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Game Review: Ken Follet’s The Pillars of the Earth

Many fantasy RPGs use the medieval era as a backdrop or inspiration to build their worlds: think The Witcher, Dragon Age, Divinity, Dark Souls. But even without the dragons, magic, witches and warlocks, there is something inherently fascinating about the era – it was, after all, a dangerous time rife with political intricacies, brutal wars and religious dogma; a time of towering castles, jousting knights and tyrannical kings.

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Enter The Pillars of the Earth, a story-driven point-and-click game set in 12th-century England. Based on the critically acclaimed 1989 novel by Welsh author Ken Follett, the game is divided into three books spanning 21 chapters and revolves around several characters, whose fates and lives are intertwined around the town of Kingsbridge. There’s Tom Builder, the mason whose life’s dream is to build a grand cathedral that will stand the test of time; Philip, a kind abbey prior who inadvertently gets dragged into a war involving two English lords; Jack, a young outlaw who grew up in the forest with his mother; Lady Aliena, a disgraced noblewoman who finds love in a most unexpected place; as well as a whole host of colourful, secondary characters.

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The world of Kingsbridge is one of upheaval and strife from the get-go. The country is in the middle of a war after the death of King Henry I, as two opposing factions vie for the crown – and the characters you play will all be embroiled in it one way or another. You start the game as Tom Builder, leading your family through the woods to seek job opportunities elsewhere. Your wife is pregnant, it’s the middle of a harsh winter, and you’re low on food and supplies. As things go, your wife dies in childbirth, and out of grief, you abandon your baby in the woods. Yep, this game pulls no punches – and this is just a small taster of what to expect in the following chapters.

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The real ‘star’ of the story, however, isn’t in its characters (although they are certainly unique and rich, with multiple layers). It is in the building of Kingsbridge Cathedral and what it represents. Ken Follet himself in interviews has said that his inspiration for the novel came from his fascination of medieval communities and their obsession with church-building. In medieval England, building a large and beautiful cathedral was seen as an everlasting monument to God, a way for them to make meaning of their lives and show their religious devotion. But at the same time, the church itself was a place rife with corruption, where bishops plotted to murder. Playing the game, I felt as if the characters are there to tell the story of the cathedral, rather than the other way around. Characters would live and die – but the Cathedral, despite being destroyed and rebuilt time and time again, would endure; the task of building it taken over by future builders. All this is beautifully brought to life with hand-painted portraits, each bursting with detail that makes each scene seem alive.

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That being said, TPoTE is not for everyone. The pace is extremely slow, and there aren’t a lot of climatic moments – it’s really more like reading a historical novel than playing a game, really. There isn’t much to do apart from interacting with objects. Your choices are not that important when it comes to the overarching narrative, but they do matter in relation to the fates of several characters and whether they live or die. You don’t get to solve puzzles other than a few easy ones which have more to do with using items in your inventory to interact with certain things on the screen than actually cracking your brain. And of course, once you’ve finished the game, there is very little replay value. Still, it offers good value — I completed mine in 12 hours, and I since I bought it on sale on Steam for RM15, I can’t complain.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Time Princess: A Different Kind of Otome

When I was growing up in the 90s, paper doll cutouts were all the rage. 

For the benefit of my younger readers, these were basically booklets containing figures (mostly girls, but sometimes they had boys too), which you could cut out and dress up with outfits. The ‘clothes’ were held in place with folded paper tabs. 

Thinking about it now, it’s brilliant how something so simple could provide hours of entertainment – all you needed was a pair of scissors, and a whole lot of imagination. The best part was that they were inexpensive: you could buy them from the stationery shop for a couple of ringgit, or better yet, make your own. It certainly helped me as a child to exercise my creativity, especially when ‘designing’ my doll costumes and coming up with storylines for my doll theatre lol. 

As you grow older, you tend to grow out of things too. Your dolls. Your cooking sets and toy soldiers. Your cars and action figurines. Even video games. But once in a while, something comes along that takes you back to simpler times. 

So a couple of months ago, out of boredom, I downloaded this mobile game called Time Princess. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m a 30-year-old playing a dress-up game targeted at tweens and teens. (At my age, my parents were saving up to buy a house and planning for the future lol.) BUT. These are different times, and if there’s one thing I learned over the past 1.5 years of being stuck at home – having to care for a sick, aging parent, taking over the role of breadwinner, being separated from my s/o, worrying about my loved ones getting COVID  – it’s that life is short and you should just do whatever you want, and whatever helps you cope. If playing a game helps to keep your sanity intact, so be it.

And to be perfectly candid, despite the childish-sounding title, Time Princess is actually a well-thought out game, with beautifully designed characters and rich plots themed around history and fantasy. 

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As the heroine, you inherit a magical storybook, which absorbs you into its pages ala The Pagemaster. You’ll get to play historical figures like Queen Marie Antoinette, as well as characters from popular literature such as Christine Daee from the Phantom of the Opera, Jo March from Little Women and Helen of Sparta.  There are also stories adapted from fairy tales and folklore, such as the Magic Lamp, Swan Lake, and Romy and Julius (based on Romeo and Juliet). 

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Like most otome games, you encounter characters that you can romance in each story. Depending on choices you make throughout the story, you’ll get different endings. But what differentiates Time Princess from other games of its kind is the dress up element: in order to clear stages, you’ll have to dress up your character based on the required theme. Clothes can only be crafted by gathering certain items either through mini games or gifts. Think of it like the gacha system for other mobile games like Genshin Impact. 

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But what I like are the stories. They’re all well written; the dress-up element is woven nicely into the narratives, and the characters are well fleshed out and don’t feel one dimensional. The Queen Marie storyline, for example, has some pretty tragic and bittersweet endings, forcing you to ‘make’ difficult choices.

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The stories are also peppered with interesting historical and cultural references; sort of like how you would find historical nuggets in the Assassin’s Creed series. For example, the Gotham Memoirs storyline, where you play a tenacious reporter in 1920s New York, highlights the rampant corruption that was prevalent among politicians and the law enforcement in that era, as well as the mafia and their crimes (drugs, human trafficking, murder) – which imo is pretty dark for an otome game. 

Another thing that Time Princess does right is the art. The animations are beautiful and fluid, and the costumes are gorgeous. You can tell a lot of thought has been put into designing each piece, and they’re just really pretty to look at. 

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The downside? The game is an absolute money sucker. It is designed to make you pay. Actions like gathering resources and reading each chapter require energy, so if you’re impatient like me, and want to read more of the story quickly, you’ll end up spending a lot of money. I’m still waiting to finish reading some stories because I don’t want to spend any more than I have, and it can be a damper/take away from the immersion when you can only unlock one chapter at a time. Still, if you’re patient, it can be a fun experience – there are mini games to keep you occupied, and they have in-game ‘events’ where you can win and collect prizes. While it’s not one of those games that you need to spend days grinding over, it’s a nice 10-15 minute escape that you can pop into every few hours. 

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Minigames that you can play for added bonuses and crafting materials.

So yeah. This was an otome game review by a 30-year-old. And I’m not ashamed to say I play what others may call a ‘childish’ game. Some friends my age talk about being productive, achieving something in life, and chasing their dreams. And if that’s what they want in life, more power to them. 

As for me, I’m perfectly content taking on the days one step at a time.  The next day will bring me another chapter to look forward to. And that applies both for the game, and life. 

You can download Time Princess on the Google Play store for free. In-game purchases apply. 

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Let’s Talk About Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: What Could Have Been A Great Game

I rarely buy games when they first come out. 

Previously, it was because I didn’t have a gaming device powerful enough to run them. But even after buying a new gaming laptop last year, I’ve only gotten older titles, because: 

  • they’re much cheaper, and 
  • if you haven’t played them before, what does it matter if they’re ‘old’ or new? 

Assassin’s Creed: Origins was one of the first games I played on my new laptop, since Steam had a sale. After that, I was hooked. I bought Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as soon as I finished Origins, and I enjoyed it as much as the first. So when AC: Valhalla was released in November 2020, I was thrilled and bought it immediately; because unlike players who had waited for years for the new game, my AC journey felt continuous, so to speak. 

While I wouldn’t say I regret forking out RM200 for it, I can now understand, at least in part, why many players caution against buying games right off the shelves, especially if they’re from Ubisoft (apparently the company gets a lot of criticism from the gaming community due to lack of quality, bad business practices, etc. I can’t say for sure because I don’t play enough of their games to comment). But personally, comparing my experience playing this latest game versus Origins and Odyssey, Valhalla is definitely a ‘downgrade’, in terms of overall story and gameplay. And the BUGS. Oh, god, the bugs. More on this later. 

In previous installments, we played a righteous Medjay in Egypt, and a half-god mercenary with questionable morals, fighting for glory and riches in ancient Greece. This time around, we follow Eivor the Wolf-Kissed, a fierce Viking raider whose sole loyalty is to her clan and people (Like in Odyssey, you can choose between a male or female character. I chose to play a female). 

The story kicks off in the fjords of Norway, where a young Eivor watches as her entire family is slaughtered in a brutal attack by a rival clan. Saved by her friend Sigurd, whom she later calls brother, she is raised as a warrior of the Raven Clan, and exerts revenge on the leader of the rival clan who murdered her parents years ago. Returning triumphant, Eivor and Sigurd are shocked to learn that their father the jarl has yielded to King Harald, who intends to unite all the scattered clans of Norway under his banner. Refusing to live under another’s rule, the siblings renounce their father and board their longboats, seeking fame, glory and fortune on Anglo-Saxon shores, ie Britain. With no allies and very little influence in a new and unfamiliar land, Eivor must help her clan forge alliances and ensure a stable future. Along the way, however, she encounters a mysterious Order, whose influence seems to stretch all across Britania. And for some reason, they seem keenly interested in Sigurd… 

STORY AND CHARACTERS

When I played Odyssey for the first time, I didn’t like the protagonist, Kassandra. As a ruthless mercenary who only cared for money, she was so different from Origin’s Bayek of Siwa, who was a protector of the people and saviour to the oppressed. Eventually, though, she kind of grew on me. 

Image: Ubisoft

Valhalla’s Eivor is a different character altogether. She is rash, quick to anger and her solution for everything seems to be to rush headlong into a brawl. Fists first, questions later. But true to the Viking Code, she is also courageous, disciplined and places honour and loyalty above all else. Throughout the course of the game, she matures into a stronger leader, one who is more level-headed, takes advice, and can make difficult decisions in order to secure the future of her people.  So even though initially, like Kassandra, I did not like the character, she kind of grew on me too.

Most of the other characters in Valhalla are well-fleshed out. I really enjoyed the story arcs where players have to forge alliances, as you’ll get to meet some pretty interesting characters inspired by real life historical figures, such as Alfred the Great of Wessex (a king who led his people against Norse invaders) and Ragnar Lothbrok (a legendary Viking warrior who was called the scourge of England and France). Narratives are rich in Norse and Anglo-Saxon culture, and you’ll learn more about the dynamics between these two groups and how they struggled to live alongside each other during the Danish conquest of England; the political intrigue, the power struggles, the plots and the scandals. 

Of course, this being an AC Valhalla game, the Isu – the technologically advanced alien race that existed millennia before humans came to be – will also factor into parts of the story, but personally, I find the conquest of England arcs to be more interesting. 

As with previous instalments, players will also take a deep dive into mythology, and battle a mythical beast (in Odyssey it was Medusa/the Minotaur). There’s a segment where you get to play as Odin and explore the fictional realms of Asgard and Jotunheim.

**PS: I find Sigurd’s character infuriating, especially after a certain point in the story. Dude just seems like an asshole lol. 

GRAPHICS AND SETTING

Image: Ubisoft

No matter what you say about Ubisoft, one thing you can’t accuse them of is a lack of detail in the worlds that they create. Valhalla has plenty of breathtaking scenery, from the icy fjords of Norway with its sparkling peaks and colourful auroras, to the lush greenery and gentle woods of England, ripe to bursting with fertile farmland and rivers bubbling with fish. Asgard is absolutely stunning and includes everything you see and read about in mythology: the rainbow light bridge, the gigantic tree of life Ymir, the wondrous feast halls filled with mead and dancing. Granted, the setting doesn’t feel as culturally diverse compared to Origins and Odyssey (there’s a part of the story where you’ll have to travel to Vinland though), but it’s still immersive and a joy to look at. That being said, the map is huge and fast travel points are few and far between, which can make travelling from point to point cumbersome and boring, since the landscape doesn’t change much. 

GAMEPLAY

AC Valhalla largely follows the formula of its predecessors, with a few additions. Some of them are improvements; others feel somewhat clunky and awkward. I’ll start off with the ones I like. 

Raiding. Unlike other AC titles, which rely largely on stealth, Valhalla switches it up with raids. You travel around on a longboat for most of the game, since there are many rivers around England, and whenever you spot an enemy encampment or a monastery, you can blow a blast on your horn to have your crew raid the place and rob it of its treasures. This means dashing in to hack and slash your enemies, true blue Viking style. You can still go the stealth route if you want, but I personally find raiding much more fun. 

Social Blending. The game brings back the social blending aspect where you can blend into a crowd by hiding amongst people, pretending to do certain tasks like weaving or grinding, sitting on a bench, etc. It’s a blast from the past for those who have played older games like Assassin’s Creed 3. 

Mini Games. There are several mini games that you can play as Eivor, including drinking contests, Flyting (where you test your rhyming skills and gain Charisma points, which are required to access certain points on the map) and Orlog, a dice game. I find these mini games good for making more coin, and they’re a welcome distraction from the main story. 

Building your Settlement. When Eivor and co first arrive in England, you start off with just a couple of buildings, which you can upgrade to expand your village. You do this by gathering resources, which you get from raiding. Upgrading shops and buildings gives access to better equipment and items. 

Fishing and Hunting. Another nice distraction if you want to take a break from the story: you can basically fish in the river or hunt for animals and gather items in exchange for runes and equipment. 

Different kinds of enemies. There are many different enemy classes, each with their own attack style and specialties. If you’re playing for combat, then this will provide a good challenge.

Raiding a monastery for that sweet, sweet loot. Image: Ubisoft

Now for the ones I don’t like: 

Puzzles. Some of the puzzles are not intuitively designed. For example, sometimes you get obstacles which you’ll have to blow apart in order to get to a certain treasure. In most cases, there will be an explosive pot around that you can hurl at the obstacle, but at other times, you’ll have to shoot at something in order to clear it. The game doesn’t tell you which is which. There were times I ran around in circles for an hour trying to find a pot, only to look up a walkthrough and find out that I had to shoot something instead. 

I also hate the Anomaly puzzles with a passion. They’re puzzles that you can complete to find out more about the Isu, but boy oh boy. There’s a lot of repetitive jumping and climbing involved, plus puzzle combinations that no average person could have figured out on their own without looking at a walkthrough. 

Synin. Your raven is basically useless. It can’t attack enemies like how Kassandra’s eagle could do. I also felt like it was not as good as locating items, as compared to previous AC games. Some people actually prefer it this way, because they say it makes the game less “hand hold-y”.

BUGS 

I’ve dedicated a special section to this because the bugs in AC Valhalla are an absolute nightmare and makes the game almost unplayable. Bugs in a new game are normal, but Valhalla is on a whole new level. Makes one wonder why Ubisoft would even release it in the first place if they had this many issues … kind of solidifies the impression that they’re this money-grubbing company lol.

I don’t mind bugs if they’re funny, but not when they make the game unplayable.

For me, my problems started after they released this Christmas special event called Yuletide. It basically involves a party in your village, with drinking and archery contests, games and whatnot. What happened was that it broke my game: after participating in one of the drinking matches, my character would wake up drunk, even after reloading, and even when I wasn’t in my own settlement. The drunkenness would wear off after a bit, but the woozy, out-of-focus screen was annoying to look at, and the character wasn’t able to jump into action right off the bat. 

What really annoyed me, though, was when my fast travel broke. I could not fast travel AT ALL. Every time I did, my character would remain stuck in place, and I’d have to reload. Apparently this is a known issue and happens frequently to other players, because the game registers that you’re still in a raid or battle, even if you’re not. Now, if you know AC games, you’ll know that most of the time, the map is massive. I ended up travelling to each region on horseback. Sometimes a waypoint would be 6,000 metres away from my settlement, and I’d spend a full 15 minutes just riding my way across the landscape. This isn’t Death Stranding FFS.

Speaking of waypoints, some waypoints would not show up where they were supposed to be, cutscenes wouldn’t trigger, and NPCs that were supposed to be there to further the story did not appear. I’ve also had instances where my raiders turned into their base models (grey, faceless ones that looked like nuns), floated off the boat at the raid command, and Eivor would get stuck and die out of nowhere. Pretty creepy. 

I think they recently fixed the fast travel issue with a patch, and I was able to fast travel again and complete the main story. I got stuck in the Asgard arc, though, as it refused to let me battle with the mythical monster – the screen gets stuck and there’s nothing I can do except reload. After reloading for the umpteenth time, I gave up and uninstalled the game. So no 100% completion for me this time, which as a completionist, is frustrating. 

So in conclusion, bugs galore. If you still haven’t purchased the game, I suggest waiting for a few more months so that they can iron out all the kinks. Else, be prepared to want to smash your computer lol. It’s disappointing, as it could have been a great game otherwise. Now, it’s just …. Good (?). Considering the fact that there is so much content and that I only paid RM200 for it, I’d still say it was worth the purchase. 

It’s obvious Ubisoft has tried to inject a breath of fresh air into the game by adding certain mechanics, but it still feels very safe and formulaic somehow. Now that I’ve played three in a row with a similar format, I don’t think I would enjoy it as much if they came out with another AC title that plays the same way. If the franchise is to continue thriving, perhaps it’s time for Ubisoft to relook at what the series will be like moving forward.

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Why Playing Kingdom Come: Deliverance Is a Video Game Trial By Fire

Video games are meant to be fun. They’re meant to be a place where you can escape from the real world; where you can be a cat-eyed mutant who kills monsters for a living (but dies when falling off an eight-foot-high wall), or an elf trying to stop spirits from crossing over into the physical realm and tearing the world apart. Maybe even an annoyingly perky tween who throws his balls at every wild creature to cross his path, then force them to battle against their own kind in bloody gym battles.

Video games are fun because they require a suspension of disbelief. 

But what happens when you have a video game that tries to ground itself in reality?

You get Kingdom Come: Deliverance. 

I’ve always been fascinated by medieval European history and its tales of brutality and war, of politics and glory and knighthood and chivalry. I’ve often wondered how I’d fare if I was born in that era, or if a time machine was invented and I could go back and observe how things were like (ala Timeline by Michael Crichton – although we all know how that turned out for the characters lol). So when independent Czech studio Warhorse released KC:D in 2018, I filed it as one of the games I’d play eventually (didn’t have a good enough setup at the time). A couple of months ago, I finally upgraded to a decent gaming laptop, and promptly bought the game which was on sale on Steam, for RM60+.

Like a fat kid settling down to a buffet after a day of fasting, I gleefully start off on what I thought would be an epic adventure. Instead, I found myself questioning my very worth as a gamer, as my Henry – the character players control in most of KC:D – gets brutally hacked to pieces for the seventh time in a row by bandits, while innocently travelling on the road. The worst part? Having to replay two hours worth of game play, because KC:D has one of the shittiest save systems in the history of gaming.

HENRY WHO?

You play Henry, son of the Skalitz blacksmith in the Kingdom of Bohemia. The realm is in chaos due to feuding between King Wenceslas (a useless layabout who only cares about women, drink and the hunt), and his half brother the Hungarian king Sigismund, who wants to bring ‘peace’ to the land by force and subjugation. Anyhoo, you don’t really give a shit because hey –  you’re just an apprentice blacksmith, your village is peaceful, and you’re going to the dance with the tavern wench later in the evening. Speaking of shit, one of the first objectives you can do in the village is throw a bunch of it at the newly whitewashed house of your neighbour, because he’s been talking shit about King Wenceslas, the rightful king. Your dad also asks you to help get some stuff so that he can forge a sword for the lord of the town, Sir Radzig Kobyla, which you will have to deliver once it’s done. Of course, you never get to do so because Cumans – savage mercenaries hired by Sigismund – arrive to pillage and kill. Your world crumbles into chaos. You attempt to run to the safety of the town’s fortified walls, only to watch your parents being brutally slaughtered, along with the rest of the villagers. Jumping on a horse, which you don’t really know how to ride well because you’re a peasant and not a knight, you flee towards Talmberg, the next big town, to warn them – all the while being pursued by the marauders. You survive the ordeal – but the face of the general who cut down your parents burns bright in your mind. You vow to avenge them and regain the sword your father made, which was stolen by bandits.

WELCOME TO BOHEMIA 

KC:D is set in 1403 Bohemia, aka what is now the Czech Republic. Most of the characters in the story are based on real people, like Wenceslas and Sigismund, as well as Radzig of Kobyla, Hans Capon, Hanush of Leipa and Divish of Talmberg – powerful lords whom your character will have to run errands for throughout the game, including (but not limited to) eliminating bandit camps, fetching stuff, and distracting the butcher by singing so that a lord can have his way with the daughter lol. The game prides itself in historical accuracy – the devs even consulted historians and architects on things like weaponry, clothing, combat techniques and architecture, to ensure they made the game as close to real life as possible. The result is breathtaking. The landscapes are beautiful and you can see the meticulous attention the devs have put into everything, from the swaying of trees to the detailing on buildings.

Fookin beautiful Czech scenery, pardon my French

Speaking of which, realism is a big thing in KC:D. Your character needs to sleep and eat or you’ll get tired and hungry, which will eventually lead to incapacitation (even death). You have to wash frequently and clean your clothes, because no one likes to talk to a dirty hobo, let alone trade with you. If you keep food in your pocket to snack on and forget about it, it will rot and cause food poisoning. NPCs go to sleep at night, so you can’t go barging into their homes to complete a quest – gotta wait for morning. Want to go the route of the antihero? You can even steal, pickpocket, lockpick chests and pick fights – but if you’re not smart about it and get caught by guards, you’ll have to answer to the law with a fine or jail sentence. People will remember it to and your reputation will suffer. And if you’re thinking that you can slog through this game’s enemies Rambo style.. well. You’ve got another thing coming.

THE GAME THAT KEEPS ON SHITTING (ON YOU) 

When they call you a peasant, they weren’t kidding. Other than having the most punchable face, Henry starts off with no skills or redeeming qualities whatsoever. Heck, you can’t even lift a sword properly, and will have to run away from most enemies until you’ve leveled up your swordplay a little. Even then, you’re useless against any battle which involves more than one enemy,  because the AI in the game is pretty intelligent and will 100% stab you in the back while you’re distracted with the bandit in front of you.

I learned this the hard way after trying to play the hero in the beginning of the game, bravely facing off against three Cumans who were attempting to rape the mill wench during the Skalitz invasion. “This is what heroes do!” I thought as my Henry jumped off the saddle, sword in hand. I promptly got cut into ribbons. I didn’t even have time to get back on the horse to flee. An hour later (which is probably more than what animal trainers use to train animals not to do something lol), I finally realised that being a hero does not pay off. Not when you’re a weak peasant armed with a stick and a lot of courage. Sorry, Theresa. flees (PS: I found out later you can actually whistle to distract them, without having to fight them. Whew) 

That “oh-shit” moment when they leave the girl you like alone but are going to murder you instead

After the invasion, you start off completely broke, with just the clothes on your back. You can’t even buy a decent knife, let alone a sword and shield to practice with – unless you go for training at the combat arena where they kick your ass over and over again. If you don’t want to die repeatedly from being ambushed by bandits, though, this is the only way that will give you at least a fighting chance (haha, get it?) to survive any unpleasant encounters you might have on the road. You will spend 10 or more real-life hours (at the very least!) honing your fighting skills before you can even think about facing any enemies, and not die while trying to run away. Even if you’re a proficient fighter, one slip of the hand – and your enemies might just hack you to pieces.

Swordplay isn’t the only thing you have to master. You can fight with bows, maces, axes and bludgeons, all of which have their own pros and cons. When the direct approach doesn’t work, stealth is often the best – but at level 1 you’re a bumbling idiot who can’t conceal himself properly so you often get caught and thrown in jail, or discovered by enemies and killed. So you have to spend time leveling that up as well, and getting dark coloured gear to avoid detection. Lockpicks break while you’re attempting to open a trunk? Killed / thrown in jail. Not good enough at pickpocketing? Killed/thrown in jail. Carry stolen goods around and don’t have a high enough rep to weasel your way out when stopped by guards? Killed/thrown in jail.

“Henry: fuck this shit I’m joining the monastery”

There are also plenty of other skills to hone which will help you in your quest to become Bohemia’s No.1 errand boy. Picking herbs helps you level up herbalism, so you can collect them to make potions for buffs (Trust me, you need every little advantage you can get in this game). But wait! You can’t brew potions without alchemy, and for that you need to learn how to read recipes. Henry also gains speech and intimidation points over time. The higher the points, the better equipped you are at dealing with situations that arise, and the higher the chance you can avoid any unpleasant fights. There’s also horsemanship from riding, and you get to train your trusty companion, Mutt, whom you can sic on enemies or teach to fetch and hunt.

If this doesn’t sound complicated / difficult enough, there’s also the absolutely shite save system. Unlike games where you can simply reload from the last (convenient) save point, KC:D deliberately makes it difficult for you to save – you can only do so by sleeping at an inn, one of your home bases, or by drinking a Saviour Schnapp (alcohol – which is expensive unless you know how to brew it – hence why it’s good to level up alchemy ASAP). There were times I wanted to rage quit because I could not save my game in between quests (inn was too far away, no Saviour Schnapps in bag, etc) – only to get killed while travelling between towns and losing like 1.5 hours of gameplay.  It’s as if the devs made this game solely to punish you for daring to be a serf in a medieval game where everything and everyone is out to kill you. Which is probably how it really was irl. If you weren’t a lord or royalty, you probably had to work from dawn to dusk just to get enough food on the table – and even then you’d still be held to the whims and demands of your liege lord.

THY KINGDOM COME

You’re probably thinking “this sounds like an awful lot of work and stress for a  game. I want to enjoy my downtime, not add to my anxiety.” And you’re 100% right. This is not a game where you can sit down to enjoy a couple of mindless hours of entertainment after work. KC:D requires dedication – and time – which many of us with busy lifestyles might not have. It needs grinding in game, in multiple disciplines, so you have to be prepared to spend at least a few real life hours improving your skills. Coupled with how weak you are initially (and sometimes well into the middle of the game if you have no patience like me and just want to get through the story), you’re probably going to experience a tonne of frustration – from not being able to complete quests and just dying. A lot.

But. 

If you stick with it, you WILL be rewarded. As much as I hated the combat and the save system (in the early stages), I stuck to the game because it is refreshing to play a medieval game based in real life – without the magic and dungeons and dragons lol. You get to learn history in a fun way, like why the royal brothers were feuding and how war affected the life of the citizenry, the types of armour and weapons they used in battle, how medieval towns were laid out, etc. Imagine if Malaysians had a game like this on Hang Tuah – like you had to go fight with Jebat or something – students would be so much more apt to remember history. And of course, the game is absolutely beautiful. 

Not so subtle intimidation once you’ve honed your badass skills, because why not

Henry and his punchable face (sorry, Tom McKay!) kind of grows on you as well. As frustrating as it was in the beginning, I started to enjoy leveling him up, and got real satisfaction from developing the character into a decent man-at-arms. The first time I was able to defeat three bandits on my own, I was ecstatic. It felt like the time and energy I had invested was finally paying off (Now if only I had the same zeal when it comes to real life lmaooo).

In short, KC:D is not a game for the faint-hearted, where you can hack and slash your way to glory. It is a game that requires skill and intelligence, not just in the way you complete quests (which can sometimes be resolved in multiple ways ie through violence or peaceful means), but also knowing which battles to fight, and when to fight them. In a funny twist of irony, this game teaches you that you need to work and put in the time in order to be good at something – exactly like real life. 

 

*Course, the game can’t be 100% realistic. There are some pretty funny things that can happen (including bugs). One of my favourites was raiding a bandit camp and murdering everyone, then sleeping in the camp surrounded by their corpses (after looting them, of course) because my character (and the player, yours truly) was just too drained after all that fighting. 

 

 

Review: The New Harry Potter Mobile Game – A Money-Grubbing Disappointment

I consider myself a massive Potterhead, so when I got wind that they were releasing a new mobile game called Harry Potter: A Hogwarts Mystery I was super psyched. The trailer looked pretty awesome as well:

…. they made it look more interesting than it actually is.

Gameplay-wise, at least.

Summary: 

You play a 1st year starting out at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The events unfold somewhere between the fall of Voldemort and Harry Potter attending school (yeah, you don’t actually meet Harry and his friends – but the school teachers are all there, as are a few main characters in the books like Nymphadora Tonks and Bill Weasley).

Your character carries baggage upon arriving, as the story goes that you are searching for your missing brother, whom everyone says went mad looking for the Cursed Vaults. Determined to find out the truth whilst proving your worth, you set out on your very own Hogwarts adventure…

So this is me.. or my alter ego, ‘Lynx Athena’. Yeahhhhh I would have named myself that irl if I could lol judge me all you want. 😀

I’ve always felt that if I were to go to Hogwarts for real, I’d be a Ravenclaw, but for some reason the Sorting Hat on Pottermore put me into Gryffindor (twice, on two accounts) so I wanted to stay true to that.

The game allows you to choose your own house… which took away the whole sorting hat ‘suspense’. Character appearance customisations are limited until later in the game.

Now here comes the disappointing part: gameplay. 

I was expecting a more open, MMORPG experience where you can walk around and explore Hogwarts. Instead, we get a very linear gameplay, where you basically complete a ‘story’ by … wait for it…. tapping. Like one of those Kim K games. And waiting for energy to fill. Which requires no skill whatsoever.

Major. Downer. 

Granted, some of the stories and events do give you choices to pick from which will grant you attributes (Courage, Empathy, Knowledge) which will further give you better choices in future events, but then comes the next infuriating part – the wait itself.

Unlike games where you can watch ads to refill your energy, HP: AHM has NONE. You’re basically forced to buy gems, or wait a really, really, really long time. The gems are not in small amounts either eg 55 gems for 10 energy wtf.

Also, when you’re doing a major story, you’re not allowed to ‘leave’ the event to go explore or do other stuff – you’re basically FORCED to wait it out. WHAT?

The story itself is pretty interesting, but having to wait for so long takes away from the immersion. Its obvious the developers are forcing players to buy energy – it’s either that or progress the story by playing for 10 minutes and waiting 8 hours to complete an entire event. I also really hated the fact that after waiting for the energy to fill, you also have to WAIT BETWEEN EVENTS WTF. As I’m writing this, I have to wait three hours in order for the next event to be available. So a full energy bar is wasted, coz I don’t have anything else that I can do during this waiting time. They should call it Harry Potter: A Waiting Game. 

That being said, the game’s few redeeming qualities, including a beautiful design that remains true to the movies. I feel like players will get bored of this quickly though. There is only so much detail you can look at before you get bored and uninstall this forever.

As of now, I’m keeping the game because I’m curious to know the story, but with it panning out at a snail’s pace, I doubt I’ll have it around for long. Which is really disappointing, seeing that I was so excited as to how they finally have some new Hogwarts material after so many years. I understand it’s free, but it would have been nice if the app wasn’t such a blatant money grubbing attempt on Harry Potter fans.

Overall: 2/5 – purely from the story and graphics. I have no nice things to say about the gameplay, other than the ‘story’ part where they give you choices to pick.