Ways To Enhance Your Gaming Experience

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Games are more immersive, detailed, and realistic than ever (well, at least in appearance; most still seem to be set in outer space or far-off ancient kingdoms). Although many gamers remember the days of playing Nintendo and Sega Genesis on 13-inch televisions, today's games are 60-frames-per-second, million-color, 4K-resolution experiences! They are enthralling and engaging in a way that many gamers wouldn't have thought possible growing up. Tube-screen televisions and mono speakers simply don't cut it in 2016. In fact, even 1080p monitors and HD televisions are in many cases no longer sufficient to get the most out of today's titles. To get the most out of your gaming experience, you'll want to invest in the following:

4K Television (or Monitor)
When it comes to resolution, gaming left television and movies behind years ago. Though 1080p is still the gold standard for HD television and Blu-Ray, many games are now displayed at 4K resolution. Whether you're playing on a console or a PC (or Mac), you're going to want to invest in a monitor that properly suits your favorite titles – and that means buying a 4K UHD television (or comparable computer monitor). Luckily, your options are many. From 4k televisions to an abundance of stand-alone monitors, there are plenty of choices. No matter which you choose, your picture will be crisper, clearer, brighter, and more vibrant.

Noise Cancelling Headphones
When Super Mario Bros. was the state-of-the-art, game audio was rudimentary at best. In fact, if you're a gamer (or grew up playing games in the 1980s), you can likely play the theme song back in your head from memory (you're likely doing it right now). Game audio was that simple – a collection of notes and simple sound effects here and there, nothing more. Today's games couldn't be more different.

From authentic explosions and gun shots, to music titles from today's most popular artists, modern video games are audio-rich experiences. Suffice to say, the crappy speakers that you bought from the $5 bin at your local electronics store aren't going to cut it. To enhance your gaming experience, you should consider a pair of noise cancelling headphones. Headphones from manufacturers like Sony and Beats allow you to shut out distractions and completely immerse yourself in the game.

Gaming Chair
Whether you're a console gamer or a PC gamer, you're going to want a proper place to sit yourself down for an hour or two (or three or four). You could rely on your couch or old desk chair, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice. Gaming chairs come in all shapes and sizes, and fit all budgets as well. Designed to be comfortable and supportive, a good gaming chair will do the same thing that noise cancelling headphones do – eliminate distractions so you can concentrate on the game, and not your discomfort.

High-speed Internet and Router
Gaming in 2016 means always being connected. Bringing a cartridge home and plugging it into your console for some solo game play is a thing of the past; in today's gaming world, you're more likely to find yourself playing against 100 or more people at a time, from all over the world. This means you're going to need a high-speed Internet connection and robust wireless router.

Although you could rely on your service provider's router, why would you? Consider this: their routers are mass produced to be as affordable as possible, while offering only adequate performance. You should opt for your own router – don't simply rent one. One of the best currently available is the Google OnHub router. Even without upgrading your Internet speed, the OnHub router can enhance your experience by optimizing what Wi-Fi coverage you do have.

Proper Hardware
This one is for the PC (and Mac) gamers out there. Simply put, you're going to want to invest in proper hardware to get the most out of your gaming experience. This means having the proper video cards, graphic cards, CPU, and RAM required to run the titles you own. True, the forthcoming LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens won't require much in the way of hardware, but Star Wars: Battlefront will. Which one suits your gaming preferences? And more importantly, do you have what you need to ensure seamless, trouble-free gaming?

Article by: Jessica Oaks

Rise of the Tomb Raider - Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch Review

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Rise of the Tomb Raider is, to me, the finest Lara Croft title to date. It takes core elements that made the original series a success and renovates them with modern mechanics and visuals. It’s the perfect example of how to treat a re-boot, and it’s one of the best third-person adventures in years. Lara’s first DLC continues to emphasise quality over quantity. Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is ultimately a $9.99 fetch quest with an epic boss battle, but it’s expertly paced and thoroughly enjoyable. The mission lasts a little less than two hours, and while that may sound absurdly short to some people, less is more when it comes to Lara’s supernatural mini adventure. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider - Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is essentially the developers’ version of the Slavic lore set within the Tomb Raider universe. Narratively, it delivers a more realistic spin on the myth while still injecting a good dose of the supernatural. It’s a great little tale that’s well paced and blends elegantly with the game’s combat heavy structure. A new environment brings a host of new environmental puzzles, although there are no new tombs or other major gameplay additions. You’re given a set of hallucinogenic arrows that are accessible throughout the entire game, but don’t expect anything major.


"Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider - Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is a pretty solid piece of DLC content, even if the asking price is a little too steep."

Before you can fully explore the new setting, you’re sent back to one of the camps where you have to gather special ingredients for an anti-hallucinogenic concoction. This element is my biggest gripe with the DLC as it’s forcing you to spend a good chunk of time playing a fetch quest in already explored areas. Luckily, once you’re back in the new area, the DLC does a great job of throwing cool surprises your way around every corner. 

The highlight of the DLC is an epic boss fight that takes up a good chunk of the playthrough. Without getting into spoiler territory, let’s just say the boss battle is multi-tiered and one of the most climactic sequences in the entire game. It’s a shame that there are no new tombs since the environmental puzzles are so brief, but maybe we’ll see more in that department with the next set of DLC.

Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider - Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch is a pretty solid piece of DLC content, even if the asking price is a little too steep. The adventure is brief, and can be wrapped up in less than two hours. Having said that, every second of those two hours is brimming with great action sequences and a cool new setting. Now how about a real, fully fleshed-out expansion next?

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

7.5

Rise of the Tomb Raider PC Review

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PC Specs when testing Rise of the Tomb Raider: GeForce GTX 970 (361.75 Driver Version), Intel i7 6700k (4.00GHz), 8GB RAM. Settings to achieve 1080p/60fps: Everything on HIGH except dynamic foliage/MEDIUM, sun soft shadows on (not high), purehair off, Bloom off, motion blur off, vignette blur off, screen effects off (grain, dirt, blood splatter on screen) and AA/FXAA. Even with these settings, there are occasional fps drops in certain areas.

Every long-running franchise has one defining title by which all entries in the series are measured by. After nearly twenty years of several highs and lows, the new Rise of the Tomb Raider is without a doubt the best Tomb Raider entry to date, and possibly the best third-person adventure since Uncharted. Crystal Dynamics should be applauded for setting a new standard for how to handle sequels. Everything that made the original reboot great has been refined, polished and tweaked to perfection. Moreover, every possible complaint has been addressed, resulting in a beautifully-paced experience with breathtaking environments, strong characters, and most importantly, a ton of puzzle-filled tombs. Rise of the Tomb Raider was excellent when it launched on the Xbox One a few months ago, but on the PC, it’s an absolute masterpiece. 

Rise of the Tomb Raider hits all the right notes. It balances explosive action scenes with serene moments of quiet exploration and character development. The game knows when to let the action breathe, but doesn’t shy from taking your breath away. One moment you’re gathering supplies to improve your gear, the next you’re zigzagging across cliffs and burning buildings. Pacing in a game hasn’t felt this good since The Last of Us, and I don’t say that lightly. This could have something to do with Nate Wells (TLOU Art Director) joining Crystal Dynamics.


"Rise of the Tomb Raider was excellent when it launched on the Xbox One a few months ago, but on the PC, it’s an absolute masterpiece."

Rise of the Tomb Raider takes place a year after her last adventure. Lara’s experience in Yamatai has encouraged her to further explore world’s mysteries, the first being her father’s lifelong quest for the secret behind eternal life. In traditional Tomb Raider fashion, the narrative is filled with plot twists, over-the-top villains and exotic locations. Rise of the Tomb Raider take its predecessors more serious approach to storytelling, and presents players with character-rich journey through some of the most beautiful locations in the series to date. 

Without going into too many details, let’s just say that Lara Croft has never felt more real. Camilla Luddington did a great job in the 2012 reboot, but now, she has thoroughly transformed into Lara’s character. Camilla is Lara, and there’s no other person who could’ve been more perfect for the role. Even Earl Baylon, as Jonah, has risen beyond what we’ve seen in the predecessor. Sure, there’s a level of cheesiness among the villains, but that’s always been somewhat characteristic of Tomb Raider’s universe.


"The developers have certainly listened to their fans this time around as there are tombs everywhere. I’ve spent as much time discovering secret areas as I have going through the main missions."

Structurally, the sequel is relatively similar to the original, but everything has been broadened and improved upon. The semi-sandbox hub levels are notably larger with an absurd amount of hidden secrets and collectibles. Unlike the useless junk scattered across Assassin’s Creed’s maps, the collectibles here are essential to upgrading your weapons and stats. And believe, you’ll want to keep upgrading as the game’s enemies are much tougher than before.

My biggest gripe with 2012’s Tomb Raider was the lack of tombs and challenging puzzles. The developers have certainly listened to their fans this time around as there are tombs everywhere. And I mean everywhere! I’ve spent as much time discovering secret areas as I have going through the main missions. Tombs vary in size and style, and some of them are as devilish as those from the old Tomb Raider Days. Puzzles towards the end of the game are particularly fun and satisfying, and they may very well be the best the series has ever seen.

All the cool tools and skills from the predecessor return, but it’s all the new gadgets and abilities that make this adventure such a treat to play. With Lara’s new ability to climb trees and hide in bushes, there’s a greater emphasis on stealth, although the game as a whole still emphasizes run-and-gun gameplay over sneaking. New gadgets, like the grappling hook and poison arrows, are a blast to play around with and the experience tree never seems to run out of fun things to unlock and upgrade. As a whole, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s gameplay never gets dull or repetitive, and you always feel like you’re unlocking new abilities and discovering new ways to play.


"Crystal Dynamics has expanded on everything that made the original so much fun, and has delivered what very well may be the best Tomb Raider game ever made."

The game’s biggest flaw, which luckily doesn't impact the main storyline, is the silly Expeditions mode. Here, you can replay chapters, play custom challenge games and earn game-modifying cards. The cards are an absurdly stupid idea, and are completely useless. Want to play a challenge mode with Lara’s head inflated and no weapons? Want to gain extra bow accuracy and power but lose the ability to heal? Yeah, it’s really silly, and provides zero fun. Worst of all, the Expeditions mode comes with microtransactions, which make even less sense. Who in their right mind would actually spend money on these things? It’s way worse than the multiplayer mode of the predecessor, and something I hope the developer completely scraps in the future. 

As far as performance goes, you’re going to need at least a 970 to run Rise of Tomb Raider at 60fps/1080p on high settings. Anything less than a 970 and you can forget 60fps unless you start turning settings to medium or lower. A 980ti is the only thing that can handle the game on very high settings, and even then, you can expect fps dips and performance issues here and there. After Nvidia’s driver patch and a day one game patch, the fps is a little smoother, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need a beastly rig to run Rise of Tomb Raider at optimal settings. 

But, there’s a reason for the hefty requirements. Rise of the Tomb Raider looks stunning. It may very well be one of the prettiest games of this generation, and if you’re lucky enough to view this masterpiece in 4K, you’re in for a real treat. It’s also worth noting that I experienced no crashes or any game-breaking bugs. A few fps dips aside, the game runs beautifully.

Expeditions mode aside, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an absolute blast, and an unquestionable must-have whether you're a long-time Lara Croft fan or you're new to the series. Crystal Dynamics has expanded on everything that made the original so much fun, and has delivered what very well may be the best Tomb Raider game ever made.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

9.5

Homeworld - Deserts of Kharak Review

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Homeworld, one of the defining RTS games of the late 90s, has decided to pluck itself out of the skies and dive down to more firm footing with the latest prequel, Deserts of Kharak. Though the move from space to ground combat was a striking change of pace that worried me when news about the game first made its rounds, I must applaud developer Blackbird Interactive for keeping the feel and scale of Homeworld. It is after all, what made the game so endearing when it first released back in ‘99. So, in spite of the fact that Homeworld has traded its space ships for dune buggys, what else can be expected? A lot, as it turns out.

Deserts of Kharak utilizes a smart cover-based system that plays nice with the integrated y-axis, and though most combat takes place on a flat plane, the inclusion of these strategic vantage points makes map control a necessity. The disappointing AI is probably the title’s biggest drawback, though, tainting the overall experience and making it far from flawless, but we’ll get into the nitty-gritty about that in just a bit.


"So, in spite of the fact that Homeworld has traded its space ships for dune buggys, what else can be expected? A lot, as it turns out."

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak asks players to become a part of the Coalition. As part of this exploratory group players are tasked with finding the Primary Anomoly, which may contain the key to the salvation of mankind. Along the way players will eventually encounter the Gaalsien forces, who are essentially religious fanatics that want nothing more than to destroy the Coalition because they dared to go into space. This summary doesn’t do the title justice considering the atmosphere of the storytelling is probably DoK’s best attribute, but I was thoroughly impressed that Blackbird managed to capture some of the urgency of the original Homeworld.

Voice acting, sound, and graphics go a long way towards propelling DoK’s overarching story. The cut scenes are beautifully delivered with high-caliber voice acting, while subtle arabian scores and the punch of explosives help keep the pace of combat.The the smart writing really helped to develop the stories on both sides of the conflict and though some reveals fell flat on their face the majority of the experience was well put together. My one qualm with the story’s presentation was the fact that a considerable amount of major plot points were buried inside walls of text. Considering how well put together the cut scenes were, I wish that Blackbird would have taken a bit more time to animate the story’s more important moments.


"There’s a fine balance of risk and reward with each and every action, and the developers did a great job of making maps equal and entertaining."

DoK has some incredibly inventive gameplay offering up equal levels of depth and strategy especially towards the end of the title’s 12-15 hour campaign. Players will begin with a massive sandcrawler base that serves as a mobile command point. It’s lackluster in the beginning but as the story progresses the base evolves into a hulking behemoth capable of raining destruction wherever it goes. It’s satisfying to say the least, and it offers up a unique sense of progression.

DoK is very much in line with the pace of combat Homeworld fans are used to. It’s painfully slow at times, especially to players like me that are more used to Blizzard style RTS, but it is immensely rewarding when things play out the way you want them to. There’s a fine balance of risk and reward with each and every action, and the developers did a great job of making maps equal and entertaining. DoK also does a wonderful job of punishing the player for greed. There were a number of times when I decided to pursue resources over laying siege, or vice versa, and as a result I would end up crippled due to my hubris.


"Assuming the AI can be addressed in the future, I think Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has the potential to remain a staple in my PC gaming rotation over the next few months, which is a testament to it’s gameplay longevity."

Multiplayer was a total treat in spite of its drawbacks. Though the scale of the combat is not quite as high as the campaign -- 125 unit cap instead of 200 -- there’s still a lot of potential for challenge as long as you’re playing against a human opponent. The skirmish AI leaves a lot to be desired and is almost completely incompetent, providing little to no challenge. I’m not sure what happened between the development of the AI in the campaign and the skirmish modes, but it certainly needs to be addressed. Only 5 maps are available for the multiplayer as well, which is a bit disappointing, but it’s certainly not a dealbreaker. 

Assuming the AI can be addressed in the future, I think Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak has the potential to remain a staple in my PC gaming rotation over the next few months, which is a testament to it’s gameplay longevity. Though the game sacrifices the intrigue of space for more familiar ground combat, it does an excellent job of making the desert wastelands just as lonely and desolate as the galaxies Homeworld players are used to navigating. 

Review by: Palmer Sturman | Reviewed on: PC

7.5

Resident Evil 0: HD Remaster Review

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Resident Evil 0 is considered the black sheep amongst classic RE titles. It originally began development on Nintendo 64, but after the team encountered memory storage issues on the old system, the development came to a sudden halt and was later picked up again after the Gamecube was announced. Without RE creator Shinji Mikami helming the prequel, the team took some bold chances that resulted in some unique concepts, but the game received neither critical acclaim nor commercial success. While praised for its moody visuals and atmosphere, the new characters were quickly forgotten and RE0 was soon overshadowed by its more successful sequels. 

It’s a little strange then that Capcom decided to give this particular title the HD treatment. However, despite its issues and despite RE0 being the weakest of all the classic RE entries, it still serves as a reminder of how much the series has changed since Resident Evil 4. Especially when placed next to Resident Evil 6, the prequel is above and beyond in terms of level design, gameplay and, most importantly, puzzles.


"The dual-play idea works well at times, but more often than not, it’s a nuisance as your partner character always stands in the way when you’re trying to move object or navigate narrow corridors." 

Resident Evil 0 takes place in 1998. Raccoon City’s Special Forces division sends out a team of S.T.A.R.S. cops, including protagonist Rebecca Chambers, to the city’s outskirts to investigate the rise in unusual murders in the area. After discovering a train that stopped dead in its tracks, Rebecca meets wanted criminal and ex-lieutenant Billy Cohen, with whom she teams up with to figure out what happened and to escape in one piece.

Resident Evil 0 is the first in the series to include dual-play. This allows players to move both characters simultaneously with the analog sticks, and it allows Rebecca and Billy to split up and explore different parts of the map in order to solve puzzles. This idea works well at times, but more often than not, it’s a nuisance as your partner character always stands in the way when you’re trying to move object or navigate narrow corridors.


"Resident Evil 0 looks absolutely stunning, even surpassing Capcom’s gorgeous Resident Evil remake of last year."

The first 1-2 hours on the train are the highlights of Resident Evil 0. The setting serves as a stark contrast to the original’s mansion and gives 0 a unique tone earlier on. But, once the train ride comes to an end and you find yourself back in a giant castle, Resident Evil 0 soon transforms into a modified version of Mikami’s original work. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it’s certainly a refreshing deviation from all the action-heavy settings in recent RE titles, but it makes RE0 feel like an experimental side-project instead of a fully fleshed out, canonical entry. 

Gameplay has remained largely the same. You can now switch between classic and modern controls, adjust the ratio for more screen real estate and you can drop unwanted objects anywhere on the map instead of dedicated chests. The inventory changes are somewhat of a double-edged sword. Being able to drop items anywhere is a welcome addition, but since your inventory slots are smaller than a box of tic-tacs (and you never know what items you’ll need next), you find yourself dropping important items in random places just to find out that they’re needed for an upcoming puzzle. If you’re not careful about where you drop things, you can find yourself running in circles just to find that one items needed for the current puzzle.


"Resident Evil 0 may not be the best of classic RE entries, but it’s still a damn fine game and it’s certainly more enjoyable than the recent action-oriented sequels."

The limited inventory also takes all the fun out of the dual-play. The majority of gameplay consists of swapping items between Rebecca and Billy. Considering that certain areas can only be accessed by a specific character, it can be especially annoying when the other character is carrying all the necessary items, and they’re on the other side of the map. Inventory frustrations aside, Resident Evil 0 still delivers some great level designs and intelligent puzzles. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when all pieces finally fit into place, and I really wish Capcom would revert to this type of gameplay over the Michael Bay-esque Resident Evil 6. 

As expected, the biggest changes are found in the visuals. Resident Evil 0 looks absolutely stunning, even surpassing Capcom’s gorgeous Resident Evil remake of last year. High resolution textures have been created from scratch while still maintaining the integrity of the original release. Backgrounds are rendered with stupendous detail, and the new character models are a vast improvement over the old Gamecube and Wii releases. Despite its gameplay shortcomings, Resient Evil 0 is unquestionably one of the prettiest entries in the series. 

Other extras include various costumes for both Rebecca and Billy, and a New Wesker Mode. Wesker Mode unlocks once you complete the main campaign, and it lets your play through the story as Albert Wesker who has gained special powers from the the Uroboros virus in Resident Evil 5, as well as a dark version of Rebecca.

Resident Evil 0 may not be the best of classic RE entries, but it’s still a damn fine game and it’s certainly more enjoyable than the recent action-oriented sequels. The HD upgrade is absolutely superb, although some of the archaic gameplay elements still plague the experience. Resident Evil 0: HD Remaster is a must for any Resident Evil fun, and it’s even being released as a physical copy alongside the original Resident Evil remake for only $39.99.

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

7.5

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India Review

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Despite the tumultuous ups and downs, the Assassin’s Creed series still has a special place in my gaming collection. While I agree that AC’s mechanics require some serious tweaking, there are very few games that present players with such realistic and expansive historical settings. To me, Assassin’s Creed is more about experiencing the developers’ fictional spin on the various key moments in history and the remarkable representation of various cultures than the gameplay itself...although even as a die hard fan, I have to agree that AC’s shortcomings are gradually starting to interfere with my enjoyment as a virtual tourist. 

Having said that, Chronicles is a rather interesting concept. Here, the emphasis is purely on gameplay, and exploration is entirely taken out of the picture. For a spin-off, the 2D approach works well for those seeking bite-sized AC-style action, but fans used to vast, explorable landscapes and scalable buildings are likely to walk away disappointed. Chronicles’ problem isn’t that it’s trying to be another Mark of the Ninja, its detriment is that it misses what makes Klei Entertainment’s little gem so special: being a Ninja.


"For a spin-off, the 2D approach works well for those seeking bite-sized AC-style action, but fans used to vast, explorable landscapes and scalable buildings are likely to walk away disappointed."

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India is too linear and offers little flexibility. You can climb up and down, you can go in and out of the foreground and background, but ultimately, there’s only one path to your objectives and usually only one way to get past your foes. Remember how frustrating it is to tail characters in every AC game? Well, that ideology thoroughly extends to every element in Chronicles. The idea of tackling enemies from every direction is only an illusion. The freedom only lies in the tools used to either distract or attack enemies, but the method in progressing is typically forced down your throat. One small misstep and you’re enveloped by a horde of aggressive guards with none of the fighting ability typically displayed by a skillful assassin. 

In a way, the Chronicles entries seem to only focus on the worst, most criticized elements of past Assassin’s Creed games. The issues extend to the platforming. For the most part, the parkour is smooth and responsive...as long as there are no enemies around. If you kill an enemy by a ledge, it’s easy to mistakenly pick up the corpse when you’re just trying to climb down the ledge. Then there are the countless timed events. You know, the ones where you push a lever that activates a climbable obstacle that’s only active for a limited time. These areas are infuriating and make up the majority of the game.


"In a way, the Chronicles entries seem to only focus on the worst, most criticized elements of past Assassin’s Creed games."

But, none of these issues are as bad as the actual stealth, which is almost entirely broken. For one, you never know when attacking a foe from behind will make him scream or go down quietly. And as you can imagine, they make noise at the most inopportune moments. You can find yourself zig-zagging through a level without making a single mistake, just to have that one last guard project an alarming sound bubble while you “stealthily” approach him from behind, and before you know it, you’re surrounded by half a dozen guards and are forced to play the entire section over again.

The shortcoming further extend to the game’s visuals. Stylistically, there is a pretty game hidden here somewhere, but it’s the overall technical treatment that leaves a lot to be desired. The entire screen is covered by a horrid grain filter that looks particularly bad when things are set in motion. Anti-aliasing is almost non-existent, and even after forcing AA via Nvidia’s Control Panel, things only improve slightly. Even though the color palette is vibrant and emphasises the beauty of the Indian setting, everything is modeled sloppily compared to past AC games. Just because this is a 2D spin-off series doesn’t mean the characters and environments should be so poorly modeled.


"Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India is the least ambitious, most forgettable, and most disappointing Assassin’s Creed entry to date."

All this madness, and I didn't even mention the plot. The AC storylines haven’t been especially interesting since Ezio’s saga, but there was still enough to keep fans happy from beginning to end. Here, the plot buzzes around in the background like an annoying fly, never making a single effort to engage players, or at least provide something remotely adequate between chapter breaks. Instead, you play a forgettable assassin named Arbaaz Mir who is tasked with recovering a stolen item from the Assassin Order.  

Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India is the least ambitious, most forgettable, and most disappointing Assassin’s Creed entry to date. It’s a real shame that Ubisoft hasn’t taken advantage of this opportunity to experiment with some new gameplay ideas that could eventually shape future AC entries. What you have here is a collection of every imaginable AC annoyance packaged into a shallow campaign, disappointing graphics and a beautiful setting gone to waste. There’s still some fun to be had if you’re a devoted AC player, but even then, it’s only worth picking up once it hits the bargain bin. 

Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC

5

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen PC Review

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Porting Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen to the PC is one of the best decision Capcom has made in years. Well, that and the wonderful Resident Evil remakes. Dragon's Dogma was one of the most underrated RPGs on the last generation, and it’s finally getting the proper treatment it deserves. Higher resolutions (up to 4K), no more widescreen bars and a buttery smooth frame rate (it even supports 144fps for 144Hz monitors) make Dragon’s Dogma more enjoyable than ever. For anyone who still likes to argue that resolution and framerate aren’t as important should really play the new and old Dragon’s Dogma versions side by side to understand just how much of a difference a few technicalities can make. 

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen isn’t a remake or HD upgrade, but rather a port. Yet still, even without any texture and lighting enhancements, seeing the game in higher resolution and via fullscreen truly makes the superb art style shine. And best of all, it only retails for $29.99. Now that’s a bargain! If you’ve already played Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen on the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3, the PC port is still worth getting. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is drastically superior to its console counterparts and unquestionably one of the best RPGs in recent years. And for everyone else who’s never played this excellent title before, read on.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen opens with a familiar RPG trope and familiar character classes - vocations-to choose from that cater to one’s individual gaming style. Once a detailed hero creation process is complete, you find yourself in a lovely fishing village under attack by a horrific dragon, and your heroism brings you directly to his fearsome eye. He contemptuously knocks you into the surf and takes your heart with one delicately extended claw, and then tells you to seek him out and retrieve it when you are ready. After some exploration and meeting the game’s trainer pawn you are encouraged to leave the village, and eventually you are lead to the creation of your own pawn. And since you rose out of the waves from death you are now the Arisen, and such is the title and mission you bear. Obviously this type of sequence is necessary in terms of setting up the game’s main quest, but the way it plays out is enthralling.


"Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is drastically superior to its console counterparts and unquestionably one of the best RPGs in recent years."

The pawn system is where the game’s genius and madness lies. On its face a simple sidekick, your pawn is one of three additional members added to your party; yours is always present unless killed, while two additional pawns can be chosen from thousands of other pawns available through access points scattered throughout the map, called Rift stones. Your pawn levels up as you do, gaining experience and enemy knowledge questing by your side, while the two hired pawns only earn quest and enemy knowledge. Your pawn learns your fighting patterns through repetition and the orders given through the D-pad and its AI adjusts itself to your attacks and requests for two types of aid.  

Playing online, you will be able to view and select pawns created by other players to complement your pairing’s abilities or your quest’s anticipated strategy, and who are, for the most part, superior to those created at random by the game. Pawns are the co-op element of Dragon’s Dogma; if your pawn is hired by another player, they return with the quest and enemy knowledge gained in the other player’s game, sometimes with a gift - and the player’s review of your pawn’s performance. Payment for your pawn’s hire is in an independent currency called rift crystals, which you can use to edit your pawn’s features and fine-tune its behaviors, rent pawns above your own experience level for extra assistance, or eventually edit both Arisen and pawn when desired.  Pawns of players on your friends’ list are available to use free of rental charges.


"Playing online, you will be able to view and select pawns created by other players to complement your pairing’s abilities or your quest’s anticipated strategy, and who are, for the most part, superior to those created at random by the game."

So far, so good, right? Well… they talk. Pawns want to share their knowledge, and they’re intended to be helpful.  They’ll tell you all about the enemies and the terrain features you encounter, over and over and over again. I sat mine down in the nearest Knowledge Chair and served him a nice cup of Shut-The-Hell-Up, because it was too tiresome to hear “Goblins are weak to fire!” and “Wolves hunt in packs, Arisen!” yet another freaking time, but, unfortunately, that command does not affect the behavior of rented pawns. I have thrown jabbering pawns off the nearest cliff - and now tend to choose pawns from within a select group I know aren’t going to infuriate me into committing pawn atrocities. 

Alas. 
I get arrested a lot. 
Yeah. 
I digress.

And once you have your pawn, you are on your own. This is my second issue, some imbalance, as if the director could not quite decide between total open-world freedom and linear progression as a certain plot point requires the Arisen to have completed all enrolled quests before progressing onwards, and fails them if this is not so.  While I like that Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t hold you by the hand and lead you from one quest completion condition to the next, fortune favors the bold - and so the story unfolds better if all quests, other than the escort quests, are accepted as soon as they become available.  Yet the map is immense, quests can be hard to locate without constant travel and monsters are everywhere - and you hoof it as the fast travel system is not available until much later in your game.


"Movement and combat is smooth, responsive and utterly riveting. What’s not to love about scaling a griffin and realizing that you’re flying through the environment as it’s frantically trying to buck you off its back?"

Quests appear and disappear on the notice boards depending upon progression of the main quest, NPC affinities and completion of earlier side quests, guaranteeing even more travel.  Stumble upon something outside your present capability, you will die. If the sun goes down and the creepier things come out to hunt in numbers, there’s a very good chance you will be overwhelmed and die. Run out of stamina while on the back of a flying creature in battle and you will fall to your death. Run out of oil for your party’s lanterns while underground, and, yeah, I’m sure you got it in one. There was a hint of Dark Souls’ impersonal and impartial malevolence as my Arisen built her initial experience and vocation levels, and this was the second irresistible hook Dragon’s Dogma offered. 

Yes, challenge accepted.

Movement and combat is smooth, responsive and utterly riveting. What’s not to love about scaling a griffin and realizing that you’re flying through the environment as it’s frantically trying to buck you off its back? Or climbing the leg of a golem to punch its medallions to bits before it peels you off and slams you into the ground for a solid stomping? Best of all - the dragons, oh, the dragons!  Latin-speaking flying lizard things of medieval legend, they are arrogant, intelligent and cruel, with a varied arsenal of flame, magic and physical attacks that make each battle individual and memorable. Change your tactics or your vocation and get a swift kill on the Red Drake? They remember. And they’re out to get you.


"The PC port is superb, and serves as a fine example of how to properly carry console titles over to the PC."

Yet there is an underlying sense of disconnect in the duchy of Gransys. While you’re busily pursuing your own interests there is little sense of impending doom or foreshadowing. Interaction with other inhabitants is limited, repetitious, wooden and overly formal, and you are constantly reminded that pawns are unemotional despite attachment that grows due to long hours of fighting beside this person. Your Arisen is silent and his or her face is impassive throughout gruesome combat and what should be emotional highs and lows. Affinity, the name for Dragon’s Dogma’s understated romance system, is left for the player to figure out, which can offer the player a huge surprise at dramatically significant plot points.  

While some of my disconnect can be attributed to the mannerisms of the game’s European medieval culture, Dragon’s Dogma takes itself very seriously, is unleavened by humor and, indeed, class differences are pointed out through some taunting and snobbery which I found off-putting. Overall, the philosophical concept of rebirth symbolized by the Arisen and his or her eventual fate isn’t quite effectively shoehorned into Western romantic troubadour culture and so I didn’t buy into the final scenes of the story. I don’t know if this could have been alleviated with a different translation from Japanese as most of what the significant NPCs say could have been lifted straight out of medieval quest poetry, but perhaps my disconnect could simply be attributed to a sense of bushido vs. Western culture clash in the game’s writing and direction. That said, I am now inNew Game ++, taking advantage of the game’s ability to roll over my existing game file to pick up the last few quests I managed to miss the first two times around.

In the end, Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is a remarkable experience, one that no RPG fan should miss. The PC port is superb, and serves as a fine example of how to properly carry console titles over to the PC. Bravo Capcom, just bravo. You’re finally making all the right moves and earning major brownie points. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is a must have on the PC, and I truly hope it attracts more fans to warrant a sequel.

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