Game Review: White Haven Mysteries

One morning last week I had a bit of time to kill, so I decided to download a hidden object game titled White Haven Mysteries.  Depending on how good you are at understanding adventure game logic, hidden object games typically don’t take long.  I’d had this one on my Steam wishlist for a while, as the storefront page promised “a unique horror experience.”  And because I could think of worse ways to spend a dollar on a dark, quiet morning, I decided to give it a shot.

Why can't we ever go somewhere nice?

Why can’t we ever go somewhere nice?

In White Haven Mysteries, you take the role of an amnesic young woman who wakes up in front of a creepy abandoned building.  A young girl who seems to know you beckons you inside.  You quickly learn that the building used to an asylum/research facility, & that it isn’t as abandoned as it seems.  The doctor who ran the facility lingers still, with an unhealthy interest in you, going so far as to poison you.  Now you have to uncover your memories of this place while searching for the rest of the antidote before the poison drives you insane.

Did someone leave the window open?

Did someone leave the window open?

White Haven Mysteries functions as a combination of point-&-click adventure game & hidden object game.  You comb through the various sets looking for things to interact with.  Sometimes you’ll have to complete hidden object puzzles, where you’re required to find all the listed items to earn a key item you need to progress.  There are also a few proper puzzles scattered about.

Narrative: At best, the story is passable.  It serves to give you a purpose for being at the asylum & giving your character motivation to continue forward, but for most of the game I barely registered it.  The game actually did a far better job of revealing the backstory of the asylum & what had occurred there than it did telling me about my character.  The articles you find scattered about pace the history well, & slowly you gain an understanding of what happened.  Unfortunately, not as much effort went into the main character’s history.  Sure, a few scraps hint at who she is, but not enough.  And the ending came way out of left field.  Up until the final scene, I had kept up with what the notes hinted at.  The woman had been a patient, the doctor’s pet subject, & sent away when the lab came under scrutiny.  But the twist revealing who the little girl & doctor we’d been seeing was just one stretch too far.  Not only that, but the game just sort of ends at that point.  The truth is revealed & then… nothing.  The game ends, leaving me wondering what happened after.  Did she stay?  Did she leave?  So overall, just a very basic story that leaves no lasting impact.  Score: 2

And I thought my workplace was cluttered

And I thought my workplace was cluttered

Mechanics: In broad terms, there’s nothing wrong with the gameplay.  You click on things, & you pick them up.  Classic HOG standards.  For an adventure game, the logic required to pass obstacles is pretty grounded.  No really far-fetched solutions, although sometimes the path to get what you need can be a bit convoluted.  For example, at one point you need to find a statue head, which requires a key to get into the shed, a poker to get the statue’s head out of the furnace, & a hose to cool the head off.  But in a way, I kind of like that.  It makes you think about how you can use the items you pick up, & makes it satisfying when you have that Eureka moment.  Unfortunately, a lot of the obstacles come down to just finding X-number of items to unlock the next area.  There are a few proper puzzles in the game, & while I give the developers credit for the variety, none of them are challenging.  For instance, there’s a rhythm-based cooking puzzle where you have to select the ingredient as it appears on the bottom of the screen in time.  Or the last puzzle, which involves memorizing switches on a grid… or at least should have, had the game not held my hand & simply marked the switches after I found the solution.  Mostly, I felt the game missed a lot of opportunities.  There were several unique moments or ideas that were used once & never brought up again.  One section in the beginning (with the cooking puzzle I mentioned) was set up as a hallucination, which would’ve been a novel mechanic.  After all, we’ve established the poison is driving her crazy, so why not have more hallucinations to navigate?  But it’s never brought up again.  The game also drops the ball on being scary.  Despite some good atmosphere in the beginning, there’s only one really scary bit.  Yeah, it’s a jump scare I saw coming, but it was still well-done & exciting.  But then nothing scary ever happens again.  So overall, there’s nothing really wrong with the mechanics, but there’s nothing memorable.  Just a lot of missed opportunities.  Score: 3

Out for a midnight stroll

Out for a midnight stroll

Aesthetics: Both the art style & musical direction do a good job of setting up an eerie ambiance.  It’s dark & oppressive, & filled with whispering voices.  The scenes are nothing but still images, with the occasional moving bit to make them feel more alive.  The backgrounds are nicely cluttered, lending to the feel of the place being long abandoned, but not so much so that you’re not drawn to areas you can interact with.  Some of the animations on the characters seem a bit off, though.  Very uncanny valley.  The music, as I said, fits the mood, although it can get repetitive if you’re in an area for too long.  The voiceacting is okay, the few times there actually is any.  I mostly remember that the main character’s voice made me think of someone actively trying to change how their voice sounds.  So overall, a decent presentation.  Score: 3

Replay Value: Very low.  I can’t see anyone, even those who enjoyed the game, playing through more than once.  There’s no real reason to.  Score: 2

Breakdown

UntitledOverall Score: 3

Final Word: While not a bad game, White Haven Mysteries is fairly unmemorable, even as hidden object games go.  I doubt it’ll turn skeptics on to the genre, but fans of HOG might enjoy it if they can pick it up on sale.

– GamerDame

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6BHAbaaH8Y

Title: White Haven Mysteries
Console: PC, iOS
Rating: T
Developer: Gogii Games
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: April 17, 2014

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Filed under 3, Hidden Object, PC, Reviews

Game Review: Dragon Age Inquisition

One of the biggest complaints leveled against Dragon Age II was how small & repetitive the locations you visited were.  While this wasn’t really an issue for me, as DA2 was more about the events within a single city as opposed to an entire country, I do consent that the areas felt a bit disjointed & unconnected.  Dragon Age: Inquisition attempts to make amends for this by allowing players to roam not one city, or one country, but an entire continent, not to mention involving all of Thedas in some context.  So does Inquisition make the most of this sprawling world space?

Is it accurate to say all hell has broken loose?

Is it accurate to say all hell has broken loose?

Dragon Age: Inquisition takes place shortly after the events at the end of DA2.  Due to Anders’ actions in Kirkwall, mages have been blamed for the attack on the Chantry, leading to the Templars exacting revenge and prompting the Circles to disband in retaliation.  It’s an all-out war between both factions.  At the start of the game, the leader of the Chantry, Divine Justinia, calls for a Conclave, a peaceful meeting between mages & Templars to end the war.  However, a massive explosion destroys the Conclave, killing everyone involved & tearing a Rift in the sky.  This Rift sunders the boundaries between the real world & the Fade, allowing demons to freely traverse the plane.  This is where you come in: as the Herald, the only survivor of the explosion, believed to have been pulled from the Fade by Andraste, & physically marked by the Maker with the only means to close the Rifts.  Thus it falls on you to save the world from itself.

Actually not the biggest enemy you'll face in the game

Actually not the biggest enemy you’ll face in the game

While much of the gameplay remains the same as in previous Dragon Age games, there have been significant additions.  You begin by choosing a race (human, dalish, dwarf or Qunari) & a class.  BioWare brought back the tactical camera from the first game, giving players the option of the more fast-paced view, or pulling back to observe the entire battlefield.  Another new feature is the war table, where you essentially delegate tasks to your advisors to complete.  Different advisors may suggest different courses of action, leading to different outcomes.  Other additions include the return of a crafting system, hunting, harvesting, mounts, new specializations, & a revamped relationship system for your followers.

There will be no review of the multiplayer component of this game as I don’t do multiplayer.

Narrative: Inquisition definitely had the largest scope of the Dragon Age games so far, & the most far-reaching story.  All of Thedas becomes involved in your quest in some capacity.  Unfortunately, the only city you get to visit is Val Royeaux, the capital of Orlais.  It would’ve been nice to revisit locations from the previous game, like Denerim.  The plot itself is interesting, dealing with issues such as faith & fate.  I like that in all the Dragon Age games they balance the Circle & Templar factions in that neither side feels good or bad.  They both have valid points as well as missteps.  Inquisition finally gives closure to the conflict DA2 danced around & ties in well with the previous games.  I liked that, thanks to The Keep, you can shape the world to your previous games that, while not always having a noticeable impact on the way the story resolves itself, colors the game to being your world.  Did you make Alistair king or did he stay with the Wardens?  Did you go along with Morrigan’s ritual?  The changes these decisions offer may be minor in the long run, but it makes for a cohesive experience to those who’ve played the previous games.  I also enjoyed the characters in Inquisition.  All your followers & advisors have unique personalities & agendas, responding to your decisions both big & small.  The way you choose to play impacts how they relate to your character.  If I had a complaint with the story, it was that at times it becomes lost in the scope of the world.  As you explore the large areas offered by the game, it’s easy to forget what your ultimate objective is in all the tiny details.  But, that may have been just from the way I chose to progress through the areas, being the completionist I am.  So overall, interesting characters, cohesive world, & a plot that involves trying to stop a madman from usurping God.  Score: 5

Tactical Camera View

Tactical Camera View

Mechanics: There are a lot of gameplay features in Inquisition, so I’m going to focus on what I think worked the best & where there were problems.  For starters, it was good that they brought back the different races.  It adds more variety to the game & also affects the way people interact with your Herald.  I also liked the new talents & specializations.  Each class (mage, warrior, rogue) can unlock one of three specializations midway through the game, which were all fun.  Playing as a Dalish archer specializing in the Artificer tree, my favorite strategy upon approaching a group of enemies was the go into stealth, put down a mine under the strongest enemy, & when it went off, starting combat, Leap Shotting back behind my warriors.  Your followers also gain access to a specialization that suits them, so you get to play around with all of them, adding more variety to combat.  Speak of combat, it’s definitely improved since DA2.  Whereas DA2 felt more like a hack-&-slash, especially if you used a fast-attacking class, you no longer have to wail on the attack button.  You can just hold it down.  You have two sets of quick-select slots of talents, allowing you to map eight talents.  However, I didn’t like that there was no way to use talents you’d unlocked but had no room to map.  The tactical camera lets players fight however they prefer, be it more action or strategy-oriented, or a mix of both.  I typically stuck with the action view, occasionally switching to tactical to keep track of the entire field or to command a character to use a specific talent.  Hunting & harvesting are new features, & go well with the new crafting system.  You can find or buy schematics for weapons, armors & upgrades, which use the different resources.  I liked the crafting system overall, because it allows for customization of not only character appearance (both the Herald & followers) but stats & abilities.  On a more superficial note, I also liked that the armors have different appearances based on who’s wearing them.  You can also upgrade your potions, grenades & tonics, which again add more strategy.  Plus, throwing firebombs is fun.  The war table is also a nice addition, because it lends to the feeling of being in charge of this big organization that has resources scattered through the world.  It unrealistic for a leader to handle every matter personally.  Although I do wish some of the timers on the operations weren’t so long.  You can always cheat though, & just change the time on your console.

I’m fairly lukewarm about the mounts & approval system, though.  The mounts are nice, & cool to look at, but I never found a use for them in combat, despite the game’s insistence.  I would always just stop & get off to fight.  But it’s a nice, faster way of getting across the map if you have quests to turn in.  I’m also no crazy about the approval system.  While this has been a feature in all Dragon Age games, it’s not as well done as in the previous games.  You can only gain or lose approval based on your decisions during quests.  There’s no friendship/rivalry like in DA2.  Nor can you give gifts to your companions.  While this does make for a more dynamic story (keep doing things someone doesn’t like & they’ll leave) you may find yourself making decision based on balancing companion approval instead of what you want to do.  But it’s all in how you approach it.

Materials offer different benefits

Materials offer different benefits

For all the good, the game isn’t without faults.  For one, I experience a lot of bugs, especially later in the game.  Most of them were minor, like graphical bugs (such as characters sitting on the back of chairs or zipping around when they walked) or sound stutters, but some were more annoying, forcing me to restart the game or reload an area.  One example was that during Cassandra’s quest, a pile of loot that held the key I needed to progress spawned in the air over a door, preventing me from getting the key.  Some of the collections quests were bugged, with pieces spawning in inaccessible places.  I also didn’t like that the same button is used for jumping, looting, talking, or any action in general.  Because all the other buttons are assigned to combat, there were many times I looted when I wanted to jump to higher ground, or talked when I wanted to open a door.  The game can be a bit finicky in general about selecting a target, taking a few seconds to register that you’re in range of interacting with something.  Speak of jumping, I hated the amount of jumping puzzles in the game.  By “jumping puzzle” I mean the developers would put things in places where you’d have to navigate up a cliff by jumping.  It doesn’t help that when your character changes direction, they run forward a step before turning, instead of just spinning around.  While it may be more realistic than spinning on a dime, that’s little consolation when I fall off a cliff & hurt myself because I just wanted to turn around to jump to the next rock to reach a stupid shard.

So overall, while there were control & bug issues, most of the mechanics were well implemented into the game, were fun to mess around with, & added to the feel of being in control of a world power.  Score: 4

The stuff of nightmares

The stuff of nightmares

Aesthetics: I liked the look of the game overall.  It goes more for the fantastical feel that pure realism.  The areas are distinct & interesting, making exploring a joy.  The enemy designs are all varied.  I especially liked some of the designs of the demons.  The character customization options are insane, allowing you to create basically any face you want.  Seriously, how many games let you color your eyelashes?  The sounds design is good as well.  The music is nice.  The pieces during major quests feel especially epic.  The voice acting is good all around.  I’ve always liked that the different regions in Thedas have different accents.  You can usually tell where a character is from by their accent alone.  Overall, great presentation.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Very high.  Despite the length of the game if you want to complete everything, there’s plenty of replay potential.  Not only are there different races, classes, specializations & romances to experience, but you actually can’t see everything in the game in a single playthrough.  Some operations are only available to certain races.  And choosing between the mages or Templars affects blocks off certain quests & operations.  Not to mention The Keep allows you to mess around with the world’s history without having to replay the previous games.  Score: 5

Breakdown

UntitledOverall Score: 5

Final Word: In my opinion, Dragon Age: Inquisition is the best of the Dragon Age games so far.  Although it does have some flaws, it hits all the right notes to be a must-have for any RPG fan.

– GamerDame

Title: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Console: PC, PS3, PS4, 360, XB1
Rating: M
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 18, 2014

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Filed under 5, PC, PS3, PS4, Reviews, RPG, XBox 360