I may have been a bit hard on Dark Souls in my original review (despite spending like six months playing it before I reviewed it). I guess - despite my best efforts - I just couldn't get over my love for Demon's Souls (which I still think was a better game for its time). But Dark Souls ended up eating up a lot of my time, and I have fallen as much in love with it as I had for Demon's Souls. As such, I have updated my original review with a new, retrospective score to go along with this DLC review. I bought and downloaded Artorias of the Abyss DLC on day one (PSN) when it was released last year, but didn't get around to playing it until earlier this year.
Instead of just unlocking a special quest as soon as the DLC is download (ala Skyrim), the DLC of Dark Souls can only be accessed by defeating an existing, but entirely optional boss in an existing, but entirely optional area of the world; then defeating an existing enemy that allows access to a specific NPC; then defeating another monster in one of the end-game areas (after acquiring the Lordvessel) in order to unlock the "key" to the DLC content. Phew. That's a lot of hoops to jump through! So it took me a while just to be able to access the new content - let alone play through it. Sure, you may have paid for this DLC, but FROMSOFTWARE is still gonna make you work for it; and kudos to them for not compromising on their principles! [More]
In my review of the Brave New World expansion for Civilization V, I expressed some disappointment that some of the legacy civilizations didn't receive significant updates. I also complained about a few mechanical issues such as how the "warmonger" mechanic works and the value of trade routes. Well, Firaxis has released a major update to the game earlier this fall that addresses some of these complaints.
Several of the vanilla civilizations received a major overhaul. As I mentioned in my review, Germany and America seem to have been completely one-upped by the Zulu and Shoshone. Well, Germany has been given a major update, and America has received a small tweak in order to better differentiate them from the BNW successors. In addition, Japan has received a small (but significant) buff.
Germany was probably the civ that was in the most dire need of a facelift, since the Zulu leave them completely in the dust. Both civs had a huge military flavor, discounts for unit maintenance, and a unique Pikeman replacement, and the Zulu had Germany beat on all accounts. In order to differentiate the two, The Landsknechts unique unit was replaced with a new unique building, the "Hanse". [More]
I had high expectations for Total War: Rome II. Shogun 2 is one of my favorite games of the recent years, and its second expansion Fall of the Samurai made it even better!
Total War is one of the few game franchises that has managed to keep itself outside of the grasp of the casual-gaming market, and has time after time provided some of the deepest, and most engaging strategy games available. But it was only a matter of time before Sega and Creative Assembly began to treat their flagship franchise as a mainstream release rather than a niche title, and they chose to begin with Rome II. The result is a series of questionable changes to the way the game is played, a dumbing-down of the overall interface, a gutting of features, and a host of bugs and balance issues in a game that feels more like a paid-for beta than a full release.
Creative Assembly has been tweaking the game with patches every one or two weeks since release trying to bring the game up to par, so it's in a state of constant flux as major balance tweaks, mechanic changes, and even new feature sets are being introduced. As such, I don't feel it's appropriate to fully review the game quite yet, and I will treat the release version more like a public (paid for) beta. Hopefully, the game will see marked improvement, and it will not end up like disastrous SimCity "reboot". I also wrote an impressions post about that game, but never got around to a full review because the game never became worth playing.
The most immediately noticeable area in which depth and control have been lost is in the interface. I'm not going to complain too much about the campaign interface, since it still has most of the information that you would expect. Provinces are divided up into regions, and each region contains a settlement, but the province interface allows you to manage all the settlements in the province. This is a little bit of streamlining that makes sense. You don't have to manually click on every little settlement in order to give build orders or view public order. The only downside is that this system has minimized the role of resources. You don't build specific structures on improvements (such as mines or pastures). Instead, this is all apparently handled by the cities, which would be fine, except that now enemy armies can't pillage your resources directly. Instead, a more abstract "raid" order has been tacked on to armies that lets them automatically pillage resources in the province. [More]
One of my biggest criticisms with the Gods & Kings expansion pack for Civilization V was that none of the features added really felt all that fresh. They were just redesigns of old features that were present in previous games. Granted, they were also the most highly-requested features by the player community, but as concepts, nothing really felt new or original.
The new expansion, Brave New World changes all of that by adding never-before-seen concepts to the game, and they add a great deal of flavor and dramatically change the way that the game unfolds.
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A few more of the missing concepts from Civilization IV are re-introduced with a new coat of paint in Civilization V: Brave New World: trade routes and a world resolution system. Both systems are implemented differently than in the previous game, and both are kind of hit-or-miss this time around
I have long been asking for the introduction of some kind of international trade route mechanic to be added to Civ V. Without such a feature, the vanilla game (and Gods & Kings) were missing one of the key incentives to maintain peaceful relations with your neighbors. Well now we have such a feature. In some ways, it's a step forward from Civ IV's completely non-interactive trade routes, but it's also a bit clumsy.
Coastal cities might seem weaker due to the lack of gold on sea resources, but sea trade routes are more profitable and have longer range than ground routes, so coastal cities are still valuable.
Is Frictional Games working on a new IP? I'm a bit curious as to why they outsourced development of the aptly-named A Machine for Pigs to the third-party developer The Chinese Room. Frictional's staff did stay on as "producers" for this game, so I'm sure that the final product is still consistent with what Frictional would have wanted if they had developed it themselves, and I think the overall story was still written by people at Frictional (but I could be wrong on that account). In any case, the change in development team has certainly had a dramatic effect on the way that the new game plays. The very core gameplay of exploring a linear dungeon with a flashlight is retained, but all the mechanics and the underlying feel of the game are completely different than its predecessor. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Amnesia: the Dark Descent wasn't perfect.
Once again, the underlying premise that sets up Amnesia: a Machine for Pigs is that your character wakes up in a mansion with no memory of who he is or why he is there. Your early exploration of the mansion reveals some vague threat, and you are forced to descend into a deep dungeon in order to discover who you are and resolve the threat. Along the way, you'll encounter deformed creatures and collect notes and documents from your former self explaining the situation, as well as have the occasional hallucinatory flashback as your memory slowly returns. But if you're worried that this sounds too much like the previous game, then fear not: A Machine for Pigs takes an entirely different approach to the gameplay and has a totally different feel to the entire experience. [More]