Guild Wars 2: One Year Later

It’s been over a year since the launch of Guild Wars 2, and everything I posted about last year stands strong. This is still a remarkable game but there have been a number of changes since earlier in 2013 that have changed the attitudes, goals and dynamics of many players. I’m not just talking about skill balancing, bug fixes and world updates – although these do happen regularly – but bigger changes to keep interest, and it seems to be working.

Living Story

Each character you make has a personal story to follow. These change depending on the race you choose and the options during character creation. Further options are made to players as you progress until a point later in the story where paths converge and the story is largely the same for everyone, regardless of race or background. There are still choices to make but you can cover all the story options at this stage with the five character slots provided.
Upon completing this, there wasn’t much to do in terms of progression. The focus turned to alternate characters, dungeons and fractal zones, where you could get rare skins and items from much harder foes. Then the Living Story was introduced and new content is released for a period of time – sometimes leading on from the last update and other instalments making you do something else entirely. This shows the world changing and evolving, with limited edition items and events to access.
This is great for certain events – like now there is a Halloween makeover in places, with new events, challenges and items to complete. Next month, it will be something different. Each instalment lasts for four to six weeks.

World vs. World

While WvW has been around since the start of GW2, I’ve only really given it a few chances. I’ve enjoyed it, sure, but I’m not the biggest fan of Player vs. Player. This has changed with a recent update, which have different “seasons” for WvW and new prizes. This has grabbed my interest again, and that of my Guild, with more people heading to these battlegrounds on a regular basis. The armour skins are good too, and drop rates for rare items are still low, but slightly higher than other places. This could be a good thing for me, right?
I live in hope.

Working towards the…impossible?

 
Each type of weapon has a Legendary version – they are the hardest to get because of the items and levels required to get them. I’ve been playing for over a year and I’m about two thirds of the way there for ONE character. Even then, the final item needed for each of these weapons has a drop rate that’s one of the lowest in the game. You can buy them, but I can barely save 100 gold, never mind between 1000-2000 gold!
Some people have been lucky, and others have focused their entire efforts on this. I’d like one (specifically Kudzu, the longbow) but there’s more to do.
New weapons were included in a recent update, requiring an increase in crafting levels and very hard materials to find (albeit, not as hard as the Legendary requirements). I’ll work on these eventually too, when I’ve finished my current to do list. By that point, there will be the same options for armour too. Then other items – there’s always more to do!

 

Guild missions

Another inclusion has been focused on guilds and keeping their members active and working together. The reduced party size compared to Guild Wars was a concern but these missions don’t need you to be in a party, and allow multiple parties at once. From hunting specialist bosses, tracking down locations, completing a circuit full of danger and more missions, they provide excellent rewards once a week to players and access to specialist equipment to improve your stats and in high level situations.
More routes, targets and challenges are always being added and new rewards will be introduced at an appropriate time (probably adding to my list of things to do and get).

 

Summary

Overall, Guild Wars 2 is a great game and it’s only getting better. How much content they have to run with, I’m not sure but I’d imagine there’s a lot. With increases to crafting levels and new items always being introduced, there’s plenty to play for and aim towards. I know I’ll be playing for a long time to get at least one character with some of the harder to obtain items. Will you?
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Play Expo: Assassins Creed 4 and the PS4

After the success and enjoyment of last year’s Play Expo in Manchester, I have been eagerly anticipating the return – especially as it coincided with my birthday! What better way to celebrate turning 25 than to play retro games, make a few purchases and see what’s new in the gaming world? Exactly. However, it didn’t go as planned and unfortunately, I was only able to confirm my attendance a few days before the event. As such, this isn’t as inclusive as last year’s review but there is one key point I did want to focus on at the end.

Bigger and better

With a much bigger space to utilise, Play Expo has learnt a lot from its first venture to Manchester’s Event City. Each arena got a much bigger space to fulfil and organise according. Where last year it could be crowded and hard to move, this year there was ample space that was filled with consoles, stands, shops and spectators alike. It was less claustrophobic but a much better atmosphere.
The costumes seemed much better than last year. Having been to Manchester’s Comic-Con this year, it was nice to return to a gaming atmosphere. Full respect to those that dressed up and got in the spirit – something I may have try one day, you never know – because it was clear a lot of effort went into those costumes.
The pros were just as intense this year as last, and that’s an intensity that drains you just by watching. I think I’m a gamer, but against these guys I know I’d have no chance. I didn’t interrupt for fear of death but it was fun to watch for a while again.

Assassins Creed 4: Black Flag

Of all the stands I saw and visited, this was the biggest for me. It’s fair to say that Assassin’s Creed is not my favourite series. I enjoyed the first one a lot, and the second did improve on what was great but it got tedious and repetitive for me – something I know other people don’t agree with.
After the second, it was a disappointment and unfortunately, there wasn’t much improvement this time. It caught my eye because it was on the soon to be released PS4 – so I had to try it out. The graphics weren’t as great as I wanted for the new console, which is going to show the crossover period we have where games are released on current and next gen consoles. Only later will we start to see the real capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One.
AC4’s demo started on a boat that was as responsive as a slug with a hangover. It took what felt like ten minutes to turn and there were no clear instructions on what to do. Button mashing aside, the guys were quick to explain and I did crash once or twice while trying to figure out what to do. There’s so much to keep on top of that it was more of a chore than enjoyable. With a real tutorial, this might be different. Movement afterwards was also a bit sluggish and I switched off at the point.
It lost me. This is not an improvement and I’m not going to be buying this one, unfortunately.

PS4 and the controller

However, moving on from a disappointing game to an impressive console (or what were the indications of such). Not much can be said of the console from this demo but I did get my first taste of the new controllers and honestly, I’m very impressed.
I remember back in the PlayStation days where the first version of these controllers was released. I didn’t like it but by PS2, I had no choice and adapted. The design has been fairly consisted throughout and I like that. Even now, on PS3, of my 3 controllers, one is lighter than the others and is the one I use the least (I like a bit of weight, but not too much).
This new version sees new materials which make the controller a lot better to handle and use, with indentations in the analog sticks to rest your thumbs in. Much better.
The biggest differences were the lower trigger buttons, which stick out more to be easier to press. That’ll take some getting used to but it’s going to be useful if there is so much to do in games like AC4. The last thing is the touch pad, which wasn’t usable in this demo, so not much to say but it threw a few people looking for the start and PS button found on the PS3 controllers. They’ll find this with time, I’m sure.
Overall: very good and a good indication of things to come!

Final thoughts

Throughout the day, switching between new and retro games, I found myself thinking about sensitivity in game controls. Are we so used to sensitivity that the slightest touch for that fractional movement is so important? Going from a Sega Megadrive to a PS4 was so strange because I had to hammer the controls to move on the former console, whereas now I barely need to press anything. I really had a sore thumb at the end of the day.
Has anyone else thought about this? I mean, it’s good we’ve made so many steps but has that changed the focus of our games and the difficulty? I still find these older games harder than a lot of titles released today. Just some food for thought!

No. 5 – Final Fantasy X

After the announcement by Square Enix that Final Fantasy Versus XIII was to be renamed Final Fantasy XV, I’ve been thinking for a while it would be a good idea to go through my favourite Final Fantasy games so far – although I am going from the main, number titles – not sequels, spin-offs or other games at this point. They might come later. So, for this “top five” I’m starting with, yup, you guessed it – Final Fantasy X.

The story

I enjoyed FFX’s story a lot but it was pretty basic. There wasn’t much mystery – other than what really happened to Zanarkand and the truth about the Final Summoning. I think I figured out what was going to happen around the Guadosalam area.
The game was very linear, in that you had to go in a straight line for most of it. Sure, there are times you can turn back and revisit some places but there’s always a limit until you get much further in the game. That is kind of true of a lot of them, but there’s an option for free-roaming in many of these titles and I enjoy that option, so this detracted a little of the fun for me.
Tidus did annoy me overall, and Yuna, while strong in battle, was portrayed as weak and under-confident through much of the game and that annoyed me too. They were supposed to balance out but I never really felt it got that balance. Lulu and Wakka, that was balance!

Combat and the sphere grid

Of all the Final Fantasy games I’ve played, this is the easiest. If you save regularly and spend enough time growing stronger, there’s nothing that can stop you. For more of a challenge, the monsters you fight can have an active ATB, which means they will attack on a clock rather than waiting for a specific turn. If this is turned off, it becomes a simple matter of planning each move and having the supplies and skills to survive.
The sphere grid, while daunting at first, is surprisingly easy to master. The easier setting sets it up for you, allowing each character to master particular skills and fight certain enemies well, but you can do this on the advanced setting just as well, and it changes how you approach the game. This is interesting but it is very easy to make mistakes early on, especially for inexperienced players – although I’ve made a fair few mistakes myself along the way!

Blitzball

One of my favourite mini-games around is Blitzball and most of my time on any FFX save was actually spent on this. It didn’t matter to me you could unlock everything right away, and that you needed to do certain things first – it was a decent game that, with more work, probably could have stood on its own.
What did get to me was the stop-start nature, which is designed to let players make the best decisions but removes some of the pressure, and again, like the rest of FFX, makes it a bit too easy. If I could see one thing changed in this HD remake, it’d be to make Blitzball played in real-time and make it more difficult and fun.

Summary

I enjoyed FFX – I really did – but more at the time of its release. I was a bit younger and a bit more taken in by the improved graphics (and voices). As I get older, it has lost a bit of appeal to me but it’s still a good game, with a solid story and one of the best mini-games I’ve found in many games, not just Final Fantasy. My biggest problem with it is that it’s too easy, especially as you can make monsters wait before they attack you. Why even have a pause button? Still, with the HD remake on the way, I’ll be playing it again very soon.
Oh, and in case anyone HASN’T done it, collect the Al Bhed primers and play the game again so you can understand the chatter early on and throughout. It’s nothing huge, but you get the nice sense of achievement for doing so.

Star Trek: Into Darkness

If you haven’t seen this film yet, then where have you been?! I’ll split this into two parts, one with no spoilers and one that goes a bit deeper into the film but will have some spoilers with it. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum but no promises.

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding this film and who the villain will be. The name John Harrison was dropped to try and send people down a route and while it worked for some, there were a lot of people who had doubts. There was a strong suspicion that the villain of the film would be Khan and viewers are set for a tense journey to find out the truth.
It’s not very often a sequel surpasses the original in such a large manner but Star Trek: Into Darkness does exactly that. It builds on the foundations laid in the first film and allows it to grow into something even more spectacular. There was a lot of talk about the trailers giving too much away of the film but that is not the case, there is a lot more to this film than first shown and that is partly why it is so good.

The Main Features

The story is fantastically well written and there were few faults I could find. The characters come across even better than they did in the first film, as their relationships have grown and the actors have been able to grown into the roles.
Visually, the film looks stunning, much like the first one. Boundaries have been pushed to create parts of the film that can be considered eye candy to science fiction fans but every scene had a purpose, even if it was a reference to the original Star Trek films.
Overall, this is definitely one of the best films of the year, and one of the best sci-fi films in a very long time. One piece of advice, watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to pick up on some jokes and twists made against it!

More Details, Along with a Few Spoilers

This film had me hooked – it really did. The direction I thought it was going to take, with a terrorist based plot on Earth, was implied in the trailer. While there is a good chunk of the film set on Earth, there is plenty of space travelling, and time on other planets, with a story that does have hints of a terrorist story but with a much deeper plot to unravel that will have us questioning not only the heroes but the villains.
We see a ship that crashes into the ocean on Earth and the shape and angle implies we are seeing a disaster occurring to fans of this franchise but there is more happening than we are led to believe which will leave your mouth hanging open.
Tensions are running high throughout this film as Kirk is faced with a situation that he is unfamiliar with, and the real growth of this young captain is going to be laid down for all to see. My only real complaint is how quickly the film ended and the route they took about. It was a clever trick and the reference was brilliant but as soon as it was mentioned, I knew what was going to happen.

Overall

Fans of the original franchise, the new franchise and science fiction films in general will love this film. Film lovers will enjoy the well-made and extremely well-paced film that will not leave you bored. The one spoiler I want to tell you about, the one that was all the talk of the rumours, I can’t talk about. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

Is this the End of Iron Man?

That will be the question on everyone’s lips after watching Iron Man 3, and that’s not even a spoiler! The end of the Iron Man trilogy had a lot to live up to as Phase 1 of Marvel’s Avengers plan did fantastically well, and with this film kick-starting Phase 2, there was a lot of hype. Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of rumours and speculation surrounding this film and where it will take us in the end, but for now, just accept that this is a damned good film in all the right ways.

A Much Darker Atmosphere

The previous films had ‘dark’ moments in them, usually where Tony Stark was under threat and faced a decision or situation that was designed to test him and show the hero elements to his personality. This was balanced with a lot of humour to prevent that dark nature from taking over and making the films aimed at older audiences rather than the much wider audience intended.
In Iron Man 3, this dark nature is given free reign and following on from the events in Avengers Assemble, our hero is having trouble recovering and returning to his old self, if that’s even what he wants. The events in that film has opened his eyes to what he can really become but there are things stopping him and a good part of the film is dealing with Tony Stark’s demons rather than the problems faced by Iron Man.
There’s still plenty of humour throughout the film. In my opinion, there is less obvious humour and much grittier, dark humour that will have you laughing on the inside more than on the surface. I like this a lot more, as it suits my preferences but it isn’t for everyone. This is worth keeping in mind when watching the film, the atmosphere is completely different to the previous films but it has to be to really tell the story and let Tony develop.

Pushing the Boundaries of His World

In each film, we have seen Tony create a host of gadgets and pieces of tech to help him survive and show off his flamboyant style, and this doesn’t change in Iron Man 3. From assembling the very first version of the Iron Man suit, to new power cores and mobile versions he can access in any area, the next big breakthrough would be watched closely. The trailers gave us an idea before seeing the film of what kind of things we could expect. A new mobile version of the suit followed by a whole new group of suits hit the screen in this film and in all honesty, because of the trailer, I wasn’t as surprised or impressed this time around.
It is a fine line to work, but once you watch the film, you can put two and two together and you know who things will end in some shape or form. This disappointment was quickly put to rest when you consider the circumstances of the whole film. This isn’t just about Iron Man as a hero, but Tony Stark as a hero and where the two personalities begin and end. In that light, we don’t see too much of the innovation and there is a great spectacle to behold once those suits arrive on the scene.

The End Result

I’m unsure as to where this film rates out of the three. It is better than Iron Man 2 but is it better than the first one? After watching it once, I would say it wasn’t as good, but still a brilliant film. The more I think about it, the less sure I am about that. It’s hard to beat the first of a trilogy in most cases, and it could be that I like the style of this film better rather than the film as a whole.

Shane Black’s influence is brutally clear in this film and his work speaks for itself. There have been influences of him in the previous films but this film seems a lot more complete in that regard. There is also an influence of Joss Whedon after the incredible job of Avengers Assemble and the way the whole franchise is fitting together shows the strength of the characters and the universe it is set in.
I have a feeling that the more I watch this film, the more I will like it and in time, it may well become my favourite Iron Man film. It will always be close between the first and the third but there is a lot more confidence in this one than the last, just in the way to script comes across and how well the actors have settled into these roles now. If you haven’t seen it, then I’d recommend it. It’s a fantastic film and one of the best I’ve seen for a long time.