Saturday, April 29, 2017

International Tabletop Day 2017

Hello Nerd Corpers (Yeah, I need to work on that), Big O here!  Today is April 29th, but it is also International Tabletop Day 2017.  As our listeners may know, we recently did a tabletop themed episode of the podcast:

In honor of the day, I thought it would be nice to do a short write up of what tabletop games have meant to me.  When I was younger, I had a group that I played Dungeons & Dragons with.  I was still relatively new to the game at the time so this was a learning experience.  The person running the game was one of my best friends Mike, another friend of mine, and I didn’t know the other members but we quickly bonded.  This campaign was one of my favorites, even to this day.  The story I told on the podcast about the sleeping ninja happened during this adventure.  We met up weekly and this campaign went on for months.  This continued, until Mike died.  Something that still bothers me to this day.  Obviously, we were all very distraught when this happened.  We decided to honor his memory by meeting up and starting a new campaign in his honor.  This campaign is still what I refer to as my favorite of all time.  I can only speak for myself, but getting together with everyone and playing every week was very cathartic for me and helped me deal with a lot of very complex emotions I was experiencing.  I will always be grateful to those friends and that story. 

Today, I am celebrating the day by having some friends over, ordering some pizza, and playing a bunch of games.  I want to encourage all of you to sit with someone you love and even if you are just playing a quick had of Uno, just spend a little time bonding with each other.  Who knows, you might make a memory.  Thanks for letting me get personal for a minute and I want everyone to have a great day. 

-Big O

Friday, February 24, 2017

Halo Wars 2 Review

Halo Wars 2 Review

It’s been 8 years since we last saw Captain Cutter and crew aboard the Spirit of Fire in the original Halo Wars. At the end of the last decade, Halo 3 was one of the most popular games on the Xbox 360. Even after the Halo Trilogy had ended, it was clear that there was still a huge universe to explore. People were clamoring for a new anything Halo, and most expected the next game to be another First Person Shooter, just like every other game in the series. Then Microsoft Game Studios did the unexpected. They partnered with Ensemble Studios, best known for the Age of Empire series, to create Halo Wars, the first Real Time Strategy game in the Halo universe. Halo Wars was widely praised by critics for bringing an RTS to consoles and making it accessible to people who might not have much experience with the genre. On the other hand, many people bought the game expecting it to be another fast paced, action shooter game. After the dust had settled and the confusion dispelled, a community of Halo Was lovers kept the game going until the end of the 360’s popularity. As the Halo series famously made its transition from Bungie to 343, and from the 360 to the Xbox One, no one expected a new game in the Halo Wars IP. But now, with Creative Assembly at the helm, the Spirit of Fire is ready to renew the fight on Xbox One and Windows 10.


The campaign begins 28 years after the end of Halo Wars when the crew of the Spirit of Fire wake up from cryosleep. Unbeknownst to the events that have transpired since around the time of Halo 3, the crew expect to fight Covenant, except now the Covenant have been replaced by an even deadlier foe. Enter Atriox, a massive Brute, and his army of ex-Covenant who make their home on the Ark.
Atriox (center) and his merry band of Brutes

Playing alone, or Co-op with a buddy, you assume control of a variety of characters as you traverse the Ark to hunt down Atriox and his generals. In the each mission of the about 8-hour campaign, players are tasked with base building, learning leader powers and completing objectives like destroying enemy bases, rescuing prisoners and fighting super powered bosses.

The levels are short, only taking about half an hour to complete if you take your time. However, additional objectives can be completed by exploring every nook and cranny. Each level has a Skull, which modifies gameplay, and Phoenix Logs, which provide backstory. With a little bit of practice and understanding of unit types, even an RTS newbie can quickly amass an army and breeze through the story.

Defending this beach isn’t quite as simple as it seems

It seems Creative Assembly, has closely followed how Ensemble Studios crafted the Halo Wars’ campaign. A hallmark of Halo Wars was the jaw-dropping cutscenes that fleshed out the story and brought some small scale action aspects to a supersized war game. Halo Wars 2 features cutscenes which are equally as pretty and add depth to characters like Captain Cutter.

Halo Wars 2 features mostly the same cast of protagonists. Fan favorites Sgt. Forge and Professor Anders return alongside Captain Cutter. New AI, Isabel, replaces Serena, and the Spartan Red Team, fills out the major characters.

The story is standalone, so you do not need to have played Halo Wars 1 to understand what is going on.


Where the campaign does lack some replayability, Multiplayer is fleshed out with 5 game modes and various ways to play. The newest and most hyped addition to multiplayer is Blitz. Blitz is a hybrid game mode consisting of one part deck building and one part domination. Each leader you choose to play as in Blitz has their own unique cards which are played onto the battlefield by spending resources. Cards can be either units or special abilities that have the potential to turn the tides of battle. Once on the battlefield, units are used to capture 3 points on the map. The more points you control, the more score you earn, and the first to 200 score wins. What generally ends up happening is a somewhat a mix of skill and luck. You could play a couple devastating Wraith units, but unless you draw and anti-air Reaver unit, your opponents Vulture is going to pick you apart. Further strategy is added when supply drops fall on semi-random points on the map. Getting to these before your opponent does means you can play more powerful units and secure points easier. Blitz can be played with up to 6 players for some truly massive battles and mixing leaders can lead to some unique strategies.

My aircraft and vehicles made short work of my opponent’s infantry

After each game, experience is tallied and level-ups are rewarded with a Blitz pack. These packs have a chance of containing new cards which can be added to your deck, and duplicates add strength to cards you already have. Halo Wars 2, like many other multiplayer games nowadays, features the ability to purchase Blitz packs for real money. All cards however, can be obtained in-game.

Leveling up rewarded me with a new power for Atriox
The other Multiplayer mode which will get a lot of play is simply called War. This is a standard RTS match which can also be played with up to 6 people. Two teams, starting on opposites sides of the map build bases, claim resources on a large map, with the end goal of destroying all enemy bases. Just like in Blitz, each player selects a leader before battle. Each leader has unique powers which are unlocked for killing enemy units and building more bases. Active leader powers include dropping ODST units from the sky, calling Glassing Beams down on enemies, or healing rings to keep units topped off. Passive leader powers can help you build upgrades faster or give units additional capabilities. Picking a leader is more than just deciding which faction’s units you want to use. In Halo Wars 2, more emphasis is put on playstyles rather than unit combinations.

Upgrading infantry is Cutter’s specialty

Design and Music

New units like Nightengales and Blisterbacks have been added to the already large roster of war machines. Still, some units which were present in Halo Wars 1 are conspicuously missing. Where are the Hawks that were so much fun to use? Surely they should still be around somewhere in the Spirit of Fire’s hangar, right?

The Multiplayer maps in Halo Wars 2 serve their purpose. Teleporters, energy bridges, and mini bases dot the landscape. However, some of the charm and intricacies of previous maps such as Fort Deen are missing from Halo Wars 2.

Halo Wars 2, like all other RTS games, is meant to be played with a keyboard and mouse. Shortcuts are easier and setting control groups makes zipping around the battlefield a breeze. However, using a controller works fine as well. The game is simple enough to be played without any major problems whichever way you choose.

One of the best parts of Halo Wars was the music. Everything had a great theme. From the menu music to the victory screen, each frame was dripping with sweeping orchestral music. To this day, Spirit of Fire and Through Your Hoops remain as some of my favorite video game tracks. That’s not to say Halo Wars 2 doesn't have some great music. Songs like the Main Menu theme are catchy just as humm-worthy.

Final Thoughts

Halo Wars 2 serves as a good successor to the original. Even 8 years later, the characters and units are just as fun to control. Creative Assembly has crafted a game which stays true to the Halo and Halo Wars IP, while also telling a story that stands on its own. Multiplayer is easy to get into and hard to master. If you allow yourself to get sucked in, you will be thinking about new strategies and builds for hours.



- Reviewer played Halo Wars 2 on PC

Thursday, February 23, 2017

WCNC Staff 2016 Game of the Year Awards Part 2

Game of the Year Reviews - Chris

            2016 was certainly an interesting year in gaming. We had many titles come out that were highly anticipated and almost as many that were disappointing. Thankfully, we are not focusing much on the later. However, we are focusing on some of the top games of the 2016 year. But, we are going to keep it simple with Top Exclusive, 2016 Game of the Year, and Top Game regardless of year.
Top Exclusive

            Unfortunately, this one was a tie for me. Both of these were games that I have been able to play at any time and able to enjoy at any time. Forza Horizon 3 was another fantastic edition for the Forza franchise by Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games. Forza Horizon 3 was by far the best of the Horizon series. Known for being an open world racing game, Turn 10 and Playground really turned Horizon 3 into a truly open world game where you can go virtually anywhere. Whether you want to be able to cruise inside the cities, slide around in the desert, speed through the countryside, or weave through the forest, you now have the ability to. The mechanics and physics of the game were fantastic and really set the new standard for open world racing games. While still an "arcade" style racing game, it has a nice blend of both worlds for the racers that prefer simulators. Each car handles and feels different from the next whether driving your car right off the lot or have it upgraded. Racing around Australia along the coastline, around the airstrip, or even searching for that barn find, you can do it in the largest selection of cars in the Forza Horizon lineup. Whether you are a diehard racer, or just picking it up for the first time, you can race in one of your dream cars and have an absolute blast.

            Uncharted 4 was a fantastic end to a truly great series from Naughty Dog. While the final chapter to the saga of Nathan Drake unfolds, we get to meet Nathan's older brother, Samuel Drake. Sam is in a bit of trouble and needs the help of his younger brother in order to pay off some serious debts. Nathan reluctantly jumps on board, of course with his old friend Sully and Nathan Drake's wife. He leaves his "boring" life behind and sets back off to do what he does best, be a thief. As they set off on an all new adventure with all new twists, challenges, and puzzles. Nathan's wit and sarcasm carries you through each moment. The voice acting does not disappoint and the story sets the tone of the game. The combat is just as chaotic as ever with more intense moments. Each new puzzle offers a new challenge, with some being agonizingly difficult. The story in Uncharted 4 was another great one and continues to prove how great Naughty Dog is when it comes to storylines. While the game had been pushed back into 2016 from 2015, it was because Naughty Dog wanted to make sure this game was done correctly. While taking time to rewrite the ending four times to ensure it was what they wanted, it was the absolute correct decision. Uncharted 4 is a must play from 2016 and should be on everyone’s list to play.
Top Game of the Year

            While Fallout 4 came out in 2015, it was a game that I always came back to in 2016, and even currently in 2017. Fallout 4 offered so much from the previous games and added in some great new features that helped added to a more immersive feel. Fallout 4 continues with the post apocalyptic nuclear warfare style and is still the open world sandbox we know in love, but now you can also build your own settlements with all of the junk that is left around. That’s right, you can pick up almost anything and turn it into something. You can upgrade weapons, armor, even power armor. You can also dismantle these same things to use to upgrade your items, repair your power armor, and build your settlements. You can spend hours into building a settlement if you wanted, gaining experience for each piece you build and dismantle, all the while turning that settlement into whatever you can imagine. Or you can simply play the story, which was also interesting, giving interesting twists along the way and forcing you to make choices along the way. Some choices are easy, some a little more difficult. Bethesda once again gives us the chance to do whatever we want. Boston, also known as the Commonwealth, adds new enemies, along with the familiar ones in the largest map to date. The game also adds all new companions and the return of few from Fallout 3 including a fan favorite, Dogmeat. A familiar level up system with a combination of new perks and old perks being added, makes you decide how you want to level your character. The additions of Far Harbor and Nuka World add more hours of game play to a game that has plenty of play time as it is. While there were 6 add ons to the game, three added to story and three added to the settlement building. Fallout 4 is the most immersive game to have released in the Fallout franchise and possibly one of the best.
Game of the Year 2016

            Anyone who has known me for longer than fifteen minutes knows that I am not a fan of Final Fantasy. Which is why, even for me, this is a very surprising pick for my Game of the Year. While I have not yet finished it due to my work schedules, I have enjoyed every moment of this game. The scenery is absolutely stunning from the desert to the forest to the volcano and everything in between. From the banter between the team, the car rides and the combat, it really does feel like a group of friends just going on an adventure. The game is set before Prince Noctis gets married, and that's when everything seems to hit the fan. The kingdom falls just after Nocits and his friends leave, and it is up to them to attempt to regain control, all while being on the run. The story has been great and easy to follow even if you have never played the franchise before. The combat system is now a real time combat instead of a turn based which brought some new life to an old series, while keeping a certain nostalgia that long time fans will love. The teamwork between everyone works well while having a very smooth flow to it.  It also brings a few other things that you can do in the game. Example, you can go fishing, which I probably spent more time doing that I would like to admit to. You can even race chocobos! That’s right, everyone’s favorite giant chicken is back! That being said, if you have not played Final Fantasy XV yet, it is a MUST! If you enjoyed Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantsy XV is by the same group of people, and guaranteed to give you even more action, adventure and intrigue. Final Fantasy XV is a game that is great for everyone, whether you are coming in as a fan of the series or maybe as a new comer like me. Regardless of which side you stand on, it is a must play.

Big O’s 2016 Game of the Year

3.  Final Fantasy XV

 Final Fantasy XV was cursed with a long development cycle.  Starting life in 2006 as Final Fantasy Versus XIII (originally meant to be a companion game to XIII), the game saw many changes and a complete overhaul in 2013 where it was announced as Final Fantasy XV.  Normally when a game sits in development for this long and sees so many drastic changes, the final product is pretty disappointing (see, Duke Nukem Forever).  Thankfully, Final Fantasy XV is the exception to the rule.  Square-Enix has taken great care to listen to fans and fix mistakes from previous installments of the series.  Final Fantasy XV is a beautiful, open world experience that the player can explore at their own pace.  I constantly found myself getting lost in the world and exploring incidents at nearby towns all while neglecting the main story.  I got so lost, I poured about 80 hours into it in the first few weeks of owning the game.  I realize that this game isn’t for everyone.  I found the story and characters incredibly charming but they could come off as annoying to others.  That being said, I loved my time in Final Fantasy XV and would gladly give it my third best game of 2016. 

2.  Overwatch

 If you read Rory and Frankie’s lists from last week, it should be no surprise that this game is one of my choices.  What can I say that they haven’t already?  The characters are fun and imaginative, the mechanics of the game are much deeper than you would think at first glance, and it’s just fun.  Personally, this game has been the main way I’ve kept in touch with my friends on the opposite side of the country for the past year and that makes it special in my book.  Not to mention the work that Blizzard has put into crafting the wold with the use of online comics and videos.  While there is no story in the game itself, the world of Overwatch contains a rich lore.  I was a little hesitant to put this game on my list because it is a multiplayer only experience, but it does that one aspect so well it is hard to deny that Overwatch is one of the best games of 2016. 

Honorable Mention.  Pokémon Go

While Pokémon Go did come out in 2016, I’m giving it my honorable mention for a different reason.  I’m not putting this game on my list for the traditional reasons you would select a game of the year nominee, like gameplay, story, or graphics.  I’m putting Pokémon Go on my list because of experience.  The experiences I had playing this game with my friends and by myself trump that of any other game to come out in 2016.  I’ll always remember chasing a Charmeleon through a trailer park during an Arizona Summer while my phone got so hot it turned itself off to keep from melting or simply sitting at a park bench with some of my closest friends while we lured the local Pokéstops and talked for hours on end.  While I understand that the play base for this game is dwindling and the gameplay is not fun in the traditional sense, I will continue to cherish many of the memories that this game gave me. 

1.  Uncharted 4

 Could there be any other?  Many of our long time readers/listeners will know that Uncharted is one of my favorite game series of all time.  I still hold Uncharted 2 Among Thieves to be one of the greatest games I’ve ever played.  Needless to say, this was my most anticipated title of the year.  Luckily, it did not disappoint.  The game is fast paced, while never feeling overwhelming.  In the slower moments, the game’s phenomenal writing has a chance to shine.   I might be getting a bit ahead of myself, Uncharted 4 is a special experience.  You follow Nathan Drake (expertly voiced by Nolan North) as he goes on a journey of love, betrayal, mystery, and most importantly adventure.  Many of the classic characters return Sully and Elena.  The newest edition to the cast of loveable rogues is Sam Drake, Nathan’s brother (Also expertly voiced by Troy Baker).  The journey will take the crew along a set of increasingly breathtaking set pieces around some of the most beautiful locals in the world.  Uncharted 4 was the perfect ending to the Nathan Drake story, a character I have seen grow and develop over five games.  I couldn’t think of a better game for us to part on, and that is why it gets my number one spot. 

A Delicious Nolan North and Troy Baker sandwich

Thank you everyone who has continued to support since we started.  2016 was an amazing year for video games and 2017 is looking like it might be even better.  Seriously, we’re not even done with February and we already have some strong game of the year contenders.  We have a lot of fun projects coming up on the blog, as well as a few surprises.  So, stick with us and we hope to entertain you for years to come. 

-Big O