Thursday, July 2, 2009

Review: Sacred Gold (Steam edition)

This review is of the Steam PC version of the game, which includes the base game plus a full expansion for 9.99, which is a good price as well.

Though I didn't look, you could probably find a disc of the game even cheaper than that on Amazon or Ebay.

Short review: if you like Diablo II you will like Sacred.

Long version: Sacred is one of those post-Diablo II action RPGs that is almost impossible to talk about WITHOUT talking about Diablo II.

I am a big believer in a review being a chance for the game being reviewed to shine. Having read reviews of my books where the reviewer spends way more time talking about some other game, nothing annoys me more.

However, there will be times when mentioning that other game will be unavoidable, as there are things Sacred actually does better than Diablo II (in case it is not annoying self-evident, in my opinion).

Sacred is an action rpg where the player travels around an open world, taking quests, killing things, taking their stuff, selling the loot and doing it all over again.

The real allure here is the aforementioned loot. It changes how your character looks, there's a lot of fiddly bits to it, both in terms of raw damage/defense but also in terms of elemental damage inflicted, or elemental resistances.

The character selection is nice and exotic. In fact, it might be a bit TOO exotic for some players tastes, though there are a few more average archetypes mixed in as well.

There's the Gladiator, who wears heavy armor, dual wields weapons and in general does that fighter thing of getting up close and personal and dealing out damage to mobs of goblins.

There's the Dwarf, who wears heavy armor and blasts enemies with his hand cannon and explosives.

The daemon a fighter with some magic abilities of his demonic heritage.

Seraphim, a half angel (or fallen angel perhaps?) who uses her abilities to help mankind. Another mix of magic and combat abilities.
The wood elf, a master of the bow with some magic abilities mixed in.

The dark elf, a dual-wielding swordsman who can also lay traps for his enemies.

The battle mage, a master of the elemental magic.

And the vampiress, listed as a "vampire with a soul" for all you Angel and Buffy fans, who uses combat abilities both of weapons and of her vampiric heritage.

Each class has some unique abilities but also some abilities in common.

Special abilities are not rated with mana, which I kind of liked. You arent having to track two separate pools of points (mana and health). Instead, your special abilities have a "cool down".
There's a concentration abilitiy all the classes have to reduce this cool down for those who want to really focus on their special abilities rather than having to alternate between the occasional special and a series of normal attacks.

Items come in huge variety, with many items restricted to one class or another.

You also find skill bumps as items relatively frequently, adding a point to a special ability.

Items also have slots, which you can place objects into to make the item more powerful.

Here is one place where Sacred does something better than Diablo II. First, you aren't hunting gems JUST to put into items with slots. You can either visit a blacksmith and have him just enhance an item, increasing a weapon's damage or an armor's resistance even if you dont have an item to put in the slot.

But then most items you CAN put into a slotted weapon or armor can just be worn, either as rings or amulets. In Diablo II the best diamond in the world was nothing but dead weight without a sword or armor to put it in.

And my favorite touch, you can also have a Blacksmith take an item OUT of a slot, to transfer a valuable rare gem to a better weapon or armor.

Sacred also features mounted combat. There are stables where horses of various quality can be bought. While on horseback you get a bump to your HP and defenses.

You also get special abilities only usable on horseback, like the ability to ride an opponent down with your horse.
Finally, there's a mounted combat ability tree many of the combat-oriented classes have, giving you even more abilities while on horseback.

Most class abilities, however, will not work while mounted, meaning in areas with lots of opponents you will probably want to walk, unless you've invested heavily in mounted combat.

Conveniently, the monsters ignore your mount when you're not on it, and with a single button press you can unleash a whistle and your horse will speed to your side, usually arriving in just a few seconds.

So you can move on foot through a heavily populated area, whistle for your horse, and head back to town at a faster pace to sell your loot.

Maybe my most favorite thing about Sacred is that it's much more of an open world game than Diablo.
The entire world seems open to exploration from the start. You meet many NPCs who have minor side-quests as well. These quests are much smaller in scope than the sidequests in Diablo II or Titan Quest but there are a LOT more of them.

The side quests are also kind of nice in that they're not "save the world" type missions. One involves a fisherman asking you to escort his favorite bait-dealer to town so he can catch more fish, for example.

In the end, Sacred is a great game from 2004. It wont appeal to everyone, as there are folks who just dont like action RPGs. But if you are the slightest bit likely to view such a game favorably, Sacred is for you and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


I'm a big fan of Steam.

For those who have never used the service, Steam is the PC game equivalent of Itunes.

Instead of schlepping to the corner gamestop, or even buying from Amazon in the comfort of your home then waiting a few days for your game to arrive, you pick a game, pay for it, then download it.

With my DSL connection, this still takes a few hours for many games but its still the fastest way to get a game.

Probably the biggest benefit of Steam over other download services for games is that games are tied to your account, not your PC. This means when you get a new PC, or if you want to play a game on your laptop and your home desktop, you simply download the game to the new machine and continue playing.

Your saved games are local, but most games seem to allow you to download them to multiple PCs.

I've used gamestop's game download service and Direct2Drive and neither of them have this feature. Popcap games also go away when you get a new machine.

Steam has both made me aware of games I'd never have heard of otherwise but also put me onto some really cheap games. I've been playing a ton of Port Royale 2 lately, which is a very Sid Meier's Pirates-like strategy game of buying and selling that I got for 4.99.

I also got Dark Messiah of Might and Magic which is sort of a first-person action RPG. The game isn't great but again, it cost me 4.99 so I feel I've gotten my money's worth and more from it.

Lastly, I've gotten Sacred, a Diablo-like game that does a lot of things really well. I think its probably better than Titan Quest, a Diablo-like I also thought was well done. This one was "pricey", meaning I got the Gold edition (the original Sacred plus its expansion) for a whole 9.99.

Now don't let my cheap-ness let you believe that Steam is just for older games or indie games that don't charge a lot. I also downloaded Fallout 3 from Steam, which ran me the full 49.99, meaning I probably paid more for it on Steam than I would have on Amazon. Still, I bought it and was playing it that night, which is a huge plus.

Friday, May 1, 2009

BNG Reviews Audiosurf

Presentation: 9/10

Gameplay: 10/10

Fun Factor: 10/10

Total Score 29/30

Note: This review was conducted on the Steam copy of the game.

Audiosurf is a music game with a difference: it uses YOUR music.

Not MY music, my music sucks. YOUR music. The good stuff.

The game allows you to choose songs and creates tracks that match the song, gaining and losing intensity as the song does.

In terms of gameplay, it seems somewhere between a puzzle game like Bejeweled and a racing game.

Some of the modes trend more toward a racing feel while others are more puzzle-y.

Besides the fact that it turns your music into a frenetic gameboard, that's another thing I liked about audiosurf: it has lots of modes that make a real difference in game. 14 modes to be precise, spread between three difficulties.

Taking a mode you played before, using Mono as an example, which appears in all three difficulty levels, has a completely different feel when bumped up to the next higher difficulty.

Audiosurf also has a great community aspect, allowing you to see how your score racks up against players locally and worldwide.

I picked some obscure songs at random from my collection and found that almost every song in my collection offered SOME competition. But if you want really heavy competition you'll need to pick more popular tunes.

Audiosurf helps this along with a feature called "audiosurf radio" which is a selection of free songs included in the game that are rotated out on a weekly basis. These songs form a collective backbone and are always some of the most popular and difficult songs, allowing you to really compete against the world.

Of course, if you're not ready for the pressure of representing your country, you can play offline or just stick to the lower difficulty levels.

In short, there's something here for just about every type of gamer. Whether you want a mellow, stree-free game you can pick up and play for 5-10 minutes or a frenetic game where you're trying for perfection to be in the global top ten audiosurf is a game you owe it to yourself to try.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Broken Steel has a date

Here at Beyond Reviews, we are most definitely a partisan blog.

We are unabashedly pro-Fallout 3 and really, by extension, pro-apocalypse.

So more time in the Capital Wasteland is extremely welcome news!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Iron Fist confirmed for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Luke Cage is already confirmed, which makes this news even cooler to any right-thinking individual.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I want this game NOW: Diablo III edition

Nuff Said.

Coming to you live from their fortified bunker in the middle of the DC hellhole

The site was down for a bit but the March 31st edition of the Giant Bombcast is now up.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fallout 3 wins Game Critics 2008 Game of the Year

Beating out some great competition, a panel of judges that reads like a who's who of technology and game writers named Fallout 3 their game of the year.

Given that it's my game of 2008, I consider this a good choice!

The order of finish for the finalists was:

1. Fallout 3
2. Left 4 Dead
3. Metal Gear Solid 4
4. Grand Theft Auto IV
5. Little Big Planet
6. Gears of War 2
7. Fable II
8. Rock Band 2
9. Dead Space
10. Braid

Read more about each game here.


There was a time when I was an enormous Gamespot fanboy. I was a paid subscriber to the site, participated in weird corporate "offers" that they sent my way, attended online events live via video, the whole nine yards.

Yesterday, I cancelled my subscription to the Hotspot podcast, my last actual recurring tie to the site.

It sounds silly, but it felt weird to me. I had really invested in the site. I'm not speaking of monetarily so much as my time and affection. I was a fan.

Since that time, Carrie Gouskos, Greg Kasavin, Rich Gallup, Jeff Gerstmann, Ryan Davis, Vinnie Caravella, Brad Shoemaker, Alex Navarro and Jason Ocampo have all left the site.

Some of them left because they great opportunites, many left because of the clusterf$%k that was the Gertsmann firing but overtime the site became less of the great personalities and reviewers that I read, listened and tuned in live to see.

I can read console reviews of Jeff, Ryan, Vinnie and Brad at Giant Bomb and I can read Jason Ocampo's PC reviews at IGN. And for reviews those folks don't cover, I find myself scanning metacritic and picking reviews at random that catch my eye.

There was a time when I went straight to Gamespot and nowhere else.

And then the podcast. Somewhere along the way the Hotpost just became completely un-listenable to me. Unlike the reviewer exodus, that was a gradual thing but it just seemed like the podcast became less and less interesting to me.

Of course, I'm a little more on the fringe of gaming these days- which might not help. But mostly, I find the Giant Bombcast much more entertaining. It's *funny*.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Ultimate Sandbox

It's interesting to me that Bethesda and Rockstar games seem to be going in different directions.

What I mean by that is, to me, Bethesda's most recent games, Oblivion and Fallout 3, are even more sandboxy than their previous games.

In Morrowind, for example, the world didn't scale with you. What this meant was that you could technically go anywhere and do anything but in reality, some areas and some quests were best left until later.

This forced a certain level of grinding into the mix, or at least made tackling the game in a certain order the path of least resistance.

While making the entire world revolve around the character was disliked by some players, I loved it, precisely because it made Oblivion the Ultimate Sandbox.

If you look at Grand Theft Auto IV, by contrast, it's much less of a sandbox than previous GTA games, for my money. The game constantly prompts you (through the cellphone) to quests, to hanging out with your friends and so forth.

It's really interesting to see the two companies that (in my mind at least) really pioneered the true sandbox and watch one of them trying to find ways to make the game even MORE flexible, while the other wants to try and nudge you onto an optimal path.

And oddly enough, I think both strategies were winners for the companies involved. GTA IV had much more of a story and a much tighter, consistent feel. Basically, the more you walked that path the game tried to nudge you onto, the better an experience you had.

Meanwhile in Fallout 3, the game is often at its best when you pick a direction and just walk until something catches your eye, then investigate it.

While I've done the big quests many times, if I pick a direction and walk I *will* encounter something brand new within an hour or so. It might be a random encounter but often it's a place I've seen on the horizon but never visited.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Starting Well

As I continue to play Fallout 3, it's occurred to me that one of the best things Fallout 3 does is start well. This is something Fallout 3 has in common with Bethesda's other recent classic, Oblivion.

The tutorial in Fallout 3 really gives you a feel for living in a vault. Your birthday presents are a hand-me down baseball and a single comic "with no missing pages". In other words, stuff that's been getting passed from person to person for 200 years.

When you escape the vault, you are immediately thrust into the game, encountering the town sheriff of Megaton, evil businessman Mr. Burke, amoral saloon owner Moriarty and drug-addled ex-prostitute Silver within the game's first 30 minutes (assuming you don't just kill everyone you meet- also a possibility).

These early encounters introduce you to the kinds of karmic choices you're going to be asked to make. Do you disarm the bomb at the center of Megaton or blow the place sky-high?

Do you ice Silver and give some of her caps to Moriarty or do you take some of her caps and lie to him about it? Or do you kill her, take her all her caps, then hack Moriarty's computer and steal the information you need from him anyway.

I'd also point out that the two closest "dungeons" to you at the beginning of the game, the Super-Duper Mart and Springvale Elementary School are two of the most evocative in the entire game. These aren't the endless metro tunnels, Vaults and caves you'll explore later. These are real places and are carefully crafted.

There's a special magic to a game that starts early.

Here I contrast Oblivion and Fallout 3 with most Final Fantasy games, which are notorious for starting terribly. I have a great affection for the FF series but the tutorials and early stages of their games are chores and are the biggest barrier to playing them multiple times.

While the initial tutorial in Fallout 3 can get old, the early stages of the game itself, when you make your way to Megaton and explore the nearby environs seems to just get better the second (ok let's be real, the 7th) time through.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Beyond Reviews Fallout 3: The Pitt

Presentation: 10/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Fun Factor: 9/10
Total Score: 27/30

Fallout 3 is a game that has drawn me in like few games have. In fact, as I recently remarked to a friend, the last time a game drew me in to this degree was the original Diablo.
In short, it's been like, since the 70's that I was this into a game. No wait, make that since 1997. It only feels like it's been since the 70's.

With Oblivion, Bethesda set an extremely high bar for game design that Fallout 3 exceeds in many respects, while staying true to the legacy of one of the great PC RPG franchises of all time.

But one doesn't simply release a game these days. After a game's release it seems that Downloadable Content (DLC to us hipsters) is inevitable. Of course, with games taking years to develop, it makes sense that developers wouldn't want to immediately walk away and with games as great as Oblivion and Fallout 3, why would players want them to?

The first DLC update for Fallout 3 was Operation: Anchorage, which sent your intrepid post-apocalyptic adventurer into a deadly VR simulation of the Chinese invasion of Anchorage. As part of the simulation, you left all your equipment in the real world and used virtual equipment.

While The Pitt again has you leaving your equipment behind for a time, in this case to pose as a slave, it offers a much more compelling mix of the gameplay elements that make Fallout 3 so great.

The Pitt is a dark, smoggy, polluted area that actually makes one long for the beauty of the Capital Wasteland. Armed only with an Auto-Ax (think a combination of a weed-whacker and a circular saw and you've got an image of what this baby is) you're sent to gather steel ingots, a mission no one expects you to return from.

On this mission you have your first encounter with Trogs, creatures that look something like the feral ghouls of Fallout 3 except they have distended stomachs and crawl around on all fours.

Of course you do return and from there you are given a chance to earn your "freedom" by competing in the arena. I'd say two men enter one man leaves (believe me, I really, really want to) but unfortunately you are usually outnumbered in the arena so I can't.

While I won't give away the ending, let me say that The Pitt offers more or what's great about Fallout 3. There are perks to earn, items to find, NPCs to interact with and slavers to put down (or prop up for you negative karma types).

If you're a fan of Fallout 3 and (unlike me) stopped playing, you now have a perfect reason to get back in. If you haven't yet tried Fallout 3, you now have one more reason to give this great game a look.

Beyond Reviews Blue Dragon Plus

Presentation: 10/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Fun Factor: 8/10
Total Score: 26/30

Sometimes it doesn't take long for an idea to catch on.

Looking at Blue Dragon Plus for the Nintendo DS, it sure seems that a trend has formed of RPG games branching into the strategy genre.

And why not? Final Fantasy Tactics has been such a success its become its own cottage industry. Final Fantasy XII sported a real-time strategy sequel for the DS called Revenant Wings and now Blue Dragon has a RTS sequel of its own in Blue Dragon Plus.

Like its predecessors, Blue Dragon Plus offers a mix of real-time strategy and RPG elements.

The overall presentation is top-notch both during play and during the game's cinematics. The game boasts a sountrack by Final Fantasy legend Nobuo Uematsu and character designs by Akira Toriyama (character designer for Dragon Ball Z and the Dragon Quest series).

The control scheme is simple enough that the game can be controlled with the stylus alone, selecting units by touch, selecting a destination (or target) and choosing between magical abilities are easy to get the hang of, though sometimes the small screen makes things a little confusing during the heat of battle.

Still, the characters are distinctive enough that you can tell them apart, even though they're quite small and the game does a good job of walking you through the early missions, which are played with a smaller party of more generalized characters.

For someone like me, who prefers his strategy in turns and not real-time, this was a welcome introduction to the game and made it easy to get involved in the action. The game's tutorial missions also spell out quite clearly what the roles of the various characters are- who should be wading into melee and who should hiding behind them to throw spells.

Although the game sports a few dedicated spellcasters, including an elemental "artillery" caster and healer, almost all the characters have a special spell-like ability to inflict elemental damage, usually in an area. Some of these attacks strike in a line while others affect an area. Once an ability is used, there's a "cool down" period in real time before a special ability can be used again.

Blue Dragon Plus packs a lot of fun gameplay into its 30-hour single player campaign. Your characters gain levels and can find items to increase their abilities. Each character has a unique feel and has a role to fill and the maps where the battles take place are large and allow plenty of room for maneuvering.

The levels are well designed and give you plenty of chances to use the terrain to your advantage.

Blue Dragon Plus is an engaging game for gamers of all ages. In addition to playing the game myself, I loaned it to my neice, a 12 year-old dedicated gamer who has beaten Final Fantasy X-2 and the Kingdom Hearts games more times than I can count (more times than me for sure).

Like me, she enjoyed the game and was drawn in by its cute character designs, which she immediately recognized as "by that Dragon Quest guy".

If you are a fan of strategy games, especially on handheld platforms where they seem particularly strong right now, or if you are a fan of old-school Japanese RPGs, you should definitely check out Blue Dragon Plus.