Game: Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First SinFinished Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin. Well “finished” closely. I missed the Fume Knight and Sir Alonne, but from the rest, I got each and everyone.

So, how is Dark Souls 2? Well, it’s not a bad game. … which is quite a catastrophe compared to the legendary Dark Souls 1.

Dark Souls 2 takes all the recipes which the new designers have been fond of in Dark Souls 1 and added and tweaked some details here and there. Notably, on character death, your maximum HP lowers down to at least 50% (but there are ways to get around this). And the number of enemy re-spawn has been limited to 12 or 15 (it seems to depend on the area). Due to some more heal options (Life Gems) it seemed to be a bit easier. I got the impression that the normal game is far easier than Dark Souls 1 has been. It really felt like being made for the casual gamer. Then again, the three DLCs are even more difficult than the Dark Souls 1 DLC has been. At least for me.

A difficulty which for me was beyond the barrier of acceptance with the Fume Knight. This was just boring frustrating (if you should have known in advance, you should have spared some smelter sticks to block the self-healing ability of the knight, but you don’t. Maybe I missed to read the small print on some item, alas, no-one told me in advance).

I once read the limited amount of enemy re-spawn is to prevent people from grinding. Funny, because for me, it *gave* me the reason to grind: kill all enemies until nothing re-spawns. I did this for about 95% of all areas and reached level 222(!) with this approach. Yes, a total grinding campaign. Bad design decision. Backfired for me.

Then the designers thought, that PvP is the real extra something to Dark Souls. And they made it non-consensual everywhere in the world. In Dark Souls 1 this was sort of ok since when you have been hallowed no-one could have invaded your realm and forced a PvP on you. This is different to DS2, because here in order to limit the probability to be invaded you have the burn those highly valuable human effigies (humanity in DS1 terms). Or play offline.

But when playing offline you won’t get any achievements.

Another bad design decision. I like Dark Souls combat style and world immersion, but I am greatly loathing doing PvP.

As I discovered this, I started to make my own save games and whenever I got invaded I CTRL-ALT-DEL and kicked DS2 from the process table and loaded my old save game. Some people got annoyed by this and flamed on Steam. Well, read my comment before flaming. I clearly stated that I *will* do this. There are areas in DS2 for PvP. Go for this, but f*** o** while I’m playing. This idea with the Blue Sentinels trying to protect you when invaded never worked for me (another bad design decision?).

As a result, I finished the whole game *without dying even once a single time!* and hardly used any human effigy ever … since I reloaded my save game all the time I died. :P

Then there is the universe. DS1 and DS2 have a huge amount of lore to tell. It is a fascinating world. Yet, From Software still hasn’t managed to tell a story. It is all in the item descriptions and in those mystic dialogues. But DS2 keeps on the virtue of DS1 in: “unable to tell a story”. You have to read the item descriptions on these tons of things (weapons, armors, keys, blah, …) and make some logical deduction. I come to the conclusion, that they thought this is some DS1 thing they should keep up doing. Well, I would like to have seen some story telling. I think From Software isn’t just capable of doing it.

And, while I’m at it: DS2 has no cohesive world. In one level you are in bright daylight, two stages beyond that it’s dark night and the moon is shining. The world in DS1 has been somehow “organic”, each level, each stage carefully designed and interlinked. DS2 is more like platform runner: now “Water Level”, then “Wood World”, then “Castle Run”,… Some levels are great (Dragon Aeire), some are just not (well, The Gutter, anyone?).

Another aspect is, that in between DS2 and “DS2 Scholar of the first Sin”, they added more enemies and rearranged them quite heavily. Whereas in DS1 it seemed that every opponent has been placed there really carefully. In DS2 they just threw more obstacles in your way, mistakenly thinking that’s what you want. For some enemies there seems no real reasoning but just that the designer simply had to the power to do so. This is not a good level design.

If there hasn’t been a DS1 this game is would have been quite nice. But given that there is this legendary masterpiece of DS1 (with respect to all its flaws), DS2 is more a setback to the series. Yet, it still “isn’t a bad game”. But clearly didn’t live up to the expectations.

Sadly, I reward 7 out of 10.7 out of 10

Game: Outlast & Outlast: Whistleblower

OutlastFinished Outlast and its DLC Whistleblower. Phuuu! Played fully on Linux.

Outlast is a nice first-person survival horror game. You are an investigator researching the rumors about the Mount Massive Asylum. You arrive with your car, park the car just at the gate and from this point on you are on your feet, walking around the manor. No one is seen, doors shut tight. Then you find an opened window and you crawl into the building… starting the horror.

Pretty soon you find remnants of brutal massacres. Entrails, heads, limbs, and blood – gallons of blood – everywhere. This is the “good” old school of American horror: gore, gore, GORE! There is no time for a subtle inkling of some ‘thing’ which causes you goosebumps. Mhm, nope. It’s pretty expressive, direct. Brutal. And as if it isn’t enough, the DLC masters to even add to this already very high level of gore. Whistleblower introduces yet two other lunatics with a very unhealthy sense of body fixation. Along with several pretty hefty cutscenes.

And, oh – btw – the graphics are excellent. Light, shadow, smoke, all are very good placed. Some light bulbs are blinking, some lights are shaking. More than once you need your camera with some night vision capabilities to view your path in more or less absolute darkness. These all add to the atmosphere.

From time to time you find documents revealing what has happened to the asylum. The story which started off been rather some sort of cliche turns out to be quite interesting.

Then the gameplay: rather soon you discover to be not the only survivor in this pretty large building. Some inmates are afraid of you, some ignore you, and some … try to kill you. Namely, one big super strong guy, Chris Walker, is very keen and eager to get a “grip” on you. Pretty explicit when he succeeds…

Sadly you are not able to interact with the environment in any other manner than open doors, pick up batteries, jump over obstacles or crouch under them, pressing some buttons, moving some boards and pickup up keys to unlock doors. There is no inventory. You may not combine anything on your way through the manor. No nothing you can use as a weapon to defend yourself. Oh, and no health bar too: run for your life! … or hide under beds or in lockers and pray not to be discovered.

This is also the critic on the game: as a player, you have virtually no agency. There is always exactly one single way the developer wanted you to go. Sometimes faster under stress as been chased to death, sometimes with some leisure. However, you do not have any real choice. As such, Outlast is likely more a horror “movie” than a horror “game”. There is nothing for the player to do as to exactly do what the developers wanted to. Point. No (or at least a very, very limited) interaction with the environment. You can’t even turn the lights on (or off, if you really wanted to be it even darker than in the first place).

If you are interested in good stories, riddles, interesting places look elsewhere. If you are into the most extreme American teenager horror money can get you: welcome.

Still, the enacting, the presentation of the game is really engaging.

7/10 7 out of 10

Game: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die

Dark Souls: Prepare to DieI did it! Praise the sun! I. FINISHED. DARK SOULS: PREPARE TO DIE! … OMG, what a game! A masterpiece. Puhhh…

Ok, I admit that the very first impression of the game is rather poor. The graphics are washy, the intro story is confusing: you are an undead, waking up in a prison cell, somewhere where the undead are used to be locked away. But there seems to be at least some nice guy which drops down the prison cell key. Ok, never mind that the key is somewhere _inside_ a dead corpse lifted by the “nice guy” and tossed down right next to you. Hey, you are free! Unarmed but: let’s run! And so the adventure begins. The very first 3-4 zombies are easy, but right after 10 seconds you are confronted with the first boss and it is this moment you encounter the “Dark Souls” moment: Wait! What?? WTF!!! You are crushed, trampled, yes: even slaughtered, without chances to merely scratch your foe. This is Dark Souls. Welcome.

Very soon you discover that this game is a very well elaborated man-to-man-battle-simulator-RPG. When you play Dark Souls and hear from some clickfest like Diablo III, you can’t help but smile gently: “Kids…”. Dark Souls is hard. It adopts to your fighting style and there is a plethora to choose: heavy slow tank, fast dexterity swordsman, bowman, magic wiedling socerer,… You can’t be all, so focus on your choice or mix on your own risk. And every enemy can kill you. YES, even if you are a level 100 super tank: a baby zombie *can* kill you if you do not defend. Every enemy bears some fighting patterns you study to locate weak spots in order to merciless exploit them. You learn to hold you shield and swing your weapon just at the right time, keep distance, detect when the enemy makes a wrong choice and overwhelm them with fireballs or magic missiles. At every level up you can increase an attribute and this will influence the game, slowly but steady.

Right at this entry level at the first boss battle the audience parts. One group will leave the game: it is too hard, too much frustration, no easy kills or easy wins. The other group will stay: “Not with me!”, “I’ll kill you, bitch!”, “There must be a way!”. And there is *always* a way. Even when the first encounters with the boss are disastrous, the game is never unfair. Well, it balances very, very, very close on the cliff of unfairness but it manages every time to be on the “fair” side. Because there is something to this game other games do not achieve: even in the darkest moments there is hope that if you try something different you’ll succeed. It is not explicit; the game induces this feeling, this inkling. It is as if a voice whispers from the off in the background: “Oh, a pity! You were soo close! Next time, you should try to hide behind one of the pillars to better avoid the fireballs! Or … have you seen this hole at the left side? This could be a path to some place you might have some advantages…”. So you try and try and try…

… and this causes you to gain an incredible satisfaction when you finally found the way, the hint, the technique to bring a once feared super-human boss to its knees. The moment “VICTORY!” blends in on the screen you sometimes have to drop your controller, because your hands are trembling and you got to have a break to cool down all the adrenalin in your body… WoW, I can’t remember any game which caused such intense feelings.

The game features tons of weapons, armor, rings, items, etc. All with unique powers, advantages and drawbacks. Weapons and armor can also be improved in various ways. A dagger feels as a dagger and a two-handed-sword feels as two-handed-sword. And it is this list of items which tells the story of Dark Souls. The item descriptions are the main way to guide you into this world. So it is much reading. Yes, there are some NPCs, but way too seldom.

And, of course, the game lets you do what you want to. There is no guide, no hint, no “question mark” on your map (there ain’t even a map!). All is done by reading the item descriptions, exchanging some words with the few NPCs and exploring the world. If something is yet too hard: turn back and try elsewhere.

The levels are great and well designed (also some are a bit close to the edge of unfairness: Tomb of the Giants, anyone?).

The setting and the game lore are mysterious and fascinating if you are into dark fantasy. Though not easy to come by: it is all buried under many, many item descriptions of rings, wands, swords, axes, robes, plates, bows, etc.

However, I also found some points to criticize: what weapon do I empower with which boss soul? Crafting system is nice, but the smiths in the world do not tell you much. I ended up having several unused boss souls, because I didn’t know which common, prime weapon I have to bring to +5 in order to make some unique boss weapon. Such boss weapons do bear definite enhancements which make some battles way easier. But which? How? What? The game doesn’t really tell you. Well, ok, I could bring up every basic weapon to +5 in order see. But this is a bit stupid grinding, isn’t it?

… and there is plenty room for more hints and tips. It would even add to the world feeling, if there is not so much “silence”. Be more narrative. Just a bit. Please. The world *is* cool. Why hide it?

For the records: I killed every boss in the game including the (very!) much tougher DLC ones but the Princess in Anor Londo. All of them. Alone. Ok, for some I added the NPC Knight Solitare, but no real online player. Very nice online game concept by the way: you can jump into other games to either aid the host or attack him. Communication is done solely by gestures. I ended up as a heavy melee tank fighter at level 107 with my Elite Knight Armor set at about +9 to +10. My favorite sword is the Lightning Claymore +5. I didn’t care for any covenant. It seems that everyone experiences different difficulties due to their unique fighting styles. For some bosses I needed more than 20 runs (Knight Atorias, Black Dragon Kalamet, …) others were relatively easy (Centipede Deamon (first encounter: kill), Gwyn Lord of Cinder (6 runs), …) and the Bed of Chaos didn’t bothered me much (~ 5 tries). So when talking about Dark Souls bosses: YMMV.

Legendary. 10/10. 10 out of 10

Game: Skyrim

SkyrimFinished Skyrim. After 233 hours gametime.

Hard to say something about Skyrim which has not yet been told. It is an immense open world RPG, it is huge, it has tons of quests.

… which I have to say is overwhelming. I got as many sidequests as I could. So I did the whole Wererwolf-path, cured myself form Lycanthropy, switched over to the full Vampire-Line, became master vampire and cured myself again from vampirism, *before* I started the main quest or had decided for the Empire or the Stormcloaks. Yeah! There is a ton. To get lost. At a later stage I just followed question markers and finished it without any remembrance about what the original quest has been. Here I think less could be more. It is simply too much. You can also go into alchemy, crafting, and can read tons of books within the game, build some houses, marry, adopt children, be generous or go stealing, or both. It is all there in the game.

However, finishing the main story plot felt somehow unsatisfying. Cut scenes which bring the story forward are seldom and if the happen they are rendered within the game. Finally finishing the main story felt like finishing one of the myriads of sidequests. Somehow shallow.

The graphics and music is great! And I extended the game using mods. This made the game even look greater! … but also slightly unstable. One crash every half hour is common.

Besides these crashes, there are some minor quirks: why do I need to have a mod telling me if I had read a book already? Why do I have to have a mod which gives a real working interface? Why do some quests end up in the very same location I cleaned already? … why sometimes 2 quests at the same time (happened!)? Why are the default vanilla models so poor given the amazing artwork of some modders?

A masterpiece with some flaws.

9/10 9 out of 10

Game: Deponia

DeponiaFinished Deponia.

This is a fun adventure. You play Rufus who just want to get to Elysium and off Deponia, a planet full of dump and waste. The planet is thought to be uninhabited and ought to be destroyed by the Organon. But as it happens one of your tries to escape the planet had actually succeed in landing on an Organon cruiser. You and accidentally also the girl Goal from Elysium are dropped again on the planet’s surface. Your task is to a) save Goal, b) get Goal to Elysium to report that there is still life on Doponia and c) get yourself off the planet.

This can’t be hard, could it? Well it is. Since Rufus, your character, is a blighter, boaster, a loafer, which always exaggerated the opinion of himself. He can’t do nothing good and his tries to get off the planet as well as his inventions usually end up in total catastrophes. This is stuff for a lot of funny conversations and hilarious dialogues. The (german) voice acting is brilliant.

The planet, its people and also Rufus do entertain and are not without sympathy. The riddles are sometimes quite hard to solve and I did some by pure trial & error (which is no good).

Controlling the game is clever made, the scenarios are nice drawn and there is no room for a technical reproach.

8/10. 10 out of 10

Game: The Wolf Among Us

The Wolf Among Us Finished The Wolf Among Us. This is my second Telltale game I’ve done.

In the Wolf Among Us, you play Bigby, the Big Bad Wolf (hence: “Big-B”) of Red Riding Hood. Living in New York. Today. Undetected by normal people as sheriff of the small community of exiled fairy tale A- and B-celebrities.

Yes, quite an extraordinary setting. And cool! Bigby is sullen loner, heavy smoker, tosses down a few drinks every now and then and is generally mistrusted by everyone. But Snowwhite which is ambitious trying to get the whole fairy tale thing secretly living in New York working. Somehow. But now a murder has happen and it’s you to investigate and find the murderer.

The game is a reminiscent of the private detective series, a lonesome grumpy hero in a dark, rainy New York. The saxophone is playing in the background…

The story is interesting. But not consuming like The Walking Dead has been. There are cliffhangers as well, yes, but they missed to touch me and hook me in. It’s a nice cool setting with a cool character. Part of the curiosity is to what has become of some fairy tale figures? What had happened to Red Hiding Hood? The Frog Prince? The three little Pigs? How are they doing now in a modern city? And yet there is still magic around!

However the story itself is embedded right into this fairy tale setting and therefore follows also a fairy tale logic. Mixed with blackmail, prostitution, exploitation and other dark forms of a modern civilization. And somehow this story seems to be the weakest part of the game. It just “ripples”. Some occasions feel unnecessary stretched (e.g. investigation at Toad’s, finding all the clues). Some scenes and characters are, well, just added to the game without any real impact (e.g. Bluebeard and his way of interrogation of a suspect).

Still a nice game, but doesn’t hold to The Walking Dead.

8/10 8 out of 10

Game: The Walking Dead

The Walking DeadFinished the Walking Dead. This is a masterpiece.

You play Lee, a convicted murderer, on his way to prison. Suddenly the Zombiecalypse happens and you barely manage to get out of the wrecked police car after a zombie stumbled right into it on the motorway. Free again, you start to wander around and soon you find a little girl, Clementine, who is hiding in her treehouse in the parent’s garden. Without any clue where her Mom and Dad are, you promise her to take care and help her to find her parents.

This is the starting point of a “road movie”. You’ll met other which are in the very same situation you are in: no clue what is going on, has the government taken up some actions or not, why are some infested by some zombie disease and some not, … Some have taken the law in their own hands, lacking any nation wide control and power, some will help though their motives may be unclear and … “fishy”.

The graphics are comic-style and sort of nice to look but not superior. The controls are clumsy, you find yourself running straight into some obstacles from time to time. You may pick up some items every now and then also and can solve some riddles – which are a laugh. Finally you are also served with some quick-time events, which, well, can be annoying and distracting sometimes.

Why it’s a masterpiece then? Because of the story! Because of the characters! Because of the dialogs and the choices the game has you to offer! The whole game is more like an interactive movie with a lot of twists and turns, suspicious characters, love and very deep emotional moments. Some parts are creepy, some parts are terrifying and some parts are very touching. The game does not overwhelm you with graphics, explosions or a vast exotic universe. This game consumes you. It slowly captures your imagination and charms you. At end of each episode you simply MUST know, how it will develop and go on.

Bravo. This is a statement for the art of gaming. 10/10. 10 out of 10

Game: The Dark Eye – Memoria

Warhammer Quest Finished Memora. This is a sequel to the Chains of Satinav.

Memoria tells two concurrent tales placed within the mythology and history of the world of The Dark Eye. As Geron you want to find a way to lift the spell from you faerie Nuri which has turned into a raven at the end of the last adventure. As such you encounter a gypsie which could help you out… if you help him out solving a riddle. Time is running short since Nuri seems to forget her origins and becomes more and more “raven” by time.

On the other side you play Sadja, a princess 450 years before. She is on the way to find a magic mask, of which is said it could decide the faith and outcoming of any battle.

As both plots overlap from time to time, you switch between Geron and Sadja. As Geron is reluctant and shy, Sadja is cheeky and defiant. Geron’s world is colorful and bright whereas Sadja’s world is dark with a looming total destruction by hordes of daemons due to mage wars.

The connection between both story lines is not obvious but develops from chapter to chapter. And soon you discover that Sadja is not the “princess” at all. At the end you face again, as in the Chains of Satinav, a bittersweet love story.

The riddles are fair, sometimes a bit trial and error. The environment is beautiful drawn and one can see that the developers really had a caring hand when crafting the scenery along with the dialogues and audio and lots of details and charm. The interface is beyond any doubt.

A nice adventure!

8/10 8 out of 10

Game: The Dark Eye – Chains of Satinav

The Dark Eye - Chains of SatinavFinished The Dark Eye – Chains of Satinav – second time (review here). I like the universe, the setting. Maybe because I’m German speaking and I’m touched and culturally biased to it.

This adventure is really a love story full of melancholy. An impossible love between a human and a fairy, relentless gods, revenge and journey to the different wonders of Aventuria, the continent of the Dark Eye.

The graphics are nice painted, the sound supports the overall mood of the game and the interface stays out of the way.

The riddles range from easy to quite tough (like in the fairy realm).

I love it.

8/10: 8 out of 10

Game: Warhammer Quest

Warhammer QuestFinished Warhammer Quest. Completely played on Linux via Steam.

Warhammer Quest is the PC version of the famous Warhammer Quest Tabletop game. You have a party of up to four warriors including a warrior, a dwarf, an elf and a mage. You delve into dungeons of various sort to either kill a special mean boss enemy or grab a precious item from the very depth of the labyrinth. All these “quests” are embedded into cleansing three rural regions of the Warhammer universe realm of Goblins, Orcs and Skaven. On some quests you come along some Vampires and Undead which provide a some more challenging task since Vampire Lords are very powerful and while wielding some magic spells they can also deal a very serious amount of damage in melee. Between the dungeons you travel from village to village where you can sell your loot, buy new equipment and visit the training grounds to achieve new levels and therefore skills for your character. As such Warhammer Quest presents itself as a typical Hack & Slay Dungeon crawler viewed from atop when navigating your party through the dungeons.

It is fun. It is entertaining.

But huge epic quests are not found in this game. The dungeon runner part of the game is good looking and plays well. Tactics is seldom an obstacle: leave your mage and the archer (elf) behind and rush in with a berserk and the dwarf. Usually this is solves any problem. On higher levels micromanagement of potions and spell points (healing) of your staff is a bit demanding but this game is not a real hard problem to get around. Graphics and sound are nice done and appropriate.

In a village the menu dealing with inventory and merchants goods could be solved a bit better. Buying and equip you fighters could have been done less awkward, though the way it is done may be better suitable for Tablets and/or XBox or Playstation. Not a real nuisance, but leaves you easily with an idea that it could be done slightly better than it has been done.

The real fun stops, when you characters reached the level limit. And that’s quite too early in the game. After this the game gets highly repetitive. You get the best equipment fast, learned all spells and even the toughest opponent does not bear any really real threat to your party. So about 1/3 of the game you simply do the same over and over again.

But as stated above: it still provides you with fun sweeping through a dungeon.

I never played the original tabletop but I assume that this game strictly obeys to the rules found there and serves as a nice game for up to 4 players each one controlling his own character. This is different to a single PC player game. Here you lack the (unknown) decisions of your co-players but have full control. E.g. swapping one heal potion from one character to the next is not a matter of discussion and arguing among the players but rather a sole act within one, two mouse-clicks. Attacking the mean boss behind with the archer or the nearly dead minion in front of the archer so that the heavy berserk can right walk up to the dangerous mage nearby is not a group act, it’s one single player choice. So this is a different environment and targeted audience to entertain. This is fun on a tabletop where social group interaction of the players contribute to the fun. On a single player PC game this is inherently lost.

So, Warhammer Quest succeeds in bringing the original tabletop game to the PC and creates fun. Could it have been done better? Yes, of course. But only if you bend the core rules of the original and this would then render another game, not entitled to “Warhammer Quest”.

Despite some claims I read elsewhere I never had a crash or some technical difficulties encountered. The game runs smoothly.

Fun. With obvious missed potential.

Final verdict: 6/10 6 out of 10