Dragon Age: Origins Review

With the larger portion of the RPG genre moving towards online play, we’re always very eager to see a new game that’s designed entirely with single player in mind. It doesn’t happen often these days, so we usually enjoy whatever comes our way – but when you get a single player RPG that’s also done with as much care as Dragon Age: Origins, you can’t help but fall in love.

Gameplay

The game is set in a classic medieval fantasy world, with dragons playing an important part in the plot. The player is tasked with gathering the kingdom together in order to repel an impending invasion from the Underworld. At the beginning of the game, you’ll have to create your own character by defining its race and “origin”.

The origin is a new concept introduced by the game, where you’ll have to go through a short (for the length of the game, more on that below) series of levels where your character’s background story is defined – you play this part of the game as usual, and its end leads up to the actual events of the game.

The number of hours you can spend on Dragon Age is very large – if you’re new to the game (and/or the RPG genre as a whole), your first-time play may last over 50 hours. And if you decide to go for all of the additional quests and bonus rewards, you’re looking at several hundred hours of solid gameplay – none of that repetitive, monotonous grind that most RPGs tend to put in there, giving way to quantity over quality.

Graphics and System Requirements

Dragon Age is not only well-executed in its gameplay, it’s simply a marvel to look at, too – you’ll explore lush forests, cities with interesting architecture, and meet all kinds of highly detailed characters. Your own avatar can look quite differently as well, depending on your choices initially – and as a whole, the game’s graphics add to its already great variety a lot.

The vast worlds that Dragon Age spans over need a powerful computer to be rendered properly though. The recommended system requirements are a Core 2 Duo running at 2.4 GHz, as well as 2 GB of RAM (3, if you’re on Vista or above), and a Radeon HD 3850 with 512 MB of RAM powering your graphics rendering. Mac users will need to have at least version 10.6.2. of their OSX in order to play.

Other

Before buying Dragon Age, we advise you to make sure you have a small vacation coming up ahead of you – the game not only takes a long time to complete on the first go (seriously, divide the 50 hour minimum over however you spend in front of the computer daily), but its replay value is tremendous as well, and your first playthrough will leave so many questions and so many things you’ll want to see, that you’ll feel weak against your desire to go through it again.

Conclusion

A true blessing for classic, old-school RPG lovers, Dragon Age: Origins is a game that will be talked about for a long time.

Darkest of Days Review

Have you ever wondered what would happen if we were able to go back in time and prevent certain accidents from happening, certain important figures from dying? Darkest of Days takes a stance on the perspective that this has already happened and is actually the reason many of history’s great characters survived to make it into the history books. In an original and interesting storyline, it takes the player through a variety of time periods trying to solve history’s problems.

Gameplay

You take the role of Alexander Morris, a soldier from the 19th century period who gets rescued by a team of time travellers, destined on keeping history intact by interfering with it whenever needed. As the plot is unveiled, it’s revealed that the organization has been working hard to protect certain people from getting killed in accidents, thus preserving the integrity of time as we know it – until their leader had gone missing, causing history to start getting disrupted again.

The player must travel through a variety of time periods, engaging in historic battles, going as far back in history as 79 AD where the protagonist witnesses the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii. You can use a large number of weapons, both from the specific time period you’re currently in as well as from the future where you came from.

Additionally, there’s another group of time travellers tasked with making sure you’re doing your job well – if you kill too many innocents, you’ll have to fight a squad of those guys, who come with equipment even more advanced than your own.

Graphics and System Requirements

The engine was written exclusively for the game, and incorporates various bits of technology that are needed to cope with some of its specifics. Since you’ll be engaging in some large-scale historic battles, expect to see up to 300 characters on your screen at any one moment – so you’re probably guessing that there has been a good amount of optimization done to handle that properly.

Still, the game looks very pretty, and all of the historic moments have been depicted with pinpoint accuracy, down to the last detail in the clothing of the characters. Every period looks unique and memorable, and can be easily identified from the others.

The engine is kind of heavy on the system, despite the amount of optimization work done for it – don’t expect to get away with smooth framerates if you don’t have a strong machine to back you up. A 256 MB DX9-compliant video card is a must, as is a strong processor if you want to handle the particle effects properly and without straining your computer too much.

Other

One of the things we were slightly disappointed with was the short time spent in the more interesting time periods – most of the game is played in a small number of periods, giving the other ones 20-30 minute segments for you to enjoy.

Conclusion

Darkest of Days has an original idea and an acceptable implementation of it – it delivers what it promises, and it has the potential to become one of your favorites if you love intense shooters.

Borderlands Review

Gearbox Software are a well-known game developer – and if you think about it, that’s a curious fact considering they’ve been coming out with only a handful of games (most of which based around their own franchise, Brothers in Arms).

However, looking at their release history, pretty much every title that’s come out from their studio has been a highly successful one – and their newest Borderlands is set to solidify their name as a developer in gaming history.

Gameplay

Borderlands is a combination of first-person shooter and RPG. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, reminiscent of the world from Mad Max – everyone is fighting for their own survival, anarchy prevails, and people have split up into small groups to increase their chances of making it alive. In the beginning, you get to choose your character from four possibilities, and each will offer you a completely unique gameplay experience.

The game follows a non-linear plot, where you have one main quest you’re following, but can also take on various side-quests that are given by friendly characters. Doing so gives you access to more money and upgrades, which in turn helps you progress through the game at an easier pace.

Scavenging is a major part of the game’s play style, as you’ll have to collect the weapons of your fallen enemies to sell later. One of the interesting aspects of the weapons system is their semi-random generation – much like in Diablo and similar RPGs, you have a set of “base” weapons which the game modifies before giving to you. That way, you can find the same-looking shotgun with completely different stats, for example increased firepower or reload speed, better accuracy, etc.

This makes it important to constantly look around for new weapons and collect everything, as you never know if the one you’re using won’t turn out to be a kids’ toy compared to the one laying on the ground that you just passed by.

Graphics and System Requirements

Borderlands is unique not only in its gameplay, but also its graphics – the game is designed in a cel-shaded art style, and it looks simply outstanding. It’s not as cartoony as, say, XIII, but also looks less realistic than even Valve’s Team Fortress 2. Borderlands is a great example of the flexibility provided by the Unreal Engine 3, as most companies are using it to create highly realistic environments, while Gearbox have managed to do the exact opposite and have done their best with the engine to draw the animated characters.

The game is a bit lighter than most other UE3 games, mostly due to the simplicity of its assets – with fewer polygons and lower-resolution textures (as anything more detailed would’ve spoiled the looks), it can easily run on a 2.4 GHz Pentium 4 coupled with 1 GB of RAM and a GeForce 8600 GS.

Other

Beating the game on your own is fun, but if you give it a go with a few of your friends in the co-operative mode, you’ll never want to go back to the single player again – the online play in Borderlands is a truly captivating experience.

Conclusion

A game that will surely be talked about for long, Borderlands pushes the boundaries of the FPS genre in ways few developers have dared go so far.

Left 4 Dead 2 Review

Left 4 Dead 2 is the sequel to Valve’s hit online zombie shooter, Left 4 Dead. Despite gaining some criticism over the fact that it was released just one year after its predecessor (and not as a free expansion, either – a full-blown game with regular price) – it still managed to live up to the expectations gamers had about it and surpassed Left 4 Dead’s popularity timesfold. The game remains one of the most popular online shooters right now, and keeps bringing new players in.

Gameplay

Left 4 Dead 2 puts the player in the role of one of four survivors in a zombie apocalypse, who have to make their way through a variety of levels mimicking the style of classic horror movies, looking for a way out of the whole mess. There are new weapons, with the addition of a new category, melee weapons, as well as new types of zombies – and new special ones, like the Jockey who can take control of a player and attempt to steer them in the wrong direction away from his/her buddies.

The gameplay is even more intense than before, with the AI Director doing its best to keep players on their toes throughout the levels, while making sure they get a few seconds of breather after a massive fight, in order to prepare for the next one.

Graphics and System Requirements

The four survivors have been designed extremely well, as were those in the first game – each has their own personality and behavior, and they look and sound unique, which greatly adds to the atmosphere of the game. The writing is superb, and the dialogue between the characters reveals them as near-lifelike human beings bit by bit, such as the slightly cynical gambler Nick, or the amiable and somewhat naive country boy Ellis – after just a few rounds they grow on you and it’s part of what brings you back for more.

The overall graphics quality is good, as can be expected from Valve’s Source Engine, which has been presented in its latest incarnation here. The survivors’ flashlights cast very realistic shadows from the objects around the levels and the players themselves, and the addition of daylight levels as opposed to the all-night style of the first game is a refreshing change. Source is known for its scalability on older machines, so you should be able to run the game even if you’re not up to date with your hardware.

Other

Valve have a tendency to continuously update their games post-release without any extra fees, and Left 4 Dead 2 is no exception – it received a free content package after its release, containing a whole new episode – though when we say free, we only mean the PC version of course – due to Microsoft’s policies, the update costs 560 MS Points on the Xbox 360.

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of horror movies/games and you want a game packed with tasteful dark humor that you can enjoy with your friends, Left 4 Dead 2 would have you glued to the screen.

Mass Effect 2 Review

Mass Effect came out a few years ago and struck great success due to its deep, intricate storyline and varied gameplay that gives players many options about the outcome of the game and the general way it progresses. Mass Effect 2 expands on those trends, delivering even more of what made the original so popular and successful – and it should definitely remain in the hearts of gamers for a long time.

Gameplay

Mass Effect 2 features a much-improved combat system, with damage now appropriately affecting different areas of your enemies’ (and yours as well) bodies, and there have been various improvements to the AI as well – for example, your enemies are now much more persistent, refusing to simply die, instead they’ll crawl to you even if they can’t get up, doing their best to hurt you.

The healing system has been replaced by a regenerating health one, similar to what’s used in some other games. The “medi-gel” that was used in the original game is still present though, as it’s used to revive your allies that have been struck down. Weapons behave more realistically as well, and you’ll have to be careful if you want to avoid them overheating, or other dangerous side effects of overuse.

Graphics and System Requirements

The latest version of the Unreal Engine can deliver some very high-quality graphics – you’ll see lots of great-looking effects accompanying the exciting gameplay all around, and the level of post-processing is simply tremendous and adds to the atmosphere of the game immensely. You’ll also get to enjoy a well-coded physics engine, which makes for some spectacular, chaotic firefights with ragdolls flying all around.

System requirements are rather high though, as with all the games running on the Unreal Engine’s latest version. You’ll need a good modern-day computer capable of handing current titles without problems, if you want to enjoy Mass Effect 2 as well. Toning down some of the graphics quality settings may be a small remedy, but those don’t change that much in this game, so you won’t get away with as much as you would in other games.

Other

Mass Effect 2 offers a lot of replay value, so don’t just put it on a shelf after you’re done with it – make sure you give it another try, this time taking different turns and options in your dialogues – you’ll find it to be a completely different experience, and you’ll actually be able to get at least several different and unique run-throughs, if you’re careful in your choices when it comes to conversations.

Conclusion

Mass Effect 2 is definitely a game that deserves all the praise it got, and it should figure in your collection at all cost if you value true gameplay quality served in an aesthetically pleasing and captivating manner. It may be a bit complex at first, and you may find some of the gameplay decisions a bit irritating, but you’ll still enjoy it greatly and that’s guaranteed.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Modern Warfare 2 is the follow-up to the massively successful Call of Duty series. Ever since coming out, the game has built up to the top of the ladder of online shooters, and still ranks #1 in terms of players online at any time. This huge success came despite some negative backlash from the community against the way the servers were structured in the new version – it seems that people have calmed down with time and have came to terms with the new rules (more on that below).

Gameplay

The game features a rather short single-player mode, which managed to stir up some controversy due to the depiction of a group of Russian terrorists slaughtering an airport. The selling point of the title isn’t the single player though – its power lies in the online play, managing to gather together thousands of players every day. You can unlock various new weapons, tools and ranks as you progress through the RPG-like levelling system, giving you access to a very powerful arsenal on the battlefield.

Some of the criticism from the community came as a response to the removal of dedicated servers – in other words, you can’t host your own private game, you need to rely on the IWNet (Infinity Ward Network, the game’s centralized account system) to connect to other players via “lobbies” – which, while convenient for newcomers, precludes more advanced players from customizing their gameplay to greater extents.

Graphics and System Requirements

The game uses the newest version of Infinity Ward’s proprietary engine, and it performs excellently for the task of giving you tons of eye candy – the game looks spectacular, and the graphics combined with the rest of the effects really make you feel like you’re in the center of the action. The system requirements scale appropriately though, and you’ll need a powerful machine to run the game with everything enabled – at least a GeForce 6600GT or Radeon 1600XT, or any other DirectX 9-compliant card; and a 3.2GHz processor if you’re using a single core.

Other

An underrated aspect of the game’s multiplayer is its cooperative mode, which allows you to play with your friends in a variety of exciting situations – so if you’re getting MW2, make sure you give that one a try, if you manage to find any lobbies for it. Also, since the game was released, more content has been made available for it in the form of DLC map packs (one released so far and more coming up), though you’ll have to pay for those as they’re not free.

Conclusion

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 managed to become one of the highest-ranking games of its time, and we’re yet to see anyone take the crown from it – and despite its occasional flaws and hiccups, it deserves its popularity in all aspects – so if you want a refreshing shooter, give it a try.