All posts by James Pinnell
Destiny

By on July 23, 2014 at 3:00 pm

The more I play Destiny, the more I struggle to define what keeps drawing me back in.

On the surface, there’s a lot to offer. Perhaps it’s the way Destiny manages to recycle much of the same content while still keeping it fresh and enjoyable — something many other MMOs have not been able to do. The combat is satisfying in a way that many shooters fail to execute correctly, because they either make the enemies too easy or too difficult. Charging through the nameless hordes, organically pouring out of dropships or quietly shuffling around the guarded shells of a dead Earth, continues to excite especially after you find that great new weapon or apply that upgrade.

The grind still exists and Destiny isn’t pretending it isn’t there — it’s just going out of its way to make sure you’re still having fun while doing it.

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Survarium

By on July 14, 2014 at 12:48 pm

There are times when I’m playing a game — during those crucial stages where you desperately search for some sort of new mechanic or interesting function to latch on to — where I audibly sigh. I sigh because the game is uninspired, because I feel overly cynical for making such a snap judgement, and because I realise I’ve been playing and critiquing games for so long that it becomes second nature. Survarium made me sigh because I struggled to see the point of why it existed, in a sea of titles that were genuinely attempting to make a mark on the landscape and taking risks. The fact that the game took a shocking 36 hours to download should have given me an indication that the PVP-only beta I was about to play wasn’t even hosted properly.

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Sniper Elite 3

By on July 1, 2014 at 10:45 am

I share a longstanding joke with a colleague where every single Nazi-themed game instantly fails if you do not get the chance to kill Hitler. Hitler can be in any sort of form: Robot, Zombie, Art Deco, whatever. He just needs to have the iconic mustache, short stocky stature and a strong dose of facist dogma in order to meet the grade, and provide that most excellent of releases that video games were designed for.

The problem is that World War 2 was, frankly, a World War, and Hitler couldn’t exactly be in every theatre at once. So, unfortunately, in Sniper Elite 3 you do not get to kill Hitler.

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Destiny

By on June 16, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Activision’s brand new console-exclusive IP Destiny is a huge risk — the whopping $500 million dollar budget makes it the most expensive video game production ever, almost doubling GTA V‘s development cost of $267 million. There’s no denying that developers Bungie have got the goods, and their hallowed Halo history makes them well-placed to build the most expensive and expansive shooter ever — but can it deliver where others have failed? I took a look at the recent alpha weekend on PS4 and asked myself: will this work, and does it also deserve to have a place on PC?

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Everquest Next Landmark

By on May 29, 2014 at 3:10 pm

“Maybe you’re just tired of the genre?”

Every time I try to communicate my frustration at the glacial pace of innovation within MMOs, somebody comes along and says something similar to the above phrase. After all, when you have millions of active players sharing a pliable world, why should we attempt to widen the length and breadth of our thinking? Why not simply bash away at the same beasts, the same quests and the same dungeons over and over again? Am I right? No, actually. It’s been 15 years since EverQuest created the base line for what a 3D online role playing game should have been, and since then we’ve refined that concept to the point where the model is almost perfect. The problem is the players — they’re no longer happy just being pawns within the walled playground.

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redemption

By on May 23, 2014 at 2:42 pm

One of the (few) luxuries of being a freelance games journalist is that I rarely tend to be uninformed when it comes to most titles. Many of my colleagues are generally across almost every inch of every genre of every platform; meaning I usually know what’s good and what’s not by the time embargo lifts. But every now and again, just like everyone else, I fall head over heels with the idea or the concept, rewatching trailers and gasping at the pure adrenaline of the hype.

Deep down I know it’s a poor idea, with every ounce of logic in my body pushing against the charging train of sheer want. So I preorder. I preorder Sim City.  I preorder X: Rebirth. I preorder Diablo 3.  I beg and plead for early keys from the online grey suppliers, desperate for the bucket of games heroin to quench my nagging thirst. But the payoff, when it finally, initially blissfully, arrives, I’m left wanting: The game is bad.

But the marketplace is not the same arena that it once was, where games came permanently hardcoded onto cartridges, CDs and DVDs. There were no updates, patches, mods or expansions back in the golden days, so if a title was poor, it stayed poor for eternity. Game breaking bugs could destroy the livelihoods of a developer, squandering years of work in a matter of days and weeks as returns and leftovers piled up on store shelves. But in 2014 things are different.

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Earth 2066

By on May 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm

It’s easy to understand the appeal of crowdfunding, at least on paper — being able to pick and choose the projects that the community feels need direct support, and ensuring that they get a decent chance at completion. The reality, however, is much more fractious and complex. I’ve made it fairly clear over a number of features and editorials on this wonderful website, that crowdfunding of titles and the new regime of pre-funding development isn’t something I feel is a great idea.

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Nether

By on May 8, 2014 at 11:41 am

Survival games are interesting beasts. On the one hand their unforgiving nature, lack of obvious structure or direction, and ability to create unscripted suspense and horror stand as arguably the most redeeming parts of this burgeoning new genre. But on the other, a lack of community or player cohesion and little consequence for griefing, camping and harassment — alongside the absolutely staggering difficulty — scares away hoards of potential players, leaving almost all the power in the hands of a few aggressive individuals, a handful of hackers and a couple of server admins with god complexes.

The latest gladiator to enter this bloody arena is Nether, yet another Early Access title that combines a similar experience to titles like Dust or DayZ but also introduces a number of additional elements, such as world events, objectives and an optional “safezone” (which ironically isn’t actually all that safe). But I digress. Nether is… confusing.

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ArcheAge

By on April 22, 2014 at 1:03 pm

In the last few years that I have been writing for this fine outlet, I have heaped scorn on the current state of MMORPGs and their lack of innovation, their careful restriction of player control, and their almost dogmatic devolution to a decade old play model. In almost every case, there is a fierce battle from both sides of the aisle — those that share my opinion and lament the broken promises for change, the watering down of sandbox elements, and the stringent dedication to tropes like the Holy Trinity and the Raid. On the other hand, players who feel that the Theme Park style of play is really what defines an MMO claim that the problem isn’t with the system, but that it’s ultimately a lack of quality control on behalf of the developer, resulting in the slew of bugs that tend to infest launch titles, and half-baked features that don’t pan out or fit into the design matrix that the game is based on.

ArcheAge, to me, always felt like the logical bridge between the two paradigms – a “SandPark”, as the developers at XL Games refer to it. Taking both the structure of a Theme Park and the flexibility of a Sandbox, ArcheAge has made a lot of grandiose promises around things like farming, non-instanced player housing, naval combat and even treasure hunting. I graciously accepted one of the rare Alpha keys on offer from NA publisher Trion and set out to see if it was too good to be true.

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Betrayer

By on April 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

The year is 1604. Washed up on a beach after the (presumed) crash of your ship, you expected to find a thriving colony on the edge of the new world. Instead, what you find is an island full of ghosts, demons and a mysterious cloaked woman on a quest to locate her twin sister. Betrayer is easily one of the more ambitious indie titles I have seen in a while, with an opening so ominous, confusing and daunting it put me instantly on the back foot. Soon you’ll find your first “base” of sorts, Fort Henry — but from there, the mystery only deepens as the game forces you to evaluate your surroundings and discover clues to what has occurred. Why are there human remains solidified in place? Why does this bell create instant darkness? Why are these souls begging me to find their loved ones?

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Rust

By on April 3, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Rust is many things to many people, and to those who haven’t fallen into its grasp but instead look through a Twitch or YouTube window, it looks simply like DayZ mixed with Minecraft. To an extent, it is — the crafting and survival elements of the game are neatly in tune with its spiritual predecessors, but at the same time, is nothing like them at all.

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cutting_the_red_tape_on_classification

By on March 27, 2014 at 3:32 pm

It was just another part of the daily news. The Abbott coalition government, as part of their plan to “slash red tape” and “remove unnecessary regulation”, announced that they would amend the Classification Act of 1995. The heavy, clunky, 1980′s style human element of the classification system for digitally distributed games would be gone, alongside a host of other small changes.

“These reforms are the first step in the process of ensuring our classification system continues to be effective and relevant in the 21st century,” touted the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan, who was effectively following on with pledges by previous Labor administrations to make the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations in enforceable legislation. On the surface, it didn’t really seem like much of a big deal — the meat of the R18+ sandwich had already come and gone. But in reality, the rest of the meal had finally begun to arrive at the table.

To explain why this change is significant, we need to understand how the current status quo works.

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Wildstar

By on March 18, 2014 at 5:46 pm

Nostalgia is not usually a quality that many MMORPGs tend to strive for when they set out to create a new universe. WildStar is unique in that it is one of the first Western MMOs in quite a long time that was designed by a small team on a limited budget, but with lofty ambitions to succeed where many others have failed. As a result, it has ended up much closer to the fold of traditional MMOs, such as World of Warcraft and Warhammer Online, in offering what is unabashedly a conservative play system geared significantly towards hardcore players.

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The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot

By on March 13, 2014 at 1:44 pm

It’s been an interesting road for The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot, Ubisoft’s first true F2P experiment — a sort of Dungeon Keeper-meets-Diablo with a side of Netstorm: Islands at War — from its first, hilarious, announcement trailer back in 2012 to the rocky balancing of “Pay” and “Play” during the closed beta. It’s a tale of two games: on the one side, we have a hack and slash grinder that offers what’s on the box — oodles of loot, tons of gold, creative mobs, traps and other nasties. On the other, the game forces you to defend your existence in the game’s floating plan, building up your own castle with the very same mobs and tricks that you’ve struggled through already, albeit with the advantage of creative placement and a touch of your own skill and prowess.

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Rust

By on March 4, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Maniken50 doesn’t mince words in his short, fairly disturbing review of the phenomenally popular survival builder Rust.

“I love this game”, he muses. “I built a house around a guys house and made him my prisoner, I fed him cans of tuna and cooked chicken when it was available, and some times I would drop in spare logs of wood (when they were available).”

This is followed by what can only be described as a Hannibal Lector love note, where he describes torturing and restraining the poor fellow, in a recreation of a scene from Silence of The Lambs. Strangely enough, or not as it were, this review was helpful to 93% of the 18,000 people who rated it, with comments congratulating (and damning) the player on his efforts and pledging a purchase based on his story.

This isn’t as much as an exception as the rule in the new world order of online sandboxes — both Rust and DayZ, two titles that are almost certainly the most unrelenting, unforgiving and anarchic games of the decade. Griefing has now grown to become de rigueur when building a new community in a space with little to no rules, restrictions or, most importantly, consequences.

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The Elder Scrolls Online

By on February 10, 2014 at 3:09 pm

The Elder Scrolls have been a welcome constant throughout the long and wide history of the RPG genre, especially here on the PC, the platform of its birth. Its progressive gameplay mechanics, deep and interesting lore and extraordinarily expansive lands have entertained and enthralled many gamers, both new and old, for over two decades. As such, cries for the ability to share these hard fought experiences, to explore vast tombs with a friend or enter various guilds with others are just another constant to accompany each new title — although Skyrim was probably the first one that truly would have welcomed a partner.

Then, out of nowhere in 2012 Bethesda and its parent Zenimax announced that an MMO had been in the works for the best part of a decade, and wasn’t all that far away from completion.

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Hearthstone

By and on February 5, 2014 at 8:29 am

Given the phenomenal success that Blizzard’s surprise-we’re-making-a-collectible-card-game Hearthstone has enjoyed, we jumped at the chance to sit down with Eric Dodds (Lead Designer) and Ben Thompson (Lead Artist) on the game. Read on for a discussion of how balancing Hearthstone is different from StarCraft, how their success has affected the team, and what this new title means for Blizzard.

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