Return of the old school RPG part IV: Might & Magic X Legacy

I am scornfully resenting my inability to have attended this year’s PAX East convention because there were some great announcements: SuperGiant’s next game, Transistor, was shown off; The official name for the Double Fine’s Kickstarter Adventure, Broken Age, was revealed; Capcom announced they would be remaking the classic platformer Duck Tales (which elicited such nostalgia-soaked hysteria from twitter it was almost allarming); but in keeping with the spirit of this column, I want to focus on one announcement in particular: Ubisoft’s upcoming Might & Magic X Legacy.

When the title leaked a couple days prior to the official PAX announcement, I figured it would be yet another strategy game spinoff Heroes of Might and Magic — which to be fair are absolutely great games, but they’re not exactly the old school RPGs. The role playing series as been on hiatus for nearly 12 years, ever since Might & Magic 9 hit back in 2001.

Might and Magic X looks and sounds undeniably old-school.The game take place in a massive world filled with indoor and outdoor dungeons to explore, turn-based combat, and a first-person perspective the dungeon-crawling series is known for. The graphics are lush and the art distinct and charming. From the sounds of the skill system and character building, it sounds very much like a classic dungeon crawler.

What surprises me most here is that this is Ubisoft releasing the game. At a time where most publishers are looking for massive hits and sure-things, Ubisoft seems to be striking a balance. Sure, they’ve got Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, and Splinter Cell as their big, primary franchises moving them forward, but other games like ZombiU, Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, and now this Might and Magic sequel give me the impression that the company isn’t quite as averse to new ideas or niche markets as other big-name publishers. I would have expected this to have been a Kickstarter project or an indie studio before I ever would’ve guessed Ubisoft was actually taking the reins. It gives me hope that maybe things are changing, and for the better. Between this and the recent announcement that the Legend of Grimrock folks at Almost Human are working on Grimrock 2, it looks like we can add dungeon crawler to the list of resurrected RPG sub-genres along with Rogue-Likes and CRPGs.

Until our next meeting, mortals!

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Michael Fassbender cast as lead in Assasin’s Creed Movie. Wait…

Such a handsome fella.

…since when was there an Assassin’s Creed flick in the works?

Anyway. Fassbender! I like Michael Fassbender quite a bit; I thought his role as David in Prometheus was fantastic and by far the highlight of the movie. I also really enjoyed him in Inglorious Basterds. So this is exciting! As far as Assassin’s Creed goes, I’ve only recently become interested in the series again, but I did play through Assasin’s Creed 2 not too long ago (finally) and am totally jonesin’ for ACIII this fall.

Now, it’s not not clear as to whether Fassbender will be filling the role of Desmond or Altair (or if the movie will even feature these characters) but the point is he’s a great actor and I’m sure he’ll add some serious acting chops to this production. What do you guys think? Excited to see Fassbender jumping across rooftops and knifing dudes in the juggular?

..shoot, I just got really excited for this flick.

Anyway, comment below and let us know! (and seriously, when the hell did they announce an Assassin’s Creed movie was happening!?)

E3: The Good

E3’s now a week behind us, and big reveals and press conferences even further back than that. E3 2012 was a strange year — a year of transitions and wheel spinning, and estrangement. That’s not to say it was a bad show this year, or that there were no great games. On the contrary, there were some great presences from several titles, and numerous developers and publishers wowing us enthusiast crowds with some damn good looking games.

There were certainly missteps, I won’t shy away from that fact. But overall I was satisfied with what I saw. So let’s get into some of the things that grabbed my attention from this year’s E3. Continue reading “E3: The Good”

E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences

It’s heeere! The most exciting week in gaming, where some of the biggest announcement are made and the newest games shown off. Kick starting the week were 4 pressers from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony. Here’s our thoughts on the big moments (and upsets) of E3 2012: Continue reading “E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences”

Brendan’s Top 7 Games with excellent art design

List time! This week, we’re getting artsy-fartsy. While mulling over what the topic of this week’s list article would be, I was struck by a sudden bolt of creativity in the form of a leaked Rayman: Legends trailer. I was reminded of the beauty of the Rayman series’ art style, and seeing as how art is an aspect of gaming we’ve yet to really delve into here on Power Cords, I decided I’d take a shot.

So! What follows are a selection of what I feel are the best art styles ever seen in gaming. This doesn’t mean best graphics or “most unique;” the entries on this list embody great, memorable art directions in videogames that enthralled and captivated me, and which I still regard to this day as some of the best in gaming. Without further ado, on to number 7!

7. Dead Space 

I love sci-fi. Especially gritty, realistic sci-fi. Any astute listener of Power Cast knows how much I love Alien and Blade Runner, and have heard me praise the terrifyingly authentic look of their practical special effect. In the case of Alien especially, these real-life models and effects created such a strong sense of realism that the movie still holds up well today, even amongst such high standards of modern effects.

Dead Space’s gruesome and unsettling art direction creates an atmosphere very similar to that of Alien. While much is owed to the series’ impeccable sound design, it’s that starkly alien look of the game’s necromorphs that caused players to reel in horror, fumbling and struggling against fear and adrenaline to dispatch the disfigured undead creatures.

Beyond just atmosphere and spooks, the art design of Dead Space just flat out amazing. The necromorphs alone are unique not only in gaming, but in scifi across all mediums. The horrifically disjointed, elongated limbs and tormented faces of these reconstructed corpses are at once repulsing and eerily familiar. Plus the ship, weapon, and tech design come across as practical and not outlandish or exaggerated. The sequel goes even further, introducing ornate temples and giant, city-like space stations to take in.

But seriously, slinking along dark corridors of a space station knowing those disgusting undead monster are after me is one of the most visually memorable moments for me in all media.

6. Dark Souls

Much like Dead Space represents my favorite aspects of realistic and gritty sci-fi, Dark Souls represents my favorite aspects of fantasy.

Grey clouds roll over the decrepit parapets of some ancient, dreary castle; shadowy fog reaches across the bubbling bog of some deep and forgotten wood; a gilded steeple of a cathedral rises among snow capped keeps of towering mountain ranges; the ornate armor of a massive, gluttonous demon glistens red with the blood of my millionth defeat.

Dark Souls was a rough game to get through if you don’t like dying. Really, it was just a tough game period. But the setting of the game — an authentic medieval world filled with darkness and undead hordes — felt so real. The size of the game’s castles and dungeons were massive and awe-inspiring, but also conveyed a true sense of scale. Every aspect of the game was daunting — from ruthless enemies and hazardous traps that will kill you, to giant structures that feel hundreds of years old — nothing about Dark Souls is “small” or “easy,” making it one of the most unique titles to be released this generation, visually or otherwise.

5. Bastion

Transitioning now from realism to whisical, Bastion is a game that really did something different. While it’s not out of the ordinary for indie games to utilize colorful 2D animation, Bastion was unique in the way the world legitimately built itself around you.

Bastion takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where lands and cities float in the sky, above a harsh wilderness below.

You’d walk along the paths of this destroyed world, and streets, forests, towns, and fields would fall and arrange themselves like puzzle pieces from the sky. This created a unique way to deal with both the “fog of war” or light radius mechanics often found in top-own action RPGs, but also an interesting way to entice players to explore each levels fully.

To my memory, no game has ever presented its world in a way quite like Bastion. From the stylized and cartoony character design, fluid animations, and colorful pallet, to the way you experience the land being formed in real-time, exploring the world of Bastion is a memorable and enjoyable experience. Plus, the game is just really damn good.

4. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

Continuing on the path of colorful and saturated art styles is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, my personal favorite entry in the Legend of Zelda series.

While causing quite a commotion when first announced, Wind Waker has gone on to be one of the most beloved and well-regarded games in the Zelda series, and videogames in general.

It’s a definite departure from the more “realistic” art styles of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s mask, but the cartoony cel-chaded graphics have proven to stand the test of time. In many ways, Wind Waker is one of the best looking Zelda games (being outdone only by the most recent game, Skyward Sword). Wind Waker is also one of the most unique Zelda games, adding in new mechanics that built upon it’s ocean and nautical-themed world.

Wind Waker filtered the styles of tribal islanders, Japanese fishing town, Inuit villages, and even Pirate and Viking archetypes through it’s whimsical and bright art design.

While the Zelda series is often attacked for being stagnate in terms of it’s game design, Wind Waker is an example of how the series can create wonderfully unique worlds and stories, without sacrificing what makes Zelda “Zelda.”

3. Metroid Prime

Tallon IV is a truly alien and other-worldly planet. From wetlands filled with unknown vegetation, deserts dotted with the ruins of long-dead civilizations, or frozen shrines hiding powerful weapons beneath layers of snow and ice, Metroid Prime was one of the first games where I felt I was truly exploring a world.

I was a young teenager when Prime came out, and I had yet to try my hand at other titles with fully-realized worlds (some of which are on this list), but to this day I still remember the feeling of exploration I had when playing Prime. Admittedly, I didn’t fully understand the layout of the world until later, but once I got the hand of it the fluidity of it all had me hooked.

But that feeling is due to more than just level design.

It could be argued that almost everything in Metroid Prime game was visual — be it obvious things like the HUD, or more intrinsic aspects such as the story. It seemed as if each room had a story to tell: overgrown vines hanging on a crumbling ornate wall; a cliff side eroded by a waterfall; a rusted elevator, unused for centuries. While there was a very basic and immediate story, there was also a background story to be found not only in the hidden texts throughout the world, but in the architecture and natural world of Tallon IV and its long-lost civilization. And what’s more, Metroid Prime managed to keep — even enhance — its great art throughout the Prime series, setting a standard for all future Metroid titles.

2. Rayman 

It’s probably apparent by now my affinity for Nintendo’s Metroid and Zelda series. One would probably assume based off this knowledge that I share that same love for Nintendo’s flagship mascot, Mario, and his platforming excellence. While it’s cerainly true I’ve enjoy a Mario game or two in the past, my enjoyment of the red-capped plumber is hindered by another platform-hopping character: Rayman.

And my biggest reason for preferring the limb-less hero? The art! The art style of Rayman, while going through several slight alterations throughout the entire series, has remained whimsical and magical. That may found fluffy and sappy, but it’s really the only way I can describe such a unique world. There’s a strange charm to everything in Rayman’s universe (especially thanks to Ubisoft’s Ubiart Framework). Every friend, foe, and fairy is filled with personality. But it’s the series’ most recent title, Rayman: Origins, that earns the series the number 2 spot on this list.

Just one look the Origins’ hand-drawn characters and levels, and you immediately want to grab a controller and start hopping around this colorful land. The lush colors and starkly unique style of each world you visit on Rayman’s adventure is far more interesting than anything the Mushroom Kingdom’s ever dreamed up. Rayman: Origins won numerous awards for best graphics last year (including ours!) and it’s no wonder why. Rayman Origins is by far the most beautiful side scroller I have ever played (at least until Rayman: Legends is released).

1. Shadow of the Colossus

It’s not the expansive, unpopulated landscape; it’s not the enormous bridges or ruins; it’s not the soft haze, shrouding the land in mystery.

It’s the massive, hulking beasts that lurk in the far corners of this peninsula that make the art of Shadow of the Colossus my number one favorite art style.

Each colossus is as unique and different as the next. From afar, the colossi are daunting and majestic, inciting both reverence and awe. It’s only when you begin to climb each of these creatures that the nuances of their design becomes apparent to you. Intricate markings and designs have been etched into their ancient, stone-like skin; long, grass-like fur and hair lines their rocky scales; whitish blue eyes gaze at you somberly, behind them a mixture of fear, sadness, and ferocity as you both battle to end the other’s life — a struggle for survival.

There’s so much to be said about this game. Shadow of the Colossus does so many great things, so many powerful moments that challenge you and fill you with emotion. The sight of these majestic creatures succumbing to your attacks is both heart-wrenching and relieving. To watch the beautifully designed beasts live and die are some of the most memorable moments in all of gaming.

And this ends this week’s list. What did you think of it? How about you, what are some of your favorite (or least favorite) videogame art styles? Leave a comment or send us an email at askpowercords.com. And while you’re at it, let us know what other list topics you’d like to see us cover here on Power Cords!

Why I’m finally excited about Assassin’s Creed again.

Assassin’s Creed is a series I’ve always been interested in, but surprisingly let down by. The first Assassin’s Creed drew me in when it was originally announced. It was the first title that looked as if it was doing something worthy of being called “next-gen.” Unfortunately, while Assassin’s Creed was a wonderfully pretty game to look at and featured some truly innovative game design,in the end it was repetitive and suffered from underdeveloped ideas.

When the sequel Assassin’s Creed 2 was announced, it wasn’t until well into the game’s coverage on news sites that I became interested. In fact, the exact moment the game appeared on my radar was when I learned the game could be played entirely in Italian. I don’t speak Italian, but just knowing I could indulge in such an experience was exciting to me. After the game was released, and I heard and witnessed for myself the depth Ubisoft had added to the gameplay, I decided I would give it a shot. Due to whatever circumstances, I didn’t get very far in the game; whether it was from distraction from other titles or a lack of motivation, I lost interest and never went back. Not because it was a bad game, but because I just forgot. After that, and the establishment of annual sequels for the series, I became ambivalent the this world of secret societies and hidden wrist blades.

Then Assasnin’s Creed 3 was announced.

As you can probably surmise from the title of this post, this announcement has once again roped me into the hype for this series. Everything revealed about Assassin’s Creed 3 is promising to me. The setting is absolutely the most interesting the series has had so far. We’ve seen numerous images of an assassin, obviously belonging to the Brotherhood based off his attire and abundance of the “A” symbol on his weapons and accessories. The notion of playing as a Native American assassin is very appealing, to say the least.

I mean, look at this guy! He’s decked out with a tomahawk (which I believe will eclipse the wrist blade as his signature weapon), 2 flintlock pistols, a saber, and of course the wrist blade. He’s also wearing the blue hue the American soldiers wore, and his notched hood is adorned with an eagle — a symbol not only in the Assassin Brotherhood, but also in Native American spirituality. Chances are, this eagle symbolism will play a role in either the plot or characterization of this new protagonist.

Beyond that, he has fur boots, beaded jewlery, and other touches that make him visually unique when compared to the past heroes Altair and Ezio.

Obviously, because we’re playing as this nameless warrior, he is in some way related to the series’ main character Desmond. This is where the Assassin’s Creed loses me: I don’t care about Desmond. I don’t care about what’s happening outside of the Animus, or at least none of the games have shown me why I should care about the “real world” events. I don’t really see why these events which occur in these Animus missions require the Animus to tie them together in the first place. Albeit, I haven’t completed AC2 or even touched its two sequels, but from what I gather, most of the narrative in those games revolves solely around Ezio’s life and actions, not Desmond’s. I understand there are probably several reasons for this that I’m blissfully unaware of, I just wish the historical settings — which is 95% of the game anyway — was where the entire narrative took place instead of them being linked by some (admittedly cool and unique) sci-fi element. I just don’t find it necessary I suppose.

But then again, this is a videogame, and what really matters is the gameplay. I am excited to see what gameplay changes this new setting and protagonist will bring. And I’m sure that’s something we can all agree on, as the main complaint I hear leveled against both Brotherhood and Revelations is that they did little to really branch out the narrative or expand the gameplay in ways that warranted a full sequel. Now that we’re getting the next “true” numbered entry, I hope we’ll see some great new ways to assassinate wise-guy Templars and pakour over historical buildings.

It’s rumored the game with feature an open wilderness landscape (in addition to cities and towns, like Boston, Massachusetts) that will rival AC Brotherhood’s Rome area. It apparently will have climbable trees (is it sad I’m excited that this is a feature?). I would hope this means the inclusion of things like wildlife and using trees and bushes as cover/camouflage. Of course, Metal gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is one of my favorite games, and I’m a huge fan of Western movies and Red Red Redemption, so it’s probably just wishful thinking. The fact that I’ll be wandering the New England wilderness and possibly interacting with cats like George Washington and Ben Franklin (Da Vinci’s replacement, perhaps?) is enough for me.

Like I said, I don’t really care all that much about Desmond, or this Eden stuff, or weird supernatural/sci-fi business. What I’m really invested in are the historical events and stories that are unique to this setting, and, of course, how fun the game will be to actually play. When I need my story fix, I have an entirely different videogame threequel to go to; I want Assassin’s Creed 3 to be the ultimate sandbox stealth/assassination game.

As the months go by, we’ll see more and more on Assassin’s Creed 3, and I’m sure I’ll become even more interested. How about you guys? Are you looking forward to this game? What changes would you want to see in the Assassin’s Creed series? For me, it feels great to be excited about this series again. In fact, I’ll be going out of my way to finally pick up Assassin’s Creed 2 again and play it through to completion (though whether I’ll do so playing entirely in Italian remains to be seen). Hopefully, I’ll finally get to see what all the hype was about.

Returning to the magical world of Rayman in the the Rayman: Origins demo

–By Brendan

November might be dominated by video game releases from the likes of Modern Warfare, Skyrim, Halo, and Zelda, and a whole host of others, but there is one little gem that deserves your attention — Rayman: Origins. Continue reading “Returning to the magical world of Rayman in the the Rayman: Origins demo”