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I am well aware of the fact that it’s already March and I still haven’t finished these. Sorry about that, I’d blame coursework but that’s probably a bit unfair. Next time will be the runner’s up post and in the one following it I will finally reveal my game of the (last) year.
Surprisingly, the MOBA isn’t a one-trick pony. One would have thought that an idea so simple couldn’t go much further than the original DOTA mod for Warcraft. And yet League of Legends apparently averages 12 million players a day, which is insane. How a genre so hostile and awkward can attract so many people is beyond me. I can’t even work out exactly what it is that attracts me to DOTA 2. Needless to say, there’s a lot of potential money to be made in the lane-pushing, tower-diving, creep-farming world and it’s no surprise to see a number of developers jumping on the bandwagon. What is a surprise though is that a lot of them are very good. Both Uber Entertainment’s Super Monday Night Combat and Hi-Rez’ Smite(currently in open beta) are both very good, clever spins on the genre. SMITE, as they insist on writing it, is a game I can stand to play without a group of Mumble companions and it would definitely be on this list had it entered open beta a month earlier.
Awesomenauts is a much easier sell than DOTA. It plays like a multiplayer platform fighter but is actually much cleverer than the standard fair, like a tactical Super Smash Bros.
Like DOTA the game revolves around defending a big glowing thing as creeps (here represented by cute little robots) assault your guardian turrets and on attacking the enemy as they do the same. Awesomenauts is faster-paced than DOTA and the game becomes interesting more quickly. The first 5 to 10 minutes of DOTA can often be a tedious affair of clicking and A-clicking on creeps at the right time. In Awesomenauts you tend to end up in a fight with another player within the first minute. Fights become more interesting and require more thought as the game goes on. A varied levelling system means that by the end of the game you’ll still be adding interesting new twists to your character, their attacks and their abilities. There are a multitude of creative and diverse ‘nauts to choose from (though admittedly the selection has nothing on the 100+ offered in DOTA) with a new one added roughly every month. My favourite is Voltar, a German Brain in a jar with a more supportive role than most characters. He can’t attack like normal with the left mouse button, for him clicking fires a heal ray. Instead he deals damage with flying drones that slowly deploy over time and fire lasers at nearby enemies. If you need to do a high amount of damage very quickly you can deploy them to fly towards nearby enemies and explode. This does, however, leave you without a means of defending yourself. Unless you’ve bought an upgrade for Voltar’s other power, a deployable Healbot, that makes the device also deal damage to all enemies caught in its radius. He can also hover.
There are a number of ways to build the character (new skills are unlocked as your profile levels up), you can focus on increasing your maximum drone capacity and healbot damage for a good early game pusher, or you can focus on supporting your friends with fast healing. Character roles aren’t as definitive as in DOTA, with most there’s a lot of room for maneuverability. One of my other favourites is Leon, an invisible b-word who can pop out of nowhere and pull you towards his deadly blade with his tongue, like an invisible, agile Pudge from DOTA. There’s also Raelynn, who can charge up a large sniper beam to clear creep waves and catch players standing off-screen and deploy a device that slows approaching attackers and (if you choose to purchase the upgrade) deploys a friendly robots. The game is a great introduction to MOBAs with systems that are much less punishing and, perhaps because of this, a community that tends to be much more polite than in the standard fair. The game is a bargain at less than £7 (as well as being on offer a lot) and should be fun for anyone, whether you’re a newbie who thinks a MOBA is a type of snake or a veteran who tries to deny themselves every time they get a cold.
Lego Lord of the Rings and Lego Batman 2
I’m told that the Lego series stagnated for a bit during the Lego Pirates of the Caribbean and Lego Clone Wars stage, they didn’t have enough ideas to evolve their simple formula. To fix it they improved the open world elements they’d been gradually developing since Lego Indiana Jones 2 and brought in what at first seemed like heresy, dialogue. How could the slapstick parody of the Lego games work alongside chat? What I foolishly didn’t consider of course, is that all the humour in Lego games is physical, so it can just happen alongside the dialogue. It actually works in the game’s favour. Lurtz’ firing of a banana from his bow is all the funnier accompanied by the the voice of Sean Bean. If you enjoyed the films but have no interest in the game I’d say it’s worth finding a compilation of the cutscenes online for some light-hearted merriment. The implementation of new recorded dialogue also allows for a few in-jokes and harmless puns. In a side quest an Uruk-hai says he’s given up on fighting to go and start a ‘Middle-Earth Class restaurant’, but he needs you to find a chef’s hat so he can ‘put meat back on the menu’. Though, in one of the game’s darker moments, they did resort to making an arrow to the knee joke, almost a whole year after it was popularised. The world, modelled on familiar sets from the films and accompanied by Howard Shore’s excellent soundtrack, is full of charm and a delight to explore. The Shire is one of my favourite locales in both game and film, I could wander around it on the back of a sheep as little Lego hobbits wave at me to the tune of ‘Concerning Hobbits’ for hours.
For Lego Batman 2 the Lego team wrote an entire script, fortunately they did it well. It’s funny, with nods to films, games and comics. Superman is a dick, Batman is moody and Robin is sprightly and naive.
The Lego games may need to adapt again in some way for their next game (‘Lego Marvel Superheroes’) but it looks like they might have a bright future ahead of them, if they don’t run out of franchises. Lego Narnia anyone?
Kingdoms of Amalur
This game has elements of both Fable and the Elder Scrolls (though it does it a disservice to compare it to them) but came out on the wrong side of both. If this had preceded Skyrim then perhaps Big Huge Games would still be in business The open world high-fantasy affair might have been old-fashioned in its generic fantasy world and plot (aside from a few clever ideas about fate that are poorly implemented) but in other areas it was refreshing. It had a great combat system. I preferred it to the fun but hectic combat of Darksiders 2 and it’s much cleverer than Fable’s simplistic whack, shoot and charge spells system. It’s not quite as good as the combat system in 2003’s Return of the King game, but then, somehow, nothing ever is. I played as a Sorcery focused character, wielding a magic staff and chakrams that kept me covered at range, up close and against multiple enemies. The system is simple but allows for many combinations. I could roll towards opponents (or blink teleport once I’d gained enough points) and follow up with a sweeping chakram attack that lifted opponents into the air and carried them back, use my staff to conjure a mini tornado to pull them back towards me and then charge up a powerful staff blast to slam them into the ground. As well as all the weapon combos there’s also a number of spells to choose from, my favourite being Mark of Flame which allows me to mark a number of targets before detonating them at my will.
The name is terrible. I imagine that put a lot of people off. At least when Bethesda put a place name in their title it comes from English words (‘Dagger ‘Fall’, ‘Morro’ ‘Wind’, ‘Sky’ Rim’), rather than being influenced by a made up language that sounds like something from a 13 year old’s D&D game. And there have been more than enough games and films with a polysyllabic subtitle starting with ‘R’ (‘Resurrection’, ‘Revelation’, ‘Retribution’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Revengeance’?). Behind the name was a huge open world with a number of interesting systems, like crafting, enchanting and alchemy, to occupy your time with, mounds and mounds of story and side plots to absorb and lots of cool looking weapons and armour to look at. And to think that Big Huge had plans to make an MMO, how sad it is that it will never see the light of day.
Mount and Blade: Napoleonic Wars
People love muskets, it’s an inescapable truth. Despite being unwieldy, unreliable, and unaccurate* the notion of perforating a man with the antique stick of death pleases many a gamer. Flying Squirrel Entertainment cottoned onto this and gave us weapons just crap enough to make those occasional hits really mean something. You can be part of a firing line (or lead your own composed of AI in Captain Mode) and stop a battalion of charging cavalry in their tracks with some well-timed shots. It’s very satisfying to see that notifier in the top-right tell you that you, yes you, knocked the virtual life out of a virtual man on a virtual horse. There’s also inaccurate siege equipment that fires slowly and inaccurate. These can be used more efficiently and reliably when manned by a team of three. One man loads and lights the weapon, another aims and the last man (usually playing as an officer with a spyglass) watches where shots land and advises the aimer on where to point their barrel in order to blow Napoleon apart. My favourite is the English rocket launcher. It fires fast, compared to it’s clunky cannon brethren at least, but the firework projectiles spin wildly and usually end up massively off target. I may have killed as many friends with it as I have enemies but I had a lot of fun doing it.
Battles, as in the superb Mount and Blade: Warband this is an expansion for, can be huge. Servers can contain up to two-hundred players and sometimes they may even each have their own squad of AI. There are a number of roles to take. There’s the aforementioned cannon lighter who can also feebly attempt to defend himself with a cannon rammer. There’s various units of cavalry, some with rifles, some with pistols and some with deadly lances. There are officers who aren’t great in combat but do have a spyglass for organising coordinated assaults. There’s standard infantry, who use muskets and bayonets; they’re good at stabbing horses. The Russian army’s unique unit is a peasant who can spawn with a random weapon from a large selection, from a bottle of vodka to a pitchfork to a longsword. There’s also the engineer who, unfortunately, is often limited in his potential fun factor by draconian server options limiting the number of players that can play as him and the number of buildings they can place. He can place and build a number of objects to help or hinder the war effort. Barricades can be placed in demolished gateways to slow cavalry. On some servers explosive barrels can be placed in the room beneath a group of hiding ‘snipers’ and detonated with cheery aplomb.
The game is slow, and it’s not for everyone, but it makes for a refreshing change from the standard multiplayer shooter. Like most things it’s better with friends. Bring some bayonet brothers (or sisters, you can create your own character. You can also hideously deform their faces.) and you’ll have a blast. Or not, as the case may be, you never can trust those cannons.