Ghost Recon Shadow Wars Gameplay Video

Did you know that Julian Gollop of X-Com fame designed Ghost Recon Shadow Wars? Well he did. With the 3DS launch imminent, the marketing push for the launch games is in full swing as evidenced by this Ghost Recon Shadow Wars trailer. In this video, Julian shows you how you can kill drones and commandos with various guns, missiles and super powers. I can’t say that it shows much you haven’t seen in other turn based strategy games, but with Gollop’s name on it, I have high hopes.

Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One Story Trailer

Ratchet and Clank is one of my favorite game series and my all time favorite platforming series, hands down. The next entry is heavy on the co-op, which would normally be a good thing for me, but the majority of my gaming friends have 360′s, not PS3′s, so I’m not sure how much use I’d get out of this game. Still, as the trailer shows, it still has some of the trademark R&C humor which is always worth the price of admission. I just wish they hadn’t ditched the crude, locker room subtext they always add to their titles. All 4 One? That’s positively sanitary!

Dragon Age II in Review, Part I


During the first few hours of Bioware’s controversial and divisive Dragon Age II, it is extremely easy to slip into a way of thinking about it that could blind you from the things that emerge from it that make it great. The central city of Kirkwall is strangely uninhabited despite a refugee crisis. Combat is almost too fast and feels terribly button-mashy at first. The much-loved origin stories from the first game are gone, and the player is locked into playing a specific character. Minor features are stripped away, and the fact that the game had a much shorter development period is all too obvious in a number of places, like those oft-mentioned repeating dungeons. When it comes down to it, it really should not have been called “Dragon Age II” at all, because it is not a continuation of the story of the Warden, although its narrative begins during the first game’s Blight and there are clear connections to that story. Casting it as a sequel created certain expectations that were not met, particularly since what Bioware has delivered is in some ways a very radical, unexpected kind of sequel. I came close to confusing “unexpected” with “disappointed” myself.

I found myself losing faith in the game after a honeymoon period. My issue was that it felt like I wasn’t really doing anything to move the story along, which I began to view as weak and entropic. My version of Garrett Hawke had fled to Kirkwall with his family to escape the Blight and wound up working for crooks to get into the overburdened city. It was an interesting and compelling setup, but ten hours into the game I was completing quests, meeting people, and exploring without a clear adversary or overarching “save the world” goal. I felt sort of lost, as if I didn’t really have a purpose. But then, I realized how completely different that felt from other roleplaying games.

Even in Mass Effect 2, the shadow of the Omega Relay hangs over the entire game. You know that the Reapers are the Big Bad. Lines are drawn. In Dragon Age II, there is no sign- even thirty hours into the game- that there even will be a Big Bad. The story reflects this, because as it progresses the narrative actually evolves around you. Choices made earlier in the game are like story seeds that bear fruit later on. Political struggle, ideological conflict, and personal vendettas are woven together to form a much richer, much more sophisticated story-web than anything I think I’ve ever seen attempted in a video roleplaying game. The game’s stories feel organic, emerging and unfolding rather than being told or directed. It is also a story that takes place over years of time, meaning that although it is not a continent-spanning epic of distance and scope, it is an epic of a specific place and of a specific era.

It’s not a save the world game. At least not yet, and I don’t think it will be. Events seem to be building to a head, and I sense that difficult decisions about where Hawke will cast his loyalty are to come.

Despite the smaller scope- it really is just about Kirkwall and its immediate environs- it is still also a story of specific characters, all with ambiguities, complexities, and intricate relationships both with Hawke and the various factions and events in the city. The writing is much sharper, tighter, and more is said with much less than in the first game. Although there’s no character as monumental as Shale, I’ve found that the companions as well as many of the NPCs (the Qunari Arishok in particular) have me completely riveted and interested in seeing how their stories intertwine with the other threads in the game. And man, am I glad that the silly gifting mechanic has been thrown out in favor of a better-integrated system of currying favor with your party members.

One little bit of character writing in particular really sort of blew me away, although it was very subtle. Aveline, among the earliest party members that joins up with Hawke, eventually rises to a position of power in Kirkwall. Through choices and dialogues I cultivated a long-term platonic friendship with her. She was kind of my right-hand woman, but I never had any romantic designs on her because Merrill, the klutzy elf girl caught my Garrett’s eye instead. I stopped in to visit Aveline, and she more or less asked me to help her get close to a City Guardsman she fancied. I actually felt the same “what about me” pang of jealousy that I probably would have felt in real life.

What followed was a quest wherein her inability to confess her love for this guy drew me in as a pawn and eventually I just laid it out to him, inadvertently embarrassing her. She was angry, he appeared to be professionally aggrieved, and I actually felt bad for trying to force the issue. It all ended well though, but later on she chastised me for selling her shield earlier in the game. Um, sorry about that!

That I’m writing so much about a minor romantic subplot in the game indicates how much the story and characters are the focus- not fiddly, nerd-pleasing mechanics and numbers tweaking. Call it “dumbing down” and blame the console gamers if you want, but the fact is that this is a game that is much closer to actual role playing than even the vaunted Baldur’s Gate games were. That being said, the mechanics present are essentially the same as in the first game, but with some much-needed polish and a lot of fat cut away. The result is that combat is fast, almost (but not quite) action-oriented, and skill trees are simpler and more direct in their content and effect. Tactical pausing and adjusting situational character tactics individually is still critical to winning key battles and although friendly fire is gone on the lower difficulty levels, I can’t say that I’ve missed it. I’ve found the combat more exciting and engaging, and the faster pace and slicker interface has not resulted in a loss of strategic depth.

Effectively, Bioware is asking a lot of tough questions about the RPG genre in this game, particularly in regard to what defines it and what it needs to cut loose in order to evolve into something more story-driven and less focused on dated, gamey mechanics. Most of the time, I think they’ve succeeded and looking at the game objectively I’ve not been disappointed or offended by anything that they’ve stripped away. If anything, I’ve enjoyed the game more than the first because it feels fresher, newer, and progressive instead of wallowing in the late 1990s glory days of Western CRPGs. It might bother some that every item doesn’t have a florid, purple prose name and I know many will be upset that companions have limited and character-specific upgrades to their armor. But in the latter’s case, it’s almost exactly the same limitation that any number of JRPGs have featured, including celebrated titles like Chrono Trigger and the Final Fantasy games.

Where the company’s daring proposition gets a little dicier is in the parts of the game where a shortened development schedule has apparently foreclosed on content and variety. Yes, some of the minor dungeons and even a couple of the major ones are exactly the same. What they’ve done is to reuse maps, sometimes sealing off areas that may be open in another map. The scenery, textures, and environments are exactly the same. At first, this is grating and it’s too obvious and it definitely feels like a lazy shortcut. But I found myself asking if it really mattered if I could turn left instead of right or if the walls looked different, or if I would rather that the game be fifteen hours long and not feature such a rich, textured narrative in favor of dungeon variety.

It’s a tough call, but I will say that being thirty hours in I haven’t really cared all that much when the dungeons have repeated. It is jarring because it’s too apparent that you’re in a familiar location. But the outcomes and events that transpire are so much more significant and interesting than worrying about a design element that is almost certainly borne out of logistical and economical shortage. They’re really no worse than any of the dungeons in an Elder Scrolls game once you look past the repetition.

This is what Dragon Age II is really up against- folks that are looking strictly at the surface mechanics or presentation and not digging into the things that really matter. Those who are playing the demo or even the first ten or fifteen hours and passing off their zero-score Metacritic user reviews will never even get to see the places where Bioware has done the most work in terms of pushing the CRPG envelope. For a lot of people, it obviously hasn’t worked but for those who understand that experimentation, streamlining, and evolution often precipitates mixed results, I think there is an amazing game here to discover, one that is better than the first game on almost all counts as long as you don’t expect it to carry forward its design principles and foci, which were already largely dated and antiquarian in 2009.

The next time I report in, I’ll be finished with the game and I’ll share some final thoughts as a post-mortem on it. At halftime, I’d list it among the best console RPGs I’ve ever played. Without reservation.

Trine 2 Trailer; Game Delayed to Summer 2011

This one looks really cool, folks. Atlus is such an eclectic outfit — with some big hits and some bad misses but I like the cut of this one’s jib.

PR ahoy:

Atlus U.S.A., Inc. today launched a new gameplay trailer for Trine 2, a high-fantasy, physics-based action platformer with cooperative online multiplayer, for PlayStation3 computer entertainment system, Xbox LIVE Arcade for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, and PC. The publisher also announced that the game’s release date has been moved to late Summer 2011.

The “Alluring Adventure” Gameplay Trailer will give fans a glimpse of the gorgeous environments and clever physics-based gameplay they can expect when they play as the powerful knight, the swift rogue and the crafty wizard. Boasting sumptuous (admittedly pretty nice) visuals, a masterful musical score, more puzzles, and the introduction of online support, Trine 2 is the perfect (a) mix of old-school platforming action, original physics-based level design, and cooperative multiplayer (gaming). fun!

Trine 2 is now scheduled for digital release in late Summer 2011 for PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system, Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, and PC. (Which we told you in the first sentence of this press release) For more information, please visit http://www.trine2.com

Top Spin 4 Trailer. Um, Yeah.

I have no idea what being “sexy” has to do with playing Top Spin 4 on the PS3 with Move support but 2K seems to think it mighty important — important enough to, well, create this trailer.

Because honestly nothing says tennis like sex grunts, stilettos, and fish net. Just like Bill Tilden did it back in the day.

Update: Looks like 2K didn’t give the go ahead for this trailer. As reported by Joystiq:

“As part of the process for creating marketing campaigns to support our titles, we pursue a variety of creative avenues. This video is not part of the title’s final marketing campaign and its distribution was unauthorized.”

Whoops.

Shogun 2: The Warrior’s Cry 1556 – 1560

We, mighty Clan Shimazu, begin 1556 at war with the Miyoshi, an old ally of the destroyed Besshu Clan, and the Urakami, another small clan who was a trade partner with the Besshu and who have continued the war in their stead. Both clans are small in stature, and most likely in honor, and we will be swift in our mission to eliminate them.

The Miyoshi are in a far off land, to which we have no direct access so we set our sights on the Urakami; afterward we will have a strong foothold on western Honchu. But a new proposal has come our way…

The Urakami prove to be wiser than expected. After routing a small army on our way to its homeland fortress, a diplomat appears, begging for the survival of his clan. They propose that they become a vassal clan; they would pay us a tribute each season, grant us one army unit, and will be under our thumb while we let them do as they please unless we ask for assistance in a war. They do this in exchange for us allowing them to live.

We accept.

We have received word that another major clan has perished – clan Hattori now vanish into the annals of history.

By sparing the Urakami, and its rich gold mine, we now have more money for which to build our armies and add to our infrastructure. New warhorses, No-Dachi Samurai (fierce two handed sword samurai) and Fire Bomb throwers are being recruited. Our armies grow stronger each season—and more expensive.

To the south, now that the Urakami are under our thumb, we can focus on the army occupying the province of Suo. Formerly a Clan Mori province, it is now under the control of honorless Rebels too weak and cowardly to form its own clan. We will show them no mercy and capture this province and secure their horse pastures which will allow us to recruit Katana Cavalry, armored warriors who thunder across the battlefield on horseback

The rebel army inside the fort city is large enough that it warrants a siege; we will starve them out.

By the end of 1556 they emerge from their stronghold and meet us on the field, only to be crushed by General Tomokata’s army, the brave general leading his men front and center like the honor filled warrior that he is.

After crushing the starving rebels and taking over Suo, we receive “National Renown” from the Imperial Majesty – our clan is now “prominent” and we are recognized throughout the land. We are honored by this recognition but it is now only a matter of time before the current Shogun plans his attack on us.

We will be ready.

To show just how powerful we have become, the bow experts of the Chokosabe Clan have offered a trade agreement in addition to 400 gold. We accept, and take this as a sign of respect…and potential weakness.

1557 begins as the Christian missionary Francis Xavier arrives in our homeland, asking to spread the word of his god. We remove him from our soil with all speed.

The Takaoka and Urakami clans are now at war. Do we assist our vassal clan or let them perish? The Takaoka are next to the Urakami so we send Tomokata over to investigate. They are not a known clan, but have multiple provinces and a fairly large army lead by a 5-star general. Tomokata wants to fight but we rein him in – perhaps there is a diplomatic solution?

Click for full size screenshot: http://www.nohighscores.com/wp-content/uploads/old-images/bill/snap423.jpg

Our diplomats have secured an alliance with the Matsuda clan, a moderately sized clan who controls two provinces adjacent to the Takaoka. We grease the wheels or friendship with 200 gold – the Matsuda accept and enters the war.

The lack of honor of some clans makes me want to commit seppuku just out of spite. No sooner had we allied with the Matsuda, they refuse to grant access to our armies to enter their lands (note: this very well could have been a bug as Allied clans should have military access, or so I thought).

In addition to this, the Matsuda immediately declare war and attack the Urukami, sacking their and killing the clan in one fell swoop. We are honor bound to declare war on the Matsuda.

Our allies, the Sagara, refuse to lend assistance. We are on our own.

Several seasons pass as we continue to maneuver, build and focus our attention on the dogfaced Matsuda Clan. Finally we are ready. Our Daimyo is protecting our northern border, with his son and heir behind our lines reinforcing if need be – we call once again on Tomokata to be the steel that delivers the killing blow to the Matsuda. Tomokata’s speed is unmatched as he tracks down the Matsuda Daimyo in their province of Aki. Fielding 1,200 men to the Matsuda 1,100 this battle is evenly matched — but for Tomokata’s experience.

The battle takes place on a large hill – one in which Tomokata must assault to claim victory. The enemy fields mostly bowmen, yari spearmen, and some light cavalry. Tomokata has his trusty samurai, with supporting archers and his personal cavalry.

Tomokata’s plan is to bring the Matsuda off the hill, using archers, who are using fire arrows – it works. The Matsuda charge down the hill with their spearmen, only to meet the steel of the samurai. The spearmen have the advantage in high ground but the samurai have the advantage in skill.. The front line wavers back and forth as both archers take aim at one another and Tomokata seeks out the enemy general.

Click for full size screenshot: http://www.nohighscores.com/wp-content/uploads/old-images/bill/snap437.jpg

As the enemy spearmen begin to break, Tomokata catches an arrow in the eye and falls from his horse. Unseen by the main battle line, they continue to fight, forcing a retreat of the Matsuda.

But Tomokata is dead.

And with it, our finest warrior.

It was an honorable death, and the Matsuda fled, and our Daimyo destroyed the last Matsuda army in the north to claim a complete victory but we now must consider the fact that we have no more experienced generals aside from our strong Daimyo…who just turned 47 years of age.

Upon sacking Aki after Tomokata’s death, we have the option to vassal the long dead Mori clan, which would effectively resurrect the clan and put them under our thumb. We agree to do this and the Mori enter the game once again, only this time, they owe us money…and the Shogun would like a word with us…

Click for full size screenshot: http://www.nohighscores.com/wp-content/uploads/old-images/bill/snap430.jpg

Check out the previous Shogun 2 Game Diaries here:

http://nohighscores.com/node/256

http://nohighscores.com/node/230

These Are a Few of Kotaku's Favorite Things

No High Scores

Kotaku put up a list of their favorite gaming blogs today and I have to say, it’s a pretty good list. Sites like RPS, Brainy Gamer, KillScreen and Quarter to Three all made the list as well as 16 other fine bastions of gaming wordsmith. We’re not on it, but hey, it’s only been like, a month. I do like how they asked the people in charge of the sites to write up a description of the sites themselves. Apparently all of Kotaku is too enamored with the 3DS to tell you in their own words why they like the sites they’re telling you they like. With comments like this, I’m sure we’ll be added to that list any minute now.

Black Prophecy Free to Play MMO Now Live

Another Free to Play MMO went live today and every time I think one looks cool I’m later told it was all a ruse and the trailer makes the game look a lot better than it really is. Is that the case with Black Prophecy? No idea, but that trailer does look pretty nice for a F2P MMO. It’s basically a action-oriented space combat game with a lot of MMO elements built in from skills, crafting, clans, etc.

You can learn more at the game’s homepage here: http://www.blackprophecy.com

From the FAQ:

Player vs. Player combat will play a big role in Black Prophecy. You will be able to engage other players in different kinds of PvP missions and battlegrounds. Player vs. Player combat will also be an essential part of the game’s endgame content.

Captain America: Super Soldier Fact Sheet

Sega today released the official fact sheet for its upcoming action game, Captain America: Super Soldier where you get to play as Cap and beat the crap out of a lot of nameless soldiers as well as Red Skull, Iron Cross and other people Cap doesn’t play well with on July 19th on every platform but the PC.

On with the PR!

Product Description

Become Captain America™, the ultimate Super-Soldier, in the darkest days of World War II as you face the Red Skull and his army in this epic third-person action adventure.

Wield Captain America’s legendary shield to take out multiple enemies at once, deflect incoming fire back at your enemies, solve puzzles, and scale walls. Above all, hurl yourself shield-first into the fray, with the superior force of the world’s first Super-Soldier at your fingertips (as Captain America).

Engage in free-flowing combat and acrobatic platforming to infiltrate Hydra’s massive and mysterious castle complex and battle the infamous Iron Cross, the forces of Hydra, and a host of nefarious enemies serving the Red Skull in an all-new Captain America story and adventure.

The completely original story for Captain America: Super Soldier is penned by noted comic, film, and TV writer Christos Gage. The primary writer for the Marvel’s Avengers: The Initiative series of comics, Gage has written numerous books for major Marvel characters, including Siege: Captain America, Iron Man, X-Men, Spider-Man, Civil War: House of M, and Union Jack.

Product Specifications

* Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, 3DS
* Release date: July 19, 2011
* Genre: Third-Person Action Adventure
* Rating: Pending (Expect T on console, E10+ on DS)
* Website: www.captainamericagame.com

Bastion Looks Kind of Neat

I didn’t know anything about this game until I was editing Justin’s new article at Gameshark about some of the best looking Indie games on the floor.

Bastion certain qualifies.

I think this looks incredibly charming. The development team is made up, in part I believe, by members of the Command & Conquer franchise which I find incredibly weird because this looks nothing like C&C and I thought most people in this industry were of a one track mind. Proven wrong, once again.

Some PR:

The goal of the game is to construct a safe haven in the wake of the Calamity, a cataclysmic event that shattered the world into a series of floating islands. As players journey into the wild unknown in search of survivors and supplies, they will confront strange beasts, forge an array of customizable weapons, and gain new powers from specially-brewed spirits. The entire play experience of Bastion is narrated, gradually revealing a rich backstory as the narrator reacts to the player’s actions in real time.

(Yes–not even indie games can escape the strike through. Still. Sounds cool, eh?)

You can learn more about Bastion at http://www.supergiantgames.com