PAX East Report: Dragon's Dogma

I've repeatedly mentioned Dragon's Dogma as one of my most anticipated games thanks to the game's good previews and trailers. Yet, my skepticism about how Capcom will execute this ambitious western/eastern RPG is just as well documented. That said, I'm happy to report that my short demo with Dragon's Dogma was indeed a good one. The game isn't completely without fault -- this isn't a perfect world, after all -- but what's there is serviceable enough to keep my excitement as high as it needs to be until its May release.

On the plus side, the game has some great visual tech backing it. The scale of some of the enemies, such as this dragon who really only appeared to show off his fire breathing ability, is massive. Speaking of that very fire breath, the particle effects were impressive. Embers fluttered through the wobbling air, smoke bellowed and tiny fires sprouted around the blast area. Unfortunately, some of the textures still look very primitive. Awkwardly polygonal objects and noticeable tile prints were certainly present, but not too much to get too distracting. The game also had a tendency to take a performance hit if action got too hectic. Thankfully, these hitches were few and far between and it never reached "slideshow" slow.

The controls were actually the most impressive part of the demo if not only for your character's attack versatility. The functionality of the gamepad is wonderfully increased through the use of the bumpers, which modify the attack options from simply "heavy" or "light" to more weapon-specific moves. Although some of the sword moves were literally taken from Devil May Cry, others, such as the "evade strike," I believe it was called, had my character leaping back to dodge, then lunging forward to deliver an excellently animated blow to the giant Chimera monster I was fighting at the time. Oh, did I not mention the giant chimera monster? Yeah, I totally killed that thing.

You best believe I killed that thing. Killed it dead, I did.

While I'm on the subject of that giant chimera, and the subsequent killing of said chimera, this seems like an appropriate time to talk about the highlight of the demo: grabbing. Anyone who's seen anything about this game has probably seen this mechanic in action, whether it's the character climbing up the side of a giant snake or something much less dramatic, such as picking up a party member and throwing them across the room for no reason other than to assert my dominance over them. I should point out that the latter scenario definitely ushered in a few belly laughs, while the former was... decent. Jumping onto the chimera led to a ridiculously chaotic camera control situation, and I never felt like there was any way to properly maneuver my warrior around the monster's body. Perhaps this was simply my lack of experience with the game's controls -- I'm certainly hoping that's the case. Regardless, the fight was still fun in a "Holy crap, that thing's snake tail just bit my mage's face off," kind of way.

I'd be remiss to end this preview without mentioning another great function of the grab button: tackling harpies, those bird monsters you've probably seen from God of War. It was hilarious.

All in all, my short time with Dragon's Dogma delivered a good experience, one that I'm looking forward to expanding come this summer.

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PAX East 2012 Report: Orcs Must Die 2

Boy, you better wish you saw my face after I came upon the Orcs Must Die 2 booth at PAX. There's something about establishing devious, orc-murdering doom chasms that just appeals to the demon child living within me, and I'm happy to report that Robot Entertainment is handily improving on that concept.

The first thing I noticed going into my quick demo was just how pretty the game looked. Colors pop nicely, textures are sharp, and the slightly cartoonish art style of the original has seen an adequate update. Not only that, the game moves exceptionally well. Although this was the PC build, there's been a noticeable improvement in how everything flows -- particularly with the traps. The green trap outline that guides your placement now smoothly bounces from placement box to placement box, rather than quickly snapping to each grid location. The effect is actually represents many of the changes -- one of those things you never knew you wanted until you've seen it. Some examples of these additions are the inclusion of rag doll physics (SCORE!) and more dynamic environmental traps, such as constantly cycling mine carts that zip around the stage, knocking orcs around as they go.

Other changes such as the co-op, the new character, new weapons, and the disappearance of the weavers, are obviously far more fundamental. That's right, Robot went ahead and did away with weavers, those gameplay modifiers that added bonuses to magic or trap performance. I'm not sure what they've been removed in place for, maybe it's just to make room for the 250-odd traps and weapons, or maybe it has more to do with the co-op; I'm not sure, I'm not a doctor. Regardless, I'm kind of bummed to see the weavers go.

As for the co-op, I'm happy to report that it's looking good. The difficulty and enemy count thankfully scales to the presence of a partner to keep things from getting too boring. The new character, the Sorceress, is aptly more range/magic focused than the returning War Mage, who's now more like a tank. The two mirror each other's strengths and weaknesses -- the War Mage is stronger and has more health while the Sorceress has significantly more mana -- making for a potentially orc-wrecking dynamic duo.

Another notable feature were the environments. Rather than sitting in an inclosed castle, I was fighting inside mine tunnels overlooking a massive cliff. Blocky, grey castle bricks have been replaced with dirt paths and iron rails, perhaps as a reflection of the tonal shift from magic to industry as with the inclusion of the War Mage's blunderbuss gun instead of his magic crossbow.

From what I've seen and heard from the developers, this game is shaping up to be another great entry into the series. I can't wait to get my hands on a final copy this summer.

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PAX East: Most Anticipated

PAX East is coming up this weekend, and this being my first major gaming expo, I'm pretty damn excited. Getting the chance to see and even get a little bit of play time with some upcoming titles has me all giddy in the pants, so I figured I'd run down a list of the top five games I'm looking forward to seeing in the exhibit hall.

Disclaimer: There aren't any specified lists (that I can find, anyways) detailing what developers will be in attendance, so this is all sheer speculation.

1. Dragon's Dogma

As you can probably see from trailer, this game looks like a Dark Souls had a baby with Shadow of the Colossus, then fostered it off to Monster Hunter -- Yes, that sounds awesome. I've watched a few previews -- actually about two hours or so of preview stuff -- and I keep coming away impressed with what I've seen. Then again, any game that combines RPG elements with the ability to climb on big-ass monsters gets me going, so this looks like a homerun. Despite that, I can't say I'm fully committed to the game. Capcom's dubious history as of late has given me good enough reason to keep my reservations. Hopefully I'll have those ill feelings rebuffed if I can get my grubby mits on the game this weekend.

2. Borderlands 2

Gearbox's Borderlands has a special place in my heart as one of the best action-RPGs on the current generation, so it's no surprise that it's sequel is on this list. There are so many things I want to see out of this game, from the new environments (something other than desert or swamps? Huzzah!) to the new playable characters, vehicles, guns, and just about everything else in there. Of all those aspects, the one that piques my interest the most is how Zero, the ninja, will play. Specifically, I want to see how those ninja flips look in the first-person perspective and if the sword combat will actually function well. I want to believe there's more to this game than just some new content -- perhaps sa noticeably updated engine or tweaked gunplay -- rather than a reskinned, dubstep-laden re-release of the original. But, if Borderlands 2 booth just happens to be a 15 minute video of Clap-Trap dancing to Nero, that'll be fine, too.

3. Max Payne 3

Max Payne 2 sits high on my all-time favorites list. Maybe I was just young and impressionable, and maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was the only game I had access to for a long, long while after my Xbox died and I got bored of Rome: Total War. I'm not sure, but after finishing that game upwards of 10 times, you bet your ass I'm excited for Max's return. Excited, yes, but, like Dragon's Dogma, I'm keeping my reservations. A number of things have me plenty hyped for this release, such as Rockstar's Euphoria and Natural Motion engines and the studio's excellent story pedigree, yet with the passage of time comes a large amount of skepticism. Will Rockstar put in the effort to make this capable of living up to its predecessors, or is this just cashing in on a popular name? With Rockstar's history, I'm almost certain they'll give Max the love he deserves, however I still want to give this a fair shake.

4. Fez

By now, it seems like everyone even remotely in tune with gaming news has heard about Phil Fish and his hotly anticipated indie game, Fez. I, on the other hand, only heard about this game as a result of all the hullaballoo that came out of Mr. Fish's controversial GDC comments towards Japan's games industry, and I'm pretty glad that I did -- hear about the game, that is, not the controversy. Fez interests me mainly because I have no idea what the hell is going on in the videos I've seen so far. It's hard to wrap my brain around its 2D/3D concept. The trailer above isn't really a gameplay demo, but if you do some searching, you'll likely see that it looks rather mind-boggling. Since the game's recently been given an actual release date, I'm really hoping it'll be on display during the show so I can see if it's as high concept as it looks or actually intuitive and I'm just dumb. Also, the music is absolutely captivating. I never knew chiptunes cold be so whimsical.

5. Far Cry 3

Ah, yes, Far Cry 3. You know, I was a bit surprised in myself when I gave this game a numbered position in my list, but then I recalled all the great times I had barreling through thick African jungles in a jeep, lighting dynamic brushfires to strategically corner my unsuspecting foes, or hang gliding across deep valleys in Far Cry 2. Then I remembered the terrible gunplay and stupid malaria gimmick and I thought to myself, "Man, I really hope they fixed that crap." Thus, Far Cry is here. From what I've seen so far out of the E3 presentation and the subsequent trailers, I'm quite stoked on this game, but I have to know if those key elements are still broken, unsatisfying, or just plain stupid. I'd also like to see how expansive the world is and whether the player is tied to a single, linear island set-up like the original Far Cry or something bigger and wide open. Personally, I'm gunning for the latter.

Despite it's flaws, I still loved Far Cry 2, so I'm hoping Ubisoft will pull through with this one. If the shooting still sucks, though, I'll probably still pick it up to see what whacky shenanigans those drug trips entail.

Honorable Mentions:

These are the games I'd sure like to see, but highly doubt will be on display. That, or I'm really confident they'll be amazing.

Bioshock: Infinite, Hitman: Absolution, Orcs Must Die 2, Trials: Evolution, Quantum Conundrum, Darksiders II, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Assassin's Creed III, The Last of Us

If you're going to PAX East, what are you looking forward to seeing/doing? If you're not going, what would you want me to look out for?

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A Newbie's Thoughts on Giant Bomb

Howdy!

This being my first blog post and all, I figure it goes without saying that I'm relatively new to this whole Giant Bomb thing. I've been into gaming for a long, long time, so finding out that Jeff Gerstmann and Co. founded this shortly after the 2007 "incident" was pretty surprising. Speaking of, what the timing of my move here couldn't have been better, what with the move back to Gamespot's offices, and all.

I used to be a straight IGN guy back in the day, mostly as a result of the awesome personalities on their podcasts. Three Red Lights and Game Scoop! were weekly staples that kept me loyal to the site. But, times change and people leave, so after a sizable chunk of my favorite editors were laid-off or left the company, my interest dwindled.

My ensuing search for somewhere new led me to the Giant Bombcast, which has been my lastest auditory obsession. The regular three hour shows of rambling nonsense that sometimes brings up games (or whatever) harkens back to the days of TRL in the best way possible. From there, it was only a matter of time before I discovered Quick Looks and everything else Giant Bomb has to offer.

This blogging platform is pretty great. I haven't written much on it, but it looks fairly stable, unlike Tumblr. Adding achievement-type things to profile building is also much appreciated for someone nearly 60 trophies away getting all 440 Riddler Trophies in Arkham City. I'm rarely that much of an achievement whore, but hey, when shit gets incentivized, I get interested (I'm also writing here because there's one of those achievements attached to it).

So far, my time here has been great. Though the Meebo bar has got to go, I hear it'll soon find it's way off the site, so... that about solves that. I'm excited to continue going here for my daily game news fix, and I'm super glad I jumped aboard when I did.

Also, big pieces of Giant Bomb are located in Sausalito, CA. As a Sausalito native, that blew my mind.

There you have it. I should get out of bed.

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