Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga

 (All images are taken from, even though the community is traitorous.)

Divinity 2 Main Theme

Divinity II is an action-RPG set in a world that shares many ideas from medieval and fantasy stories that you would come to expect from a mass-produced fantasy novel found in a bookstore: dragons, knights, guilds, magic, swords, etc. It's cliched, but its done well. A bit of humor every now and then with a few references to pop culture, such as Power Rangers (it must be seen to be believed) means the game doesn't take itself too seriously without breaking the 4th wall.

The game takes you through the world of Rivelon as either a Hunter, Warrior, or Mage/Priest. Skills from these different classes can be combined to give you an upper hand in a fight. Want a Ranger that summons undead? You can do it. Want to customize skills for a paladin? It can be done. Actions are mapped to the face buttons and d-pad so attacks and healing items can be changed on the fly. About halfway through Ego Draconis, you can transform into a dragon. Flying is chaotic in some areas, with so many projectiles coming at you that you have no choice but to constantly move. Mind-reading is a skill gained at the beginning of the game and is useful for discovering a lot of secrets. Each time you read a mind it comes at a cost of experience points. Useful information, secrets, and sometimes stat and skill upgrades can come from mind-reading. The difficulty levels range from Casual, practically a walk in the park, to Nightmare, a level that requires planning an attention before rushing into a fight. The NPCs can be bland with backstories only being mentioned for a few of them. In my opinion, Damian is the best villain I've seen: he's arrogant, his voice is cocky, he knows he can't be touched and never misses a chance to rub it in. Others, such as Morgana that you meet in the beginning of the game, are never heard from again.

The story is typical and, unfortunately, somewhat predictable at points. You play a soldier who has been trained to become a Dragon Slayer, those who hunt dragons. Before a ritual is complete, one of the minor villains gets into your head, making you become "one with the dragon." From there you play both sides of the fence, trying to hold off your former-brothers-in-arms while discovering your true potential as a Dragon Knight and hunting down the games main villain and his army. Unfortunately again, you never encounter him in a fight, this leaves the possibility of a sequel in the open. But that remains to be seen.

The Flames of Vengeance takes place in Aleroth, which at first seems to be a bunch of back-and-forth fetch quests similar to the start of Ego Draconis. The city itself takes on a vibe different from the large open areas traversed in Ego Draconis. There is supposed to be a lot of life but with the current situation the streets are abandoned, giving it a hollow feeling.

The graphics are tight with very few glitches in the main areas. The redesigned portions of the game have many unconnected rocks and walls, some that seem hastily put together. Villages and forests are bright while dungeons, mines and lairs are darkened, which pulls off a nicely claustrophobic feeling. NPC animation can be very puppet-like, actions are scripted and repeated when talking to people. Traveling among places brings about a change in color tone, some areas may have a green brightness to them while others, particularly near an enemy hideout, will be red and shadowy. In Flames of Vengeance, the city of Aleroth is nicely detailed with a lot of areas that you want to explore.

The sound design is grade A, the orchestral soundtrack gives a sense of an epic tale. The music ramps up in intensity at the onset of a battle: the clash of metal, the yell of enemies, the explosions of a magic missile. The voice acting is superb and with many talented actors you never get bored of the conversations, however some of the NPCs can sound air-headed at times.

For achievement junkies, one playthrough is all it takes to earn 100%, but you may want to replay this game a couple of times since you might miss out on a quest. There are no multiple endings to Ego Draconis but thankfully the Flames of Vengeance sequel wraps up the story nicely. Once ED is finished, the game seamlessly starts FoV.

It should be noted that the Dragon Knight Saga is a re-release of the Divinity 2 game. The first standalone game, Ego Draconis released in 2009, was overlooked by most and received an average of 7/10 from gaming review sites. Aside from a few updated graphics shaders, a closer camera, redesigned menus, added DLC and Flames of Vengeance “sequel,” the main part of the game is the same, right down to the achievements. The load times, however, are dramatically increased even with the game installed. The addition of the art book and soundtrack CD are great incentives to buy the game soon. The art book is short and small but shows off the details of the game that you might not notice. The soundtrack is best described as atmospheric, relaxing, and captivating. If you were let down by the original game, Dragon Knight Saga is worth getting to complete the experience. For those who are unsure, try the demo first. Decide for yourself if you want to spend $40 on an action-RPG that does everything by the book and does it well.

Keep Playing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Nintendo's Next Console: What I Think (UPDATED)

In case those of you who have missed the news (or rumors, rather) about Nintendo's next console, there's a lot of speculation about what's been codenamed "Project Cafe." Many are saying it will be more powerful than the PS3, others are suggesting that if this is true, then Nintendo will be trying to win back the "hardcore" audience. After having guaranteed success with the Wii, many people might be drawn back to the company itself.

What I'm interested in are the controllers: what will Nintendo do this time around? Will it be motion controllers again or something beyond, something similar to Kinect? Or will they go back to regular old button mashers? From the mockups I've seen, particularly the one from IGN, it interests me. You can read the whole article here.

Able to stream games from the controller? That would make it its own handheld, and Nintendo has saturated the market with those. (On a different note: RIP Nintendo DS Lite.)
But I instead imagine something similar to this: 

Nintendo has never been about pressure sensitivity, so that could be put on the back burner for right now. As for control sticks, a screen that size (minus the black borders of the iPhone) would be able to display two of them along with 4 buttons. Nix the d-pad or have the ability to switch between the displayed right thumbstick to a d-pad in-game. Shoulder buttons can, of course, go on top of the controller.

Now about the system, if this thing is a powerhouse that some sites are claiming, I take it Nintendo isn't going to be doing backwards compatibility. They're also saying it'll either be the size of an SNES or an original Xbox.

I was highly impressed when Nintendo first announced the Wii years ago, I was planning on getting one eventually. But then the whole pile of slushware games came out, Nintendo was putting their approval on virtual toys and I realized that that's all the Wii has become: a toy. There are a few games worth playing on the console but the small amount of them makes it not worth buying. I'll keep my eyes, ears and mind open to Project Cafe in the meantime.

UPDATE: It's been confirmed by multiple sources that Nintendo will have a playable version of Project Cafe ready at this year's E3 in June. It seems that the Big Three console developers always have leaked information, which leads me to believe that its intentionally leaked for hype purposes.Speaking of hype, I was highly impressed with Nintendo when they revealed the Wii only to be let down by the millions of slushware titles that got approved by Nintendo, so I never bought one. I'm being cautious on this new console until more news is revealed, and possibly new IPs while they're at it.

Keep Playing.