If you played the original Dragon’s Crown when it came out way back in the long-forgotten year of 2013, you probably remember two things: It was a fantastically fun brawler, and it had some serious issues with how it depicted women’s bodies. For better and for worse, both are still true today.
Dragon’s Crown Pro is a straight-forward remaster. You won’t find much new content-wise, so if you have an opinion about the original, you can basically just apply it to the HD update as well. And if you happen to still be playing the original on either the PS3 or the Vita, you’ll soon find the online mode much more populated, as the remaster offers cross-play with the original title. For the uninitiated, Dragon’s Crown Pro is a side-scrolling brawler set in a lavishly (and sometimes problematically) illustrated fantasy world. Created by Vanillaware, it has plenty of features that elevate it above other simplistic beat ‘em ups, much like its predecessor, Odin Sphere.
You can choose from six classes, which, unlike in many side-scrolling brawlers, actually play quite differently from one another. These include a Dwarf who specializes in dealing melee damage and tossing enemies, a Sorceress who offers support magic and can animate skeletons, and an Amazon with wild air attacks and a berserker rage mechanic. Even the more straightforward-seeming classes -- the Fighter, the Elf, and the Wizard -- reveal hidden depth once you start digging into their skill trees and learn how to best use their unique abilities. I played through the entire campaign as the Elf, the archer class, certain that her combination of long-range damage and minor spells was the perfect playstyle for me. Then I tried the Wizard, getting deep into his versatile spell options and active mana regeneration mechanics. On a whim, I made a Dwarf, the character I had the least interest in, and fell in love with the brazenness of his flurry attacks and the huge interrupt potential in chucking enemies around the screen. It would be overstating it to say that switching classes feels like playing an entirely different game, but not by much.
You can customize each character to some extent through skill upgrades and loot. As you trek through the game’s dungeons, you’ll come across treasure chests that your ever-present rogue companion can unlock. At the end of each level, you choose which of these to keep and which to sell. Each weapon and piece of armor has a random selection from a huge pool of bonuses. They can add elemental damage, increase item drop rates, grant resistances, or give you any number of other effects. You’ll also gain experience, which you can spend on skills from a general pool or a class-specific list. These upgrades can add extra effects to your attacks or grant you entirely new abilities, offering a fairly flexible way to tune your character to your liking. After you make it to the story’s midpoint, you can start any new character at level 15 and skip the first half of the game. It’s a great way to test out other classes’ abilities without committing to a full playthrough with each one. At this same point, you also unlock a fun, goofy little cooking minigame that boosts your stats when you play multiple levels in a row. It’s buried so deep in the game and goes so unremarked upon that it feels like a secret mode when you first stumble upon it.
It’s fortunate that there’s so much versatility to the gameplay, because Dragon’s Crown’s structure has a lot of repetition built in. The main campaign sends you through nine stages in a linear order, then tasks you with playing alternate paths through the same levels in a different order. You can also take on quests that give you specific objectives to complete within the levels, which often take more than one run through to complete. Once you finish the game, you have the option to play through the levels two more times on higher difficulty settings to really complete the game. You do unlock some entirely new options at that point as well: a procedurally generated dungeon where you fight progressively tougher enemies for progressively better loot, and a PvP arena mode.
Of course, a lot of this is optional, and the alternate paths through levels are significantly different, so while the game does feel repetitive, it’s rarely boring. The quests you do are usually not as simple as just “Kill X amount of enemy Y,” so they, too, change the way you approach the levels. While you’re repeating levels, you’re fighting one of two different bosses, seeing a different selection of rooms, and performing more esoteric objectives like looking for hidden passages or, at least on one occasion, dancing with ghosts. Still, you could easily play through each level a dozen times if you continue into the post-game, which inevitably gets old.
Fortunately, Dragon’s Crown Pro’s levels are interesting and varied. Each level features a slightly different selection of enemies, and enough environmental twists to make each level feel unique. Some feature traps, interludes where you ride boats or magic carpets, and environmental hazards. What really makes the levels feel different from one another is the gorgeously rendered backgrounds and their general character. Infiltrating a goblin fortress feels much different from ascending a mage’s tower, traversing an enchanted forest, or exploring a submerged cave, despite the fact that you’re essentially just walking to the right and dispatching enemies on the way.
Your forays into these levels are interspersed with bits of a fantasy story that lies in the exact center between traditional and clichéd. In short, you help to foil a plot against the crown, then defeat an ancient dragon that threatens the realm. It’s more charming in action than on paper, thanks to the fantastic art and sound design. In one of its few additions to the original, Dragon’s Crown Pro adds a live orchestral version of the score. The original score by no means sounds outdated, but the new version adds a slightly fuller feel, making the choice of which to use entirely a matter of preference. The remaster also includes new voices for the chatty narrator, who pops up regularly to comment on the action. There are six new voices, one for each character class, which were originally released as DLC for Dragon’s Crown. They feel a little less consistent than the original narrator overall, but I enjoyed switching between them to match the character I was playing.
Atlus, the game’s publisher, has been touting its graphical upgrade in comparison videos, but it was the least noticeable upgrade for me. Dragon’s Crown looked great for its time because of its art direction, not because of its graphical fidelity. In some ways, its storybook art style helps it age better than any PS3-era attempt at realism. That’s not to say that Dragon’s Crown Pro doesn’t look great. It certainly does, and I was able to appreciate even more of the intricate detail that went into the characters and environments than I was in the original release. It just doesn’t feel like a generational leap.
While I was happy to see the game’s beautiful art make the leap, there are some elements that I wish had been left in 2013. If you remember the controversy around the game’s release or look at basically any image that comes up when you search for “Dragon’s Crown art,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you’re unclear, the game goes out of its way to sexualize every woman in it to a completely absurd degree. When the game came out, a lot was made of the muscle fetish look of the Amazon and the considerable gravity-defying magic the Sorceress must be deploying to keep herself upright. Honestly, you’ll hardly notice these details once you’re in the thick of the game’s crowded combat, but good lord, they’re jarring at first. It would be easy enough to overlook if that were the whole problem, but the character models aren’t the biggest issue by a long shot. Within each level, as rewards for completing quests, and even in shops in town, you’re constantly presented with lush illustrations that seem straight out of Frank Frazetta or Boris Vallejo’s sketchbooks, and I mean that both in terms of their eye-popping quality and their jaw-dropping sexism. Nearly every woman depicted in the game is scantily clad, impossibly proportioned, and usually posed for maximum titillation. You can’t even repair your weapons in town without seeing a tableau that would lead to an extremely embarrassing conversation if someone were to walk into the room while you’re playing. It’s gross, it’s misogynistic, and it’s even less excusable in 2018 than it was in 2013.
You may feel differently about it. Maybe the game’s depiction of women doesn’t hamper your enjoyment, maybe it makes it impossible to play. For me, it sullies an otherwise joyful experience and makes me feel guilty about liking the game. But I do still like it. I’m embarrassed to call myself a fan, but I do still play. That certainly speaks to my position of privilege as a man, but it also speaks to just how great every other aspect of the game is. If you’re able to overlook some pretty vile sexualization to play one of the most well-crafted and inventive brawlers around (and I can’t judge you for doing so -- I’m doing it, too), then Dragon’s Crown Pro is almost certainly what you’re looking for. But maybe wait to play it until your roommate’s not around.
Tower of Time makes an incredibly strong case for itself in its first few hours. It opens with a young boy in an apocalyptic fantasy world stumbling upon an ancient and forbidden tower and naturally deciding to explore. After meeting the mysterious presence that rules the tower, he is sent away but imprinted with a desire to return someday. The story picks back up when he returns, now a fairly important military figure, to lead an expedition into the tower’s depths. Narrated from a strange split of present and past tense, this intro sets up the mysteries that will drive the game’s story: What is the tower, who is the being that inhabits it, and why did it mark your character? It carries an air of somber tension on an epic scale, and it’s clear is that you’ll eventually decide the fate of the world. There seems to be a good chance that you’ll even doom it.
You don’t actually control the game’s main character, who spends most of the game lounging in an extremely uncomfortable looking throne in the tower’s foyer. For reasons left to you to discover, this lets him highjack his party’s senses and influence their decisions. In gameplay terms, that means you occasionally step in as the protagonist to solve disputes, but mostly you play as the party for all intents and purposes. At the start, that party consists of Kane, the duty-bound knight, and Maeve, the kleptomaniac archer. They are as one-dimensional as those descriptions make them sound, but in the first level they’re charming enough, and their utter bewilderment about the whole tower makes them seem pretty relatable. At set points in the game, you’ll also recruit a handful of other heroes drawn from the game’s cookie-cutter fantasy races.
So far, so good, and things only get better once you take control of them. You explore the tower with standard click-to-move controls, à la Diablo or Baldur’s Gate. The first environment is chock-full of items to find and little tableaus that you can click for a short text description. At first, I was blown away by how much detail there was in the environment. Little bits of set dressing helped tell the story of the tower, and there were even a few clever environmental puzzles set out. You’re rewarded for examining every room, uncovering clues, and using everything you find to solve puzzles with your wits rather than by following quest markers.
Things change once you get into combat. Tower of Time looks a lot like a standard cRPG in combat at first, as you give orders to your party members in real time or slow time down for more control. It diverges from genre tradition by placing combat in an arena with a loading screen separating it from the map. You start with just your characters on screen, and enemies soon start spawning in waves. Some encounters have additional objectives, like freeing an ally from a cage, destroying portals, or protecting structures. None of this makes any narrative sense, and the layout of the arenas is completely divorced from the world map.
I can’t see a single way in which it’s an improvement over traditional cRPG combat. Having enemies spawn in waves prevents you from positioning strategically before the fight. There are terrain features in the arenas that you can use to your advantage, but the setup makes it feel more like an elaborate American Gladiators course than a fight taking place in the game’s world. I also found combat incredibly slow paced and wished there was an option to speed up the action. You can activate “Story mode,” which makes battles trivially easy, but they still drag on and on. It’s almost more tedious to play this way, since fights then become mostly about waiting for enemies to spawn and break themselves against your heroes.
Each of your party members can only take four skills into battle, and they often have long cooldowns, creating long stretches of the battle where you basically have nothing to do. That’s really unfortunate, because a lot of abilities are interesting and fun to use. Many of them revolve around positioning, allowing you to either move swiftly around the battlefield or halt your enemies’ progress. But by the time I unlocked the more intriguing strategic options, I had lost any interest in combat. These encounters were so often so packed full of enemies that the strategy was less about using abilities intelligently and more about just not getting overrun. There are lots of big boss battles, but they rarely felt different from regular combat. The first few are interesting, but most simply resort to spawning tons of enemies and spamming AOE, making positioning a nightmare and strategy a joke.
Oddly, you don’t even gain experience from combat. Throughout the tower, you’ll find blueprints for buildings. With one of these, you can upgrade class buildings in a city menu accessible outside of the tower, then use a separate training building to upgrade your heroes. It feels unnecessarily complicated, but it’s at least an original idea. Unfortunately, this all makes combat even more of a pain, since fighting enemies never actually makes you stronger. Once I realized this, I began to dread each combat encounter more and more. What’s more, it also means that your heroes can level up very unevenly, if you happen to find an upgrade for one class building but not another.
Exploration is the real high point of the game, and it remains its strongest asset even when its shine rather quickly fades. Floors two and three have you running around flipping lots of levers to open passages, and the puzzles start to feel much less original. Still, the levels remain packed with things to do. On each floor you’ll find optional bosses, hidden rooms, and rare equipment. You can skip entire wings of each level if you want. And if you look carefully, you’ll frequently find letters scattered around that can direct you toward more secrets.
While the levels are packed with rewards for exploration, there’s nothing compelling about their design. The early levels are built on floating platforms, giving you a clear view of the floors below you. It’s oddly disorienting, giving the impression that the space you’re navigating is floating in the ether rather than built into a tower. There’s also no cohesion between levels. You’ll explore flooded passages, followed by brass and steel machineworks, followed by crystalline caverns, followed by full-on sci-fi military installations. The game seems to want to be everything at once, a problem that eventually killed the experience for me.
Similarly, the characters grated on me the longer I was exposed to them. They’re fairly stereotypical to start, but there was some energy to the early game’s writing, and their relationships were somewhat engaging. But eventually they just keep having the same conversations, reacting in the same way to different events. The dutiful knight is dutiful. The greedy rogue is greedy. The weird elf is a weird elf. Occasionally one will share their own insight on what’s going on, which often clued me in to different ways of thinking about the game, the only good trick the writing had. There are also rare instances where you can intervene in their conversations, swaying decisions for one character or another. This results in a simple disposition shift; the folks you sided with will like you more, and the others will dislike you, adding buffs or debuffs to the party accordingly. It’s very simplistic and seems like a waste of what could be an interesting system.
The main thing driving me to play was finding out what was going on with the tower. The mystery set up at the beginning is legitimately compelling, and the game keeps sprinkling seeds of stories to come. I wanted to know the true nature of the tower, of magic, of “the void” introduced early on. You also learn what happened to turn the world into a wasteland as you go deeper, and I was invested in finding out. But each floor gets caught up in its own story too much, often losing sight of the throughline. I got bored of this cycle resetting with every level and presenting me with these micro-dramas rather than focusing on the much more interesting overarching story of the mysterious voice in the tower and the dark forces that brought doom upon the world.
This game’s biggest downfall is bloat in every aspect. It just has too many systems, too many items, too many enemies in each battle and too many battles to begin with. Too many floors to this explore with too many different themes, too much pointless dialog (and too little of substance). On a narrative level, the temptation to make this story into an epic journey robs it of interest. Learning that a corrupt scholar led a group of people into the tower and slowly turned on them is interesting. Learning that he summoned monsters from another realm to build an army is interesting. Repeating and expanding on that (ultimately unimportant) storyline for half a dozen hours is not. Learning that a powerful mage used the tower to study a dangerous fifth element (not love, sadly) is interesting. Learning this by spending hours running around a level to collect crystals from random locations is not. Tower of Time has maybe 12 hours worth of good ideas in it, stretched out to several times that. There really is a lot to like in this game, from inventive art design to a compelling backstory, which made it all the more disappointing that ends up buried under hours upon hours of boredom.
Just days before the launch of Overwatch’s 2nd Anniversary event, it seems we know everything to expect upon logging in.
In a perhaps suspiciously vague Reddit post, user digitai1234 said that they found images of the event’s new skins thanks to “some dude in Taiwanese OverWatch fan club.” While the lack of details doesn’t give us faith in the leak’s validity, the attached imgur links of all the new skins sure do. These are either legit new cosmetics or the work of some very industrious fakers. The new skins show a wild mix of styles, from Tracer’s garish club kid/motocross outfit to McCree’s Sherlock Holmes getup. I, for one, will be saving up my precious coins for Orisa’s dryad look. Commenters in the thread have been hard at work translating the text in the images since they surfaced.
Around the same time, a video also surfaced, confirming the image leak. The video shows all of the new skins in Overwatch’s menu, as well as new emotes to be released during the event.
Perhaps most exciting of all, it also gives us a detailed look around Petra, the event’s new Deatchmatch map. The ancient city of Petra is a famous archaeological site and tourist attraction in modern-day Jordan. If you weren’t paying attention in history class, you’ll also recognize it from films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The map is an intricate maze of tight corridors and twisting caverns with a few wide-open chambers. Basically a playground for close-range characters and ambushers.
Just a few hours later, the Overwatch team released an official (though much shorter) Petra preview video, along with a cute stop-motion teaser for the event.
If all the new info has you itching to jump into the event, you don’t have long to wait. Overwatch Anniversary begins May 22, and lasts until June 11.
Video games are great at bringing people together, but for years, many have felt left out. People with impaired vision, hearing, or mobility often struggle to enjoy a medium that combines images, sound, and interactivity. Developers have made efforts to make their games more inclusive, through additions such as captioning and color blind modes, but Microsoft recently announced what may be the biggest accessibility endeavor yet for gaming.
A few days after rumors began circulating on Twitter, Microsoft officially unveiled the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Rather than targeting any specific disability, the controller aims to make games accessible for a wide swath of people. The device itself is a large rectangle with two prominent buttons, a d-pad, and smaller navigation buttons. Its layout and the fact that the buttons are programmable already make it more accessible for players with limited mobility, but its real genius lies in its expandability. Along the back of the device, there are 19 ports, each corresponding to a different controller function. Accessibility devices can be attached with standard 3.5 mm jacks, making the controller completely customizable.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller isn’t the first piece of hardware to tackle accessibility, and in fact, that’s what makes it great. Rather than relying on proprietary accessories, the controller lets players use devices they may already have. Devices such as foot pedals and mouth-operated joysticks already commonly used by gamers with disabilities can be attached to the controller out of the box. Piecing together controllers out of disparate components has been a mainstay of accessible gaming for a long time; the Xbox Adaptive Controller just simplifies and formalizes it.
To develop the controller, Microsoft partnered with organizations that have been working to make gaming more accessible for years. The company also did exhaustive research and consulted with gamers with disabilities to make sure they were solving the right problems. The effort they put forth is apparent. Every aspect of the controller, from its rounded edges and spacious button placement to the clear indicators of each port’s function, is meticulously designed to meet the diverse needs of its users.
The controller is set to go on sale later this year and retail for $99.99. Microsoft has promised more information to come at this year’s E3.