So, I posted a little bit about Diablo III when it first came out, way back when. I enjoyed it for the most part, with my only real issues being in the storytelling department. Unfortunately, at that time I had not played through the game all the way to level 60, I only got to somewhere in the mid-30s. So because of that, I hadn’t experienced any of the endgame, which is often the meat and potatoes of this genre. The endgame content of these types of games is basically just doing runs over and over until you find loot upgrades that allow you to do those runs more efficiently. Repeat until you get bored of it. The issues that people had with Diablo III’s endgame basically boiled down to the itemisation. The loot just wasn’t very interesting, and it took too long to find meaningful upgrades.

This was an almost direct result of the existence of the game’s auction house. Whether it be by using in-game gold or real money, players could buy and sell items that they had found in-game. Because of this, finding decent items was a rare occurrence, otherwise virtually everyone could stick their loot on the auction house and make some money. It also meant that the most efficient way to upgrade your character was not by playing the game, but by simply buying upgrades on the auction house.

Since Diablo III’s release two years ago, there have been a number of updates to help fix this issue, with the two main ones being “loot 2.0” and the now complete removal of the auction houses from the game. Loot 2.0, which overhauls the loot system to a more quality-over-quantity experience means you are now more likely to find more meaningful upgrades more often. Where previously a stat on an item could’ve rolled from anywhere between 1-100, it’s now more like 75-100. Add to that much better legendary item drop rates (you’re now pretty much guaranteed a legendary at least every hour or two, compared to my 3 legendaries in about 100 hours previously) means that the loot progression is much more satisfying and feels like much less of a grind.

This week also brought about the game’s first major content update, in the form of Reaper of Souls. As well as adding a whole new act onto the story, the expansion also brings about a whole host of other cool new features. The biggest of these, Adventure Mode, essentially completely changes the way in which you play the game. Unlocked for all your characters once you’ve played through Act V once, Adventure Mode opens up the entire game and allows you to travel wherever you want, completing bounties. These bounties are usually quick, five minute affairs, where you travel to a specific location and kill a specified enemy, or complete a specific event. Completing these nets you experience and gold awards, as well as bonuses if you finish five bounties in one act.

But that’s not even the coolest part. By completing these bounties, you will occasionally be rewarded with Rift Key Fragments. Spending five of these allows you go back to town and open a Nephalem Rift. These are essentially completely random dungeons (seriously, take every tileset and enemy type in the game, and throw them into an RNG) with a powerful boss at the end for you to kill. The monster density in these rifts also tends to be quite high, so the potential for big XP and loot gains is high.

Crusader is pretty dope.

Crusader is pretty dope.

The expansion also increases the level cap by 10, up to a max of 70. Higher level means better loot. Even some of the basic level 70 gears makes the best level 60 gear look terrible. Each class also has a brand new ability and set of runes to go with it, which first unlocks when you hit 61. The only one I’ve tried, the Wizard’s Black Hole, is cool and seems to work well as a decent crowd control ability. There’s also the brand new class, the Crusader. I haven’t messed too much with it (only level 30 or so) but the class seems to play fairly similar to the Barbarian, with the main difference being a lot of more defensive abilities, which require resource spending to use, rather than being cooldown based. They definitely seem like they have the ability to be super tanky. Oh, and one of their passives allows them to weird a two-handed weapon and a shield at the same time. So that’s pretty rad.

There’s also a third artisan to go alongside the blacksmith and jeweller: the enchantress. She can let you enchant items, essentially completely re-rolling a stat on an item in the hopes for a better one, for a price of course. So if you find an item that is great all-round except for one bum stat, it’s very much possible to fix that. She can also “transmogrify” items, altering their appearance. So if you find a really good upgrade, but think it looks ugly as shit, you can pay her to just make it look like another item of the same type. For someone like me who cares a lot about cosmetic customisation in games, this is a very welcome addition.

Some real nice environments in the new expansion,

Some real nice environments in the new expansion,

As for the actual new act, it’s pretty good. I’ve only played through it once, but it felt to be of decent length. At least, much longer than the mostly disappointing act IV. Most of the new enemy types aren’t particularly interesting, in my opinion, however, the new environment designs are probably among the best in the entire game. Strong art design has always been one of Blizzard’s strengths and it definition shows here.

If you care at all about Diablo III, the expansion is definitely a worthy addition and worth picking up. If you haven’t played the game much since release, you should probably give it another go. Even before the expansion there have been a number of improvements that have made the game vastly more enjoyable and rewarding to play. You don’t need to upgrade to the expansion to experience the benefits of the new loot system. This is the Diablo III that should’ve been there at launch.

What’s up folks, it’s that time of the year again. The time where everybody indulges in a vast bout of navel-gazing over the past year of video games. Last year, I presented to you the games I thought were totally alright that year, so naturally it’s time to do that again. Like last year, these are in absolutely no particular order and need only have been released in 2013 (and played and enjoyed by me) to be listed here.

BioShock Infinite

Might as well get some of the big hitters out of the way first. Crazy to think that it was all the back in March that Irrational’s most recent masterpiece hit the shelves. While a lot of people, for a multitude of reasons haven’t been particularly kind to the game in hindsight, I maintain the same opinion of Infinite that I held when I first played it: A greatly atmospheric, well-paced game, with combat that was as fun as ever (albeit, a little streamlined), with among the best characterisation I’ve seen in a video game. A worthy successor to ’07’s BioShock, I just prey we don’t have to wait as long for the next major offering from Ken Levine and company.

Diablo III (Console Version)

I’ll admit, this one is a little bit of a cop-out, since Diablo III originally came to us on PC back in 2012. But the shiny new console versions only released a couple of months ago, back in September, and a 2013 release is the only qualification a game needs to be here, dammit! The consolised version of the premier clicking-stuff-until-it-dies simulator actually surprised me by how well it played. Having direct control of your character on an analogue stick is fantastic, and even aiming the more precise spells the game offers you works pretty well with a loose lock-on type system. Add on to that a revamped loot system that made it so you got better gear, more tailored to your character, more often, made the sections of the game that would otherwise be a bit of a grind a lot more compelling to play. The moment I managed to find 3 seperate legendary items within 30 seconds of one another will stick with me for a while.

Persona 4 Arena

We got it here in Europe in May, so that’s all the excuse I need to put it here! A fighting game I picked up mostly because the original Persona 4 sits among my favourite games ever, so the opportunity to enjoy some new content in that world with those characters was absolutely something I couldn’t pass up. It just happened that because of that love of the source material, P4A ended up being the first fighter I ever made any real attempt to not play by simply mashing buttons. I’ve sinced moved on to Street Fighter 4, but I like to think it was Persona 4 Arena that sparked my now greater interest in fighting games as a whole.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

So, I’ve never really been into strategy RPGs. Back in the day, I played (and fucking loved) Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, but that game didn’t spur me on to try others in the genre, and I’d certainly never played a Fire Emblem game before. But something about FE:A’s blend of somewhat loose, but still deep and rewarding gameplay and good storytelling intrigued me. And while I’ll admit it’s a game I need to get back to at some point (I never said I had to have completed the games featured here!), I’ve played enough of it to know that yes, I would like some more, please.

Grand Theft Auto V

I think at this point it would be impossible for a Grand Theft Auto game to release and not be featured in some sort of end-of-year best of. Every major title in the series since 2001’s GTA3 has been fantastic and Rockstar’s latest offering certainly doesn’t buck that trend. The decision to include three seperate protagonists that can be switched between (almost) at will was nothing short of genius. The grey and serious tone that defined GTA4 was toned down significantly (though not to levels of the PS2 games’ silliness) with the result being I almost couldn’t put the game down until I reached its conclusion. Shame the online component turned out to be a bit shit.

Tomb Raider

I was never a fan of Tomb Raider. Gunning down a t-rex with pistols akimbo and locking your butler in the freezer was cool, sure, but the games were mostly awkward platforming, with awkward combat and a bunch of awkward puzzles, and a main character who had less depth than a couple of watermelons glued to a broomstick. So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics decided to reboot the franchise and make a game that didn’t control like arse and had a sympathetic and (mostly) believable character, I was down like a clown. Sure, the roughly 5 minute transition from unarmed, badly wounded, innocent young woman to shooting a bunch of dudes in their faces can be a little hard to swallow, the result is a cinematic experience that rivals Uncharted, with a larger world that is actually enjoyable to explore. Not sure how Lara’s boobs manage to stay so perfectly in place with just a tanktop throughout all the beatings the game just loves to give her though.

Broken Sword 5: The Serpents Curse (Episode 1)

Although the final part isn’t out until early next year, The Serpents Curse, the latest, kickstarted entry into one of my most beloved series is a return to the more classic point-and-click style of the first two games, rather than the 3D ones that put a bit of a stain on the franchise. While it ends just as the story really starts to get going, everything up to that is filled with the funny, well written (and acted) dialogue that made me so fond of the original games. With a perhaps over-reliance of returning characters that don’t hit home as well as they should due to different voice actors, George and Nico are, however as great as they’ve ever been. Just a shame it won’t be till 2014 until we see how the plot is really going to shape up.

The Last of Us

I struggle to think of any game that was so anticipated before release, and then actually lived up to all the hype, but if there’s any developer that can do that, it’s Naughty Dog. 2013 was a fucking great year for video game storytelling, and Joel and Ellie’s story is up there with the best of them. Great plot, great pacing, great cast of characters, one of the most memorable openings to a game I can think of and a satisfying ending. As well as that, the gameplay wasn’t just another Uncharted, but a more methodical game that required you to slow down and plan ahead. Even the multiplayer was really fun. Hell, the only gripe I really had with the game was that the achievements sucked.

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

Challenging, yet completely rewarding gameplay, great music, and a fantastically goofy sense of style. Not bad for £12.

Pokémon X/Y

There’s something that always gets me giddy at the thought of a new generation of Pokémon games, yet I always play less and less of them as they go on. Not because they’re getting worse, but because I have less time to play single games, and more money to buy other games. Spending a couple hundred hours filling up my pokédex in Silver was feasible, because I was just a kid, with a lot more free time, but no dosh to buy all those other rad games I wanted. X and Y had me particularly excited, because it’s the first set of mainline Pokémon games to be released on new hardware in what seems like forever. It was only 2007 that Diamond and Pearl released, but it still feels like they dwelled too long on the same hardware. Just something about having two seperate generations of Pokémon on the same system didn’t sit well with me. You could argue that Gold and Silver were still Gameboy games, but c’mon: Those games were designed for the Gameboy Color. X and Y to me feels like the first major step up in quality in a long, long time, especially so since these are the first ones to transition to full 3D, as opposed to using character sprites. Almost everything about it just feels super well made. The new region is awesome to explore for the first time, the new Pokémon are well designed for the most part, and the soundtrack contains some of the best pieces in the entire series, in my opinion. And there’s also a bunch of changes to the battle system that should affect the metagame in interesting ways, you know, if you’re into that. They added a new pokémon type! They haven’t done that in over a decade!

Honourable Mention: Persona 4 Golden

Because we didn’t get it here until February lol. Some day, I will spend a few thousand words here gushing about that game like I did Final Fantasy X.

So there you have it: the 10 games from this year that I deem to be totally okay. I’ll be honest, I struggled towards the end there. Not because there weren’t that many good games that came out this year, but simply because I just didn’t play a lot of them. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Gone Home are the two that stick out most in my mind, and I didn’t play enough of Papers, Please to formulate much of an opinion on it. I always have a huge backlog of games, and this certainly wasn’t the year where I made strides to try and improve that. Maybe next year? Probably not.

As for future content, I have a fairly big idea swirling about in my head, and should it come to fruition, you’ll likely find it over at GAEMZnet. If that does happen, that site will be reborn with a name that isn’t GAEMZnet because that name is totally dumb and I hate it now. This content idea will likely require the co-operation of a few mates and by putting it here in writing, maybe I can inspire some motivation into a few of them, since I’m not sure I could do it alone. So watch this space. Or that space. Whatever. VAGUE ALLUSIONS TO FUTURE CONTENT THAT PROBABLY WON’T HAPPEN YEAH.

So, Borderlands 2 came out a couple weeks ago. Well, not quite for us UK folk. Quite why publishers and retailers still adhere to these stupid regional release dates is quite beyond me. Regardless, I picked it up on Steam and have been playing it pretty solidly lately. My enjoyment of it initially came as quite a surprise to me, considering I didn’t take to the first game quite so well. However, after finishing my first playthrough of the sequel (as Zer0 the assassin, clocking in at around 30 hours), I feel I’m able to articulate why it is I like BL2 so much more than the first. Though, BL2 does have it’s flaws, which I’ll also get into.

Borderlands 2’s intro is much more narrative driven than that of the first game.

The main reason, I feel, is because Borderlands 2 does such a much better job than it’s predecessor at weaving it’s narrative alongside it’s gameplay. Something you often hear remarked about the first Borderlands game is “story? there’s a story?”. And obviously there is, but the game doesn’t do a particularly good job at presenting it, and this is very evident when you compare the opening of the two games. Borderlands 2 has a more… typical story/introductory sequence, where you start off almost dead, with no equipment, or even a HUD, before Claptrap finds and essentially rescues you. You then go through a sequence where you fight off some enemies and a boss before arriving at the first town (Liar’s Berg) before the game starts to open up a bit more. Compare that to the first game: You’re dumped off a bus at the side of a road, already with a gun. The game quickly explains how everything works before pointing out some bandits and going “shoot these dudes”. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that in and of itself, but I often find it difficult to enjoy a game that doesn’t make a good effort to intertwine it’s gameplay and story elements.

This is a problem I have with Torchlight 2. From a purely mechanical standpoint, Torchlight 2 is a great game, but it feels like there has been absolutely zero effort to present it’s story elements in any meaningful way. You start the game, and you see an animated video depicting the PCs from the first game…? I guess…? fighting some dude. Then you’re just dumped into the world and told to go to this place. The game does a pretty terrible job of contextualising why exactly it is you’re going to this place, or why you’re killing this particular mob. Diablo 3, on the other hand, presents it’s narrative alongside it’s gameplay absolutely flawlessly. Say what you want about the actual quality of that game’s plot, but that’s irrelevant here, the point is that Diablo 3 always makes sure that its story elements are as close to the forefront as possible. You have lush, amazing quality CGI cinematics, you have in-engine cutscenes, you have fully voiced dialogue for pretty much everything in the entire game. You’re never wondering who the boss you’re fighting is, and why. Everything is presented in a pleasant, easy to digest way, whereas with Torchlight 2, when you get a quest, you get a wall of unspoken text before being told to go to this place, and kill these dudes. In Diablo 3, all the different areas and zones in each act are contextualised well, so you know where you’re going, and why. Not so much in TL2. Everything just feels disconnected and disjointed. And that’s how I felt about the first Borderlands game. It just didn’t do a good job of presenting it’s narrative alongside the game, and that severely hampered my enjoyment of the game. Of course, this is something that might not matter to some people. Those people might not give a single fuck about why they’re where they are and why they’re shooting the dudes they are. I’m not one of those people, however. I need story and context, even if the actual story isn’t that great (looking at you, Diablo 3). It’s paramount to my enjoyment of a game.

As for the game’s plot? It’s alright. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s perfectly functional. The humour of the game tends to be a little bit polarizing. I, for one, LOVE Tiny Tina, whereas a lot of other folk seem to feel the exact opposite about her. And that’s fine, that’s to be expected, the game’s humour isn’t going to appeal to everyone. I enjoy more.. sophisticated humour as much as the next person, but there’s something to be said about a game like Borderlands that comes along not often enough in the way it doesn’t take itself too seriously most of the time. I don’t quite like the over-abundance of references to Internet memes in the game’s writing, but it’s not to the point where it hampers my enjoyment of the game at all. That said, even with all the lack of self-seriousness the game has, I feel the game still does a great job during the parts where it does take itself that much more seriously (namely, the last few story missions) and feel the game could’ve maybe been improved somewhat if it did that a little more often. The story missions throughout the game are for the most part more self-serious than the rest of the game, but the sheer amount of side quests the game has, which is where most of the absurdity lies, can make it a little hard to swallow down sometimes.


All that said, time to dig into Borderlands 2’s mechanical parts, because gameplay-wise, the game is not without fault. My biggest complaint with the game is Fight For Your Life. It was present in the first game, but what I’ve played of Borderlands 1 was a long time ago, so quite what they’ve changed since then I’m not quite sure. FFYL however, is undoubtedly the thing that infuriates me the most about the game. It’s the game’s “down, but not out mode”. When your shields and health are completely completed, you go into this mode, something akin to Call of Duty’s last stand. You’re on your back, you can only crawl around very slowly, and you have only a limited amount of time until you are able to be revived, either by killing an enemy, upon which you’ll get “second wind” and be instantly revived, or manually by a teammate if you’re playing co-op. It’s not so much of a problem in co-op; you seem to have much more time before dying when playing with other people, and obviously you have them to fall back on if you can’t score a kill. It’s during solo play where it starts to frustrate. For one, your entire view turns to greyscale and there’s a blur filter over everything, meaning you can’t see shit. The game also decides now is a great idea to fuck with your aim, constantly making it sway everywhere making it much more difficult, especially with semi-auto guns, to shoot the dudes you so desperately need to shoot. Oh yeah, and you can’t ADS either. Only hipfire. UNLESS, you were already aiming down sights the moment you went into FFYL mode, in which case you can ONLY aim down sight. I still can’t decide if this is some sort of glitch or if it’s fully intentional, but the one thing I’m sure of is that it’s the single most fucking annoying thing about the entire game. For some, that honour goes to Tiny Tina. For me, it’s Fight For Your Life mode. When you couple that with enemies that, starting towards the end of your first playthrough, have a tendency to deplete your entire shield and health capacity in one or two hits, makes this all the more annoying, especially since you’ll be haemorrhaging money for the privilege of respawning. And don’t even get me starting on the amount of times I’ve falling into FFYL after all the enemies have already been defeated. Sweet Jesus, that’s annoying. Nothing quite like getting killed by the last enemy’s projectile, mere milliseconds after killing it.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. When playing alone, all enemies revert back to 100% health and shields when you respawn. So you can’t even brute force your way through the more challenging (read: frustrating) combat scenarios.

From a gameplay perspective, that’s my only real gripe. The lack of decent weapon spawns is another, making the latter parts of the game a little challenging if you haven’t found good weapons to combat each type of enemy (woe betide you if you haven’t found any decent corrosive weapons during your playthrough). My other gripe is that the interface doesn’t work too well with a mouse and keyboard. It was clearly designed for use on a gamepad, and obviously works as intended with that. With a mouse and keyboard however, it can be a little annoying to navigate and organise your gear, even going so far as to just bug out sometimes where the item I’m trying to select isn’t what actually get’s selected. It’s also a case where they haven’t made any effort to take advantage of the higher resolutions that people are going to be using when playing on PC, so the interface just doesn’t really make good use of the screen real estate, with too many unnecessary sliders that lead into sub-menus, when you could easily just display it all at once. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s an issue you wouldn’t expect to be present after Gearbox’s whole “love letter to PC gamer” prior to release.

But as a whole, the game is very, very enjoyable. If you like loot-driven games or first person shooters, you owe it to yourself to play some Borderlands. The game is LONG, but doesn’t really feel like there’s much in the way of unnecessary padding, so you definitely get enough bang for your buck.