Torchlight III: A Refocus on Narrative With More Gaming Options

Torchlight III on Steam

  “Torchlight III” is thus far the only game I have bought in early access. This is my second favorite of the 3 games in the “Torchlight Franchise.” The first game still has the best narrative and gameplay but “Torchlight III” has a better story and gameplay than “Torchlight II.” I’ll explore all of this deeper into the review but until then this is a game I’d recommend to any fan of the earlier “Torchlight” games or for folks who enjoy a good dungeon crawler.

Echtra Games developed “Torchlight III” with Perfect World Entertainment being the publisher.

The game takes place centuries later after “Torchlight II” with ember corruption having spread from the clockwork core and an ancient evil attempting to conquer the world with the Netherim. It is up to you as the Sharpshooter, Dusk Mage, Railmaster or Forged to stop them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Gameplay – The gameplay mostly works. The only con I can say against it at this time is it does fall into the grindyness that most dungeon-crawlers suffer from but this one makes up from it from the themed zones, the challenging boss fights, the personalization of your fort and the variety of character classes you can play.

Your Fort – One thing that sets this game apart from the past games in the franchise is the fact you get a fort. In this fort you can re-distribute your skill points, build up defenses against elements (Fire, poison, etc.), enchant items and save armor sets. For these reasons I always enjoyed coming back here as I figured out how to make the most of the artifact I chose (Fire based) from which you choose your skills from. The game is still in early-access so I’m curious what new things will eventually be added too.

Character and Artifact Variety – One thing that works about this game is the character variety. I chose to play as the Forged who is a robotic warrior class but you also have the rogue-like Sharpshooter the Dusk Mage and the Railmaster. These characters do not play the same and I can’t wait to explore that different more in the future, as well as try out more of the artifacts and the skills they offer.

Pets – This game has a lot of pets and you earn more by defeating bosses. Each of them have different effects that boost your character in different ways. I started with a dog (one of the starter pets) but ended with a teal dragon. You can name them like in the prior games and you have multiple birds, mammals and reptiles that you pick up along the way. I’m really curious if we’ll get Nethrim pets when the game is finished given how powerful your character is by the end of the game.

The World – The world is the richest it has ever been as far as new characters and lore. You interact with scientists and towns that give flavor to the different regions and each region feels like it fits the location be it mountainous, swamp or the artificial ancient crafted world of the dwarves. Each region has a unique enemy being controlled by the Netherim, which made exploring it all the more fun as you find flavor text around the areas and see what drives the boss in the area. You also run into world bosses who fit the area and are a great challenge to level up your skills before the usually more difficult act bosses.

The Enemy Factions – The first faction you face are the goblins. They are fun to face and their primary element is fired. They are lead by the warrior Brall, she is a hunter with a large bow who summons a ghost wolf to fight alongside her in battle and is completely loyal to the mysterious “Mother.” There are the Hyvid who are an insect-like race whose larva can turn humans and goblins into zombies and are lead by the Harley Quinn like Sadista who killed their Queen and wants to overthrow “Mother.” The sister is Varis is the one who is the most competent as she uses human mercenaries to enforce her will and controls the Vultera, an advanced bird-like with the best technology in the game who have come to inhabit the dwarven ruins. We also hear about other worlds and creatures that the Netherim compete with for supremacy over worlds.

The 3 Sisters -The sisters are great and they all fight differently. Brall is the loyal fighter and you see why she admires the goblins. Sadista is sadistic and selfish but does succeed until you defeat her and Varis is the most successful and is shown to have cared for her sisters. We learn from her that all of them were probably humans who had once died but were raised by “Mother” into this new state where they are part human and Netherim. After “Mother’s” defeat Varis attempts to grab the ember heart and is pulled into the Clockwork Core when it reignites once more saving the world from the Netherim invasion. I suspect we’ll see her in a later game or expansion and “Mother” is still around she just doesn’t have a host body.

The Boss Battles – The boss battle are challenging. Ordrak from the first game is still the most challenging endgame boss but fighting Sadista and Brall (especially Brall) was a fantastic challenge that took learning the patterns of attacks and when they one-shot attacks would happen. The fact that was a warrior type meant early on I was in the thick of battle so Brall was the most difficult there. The final boss was also hard but at that point I had so many skill points into powerful abilities maxed out that I was able to defeat “Mother” in the new corrupted reincarned Odrak body that she was easier than Brall. There are also bosses of each type (Vultera, Goblin and Hyvid) who you fight and artificial robots too. They usually have patterns you can figure out and if they are at the end of a dungeon they are hardest if elites are summoned along with him.

The Cons:

On the Grind – There are some areas that are real grindy as you level up high enough to really stand a chance in the next area above your level. This does become easier once you hit a certain level and can fully empower certain skills but before that I stopped playing a few times because of how annoying the grind could be.

Who is the Main Villain? – We never learn who “Mother” is. I think the implication is she is some powerful type of Netherim and her leading the Netherim army but we learn nothing about her and her aims post-invasion. She is setup akin to Ordrak in the first game but we never see her interactions in-game beyond her children (Ordrak corrupted someone for example) and I wanted to learn more. She is the focus and has characters who know some degree who or what she is but that isn’t reflected as well as it could be in the text.

The Somewhat Cliffhanger Ending – So Varis has the Ember Heart and it is implied her being pulled into the Nether is going to transform her in ways she can’t protect. The final scene also shows the character who is implied to be “Mother” I think with her eyes and arms over the world. This is contrasted with the happy ending of your victory making it feel very much like a cliffhanger. So is this going to be Torchlight III or IV? This is big or me because the game is in early access and there is no guarantee they will make enough money to make future content.

I had a good time playing this game and I do hope we get more story in the future. I enjoyed the consistent enemies in zones, the sisters were fun antagonists and the skills and artifacts as well as character types give the game a lot of replay option. The variety of pets and ways you can decorate your fort helps too. This game isn’t great as there are story issues and the grindyness stands out but I still consider this a good game. If you’ve enjoyed the franchise so far, definitely check this out.

Final Score: 8 / 10

 

Aliens vs. Predator (2010) – A Fun Game That Could Have Been More

     There have been quite a few games in the “Aliens vs. Predator” Franchise. The one I played was the one that came out in 2010 and is the most recent in the Franchise. “Alien” and “Aliens” are two of my favorite films and I have watched the first “Predator” film. I have not seen a full version of any of the other films or any of the films in the “Aliens vs. Predator” Franchise. I do enjoy this world though. The Xenomorphs and Predators have great designs and the humans in this series are flawed. This game does a decent job capturing all of this, though I wouldn’t call the game good, which I’ll get into below. It is fun though, so if you like this world you should check it out if you can get it on sale for cheap.

The game was developed by Rebellion Developments and produced by Sega.

The story follows a marine who arrives on a planet during a Xenomorph takeover, a special Xenomorph who escapes from a lab and a young Predator who is arriving to prove himself to his warrior people.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Tension in Gameplay – One things this game does well is that there is always tension in gameplay. Whether you are an alien, predator or marine you feel vulnerable and it is easy to get overwhelmed by enemy forces so the game forces you to be smart. You can’t just walk through the story and not have any strategy.

The World – You have an ancient Pyramid built by the Predators that hold their history. You have  a corrupt corporation Weyland-Yutani trying to steal technology and experiment on Xenomorphs and you have Predators trying to clean up the mess humanity is making. It is a really interesting story that just needed deeper development of all 3 of the factions.

The Campaigns – The campaigns are all a pro but I’m going to give each an individual score depending on how each of their stories was handled. All the stories are interconnected which makes the narrative a lot of fun.

Marine Campaign – The marine campaign is the most basic. You are a rookie marine who soon becomes the only survivor besides your commander Tequila who has a chestburster injected into her at one point in the story. You take out a few Xenomorph Queens in the story and a Predator as well over the course of the story. Your story starts with survival, working with a scientist named Katya who betrays Weyland-Yutani and finally confronting Weyland who it turns out is an android. You call in his escape craft and your story ends as the pilot says they’ve secured a “live specimen” and discovered the coordinates of the Xenomorph homeworld.

Final Score: 7 / 10 It could have been more if the marines or Weyland was fleshed out more. They exist for the plot and there isn’t any depth beyond that. It is still basic enjoyable.

Predator Campaign – The Predator campaign involves you destroying dead Predators who were defeated prior so their technology doesn’t fall into enemy hands and ends with you walking the path of your ancestors as you take on powerful Xenomorphs and finally destroying the Pyramid to keep the humans from getting your technology. The campaign ends with the Pyramid destroyed and you rising to the top of your Pack as your ship sets off for the Xenomorph homeworld.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10 I’m rating this story a little higher because you are witnessing the history of the Predators and the arc of you becoming leader makes sense. My main issue on why I wouldn’t call it good is there is still no nuance or depth to the Predator characters. More lore but there is nothing to the characters.

Alien Campaign – The Alien campaign is the most fun. Aliens are the weakest out of all the 3 factions you play as. You start out as an experiment but start a breakout from your lab and free the Queen. You and the other Xenomorphs have control over the planet until the Pyramid and prime Queen are destroyed but you are saved by the original scientist who was experimenting on you in the beginning. In the last shot, you Experiment Number 6 has now become Queen and the scientist is your prisoner. The implication is I think you are an intelligent enough Xenomorph that you are probably going to return to your homeworld like the other 2 campaigns.

7.5 / 10 Your character is vulnerable and it is a completely alien perspective. The same can’t be said of the Predator whose honorable drive could still be based in human cultures. The Xenomorphs are fully alien and that is what elevated it. Still wasn’t good as it is a really short campaign and how you end up captured at the end just kind of happens. Nothing you do in the campaign logically leads to your capture.

The Cons:

Weyland-Yutani Motivation – Weyland-Yutani seems to be seeking immortality and technology but even with the Weyland Android that isn’t well explained. The entire organization is full of mad scientists and androids who are evil for the sake of being evil. This is such a shame as the idea of seeking greater technology and power could be used to better humanity but the organization discards people and barely functions.

The Predator’s Human Voice – The predator says “Fuck” a lot as a distraction and it struck me as childish. Was this supposed to be badass? All it did was made me not take the young Predator whose campaign I was playing less seriously. It was crap writing and was hardly needed. If anything it made the Predator’s less alien when exploring the alien aspects of them is what made them compelling (their technology and code is cool). I would have rated their campaign higher if not for this awful edgelord distraction.

As someone who has only seen “Alien” and “Aliens” and the first “Predator” film, I had an enjoyable time with this video game. The factions play different enough that no campaign feels the same and though the story is basic, it is fun. If you are looking for a cool way to explore those universes than I would check out this game if you can get it for cheap. I bought it cheap on Steam for a nice escape during Covid-19, I had a lot of fun.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10 Enjoyable but could have been more.

Torchlight: A Worthy Addition to the Dungeon Crawler

      My experience of “Torchlight” is that of a game that pulled inspiration from the source but went it’s own way. This was not my experience 6 years ago after playing “Torchlight 2.” Looking back on that earlier review I will definitely be returning to that game and seeing if the harsh criticisms I gave still hold up. This is a game that obviously takes inspiration from the APRG that “Diablo” is one of the most obvious starting points. Given how much my analysis has hopefully grown since that time I plan to return and do a replay to see if I still generally agree with the initial review. I really enjoyed this game to the point of finishing it over a weekend. I can see the “Diablo” dark inspiration but the “Dungeons and Dragons” inspiration seems more-so as I hardly remember goblins, trolls and dragons are something this game did really well. I don’t remember “Torchlight II” doing this as well.

“Torchlight” was created by Runic Games and published by Perfect World.

The story follows your character who is an Destroyer, Alchemist or Vanquisher as they arrive in the town of Torchlight as you are pulled into Alric and his plot tied to the powerful corrupting Ore of Ember as you investigate the source of the corruption.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is fantastic. This world feels like it more pulled from “Dungeons and Dragons” than Diablo as you fight through a goblin fortress, a corrupted Dwarf keep and a hellish landscape dominated by Dragonborn and demons. It is really cool and your character is naturally pulled in as you follow an adventurer who is tracking his leader Alric. Syl his apprentice is the main person trying to stop Alric after her corrupts the third member of their party Brink is transformed into a monster by Alric, solidifying his corruption and drive for power at any cost. The fact that this story is what you are investigating as Alric’s journals give you taste of what each area will be like really enriches the game and makes the world rich.

Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun for a dungeon crawler. I never felt overpowered and had to strategize to get through some areas. What helped along those lines was the level variety and unique bosses as well as the fact that you have a pet who can sell your gear in town.

Level Variety – There is a huge level variety that stood out for me more than “Torchlight II.” The goblin fortress feels like a goblin fortress and it makes sense that they’d set a big troll on you that they control and heal. Same goes with the corrupted Dwarf Fortress being ruled by a Demon and the undead area being ruled by ghosts. The levels made sense and built upon each other, which only enriched the world and the experience.

Unique Bosses – The one thing all the bosses have in common is that they are almost always bigger than you. What is different is how you fight them. You fight a giant Troll that you can only beat after you kill the goblin healers who are constantly calling in adds and you fight a demon who replicates herself so you have to focus down the real one and then the final boss has constant adds that he kills to heal and it becomes a war of attrition. The final boss fight feels worth it in the end and it is a victory you earn. In the first game The Dark Alchemist was difficult and I think the only one I died against but didn’t even compare to the difficulty of the dragon Ordrak.

The Pet – One of my biggest issues with APRGs and Dungeon crawlers is the need to go back to town to sell loot or simply dropping loot in order to wait for the good drops. Having a pet that fights with you and sells your gear solves this. This is one thing I wish “Diablo III” had done as it would have solved the overload of gear problem that none of the “Diablo Franchise” really addresses.

Story – The story is simple, but it works. You are helping Syl stop her corrupted master from summoning Ordrak who will conquer and corrupt the world. When you fight Ordak he clearly can do this as he sets tons of Dragonborn and undead against you over the course of the battle. To get this point you fail to save Syl’s friend Brink and you get corrupted by the Ember too. Syl saves you from the corruption only to get captured and after you save her…only to get corrupted at the end when you hold Ordrak’s ember heart. It is well done even if on the face of it it is following the corruption ark of the Warrior in the first “Diablo.” There are enough “Dungeons and Dragons” elements as well as you following the story of the other adventurers to set it apart.

The Cons:

The Hero’s Motivation – Your character shows up but we don’t really get his motivation. I played the Alchemist and he was almost immediantly corrupted after defeating the final boss. There was not motivation and setup, which is a shame as I felt I got to know the characters who surrounded him.

I ended up really enjoying this game. So much so that I’m giving “Torchlight II” another chance. Here is my Old Review of Torchlight II. This was a solidly great game and I enjoyed my time in the universe as well as the fact that I could keep on playing after defeating Ordrak. The graphics and world feel unique and I’m really curious to see if “Torchlight III” will be any good. If you are looking for an older dungeon crawler to play, definitely check this one out.

Final Score: 9 / 10 It is a shame the sequel doesn’t live up to the original. This one improves on the gameplay of the first “Diablo” while still telling an original story without getting cartoony.

 

 

 

 

Halo 3: A Great Ending to an Amazing Trilogy that Builds on the Prior Games

Halo 3 - GameSpot

  “Halo 3” brings a finality to the Trilogy of the war against the Covenant and Flood and explores Master Chief and Cortana’s relationship further as we are given a game that has the apocalyptic proportions of the first game and plays tribute to the first game in a lot of the missions you play. This is one of my favorite games as it is a story with stakes and the variety of gameplay and combat is the best it has ever been in this Franchise outside of “Reach.” I still prefer the first game in some ways simply due to the difficulty and Master Chief not being the immortal superhero he is in later games but this is very much a favorite game that I highly recommend.

The game was developed by Bungie and published by Microsoft Studios in 2007.

The story picks up where “Halo 2” left off as The Prophet of Truth has landed on Earth and initiated his plans and Master Chief must work with the Arbiter to investigate and stop his plans upon the planet. All the while he is haunted by visions of Cortana.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is the best it has ever been. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori continue to capture the epic nature of this space Opera as Master Chief, The UNSC, the Arbiter and the Elites and Cortana race to save the Universe from the Flood, the Covenant and Guilty Spark.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is the smoothest it has ever been. The vehicles drive better than they ever have. Enemies are challenging and smart and mission variety is fantastic. My favorite missions were dealing with

The Universe – The Haloverse is an amazing sci. fi. universe and all the elements of what I love about it are on display. We have the Covenant Civil War, the Forerunner mythology with the Ark and the Halos, Gravemind and heroes from past games. This is a game that finishes a lot of these stories and completes it a beautiful way.

The Stakes – The stakes are high from the get-go and rise from there. You have Truth and Covenant forces in Africa digging in and actively attacking UNSC forces. This soon rises when Truth and his forces escape into a mysterious portal and the Flood arrives on the scene. From here we arrive on the Ark where a Halo is created and we have the challenge of using it while not bringing about the end of all life as Guilty Spark once again tries to end all life like Truth was doing as all along Gravemind consumes and seeks to survive. The Flood are a flood and once they arrive on the scene they never stop growing and being around as a threat.

The Arbiter and the Elites/Sangheili – The Arbiter is back and works with UNSC and Master Chief until the Elite’s Shipmaster arrives with a fleet to help against the Covenant and the Flood. Both are fantastic characters and give us the tension between humanity and the Elites. We also see that the fleet that came to help doesn’t even know if their homeworld is safe as stopping the Covenant and Flood have been their only priority. This leads them going home with the Arbiter as the implied leader leading the Sangheili into a new destiny no longer controlled by the Covenant.

Gravemind and the Flood – Gravemind isn’t the final boss but he is up there as it races against time to stop Truth from activating the Rings on the Ark and even makes a temporary alliance with the Arbiter and Master Chief once more to make sure that happens. For much of the game it is seeking to consume and control Cortana but fails as Master Chief gets to her in time. From here we see it defeated at High Charity and make a final stand against them on the new Halo Ring as it seeks to stop the Ring from activating and destroying it. It fails but never stops being a terror throughout the game. The new Flood forms are also more of a challenge too as there are some that can only be hurt in certain areas and the quantity and variety has grown since the first 2 games.

The Prophet of Truth – After betraying the Prophet of Mercy last game Truth is flying high this game. He is successful in most of what he sets out to do (even activating the Ark for “The Great Plan”) and kills Lieutenant Commander Amanda Keyes. He never stops believing in his faith and the challenges he sets against you are some of the funnest missions in the game. When the Arbiter got revenge against him it was really rewarding. Truth was a magnificent bastard and a great villain.

The Ark – The Ark is a forerunner installation that made the rings and could activate them. It has a really cool design like a twisted star and exploring it was a lot of fun. The mystery surrounding it is fascinating too as Guilty Spark even admits that it’s creators hid the existence of the Ark from it.

The Cost – The cost is real in this game. The Elites destroy half of Africa when to stop the Flood infection. Most of the UNSC fleet is destroyed by the Covenant in the initial battle and in the end Lieutenant Commander Amanda Keyes and Sargent Major Avery Johnson are both killed over the course of saving the world. Keyes is killed by Truth and the Covenant while Johnson is killed by Guilty Spark. I felt those deaths as we really got to know those 2 characters over the past games. In the end their sacrifices help save the Universe. There are also all those consumed by the Flood who perished and Cortana and Master Chief are Missing In Action in an unknown part of the Universe.

The Cons:

Cortana and Master Chief Moments – Master Chief and Cortana have a real strange relationship from 2 and through 3, at least as it is presented in game. It is almost romantic but Cortana says things to him that sound like things his kidnapper and maker Dr. Halsey would have said to him. Dr. Halsey is part of her program (Thank you “Reach” for telling us that) so in a way they have both been scarred and wronged by her and both follow the programming she put upon them but that element isn’t really delved into. Master Chief is effectivly a super hero who can’t get hurt and Cortana is the one you are saving and after the one with you and the Arbiter who is saving the Universe. The Dr. Halsey but romantic elements are my biggest issue with the writing, which stands out even more as Cortana is the narrator who starts the game and Master Chief’s last words when they are trapped alone at the end of the game is to wake him up if she needs him. The weird romantic chemistry doesn’t go away. I wish them being survivors of Dr. Halsey and trauma had been explored more as that I think connects them more than anything else, but we don’t know that about Master Chief in-game so all we’re left with are the strange romantic elements. The other issue is how Master Chief continues to be untouchable and unkillable as the game starts out with him falling from the sky and waking up fine. This was an issue in 2 that 3 continues and really the whole romantic element between Chief and Cortana started in 2 so that is where my problems with 3 really come from.

Rating “Halo 3” versus the original is tough as 3 takes a lot of the best parts of 1 and builds on them. We have a variety of missions and gameplay. The lore is delved into where there wasn’t much lore in the first game. Really the biggest issue with 3 is how Master Chief is a super hero so it is hard for me to feel he is ever at risk. This game has the narrative flow of the first game and all of the missions are really fun and challenging. For me the only reason I would not rate it above 1, even though the graphics and gameplay are improved is the fact that 1 did it first and the problems from “Halo 2” in regards to Master Chief and Cortana do carry over where they didn’t exist in 1. This is still a fitting end for the series and the Master Chief and Cortana story as it ends how it begins. A Spartan in stasis to be awoken once more when the universe needs saving.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10 One of my favorite games in this Franchise.

 

 

Halo: Reach – A Fantastic Exploration of the Cost of War

Buy Halo - REACH - Microsoft Store

     “Halo: Reach” is easily the best “Halo” game of the Franchise. This is a story with stakes and consequences and some phenomenal character development. This was the first time the UNSC characters are truly compelling and humanity is complex and nuanced. This is something the core games of the Franchise don’t really give us. They give us human archetypes but not nuance and complexity (at least in Halo 1-3 (haven’t played ODST or 5). This is also a game with a ton of mission variety and does the rising stakes really well, nearly as well as the original game.

The game was developed by Bungie and produced by Microsoft Studios.

The story follows a group of 5 Spartans called Noble Team when Noble Six joins their team as they investigate what the Covenant is doing on the planet of Reach.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – This game continues the quality soundtrack from past games and does a wonderful job playing on the heart strings when we experience character deaths or moments of heroism. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori continue their amazing work.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is the height of “Halo” as we get the greatest variety of missions and the levels get progressively harder. You get the great ground vehicle combat of the later Halo games (2 and 3 specifically) some amazing space combat that I haven’t seen in any other Halo game and the greatest variety covenant foes as you face both Elites and Brutes along with the standard variety of Grunts, Jackals, Drones and Hunters. I had so much fun beating this game and playing the missions again with a friend.

Dr. Halsey – Dr. Halsey created the Spartan program and because of this it is hard to call her good. The Spartans we meet were child soldiers and not all of them survived when they were turned into Super Soldiers. To them she admits care and keeps distance between and feels angry when they question her judgment and calls. She is a wonderfully complex character and I wish the Franchise as a whole could have given us more nuanced humans like her. She also created Cortana and it is up to your team to get Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn.

Noble Team – I love Noble Team. Noble Six (the player character) is the heroic rookie who always has his teammates back and is inspired by their actions. You have the reserved leader Carter who is easily the most balanced of them. He sacrifices his life to stop a giant Covenant Scarab Tank from killing you and Emile. You have Jun the thoughtful sniper and one survivor the the Fall of Reach. You have Kat who is Carter’s second-in-command the one willing to take risks to learn truth or complete the mission who is sadly killed by a sniper when evacuating civilians. There is Emile who is the hardened soldier who warms to you over time (wears a skull painting over his helmet) and dies from an Elite’s sword and there is Jorge. Jorge is the only Spartan-II on the Team and risks his life to defeat the Covenant cruiser above Reach. He is the first to inspire Noble Six and his death is felt by the team as each of them probably knows that his end will most likely be their end as well. This element of tragedy and getting to know your team is what I wish “Rogue One” could have been. This is the suicide mission done right.

The Ending and Fall of Reach – This game is the story of how Reach fell to the Covenant and even you as a Spartan Super Soldier is unable to change that. What the game does well though is that you rescue tons of civilians and in the end deliver Cortana to The Pillar of Autumn which saves humanity in the long run. This is all expressed in the Epilogue which has power behind it as you see nearly every member of Noble Team die except for Jun who survives. This is one of the few games where you lose and in turn it does a fantastic job of giving the player the cost of war.

The Cost of War – This game shows us the cost of war both in the lost of civilians and soldiers and how no matter how heroic a person is, sometimes you die in battle. This is told through the loss of the majority of Noble Team and the events they witness as they attempt to save as many lives as possible.

This is the best of the “Halo” Franchise and I hope if they continue to make “Halo” games that they will learn from this one. It is possible to tell a complete and contained story that has stakes without the need for it to be apocalyptic and world ending. This game is the story on a personal level and is elevated all the more because of it. I wish humans had been written this well in the other games as this game truly shows the potential and amazingness of the Halo Universe.

Final Score: 10 / 10 The perfect “Halo” Game.

 

Halo 2: Anniversary – Great Lore Caught in the Center of a Trilogy

Halo 2: Anniversary PC | Halo: The Master Chief Collection - YouTube

  “Halo 2” is another of the “Halo Series” I played back in High School but didn’t have the chance to beat until I bought the “Master Chief Collection” when it came out for PC. This game improves on the gameplay from the first game and adds a ton of lore (a lot of which is to explain the events of the first game) and overall it is good. The things that bring it down are some of the cliche story elements, some of the added story from “Halo 5” and the fact that it is clearly the middle of a Trilogy storywise so the ending isn’t as complete as it could be. Either way, if you enjoyed the first game and are invested in the lore like me this one is well worth your time.

The game was Published by Microsoft Studios and developed by Bungie, Blur Studio and Certain Affinity.

The story follows Master Chief who has returned to Earth when the Prophet of Regret of the Covenant attacks Earth. At the same time Thel ‘Vadam the Elite Commander who failed to stop Master Chief from destroying the Halo is made into the Arbiter as he begins to learn more about the internal politics of the Covenant and the truth behind the faith they follow.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – Blur Studio has created some of the best looking cinematics I have seen in any game. The Anniversary edition gives us movie level quality between missions and crafts some fantastic drama that fully captures the unique design of the Covenant species, the epicness of the ships and the personalities within the individual characters on screen.

The Soundtrack – The Soundtrack once again captures the epic nature of the events you are taking place in. This time it does some in a hard rock fashion, which I thought would be distracting but still work really well and gave an apocalyptic feel to some of the scenes. The sounds from Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori from the original game with Kazuma Jinnouchi using it in the new edition is simply handled beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay does nothing but improve upon the first game. Vehicles are easier and actually fun to control. You can dual wield guns and you have the energy sword that is absolutely deadly, fantastic and fun.

The Covenant – The Covenant story is the most compelling part of “Halo 2.” Within the game we get to see the power struggle between the Prophets (Regret attacks Earth early in order to bring about the Great Journey and become a God) ends in failure and Truth lets Mercy be devoured by the Flood on their Capital of High Charity when the Flood invade. He also starts the Civil War by blaming the Elite’s for Regret’s death and being a major reason for the Brutes ascending to Honor Guards. This Civil War is what dominates the narrative and the historical records we get from the Terminals are fascinating as the Prophets go into how they came to dominate different species and brought them into the Covenant.

Tartarus and the Brutes -Tartarus and the Brutes are the new antagonist in the game as we see them become the new Honor Guard in the Covenant. They are large, gorilla-like aliens that take a lot of hits and can go into Berserk mode when enraged. Their leader Tartarus is clever too as he uses the Arbiter to get Guilty Spark to the Prophets and nearly succeeds in achieving Truth’s goals. They are a fantastic threat and were really fun to fight. After “Halo Wars 2” and the Banished faction it was really cool to see their origin in the Covenant and the Brute’s rise to power in this game.

The Prophets – The Prophets are one of the fascinating antagonists of the game. Regret acts quickly and ends up defeated by Master Chief and consumed by Gravemind and the Flood. Mercy is attempting to keep Harmony among the different species that make up the Covenant and Truth is ego and power and only sees others as means to an end. In the end he outmaneuvers the others, causes a Covenant Civil War and is on his way to Earth to activate the Ark and bring about “The Great Journey” which he believes will bring about his ascension to Godhood. This game made me appreciate the Prophets as antagonists.

File:H2A - Gravemind.png

Gravemind and the Flood – Gravemind is this lovecraftian horror made up of all the minds it has consumed. It is ancient and extremely intelligent as it uses Master Chief and the Arbiter as weapons against High Charity to weaken it’s defenses enough for it to invade. At the end of the game he has control over Cortana as well giving him control of the Forerunner technology, the Covenant (The Prophet Regret and probably Mercy at this point) and Cortana for humanity. It is extremely creepy and scary and the design for this being is nightmare fuel.

Attack on High Charity – One of the funnest parts of the game is the Attack on High Charity. Gravemind warps the two of them to the Capitol City of the Covenant as they seek to stop Tartarus from activating the Halo Ring and the Prophet of Truth from reaching the Ark. Tartarus is stopped but the Prophet of Truth escapes and in the chaos and destabilization of the Capitol City the Flood take hold and you witness their consuming of the installation over the course of both missions. It is horrifying as you witness a Civil War in real time when Truth blames the Elites for Regret’s death and call for their annihilation and of course the horror as the Flood arrive and consume. This whole segment is really fun to play and keeps the stakes high in a way the original game kept consistent throughout.

Betrayals – This is a game full of betrayals. Regret betrays Truth and Mercy when he attacks earth Early who in turn betray him. Tartarus and the Prophets betray the Arbiter have her gets them Guilty Spark and the Prophets betrays the Elites. On top of this Gravemind uses and betrays the Arbiter and Master Chief, though I doubt they ever trusted the creature at any point.

Thel ‘Vadam the Arbiter – Keith David is absolutely amazing voice the Arbiter Thel ‘Vadam. Vadam was the Elite who failed to stop Master Chief from destroying the Halo in the first game and is punished for it, being made the Arbiter which the Covenant have turned into their enforcer to send on impossible missions. His arc is realizing that all he learned about was a lie and in turn becomes a leader among his people when the Covenant turns on them. He is also the first to reach out to humanity after he defeats Tartarus and prevents the newly discovered Halo from being activated. This a character with self-hatred who finds his dignity once more and never stops fighting or caring about his people.

File:H2A-Arbiter&Co.jpg

Okay:

Master Chief and Cortana – Master Chief and Cortana are at the point where they can nearly predict what the other will do. They are the perfect fighting team so this game works hard to seperate them as in the end the only way to save the world is for Master Chief to get onto the Prophet of Truth’s ship while Cortana stays behind on the Covenant homeworld of High Charity as it is consumed by the Flood and she is captured by Gravemind.

Sargent Avery Johnson and Commander Miranda Keyes – Sargent Johnson and Commander Keyes are alright. Sargent Johnson has the “devil may care’ attitude and somehow survived the first game (2 only addresses as classified, which is lazy). Commander Keyes’s father Captain Keyes is the Captain consumed by the Flood in the first game and here she carries on his legacy in the fight against the Flood and Covenant. Like Cortana and Master Chief they never get out of the tropes but they were compelling enough to keep me involved.

The Cons:

Damsels to be Saved – Commander Avery is captured by the Brute leader Tartarus and it is up to Master Chief and Sargent Johnson to save her. Cortana is captured by Gravemind at the end of the game too. This is a shame as before this both characters have a lot of agency and drive the action. It is only turned around at the end the Bowser equivalents of the game capture them.

A Story Caught in the Middle of a Series – One of the biggest things that goes against the narrative and wonderful story we are given is the fact that it ends on a Cliffhanger so things can be concluded in “Halo 3.” Gravemind has captured Cortana and High Charity, The Prophet of Truth is going to the Ark on Earth (with Master Chief on board) and plans to activate the Halos to end the Universe and the Arbiter teams up with Johnson and Keyes. These are huge hanging threads which leaves the game feeling incomplete, unlike the first “Halo.”

The Added Content from “Halo 5” – There is an added scene at the beginning of the Arbiter talking to new Spartan who is hunting for Master Chief and it sets up the game as him recounting the story. I wasn’t a big fan of this as it took away of the stakes of the narrative of any major character being at risk. At this point the Arbiter and Master Chief are both confirmed alive at the beginning of the game. This hurt the stakes immediately.

Master Chief Rides a Bomb – Master Chief becomes God Level at this point and I was no longer afraid of him ever being truly at risk. He rode a disarmed bomb and destoryed a Covenant carrier and landed safely on an UNSC. The first “Halo” had nothing like this so within the game it still felt like Master Chief could get hurt or experience pain. After this act of insanity that he walks away from untouched he ceased having any kind of vulnerability.

The greatest parts of this game are the stories that come out of the Covenant. The Civil War that arises where we have Arbiter and the Elites with Hunters and Grunts on their side facing against the Prophets, Brutes, Jackals and Drones. The politics and how compalling Thel ‘Vadam’s arc is is what made the story work. The human story when Master Chief isn’t doing the impossible is fine but it never elevates itself. The characters are never as complex as the heroes and villains that make up the races of the Covenant and that is why I can’t rate the game higher. As an experience it is very well done and I still highly recommend it, especially the “Anniversary Edition.” This is a beautiful, fun and compelling game and I look forward to when “Halo 3” is released on PC within the “Mater Chief Collection.”

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 The human story never reaches the height of the Covenant story and the fact that it ends on a cliffhanger setting up “Halo 3” and the Trilogy of the war against the Covenant brings it down from feeling complete and from being rated higher.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary – Still A Great Space Opera and Introduction to an Awesome Universe

Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary HD Wallpaper | Combat evolved ...

“Halo” is a game that I played multiple times growing up, but never had the chance to complete until now. I remember playing it at friend’s houses in High School and College and each time found myself fully drawn and involved in whatever mission we’d do or if we’d start from the beginning. This is game is an epic space opera and the simple mystery and story serves it so well. The gameplay also holds up after all these years and the A.I. being strategic leads to some wonderful challenges during the missions. Without going into spoilers, this is a game that has been out for years and is one I highly recommend. I bought the “Master Chief Collection” on Steam and the Anniversary version of “Halo” gives you the fascinating option of tabbing between the original graphics that look like they are from an N64 in quality to the more beautiful modern graphics today. If you are a fan of shooters and science fiction games I’d say this one is well worth a buy.

The original “Halo” was made in 2001 with Microsoft releasing the “Anniversary” version in 2011. The “Anniversary edition was developed by 343 Industries and Saberinteractive, with Bungie, Gearbox Interactive and Westlake Interactive developing the original game with the publisher being Microsoft Studious and Macsoft.

The story follows Master Chief when he is awoken from cryosleep when the retreating United Nations Space Command (UNSC) ship Pillar of Autumn stumbles upon a mysterious Halo. From here Master Chief and Cortana must uncover the mysteries surrounding the Halo and what the enemy Covenant forces are seeking upon it.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Gameplay – The gameplay still holds up to this day. The enemies react and think strategically, with Elites jumping and dodging and the grunts who follow them panicking. There are also the Hunters who can only be hurt by being shot in the back and Flood who have multiple weapons and attack in hordes. You can use Covenant weapons and vehicles and the play very different from UNSC vehicles and weapons. The mission progression forces you to learn and get good with all of these things and rewards you for well done tactics against them. The game is so much fun.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack one of the best in any videogame. It has this gothic operatic feel to it that gives you the stakes and how epic the war to save humanity is. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori truly created a beautiful masterpiece. I’ve used this soundtrack in the past for creative writing it inspires so.

The Universe – This a fantastic universe we are introduced to. We have humanity on the run but still fighting against the larger Covenant forces that are seeking to wipe them out. Along with this we get the mystery of the Halo and with it the Forerunners and the Flood and hints at a greater world that we are a part of. I’m a huge fan of this universe and finally finishing the game that started it all showed me where it all began.

The Covenant – The Covenant as they are presented in this game are an Alliance of aliens seeking to annihilate humanity. They have advanced technology and are seeking power to end the war. I loved fighting them. The Elites have cloaked units, can ride vehicles and command Jackels (snipers) and Grunts (the main ground soldiers) against you as well as fielding large creatures called the Hunters who travel in packs of 2. When the Flood are released they are in the same boat as you as the Flood overwhelm both the Human and Covenant forces on the Halo.

The Flood – The Flood are a parasitic species who turn their hosts into zombies and seek to consume all life. They are so creepy and I loved their horror movie introduction and the fact that they send so many at you with such a variety of weapons that you need to always be moving in order not to get overwhelmed. This game is full of apocoylptic threats to Humanity…from the Covenant, to Guilty Spark and the purpose of the Halos and the most horrifying unending Flood.

The Mystery of the Halo – The Halo function a lot like the Reapers in “Mass Effect.” They are there to wipe out all organic life so that the Flood will not win as all it takes is one flood in order to spread and when they spread they cannot stop…so the Forerunner plan was to starve them and ending all life was the way to do so. We see this all through Master Chief and Cortana’s eyes as they learn about the truth of the Halo along with us. This was great storytelling and part of what makes the game work so well.

343 Guilty Spark – Guilty Spark is an A.I. who in has lost all contact with the other Halos. You get the idea it’s gone a little made in the time it has been and all it really has is the program and activating the Halo if the Flood ever becomes free. Guilty Spark is very matter of fact even while doing devastating experiments and even has nostalgia at the time before during the Forerunners, which you can listen to at Terminals. It really is a fascinating character and I liked the twist that in the end it was the main antagonist, not the Flood or Covenant who had been the main threats through most of the game.

The Rising Stakes and Ending – This movie has consistent rising stakes and in the end all the people Master Chief was trying to protect are destroyed by the Covenant, Flood or when Master Chief and Cortana destroy the Halo. The universe is saved but it costs everything. I felt that and the game handles the rising stakes so well. You begin saving squads to bring the fight to the Covenant but then your Squad releases the Flood and eventually they consume your boss Captain Keyes and most of the UNSC forces. Even at the end the dropship coming to save you is shot down by Covenant Banshees leaving you to make a last minute escape out of the Pillar of Autumn before you blow up the core and prevent Guilty Spark from activating the Halo.

Okay:

Master Chief and Cortana – Master Chief is alright. I appreciate how sassy Cortana is to him but I don’t know his motivation beyond the mission or why he was in cryosleep. They care about the crew and their fellow soldiers but I feel like the relationship could have been developed further. These were two minds that needed to depend fully on one another to destroy the Halo and stop Guilty Spark from destroying all life in the Universe. Again, they weren’t bad but the relationship was pretty basic compared to Jack and BT in “Titanfall 2.”

The Cons:

Defining Enemy Leadership – We have the Flood and the Covenant but in the first game we don’t really learn much about who are what they are or who leads them. We know both are aliens and the Flood are all about consuming everything but Guilty Spark has way more definition and clear goals than either forces. I know this gets rectified in 2 but if Halo 2 had never been made and this is how the world had ended the game would feel underwritten here. They all still feel like a threat and the stakes continue to rise, but I wanted more world building in this game. We see everything through Master Chief’s eyes but besides Cortana and Guilty Spark not many people answer his questions or give him information beyond the mission.

This is one of my favorite games and it does still hold up after all these years. If you are a fan of first-person shooters, epic science fiction space operas and want an introduction to one of my favorite science fiction universes you should check out this game. This game is a classic and was Microsoft’s way of selling their game systems for good reason. I look forward to beating the rest of the series.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great introduction to this fantastic universe.

Titanfall 2 – Mercs, Mechs and a Hero’s Journey

Titanfall 2 - Cover Poster | Sold at Abposters.com

      “Titanfall 2” is one of the best RPGs I have ever played. I have not played the other games in the “Titanfall Franchise” but after this I think I will. I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and mechs. This is a game with rich lore, awesome gameplay and a truly memorable story and multi-player. This is a very beautiful game and the game itself is on par with the cinematics that take place before and after action in the campaign. I’ll get into more details below but this is a game that I highly recommend.

The game was developed by Respawn Entertainment and distributed by Electronic Arts while being directed and written by Steve Fukuda who co-wrote it with Jesse Stern and Manny Hagopian.

The story follows Jack Cooper (Matthew Mercer) as he trains to become a pilot of a Titan when his first mission goes awry leading to him being forced to become a Pilot of a Titan and fulfill the original mission.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is an immersive and beautiful game. Whether it is in-game or the videos between missions and before they start. It pulls you into the world and the life of a Titan pilot.

Frontier Defense – Frontier Defense is one of the multi-player options and it is my favorite multi-player co-op I’ve played in a long time. Frontier Defense has you choose Titans who play different roles as you protect the Harvester from attacks from IMC forces as they attack you in 5 waves. My favorite Titans are Scorch who is a defensive heavy and Ion who is an offensive unit with a fantastic lazer attack as their ultimate. I’ve tried out all the Titans and learning how to play them all and leveling up their skills gives Frontier Defense so much replay value. I’ve been playing it with two of my friends and look forward to doing so once more.

The Campaign – The campaign is solid and is a wonderful hero’s journey. No character is complicated but the simple tropes they represent are given nuance and no character is perfect. The stakes also remain high through the entire narrative as you have to stop the IMC from using a Fold weapon powered by the Ark that they hope to use the destroy the militia homeworld of Harmony. After your mentor is killed he hands over control of his Titan By-7274 to you in order for you to fulfill the mission and stop the IMC and the Apex Predator mercenaries they have sent after you.

A Hero’s Journey and BT-7274 – Jack Cooper’s story is a fairly basic hero’s journey. Jack goes from being a rifleman who is thrust into the role of a Titan Pilot after his mentor is killed. It is at this point that we see him and BT-7274 develop trust and affection for one another. BT is very literal while Jack likes to joke around. I really enjoyed their dynamic and how their relationship is developed as BT learns to understand different expressions of speech and in the end sacrifices his life to save Jack as losing his former pilot forever changed and he would do anything to never lose another pilot. BT is the best character in the game and I felt when he sacrificed himself in the end to save the day.

The Apex Predators – The Apex Predators are the mercenaries sent by IMC to stop the Frontier Militia this game. There are the unhinged members like Kane and Richter. Professionals like  Ash, Viper and Slone and the leader Blisk who respects you so much after defeating his crew that he gives you one of their cards and lets you live. Fighting them once so much fun as each involved different tactics. Viper attacked you from the air and had heavy adds attacking you. Ash was fast and fought melee style in her Titan and Slone attacked with a bunch of different adds, could warp around the area and had a powerful lazer attack. Defeating each of these bosses was part of what made the campaign so much fun and I loved their unique personalities and Titans.

The Cons:

The IMC – The Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC) are the overarching big bad is just an evil corporation trying to wipe out the rebellion (Frontier Militia). The Apex Predators all have unique personalities and drives but the only agenda of the IMC is to wipe out the Frontier Militia. What is the world they imagine and want? We get flashbacks of them in control of the planet but never what their overarching ideology and goals are. This was a shame as they felt wasted as an antagonist.

If you are looking for a game with a fantastic campaign, fun multi-player and intriguing world you should check this game out. I intend to check out the rest of the “Titanfall Franchise.” If the rest of the series is this fun then I can’t wait to explore the wonderful lore and universe of this fantastic sci. fi. series. To anyone looking for a great FPS with an amazing immersive world than this is the game for you.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

To The Moon – A Beautiful Exploration of Trauma, Love and Dreams

Save 75% on To the Moon on Steam

   “To The Moon” is an amazing game and story. It was created by Kan Gao on the RPG Maker XP and gives us a wonderful psychological science fiction story. This is a game that I highly recommend. There is a solid mystery story and the soundtrack draws you into the conflict and world that Kan Gao created. I’ll be getting into the details of what make the game work later on so I want to get the great told up front as the mystery is what drives the story. I did this game as a “Let’s Play” where I played through it with one of my closest friends who introduced me to the game in the first place.

The game was created by Kan Gao and developed and published by Freebird Games.

The story follows Dr. Watts and Dr. Roselane who work for the Sigmund Corporation whose job is to fulfill dying people’s last wish. The two Doctors must fulfill Johnny’s wish by entering his memories and help him get to the Moon.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful. It is reminscent of Claude Debussy, specifically “Claire de Lune.” Kan Gao and Laura Shigihara did an absolutely fantastic job on this soundtrack. There is a melancholy feel to the entire soundtrack and it blends in well with the themes of trauma and love that are explored over the course of the game.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is simple but fun. You move around as the Doctors collecting items in the real world and in Johnny’s memoryscape. In his memoryscape you create items tied to memories in order to jump further back into his past and in turn create the program of the wish so that the patient’s last memories will be false ones of their wish coming true. There is also variety too as there are puzzles when you activate an item that lets you jump back in the past, the search for the items themselves and even some simple combat puzzles and even Whac-A-Mole. It is quite fun and I was never bored.

The Story – The story is what drives the game and it is fantastic. Dr. Watts and Roselane have a great dynamic with Watts being a giant nerd who can be a jerk while Roselane is sentimental and acts on the fly. Johnny’s backstory is compelling too as we meet his wife River and explore their relationship and eventually arrive at the moment of trauma that defined his life in his childhood. In all of this is the search for where his wish to go the moon was first born and how Watts and Roselane explore the narrative draws you in.

Dr. Watts and Dr. Roselane – Watts and Roselane have a great dynamic. Watts is a giant nerd who pretends not to be sentimental while Roselane is very sentimental but also can be harsh and by the books. In the end she is the one who takes a huge risk in order to bring about Johnny’s wish once they find why in his old age he’s forgotten about his original dream. Roselane was my favorite character and I loved how much her actions drive the story.

Johnny and River – Johnny and River is the main romance of the story. Johnny is the old man who is dying and we see how much of his life was spent by River and the problems they. River is on the autism spectrum (like myself) and at times they have trouble communicating with one another sometimes but the love is there until the end. They had a fascinating dynamic and in the end the program brings them together again when Roselane changes the program of their original first date. In this we see how much they cared for one another and that it was a love that neither of them was fully able to express in words.

The Moment of Trauma and Consequences – Watts and Roselane come to find that Johnny has blocked out trauma from his childhood, which keeps them from achieving his dream until he and they face it once more. The trauma is that his twin brother Joey was run over by his mother by accident. She was never able to make peace with this and always calls Johnny Joey. It is so sad and is a huge reason that he isn’t able to be fully open with River. The trauma defined him.

The Ending – Roselane changes the past by saving Joey and in Johnny’s last memories he joins NASA and as it turns out River does too. This happens due to their first meeting during the fair where they escape to watch the stars and moon as they don’t want to be around people. It is in this first meeting they say if they ever get separated they’ll meet once more on the moon. It is so sweet and I like that Johnny got to experience a life he never got to live with his brother and have a life still with River. It was perfection and blended with the soundtrack so amazingly.

If you are a fan of RPGs in the style of “Dragon Quest” but are good with a game with very little combat and simple puzzles you should check this game out. I love it and it is easily one of my favorite games. The narrative is tight, the humor is fun and how trauma and relationships are explored is done so well. I loved this game and look forward to playing the sequel. There is an animated film in development by Kan Gao, and when it comes out I will be watching it.

Final Score: 10 / 10

 

Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne – An Improvement in Gameplay, Characters and Lore of the “Warcraft” Universe

     “Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne” is a game that still holds up to this day. I came back to play it after beating it back in High School and found the challenge level one that grew me as a player. I also found myself drawn into the nuance in the story that the initial game lacked. When I think Blizzard for me at it’s greatest it is this. This was around the time I beat the first “Diablo” and got all the way to Baal in “Diablo 2” before returning the borrowed game to my friend. This was a game I had bought with my money. It was worth all the replay value and my eventual enjoyment of “Heroes of the Storm,” which I believe rose out of the hero dependent missions and maps you play in the “Bonus Campaign,” “The Founding of Durotar.” This game was a return to what I love about Blizzard gameplay and story at it’s best.

The game was released in July 1st 2003 by Blizzard and was written by Chris Metzen and directed by Frank Pearce Jr.

The story picks up at the end of “Wacraft III: Reign of Chaos” with Illidan Stormrage summoning the Naga to unknown purposes as his Warden Maiev Shadowsong hunts him to discover his purposes and imprison him once more.

SPOILERS in the story ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematics – The cinematics in this game are so beautiful. The fact that we see compelling characters like Illidan and Arthas being the soul focus versus one none evils like Archimonde or Mannoroth shows how this was an upgrade. In both cases are characters are making a choice and in playing the game or in living the game up to the point we have, we see the implication of that choice. The level of detail draws you in and when you see certain reveals whether it is the Naga or Arthas being one with the Lich King when he puts on the helm is powerful. These are cinematics that mean something and are presented beautifully.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is more challenging than “A Reign of Chaos” as each unit was granted something that they lacked. The Scourge lacked tanks and they got the Crypt Lord, the Horde lacked healing and they got the Shadow Hunter. “The Frozen Throne” balanced “Reign of Chaos” in so many ways that it can only be accounted for if you are challenging where you are currently. I’m curious if “Warcraft Reforged” will take this challenge further. I hope it will. The challenge of the campaign improved me as a player and made the victories all the more sweet.

The World – “Warcraft” has a rich universe and this one introduces “The Forsaken,” “The Naga,” “The Blood Elves,” and “The Illdari.” All these factions get explored further in “World of Warcraft” but the seed is planted here and given justice. “Reign of Chaos” enriched the universe but didn’t break any tropes. With Sylvanas, Kael, Vashj and Illidan this game did, which is what I’d argue where Blizzard really thrives in storytelling. Each of the characters I mentioned is a different shade of grey, driven by more than simply power.

The Characters – I was in this game for the characters and it was the reason I beat the campaign. Even though I’d beaten the game back in High School, I wanted to see where the story would go. Coming back years later I wasn’t disappointed. Each new growth of character is earned in gameplay and you feel the pressure the character feels. This is a game I will play again in full, whereas “Reign of Chaos” I will play some missions again but not the full game. That is all due to characters which “The Frozen Throne” does better in gameplay and writing.

DOTA and Custom Games – It was out of “The Frozen Throne” that we got one of my favorite games “Heroes of the Storm” that I am still playing. As well as all the pre-cursors like “Defense of the Ancients” which started the whole tower defense gameplay which eventually became it’s own game and also “League of Legends.” This game has had a larger effect on games than many realize. This was the precursor to hero gameplay with  running units (that was the finale of the “Found of Durotar” campaign). For that I will be grateful for as it gave me casual fun gameplay with “Heroes of the Storm” that I play to this day.

Rating the Campaigns – I’m rating each campaign on their own merits. This is a campaign that starts out good and becomes great. Unlike “Brood War” there is so much growth you are a part of and play a part in making possible (Illidan, Kael, Sylvanas, Arthas) that it can’t be ignored. The reason you win is because of your RTS strategy and how well you play your heroes. That for me makes a great game.

Sentinels Campaign: Terror of the Tides – The Night Elf Campaign is the weakest of the 4 campaigns though I’d say it is still challenging and reveals new lore. The new lore is the revelation of the Naga who are allied with Illidan after being turned into Serpent form after their fount of power was destroyed. From Maiev Shadowsong’s perspective (Illidan’s Warden) we see how driven she is to write the wrongs of his escape. She is obsessed and takes a Javier from “Les Miserables” role. Later when she sends for help after witnessing Illidan take the “Eye of Sargeras” and losing a close friend it becomes more fully about the Night Elves. The destruction he does on Night Elf towns with the Satyr (Cursed Demon Night Elves and Naga) we see the reason why. From here we see Tyrande and Malfurion coming to aide, which after rescuing her leads to them allying with the Blood Elves (High Elves have embraced Demonic Energy to feed after the death of the Sunwell). Here we see that Maiev is obsessed as after Illidan’s use of “The Eye” is stopped and her lie of saying Tyrande was torn to shreds was not true. The final mission is Malfurion and Illidan teamed up to save Tyrande, in which after Illidan leaves and promises not to return. We get some level of peace between the brothers though as Maiev’s forces chase after Illidan into the portal he created. Maiev was the weakest part of the story but it is still solidly good. Sets up the rest of the campaign beautifully.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Alliance Campaign: Curse of the The Blood Elves – This is the campaign where for all intents and purposes the High Elves leave the Alliance. This is a huge deal and we see that it happens is due to a racist general who only sees the other races as pawns. He sentences Kael and the Blood Elves to death for surviving due to Naga aid against the Scourge. Because of this you get why Kael joins Illidan after Vashj saves him from execution. This campaign also had my favorite missions. Once Kael meets up with Illidan, he Vashj and Illidan close the portals in Outland and recruit the Draenei Akame to their cause against the Pit Lord Magtheridon who controls the planet with his orcs and demons. After that is the final mission where you conquer Outland, Kil’jaeden holds Illidan to his contract and all of you are sent to Northrend to the destroy the Lich King. It was this contract that Illidan to seek the “Eye of Sargeras” in the first place. This campaign is so much fun. I wish the Naga had been a playable faction as I used them far more than the Blood Elves when I could.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Scourge Campaign: Legacy of the Damned – The Undead Campaign is fun. It is here we see the rise of the Forsaken who will be a crucial faction in “World of Warcraft” as well as Arthas’s arc being completed as he goes from the exiled King running from Demons (both external in the Dreadlords who own Lordaeron and internal in those he killed to get here) leading to him becoming one with Ner’Zhul as the Lich King. It is super rewarding to get there and Arthas shows why he is such a great foe. The last 3 missions are the hardest in the game and they force you to truly strategize. Seeing the rise of “The Forsaken” and Sylvanas control Varimathras the Dread Lord was much needed. Her tragic story from “Reign of Chaos” needed payback and “The Frozen Throne” does this really well. By the end of her story she owns Lordaeron with her undead. This was the most challenging and rewarding of the campaigns. The final mission against Illidan was the best where I realized I couldn’t wait him out and destroy his base and had to finish taking the points was what I love about gaming.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Bonus Campaign: The Founding of Durotar – The “Bonus Campaign” gives you a great pulse on where the Horde and Alliance relationship is currently. We see it all through the eyes of Rexxar a half-orc Mok’Nothal who helps Thrall’s Horde settle in Durotar. From here you face quests from clearing out Harpies and Kobolds to recruiting a Panderan Brewmaster and getting Rokhan a Jungle Troll who also joins your team. The story is told in 3 Acts. Act 1 involves you helping Gazlowe with the Kobolds, Drek’Thar with the Thunder Lizards while also clearing out Warlocks. Act 2 involved you getting over to Jaina when her father Admiral Proudmoore attacks and you recruiting Ogres, the Tauren once more and saving the Jungle Trolls so that all of you can stop the Admiral. Those 2 missions are fantastic and the “Diablo” feel from playing as heroes was a lot of fun. I can see how “Heroes of the Storm” and “Defense of the Ancients” arose from this campaign and the Tower Defense of the final mission.

Final Score: 9 / 10

“The Frozen Throne” is an expansion that improves everything from the first game. My only real issue with is is that the Naga weren’t a playable faction beyond campaign, but that is still better than the “Halo Wars” Franchise that took an expansion to make anyone outside of the UNSC playable and “The Flood” still aren’t a faction. This game didn’t have those problems. They started with 4 factions and made each of them better, while still giving us playable Naga in the campaign. This game made “World of Warcraft” and “Heroes of the Storm” happen and as much as I dislike some story choices in “World of Warcraft” it at least was willing to explore the lore that this game and “Reign of Chaos” made possible. After “Warcraft III: Reforged” which is this game and “Reign of Chaos” combined, I can’t wait to see what was changed and comparing the stories.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 One of the best RTS games I’ve played.