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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Moving to Platform Nation

If you have noticed my current absenteeism here at The Game Strand, that is due to two things.  First was finals at school, which are now a thing of the past.  Second, I have recently been given the opportunity to join the Platform Nation writing team and will be directing most of my writing time to energy towards them.  So in a way this is good bye, but it is also a new beginning.  I offer my deepest thanks to my readers, and hope that you will continue to follow my writing on Platform Nation where I will be posting as: "Ryan Strain (ZwiAn)"

Don't be a stranger! >>
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Upcoming Reviews- Mortal Kombat and Portal 2

It is blatantly obvious now, game developers are trying to force me into a position in which I must continuously buy two great games in one day. Yesterday it was Portal 2 (which is absolutely incredible thus far btw) and Mortal Kombat, while it seems only several weeks ago it was Killzone 3 and Bulletstorm also hitting the shelves on the same day. I find myself at odds with how I should feel about this, because I am finally getting a chance to play two highly anticipated titles, but it also drains my wallet for $120 in one sweep and complicates my free time with the decision of which to play first. But don't you like how only buying one of them isn't even a possible solution to this predicament? 
 M.K. baby!  Mmmm mmm!

Sadly I can only play one at a time, and yesterday's winner ended up being Portal 2. Portal 2 starts off with a bang, while trying not to take it self too seriously. While the first Portal did have some funny elements in it, Portal 2 has taken it a step further by having a goofy little ball shaped robot with a British accent following you around as you try and escape from the Aperture Science and Enrichment Center. Also, in contrast with the original game, the game's puzzles have been kicked up a notch, making them a ton of fun to figure out. But may I just say here that if you go and look up the solutions to the puzzles on some online guide or walk through, you will just be cheating yourself because half the fun of this game is figuring things out for yourself. So if you don't like puzzles, you really shouldn't even bother with Portal 2. But if, however, puzzles are your cup of tea, then oh what a joyous gift Valve's newest creation will be to you.
Keep an eye out for my full reviews and details on both Portal 2 and Mortal Kombat as I play my way through them over the following week!

I can't wait to get into the Co-op!

Relevant links:  Official Portal 2 site

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mass Effect 3- Up and Comer!

The lucky devils from Game Informer have just recently come out with some great new coverage of Mass Effect 3 that gives details on what we can expect to see from Bioware's final installment of the renowned Mass Effect series. Events that were set in motion in the original Mass Effect and carried on through the epic sequel will now come to a close, and Bioware is working hard in their studio up in Alberta to meet our expectations. But if it's Mass Effect's story that really has you interested, and you have played other Bioware titles up to the final conclusion, then you can find some solace in the thought that Bioware never tends to fall short of incredible finale's. So will Mass Effect 3 be the greatest finale in the long history of virtual story telling? Only time will tell.
The Reapers have finally arrived, and once again it falls on Shepard's shoulders to lead his flock to victory or death. No pressure though, it's only the fate of the universe. Bioware has already announced that things will start off with a bang, with the Reapers bringing humanity to its knees by conquering Earth in one foul swoop. Shepard will be forced to run and leave Earth in the hands of the Reapers until he can muster up enough supporters to take it back (whatever is left anyway). With a branching plot system that has been refined and improved to a level of staggering depth, your experience in Mass Effect 3 will be an echo of the actions and decisions you made through out the first two installments of the trilogy. 
 Shepard is pissed.

Did you destroy the Collector base? Or did you hand it over to the Illusive Man? What about the Rachni Queen? Remember her? Many fans of the first game were surprised/disappointed to see that the Rachni Queen didn't play a role in the second game. Bioware was hush hush about it, but come on people. Do you really think they forgot? They are still sitting on top of that little golden egg, waiting for the perfect moment to use it. And you heard it here first: the Rachni queen shall be the savior of humanity. Unless you already blended her up into a gooey Rachni milkshake.
There is also the question of your crew. How many of them were able to get out alive when you made your final assault at the end of Mass Effect 2? While Bioware promises to change up the people available to your party, they assure us that each and every crew member from the last game will be a part of the story (provided that they are still alive). I just hope I can still have Thane Krios rollin' with me, he was such a bad ass. There was a reason I bought those ship upgrades dammit! You think I actually liked scanning for minerals?
 Dear God: let me be play with ZwiAn in the next game.

In terms of what Bioware is actually changing about the game mechanics, they seem to be sticking to their guns by staying true to what we saw in Mass Effect 2, but we will be seeing some minor changes. The cover system has been refurbished, making it easier for you to duck out of harms way and shoot around corners. Enemy AI has also been changed, making them far more aggressive and intelligent. Enemies will now work together in order to try and flank or out maneuver you, with each different enemy serving a specific role. Bioware is doing this in an attempt to stand up to it's competitors in the shooter genre, while still packing a serious punch as an RPG with awesome story that's defined by the player's decisions.
Other changes that are worthy of note are the addition of a more in depth weapon upgrade system, and giving every class access to any weapon in the game. So now you can have Doctor Mordin pwn bitches with a grenade launcher and heavy machine gun. Of course this blurs the lines of class distinction, but Bioware assures fans that there is no need to worry. 
I wanna p-p-play! 

As far as the story goes, the stakes are going to be much higher this time around. The entire universe hangs in the balance, Shepard will have to gain more support than a small crew of super bad asses like in the last game, he will have to win over entire planets and civilizations as you try to find a way to defeat the Reapers. Bioware tells us that at the start of the game, when the Reapers take over Earth, things are meant to seem utterly hopeless. But if you know Shepard like I do, then you know that he won't accept failure as an option. He always seems to find a way. And I can't wait to find out how he is going to do it this time.
This game is going to blow people's minds. We should all begin daily meditations in preparation for the epicness that is to come. If you are new to the Mass Effect series, then you still have time to play through the original games- and you most certainly should. Trust me, you are going to want to have that saved game ready to upload once Mass Effect 3 hits the shelves. If you don't, you will be missing out. So why punish yourself? Shepard FTW.

p.s. Skeptical release date is 12/31/11. But who can say?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crysis 2- Review and Second Opinion

It is a bit late for a review, but I would just like to express my deepest thanks to the creators of Crysis 2, they crafted something truly beautiful. The campaign is lengthy and full of variety, the graphics are stellar and the multiplayer is fun to boot. This game is really a winning package, and it gives console gamers who didn't own a monster gaming PC when the original game came out a chance to get in on the action. Not to mention, if you get this game for the Xbox 360 like I did, you will undoubtedly agree that the graphics on this game look far better than anything you have ever seen running on your humbly priced console.
I will say that I am not all that impressed with the story, but that is a minor complaint, because the gameplay is so joyously addictive and fun. I have been playing it on and off when I get home from work or when I am feeling bored with Rift and planning for D&D campaigns, but it wasn't until this weekend that I truly got a chance to seek my teeth into it. The combat is fast paced like in Farcry or Half Life thanks to the beloved sprint ability, but also with the added option of stealth and super jumps. You really start to feel like a primal hunter as you use your Predator-esque cloaking device to sneak up on enemies or snipe them from afar. Plus the cloaking effect just looks so g'damned sexy, I grin almost every time that I turn it on. 
Gives you a good sense of the gameplay.

If you have seen or heard anything related to the Crysis games, then you already know that you play as the dude in the slick black cyborg suit. But as I bring this up, I would like to add that I really enjoy it when the protagonist of FPS games wear a special suit of some sort, be it Master Cheif's spartan suit or Gordon Freeman's hazard suit. I like it because it provides me with at least some sort of explanation as to why I am able to shrug off bullet wounds like they were nothing more than annoying bee stings. I am able to tell myself: “Ooooh, it's the suit. Gotcha.” And I prefer this sense of reasoning over accepting that the hero of every WWII/modern shooter game is somehow related to Wolverine.
Of course just like in any other FPS, this game has you running about to complete various “linear” and predetermined objectives so that you have a reason to continue pressing on through the game, but the combat and fire fights themselves are very free form and open ended. Your suit offers tactical options to you whenever you approach a new area filled with baddies, such as flanking locations or sniping positions, but the way that you go about doing it is entirely up to you. 
 Environments are highly detailed and jaw dropping.

You could use stealth and take everyone down slowly and quietly, sprint around the side for a flanking attack, charge the front with grenades and a shotgun, climb the the roof tops and snipe from the shadows, its all up to you. It is also a lot of fun to change it up from fight to fight, as the suit turns you into a one man army by allowing you to swap between stealthy ninja to armor clad Rambo at the press of the button. This nonlinear approach to combat and the stealth/sprint effects reminded me a lot of what I saw with Deus Ex Human Revolution when I was at PAX.
As far s the multiplayer is concerned, I really haven't spent a lot of time with it yet. But I do agree with an assessment that a friend of mine has already made after playing through several death matches, that we don't care for multiplayer games that allow players to constantly turn invisible. Perhaps is merely a bickering opinion of a newbie, but I have a feeling that there are others out there in the FPS community who would agree.
This game runs smoothly and I am yet to see any real frame rate issues, which is impressive when you look at how much is happening on the screen. The only issue I have seen so far has been slight bugs with the AI running randomly into walls or getting stuck in parts of the terrain, but this rarely happened. Plus, it still blows Homefront out of the water. 
Most objects and cover are destructible.

If you want to see the best graphics your 360 has to offer and a great FPS to boot, go and pick this game up if you haven't already. Of course you can pick it up for Playstation 3 or PC as well, so it's drinks all around. The single player campaign is somewhere around twelve to fifteen hours, and then you have the multiplayer to piddle around with as well. I strongly recommend it to you, my fellow shooter fans.

p.s. Portal 2 is so close! Next Tuesday, 4/19 in fact. Gimme gimme I say! 

Relevant links:  Official Crysis 2 site

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pathfinder Campaign- Session One, Final Act

Session One, Act Three: A Book of Names
“Quickly!” Wieland ordered as he pulled a small metal lever behind his workbench, revealing a secret passage along the back wall of room. “This way. Go on you three. I will stay for as long as I can to secure the door behind you.”
Grimm looked over at the small entrance to the secret passage with suspicion. How did he know he could trust this 'Wieland'? He would have to hunch over if he was to fit through the small opening, and Grimm didn't much care for the idea of running and hiding. However, with Azazel and Elwin already heading through the secret door and the sound of the raving Goblin chatter coming from the next room, Grimm quickly followed up behind them, grumbling beneath his breath as he cursed his luck and situation. How did he end up tagging along with a strange mannered Wood Elf and a pick pocketing thief?
Tightening his grip on his great sword, Grimm found himself wishing he was still comfortably sat in the Tavern with a frothing pint of ale in his hand and a woman at his arm. Such is the life of an adventurer. There came a loud crash as the Goblins broke through the wooden door to Wieland's study just behind them. Looking over his shoulder, Grimm saw Wieland pulling at second leaver which opened another passage on the ground just below his workbench. Not wishing to stay and make the Goblin's acquaintance, Wieland scurried into the small opening and pulled it shut behind him. 
 Grimm Skull, Azazel Tuts & Elwin Treewalker

As Azazel led the way, the passage opened up into a much wider and dimly lit stone hallway that stretched out ahead of them before coming to a sharp turn. Hearing the footsteps of their pursuers just behind them, Azazel lead Grimm and Elwin around the corner where he began readying his crossbow.
“There is nothing for it.” Azazel whispered, looking over at his companions. “They are right on top of us.”
“Yes.” Grimm grunted as he glared accusingly down at Azazel. “Your cowardly friend just left the door open behind us so he could save his own skin.”
They could now hear the clanking sound of the Goblin's armor coming up around the corner, merely seconds away from them. “Well...” Azazel said with a small shrug of his shoulders as he checked the sights on his crossbow. “I can't really say that I blame him.”
Behind them, Elwin began clutching a handmade leather necklace in his hands as if he were praying. Grimm pressed himself against the wall with his great sword readied in front of him as he peered slowly around the corner. Narrowing his eyes, Grimm could feel the adrenaline start to surge through his veins as he saw a group of four poorly equipped Goblins no less than a dozen feet from his blade's thirsting reach.
Staring intently at his target, Grimm let out a thunderous roar as he quickly turned the corner and began charging toward the nearest unsuspecting Goblin. Screaming in horror, the Goblin had less than a second to look upon the face and furious dark black eyes of his attacker before Grimm's blade severed his head and his small lifeless body fell to the floor. Then, taking only a moment to glance down at their dead companion in shock, the Goblins quickly sprang into action. Their yellow and orange eyes glowed in the dim hallway like a pack of wild predators. 

The strength and weight of Grimm's broad swing had left him open, and as he parried the spiked wooden club of the Goblin to his left on the back swing, the goblin to his right stabbed deeply into his thigh with a stone tipped spear. Seeing the opening, the third Goblin moved in to strike at the clumsy Half Orc, but was sent spinning abruptly to the ground in a lifeless heap as Azazel's crossbow bolt caught him just beneath his ear.
As Azazel began reloading, he glanced over his shoulder to see a bring green light erupting from Elwin's hands, where a large brown wolf suddenly materialized in front of him, charging in full stride toward the Goblins around the corner. The spear wielding goblin was gritting its gnarled yellow teeth with wild ferocity as it dug the spiked tip of its small spear deeper into Grimm's leg, when the wolf pounced on top of him and began wrestling him to the floor.
Pulling the spear from his leg with a grunt, Grimm kicked the remaining Goblin to his left down to the floor and plunged the large tip of his blade into its screaming mouth, pinning it to the floor. Not far behind, Elwin heard another group of Goblins moving up the stairs behind them.
“Look out!” Elwin shouted as he turned around with his quarterstaff at the ready. “Here comes more of them.”
Elwin's wolf quickly ran to his master's side, but as Grimm turned to move back around the corner, a Goblin arrow caught him dead in the shoulder. With rage boiling up in him like a storm at sea, Grimm turned and charged recklessly toward the Goblin just beside the secret entrance to Wieland's study while Azazel and Elwin tried to hold off the Goblins around the corner. 
 Elwin's wolf

Azazel dodged a stabbing spear that was aimed for his head while attempting to slash with his dagger, but was caught off guard by a spiked club that struck him solidly on his side. As Elwin and his wolf stepped in front of the spear wielding goblin, Azazel turned his attention toward the jabbering goblin who had managed to land a hit on him with his makeshift club. Azazel danced backwards as he dodged the Goblin's reckless attacks, and when the wretched creature finally struck low, Azazel jumped up into the air and flipped over the Goblin's head. As he came around on the flip, with his feet up toward the ceiling and the Goblin's face clearly in view, Azazel threw out his blade. When he landed, Azazel looked over his shoulder to see the goblin fall over toward him with his dagger embedded in its forehead.
As his wolf pulled the spear wielding Goblin off his feet with a skilled bite at the creature's ankles, Azazel noticed that Elwin was clutching a deep wound on his leg and was gushing blood at an alarming rate. But when the Goblin landed on his back as the large brown wolf continued to tear mercilessly at its ankles, Elwin came down with a finishing blow from his quarterstaff that put the screaming creature out of its misery.
“Are you alright?” Azazel asked as he looked down at Elwin's leg, while still clutching the wound on his side.
“I will be fine.” Elwin nodded as he placed his hand over the wound and a green light began to slowly grow from beneath it. When the Elf moved his hand away from his leg, Azazel noticed that the wound had suddenly disappeared, leaving only bloodied remnants on his robe.
“So I see.” Azazel said with a small nod, trying not to let the pain from his own wound show in his face.
Grimm came from around the corner, looking first at the dead goblins on the ground and then over at his companions. His leg was still bleeding from where the Goblin had stabbed him, but he hardly seemed to notice it as he turned to snap off the wooden length of the arrow still stuck in his shoulder.
“Well, it looks like you two were able to handle things on your own.” Grimm grunted, looking down at the black Goblin blood still dripping off his blade.
 Death by dice.

 “Sure, no thanks to you.” Azazel said jokingly as he looked up at the Half Orc with a side smile. As he bent down, Azazel gave a firm tug on his dagger and pulled it free from the Goblin's forehead. “I think we can safely say that we aren't the only ones interested in that book. But I doubt it was any of these witless creatures that was looking for it. Someone must be pulling their strings.”
“But who?” Elwin asked calmly, looking down at the Goblins.
“Doesn't matter right now.” Grimm said plainly. “Right now, we need to get out of here.”
“So soon?” Azazel asked slyly. “And miss such a rare opportunity?”
Grimm looked impatiently down at the skinny little Halfling. “What are you talking about?”
“Well... Wieland has always been renowned as a fanatical collector and dealer of rare treasures, you see. And like you yourself have so observantly pointed out...” Azazel said with a smile as he looked back towards Wieland's study. “He did leave the door open.”
To be continued...

Image sources:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Great Conversion- D&D to Pathfinder

Coming from a strong 3.5 D&D player, I have recently been won over by the improvements to this system with Pathfinder.  I have seen numerous people playing this game when I make my trips to the local comic shop, but I never really knew what it was.  After looking it over for some time, I finally decided to pick up the core book and bestiary.  This sadly interfered with my work on the campaign write ups, with my head being buried in these books with a growing sense of excitement as I single-handedly converted all five characters from the Book of Names in one sitting.
Pathfinder is what D&D 4.0 should have been.  3.5 thrives!  If you are a fan of 3.5, you should really look into it.

Relevant links:  Official Pathfinder site.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic- New Jedi Knight Trailer!

Oh, sweet mana from the heavens! There is a new Jedi Knight trailer for Star Wars The Old Republic which is even better than the original class trailer! Zomg, is that possible?! Too many explanation points? Yeah... I kinda thought so too. Anyways, this should be a very tasty treat for anyone who is looking forward to the game, especially for those of you who are planning to roll Jedi Knight, like me.
The video is meant to give us a feel for what armor progression might look like as we level up our Jedi's in The Old Republic, but it also does a great job of showing off some very stylish combat animations. While a lot of the animations are ones that we have seen already, in the class trailer and other game footage such as my video of Taral V from PAX East, we do get to see some sweet moves performed by the dual wielding Jedi Sentinel that are new to the spot light. And although I still stand by my convictions that dual wielding sabers really isn't very “Jedi-esque,” I will admit that the Sentinel does look pretty sick. But unless I have a sudden change of heart, I will be rolling as a Jedi Guardian once the game finally launches.
So freakin' awesome!

Call me crazy, but I really don't like the idea of dual wielding lightsabers. None of the iconic Jedi ever do it in the movies, aside from Anakin who only makes it last for a few seconds. Besides, dual wielding really moves away from the whole “A Jedi uses the force for defense, never for attack” thing that Yoda laid down so long ago. In my eyes, if you are dual wielding, then your primary aim is to slice off some heads, not defend yourself. Also, let me make one last point before I end my ridiculous tangent on proper saber fighting techniques. The class is called Jedi Knight am I correct? When was the last time you remember seeing a medieval knight dual wielding swords?
Alright, I am going to stop there, because I can seriously go on for hours about why the concept of dual wielding Jedi's (or Jedi's using a double sided saber for that matter) bothers me down to the very depths of my fanboy core. True Jedi use one saber my friends. I am telling you. One. But I am sure there are thousands if not millions who would disagree with me on this point.
 That's my opinion and I am stickin' to it!

Forgive me, I have gotten slightly off subject here. Let me just make a few quick closing comments about other things I enjoyed or noticed about this new armor progression trailer before I rap things up. Going back to the animations, if you watch the video I think you will not only be impressed by how fluid combat animations look, but also by how fast they are. I really like how quickly the Jedi seems to strike and then snap his saber back onto his belt once he is done. The speed of it seems very reminiscent of the Jedi action we see in the prequels and clone wars cartoons.
Seeing how I have been raving only about the positives, let me attempt to balance the scales by saying that I really am not too crazy about the super hero, disc shaped shoulder pads that the Jedi Guardian is wearing toward the end of his little streak. It looks more like something Buzz Lightyear would sport than a Jedi Knight. I actually liked the outfits that the Sentinel was wearing better than the Guardian to speak the truth. I was a big fan of the white robed outfit that the Sentinel was wearing, it looked very stylish and reminded me of Obi Wan Kenobi somehow. Kenobi being one of my favorite Star Wars characters, that could just be me. Enjoy the trailer!

p.s. Release date for this game is strongly rumored to be somewhere around July. I know what I am going to be doing this Summer!

Relevant Links and Sources:  Official Old Republic Site  Talk of the release date.

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