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Game of Thrones: Episode 6 "The Ice Dragon" Review - Xbox One
By: Alan M. Wasserman
Wrapping up a story nearly a year old; the first episode Iron from Ice released December 2nd, 2014 and almost 4 months after the penultimate episode A Nest of Vipers, Telltale Games brings us the final installment in this "season" of Game of Thrones withe The Ice Dragon. In this game; maybe more so than others in the Telltale library, the choices you make impact the lives of both the main characters and some of the secondary characters. Who lives or dies lies entirely on the people you've befriended or betrayed throughout the game, often those choices are not black or white varying shades of grey. Did you choose your life over your honor? Would you be called a craven and labeled such for eternity if it meant your house did not have to go to war? These are the root of Telltale games and in some aspects the core of the Game of Thrones experience. Unfortunately, for me this game ended up falling flat.
While I normally save the technical commentary for the back half of reviews, in this case it bears being mentioned up front. I downloaded the new episode on launch day knowing full well that I would be playing another day. When I fired up the game it took close to five minutes to even begin playing, between the main load screen checking for DLC and updates, choosing the next episode to play, and then loading into the standard "Previously on Game of Thrones" narrative it was a long time to wait before I even touched a stick or pressed a button. This delay was compounded by the review narrative continuing to have voice over and playback issues; still too often characters speak and their mouths don't move or there is voice over playing and no video on screen.
I have come to expect a certain amount of "jank" in these games. Telltale's strength is story-telling, not trying to be a technical masterpiece. But the lack of care in this game, when other games in the Telltale stable like Tales from the Borderlands, seemed so much more of a carefully crafted experience. Maybe Telltale had their development teams stretched too thin as they rolled out the final chapters of Tales, the new Minecraft game, relaunching their Back to the Future game on the 30th anniversary; all in the last 2 months? I am not a performance snob by any means and most of the time I don't usually notice a drop in frame rates or other minor technical deficiencies, but portions of this game, mostly in the action sequences, when the fame rate dropped so far it looked like I was staring at a screen capture not playing a game. Just like the narrative recaps, the game continues to have voice overs that don't always match the lips and characters often clip through objects so you so see half an arm inside a wall or a foot poking through a closed door. I feel like there should have been ample time to scrub more of this stuff out.
As always I will recap as spoiler free as possible. Since it had been 4 months since I last played this game, the recap was actually helpful. I had forgotten a couple of key things from my story and this episode starts with Gared Tuttle; perhaps the world's most loyal squire, still searching for the North Grove. He climbs a tree and lo-and-behold it's 50 feet in front of them! After a harrowing escape from a polar bear, Gared and his team of misfits locate a settlement in the middle of the North Grove. We find out perhaps Lord Forrester had more to concern himself in this place than just the Ironwood Trees. We are introduced to a new type of wildlings who hate the other standard wildings, and say they can't be trusted. Life is apparently very hard north of the Wall where no one likes anyone else and everyone hates the Night's Watch. Gared is forced to reveal his purpose of saving the North Grove and we find out the North Grove has been attacked more regularly by the wights since Mance Raynar took his forces south to fight the Night's Watch. We quickly find these inhabitants of the North Grove can handle themselves in a fight and take down a large force of wights with minimal casualties. Gared is eventually faced with a couple of hard decisions. The biggest of which is whether to take these warriors to Iron Wrath or stay here and defend the North Grove. There is a point in the story where Gared performs a ritual that feels straight out of Temple of Doom. I was expecting him to start yelling "Kali Ma Shakti de!" "Kali Ma Shakti de!"
We cut to Mira Forrester who is still skulking about at King's Landing where we now learn she has added eavesdropping to her list of dubious behaviors. Mira finally has to answer for all her shenanigans to Lady Margaery. She has the opportunity to turn in others along the way to save her own neck but, how you play it this ultimately up to you. The most scheming of the Foresters is bound to lose her head sooner or later; in one way or another. Mira's story felt very tacked on for two or three episodes in a row and this most recent portion didn't change my opinion.
Back at Ironrath, the ever dwindling Forrester line is faced with the final show down with the Whitehills. We are given a chance to choose our strategy, try and take them in a straight up assault or poison him. Either choice has you invite Ludd under a banner of truce. The choice conjures up memories of Walder Frey and his action at the Twins that resulted in the Red Wedding. This bookends the game nicely as this whole mess started outside the Twins during the Red Wedding. Asher who is now Lord of Ironrath in my game along with his pit fighter Sell Swords gives the Whitehills a fight but, ultimately numbers prevail and my tiny stronghold falls under the weight of a larger force.
In my version of the game some measure of justice was served for all the fallen lords of House Forrester, but ultimately I still lost Ironrath and Asher ended up on the run, again. As this story unfolded I was able to telegraph the end game knowing that this family faced overwhelming odds to maintain their home. And let's face it, they were Stark banner-men and thus far, that allegiance has not turned out well for anyone in Westeros.
As Cersei Lannister once said "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die"; this has never been more evident than with the Forrester family who were all ill equipped to play the game. The customary response to my usual review close of Valar Morghulis (All men must die) is Valar Dohaeris (All men must serve). The Forresters chose honor over servitude, family over alliances, good over evil, and nowhere but in the Game of Thrones Universe is choosing right over wrong punished more.
After the end game you get some nice narration from some of the show's biggest characters... Jon Snow, Ramsey Bolton, Margaery Tyrell, and Cersei Lannister all tell of their interactions with House Forrester and your choices are reflected on screen as they speak. It is probably one of the nicest touches as it ties the show into the game and makes it feel like one interconnected world. There will likely be a sequel; my hope is that it tells the same quality story, with higher quality visuals. I give the game 7 out of 10. Its emotional investment was great, but not enough for it to overcome the myriad of technical flaws. A review code was provided for this story.
Xavier S H reviews the Xbox One version of Divinity: Original Sin Enhanced Edition. A review code was provided for this report.
Age of Decadence Review - PC
Developer: Iron Tower Studio Genre: RPG
by: Luke Horn - 10/30/15
So you want to be a hero? Think again – heroes end up dead – at least in this game. The Age of Decadence is set in a Romanesque world where the moral and ethical fabric has deteriorated and one is forced to become the Byronic hero. It doesn't take one long to realize you have to make hard choices because the wrong ones will quickly put you in a pool of your own blood. You can't save everyone and you definitely can't be the valiant heavenly hero.
As a character, you are cast into a deadly world where society has fallen apart after a long era of war and destruction. There are several backgrounds to choose from which directly affect your character's ties and influences in society. However, you are not stuck to certain skill and attribute trees based on your choice. This was a positive aspect of the game. A negative aspect of the game was the lack of character physical customization. You are given few choices on appearance – given today's capability to do so, this was disappointing.
Your character starts with little to his name and must quickly find ways to advance. My beginning choices centered on deception and assassination as I chose to play a thief, which fit nicely into such a dark and violent world. The combat system is turn based and works well with the hard core RPG world the game is depicting. You may choose to fight often or simply roleplay your way through many situations. I found myself using deception and charisma as staples to my survival. This allowed me to avoid being killed in combat – because in this game death is always just around the corner. The skill tree is robust and provides a rich gaming experience. It melds nicely with the game and allows the player to enhance his/her abilities without undermining the strategy one must use in order to succeed. There are around 23 skills to choose from and the way you can use them varies. When you add this to the detailed crafting and alchemy focus, it gives the player a well-rounded game to play.
The world that has been created is vast and complicated. The combat system is turn based and is far from a simple 'Hulk smash' style. Each combat you enter into needs to be well thought out and strategy must be used. During each round of combat you receive action points and you need to spend them wisely in order to come out alive. Do not approach this in a hack-and-slash manner or you will end up meeting your god sooner than you like.
One of the draws of the game is its complex dialogue and choices your character can make. This really gives the player a unique experience. You may play it multiple times and the gaming experience stays fresh.
There are some disappointing aspects to the game. The graphics are lackluster and provide little excitement to the game. As gaming is such a visual experience, I wanted more from this side of the world. I want beautiful landscape and haunting battle scenes. The movement is often more complicated than it needs to be. I constantly found myself trying to reorient my views and center things on my character. It slowed the gameplay down a good bit for me.
However, this game provides hardcore RPG players with a plethora of options and its choices are complex and do not disappoint when it comes to the roleplaying aspect. It has a post-modern feel in the non-linear format that it uses and challenges one to think before they act – which is refreshing. The graphics left me unsatisfied from a visual aspect. However, the designers had other things in mind when they created this game. The wit and cleverness of the game allows one to easily forget the graphics. At its core, The Age of Decadence is more a Shakespearian play in the park than a Hollywood depiction of Beowulf. It is a buy for me. 8 out of 10. A review code was provided for this review.
Xavier S H reviews Xbox One version of Tales from the Borderlands: Episode Five "The Vault of the Traveler"! A review code was provided for this report
Armello Review - PS4
by Luke Horn - 09/18/15
In a golden age of science fiction, RPGs and board games such as Pathfinder and Munchkin, Armello has found an ever growing niche that capitalizes on our social geekdomness - digital board games. The digital format for board games, while at one time scorned; has found a home with all of us new age geeks. Armello's beauty and mechanics provide a mix of play, making it one of the most visually pleasing and technically sound digital board games out there.
The plot of the game is fairly simple, the king of Armello has the Rot; a terrible disease that not only kills those it infect, but also turns them into an evil beings. The four clans – Wolf, Bear, Rabbit and Rat – are racing to the king to either take his place on the throne or save him. There are several ways in which to replace the king and depending on your nature, you can do this in a good or an evil way. Like most RPG games, each clan or character has strengths and weaknesses and it is up to you to determine their alignment.
The board setup is very reminiscent of Catan and provides a natural feel for avid board gamers. Like many popular board games, the way you choose your movements across the board is what provides the strategy of the game along with the cards you collect. Be sure to think about what card you are playing and why. This is the other strategic part of the game and makes for a fun and complex setting. Play the wrong card and it can have just as bad of an impact as a botched dice roll. Due to the vast amount of outcomes, Armello is able to stay fresh for its audience.
The luck of dice rolls plays in an integral part of the game but in my opinion it does not dominate the game, it actually adds to its playability. Many of us have played Risk and know a battle is won or lost on a dice roll. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “And So It Goes.” What makes Armello so enticing is the fact that it has taken some of the best elements of the games we love and rolled them into one. Whether you like Magic, Catan, or Game of Thrones, you should be pleased by this multi-faceted digital board game.
Armello can be rather complex but developer League of Geeks has provided a fantastic tutorial that one can quickly learn the game with. With the tutorial it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to grasp the gameplay.
The multiplayer mode allows for up to four players and provides the heart of the game. We all love board games and make no mistake about it, being able to brag to your friends about how smart you are when you win is important. Luckily in today’s digital world we have been provided with formats that allow us to still do this even when our friends move away! Armello gives us the board game, without the drive that many of us no longer have the time for.
Let the dust keep settling on your cardboard board games and pick up a controller. Armello gives one both the convenience of no travel and the enjoyment of a vivaciously blended board game without the headache of waiting for that one time a year when the stars align and we suddenly find a day and time where everyone can meet. I give Armello 9 out of 10! See you online! A review code was provided for this review.
I Am Bread Review -PS4
by: Luke Horn - 09/14/15
Will Smith beware! There is a new legend in town and he will “toast” you. I Am Bread is a fun quirky game where your goal is – yep you guessed it – to become toast. Along your journey to become toast, you must remain edible in order to succeed. The game play is physics based and presents several different levels of gameplay from starting in the kitchen to flipping around in the bathroom. Each level provides several ways to become toasted.
At the opening scene of each level you are presented with a note from the Therapy Barn to Mr. Murton – a clearly depressed man that is currently going through a divorce. This storyline provides a realistic environment where you actually begin to feel bad for Mr. Murton.
At first the game controls are awkward and frustrating. However, like most situations in life, the more you practice, the more proficient you become. Once you grow adept at moving around, the game becomes a satire of life which provides Twain like humor along the way. The awkward movements that the controls create are what provide the challenge and laughter in your quest to become a toasty treat. At one point I believe I was humping a loaf of bread.
The open floor plan gives the gamer a plethora of options and can provide several different scenarios in which you can toast yourself. Objects such as skateboards, wall heaters and a smashed in T.V. quickly become your friends. It was fun to die in this game, which was rather refreshing.
The game provides several modes in which to play, which keeps your bread fresh. You can zero-g yourself across space, have a bagel race and even rampage through the board smashing everything in your path in all your angry baguette glory. This keeps the humor going and provides multiple ways in which to get your toasty yummy bread fix.
There were a few hiccups along the way. At times the gameplay was stunted by the camera angel and I felt like I had become the invisible bread man. There were also a few glitches and it seemed like I had entered a bread matrix. However, the issues were minor and did not damper the game. In fact, most of the time, they were simply funny.
I Am Bread ended up being a more interesting game than I ever thought it would be. It provided several moments of laughter and kept me entertained. Remember not to take it too seriously; you are after all a piece of bread. There is nothing more nostalgic and life centering than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And let’s face it, without the bread; it would be hard as hell to eat them. I give I am Bread 7 out of 10. A review code was provided for this report.
Xavier S H reviews Xbox One version of Tales from the Borderlands: Episode Four "Escape Plan Bravo". A review code was provided for this report.