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Game Review: Mass Effect 3

Mar 08 2012 10:35 PM | Duplicity in Reviews


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-The grand finale of Bioware's Mass Effect trilogy is arguably one of the most hyped games of the past year or so. The critically acclaimed sci-fi action-RPG series has amassed a large amount of followers through the last two games, and Mass Effect 3 is the explosive finale, filled with epic Hollywood moments and a large amount of lore about the Protheans and Reapers. The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the previous installment, and the story has many tear jerking and heart wrenching scenes that can soften even the most jaded of gamers. Alas, games like this always have issues, and in Mass Effect 3, these issues are numerous. This was to be expected, as many of Bioware's recent releases have been subpar at best (see: Dragon Age 2 and SW:TOR), yet the unexpected quality of the writing pulled me into the story more than either of the past installments, revealing the psychological effects that fighting this losing war has on Shepard, to the point of him almost breaking down when informing the Asari council member of the demise of their homeworld.

-Very low standards were set for this game when I set out to play it, and admittedly, Bioware did beat those expectations. Yet, there are many severe flaws that did hinder my enjoyment of the game itself. The animations being very sloppily and lazily thrown together, the gameplay being very uninspired, gaping plot holes, the ludicrous amount of chest-high walls, bad enemy design, glitches, controls, flow breaking sections of the game, and very linear levels
hurt this game badly. The explanation of the Reapers felt half-assed, and the endings are eerily similar to another sci-fi action-RPG that has come out recently, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The art style of the previous games has been nearly trashed, turning away a blueish overlay on everything, which induces a feeling of mysticism, in favor of a very bland grey, taking away a lot of the personality of the game.

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-The gameplay of Mass Effect 3 borrows heavily from its predecessor, Mass Effect 2. There are multiple classes, each with unique abilities and bonus that they can give the team, yet throughout my entire run through of the game as Agent on Normal, I barely found a use for the abilities at my disposal. The heavily armored Cerberus troops with riot shields could easily be dealt with by using Throw, and following up with a couple hits of my heavy pistol, yet that was really the only reason I could justify using any of the Agent powers. In the end, I ran with the Widow V sniper rifle, the Talon V pistol, and the Geth Pulse Rifle V assault rifle, which in the end, decimated everything in my path, disregarding powers altogether. The sniper rifle could down an Atlas mech in three shots, a brute in four, and a banshee in five, and I ended up using that and my Talon V pistol more than anything else. It almost felt like cheating. There is only one complaint I can raise about the controls, and that is that the space bar tries to be the go-to button for too many things. It is the button to duck under cover, sprint, jump, and interact with the environment. This leads to very frustrating deaths due to the space bar not doing what you want it to.


-Many of the levels were very straight forward and linear. Some view this as a bad thing, while others think that a more straight forward approach make the levels much more coherent and less arcane. Much of the levels consist of at least one "Hold-Out" event, where one must defend against large waves of enemies that spawn periodically. A different Bioware game, Dragon Age 2, was infamous for the inclusion of these events ad nauseam, and while we see much less of these types of events in Mass Effect 3, it was still a little too prominent. A ridiculous amount of weapons, ammo, and other miscellaneous items are thrown at you throughout the levels, ensuring that you nearly never run out of ammo for any weapon ever. After a large firefight, there's ammo lying around everywhere that you don't really need. It's put in boxes for you, on shelves, on desks, everywhere, nearly to the point of being obtrusive. Some of the levels were just poorly laid out. During a mission where you have to raid Sanctuary, there is an area where I walked around a corner and there were two Rachni staring me right in the face aiming their missiles at me, and a couple Marauders with their guns pointed right at my ugly mug. The space bar issue presents itself here. I intended to duck under cover to the chest high wall on my left, but instead, Shepard decided not to duck and just run into the wall, waving his dick at the enemy. Needless to say, it took me about half a second to get annihilated.


-The design of many of the enemies was good, with some exceptions. Banshees were some of the most annoying enemies I have ever played against in any of the Mass Effect games, and indeed in any video game in a long time. (On par with the screaming bomb guys in Serious Sam.) The skinniness of the model makes sniping neigh impossible, they have a bigger health pool then Brutes, can teleport, do area of effect damage with ear piercing screams, and if you get close to it, it instantly kills you by lifting you up and impaling you on its jagged claws. Perfect. Spawn three of them. One of the boss fights was moderately ill conceived, in which you have to use a laser with a charge time to take down a destroyer while dodging the lasers that it shoots at you. The way it's set up in a very narrow arena and the amount of dust the destroyer's laser kicks up as it hits the ground makes depth perception a palpable issue. It seems like a lot of the game was created around being a Hollywood movie like experience, with lots of epic moments and huge battles, yet some of the fundamentals of the game were lacking due to this mentality. The difficulty curve is just strange, going from an attitude of "Hey, here's a few husks and a brute," to "Hey, here's three brutes, two banshees, and seven marauders and husks," oddly quick, and money seems to fly at you at Mach-10, making the game very easy. Oh well, maybe the end will make up for it--

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FUCK.


Summary:
•Very uninspired combat, similar in play to Gears of War with the chest high walls and cover system done to the extent that it is. -0.5 Points
•Level design is nice in some places, yet poor in others.
•Omnipotent space bar can be very frustrating. -0.5 Points
•The game suffers heavily from the developers focusing too much on being "epic".
•Powers easily overlook-able due to the power of the guns.

•Pants on head retarded AI. -0.5 Points

Points knocked off: 1.5
Running total: 8.5


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-The look and feel of the previous installments in the Mass Effect series has been one of mysticism, everything had a blue, futuristic glow about it. Yet, in Mass Effect 3, that atmosphere has been replaced of a bleak grey and black, possibly reflecting the destruction of the whole galaxy, but it was still disappointing. Much of the game's issues are in its aesthetics, ranging from lazy, sloppy animations, to texture issues. Allow me to pull an example of the stilted, awkward animations and facial expressions in this video here.



-This video in every way, shape, and form is the incarnation of terrible. The VO for Conrad is really awkward, that comical *THWACK* at around 0:50, the horrible arm movements at 1:44, the "Oh, I just, in all of half a second sabotaged his gun," and the characters staring at each other for a good two to three seconds before moving on just make me cringe hard. Conrad is even married, yet he goes and hits on this girl without mention of his wife. The game is plagued with moments like these. Cringe worthy animations, awkward pauses, models teleporting around due to the AI being hopelessly broken or the in-conversation movements glitched, things of that nature.

-The game is incredibly well optimized. On a computer with low specs such as mine (3gb ram, an old Radeon HD card, et cetera), it very rarely suffered FPS drops even when mass amounts of things were being rendered in game. Alas, you can see why if you look closely at models and textures that aren't characters. I vividly remember a scene where Ashley was getting up from her hospital bed, battered and bruised, and I thought "Wow, this game looks really nice," until I looked at the bed. The pillow was painted on at what looked like a 64x64 resolution stretched out onto a 3 foot wide bed. My graphics settings were on medium. This is the price you pay to make a game run well on consoles and all PC's, I guess.



Summary:
•Some of the most awkward VO and animations I've seen in a long time, for a game based on story. -1 Point
•Changed atmosphere from the first two games.
•Very well optimized, but the good FPS comes at a price.
•Teleporting AI / rough animation transitions.
•"HEY, YOU! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!" -0.5 Points

Points knocked off: 1.5
Running total: 7.0


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-The story of Mass Effect 3 is indeed the strong point of the game. There are many heartwarming moments, tear jerking moments, and moments where you will truly be at the edge of your seat. I had a hearty laugh when they were reviewing Cerberus data logs about when Cerberus was trying to shut down EDI during the events of Mass Effect 2.

Quote

Well, sir, we have tried to access EDI's remote lockdown procedures, but the last time we tried, she completely blocked us and sent us 7 Zettabytes of explicit images. I think she was making a joke.

*video cuts out*

Shepard: Really, EDI? Seven Zettabytes?

EDI: Well, most of it was Joker's...


-The game deals very well with the psychological trauma of war and how it effects people throughout the galaxy. During a side mission where you must save students from a school for gifted biotics as they are being abducted by Cerberus, one of the female students approaches you. She asks, "Do you ever forget your first time killing someone? Because today was my first time..." The teacher then pulls you aside, saying that the children aren't prepared mentally for this kind of thing, and asks you if they can play more of a support role in the war. I appreciated the fact that they don't have children running in guns blazing without a second thought, like some other games might have handled that mission. Another thing brought up is Shepard's trauma. During the first mission when he escapes Earth, Shepard watches from the sky as a shuttle holding a small child gets destroyed by a destroyer's laser beam. He continues to have nightmares about that kid throughout the game, about not being able to save him.

-I have had a couple favorite scenes from the game. The academy Cerberus is attacking and the female student was one. Another was...


Spoiler


-Though, my favorite scene in the entire game is this following one, where Liara talks about preservation of information about the Reapers and our galaxy.



-The way Liara talks about Shepard with such admiration and respect makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This is probably the best written and voice acted scene in the entirety of Mass Effect 3. I thought that the explanation of the Reapers at the end felt half-assed though...

Spoiler

Summary:
•Great storytelling overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story throughout the whole series.
•Felt like the ending was a bit rushed, and the explanation was subpar. -0.5 Points
•Felt like they came up with this as it went along.


Points knocked off: 0.5
Running total: 6.5



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-In the end, Mass Effect 3 is an alright game. It tells the story pretty well, but the repetitive gameplay and linear levels sort of deter the jump from just an "alright" game to a "good" game. The promise of an ending was what really kept me playing through those levels, and while the ending was a tad less than satisfying, it left no questions that hadn't been answered.



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In a Nutshell: February 2012

Mar 04 2012 12:50 AM | Duplicity in Reviews

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February was certainly an eventful month. In this segment, we are going to talk about the many events that have happened over the course of the month that we didn't quite think had enough to talk about to justify their own article. So, without further adieu, here's the first official monthly Gaming and Tech Roundup for the month of February!

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Guild Wars 2 is the single most anticipated MMORPG of the next year or two. Recently, a select few incredibly lucky members of the press were allowed into the beta of this game to experience and write about it on their respective websites. The resulting flood of articles and media relating to this was overwhelmingly positive in their participation of this limited beta. Unfortunately, due to the lack of players, the WvWvW combat was not reported on much, but from what videos and images floating around of it on the internet, it seems to be amazing how huge the maps are. PvP was touched on, and much positive feedback of it had come back of the balance and overall enjoyment of playing on the maps. Beta signups for the general public have been submitted, and hopefully the next beta event will include some of the people that signed up then. Any major news involving the beta of Guild Wars 2 will be posted here, as I, and I'm sure many of you, are very excited for this truly groundbreaking MMORPG!

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Two very interesting mods have come to fruition in February. Cry of Fear, a Half-Life 1 modification that has been in development for a number of years has been released recently, and Dear Esther, a polished version of a Source mod by the very same name, has gone on sale. Cry of Fear is a horror mod released a few weeks ago about a man who wakes up in a city overrun by creatures after he gets hit by a car. The game is easily one of the best psychological horror games that has come out in the past few years, even with the issue of working with Goldsrc. Though the limitations of the engine are evident in some sections of the game, overall it's one of the better games, let alone mods, I've played in a long time. A couple interesting features, such as the cell phone and camera, manage to keep the game different from other games of the same genre. If there was one complaint I were to have about the game, it would be that the "fear" component relies far too much on jump scares. Cry of Fear seems to set up much more deeply disturbing scenes, just to have it turn out to be a jump scare. There is much wasted potential there.

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Dear Esther was a mod developed by Dan Pinchbeck and Rob Briscoe. It was originally released for free, but it was polished and released as a standalone game, selling for $20.00. Focusing mainly on atmosphere and beauty, Dear Esther is a graphically astounding mod, truly pushing the possibilities of the Source Engine. I'm not sure how much gameplay there is in this game, but if Heavy Rain can tell us anything, it's that interactive slideshows and/or movies can be called games. Dear Esther isn't action packed, it won't thrill you or enthrall you with its oh-so amazing storyline, yet if the story it has to tell and the beautiful eye-candy isn't enough to immerse you into it, then surely there isn't much out there that would immerse you.

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Another big release this month was Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Ken Rolston, the lead designer for both Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was also the lead designer for this game, giving many people high hopes for another game in this vein. It remained relatively unknown until very shortly before its release, where it picked up a lot of hype. The game itself seemed unsure of what it wanted to be, during my experience playing it. Half the time it seems to want to be an MMO, with repetitive "Kill 10 X" and fetch style quests, and other times it wants to be a game like Devil May Cry or Dante's Inferno with flashy combos and finishers. The game didn't really capture my attention long enough for me to do a full review of it, but it really deserves a mention in the February round-up, considering the designer and how hyped it was. There are plenty of cool ideas that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning tries, like the hybrid classes. There are six tiers of classes, and you can choose to be a hybrid class. For example, Blademaster is the tier 6 hybrid class of rogue/warrior. The ideas are cool, the setting is unique, the art style is stylized and bright, but overall, I just didn't feel like it was a really good game. The repetitiveness of everything in the game and the fact that someone prophecized the coming of a being that could break prophecies (yo dawg) annoyed me to the point that flashy finishers and a cool setting weren't enough to keep me playing the game.

One last thing I'd like to touch on, finishing up the February roundup...

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The Playstation Vita was released this month, with debatable success. The fact that, during the time it was only available in Japan, only 500,000 units were sold, caused many people to speak doom and gloom about the sales numbers that the Vita would have upon its US release. While the Vita has currently surpassed 1.2 million units in the US, it pales in comparison to its number one competitor, Nintendo's 3DS. A couple launch titles, such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Touch My Katamari are enough to justify a purchase to some consumers, but others want to wait for a price decrease and a few more titles to sway their decision in not buying one of these powerful devices.

That's all for the February roundup! Join us at the end of March for more news we overlooked while writing our articles!


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Indie Game Review: Ace of Spades

Feb 20 2012 07:05 PM | generic in Reviews

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Developer: Ben Aksoy
Version: Beta 0.75
Genre: Voxel/Team-Based FPS
Cost: Free
Download: http://www.ace-spades.com

OVERVIEW

During what developer Ben Aksoy described as the year of the voxel when Minecraft and Terraria dominated the block-based gaming landscape, Ace of Spades has begun to emerge as a dynamic new fusion of construction and destruction in a team-based environment.  The vanilla game consists of two teams competing in either a control points or capture the flag game with one important twist: players can place and remove blocks, creating their own sniper spots, forts, walls, or secret tunnels.

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Some defenses built by blue team to protect their own base.  This map was entirely flat when the game began.

The Positives

What instantly impressed me about this game was the integration of the voxel concepts with the combat.  Un-crouched players are the equivalent height of three blocks while a player crouching is exactly as tall as two blocks.  Because of this, players under fire can build simple, two-block-high defenses in a hurry.  Buildings need not be intricate and time-consuming constructions and, if necessary, can be built at the same pace as the combat.

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Crouching behind a two-block-high wall, which I could easily shoot over uncrouched.


The voxel elements are not only closely integrated with the combat; they also enhance the strategy involved in Ace of Spades and give it a unique feel.  In your standard Call of Duty game, your friend could be holed up with a sniper rifle in a key building overlooking an exposed part of the map.  Now imagine being able to put up a wall to protect the exposed area, being able to burrow into the sniper’s building, being able to take down the sniper’s building with a few well place shots, or simply digging two blocks into the ground, jumping in, crouching, and, in short, making your own improvised sniping position.  In many ways, an equal amount of mental challenge exists in Ace of Spades as in playing spy in TF2.  A player roaming an open area or mountainous terrain must be wary of enemies burrowed into hills, the ground, or hiding behind small walls which the enemies have colored the same as the surrounding terrain.  Playing Ace of Spades well requires a whole new mindset and set of strategies.

Another plus of Ace of Spades is that every single map is custom and most servers have their own map.  Players choose servers mostly for the map, as some servers run cities with skyscrapers made out of AoS blocks, jungles with cleverly constructed trees, or nearly flat worlds where the defenses are entirely up to the team (an example can be seen in the pictures above, which were taken on the GoonHaven.org server).  Leaving map making entirely up to the community that actually plays the game has resulted in hundreds of unique maps, each with unique challenges.  

On the technical side, a huge bonus of Ace of Spades is its ability to run on any system with barely any resources or effort.  The developer’s statement that “Your Grandmother’s rig could run this game,” is absolutely no overstatement, as it ran perfectly fine on my i3 laptop with no FPS issues using less than half the memory of Skype and a quarter of the memory of Firefox.  My family’s ancient Windows 98-running Dell which has been collecting dust for years would probably have no issues with Ace of Spades.

The Negatives


Ace of Spades is still in very early development, which, of course, means it has its share of bugs.  Servers which have multiple slots open often display ambiguous connectivity errors, giving no hint at all to the problem.  Additionally, frozen screens and other graphics glitches occasionally occur when switching classes or weapons.  Griefing, specifically with aimbots, is a common problem on a lot of servers, although most of the popular servers have a votekick system which I’ve observed to be very effective in dealing with aimbots.   Of course, this is the Avolition forum, so and easily hackable Ace of Spades could be source of enjoyment for our Programming community.

Final Thoughts

Considering its unique strategy and effective and clever integration of the voxel and FPS game elements, Ace of Spades is already very entertaining and could be a fantastic game down the road.  As far as improvements go, I could see the addition of more diverse classes and weapons (the only secondary weapon is a generic grenade,) going a long way towards making the game more exciting and more attractive to a wider audience.  

What are your thoughts on Ace of Spades?  Do you like it, hate it, or wish it would improve in some way?  What do you think?

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Game Review: DOTA 2

Feb 17 2012 05:57 PM | Duplicity in Reviews

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source: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Defense of the Ancients has been the most popular Warcraft 3 map for years, now. With a gargantuan amount of active players, it's no surprise that the Warcaft 3 custom map list is flooded with instances of this map. Over 100 different heroes and a vast player base manage to keep players coming back to this highly competitive game. There have been multiple attempts to bring this game out of the archaic and dated Warcraft 3 engine, resulting in games such as League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and Rise of Immortals, each having a respectable amount of success utilizing a free-to-play model. Various developers of DotA have worked on these games, Steve "Guinsoo" Feak developing League of Legends, and IceFrog overseeing early development of Heroes of Newerth. Each sought to improve upon DotA, and freeing it from the grasp of the Warcraft 3 engine, allowing much more interesting thoughts and ideas to be incorperated into the game. When Valve announced that they were going to throw their hat into the ring with DOTA 2, having IceFrog on their lead development team, fans of DotA went wild with excitement. An exact replica of their game with overhauled graphics and a shiny new game engine. What more could a fanboy want?

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source: http://www.d22-zone.com
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DOTA 2 is, in essence, exactly what DotA fans have been asking for for a very long time. DotA, in its entirety, is being brought piece by piece into the Source Engine with a shiny new coat of paint, and some name changes to avoid copyright infringement. (e.g. Obsidian Destroyer is now Outworld Destroyer) IceFrog seems to be going over this game meticulously, making sure the pacing, movements, and animations are just as they were in the original DotA, ensuring that the gameplay balance remains intact. Turning speeds and attack animations affect how well a hero can farm up, and can be tweaked and fine tuned just right to give that hero just the right feel. The pacing of the game, in terms of how long it takes a game to get past the laning/farming phase and into the teamfighting/pushing phase, feels slower than that of the very aggressive Heroes of Newerth, but faster than the infamously passive League of Legends. Some heroes, of course, require much more "farming" than others, and will end up focusing on the last hitting of creeps until mid/late game comes around. Yet in general, I feel like the pacing is done very well. The pacing of Heroes of Newerth is very, very fast. Lane aggression is prominent, ganks happen much faster, hero control is much faster, everything just happens in rapid succession. In League of Legends, aggression is very much discouraged. Towers dealing so much damage deter tower diving, most of the laning phase consists of poking rather than farming, and lasts for much longer than that of the other two games.

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DOTA 2 seems to go by the philosophy, "Don't fix what ain't broke," and this becomes evident in the gameplay. IceFrog put a lot of effort into recreating the DotA experience inside of the Source Engine, but he seems to have turned too much attention towards coding in the limitations of the Warcraft 3 engine. There's nothing more annoying when, while being attacked in the enemy jungle as Anti-Mage, dying due to ferevently clicking into the Fog of War to get a Blink off, but getting the error "Cannot target unexplored areas!" As Valve is working on implementing one new hero per week or so, not having access to the full pool of heroes gets annoying. An example of this being frustrating can be seen with the early implementation of Anti-Mage. Anti-Mage is a hard carry character, and once he accumulates a large amount of gold, he can easily kill multiple members of your team by himself. Until the recent addition of Outworld Destroyer, he was a very overpowered hero, because there were no available heroes that could take him on. I also feel like I should mention the community, which is atrocious, although I have yet to play an ARTS without a bad community. Even when queueing for matches on the US East and US West servers, people get matched with hordes of foreigners. Nine times out of ten, this impedes communication, which is essential in this game. If you aren't with a foreigner, you are probably with one of those people who can't take any constructive criticism without having his ego injured beyond repair, and he refuses to play anymore. "zzz u insult me afk in spawn gg"

Now, there are also great parts to the gameplay of DOTA 2. One would think, with more than 100 heroes implemented, you would see some skill rehashes. Yet IceFrog has managed to keep every hero extremely varied in their function on the team, their unique skills, and what they can bring to the table, something that is very respectable. However, some functions desperately need to be implemented. A concede vote system is something that players have been begging for, and is currently not in the game. This causes games to drag on much longer than nessecary, when all of the players on your team don't feel like playing anymore. Another complaint I have is the fact that, even if three people leave a game, it still counts as a loss on the records of the people who stayed. Though, the game is still in a beta state, and many features are being added with every new content patch. Perhaps all of the things mentioned here will be added at a later date.

Most of the gameplay consists of a few different things: Farming, ganking, teamfighting, pushing. Farming occurs early on in the game, and consists of sitting in the lane and attempting to get the last hit on a creep before it dies, granting you gold an experience. During this, denying also occurs, which occurs when someone kills an allied creep, denying the enemy experience and gold. Ganking is something else that occurs early in the game, and happens when multiple people blitz an enemy and quickly kill him, often a surprise attack. This can be avoided by watching for heroes who are missing in action (or MIA) from the map. Pushing is the rapid killing of enemy creeps with the intent of quickly pushing your allied creeps to the enemy tower and kill it. Teamfighting is self explanitory. The composition of your team can greatly affect your performance in each of these fields. Playing Axe, Nature's Prophet, or Broodmother allows your team to excel at pushing enemy towers. Ancient Apparition, Slardar, and Night Stalker are all very adept gankers, capable of bursting down a low-health hero very quickly. Sand King, Tidehunter, and Earthshaker are all initiator heroes, which will allow you to get the upper hand in team fights. Anti-Mage, Bloodseeker, and Rikimaru are all very effective at farming creeps, and having them do so will allow them to prosper into the late game.

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source: http://www.dota2talk.com

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To sum up the gameplay, it's exactly what DotA fans have wanted for a while. Nothing more, nothing less. The game has succeeded in doing what it's intended to do and what what was asked of it. I enjoy the hell out of most rounds of DOTA 2, regardless of the flaws pointed out above.

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There is much to be said about Valve's decisions on DOTA 2 when it comes to graphics. The simplistic art style is very smooth, easy on the eyes, and makes it very clear what is going on. Most of the heroes are designed very well, in that you can easily tell what a hero does by just a quick glance. "Okay, he's throwing burning spears at things, and is glowing red. He will probably kill me if I go anywhere near him." Water looks gorgeous in DOTA 2, and the shaders for it seem to make it fit right in to the stylized art direction the game is headed in. Projectile clutter is not a huge problem, as it is in Heroes of Newerth, but one major problem with the aesthetics is the GUI. The fact that it takes up half your screen is one thing, but the back panel is useless and takes up vision that some of us might like. The game would benefit greatly from an option in the settings to downsize the UI. The client outside of the game is pretty well designed as well, displaying all sorts of information, giving you a profile, friends list, history, yet for some reason, lacks a Kill/Death ratio feature. The "Social" tab is unused, and I am eager to see what kind of content will be placed there. One last thing. Remember how I said "most" of the heroes are designed very well?

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Yeah. Most.

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In the end, DOTA 2 is exactly what I, and many others, asked for. IceFrog has managed to capture the feeling of DotA superbly in the successor to the single most popular Warcaft 3 map. Knocking off the bindings of the Warcraft 3 engine, however, opens up new doors to many new possibilities in hero design. The game looks and feels very nice, and it is headed for many things in the future.



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