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The definitive ranking of King’s Quest games

Kylie

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Or at least somewhat definitive. This list will exclude the current, episodic King’s Quest, whose first chapter was released last July. Because it is yet to be completed, we’ll have to hold our judgement. But…it’s got Kuvira voice-acting in it, so how bad can it be?

If you were an 80s/90s child with nerdy parents or a Gateway computer, there was a fairly good chance that you grew up playing the King’s Quest games, by Roberta Williams. These games, set in the fictional world of Daventry (apparently also the same world where Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Beauty, Dracula, and Little Red Riding hood live), centered on the epic adventures of the royal family: whether it was Prince Alexander escaping forced servitude and discovering his true identity, King Graham hunting for some tail, Princess Rosella trying to cure her dad’s heart condition, or Queen Valanice…being an overbearing mom.

The first four games were the famous “text input graphic adventure” (for lack a better term), a style that aged so poorly it was rather famously mocked by the wonderful Homestarrunner.com with “Peasant’s Quest.” From there it switched to point-and-click style adventure games, each with their own set of flaws. Still, they were groundbreaking at the time, and apparently paved the way for all graphical adventure games. So to honor them, and the many bby-geeks they produced, I bring you the definitive ranking.


10. Wizard and the Princess (1980) / 9. Adventure in Serenia (1982)

I’m not going to lie to you: I just found out that these two games were a thing about 10 minutes ago. Apparently this is about the king who kicks it in KQI, which leads to Graham’s ascension. I gave Adventure in Serenia a higher ranking because at least I’ve heard of the damn continent. But come on, if you don’t have that “King’s Quest” title, you’re not at all worthy of our time. Get out of here!

8. King’s Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity (1998)

This thing barely qualifies as a King’s Quest game. In fairness, I think we see Graham in the intro? We definitely see him as a petrified stone statue, that’s for sure.

This gritty, poorly designed point-and-click/action-adventure game (if you’re wondering whether they work well as a hybrid, they don’t) was really just Roberta Williams’s attempt to suck money out of our pockets while she experimented with gaming mechanics by using a franchise title that was already recognizable.

I don’t remember much about it, other than the fact that there were multiple CDs, and the better part of my time was spent trying to get around multiple grey screens full of poorly rendered 3D objects with controls that felt about as smooth as attempting a swan dive with an elephant strapped to my back.

I have nothing good to say about it. I don’t want anything to do with Connor, his anachronistic name, or his dumb face. Booooo.

Also, this was released the same damn year as Baldur’s Gate (I won’t mention OOT because consoles are quite different). Let’s just take a minute to appreciate how truly horribly this game has aged compared to its peers.

7. King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985/1987)

In some ways it seems almost perverse to put a game so quintessentially King’s Quest this low on this list. The lowest, if we’re talking about “true games.”

However, Romancing the Throne basically took KQI, added slightly different colored images, put in puzzles with even less logic, and called it a day.

Worse still was the story. Graham just became king, and apparently his first immediate concern is his royal lineage. Which…sure. Why not. Lucky for him, the Magic Mirror of Plot Convenience shows him that there’s a total babe locked away in a tower in some land that sounds disturbingly close to “Chlamydia.” And I guess she’s the only single chick around, because you’d think there’d be someone a touch more convenient to court.

Who could possibly refuse that?

So he just pops off his throne and leaves Daventry without so much as bothering to put anyone in charge. Fuck, even Anna did better in that regard.

Once in Chlamydia, he has to find a portal to the “tower realm.” So he aimlessly wanders around this forested place until he finds a locked door. Oh and we get a super helpful hint engraved on it: “make a splash.” Guess what? Graham then goes underwater to Neptune’s Kingdom, gets a key, and heads back. Opening the door reveals…a second door. This takes him, I don’t know, into the sky? Past some friendly ghosts? What the actual hell is going on here?

This checks out.

All I know is that if you thought Sierra Logic™ was slightly shitty in KQI, wait until you have to throw a goddamn bridle on a snake that magically turns into Pegasus.

Oh and that second door? Behind it is a third fucking door! Also, there’s a bridge you have to cross to go visit these doors in the first place, and if you do it too many times, it breaks. Just because. And then it’s game over.

I don’t even remember what the shit you have to do to open the third door. I think kill Dracula? Who by the way, didn’t do anything bad at all. He was just chilling in his home. But whatever, once you get that thing open, you’re transported to the beautiful tower realm where the water is purple and the ground is blue and the only difficulty is climbing a spiral staircase.

What’s at the top? Oh, it’s Valanice. She makes out with you and good game!

Except wait, did we even know that she was trapped in this tower? It seemed totally unlocked, and the Tower Zone is definitely a sweet place to live. Did Graham just like, barge in on some chick in her home?

This was the *entire* game. Nothing but Graham’s quest to find a hot girl, who may or may not have wanted to find a hot guy.

There’s no villain at all, unless you count Dracula taking a nap. Compared to the others in the series, this one is a pass.

6. King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (1990)

So here’s the thing…like I said, there’s two types of King’s Quest games: the text-venture of the early four, or the point-and-click of the following three (ignoring KQVIII, naturally). Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder was the first to pioneer the second type, which I happen to find infinitely more engaging.

Unfortunately, KQV was a hot, hot mess.

Like, I’m being a bit unfair. The story was interesting…kinda. I mean the plot actually followed the events of KQIII, where Alexander accidentally pissed off a sorcerer. So the sorcerer’s brother exacted his revenge by stealing Graham’s castle. With his family inside. Literally. He shrunk everything and put it in a little glass jar.

So, you really do feel for Graham when he starts freaking out. But, here’s the problem: he then seeks out the help of Crispin, the friendly neighborhood wizard. And this old fart is like, “well I could totally help you, because I completely deus ex machina this thing at the end anyway, but instead here’s a wand that needs new batteries, and an annoying talking owl.” And thus begins Graham’s true quest, where you have to travel through Serenia to find Mordack’s castle and get your family back.

I’m not going to walk you through all the ludicrous things you have to do along the way; that is worthy of its own post. But the voice acting is just painful, and Cedric makes Navi seem pretty chill. It’s a poisonous snake!

Oh also, despite this being point-and-click, don’t worry…the puzzles still make no goddamn sense. You have to dump honey on the ground, and stick some gems in the honey to catch a greedy elf, or something.

You have to throw a pie into the face of a mothafuckin’ yeti.

Of course this is the answer.

And when all is said and done, after you have this epic magical showdown with Mordack (you found a way to charge your wand with cheese), Crispin just saunters his ass into the frame and with one flick of his own [fully functional] wand, frees your family from the glass jar. WHY DIDN’T YOU DO THAT BEFORE, CRISPIN?

The only good part of the game is when there’s a glorious minute in which you think Cedric might get eaten by a wolf, but the narrative forces you to save him. Ugh.

Still, this is hilarious to replay, which lands it slightly above Graham’s booty call.

5. King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown (1984/1987)

You know, the thing is, I really don’t enjoy playing Quest for the Crown all that much. But at the same time, it’s what made the franchise what it is. And I’m told it was groundbreaking at the time it was released, so kudos?

The story itself is middling at best: King Edward just realized that the Land of Daventry consists of like, a goat and a rock. So he tells Graham, his best knight, to go grab him three treasures. Um…sure. Apparently they were “long-lost.” So Graham does as he’s told, and when he gets back, Edward caulks it and gives the throne to Graham. Probably because the only other option for succession was that goat.

The only taxpayer around

Along his travels, Graham also encounters a lot of randomly magical people who borrow mythology from a variety of fairy tales. Which is kind of fun. However, the ridiculously precise text inputs required to actually do anything, or that goddamn beanstalk where you need pixel-perfect movement can take some of the joy away.

Then there’s also some Sierra logic. “Guess my name?” says that dude who is obviously Rumplestiltskin. Oh, I know. It’s “Ifnkovhgroghprm, clearly.”

But like, it’s fine. Fun even, if you have a couple of hours to spare. And the fact that it so clearly aged horribly almost makes it age well in a weird way, you know? It’s like a game that belongs in a museum.

4. King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (1994)

I’d say that of all the games in this series, The Princeless Bride was the most divisive. Tonally, it was far different than anything in the series. It was very…Disney-ish. And far be it for me to cry “sexism,” but I can’t help but notice it was also the one with two female protagonists.

Sorta reminds me of the pink Legos, though the “Poolside Paradise” set was perfect for reenacting Sunset Boulevard or A Little Night Music.

And then there was the camp, oh the camp. You could either fight it and roll your eyes at the fact that there was a literal bull working in a china shop, or you could just roll with it.

I recommend the second, people, because it’s downright hilarious. There is a town named “Falderal” in the “Nonsense Land of Eldritch” and you have to swallow a literal grain of salt to enter it. Where upon you meet the mayor, Archduke Fifi le Yipyap. Not sure what happened to his duchy, but I guess being mayor is a plum gig.

Should I talk about the story? Valanice is being all Mrs. Bennet and trying to find a proper match for Princess Rosella. Or, consort I guess, because I’m quite sure she’s actually the heir. I mean, she was raised as the heir and certainly knows the most about it, and I think Alexander takes himself out of the equation due to the events of KQVI. So why Valanice is being this pushy is beyond me. To really secure the lineage? Obviously that was an issue Graham found extremely important too. Maybe there’s high child mortality in Daventry or something.

Anyway, to get away from her mom’s bitching, Rosella…how do I put this? She jumps into a pond. Reasonable. Unfortunately it turns out to be a magical whirlpool that she gets pulled out of through a portal by a troll king. But whoops! Now she’s a troll too. Valanice hops in after her, but gets spit out in a desert. So you play the game as both of these women.

Your missions are as follows:

  • As Valanice, you must search for Rosella. You are equipped with your daughter’s comb, which makes you cry when you look at it.
  • As Rosella, you must stop being a troll.

The game is told in chapters, with alternating point-of-views. And of course, you end up having to solve problems for other people around, like giving a mortician a spine, finding a rat to power a grave-digging machine, or helping Ceres, who was turned into a tree. There’s also an evil enchantress, Malicia, who is trying to gain control of the land by using the troll king. Or making a volcano erupt. I don’t quite remember, but it was vaguely logical—trust me.

The thing is, this was just downright fun to play. The puzzles usually had more than one solution, and made sense on a fundamental level. I personally think starting the game off in the desert was a mistake, because the lifeblood of it is really the rich and diverse cast of characters. Some are better voice actors than others, but they all had personalities and quips. I’d take that rando troll working the forge who was hilariously bad at hitting on Rosella over Crispin the stoned wizard any day of the week.

Where it loses points is the fact that Rosella is suddenly made into a whiner, unlike the proactive, self-sacrificing badass we knew her to be. Then, I’m sorry to say, Valanice as a protagonist is just lolsy. But dare I say it, at times this game was…oddly touching? I don’t know how to explain it, except that the quiet moments stay with you more than anything.

It also gets knocked lower due to Edgar’s Nice Guy™ routine. KQIV Rosella would have never fallen for it (she quite canonically didn’t, in fact). Just consider this game the Return of the Jedi of the series. It was good, you know, but there were definitely fuzzy wuzzies, and something was just plain off in the princess’s scripting.

3. King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)

To Heir is Human was the first game of the series without Graham as the protagonist. And boy was that a refreshing change. Don’t get me wrong, Graham is…lovely. But being able to get away from Daventry and its goat for a little was rather nice.

This game centered around Prince Alexander, only SHHHH we don’t know it’s him. We just know this person as ‘Gwydion’, the boy-slave in the evil wizard Manannan’s castle. No, quite literally, the first few minutes of the game is you emptying his chamber pot and feeding some chickens.

The thing is, you were also (in secret) breaking into Manannan’s magical man-cave and baking a cookie that would turn him into a cat. You could only do this when Manannan would go to town, and woe betide you if you weren’t able to satisfactorily hide everything upon his returns.

Real talk: this game was hard. I’m not actually sure it’s possible to get through without a guide. I never bothered trying. Even once the wizard becomes a cat, you still have to solve some not-at-all intuitive puzzles (and do more magic shit) to secure passage to Daventry, across the ocean.

Then, upon getting there, you learn that there’s a princess that’s about to get killed by a three-headed dragon, and she’s your sista from the same mista! Yeah, the Leia to your Luke, and boy is that an apt analogy, because she up and sacrificed herself to this dragon to prevent the total destruction of her land and is just in general a BAMF.

But you save her, and even get a happy family reunion. Welcome home Alexander! I hope this sudden excitement doesn’t have any negative health consequences for your parents…

For the text-venture, the inputs required weren’t nearly as precise as the first two games, so it felt more accessible. There was also the fabulous tension with Manannan’s arrivals and departures. You really felt that stress as you did what you could to navigate Alexander out of his servitude. And even though getting through it without aid seems like a near impossibility to me, for that reason, the replay value is incredibly high. Add to that an overall logical plotline, and we’ve got a solid game here!

2. King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)

I think I’m going to get a lot of shit for this choice. Because whenever I’ve talked about King’s Quest to others, this game really is never mentioned. But boy should it be.

First and foremost, I’m quite certain that a female protagonist actually was super groundbreaking in video games at the time. And Rosella is the hero we both need and deserve.

Immediately following the events of KQIII, King Graham has a heart attack. Probably because he had spent the morning mentally preparing himself for his daughter’s death, only then to have not just her burst back into the castle, but also his long-lost son who they basically forgot about.

So Rosella gets upset and runs out of the room to cry, but fortunately the Mirror of Plot Convenience reveals a fairy named Genesta who’s like, “Yo Rosella. I live in this place called Tamir, and there’s fruit here that could totally save your dad, if you let me transport you here.” So the princess lets this happen, but once there Genesta is all, “well on one condition: I need my amulet that a jerk named Lolotte took from me.” Simple simple simple.

We then follow Rosella (who gets disguised in peasant clothes for some reason) as she traipses around yet another land full of fairy tail references to save her dad. I should point out, this is all while Alexander and Valanice do fuck nothing by Graham’s bedside.

No seriously, don’t trouble yourselves. He’s only mostly-dead.

Rosella, meanwhile, is running around Tamir (which by the way, is stunning, and there’s some sweet music for a change) with both middle fingers raised. She steals arrows from cupid himself and gives not a single fuck. She pulls a Jonah and ends up in a whale, but does she just accept that? Nah, she climbs up his tongue and tickles his uvula with a giant feather.

…why am I rating this game so high on the list?

Also Lolotte, as it turns out, is a total dillweed. She’s an evil green-skinned witch who has her skeleton flying minion-things do evil stuff. I think. I know you get captured, that’s for sure. And her homely green-skinned son Edgar falls for Rosella, and it’s kind of adorable.

Eventually, Rosella figures out a way to kill Lolotte, which means she gets the stupid amulet back for Genesta. Oh and she also picked up the life-saving fruit along the way. To thank her, in addition to giving her free transport home, Genesta also pimps out Edgar and makes him hot. But because Rosella is awesome and takes her responsibilities seriously, she’s just like, “nah, I have shit to do.”

“I’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee”

Then she comes home and saves her daddy! Huzzah!!

Seriously, I have nothing bad to say about this game, other than the fact that I personally prefer point-and-click to text-input. Play it. And start stanning Rosella with me, because no one seems to. It’s always Alexander, Alexander, Alexander!

1. King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (1992)

But…there’s actually good reason why that’s the case, and it’s this game. As I said before, KQIII is a strong set piece in the series. But Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow makes this entire franchise.

I challenge you to look at this still and not start humming the Bookworm theme.

What’s weird is that the story is mostly shitty. Alexander became smitten with a maid/slave person that Mordack had in his castle in KQV. Her name is Cassima, and she’s the princess in the Land of the Green Isles. Alexander then just spent his days creepily pining for her (I’m telling you…Rosella is the heir, even at this point), until the Magic Mirror of Plot Convenience shows him a glimpse of Cassima’s land.

So he rushes to a boat, and accidentally smashes it in the voyage. I think his crew survived, but Alex himself washes up on the shore of the Isle of the Crown, the main island in the Land of the Green Isles. He heads to the castle, and tells the literal guard-dogs that Cassima is his friendo and said he could drop by anytime. But we’re told by the super trustworthy Grand Vizier, Abdul Alhazred (okay, there may be a few racial problems with this game), that her parents unexpectedly died while she was away with her own kidnapping, and she’s locked herself in a tower to mourn them.

Oh and she’s engaged to him ¯\_(シ)_/¯.

Alex is like, “whaaat there’s no way I misread her cues!” So either because he’s suspicious, or because he has nowhere else to go maybe, he decides to do some digging around. See? Shitty story.

But as it happens, he ends up uncovering this major plot of Alhazred’s, where he created feuds between each of the isles so that in that chaos, he could murder Cassima’s parents and claim control of the realm. He also has a magic shape-shifting genie who can disguise himself as Cassima for a sham wedding.

This is actually the short, short version. You have the option of bringing her parents back from the dead to expose this too. Yikes.

Then at the same time, Alexander has to, once again, solve a whole lot of problems for other people. But every facet of this is engaging. The puzzles make sense! Seriously, the biggest stretch in logic I can even think of is reading a boring book to an oyster to get a pearl (though you do need the CD manual to solve the Cliffs of Logic). And every single character you come across feels rounded, from the gruff-but-lovable ferryman to the stoic Lady Aeriel and Lord Azure, to the oddly feuding brothers, Bump on a Log and Stick in the Mud. Even Jollo gets a pass.

The music is good; the voice acting is great. I mean, we’re talking Robby fucking Benson as Prince Alexander. It’s funny, too, but serious where it needs to be. Ffs, it gave my four-year-old self a very strong mental image for what happens when you die.

There’s also a satisfying ending and a bittersweet ending, depending on which puzzles and paths you take through the narrative. So due to these twists and turns, it makes replaying a treat.

I don’t know if it’s just my rose-colored glasses. Perhaps people who didn’t play it growing up will find it stupid. But in my mind, this holds up quite well over the years, and truly made the franchise what it is.


Images courtesy of Sierra

 

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Gaming

Styx Masters The Shadows In 2017

Michał

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The year of 2017 is coming to an end, so nerdy writers like us are inevitably going to talk about things they’ve seen, read and played during it. And I’m no exception – I’d like to tell you all about a game you  may not have heard about. It’s Styx: Shards of Darkness.

Now, this game is a third one in the series… in a manner of speaking. So I need to provide a bit of background, first. While I will avoid spoilers for Shards of Darkness (henceforth SoD), I will talk a bit about the other games’ plots.

A Little History

The main character, Styx, first appears in an unusual action-RPG hybrid Of Orcs and Men. Arkail, an orc warrior with a temper problem (if one can call uncontrollable berserker rage that) joins a mission to kill the human emperor. The orcs see it as their last chance to prevent human expansion into their territory and enslavement of their people. Each member of the elite Bloodjaw warband is to cross the great wall and infiltrate human lands with a hired guide. For Arkail, this turns out to be a wise-cracking goblin assassin, Styx.

Arkail is less than convinced… because Styx is the only goblin to ever speak or display more intelligence than a rabid dog. All the other goblins are marauding monsters that had appeared out of nowhere, a hundred years before the game’s start. If Styx knows anything about that, he refuses to tell anything, simply saying that he’s “different” and “a survivor”.

Grumbling aside, the two companions go on with the mission, their dynamic being central to the gameplay. Arkail is a large warrior who has to manage his burning rage, while Styx is a canny assassin who eliminates targets with a pair of daggers and a set of throwing knives.

Eventually, while the unlikely duo is going on a mental journey into a mage’s mind in order to save her, the truth comes out. Styx has to confront a deep part of himself that reveals he used to be an orc mage who experimented with a substance called “Amber” and turned himself into a grotesque version of an orc. Then he spawned the rest of goblinkind. Whether he embraces the truth or keeps repressing it is up to the player, but it doesn’t affect much.

Styx: Master of Shadows is a prequel that goes all the way back to Styx’s origins. Styx is trying to reach the heart of a World-Tree that excretes Amber… the very same thing that turned him into what he is. Although he can create clones now (and use abilities he certainly does not have in Of Orcs and Men), they disappear after a while and there are no goblins yet.

Master of Shadows ends with the World-Tree destroyed and a horde of goblins swarming out of the wreckage. Styx himself has forgotten most of what happened and moves on.

Shards of Darkness picks up some time after that. Styx has established himself as an elusive mercenary, while his sorry progeny has caused major devastation. I’m not sure how a horde of small, runty and dumb green people managed to destroy an entire town, but I’ll take their word for it.

The Essence of the Game

After a routine job, Styx encounters Helledryn, the head of the CARNAGE squad… which hunts goblins. The woman has a job for him, and plenty of Amber (which Styx is addicted to and which is the source of his powers) to give him in exchange. To the surprise of no one, he ends up getting in way over his head, just like he would do again 50 years later or so.

Much like Master of Shadows, Shards of Darkness is a stealth game. The core of the gameplay remains the same. Styx has to sneak through large maps in pursuit of primary and secondary objectives. The levels, much like in the previous game, are as much vertical as they are horizontal. Styx will jump and climb frequently. He’s got some jumping power in those stumpy legs. There’s always more than one path to your objective, and good spatial awareness will benefit you.

Map design remains pretty stellar, although once again, maps are also reused. You return to areas you’ve already explored eventually. Then again, you do so for good in-story reasons, so perhaps it makes more sense than always finding yourself somewhere new.

The Styx franchise is somewhat different from many other stealth games in that directly engaging enemies isn’t much of an option. When an enemy catches up to you, you’ll have to parry their attacks until you can go in for the kill. When two enemies attack you, or someone has a ranged weapon, they’re free to turn you into a goblin shish-kebab.

Thus it’s easy to dispatch a single enemy if things go wrong, but the game still encourages you to sneak around. If they spot you, there’s always the option to run and hide. Particularly as some enemies you can’t fight at all. Heavily-armored enemies such as knights, dark elf elite guards and dwarves will simply kill you. They’re also entirely immune to Styx’s dagger and crossbow bolts (it’s a tiny, wrist-mounted crossbow), so if you want to get rid of them, you’ll have to be clever. Poison their food, drop something heavy on them or use an acid mine. The last part also gets rid of the body, as Styx can’t carry someone so heavy.

Although it’s possible to run and hide from enemies, in both games I gave myself a challenge of never being spotted at all. Which isn’t easy, but possible and rewarding. You get extra experience for it, as well, which you spend on Styx’s skills. You also get it for being quick (something I could never get more than a bronze medal in), finding all small tokens in a given level (I never bothered to do it) or not killing any enemies.

In Master of Shadows, playing mercifully was difficult. You couldn’t kill anyone at all to get that medal for a particular level, and it could be very hard to avoid detection otherwise. So it you wanted to do it, you would have to forgo the medal for non-detection… or at least, I can’t imagine doing both.

On the other hand, in Shards of Darkness, I found it much easier to go through levels without killing. Perhaps it’s by design, or perhaps I was better at the game? It wouldn’t surprise me if it was a design decision to make such a playstyle a more attainable challenge. In addition, all medals are gradual. Killing no one gets you gold, but killing five or less gets you silver.

One Crafty Goblin

Shards of Darkness also introduces crafting. This is normally something that fills me with dread, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. In the original game, you pick up potions, throwing knives and other items and you have a limit of how many you can carry. The second one adds an extra decision point – you find raw materials and you must decide what to make from them. Will you use the iron ore on crossbow bolts, lockpicks or acid mines?

Of course, because crafting will always be crafting, some materials are scarce and some you’ll carry around in abundance. This depends on what items you learn to craft, but still. You’ll always be short on iron ore and raw Amber, because you use them to craft items you use all the time. Others only go into more situational and later-game items… for which you’ll also need iron or Amber, in many cases.

Although the games play the same, I couldn’t help but feel like the second one is… easier? Perhaps it was the increased ease of a non-violent approach. And the game did grow more challenging later, particularly as we encounter dwarves. Who are entirely typical fantasy dwarves… except for their keen noses. They can pick up a greenskin’s smell easily, which means Styx can’t rely on the shadows to hide him.

They’re easily the most difficult enemy to get past, and the real purpose of acid mines. Those are normally impractical, as by the time you maneuver an enemy into it, you can just bypass or kill them. But they’re a way to kill a dwarf without being spotted.

In other ways, Shards of Darkness expands on the first game’s options. There are more skills and Styx can actually change his equipment. Each dagger or outfit comes with benefits and drawbacks… although a dagger that muffles any kill but makes parrying impossible is a straight-up benefit for a no-detection run. A dagger that instantly dissolves a killed enemy but can’t make quiet kills (which take longer but make less sound) is tricky… unless you take skills that let you muffle the sounds of assassination. An outfit you can unlock through skills lets you craft anywhere, but makes running and jumping noisier. And so on.

All of it doesn’t kick in until later, when you get all sorts of gear and skills to combine into clever strategies. I was able to, for instance, attack an enemy from several meters, then kill them quickly, noiselessly and almost invisibly. And with the dagger I mentioned above, I left no body behind. This tempts me to play the game on NG+, something I’m normally not fond of doing.

Going Too Far

Where I did notice a problem with the game was the writing. Specifically, the main protagonist. Styx captured the hearts of the audience by packing enough snark, experience and swearwords to equip a biker gang into a four-feet-tall body. He retains that personality in the other games… but by Shards of Darkness, it feels like it goes too far.

It’s not an uncommon thing, I think. Many characters find their traits exaggerated over time. And I think that’s what happened with Styx. The writers had a protagonist who was notably snarky, cynical, disrespectful and had a dark sense of humor. So Shards of Darkness has him constantly joke, swear, insult people… it grates sometimes. It’s hard to empathize with a protagonist who never seems to take anything seriously, until he gets angry.

The absolute worst case is Styx insulting the player through the fourth wall when he dies. I really don’t know who thought it was a good idea and I turned it off more or less immediately. This is a good example of that, I think. “Hey, Styx is a rude jackass, why don’t we have him be one to the player?” He also breaks, or just leans on, the fourth wall in other places. It’s not as direct, but does sound forced. Which is generally how it goes; sometimes it feels like the writers try too hard to make sure we know he’s a crude, irreverent and selfish little guy.

This is particularly uncomfortable when it comes to Helledryn, whom I mentioned early on. She’s a goblin-hunter who works with Styx out of necessity. She’s a large woman… though, frankly, not nearly as much as you’d think when hearing people mention it. Styx, who isn’t happy about working with her, never passes up an opportunity to rib her about it. He delights in calling her a “cow”, particularly. Again, he’s a bastard who insults everyone. But when the most frequent and consistent target is a woman, and most of it concerns her size… it’s not a very good impression.

The rest of the writing is serviceable. The world-building is very clearly ad hoc, the writers making it up as they go. The world and story already don’t mesh well with Of Orcs and Men, particularly as Styx has no powers in that game. The game ends with a clear sequel hook, though, so I expect Styx to lose them and his Amber addiction. It’s not really a bad thing – the world, threadbare as it is, is still more appealing than the generic setting in Of Orcs and Men.

Worth Recommending

Despite my misgivings about a protagonist I had initially loved (I very much like goblins in fantasy), Styx: Shards of Darkness is a refinement of the first game’s already solid formula, that delivers the same experience with extra features. Of Orcs and Men is an entirely different game, and very rough around the edges. But it’s still worth investigating if you want something you may not have otherwise seen. And both Styx games are ideal if you want tough, channeling stealth games where you have to think on your feet and consider every angle.

 

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Gaming

Game Awards 2017 News Roundup

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The Game Awards are, or are at least an attempt to be, an “Oscars” for video games. The successor to Spike TV’s VGA’s, this is their fourth year awarding excellence in all parts of gaming. But the awards are only half the fun. The Game Awards also serve as a place for devs to drop trailers and news about their upcoming properties. Here’s a roundup of the biggest news coming out of the Game Awards!

The Game Awards 2017

Nintendo Dominates

With the release of the Switch, Nintendo has brought their A game when it comes to releases this year. That shows how successful they were at this year’s show. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild got the big accolades with wins for Game of the Year, Best Game Direction, and Best Action/Adventure Game. Super Mario Odyssey landed Best Family Game while Mario+Rabbids: Kingdom Battle won, of all awards, Best Strategy Game. Finally, Metroid: Samus Returns took home Best Handheld Game.

Cuphead Gets Well Deserved Love

Cuphead has been an indie monster this year. The game combines old school, hard-as-nails gameplay, with almost-slavish devotion to the beautiful animation of yesteryear. That pairing earned them a Best Art Direction Award, as well as Best Independent Game and Best Debut Indie Game. You can view Cuphead’s launch trailer below:

 

Female Video Game Pioneer Recognized

One of the first female game developers ever, Carol Shaw, was recognized for her contributions to gaming. Working in the 70’s, when there were barely any game developers period, let alone women, Shaw helped design games like Super Breakout(1978) for Atari. Her biggest success was the creation of River Raid (1982) for Activision. After leaving Activision in 1984, she worked for Tandem Computers until an early retirement in 1990. She now mostly does volunteer work. You can see her award speech below:

News From The Show

Bayonetta 3 Teased

Everyone’s favorite overly sexualized witch is (barely) suiting up for another game on Nintendo’s new console. It’s been three years since the digital embodiment of the Male Gaze has had her own game, but she did make a strong showing in 2015’s edition of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. While we have no word on release date, Bayonetta 3 is being developed purely for the Switch. Nintendo also announced that Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 would be coming to the Switch in February. Watch the trailer below:

Nintendo Lets Breath of the Wild Get Silly

Even though the Legend of Zelda series is ostensibly one of Nintendo’s more serious franchises, it’s still made by Nintendo. As such, there’s always a bit of lighthearted fun, and humor sprinkled around each game. But in Breath of the Wild’s new DLC, The Champions’ Ballad, Nintendo seems to be ramping up the fun. In addition to giving Link access to cosplays of Zelda characters like Rovio (Link Between World), Zant (Twilight Princess), and Ganon, Nintendo also saw fit to give the Hero of Time a MOTORCYCLE! See all this, and a peek at the new dungeon below:

People Still Have No Idea What Hideo Kojima Is Doing

Norman Reedus is pregnant? And vomiting oil? But the oil grabs people? And maybe it made him pregnant? How does Mads Mikkelsen play into this?

Veteran Fighting Series Gets New Entry

It’s been five years since Namco last released a new entry in their popular Soul Caliber series.  The series is well known for both its weapon-based combat system as its unique taste in women’s wear. The new trailer doesn’t reveal much, except for the return of classic characters Sophitia Alexandra and Mitsurugi. Soul Caliber VI is set to drop for PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2018. Watch the trailer below:

 

World War Z Shows Up Late To Zombie Game Craze With Starbucks

Even though it’s been four years since the world gave the film adaptation of World War Z a collective “meh,” it appears someone still thinks there’s gas in the franchise. Taking the sort of “same world, different characters” approach as The Walking Dead, the video game adaptation will be a four-player co-op shooter taking place in various infested locales around the world. The game will be developed by Saber Interactive (Halo Online, R.I.P.D The Game). Catch the trailer below.


Image courtesy of The Game Awards

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Film

Nintendo Is Making A Live Action Detective Pikachu Film…Starring Ryan Reynolds

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After all of the calls, tweets, and letters…after over 50,000 people signed a petition…after the actor himself stated he doesn’t even know what Pokemon is…Danny Devito will not be playing the title roll in Nintendo’s upcoming live action Detective Pikachu film. Instead, the Electric Mouse Pokemon will have a decidedly smoother voice. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Deadpool actor Ryan Reynolds.

Detective Pikachu has only been around for a little over a year, making his debut in 2016 in Great Detective Pikachu. The “cinematic adventure game”  stood out immediately thanks to its star: a deep voiced, flirty, coffee chugging Pikachu in a deer stalker hat. While not as powerful as others of his species, Detective Pikachu makes up for it with his intelligence and knack for crime solving. With his ambiguously young friend/driver Tim Goodman, the Detective solves Pokemon related crime around the city.

Alongside Reynolds, Justice Smith (The Get Down) and Kathryn Newton (Lady Bird, Big Little Lies) will star in the main human roles. Rob Letterman (Goosebumps) will be taking the director’s chair. Writing chores are being handled by Alex Hirsch (Gravity Falls) and Nicole Perlman (Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel). The film will be produced by Legendary Pictures (Jurassic World, Straight Outta Compton), and distributed by Toho and Universal. Detective Pikachu will be the first live action adaptation of a Nintendo Property since 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Not doubt Nintendo is hoping that this film turns out a little better.


Image Courtesy of Nintendo

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