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Renowned Explorers: More to Explore Review – See The World, They Said

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It was a long trek through the Andean wilderness, made even longer by Anna’s insistence on rambling on about her insane experiments. The other two explorers under her charge – Charles, the rough-and-tumble Manchester butler, and the gentle giant Ivan – patiently listened to her rambling (Ivan furiously flipping through his Russian-to-English dictionary) while secretly hoping that the end to their wanderings through the treacherous mountain trails would soon come to a fruitful end. 

One can only ride a llama for so long before becoming fed up with that particular method of locomotion.

It soon became apparent, however, that the trio – moderately renowned throughout the explorers circles as more than a bit violent – had become embroiled in more than an archaeological expedition; they had been caught up in a delicate political struggle between the peaceful Incan people and their oppressive dictator, a brutish man with a penchant for equally-brutish weaponry and cigars. It became clear that this would be no quick in-and-out trip. Their violent tendencies in a way mislabeled them in the eyes of the oppressed Incan masses as freedom fighters. If the group wanted the legendary emperor’s garb, they would have to deal with the tyrant.

And deal with him they did. With great prejudice.

For all the locals’ fear of the man, he seemed all too keen on letting his loyal guardsmen do the fighting for him, but they proved no match for Charles’ proficient fisticuffs and Ivan’s massive size and sheer brute strength. In the end, the foul man drew a fairly impressive weapon on the trio, but Anna’s mad cackle and promise of using him in one of her many infamous experiments caused his will to falter and, in the end, fall…just enough for her to deliver the final, shocking blow with her favorite, trusted mad scientist’s tool – which was ultimately little more than a super-charged cattle-prod.

With the Incan people (and the famous Emperor’s Garb) liberated from the bully tyrant, the equally renowned and feared adventuring trio made their way down the mountain with Anna stating: “That was quite the adventure, toppling a government and everything. I must admit, it was pretty fun. It wouldn’t surprise me if this became a trend someday.”

Charles could merely sigh while Ivan frantically paged through his dictionary in a futile attempt to understand his captain. In the end, he was fairly certain she said something about llama poo.

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The new expansion pack for Renowned Explorers is named More to Explore, but this is a bit of a misnomer. With only two new expeditions the game’s equivalents to “stages” as you progress through the story on your way to become the more renowned explorer the game doesn’t actually add that much to explore. However, the two new new expeditions compounded with a campfire mechanic that not only gives much-needed rewards but also glimpses into the minds and pasts of the game’s colorful and interesting cast, gives you more reasons to play, if not a plethora of new things to explore.

If you don’t know what Renowned Explorers is, check out my review here, or my interview with Creative Director Adriaan Jensen here.

It’s no secret that Abbey Games has heavily backed the continued development of Renowned Explorers since its launch in September of last year. They’ve already added new expeditions – most notably being the “Mali Madness” expedition, which charges you with charming (or pummeling) a very annoying witch doctor – and numerous new events within existing expeditions (including a very dangerous woolly threat in the Highlands), along with general balancing to keep the game fresh and fun.

However, More to Explore is the biggest addition the game has received yet. The new expeditions are welcome; in the “Andean Adventure” your team must win a treasure from an oppressive dictator, and the end-game “Lost Island” provides an opportunity to learn more about the anti-explorers that have been hinted at throughout the game thus far. But the real attention-getter in More to Explore is the addition of “campfire stories.”

After so many actions on any given map, your crew has an opportunity to set up camp complete with a campfire screen including unique idle animations for all of your crew members. On this screen, you have the option to play special story cards that provide bonuses for your expedition. At first, these bonuses are a bit mundane, simply giving your expedition more research or status or money. However, as you play the game, you acquire new booster packs with three cards apiece. These new cards add much more interesting reward opportunities most notably the ability to teach your crew members new skills and disciplines but most interestingly, they can also give special, character-specific stories that, when used, unlock unique missions and motivations for the varied and interesting cast of Renowned Explorers. This is absolutely a welcome addition to the game as the cast of Renowned Explorers is one of its high points, and the masterful writing lends so much more characterization to the unique and fun cast.

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I was a bit worried when I first heard and then saw the Hearthstone-like addition to the game (seriously, even the act of opening the packs you receive is very reminiscent of Blizzard’s TCG giant), but without the option for micro-transactions, your only way to gain more cards is to play more games. This provides a true incentive to continue to play the game and in doing so, experiment with different crew compositions and playstyles and though the randomness factor of what cards you receive can be a little irritating, it’s a fun little reward that comes regularly enough that you never feel like you’re grinding.

The other addition in More to Explore allows you to choose specific bonuses every time you find a treasure. Some of these bonuses are quite nice, adding a great deal of extra research/status/money to your expedition, but for the most part this is a purely mechanical and number-based change that adds little to the game’s replayability. Still, given how difficult the game can be, this, along with the bonuses gained from the campfire stories, can go a long way to making the medium and high-difficulty expeditions somewhat more manageable…though never quite easy.

While I wouldn’t say that More to Explore revolutionizes Renowned Explorers, it does give you more incentive to play the game multiple times rather than putting on blinders and blazing from start to finish. While I never had much trouble motivating myself to binge the game over and over again, the promise of learning more about the game’s colorful cast, and even the tweaks to some of the game’s loot and reward systems, certainly make it even easier. I would have liked a few more expeditions and maybe a new character or five, but More to Explore ultimately delivers where it counts.

Renowned Explorers: More to Explore was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by Abbey Games

Developer: Abbey Games | Genre: Strategy RPG | Platforms: PC (Steam) | Release Date: May 31, 2016 | Controls: Mouse / Keyboard

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Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

Review

RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure

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RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

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Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

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To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

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On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

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