yet in retrospect makes perfect sense. This novel is, in essence, one giant battle scene, and at times it could get somewhat wearying. There are some good quiet moments, a moving scene between Rand and Tam was a favourite of mine, as was the hilarious reunion between Rand and Mat, but this novel is generally fairly relentless from beginning to end. At the core of this novel is a chapter named ‘The Last Battle’, which is around 200 pages long; according to Sanderson, this chapter is made up roughly equally of work from himself and fragments from Jordan, and they weave together into a battle sequence almost unparalleled in its power and excitement. I’ve long felt that the characters of ‘The Wheel of Time’ have irritatingly strong ‘plot armour’; I struggle to think of many heroic characters who have died since the beginning of the series, but wow do the gloves come off in this one. Major characters die in such pointless and tragic ways that I thought I was reading a George R. R. Martin novel. In an odd way, this reminded me of the Battle of Hogwarts at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a crescendo culminating everything seen in the series so far, a conflict so vast and vital that the deaths of major characters can only be briefly remarked upon before moving on. Alongside all this is Rand’s more personal battle with the Dark One; I was very uncertain as to what form this battle would take, and I’m very pleased with what Sanderson/Jordan came up with. There are many dissenting views on this, but on reflection I think that the approach taken here was absolutely the right one, and one which interestingly threatens to undermine everything we thought we knew about this world so far.

In a series so heavily focused on prophecy, from the Karaethon Cycle prophecies of the Dragon , to Egwene’s dreams and Min’s viewings, there were lots of things that we knew were coming in this novel. Most of these are dealt with in satisfying ways, but with so many plates spinning it’s unsurprising that a few smash on the ground. One of Min’s viewings in particular, which had particularly intrigued me since it was first mentioned years ago, ended up coming to nothing in a spectacular cop out. While most plot lines are resolved in a highly satisfying manner, some plot threads feel cheated and rushed. The most egregious of these is the resolution of the Padan Fain/Mordred story line; Fain had become one of the most interesting wild cards in the series, unbelievably sinister and powerful, yet still unaligned from the Shadow and the Dark One. I had hoped that Fain would play a key role, but he is dealt with as little more than an afterthought next to Rand’s battle with Shai’tan.

One of the many impressive things about A Memory of Light is the way in which Sanderson and Jordan’s prose weave together. It can at times be noticeable, but I never felt drawn out of the narrative by it. Both have a fairly plain, no-nonsense writing style, so they mesh together remarkably well. Sanderson and Jordan are both masters of crafting fantasy warfare; we saw this during Sanderson’s excellent The Way of Kings and in Jordan during the thrilling Battle of Dumai Wells at the conclusion of Lord of Chaos. Although perhaps the scale of the conflict isn’t quite conveyed as much as intended, we instead have a battle which zooms in on individual stories and characters, rather than the broad strokes. This is an army of dozens of individual, distinct units moving in concert, from the Aes Sedai to the Asha’man to the Whitecloaks to the Two Rivers bowmen, with each individual aspect forming into a coherent whole.

It’s the characterisation which always redeemed Jordan at his worst, and with a few exceptions Sanderson has picked up the mantle remarkably well. Many have held issue with Sanderson’s portrayal of the brilliant Mat Cauthon, a wonderful character, but I felt that these problems were fixed here. His excessive flippancy is still in place, but I never felt that this wasn’t true to the character, and the good, heroic man lurking underneath is always visible. Other characters such as Lan and Egwene, characters who have undergone some fascinating progression as the series went on, are on great display here. Sanderson actually improves some of Jordan’s more rote characters, with Talmanes of the Band of the Red Hand really coming into his own as a laconic badass. I actually really enjoyed the story of Androl, an Asha’man attempting to subvert Mazrim Taim and bring the Black Tower under the control of Logain, and his Red Ajah Aes Sedai companion Pevara. The natural distrust between a Red and a channeler of saidin undergoes a gradual and believable journey into trust and even affection. I grew incredibly fond of these two, characters who I hadn’t really paid any attention to in their previous appearances. Sanderson doesn’t fare quite so well with some others however; he’s never seemed to quite get a handle of Aviendha and Min, but considering the challenge he had ahead of him this can be easily forgiven. Some major characters don’t quite receive the screen time we may have hoped, particularly Nynaeve, Moiraine and Thom Merrilin, but considering how much is going on in this novel, it’s impressive that each character receives as much as they do!

A Memory of Light is not a perfect ending, but it is an incredibly accomplished and satisfying one, which stands as one of the best conclusions to an epic I’ve ever read. Endings are difficult, and they’re even harder when you join a series three books before the end, and Sanderson and Jordan have absolutely excelled in this release. I don’t know if it quite redeems those difficult middle books, I’d still hold back from recommending the series in the knowledge that Crossroads of Twilight exists, but I can confidently say that ‘The Wheel of Time’ has a fantastic conclusion which reflects the series at its best, not its worst. AMOL_full_cover

My Nerdy Brain

Most people (myself included) react in the same way when told what sort of game Little Inferno is: “So you just…set things on fire?” And yes, that is pretty much the gist, you just set things on fire. You buy things, you burn them, you get money to buy more things. Repeat. It’s about as simple a gameplay mechanic as you’ll find, but Little Inferno has a couple of surprises up its twisted little sleeves.

The gameplay, as you’d imagine, is very basic and unless you take it upon yourself to find every single combo, not at all challenging. That said, I did find myself get sucked in once the various inflammable objects started to come with burning effects that ranged from interesting to hilarious to disturbingly odd . By the time I’d reached the fourth of six item catalogues however, it had started to grow a little stale. The…

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Darksiders II: The Demon Lord Belial DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Another month, another disappointing Darksiders II DLC pack. I’ve never regretted a Season Pass purchase so much before, but I suppose it’s done now so I’ll play it through to the bitter end. Darksiders II was one of my favourite games of 2012, so it’s a real shame to see it reduced to this, an experience even more lacking than the unimpressive Argul’s Tomb and Abyssal Forge DLC packs which came before it.

The Demon Lord Belial returns us to Earth, an odd choice as the Earth section was by far the worst part about the main game. Certainly, little is done to distinguish this part of Earth visually from the part we saw in the main game, and is quite clearly made with reused assets with very little new going into this. I’m not opposed to using Earth as the setting in the Darksiders series, the first Darksiders game used it to great effect, but these derelict streets are entirely unengaging, lacking the stark and stylistic beauty seen in areas such as the Forge Lands and Lostlight.

Death is summoned to Earth by Uriel and her angels due to the sighting of supposedly extinct humans stirring in the wreckage. Death sets out in search of them and finds one survivor, a man known only as Hunter, who has unfortunately made a deal with the eponymous Demon Lord Belial.

The narrative actually points towards some interesting places in this DLC, which couldn’t have been said for the first two. I’m one of those people who actually likes the schlocky silliness of the Darksiders series plot; it’s almost like the videogame equivalent of a B Movie. The fact that all the humans are dead isn’t really engaged with in this series; why should the angels, demons and nephilim which populate the Darksiders setting care about a race as meagre as humans? I liked that this DLC actually looked into this, but it sadly doesn’t do so in a particularly interesting way, mostly due to not having nearly enough time to breath and tell a decent story. It’s not impossible to tell a decent story in a short DLC; the recent Omega DLC for Mass Effect 3, for all its flaws, succeeded in telling an interesting story in a compressed space of time, but The Demon Lord Belial does not pull this off.

The Demon Lord Belial is a disappointing step backwards in the Darksiders II DLC, which is almost impressive as I didn’t think that there was much room further backwards to step. For all their brevity, what these DLCs did contain was generally fun and up to the standard of the main game. Here, Vigil barely even tried. There are no puzzles, seriously none, this is a straight forward hack and slash. At its best, Darksiders II’s dungeons could rival Zelda’s in their intricacy, but you wouldn’t know it to look at The Demon Lord Belial, in which Death hacks his way relentlessly through a horde of demons without a need to engage the brain even once. This is one of the laziest DLCs I’ve ever played, far from a labour of love but a cynical attempt to fulfil their Season Pass obligations in the laziest way possible.

This DLC has the worst production values of the lot as well, containing weak character design and none of the stylistic flair that Argul’s Tomb and Abyssal Forge sometimes showed. With the exception of some rather brutal new execution animations for Death, there was nothing in the presentation The Demon Lord Belial which impressed me.

The basic mechanics of Darksiders II are so solid that, despite the huge number of flaws, The Demon Lord Belial isn’t an un-fun experience, but it’s far too short, probably less than an hour for most players. Vigil have delivered possibly one of the worst series of DLC packages I’ve ever seen; I’d almost rather have ‘Horse Armour’ than this, at least that wasn’t masquerading as something worthwhile. If you, like me, naively purchased a Season Pass, this is worth an hour of your time, but it is not worth buying separately and I encourage you not to do so.  Darksiders II The Demon Lord Belial DLC arriving on 4 December

Mass Effect 3: Omega DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

This is the DLC that fans were clamouring for after Mass Effect 3 wrapped up. The sight of the mighty Aria T’Loak lounging around in the Purgatory club in the Citadel felt wrong, and pretty much everyone worked out the BioWare were working their way up to an expansion in which we can help her reclaim Omega from Cerberus. The ethics of this sort of practise aside, Omega sadly fails to live up to the weight of expectation, largely due to fundamental misunderstanding on BioWare’s part as to what it was the fans liked so much about the Omega space station.

Omega is looking somewhat worse for wear this time around. Never the nicest place in the galaxy, we now see it only as another battlefield, a war torn series of corridors and explosions. This is the biggest issue of this DLC. I loved Omega as a hub, a great counterbalance to the utopian beauty of the Citadel. In Omega we had a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’, a nasty place but an interesting one, filled with unsavoury, entertaining characters. That’s all gone. For most of the DLC we might as well not be on Omega; there’s often little to distinguish Omega from many of the other dozens of tight corridors Shepard and his/her crew have fought themselves down during the Mass Effect trilogy. BioWare took the easy approach to this DLC, which was also entirely the wrong one. A short, action packed mission to retake Omega from Cerberus and hand it back to Aria to begin should have been followed with the reopening of Omega as a hub as in Mass Effect 2, a place brimming with new side quests and characters to meet. Instead, when we’re done we can’t even return to Omega, much less explore it. Let’s compare this to what Gearbox do for Borderlands 2; for a cheaper price you receive a whole new world to explore. How about Bethesda for Skyrim? Dragonborn gave us a whole island for only a little bit more money. Charging as much as BioWare did for this DLC is inexcusable; I like to defend BioWare, as I believe that a huge amount of the recent fan backlash is highly childish and entitled, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so.

Omega does not allow Shepard to bring his/her crew along with them, instead assigning them with Aria and a new character, Nyreen, the first female Turian in the series and, it is implied, a former lover to Aria. Shepard, Aria and Nyreen build up a resistance against Cerberus to oust them, and their leader Oleg Petrovsky and return Omega to Aria.

Despite my disappointment over the treatment of Omega in this DLC, I must confess that the narrative is up to the high standard set by BioWare. Aria is a fantastic character, with fabulously murky  motivations; although seemingly motivated purely by self gain and the pursuit of power, there’s always a hint of something else underneath it all, someone for whom the extreme liberty of Omega isn’t merely a business opportunity, but an ideological position. Aria is balanced well against Nyreen, our first Turian female, and the interplay between them is a delight. Yes, to an extent it does boil down to Nyreen: Paragon and Aria: Renegade, but this never feels overdone, with the characters evolving into more than simply angels and devils arguing on Shepard’s shoulder. Sure, the actual plot isn’t up to much, and Petrovsky is a rather cliché and dull villain, but I enjoyed Aria and Nyreen so much that I didn’t really mind. The same could have been said for bringing Shepard’s old crew with him/her; it may have been nice, but they’re not needed, and I for one was very happy to finally have the awesome Aria as a squadmate. There are some really tense decisions to make towards the end, that really captured the central Paragon/Renegade dynamic which almost defines the Mass Effect series.

The basic shooting mechanics of Mass Effect 3 are as solid as ever, and we have a few new enemies and abilities at our disposal, the most fun of which are some new biotic powers. Still, you really won’t be doing anything but shooting in this DLC, and in this sense Omega falls behind the earlier Leviathan DLC. Leviathan gave the player stuff to do that wasn’t simply fighting waves and waves of enemies, but Omega lacks that. Sure, it’s all very fun, but entirely uninspired. All this DLC does is reinforce my belief that the future of the Mass Effect series lies away from the third person shooter path they have embarked down, and thankfully the rumbling from inside BioWare seem to imply that this may be the case in future instalments.

As was often the case with Mass Effect 3, Omega is a triumph of style over substance. There’s no denying that this DLC looks great, particularly in the cutscenes and during dialogue. These are generally the most enjoyable part of the experience; that’s not necessarily a criticism, I think that’s always been the case with the Mass Effect series, but it felt even more pronounced here. Nevertheless, the production values are very high, and I suspect that it is through these that the high price point is justified. It’s just a shame that BioWare couldn’t have extended the same effort to the actual content of this DLC that they did to its visual and audio design.

Omega is a disappointing addition to a game which failed to live up to its own expectations. Omega captures the flaws of Mass Effect 3 in microcosm; if included as part of the main game this wouldn’t have been nearly as bothersome, but sold separately at this high price it’s difficult to justify. Whilst I understand that this all sounds negative, Omega is most certainly fun and tells a great story tied into one of the best characters in the Mass Effect universe. If this pops up in a half price sale, then it is absolutely worth playing, but until then the content is not worth the price of entry. 2362922-omega_vignette_o

Rage: The Scorchers DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

I really wasn’t that enamoured with 2011’s Rage, an FPS from id Software, the supposed masters of the genre. The game promised a lot that wasn’t delivered; I felt that it was marketed as an open world FPS with a strong vehicular emphasis, but in reality what we got was a series of linear shooting galleries linked by an open world. It may sound like an arbitrary distinction, but I think that it’s a significant one. I was therefore planning on skipping The Scorcher’s DLC, but a couple of factors influenced me in giving it a go. Firstly, it’s quite cheap, and has a tantalisingly huge file size for something of its price. Secondly, this DLC was released well over a year after the main game first came out, so it’s clear that id had been working hard on it and that it wasn’t rushed. To bother releasing this at all, since it’s widely known that DLC sells best relatively closely to release, implied that id felt that they really had something worth doing here, and by and large I think that they were right.

The Scorchers takes us on a mini tour of the first half of the Wasteland from the main game, which is fine as the first half was much better than the second half. Within these areas new levels have appeared. Some of these environments feel indistinct and boring, insufficiently distinguished from the main game, but there are some areas which impress, particularly the level of the final shoot out with the Scorcher gang in a derelict temple overlooking a vast canyon. I’d forgotten just how beautiful Rage could be, and by and large The Scorcher does a good job of showcasing this.

The Scorchers are one of the bandit clans, cut from the main game, and they seek to burn all life from the Wasteland. The Ark Survivor joins with Sarah, a young warrior wearing impractically sexy clothing, to bring down the Scorchers and save the Wasteland again.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. There are a couple of bends in the road but that’s really all there is to it. Then again, the storyline of Rage itself was entirely forgettable, so I wasn’t exactly expecting much in the plot department, and id certainly delivered on that nothing. Still, this DLC was never presented as anything but an excuse to shoot a lot of people in the face, so I don’t feel particularly annoyed by this; it is what it is.

The shooting mechanics are really solid in Rage, and very satisfying in a mindless ‘run and gun’ sort of way. You really don’t have to engage your mind even a tiny little bit during the shootouts in The Scorchers, but it’s undoubtedly fun. There are a fair few new levels; not that many but certainly worth it for the price. In a way, this DLC works better than the main game with the pretence of exploration stripped away, and accepts Rage for what it is. There’s a fun little nail gun with a few different ammo types added to the armoury, but I quickly found myself switching back to my trusty shotgun/wingstick combo which got me through the main game. The final boss fight of The Scorchers is a lot of fun, and is much much better than the terrible ending to the main game. All in all, this package is an enjoyable, if dumb, ride. The Scorcher s also makes an entirely necessary addition by allowing the player to continue in the Wasteland after the credits roll, a feature bafflingly nonexistent in the main game.

Rage was a simply beautiful looking game, and (on consoles) hasn’t really been matched since. Everything runs so incredibly well, in a way which has been vanishing as consoles are pushed to the limit (just look at Assassin’s Creed 3!). There are some truly jaw dropping moments and some really wonderful vistas. Sure, it’s gameplay isn’t quite as good as it’s looks, but considering the price Rage goes for these days that can be forgiven. The voice acting for The Scorchers is pretty excellent, particularly for Sarah. Sarah is sadly one of the biggest let downs of this DLC however; her VA does a great job, and she’s very charming and likeable, but her over-the-top sexy character design as well as the unnecessary forcing of her into a damsel in distress position towards the end make the character feel like a parody of ill thought out male designed female videogame characters. Despite this, The Scorchers is an excellently presented package, and it’s not difficult to see the large file size being put to use.

The Scorchers is an ambitious and, by and large, successful DLC package. So much of DLC released these days is lazy, a rushed out stop gap to keep a stream of profit until the next major release, so it’s nice to see a company do something odd and support their game so long after launch. The production values are simply wonderful, and although the shooting still isn’t particularly inspired, it’s doubtlessly a lot of fun, and most certainly worth the impressively low price on entry. rage-the-scorchers-walkthrough

Sleeping Dogs: Nightmare in North Point DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

It may not have exactly been a revolution in gaming, but last year’s Sleeping Dogs was a really solid, fun experience, a great way to close the chapter on GTA4 influenced games before the launch of GTA5 and it’s inevitable imitators. Since Sleeping Dogs was heavily influenced by Hong Kong gangster cinema, the creators decided to base their DLC on other schools of Hong Kong cinema, horror films in the case of the first release, Nightmare in North Point. This was perhaps a better idea in theory than it manages to be in reality, and sadly this doesn’t really work.

This DLC, as the name suggests, takes place entirely in the ‘North Point’ region of Hong Kong. This isn’t really a problem, as this was by far the best area of the main game anyway, and the most fun to explore. It’s certainly nice to see the area again, but it lacks the giddy thrill of seeing familiar areas grown monster-fied that Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare had, as the only real changes are in the scary glowing eyes of the passers-by and the odd inexplicable explosion. There’s nowhere new in this DLC, as it simply takes you through a tour of areas visited in the main game, and doesn’t do enough to make these areas feel new, as Undead Nightmare did.

Nightmare in North Point opens with Wei on a date with one of his girlfriends, Not Ping, because Emma Stone is too expensive to bring back, when a strange demon by erupts from the ground and kidnaps her. The kidnapper is Smiley Cat, a former Sun on Yee gangster formerly known as Big Scar Wu whose corpse was ground into cat food by his mob bosses as punishment for recklessness. For entirely unexplained reasons, Big Smile Lee has been able to raise an army of Jiang Shi and Yaoguai, demons from Chinese folklore. For further unexplained reasons, plenty of other dead people have risen as well, including some old allies of Wei’s to help him, as well as those he killed during the main game.

It’s all very lightweight and Nightmare in North point never really engages convincingly with the setting. There’s a fun thrill in seeing dead characters again, but the actual story is just so utterly lazy and boring. Smiley Cat is a disappointment as a villain; the fact that he’s dead doesn’t even seem relevant to the story, he’s just another jerk gangster with a grudge in a game filled with them.

Even worse, Nightmare in North Point actually plays less satisfyingly than the main game; the challenge of DLC is to offer something new and exciting enough to justify the price of re-entry, with the maintenance of the gameplay quality of the main game sort of being a given. This DLC fails at that first hurdle; you will spend most of this DLC fighting the Jiang Shi and Yaoguai demons and they are simply not in any way fun to fight. They must be fought in a slightly different way to the living enemies, but this difference removes any of the satisfying flow that made Sleeping Dog’s combat the best in the genre. There’s nothing else really to do in this DLC than to fight; sure there are a few chases, on foot and in cars, and one gun battle, but it’s all so brief and lazy that it’s hard to really care.

However, one thing that Nightmare in North Point does nail is it’s aesthetic. Smiley Cat looks great, as do the Jiang Shi and Yaoguai, and the world looks appropriately darkened and sinister during the whole thing. The voice acting is up to the quality of the main game, with the return of many characters both living and dead. It’s pretty clear that United Front took their time with working on the visual and audio design of this DLC, but then found themselves up against their Halloween 2012 deadline to actually give you anything fun to do.

Nightmare in North Point may be worth a go if it pops up on sale, if only for it’s cool aesthetic, but before then I can’t really recommend it. It’s not particularly long, although there are some boring side missions, but worst of all is that what you do in this DLC isn’t actually fun at all. Nightmare_in_North_Point

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Ahhh…is there anything better than embarking upon a new fantasy epic? No, just me? Ah well, screw you guys. After polishing off a huge amount of Brandon Sanderson I decided to follow the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend and give The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss a go. The Name of the Wind is the first in the ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle’ trilogy, of which there are currently two instalments released. The Name of the Wind has a lot of buzz surrounding it, and it’s not difficult to see why; Rothfuss has clearly earnt his place alongside Sanderson as one of the new darlings of fantasy, and The Name of the Wind is an excellent book despite the feeling that it is saving the best stuff for future instalments.

The Name of the Wind takes place in a setting known as ‘The Four Corners of Civilisation’, an initially generic seeming fantasy setting which promises hidden depths in future novels. The locations which we are privy to in this novel aren’t necessarily particularly vivid themselves, a few backwater towns, the brutal and divided city of Tarbean and the University, the centre of all learning in the land. To be honest, the Four Corners doesn’t initially impress as a setting, and Rothfuss doesn’t show the world building talents of some of his contemporaries. The magic system is known as ‘Sympathy’, and is tied into the connections between objects, a combination between quantum physics and voodoo. The manipulation of one object affects the other, with the efficiency of this effect dependent on how similar each object is to each other. I’m a bit fuzzy about the details of this system, it’s certainly not as rigorous or well defined as Sanderson’s Allomancy, but it’s a poorly understood art in the narrative, so that’s entirely forgivable. Despite the somewhat vague world building in this novel, it all serves a genuine narrative purpose which stops this from being a problem. The average member of the population in the ‘Four Corners of Civilisation’ is incredibly ignorant about the world they live in, with no method of fast communication really existing in this world. The average citizens of Westeros look positively enlightened compared to those in The Name of the Wind, so the lack of definition in the setting only serves to heighten narrative immersion.

The Name of the Wind is entirely centred around one man; Kvothe. Kvothe is a nigh legendary figure, with many a great deed assigned to his name. He is now spending his years in anonymity as an inn keeper in a backwater town, hiding from his fame and his past. Kvothe is tracked down by Devan Lochees, a famous historian known throughout the novel as Chronicler, and persuades Kvothe to tell his life story. Kvothe agrees, and the story is told over the course of three days, with The Name of the Wind covering the first day. Kvothe’s narrative makes up most of the novel, although there are occasional interludes into the present day, which reveals its own story involving the recent surge in appearances of nightmarish demons in the countryside. Kvothe’s story covers his youth, taking him from childhood with the Edema Ruh, travelling performers of high repute, through to his time on the streets on Tarbean, with the bulk of the novel taking place at the University where Kvothe learns the secrets of Sympathy.

I do love me a good frame narrative, and The Name of the Wind excels in its use. The juxtaposition of the ferociously intelligent, witty and lively Kvothe seen in the past with the weathered, world weary Kvothe telling the story is incredibly compelling. The ‘interludes’ into the present never feel jarring, and take place at natural breaks in the story, avoiding the breaks in the narrative flow which frame narratives can sometimes bring. Rothfuss shares a clear interest in the art of ‘storytelling’ with Stephen King; this novel somewhat reminded me of Wizard and Glass, the fourth of King’s excellent Dark Tower series, the bulk of which is spent as the protagonist, Roland Deschain, relates his past to his companions. The Name of the Wind could almost be called a yarn, but with a dark undercurrent undermining the sometimes fairy tale nature of the story. There’s something curiously self aware about the whole thing; would it be pretentious to call in postmodern?

Rothfuss excels in both aspects of the narrative; the third person omniscient narrative of the frame as well as Kvothe’s story. There’s the odd weirdly anachronistic mode of speech that crops up, that can somewhat break immersion, but it’s never too bad, and considering that this is a debut novel these flaws can be easily forgiven. This is a much stronger debut than Sanderson’s Elantris for example, and Rothfuss’s writing is utterly competent and assured. Kvothe is known as an eloquent man, but it takes an eloquent writer to convey this, and Rothfuss most certainly succeeds.

I cannot think of another fantasy novel I have read which sticks it’s focus so firmly to one character; this work lacks the sprawling cast of POVs of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Malazan Books of the Fallen or The Wheel of Time, and benefits for its focus. Kvothe is a thoroughly likeable character, and a highly sympathetic protagonist. An interesting twist on the whole story is that we are being told all this by Kvothe himself, so it’s natural to wonder the extent to which this take on events can be trusted, and whether Kvothe is holding much back. When starting this novel, I must confess to somewhat expecting Kvothe to fit into the ‘lone badass’ archetype, but in reality there’s something much more interesting here. The supporting cast is full of interesting and vivid characters, although none feel particularly fleshed out. The professors of the University are the most interesting members of the cast, and I hope to find out more about them in future novels. One character who did not particularly impress me at first was Denna, the object of Kvothe’s love, who nonetheless seems entirely unworthy of it. Behaviours Kvothe seems to find endearing and mysterious seem simply cruel and obnoxious to me, so I was incredibly pleased when another character raises this in the interludes, showing a canniness to Rothfuss. I may have underestimated him; I don’t know if I was meant to like Denna. There’s a whole extra later to this story that makes everything more complex than it first seems. I’m suspect that Rothfuss has pulled off something masterful here.

The Name of the Wind is a fantastic debut, and well worth a read for any fantasy fan. Although it’s not enough to convince me that Rothfuss deserves to stand alongside the greats, if his future works are of this quality he’ll no doubt earn that position. The Name of the Wind is a better novel than it may seem at first glance, which may sound like a backhand compliment but I assure that it’s not meant as such. I thoroughly look forward to reading the follow up, The Wise Man’s Fear.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dragonborn DLC for Xbox 360

It’s no secret that I love Skyrim. No seriously, I really love Skyrim. It appeals to everything that I most enjoy about gaming. Sure the combat is extremely ropey, the character animations are terrible and the writing isn’t even that great, but I don’t care about that, because I just want to explore. However, Skyrim isn’t my favourite Elder Scrolls game, oh no, that would be a little game named Morrowind. I sunk a frankly terrifying amount of time into Morrowind; I loved the island of Vvardenfell, in it’s beautiful weirdness, and the truly alien culture of the Dunmer. The Roman influenced Cyrodill of Oblivion and the Nordic influenced Skyrim, as great as they are, could never come close to a land absolutely brimming with weird and wonderful sights. I was therefore, frankly rather giddy with the news that the newest Skyrim DLC will return us to Solstheim, an island midway between Morrowind and Skyrim which was previously featured as the setting of the excellent Morrowind expansion pack Bloodmoon. Although this DLC, Dragonborn, doesn’t quite capture the Morrowind magic, it still almost had me weeping with nostalgia at times, and is an excellent slice of Skyrim in its own right, and is definitely a great improvement over the Dawnguard and Hearthfire DLCs.

Solstheim does tread a line between the geography of Skyrim and Morrowind. The snowy mountains in the north certainly aren’t far away from Skyrim, with Morrowind style mushrooms found in the south. Things have changed in Solstheim since Bloodmoon however; the eruption of the Red  Mountain between Oblivion and Skyrim has coated the south of the island with ash. As much as I liked Dawnguard, it missed the point of what made Skyrim great, and thankfully Dragonborn does not make this mistake, and gives us another big, beautiful world to explore packed to the brim with stuff. There aren’t any huge cities on Solstheim, but we do have the town of Raven Rock (which Morrowind veterans will remember actually founding in Bloodmoon), as well as the return of the Skaal Village and the small Telvanni holdfast of Tel Mithryn in the south east. Solstheim really is Skyrim in miniature, which is really what Skyrim DLC should be. A lot of the game takes place in Apocrapha, the plane of Oblivion which is the demesne of the Daedric Lord Hermaeus Mora. Apocrapha is utterly trippy, and a fun break from the more grounded land of Solstheim.

Dragonborn kicks off as the player character journeys to any major city in Skyrim, where they will be attacked by mysterious cultists bearing a note from Solstheim. The cultists worship Miraak, the first Dragonborn, who desire to bring down the protagonist as a pretender to the title. Miraak was sealed on Solstheim by the Dragon Priests, of which Miraak was originally a member before betraying them. Miraak has gained the support of Hermaeus Mora, who has been helping him to return to the physical plain. The Dragonborn journeys to Solstheim to take down Miraak and free the island from his thrall. In addition to this main quest, we have the plethora of side quests which define the Elder Scrolls series.

The main storyline is…actually kind of poor. In this regard Dragonborn is actually weaker than Dawnguard, where I actually really enjoyed the main storyline. Miraak never feels as potent a threat as he should, and feels oddly underplayed. However, Hermaeus Mora is a much more interesting character, and his scenes steal the plot. The main plotlines has never been the most important aspect of the Elder Scrolls games, and there are lots of much more compelling mini narratives within side quests. The weakness of the main plot, whilst disappointing, doesn’t take away from the experience nearly as much as it would in other games.

The player won’t be doing much new in the gameplay department in Dragonborn, and if the basic gameplay of Skyrim didn’t reel you in during the main game this DLC won’t change your mind. The biggest new gameplay addition is the ability to tame and ride dragons, which is much much less cool than it sounds. The player isn’t given any real control over the dragon, and it all feels a bit clunky. This feature seems shoehorned in to appeal to those who have been begging for this feature since the game’s release, but the Skyrim engine simply isn’t quite robust enough to do this sort of thing justice. Despite being marketed as a major selling point of the DLC, it’s really not that important to it; Dragonborn would have been just as great without it. However, if you’re thinking of playing this DLC because of the dragon riding, I’d give this one a miss. If, like me, you just wanted another big beautiful world to explore, then this DLC is a godsend.

I’ll confess something right now that a reviewer should never confess; I’m incapable of judging this game objectively. You see, as I first left Raven Rock and began to explore the rugged southern coast of Solstheim, music from Morrowind began to play, and with that my abilities to think rationally about this DLC became utterly compromised, so contorted by nostalgia was I. Jeremy Soule is one of the most underrated composers in gaming, and his beautiful score adds huge amounts to the experience. The voice acting is…well, pretty much the same as Skyrim’s, with many of that voice cast returning. I didn’t think the voice acting in Skyrim was too bad, it was certainly much better than Oblivion’s, but it’s hardly excellent. Still, it didn’t draw me out of the experience, and there are some amusing and tragic characters mixed into the experience with well delivered performances.

Dragonborn is one of the most complete and satisfying pieces of DLC which I have ever played, and a real must for anyone who loved Skyrim, especially people who played Morrowind. Even if you haven’t, Solstheim is a great location packed with interesting people, places and secrets. Alas, my PS3 and PC playing friends don’t have access to this product yet (it should be coming soon, but Bethesda don’t exactly have the best record with this sort of thing), but if you have this game on Xbox 360, I highly recommend giving Dragonborn a download, even if you don’t normally ‘do’ DLC.


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