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MMO

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Destiny 2
    Developed by: Bungie
    Published by: Activision-Blizzard
    Released: September 6, 2017 (PS4 and Xbox One), October 24, 2017 (PC)
    Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
    Genre: First Person Shooter MMO
    ESRB: Teen (Blood, Language, and Violence)
    Number of players: Single Player Campaign. Online Multiplayer. Online required for all modes.
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Note: This review is based on the PS4 Pro version and might not look, sound, and perform the same on other consoles and PC.

    As many video gamers know this is one of the most anticipated sequels in gaming history. How would Bungie bring a worthy sequel to one of the most successful games in video game history? Destiny 1 and its expansions have kept gamers playing regularly for 3 years and even after Destiny 2's release gamers still go back to it just for fun with their friends. Myself, I went back to Destiny 1 to work on a few quests and strikes I wanted to play again to get psyched for Destiny 2. This sequel takes the first game and refines many aspects that video gamers love and then gives us more to enjoy. I would like to say that Bungie is one of the top video game developers and once again they deliver a top notch product.

    As a Destiny 1 fan I kept up to date on Destiny 2 since its announcement. Destiny fans knew that a sequel was coming since Bungie had hinted extensively that one was in the works. Most of Bungie's development studio had been focusing on the sequel these last few years and only a smaller team worked on the expansions, updates, and patches for Destiny 1. Once Destiny 2 was officially announced, the Destiny gaming community went into serious hype mode until the game released. I've been looking forward to another great story, new planets, and reconnecting with friends that may have taken a break from Destiny and now are eagerly waiting to continue this amazing journey.

    For those tens of millions of video gamers, or "guardians" as Bungie calls us, we are given the option to bring our original characters over or create a new one. I chose to bring my warlock class over and continue his adventure protecting mankind and vanquishing evil. The story this time has an evil Cabal (alien race) leader named Ghaul (or as fans have now nicknamed him Gary) strike at the guardians tower on Earth and then try to seize control of the power of the Traveler ( a large orb about a 10th of the size of the moon) and take over the power it gives to guardians to protect the universe from evil. Thus as Ghaul (aka Gary) takes control of the Traveler (so he thinks) the guardians lose all their powers and abilities and become mortal.

    Destiny 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Smooth as butter shooting mechanics; beautiful graphics; superb sound; and great story telling.
    Weak Points: Lacking many areas to explore. Somewhat short story.
    Moral Warnings: Violence; Some blood on aliens killed; some language; use of magic and guns.

    As you are now mortal you are forced on a journey to find a way to stop Ghaul and his minions, the Red Legion, from destroying the Earth and all of humanity. Without trying to spoil the story too much, let's just say you have an incredible and enjoyable story ahead. The player will make his/her way to a new safe haven called The Farm where you and other fellow guardians will try to regroup and take back your tower and free the Traveler from Ghaul's evil schemes. This journey will have you travel to new planets and a new area on Earth.

    I really enjoyed the story and character throughout my adventure. It's not that long of a story at roughly 6 to 8 hours but it was quite fun. The story in some ways took me longer because in between playing the story missions I would find myself wandering around and fighting enemies on the different planets and Earth for better weapons, gear, and other items. For me, the story, if you count these side activities, would amount to 20 or more hours of gameplay. I just had so much fun (like in Destiny 1) upgrading my guardian's equipment over and over and over again (it's an addicting mechanic Bungie has implemented).

    Even after I completed the story I keep wanting to go back to see what other new items I can get from chests, enemies, and vendors. This loot grinding that Bungie started in Destiny 1 and perfected in Destiny 2 is true genius. My friends are always talking about the newest weapon, armor, or other item they equipped on their guardian. This excellent and refined loot system is one of the many reasons gamers keep playing Destiny 2.

    Another reason gamers keep playing in such a large numbers is the after story content and the areas to explore. In Destiny 2 you can participate solo or with up to two other friends in Patrols, Lost Sectors, Adventures, and Strikes. These activities can take a few minutes (Patrols), or longer engagements like the other three mention above. If you want to battle against other guardians for fun and competition, you can try the Crucible mode which pits two teams of four guardians against each other on beautiful smaller maps. The longest Player vs Enemy AI (PvE) activity in the game is Raids (currently there is only 1) which can take several hours and requires six very high level guardians to participate in it.

    Destiny 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 96%
    Gameplay - 20/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Bungie has already announced that they will be bringing additional content like Iron Banner Player vs Player (PvP mode) and Trials of the Nine (PvP mode), as well as other smaller seasonal events and activities like in Destiny 1. Also there have already been announced two expansions coming to the game. The first one will arrive in December 2017, and the second one in the Spring of 2018. Bungie also constantly updates the game with new patches almost weekly to fix small issues that the community has experienced. Nearly all Destiny gamers have been pleased with how quickly Bungie squashes bugs that pop up in their Destiny series of games.

    In regards to graphics and sound, Destiny 2 is a major upgrade over Destiny 1 (which looked great). The lighting, particle effects, depth of field, enemy, NPC's, weapons, armor, etc. have been given a significant upgrade and polish. I really enjoy exploring all the various areas in the game and seeing the lovely details Bungie has put into the game world. You can tell Bungie is a developer who loves to make their games stand out from the crowd. The sound quality is top notch, from the sound of your gun firing, to the enemies' unearthly conversations to themselves and to you. I loved also how the environments seem to come alive on my Sony 7.1 surround sound. This game was made to play with your stereo system loudly so you can hear all the things that are going on in the world your guardian is adventuring in.

    Bungie once again created a game with amazing controls and stability. Controls in a first person shooter is what Bungie does best. Every gamer who buys a Bungie game knows that controlling your character whether in Halo (the ones Bungie created) or the Destiny series can rely on the best of the best in controls. I have had no known issues with stability in my gameplay and thus I'm confident it will continue to be this way through out the game's life cycle (much like Destiny which had few over the 3 years it's been out).

    This game isn't recommended for younger children or even pre teens. It does have blood from time to time in the game, but not overwhelming. The aliens' blood is black and will splash on the ground and disappear. The foul word a*shole is in the game, but not the Lord's name in vain. Each type of character (Titan, Warlock, and Hunter) use a form of magic but in the game it's an ability granted to the guardians as Light power given from the Traveler. Lastly, the aliens look can be very scary for younger children and pre teens.

    So far, I've had a great time playing this amazing science fiction video game. I would highly recommend this to older teens and adults (just don't play around younger children). If you enjoy first person shooters and MMOs then this will be right up your alley because this combines both seamlessly. Well if you don't mind I have some more adventuring to do; I need to get (or shall I say I want) my equipment upgraded more so I can be better prepared for the Crucible.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Destiny: Rise of Iron
    Developer: Bungie
    Publisher: Activision
    Released: September 20, 2016
    Available On: Playstation 4, Xbox One
    Genre: First Person Shooter
    Number of Players: 1 (Up to 12 Online)
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen (Animated Blood, Violence)
    Price: $40.25 for the Destiny collection
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Rise of Iron is the latest expansion for Destiny, a massive multiplayer online game developed by Bungie, the company behind the Halo franchise. Destiny released in September of 2014 and has had its share of ups and downs since. From its impressive, yet lackluster debut to its expansions from the mediocre to the impressive, players have been riding Destiny's content rollercoaster for two years. Now with the ‘Rise of Iron’ expansion, new and returning Destiny gamers should wonder whether this ride is about to get bumpy again.

    The story begins with a modern day mission to Mars that changes the course of human history forever. Astronauts come face to face with the Traveler, an extraterrestrial intent on bestowing gifts to humanity. Centuries of space exploration and prosperity for all mankind followed. Unfortunately, the Traveler's enemies sought to undo his work and destroyed Earth and its colonies. All seemed lost in this Collapse until the kind Traveler sacrificed itself to push back their evil forces. The broken god's corpse among the ruins was all that remained of humanity’s Golden Age, and small robots called Ghosts now search tirelessly for potential Guardians - those who can wield the Traveler’s power.

    In size and scope, Destiny’s universe rivals Bungie’s previous franchise: Halo. It tells numerous stories, including one you yourself can create. You can customize your avatar and choose to play as a Human, an Awoken (transformed humans after the Collapse), or an Exo (self-aware war machines from the Golden Age). As a Guardian and member of the Vanguard, it is your duty to protect humanity from the forces of darkness. There are, however, three other organizations working towards their own political goals as this struggle rages on: the New Monarchy, Future War Cult, and Dead Orbit. Players can further customize their Guardian by aligning with one of these factions to earn faction-specific gear. By the end, you'd have an entirely unique Guardian, your own identity in this large universe that Bungie has created. The problem Destiny's plot had was that much of the game’s lore was not found in the game. Unlocked story cards forced players to visit Bungie’s website in order to understand much. However, the developers have long addressed this issue in their expansions. The story in ‘Rise of Iron’ finally sheds light on the events following the Collapse. This new campaign not only makes it clear why certain things are so, but helps better round out the game's world. It's also nice for longtime Destiny players to revisit original locales and see how they've changed over the years. It’s a nostalgic adventure for those who have been loyal players. Ever since Destiny's first release, these changes are most welcome.

    Graphically, Destiny is gorgeous. The game’s cinematic opening really helped set the stage for a beautifully crafted space opera, and the world's designs from the landscapes to the equipment are superb. Rust and plant covered buildings truly gives the impression of a post-Collapse era. The day-to-night cycle on each world is also impressive. Not to mention the first person perspective let's you enjoy the highly detailed graphics and improves overall immersion. Even on the Moon, there are noticeable lighting changes depending on the time of the day. Audio is also a cut above the rest. Aside from a beautiful musical score, Bungie hired a number of professional actors to voice the game’s characters. This all-star list includes Bill Nighy, Nathan Fillion, Lennie James, Lance Reddick, Gina Torres and James Remar. It is easy to see why Destiny was the most expensive series of games ever made, costing Activision more than $140 million to develop.

    Destiny: Rise of Iron
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A well-crafted space opera; Solid mechanics; wide variety of weapons and armor pieces; looks good and runs smoothly
    Weak Points: Stifling WiFi requirements; Too much level grinding; Unbalanced multiplayer
    Moral Warnings: Gun Violence

    Destiny's gameplay allows players the ability to either play solo, with friends, or with random players. Solo play is what a lot of players focus on to get their character (which you create) "Light Level" high enough so that you can face challenging single player story mission, Strikes, Raids, and PVP matches against other players. Your "Light Level" is Destiny leveling system, which can be increased by finding or buying weapons and armor pieces which have a "Light Level" associated with them. It's this grinding for more powerful gear that keeps millions of Destiny players coming back for more. This game has easily the longest staying power of any shooter game on the market.

    The addition of classes and subclasses, however, changes how players approach enemy engagement. Each subclass has different abilities that can cater to any player's individual play style. For example, Titan subclass Striker is geared towards close encounters, Sunbreaker tailors toward midrange, and Defender is a support class. Where Destiny gets really unique is that despite a strong emphasis on first person shooting mechanics, it acts like a role playing game. Everything from subclasses to weapons and armor are leveled up by killing enemies and completing objectives. Selecting which subclasses and abilities along with weapons and armor, can very well determine the outcomes, especially when on a 'Raid'. Thankfully, players can carry numerous weapons and armor pieces with them. Better yet, Bungie had added a Destiny Gear Manager app for computers and mobile devices that lets players transfer said gear to and from their vault without returning to a social hub. This is especially helpful, since different circumstances demand different preparations.

    After completing story missions, there are numerous activities for players to enjoy. For those who wish to continue exploring, 'Patrols' give them tasks to perform within this greater planet sandbox. These tasks vary from scouting locations to assassinating high ranked enemies. Players can also replay 'Strikes' through the various Strike Playlists, which vary in difficulty and rewards. Now, the heart of Destiny is grinding, which really just means repeating frustrating tasks for better gear. Previous expansions like ‘The Taken King’, released in August 2015, gave players an assortment of new gear to collect, but did not address the insane amount of time it took to obtain them. Recent updates have addressed this issue in a few ways. They increased the legendary weapon and armor drops, allowed Strike drops to be collected form Horde chests, and changed the faction rank up reward system. With these changes, I have found myself getting far more legendary gear than I did previously. I can now readily choose my rewards and have a means to get them quickly. Bungie has also reworked in-game public events so that players are guaranteed fifteen Legendary Marks and a legendary engram for completing their first public event every day. As a result, it's not uncommon to find three or more players willing to aid you. Now drawbacks still do exist, but these updates considerably reduced the grinding, making for a much more enjoyable experience.

    However, as enjoyable as it is to dwell in Destiny’s environment, there is a significant downside to it. There's so much you can do by yourself that it's hard to understand why the game constantly requires other online players in order to run. This, by extension, prevents you from pausing. You can't grab a bite to eat, and you can forget about bathroom breaks. While most story missions take anywhere between ten to twenty minutes, 'Strikes' take roughly half an hour or more, and 'Raids' are at least an hour or two, depending on your team’s skill. This also means you're out of luck if your internet connection is cantankerous, and there are numerous network errors from Destiny servers to begin with. ‘Rise of Iron’ failed to fix the problem. I experienced a number of these errors. Though infrequent, nothing is more frustrating than having the time to play but being unable to.

    Aside from the post-story mission grinding, there are community events held fairly regularly which reward players with unique gear. Some of them, like the Iron Banner’s bounties, have been reworked so that players of all skill levels can complete them. Previously, these bounties included challenges like becoming the top scoring player in the match and getting a ten kill streak. These bounties would not only deny players a large amount of points needed to rank up in the Iron Banner, but could deny them the ability to receive the gear available to more skilled players. Iron Banner bounties are now tied to continued play, not exceptional performance. Post-match rewards have also been adjusted to not only drop more frequently, but be rewarded regardless of Iron Banner rank. This has made the event far more accessible to all players, not just the most skilled. It also gives the players an added incentive to return to Destiny each month when the Iron Banner is on.

    Destiny: Rise of Iron
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    What's worse is that Destiny's multiplayer is horribly unbalanced. Bungie hadn't taken any significant steps to fix it either. The uneven perks between weapons and character subclasses proved to be enough to give any one player a significant advantage. Although Bungie has altered a number of subclass perks for the sake of reinstating balance within the Crucible, it turned tons of subclass skills nearly useless even in regular gameplay. Cheating has also become a very serious problem in Destiny - especially in the weekly Trials of Osiris tournaments. Despite Bungie’s promise to stop this through temporary or permanent bans on caught cheaters, the problem seems to be getting worse, not better. At this point, I’d suggest Bungie either change some tournaments' structures or remove them from gameplay altogether. A handful of other minor issues also add to the problem pileup. Destiny's multiplayer really could have been an enjoyable break from the singleplayer, but too much is lacking for it to hope to compete with other popular competitive games.

    Destiny is also plagued by microtransactions in the form of the Eververse kiosk. Players can purchase special dances and emotes to further customize their characters. Though they are not as intrusive in this game as they are in others, it is a bit annoying for a developer to nickel and dime players who have spent over seventy dollars to purchase Destiny: The Collection, and more for those who have been buying each expansion upon its release. The Eververse kiosks just provide relatively little for players who aren’t willing to spend a few dollars on amusing emotes.

    When discussing morality in Destiny, it's hard not to discuss the obvious parallels between the Traveler and Jesus Christ. The game's populace even worship it like a god and wait for its resurrection. Considering that far too many games lately mock faith and those who have faith, I found it refreshing that Destiny had this spiritual aspect to it. That doesn’t excuse the animated violence, and parents should adhere to the game’s teen rating. A final warning on morality: be careful while playing online. During my experience with the game, I have met as many bad people as good. I have found myself playing Raids with people who are not only intolerant of religion, but openly mock those who have religious beliefs. Fortunately, there are Christian Destiny clans which players can join.

    Despite its rough start, Destiny has become one of the best games of its generation for its single player content. The ‘Rise of Iron’ expansion adds to the improvements brought by ‘The Taken King’ expansion and last April's update, offering more story content and gear for players to collect. If players are looking for a solid first person shooter to enjoy, this is one that shouldn’t be missed. If, however, you’re looking for a solid online multiplayer shooter, I would recommend looking elsewhere. It's a shame that Bungie still hasn’t been able to address all the many issues that have been plaguing its online play. Oh, well. It's not about how Destiny started. It's about how it finished.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Fortnite
    Developer: Epic Games, People can fly
    Published by: Epic Games
    Release Date: Early access: July 25, 2017 Full Version: 2018
    Available on: Windows, macOS, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Action, Shooter
    Players: 1-4 in PvE, 100 in PvP
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen, Violence
    Price: $0-$150

    Thank you Epic Games for sending us a review code.

    Fortnite: great zombie MMO to some and just another quick cash grab to others. I'll want to crystal ball this really fast and say that I want to give the game at least an 80 percent with a gigantic asterisk over that score. Let's not waste anymore time and navigate the storm. This is Fortnite.

    In Fortnite you can play as a multitude of different heroes defending against zombies that come from a mysterious lightning storm. I'd like to say that there's more to the story, but that's it. I have no care or interest in this game's world of colorful characters. It tries to have its fun by saying the world's dying yet it gives you objectives like protecting the rock and roll man Lars while he gets ready to fly his truck into the sky. Materials are a valuable resource yet you can get some help from miniature llama pinatas. You can buy them too, so yay for micro-transactions.

    In the game's player vs environment (PvE mode you start on a randomly generated map, and you have a chance to mine for resources. The main three resources are wood, brick and metal. You can play as various classes you have gained whether it be soldiers, ninjas, outlanders or constructors. Each of these classes have various abilities that range from making your forts stronger to finding exclusive items and materials. Your goal is to protect an objective; this can include a weather balloon with information about the storm, Lars and his floating van or other various things. Once you locate the goal, you have a chance to build a fort around the objective to make it easier to protect. You can make walls, stairs, roofs, floors and ceilings and you can build various traps within the fort. You only get a limited time before the waves of zombies, known as husks, attack. Once you outlast the horde, you get your quest rewards and you rinse and repeat. Keep in mind that players can join you at random if you go it alone or you can wait for people to join any lobby you create for a mission.

    Fortnite
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Though it is unfinished as of this preview the PvE is exciting and well rounded. Those who enjoy grinds to a challenging end game will get a lot of fun out of Fortnite.
    Weak Points: Free to play PvP only mode. $39.99-$149.99 for various PvE early access packages. Fortnite will be completely free to play on full release. This game is designed for microtransactions. You'll feel the pull to buy buy buy at every point.
    Moral Warnings: Light slapstick violence. High risk for gambling addiction, this game can hurt those that are easy to fall to addictive habits.

    The player vs player mode is a 100 man survival game similar to the game PlayerUnknown’s Battle Grounds. Once you're matched up with 100 people, you take off on the flying party bus, and you choose when you wish to drop onto the map. Your only goal is to find supplies and weapons to stay alive for as long as possible. Don't expect to stay in the same spot for too long, as the match progresses the play area shrinks in size, forcing players to get closer together. While you can still build forts like in the PvE mode, it doesn't matter too much when you'll have to eventually move to a new location anyway.

    So the PvE mode is great; you have plenty of enemy varieties, the weapons and classes all feel fun and unique, and the meta game is easy to understand. The game has a lot of currencies and skill trees to balance but it is not complicated at all. Now let me talk about that asterisk mentioned earlier. This game's monetization system is one of the worst on a gameplay basis and a moral one. I've talked about loot boxes on record before yet I don't believe a game has made it more obvious that It's gambling before Fortnite came along. Those llamas you can get have a chance to turn silver or gold, increasing the amount and rarity of loot you get from them. What makes this worse is the game's flaw in XP grinding. You have to retire heroes when you add them to a collection book, you have to evolve survivors and schematics by grinding up XP and you have a chance to recycle the schematics you're not going to use. You'll also have to choose between evolving characters or putting them in the collection book. The Recyling and Collection books aren't explained well in game as of yet. The only reason they encourage you to do these things is to get more XP to level up other schematics or heroes. The rewards in the Collection book are semi randomized as you level it up. Some levels give random prizes and other level's give guaranteed prizes.

    A lot of Fortnite's design around leveling up screams “Temptation buy”. Games that are designed around an extreme grind for xp or gear currencies say you don't need to buy the microtransactions but they sure as heck make it tempting. I haven't made it to the end game yet and I have a feeling I'd need to put in at least a few weeks of hardcore nonstop playing to even get to that level with a weapon or a hero. I don't need to buy the microtransactions, but it would sure help increase my power level. The fact that everything has a rarity makes the temptation higher. Uncommon and rare heroes for example can only evolve 3 or 4 times. Epic, legendary and mythic heroes can evolve up to 5 times. If you don't get an epic from your quest rewards or your free mini llamas, you'll only feel that pull to buy a llama even more.

    Fortnite
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

    The PvP mode is ok but the separation of loot into rarity makes the hunt for PvP gear all the more cruddy. A common level shotgun won't do as much damage as a legendary one. Now in a match I was lucky enough to obtain both an epic and legendary sniper rifle. They seemed to have a small difference in level of power. A competitive gamer will still see that as a luck based advantage and cry unfair. Hopefully the gear system in the PvP mode will be reworked before a full release. While the base building aspect in PvP is unique to its competition, it's still a moot point. Unless you successfully predict where the play area's final space will be you're not going to be camping out the whole game in your awesome fort. Sure you can build a sniper's nest but that's assuming you find a sniper rifle. Firing a pistol or shotgun just won't give you the same results from your pretty nest. Keep in mind you get no rewards for playing the PvP mode as of now. It is strictly for fun.

    Sound and graphics are both mediocre at best. You can't really customize your hero; they all look pretty similar to one another accept a few haircuts or skin tones. The music is ok but gets old after a while.

    On morality the violence is slapstick; no blood when you're fighting opponents in PvP or the husks. The language is relatively clean and the story doesn't have anything really offensive in it. The gambling aspect however is pretty grotesque; this game is designed to tempt you to buy buy buy or you'll waste so much time doing it the long grindy way. On the gameplay side, it doesn't say a lot about your game if you're encouraging people to skip past portions of it for cash. It also means you're trying to encourage a sinful and addictive habit.

    Fortnite is a great game for people that love "defending the objective" style goals and fighting against hordes of monsters. However I'd encourage you to wait on its development right now until it gets closer to a 1.0 state. The game will become free to play once it is complete. Anything you pay for now is for early access and a few in game goodies.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Guns of Icarus: Alliance
    Developed By: Muse Games
    Published By: Muse Games
    Released: March 31, 2017
    Available On: Windows, Mac, and Linux
    Genre: Action, Adventure, Simulation, Co-op
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Online Multiplayer (2-16)
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Muse Games for sending us your game!

    Forming a functional team is equal parts joy and curse, and in this age of suspicion and disconnect, the process is more complex than ever. Clashing egos, poor communication, differing interests: the world seems geared specifically to squelch relationships. It’s a good thing then that several games try to break down these barriers. Some meet this noble goal with unprecedented success. Some barely scrape the mark, but now Guns of Icarus: Alliance, the upgraded version of its original, flies in from the offices of Muse Games. You and your crew must coordinate if you expect to send your rivals packing.

    Guns of Icarus: Alliance’s story builds upon ‘what if.’ What if our planet prospered thanks to a grand industrial movement? Then what if cultural collapse followed? You see, this land relied on steam power, but the overused fumes fouled the ecosystem. With clean air, water, and food supplies dwindling, it’s no surprise the nations would fight. Whether to keep what they have, for power to control their neighbors, or to protect what greenery remains, factions like the Fjord Baronies, the Mercantile Guild, and the Chaldean Order each believe in their cause. On the humming backs of their armed airships, they escape their spoiled earth. Thus, quarrels have flown to the skies. That’s where you come in. Whose side are you on? What will you fight for?

    This is a great premise. It’s as easy to grasp as it is fascinating and lays a nice foundation for a world that’s ever evolving. Mapped territory lines change according to the players’ victories and defeats. Plus, the development staff continues to update and increase their content by adding new ship types, new customization options, and increasing the number of factions from four to six. They even wrote in depth descriptions for each group to help inform your choice. Now, the story does lack actual plot. You get a beginning without a closing, but that’s ideal for games aimed for an endless feel. However, I felt an emotional disconnect. Despite six factions to join, who I picked determined little. Each faction just has one or two outfits, ships, and guns exclusive to them. You can help your team’s territory increase, but it’s not like you can actually explore the world your affecting. There is also a special log that acts like a history book that records the winnings from topnotch players. It’s certainly nicer than sitting high on a scoreboard. Unfortunately, unless said flying ace is a friend, it would likely matter little to the average Joe, and that’s as close a narrative as you’re going to get. The developer’s efforts on the backstory are unmistakable. Guns of Icarus did plenty to get me aloft, but if it just let me anchor myself long enough to get attached to its people or something, I’d probably feel less aimless.

    Guns of Icarus Alliance
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting Concept, Good Co-op, Fun Ship Designs
    Weak Points: Unforgiving Learning Curve, Disengaged Story
    Moral Warnings: A couple un-choice words; Moonshine use as fuel; Risk encountering crude players

    After picking your team, you then can decide how to contribute. There are four roles every airship needs: Gunners to chug out the bullets, Engineers to keep the tub floating, and pilots to steer the whole kit and caboodle. However, it’s best to orient yourself in every field. Being an engineer doesn’t mean you can’t shoot, and gunners are encouraged to pitch in with the fixing if they can. Just understand that your tools and skill sets will suit your role far better than another’s. Meaning, unless it's urgent, it’s best to leave certain tasks to the experts. It’s as much a realistic concept as it is smart and encourages player flexibility. The fourth and most important job, though, more often than not, lies with the pilot. Pilots captain their ships most of the time, and as captain they must coordinate their crew for strategic advantage. ‘Repair the engines!’ ‘Man the port guns!’ ‘Cease fire!’ You know - keep everyone in on the plan. Captains are also responsible for equipping their ships and hiring recruits. This can be done selectively or randomly, or you can resort to AI crewmen. They are equal parts obedient and brainless, but they’ll do the trick.

    Now, before I get into gameplay, it’s important that I discuss presentation. Why? Customization plays a heavy part in your experience. Your avatar, your ship, your loadout, your battlegrounds: nearly everything is decided by the gamer. Thus, it’s important for Guns of Icarus to not only have a diverse lineup but a good-looking line up. In this reviewer’s opinion, they did a decent job. Unfortunately, you don’t have much to decorate your character with when you first start. You’re not allowed to mix and match what few clothing sets you’re given, and there were no varying hairstyle options. (Three hats don’t count, developers.) However, there’s no need to despair. Most attire, hairdos, and color dyes are unlockable. Of course, you can buy some items if you’ve got some spare change, so there’s that too.

    The game’s aesthetics are nice. The landscapes beneath you range from lush, mountain villages to clouded peaks dressed in twilight fog. Fun battle music kicks in once the action starts, and dark thunderstorms invade the skies, whenever a warmonger arrives to knock you down. It adds decent tension and works well, but it’s the artists’ steampunk style that sells this game’s visuals. The ships in particular look both cool and functional. Like if someone had the money and knowhow, it’s conceivable to build one of these things. For a bonus, each type of floating fortress is easy to tell apart. It’s a good thing too, since each kind of hull has its fair share of pros and cons to consider. Even your cannon options have stats and just as intense detail as your craft does, so don’t just ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the sails and shiny brass. Check out all gun and ship combinations that fit your play style. Guns of Icarus may not be stunning, but its diverse design work definitely scores a win.

    Matches are structured in one of three modes that have modes within modes. These are player versus player; player versus environment; and wars. Whether you play against other people or computer AI is what distinguishes the first two. You can join or create a match. Creating matches involves selecting difficulty levels and choosing an objective, such as search and destroy, defense, infiltration, intercept, or assault. There can be anywhere between two to sixteen players in a match. Wars on the other hand are a continuous affair that can last a good while. You first get your faction to agree on a mapped place of interest. Once you lay claim on enemy territory, war is declared, and the other factions will ally with or against you. Battle after battle will determine the winners, and what results are recorded in the game’s annals. Now, it’s a no-brainer that the first two modes are basic bread and biscuits, but the idea behind war mode is pretty neat. The ‘story’ is written by the players themselves. On the downside, there aren’t any characters you can familiarize with, but for what it is, it’s a very unique approach. So unique, I hope future developers look into it. It sounds like a gateway to a whole cornucopia of new possibilities.

    Guns of Icarus Alliance
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 76%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Control wise, everyone’s role runs in a similar format. You move around with the W,D,A and S keys, use the spacebar to jump, and ‘shift’ to boost your stamina. Your mouse is your camera. Left and right click will perform actions and the scroll toggles your tool selection. As an alternative, you can choose your tool using the numbered keys instead. Lastly, the ‘E’ key lets you interact with the artillery or helm. For the most part, inputs are responsive, and the control scheme is fine. However, selecting my tool with an irritatingly sensitive scroller often had me overshooting my intended choice, and the alternative numbered keys are awkward to hit. However, communication is where it got ridiculous. There’s a whole catalogue of key inputs for talking with others. Problem is, whenever you’re under fire, you can’t just let your character sit there. There are enemies to blast. Fires to put out. Rock walls to avoid. You’d have to let yourself stand useless while you struggle to tell your team the game plan. Easiest way to interact is through a microphone. Unfortunately, you have to hold down ‘C’ or ‘X’ in order to speak to anyone. It’s awkward for your fingers, and it’s super dumb, especially as a pilot! I’ve got one hand controlling the camera. My other hand is busy steering. Why then should I have to hold down another key just to issue orders? If my mic were constantly active, my fingers wouldn’t have to play twister, and my responses wouldn’t run the risk of not being heard. Communication is vital for co-op survival. It should not be this difficult.

    Results will vary from person to person, but in my experience, being a gunner is where it’s at. If you’re the type that prefers clear goals and direct action, you’d probably agree. The ship’s guns are picked by its captain, but you choose your ammo. Each cannon and bullet choice have their specialties, whether it’s for tearing hulls, destroying engines, or the like. I wished those guns had full range of motion though. Sometimes, I’d be lining up a shot, but then my target flies too high or my ship keeps rotating the wrong way. It can be annoying, but in my opinion, the engineers get the worst end of the stick. They have to know the structure of every ship type by heart. Everything tends to break at the same time, so it doesn’t help to run like mad in random directions. Engineers can temporarily buff up the ship by adding flame retardants or upgrades. However, when you’re just one person on an airship in a war zone, fixing everything is an endless task - especially if you struggle with prioritizing. As for piloting, it is a fair challenge. These iron birds kinda drift, so steering one is great if you can predict where you’ll end up ahead of time. Some maneuvers are very tricky and require some practice. In fact, just about everything must be practiced, but getting said practice in is near impossible.

    This leads to my biggest complaint. Guns of Icarus has the meanest learning curve I ever experienced. To elaborate: my whole ship burst into flames; I, the engineer, have seconds to put them all out, and I hardly reached the second smoking equipment before I failed the tutorial. You heard me - the tutorial! And it happened - twice! Directions are rambled in chunks too fast for players to comprehend. Doing anything while they’re talking risks skipping instructions that aren’t repeated. Then you’re ordered to perform snappy quick. You know what that’s like? It’s like your skydiving teacher summarizing parachute instructions as he shoves you out the plane door! In fact, the whole game is a newbie nightmare. Menu options go unexplained. Gameplay modes are given little detail. Even the online manuals say little if nothing on these matters. Seriously, I underwent heavy research and trial and error just to figure most of this stuff out. I couldn’t even test all the ship types. That’s because practice mode won’t work without an online buddy. Most everyone playing nowadays has been playing this game for a while, so it’s rare to find anyone willing to help a freshman. Thank the Lord a few considerate gamers sacrificed their time to help me out, but it shouldn’t be this way. It’s unfair to newcomers. It’s unfair for veterans. It’s unreasonable.

    Amidst the bangs and booms, Guns of Icarus: Alliance, I am happy to say, does play it pretty safe. The game itself limits its violence to explosions. Neither blood, charred remains, nor body parts are involved, and pilots can use moonshine not for drinking but for pumping extra juice into the tank. From what clothing options I found, I didn’t see anything inappropriate, but I did read about some buyable items that support LGBT charities. I heard not much else beside one use of h*ll and a*se. I guess if I were grasping at straws, I’d note that some of the factions’ backstories are less honorable than others, but that’s almost inconsequential to the game itself. Guns of Icarus comes off as pretty upright. However, there is one crucial factor no developer can control: the human factor. Some of my fellow gamers used a few *ahem* uncomfortably ‘colorful’ words during my playthrough. There is a language filter in the settings menu, but I don’t remember it being very effective against the cussing. Well, let’s put it into perspective. If you buy games hinged on working with people, you play at your own risk.

    Guns of Icarus: Alliance is the ultimate test in patience. Gunners must wait for their shot, Engineers can’t fix every breakdown at once, and piloting Captains have to be lenient both to his ship and his crew. Potential players, don’t buy this game unless you intend to stick with it. You have to be willing to fail in order to learn its paces. Although, in retrospect, if you’ve read this review, at least you’re better prepared to navigate this thing than I was, so guess what? You’ve already won half the battle. The loose story may not be to everyone’s tastes, but its premise is imaginative and offers as much as it should. The gameplay is fun when backed by a good crew. Plus, those steampunk designs are topnotch. As I observed, dealing with other people is challenging. It’s easy to irritate each other, and we can sometimes be downright rude. However, when loyal players have your back, this game can offer experiences not to be forgotten. Just don’t forget: When playing with guns or people, always handle with care.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Immune – True Survival
    Developed by: Vidiludi Games and Entertainment
    Published by: Vidiludi Games and Entertainment
    Release date: March 25, 2015
    Available on: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Survival, MMO
    Number of players: Online MMO
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $0.99

    Thank you Vidiludi Games and Entertainment for sending us a review code!

    Immune - True Survival was released in 2015 and has fluctuated in pricing and was free for a short while. The price tag is currently a mere 99 cents, but has been on sale for half as much. Like many free or inexpensive games, there are optional micro-transactions available to buy keys if you prefer not to earn them in-game. Keys are used to open chests containing cosmetic items.

    When launching the game you’ll be prompted to select a server and then go through a tutorial that shows you the basic controls. There’s not much of a backstory but according to the game’s website, Immune takes place in an apocalyptic world after the outbreak of a devastating pandemic. In this barren world exists gasmask-clad humans who shoot zombies or survivors in the face without warning. Since the servers are empty, I wasn’t able to interact with live players, but you can attack and loot them or team up with them and take on the hordes of zombies/raiders.

    Immune – True Survival
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Only 99 cents
    Weak Points: Empty servers with lag; dated visuals; horrible controls
    Moral Warnings: Violence against humans, zombies, and animals; blood; alcohol references and consumption; micro-transactions

    No matter how friendly or aggressive you choose to be, your main objective is to survive in these barren wastelands. Like Minecraft, you can harvest wood from trees, meat from animals, and can craft various items including weapons and armor. The types of items you can craft get better in quality as you level up in the game. In the beginning you can craft simple wooden clubs and bandages but later on you can make guns and better armor as long as you have the experience and items on hand. There are some friendly outposts where you can buy food, materials, and most importantly, medicine. Leveling up is done by completing missions assigned at outposts, crafting items, or killing enemies. Some missions will have you rescuing people while others require you to assassinate them.

    When fighting against giant spiders and zombies, you may become infected and have to take antibiotics before your health runs out. As long as you have a full stomach, your health will regenerate automatically. Cows, pigs, and sheep can be killed for food. You may want to stay away from the bulls since they put up a fight. Planting and harvesting potatoes and berries is possible if you prefer going vegan. Various beverages including alcoholic ones are available for consumption as well.

    I have tried both a gamepad and keyboard/mouse controls and found both of them lacking. Killing easy prey like livestock is a challenge with the horrible controls. Cooking food isn’t explained very well and I had to go to the Steam community forums to figure out how to cook raw meat and potatoes. In order to cook food you have to throw it on the ground near a campfire and then wait a few moments. As I was waiting for my raw meat to cook, a feral dog/wolf came by and ate it. Though frustrating, the mutt did turn out to be a helpful companion and assisted me in taking down many zombies. Since the controls are so poor, I hit the dog on accident while attacking on numerous occasions. Sometimes it would retaliate and other times it would not.

    Immune – True Survival
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 56%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 88%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    When attacking you will see blood. As your character takes damage the screen will show blood splatters and go dimmer and dimmer until you die. In the event of your death, any items in your backpack (except for gold) will be left behind and can be reclaimed as long as another player doesn’t beat you to them. Since the servers were empty, that didn’t pose a problem for me. However, upon your demise, your character is randomly placed on the map and any active quests are cancelled out.

    To cover long distances there are jeeps that can help you get around quickly. I did learn the hard way that a group of zombies will win against a vehicle so steer clear of them. I thought running them over Carmageddon style would be fun, but I was mistaken.

    Overall, Immune is disappointing on many levels. Visually this game isn’t very impressive and the open world is very bland and outdated. The sound effects are decent but there isn’t any voice acting or background music to speak of. At least there are cricket noises to let you know how empty the world is. Perhaps this game would be more fun if there more people playing on the servers. If an empty survival world game sounds appealing to you, the price of entry is a mere 99 cents.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Minecraft
    Developer: Mojang
    Publisher: Mojang
    Release date: November 18, 2011
    Available on: PC, Mac, Xbox 360, Linux, Mobile (Android and iOS)
    Genre: First-person sandbox RPG
    Single and Multiplayer

    Your eyes open. You’re on a beach. You look down at your tattered clothing, and you can’t help but notice that everything you owned, everything you carried, is gone. You have nothing with which to defend yourself from the world around but your two blocky fists. You need to find shelter before nightfall, but you have no shovel, no axe. You see a tree, and walk to it. You need tools, and the key to making them lies in its wondrous square logs. With no other choice, you begin to slam your fists into the trunk again and again. Your knuckles should be bruised and bloody, but your hand-cubes stay strong. In just a few moments, the tree is reduced to mere floating blips on the ground, and with a few odd popping noises they fly into your backpack. Now, with some basic supplies, your adventure may begin.

    These are the first moments of every Minecrafter’s life. There are no real spoilers to this game, because you are free to do anything you want. Fancy yourself a mile-wide castle? Just maintain the patience of gathering materials. Want to discover the riches of your world? Explore the winding caves that snake through the ground under your square feet, or perhaps dig down to the very bottom of the world and mine away to your hearts’ desire. Nightfall brings darkness, and with it come hordes of terrible monsters that will satiate your appetite for adventure. Also available to those who consider themselves warriors is the Nether, a hellish and demented world accessed via a portal, and the End, the aptly-named endgame world featuring legions of Endermen and the fearsome Ender Dragon. There is even the option of growing wheat, pumpkins, and watermelon for those who like to farm, along with animal breeding.

    What really makes Minecraft great is the sandbox gameplay. You can do all of the aforementioned tasks in a “legit” fashion, gathering materials by hand, or enter the game’s Creative mode and receive instant and unlimited access to any material. A quick YouTube or Google search will show both the least and the most imaginative works by people in the Minecraft community: some are content to live in their mud huts, while others prefer a cushier lifestyle in their golden throne rooms. In that respect, the replayability of the game is virtually endless—so long as one can keep the imagination flowing, of course. The gameplay is, sadly, occasionally affected by glitches and bugs, but almost all of them are more than outshined by the fun of the game itself.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over 200 crafting recipes and a Creative Mode offer endless hours of gameplay, and a thriving community makes playing with others exceptionally fun.
    Weak Points:The game still feels buggy and unpolished at the time of writing; griefers plague many servers.
    Moral Warnings:There's a hell realm, containing vast seas of lava and darker creatures.

    The Minecraft community is an incredible resource for those who get lost at some point in their adventure. Because the game has no tutorial, many have taken it upon themselves to create resources for others. The community is also a vast source of resources with which you may change your game to suit your preferences. Texture packs, adventure maps (downloadable maps with a set task or plot), modifications, and general inspiration for building are all examples of community efforts. People both on the official forums and YouTube have created both visually awe-inspiring and technically impressive creations, and there are multitudes of servers to join others. Multiplayer is an especially important part of the game, for it makes large projects easier to take on and allows others to see your creations in-game. Towns spring up around impressive geological features, and community projects can be awe-inspiring. More importantly, it’s just plain and simple fun. Think of it as grown-up Legos, except filled with things that want to kill you.

    The technical breakdown of Minecraft is where the game begins to show its more frustrating side. The controls are the standard WASD format, though this may be changed via the in-game menu. The game is also quite buggy at times, and much of the gameplay feels unpolished, especially for an official release. Things that seemed acceptable in Alpha or Beta release, which included occasional visual glitches, animals bugging out and shifting over fences, and other minor bugs, plague the game. However, the game is regularly updated and many of these bugs are in the process of being fixed.

    It’s not an especially inspiring game musically, but the sounds fit with the overall feel of the game. Most of us who have played the game have come to love the satisfying “thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-POP” of mining and the odd crunch of grass under our blocky feet. There are musical records that can be obtained in-game, and these can be played on player-crafted record players to add additional atmosphere to the game. 

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 89%
    Violence - 7.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Graphically speaking, Minecraft doesn’t have much room to boast, either. It must be remembered that the game is intentionally blocky and sometimes even cheesy: even the watermelons grow into cubes. That being said, the graphics are still fairly unimpressive nonetheless. This is especially annoying when the fairly steep system requirements are taken into account. When I bought the game, my laptop was under six months old. However, I had to keep the render distance on “short” so the game wouldn’t lag. Toning down the graphics settings can drastically help this, but such an action detracts from an already lacking aspect of the game. One’s visual experience can also be improved through the use of community-made texture packs and mods.

    As for family-friendliness, I would say that Minecraft can range anywhere from Legoland-Innocent to Fighting-Cartoonish-Monsters-Violent. There are monsters, undead and otherwise, that live in caves and spawn on the surface at night. However, all of these can be removed from the game by changing the difficulty setting to “Peaceful.” You don’t even have to kill animals for food if you’re of the vegetarian persuasion, provided you grow watermelon and wheat.

    There is no sexual content or swearing in the game, but multiplayer experiences may vary. Some servers have very lax rules and do not regulate players' language or behavior, but there are a number of Christian servers available to play on, including ours, which can be found at http://mc.ccgr.org

    Occult references don’t exist in the game per se, but there is an accessible dimension called the Nether. This can only be accessed by gathering Obsidian to make a portal, which then must be lit with fire to activate, so it is entirely avoidable. It is essentially a hell realm, containing vast seas of lava and darker creatures than are found in the normal game world. Magic is also present in the game, but is only used to enchant some items and to craft potions.

    This game has given me more hours of gameplay that most of my other game purchases over the last few years combined. I would actually be reluctant or embarrassed to release my total numbers of gameplay, but that is an evidence of the addictive nature of the game. It was around 20 dollars when I bought it at Alpha release—it is now around $26—and it has given me more satisfaction than most of my 40 or 50 dollar game purchases. All in all, when deciding on whether to purchase this game, consider this: if you need a structure, a plot, or even a basic structure in a game, avoid this at all costs. However, if you have an active imagination, have a mind for construction, enjoy flexibility and freedom, or even just want something to kill time, Minecraft can offer something for everyone.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Phantasy Star Online 2
    Developed By: Sega
    Published By: Sega
    Released: July 4, 2012
    Available On: PlayStation 4, Switch, Vita, Windows
    Genre: Action, RPG, MMO
    ESRB Rating: N/A (in Japan, CERO C – ages 15+)
    Number of Players: MMO (1-12 in-quest)
    Price: Free with optional microtransactions

    In the distant past of 2012, Sega finally released a proper sequel to its hit Dreamcast/GameCube MMO, Phantasy Star Online. While it started in Japan, Sega assured its fans that it would come west in 2013. Five years later, Sega stopped pretending they were interested in offering support to non-Japanese customers, taking down the English version of the Phantasy Star Online 2 website. However, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated few, PSO2 is now fully playable in English – with a decent amount of effort, at least.

    As an MMO, PSO2 works rather differently from your standard open-world, tab-targeting affair. You’ll mostly see other players only in the lobby between missions; once you choose your quest, you’re placed in an instanced area. Depending on the mission, you’ll be by yourself, or joined with up to four, eight, or twelve other players. For the most part, quests involve navigating a randomly-generated, monster-filled map or two on your way to a boss arena. Defeat the boss, grab your loot, and head back to the lobby to start over again.

    The most obvious departure from the norm is in the gameplay: PSO2 plays more like an action RPG than an MMO. You’re not glued to a spot while you go through an attack rotation – mobility is extremely important, and dodging and blocking are one hundred percent player-controlled. Only a select few class abilities have any cooldown, with attacks instead limited by your slowly-regenerating Photon Points. You can throw out weapon-based Photon Arts and magic-like Techniques with impunity until your PP dries up, though a few normal attacks will refill a hefty chunk of your meter. However, rather than spamming moves, timing is important, with properly-paced “just attacks” doing more damage. Enemies also aren’t one big hitbox, as nearly all of them have multiple spots to strike at, with some weaker than others; many foes even have breakable parts, which reveal weak spots or stun them once they take enough damage. There’s even a third-person shooter mode you can freely and easily switch into and out of for extra precision. With gamepad support and fully-customizable keybinds, it controls like a dream, as well. This is an active, fluid game, which helps it stand out from the MMO crowd.

    Phantasy Star Online 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: More active and engaging gameplay than your standard MMO; fantastic character customization; tons of content; microtransactions are not required to fully enjoy the game
    Weak Points: Only released in Japan; somewhat static class builds; nebulous mechanics, with information hard to come by (in English, at least); extremely grindy 
    Moral Warnings: Violence; blood; magic-like abilities; demonic and angelic enemies; lewd outfits galore; language (mostly PG-13); you’re technically breaking the terms of service by playing this game at all

    Buoying this active combat are ten classes, each with one to three weapon types to choose from. These run the gamut between striking (the tanky Hunter and the glass cannon Fighter), ranged (the sharpshooting Ranger and the up-close-and-personal Gunner), and tech (the offensive Force and the supporting Techer), along with the striking-tech hybrid Bouncer, the striking-ranged mashup Braver, the pet-raising Summoner, and the jack-of-all-trades Hero. Each weapon a class can natively equip brings a different playstyle, sometimes vastly so: within the Hunter class, for instance, the slow-and-steady sword feels a lot different than the quick-hitting partizan and the enemy-grappling wired lances. You can even take any of the other classes as a subclass, gifting you their skill trees, abilities, and a portion of their stats. You can change main and subclasses at will, which helps to breathe fresh air into the game if one class is getting stale.

    The variety in classes, however, doesn’t really translate to their builds. As you level up each class, you earn skill points to put into a skill tree; these skills vary from straight damage increases to unlocking specific class mechanics. Each class, however, only really has one or two effective builds, with others being prohibitively niche, sub-par, or straight-up terrible. A Hunter will build around either Fury Stance or Guard Stance, with most everything else being identical; a Ranger without Standing Snipe is gimping itself, even if you want to run-and-gun; almost every Force will have Techer as a subclass, with little reason to even experiment elsewhere. Thanks to ever-increasing level caps and ensuing skill point bloat, some classes, such as Bouncer, almost have more points than useful skills.

    Worse yet, the game doesn’t always communicate its mechanics too well – being Japan-only, English help is limited. Outside of mechanics that Sega introduced and then promptly forgot about (and there are more than a few of those), plenty of even simple ideas gain a layer of obtuseness. At worst, failure to properly research can necessitate remaking your character, or dropping money to fix it: skill trees can’t be reset without a cash-shop-only Reset Pass, though Sega does give out free ones each time they change a skill. The worse offender comes in the form of your mag, a little helper robot that you feed items to increase your stats. The only useful mag is one with the maximum 200 points in the specific attack stat you want, and fixing a mag with points in something useless costs either a boatload of in-game resources or some real-life cash.

    That said, PSO2 is rather friendly to free-to-play gamers – at least, those with a lot of time on their hands. While there is a loot box-esque “scratch card” system, nearly everything can be sold on the player shop for in-game money. Most of the items are clothing and costumes, which complement the comprehensive character customization – the true endgame of PSO2 is making your characters look as fabulous as possible. Just be prepared to grind a lot to get there (in a literal sense – per Phantasy Star tradition, strengthening your weapons and armor is called “grinding”). Between fighting the cruel RNG to find your gear, fighting the similarly-cruel RNG to grind your gear, fighting the very cruel RNG to affix your gear with stat-boosting abilities, and gaming a system or two to get money and consumables for the previous three, you’ll have to sink a ton of time into it to get into top form. If you want to, that is; a casual player can experience just as much as a hardcore one, as long as you stay away from the Extra Hard difficulty.

    Phantasy Star Online 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 83%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 69%
    Violence - 4/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    For a six-year-old game, PSO2 has aged decently well, thanks in part to its unique art style – the sci-fi/fantasy blend works as well now as it did on the Dreamcast with the first PSO. Enemy models keep getting bigger and more detailed, though the same can’t be said of the player and NPCs – once you notice that hands don’t animate, there’s no going back. There’s a wide variety of environments, plenty of foes to fight, and no shortage of stylish moves. Enemies are well-designed both visually and gameplay-wise – most attacks are telegraphed one way or another, even if it takes a few tries to learn how to counter properly. The visual and audio cues are properly conveyed: subtle enough to stay out of the way, but clear enough to communicate what’s needed. The music itself, while having tons of tracks, only has a few stand-out songs. It does, at least, carry over the first PSO’s tradition of dynamically changing into and out of a higher-energy track when combat starts or ends.

    Morally, violence is a given, though you rarely fight humanoid foes. Defeated enemies fall over and disappear; while story cutscenes can occasionally show blood, there’s none to be found in game. Techniques are basically elemental magic with a sci-fi veneer, though some enemies do summon magic circles when they attack. There’s an entire class of “demon” enemies, though most are standard fantasy fare: orcs, goblins, minotaurs, etc. Phantoms, however, come in a “Deus” subset, which look distinctly angelic; a raid boss of this type is presented as a 'god.' Many clothing options show a lot of skin, both male and female, and both for players and NPCs. There’s some language in the game, mostly of the PG-13 variety – though, to be fair, there’s a lot of story content I haven’t played through, so it might get worse. Standard MMO player base shenanigans apply here as well, with the added "bonus" of the game allowing you to send pictures over the in-game chat system.

    Finally, there’s a potential real-world issue to bring up: PSO2’s terms of service forbid playing from outside Japan. Sega, for their part, hasn’t cared for years, and freely let foreigners play – just don’t expect any support from them. Getting the game working in English requires a fair amount of work, including using a torrent to download the game – this is technically optional, but far easier than going through the official channels. There are extensive guides available to help you every step of the way – just be aware that simply playing the game requires third-party software, maybe a torrent, and circumventing Sega’s (rather archaic) GameGuard anti-cheat DRM. If any of this rubs you the wrong way, you might be better off skipping this game.

    For everyone else, Phantasy Star Online 2 is worth checking out, if you’ve got the patience for it. The fluid, active gameplay is perhaps the best you can find in an MMO, and there’s plenty of content to be had. Sega has stated they plan to continue development for years, so there appears to be little risk of the game folding if you start now.

    Also, no, the game is not getting an official English release. With all the crossovers, covering everything from Persona to Monster Hunter to Steins;Gate, the licensing alone would be a nightmare. This is the best you’re going to get – but it’s still pretty good, all told. If you're looking to start, [url=http://www.bumped.org/psublog/phantasy-star-online-2-registration-guide/]here is an in-depth registration guide[/url]; the site itself contains plenty of English information and helpful links to get you on your feet.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune
    Developed by: Plarium
    Published by: Kabam
    Release date: February 12, 2012
    Available on: Windows/Mac/Linux
    Genre: MMO, Real-time Stategy
    Number of players: Online-only
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: Free with in-app purchases

    Disclaimer: Although we have been offered money in the past to cover this game, we have declined and have not been compensated for this review. 

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune is a free MMO Real Time Strategy game where you must collect and create resources to build up your pirate empire and conquer the seven seas.  Setting up an account is easy enough and you simply need to enter a valid e-mail address (verification will be required to progress in the game) and a password.  Be careful as you enter your password as there is not a confirmation field to double check that you haven’t misspelled it on accident.

    Once you’re logged in, Captain Anne O’Malley will walk you through the basics of gathering gold, wood, and distilling rum.  After you follow her various tutorials you should be up to level 4.  After researching the technology tree and upgrading your mills and mines, you should reach the coveted level five where you can set sail and plunder nearby ships and islands.

    At the tavern you can recruit pirates to join your crew.  The units specialize in offense or defense and if you send the incorrect unit to do the wrong task, the results will be devastating.  Fortunately, the game will warn you ahead of time that you’re about to do something stupid.  While most units can be acquired with in game resources, many of the veteran and better units require rubies as well, which are available for purchase with real-world money.  Rubies can be earned in game but they are in short supply compared to the other resources.  

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun real time strategy game that’s free to play and has many users online to play with.  
    Weak Points: Though this game is free to play, there are many prompts to invite friends and to spend money that can give you offensive and defensive advantages (pay to win).
    Moral Warnings: The pirate lifestyle involves drinking, cussing, killing, and females showing off their bellies.

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune gives you many “opportunities” to purchase rubies at discounts that are only available for a “limited amount of time”.  There are just as many “opportunities” to invite your friends to join in the free fun and unlock game features and provide you with some rubies.  Sadly, spending real money in this game and providing you with temporary defense and offense boosts makes this title essentially “pay to win.”   

    Despite the unfair advantages that paying players have, and the nag screens to invite your friends and sales on rubies, this is a fun real-time-strategy game.  It doesn’t take long to fill up your tiny island and expanding it is possible by spending a significant number of rubies to do so.  

    There are lots of islands out there and chances are that yours may be attacked sooner or later so you’ll have to build up walls, gates, and cannons to defend it.  The only problem with defending it is that all of the defenses cost rubies and not the mined resources that are freely available.   

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 84%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 6.5/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    In case you’re wondering, rubies are not cheap.  For close to five dollars you can get eight hundred and twenty-five of them.  The most expensive package is six hundred and sixty dollars for one hundred and ten thousand rubies.    Do people actually spend that much on a “free to play” game? If so, then it’s no wonder why we were offered money to review it.

    Graphically this game isn’t anything spectacular.  Then again it’s a browser based game so it has to be streamlined to run efficiently on all platforms.  The music and voice acting on the other hand is nicely done and fun to listen to.  There are some cuss words like d*mn used.  I also noticed that sometimes the voice overs didn’t match the text.

    Pirates: Tides of Fortune is undeniably fun, but it’s certainly not worth the effort of nagging your friends or paying ridiculous prices on rubies to have a chance against other players paying to do well in this MMO game.  I recommend sticking with a good real time strategy game that you only have to pay for once and not annoy your friends with invites. 

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Spiral Knights
    Developed By: Grey Havens, LLC
    Published By: Grey Havens, LLC
    Released: June 14, 2011
    Available On: macOS, Windows, Linux
    Genre: Action, MMORPG
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: Online Multiplayer (4 per mission)
    Price: Free-to-Play with in game transactions and DLC

    Spiral Knights is a free to play MMORPG style game that was originally designed by Three Rings on June 14, 2011 and has switched hands a few times before finally being placed in the lap of Grey Havens. Though the game was programmed in Java (most games use Unity these days), the game is beautiful in its entirety. The setting is a mix of fantasy and tech, and the mechanics might remind you of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords style combat. This is a great game if you want to grab a Steam buddy and have a simple fantasy adventure, and the price is right for most people (free!). There are some in-game transactions and a small piece of DLC, but none of these get in the way of enjoying the game as a whole.

    You start the game as a knight with a few customization options. There is no gender option as you rather give your character a look to resemble who you would want to be. You can choose a controller option, or the standard WASD movement and mouse. The first few hours of the game you are put through some solo missions so you can learn the basic mechanics (or if you can find a friend you can do these with them, but finding a random person at this stage of the game is difficult). After walking away from your crash site, you find you are trapped on a unique planet that seems to have a changing environment beneath its surface called the Clockworks. This area is aside from the set missions, and is a randomly generated progressional level that leads to the core of the planet - making for some awesomely diverse play.

    Each knight is given two sets of armor, a shield, and two weapon slots. (You can have up to 4 weapon slots and 2 trinket slots if you purchase upgrades, but those can be purchased with in-game currency.) There are three types of weapons: bombs, swords, and guns. Bombs provide an area of effect (AOE) type damage and status effects, swords do mostly raw damage up close, and guns do less damage but with the safety of distance. There are 4 types of damage in the game: normal, shadow, elemental, and piercing. Both you as a knight and the enemies of the Clockworks deal and receive more or less damage depending on what line of weapons and armor you choose. For example: fiends deal shadow damage, but take more damage from piercing weapons - so if you proceed to a level dominated by fiends you'd want a piercing weapon and armor that offered shadow resistance.

    Spiral Knights
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful music and charm from start to finish;  helpful community;  very little grinding until late game
    Weak Points: The game has hit stagnation with growth and content updates
    Moral Warnings: Mild fantasy violence; mild magic with no source reference; ghosts and fiend-type monsters

    After you finish the first couple of missions, the game will spit you out in Haven.  Haven is the town that has been set up by the knights and the local inhabitants of the planet called "The Strangers."  This area is the general queue and meeting place for all the knights before heading off into missions or diving into the Clockworks.  If you wander around long enough, you'll get to see some veteran players with some amazing costumes.  A lot of the people I meet are eager to assist when asked - provided you're not just asking for a handout.  This area itself has a nice feel to it with calm music and funny looking helicopter birds flying about.  East of the main Haven you'll find Guild Halls where people have spent months and years building up the interior of their personal space.

    Almost every mission (and every Clockworks run) has space for yourself and 3 other party members. In the Coliseum (Player vs. Player or PvP) there can be up to 6v6 in one setting. I personally have always been a fan of fewer party members in a co-op game, as it can make your own character have more of an impact on the task at hand. Through your character development, you'll find that it's better to focus on a certain type of play style rather than be a jack of all trades. I chose to go the way of the gun, so I equipped myself with a blaster and armor that added damage to my guns. Though I wasn't the most damage-dealing party member, I had a greater survival rate and was able to take out the gun turrets with others holding their shields in front of me. I met another character who had a huge variety of bombs. One would light the enemy on fire, one would freeze them in place, and another would blast them away to clear some space for us to move in.

    You'll eventually hit a bit of a wall with the Forge heating system, but that won't be until quite a few hours in. This may lead to a bit of grinding to reach and defeat the harder areas of the game, but the experience you have with other players in the Clockworks will make the time you invest enjoyable rather than a chore. There are quite a few bosses in the game that are tricky to defeat, and all the monsters' difficulties scale with the amount of people in the run. Despite the depth surrounding the other bosses in the game, my favorite boss still has to be the Jelly King.

    Spiral Knights
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 87%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game doesn't go too deep into moral or transcendent issues. The struggle for survival and finding one's place after crash landing are at the surface of the game, with diving into some NPC depth as the story progresses. All blood is replaced with bars of health which fly off a character when hit, and the game as a whole is mostly gender neutral. Sometimes the only way you know a character's gender is with the personal pronouns used during NPC dialog. It is what it's meant to be - a nice work of art with those involved working toward a common goal. There's not much here to sneak in through the back door of the imagination besides the mild fantasy violence. The dialogue has no swearing in it, and there's a profanity filter that covers multiple languages for player-to-player conversations.

    Though characters and monsters do have powers, magic is not specifically mentioned or focused on from what I can see. It has about a strong of a reference to magic as Pokémon does to their different abilities - not specifically an occult reference. The closest thing resembling magic would be the gremlin menders who hold magic wands and produce healing circles, but their specific source of power isn't mentioned. There are different elements in the game mainly dealing with damage and defense. The Shadow Element is one of those, and there are undead characters as well as "fiends" who attack using this ability. To quote the wiki, "The Undead Family consists of ghosts and skeletons which haunt the Clockworks (although no one seems sure exactly what creatures these ghosts and skeletons came from!)" - https://wiki.spiralknights.com/Monster.

    I've been playing this game off and on since its release, and have enjoyed almost every moment of it. You'll have moments where you meet disgruntled players (mostly in the PvP setting things can get rather heated), but if you're not a fan of that the regular game is awesome. If you do dive down into a mission, be sure you leave your party open (there's an option to make it private or allow any to join). I know a lot of veteran players who wait for moments like these to bring in their big guns and show you what you could potentially become. Though it's been out for a few years, this game is very solid. I strongly recommend it to all ages!

    God's Best,
    Good-Spirit

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Star Trek Online
    Developed By: Cryptic Studios
    Published By: Perfect World Entertainment
    Released: February 2, 2010
    Available On: Windows, Xbox One, Playstation 4
    Genre: Fantasy MMORPG
    ESRB Rating: Teen: Blood, Violence
    Number of Players: Online Multiplayer
    Price: Free to play; optional subscriptions start at $14.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Space: the final frontier. The Romulan people are scattered and staggered after a supernova claimed their home planet. The Klingons, pressured by external forces and internal strife, seek to renew their war with the United Federation of Planets. Reports from Deep Space Nine indicate increased Cardassian aggression, Mirror Universe incursions, and even Dominion attacks. Most recently, the Borg have been sighted within the Beta Quadrant. These, in the midst of it all, are the voyages of the Starfleet Academy graduating class of 2409.

    Star Trek Online is an action MMORPG with two separate gameplay styles: space and ground. On the ground, you take control of your player-created captain; together with either other players or your computer-controlled “bridge officer” allies, you traverse various planets and space stations while engaging in third person shooter-style combat against groups of enemies. In space, you command your spaceship, utilizing weapons and abilities of your choosing to eliminate hostile ships. While there are some non-combat elements, usually in the form of light puzzles or dialogue events, the vast majority of the game is focused on the combat.

    At first launch, you are greeted with the character creation system, with is highly varied and versatile. The first choice is for your faction: Starfleet (along with an Original Series homage 23rd century variant), the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Republic, each with their own playable races, campaigns, and interface visuals. Next, you choose your race: nearly every major Star Trek race is available for selection, from humans to Vulcans to Trill to Ferengi, though some are locked to a specific faction. There’s even an “alien” race with a huge supply of body parts to mix and match if the official races don’t thrill you. After making your character unique through an array of facial and body sliders, along with an extensive uniform selection, you choose between three classes, represented as career paths through your chosen faction’s command: tactical, engineering, and science. These form a loose but non-binding DPS-tank-healer trinity, and determine what abilities you gain from leveling. From there, you’re ready to explore strange new worlds – and, more often than not, shoot at whoever lives there.

    Luckily enough, the combat is varied and engaging, even many hours into the game, thanks in no small part to the sheer variety of options available. The ground combat offers two main styles of play: an “RPG” mode that’s more akin to other MMO combat systems; and a “TPS” mode that acts like other games of that genre, albeit watered down a touch. In either case, the player has full control over their character’s movement, even while firing. You are able to equip and switch between two weapons, of which there is a wide variety – sniper rifles, dual pistols, miniguns, and even bat’leths, for instance – and all offer different primary and secondary firing modes. Additional abilities are equipped through “kit” items, in which “modules” representing various class-specific skills can be slotted. 

    Through most ground missions, you are accompanied by up to four “bridge officers” – fully-customizable NPCs that you can outfit to your liking, both in equipment and ability loadout. You have only marginal control over them, limited mostly to determining their aggressiveness and position, and thus are mostly useful as support for the player character. They also have a tendency to get stuck on random objects, leaving you shorthanded in bigger firefights. This lack of fine control over your crew, along with having comparatively less options available to you than in space, make the ground segments the weaker of the two combat systems, though by no means uninteresting.

    Star Trek Online
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Space combat is unique and satisfying; customization options are outstanding; plenty of repeatable content; visuals and audio capture the Star Trek feel perfectly
    Weak Points: Some gameplay systems are very complicated; endgame is a huge grindfest; semi-frequent and occasionally serious bugs
    Moral Warnings: Extreme, though bloodless, body count; mild language; skimpy outfits; other players can be vulgar at times

    The space segments offer a single though intuitive control scheme: WASD turn the ship, E and Q respectively increase and decrease the throttle. Starships come in three flavors, mirroring the classes: escorts, in the style of Sisko’s Defiant, are quick, heavy hitters; cruisers, like Picard’s Enterprise-D, are tanks; and science vessels, such as Janeway’s Voyager, are crowd controllers. Each ship has essentially two health bars: the shields, split in four between each facing of the ship, and the hull, which represents the ship’s actual health. Shields absorb damage until they are depleted, at which point the hull becomes vulnerable; in this way, proper control of your vessel to keep your fire concentrated on one of your enemy’s facings at a time is essential. Your ship also has four power levels that determine weapon power, shield strength, speed and maneuverability, and effectiveness of your captain’s and crew’s special abilities; these can be adjusted at any time, and some abilities will positively or negatively affect either your own or your opponent’s ship power. 

    In addition, the game offers a wide variety of weapon and ship types, all of which significantly change how you play. For instance, a small, fast escort-type ship with dual cannons offers a hit-and-run style with intermittent bouts of heavy damage, while a giant cruiser outfitted with beam arrays can dish out steady damage while drawing and neutralizing enemy fire. Further abilities are determined by your bridge officers, and each ship fits a different number of officers: a cruiser can seat more engineering officers, giving you more defensive abilities at the cost of fewer tactical and science stations. The best part about this system is that there are very few restrictions; as long as one has the ship type and gear for it, one could switch from a torpedo-heavy loadout to a pure beam build and suffer no ill effects.

    However, this system also exposes one of the game’s biggest stumbling blocks: its complexity. Even disregarding the other equipment slots, ship weapons alone have a bamboozling array of options. Each of the main weapon types – beams, cannons, torpedoes, and mines – have numerous sub-types: cannons, for instance, come in such flavors as turrets, dual cannons, and dual heavy cannons, all of which differ in attack speed, base power, and firing arc. Beyond that, there are six main energy types, each with their own specific effect – plasma weapons, for instance, set targets on fire, while disruptors lower the opponent’s defenses. Consider that each energy type has subtypes of its own, and it’s easy to see how one could get lost, especially with the rather meager tutorials offered by the game. And that’s just for ship weapons; add to that ground weapons, shields, bridge officer abilities, consumable device slots, and a host of other equipment slots, and it’s enough to make your head spin. 

    The player skill system is also rather complicated: split into space and ground sections, your character gets separate space and ground points as they level, offering passive damage bonuses, increased stats, and the like. However, each choice is immediately locked in, and resetting the skills requires a microtransaction after the first time. If you pick the wrong skill early on, or simply decide to change up your playstyle later on, you’ll be hamstrung until you pay up.

    If you can get a handle on it all, though, it opens up what might be Star Trek Online’s strongest point: its customization. Along with your own character as mentioned above, you have full control of your bridge officers’ appearances, with the only static elements being race and gender, and you can change them at any time and as often as you wish. The three class choices have no bearing on what ship you can fly or how effective you will be – a tactical captain in a science vessel can be just as useful as an engineer in an escort. Ships themselves come in a huge variety of looks, including official series ships such as the Galaxy class of Enterprise-D fame, and can be customized further, down to the style of the windows. In fact, nearly every ship ever depicted in the Star Trek series, from the Original Series all the way through to the newest reboot movies, is flyable and/or fightable, along with a host of original developer creations. When combined with the equipment system, you have the freedom to create a ship and crew as close to – or as far from – the shows and movies as you desire.

    Content-wise, Star Trek Online doesn’t disappoint. Each faction has its own separate storyline – though they do all converge about halfway through, mitigating differences to flavor text only. The story is broken up into separate segments, dealing with one or two adversaries at a time; for Starfleet, finishing the Romulan-centric story arc opens up the next, Cardassian-focused one. The story arcs are mostly kept separate from each other, but with certain shared elements that become central to the overall plot as the game progresses. Almost every mission is freely repeatable, with only a 30-minute cooldown as a barrier. While most missions follow the same basic pattern – shoot enemies in space, shoot enemies on the ground, shoot enemies in space, win – the sheer amount of enemy variety keeps combat interesting, and every enemy faction fights differently both in space and on the ground. 

    Mission quality wildly varies, with newer content being considerably more streamlined than launch quests; a few missions are downright painful to play, but the majority are near or above average. Even beyond the many official missions, the game allows for players to create their own; these “foundry” missions offer theoretically infinite new content, though again the quality of any given mission is a mystery at first glance. As you level, two side systems – Duty Officers and Admiralty – open up; these pseudo-collectable card games are mostly self-contained and generally only good for filling time between missions, but offer benefits in the form of currency and items. Both systems can become very lucrative if invested in, but have limited entertainment value and can be safely ignored.

    Star Trek Online
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 83%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 2.5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 77%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The endgame consists of more difficult five-player instances, “adventure zones” where dozens of players work together on a single map to perform a series of objectives, and semi-frequent special events that range from players taking down a giant crystalline entity to hoverboard surfing races. Alongside these is a rather stifling grind to obtain the gear necessary to perform well in those missions – one such activity, the reputation system, requires funneling resources into a twenty-hour “project” for forty days before even obtaining the option to purchase high-end equipment, with no gameplay other than obtaining the resources required. 

    As is typical of free-to-play MMOs, a cash shop is available to circumvent some of this waiting, and while ships and equipment bought this way are significantly more powerful than most free options, none are required to complete any of the game’s content, nor is any content locked behind a paywall. As much of the best equipment is obtained through gameplay and/or grind, and as the free ships given by leveling are more than powerful enough to compete even in the endgame, Star Trek Online is not so much "pay to win" as it is "pay to trivialize". That said, the majority of playable starships in the game are tucked away in this cash shop, with the most powerful ones currently starting at $30.00. While top-tier ships are given away roughly three times a year – heavy gameplay grind included, of course – in general, if you are looking to upgrade, be prepared to open your wallet. It should also be mentioned that cash shop currency can be obtained in-game as well, though at a very slow pace.

    Also typical of MMOs, bugs can creep into the experience. Some have been significant over the years, sometimes breaking whole gameplay systems, and occasionally Cryptic can be slow to respond. While the PC version’s major problems are currently limited to a wonky animation system, the newly-launched console versions are having their fair share of potentially game-breaking issues, along with having less total content than their counterpart. It’s worth noting that the game enjoyed a brief period of time on Apple computers as well, before support dwindled and eventually dropped around two years in – while console support is currently running full tilt, it’s something to keep in the back of your mind if you go the console route. The three versions are completely separate from each other, though, so if you mainly play on PC, your characters will not be affected by the state of the Xbox and Playstation iterations. In addition, you can expect some disconnects from time to time, but the game is usually good about keeping your position in a mission if you drop during one.

    Outside of the gameplay, Star Trek Online’s presentation is as close to the TV shows as possible. The graphics are not only fitting to the series, they are often rather beautiful on a higher-end computer. The relevant ships and uniforms perfectly match the originals, though there is plenty of developer-made gear that occasionally clashes with the aesthetic. The sound effects are stellar, with everything from phaser fire to the ambient noise on a ship’s bridge practically ripped from the source. A decent chunk of the original actors, such as Tim Russ (Tuvok), Michael Dorn (Worf), and most recently Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov) reprise their roles from the shows – indeed, the late Leonard Nimoy narrates the opening cutscene and a few other sections of the game. Star Trek fans will find a lot to love here, as long as they don’t mind the severe tonal shift from the shows to the actual gameplay, which is also where the bulk of the moral issues come in.

    To be sure, this isn’t Jean-Luc Picard’s Starfleet anymore; you don’t seek out new life and new civilizations so much as seek out new death and new victimizations. What little diplomacy and exploration were in the game at launch have since been stripped out in favor of constant warfare. Even as a Starfleet officer, you will be fighting scores of humanoid aliens, and in this game there’s no such thing as a stun setting. Almost every defeated enemy dies; almost every defeated ship explodes with all hands implied to be lost. The violence is bloodless, save for a few pre-placed blood textures, but your character will be killing a lot of people. Playing as part of the Klingon Empire will glorify this violence more than with Starfleet or the Romulans, but none seem to shy away from it. 

    Other than the violence, mild swear words pop up very rarely, some of them voiced. There are a handful of clothing options that amount to little more than a bikini, and many more that show a lot of skin, and you will likely see at least one person’s character wearing one in any of the larger social hubs in the game. Other players can occasionally be quite rude, even vulgar at times, and the zone-wide chat in the most populous areas can quickly turn ugly. Thankfully, the options to filter coarse language, silence individual players, and even close whole chat channels entirely are all there.

    In the end, Star Trek Online has a lot to offer. While the game certainly caters to Star Trek fans, even those ambivalent about the series should find something to like. While complicated at first, the game’s slick presentation, engaging combat, and decently friendly free-to-play model is worth sticking around to see. With the recently released console versions, support for the game should last for some time, even after almost seven years of life – though if possible, stick with the PC version for now, as the consoles have some issues that need hammering out. If you have the patience and the tolerance for violence, boldly go and give it a try.

    -Cadogan

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance Episode 2
    Developed by: Scarlet City Studios
    Published by: Scarlet City Studios
    Release date: August 5, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, Mac, Windows
    Genre: MMO
    Number of players: Single/Multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Scarlet City Studios for granting us access to episode 2!

    Aethasia is still under the rule of Lucky and his evil automatons.  In addition to robotic soldiers patrolling the streets, there are now mechanical rams waiting to sink their horns into members of the resistance.  The resistance follows the orders of a mysterious Scarlet Man who seems to show up when characters in this steampunk world get into trouble.

    Episode 2 focuses on a racing team of two highly competitive brothers: Edmund and Julian.  Edmund is a good racer and he knows it.  Julian is fast too, but he relies on his wits more than his speed.  After Julian crosses the line by breaking the rules, he flees from his brother and meets another person as wily as him.  The originating story of Jacob and Esau can be found in Genesis 25-32.  I liked the inclusion of Julian wrestling with the Scarlet Man later in the game.

     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great retelling of Biblical stories; safe game for children to play online
    Weak Points: Graphical glitches; not many players online
    Moral Warnings: Battles against mechanical enemies including robotic rams that shoot missiles from their rear ends

     

    The battles remain the same with a spinning arrow that determines if your weapon of choice will hit, do a super attack, or miss its target.  Since all of the enemies are automatons there is no blood or gore to worry about.  There is some questionable potty humor as one of the ram attack moves consists of shooting missiles from its rear end.  

    Crafting is still essential to complete quests and for modifying your weapons to do more damage.  Some nice modifications let you add fire, water, lightning, and oil attacks to your weapons.  Be warned that as you upgrade the attack power of some weapons, the ability to miss increases along with it.

    The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance Episode 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    As expected, the voice acting is still well done with the existing and new characters.  If the story wasn’t so linear, I would have left Julian to his own devices instead of putting up with his ungrateful behavior.  I like how you can continue to play the game and complete optional quests after the main story is finished. The level cap has been raised in this episode and that’s a good thing since you’ll need every health point to survive against the tougher foes.

    Most of the time I fought alone, but occasionally I would have the help of an online player or two.  There seems to be a handful of players online at any given time, but there is plenty of room for some more.  I like how Scarlet City has added the family pass that sells for $19.99 and lets up to five players connect simultaneously.  

    Overall, The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance is a fun and family friendly series that teaches Biblical stories in a new and exciting way.  I hope that more people check it out since there is a way to try it online for free.  Check out their website for more details!

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance Episode 3
    Developed by: Scarlet City Studios
    Published by: Scarlet City Studios
    Release date: December 1, 2016
    Available on: Android, iOS, Mac, Windows
    Genre: MMO
    Number of players: Single/Multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Scarlet City Studios for sending us a review code for this game!

    Episode 3 is the season finale for The Aetherlight Chronicles. Here are links to our reviews for episodes one and two for reference. In this episode, the Snowmoors are melting and it has to be stopped. Fortunately, the intelligent Jefferson is already formulating different theories as to why it’s happening.

    Along with the new character based off of Joseph, there are several new enemies introduced and they are much tougher. Thankfully the level cap is raised and you’ll need the extra health and power to defeat them and the new bosses. One of the battles you’re meant to lose and you’ll find yourself imprisoned with Jefferson.

    Aetherlight
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great retelling of Biblical stories; safe game for children to play online
    Weak Points: Graphical glitches; not many players online
    Moral Warnings: Battles against mechanical enemies

    Do you know somebody that is annoyingly intelligent and talks down to everyone else? That’s how Jefferson is and it’s no wonder that you find him trapped in a pit presumably from his siblings that had enough of him.

    The battles remain the same with a spinning arrow that determines if your weapon of choice will hit, do a super attack, or miss its target. Since all of the enemies are automatons there is no blood or gore to worry about.

    Crafting is still essential to complete quests and for modifying your weapons to do more damage. Some nice modifications let you add fire, water, lightning, and oil attacks to your weapons. Fire is strong against the ice mountain automatons. Be warned that as you upgrade the attack power of some weapons, the ability to miss increases along with it.

    Aetherlight
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 93%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As expected, the voice acting is still well done with the existing and new characters. I like how you can continue to play the game and complete optional quests after the main story is finished.

    Most of the time I fought alone, but occasionally I would have the help of an online player. I like how the final boss battle had two characters fighting beside me. I wish the boss would attack them too, but I was always the primary target. There seems to be a handful of players online at any given time, but there is plenty of room for some more. I like how Scarlet City has added the family pass that sells for $19.99 and lets up to five players connect simultaneously.

    Overall, The Aetherlight: Chronicles of the Resistance is a fun and family friendly series that teaches Biblical stories in a new and exciting way. I hope that more people check it out since there is a way to try it online for free. Check out their website for more details. I look forward to the next season and more offerings from Scarlet City Studios!

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    World of Warcraft: Legion
    Developed By: Blizzard Entertainment
    Published By: Blizzard Entertainment
    Released: August 30 2016
    Available On: Windows, Mac OS X
    Genre: MMORPG
    ESRB Rating: T
    Number of Players: Millions
    Price: $59.99, includes base game and $15/month

    Due to the nature of this review, I will be writing it in two parts. One for long-time players and one for someone who has never picked up WoW in their life.

    The Legion has returned and it is not messing around. After Warlords of Draenor, considered the worst expansion by many people, Blizzard realized that they needed to step their game up. The newest expansion, Legion, is their attempt to do so. With new features such as Order Halls, World Quests, Artifact Weapons, Demon Hunters, among many many other features it's clear Blizzard is trying to make up for the flop that was Warlords of Draenor. However, the big question remains is if Legion lives up to the hype that surrounded it. This question, and more, is what we are going to dive into for this review.

    But before we get into it, we're going to discuss some of the changes that have come along with Legion. The new transmog system collects the looks, commonly referred to as "skins," from all armor sets your characters across your account has, or has had. So long as it is the appropriate armor type. Paladins, Warriors, and Death Knights are the only classes that can unlock plate armor skins. Hunters and Shamans are the only classes that can unlock mail armor skins. Demon Hunters, Druids, Monks, and Rogues, are the only classes that can unlock leather armor skins. Priests, Warlocks, and Mages are the only classes that can unlock cloth armor skins. The new UI for the crafting professions is also a welcome change, the old style was clunky and aesthetically falling behind every other aspect of the game. The game also introduced new animations for the new models, which are very satisfying to watch as our characters get shiny new weapons with them for the rest of the expansion as well. This is something that all people have access to, however. There are some things exclusive to those who purchased Legion.

    I, myself, having prepurchased Legion, obtained early-access to the Demon Hunter, the new Hero Class since the Death Knight. The setting throws you back to when the Black Temple was being assaulted by the heroes of Azeroth (Which was back at the first ever World of Warcraft Expansion, the Burning Crusade). Illidan, the final boss of the Black Temple, has a suicide mission for your Demon Hunter. The mission is going to a Legion world and collecting the Sargerite Keystone, something that will give them access to any world controlled by the Legion. Including Argus, the Draenei homeworld and Legion's main base. To avoid being too spoilerific, your character completes the task. However, the Demon Hunters return too late and Illidan has already been defeated. Your character is put under stasis by the wardens until the beginning of Legion.

    World of Warcraft: Legion
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Very well done story, world quests (Replace daily quests), new animations, streamlined transmogrification system, immense world to explore, wide variety of quests, multiple playstyles encouraged, challenging quests and missions, gorgeous music, can play on lower end computers
    Weak Points: Only 5 Champions when you can only collect 8, some classes got more love than others, tables are still a thing,  graphics more simplistic than other MMOs, some grinding necessary to advance, monthly fees
    Moral Warnings: Some outfits are rather skimpy on women, blood and gore elements, demons and undead feature prominently (including playable undead), minor language issues, interactions with other players may require chat filters or close parental guidance

    Unlike most classes, the Demon Hunter has only two specializations: Havoc, the Damage Per Second (DPS) specialization (Doing the damage); and Vengeance, the tanking specialization (Taking the damage). The hero class is only playable by Blood Elves and Night Elves, unlike the last hero class which was playable by all races, excluding Pandaren. As a result of only two races being able to play the new class, Blizzard has introduced more customization options special for the class. The Demon Hunter can have horns, tattoos, and blindfolds. The Demon Hunter hero class plays rather well as a whole, being the most mobile class in the game. However, playing mostly tanks, Vengeance tanking is rather weak as a whole. It is one of the squishiest tanks there are, and their self-healing is based off the random-number generator as opposed to Death Knight tanking (my personal favorite) which is always going to happen when the Death Knight uses their rotation properly. However, they are probably the highest DPS of all tanking classes and possess a simple rotation that will likely attract people afraid of tanking to try it out. Havoc, the DPS specialization, requires a lot of skill and attention to detail to play it at its best, and when it's at its best it is a force to be reckoned with.

    When you reach level 98, the faction leaders call for you to help in an invasion of the Broken Shore. Vol'jin calls the heroes of the Horde, while Varian calls the heroes of the Alliance. This leads into a scenario where the Alliance and the Horde work together to push back the invasion of the Legion. However, the Legion proves to be too much as the Alliance and Horde take some heavy casualties. Avoiding spoilers, but it's a devastating blow to both the Alliance and the Horde. Khadgar calls the hero to Dalaran so that he can transport Dalaran to the Broken Isles, the location of the expansion. Your character is then sent on a quest to retrieve the Pillars of Creation, the MacGuffins that will hopefully prevent the Legion from conquering Azeroth.

    Legion introduces several new zones, each with their own storyline. Azsuna, which focuses on the blue dragonflight, the naga, and some night elf ghosts; Highmountain, which focuses on expanding Tauren lore and is honestly one of the weaker zones in my opinion; Stormheim, which focuses on the fight between Genn Greymane and Sylvanas Windrunner, and the expands the lore of the vrykul; Val'Sharah, the birthplace of druidism which focuses on fighting back the corruption of the Emerald Nightmare; and Suramar, which is where the max level content takes place and where the story is based on how much reputation you have with the Nightfallen, the end-game faction. Each zone, aside from Suramar, is tailored to your character's level, which means you can start at Azsuna and end in Highmountain, or start in Highmountain and end in Stormheim, or even level entirely in a single zone. It's quite impressive how Blizzard has been able to do this and create an actual flow for the entire game as a result.

    World of Warcraft: Legion
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 65%
    Violence - 3/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    Swear filter against other players +1

    Now, what most people are probably wondering is how is the meat of the game! I mean, it took me a few months to write this review, Karazhan is already out, and I'm working on writing that review (Hopefully will be much quicker since this review is such an extensive review for an extensive rework of the game). I've raided the Emerald Nightmare, done every dungeon up to mythic difficulty, and did a few challenge modes, and did over 100 world quests. I can say that the dungeons are fresh and exciting in every way. The boss battles are all rather unique and the environments from dungeon-to-dungeon are varied and there's never a dull moment. World quests offer a unique spin on the daily quest system. They'll offer you gear, artifact power, gold, trade items, and reputation for the appropriate faction. The game will send a rotation of certain factions to help supplement which world quests you choose. The boss battles in Emerald Nightmare are challenging and, at times, fairly aggravating if you're not properly prepared (I'm looking at you Il'gynoth!) The raids are much better than in Warlords of Draenor. I have yet to raid the Nighthold or Trial of Valor. I also haven't gotten to Karazhan yet, but there is SO much content to chew on that I haven't even began to properly level my other characters yet.

    I cannot speak for the morality of people on WoW, I can speak for the morality of the game itself, however. Morally, the game seems to focus more on killing demons than members of the opposing faction, granted you can still do that if you choose to. The players have their characters working towards the grand goal of repelling the Legion from their homeworld, all walks of life do this, even the ones that are considered a darker walk of life. The Death Knights, former champions of the Scourge, use their necrotic powers to help defend the world; the warlocks, who employ use of the very creatures that we are fighting against, are finding ways to fight against the Legion with their knowledge of demons. There is a greater good that everyone is fighting towards. However, there is plenty of armor that can be used to accentuate how sexually attractive the female models of the game can be that can be transmogged onto a character.

    If you weren't a fan of Warlords of Draenor, I would urge you to consider picking up Legion. It may just spark back your love for the series. However, there are swears, killing scores of creatures, strong potential for scandalous transmogs, 

    -Dabuddah453

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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