Path of Exile: Free to Play MMO Action RPG

#1

Developers: Grinding Gears Games

Released: October 23, 2013

Platform: Steam

Price: Free to Play

Rated: N/A

Contributed By: Matthew Wilson

Welcome to free Diablo! Path of Exile is an action RPG developed by Grinding Gears Games that will interest anyone who likes the classic dungeon crawler and the genre’s inherent repeated mouse clicking. This game is almost a Diablo clone, deviating only slightly from its predecessor.

Without a single player campaign option, the game is entirely multiplayer.  As such, it supports a partying systems that allow players to conquer monsters and complete dungeons together.  If you want to play Diablo and don’t have the money, this is your game.

#2

While the world has plenty of smaller story lines, the main plot centers around you being exiled to an island filled with others who have met a similar fate. While you are being transported to the island, your boat crashes and you wash up on the shore as the only survivor.

You are immediately thrown into combat and a short tutorial mission begins. Unfortunately, the beginning missions are slow.  I felt as though I had to trudge my way through the early stages of the game to reach a point where I felt free.

Choosing a class in Path of Exile simply serves as a starting point, after which there are virtually no limits on what direction you take your character. Like any RPG, your character progresses to gain new skills, but this game allows you to customize your abilities like no other.

The skill tree, containing an amazing 1325 skills to chose from,  is an overwhelming web of buffs and abilities that in no way limit you by character class. No other game offers the same level of skill customization as Path of Exile, making it one of the game’s main selling points.

As impressive as the skill system is, my favorite aspect of RPGs is not an option: character customization. Fortunately, the lack of character customization is a minimal downside as such features are a luxury.

#3

Graphically Path of Exile is average, but the game is free to play and almost two years old. Despite the title’s free to play packaging, the game features impressive voice acting, level design, monsters and boss battles. Simply put though, the game doesn’stand out in any particular way from other action RPGs aside from its expansive skill tree.

The story was bland, somewhat unoriginal and cliche. “blah blah monsters… blah blah blah war, death, violence…” you get the point.  And with the mundane story line came lackluster questing.

There’s not much to say about the questing system, it’s the same as every other classic dungeon run: kill so many monsters or retrieve an item. Nothing original was put into the questing system to help the dull monotony of your average grindy linear quests, an attribute that appropriately describes much of the game.

#4

Path of Exile’s combat system was equally medicore.  It involves an extreme amount of clicking and hotbar abilities. Grinding Gear Games did try to prevent exessive clicking by allowing players to click and hold on a single target instead of mashing your mouse incestantly, but even with this tactic the combat system felt like a chore.

 Furthermore, early in the game I wasn’t impressed by the weight of the attacks, which felt positively dainty. While it improved slightly as the game progressed, it never got to the point where I felt satisfied. Meanwhile I was looking forward to an impressive loot system, but instead Path of Exile’s only offers simple weapon types with a few modifiers that boost stats and not much else.

Thankfully, Path of Exile’s business model manages to avoid some of the controversy associated with pay-to-win microtransactions commonly seen in free-to-play titles. The market has been spammed with free to play games that can’t keep up with the cost of production and have to default to requiring players to fund the game using a pay-to-win system. In Path of Exile you’ll in no way  be forced into a position where you must use real money if you don’t want to. This game possesses one of the fairest business models for a free to play, and seriously deserves credit for it.

#5

This game is not for me, I’m just not looking for what it has to offer. If you want a solid free action RPG, well this game is for you. You can spend countless hours on this game at absolutely no expense. While the game doesn’t stand out from other titles in the genre, it still manages to  run with the best of them.

Path of Exile is definitely one of the better action RPGs out there and I highly recommend this game to anyone interested in the genre. Furthermore if you plan to play with friends the game delivers a decent party system, and features one of the best microtransaction systems that I have seen.

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13 Reasons Why Your D&D Setting Sucks

This setting's dad can beat up your setting's dad.

This setting’s dad can beat up your setting’s dad.

If you’re a Dungeon Master who’s tired of killing your players with boredom or your friends are deserting you for a DM with better worldbuilding skills you’ve come to the right place. I have here for your viewing pleasure a multi-part post of some common problems with D&D settings.Today we’ll talk about the common problems found in D&D towns and cities, why they’re problems and what you can do fix them. Think you’re ready for this?

Strap on your battlegear, grab your weapons, grit your teeth, and put your warface on. We’re going to learn!

13 Reasons Why Your D&D Setting Sucks

  1. You Didn’t Do Any Research

internet-replacing-traditional-research

You think just because this is fantasy you don’t have to do research? By trying to make everything up you’ve lost all sense of validity in your setting. Nothing about it feels real. Even in a completely made up world, full of made up stuff you still need those little bits of reality to give it substance.

If you’d bothered to Google it, you’d know that swords aren’t made that way, that there were actually food preservation methods and that a crossbow doesn’t fire off bolts like a machine gun. Instead you’ve thrust your players into a world that has no backbone to it, it’s just floating globby translucent jellyfish fantasy.

Do your research, stop assuming you know stuff.

  1. You Don’t Understand How Awful Medieval Cities Were

    Belle_Singing
    Stop making your cities these medieval cultural utopias complete with mary singing men and women spending their days at the tavern. Medieval Communes, especially larger ones, were absolutely disgusting. Cities were horrifically overcroweded, had rampant disease and had families who were lucky to have a hard moldy piece of bread to eat let alone a huge succulent boar.

    These cities were rampant with air and water pollution to the point where people were literally living in their own filth and choking with the ever-present threat of death. Even if fantasy was at one time a romanticized version of medieval times, its your duty as a DM to make your cities as shitty as possible, both literally and metaphorically.

  1. All the Towns and Cities are the Same but with Different Names

I mean at least this town has a car.

I mean at least this town has a car.

Every city your party passes through should feel different. Maybe it’s similar in certain ways, maybe the layout borrows from one another but it should feel unique from all the others. Philadelphia looks and feels like a completely different city than Los Angeles. Even small towns have their own distinct nature that can’t be replicated. Put some thought into each town they pass through, or each city they enter. Every city should have a personality and a life pulse all its own. Using the same damn town and pasting different names over it is not acceptable.

  1. It Feels Like There are Only Six People in your Massive City

17th Century London. Population: 5

17th Century London. Population: 5

Your party enters what you’re calling a massive city, hell it might even be the kingdom’s capital. Even in medieval times these cities could house fifty, a hundred… even two hundred thousand people. I should feel claustrophobic from all the overpopulation. I should feel like there’s a hundred thousand people in this massive city not just the six that are somewhat relevant to the story.

A massive city is more than just the innkeeper, a blacksmith, a butcher, and the guy who works the docks. So please, take some time to populate your city otherwise stick to the small deserted towns on the outskirts of the kingdom and leave the urban areas to people who can plan it better.

  1. There are Only Inkeepers, Blacksmiths, Butchers and Bakers in your City

treadmillcrane

For added authenticity townspeople should be bad at ladders

And while your at it, populate it with some variety will ya. A bustling city is bound to have more than just those four professions, otherwise the entire place would crumble. Now these might be the only ones that are immediately relevant to the game but I’d better get the sense that your fantasy medieval city has jewelers, masons, ropemakers, fishmongers, woodcarvers, booksellers etc. etc.

And if you really wanted to go the extra mile you’d do some research into these professions during that time period. Learn how shoes were made, what jobs were done by the working class and what jobs were learned professions. Put yourself in the times, they didn’t know what you know and industries were often built around ignorance. Keep that in mind as you look through this list of medieval professions.

  1. Person-Who-Knows-Thing-That-The-Party-Needs-to-Know is Always Conveniently at the Tavern Whenever the Party Visits

STOP BEING SO HELPFUL CLYDE!

STOP BEING SO HELPFUL CLYDE!

Need to locate a gem that’s been lost for thousands of years? There’s a guy at the Tavern who has a map to it. Is there an ancient dragon guarded by a mystical spell? There’s a guy at the Tavern who can make a weapon that will destroy the spell. Need an ancient tome that no mortal has ever lied eyes on? There’s a guy at the Tavern who has a copy of it. Need directions to a mad wizard’s cave? There’s a guy at the Tavern who knows the way there. Foot rub? Guy at the Tavern. Taxes? Guy at the Tavern. Marital problems? Guy at the Tavern.

Stop it. Stop conveniently placing NPCs that have exactly what the party needs. Leave convenience to the grocery stores and give your players a real challenge.

  1. Everyone is a Template

cardboard

You know the drill. The party goes to talk to “The Innkeeper” or they happen upon “The Blacksmith”. Seriously, they’re people too. The Innkeeper is more than just their job and I’m sure they’re offended by being called “The Innkeeper”. These are people who have unique interests, motivations, passions and personalities.

Trying to use template archetypes in place of real character development is just lazy. Want a better setting? Put some thought into every NPC the party comes across, no two blacksmiths are alike. Learn to appreciate the subtle differences and nuances that make your NPCs unique from all the others.

  1. Your Small Towns and Massive Cities Function Exactly the Same

Nuremberg_chronicles_-_Nuremberga

If you have a massive city it should feel fundamentally different than if the party is passing through a small town. People are going to behave different, layout is going to be different, available technology, protection, resources, and knowledge is going to be different. Pay attention to where you’re taking your party. If your million person floating elven city feels exactly the same as the five person town in the middle of WhoTheHellKnowsWhere then there’s some problems.

  1. Everybody Sounds like an NPC

Some of us lucky enough to have a writing department at our disposal

Some of us are lucky enough to have a writing department at our disposal.

I get it, dialogue is hard. Improvised dialogue is extra hard. Seriously, though please put some more effort into how your NPCs sound. If they sound canned, rehearsed or pretty much like a group of first graders doing a play about thanksgiving then there’s just all kind of problems here. Also, stop being so blatantly obvious about the clues you give your party. Try to be a bit more natural with your speech.

  1. Your Infrastructure Makes No Sense

p1010024

This is a way more complex topic than I want to get into for this article but basically there should be some logic to the facilities that help run your towns and cities. How does the town get water? How do they grow crops? Basically how in the world does the city survive given the technology available to them? Speaking of which…

  1. Your Technology is Inconsistent

water

By now you should realize that fantasy isn’t completely devoid of reality. Technology is a common problem especially with games that try to blur the line of different era’s technology. That saying, “pfft it’s fantasy and there’s magic I don’t need to explain anything” is childish and lazy on your part.

Think about how the introduction of different technologies completely change our way of life and how we’ve tended to adapt around them. Technological innovation has complex, and far reaching consequences. Think about that before you start mixing technology from completely different eras.

  1. You Ignored How Climate and Geography Influence Industry

dead-crops

Since most D&D settings take place in a pseudo-medieval era it makes sense that your town or city is going to be limited to their locations geography and climate. If your climate is mountainous and frigid year-round your party isn’t going to be trying to stop the rampant strawberry thief. (Unless they’re magial berries or this is an especially awful strawberry thief in which case you should probably just pity him and at least pretend to try).

If I’m entering a small town nestled in midst of a massive forest I shouldn’t be seeing a fish Mongerer trying to sell me fish that only survive in the ocean. Chances are if a guy in the middle of the forest is trying to sell you great white shark meat he’s a con artist, has rancid great white shark meat or is magic. Your city’s geography and climate are going to influence what industries are going to flourish there, keep that in mind.

13. You Forgot that Europe Wasn’t The Only Place in the World 

GEO_Globe

There are soooo many eurocentric fantasy settings out there and D&D is no exception. Everyone who is even remotely aware of the fantasy genre has seen, read, heard, written or played in a fantasy setting that was based heavily off of medieval europe. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) This may come as a shock to you but there are other places in the world. Learn history. Learn about the people, the lands, the changes and the mindsets that shaped different time periods and different places. Then gobble them up for inspiration.

When was the last time you played a D&D game where the setting was influenced by the Yuan empire? the Umayyad Caliphate? the early Ottoman Empire? the Mongol Empire? Hell you could even be especially innovative and draw inspiration for your setting from your own hometown. I’m just saying there are more inspirations for a setting than 12th century Europe. Expand your horizons goddammit.

So now you know some things that will make your D&D towns and cities really click with players. Your cities will have more substance to them, more authenticity and the fantastical aspects in turn will feel that much more fantastic because they’re grounded in a slightly more logical, and your game now has a sophisticated aspect to it. Go ahead and give these a try for your next D&D game and see if the setting doesn’t come alive for you.

Stasis: A Sci-Fi Horror Adventure

Stasis_Title

Developers: The Brotherhood

Released: August 31, 2015

Platform: Steam

Price: $24.99

Rated: M

Contributed by: Matthew Wilson

Stasis is a relatively new title from indie game developers, The Brotherhood.  A breath of fresh air in the horror genre, Stasis has done well for itself  thanks to its unique use of isometric point-and-click gameplay.  At first I had doubts as to the compatibility of a horror adventure with isometric visuals, but Stasis delivered and delivered big. The game absolutely blew me away with its original storyline and captivating visuals. 

The Story

The premise of the game is that you have awoken in a laboratory as John Maracheck. You have no idea where you are and the spaceship is completely abandoned. The ship is ruined; equipment is broken, tables have been overturned, and streaks of blood cover the floors and walls. As you stumble through the ship in search of a way to escape to return to your wife and daughter, you’ll find that something unusual happened on the ship.

Stasis_1

The storyline truly is Stasis’ best feature. The game does an absolutely amazing job of bringing immersion to the player. As you explore the ship you’ll find many journal entries and clues as to the history of the ship and what caused the ravage. If you like to read I highly recommend this game, as you will find yourself with a lot of content.  The game is riddled with clues hidden among the writings you come across, so they’re definitely worth the read.

The Good Stuff

 Although I doubted the horror elements of the game at first, it didn’t take long before I was terrified, screaming and leaving my computer  to calm down. The amazing visuals add to the horror experience as the game’s atmosphere has you on guard at all times. Stasis is most assuredly a horror game, so if you’re a fan of the genre this is a must have.

Disregarding horror in relation to graphics, the graphics still do the game justice. The lighting, the colors and the environment make for a very pleasing game to look at. It is incredible how much attention to detail the developers put into Stasis. Also, I have to give credit to the nice voice acting that accompanies you throughout the game. The art of the game is true excellence.

Gameplay

Stasis_2

The game’s controls should be familiar to those who played other isometric games such as Baldur’s Gate. The only difference is that the game is completely mouse driven, including the menu. The entire game is point-and-click with a helpful HUD that allows the player to identify the object they are clicking on or mousing over. However, this didn’t  always allow for smooth gameplay. 

 The nature of  most point-and-clicks is to solve puzzles, and Stasis is no different. This requires the player to activate certain things in a certain order, use a specific tool on another object… so on and so forth. However, the game’s lack of assistance in this area can be frustrating

The Not Good Stuff

It could be that I’m simply bad at point-and-click games, but annoyance turned to frustration as I scoured the environment for a clue or item for hours without any help from the game. This is where one of the bigger problems with the game’s  HUD comes into play. The game will only tell the player when he or she has their mouse over an object. As with most point-and-clicks,  objects can be hidden and can be very small with the intention of making them difficult to find. The isometric nature of the game makes this even more difficult. A system that helps reveal objects would have been greatly appreciated.

Another problem with Stasis, was that the game’s lack of help sometimes completely halted progress. While the game has a set amount of responses when solving a puzzle, these messages simply state that whatever you are trying to do is incorrect.  

What it Needs

One suggestion I had to solve this could be unique dialogues for each situation that suggest a correct tool, or  action. Additionally, a timed dialogue could appear if you’re in an area for a prolonged amount of time without progress. I’m definitely not asking for answers,  but helpful hints can prevent frustration when a player is stumped.  Again I may not be very good at games like these, but those who can empathize with me may experience similar issues.

The Final Verdict 

Stasis_3

Despite the difficulty of the puzzle mechanics in the game, Stasis is a game that stands out among others. It has solid graphics, a great storyline, and for horror fans, a good amount of fear inducing elements. The game is not demanding on graphics or processing, so almost any machine can run this game no problem. The price is fair for the average gameplay length of 10-12 hours. I would recommend this game to anyone looking for a single player game that will give them hours of excitement.

D&D Acting: A 12 Step Guide to a Better Game Night

Often times Dungeons and Dragons sessions can feel stale and boring if players don’t feel engaged with the story. Without some kind of player-story investment the game loses the effect of its more profound moments. As a DM you may have spent weeks planning out a final epic battle between the players and an ancient black dragon but if the players don’t become invested in the story, killing the dragon might produce little more than a “whelp… that happened.” While of course some of this burden falls on the DM’s ability to create an engaging, interactive world for his players in the first place, often times players can improve a session simply by improving their role-playing or more to the point their acting skills.

This doesn’t mean that players are required to take the game more seriously or that the game can no longer be fun or comedic, it simply means that players with better acting skills can submerge themselves into the story for a more rewarding playing experience. Think about your last D&D session. Did it feel like you were going on an adventure? Or did it feel like you were sitting around a kitchen table rolling dice without any real connection to what those rolls meant?

Improving your acting skills will help the role-playing (read:  the collaborative storytelling part) of the game feel much much better. As a DM you’ll appreciate your players engaging in the world you spent so much time creating and it’s much easier to lead a story if you feel like a player is involved and as a player you’ll reap the benefits of playing in a game you actually give a shit about.

Just like anything though, improving your acting skills may take some time. It’s not about getting it right or giving an Oscar winning performance every Thursday it’s more about dipping your toes and testing out the waters. So if you’re looking to have a more engaging and rewarding Dungeons & Dragons experience I present to you 12 starter tips to improve your acting skills:
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The Colors of Magic the Gathering as I See Them

mtg-mana

White: Let’s not have anything happen this game

Blue: No… No… No… You want to play that? No.

Black: I’m going to sacrifice everything. What? Yes I know it’s your cat. I’m sacrificing it to draw 3 cards

Red: 1 Damage!!! 3 Damage!!  10 Damage!!! PASS TURN! ARE YOU DONE YET?

Green: Look at how big my creatures are! Oh you killed it… Whelp good game

Blue White: Just… stop trying to play things. Why aren’t you enjoying me putting cards down?

White Black: I go up, you go down teehehe

White Red: 3 DAMAGE!! SWINGING FOR 15!! STOP TRYING TO MAKE THINGS HAPPEN!! PASS TURN!!! ARE YOU DONE YET?

White Green: Just sit there quietly while I attack you

Blue Black: Discard. Dies. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Blue Red: You just wait until I have 5 more cards to pull off a 15 card combo to deal 6 damage to you!

Blue Green: Just so long as you don’t play anything nothing can stop me!

Black Red: THAT’S DEAD!!! THAT’S DEAD!!! I ATTACK!! YOU’RE DEAD!!!!! …oh you aren’t dead? You’re sure?

Black Green: Oh you kill that? I bring it back? You kill it again? I bring it back? Don’t even bother trying to kill my creatures

Red Green: My creatures are absurdly large, oh is it only turn 4?

White Blue Black:  No. Just no. You may not play anything. You may not put lands down. You may not have cards in your hand. You may not draw or shuffle. Sit there quietly and watch me win

White Blue Red: I made this deck… FOR AMERICA

Blue White Green: Look how large my creatures are. What? No you’re not allowed to do anything. Just… just sit back and appreciate how large my creatures are

Blue Black Red: It all dies. Welcome to hell. Don’t you dare enjoy yourself

Blue Black Green: That thing you like? That thing you love? It’s no more. Now that you don’t have anything to distract you. Look at how big my creatures are!

Black Red Green: It feasts. It Grows. All Become Death

Black Red White: Destruction!! Complete and Total Destruction!!

Red Green White: Stop playing things, my creatures are large enough for both of us.

Red Green Blue: Noo, don’t take away my large friends. They wouldn’t hurt anybody no way no how. Also, don’t play anything.

Black Green White: I will never die. It’ll just keep coming back over and over again

Bonus: The Magic the Gathering Color Wheel (that is actually a pentagon)! How to Tell Who is Friends and Who is Not

LogoMTG

Take a look at the color wheel found above. In the center you’ll the five colors of magic in a pentagon shape. At the top is white and then moving clockwise we have blue, black, red, and finally green. The position of each of these colors tells us about their relationship to the other colors. If colors are adjacent, they are allied with each other and share symbolic meaning with one another.

For example white is good friends with blue and green. Blue is friends with white and black. Red is good pals with black and green. However if drawing a line between the two colors at that line passes through the inside of the pentagon those colors are sworn enemies and will continue bickering even if you threaten to turn this car around.

To see this more clearly, imagine a line being drawn being black and green. Notice how the line passes through the inside of the pentagon. With that we know that black and green are “enemy” colors.  Conversely if you draw a line between two of the colors and the line stays on the out edge then those colors are allied.

Sounds simple enough right? What about three colors? What if we were to draw a line from white to green and then over to black? The line from white to green did not pass through the inner shape so they are allied. However, the line from green to black passed through the center shape and we know that those are enemy colors. Similarly the line from black to white also passes through the inner shape and so those are also enemy colors.

In the case of a green, white, black we have a weak alliance with only one pair of allied colors and two pairs of enemy colors. However if we were to look at a white blue black color combination we would see that there are two allied pairs and only one enemy pair making this a strong alliance.

Still haven’t had enough? In three color groupings of that do not pass through the shape the center color is the key color and the two on the wings are the supporting color. This central color is allied with both colors adjacent to it but the cards on the wings are enemies. Think of the central color as the mediator between the two enemy colors. It makes sure they get along or at least don’t tear each other’s faces off. However in the case of three color combinations the allied colors share the central role while the enemy color serves as a reluctant support, maybe the allied colors kidnap its family and is threatening to kill them if he doesn’t cooperate.

There’s a lot more to the Magic the Gathering Color Wheel than just that obviously but understanding these basic concepts is… well honestly it’s pretty much useless but it’s at least a fairly interesting thing to know. I haven’t even started on the color’s interactions with one another in symbolic terms for instance. Maybe that will be the topic of a future instalment of Game Nonsense.

Color_Wheel