SIDETRACKED #001 – “Back to the future of Gaming”

Hello internet! Weeeeee’re baaaaaack! Actually, I, Eric, you’re long time Templar is back behind the mic. And with me I’m bringing a fresh new take on our podcast along side a new-old face, new to our podcast, old to our blog. My long time friend and now co-host Alex Gothelf returns to his old stomping grounds here at TemplarDigital.com and joins the show to talk about the many different things that tickle our fancy or grinds our gears.

For the premiere episode of our podcast we’ll be talking about the past, present and future of gaming with plenty of side-tracking to be had. So we humbly invite you to join us and we hope you find our banter entertaining and enlightening!

Twitter: @TemplarDigital

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Listen on: iTunes (iOS, iTunes Store), Stitcher Radio (iOS, Android) or in the embedded player below! ENJOY!

Elder Scrolls Online PC Review

It is not hard to imagine that everyone who has played and enjoyed an Elder Scrolls game has at one point or another thought “wouldn’t this be great with friends?”

The Elder Scrolls Online has arrived and given an answer:  a definite yes!

But being one of the most expensive PC games out there, with a game purchase and a monthly subscription fee, the question becomes: is ESO worth it?

That answer depends on just what you’re looking for and expecting from it.  ESO is not groundbreaking in any obvious way.  It is a solid MMO, with smooth and enjoyable gameplay, an expansive and varied world and a ton of promise.  But what may matter more for its success are not people looking for the next WoW, but people looking for the next great Elder Scrolls game, and this is it.  ESO isn’t just an MMO with Tamriel plastered on top; it IS Elder Scrolls designed for multiplayer and feels like it from the moment the game first loads up.

The music of Elder Scrolls has always been a strong point, and ESO’s soundtrack does not disappoint.  While there is a lot to say about how good ESO is, the coolest thing just might be that the songs you can hear played by bards in the taverns ingame are composed by Malukah!  (Here‘s my personal favorite.  You can also hear an original song she made for the game by watching the credits from the login screen or checking out the video below.)

Character creation will be familiar to anyone who played Skyrim.  Unlike other Elder Scrolls games, ESO requires characters to choose a class, which gives three skill lines that are unavailable to characters of the other classes.  All other skill lines, such as weapon and armor types, are open to everyone, allowing creative builds and character concepts.

After the Oblivion/Skyrim style tutorial introduction (which can be skipped with subsequent characters) you’ll find yourself in one of three starting areas and the world wide open before you.  There’s a main story to follow.  It is interesting and very rewarding, but not strictly mandatory.  First you may find yourself wandering around town, snatching everything you can find from every barrel and crate or reading through every book in every house or even striking out into the wilderness to explore.  There is plenty to find and do all over the place.

Each of the three starting areas offers a different environment and experience.  The Aldmeri Dominion will feel the most “new” to longtime fans, offering a glimpse of the elven homeland of Summerset and the inner workings of the Thalmoor; the Ebonheart Pact, with Skyrim and Morrowind-esque landscapes, feels the most reminiscent.  The Daggerfall Covenant feels the most grounded in the alliance war.

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There are twenty zones, not including the Imperial lands of Cyrodiil which serve as the PvP area (but also includes quests and places to discover and explore) and taken all together, ESO seems to be a little larger than Skyrim (though I have only had time to see the first two areas of each alliance so far and I am making this judgment based on those) though not quite as tightly packed.  However, more interesting than what is already on the map are the areas that are not ingame yet.  The heartlands of Summerset, Skyrim and Morrowind are not there yet to explore, leaving a lot of room for potentially great expansions, along with areas that have been at the top of Elder Scrolls fans’ wish lists like Elsweyr.

Questing and exploring is very enjoyable.  The graphics are high (if not quite hi-def Skyrim) quality and the environments are absolutely beautiful.  The setting and storyline are quite dark, with a main plot involving a daedric invasion of Tamriel.  Quests will occasionally present tough choices with real consequences.  The world is unexpectedly alive, with non-player characters that seem quite busy (if you don’t pay too much attention) and sometimes even have different greetings or reactions depending on completed quests or choices made.

Overall the story fits very well with the existing Elder Scrolls lore.  It is nice to see some familiar, if not so friendly, faces like Mannimarco.

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The gameplay, a mix of action RPG and FPS, is good but not new.  Likewise, the PvP will feel familiar to Guild Wars players, with large scale battles for castles and keeps that offer a variety of roles for players, from support to running siege weapons, fighting on the frontlines or scouting territory under enemy control.  New or not, it is fun and very easy to hop right in (once you’ve unlocked Cyrodiil at level 10) and find a fight to join.

The crafting system is nearly identical to Skyrim, with some extras like the ability to add “traits” to equipment, such as increased stat ratings or faster attack speed, as well as magical enchantments.

As great as ESO seems so far, it is not without its shortcomings and problems.  The lower level areas are absolutely infested with farmer bots and goldsellers spamming chat.  There are bugs (but what would an Elder Scrolls game be without them?) including falling through the ground and quest triggers that just don’t work right.  Those seem (so far at least) to be very rare, however.  While the voice acting is well done, sometimes it can become tedious like having to hear a banker’s greeting every single time.

Though they have managed to include just about everything expected from an Elder Scrolls title, there are some things that are missing.  There is a Fighter and a Mage guild, but no Thief guild or Dark Brotherhood (assassin guild).  All weapon and armor type skill lines are available to all characters, but the same cannot be said for magic beyond Soul Trap.  The schools of magic from previous games are not included except as lore and most kinds of spells are part of the different class skill lines.

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Some game design choices are not necessarily bad, but at least odd.  Joining guilds is account-based, not character, and you can be a member of up to five guilds at any one time, though you can have up to eight separate characters. Also, there is no game wide auction house, but rather a system of guild stores with a search function that leaves a lot to be desired.  Banking is also account wide, with all characters on an account sharing one bank with 60 slots by default.  That can be something of a convenience, but also a major limit on storage space, especially with the hundreds of different materials to collect and store for the various crafting skills.

The biggest problem at the moment is the crowds that always end up around public dungeon bosses.  While some areas are instanced specifically for you, (usually pleasantly challenging boss fights) the vast majority are open to anyone who happens to be around.  This can be nice for the spontaneous group-ups, but not so nice when you reach the boss and find a half dozen or so bots all standing around or the guy 20 levels above the area waiting for the respawn and having to compete against them for loot or quest/exploration credit.

But they are trying to deal with this and it must be said that the customer service is usually top notch (I had a real, live, American person on the phone with me at 5am on launch day when i couldn’t get the game to load) and having a GM show up in a dungeon to banhammer away all the bots is very satisfying.

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In the end, to MMO players in general and diehard Elder Scrolls fans alike, I highly recommend checking out ESO.  It is a great chance to explore Tamriel like never before:  with friends!

(On a sidenote, if you are wondering if the special “Imperial” edition is worth the extra $20, having a horse available pretty much right away on every character is a major convenience, as the ones available with ingame currency are very expensive.)

RETRO WEEKEND: NES Super Mario Bros. Review

Mamma mia it’sa the first Retro Weekend review and what a better way to kick off this section then to start with the game that revolutionized and paved way for the gaming we all know and love today. Super Mario Bros.

Created by master mind Shigeru Miyamoto, released in 1985 and is a sequel to the arcade hit Mario Bros. which debuted in 1983. Super Mario Bros. is the first in the series released on the Nintendo Entertainment System selling over 40 million copies as of 2003 and was largely responsible for the revival of the gaming industry.

Ungrateful bastard.

Now If you don’t already know this story then you must have been living under a rock for the past 27 years! I bet by the time you get done reading this review you’ll be humming the theme song. So basically you take the role of Mario or Luigi (whoever got stuck as second player) and you go through Mushroom Kingdom fighting off goombas, koopa troopers and other crazy enemies (you probably had nightmares of as a little kid) until you made it to the castle where the evil King Bowser and Princess Peach await! Once defeating Bowser and thinking you’ve rescued Princess Peach you are pleasantly greeted by Toad with the well-known line “Thank you Mario, but our princess is in another castle!” And two middle fingers if anyone hasn’t noticed.

Being a 5-year-old kid and getting his first taste of a video game ever, I would say it pretty much blew my mind and opened up a world my tiny brain could never imagine! I was instantly hooked, I can’t tell you how many hours I spent playing this game with my eyes glued to my 13 inch television while my mother yelled at me to go eat dinner and screaming back “hold on I’m fighting Bowser!” Even till today this game still holds its fun factor that I enjoyed 22 years ago what I believe is lacking in games today. There’s no tutorials annoying you every five seconds on how to play, there’s no regenerating health bars or fancy cinematic cut screens. It’s just simple and sweet 8 bit graphics, point A to point B and sweet ass music! Even the controls are perfect, no hold Z press triangle then forward up down. It’s just simple run, jump and shoot fireballs. 

Super Mario Bros. was more than just a simple run and jump, it was a very difficult! It took me awhile to actually beat the game growing up, were talking years here okay! But as hard as it was, it was always and still is very entertaining with a very high reply value. You could lose a million times and always have the need to keep trying for the goal. It also had its fair share of hidden secrets that kept the game fresh and increased playability. You had hidden warp pipes to advance through the game quicker, hidden vines that would take you to extra coins, blocks that had hidden lives and even the elusive glitch to the minus world!

Mind Blown!

The “Minus World” arguably regarded as the most famous glitch in video game history. Is an unbeatable level in Super Mario Bros.  In level 1-2 there contains a hidden warp zone, with warp pipes that transport the player to Worlds 2, 3, and 4, accessed by running over a wall near the exit. If the player is able to pull off a bug that allows Mario to pass through the wall, then the player can enter the warp zone that transports the player to a stage called “World -1”. This stage’s map is identical to Worlds 2-2 and 7-2, but making it to the end of the stage, the player is then taken back to the start of the level, which you can pretty much say that Mario is screwed until you lose all of your lives and have to start the game all over again. Pretty mind-blowing huh?


We were so good the power wasn’t even turned on!

The game consisted of eight well designed and very challenging worlds ranging from creepy castles and sewer pipes to giant mushroom caps and perilous jumps that will keep you on your toes and your palms sweating like no tomorrow! But along the way you were given power-ups that aided you throughout your journey such as mushrooms to make Mario grow so you can take a hit, fire flowers that gave you the ability to shoot fireballs and invincibility stars that helped you pretty much wreck everything in your path! You can even collect gold coins to enhance your score and if you collected a hundred you gained an extra life, which I used to rub in my brothers face as he waited patiently to play.

So in conclusion, Super Mario Bros. will always be that timeless classic that no matter if you’re young or old you’ll just always remember it. Regardless if it’s the characters, gameplay, or even the great music. There have been countless sequels and remakes throughout the years and every sequel always improved off of the last to always keep the player entertained. The Mario franchise has never failed to amaze and spark that feeling I used to have when I was young. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t played to go out and grab a copy off Ebay or if you own a Wii to go on the Virtual Console store and download it, you won’t be disappointed! Until then keep blowing those carts (no pun intended) and keep your eyes glued for my next great review. 

 
 For now I leave you all with this!

Source: Mario Wiki

-Alexander Gothelf
Follow me on Twitter @Gothelf_Designs

Game Review: "Slender"

“Slender” is a free indie-developed psychological horror/survival horror video game released in June 2012 for PC and Mac. The game is based on horror creepypasta, the Slender Man.

LOWDOWN:
Lost in the forest, you seek out the lost 8 pages of the manuscript with nothing but a flashlight. Written on these 8 pages are parts of a story of the local internet myth, Slender Man, a man who simply follows and watches you, slowly entrancing you with his stare, driving you to insanity until you can do nothing but stand there and stare yourself to death. Welcome to the world of internet freeware game Slender from Parsec Productions.

Slender Man is an entity that follows the player. He resembles a tall, skinny man dressed in a dark-colored suit with a featureless pale, white face. Slender Man appears far away at first, and proceeds to get closer with every additional note that the player collects. He will also teleport to catch up to the player, and may even fully disappear from view at times. Nowhere is safe, as he can show up anywhere at any time, though he is often found trailing slightly behind the player. As the Slender Man gets nearer, the camera’s recording will start to become distorted. If the Slender Man gets too close, the screen will fade to complete static, the Slender Man’s face will appear on the recording, and the game will end. 

REVIEW:
Slender is a short game that is graphically on par with a high school gaming project from 2001, however do not let that deter you. One part Alan Wake, one part atmosphere of Fatal Frame, you are on the edge of your seat as you seek out the manuscripts. This game is entirely built upon the tension it creates as you walk around, there are no attacks, no special moves or fancy cut scenes. Slender relies entirely on your fear. It is just you and the ever watching eyes of the Slender Man. Slender, it is without a doubt, the scariest game I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Just finishing the brief game’s only task (find all 8 notes) is a marathon of mental perseverance. I wanted to give up on more than one occasion because I was so creeped out. The game is incredibly simple and I think that’s part of its genius. You walk through the woods, abandoned buildings and stranded farm equipment in search of eight notes left behind by somebody. Each note reveals a little bit more about the Slender Man and each note picked up results in an increase in intensity. In terms of audio there’s a sound of your character’s heartbeat, her footsteps, wind blowing through the trees and that’s about it. You’re given a flashlight, no way of defending yourself, and the ability to sprint. The game is set in a first person perspective, making it all the more horrific. Slender does what most horror movies almost never get right: pacing, tension and atmosphere. I don’t want to give anything away because this game relies entirely upon the tension created and the payoffs, but if you shut the light off, turn up the sound and focus you will have a wonderful time.

OVERALL:
the game is free to download and free to play at www.slendergame.com. I would highly recommend anyone who wants to burn an hour or two playing a game to download this as soon as possible.


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5 templar crosses out of 5


It is a thing of beauty in terms of creating a feeling without depending on graphics. We are becoming spoiled with great graphics and forgetting that sometimes the best scares come from the things we can’t see.

TRAILER:

-Brian Lansangan
Follow me on Twitter @MrSnugglenutz84