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Crusader Kings II Review

Crusader Kings II

“Long live the king…..or perhaps not”

What is Crusader Kings II ?

Crusader Kings II is a Grand Strategy game set in the Middle Ages, developed by Paradox Development Studio and published by Paradox Interactive in 2012 as a sequel to Crusader Kings.

What is a Grand Strategy Game ?

An average PC gamer arguably spends more time playing MOBA, MMORPG or FPS games. But there are some who seek to rule over mighty and glorious empires through the ages, eXploring unknown lands, eXpanding their empires, eXpoliting the riches of the new world and eXterminating all possible threats. These people find what they are looking for in 4X games like the Civilization series, Age of Empires and so on. But within this broader genre of strategy games there is a type of game that strays away from set rules and takes things to a truly grand scale, and these are called Grand Strategy Games. Some of the most famous and well-known Grand Strategy games you might have heard of are the Total War series and the Europa Universalis series.

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If you have never played a grand strategy game and you just saw a few videos of people playing games like Europa Universalis IV or Hearts of Iron IV (Both by Paradox) on YouTube, i am pretty sure most of you are thinking these are definitely not my kind of games. The sheer amount of game mechanics  to master and the daunting User Interface (UI) coupled with almost sadistic difficulty is sure to put off almost anyone.

But in CK II you do not need to know what every single feature of the game is or what every single button of the UI does before jumping into the game. I have almost 150 hours in CK II and I am still finding out new things to do and new ways to approach the game. That is the beauty of CK II it is not a game that teaches you everything in a 10 min tutorial and then just keeps on repeating the same gameplay for the next 20 hrs. You are constantly surprised and amazed at the amount of gameplay you have to experiment with, in this most grandiose of sandboxes.

Crusader Kings II is essentially a Grand Strategy game…yes…But what sets this game apart from the rest is the fact that it is actually………*Drum Roll*………..

Game of Thrones.

(Ah….I see i have got your attention now)

But what is it, exactly ?

Wikipedia describes CK II as a “Dynasty Simulator” (where would we be, without Wiki). That is the most appropriate description I can think of for how CK II’s gameplay works.

You rule your kingdom or duchy or county as a dynasty i.e a single family line through hundreds of years of history.

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Surely, it must be easy being king

You start out as a single ruler of your choice between 1066 and 1453 AD (The old gods DLC pushes the playable starting date back to 867 AD), an independent tribal count in Ireland, a duke in India who is also on his king’s council or perhaps the emperor of the Byzantine Empire himself. And you literally have hundreds of characters to choose from within kingdoms stretching from Europe to parts of Asia and Africa. Once you have made your choice you are immediately given several tasks like get married (if not already married), make sure you have a legitimate heir (if not than this is your first priority), investigate the laws, council, diplomatic relations with neighboring rulers…..OK, ill stop….i can feel your eyes glaze over.

The point is, there is a lot to do here and none of it feels repetitive or micro-managerial. Most of these decisions are on a grander scale (Remember my Grand  Strategy lecture from before). It is a real-time game not turn based so most of your work is just making key, over-arching decisions at certain events and just sit back and watch as those events unfold. A few hours in and you will find yourself diplomatically arranging marriages of your relatives, keeping and eye on powerful families, plotting assassinations, acquiring new lands through political shenanigans or military might, going on a pilgrimage, tackling peasant revolts, sucking up to the pope and so on.

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Civilization VI Review

Civilization VI

“Just, One More Turn”

Sid Meier’s Civilization VI is a turn-based 4X video game and the sixth main title in the Civilization series. Civilization VI was developed by Firaxis Games, published by 2K Games, and distributed by Take-Two Interactive.

Every game in the civilization series has always been regarded as the best digital board game and it is certainly true for Civilization VI as well.

Art Style

Now one of the more controversial decisions of Civilization VI would have to be its use of a much more stylized look as opposed to a hyper realistic art style. And you will often hear people talking about how they were put off by it and was the one thing holding them back. To me Civilization has always been a cartoony/stylized game. Now i have not played any Civ games before Civ IV but i am pretty sure it never had a realistic art style.

I usually don’t talk about graphics regarding strategy games as it doesn’t really matters as much to me. When a strategy game is done right and you can read everything that is happening visually with ease on the map you hardly ever consider if the latest rendering techniques and the highest of poly count models are implemented. ” Graphics alone do not make a game ” there is certainly truth in that.

Excerpt from Civ VI’s Wiki about its art style.

The game definitely uses a more cartoonish look than that of Civ V, as according to Firaxis, with much deeper gameplay, they wanted to keep the visuals simple to avoid interfering with the complexity of gameplay. The graphics of individual units and buildings are being developed to be both readily-detailed when viewed in a tight zoom, while still being recognizable from other similar units when viewed from a distance. This necessitated the simpler art style to allow players to quickly recognize units and buildings while looking over a city without having to resort to user interface tooltips or similar distractions, according to Civ VI Senior Producer Dennis Shirk. Individual units were designed to include flair associated with the given civilization, such as applying different helmet styles to the same class of footsoldier units

Having worked as a video game artist I must say Civ VI will definitely “Stand the test of time” (sorry about that). Stylized graphics age particularly well compared to realistic graphics. The different “Districts” are easily distinguishable  and every building you build is physically represented on the map.The map is more readable, vibrant and varied as you move from mountains and rivers to floodplains, deserts and tundras. You don’t need to wait for pop-up tool tips to tell you more about what you are looking at, you get as much information as possible just by looking at the map. Coupled with excellent world generation these are definitely the most accessible and best looking maps i have seen in a 4X turn-based, strategy game. (Compare this to “Endless Legend”, a beautiful game but the map is just so confusing)

The unit icons do create a cluster f**k and you can barely see the map beyond those icons in the mid game where you have many units and the tech for creating Corps and Army isn’t unlocked yet. (But its more of a UI problem) I get why people don’t like the new cartoony look and I also understand that when you are paying for a AAA title you expect something jaw-dropping and cutting edge but I am definitely in favor of this new art style. And less intensive graphics means more players, (everyone does not own a really powerful desktop PC) that just makes sense.

Music

Composer Christopher Tin, who wrote “Baba Yetu”, the Grammy-winning theme song for Civilization IV, returned to write Civilization VIs main theme, “Sogno di Volare” (translated as “The Dream of Flight”).

Tin premiered the song at a London concert in July 2016. The game’s original score was written and orchestrated primarily by Geoff Knorr, who was assisted by Roland Rizzo, Griffin Cohen, and Phill Boucher. Each civilization features a musical theme or “core melody” with four variations that follow the era that the civilization is currently in. Each of these civilization specific themes also sound as genuine as they can be. The music grows in complexity and new instruments are introduced with every new era whilst maintaining the core melody providing a beautiful effect of progress and consistency throughout your playthrough.

Sean Bean, who narrated the early trailers of the game, also provided his voicework for quotes read to the player as they progress along the technology and civics tree and the leader introductions as well. It doesn’t get better than that. ( Spoiler : Sean Bean’s character dies in the trailer !! )

There really isn’t anything to complain about here. The main theme, “Sogno di Volare” is especially inspiring and memorable enough to make you come back to the game again and again. Although, nothing really compares with “Baba Yetu” and i assume some people will change their main theme with mods like they did with Civ V before.

Check out these live performances of “Baba Yetu” and “Sogno di Volare” by Christopher Tin and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, London.

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Dark Souls Review

Dark Souls

“The True King”

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Dark Souls is an action-role playing video-game developed by FromSoftware and published by Namco Bandai Games. Despite of being the first game in the series, Dark Souls is actually the spiritual successor to the previously released, highly acclaimed Demon’s Souls making it the second installment in the “Souls” series of games.

If there ever was a game that was “Pure Game” its Dark Souls. It might not be the game that started it all or the one that changed it all but it definitely is the purest of them all.

Love it or Hate it

Among a group of gamers you will often find an unbalanced and at times biased opinion regarding Dark Souls. It is quite possible that more people hate the game than the ones that love the game. You either hate it or you hate it so much you love it because the one thing nobody can deny is the fact that the game is brutally difficult (Although it is relative) and that very fact is what drives many people away from the game or makes them keep coming back for more.

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The Story

The opening cut-scene establishes the premise of the game. The world once shrouded by grey fog and ruled by dragons is ended when “Gwyn” finds the first flame and a lord soul and then defeats the dragons with help of his allies beginning the Age of Fire. Over time the flames fade away and the undead curse rises, causing certain humans to continually resurrect upon death.

You play a cursed undead. Most of the story is told through text on items and world design and the rest is told in the form of cryptic and often creepy but masterfully written dialogue from characters within the game.

 

The Lore

The Dark Souls lore is so extensive that it couldn’t possibly be summed up in one post. It is one of the most interesting pieces of video-game literature out there and can stand on its own in front of any literary critic.

Check out this YouTube channel to learn more about the lore of Dark Souls.

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Everybody can appreciate the effort the developers put in to painstakingly craft such a rich, diverse and engaging story.

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L.A. Noire Review

L.A. Noire

“There is no redemption except in death”

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L.A. Noire is a neo-noir, action-adventure detective game initially released on 17th may, 2011.

Developed by the Australian development studio Team Bondi and Rockstar Games the creators of the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption.

If those names alone don’t mean much and you aren’t convinced then let me try and change your mind.

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Los Angeles

“A city on the verge of greatness, the city of opportunists, a city of pioneers, a city of dreams and dreamers, a city of undercurrents” are just a few ways the narrator describes the city of Los Angeles circa.1947 as smooth jazz plays in the background. The camera pans across the city’s various neighborhoods giving you a glimpse in to the lives of its people just before you are introduced to your first case in classic “Noir” film fashion. The screen fades out from black and white in to color as the name of the case is displayed diagonally across the screen. It is evident from these very first minutes of the game that the cinematic flow, the writing and music is simply one of the best of the previous generation of games. L.A. Noire is heavily influenced by the films L.A. confidential, Chinatown and naked city among many others. “Noire” is the feminine form of the french word “Noir” meaning black.

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Cole Phelps

You play as Cole Phelps a war hero who has returned to Los Angeles and climbs the ranks of the LAPD solving one case after another. Each case is paced like an episode out of a television crime drama and it feels like it too as you watch it play out.The game could also be played in Black and white mode for a true classic feel. Over the course of an investigation you will first arrive at the crime scene, investigate the crime scene, gather clues and interrogate suspects and people related to the case. Apart from these core elements some cases will have you chasing down suspects on foot and in vehicles, engage in shootouts and the occasional puzzle all the while noting it down in your trusty handbook which helps you keep track of every piece of information you gather and helps you make an informed decision while interrogating suspects. The more you explore the more information you have leading to new leads and new revelations. Here the game rewards the player not by forcing him to explore the map but to organically nudge him towards various branches of the ongoing case, feeding his/her curiosity every single moment.

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You Liar !

The star of the game is the interrogation system that tests the players ability to judge characters based on their facial expressions something that was made possible by the new (new for the time) impeccably detailed facial motion capture technology developed by Team Bondi. This is where excellent technology coupled with incredible acting creates one of the most captivating narrative experiences.

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This bold attempt by the creators of L.A. Noire also resulted in a revolution in video-games both in technological and narrative terms and also raising the level of engagement for games that followed like Beyond : Two Souls and The Last of Us.

The 26 story cases (incl. DLC) make up for a complete, satisfying and rewarding experience that lets you experience the after effects of the horrors of war on the human mind, witness the seedy side of the movie industry and go head to head with gambling racketeers, mobsters and powerful businessmen as you climb the ranks of LAPD with new friends and old enemies.

Despite of its noticeably repetitive gameplay and an open-world that might feel a bit linear in 2017, L.A. Noire sets itself apart as there has never been such a solid, unique and captivating attempt at crime detective genre in video-games till date. Whether you are a fan of Rockstar Games or noir cinema or detective dramas L.A. Noire is a must play for every gamer and deserves a place in your permanent library.

L.A. Noire is available on PS3 and XBOX 360. If you do not own the previous generation of consoles L.A.Noire : The Complete Edition (incl all DLC’s) is available for PC on Steam as well.