Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kingdoms of Amalur, Reckoning – Game Review


When I first got my copy of “Kingdoms of Amalur, Reckoning” I honestly wasn’t excited. As a person who thinks of himself as a “gaming veteran” I believed that the peak of RPG games was reached when the MMORPG concept was utilized to good extent (firstly) by games such as “WOW”, “Guild Wars” and then others of the genre.

"...my copy of 'Kingdoms of Amalur, Reckoning'..."
Along came “Mass Effect”, a game that shook gamers reality with its story and gameplay and it became the best RPG game some would say ever created while other will say best in the last decade… I will let you decide about that when the upcoming reviews of the “ME” series will be released.

With that in mind, I installed “Kingdoms of Amalur, Reckoning” and I was prepared to be disappointed as is usually the case with the latest RPG’s I have tested.

Boy was I in for a surprise…

"...what a way to kick start a game, aye?"
The beginning:

First off, “Reckoning” tries really hard to grab you from the moment you launch the game, taking the “character creation” a little further as you first see the opening movie telling the history of the current conflict in the kingdoms of Amalur, and the grim overall feeling that the “player’s” side is fighting a losing battle.
The opening movie ends up with you dying… which is a turning event in the fabric of the game world (And what a way to kick start a game, aye?).
Only now, when two NPC’s are walking with a corpse on a wheelbarrow, starting to catalog the covered body in their notes the player is able to create his/her character.
The player will need to choose from 4 available races that together form the only line of defense the kingdoms have against the evil Fae:

The Almain and the Varani, two human races, the Almain are the civilized, cultured and honorable side of the equation while the Varani are the wanderers, traders and mercenaries who have no kingdom to call their own.

From left to right: Dokkalfar, Ljosalfar, Almain and Varani.
The Ljosalfar and the Dokkalfar, two elven races, The Ljosalfar (the light elves) are the regal, steadfast and uncompromising who will not accept change and who will protect the lands no matter the price while the Dokkalafar (the dark elves) are mostly regarded for their magic, diplomacy and charisma (seductive manner). They mostly work behind the scenes pulling strings and promoting actions of others.

Each race starts with its own unique set of bonuses in several skills ranging from “Blacksmithing” to “Lock-picking”, “Persuasion”, “Stealth” and more.

Once a race was chosen the player is then able to customize the look of the character and once the look was completed and a short cut-scene was played the player will name the character.

Once the character is ready you start playing, waking up surrounded by hundreds of bodies inside a shaking cave, wondering “What the hell is going on?”

At this point I will stop and just take off my hat and eat it, for when the game finally starts at this point, you are unable to pull your eyes away from the amazing graphics that is the work of the Genius Todd McFarlane, mostly known for his Spawn comic books and toys. You are all advised to go and explore the amazing world of Amalur for its gorgeous and brilliant environment.

Adessa, the center of gnomish civilization in the Faelands
Court of Summer, the seat of High King Titarion.

"Now look at the sword, now back to me again... What do you think is going to happen?"
As you begin the entire first section of the game is a tutorial, teaching you everything from the basics such as movement and fighting, equipping yourself with items, casting spells and my own favorite, Backstabbing unsuspecting adversaries.

Once you complete the first section of the game you already feel as if you played the game for several years, controlling each action of your character to perfection (sometimes causing you to think you can kill mobs that for lack of a better way to say it, “Wipe the floor” with your character).

In addition to the easy and intuitive controls the game brings a different line of thinking regarding the all “classes” dilemma that holds each player when he/she is creating his/her character.
In “Reckoning” due to the way the character was created (I won’t destroy the story, you will have to play and see for yourselves) the character can learn abilities from three different class branches: Might (Fighter), Finesse (Rouge) and Sorcery (You can figure it out).

"...my own favorite, Backstabbing unsuspecting adversaries."
With each level you gain you are able to distribute three points to whichever branches you choose, making your character either a pure class (Might, Finesse, and Sorcery) or a mixed one.
At this point you will be exposed to the “Destinies” system. What this system means, put simply, is that each class you choose has several ‘levels’ of progress represented by “destiny cards” that become available for you when you invest enough points in each or several class branches.
For example: from the moment you reach level 1 and distribute your first three points you have access to the “Fighter” destiny first card called “Brawler”, providing you if you choose it with bonuses to your defense and endurance.  Once you invested 11 points in the “Might” branch abilities the next “Fighter” destiny card will be available for you to choose and receive its bonuses.


Important note: The best thing about these destinies, abilities and skills is that you are able to “re-spec” your points at any given time by going to a “Fateweaver” NPC and paying him to change your fate, giving you the option to experiment with different combinations until finding the one you love the most.


Another interesting feature in “Reckoning” is the “Lock Picking” mechanism.
I have played a lot of games, but the fun and edgy feeling I get when picking a locked chest by holding the pick while trying to open the lock mechanism, moving the pick to the right angle for it not to break while the lock gets opened… I just love it!

"...moving the pick to the right angle for it not to break while the lock gets opened… I just love it! "
There are many more great features that make “Reckoning” an amazing game, from its intuitive battle system to being able to craft items and potions. And it’s a HUGE(!) and I do mean HUGE(!) open world for you to freely explore.
But I will leave a little for you to find out yourselves, after all this is just a review and not a full recap.


At this time I think it’s only fair to bow down my head and admit that “Kingdoms of Amalur, Reckoning” joined “Mass Effect” in my private “Pantheon” of games I will always want to play again, and again, and again (…), each time doing something a little differently.

 "...a HUGE(!) and I do mean HUGE(!) open world for you to freely explore. "
For those of you who might want to know about the game, here is the link to the game’s official website.

The Good: Can’t count it all…

The Bad: Sometimes, but only sometimes, the main plot of the game is overshadowed by the side quests, causing you to lose your focus… but that’s the only thing I found.

Total Score: 9.5/10



Smash - TV Series Review


They say that you shouldn't judge by first impression alone. So, before giving any verdict regarding NBC's new musical drama Smash, I decided to watch the first three episodes and genuinely hoped this first impression would change.

"NBC's new musical drama... Smash"
In theory, Smash has everything it needs to be a wonderful series – the cast is great, the music includes larger-than-life Broadway tunes, and New York City as its background. The plot portraits the production process of a new fictional Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. Debra Messing and Christian Borle embody Julia Houston and Tom Levitt, a pair of Broadway writers who team up with a veteran musicals producer Eileen Rand (Anjelica Huston) to produce Marilyn – The Musical. As they cast the leading role, they find it hard to decide between the experienced Broadway actress Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) and the "green" Karen Kartwright (Katharine McPhee, American Idol 5 runner-up).

" Smash has everything it needs to be a wonderful series – the cast is great ..."
Albeit the supposedly intriguing theme of dramas going on behind the scenes of a Broadway musical production I've honestly found it really difficult to connect with this series and found myself exhausted following each episode. This is probably mainly due to issues that are related to the production itself - the rapid, and peculiar transitions between scenes does not let you really engage in getting to know the characters a little more, which leaves them painfully flat. Furthermore, characters encompass little, or no complexity at all, and mostly acts as stereotypical expected of them (Ivy is a bitchy blonde bombshell who secretly believes she's never good enough, Karen, the innocent wide-eyed inexperienced girl too proud to have anyone help her, just to name the leading ladies).

"...the music includes larger-than-life Broadway tunes, and New York City as its background. "
The swiftness by which the series producers decided to raffle through the different story lines leaves the viewer (in this case, me) puzzled about the importance of it all – the plot spreads itself so thin that the story just can't hold together. It would have been nice to have longer or at least somewhat related scenes follow each other and less side stories. By doing that, the series' writers could intensify the viewers' understanding of the plot, the characters and their inner conflicts thus making the series more enjoyable. Additionally, lacking a clear leading character, an anchor around which the plot revolves leaves the viewer wondering who should they keep their focus on – the musical producers, each with their own dilemmas and hidden skeletons, the contenders for the role of Marilyn? Is it the producer's pesky assistant? Or have we missed the mark altogether and we are supposed to watch some Marilyn Monroe classic instead?

"...leaves the viewer wondering who should they keep their focus on?"
Smash will not get another chance to make an impression on me. I believe I have given it enough opportunities to prove itself as the musical drama I wished it would be. It is quite disappointing to see such great potential goes to waste. 

With Much Respect,
SaVa.



Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Allods Online – Game Review


As online gaming goes there are many genres, from the basic 2D platform games to the 3D shooters, from the fantasy based games to the sci-fi futuristic scenes and of course there are the online strategy games spanning from all times, myths and bizarre ideas.

What most people might don’t know is that at these days a growing trend of the companies that develops the games is: “The game is free to play! But if the player wants he/she can purchase with real money more features and unique perks”.



And then came “Allods Online”, released on February 16, 2010 this MMO was one of the first to bring the players the sum of many ideas and concepts.
Created by “Astrum Nival”, the company behind “Heroes of Might and Magic V” and “Rage of mages”, and published by “Gala Net”.
“Allods Online” brought together many years of experience and creativity to this amazing MMORPG. Ranging from the cinematic soundtrack by Mark Morgan, the composer of “Dexter”, “Fallout 1 & 2”, and “Planescape: Torment” to the game’s visuals which were designed by artists who won the 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 10th place awards at “Dominance War”, one of the most prestigious global art competitions, “Allods Online” is the largest game development project in Russian history at $12 million.

As we first approached “Allods Online” here at SaVa Reviews we were skeptic… we are all veterans of MMORPG’s, coming from games such as “World of Warcraft(WOW),”Guild Wars(GW), “Lord of The Rings Online” (LOTRO) and so on… we held very few hopes for “Allods” as it was a free to play game that at first glance looks like a clone of WOW.

But as it seems to be the deal for most things that first glance was misleading as we began experiencing the uniqueness of “Allods” in every aspect of the game and we believe that it’s worth an honest review.

As you first launch the game there is no cinematic trailer or any movie to see.
When you launch the game you are presented with the “Select Faction” screen and from the moment you see this screen you know that this is a different game from any other MMORPG you thought it would be.
The “Select Faction” screen displays the two factions the “League” on the left and the “Empire” on the right, in a picture that shows all the classes of the factions charging at one another in what is a beautiful piece of art.

 "all the classes of the factions charging at one another in what is a beautiful piece of art..."
The “Faction” selection is done by pressing on the image of the wanted faction, highlighting that side of the image. Then, in a fluid motion the animation slide to show the “Select Faction” image hanging on the wall of a chamber. That is the chamber where you are given the opportunity to create your character.

A beautiful thing that was done in “Allods Online” is the differentiation between how each race grasp the idea of each main class (A.K.A Archetypes). By giving each Archetype a different name for each race and a different set of special abilities that the specific race can use as that class, the possibilities are plenty.
“Allods” present the player with the option to choose from six available races to play, each faction allows the player to choose from three races, each unique and has its own special feel.

On the “League” side you will be able to choose from the Kanians (Humans), Elves and the Gibberlings (small furry creatures that comes in threes – you have to see to grasp the notion).

Kanians
Elves


Gibberlings


On the “Empire” side the player will see the Xadaganians (Humans), Orcs (Need no Introductions) and the Arisen (a race of undead who are augmented with mechanical parts and scary masks).

Xadaganians

Orcs
Arisen
 
The animation of each race is unique and of course the player will be able to choose the gender of each character created, displaying a unique feature for each gender, and I don’t mean the usual anatomic differences.

There are 8 Archetypes and 30 classes available for the player to choose from, 15 classes for each faction with unique looks, skills and feel.
Here is a little taste of the available abundance that is there for the players:
For those of us who love the thrill of a melee battle, seeing the action up and close we have the Archetypes Warrior and Paladin.

On the “League” side only two races can play the Warrior Archetype, allowing the player to create the Kanians Champion and the Gibberlings Brawler.
On the “Empire” side only two races can play the Paladin Archetype, allowing the player to create the Xadaganian Avenger and the Orcs Reaver.

Due to what I believe are understandable reasons I will not write all the available classes, but I will let you know all the main Archetypes available for the players, and they are: Warrior, Paladin,Scout, Healer, Warden, MageSummoner and the Psionicist.

Click for an enlarged view
Once you selected the Race, gender and Class you can customize the look of your character with a really nice variety of body types, unique racial additions, hair style & color and ideally what is always the hardest part… selecting a name.

When the character creation phase is completed you can log-in to the character you created and go through a very simple and intuitive set of small tutorial zones, learning the basic ropes of the game.
One of these basics that I feel I must put an emphasis on is the fact that there is no “Auto-attack” mechanism in “Allods”. The player has to be active during the battle or else his/her character will just stand there doing nothing and the outcome of that scenario is obvious to us all.

I for one thinks that this is a really nice change, as it came to be in other MMORPG’s when your character is high enough to kill mobs (enemies) with just its auto-attack, then the game lost meaning as I usually just set there gawking and yawning while the mob died and I got the XP and loot.

By default the game provides the user with three “bags” one for the regular items that the character will receive from mobs and quest givers. One for all the crafting materials the character will gather and require using for its crafting skills. The last one is for items bought or received from the “Cash Shop”, which is the online store in which the players can spend real money to enhance their characters if so they wish.

Another positive and strong uniqueness of “Allods” is the entire crafting system.
The system is built from a series of “mini-games” which means that the player will not just press on the item he/she wants to craft and by that it will be done. The player will have to be active in the crafting process, choosing and selecting specific options that can change the outcome of the end product, either making it better, giving it different stats, making it as it was intended or going totally wrong, creating a useless item.
As a crafting enthusiast I must say that at first I was lost, but then a good friend directed me to a Crafting Guide and from there on the smile never left my face as I create items my friends and I can put to great use.

"choosing and selecting specific options that can change the outcome of the end product..."
The only down side on the all crafting system is that a character can only buy one skill as a start and in order to be able to buy another skill you would either have to use the “Cash Shop” or complete a set of daily quests for proximately 76 days…

Other fun features will be everything that is based around the “Astral”, the stuff that broke the world into many “allods” (floating islands). The players will be able to travel across the “Astral” on-board “Astral ships”, doing battles with demons and enemy players, both as the ship crew and as individuals.

Also “Allods” brings together fantasy and sci-fi (Steam-punk) in a fashion that not many other games were able to do. The Steam-punk essence is as present as that of the fantasy, and the player is able to notice distinct effect of both genres on both playable factions and the rest of the game world.

"travel across the Astral on-board Astral ships”...
It’s time for a short note about the game graphic engine.
As it was said in the beginning the graphics resemble at least at first glance to that of WOW, but as you continue to play you will be able to differentiate that the graphics that makes “Allods” so special and appealing is more than that of the game it’s so unjustly compared to. Having a special line for the graphic engine, the graphic’s team did an amazing job creating a very sharp, fun and unique feel to the game.


So now let’s see the bottom line, let’s see the total score we are giving to this game:

The Good:
  • New and active
    crafting system.
  • Active battle system.
  • Abundant of unique
    classes.
  • Astral battles.
  • Fantasy and steam-
    punk co-existence.
  • 3000 Quests
The Bad
  • Only one crafting skill
    at start of the game.
  • Crafting tutorials lack
    on details.
  • No movies.
  • Several items
    available only from
    the "Cash Shop".


Total Score:   
8.5/10

Thank you for reading, and I really hope you will find yourself at least a little bit interested in venturing to the vast world “Allods” brings for the players, as we as people should give all our support to the companies that create these game for no monthly fee.

You can also find “Allods Online” on the gPotato portal for free MMO games.

With Much Respect,
SaVa.



Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Florence + The Machine: "Ceremonials" - Music Review

Florence Welch emerged into our musical realm as a bold and uncompromising young pop artist whose first album "Lungs" was utterly beautiful and not surprisingly, critically acclaimed.  It included massive hits such as "Dog Days Are Over" and "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)", and it showed great promise of a bright future for Ms. Welch.

Florence + The Machine's second coming, "Ceremonials", is not an album that is to be taken lightly. It is a rich and intense creation by which Welch passes the second album test with flying colors. Actually, she makes it seem so easy.

Its arrangements are alluring and, at times absolutely breathtaking – Uplifting and inspirational songs such as "Shake It Out" live happily beside more dramatic ("What The Water Gave Me") and heartbreaking ("Never Let Me Go") songs. Welch's vocals are almost other-worldly. Since her debut, she has gained more confidence to be exactly her quirky self, and has definitely turned her howling dial up to its max, something that really allows her listeners to appreciate her amazing vocal range.

"It is an intelligent album that simply cannot be categorized..."

It is an intelligent album that simply cannot be categorized. The mixture of influences (pop, rock, gospel, cathedral, etc.) is absolutely genius and can appeal to any music lover, regardless of their genre of choice - This is Florence Music and we adore it. Although multi-layered and intricate, this album is surprisingly communicative, and has become an instant favorite for critics as for fans.  

"Ceremonials" is a complete and cohesive album that contains zero fillers – each song is there to make a strong statement. The chills came running down the spine from the first note that was played. It is a piece of music that makes you sit up in your chair and listen, whether or not you are fond of it. If for some reason blissful, cathartic tears will start choking your throat, just know that you were properly warned beforehand.

With Much Respect,
SaVa.



 
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