Feed aggregator

Dragon Quest Builders Review: Working The Land

Game Spot Reviews - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 19:00

Dragon Quest Builders serves as the jumping-off point for a new tale in a new period using an old setting--the storied land of Alefgard from the first Dragon Quest. It's an alternate reality that begins where the original game ends, but with a twist: the hero from the first game didn't defeat the Dragonlord. No prior knowledge of the series is required, but having a familiarity with the its jingles and diverse bestiary helps to invoke a strong sense of nostalgia

Given that the world-crafting genre is uncharted territory for Dragon Quest, Square Enix was wise to make the tutorial equal parts concise and informative. This allows you to start building within minutes of launching the game, and it's satisfying to get the hang of building complete houses, crafting items, and surviving the Alefgardian wilderness. A seemingly menial task like bricklaying is made easy when it only takes one button to set the brick above, below, or at head level. Moreover, the process of upgrading a wall with higher-quality bricks works in one convenient, single-input motion.

It's almost as easy as adapting to Dragon Quest Builders' combat, which isn't as frenetic as fighting in Dragon Quest Heroes--but it moves more quickly than the main series' turn-based battles. This orientation period also showcases the game's heavy emphasis on RPG-inspired questing. Building a bathhouse feels less like a chore when there's a checkmark, a congratulatory jingle, and a grateful NPC who has a reward for you.

Supporting Dragon Quest Builders' story and its objective-intensive draw is a foundation built on 30 years of franchise nostalgia. No, you can't explore settings in later mainstream installments like Zenithia (seen in Dragon Quest IV, V, and VI) or Dragon Quest VIII’s Trodain. Still, coming across familiar monsters, such as metal slimes, and well-known items like chimaera wings, will make any Dragon Quest fan smile. It's surprising how well all these elements--running the gamut from the music to the bestiary--have been adapted to this malleable world. Enemies drop crafting ingredients rather than experience. Energy from digging is replenished by eating food. The overworld, as revealed by the camera positioned way up high, won't show the original 1986 map, but the blocky art style will resonate with old-school JRPG enthusiasts.

It's not Alefgard as we've known it, but it's no less inviting--thanks to the familiar aesthetics and the classic low-level enemies who litter the land near your town. Exploring simply for the sake of it isn't time wasted here. Going off in one direction can yield a wealth of resources for crafting items. The only variable that would devalue any free-roaming excursion is when you’ve maxed out your capacity for an item type--a tough task, since you can carry 99 of something.

Even though the world’s terrain is open to manipulation, the maps remain faithful to classic JRPG world design. For example, the farther you venture from civilization, the more likely you'll run into tougher enemies. The journey to a quest destination is seldom a straight line, as Alefgard presents myriad distractions, often with worthwhile rewards. The forests, deserts, and towers have their share of obscured secrets--the kind you often reveal by swiveling the camera. It's doubly rewarding when using visual clues to hunt for treasure underground and inside mountains. A missing block or a brick that looks out of place can be a hint to a nearby prize, such as a useful set of 25 windows for your future buildings.

Advance through the story enough, and all manner of slime and golem will turn the tables and perform a siege operation against your town. You and your comrades work to protect all four sides of your base while you reinforce the perimeter with barriers and automated fire-breathing gargoyle statues. In other words, Dragon Quest Builders plays like a tower defense game at times, putting a delightful twist on the popular genre. You're defending a square area rather than a winding route, and not all of your support options are stationary; this only enhances the diversity of activities in a game that throws plenty of goals at you.

Invasions can do significant damage to your towns, and even if the resources to rebuild are plentiful, repairing your inns and workhouses can be time-consuming; but you can avoid this process altogether if you wish. Dragon Quest Builders' Free-Play mode saves you the grief of hostile monsters and offers more peaceful islands where you can get your architectural juices flowing.

Dragon Quest Builders is full of opportunities to take breaks from questing and defending your town. The franchise's endearing aesthetic, defined by Akira Toriyama's character designs, can make the simple process of building and designing rooms around town fly by. To customize an inn, you need simply place a torch, and get to work laying out beds and other furniture as you wish. Although you can share your personalized building creations, it’s not possible to visit your friends’ worlds. It's also disappointing that there's no cross-save support between the PS4 and Vita versions, despite the fact that they feature the same content.

The excellence of Dragon Quest Builders illustrates the versatility of this 30-year-old franchise as much as it speaks to the engrossing appeal of Minecraft-inspired creation. The story-advancing draw of quests goes hand-in-hand with the depth of a crafting system that cleverly uses monster drops as some of the game's building tools. Whether you want to focus on completing assignments or build with no specific purpose, the game is feature-rich enough to suck up untold hours, even if this happens to be your first Dragon Quest experience.

Editor's note: Dragon Quest Builders' re-release on the Nintendo Switch proves to be a splendid fit for the hybrid console. Its downgrade to 720p on the Switch is negligible when the framerate is smooth and comparable to the other platforms. The Dragon Quest series' loveable art style, anchored by Akira Toriyama's character designs has never veered toward hyper-realism, which is why this port's visuals easily flourishes even at lower resolutions. And whatever your preferred Switch control and viewing setup, navigating your industrious hero and crafting complex structures becomes intuitive over time.

The Switch-exclusive features--limited to the free-building non-story mode--adds another layer of endearment to a game already brimming with charm. You're now paired with a Great Sabrecub who--despite its preciously compact size--is mountable for swift traversal across your custom maps. This feline who first appeared in Dragon Quest V isn't the only new throwback, though. Free-building also features retro customization options, allowing you to make 2D landscapes in the style of the original Dragon Quest. It's the type of well-designed fan service that will bring smiles to the faces of fans of the franchise.

The flexibility to mold the land and vanquish endearing monsters on a large screen and on the go offers a welcome level of convenience the PlayStation versions lacked. While this is obviously a benefit of all Switch games, the involving nature of Dragon Quest Builders, particularly the sense of player ownership in carving the land to your liking makes this game a strong match for the Nintendo platform. - Feb. 7, 2018, 11:00 AM PT

Dandara Review: Off The Wall

Game Spot Reviews - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 17:00

Dandara defies its platforming heritage by subverting two ubiquitous ideas: jumping and running. Neither is present in the traditional sense within this surreal, Metroid-inspired adventure. Rather, the heroic Dandara slings herself to any wall, ceiling, or floor she fancies, thumbing her nose at gravitational forces that would dare stifle her kinetic charm. This spin on standard movement sets Dandara apart, making it feel different from every other exploration-heavy platformer. When you’re zipping carefree through its labyrinthine world, Dandara is a complete joy, but control hiccups and a story that’s too vague for its own good often undermine its unique charm.

Although Dandara is based on a Brazilian figure who helped lead a slave revolt in the late 1600s, you wouldn’t know it based only on the game's surreal tale. The story is one of oppression told through vague metaphors about a broken world whose currency, salt, is in short supply. The sporadic conversations Dandara has with the trapped inhabitants does little to inject the world with any sense of humanity. The story is simply too abstract to create the lasting bonds that could have propelled Dandara forward with a real sense of purpose.

Thankfully, the imaginative action sequences grab hold of your attention in ways the story cannot. Dandara doesn’t walk. Instead, she leaps to designated spots that dot the walls, floors, and ceilings. Aiming the analog stick in a given direction shows where Dandara will land, and though her reach is limited, you can quickly bounce between surfaces to dance past enemies or arrive at a nearby treasure chest that's waiting to be opened.

This simple action is the basis on which the entire adventure is built. Because Dandara’s leaps have limited range and you can only latch on to certain places, navigating each room becomes a small puzzle as you decipher how best to reach the next area. In some places, there are rotating blocks or gliding platforms that Dandara can control by firing a burst of energy from her palms, while other rooms have tracking lasers that demand a frantic pace lest you wind up dead. There’s a great variety in what each section demands, ensuring you don’t fall into a dull routine of simply looking for the white spots along the walls without any deeper thought.

Of course, Dandara can do more than just leap to any surface. She has a projectile weapon at the ready, one that’s slow-acting so you can’t just spam your foes. It takes a second or two to charge so you have to plan your assault--if you don’t, a wayward projectile could smack you while you’re gearing up for a strike. This smart system means that even though you always have the ability to fight, it’s often better to avoid confrontations rather than risk taking damage. Eventually, Dandara does acquire new projectiles that can be unleashed instantaneously, but these are limited by an energy bar. Because every attack has an obvious downside, mastery of movement is ultimately the key to staying alive.

However, mastering movement is no easy task. Even though I spent more than 10 hours exploring this world, I never felt completely in control. The line that sprouts from Dandara to show where you’re going to land can be fiddly. Too often I had to adjust and then readjust my aim because it would auto-aim to a specific spot that I didn’t want to be on. And though that wasn’t much of a problem, quickly bounding across a hazard-strewn section was way trickier than I would have liked. Precision felt like it came at the cost of speed, so I would get smacked around by enemies as I tried valiantly to make my way to a safe area.

There’s one section late in the game that should have been the exhilarating climax everything had been building toward. It has narrow walls and five different types of enemies preventing any chance of reprieve. I was all set to show off my jaw-dropping movement abilities and dispatch the enemy swarm with the style I had learned during my hours with the game. But the reality of the situation was that instead of evading the homing missiles barreling toward me, I would accidentally fly directly into them. The same clumsiness persisted as I tried to time my leaps to counter an enemy flipping between the floor and ceiling. Because I had so much health by this point, I was able to progress with little more than a bruised ego, but it was an ugly victory. That moment in platformers where you show off all that you learned is one of the reasons I love the genre. Moving so awkwardly even as I reached Dandara’s end was a bummer.

It’s a shame that the control can be a little tricky, because Dandara is an utter delight when things really click. There’s a boss fight early on where you chase an enemy through the nothingness of space. Platforms appear out of thin air as you hunt him, and you have to bounce across the broken landscape while dodging projectiles and spawning enemies to get close enough to land a counter attack. When I finally vanquished my opponent, I felt like taking a bow. The speed and precision required pushed me to my limits, and though I died a dozen or so times, it was a serious rush when everything coalesced into a beautiful dance. But Dandara doesn’t often reach those heights. Later scenarios require even more speed and precision than that early boss fight, and because there’s a slight auto aim on your jumping point, I often felt bit out of control as I zipped around.

If you play on the PC, you do have the option of using a mouse, but it’s a little cumbersome. Although it’s slightly easier to aim for a specific spot, it’s much slower, and areas where you have to quickly bounce from one place to the next, avoiding traps on the ground while dodging projectiles from angry enemies, are tougher without a controller. No matter which control method you choose, though, Dandara is forgiving enough that I never got angry. Frequent checkpoints mean you’re rarely more than 30 seconds from where you last died, and Dandara has plenty of health to help her withstand a few stray attacks.

The level design is another strong point. The world rotates as you turn ceilings and walls into floors, making you put a little thought into figuring out which way is up. But even as everything flips and twist around you, it’s still clear where you need to go next. There are only so many unexplored paths at a given time, so a quick peek at the map should be enough to get you moving to your goal. And as you explore, there are plenty of fascinating sights to behold. The most impressive comes late in the game in a nightmare world where swirling vortexes dot the foreground while mystical islands drift behind you. It’s a stunning area that made me pause to take it all in. The same mesmerizing feeling came from the enchanting music. Even though the story comes up short, the visuals and music really transport you to an imaginative world just begging to be discovered.

Careful explorers are rewarded with bonuses that help against the tougher boss fights. Dandara can use the salt she collects from defeated enemies and treasure chests to boost her abilities. Although you don’t need to upgrade often during the early going, as you earn more and more salt toward the end of the game, and the bosses get harder and harder, you really need the extra burst of health and energy these upgrades provide. But, more importantly, it’s just fun figuring out how to reach every hidden room and unlock every treasure chest. Even when a chest doesn't yield a particularly valuable reward, simply solving a tricky puzzle to get the chest is satisfying on its own.

There have been so many Metroid-inspired games that it’s almost impossible to stand out. Dandara’s unique movement abilities ensure it’s at least significantly different from its peers. But the same reason that Dandara is so unique is also its biggest setback. The sense of mastery never quite comes, resulting in a game that flashes its potential in one scene only to undermine that thrill soon afterward. Even with its occasional stumbles, though, Dandara offers enough excitement and beauty to push you onward.

Civilization 6: Rise And Fall Review: A New Age

Game Spot Reviews - Wed, 02/07/2018 - 15:00

Civilization VI stands out as the deepest and richest base game in the series, with smart additions and changes that refine its already great strategy gameplay. With that, however, comes the challenge of adding new content to improve upon what's already there without bloating it. Civ VI's first expansion, Rise and Fall, strikes a remarkable balance between the two, with several key features that both complement and change up the base game.

The big-picture addition and namesake of Rise and Fall is the Ages system, which coincides with each of the existing technological eras--Ancient, Classical, etc.--but is based on a global average rather than individual progress through the tech tree. As the world collectively transitions from one era to the next, each civilization accumulates a score toward the next era's "Age." Depending on your progress during the previous era, you can enter a Normal Age, fall into a Dark Age, or rise into a Golden Age. While Golden Ages obviously carry the most benefits, Dark Ages have unique bonuses of their own, and if you pull yourself out of a Dark Age and into a Golden one, it'll be even stronger. These so-called Heroic Ages are a powerful weapon later in the game if you've fallen behind and are struggling to catch up.

The Ages system works brilliantly with Civ VI's emphasis on careful planning and building a well-rounded civilization regardless of the victory condition you're working towards. A wide variety of accomplishments contribute to your score, from clearing Barbarian outposts and building Wonders to being the first civilization with a complex form of government. If you lean too heavily into one specialization, like science, you'll have trouble earning enough points in any given era to escape a Dark Age and its pitfalls. So even if you're two eras ahead of everyone else in your own tech tree, you're still susceptible to falling into a Dark Age if you fail to do anything else of note. As a result, a strong start isn't enough to carry you through Rise and Fall, even on lower difficulties--you need to work proactively and adapt your strategies at every step if you want to rule the world.

Building off the base game, monitoring each city's individual growth is paramount. In vanilla Civ VI, cities have individual happiness meters instead of civilization-wide ones, and greater depth to city development forces you pay close attention to each city and its unique contributions to your empire. Rise and Fall adds two big features that affect cities specifically: Loyalty and Governors, which work in tandem to add depth to city management without overcomplicating it.

Loyalty is a metric of each city's dedication to your leadership and is added on top of happiness to the list of city stats you need to care about. Loyalty suffers in Dark Ages and flourishes in Golden ones; if it falls too low, your city will be less productive and eventually revolt, becoming a "free city" open to the sway of other civs. You can affect Loyalty through proximity--a city on the edge of your borders will be vulnerable to the charms of a nearby foreign city and vice versa--city projects, espionage, and more. Colonizing a separate continent requires more of a cost-benefit analysis than ever, as the danger of low Loyalty can outweigh the advantages of settling new regions. But you can also disrupt an opponent's Loyalty for your own gain, including the city itself (without suffering a Warmonger penalty).

Keeping your Loyalty high is more passive than it sounds thanks to various Loyalty-boosting improvements as well as Governors, new characters that you can gradually unlock and station in your cities. In addition to increasing Loyalty, each of the seven Governors has a different specialization (commerce, war, science, and so on) and can be leveled up to provide various benefits to the city they govern. They can be reassigned at any time, too, so you're not locked into one city being all culture-focused until the end of time. Most importantly, Governors are a further incentive to invest in each of your cities and consequently develop a more balanced civilization--not just one that can crank out science points until you win the space race in the 1800s.

Rise and Fall brings with it a series of smaller tweaks to round out the big additions. You can now form different kinds of alliances with other civs, like economic or military ones, so you can trade comfortably without going to war; there are also "Emergencies," triggered by things like taking over city-states and dropping nukes, during which civs can band together to address the threats and reap the benefits if they succeed. On top of that, there are new policies and small changes to the highly customizable government system, which means more options to tailor your government to your playstyle as it develops.

Of course, there are also new civs and leaders, which range from the battle-ready Genghis Khan of Mongolia to the science-minded Seondeok of Korea. There are nine new leaders but eight new civilizations; Chandragupta has been added as an alternative to Gandhi in India. The new civs aren't so much groundbreaking as they are a nice change of pace for Civ VI veterans who are eager to try out something new.

Unfortunately, Rise and Fall doesn't appear to improve the AI inconsistencies present in vanilla Civ VI. Some AI-controlled civs still act almost randomly--Japan declared war on me twice in one game despite never sending its military my way--while others are a bit more clever, declaring preemptive wars or offering strategic trades at opportune times. And while the Loyalty and Governors systems enhance city management and encourage you to pursue a wider variety of specialties than just your intended victory condition, religion remains the least dynamic of the avenues without anything in Rise and Fall drastically changing it.

As Civ VI's first expansion, though, Rise and Fall works so well with the base game that lingering issues are minor. It enhances, rather than overcomplicates, systems that were already deep and layered to begin with, while introducing features that keep each game engaging from start to finish. Ages in particular provide room for struggling civs to climb the ranks in the late game and keep leading civs on their toes, and the Governor and Loyalty systems add to the city-specific strategies that helped make the base game great.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT Review: A Messy Mashup

Game Spot Reviews - Tue, 02/06/2018 - 20:07

Moving away from its role-playing game foundations, the original Dissidia Final Fantasy traded turn-based battles for real-time action duels. Featuring an all-star cast from the franchise, it told an original story that celebrated the series' diverse incarnations--while also presenting an odd yet satisfying approach to character action. After the release of the 2015 arcade follow-up, Square-Enix and developer Team Ninja have brought the 3v3 multiplayer fighter to the PS4. But in aiming for a more competitive focus--along with some half-hearted offerings for solo content--Dissidia Final Fantasy NT loses sight of what makes the Final Fantasy series so memorable, resulting in a hollow journey through a franchise's storied history.

Set long after the original Dissidia titles, and just before the arcade edition, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT takes many liberties with the franchise's array of stories to offer context as to why the many fighters are embroiled in an eternal battle. When warring gods Materia and Spritius call-forth the heroes and villains to engage in a new fight for the fate of their collective universes, the warriors soon realize that there is a greater threat lurking in the background--forcing rivals to set aside their differences to take on the encroaching menace.

Much like its predecessors, Dissidia NT is very much a celebration of the Final Fantasy mythos. Set across different locales from the series' past--including Final Fantasy I's Cornelia and FFVII's Midgar--several of the stages recreate the same style and tone found from their respective titles. The visuals on display are vibrant and detailed--allowing fans to see their favorite characters and their ornate outfits with modern graphics. Along with the return of iconic musical themes and other references to past titles--including the appearance of the tutorial Moogle who continues to overstay his welcome--the brawler pays great attention to creating a mashup of the most iconic elements from 30-years worth of noteworthy games.

Dissidia Final Fantasy NT's story campaign makes attempts to justify the backdrop of its chaotic slugfest, while offering some moments of fan-service. Taking control of several heroes from the Final Fantasy series, they'll fight against their own rivals and corrupted copies of other characters as they come to grips with the reality of the present battle. While the many cutscenes throughout are charming, the story as a whole feels undercooked, even disregarding some of the newcomers to the roster.

This is made worse by some rather odd choices in how you go about experiencing the narrative. Story progression uses a node-based system, with cutscenes and key battles costing Memoria to unlock. After exhausting your Memoria, you'll have to dive back into other gameplay modes such as the Gauntlet mode to grind experience and earn more tokens for the campaign. This ultimately makes the campaign a fragmented experience that you can't go through at your own pace, weakening the impact of the story's more meaningful encounters, which build up dramatic fights that you've already experienced several times over in other modes.

To switch things up during the story, your party will take part in boss battles against several of the game's summoned monsters. Pitting your team of three against large-scale foes that can use several arena-filling attacks and super moves is certainly a step up from the usual fights throughout the campaign. But while the scale of these fights are impressive, and the game's visual luster shines throughout, these battles also present massive difficulty spikes in the campaign. What's apparent during these encounters is that Dissidia's multiplayer-tuned mechanics and movement seem ill-equipped to handle the large attacks and movement patterns these bosses wield. Given that they are capable of wiping out your party in single moves with ease, these large battles feel more like clumsy exercises in trial-and error--and luck--rather than a culmination of your skill.

Spiritus and his warriors ready for battle.

With a roster of well over 20 characters--including familiar faces such as the brooding loner types Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, along with newcomers Ramza Beoulve and Noctis Lucis Caelum from Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XV respectively--there's an impressive set of brawlers to choose from, each with their own unique playstyles. These characters adopt one of four classes, ranging from the heavy hitting Vanguard to the agile Assassin, the zoning Marksman, and the versatile Specialist--with their varied movesets bringing strategy to Dissidia's fast-paced combat system.

The battle system in Dissidia NT is largely as it was in the previous titles, save for the removal of character-unique super moves and the new focus on team-battles. Dissidia will force you into split-second decisions to make your hits count. By building up attack power with non-lethal Brave attacks--draining your opponent's power in the process--you'll be able deal greater amounts of raw damage to your opponents with lethal HP attacks. Moreover, collecting energy from randomly placed crystals will allow your team to call in your chosen Summon monster to the fight turning the flow of battle in your favor. Much of the previous game's RPG growth mechanics have been stripped out in favor of more static growth. Gameplay in Dissidia is entirely skill-based, with leveling only opening up alternate abilities and other supplementary options. Which places every player on a largely even playing field.

Battles are set in large arenas, so you'll constantly be on the move utilizing defensive maneuvers --along with support spells and buffs--to stay one step ahead of your rivals. Combat is mostly kept at a relentless pace, and when you're in the thick of it, the fighting system allows players to exhibit some rather clever strategies that reward those who can read their foe's next move and strike back. While this system may come off as bit a overwhelming for newcomers, the generous tutorial mode will put you through your paces to learn all the mechanics necessary to survive.

Materia's guardians face off against their rivals.

Moving away from the one-on-one duels, the new 3v3 format makes for more hectic battles. While these are fun to take part in most of the time, they often result in overly busy encounters with all fighters bunching up--made slightly worse by an overstuffed user-interface. The camera also struggles to keep up with the action, which is especially frustrating on the higher difficulties or during online play, with your enemies adopting a more cunning approach.

As you clear through battles and increase your player rank and character level, you'll acquire Gil for use in the item shop. While you can buy most of every item in-game with the currency--which includes character costumes, weapon skins, online card decals, player avatars, and background music--you can also find special treasure packages that yield a set of randomized rewards. Though rest assured, you can acquire every item on your own in-game with Gil, as there are no real-money microtransactions in the game whatsoever.

In keeping with its multiplayer focus, Dissidia NT now features an online experience which includes ranked matches and custom games tuned to your own preferences. When up against skilled players online, these matches can prove to be intense affairs that show off the complexity and strategy within the combat system. Unfortunately, simply waiting to take part in battles can be a chore. During the first week of the game's release online matchmaking took upwards of 3-5 minutes to get a battle going. Moreover, several of the matches were burdened with sudden lag spikes and skipping, resulting in some rather uneven and unreliable encounters. While most online battles turned out well, lag dips and long wait times were a common occurrence.

What's most disappointing is that in going headstrong into its competitive multiplayer angle, Dissidia NT doesn't offer much outside of it. If the online multiplayer and repeat excursions into the Gauntlet mode doesn't interest you in the long term, then you may find yourself with few reasons to proceed with the game's already repetitive offerings.

For all its attempts to honor Square-Enix's long-running series, Dissidia Final Fantasy NT stumbles far too often when trying to replicate some of the many core gameplay tenants of the series in the framework of its own game. While it manages to offer fun and responsive combat, along with an infectious charm throughout, it struggles to advance much from the previous Dissidia titles. With a story that's fed piecemeal behind arbitrary gating, several combat encounters that feel out of place, and unreliable online systems that don't function when you need them to, this online brawler isn't able to live up to the series that it steadfastly tries to celebrate.

Look Of The Day

In Style Fashion News Feed - Mon, 02/05/2018 - 11:15

Pages

Subscribe to Arastos aggregator