Celestial Brushwork

The brush is mightier than the wolf.

Okami HD (as the name would suggest) is a remastered version of the original Okami released in 2006 (which I have never played), and is a rare example of an experience that is complex yet thoroughly enjoyable throughout. It features a large open world and a surprising amount of freedom to go with it. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you’re encouraged to explore this open world as soon as you complete the starting experience. As there is so much to see, do, and unlock even with the limited variety of brush techniques you’ll have at that time.

There are plenty of secrets hidden in this vast world, too.

The focal mechanic of Okami is the use of the Celestial Brush. This allows you to draw onto the environment for a number of different effects, which are directly linked to the number of brush techniques you currently have access to and will be invaluable in unearthing secrets or making progress. It’s an expertly implemented and meticulously utilised mechanic.

Alongside this there is a rather interesting levelling mechanic which is vital to your success. While you can collect three Sun Fragments and increase your health, the primary way to increase your various attributes will be through the acquisition of Praise. Which is something you can find anywhere and everywhere in the world. Mostly acquired from restoring nature to corrupted lands or feeding animals (which is a whole mechanic of its own), you’ll also acquire praise for defeating certain enemies. Praise can then be spent to increase your health, the number of ink wells you have, how many Astral Pouches you can carry, or even how much currency you can hold. It’s an oddly refreshing system that doesn’t promote grinding out battles for experience.

Such a colourful and diverse creature you are.

You’ll also find (and hopefully equip) various weapons in the course of your adventure. Each class of weapon promotes a different advantage be it speed, strength, or combo potential. Visiting the Dojo will allow you to unlock new techniques or bonuses related to each class of weapon, too. While you can also earn rare Demon Fangs which can be used to buy various Holy Artifacts. These are not required for completing the story, but they do have unique bonuses for Amaterasu that you can’t find elsewhere. Especially if you collect all of the Stray Beads.

New Game+ helps greatly in acquiring them all.

One of the other focal mechanics of Okami is the unique storytelling approach. The story itself is an enjoyably awesome tale of epic heroes and ancient demons, but it is presented with such a gorgeous illustration style and brings together the visual style of the title quite well. It’s also rather light-hearted, comical, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously at any time.

There were many things that I enjoyed but the freedom to explore was most enjoyable of all. It’s rare to be allowed to wander around the map as and when you want to, while it’s equally as rare to be allowed to return to earlier areas to use your new brush techniques. You’d usually expect that to be hidden behind New Game+ or the like. In fact, New Game+ is rather well implemented as it isn’t required to access anything. It only really makes it easier to earn the resources required to collect anything you missed the first time around. In either case, I’ve greatly enjoyed this title and can easily recommend it to anyone who enjoys having fun while gaming. Which, in my opinion, is the only reason you should be gaming in the first place.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

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Salvation Through Villainy

These caves are treacherous! You could be looking for the quest marker for hours in here…

Not that I went the complete wrong way for an hour, cleared the rest of the cave, and then realised the objective was behind where I was standing. Never. That said, I feel the map(s) could stand to be a little clearer at times. Or that the game could explain certain features (like holding Tab to open a full area map) better to help you get through those confusing, embarrassing, silly times.

Sacred 2 inherits much from the original Sacred. It’s an open world fantasy ARPG with surprisingly deep and varied character development, featuring several different classes, and two distinct story choices (to either be good or evil). Many of the mechanics return with a little more polish alongside a full 3D presentation. Voice acting remains (for each of the classes, some of the quest NPCs, and general commentary) and helps to flesh out the world of Ancaria. The Gold Edition also features two expansion packs which bring all sorts of extra goodies along for the ride (like the carrier imp, a new character class, new regions, and more).

Overall it’s a pretty solid title that will likely net you several hours of enjoyment if you like ARPGs.

One of the most intriguing developments for me is how the character classes vary. I took the atypical fighter in the Shadow Warrior (following the evil story) the first time I played and after I finished the main campaign (on bronze) I explored the other choices. I was curious to see what they would do differently and it’s quite extensive.

I don't think he/she's very happy with me...

I don’t think he/she’s very happy with me…

For instance, the Skills you learn vary from class to class. I wasn’t really expecting to start with a Dragon Mage and see options the Shadow Warrior hadn’t been able to select, yet, likewise for the Dragon Mage, there were things the Shadow Warrior had that he didn’t. It’s a small change (and somewhat expected) but it’s nice to see that there are unique benefits for each of the classes. Many of the standard choices like Armor Lore, Shield Lore, Constitution, Toughness, and so on are present for all of the classes (as far as I’m aware).

The Attributes don’t vary between classes, however.

These are the pretty standard self-explanatory choices that you’ll find in nearly every other RPG. Yet, combined with the Skills, and the Combat Arts (covered below), you have the opportunity to create vastly different builds. The character classes do have specific roles, however. Or sets of roles. Like the Seraphim can fight in close quarters or at range depending on how you build her.

Combat Arts are your magical or physical attacks (also your buffs) and they follow suit from Sacred to be almost exactly the same. You find runes, use them, level up the skills, but face increasing cooldowns/penalties every time you do. In Sacred 2 after investing a number of points in certain Skills you can also upgrade Combat Arts to make them more powerful. Adding area damage, life stealing, armour penetration, and other benefits. These are specific to the Combat Arts and so each have six choices of which you can choose three before the Combat Art is mastered.

There are a whole heap of quests and locations to explore, too. This is something that’s quite difficult to summarise as there are so many things to talk about, but, for me, the above is what really stands out and makes Sacred 2 great. That flexibility, character depth, choice, and the chance to replay the story again on increasing difficulty levels.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Taking the Longest Way Around

I’ve spent a long while roaming the vast world of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and have collected some thoughts.

The world itself is a lively, beautiful, and very immersive place. Towns feel as if they’re actually alive with the day to day routine of the inhabitants, the wilderness feels as though it is a dangerous and untamed place, the roads are littered with highwaymen, and every nook and cranny in the world is filled with delightful points of interest. There are changes to be made- big and small- which determine (and shape) the world around you. There’s a lot of freedom to be enjoyed and there’s a whole heap of things to do.

However, I do feel, as you progress through the main quest, you’re taking the longest way around every possible task in front of you.

We’ve all played those RPGs where the fate of the world depends on this one very time specific action that is of the utmost importance… right after you collect five clumps of wolf fur. It seems a bit silly, but, generally, these are confined to the opening few hours of the game. Where (more often than not) you’re going through a tutorial and learning the ropes of the game as you do.

One thing that I have found disappointing about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt so far is that this is a trend that never goes away. In fact, in some later areas, it only gets worse by offering you quests which serve no purpose other than to serve no purpose. Minor spoiler- when looking for a certain character later in the story you are tasked with talking to several people. At the end of this long chain of dialogue and questing you learn absolutely nothing of use. I believe purposefully so. Which, to be honest, really frustrated me as it didn’t feel at all necessary nor relevant.

While it may not be of this world- it sure is beautiful!

Equally, several of the main quests you go on in the course of the first half of the game feel very… pointless.

Most information you receive, if any, doesn’t really help you at all, while it’s often hidden behind another series of quests. As in, you’ll go to a specific person who has information you want/need, they’ll give you said information if you do a few hours of quests, which repeats almost every time you speak to someone about the main quest. To the point where, at the time the story begins to pick up, and you’re steps away from the goal you’ve been working toward- you are tasked again with finding three random people. It doesn’t really help the story immersion at all as you start to really enjoy it and you’re forced into another unnecessary quest loop.

While it certainly adds longevity to the main story it does grind on you after a while. Especially considering you can’t skip any of the quest parts where there’s a choice of three different follow up quests, as, eventually, you’ll have to do all of them to push that block of story forward. Which feels really odd to me when you consider this is an open world setting.

I don’t know how to describe it. But, while I enjoy the game, and enjoy the improved (and more complicated) combat, there is something about the quests that I don’t enjoy. At all. To the point where it has become all too predictable that nothing can be solved in two quests or less. Which, considering the whole main story is somewhat time sensitive, doesn’t really fit the sense of urgency portrayed at the start.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

How to Survive

The secret is in the title. Survive you must and survive you probably will. Or not.

While not having much of an idea of what to expect (except zombies, foraging, and crafting) when coming into this title I have been pleasantly surprised several times. One thing that, while it seems simple, and could very well be a staple of other open world survival crafting games, is that you can disassemble your items after assembling them. So, for instance, when I started to craft improvised firearms I decided to disassemble my wooden bow. It’s now a fishing rod!

Naturally, where resources are scarce, you’re always afraid you’re wasting them on something now that is useless later.

"And Hell followed with him."

“And Hell followed with him.”

In this case it’s very easy to use resources to build neat things, disassemble them, and build even neater things from the same resources. Unless, of course, these resources are finite like health poultices or the like which are unable to be disassembled once built. Then again, what kind of crazy person would take apart a healing item to make a Molotov Cocktail? (This crazy person.)

One of the other neat things I was frequently reminded of is how scary the night really is. There are more powerful zombie variants which come out at night that are… actually pretty intelligent. They hate flashlights and probably any form of light for that matter- but they will flank you. They will retreat from the front, come around the side, or simply attack you from the back whenever they feel like it. I do know that day and night cycles are usually a big part of the whole survival mechanic but I really enjoyed the way How to Survive does it. You do get the feeling that these enemies are more dangerous and intelligent than the average zombie.

However, this does lead me to one of the minor complaints I had about the title which is the inability to sleep when you want to. Or, rather, to skip night if you want to. While it doesn’t need to be a feature- and I certainly see why it wouldn’t be- the dangerousness of night is dampened somewhat when you can’t see anything at all (light or no) in some night scenarios.

One particular island has a lot of greyish fog which pretty much blocks out the entire screen.

When night first fell I was near a place where I could sleep/rest, too. So it would’ve been great to actually sleep away that nearly impossible to navigate night scenario. Again, I get the idea, and the whole darkness is bad concept, but in this circumstance I found it near impossible to actually see much of anything. Also, from the point of view of survival statistics, you can eat or drink whenever you wish to. But you can’t sleep whenever you wish to. Which means, even if you’re low on sleep, but you don’t hit the threshold to allow sleep, you will basically go out exhausted and weak.

That said, these are minor issues in a title which tries really hard to make itself recognisable. The lack of glaringly obvious markers for resources in the wild mean you get into the habit of actually spotting them, rather than glossing over the map, and the way you can craft even if you don’t know the recipe per se is certainly great when rummaging around in your inventory making space.

While not likely the longest, nor most complicated, title of this genre on the market- it’s one that does ensure a lot of enjoyment from start to finish!

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

The Adventures of Percival Meatshield

There’s a lot of monsters out there and someone’s got to slay them… why are you looking at me? Oh, all right then.

This is a title that you could say I’ve come to revisit in 2014, as I’d already played it many years ago when I had the boxed copy- but it was on sale on Steam and it had all these shiny new things (that I didn’t actually end up using) so I bought it again. For all of £1.49 so I wasn’t too concerned. However, the two extra classes look interesting and it plays for a good amount of time so one can hardly complain about having the shiny new version. Plus, I suppose it’s been patched and is fully up to date which my boxed copy wouldn’t be and then I’d have to find and download patches for it and such.

Just like the good old days of gaming. Where the first ten hours of gameplay was tracking down, installing, tweaking, and swearing at patches. When you didn’t have automatic updates for video drivers and spent hours carefully treading the official site to understand what you needed. Then hoping that the installation didn’t absolutely destroy your machine with a blue screen of death. Ah, sweet nostalgia!

…Those days sure were scary. Steam removes a lot of this and the NVIDIA update tool removes the rest of it.

So, what is Sacred? It’s an ARPG that comes in somewhere between Diablo and Diablo II in terms of functionality. You’ve got some advancements like being able to hold a button to continually perform an attack or the multiple slots to allow you to use one of several skills, but, rather oddly, you don’t have stackable items like potions or skill items. Yet you don’t need identify scrolls as everything you find is already identified. However, you also don’t have town portal scrolls but you do have horses. So there’s a lot of different ideas thrown in there and some of them are quite interesting (like horses) while others are standard fare.

I have many weapons- one for each of you.

I have many weapons- one for each of you.

There are five base classes and seven with the two extra in the Gold version. Each one comes in with a different flavour, story, starting location, voice actor, and lots of interesting skills to choose from and develop over the course of the game. Unlike other games in this genre your Combat Skills are acquired as items that drop. It can make the growth system a little random at times as you can’t focus fire all your points into one skill, but, at the same time, it also means you’re going to find/use a lot more skills. Like I would never have actually put points into the Gladiator’s Dagger Stare but it was actually kind of useful early in the game when you had a couple of free points.

Skills (not to be confused with Combat Skills as described above) come in the form of various aspects you can build up as you level up. They’re things like Concentration (that allows you to regenerate physical Combat Skills quicker) or Agility (which improves your offensive and defensive combat abilities) which allow you to patch up any holes in your build by improving the weak points.

I noticed early on that the Gladiator wasn’t hurting for any kind of damage and could reliably take down whole groups or singular enemies. So I decided to devote a lot of my Skills to things that improved his defence, his combat ability, his ability to resist magic, and so on. This way he was well rounded against many of the different threats in the world.

Speaking of threats (and there are many) they are varied and interesting challenges. You’re going to face a range of enemies that are going to do all manner of clever things, that are going to hurt you in so many ways, and that you are going to need to approach carefully to survive. There are few enemies that attempt to kill you through pure brute force and there are even less that just stand there and get pummelled endlessly. Much to the annoyance of any and every melee character. It’s a refreshing change to the usual “it’s end game so everything can kill you quite easily.” This is more a case that things can if you don’t pay too much attention to them.

Finally, the greatest, and most varied, aspect of this game is the massive world in which you play in. There are an amazing number of locations and so many different environments while having an open world feel allows you the ability to explore or not. If you want to go from quest to quest- feel free. If you want to explore- feel free. It’s all there if you want to take advantage of it and you’ll be surprised at how big the actual world is. There’s so much to see, do, find, kill, explore, discover, and generally observe that the world never feels dull or lifeless. Countless smaller towns and outposts litter the highways and give the world a truly living and breathing feel that is so rare in ARPGs (and just about any game really).

It’s a rare gem and one that is really worth your time if you like classic ARPGs.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie.