Tag Archives: Neverwinter Nights

Neverwinter review – part three

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You made it to part three of our massive Neverwinter review! Congratulations adventurer, have an extra 1,000xp as a reward. So what’s coming up in part three? We’ll be looking at professions (everyone needs one, right?), the in-game crafting system that’s based on your profession, the economy of Neverwinter and the Auction House. We’ll also be giving you our final verdict and score.

If you haven’t read parts one and two of our Neverwinter review, I suggest doing so before proceeding further. Part one is found here and part two here.

If you’ve played any RPG in the past, you’ll be familiar with Professions and crafting. In MMORPG’s professions not only act as a way to create yourself decent armour and weapons (or gear if you prefer) but also a way to earn money in-game. In Neverwinter the system works exactly the same and professions provide a way to make/customize armour, earn currency, items, and experience. Neverwinter’s system is slightly different to other MMORPGs but it won’t take long to adjust.

Professions are unlocked at level 10 and the immediate difference is that you won’t be performing crafting tasks yourself. Instead you’ll be hiring Craftsmen and sending them out to perform tasks on your behalf leaving you free to continue adventuring. Unlike most titles, you are also able to dabble in every profession available. A single craftsman for each profession can be acquired. These tasks take up a certain amount of time ranging from five seconds to upwards of 18 hours depending upon the complexity of what you need. You do have the option to speed this up by spending Astral Diamonds, one of the games many in-game currencies.

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The majority of tasks will require you to use a number of different resources to complete them. These resources are consumable items that can be obtained through earlier tasks but mainly by using Skills and Resource Kits while dungeon delving or exploring one of the many regions within the game. In addition to resources you’ll also need a selection of different tools. By using tools of a good quality the resulting output of the task will be a much greater reward. The same can be said when assigning Craftsmen, if you have Craftsmen who are more experienced, make sure you use them for tasks with better rewards, they’ll also reduce the time it takes to perform the task. Both craftsmen and tools are known as Assets, neither of which are consumed when performing tasks.

If you are familiar with the likes of World of Warcraft, you’ll know that you are limited to one profession and one task at any time. In Neverwinter you don’t need to speak to ‘trainers’ to learn new professions and you can perform multiple tasks at once. You have nine slots for performing tasks and each slot can have a task related to a different profession as long as you have the required assets. This is a welcome change allowing more casual MMO players get involved.

There are nine professions to choose from; Alchemy, Artificing, Jewelcrafting, Leadership, Leatherworking, Mailsmithing, Platesmithing, Tailoring, Weaponsmithing. Leatherworking as an example, concentrates on creating armour for Hunter Rangers, Trickster Rogues, and Scourge Warlocks whereas Leadership will put you in charge of directing Mercenaries in performing tasks which upon completing you’ll be rewarded with gold, items, experience and additional Astral Diamonds. It’s worth investing time into your professions, as they become a valuable source of income during your time with Neverwinter.

Neverwinter contains a number of different currency types, but as you start off there will be three specific currencies you will encounter most frequently; Zen, Astral Diamonds and Gold (including Silver & Copper) GOLD (and Silver and Copper).

Zen is the currency obtained by spending real money, and can only be used while browsing the in-game Zen store. Many people are against models that include purchasing currency, but it has allowed for Neverwinter to be released as a free-to-play model, and as mentioned in part one of my review, the majority of items available for purchase in the Zen store can also be obtained by playing the game. The exception to this rule is a number of ‘service’ items that will enhance your Neverwinter experience such as additional character slots, and renaming a character. Zen points can also be obtained via Astral Diamonds on the Zen Astral Diamond Exchange.

Auction House in game
Auction House in-game

Astral Diamonds are the primary currency in Neverwinter and the one you’ll be wanting to stock up on. It’s with Astral Diamonds you have the greatest freedom to buy high-end questing gear. Astral Diamonds themselves can be earned through NPC quests and missions, invoking and praying to your deity daily, the Leadership profession and completing daily dungeons and Skirmishes. Astral Diamonds can be used to purchase almost anything, from consumables to high-end gear, among other things. If you are looking to buy simple consumables like health potions and the like, it’s Gold you’ll be wanting to use. Gold (inc. Silver & Copper) is the in-game currency for consumables, such as healing and other potions, companions, mounts, etc. It is considered by many to be the role-playing currency as it is found through the game frequently and often by accident.

Learning a profession in World of Warcraft made me a lot of in-game gold, especially during Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Crafting items from high-end, valuable and rare materials and selling in the player driven Auction House made me very rich, well my character at least. Neverwinter has an Auction house as you can expect and it works in very much the same way as all MMO Auction Houses. The Auction House provides a way for players to offer goods for sale to other players and is a key part of the game economy. All purchases on the Auction House are paid for with Astral Diamonds, not Gold. When you list an item on the Auction house you’ll be able to set the starting price for bidding but also a ‘Buy Now’ price too. Don’t forget that the Auction House will take a 10% cut of the money made after each successful sale. Once sold you head off to a Postal Courier and collect your Astral Diamonds – this is the same if you are buying items from the Auction House, you would visit a Postal Courier to collect your purchase. The Auction House is a fantastic way of getting your hands on equipment, vanity items and more much earlier in the game as long as you can afford it. And don’t forget to sell your goods on there.

And there we have it – we’ve covered all the basics you need to know to get started inNeverwinter. But what did we think of it when all is said and done?Neverwinter has a bunch of shortcomings including some framerate issues, however if you’ve never played an MMO and like the idea of exploring one from your sofa and Xbox One without the need for a gaming PC, thenNeverwinter is a great introduction. For those of you that do take the plunge (and let’s be honest, it is free so why wouldn’t you?), you’ll discover an enjoyable and rewarding adventure that albeit the under par graphics, will keep your attention and ensure you come back for more.

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Neverwinter review – part two

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Welcome back to our three-part Neverwinter review. If you landed here without first reading part one of our review, then I suggest clicking this link! In this second part I’ll be taking you through the more complex gameplay modes including general questing, skirmishes, dungeons and of course PvP. Sit back my adventuring friend, grab an ale from the barkeep and let’s begin.

Neverwinter starts off by introducing you to questing in a similar way as all other RPG’s and MMORPG’s alike. In the case of Neverwinter, your character is washed ashore after the ship you were sailing on was destroyed during the attack upon the city. You wake up, find some basic equipment and get to helping the Neverwinter Guards mop up the last of the attackers. This introductory quest line will push you towards the city itself and ultimately the main social hub of the game; Protectors Enclave. These initial quests introduce you nicely to the progression system within the game.

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Your primary goal in an MMORPG is of course the development of your character. You can play through the game a number of times, as different classes and/or races therefore experiencing ever so slightly different quests, but guaranteed you’ll be doing it to make that character the best it can be. Obtain the highest level equipment or win that legendary mount you saw another player dash on. Neverwinter features the same character progression system in which players earn experience points for their actions as other traditional RPG’s. Questing in and around Neverwinter will see you in combat with monsters and completing quests for NPCs, either alone or in groups of friends (maybe even in a Guild – but more on that in part three).

General questing will take place in Adventure Zones, the first being Protectors Enclave, which to begin with only has a small number of ‘Go visit this NPC for advice’ style quests. Adventure Zones are then broken down into groups of neighbourhoods and instances, or non-persistent zones. For example, Blacklake District and Tower District – two of the first Adventure Zones you’ll explore before reaching level 20 – are both part of the extended city of Neverwinter. As I’ve said before and will likely say many times over, Neverwinter is a typical MMO in style so many of the simpler quests involve killing a certain number of enemies, collecting certain objects and items, searching for missing NPC’s or delving into caves and mines in search of materials for the NPC quest giver.

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Adventure zones are persistent, meaning that separate instances of the zone are not created for each individual group. Instances as they are known, are kept for dungeons. Whilst this does mean you’ll be completing the same quests as others around you, Neverwinter’s respawn times for enemies and items have been sped up in comparison to that of World of Warcraft. This means you won’t spend 10 minutes waiting for your target to reappear after being killed by another player.

All the Adventure Zones have a recommended level. For instance Blacklake District, being the first of many full zones to explore, is recommended for players between level 6 and 9 whereas the Tower District is aimed at players between level 9 and 15. Characters who enter an Adventure Zone below the minimum suggested level will receive a warning before entering, but will still be able to enter. Just don’t expect to get very far unless you’re with a group of friends working together. The higher level zones will be marked red on the World Map.

Each new Adventure Zone comes with a playable Skirmish, a game mode I’ve not previously experienced in an MMO. Skirmishes are PvE (or player vs environment) instances. Each Skirmish is balanced for a team of five players with a minimum and maximum level cap. It sounds very much like the same mechanic as Dungeon Delves, however the difference here is that the Skirmishes are normally very short in duration and nine times out of ten, involve staying in a fixed area defeating wave after wave of enemies. There is the chance to pick up some good loot and the end chest reward is normally a decent piece of equipment which you’ll need to roll on. There are three types of Skirmishes in Neverwinter; the first is a standard Skirmish that forms part of the quest line you may be working through. For example, during the opening quest line in Blacklake District you’ll be called upon to help defeat a priest of the God Ghaunadaur who is summoning the undead from the bottom of the lake. You and four others will then fight three waves of undead monsters before finally confronting the priest, working together to take him down.

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The second type is a Call to Arms Skirmish, an enhanced limited time version of a normal skirmish that will allow any player between level 6 and 60 to queue and take part. These events have much improved equipment and loot available as rewards, including rare pets, mounts and themed weapons. Interestingly enough, the Call to Arms Skirmish automatically scales enemy damage given and received as appropriate to each character, meaning if you do end up with a level 6 player in your party, they’ll be just as useful as your level 60 Trickster Rogue. Finally there is a third type of Skirmish which I’ve yet to experience in the Xbox One version of Neverwinter. This is the Event Skirmish linked to calendar events in-game. Hopefully we’ll see some of these in the not so distant future.

Those familiar with MMORPG’s will likely be wanting to know more about Dungeon Delves, Neverwinter’s equivalent to World of Warcraft’s dungeon instances. As with the Skirmishes these private instances are balanced for groups of 5 players again with a minimum and maximum level. There are two key differences between Skirmishes and Dungeon Delves. The first is that Dungeon Delves involve exploring a location whether it be a dungeon, castle or tower. The other is that there is normally a number of bosses compared to just one. As with the Skirmishes there are also three types of Dungeon Delves; the first being a standard private instance, which are similar to Skirmishes tied into a quest line. You’ll need to meet the level requirements, but standard dungeons allow you to enter at any time with any number of players in tow. Epic Dungeon Delves however are a lot stricter. You have to use the game queue system, which will ensure your group is made up of five players that are made up of a Tank, Healer and three DPS (see review part one for explanation), the group leader will be picked at random and you need to have a minimum equipment score.

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There are then the Dungeon Delves that are only available through events linked to the in-game event calendar. Completing a Dungeon Delve during an event unlocks an additional treasure chest for each party member when you successfully complete the dungeon. This chest holds high-end equipment for your character and other rare and epic items you can either use of sell in the Auction House; more on that in part three. A lot of the high-end equipment you’ll be wanting to collect for your character will only be purchasable using a currency known as Seals. There are a number of Seals in Neverwinter starting with the Seal of the Lion. These can be collected from all three different types of instances, saved and then used to buy that new dagger or sword you need with the extra +250 damage. As you progress through the game and increase your own level you will encounter new types of Seals that are redeemable for better equipment. So far I have seen five types of Seals in the Xbox One version of Neverwinter. The PC version has seven.

Congratulations Adventurer, you now know enough to get out there and start questing in Neverwinter. So what’s coming up in part three? We’ll be looking at professions (everyone needs one, right?), the in-game crafting system that’s based on your profession, the economy of Neverwinter and the Auction House. We’ll also be giving you our final verdict and score. So don’t get lost out there. We’ll keep your chair warm and look forward to seeing you back here for another Ale!

Neverwinter review – part one

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Finally the time has come for the heroes of Neverwinter to rise up on Xbox One. Neverwinter is a Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) free-to-play MMORPG or massively multiplayer online role-playing game for those unfamiliar with the term. If you’ve never heard of this, think World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. Developed by Cryptic Studios and published by Perfect World, it was released back in June 2013 for Windows PC and March 31st this year for Xbox One. Based in the fictional Forgotten Realms city of Neverwinter, Neverwinter is a standalone game and not part of the previous PC series Neverwinter Nights.

Being what I would call a typical MMORPG, there is an awful lot to cover in a review so I’ll be breaking our review down into three parts. The first, the one you are reading, will look at the setting, races, classes and in-game currency model. The second and third parts of the review will look at some of the more in-depth game play mechanics including the detailed profession and crafting system, the economy including the Auction House and various currencies (excluding Zen) and banking. We’ll also take a look at Guilds, Skirmishes, Dungeons and much more. These will all be released over the next few days.

Moving on, let’s start by dealing with the elephant in the room which is the free-to-play model the game has adopted. Being a cynical person, I always cringe when thinking about any MMO that states it will be free-to-play but to be fair, it’s not as bad as I originally thought. The game itself is completely free to download and play (an active Xbox Live subscription is required). You can play for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so on and so forth. Never a charge.

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The game makes profit through the sale of in-game currency called Zen. This is used for purchasing a number of items in-game from booster packs, armour, weapons, companions, mounts and more. What is nice about this system however is everything available through the Zen store is also available to players that don’t want to spend real money, they’ll just need to play through the game and work a little harder for it. If you’ve ever played a Perfect World game before, you’ll be more than familiar with the Zen currency. You can earn Astral Diamonds by completing normal missions and in-game activities. These Astral Diamonds can then be used to purchase items in the game or exchanged for Zen on the Astral Diamond Exchange.

As with most MMORPGs the gameplay revolves around playing as a character you create. This character is leveled up throughout your time playing in a large open world. Neverwinter has a strong storyline, which weaves together different events and happenings in the open world. Most of the action takes place in instanced areas which can be open outdoor locations, dungeons, caves, sewers, crypts etc. There are other large open world locations where players compete with each other for contests and spawning monsters. However, Protector’s Enclave – the starting area where most of the earlier events take place – is a safe area without any enemies. It is here you’ll learn the basics of the game as well as find various vendors and class specific NPC’s who will set your missions and objectives.

There are a total of seven classes to pick from; Control Wizard, Devoted Cleric, Great Weapon Fighter, Guardian Fighter,  Hunter Ranger, Scrouge Warlock and Trickster Rouge. Each class has two Paragon Paths you can progress down once your character has obtained a high enough level. The Control Wizard for example can choose from Master of Flame or Spellstorm Wizard whereas the Trickster Rogue can follow either the Master Infiltrator or Whisperknife path. The progression tree for each class is extremely large and varied meaning other player characters you bump into will be slightly different based on their play style. Each class has a role to play. As with the likes of World of Warcraft, your class will either be suited to a Tank, DPS or Healer. A Tank’s responsibility in dungeons is to control the onscreen enemies and gain their attention to allow the DPS (damage per second) players to deal large amounts of damage. The healers hold back providing not just healing for the Tank and DPS, but also area affect spells which will benefit the players but also hinder the enemies.

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In addition to nine classes there are nine playable races in Neverwinter. You can pick from Human, Half-Orc, Wood Elf, Sun Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Half-Elf, Tiefling, and Drow. Compared to the PC version, the Xbox One release has a couple of races missing from this line up including Dragonborn (playable via purchasing an in-game booster pack using Zen) and Menzoberranzan Renegade. Your class of choice comes with unique traits and abilities. For instance I chose a Half-Elf which gave me two racial abilities including increased stats and ability points. Each race is different so it is well worth spending time reading through each one in turn to find your favourite.

The game’s setting takes place in a time when the city of Neverwinter is plunged into chaos after the disappearance of the last Lord of Neverwinter. In the aftermath of the Spellplague and a Primordial Fire Elemental almost destroying Neverwinter, as seen in the novel Gauntlgrym, the remaining citizens form factions and struggle for dominance over the populace as the dead begin to rise and attack the city they once called home. For those not familiar the Dungeons and Dragons universe, the game’s setting can seem very complex and overbearing, however there are a number of books, scrolls, logs and other items dotted throughout the playable regions to help explain the history and lore.

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Reading these items will help you towards unlocking and achieving the 48 Xbox One Achievements totalling 1,000 gamer score. This is however in addition to the 100’s, yes HUNDREDS, of achievements available in-game for completing a variety of tasks. Again for those of you familiar with World of Warcraft, these achievements are very similar in nature and can be gained from doing things like raising a profession to a certain level, completing a side quest, finishing a dungeon, partaking in an event or killing a set number of enemies. Some of these in-game achievements come with rewards in the form of Rare or Epic items or Titles that your character can proudly display while exploring the open world. Currently my level 23 Trickster Rogue is proudly displaying the ‘Orc Slayer’ title having recently ditched my previous title of ‘Hero of Blacklake’ which was gained during one of the introductory quest lines.

So ends part one of our Neverwinter for Xbox One review. Part Two is coming up in the week and we’ll be taking a look at the various gameplay modes Neverwinter has to offer including questing, campaigns, PVP, dungeons and skirmishes. I’ll be streaming some Neverwinter gameplay throughout the week so make sure you are following me (@KrisWB) for alerts. Thanks for reading and see you in Part Two.

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Diablo III Review

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Diablo III is the third in a series of iconic PC cooperative dungeon crawler RPG’s. The franchise is well known and respected in PC gaming circles, it ranks up there with other RPG’s and dungeon crawlers like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate.  It is quite literally one of the industry’s most popular franchises, a battle between Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, and now finally it is here on Xbox 360.

I’ve been waiting a long time for this day – the chance to finally get my Blizzard fix whilst relaxing on the sofa with the comfort of an Xbox 360 controller in my hand. When I first read those port rumours a couple of years back and even saw the Blizzard recruitment posts looking a Console Producer, it still felt too good to be true. But the much anticipated game is finally here and I am ecstatic to report that it handles superbly albeit outside of its usual confines.

Like its predecessors, this iteration is a diabolically (like what I did there?) hellish, cooperative dungeon crawler that isn’t afraid to ratchet up its toughness from time to time. Diablo III, while featured completely in 3D with a 3D environment, follows closely in Diablo II’s track by using the classic isometric view, fast gameplay, and randomized content for high replayability. Some changes have been made in order to make the game more welcoming to new players, to ramp up the difficulty more smoothly, and to create a deep and engaging combat system. The Diablo III developers took inspiration from previous games in the series, as well as World of Warcraft. This latest behemoth offers a bevy of different degrees of challenge in the form of Normal, Nightmare, Hell & Inferno difficulties.

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Each difficulty level repeats the same content (with a few minor changes), while scaling up all the skills, items, monsters, experience rewards, gold drops, and everything else to maintain a challenge appropriate to the character level. The fourth difficulty level, Inferno, is a new feature in Diablo III, adding a much more challenging end game experience to the Hell difficulty that was the upper limit in Diablo II. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, then you’ll surely end up enjoying the twenty-odd hour game during your first run through, and multiple run through’s afterwards.

As with all titles similar, players are given the opportunity to pick and name their character, choose its gender and class from several different archetypes, some of which will be familiar to role-playing fanatics. First up is the typical hulking muscle ripped Barbarian, a close combat specialist. Next is the speedy monk with strong Eastern martial arts influences, then the nature-wielding, necromancy practicing and alchemy expert Witch Doctor. The final two classes are the ranged Demon Hunter who specializes in crossbows and trap laying and finally the expected Wizard, pure spell caster who focuses the arcane and elemental energies and transforms them into destructive offensive spells.

Being someone who daily wishes they had spells and magical powers at their disposal, I picked the Wizard and stuck with him from start through to completion. I’ve yet to load up the next difficulty, but don’t worry, I will. I aim to finish this game on all FOUR difficulties.

The thing about Diablo games, and especially III, is that they are action-packed right from the get go. Diablo III ups the ante on most if not all of its peers. It doesn’t matter where you happen to be standing, the likelihood is there are enemies in extremely close proximity to you and your party. Enemies are monstrous in their design and range from the grotesque to demonic, mutated and downright vile. This is a game about good trying to overcome evil and these enemies are everything you’ve had nightmares about from childhood to adult life. Because of the sheer number of them make sure you are always fully stocked on health potions. Playing Solo (offline or without a local 2nd, 3rd and 4th player) you’ll probably die quite a bit, especially near the beginning. During the early quests I was continually swarmed by hordes of foes who killed me with relative ease – the bastards!

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In terms of the story line, unless you’ve played the prior two titles, it will intrigue you but won’t come across as the best or most unique script every written. For those of you familiar with Diablo lore, you’ll enjoy what is on offer as new and interesting details are revealed. The basic premise is an old man and his niece discover an ancient text, a text that speaks about an upcoming demonic invasion. As happens in all these scenarios, just as the two learn the meaning of the texts, all Hell (quite literally) breaks loose and hordes of demons break through into the realm of the living. By doing so the demons have broken a truce, choosing to invade the land of Sanctuary and take it for their own. Now demons are bad enough but someone else has come to town to play, the Lord of Terror himself, Diablo the Prime Evil. There is additional detail to the story to be found in diaries and journals scattered around the game world. These aren’t essential reading but do add further depth to those wishing to dig deeper into the story and lore.

If you hadn’t have heard about Diablo prior to this game, one of the biggest achievements for Blizzard has to be the fact that whilst playing Diablo III you’d be forgiven for thinking it had been designed for console from the outset. For a PC to console port, this is shining example of what taking extra time and care can achieve. They have haven’t released a console title since The Lost Vikings in 1997 (SNES, Saturn & PS1), yet there is no rust to be found here. Everything has been well thought out from the way abilities are mapped to controller face and shoulder buttons, and the ease at which players can escape combat through rolls. If you prefer joysticks and buttons over clicking a mouse and tapping keys, then you’ll feel right at home here, and won’t have any issues adjusting to what is a thoroughly impressive and fully acceptable input system. I can say that after being both a dedicated PC MMO player with multiple keyboard binds and macros as well as being a console fanatic.

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Graphically you have to remember that Diablo III was originally designed for PC and Mac. Therefore when run on the highest settings, the game will always look better on those platforms than a console. That said, the Xbox 360 is far from slacking in this department. The visual design is captivation and more than pleasing to the eye. You’ll understandably encounter some minor screen tearing, and a tiny bit of slowdown here and there, but they’re more hiccups than problems and don’t detract from the overall experience in the slightest. The frame rate fluctuates during big battles on screen where there were tons and tons of hideous monstrosities on the screen. There is a slight big of lag during online multiplayer and occasionally your comrades can become stuck in a building wall when they jump across the screen.

If like me you have been waiting this title ever since the announcement it was definitely going ahead for console, then don’t delay, get out there and buy it. It’s a fantastic port and is one of the finest dungeon crawlers I have played in a long, long time. It is action packed, it’s a loot lover’s dream and single player is rewarding and fun whist there is great online and/or local cooperative action. If you’ve never played a Diablo title before and are looking for something new to try with friends, then again this should most definitely be on your radar. From me to you Blizzard, job well done.

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State of Decay Review

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I’m going to start by saying I am disappointed in State of Decay (here on out referred to as SoD), and to understand why I need you to wind back your clocks and take a walk with me down memory lane. It’s 1996, I am 12 years old and my cousin and I are sat up at 3am playing Resident Evil in his bedroom. Ignoring the fact our family were letting us play this game when clearly it wasn’t suitable, you have to understand our enjoyment and amazement at being scared shitless. Already I was a huge zombie horror fan, yes at 12. I would watch and rewatch Romero movies in my room at weekends, bury my head in books and play Resident Evil over and over. A little obsessive I agree, truth be told I was pulled up through childhood by horror films, rock music and bikers, so a zombie obsession is the least of my worries. As I got older my cousin (now a University Graduate in Scriptwriting) and I would talk for hours about the style of zombie game we would make one day. Anyone own a Dreamcast or GameCube and play Skies of Arcadia? Remember how that was one of the first decent RPG’s to include multiple followers and base building elements? Well we would sit there and devise open world scenarios using elements from Skies and combine them with Resident Evil (and even Silent Hill) to create our ideal game. Fast forward a number of years and we’ve had disasters like Fort Zombie which had so much potential to be something amazing… it failed. We (fellow console gamers) also have to sit and watch development Day Z and all we can do is suffer in silence knowing that we cannot play it on our console of choice.

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As the years have gone by and I have had similar conversations with fellow gamers, friends, gamer friends and those in-between, we normally always end up describing some kind of open world, survival horror title set in a zombie-esque apocalypse. Think World War Z (the book NOT the movie), and blend in the struggle to seek out essentials like finding fresh water, food and shelter whilst dealing with hoards of the undead. But through all this, characters that feel real with emotions that are appropriate to the situation they are in. I want believable characters in a fantasy world. Undead Labs have had a go at creating this, and although they did an OK job – personally, I don’t believe the game deserves the 8 and 9’s it has been getting in reviews.

So here we are in Trumbull County, a picturesque central America based setting home to camping resorts, large woodland areas, rivers, reservoirs a couple of small towns and a handful of farming communities. Everything looks perfect from the outside other than the few thousand marauding flesh eating corpses and a handful of Army personnel trying to maintain some semblance of order. SoD doesn’t give us any back story to speak of, but instead drops us straight into our first mission – FIGHT! That’s right, literally the first thing you do in SoD is take down a zombie or two, when done it is then down to business for 30-45 minutes of guided tutorial style missions before finally being left to figure out the rest for ourselves. It’s learn to survive and adapt or die… and be prepared to die, a lot.

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I’m going to be straight to the point, the story is by far the weakest part of SoD, and this is a shame. Being an Xbox Live Arcade title the game itself is limited to being no more than 2GB in size. This means we are going to have to put up with poor texturing in terms of the visuals. We will have to make do with what can only be described as hideous audio effects (other than the music, which is good), anyway, you get my point. We know that as an XBLA game, there have to be sacrifices, but those sacrifices would have been fine if the story was more engaging, more believable. Fuck it, I would have happily sacrificed the voice overs for text if only the story continued and didn’t just vanish so suddenly and horrendously. At the beginning of the game the narrative holds some promise, it does a superb job of treading that thin line between zombie cliché and something fresh and new with some would-be brilliant dialogue moments. But out of nowhere SoD seems to abandon any semblance of a plot line. I have read elsewhere about how impressed other players have been with the way Undead Labs have tried to let the environments tell the back story, which is good if executed properly. It reminds me a little of the zombie mode in our beloved Call of Duty games, but as with Call of Duty these are neither implemented well or frequently/widely enough to enable the tactic to succeed.

The way in which SoD deals with playable characters is quite interesting however. You start with one character and over the course of the game as you bring new survivors back to your base, you slowly become friends with those characters. Once you reach this friendship status with that character you can they directly control them. If you are on a mission with Maya for example and she dies, you are as the player (not character) then sent back to your base and you take control of another friendly character. If you run out of friendly playable characters then the game is over. Each character that you switch between during the game has its own back story, but this is so basic it’s covered in 2-3 lines within their bio. When you play as a different character the dialogue and way they interact with other characters, NPC’s and the environment around them remains the same as the character before and the character you will switch too next, meaning outside of a different perk or two the different characters are nothing but differently styled skins. Although the idea here is to leave us to make up own our stories in this open world, SoD is left feeling like it’s populated with clones.

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Right, so what do we do during a normal day in SoD? The game is broken down into three main areas, gathering supplies and equipment for you and fellow survivors, fortifying your base and/or your outposts and of course helping out other groups of survivors as well as those within your own group. Every now and then, and this is very infrequent, there will be an interesting side quest – for example there is a great one that see’s you heading into town to help a fellow survivor track down an old homeless man she once worked with as an outreach worker. During the search there is a glimmer of hope in terms of the narrative, the conversation turns to life before the outbreak and how the survivor ended up as an outreach worker. Unfortunately as seems to be the case with SoD this is short lived as you quickly find the homeless man, albeit he is a walking corpse. After putting him down, the survivor runs off and you are left feeling like you do after a cheap McDonalds, unsatisfied and used.

Outside of the handful of interesting quests like the one above, the rest of the missions mainly break down into leaving the comfort of your base and going out into the town and surrounding wilderness of the world to kill some zombies, collect items and turn back to base. From there it is rinse and repeat for between 12-18 hours before finally reaching the ‘End Game’ mission that once completed sees the credits rolling. And that reminds me, the end game mission is bugged and I didn’t get to see what happened, which royally upset me. I don’t want to give much away, but the characters held some bare minimum dialogue between themselves and then suddenly there was commotion but the camera got stuck behind a rock and I missed it all. Game Over. Credits roll. Noooooooooooooooo!

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The thing about SoD is there is/was so much promise. I say there is still promise as Undead Labs are still working on a Co-Op version of the game, which could really add some interesting depth to the game if done properly. I was thinking to myself as I played through another day of saving the same NPC from the same building again for the 3rd day running, wouldn’t it be great if there were some secret collectibles hidden away to distract me from this mediocre gameplay loop I have become stuck in. Anyone that knows anything about my playing style or preferred titles knows that I am a RPG fanboy at heart, so when I learnt about the RPG style level system in SoD I was genuinely quite intrigued. The system helps to keep things interesting for a short while but very quickly you find there is little noticeable difference between a character you have levelled up to max and a new friendly survivor you have brought into the group other than an extended health bar and increased stamina gauge. Ever since my first RPG, which was unashamedly Final Fantasy 5, I have always been a sucker for a decent levelling system, but only when I can feel real progress being made.

One of the areas I was really interested in trying out and seeing in action was the base building feature of SoD. Some of my favourite RPG’s of all time include base building elements; Skies of Arcadia, Neverwinter Nights and the DLC pack Awakening for Dragon Age: Origins. This base building mechanic added to SoD does add a little more depth and strategy to the game and even helps push my overall review score up a point. By building different additions to your base like a work shop or garden new possibilities will open up in the game, or free you up to concentrate on something else. For instance building a work shop allows particular items to be crafted overnight, whilst then upgrading that workshop means any vehicles you pack outside the base (in specified parking bays) will be repaired ready for when you revisit the game after work/school/sleep etc. Building a garden is a must if you don’t want to be running around permanently looking for food supplies. By building a garden, you guarantee a sustainable source of food for you and your survivors. By building these different additions which include kitchens, watch towers, sleeping areas and first aid tents you begin to ensure the health and safety of your base and those within. These additions in turn can all be upgraded and with all of them there are a number of benefits to the player stats that make the time investment into hunting down the building materials worthwhile.

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I think what pulled most people into the hype surrounding SoD was the survival aspect of the game. We were all (myself included) cleverly guided towards the game on the idea of having to keep ourselves alive during a zombie apocalypse, not just the usual blast our way through it a la Resident Evil or Dead Rising style. Next to the weak narrative, this is the next biggest disappointment of SoD because quite frankly, it just isn’t implemented well enough to make a massive difference to how the game is actually played. The game uses a stamina system that must be replenished over time – this is frustratingly easy to achieve through food and caffeinated drinks which can be found everywhere, even the public restrooms. This is as far as that survival mechanic goes. A really small change could have changed this basic mechanic into something much more deep and detailed – how about a water and food meter? Having to keep both above a certain level. What about actually eating the food we are always having to scavenge and unless there is enough food, we the player run out of stamina more quickly. I understand adding multiple layer of complexity can be tough, but these small changes could have made the survival mechanic so much more, much more towards what we were expecting.

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Let’s talk price and whether or not SoD is really worth the full 1600 MSP price tag Microsoft seem fit to have set. The answer isn’t a simple one and really comes down to just how much you’re willing to put into the game and what you are looking for. If you enjoy zombie mode on Call of Duty or love Dead Rising for its ‘jump in then jump out’ style zombie slaughter, then this isn’t the game for you. It’s also not for those of us looking for a console equivalent of Day Z. SoD is middle ground between the two, and doesn’t live up to some of the big promises made by Undead Labs – the survival aspect for instance. It is also worth mentioning that SoD has far too many technical errors for a game of its price. Yes, I can hear you all shouting and screaming at me ‘But it’s a downloadable game Kris!’, ‘It’s only 2GB for crying out loud!’… yeah yeah, let me finish. It can look pretty bad in some spots, textures forget to pop in for minutes on end and the AI can be so bad that there was a few times I needed to restart missions due to scripting errors. While there is the “it’s a downloadable game” defence for these issues, bear in mind that by charging more than most other extremely polished titles on XBLA Undead Labs needed to provide a quality product.

I know I have said it once, twice and a thousand times over throughout the review, but there simply isn’t enough depth and variation on show in State of Decay to elevate it to the lofty heights its concept could have and SHOULD have achieved.  When all is said and done, what makes me continue playing the game is how as I run around I imagine what I would change and how I would change it to bring it closer to that ideal game I have in my head.  I think perhaps the best compliment that I can give SoD is it’s a fantastic first effort from a fledgling studio with little budget and funding behind them.

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Scouring derelict buildings for supplies in the dead of night, fighting of swarms of undead or sneaking through blood soaked forests was all hugely entertaining. However I just can’t help but feel a lot of my enjoyment came from the fact that I wanted to enjoy it. Now I have finished it, and the review is complete. I won’t be playing it again in the foreseeable future, at least not until I hear CO-OP has been released and I can jump in with friends and see if that adds more to the game.

With game breaking technical issues, promises just not delivered upon and a promising start but ultimately weak narrative SoD could have been so much more. That said it was a massively impressive first attempt for Undead Labs, I look forward to hearing from them on game add-ons and developments.

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