Friday, February 24, 2012

Game Review - Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening (expansion)

Game Review - Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening (expansion)

Score -4 (Dragon Age: Origins score +12/-8, reviewed here)

Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening is an expansion for Dragon Age: Origins. Expansions typically offer more mechanics, more monsters, but less hours of gameplay than the original game. No exception here. What is significantly different here is the loss of moral choices in each of the main quests. It was a theme in the original game (which nevertheless had little effect on the final outcome), but Awakenings is much more linearly and simply scripted. The only non-linear part is in which order you do the quests.
- Probably the most disappointing part of Awakening is the story. It's just not that interesting. And the quests you do on the side only touch on the overall story, so that they feel very disconnected and irrelevant, and they didn't really advance the story, deepen the mystery, or enlighten you to what's going on. They were just very long sidetrips. In some ways Origins had this as well, but your trips to see the Dwarves and the Dalish at least were ultimately tied in to the main story by the treaties and your quest to assemble an army (not that you actually needed any of them in the end). There was a story here, and a sort of wrap-up to the whole problem of Blights, but it wasn't compellingly told and what you did to get to the end came across as quite boring. What the expansion could have done was improve on the original gameplay, making you interested in replaying it. For example, it could have made the new mechanics/content -- classes, skills, spells, use of runes, etcetera -- available in Origins, making it worthwhile to replay that, especially as some people might have uninstalled their game and not have a savegame to import.
- Some poorly thought out expanded content, and nothing fixed from the previous. For example, runes were strictly for weapons in the original game, and could not be used on mage staves, bows, or crossbows. Nothing changed here, so if you weren't dual-wielding, you lost out. In Awakening, runes are now available for armor, but not for mage robes, so again mages were excluded. They are powerful and useful enough on their own, however.
- Glaring bugs, like two Captain Garavels after in the throne room after defending Vigil's Keep. Or one of the conspirators against you appearing in court after you exposed and killed them.
- The new character specializations sound interesting initially but aren't actually that interesting to use. They are implausibly attained (reading a book can get you fade warrior powers) and compared to their activation cost, not cost efficient. Warriors now get Stamina potions to keep up their stamina and allow them to use powers more frequently, but the actual powers aren't particularly interesting or useful. I found myself using Origins content only in spells and powers, and still using no potions because the game is generally easy enough at Nightmare mode. The low-level stage where High Dragons are dangerous is long past.
(-) Like other titles associated with the developers, such as their early Dungeons and Dragons based games, we see inflated monster scaling for no good reason. We already took points off for this in our review of Dragon Age: Origins, so I'm not taking more off here, but just reiterating this criticism. A fantasy role-playing game is more rooted in plausibility than, say, Diablo or Dungeon Siege II, which plays more like an arcade fighting game. In Dragon Age: Origins: Awakening, even peasants can be level 27 and have epic amounts of health because your main character is of a high level. What they could have done was to leave trivial encounters trivial, and focus their attention on scripting interesting things to do, on plot events, and choices to be made. At a high to epic level, characters should be focussed on doing epic things. There were a lot of missed opportunities here that don't need epic-levelled enemies. Examples:
  • "Endurance mode": In Kal'Hirol, there are three broodmothers and supposedly a Darkspawn army gathering. The huge golem you fight is a nice encounter, but where's the darkspawn army? And the final encounter with the broodmothers is also trivial. What could have been done was to swarm the characters with a very long stream of darkspawn. You don't have to kill anyone's FPS with too many monsters on the map at once, but you can keep the characters engaged in a very long combat with constant reinforcements -- use attrition versus inflation.
  • Bosses could use more reinforcements or staying power. They don't have to strike harder, just last longer. The Baroness could have been scripted to fade into incorporeal spirit form to partially heal and open tears to the fade, allowing demons to enter and keep the characters busy.
  • The prison/gauntlet in the Silverite Mines could have been turned into a rescue quest where the final count of rescued persons adds to the defenders in Amaranthine or Vigil's Keep. No epic combat needed, but instead using skills to protect and heal allies.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freelancer Cheats and Mods

Freelancer Single Player (SP) Cheats and Mods

Most mods for Freelancer are big overhauls that extensively change the game and generally make the Single Player campaign unplayable. We have some simple cheat mods that keep the basics of Freelancer, but release some of the restrictions on the game to change your experience of the Single Player Campaign. Depending on what you like, you can make it easier, harder, or just different.

The mods are basically edits of the INI files in the ..\Freelancer\DATA directory or subdirectories. Simply find the same file, make a copy of it as a backup, and overwrite it with our edited version.

Mods: (GQ Freelancer Mods Download Link)
File: ..\Freelancer\DATA\EQUIPMENT\market_misc.ini
What the mod does:
  • Removes the level requirement on all ship equipment (guns, shields, thrusters).
What this means:
  • Not a lot unless you pair it with another mod below. For example, even though you can buy a Class 6 gun, unless your ship can mount it, the game won't let you buy it anyway.
  • It does mean that if you come across a good Thruster, you can pick it up right away if you have enough credits.
File: ..\Freelancer\DATA\EQUIPMENT\market_ships.ini
What the mod does:
What this means:
  • You still need the cash to buy the ship, but theoretically it means you can fly any ship at any level.
  • The Single Player campaign is tightly level-limited -- you can have any amount of cash, but your level is dependent on your progress in the campaign. The challenges in the game are therefore relative to the ships you can reasonably expect to be flying. If you can get a better ship (or at least one that can take more punishment), you can have a slightly easier time in the campaign.
  • Pair it up with the modded market_misc.ini file above to release restrictions on gear you can have.
  • For plot reasons, various jump gates and jump holes in the Single Player campaign are locked until you reach certain campaign stages. You are therefore still limited in the types of ship you can fly in the Single Player campaign simply because you can't get to the appropriate ports to buy certain ships. More ships will still be available overall, however.
File: ..\Freelancer\DATA\EQUIPMENT\st_equip.ini
What the mod does:
  • Sets all shields to class 1. You can therefore mount any class shield on any type of ship, although Light Fighter, Heavy Fighter, and Freighter distinctions still hold.
What this means:
  • If you need a lot of help in the campaign, you can mount a significantly better shield, if you can find one and can afford it.
  • If you want to fly a weaker ship, you can, and still have reasonable survivability, by having a superior shield.

File: ..\Freelancer\DATA\EQUIPMENT\weapon_equip.ini
What the mod does:
  • Sets all guns and missiles to class 1. You can therefore mount any gun or missile on any ship, providing you have the appropriate type of hardpoint (i.e., gun/missile or turret).
What this means:
  • If you can buy it, you can use it. However, each ship has its own power output and power capacity. Lower-level level ships have a lot less power, so you will need to be more accurate with your shots if you mount a powerful gun since higher-class guns draw more power per shot and you can quickly run out of power unless you can get your hands on a Nomad weapon.
File: ..\Freelancer\DATA\MISSIONS\empathy.ini
What the mod does:
  • Removes negative empathy consequences for object destruction.
What this means:
  • When you destroy ships of a faction...
    • You rapidly reduce hostility against you instead of increasing it. Instead of liking you more, you can imagine that they are basically more afraid of engaging you and are more likely to leave you alone.
    • Factions allied with them receive no change, so they do not hate you more, but neither do they like you more.
  • In gameplay, it means that you can get hostile factions to be neutral or even friendly to you, and can pacify all factions in this way without negatively impacting any other faction. You can go to their bases and even take missions for them. So, in the Single Player campaign, you could potentially go to a Liberty Rogue or Xeno base and buy their ships and weapons without having to pay for a reputation change or get law enforcement factions mad at you..
  • Known Issue: Sometimes when you are on a mission which requires destroying multiple ships, some of the ships you need to destroy may turn neutral and just linger in the area but not attack. You will still need to attack and destroy them to complete your mission. This side effect appears to be harmless.
File: ..\Freelancer\DATA\SHIPS\shiparch.ini

What the mod does:
  • Cargo Space x100, Shield Batteries and Nanobots x10.
What this means:
  • Any ship can haul a heck of a lot of cargo. You can therefore reliably pick up all the loot (including shield batteries and nanobots) you get in battle, and quickly amass cash with trade.
  • If you need more help in combat, you can now stock up on much more healing potions (i.e., shield batteries and nanobots) you help you get through tough missions.
  • To skip the intro movies when you start the game, edit  ..\Freelancer\EXE\freelancer.ini and change these lines by inserting a semi-colon as shown. Anything after a semi-colon is a comment and ignored by the game when it reads the data from the file.
   movie_file = ;movies\MGS_Logo_Final.wmv
   movie_file = ;movies\DA_Logo_Final.wmv
   movie_file = ;movies\FL_Intro.wmv
  • To make the game harder, simply forgo any shield batteries or nanobots, and fly a weaker ship.
  • To survive radiation zones, mines, and volatile gasses so you can get at some wrecks, or make the game easier overall, edit \My Documents\My Games\Freelancer\PerfOptions.ini and change the DIFFICULTY_SCALE value from 1.00 to a smaller number. At 0.00, you take no damage from anything.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Game Review - Hodgepodge Hollow

Game Review - Hodgepodge Hollow
Score +2/-3


Hodgepodge Hollow is primarily a hidden object game, with a few puzzles in between. However, the main action is searching for hidden objects and following potion recipes.

The overall feel of the fantasy artwork in Hodgepodge Hollow is that of a child's fairy tale book, with harmless-looking characters. Even dragons are adorable looking. The gameplay is quite simple, and these two factors combined suggests a game for a very young child. BUT -- Parents should definitely play it first and pay attention to the tasks you perform.
  • For example, you need "Eye of Newt" in the "Bright Idea" recipe, and to collect Eye of Newt, there is a hidden object scene where you look for 3-eyed newts. The implication, however, is that you go about grabbing defenceless animals and gouging out their eyes. Hopefully, your child won't try it in real life.
  • Another ingredient is "Forget-Me-Not Tears". In the game, these are not just flowers, but fairy flowers with faces, etc... The recipe reads, "To make a Forget-Me-Not cry, hold her over a steaming cauldron". This more or less translates to torture.
+- Childish fantasy artwork. You may or may not like this style.
+- Gameplay is fairly easy. Depending on whether you want a relaxed game or not, this may or may not be a drawback.
- The similarity of the tasks wears thin quickly, especially the potion crafting, which is basically tedious and boring.

recipe 1

Game Review - Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast

Game Review - Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast (Collector's Edition)
Score +5/-1


Like the other Mystery Legends games (The Phantom of the Opera Collector's Edition, Sleepy Hollow), Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast picks up where the fairy tale leaves off and lets you play through a spin-off tale. As with the previous games in the series, the artwork in Beauty and the Beast is beautiful. Some animations result in poorly anti-aliased images, however, but for a casual game they cannot really rely on their target audience to have strong computers, and some scenes are already sluggish with the use of certain animations/FX (e.g., smoke, which is notoriously hard on graphics processing).

Definitely get the Collector's Edition for the bonus chapter. Everything else in the Collector's Edition is of little consequence, especially the strategy guide (walkthrough), which you can find online anyway.

+ Beautiful fantasy artwork.
+ Good use of cutscenes.
+ There is a good range of puzzles to the minigames. Also the minigames try to be strongly related to the story in the type of action you are performing, a bit more so than most story-driven hidden object games.
-+ The hidden object minigames typically use a jumble of implausibly placed items. The hidden objects in the game locations, however, are fairly well hidden without being overtly out of place.
+ The story is interesting with a range of environments and actions to perform.
+There is a very nice arcade game finale. It's not a "real" arcade game in that you can't lose, per se -- you just need to figure out what to do, just like any other minigame. But it adds an active and exciting element to what is otherwise a fairly typical game for its genre.

Game Review - The Island: Castaway

Game Review - The Island: Castaway and The Island: Castaway 2

Score +3/-2

These games are linear stories with sidequests in which you further the plot or side stories by doing tasks for others. There is really no way to screw it up, so the whole premise of the game is to immerse you in the story by engaging you with tasks to advance the plot. In this way, you feel like you are part of the action when, in fact, you are just picking fruit or growing vegetables, or the like. Not too much different from a first person shooter with cutscenes and plot points, just a different set of repetitive actions.

They are similar to Wandering Willows, but less tedious to navigate because the action is zoomed out much more, you move quickly, and you can click on quest-giving characters to automatically path-find your way there. It is also similar to games like Virtual Villagers, but with a lot less micromanagement since you only control one protagonist and you don't have to worry about anyone dying of old age.

In the first game, The Island: Castaway, you come to the island after some sort of calamity has befallen it, and you are introduced to mystical happenings and superstitious natives. As you progress through the story, you begin to piece together the backstory, but it is not until the second game, The Island: Castaway 2, that we go back in time to play through the backstory and the full as well as the motivations of some of the villagers, is revealed.

If you like the gameplay and the storytelling, both games set up a third story, yet to be published.

+ The story is intriguing and interesting to uncover.
+ The pace of the game is very fast. Although some tasks require more work than others, there are things you can get to do tasks faster, and the overall pace through which you move through the plot points keeps the game engaging.
+ The characters you encounter are quite interesting, each with a distinct personality.
- The gameplay is a bit too easy. If you are looking for a more relaxed game where you can focus on plot-advancing actions or miscellaneous challenges (such as collecting all the seashells and bugs in The Island: Castaway 2), then this is not really a drawback.
- Some things are clearly implausible. For example, at one point the survivors run out of drinking water -- But there are hundreds of fruit and coconuts that can be harvested from the island. And no one actually goes to get the water later. It is also frustrating that sometimes you are railroaded into a specific action because there are no alternate solutions.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Game Review - Awakening: The Goblin Kingdom

Game Review - Awakening: The Goblin Kingdom (v1.0)

Score +3/-4


Awakening: The Goblin Kingdom is the third episode in a fairy tale story that began with Awakening: The Dreamless Castle and Awakening: Moonfell Wood. The artwork is beautiful and has many generic fairy tale elements and creatures. It is equal parts hidden object game and a series of minigames which you are allowed to skip.
+ Beautiful fantasy artwork and good music score.
+ The hidden object game action does not rely on objects scattered about other implausibly sized and positioned clutter.
+ There is a good range of puzzles to the minigames.
- Some of the puzzles don't work very well. For example, the draw-in-the-lines puzzle in the Fungal Forest has poor completion detection. Even the Strategy Guide mentions that it may be necessary to add more to the ends/corners in case the game doesn't detect it correctly. This should have been fixed instead of having to mention it as a hint.
- Some later areas need more playtesting. For example, in the Fungal Forest, there is a coin on the edge of a basin, and nothing preventing you from picking up except that the game is scripted to not allow it. This is highly counterintuitive since the coin is right there in plain view, and later in the game you can in fact pick it up. Another instance of bad playtesting/game choices is the clear-the-board match-3 game at the end of the GobHolme chapter are unnecessarily tedious because you are simply waiting for the correct pieces to appear so you can match them. If you wait long enough you will get what you need, but this can be a very long wait and it wastes the player's time with something that is not related to their skill at all. This should have been adjusted after playtesting. If it were deliberately kept, then this is a grossly bad design choice.
- The strategy guide for one of the clear-the-board puzzles in the Fungal Forest does not in fact work.
- The reasoning behind some actions is inconsistent. For example, at the icy train station you are not allowed to use your dragon to melt ice because it might burn down the train car. But later in the goblin palace, you can use your dragon on a small wooden panel without fear of burning up whatever is behind it.