Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “action rpg”

Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty DLC for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac

Well, this is how to do DLC. The firs t major Borderlands 2 DLC takes a piratical theme, introducing a few large new areas, a fun main story and a good range of side quests. All of the fun of the vanilla game is there, although there are some elements in this release which fall slightly short of the very high bar set by the main game.

Despite the pirate theme of this DLC, it doesn’t take place near an ocean, instead staying in the deserts which are the primary setting of the series. There are a handful of big new hubs, which feel admirably distinct from each other and those in the main game. Some of the most breathtaking geography in Borderlands 2 is to be found in this DLC. I particularly liked a vast lighthouse on a high promontory above the desert; I was often fond of the more vertical environments of the main game, so I was glad to see more here. I’m generally not fond of caves in videogames as a rule, and the cave levels of the main game were generally less impressive than their more open ended counterparts, so it’s gratifying to see that Gearbox have included the most lovely and beautiful cave section of the game in this DLC. A gorgeous underground oasis ironically discovered below a town in which all of the population bar one had died of thirst is a classic example of the wonderfully cruel comedy which made Borderlands 2 so great.

The Vault Hunter (or hunters if you are co-op inclined) arrive in the deserted town of Oasis, and are soon greeted by a message from the titular Captain Scarlett, who is seeking the treasure of the dread pirate Captain Blade. She recruits the player to find four compass pieces, which will reveal the location of the treasure, whilst cheerily confessing that she will almost certainly stab you in the back come the end. Along the journey there player meets plenty of new big personalities to join the roster, encounters some fun new enemies and picks up the requisite hordes of loot. The actual plot isn’t anything special at all, there aren’t any compelling twists and it doesn’t pack the emotional punch which the main game was able to. What makes the DLC so fun to play is, as always, the characters. Captain Scarlett herself is a hoot, affably sadistic, but there are plenty of other fun characters rounding out the bunch. One of the best was Shade, the last survivor in a town riven by drought, who has propped up the corpses of his former friends, pretending that they are still alive. Shade even gives you some missions ‘in character’, which was as amusing as it sounds. It would be so easy for Borderlands 2 to slip into being obnoxious, but it never does; the humour is cleverer than it may first seem.

The basic mechanics of Borderlands 2 are as strong as ever, and the levels are well designed and fun to play. If there’s any area which takes a slight step backwards from the main game, it’s in the prevalence of fetch quests. These were generally still fun, and what you’re fetching is usually amusing, but a little bit more variety would have been nice. One huge improvement is the addition of the ‘sand skiff’, a hovercraft to explore Pirate’s Booty’s locales. The vehicles in Borderlands 2 were one of its weakest points, as they lacked traction and weight, feeling unnaturally floaty. A hovercraft has no traction and is floaty, so the controls feel a lot better here, with a nice extra boost to manoeuvrability. However, if you’re hoping for something fundamentally different to what’s on offer in the main game you may be disappointed, there’s no real innovation here. More of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, when the ‘same’ was so damn fun to begin with!

The voice acting is up to its usual high standard here, with plenty of fun and amusing characters joining the fray. One tragically minor character was Aubrey Callahan III, a wonderful deadpan teenage girl, who I’m utterly convinced is named after Aubrey Plaza of ‘Parks and Recreation’ fame. There are a few technical issues, a cut out of the music during the final boss fight rather sapped the tension from the battle, but Borderlands 2 remains a remarkably glitch free experience. After the mess that was Assassin’s Creed III, this was a relief.

If you enjoyed Borderlands 2, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty is a worthwhile, but unessential purchase. If you gave this a miss you wouldn’t necessarily be missing out on anything incredibly worthwhile, but there are much worse places you could put your money. borderlands-2-captain-scarlett-her-pirates-booty

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Dust: An Elysian Tail for XBLA

Ok, to enjoy this game you’re going to have to get over one thing. The art style of this game is extremely reminiscent of the ‘furry’ style. For those who haven’t been around this funny old internet as much as I have, ‘furries’ are people who have a sexual attraction to anthropomorphic creatures, usually furry humans with pointy ears and tails and improbably huge breasts. ‘Furries’ are one of the most widely mocked and vilified sub-cultures online, although I find it hard to bring myself to care what they do; it doesn’t affect me what people choose to masturbate to. If you can get past the furry aesthetic, there’s a lot to like about this game, which seems somewhat doomed to fly under the radar as an underrated gem. I was particularly interested in this release due to it having been almost entirely the work of one man, Dean Dodrill. With the exception of voice acting, soundtrack and parts of the script, all of the work was done by Dodrill. I was interested to see whether one person could create a full gameplay experience, and am pleased to report that, by and large, they can.

The game opens with the eponymous Dust awakening in a glade, with no memory of his previous life, a talking sword named Ahrah beside him. The sword tells him to move on, but the sword’s guardian, the tiny flying Fidget, insists on joining him. Dust and his band move around the land, righting wrongs and helping the people, whilst the military campaign of the brutal General Gaius builds in intensity in the background, soon moving to the forefront of the tale.

The plot of Dust: An Elysian Tale is probably the most pleasant surprise in the game. An amnesiac hero, a squeaky voiced side kick, a talking sword, all played out in a land of talking animals? A recipe for utter horror. Instead, we get a plot which has clearly been given much thought, and although it’s not necessarily anything special, I was certainly invested in the characters and their fate. Bolstered by surprisingly good voice acting, the script manages to balance comedy and drama well. Some of the characters Dust  encounters on his journey are genuinely hilarious creations, and the more dramatic scenes are handled relatively well. If there is any flaw, it is that the motivations of its villain is rather opaque; I suspect that a sequel is planned, which may shed more light upon this.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is a side scrolling action RPG, with the content split pretty evenly between RPG and action gameplay mechanics. Those expecting serious depth in the mechanics themselves may be somewhat disappointed; the combat is pretty simple and will often devolve into button mashing, but it’s certainly fun enough. There’s a basic crafting system to keep things interesting, although the items you equip have no effect upon Dust’s highly stylised appearance, a gaming pet peeve of mine. The game is quest based, with two main towns acting as hubs. There’s a slight element of Metroidvania to the game, with backtracking and returning to previously visited locations encouraged. However, the rewards rarely match the effort required, so I doubt many players will be scouring the world for every chest as the developer probably hoped. This may read negative, but in reality it’s certainly not bad. It’s very competent,  but with few moments where the gameplay surprises you. There are very few moments which are truly bad however, with the lowest points in the game probably being the uninspired and frustrating boss fights, which are usually simple damage sponges rather than exhibiting interesting attack patterns.

The real high point of this game is in its presentation. The animations for Dust are breathtaking, rivalling those in Rayman Origins. The backgrounds have a wonderful, hand drawn feeling to them, making each location feel an absolute joy to explore. If there is any weakness in the presentation, it would be in the character design, which all feels a bit ‘Deviant Art’, but when the world these characters populate is so gorgeous it’s hard to care. The voice acting is, by and large, excellent. I suspect that many of the voice actors were amateurs, which far from taking away from the game, gives the dialogue a pleasant naturalism. The surprising high point is in the voice of Fidgit, your sidekick, who should be incredibly annoying, but is in fact a genuinely funny and charming companion. Sure, this game is pure style over substance, but when the style is this good it’s hard to care.

Dust: An Elysian Tail isn’t for everyone, but it is an incredibly achievement of singular determination. I certainly don’t regret my time with Dust: An Elysian Tail, but I’m not quite sure if I would necessarily recommend it to many others and its current price. When this pops up in the Microsoft’s XBLA sales, don’t hesitate, buy it. Before then, it’s probably worth holding off a while.

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