Monthly Archives: July 2017

Hands-On Blade & Soul Gunslinger Nick Shively

Similar to the other classes in Blade & Soul, the Gunslinger utilizes two distinct specializations that cater to different play styles and fill different roles. The first specialization is Flame, which is focused on building up charges to unleash explosive rounds. Up to five rounds can be stored at once and then unleashed to do heavy amounts of damage. During the initial build up, the Flame spec Gunslinger might feel a bit weaker than the other damage-focused classes, but the burst from the explosive rounds is enough to put a dent in any boss or finish off an unsuspecting player.

While the Flame spec is focused on heavy burst via its explosive rounds, the Shadow specialization builds up meter to achieve Lightspeed. During Lightspeed, the Shadow Gunslinger’s abilities have amplified damage and quicker cast speeds. When compared side-by-side, the Shadow spec has more sustained damage while Flame has more burst damage, but both kits are designed to build up to a certain point and then unleash a ton of damage. Picking a spec will mostly come down to personal preference, but I felt the Shadow spec to feel smoother and less reliant on a single skill than Flame.

Usually, you’re forced to be stationary while pressing 1 and 2 repeatedly with the occasional 3 or 4 thrown in for good measure. In some games there is a bit more complexity, and often times the systems are really interesting, but almost all mages archetypes are required to stand still while casting or at least have animation locks.

Until recently, this was my experience with Blade & Soul as well. I initially enjoyed both the Force Master and Warlock, and while they didn’t suffer from the stationary gameplay as classes in similar games do, they both felt much slower than the other classes in Blade & Soul. Trying to do boss fights that required a lot of mobility or PvP can feel frustrating, especially when other classes seem to be able to hop around the map with ease.

Well, if you’re like me and want a class that feels like a mage but doesn’t have that tacked-on sluggish feeling then the Gunslinger might be the right choice for you. It can be extremely agile while simultaneously putting out a lot of damage and supporting the rest of the party. Of course, speed and damage aren’t the only things that matter in a class. There’s also style, and the Gunslinger bleeds it. Every one of the Gunslinger’s abilities looks and feels way over-the-top, which can be a good or bad thing depending on your style preference.

For those who haven’t seen the latest Blade & Soul news, a major crafting update is launching alongside the Gunslinger. With the new crafting system, players can have up to three simultaneous tasks for each guild. Additionally, the level cap for each guild is being increased to five and varying amounts of items can be crafted with a single task. Players who have already put a significant amount of effort into crafting can expect some form of compensation at a later date.

An update wouldn’t be complete without new items. Here is a list of new items for each crafting guild:

The Forgekeepers

  • Empyrean Spirit Stone – Used to upgrade legendary weapons
  • Transformation Stone
  • Master Field Repair Tool
  • Void Fragment
  • Ascendance Stone
  • Galaxy Fragment

Radiant Ring

  • Brilliant Key – Key used to obtain class-specific weapon
  • Ivory Beluga Orb
  • Smelting Orb
  • Aransu Orb

Soul Wardens

  • Shield Bases – Exchangeable for Soul Shield Primers
  • Shield Engravings – Used to enhance attributes for a specific set of Soul Shields
  • Serpent Calling Bell
  • Purification Jar

Acquired Taste

  • Dragon Soups – Increases combat EXP by 100% and 200%
  • Mild & Spicy Dumplings & Dumpling Soup – Recovers 100% HP and gives various combat buffs

Silver Cauldron

  • Cactus and Prickly Pear Potions – Instantly recovers HP
  • Persistence and Awakened Potions – Raises Max. HP or AP

Earthseers

  • Revival  & Resuscitation Charms – Revives yourself or a party member
  • Cooldown Reset Charm – Resets all cooldowns

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle

Most Nintendo first party titles are crafted with accessibility in mind. Super Mario 3D World, Pokemon Sun & Moon, and Splatoon 2 each hide complex and challenging gameplay behind walls so casual players can walk leisurely through the main game. Even Fire Emblem, once accessible only to hardcore tactics fans, introduced a casual mode to open its doors to casual players. When Ubisoft developed Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, a tactics game featuring Mario and Rayman’s rabbids, the development team clearly considered this Nintendo standard.

The game’s basic mechanics, moving, attacking, and activating specials, are all very easy to understand from the moment the game begins. Even as players unlock more skills, Kingdom Battle rarely feels intimidating to approach. Although difficulty spikes and frustrating UI occasionally make the journey more complicated than it needs to be, the way Ubisoft manages to blend difficulty and accessibility harkens back to the Nintendo of the 1990s.

On the surface, Kingdom Battle welcomes young and inexperienced players through its personality. The overall tone actively undercuts whatever level of nervousness players have about tactics games. Mario and the Rabbids explore four worlds in a colorful Mushroom Kingdom loaded with childish comedy. In the first hour of the game, players will find a Banzai Bill trapped in a pair of underwear just outside of Peach’s castle, Rabbids gleefully jumping on a sponge used for undisclosed jobs, and goomba’s trapped on their backs in honey. These sights may seem silly to some, but they actually go a long way towards making the game feel accessible to a broader demographic.

All of that paint, the music, overworld, and puzzles, does a superb job of masking the fact that Kingdom Battle can be frustratingly hard. Even in combat, the game manages to feel simple while pushing players to become better at the game.

When the game begins, all Mario and his two Rabbid companions can do is move and attack. Both of these options aren’t hard to grasp, and while a few more maneuvers get added to the mix, they basically make up the entirety of the gameplay. Once every ability is unlocked, players still only have five tools they can use each turn: Main weapon, secondary weapon, movement, special skill 1 and special skill 2. As the game progresses, it challenges players to use these options in creative ways but never throws in new skills for the characters to learn. Stages instead offer different enemies and obstacles that force the heroes to use what they already have in creative ways.

SONIC MANIA

Sonic has been around for ages, but most regard his best moments as the original Sega Genesis titles. The last decade or so has seen countless forgettable  Sonic games that sampled elements from the franchises legendary roots but have ultimately forgotten why Sonic was once battling Mario for center stage and what made fans have faith in the quality seal of a Sonic game. Now, with a ton of hype, comes the long awaited Sonic Mania. PagodaWest Games and Headcannon have finally returned Sonic to its 16-bit glory. Sonic Mania is a traditional 2D platformer that looks and feels like a vintage Sonic game. There are 8 remixed zones that are taken from the first three Sonic titles on the Genesis as well as Sonic and Knuckles. On top of that, five new stages have been specially designed for this game. There are plenty of new incorporations in Sonic Mania, but the mix of nostalgia, great level design, and modern implements all allow a much needed second wind to be breathed into this classic mascot.

Sonic Mania allows players to go through the adventure using any of the three original protagonists (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles). The game has no dialogue to speak of, but it begins with Eggman getting on with some dastardly plans to send out his minions to obtain a power created by an energy signal. The plot isn’t important, but there are awesome animations between stages (and sometimes within) that make the game feel like a classic 90s cartoon. Eggman can often be found somewhere in the level,–he’s riding a train and laughing it up as Sonic flies by in the eighth zone–and the animations are very well done. The crisp colors add to the fluid animations, and the cutscenes do add some continuity and amusing interludes that make the game feel more complete.

Finally, a new Sonic game feels like the original games. That is not to say it doesn’t evolve or add the franchise, but Sonic Mania keeps the original recipe that made Sonic great in the first place and just sprinkles in new ingredients. Fans have never really asked for anything more, and while it’s been too long since a truly great Sonic game, I am happy to tell you that Sonic Mania indeed fills in that void and that Sonic will be spin-dashing back into the heart of gaming. The game is 2D, fast paced, simple to play but very hard to beat, and it kept everything we loved–and admittedly a few things we disliked–about Sonic while bringing the series back to its roots. It does this with very strong level design, versatile platforming/boss fights, the right amount of difficulty, and fusing elements from many different Sonic games.

Sonic Mania nails it when it comes to great level design. Every level is drastically different from the others, and the difficulty gradually increases as the game wears on. Green Hill Zone is a relaxed warm up, but after that, each level has some very unique obstacles that mean that players can’t just shoot through the game without discovering and overcoming the fine intricacies of each stage. Every zone features two acts, and there is a lot of disparity, even between the first and second half of a zone. For example, Chemical Plant Zone stage one will feel a lot like a level you have seen before, but stage two features a ton of brand new elements such as needles that inject the water with chemicals that cause Sonic to hyper jump and DNA strands that launch Sonic to new platforms.

I found the new changes to be more interesting than the nostalgia twinged areas, and I loved that each stage felt like a new set of rules to play with. The level design is very innovative, and the fine mix of nostalgia, new elements, and ever changing platforming designs are the backbone to Sonic Mania’sgreatness.

RESIDENT EVIL REVELATIONS

I have something of a love/hate relationship with the Resident Evil franchise; the original three titles on the PlayStation 1 will always be the textbook definition of survival horror done right in my opinion, but from Resident Evil 4 onward the series began to favour fast paced action over the suspense and atmosphere of its predecessors. Resident Evil 4 was an excellent game, but it marked a change that didn’t sit well with myself and other long time fans of the franchise; the titles that followed (Resident Evil 5 & 6) followed suit with the change in gameplay, moving the series from survival horror to a more action-adventure oriented experience. Thankfully, the series has returned to its roots somewhat with the release of Resident Evil 7, which has revived a lot of the aspects found in the original titles, while simultaneously revolutionising the gameplay yet again under the guise of the PT-esque first person perspective found in many modern day horror titles.

Resident Evil Revelations attempted a similar change of pace when it released in 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS, keeping the action-oriented gameplay found in RE4 while adapting it to focus on survival, evasion and exploration instead of all out combat. The game was re-released as a HD remaster last Tuesday for the PS4 and Xbox One offering fluid 60fps gameplay and improved 1080p visuals over the original. While it plays very similar to RE4, the change in suspense is exactly what the series prior to RE7 was missing, and sees a return to form that this series desperately needed at this point in time. There are fewer enemies present at any one time to be sure, but that is what makes the encounters that much more tense, especially so when you have to manage your ammunition and health items simultaneously.

The game’s narrative sets it between the events of Resident Evil 4 and 5, where you play as series veteran Jill Valentine and her new partner Parker Luciani as they investigate an abandoned cruise ship called the Queen Zenobia for it’s link to a bioterrorist organisation called Veltro, as well as it being the last known location of Jill’s former partner: Chris Redfield. From the moment Jill and Parker arrive on the ship it becomes abundantly clear  that something isn’t right. As they explore the eerily silent and dark, haunting corridors of the Zenobia they soon realise that a new virus is running rampant on the ship, turning its former inhabitants into hideously mutated creatures known collectively as the Ooze. Overall the game’s creature design is pretty solid, basing their design on different deep sea creatures which works well in conjunction with the overall tone of the game. The game is designed in a TV-Style format, with each chapter being an episode in the overall ‘season’. There are twelve episodes in total, with a run time between 7-9 hours depending on how long you spend exploring the game’s environments.