Friday, 12 March 2010


Monday, 8 March 2010

Next Wave Of WoW Figures On The Way

DC Direct's fine line of World of Warcraft figures continues this fall with another five characters getting the toy sculpt treatment. Series 7 includes the human paladin Judge Malthred, the orc (technically half-orc) rogue Garona, and the worgen spy Garm Whitefang. Series 3 of the premium set expands as well to add in orc warrior Garrosh Hellscream and troll hunter Taz'dingo. All five figures are set for release on October 27th of this year. Listings for all the new characters can be seen at DC Direct's website.
If you can't wait to nail down your own personal set, the figures are already available for preorder over at The regular figures are listed for 20.99, and each of the premium figures runs $29.99.

Do you have any DC Direct figures in your collection? Which of these new figures is the coolest?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

D&D Player's Handbook 3 Early Review

It’s been nearly two years since the launch of the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and the game continues to grow. We’ve got the details on the biggest expansion to the game this year.

Wizards of the Coast has done a stellar job steadily advancing and growing its latest edition of D&D. Two major campaign settings, dramatic expansions to the existing character options, and strong new rule systems have all strengthened the lean, streamlined system that exists at the game’s core, even while offering a wealth of new options for both players and DMs. The new Player’s Handbook 3, releasing on March 16th, continues the trend, with a host of great new options, dramatically expanding the existing roster of classes and races, and adding some intriguing new alternatives to the rest of the game. I’ve read through the final book, and am stoked about the possibilities.

If the core of the new PHB3 is the section detailing six new classes, then the featured stars of that chapter are the long-awaited psionic characters. Wizards has done a fine job carrying over some familiar elements of earlier editions with the psionic classes, including everything from individual power names (far hand, mind thrust, intellect fortress) to the inclusion of power points and augmentation.

The psionic power source’s titular class, the psion, is a solid and well-balanced controller that can specialize in either telekinetic or telepathic abilities. Psions have no encounter powers, but instead can augment any of their at-will disciplines with power points to beef up the effects. It’s a neat variation on the established character formula, and it should offer players a chance to flex their approach to varied scenarios and enemies.

The ardent is a sort of psionic counterpoint to the clinical might of the psion. A leader unit that uses the same augmentation formula as the psion, the ardent’s powers flow from an emotional core – inflicting pain and anger on enemies, and bolstering allies with encouragement and euphoric feelings.

The battleminds are front-line defenders, wreathed in heavy armor and powerful weaponry, but with potent mental abilities that let them stand up to heavy assault and quickly navigate the field.

Of the three, the psion is certainly my personal favorite upon first glance, both because of its iconic place in the game and the breadth of its battlefield abilities. I’ll be interested to see if the battlemind and the ardent can carve out an identity of their own – after my initial reading, it’s hard for me to nail down exactly how they distinguish themselves.

The last psionic class handles a good bit differently from the others, but I have little doubt that it’ll be the most popular addition to the game to come out of this handbook. The monk makes a triumphant return to D&D, and brings some extremely fun class features that should delight players that have been waiting for the meditative ascetic to arrive. The monk maintains unarmed superiority on the field, but can alternatively adopt a small selection of weapons without hurting effectiveness – a legacy issue for the class that seems to have been largely resolved this time around. Now, every power can utilize either unarmed attacks or weapons, at the player’s discretion. Beyond their weapons, monks can channel their psionic energy into a “ki focus,” such as a wooden practice sword or a set of prayer beads, and thereby add that item’s bonuses to attacks and damage. My favorite feature of the class is the “full discipline” powers. These abilities combine a unique move action with a particular attack. One high-level move, “Heart-Sundering Strike,” sends you hurtling across the field at an increased movement rate – you strike any one opponent along the way with a lethal touch that dominates him. These movement/attack combinations have a lot of potential for standout moments during combat.

Though psionics will steal the spotlight this time around, I think my favorite new class in the book is the runepriest, a new divine leader with some dramatically different mechanics from the cleric, its conceptual sister class. Harnessing ancient runic languages of the gods, the runepriest acts as both a healer and front-line melee warrior. What I love about the class is the concept of rune states. With nearly every power you enact, you choose which state you enter into, destruction or protection. In every case, this choice alters the nature of how the power unfolds. In effect, it’s almost like doubling your number of powers. Stack on a particularly cool concept behind the class, and the runepriest is a standout addition to the game.

I’ve had a hard time grasping the final new class in the set. The seeker is a new primal controller that combines the elements of mysticism and hunter. Focused on ranged combat, the seeker’s thrown weapons and arrows transform into primal spirits and fierce natural forces on the way to the target. It’s a cool idea, but it’s hard to draw a clear line that separates the class from the martial ranger. I’ll be interested to see if the class grows on me after I see it in actual play.

While the bulk of the Player’s Handbook 3 is devoted to these new classes (about half of the overall page count), those are by no means the only new additions. Four new races premier as well. The extra-planar githzerai are conceptually and mechanically built to be monks, but they still have plenty of flexibility if you wanted to take them a different direction. Minotaurs fulfill the requisite big and beefy role this time around; their Goring Charge racial power is simple but fun, and the race has a cool fascination with labyrinths that tie them back down to their roots in Greek mythology. Shardminds are a brand new creation, and a cool one at that. They are crystalline beings animated by concentrated psionic energy. In fact, their racial power lets them break apart into a storm of shards to confuse foes before reforming nearby. Comparisons to the equally cool warforged of the Eberron settings are to be expected, but I personally really like the shardmind. The race has just the touch of otherworldly strangeness needed to match up with the psionic focus of the book. The wilden round out the new racial options. Taking a cue from a little-known 3rd edition race called the killoren, the wilden are a plant-based species with deep natural ties. An interesting hive mind mentality governs the race – they don’t recognize individuality among themselves, and refer to themselves as “we” rather than “I.” Mechanically, they’re the most compelling of the new races, since they get to choose between three drastically different racial powers at the beginning of every day.

Scattered throughout the remainder of the book are a fine selection of new paragon paths, epic destinies, feats, and equipment (including the new superior implements). However, two distinct rules additions stand out. The first is the concept of hybrid characters; some will undoubtedly claim that this is Wizards’ attempt to “fix” multiclassing in 4th edition, but this new book goes to great pains to point out the differences and advantages of each system. Essentially, the new hybrid system lets you adopt two distinct and equally important classes from the very beginning of play, sacrificing focus for flexibility. Multiclass characters, meanwhile, take a long time to integrate the second class, but keep your character strong in his or her core role in the party. Regardless of these distinctions, this new hybrid system is certainly easier to understand. Basically, you take half of one class, half of another, and jam them together. Wisely, Wizards of the Coast has included “suggested combinations” with each hybrid entry, so that you don’t end up with some totally gimped character that sounded cool in concept, but can’t tie his shoes once the fighting starts. It ends up being a less mechanically sound system than the original multiclass system in the first 4th edition Player’s Handbook, but it certainly should give players what they’ve been asking for – an easy to understand combination of two classes. Still, it would be hard to recommend the hybrid system to a beginning player – even with its ease of use, it’s too easy to screw up your build.

The last new addition that really caught my eye is skill powers. At any level that a character would be allowed a new utility power, they can instead take a skill power. However, you must be trained in the designated skill. For instance, playing a rogue, you may find that your DM has a propensity for throwing locked doors at you during high stress encounters. Being trained in thievery, you might decide to pick up “Lock Tap” at 2nd level, which would let you complete an unlock attempt with only a minor action. I love the flexibility this brings to the overall skill system. I also like the way it fleshes out non-combat encounters, a small peeve I had in the early days of this new edition.

For anyone who has been following the line of new books for the D&D game, it should come as no surprise that the production values, art, and presentation of the Player’s Handbook 3 are top notch. The writing and descriptions remain strong, clear, and concise, while layout is helpful and easy to understand. I love the way 4th edition color codes different powers, and not for the first time, I found myself wishing that Wizards would extend this approach to other elements in their books. That said, the book is well organized and accessible.

This is the first time I’ve felt like psionics were both cool (which has never been a problem) and functionally balanced (perpetually a problem). And though I didn’t go into it much, the book also has a nice intro that introduces the concept of psionics into the mythology of the game, and helps to provide context for inserting the concept into an existing campaign. If the options on display in this year’s big expansion seem a little complicated, it’s because they are. The new classes, races, hybrid options, and nearly everything else in the book are geared to a slightly more experienced player who wants to have more options during play. Because of that, I can’t label the book as a must-have for every player out there. But if you’ve dug into 4th edition and you’re ready to broaden the scope of your characters and game, it’s hard to complain about this latest expansion to the core game. Plus, let me tell you, you’re going to want this book in hand when the painfully awesome Dark Sun campaign setting re-releases this summer.

Replay: Turok

We always check our comments to see what games you'd like to see featured in Replay, and this week's selection is one that's been requested many times. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was released on February 28th of 1997, and was met with critical and commercial success. At this early point in the Nintendo 64's life, games were scarce and shooters even moreso. The 64-bit FPS crown was handed over to Goldeneye later that year, but many gamers still have fond memories of raptor murder and awkward platforming. Take a look at the newest edition of Replay below to see how Turok has stood the test of time.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Space Ark Hands-On

How do you save a planetary system from a rampaging black hole? By collecting crystals and fruit, naturally.

With its obvious nods to Arkanoid, the upcoming Space Ark--from UK developer Strawdog Software-- wears its influences on its sleeve. There's definite brick-breaking homage here--albeit wrapped around a cutesy story starring animal heroes known as arkonauts and their quest to repair a series of planets ripped apart by a roving black hole. In fact, with its anthropomorphic characters, abundant fruit bonuses, and loopy, colorful aesthetic, Space Ark owes just as much to early Japanese arcade games as it does anything else. Strawdog Software recently came by GameSpot HQ to give us a first look at the game, which is due for release this spring.

Strawdog Studios' Dan Marchant takes us through Space Ark.

The basics of Space Ark are simple: You bounce your arkonaut on a bounce pad and look to collect crystals of various colors that are suspended midair. Collecting crystals will earn you points and collecting more than three crystals at once will earn you combos, a certain number of which you will need to collect in order to finish a level. At first, that number is relatively low; as you progress through levels that become more complex in design, the number of crystal combos you'll need to collect will increase as well. You can also collect fruit that will give you a multiplier to your score on each level--certain fruits are worth more than others and these point multipliers become crucial to your success.

Each level you play has a different layout of crystals, fruits, and other objects that can affect your actions on the level. For example, jumping onto a switch might bring forward a layer of crystals that were previously hidden. A series of treadmills will help you reach higher spots on a level while fans suspended midair will push you in the direction they are blowing. There are also clouds that you can use to leap off of to reach higher areas. Finally, there are the occasional power-ups you can grab that will change the properties of your bounce pad. For example, a machine gun will let you quickly grab crystals and fruits simply by shooting with the right trigger. There's also a shield that will prevent your arkonaut from dying should he or she hit the ground (rather than your bounce pad).

There are several modes to choose from in Space Ark--the main mission mode is where you'll start off, playing through each of the five worlds that comprise multiple levels with different arkonauts. Playing through the mission mode will unlock additional modes, including Time Trial, where the goal is to get through a series of levels as quickly as possible. Survival mode gives you a certain amount of time to exit a level before it's game over, and picking up a certain number of combos will add time to what you have left.

Perhaps the best part of Space Ark is the game's split-screen local multiplayer. Here, two people play on the same level, fighting to collect as many crystals, combos, and fruits as possible. It sounds simple enough, but there are some dirty tricks you can play on one another. For example, should a player miss his or her arkonaut and hit the ground, all of his or her combos will be on the ground and ripe for stealing. You'll earn bonus points for exiting a level first or for collecting all items on the level. But as a result, it's not always clear who will win a level until the final point score screen tallies up the results of all the multipliers and bonuses.

As an Xbox Live exclusive, Space Ark will let you play either with the arkonauts or with your Xbox Live avatar. The game will have more than 140 levels to play through and will be available this spring on Xbox Live Arcade. The game's price has yet to be announced.