Diablo III: Reaper of Souls – Better Gameplay, New Class and a More Immersive Story

Diablo III Reaper of Souls

    “Reaper of Souls” is one of the best expansions I’ve played. “Diablo III” was already a game I’d beaten at least twice before buying it and the expansion improved upon some of the problems in the story from the first game as well as adding a lot of other elements that raised the replay value and made it so I continued to put time into Kengin my Witch Doctor and continue to put time in until this day. This is what a great expansion is supposed to do. Blizzard really does know how to make great expansions…from “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne,” Starcraft: Brood War” and “Diablo II: Lord of Destruction” I have yet to be disappointed in any of them in how they’ve improved both the gameplay and changed things up in the story on the ones that came before.

The Pros:

 Gameplay – Things have been improved immensely with Bounties and Nephalem Rifts that give you the chance to face challenging foes and discover amazing worlds like the Cow Level, Whimyshire (Where you kill Unicorns, Teddy Bears and Flowers) and the realm of Greed where you fight another one of the evils who is a fat Goblin who gives you tons of great awards just for entering her realm after killing one of the Treasure Goblins. This is one reason I keep bringing my Witch Doctor back and I can’t wait to take more characters through the the game.

 Difficulty –  In this the bosses are more difficult and you feel their difficulty in the later levels of Torment. I really appreciate that Blizzard has the Torment difficulties as Normal and Expert were too easy and my Witch Doctor didn’t even die until I’d gotten a few levels into Torment. Dying adds stakes and it makes you appreciate the enemies and Nephalem Rifts and Infernal Machines allow you to face those challenges beyond facing the bosses on higher difficulties for Bounties from Tyrael.

SPOILERS ahead

Story – I’m going to start with the story. Act V reveals more about your character beyond them being just a noble archetype of whatever they are playing and gives your character anger and emotional investment. You see this in the hunt for Adria as your hero gets angrier for her escape and using of her daughter and also anger at Maltheal for his slaughter of the innocents of Westmarch as you learn over the course of the story he’s gone mad and wants to solve the problem of evil by destroying all those with Demon Blood, which is all the members of Sanctuary since humanity was born out of Angels and Demons who had children together and just wanted to escape the Eternal Conflict.

The World – The world is expansive in this one and it is a pretty large act. You get to go Westmarch, which is this wonderful large Gothic town who we learned last game defeated Tristam in a war but is now in the middle of a Civil War and ends with no one in control to rule. There are the Battlefields of Eternity which have scavenger demons all over the place and portals to new dimensions and there is the Pandemonium Fortress, a haunting angelic fortress that feels like a fortress of death, a fitting place for Malthael to make his home base. It is also a prison too so you get the chance to face some powerful angels and demons there.

The Characters – The characters are wonderful and it is great seeing Tyrael and Imperius’s relationship to Malthael as they mourn their fallen brother but will not call him, though they will help you get to him to kill him. It is powerful seeing their conflicted loyalties as Tyrael realizes you could be the destruction of all at the end and Imperius respects you even as he hates you for the same reasons as Malthael and for walking all over Angelic Ground in the Heavens. Adria gets some backstory too as we see how persecution lead her to Diablo…though I hate that in the end she is just another Demon Boss. All the characters have more revealed about them and the fact that Diablo is free at the end gives me hope that we’ll see the Seven Evils return.

The Crusader – The Crusader is the added class and I’ve been leveling her up right now as  I continue to work on my Witch Doctor and some of the other classes. I like how they are tied to the same realm as the Paladins but also very different. I named one of mine after a friend and I really enjoy their playstyle as back in College and High School the Paladin was my main in “Diablo II” and the Warrior was my main in the first “Diablo.” She is my secondary to Kengin who is my main character.

Malthael – Malthael is one of the best villains to come out of Diablo. You see his minions destroy Westmarch and your saving it can’t prevent the destruction, he nearly destroys the world and everyone you saves he takes away. He is a really deadly villain and he nearly wins at the end. I never got that from Diablo, Belial (Though he at least kills Cain via Maghda) or Azmodan in the last game. Diablo especially was underwhelming for being the big bad of last game…not enough was done to show the threat of what destroying the High Heavens would mean or what it would be doing on our realm…it was too far removed, and even though it was fun and I liked the Angels and was invested since my personality can be a Paladin type in games, it wasn’t enough. Westmarch is personal and everything Malthael does is personal as well as the confrontation with Adria. That is what the last game lacked and took away from the villains comparing to Malthael, who is directly hurting everyone you try and help and is always out of your reach.

Kengin Witch Doctor

    Rather than writing a concrete con I’m going to write what I would have done differently since it does relate to why I won’t be giving this game a perfect 10 / 10. The main thing I’d change in this game is I would have added another class. We got two new classes in “Lord of Destruction” and as Epic as Act V is, it was also epic in “Lord of Destruction” too but we got more characters out of it. I also would have done more to explore the other Angels and their relationship to Malthael and Tyrael as Imperius is the only one who interacts with Tyrael really and Tyrael is the only one who interacts with Malthael. There were so many great character opportunities here, as well as a chance for us to meet and get to know the rest of the Council more fully. There is also no explanation of why Diablo (and no mention of the other Evils) is now free after the Black Soulstone was destroyed. Blizzard hasn’t explained that yet at all. These are the things that I would have changed and that would have made it a perfect game. This is still one of Blizzard’s great expansions and it does solve a lot of the problems of “Diablo III.”

Final Score: 9.7 / 10.

Kengin Witch Doctor 7252016

Universe Sandbox 2 – An Early Access Look to a Universe of Infinite Possibilities

Universe Sandbox 2

        Sandbox games are hard ones to pull off. If there aren’t enough possibilities it is easy to get bored…for example I could never get into the Sim City Builders or Train Builders as there weren’t enough possibilities to keep things interesting. Even within ways to destroy a city…it eventually gets boring. What if you could shape the Universe though and have different ways in which you could create life and have it follow the actual laws of our own Universe? This is what makes Universe Sandbox 2 work. You are a God and there is no limit to the possibilities you can make, and the fact that this is Early Access means more updates and possibilities are to come.

     This game was created by Giant Army who also created the first Universe Sandbox, that I plan on checking out as well after this. It is currently available on Steam and is seeking more people to help bring it into it’s final form.

Destruction

   When I was playing what I ended up creating was a giant black hole in the middle of giant Super Nova. It was fantastic, beautiful destruction and was grateful that my friend introduced me to this game. Over the course of this playthrough i added more black holes and Suns to keep the radiating destruction going on. It was so powerful the beautiful music even stopped playing because it was so strong upon the computer. The black hole below is all that remains now as all the remains of the supernovas were eventually sucked into the supermassive black hole that came out of the destruction.

Super Massive Blackhole

     Later on she was playing and myself and another friend were Trickster Gods to her Earth planet that had life in India and Europe but everywhere else had been destroyed by the asteroids circling it. The planet had also been turned to a 90 Degree angle because of all asteroids that had hit it, knocking it off it’s axis…yet still there was life.

     That was until the other friend and I decided to place 3 moons around the planet which turned the planet red and destroyed Earth completely, as well as 2 of the Moons as the debris from the destroyed moons (from the circling asteroids) annihilated all water and life on Earth. It was awesome!

      This is a game that is well worth buying and gives you the chance to be a benevolent creator creating life all over the universe, or creating epic levels of destruction on a galactic scale. This is a game that if you have any love of astronomy and science is worth checking out. The game is still being worked on, as it is Early Access, but even in it’s current form I’d rate it over most games that are similar Sandboxes. You feel the epicness of being God over a Universe and you learn so much by the things that can be done in the Universe you create.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Gone Home – An Amazing Game of Love, Mystery and Relationships

Gone_Home

        I’ve never been one for games that are purely exploration. Often times I find them overly convoluted and confusing and the gameplay tiring. It’s one reason I could never get into the “Myst” series…Though I am willing to give that series another chance as one of my favorite games is an exploration game, “Journey.” “Gone Home” is also a favorite after playing it last night, though mostly because of how immerse the story is. Suffice to say, if you like a good mystery and powerful story, chances are you will like this game.

      The game was developed Fullbright, designed by Steve Gaynor and composed by Chris Remo. The game is in the style of a first person interactive story adventure game.

     The story involves Kaitlin Greenbriar who has returned home after being gone for a long time traveling and studying abroad in Europe. When she arrives to the home her family had recently moved into she finds that everyone in her family is missing and must piece together the mystery of what happened as well as the mystery surrounding her Uncle Oscar who owned the house before.

From here on there are spoilers.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Chris Remo did a great job on the soundtrack! There is the haunting sounds in the house combined with punk rock music and jazz when you put cassette tapes into tape players around the house. It gives the mansion a lived in feel beyond the graphics and items you interact with.

The Graphics – The graphics are fantastic! The house is beautifu/l and it is haunting as you are trapped inside with no way to contact the outside world as the phones are down because of the storm. There are also tons of rooms that are really detailed. From the bedroom of your little Sister Samantha who is the character who learn the most about and your father’s study as well as your mother’s sewing room. Each room has a distinct personality that the graphics portray really well. This also includes the hidden rooms that have a really scary feel to them and feel like they’re out of “Silent Hill” at times.

The House – As described above, the house is wonderful and has so much personality to it. From the hidden rooms with abandoned crosses and a safe, to Sam’s rockstar room, to the ornate bedroom and study of the parents. The house feels real and mysterious and is pretty much a character all on it’s own. Wanting to learn more about what it revealed was a big part of what kept me playing.

The Story – The story is amazing! There are a few stories that you get in the overacing narrative. Your Mom has a crush on one of the Ranger’s she works with and is having marriage problems with the father who was possibly molested by Uncle Oscar and lives in shame of his father’s expectations of him as an author as he largely rights pulp…and Oscar’s store going under and his seeking redemption from his Sister for what he did.

The Prime story is that of Sam and her girlfriend Lonnie. The story involves Sam accepting she loves Lonnie and expressing that through her story of Captain Allegro and the First Mate who go on adventures together and are lovers. Her parents are religious though and they don’t believe her when she comes out to them and put her under house arrest. Later when they go to work on their relationship at a retreat, Lonnie leaves the military and runs away with Sam and you find the Journal entries that describe all of Sam’s experiences of learning how much she loves Lonnie, her being an outcast at school and her past friendship with Danny and making peace with herself enough to the point that she can leave home and make a life with the woman she loves. Katie is the one who learns all of this and we see and hear it through her experiences of discovering the mystery of why the house is empty.

The Characters – Uncle Oscar – His ghost haunts the house but it isn’t literal. He probably molested Terry (the Father of Sam and Katie) as we see Terry’s height measured throughout the years but stops at age 12 in 1963, which relates directly to the stories Terry writes about JFK and the assassination of him. He is not a good person and though he seeks redemption and has regret, we have no reason to trust him. I put this character as a pro because he reveals Terry to us in regards to Terry’s drinking and trust issues and also we see how Lonnie and Sam are ghost hunters as well as they try and get rid of what they see as his ghost haunting the house.

The Parents – Terry is insecure and drinks a lot and has a powerful artistic mind. His niche market even catches on with Time Travel and the Assassination of JFK. We don’t really know his relationship to his wife though and sadly his rejection of his daughter (whether from his experience with Uncle Oscar (not realizing that Pedophilia and Homosexuality are two very different things) or his insecurity in his marriage lead him rejecting Lonnie and Sam (or his religious belief, “Bibles” are all over the house). The Mom is pretty driven too as she gets promoted in Oregon in the Forest Service is maybe having an affair with Ranger Rick and sews and is in contact writing letters with one of her old friends. She’s also an immigrant from Canada. We see she’s supportive of her husband even though she is exploring another option. The marriage is complicated but I get her doubts given the amount her husband drinks and his doubts and we don’t know if he ever shared what happened when he was 12. They are off at a Marriage Retreat when Katie returns home though.

Sam and Lonnie – Sam and Lonnie are pretty distinct and awesome characters. Sam is quite and an artist who finds her voice both in coming out to her folks and when she runs away with Lonnie. Lonnie is tough and independent and is a singer in a band and is all about self improvement via her nearly joining the military. They are pulled apart at one point as Sam is looking at Reed College since she has a scholarship and Lonnie is joining the military. After Sam comes out to her parents though they choose each other. They are reckless but committed and it makes them very human and my favorite characters in this.

The Message – The message is one of equality and love and it is powerful. We see two people who are willing to risk everything for one another since who they are has been rejected by their parents. It’s powerful and shows just how rejected they were. The time period is the 90’s but in some families in the United States an LBGTQ relationship would still be seen as wrong and be rejected and not seen as love even when love is there. This message speaks to the affect that has on people. If Lonnie’s or Sam’s parents had accepted their relationship, they would not have run away as they’d feel they had a safe space to be together and themselves.

Okay/Pro: The  Gameplay – The gameplay is good but not great. There were many times I wish I could have explored more objects or learned more of what each object meant. For example, your father’s novels about the “JFK Assisination” where a Time Traveler goes back in time to stop it and later on wants to save himself was a story I wanted to read. This story is a glimpse into your Father’s life just as “Captain Allegro and the First Mate” are glimpses into who your sister Sam is. I also wish you could go outside so there would be more than just the feel of danger as you explore the house.

Okay: Katie – Katie is a cipher and we don’t get much of her personality beyond her love of adventure and her family. I wish we could have got her thoughts about Sam and Lonnie running away and if she accepted them and loved them the way her parents never could. Still we get some characterization, I just wanted more.

   I played the game in full with my partner playing a few places in it. She had played it earlier and I am extremely grateful she introduced this game to me and that I got to play and discuss it with her. It was a story we could relate to in many ways and the characters were so real. When I started to play it was hard for me to put down, which is one reason I consider it a favorite game. The gameplay was good enough that it didn’t interfere with the story and it was still a puzzle and discovery game rather than an interactive movie. I highly recommend this game and not because of the story message, it is a great game and one of the beset I’ve finished in a while.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Torchlight II: A Fun but Lesser “Diablo II”

Torchlight II

Dungeon Crawlers are a fascinating type of game to play. They have the chance to show truly rich environments as well as creating worlds that span continents and you can create tons of quests to flesh out the stakes and the enemies. “Torchlight II” doesn’t do that all that well. Oh it is still lots of fun but unlike “Diablo II” where the stakes felt large and real this game doesn’t really have that. I’ll get into what I mean in the assessment.

“Torchlight II” is the sequel “Torchlight,” (another game I plan on reviewing) and is an Action Role-Playing Game (ARPG) created by Runic Games. The creator was Travis Baldree.

The premise of the story is similar to “Diablo II” with the corrupted hero (The Alchemist) from the last game traveling the lands and corrupting the Guardians so that he can bring destruction to the world. It is up to you the hero (an Engineer in my case) to stop him. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the game:

The Pros: Gameplay – One thing I will say for this game is even if it starts out easy it dose have a challenge curve and it is possible to get overwhelmed by Elite Monsters, especially later in the game where they tend of have special attacks that can reek havoc on your health. This challenge was fun and it motivated my getting better armor to finish up quests and take on bosses. The linear progression serves it well similar to “Diablo II” and “Diablo” and the fact that you don’t have to go all the way back to turn in quests is a major bonus in it’s favor. Gameplay was fun and it was something that I could easily play casually.

Ideas – There are some great ideas in this world. From a village overrun by werewolves were you learn about how everyone died and need to kill the Alpha to being part of a civil war between two immortal races of metal men in the middle of a desert. The use of genies and dragons as generals over hordes is quite interesting too. There are some great concepts in this game.

Enchanting – Being able to get extra bonuses to your armor and weapons was something I enjoyed doing. It was a good use for the tons of gold you pick up during questing and gave you more reason to keep the armor you had given you are pouring so much money into make it better than before.

Okay: Bosses – Bosses went from disappointing (the Alchemist fight at the end was underwhelming…we never got this guy’s motivation and after we fought a Netherlord which made no sense since we’d gotten no information on the Nether prior) but some fights like the Artificer (a giant metal Naga like creature), Vyrax the Dragon (who sends swarms of enemies at you and attacks from the air in the first few phases) and Ezra Khan (a corrupted genie). For this reason I’d put it as okay. Most bosses weren’t all that creative or much of a threat beyond the Artificer, Vyrax and Ezra…which was a shame since ARPG’s are all about the enemies if they aren’t about characters who become a part of your party.

Cons: The Tone – The Tone goes from dark to cartoony, especially in how some bosses look which takes away from the threat of the Alchemist…the fact that you free all the Guardians shows this as well. Nothing was at stake in the end and only bad guys and unnamed civilians died. It wasn’t like “Diablo” or “Diablo II” which were all about consequences and kept a consistently dark tone because of it.

The Story – The story tries to be “Diablo II” but misses what made the story of “Diablo II” so rich. We got to learn about Hell and what was stake in “Diablo II” as Diablo worked to free his brothers while the Dark Wanderer (the hero from “Diablo”) tried to contain him. This lead to everyone from the last game getting corrupted or captured and we saw governments fall just from Diablo and the Prime Evils’ Influence. This story has none of that…what motivates the factions is never explained and why the Alchemist is corrupted and wants to bring the Nether to are world (or if he even does want to do that) is never explained either. This really brings down the story and gives a lot to be desired. This is a story without consequences, where in the end there are no stakes. Nothing the Alchemist does mattered which in turn makes your own quest kind of pointless…it’s almost like you are just a visitor cleaning things up, not a hero even as the game gives you fame for quests completed. I am big into stories in games and this one failed to deliver in a big way.

This is a game that is worth checking out if you are a casual gamer. It isn’t too difficult but can still promote strategy in certain areas and some of the level designs are really cool if you can take the clashing tones in certain instances. Also if you aren’t looking for story and just gameplay, chances are you will really like this game. Because I am looking for story though I have to give this game an okay but not great. There was enough here that I was motivated to finish the game…but the fact that nothing really happened means I’m less likely to play it again. I want to be enriched in whatever medium is sharing a story with me and for a world to have consequences and feel real. This game sadly does not have that.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Okay and enjoyable but in no way great.