Gears of War: Judgement

Looks can be deceiving...

Promising so much, yet delivering so little…

The Gears of War series is one of those series’ that have so defined this generation of games consoles. It’s had its ups and downs in multiplayer terms, but its single-player has always impressed, becoming more epic and ambitious upon each outing. As a result, I’ve always been confident about buying a gears game because of its consistent quality.

No more, however. This jaunt into the gears universe is a massive disappointment I’m afraid to report. It is a prequel, and the storyline for the single-player is solid. However, the developers have managed to do so little with it. I mean, they entirely skip the war with the faux-russians and go straight for the locusts. I would have liked to see that, and we’ve basically done locusts now.

You get the feeling that the game could have been really quite good, but that the ambitious young up and comer we knew and loved has grown into a fat, greedy CEO (more on this later). It just doesn’t feel right.

It’s competently put together, but instead of a long suave of storytelling, it seems to have deliberately cut itself into 5 minute chunks to fit with the new challenge system. I like the challenge system, but it’s not very well integrated and it ruins the feel of the thing. The game feels permanently staccato. They tried something new and it didn’t work.

It seems like the epic story has been replaced by an arcade-style shoot-em-up that wouldn’t seem out of place sat next to house of the dead 3. Essentially, they have turned a thrilling page-turner into a toilet read.

I could forgive the tedious single-player experience if the multiplayer was any good, but I have to say that I am past disappointed with it. Credit where credit is due; overrun mode is great and is good fun for a couple of hours. I think that it is an inspired addition that has been very well done. It’s a mix of horde and beast mode where players take on both the role of defending COG and attacking locust.

Overrun mode is fantastic!

Overrun mode is fantastic!

Here is where the praise ends, as deathmatch mode, the gears staple, has been frankly ruined. COG vs Locusts is great, as you can very easily tell who’s who. They look different, sound different, make different footstep noises and the old human vs monster thing really hits the spot.

So why did they make it COG vs COG?! Red vs blue works on games like Halo, because the character is entirely the one colour. In gears, you have red or blue pants and sleeves, but the player can choose the colour of the armour plating… and there is a colour that is quite red. I would hate to be colour-blind playing it.

No locust, no fun...

No locust, no fun…

They cut the locusts because it’s apparently happening before they arrive on the scene? Well, someone tell the single player writers, because I don’t think they got that memo. Locusts belong in the deathmatch and their absence ruins the feel of it completely; it just isn’t gears anymore.

Limiting the player to one weapon is another terrible idea. When you ask the player to give up either his rifle or shotgun, the rifle often goes out of the window and the whole game becomes a mess, with players sprinting at each other in order to blow each other to pieces. This totally ruins the tactical aspect of the game and makes it pretty much unplayable… it isn’t fun anymore… it isn’t gears anymore (I’m sure you get my point by now).

My final big complaint about the multiplayer is the map selection; there aren’t enough of them and the ones they did bother to make are awful. Were the designers on something when they drew the designs, or are they just sadists? None of the maps work properly, and the game suffers from retarded-respawn syndrome (you can spawn with your face on the end of someone’s shotgun, or in a rifle’s scope).

There is a map that is basically a series of rooftops and alleyways in a big line and there’s another that is set out in a big circle… it’s really lazy design. Try to spice it up with a few suspended cars all you like, but players know that getting into one of those is suicide and you’re really fooling no-one.

Four maps (yes… you read correctly) are far too few. I would say that six good maps is the minimum amount that a shooter can get away with. With such a small number of poor quality maps, the game gets really stale in less than an hour (well, that’s how long it took me to grow bored of it and put GoW3 in at any rate).

Even after all that, the worst is still yet to come! There are actually eight maps on the disk that you buy in the shops, and you will have to pay them for the right to unlock the maps you’ve already purchased! Absolutely, unforgivably disgusting!! They released one map for free because of the fully justified backlash, but this only means that you’ll get one less map in the pack when you buy it anyway.

It seems like Epic really have lost interest in making quality games, and have joined the ranks of developers who are ripping off the consumer with mediocre product.

If the original Gears of War team (as they were when they made the first game) saw this game, I’m absolutely positive that they would disown it and try to sue someone. This game takes a giant steamer over a series that should have gone out with a bang, but is now shuddering along on the corpses of the consumer, without dignity, without credibility and without respect.

It deserves none and gets none from me. Poor form epic. This is a tediously mediocre addition to an otherwise excellent series.

Rating: a mere four lancers out of ten

Diablo 3 vs. Path of Exile (Dual Review)

The point, click, kill-style action RPG seems to be in a resurgence lately, with a number of titles popping up or being announced in fairly quick succession over the past year. Out of the lot, by far the biggest are Blizzard’s Diablo 3 and Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile.

We had been waiting for Diablo 3 for about ten years and it was the most hotly anticipated PC game on its release. Many bought it… too many.

The release of Diablo 3 was a mess, a terrible cluster-f**k of always-on-drm (a hateful and vile tendency in the gaming industry of late, and one that should be done away with as soon as possible) and piss-poor server management. Basically, Blizzard sold more discs and licenses than their servers could ever hope to handle, all on the same day.

Because you need to be logged in to their servers to even play a single-player game (NO!), players installed the game only to be told that they would have to wait for many hours before they could log in… and then their game would crash after half an hour of gameplay.

This is just not good enough. It is a black stain on Blizzard’s reputation that we must never forget and which they have not yet adequately apologised for.

Path of Exile had issues too. It is more akin to an MMO and so doesn’t have a single player (effectively this means it IS always on drm). It wasn’t exactly hours of waiting to log in, but they had similar server problems. Their servers were wildly unstable, and could shut down entirely, booting everyone off the game at once. Coding issues and capacity were constant worries in the first few weeks of the games release.

There are two reasons why Path of Exile may be given a little more slack in this regard (although really, developers shouldn’t use always on drm). Firstly, they are the fact that Grinding Gear are tiny when compared to Blizzard and could therefore not be expected to have the recourses or the cash available for top-spec servers. Secondly and most importantly, the game is completely free! It doesn’t make it any less irritating…

So server issues aside (because they have been largely sorted out now), how do the two games stack up against each other? In the end, it is pretty close and each game does some things better than the other.

In terms of graphics, Path of Exile wins hands down. It’s world is darker, more gritty and everything just looks more shiny than Diablo’s slightly more cartoonistic world. Don’t get me wrong, Diablo still looks great, and it’s cut-scenes are second to none, but Path of Exile is jaw-droppingly pretty.

Diablo 3’s classes are very much your generic bunch of adventurers (aside from the re-skinned necromancer and archer) and all of them can complete the game and have a linear set of skills.

Path of Exile’s character classes are generally more interesting, and many have dark pasts. These are not your generic “heroes” (some are absolute villains). The thing with Path of Exile is that you get to choose what kind of character you will develop. Every class can learn any skill.

When you gain a level, you earn “passive skill points” that you can use to add a new node on the board (nodes can be attribute bonus’, skills and traits that add flavour to the character and make it work completely differently to another… for example, there is a skill that completely removes energy shield and adds the number you would get to your evasion bonus).

The board is very similar to Final Fantasy X’s “sphere grid”, and the character you choose, merely dictate’s where you start on it. After this, Diablo 3’s character levelling choices seem positively linear!

What this does however, is make Path of Exile incredibly difficult to complete on your own. As you level, if you’re not careful you can become very good at one thing and not great at other things (e.g. massive magic dps, but bugger all hp). If you’re playing as a group, this works really well though, as you can do all the ranged dps and another can tank properly, but might not be able to solo a boss because of his low damage output.

What this does is encourage you to team up and makes the game really difficult if you don’t feel like it. Diablo 3 is in this regard, far easier.

Equipment in Path of Exile is hard earned very rare. You need to use enhancing trinkets that you pick up to keep ahead of the enemy and survive. If you don’t upgrade your armour and weaponry, you will soon begin to die very often.

Diablo 3 on the other hand has an auction house. You basically find rare items, sell them for gold and buy the best gear from other players on the auction house. Gold is easy to come by and you can gear up with minimal effort required. After Diablo 2’s hardcore grind-fest, I’ll admit that I was disappointed. Games, too often give in to the casual gamer.

So what about storyline? Diablo absolutely, categorically wins this round. The story is good enough to keep you interested, and a fair bit longer than Path of Exile’s. In fact, (without giving any of the story away) Path of Exile ends rather anticlimactically.

There is a reason for this however. Path of Exile isn’t finished yet. Another act has already been announced for release later this year, and I can’t wait.

Both have all the replay value you’ll ever need, with newgame+ modes, where they ramp up the difficulty and you do it again. I predict that you’ll spend a similar amount of time on both, because whilst Diablo 3 is longer, Path of Exile makes creating and playing new characters a more varied and interesting experience.

So which one should you buy?

 

Diablo 3 is for the more casual gamer. If you want to shell out £40 for it, you won’t regret it because it is worth it. It is better played with friends but if you don’t have any, it’s not the end of the world.

Rating: 7 ridiculously large swords out of 10

 

Path of Exile is a hardcore game. If you don’t want to play in a party, you’ll have to be careful about how you build your characters. This game is fantastic and it is free!

Rating: 8 exploding zombies out of 10