It’s tempting to label Drox Operative as Din’s Curse with spaceships. The two titles share a lot on the surface, from the almost identical UI to the randomly generated worlds that develop organically. Yet Curse looked like just another dungeon crawler, and it delivered one of the smartest twists on the genre in years. Looks, after all, can be deceiving, and behind Operative‘s textbook looting and questing lies a unique and truly dynamic game world. It’s part RPG, part grand strategy, and all oh-hey-it’s-two-in-the-morning-already. (more…)
Bio: John Boske
- John "Karlinn" Boske
- Just your average, lazy, mildly obsessive-compulsive 20-something gamer/writer, with aspirations of doing either of the latter for pay sometime in the near future. I make no secret of my PC gaming heritage, nor the fact that I use 'heritage' improperly to describe a tendency to favor; I believe the proper word there is proclivity. But I digress.
I do that a lot too, by the way.
Anyhow, until further notice I'm your resident editor person who occasionally deigns to review games, but mostly is just here to keep things running as smoothly and error-free as possible. I have a strong fondness for literature of all kinds, have a man-crush on Warren Spector, and possess a soft spot for those games that offer little more than a really cool idea. I'm also one of the nicest, most laid-back people you're going to find without the aid of "herbal supplements", and I'm told I should be in radio.
If only, my friends. *If only*.
Posts by John Boske
Five years prior, Mass Effect was BioWare’s new, unproven IP, and exclusive to the 360. Now it’s a critically acclaimed, multiplatform epic that’s broken records all the way to its third and presumably final chapter. Expectations couldn’t be higher, and no doubt BioWare could empathize in feeling the weight of a galaxy on their shoulders. Although noticeably flawed, for the most part Mass Effect 3 is every bit the emotional, action-packed, and deeply personal adventure it was advertised to be, and it’s not fair to claim that a highly criticized ending undermines the whole experience. Yet here I am, about to say exactly that: Mass Effect 3 fumbles the end so spectacularly that, rather than feeling satisfied or eager to revisit the saga, I’m just ready to put the whole sad mess behind me. (more…)
Occasionally a game transcends the usual hype train business to become a true event, a shared experience that people talk about for years. For all its changes over time, The Elder Scrolls is an entire series of event games, Bethesda’s self-contained industry of scale-breakingly huge sandbox RPGs. As the long awaited fifth installment, Skyrim is too burdened by old issues for a word as loaded as ‘perfect.’ But there is perfection in the adventure it delivers, which is the distilled essence of everything TES has gotten right over the years. (more…)
Dead Island is Borderlands meets Left 4 Dead set in Far Cry with the melee of Condemned. I wanted something less abrupt to start with, but this game is a Normandy beach landing away from hitting the FPS singularity (not to be confused with the FPS titled Singularity). No doubt the story of how a design team brainstormed their way to this is one for the history books. The combination might sound impractical and unwise, like wiring up a crowbar with a car battery, but you can’t argue with results. It’s messy, cumbersome, strange, and fun as hell. (more…)
It all comes down to this: Courier vs. Courier, Trouble in the Rubble, the Exchange on the Interchange. Lonesome Road starts with no fanfare other than questions lingering since Fallout New Vegas began. Ulysses, the original courier slated to deliver the fateful Platinum Chip, offers you nothing more than the reason he turned down the job. The Road itself offers more, from the usual DLC bonuses to a suitably epic climax, guest starring a friendly face from the Mojave. While the content certainly has its high points, it commits you to a linear slugfest and short-changes the narrative where it should have put the most effort. It’s engaging in the beginning, but for content that promised answers it’s not well prepared to give them. (more…)
Longtime fans could be forgiven for being wary of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It’s a prequel to a series that ended rather decisively, the last outing proved somewhat disappointing, and the original’s complexity might not sell in today’s market. Normally that’s a free space and a commercial set to rock music away from bad sequel Bingo. Let’s not kid ourselves, the real issue surrounding Human Revolution has nothing to do with transhumanism or the nature of man. Instead the question is how it holds up after years of anticipation, and more than that how well it stands on its own. Is it a great game in a rich world packed with meaningful choices? Absolutely. Does it surpass Deus Ex? Almost. (more…)
Much of Fallout‘s peculiar style comes from its tongue-in-cheek treatment of SCIENCE! – yes, the allcaps-exclamation is an important distinction – as imagined through the lens of nuclear age wonder and Cold War paranoia. Old World Blues, the latest Fallout New Vegas DLC, doesn’t so much as run with this concept as drags it into a rocket pointed at Mars. Although dialogue is somewhat bloated, Blues‘ rampant craziness is a welcome change of pace from the gravely serious Dead Money and Honest Hearts. And if that’s not enough for you, then know that this is still a fun, well-balanced adventure with more ground to cover than any Fallout DLC to date. (more…)
Although based on the written works of Andrzej Sapkowski, CD Projekt’s The Witcher proved to be a saga of its own, in no small part from its virtually unprecedented post-release overhaul. Launching to high expectations, The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings quickly loses some steam thanks to early gameplay and interface issues. Sticking with it, however, reveals a complex, sophisticated narrative about big decisions and long-term consequences. Even saying that sells the game short. This is, simply put, one of the best stories the genre has produced in a long time. (more…)
Valkyria Chronicles 2 had at least four major hurdles to clear: deliver a second helping of the first game’s quirky strategy and action; adhere to the cartoony, yet charming and often beautiful aesthetics; tie it together with a strong narrative; and do it all with the PSP’s hardware. It doesn’t quite clear them all, as it is saddled with competing partial stories and lingering smaller issues from its predecessor. However, VC2 expands intelligently on existing mechanics and smoothly adapts the engine to the portable platform so much that it feels right at home. (more…)
Between what’s in the Fallout bible and what made it to the games, it’s easy to forget how much of Fallout‘s established world remains unexplored. Enter Honest Hearts, a slice of post-war tribal politics aimed at filling in a few of New Vegas‘ blanks. The content doesn’t quite have a strong narrative thrust, and Zion National Park, though pretty, is lacking for environmental diversity. Still, it’s backed by some very interesting elements that tie smartly into the larger picture, and, more importantly, is more of what New Vegas did right: room to explore, people to deal with, and choices to make. (more…)
At first glance Din’s Curse gives the impression of a leaner, more efficient take on Diablo or Torchlight. You know the genre by now: you’re the hero, there’s the dungeon, clear quests to get loot, kill the boss, rinse and repeat until game over. Much of that holds true here, but get past that outer layer and you’ll find the devil in the details, and a fiendishly clever one to boot. Where other games sit and wait for you to make your move, Din’s Curse plays back, and aggressively so. Supported by strong and versatile gameplay, the central mechanic turns a by-the-numbers hunt for better gear into a tense, engaging, and meaningful dungeon crawl. (more…)
As if following up on Mass Effect wasn’t enough, BioWare had a major challenge in the sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. Despite its flaws, Origins boasted a malleable plot and fantastic characters, and much the same can be said of Dragon Age 2. Discarding the procedural fantasy epic for a more personal story, DA2 speeds up the action even as it paces itself on the narrative. It’s not always a healthy mix, as questionable choices intrude on and sometimes undermine serious developments, but the game easily succeeds in making this new direction fun and engaging. Whether its surpasses its predecessor, however, is far less cut-and-dry. (more…)
Last year’s Fallout New Vegas lived up to the series’ pedigree in many important ways, not all of them to its credit. But no one can accuse Obsidian of not knowing how to plot, and even in a crowded field Vegas easily gave other story-heavy RPGs a run for their money. Dead Money is their first step into DLC territory, essentially playing as its own separate game that just happens to use your character. Minor, but frequent nuisances are determined to hobble the experience, yet beyond that are real moments of ingenuity that even Vegas didn’t pull off. (more…)
Valkyria Chronicles is an odd beast: a grim war story constructed with standard anime elements, all wrapped around an unusual twist on turn-based strategy and painted with every bright color in the palette. It’s not always an easy fit, and the plot has an annoying habit of telegraphing its punches. Yet there’s a respectable narrative at the core, backed by some solid direction and a charming cast. And if that doesn’t do it for you, the game is still some of the most fun you can have with tanks involved. (more…)
The otherwise clear line between fanmade product and professional creation tends to get fuzzier as people take the project more seriously. Take The Nameless Mod, a massive and ambitious mod for Deus Ex built by fans, for fans, and about fans. The fandom itself is the world of TNM, and as silly as it sounds the concept is played amazingly straight, yet done surprisingly well. Even if you peel back the internet setting and nested conspiracies, you’ll still find a well-built campaign at the core, as deep and replayable as Deus Ex at its best. (more…)
“More of the same” is only a bad thing if same was bad the first time around. Consider Eschalon: Book II, the next entry in Basilisk’s classic-styled roleplaying series. Functionally identical to Book I, it boasts a few new hooks but overall just expands and refines the content: same engine, same gameplay, same ground rules. That basically means every other paragraph of this review will start with words like “As in Book I” and such. Fortunately, more of Eschalon – a challenging, intelligent, and versatile RPG by any measure – is most definitely a good thing. (more…)
Man, where to even begin? Let’s start with big. Fallout New Vegas is mind-bogglingly big, easily outpacing Fallout 3 in terms of content. With the hard work of engine development out of the way, Obsidian was free to expand on the template Bethesda provided; a long-awaited homecoming for many of the original Fallout developers. The team clearly didn’t hold back, and there’s enough game here to overwhelm even the most industrious player. While the results aren’t quite perfect, New Vegas is a clear improvement in most respects and easily one of the best RPGs this year. (more…)
One part tabletop RPG, one part multiple strains of vampire fiction, and three parts of that special Troika blend of high-ambition but low-stability programming; that’s Vampire: the Masquerade: Bloodlines in a nutshell. A serviceable first-person RPG, Bloodlines is also a newbie’s field guide to the World of Darkness and its modern-day undead secret societies. How well the game works depends largely on how well you can tolerate subpar coding and questionable design choices, yet buried under the usual PC RPG mess is a versatile story and a cast of memorable, well-acted characters. (more…)
Modern role-playing games have come a long way, delivering bigger worlds, shinier graphics, and – sometimes – better acting and writing. Yet ask any old-school RPG fan and they’ll tell you some things just can’t be done with fully voiced characters and state-of-the-art visuals. Illustrating the point is Eschalon: Book I, the debut title from Basilisk Games and first in a planned three-part series. With thematic roots in series like Wizardry and Ultima, Eschalon is at once a nostalgia trip and a smart, atmospheric standalone adventure, provided you’re up to the challenge it poses. (more…)
Strip away the sci-fi veneer of futuristic settings and you’ll often find traditional stories buried underneath. Ion Storm’s Anachronox is little different, building its planet-hopping adventure on the back of a washed-up detective story set in a weird, wild future. Burdened by buggy gameplay that had problems when it was released, it nonetheless stands out even amongst modern titles. With skilled story direction and a few unique twists on the formula, Anachronox boasts more character and ingenuity in the first hour than most entire games manage. It’s just a shame the game insists on getting in the way. (more…)