Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Banner Saga 3: A Quick Review

The Banner Saga 3 brings to close the epic tale steeped in Norse mythology that Stoic Studio began to spin with the original Banner Saga in 2014.

The Banner Saga trilogy has always struck me as a re-imagining of the schoolhouse classic Oregon Trail. Only instead of caulking the wagons and fording the river hoping not to drown or later down the road be killed by dysentery, you're pushing from one town to the next trying to outrun the darkness, and not be killed by the Dredge.

Your Banner grows long on the Oregon Viking Trail.
The Banner Saga 3 begins where your adventure in the Banner Sage 2 ended. While you can play Banner Saga 3 without having played any of the previous entries (there is a short catch up video you can watch) it's really not worth it. I'd recommend you wait until the Banner Saga Trilogy is released in a few days. The game does little in the way of world building and leans heavily on you having played the previous entries.

This is not Frozen the Tactical RPG.
The art style of the Banner Saga is fantastic. From the battle maps to the small vignettes that push the story forward. There is also active art that has slight movement to keep scenes from becoming stale while your characters converse.

Great animation style of vignettes.
Your choices in the Banner Saga 3 continue to have consequences that you'll be held accountable for later on, much like the earlier entries in the saga. To show mercy or to kill a rival? Whether to participate in a battle or not? The outcome is not always what you hoped it would be. This also offers a level of replayability to the game.

The majority of the game plays out with you either on the battlefield or caravanning across town or in the darkness. The caravanning aspect is why I always draw the parallel to the Oregon Trail. Along your way, you can meet people that can join as clansman or fighters. However, these choices will impact your moral and your food reserves. You don't always want to bring everyone along. Sometimes you'll also be forced to leave people behind to reinforce strategic positions.

In combat, you'll position your players along a square grid and attack your enemies with different skills based upon your class. Kill the enemies and earn renown. As you gain enough renown you can promote your characters. One of the key aspects of combat in Banner Saga is whether you attack your enemy and deal damage to their health or break their armor. If you choose to break their armor you can thenlaterr attack them with another character and deal more damage to their health than if both characters did normal attacks against a particular enemy.

Good luck trying to read that small black font on the red background in handheld mode.
For those of you that are going to play the Banner Saga 3 on the Nintendo Switch beware that their are some screens that are difficult to read in handheld mode. Take a look at the last screenshot for an example. Two other minor annoyances for all systems have to deal with the camera. The first being you cannot rotate the camera around the battlefield and this can make it annoying or even difficult to select a target or move without running over a hazard. The second is the camera isn't active and won't move to a character your enemy has targeted and chosen to attack. If you are looking at the wrong part of the screen you can miss it.

The Banner Saga 3 is a good tactical RPG and does a fine job closing out the Banner Saga. If you enjoyed the previous 2 games this is a definite purchase. If this game strikes your fancy but you haven't played any of the others yet wait a few days and pick up the trilogy instead.

7 out of 10.

A review copy of Banner Saga 3 was provided by Versus Evil's PR team for the Nintendo Switch.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Titan Quest: A Quick Review

Over the last 15 months, there have been almost 1000 games released on the Switch eShop. That's a staggering number. However, there is a drought of ARPGs. Blizzard teased Diablo and the other giant ARPG on the market, Path of Exile, is grinding away on the PC and XBox, but still, no mention if either is headed to Nintendo's knockout platform. That leaves Titan Quest uniquely positioned to take advantage of that genre gap.

Titan Quest isn't a new game. It is a refresh of the ARPG released all the way back in 2006. The problem is the game still feels like it is from 2006. That's not to say it's bad. It's just dated and it feels like an old game with a new coat of paint. Particularly when it comes to targeting enemies and player combat animations.

Most modern ARPG controls are intuitive. Sure there will be some special functions that are unique to the game but the ability to switch targets should be something easily done. I could never find this information in Titan Quest's tutorials or help functions. I had to search the internet to find if it was even possible. And before you say "Oh no Rob, you had to look something up on the internet!" yes I understand it wasn't that difficult to do, however; good games are designed well enough that I shouldn't have to. It turns out you can select a new target and you don't have to run away to do so. But it does require you to have to hold down your attack button and then push a direction with your left thumbstick and a wedge will appear highlighting an area. You can then rotate and select an enemy to target. It's not the most convenient.

Selecting new targets isn't as easy as a piece of pie.

The graphics look decent on the big screen, but they are clearly lacking modern textures. They look even better in handheld mode and the UI holds up. There are a lot of pop-ins though in handheld mode. I had a lot of "Oh look! How did that shrub just magically appear there?" moments. It definitely wasn't to scare the satyrs away because there are a ton of them. Waaaaaaaaaay too many in fact. They could rename the early stages of this game satyr quest because for the first two hours that feels like the only thing you kill.

Inventory Tetris engage!

When I first sat down to play Titan Quest I almost immediately regretted my decision. There was something just off about the game. After loading it back up and playing for a second, third, even sixth time (I know right? I guess it grew on me, or I wanted to see it threw to save you pain) it became quite evident the issue was the character animations. You swing at the enemies (satyrs) and you don't really connect with them but their health goes down. It just looked awkward.

I got the skills to pay the bills because this blog sure doesn't. :)

The game has all the tropes and trappings you'd expect in an ARPG: copious loot, deep skill system, a throwaway story. However, this one is based on human history and mythology. It even has local and online multiplayer which is great.

Overall though I can't escape the feeling that unless you are a gamer that is really jonesing for an ARPG on the Switch or you have fond nostalgic feelings for Titan Quest, in particular, you might be better served by passing on this game. For $20 it would probably be worth it but for $40 it's hard to recommend.  

6 out of 10. It's not bad, it's just meh. :|

A copy of this game as provided by THQNordiq's PR team.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Octopath Traveler: A Super Short Review

I have a soft spot in my heart for old school JRPGs. Final Fantasy IV, and VI, or II, and III as they were known then in the west, are two of my all time favorite gaming experiences. Heck, I even loved Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. I even have the SNES cartridges for them still. With that knowledge it should come as no surprise that I found the aesthetics of Octopath Traveler very intriguing when I first saw them on a teaser reel demonstrated when the Switch was being revealed.

Yep. I like Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Fight me!

When Square Enix launched the first demo for Octopath Traveler I wrote a little post about it here. Turns out I nailed it when it came to the name. My first impressions carried forward too so if you want some more words go check it out. I love the art style. The pixel graphics are great. But make no mistake, this is NOT a retro art style. The particle effects employed by the Unreal Engine would bake your SNES. 

Not gonna lie. This boss took almost an hour to kill. I may have been under leveled. It was a pain in the ass. I didn't feel threatened like I would die. It only felt really, really bored.

Each character has their own unique style of fighting. After completing the first chapter for a character you'll find a shrine that will make their job available as a support job for another character. This ability to mix and match will make sure that you can get all 8 unique combat styles in a fight with only four playable characters. One of the first jobs I unlocked was the scholar so I could inspect enemy weaknesses and break their armor.

Combat in Octopath Traveler takes place in turn based battles. While JRPGs started to employ active time battle systems in the 90s there is none of that here. Enemies have armor that is represented by a shield and are weak to certain attacks. Hit them with their weaknesses and eventually their armor will break. Breaking the armor of bosses later in the game will become paramount to your tactics. It will interrupt their most powerful abilities. Left alone these attacks could wipe out your party. 

The biggest criticism against Octopath Traveler is that there does not appear to be a singular unifying big bad that threatens the world and pulls all the characters together. Frankly I don't find that the game needs one. It's refreshing to take control of these 8 different characters and see the world through their perspective and deal with problems that are important to them. Not everything has to be of such proportions that it threatens the world's existence to make you want to get off the couch and do something about it.

It's great. 9/10.