Monday, July 30, 2012

The Classes of Valkyria Chronicles

I've been replaying Valkyria Chronicles lately.  I bought the EX Hard DLC...that stuff is no joke.  So, in the spirit of strategy, I've decided I feel like taking a close look at the strengths and weaknesses of the six individual soldier classes.

The one piece of lingo I will often use is the word "crossfire."  When it's not your turn, your scouts, shocktroopers and tanks units will automatically open fire at any enemy units who take action within their line of site and range of fire.  This concept is called crossfire.
We'll begin with the Scout class.  Both main characters Alicia Melchiott and Welkin Gunther (when he's on foot) are scouts.  Scouts come equipped with a rifle, one grenade, and a med pack.  Their rifles have above average accuracy and range, and shoot five times in a single salvo.  Scouts have significantly more AP than any other class, meaning they can often travel farther with one Command Point than most other classes can with 2-4.  Some scouts, like Alicia and Aika, even have the Double Movement Potential, which has a chance of completely refilling their already massive AP bar once it's been depleted.  

In a game where versatility goes an incredibly long way, the Scout class will be your bread and butter, as they work well independently and in groups, and can fulfill a variety of tasks.  As defenders, scouts are able to provide an effective first line of defense with their long range crossfire.  As attackers, they're able to clear out weaker enemies to make room for shocktroopers, as well as perform reconnaissance functions, spotting enemy units to help you plan the rest of your phase.

At level 11 your scouts become Elite, and gain access to underslung grenade launchers.  These are the same grenades that you throw, but now you have an option loading the grenade into this launcher, to catapult it much farther.  The grenade launcher has an extremely high and steep firing arc, which means you can blindfire it into high places to root out hidden enemies, and also launch grenades behind enemy lines with relative ease.

If scouts have one weakness, it's that they're really only decent fighters, until you unlock grenade launchers and high accuracy rifles.  Their attacks lack bite, and as the one of the flimsier classes in the game, they can't take much heat.  However, much of this can be temporarily covered for by exploiting the Orders available to you.  Scouts show more progression than arguably any other class, and endgame Scouts are a force to be reckoned with.

I strongly recommend deploying at least a couple scouts (including Alicia) in pretty much every mission.  They're fast movers and extremely versatile.
Shocktroopers are the guys you call in when you just need to storm a place.  No subtlety, no mercy; they're gonna go in, guns blazing.  Shocktroopers are the hammer.  They are the solution.

Shocktroopers come outfitted with a machine gun, one grenade, and a med pack.  Their machine guns are deadly against infantry and even effective against tanks (if fired at the radiator), but their accuracy and power drops off sharply past medium range.  They fire in large, 20-round bursts.  At level 11, your now-Elite Shocktroopers gain access to flamethrowers.  Flamethrowers are wonderful for multiple reasons.  One, they completely ignore cover, which means you can kill enemies sitting behind cover, without having to use a grenade and risk blowing both them and the sandbags away (or even a smoke cloud, if you're using one).  Secondly, the flamethrower is deployed in an extremely wide, sweeping arc, which makes it very easy to hit multiple enemies in one stroke.  Unfortunately, the flamethrower is only effective at melee range, so you're gonna have to right up next to your target to use it.

Shocktroopers are the second toughest class in the game, after Lancers.  They laugh at scout bullets, and can certainly take some punishment, but they do fall prey to mortars and tank shells.  Shocktroopers also make excellent camp defenders, as any foot soldier foolish enough to approach them will meet a blizzard of machine gun crossfire.

Some classes have a more prominent trend in potentials than others.  With shocktroopers, you may find that the happiness and effectiveness of any given unit is directly proportional to how much trouble they're in and how many enemies there are to gun down.  Shocktroopers' positive potentials tend to deal with reducing incoming damage and increasing outgoing damage.  Jane's Imp Hater potential gives her a boost against all Imperial soldiers.  The more guns there are trained on Vyse, the more likely you'll get his Challenge Lover potential.

The most crippling factor holding shocktroopers back is their lack of accuracy and range, combined with their only moderate amount of AP.  Without some foresight, it's very easy for your scouts to outpace your shocktroopers and end up carrying the mission on their own, especially as you approach level 20.

Still, shocktroopers are the second most useful class in the game purely for their killing power and hardiness.  It's always a good idea to at least deploy Rosie, whenever possible.
You'll find that in most battles, you can get by with just scouts and shocktroopers.  Now we're looking at specialist classes.  Lancers are who you call when you need firepower with a lot of kick.  They're who you call when you need some fireworks.  They're a fearsome class of soldiers that look like they could gut you like a fish with their massive anti-tank lances (which are basically fancy looking RPGs).  The lance is the only weapon a Lancer carries, alongside a med pack.  Their anti-tank rockets have the second longest ranges in the game, defeated only by sniper rifles and possibly the Edelweiss.

Lancers have only one real purpose, and that is to destroy tanks.  At level 11 you have the option of equipping them with portable anti-personnel mortars instead of anti-armor rockets, but there aren't a lot of situations where you'd want a mortar where one or two grenades wouldn't also suffice.  Their lances are only slightly less potent than the Edelweiss's own shell cannon, and at half the CP.  Lancers are also the sturdiest class in the game, shrugging off both bullets and explosives.  This makes them affective as decoys and frontline combatants.

However, the benefits largely end there.  Lancers have the second least amount of AP in the game, meaning you have to make every step count.  They also don't provide any crossfire at all due to their anti-tank lances having limited ammo, which cripples their use as defenders.  The biggest issue with lancers however, is their terrible accuracy.  Though their rockets have a fairly high effective range in terms of damage, you're going to have trouble hitting anything beyond mid-range distance.  Even endgame and royal-class lances only achieve C-rank accuracy.

Furthermore, the Lancers' job is often rendered unnecessary by other classes, who can simply maneuver around tanks to hit their weak spots.  It's only in the case where a tank is sitting on an enemy camp that lancers really have a use, as there often isn't room to run around to their back before you end up riddled with bullets.  Like snipers, I'd recommend only fielding Lancers mid-operation, as you need them.  Largo might be worth having around solely for the extra Command Point, though.

Engineers are an interesting class.  They can wear a lot of hats if necessary, but they also have a lot of drawbacks.  Engineers use the same loadout as Scouts (a rifle, grenade and med pack), with the addition of an engineering tool, and three grenades instead of one.  They're able to refill the ammunition of nearby units, repair tanks and sandbags, and disarm mines.  Engineers also have the second most AP in the game, after Scouts.

Engineers have poor combat stats across the board, sharing 1st place with the Snipers as the flimsiest class in the game, and there are almost no individuals in this class who don't have more negative potentials than positive.  As such, while they do carry weapons and quite a few grenades, they should almost never be used in direct combat.  Instead, you'll find the Engineer's strengths to be in field support; running around, making sure everyone's got plenty of ammo and using their extra grenades and toolkit to clear out obstacles.

Finally, engineers share a mutually beneficial relationship with tanks.  The tank provides solid cover for the engineer and protects him/her, while the engineer keeps the tank stocked with ammo and running smoothly, and if necessary, can defend the tank's weak spot.

If you're going to be doing an operation that's heavy on tank, lancer or even sniper participation, you might consider deploying an engineer.  Otherwise, don't bother.
Snipers are highly specialized units.  They come packing only their signature sniper rifle and a med pack.  They have extremely low health and defense, and the least amount of AP of any class.  Unless you count tanks, they're also one of the smallest classes, consisting of a mere handful of individuals.  Their sniper rifles are deadly to infantry and to any tanks who unwittingly expose their backs, and have the longest range in the game.  A sniper can kill in one shot from all the way across a map.

However, snipers are by far the most useless class in the game, at first.  Because accuracy is paramount to their effectiveness, anything less than A-rank accuracy on their weapons is unacceptable, but it's a while before you're able to upgrade your sniper rifles enough to achieve that.

Even with the best rifles in the game however, it requires a certain kind of situation to merit deploying snipers.    For example, if you don't have the high ground, or if a battlefield is littered with obstructions and obstacles, you might as well not bother.

Under the right circumstances however, snipers can provide valuable support to frontline units.  They can finish off units you weren't able to kill in one burst with a scout or shock trooper, and also straight out murder more troublesome enemies from far away with headshots.  Throughout the game you'll occasionally find high towers that provide an excellent view for snipers.  My only caution with these however, is that you step down from the tower after you take your shot, as enemy tanks have a stubborn tendency to try to nail any snipers they spot in towers.  Given a tank cannon's accuracy, it's extremely unlikely they'll hit, but the AI will keep at it until a shell flies true, and that will spell bad news.

It's easy to forget that tanks are a separate class, because on your side there are only two of them: your main tank, the Edelweiss, and later on the Shamrock.

The Edelweiss is the backbone of your squad.  It's your most powerful unit and your most important one.  Like all tanks, the Edelweiss is completely immune to gunfire that isn't directed at its ragnite radiator in the back (and even then, nothing short of concentrated machine gun fire will do much).  Explosives--shells, lance rockets and mortars--are the only thing that will damage its armor.  The Edelweiss is outfitted with three primary weapons: a shell cannon, a machine gun, and a mortar.

The cannon is of course used against enemy armor.  Naturally, the armor piercing shells it fires are also lethally effective against all infantry short of lancers--you can even score headshots with them for extra damage--but it's far too inaccurate to rely on for that.  The cannon has a long range, and is cable of destroying certain environmental objects, such as sandbags and low integrity walls.  It doesn't do any splash damage, so you do need to actually hit your target.  The cannon's effective range is a little farther than the average rocket lance, but its relatively low accuracy means you might want to get closer for more precision.

The machine gun's short range and small magazine stops it from being a compelling offense weapon against infantry, but it will make most foot soldiers think twice before approaching the Edelweiss, especially because it is capable of providing automatic crossfire.

The mortar will be your primary offensive weapon against all infantry.  You can use it on enemy tanks as well, but there's no reason to do that when you have the cannon.  The mortar works just like a grenade, except on a much larger scale.  The explosion is larger (and thus the splash damage radius is more substantial) and the damage is greater.

Later on the Edelweiss gains access to smoke shells.  In practice, they work similarly to the mortar, except instead of inflicting mass destruction, they kick up a very large cloud of smoke.  Smoke shells are delightful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the awesome visual effect you experience while present in a smoke cloud.  The primary effect you get from smoke clouds is invisibility.  Being in a smoke cloud is like crawling in grass in that it you are impossible to see unless someone walks right up to you.  This has a couple of benefits, but the main one is that it makes you immune to crossfire.  This means you can fire a smoke round into an area or junction that might otherwise be a kill zone, and allow your units to pass by safely.  It also makes it easy to snuff out enemy camps, firing a smoke round right into the camp, and then sending in soldiers to kill the defenders while they're blind.  There are a couple of things you have to keep in mind with smoke rounds, however.  Like mortars, you have limited ammo per phase.  You can only fire one shell in one phase, and unlike every other weapon with limited ammo, engineers can't restock your smoke shells.  Furthermore, smoke clouds affect everone, not just your targets.  Once inside a cloud, you're invisible to guys outside and inside, but you yourself also can't see more than a couple feet in front of you, which also means you can't provide crossfire.  You should still have the advantage simply because you're the one who fired the smoke round, and thus hopefully mapped out enemy positions before entering the cloud.  Smoke clouds last for the remainder of your phase and the enemy's before dissipating, but any explosive that goes off in or near a smoke cloud will blow it away as well.

Your other tank, the Shamrock, joins the squad midway through the game.  Commanded by a hearty fellow named Zaka, the Shamrock is smaller and more maneuverable than the Edelweiss, but also packs less punch and has thinner armor (though like all tanks it is at least invulnerable to gunfire).  The unique thing about the Shamrock is that you actually have three options to choose from for its primary weapon; the standard shell cannon, a flamethrower, and a gatling.  You can swap in between these three at any time in between missions.

Personally, I usually stick with the flamethrower.  The Shamrock's shell cannon doesn't have enough punch to justify using it over a lancer rocket, and the gatling is just silly, since you already have a standard machine gun and the flamethrower is a better anti-personnel weapon anyway.

Tanks are extremely powerful and versatile.  They can move a fair bit each turn (more with upgrades), they are effective against every unit in the game, and they also provide excellent field support, able to provide cover for soldiers moving in convoy formations.  The Edelweiss is also the broadcasting beacon for your Orders function; without it, you can't activate Orders.

However, they are not without drawbacks.  The most prevalent negative is the fact that if the Edelweiss (and by extension, the main character Welkin) is destroyed, you automatically lose the game.  This is constantly something to keep in mind before taking action with the Edelweiss.  The second issue is that whereas it only costs one Command Point to deploy any footsoldiers, it costs two to use a tank.  This doesn't seem like much, but when you have only a handful of points, use of your tank can be a costly venture.  Operating two tanks on the field is a significant drag on your CP.

Tanks have a moderate amount of AP, like shocktroopers.  However, unlike infantry, it costs AP just to turn around in a tank, which means you want to constantly keep in mind whether enemies have access to your posterior.  A tank's movement can be crippled by destroying its secondary health bar, which represents treads.  Loss of its treads will not destroy a tank, but it will leave it with almost no AP to move around with.

Ironically, the smallest class ended up getting the longest section.  You won't have a choice on whether or not to deploy the Edelweiss or, when it is introduced, the Shamrock.  They're always deployed, unless story circumstances dictate otherwise.  Personally, the CP cost is too high for me to consistently include a tank--much less two tanks--in my strategies.  I prefer using foot soldiers most of the time.  However, it still pays to at least keep the Edelweiss running with your troops sometimes, if only for its field support capabilities.  The Edelweiss's smoke shells and heavy armor allow it to provide plenty of defensive support for your your infantry.

Damn, Ubisoft.

So I've been playing a couple of Ubisoft games lately.  I bought Splinter Cell: Conviction from Steam for $5, and have been playing Ghost Recon: Future Soldier on PS3.

I was going to write up a review for Splinter Cell: Conviction, but I just don't want much to do with it anymore, due to the prohibitive DRM.  I'm glad I got it at a heavily discounted price, but I kind of regret spending money on it at all, and wish I had doublechecked for this sort of thing beforehand.  Basically, Ubisoft requires you to be signed in to their little Uplay service.  I get why every publisher under the sun insists on stacking their own network on top of the actual platform you got the game on, but it's stupidly redundant to buy a game on Steam or for PS3 and have to sign into Uplay on top of PSN or Steam.  They can't really be getting that many active participants, can they?

Anyway, this particular brand of Uplay DRM doesn't allow for Conviction to be played in offline mode.  Yeah...that means you have to be constantly online to play Splinter Cell: Conviction, even if you're only playing through the singleplayer campaign, like I was. does that as well as Origin, and it's really dumb.  If my WiFi so much as hiccuped, the game would immediately pause and force me to check my connection, or quit out.  As soon as I got my connection fixed and got back into the game, it promptly crashed.  I was shocked and somewhat enraged.  It crossed my mind that this would not have been an issue if I had pirated the game.  And I nearly did, right then and there.  But I decided it wasn't worth the bandwidth to download a whole separate copy of the game and crack it.  Still, this is the last time I buy an Ubisoft game for PC.  At least until they get their shit together.

It's a pretty fun game, but unless someone wants to play some co-op with me, I'm gonna uninstall it as soon as I finish the story mode.  Yeah, despite everything at least the singleplayer is still fun enough to convince me to continue playing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sometimes I wonder about Steam...

We're nearing the final days of the 2012 Steam summer sale.  Frankly, it was probably one of the best sales I've ever seen on Steam, and that's saying something, considering the reputation the platform has built up for deep discounts.  As expected, nearly everything in the store has been discounted to at least some degree.  There were the usual pack sales, where you could buy out an entire publisher/developer's library at anywhere from 50 to 80 percent off what it would normally cost to do such a thing.  There were also, of course the daily deals, where Steam would take a selection of games or bundles and discount them even further for the day.  There were also the flash sales--which I don't think are new--a roster of four games receiving further discounts that would get rotated out every few hours.  What is new the community votes, where Steam puts up three games, and lets you choose which one is gonna get discounted.  As I write this post, Splinter Cell Conviction was chosen to receive a 75% discount, putting it at $5.

I've been through more than a few Steam sales, and as a result my library is quite literally massive.  Right now I have probably around 120 games in my Steam library.  So you can imagine why, at the beginning of this sale, I didn't think I'd be putting down much money.  Not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't need to.  Steam's already sold me most of the games I wanted.  What more could they entice me with?

I was naive, and there was always this voice in the back of my head telling me so.  I've already bought Sanctum, The Walking Dead, Alan Wake, and Shogun 2: Fall of the Samurai.  I'm also having a hard time convincing myself not to pick up the aforementioned Splinter Cell: Conviction.  Not to mention I fully intend to pick up both Ys games (Origin and the Oath in Felghana) before the end of the sale.

But I sometimes wonder if this is...healthy.  I can't imagine Valve doesn't know what they're doing, but occasionally I wonder if dumping all these games on people for peanuts is the right idea.  Steam sales have become such a regular thing that people anticipate them now.  It's one thing to buy something and be surprised when it's on sale later on.  But it's hard to buy a game on Steam in an offseason without feeling like a sucker, because you know there will come a time (and sooner rather than later) when that game will come down in price in a big way.  It's not just something you suspect.  It's something you know for a fact.

To me, I feel like this kind of devalues the game in some way.

Monday, July 16, 2012

New look!

I think this looks decent.  I was struggling with whether to go with a wider layout, or keep the more compact one that I'm used to.  The wider layout would have really brought out the details in the header picture, which is a compelling argument in and of itself because it's a pretty high resolution picture (3600x1500), with lots of little nods.  But in the end I went with a more compact layout.  That way one doesn't have to have their browser maximized just to see the site properly.

Other than the neato header, I also redid all the colors and stuff.

I'm also thinking it's time I revamped the score system.  I hate using the 10 scale, because I will willingly admit that I am of the opinion that there's no point in having ratings below five.  If it's worse than a five it's not worth playing.

Anyway, I'm not really playing anything too exciting at the moment.  I got BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend a week or so ago.  BlazBlue is just about the only fighting game this generation that really resonated with me, so I was happy to upgrade from Calamity Trigger.  Looks like there's a lot of new modes and characters...I haven't really touched on much yet, just been doing some training and network play.  I think my goal is to be at least decent with three characters.  I'm already decent with Noel, now I'd like to learn Makoto and Rachel.

I'm still working my way through Arkham City.  I finished Harley Quinn's Revenge, which was a nice sidetrack.  I've mainly been working my way through NG+, and still slowly chugging through the predator challenges.  Mr. Freeze on Hard is seriously no joke, let me tell you.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

I hate to sound like a broken record, but I feel like it’s more important than ever that I state my fondness for the Assassin’s Creed franchise.  The reason why is because at this point I feel like Ubisoft is taking advantage of that fondness.  Assassin’s Creed 2 was excellent, Brotherhood was more of that excellence, but with an expectation of change afterwards.  And then Ubisoft released Assassin’s Creed Revelations.  It’s like they know that people like Assassin’s Creed (and Ezio in particular) enough that they’re just barely willing to tolerate one more spinoff to generate extra revenue before they move on.

Revelations actually tells multiple stories.  This isn’t actually that strange, because Assassin’s Creed often has at least two plots running parallel; that of the starring Assassin (Ezio in this case), and that of the series’ protagonist, Desmond Miles.  But Ezio’s narrative has two different focuses, and one of thing also brings Altair back into the mix.  That brings us to four different intertwined plots.  As always, the instigator here is Desmond who—after the events of Brotherhood—has fallen into a comatose state, with his consciousness trapped in the core of the Animus’ software, known as the Black Box (think of it as a safe mode of sorts).  The only way to fix things is of course to relive his ancestor’s memories some more, which brings us to Ezio, who has traveled to Masyaf, a long abandoned Assassin fortress, in hopes of discovering Altair’s library and learning more about the true purpose of the Assassin Order.  He learns that in order to enter the library, he’ll need five keys, which have been hidden in Constantinople.  Ezio arrives in the Constantinople to find that while the Assassin presence there is significant, the city is split by political strife that the Templars have a hand in.  Furthermore, each key Ezio unearths also contains a memory representing a segment of Altair’s life (so yes, technically you are reliving the memories of an ancestor who is reliving the memories of an ancestor).  This results in a running narrative that explores key points in Altair’s story, from his acquisition of the Apple to his death at the tender age of 92.

While the hints of political intrigue show promise, and the character interaction—as always—is very strong, none of the stories are all that interesting and are content to plod along until the last third or so of the game, when everything comes to a head, and Revelations suddenly wakes up from its stupor and reminds you that it’s still part of one of the most ambitious franchises in the industry.  The Assassin’s Creed franchise’s grand plot is incredibly broad in scope and scale, and nothing drives this point home further than the last 45 minutes or so of Revelations.  We’re four games in, yet as the credits rolled I felt like they were only just getting started and fervently hoped that Ubisoft could deliver on all this exposition.

Gameplay in Revelations—as you probably expected—hasn’t changed radically from Brotherhood.  You can still climb on just about anything, and you can still kill dudes in all sorts of mean ways, and your core arsenal will be familiar all the way from Assassin’s Creed 2.  But there have been some tweaks and additions.  Early on Ezio acquires a hook blade as one of his hidden blades.  The hook blade isn’t really the big addition that Ubisoft makes it out to be, but it is neat.  On top of adding a couple new finishers and combat moves, it lets you get around just a tad quicker by letting you climb faster and slide on ziplines with it.  There’s even this new move that replaces the running tackle, where you run straight at a dude, hook him with your blade, and slide over his back, with the option to use the gained momentum to throw him, like some sort of running hip toss.

The bigger addition is bombs.  Apparently the Assassins in Constantinople are all about throwing bombs at people.  Not just smoke bombs, but grenades, and flash bangs, and scary stuff like bombs that disperse deadly gas, or bombs that spill fake blood everywhere.  You have three bomb pouches that can each hold three of one bomb.  You have your lethal pouch for killing dudes, you have your tactical pouch for weakening them, and you have your diversion pouch for trickery and mischief.  Bombs are a fun addition, though I wish there were more varieties available.  Ubisoft claims you can make 150 different bombs, but there are actually only about 10 different actual bomb types.  The variety comes from more minute details such as blast radius, and how quickly the bomb explodes (like whether you want it to detonate on impact, on a timer, or only when stepped on).

You also have your brotherhood of Assassins and Templar dens back.  You target someone, press L2, and fellow Assassins spawn and eliminate that target right before your eyes.  It was awesome in Brotherhood, and it’s awesome here.  You gain new recruits by helping out unfortunate souls and convincing them to join your cause, then level them up through field work or sending them out on missions across the continent.  The Assassin’s guild metagame has been expanded somewhat; now Assassins can be leveled up to 15 (where the previous cap was 10), and cities that you do missions for can periodically send you resources.

You increase the number of recruits you can have in your guild by capturing Templar dens.  Just like in Brotherhood, this consists of sneaking into an area, sniffing out the captain of the garrison, and attempting to assassinate him.  This used to be really fun, but in Revelations it’s hampered by a number of tweaks, the first being in captain behavior.  Supposedly these guys come in a variety of flavors, but most of them will simply run away if they catch sight of you.  This means that many of your attempts to take over a den will devolve into a stupid chase, where if you fail you have to wait half an hour for the shifts to change before you can try again.

The one complaint against taking over Templar dens in Brotherhood was that you could only capture each den once.  Well, Ubisoft tried to address this with Den Defense.  If you get on the Templars’ bad side, they’ll launch an offensive on one of your dens.  To take it back, you have to participate in this tower defense-style minigame called Den Defense.  In Den Defense, you set up road obstacles and assign Assassins to various rooftop positions to coordinate a defense against wave of Templars who will try to smash their way to your base.  It really is like if you took Assassin’s Creed and made it a tower defense game.  It’s competent but it’s not very fun.

Aside from your Assassins, the other common factions are back as well.  You have Thieves, who can follow you even on the rooftops, and will distract guards for you.  You have mercenaries, who will go fight enemies at your command.  The courtesans have been replaced by Romanies, basically a group of traveling gypsies and entertainers.  A group of Romanies can serve as mobile cover for you, and will also distract guards.

Between your parkour skills, literal armory of killing tools, and various cohorts, at this point it’s hard not to feel overpowered at any given time in Revelations.  Let’s stop and think about this.  You have bombs, a pistol, a sword, a dagger, poison darts, two hidden blades, throwing knives, a crossbow, glider parachutes, and an entire gang of Assassins at your beck and call; not to mention a possibly posse of goons surrounding you at all times.  This is one game that will make you feel empowered.

Here’s a scenario:  I want to take over a Templar Den.  I stroll down the streets, flinging some money at a group of Romanies.  They keep me invisible as I approach a pair of guards.  All I do is raise my fist and they are promptly eliminated.   Me and my Romanies stroll past them without batting an eyelash.  More guards further within.  They look at me suspiciously, but I just casually flick a bomb at them that detonates and silently disperses poison gas, killing them without a trace.  Before I know it, I’ve found the Captain and no one even knows I’m there yet.  All I do is raise my hand, shoot him in the neck with a poison dart, and walk out.  It’s that simple.

When Revelations’ gameplay is at its best, like in the scenario just described, it’s truly an excellent experience.  But despite all the additions Ubisoft has added, this is at its core the same game we played in 2009.  And it shows, when you’re trying to chase someone and trip up on some waist-high wall or a barrel, or when any player character walks (Desmond in particular), and you realize they probably haven’t changed their gait at all since Assassin’s Creed 2 (or even 1).  The gameplay mechanics that I thought were great a couple years ago just seem competent now.

The production values haven’t changed a ton, either.  Revelations is a fine looking game, and I will say the facial animation seems to have been improved somewhat.  The cities still look fairly lively, and the animation is still good.  The voice acting is excellent, and the music is mostly just serviceable except for a few instances.  The load times feel more prominent though.

What can I say?  Assassin’s Creed Revelations is a good game; a great game, even.  But in a lot of ways it’s the same great game we’ve been playing for a good while now.  Yet it still manages to differentiate itself as an important stepping stone in a plot I for one am extremely invested in.