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.

 

Mother Russia Bleeds: A Wonderfully Dark Beat ‘Em Up

      “Mother Russia Bleeds” might be my favorite Beat ‘Em Up of all time. This is a game full of rich lore, fun gameplay and really brutal and beautiful design. What helped was playing it with my wife and one of my closest friends. Just the experience of us working together to figure out the pattern of the boss fights as we advanced through Russia really was such an amazingly fun experience. Before I get into details about the game itself and spoilers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you are a fan of Beat ‘Em Up style games.

“Mother Russia Bleeds” is an indie game created by the France based studio Le Cartel Studio and was published by Devolver Digital. Frédéric Coispeau designed the game with Alexandre Muttoni being the artist and director. The game itself was released in 2016.

The premise of the game is that you are four Roma who are used in street fights to make money in the slums. After your friend betrays you to the government you find yourself experimented on. After escaping the lab, you seek revenge against all those who wronged you.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics – This is a beautiful 8-bit game. The game is dark and gritty while at the same time giving color where it is appropriate. Whenever you are fighting mafia or are in club, the colors stand out. The game becomes progressively more colorful until you get to the end where red and black are the main contrasts. This is a beautifully brutal game and I love the artistic choices the artists made when designing bosses (military generals, butchers, mad scientists) as you advance through the game as you unravel the conspiracy.

Difficulty – This was a difficult game. I’m glad that I didn’t play this alone. There are a few boss battles and fight sequences where having more than one person helps you figure out and learn the patterns. The greatest example of this is the helicopter attacking through a window as you fight oncoming goons. It is stressful and that was one point where the three of us took a break. Same went for the final boss too. He had 3 phases and each phase was harder than the last. This is a game where the build up in difficulty is progressive and challenging. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it. A game should make you better at it, and that can only come through challenge.

The Gameplay – Beat ‘Em Ups are a fun style of game. In this case it is also a side scroller too, so you can’t go back to where you were before. This provides a good challenge as when you knock enemies off screen you can’t attack them again until they’ve returned to the window of the fight. I really enjoyed the gameplay. You have Nekro which lets you heal up but also powers you up for a super move as well. There are also isn’t healing everywhere and you can only get Nekro from certain enemies you’ve killed at a certain time. This keeps the tension up as you advance through the levels. There is also a great enemy variety. You fight gangsters, zombies, soldiers, mob bosses, masochists in pig masks and quite a few others. The enemies all have different attack styles as well. This is a game that you have to learn. It isn’t easy and that makes all the more amazing. The final boss is another great example of this. The incarnation of Nekro is the punk rock skeleton who has three phases. One phase is fighting copies of yourself and a closing in wall that you throw syringes at, phase two are living syringes and muscle dropping down and the final phase is the boss itself in 2 forms. It is hard and so very rewarding.

The World and Story – The game takes place just before the Russian Revolution. You are Four Roma (Sergei, Ivan, Natasha and Boris) who are betrayed by your friend Mikhail and given to the government to be experimented on. You survive but become addicted to Nekro in the process. From here you are seeking revenge against your former friend and end up helping another friend as the revolution begins. It is a dark, violent and twisted world as you are the lowest rung in society and everyone wants you dead. You end up in some fascinating environments too on your quest for revenge. You fight in a sex club where you fight people in pig masks and battle against a giant butcher at the end, you fight on a train, against military officers and police and finally against a living embodiment of the drug itself. It is in the final fight where my wife and our friend ended up getting the bad ending. If you use the drug to defeat the final boss than you die of an overdose and are remembered by the revolution. If you succeed without using the drug than a statue is made to honor you in how you helped the revolution. We got the bad ending, which I honestly thought was more realistic to the world the story takes places in and was the better story.

As you can tell, I loved this game. This is a Beat ‘Em Up better than “X-Men” or the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” games. I enjoyed both of those games but this one built on the core fun base game they had. The fact that the story has a point gives even more power to it. It is a tragedy about addiction as well as just how costly revolutions are on the people, while also recognizing the importance of fighting corruption. Our protagonists are the lowest within society and them grabbing their own agency lends power to the narrative as they seek revenge against those who wronged them. This was a really fun game and I definitely plan to check out more games from this studio.

Final Score: 10 / 10 This is the perfect Beat ‘Em Up.

 

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition – A Classic “Halo” Game in the Style of an RTS

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition - Free Full Download | CODEX PC Games

        “Halo Wars” is a solid game in the Halo Franchise. It has all the pros (fun combat, beautiful graphics and a basic hero narrative) and the cons (The heroes aren’t very interesting or deep) of the first “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I really enjoyed the game though. Playing through this campaign and owning of “The Definitive Edition” on Steam gave the graphics at their best and revealed how the combat should be played. My first time playing this game was on the XBox 360 and it sucked, controllers are not good for micromanaging units and it made the whole game go slow. Coming back to it years later and playing it on PC, the experience was so much better. This game was truly made for the PC.

     The game was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios.

The basic story follows the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) Ship Spirit of Fire as they investigate Covenant attacks as they reunite their forces and follow the Covenant as the Covenant uncovers Forerunner Artifacts that could change the direction of the war, that is already going terrible for humanity and the UNSC. Within the Halo Franchise timeline, the game takes place before the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – “Halo Wars” is a game that looks beautiful. The cinematics are the quality you see in the Franchise after the original and it does a good job of tying it to the present of those games. Each cinematic is like a movie and in “The Definitive Edition” the details of the units and structures look at least on par with “Starcraft II.” The cinematics tie this to the main Halo Franchise by showing the military hierarchy of the UNSC (with a Captain leading things in this case), the use of A.I. (Serena) to guide UNSC forces and introduction of an Arbiter who is under the command of the Prophet of Regret, one of the Covenant leaders.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. Resource production is fast which allows you to get a variety of units out quickly, and the A.I. is an intelligent foe and will usually use tactics against you. The variety of missions in the campaign was also a plus. It pushes you to explore all aspects of unit creation and a variety of maps that each provide unique challenges. Like “Starcraft” and “Starcraft II” it knows how to make use of the base game and provide a good time.

The Campaign – The campaign is good a mystery on figuring out what the Covenant are up to. It does a great job raising stakes as each time humans are freed from a planet or we discover where the Covenant have moved a new enemy or weapon appears. Getting the Flood of the UNSC was a especially fun mission and having them as an ongoing threat while dealing with the Covenant as an effective threat was truly enjoyable. There end goal is to activate a powerful Forerunner Fleet in a hidden Shield World. At this point everyone knows what it as stake as ships like this would end humanity quickly. This leads to some amazing missions and battles in the final standoff against Covenant and Flood forces as the UNSC seeks to activate the portal and destroy the Shield World and with it the Forerunner Fleet.

Okay:

The Characters – The characters are okay. Cutter has some good conversations with the A.I. Serena and Anders at least makes the game interesting by being so blinded by wanting to explore Forerunner Artifacts in the middle of a war. Forge even works for the role he plays. None of them were good or even complex though and the Covenant characters don’t receive any development at all.

The Cons:

Lack of Complex Characters or Character Relationships – In the Halo Franchise you usually don’t see complex characters in humanity. They are almost always just badass soldiers and scientists fighting an alien foe that wants to end all things. It is very cut and dry. Thankfully the introduction of the Arbiter in “Halo 2” helped make the Covenant complex as he is a complex character who gets a ton of great development and the game also adds Covenant politics, which develops them as an enemy further. The same goes for “The Banished” characters you meet later in “Halo Wars 2.” Sadly this is more true to the first game and human stories. The Arbiter of this story who gets killed off is just following orders to annihilate humanity and all the humans are just in their roles as soldier or scientist with no greater complex motivation. If there had been even one complex character it would have the potential to make this game great. Sadly this is not the case.

Lack of Playable Flood – The Flood should have been playable. There were enough assets in game that they would have been fun to at least play in Multiplayer. They would have been the Zerg to the Covenant who are Protosslike and the UNSC who are obvious Terrans. This was a major missed opportunity to improve the game and give more choice.

I would have loved a Covenant Campaign in “Halo Wars.” This is game takes place when the Covenant is at their height so there is so much potential there to play politics as a Prophet, or learn the backstory of this Arbiter. Sadly we don’t get any of that, but the overall reveal of the Forerunners and their technology is really cool and that alone makes the game good outside of the great gameplay. I also am a fan of RTS games and had wanted to see a Halo game in this form since the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I saw so much potential in the variety of units there could be in the UNSC and the Covenant, and on that the game did not disappoint.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good but not a favorite game. I also would advise to only play it on a PC.

 

 

 

 

Halo Wars 2: Awakening the Nightmare – The Ongoing War

   “Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games. I have always had a soft spot for RTS (Real-time Strategy) games and this one is one of the best. Besides “Starcraft 2” it is the one I always come back to, especially if it means playing with friends. I’m a huge fan of the Halo Games (1-3, Reach and the first “Halo Wars”) and this game delivers on that lore you get in the Halo Universe. Before I get into spoilers, if you are a fan of RTS games you will probably love this one. The balance is really good between the two factions, the campaign variety is a lot of fun and the story is solidly good. It has also has quite a few fun multiplayer options that give it great replay value. I’ll be reviewing the game up to all that has been released so far (The initial game was released on February 21, 2017), which is currently up to the DLC “Rise of the Nightmare.” I’ll be giving individual scores to campaigns (Base Game, Operation: Spearkbreaker and Awakening of the Nightmare) before my overall assessment of the game itself.

The game was created by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly and produced by Microsoft Game Studios.

This is a game that picks up where “Halo Wars 1” left off following the crew of The Spirit of Fire after they crossed through the portal at the end of the second game. The story follows them as they face off against a new threat for Ex-Covenant Soldiers known as “The Banished.” They are lead by Atriox, a powerful Brute leader who is seeking to take control of The Ark, something so powerful that with control, they would easily capture the Galaxy.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a huge fan of this Universe. I’ve never been the biggest fan of humanity since we don’t really see a diversity of opinion in the games and it is more of a Space Marine defending everything, which is a fun survival game to play, but isn’t compelling as Space Politics. The Universe has so much Space Politics in the Aliens of the Covenant and this game leans in on all of that. We get more lore for the UNSC with the crew of The Spirit of Fire being followed and we get a whole new faction in “The Banished.” Each faction has new heroes we meet and it is great to see them all interact. This Universe clearly isn’t done yet, as you’ll see from the campaign, things are left pretty open so I’m curious to see if “The Banished” are going to be incorporated into “Halo 6.” I love their heroes so it would be cool to see them become a permanent part of the Halo Universe beyond “Halo Wars 2.”

Gameplay and Multiplayer – Multiplayer is a lot of fun. As part of there are weekly and daily missions where you unlock playing cards you can use in Firefight and other multiplayer modes, there is standard multi-player as well and in all of them you have the many Commanders with some being Halo Wars 2 originals like YapYap, Atriox and Isabel and some who are carryover characters from the first Halo Wars like the Arbiter you fight in “Halo Wars 1.” Within standard gameplay you have hero powers you unlock as you progress in the game, like the first “Halo Wars.” Each commander has unique special units and powers as well, which leads to a greater variety of choices and replayability. When you are in a game and you and your friend are co-oping against a great opponent there are some amazing moments of synergy that can be created.

File:HW2 Campaign Loadscreen.jpg

Halo Wars 2 Main Campaign – The main campaign is fun. It is here we meet Atriox and his “Banished” as well as the new A.I. Isabel, who was with other human’s on the arc before Atriox’s arrival. The story follow Captain Cutter working with Isabel and the Spartans on the ground as they work to push back Atriox’s forces and prevent them from activating a Halo Ring. Captain Cutter, Anders and the UNSC are successful but the final shot is of Atriox watching a map of the Ark, showing us how clearly his forces still own it, even after all the setbacks he’s faced since the UNSC arrival. There is great mission variety and you learn a lot about “The Banished” pretty quick and how they were a Covenant Suicide Squad until Atriox rebelled and proceeded to conquer and recruit through the galaxy.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10. Really good for developing the lore but doesn’t feel like a whole story. We have some great arcs like Isabel’s completed, and the gameplay is fun. But besides that it is mostly Atriox’s forces being slowly broken down and his big plan being prevented.

File:HW2 OperationSpearbreaker Banner.png

Operation: Spearbreaker – This DLC follows a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers called Sunray 1-1, as they uncover and stop the plot of a “Banished” Hunter leader named Colony. These missions were easier than the hardest in the base campaign and also not as fun. You are primarily investigating with your troops until you uncover the Forerunner Ship that Colony is trying to activate, than it becomes all out war and becomes more enjoyable as Colony sends all of it’s forces at you. This one is fun but easily the weakest of all the content. I couldn’t tell you the personality of anyone in Sunray and the only interesting character is Colony, but we don’t really get to know it, beyond it being a very smart and clever Hunter.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Solidly enjoyable, but not replayable.

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Awakening the Nightmare – I was a fan of the “Covenant” in Halo Franchise, at least in regards to being a fan of the aliens who made up the Covenant. I was Team Arbiter the moment he was playable in “Halo 2” and “Halo 3” and I’ve wanted to play as the alien factions in Halo Universe for as long I’ve played “Halo” which for me dates all the way back to High School. In “Halo Wars 1” the “Covenant” don’t have a campaign and sadly for much of “Halo Wars 2” they didn’t either, until “Awakening the Nightmare.” For me this was something I’d been waiting for a long time and I was not disappointed. This was challenging gameplay and a really fun story as you have two Brute Brothers (Pavium and Voridus). They are investigating remains of the battle from “Installation 00” from the ending of the “Human-Covenant War” for technology. Voridus being stupid awakens the Flood in his investigation of the dead Covenant ship High Charity after he shuts down the Forerunner Defenses. From here he and his brother Voridus must reactivate the Sentinels and stop the Flood and a Proto-Gravemind from taking over the Ark. Pavium is the smart one who had warned him the first place and holds the line as they end up facing off against The Flood together before a final victory. It is an awesome fight and Pavium is one one of my favorite commanders in multiplayer and Halo Lore. I really hope we see these two brothers again as “The Banished” really need a win against the UNSC, and this mission showed that even against overwhelming odds they are Atriox’s survivors and warriors for a reason.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great and finally a “Banished” campaign.

Okay:

Story Consequences – We have had 2 DLCs released as well as the base game but it feels like nothing has happened. Atroix’s forces have continued to lose ground and the UNSC continues to become more powerful but there hasn’t been any real major change. I want to see where this story goes and have characters change in a way that either builds on the Universe further (more than the existence of “The Banished” already does) and leads to some sort of ending. I’m good with that being a peace treaty or something that has Atriox winning for once, but it feels like we have been given so much game but things haven’t changed very much at all beyond status quo of “The Banished” losing ground. What happened to Anders and “The Halo?” Do the Flood exist elsewhere in the Galaxy as a faction? (I’d love them to be playable, even if it was only multiplayer, there should be enough game assets to do so). I put this as okay because I still enjoyed my time with the characters and the campaigns are fun. I’m still holding out for a major “Banished” win and them becoming a major part of the Halo Games moving forward. This story has the potential to not be a repeat of “Halo Wars 1” and not repeating “Halo 1-3.”

The Cons:

Microsoft Issues – To buy the full game it is expensive. The DLC, even when sold discounted isn’t cheap. Some Commanders on their own are nearly $10 and each new DLC, even if it includes commanders usually starts at $20. Given how expensive the base game was for so long that always rubbed me the wrong way. I also wasn’t a fan with how I continue to have issues with connecting online because of the Microsoft Server. It makes me miss the days of old Battle.net and games where you didn’t have to log onto a 3rd Party Account to play a game. Whenever you have to log on you are beholden the problems of whatever is hosting you be it Steam or Microsoft. So yeah the price and Microsoft bugs are major cons that keep the game from being great.

“Halo Wars 2” is one of my favorite games and if you love the Halo Universe, you will probably love it too. I play it on PC and I think that is the way any RTS should be played. Controllers were not made for playing RTS games and I have no idea how anyone does it. I can’t wait to see where Microsoft takes this game and Universe. There is still so much potential there and so much more story to explore. This is a really good game and I continue to play multiplayer with my friends as this wonderful game continues to inspire my passion for the rich lore of the Halo Universe. In the end the pros outway the cons for me and I expect I’ll probably always be coming back to this game. If they release another expansion for this game and give us more “Banished” content, you can expect to see that review on the blog. Their existence got me back into this amazing universe and I’m looking forward to all the stories that can be told.

 

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Dawn of War III: Solid Campaign That Began in a Buggy Game

   It has been a while since I’ve done a game review, and this seems like a good way to kick off the year. I only review games after I’ve completed the campaign as I’m a hardcore completionist and can’t see the review as valid unless I have. Cheats don’t count, it has to be from ability and me learning how to play the game. The “Dawn of War” Franchise is also one of my favorite series. I’ve been a fan of Warhammer 40K and the universe it is based in for a few years now. My favorite factions being the Orks and Tyranids closely followed by the Tau. Xenos (the term in the game for aliens) are best.  The game was created by Relic Studios with Sega in partnership with Games Workshop.

So, how does “Dawn of War III” hold up compared to the ones who came before? It isn’t nearly as fun as the first game (and there are less starting playable factions) the game started out really buggy and used to crash everytime I tried playing the campaign when I bought it in a sale last year but the campaign has one of the best stories and enriches the characters and lore in interesting ways. What this means for my final score and overall appraisal I get into below.

The story follows the arrival of a giant Craft World (Eldar Planetship) that arrives out of the warp leading to Blood Ravens led by Gabriel Angelos, the Orks lead by Gorgutz and the Eldar lead by Macha vying for control of what is within as their competitors within their own faction (be they leader or same or similar rank) try to usurp them for the Spear that lies within.

SPOILERS ahead

The Cons:

The Bugs When I First Bought the Game – When I first bought the game I’m glad I bought it on a sale and for cheap, so to anyone buying it this what I recommend. This game will never be worth full price, especially not as it is currently. I was excited to play given I knew the characters from the first game, but the campaign kept crashing. This happened for a full week before I uninstalled and it took reinstalling months later for them to have fixed the issues. For those who are so devoted they beat the game with that bug, I have no idea how you did it. It doesn’t matter how beautiful or fun a game is if you can’t play the game.

Over-dependence on Hero Units – This is a game where you depend too much on Hero units but the build time isn’t as fast as “Warcraft III.” I pretty much had to adapt to playing the game more like “Dawn of War II” which is primarily units, heroes and upgrading them and applying that to a game that I enjoyed as an RTS. If they took more cues from “Warcraft III” this wouldn’t be a problem. In “Warcraft” your heroes help but they can lose on their own, it also takes more to bring them back to life so the cost is higher. If you aren’t giving them enough support, they will fall. I saw this in “Dawn of War III” but so much of it was waiting. If you could hold off long enough in any map you’d be unstoppable and in endgame that really shows. Heroes are fun, especially in the final mission but a company should never build a game off them. Even “Warcraft III” and “Starcraft II” knew the importance of your hero supporting an army.

Lack of Factions Compared to Earlier Games – The very first “Dawn of War” game had 4 factions. 4, reskin but different play-style of “Space Marines.” This game has none of that. You fight demons, but they are never playable. There isn’t any reason for this, given you can see units of the different factions being re-skinned to be the Demons being an option later on in the campaign. This was just lazyness. We at least got Chaos Space Marines through all of the first “Dawn of War” series and this game won’t even give the basic of the last 2 games where in each 4 were at least playable in multiplayer. This is cheap, I don’t care how beautiful the game works if you can’t even do the basic of the series that started your franchise in the first place with at least something to counter it that matters.

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – This is a beautiful game. I’m putting this as a pro because even though it is small I do enjoy how this game works. Hell, a better version of this game would be a re-vamped version of the first game. So I will give credit where it is due. The graphics in this game look like how I imagine the characters to look. It is “Starcraft” versus “Starcraft II” in appearance and I do appreciate that. It also leads to better graphics in regards to storytelling and the story is the strongest part of this game. I think they were going for what “Starcraft” and “Stracraft II” had with 3 factions but they had already set base expectation of 4. If 4 was even in multiplayer and the Daemons or another faction were included more that would have made this game go from enjoyable to good.

The Overall Gameplay – The gameplay is solid. Hero units are key to fighting (I can see them trying to be “Warcraft III” and “S In “Dawn of War III” the heroes drive the narrative and that creates a lot of fun for the missions. I liked what happened with playing as the heroes and what you unlock as they level up (it is much more slowly so when I play the game further in the future curious to see what that means). I like this got back to the RTS roots of the “Dawn of War” franchise in the end. This was why I finished the campaign. There is still strategy in how you use your units to defeat the mission and I really enjoy coming up with strategies to complete objectives in these types of games.

The Campaign – The campaign was my favorite part of the game. I’ve enjoyed this series since the first “Dawn of War” and the expansions that came after it. I’m still trying to get “Ultimate Apocalypse” mode to work but once I do I will eventually have a review for you there too as I get more enjoyment out of an RTS than the squad based combat of “Dawn of War II.” Without giving too much away the 3 faction leaders mentioned above (Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz) face off against a Daemon Lord as they (in the case of Gorgutz) or the faction leaders (Macha and Angelos against the ones who had brought them to the Craft World where the showdown takes place) lead to the feeding of the Daemon’s power and awakening it. This is Warhammer 40K so it goes all in on how crazy things get. This leads to some amazing gameplay in the later missions and a final battle between Macha, Angelos and Gorgutz against the weakened Daemon Lord. Defeating it felt amazing and as someone who has always loved the Orks, I loved seeking Gorgutz take the Speer that triggered it all when it no longer had power. The campaign made the game worth it for me as I enjoy the lore so much.

This is a game that could have been so much more. There is a reason I keep recommending it as something to buy cheap. To fix the most basic of problems they could have solved all the bugs first so someone buying it months after the fact wouldn’t have the campaign crashing every time and they could have added the Daemons as a factions. All you have to do is reskin some Orks and Eldar and add some Daemons and hero units and you are set. Beyond laziness I can’t imagine why they did that. I still love RTS games and this is the last RTS game that was “Dawn of War” since the first one. “Dawn of War II” was all about the squad which I’m still getting used to (reason you haven’t seen it reviewed yet). I appreciate building armies in an acocalyptic universe and giving my all. This one had this with the heroes and the last half of the campaign and I did enjoy it…but this is a game only for fans who are a part of this universe. It doesn’t rise above the fans of 40K and even cheapens them out. Buy this game cheap and you’ll have a good time but NEVER buy this at full or even half price. This was Sega and Relic going basic and giving the most basic of fans of wanted who have been following the series. Still enjoyed the game, but it never reached good. This game is enjoyable and nothing more. I would only recommend as a sale for fans of this universe. The campaign made the game worth after the bugs were finally fixed.

Final Score: 7 / 10. Would have been a solid 8 if it hadn’t been so buggy and they had a 4th faction like the last 2 “Dawn of War” games.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos – Fun RTS Gameplay and Solid Fantasy Redemption Story

   “Warcraft III” and the original “Starcraft,” are the games that got me into RTS games, along with “Age of Empires II” and “Rise of Nations.” Does “Reign of Chaos” hold up? I would say yes, there are some things Blizzard did that took away from the strategy a little bit (adding hero units which turned multiplayer into a rush game). I really enjoyed this, for someone who grew on Tolkien no one had subverted the “Orcs are bad.” trope until “Warcraft III.”

In regards to how I review this first game of 2 (I plan to review “The Frozen Throne” after I beat it again), it holds up and I’ll give a brief analysis on gameplay (pros and cons) and how the story was. The story in the end will be my overall judge for any game where the gameplay is at least enjoyable. Like my films I enjoy my games being compelling and having a narrative that pulls me in.

For giving recognition where it is due, Chris Metzen wrote the story (which explains why he is the head of storytelling on WOW for best and for worse) directed by Frank Fierce jr. and produced by Chris Sigaty.

The story picks up after Warcraft 2 (all the games so Draenor is destroyed and the Horde Orcs are defeated and in internment camps) and begins with Thrall freeing the rest of his people Lordaeron on promptings from a mysterious prophet. From here we trace the rise of the Scourge, the return of the demons of the Burning Legions and the introduction of the Night Elves.

SPOILERS ahead (old game so may not mean as much).

The Pros: The Gameplay – As stated above, the gameplay is too rushish in multiplayer but the Hero concept payed off. I wouldn’t being loving “Heroes of the Storm” if not for this game. So I take the pros over the cons and in the end it is pro. Each hero has unique ability, and depending on your playstyle (I tend to go for auras over abilities) helps in the campaign, custom and multiplayer games. In the end the campaign was fun, which is a win for me. I enjoyed playing this game again after not playing it since High School, and can’t wait to replay the expansion.

The Alliance – We only really get to see the Fall of Lordaeron in this and the rest of the Alliance is purposely left out. I get this as in if the game fails, we get the fall of the Alliance from past “Warcraft” games, but if it succeeds….we get “World of Warcraft” which is still going with the most recent game being “Legion.” The fall is told really well, with Arthas killing people in “The Purge of Stratholme” to save them from being enslaved, and going mad after. It is compelling and in the end the Scourge wins ending with Arthas turning on his troops, sacraficing his friend Magni and killing his father the King, leading into the next campaign. Arthas is the drive and seeing his fall is how Anakin in in the Star Wars Prequels should have been done.

The Scourge – The Scourge Campaign involves Arthas destroying his own nation after the killing of his father after the end of the Human Campaign. It is really good. You start out weak, resurrecting the Necromancer Kel’Thuzad who you killed during Arthas’s fall to empower the Scourge and bring in the Burning Legion who are behind it all and the big threat from all past Warcraft games. It is really good and you get to see how Arthas without a soul is like. He is funny and also evil as hell. He kills his mentor Uther, destroys the Kirin Tor (who is the faction of his complicated relationship – Jana) and in the end feels powerless until he returns later in the last campaign. He feels like a pawn but empowered in his malice and it is Kel’Thuzad who hits at the plans to come as Ner’zhul predicted the fall and conquest and his freedom and Scourge sovereignty out of it.

The Horde – The Horde is complicated, back in Middle School they were my favorite faction, and I still love playing compicated orcs, nowadays though. Grom, who “redeems” the orcs only fights. Thrall who is the Warchief is constantly keeping him in check and even though Grom kills the big bad (after he kills a good demigod) doesn’t redeem him in my eyes. This campaign was fun, but Grom pissed me off. Thrall was good but he never apologizes to Jana (who is Arthas’s complicated and brings the survivors of Lordaeron to Kalimdor) and only sees Grom as hero. Th orcs deserved better and World of Warcraft really hasn’t redeemed them yet. They are still conquerors and not fully refugees and that is a toxic narrative. I’m a fan of the orcs and this time around could not embrace them. They don’t see what they do as wrong and only live to fight, which even if they aren’t the evil of Tolkien orcs doesn’t put them on par with the Night Elves and Humans. They deserved better in this game, though still putting as a pro. This was the only time I’ve played orcs in a somewhat redeeming light and I want more of that. They are a compelling species and I love their aesthetic.

The Night Elves – The Night Elves story is short but awesome. You have the warrior women who protect the forests and bring in the Druids when things to get apocalyptic. Tyrande, the Priestess of the Moon is a fanatic but you get her perspective given she hasn’t had Outsiders in 10,000 years and in the end she appreciates the orcs and humans who defend Mount Hyjal and the World Tree from the big bad Archimonde who wants to consume Azeroth. Furion is standard wise old guy but fighting with the Druids of the Claw was fun, Illidan is the Boba Fett in this game where he was trapped and fights for himself because all have wronged him and stars in 1 mission (but has an awesome aesthetic). I enjoyed this campaign and wanted at least 1 more with Illidan to develop him further, though I know the expansion to this game does that really well. This is where the complicated characters are. Jana is savior and love interest and doesn’t get beyond that and the Kirin Tor and King are (you know us from Warcraft II lore if you read the books) which coming back to the game wasn’t enough. The Night Elves campaign is short but it is a rich campaign.

The Fall of Arthas – The most compelling story in this game is that of Arthas. He turns on the past allies of the High Elves and kills their general Sylvanas (who I want to say now is amazing come “The Frozen Throne” given what goes down this game). He kills his further, turns on his allies. Consumed by revenge he forsakes everything for the power to achieve his revenge. He is the perfect Anakin and I get why “Wrath of the Lich King” is so memorable even though I haven’t played and avoid MMORPGS.

The Introduction of Illidan – Illidan’s introduction is great. He isn’t to be trusted but he kills the big bads while serving himself. He is the perfect anti-hero in Warcraft. He has no destiny or prophecy at this point…he is a hero who messed up and was wronged acting out. This makes his mission fun and why I was drawn to him after so many years replaying. Can’t wait see his story unfold again in “The Frozen Throne.”

Defeating the Burning Legion – This is a win that pays off. We see them come during the Scourge Campaign and even though Thrall and Grom defeat the general Mannaroth, we saw Archimonde decimate a kingdom in the Scourge cinematic. The threat is always real, especially with most Night Elf missions being a race against time, and this is them with allies and them having defeated the Burning Legion in the past. The payoff is amazing and holding Archimonde back to the second with Tyrande and Furion to the second was such a rewarding playthrough. For me every Night Elf mission mattered, both from challenge and investment in the characters.

Okay: More Exploration / Missions Could Have Made Perfect – Grom should have been shown being noble and not just a blood lust fighter to make his redemption mean something and not just him escaping his addiction to battle, Jaina deserved a mission escaping from the Scourge and her former lover Arthas and to give her more agency and the Night Elves needed a mission to work with the Alliance and Horde…a custscene wasn’t enough given Grom killed one of their Gods. This took away from making the game perfect.

Grom’s “Redemption” -This guy only lives for fighting. He has a great look, but he needed more. We never saw him as loving any more than war, he cared about Thrall and felt bad but each time that mattered he went back to fighting. There is no reason for Thrall to trust him or for the Horde to be forgiven beyond “The End of the World” in the Night Elf campaign. He deserved better given that the character came back in “Warlords of Draenor” and his son was Warchief of the Horde…and like his dad ruined it. I am a fan of the Horde, I like orcs as not simply bad guys…but Warcraft’s redemption doesn’t fully work. Chris Metzen was the writer and the Horde deserved better if they were going to be redeemed. I want good orcs, but you won’t get them from Grom killing Mannaroth. The flaws run to deep if Grom wants to fight every mission, him killing his species enslaver (Mannaroth), doesn’t justify him willing to kill anyone for not being an orc through the campaign. Looks cool, but the guy is deplorable.

“Reign fo Chaos” is a flawed and amazing game that is well worth your time if you enjoy RTS games. I can’t wait to replay “The Frozen Throne” given how fun Arthas and Illidan are to play as heroes and I love the “Forsaken” campaign, which was actually a great set-up for the Forsaken joining the Horde in WoW and further Sylvanas development. This game is self contained, it is set-up to be self contained if it fails given the big bads are beaten and we have a world that no longer needs “Guardians.” For this reason I rate the game highly. There is some great character development, even if I wanted more for the orcs and night elves. If you like fantasy games or rts’s check this game out. It has been out for years, but is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.3  / 10. A solidly great fantasy RTS game.

The House of the Dead: Making “Resident Evil” Look Good

“The House of the Dead” is a corny game that enjoys stealing your money. It is also a lot of fun when you don’t have to worry about cost as the writing is so terrible that I found it hilarious and the enemy and boss variety are great enough that there is an actual challenge to get through the different chapters of the game. Before I get into the details of my experience, I recommend this for any fan of rail shooters who has time and money to spare, cause you will need both if you want to beat this game. This is a game that I was only able to beat with my fiancee because we were at the Coin Jam when it was free to play.

The game was developed by Wow Entertainment and produced by Sega.

The story involves Agent Thomas Rogan who learns his fiancee Sophie Richards is kidnapped at the Curien Mansion and arrives with his partner “G” to investigate and take on Roy Curien and his creations, as well as rescuing his fiancee Sophie Richards.

SPOILERS – If anyone cares, this game is old.

The Pros: Enemy Variety – The enemy variety is really good in this game. You fight bats, slugs, jumping zombies, water zombies, fat zombies, dragon dogs and many of the zombies have a variety of weapons from things that they’ll throw at you to varying degrees of melee weapons like axes and chainsaws. This part of the game was really creative, especially since there are only a few chapters.

Boss Battles – The bosses are stressful and also one of the best parts of the game. There is the Chariot who you fight in armor and in his flesh form, the Hanged Man who sends bats at you and is responsible for killing Sophie given it brings her deeper into the Mansion, the Hermit which is a giant crab spider thing and finally the Magician who is a major coin sink and I assume can’t be beat in arcade mode without at least dying once. The Hanged Man was my favorite as it looks like a giant gargoyle and it was a fun and difficult fight without being nearly impossible like the Magician.

Okay: Replay Value – The replay value is decent if you aren’t expecting to beat the game, but because it is a game where you expect to lose money I can’t put it as a pro. Maybe you are really good at rail shooters and don’t have this problem, but this is a game I only beat because it was free to play and if I am going to spend money I at least want to have a chance at completing said game.

Gameplay – This is a rail shooter and unlike some rail shooters where you have more of a chance to block incoming attacks, this one gives bosses unblockable attacks and sheer quantities of enemies that in situations will hit you. This is an arcade game so it was made to fight cheap so I’m putting it as okay. I did have more fun with “Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles” as far as rail shooters went as I found the story better and the fights a lot more fairer. But “Resident Evil” as a whole is a superior game and series to this fun garbage.

The Cons: Fridging Sophie – You see Sophie at the beginning of Chapter 1 and she is dead by the end. We have no relationship with her we just know she’s Rogan’s fiancee and she dies. She is fridged so our heroes will seek revenge against Roy Curien, when that isn’t needed. She could have easily been your partner in the game but bad writing has nameless “G” be your partner instead.

The Plot and Characters – Roy Curien wants to conquer the world with his creations (Cliche mad scientist!) the one female character is fridged and your characters are driven only by revenge. The characters and plot are awful in this game and the only real entertainment that comes from it is the fact that the tropes are so obviously awful and the game was made completely seriously. I want to call it “So bad its good” but it is a quarter stealing game so really should have had a lot more effort put into it. There were obvious solutions that were never taken, like giving Curien a relationship to the agents beyond fridging Sophie and of course replacing “G” with Sophie so that you play as someone who matters in the story.

This is a terribly written game that is full of the worst cliches (fridge the one woman, mad scientist who mad sciences for reason, two tough guys saving the day) but does manage to not be a complete train-wreck by the variety of enemies and bosses that actually force you to strategize. The game is worth playing for a little bit if you expect to lose and just want to kill zombies but if you plan on beating the game…bring a lot of quarters or go to an arcade that has free to play days like the Coin Jam. This game is a classic but it isn’t a good classic, it manages fun, but not much else.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10