Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My Date with Destiny - A Week with Destiny 2


I will be honest, I have rewritten this a dozen times over. Every time I go back into the game an issue I once thought was a big deal was dealt with or I went about something differently that made me think a small issue was not as dramatic as I thought. That is when I realized, that is the core of what this game is about...

That is Destiny 2. An ever evolving, ever shifting world where something will be irritating one week and enjoyable the next and vice versa.

Not to say there are not some constants.


This game is just fun to play. The shooting in Destiny is what made such an impact, and without a doubt it has been further refined in this installment. The satisfying sound of your weapon when pulling the trigger, the pop of headshots on enemies, and the destruction that follows your super is seamless and innately satisfying.

One constant I found unchanging is the soundtrack, because from start to finish it is a step above previous releases. Bungie has posted the entire soundtrack for free on their official Youtube page [1], and listening track by track you will hear a myriad of powerful, driven tones complimenting somber, hopeless music. Whether you are browsing inventory in the Tower or fighting waves of Fallen in a Public Event, the track backing your actions compliment the game.

The single player experience feels rushed, but is wonderfully put together. From the fall at the Tower to your rise against Ghaul, the missions are more structured and have many raid elements incorporated into their play like slamming orbs, using vehicles (new potential for Destiny), and acts as preparation for end-game content. While I was hoping to delve into the story of the OG fireteam (Cayde, Zavala, Ikora), it still delivers some powerful moments on its own. New characters are entertaining, but the need to have not two, but three "witty" characters proved irritating. The final fight though...very lacking in impact. I will not spoil anything but it gave very little payoff in both the encounter and end result.


Random improvements also help the experience. The Nightfall is much more challenging and enjoyable instead of a simple "you die you're done" rule from the last installment. Loot feels more plentiful and you will get your fair share of exotics through a multitude of events. Armor looks more unique and impactful, and as much as you may hate the shader system in place, it allows for a piece by piece customization. Weapons are automatically upgraded, and the sheer variety offer a multitude of options to lean toward a close quarters, long range, or all around type of Guardian. Strikes are way better with more interesting boss encounters and better overall engagements including giant drills, laser grid navigation, and fighting towering bosses.

The Crucible feels...slower. I have had a more limited time with it but have found most find this to be a good or bad thing depending on your preferred multiplayer experience. It is now 4v4 in lieu of 6v6 and the TTK (time to kill) is drastically increased. This means if you encounter two players and are all alone...likely you will die. It is much more team dependent, and lone wolfing it will likely result in death. The bad habits people have from D1 like running in and spamming fusion grenades or sliding shotguns into a group of three people does not have the tradeoff it once did. Playing together is rewarding, and playing for yourself results in failure. It is a shift from multi-kill centered chaos to celebrating something as simple as a double kill.

The Quickplay tended to shuffle to Supremacy the most, despite Control and Clash being the more preferred experience for Destiny players. Competitive is fun when you get a team that works together but needs a lot of rework in terms of the solo queued player. If a player quits in Competitive, unlike Quickplay, no player can fill in their spot. That means the one guy who says "screw this" and dips out, has left you at a 3v4 disadvantage which is HUGE in this game. A punishment system and a fixed MMR to avoid queuing against clans will be big, but for now there are some games where the odds are stacked against you.

New Crucible maps are interesting, but fail to capture the magic of the original. Everything feels closer together, more tight quartered and claustrophobic, making snipers feel potentially useless. The Crucible rework feels like it was maybe too much of a change, as I found myself preferring the PvE aspect of weekly rewards in lieu of the PvP promise of loot.


The good things outweigh the bad in Destiny 2. Most of the irritating issues are quick fixes like moving menus, adjusting map icons, and a few tweaks here and there for gameplay. They have fixed these in the past and can fix them now too. The game is fun and I find myself pouring hours into it much like the first installment. As you read this the raid is currently underway and I find myself excited to dive in and figure out the latest challenge as past raids always took a week or two to truly overcome.

So far, one week in, I find myself returning to finish a weekly event and level a new character. There is a lot in store in the coming weeks, and I look to it optimistically.

[1] - Youtube - Bungie - Official Destiny 2 Soundtrack - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jQ_NbelyZE&list=PLZUnIN1M4R_8kx4NXV3Nzdtsds6N_QKz6

Monday, August 14, 2017

Castlevania - Netflix Series Impressions


Adapting any video game to film or media has never been a high point. Something goes awry, be it sticking too close to the source material or straying far, far away from it. When a Castlevania anime series popped up on Netflix, I expected to be underwhelmed. Maybe it was going in with such expectations that let me leave the small series arc with a sense of optimism.

The Netflix series opens by doing away with the expectation of a young warrior off to fight an ancient evil. A young woman seeks Dracula's library to learn sciences that would help in healing her village and Dracula, intrigued by her purpose, entertains her and even falls for her. Many in the town see it as witchcraft and she is burned at the stake. Dracula goes from unsympathetic to justifiable as he unleashes his revenge on a town. The one love he had in the world, taken by those who did not understand.


Where do we find our hero, Trevor Belmont? Drinking in the pub far away from the mischief, looked down upon by the locals, his family name disgraced, getting into a drunken brawl before stumbling away to his own devices.

It was a refreshing change of pace, where Dracula would be established as the villain being a villain for villain's sake and our hero having his life together and nothing but praise and adoration from those around him. The story may not make any huge plot twists or devices, but the simplicity of picking the story up at this point was intriguing.

Most surprising is the sheer gore showcased. The games always had such a simplicity to it, that to see guts and body parts splitting apart took me aback, especially when it involved children. The show does not hold back at all. But when you unleash an army of hell on an entire village, ignoring such casualties as a possibility would be unrealistic.

The voice acting is standout. Nothing feels forced or unnatural, even side characters deliver dialogue to the tee.


For four episodes at twenty three minutes a piece, you can easily burn through the series in a day. It also reveals an odd bit of pacing and little payoff. Simon just begins to gain his resolve and assemble his entourage when the series ends. A lackluster but humorous ending battle, an expectant alliance; it all felt a bit rushed.

Animation is alright. Some of it looks great, like the animation of fire. But characters feel a bit stiff, looking more like a 90's cartoon than modern day animation. Growing up with animation like this, it was not a huge distraction, but for the anime junkie I can understand it being bothersome.

Despite having Castlevania in its name and familiar faces like Alucard or Trevor Belmont, this just did not feel...Castlevania. Maybe the atmosphere is all different, or the lack of any real sequences fans could relate to experiencing in-game, but for now it just feels like a new show that I am watching with Castlevania plastered on its surface.

A second season is inbound and I am interested to see where the supposed trilogy arc will ultimately culminate. Familiar names and creatures are fun to see in a Netflix series but hopefully the second season will provide better overall pacing, animation, and incorporation of Dracula's castle with more elements from the game. Given the short runtime, it is worth the watch for the witty retorts from Trevor alone.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Frontier Defense 2.0 - Titanfall 2 Impressions


The AI typically acts as score fodder in Titanfall 2; running around in small clusters begging to be used to boost your team or cooldown for a new Titan. Frontier Defense looks to turn that on its head much like the original Titanfall mode, providing a co-operative experience against the AI alone.

A team of four is dropped off onto a random map and must hold back five waves of grunts, titans, and flying drones from destroying The Harvester. It acts as a "defend the objective game" that evolves into working together to cover every angle the objective can be hit from, including across the map.

The first waves start simple with grunts and a single Titan to overcome. As the waves increase they intensify, with such enemies as Nuclear Titans that slowly lumber toward the objective to hit with massive damage or Arc Titans that drain the shield and emit and pulse of damage that makes close quarters difficult. Soon you find your team dividing lanes to stem the tide as drop after drop of enemies pile up to be managed. Even mortar Titans drive you out from your shelter as they pepper the shield of your objective from across the map.


You are not completely to your own devices, as a setup phase before each round will allow you to purchase equipment with money earned from the previous round by surviving the wave without dying, being MvP of your team, or preventing the Harvester from taking damage. Such items available for purchase include permanent arc traps that can temporarily disable enemies at a choke point, Sentry turrets, and even a nuke that can allow you to take a Titan with you upon your Titan's demise. Managing these costs and dispersing currency to your team to make sure everyone has a boost will help in controlling the waves of enemies.

The more you play the mode, the higher your Aegis rank advances. Your Aegis rank is tied to the Titan you chose to use, and makes them grow in power the more you play. Northstar, my personal favorite Titan to use, gained a slew of bonuses as I completed each match; the tether traps I usually send out would explode, my railgun would recharge faster, and even the cluster rockets I fired would be better. Every titan gains improvement in this way, some strengthening abilities to others strengthening armor and shields.

All this powering up is to help in tackling the more difficult modes; ranging from Hard to Insane.


It is hard to complain regarding free content, but the mode grew predictable after hitting your 3rd Aegis rank. You knew which maps had the mortar titans, which map had the flyers, and what wave they occurred. I found myself...bored. Bored during the initial waves, waiting for the real challenge in waves 3-5. By the time I had unlocked the harder difficulties and felt like I had the rank to make it happen, I became bored with the mode. Sure the tougher difficulties require coordination and communication to overcome, but the aesthetic reward you get must be paid for with purchased content, lessening my resolve to dive into the effort.

While the Aegis is able to power you up, it also limits team composition. If I am grouped with a bunch of people that lack an Ogre Titan to soak up damage, then we are automatically at a disadvantage and I must level another Titan up all over again. It is an insane grind just to allow you to even use a Titan that is needed on higher difficulties, and by the time that rank is reached you find yourself itching to play the shorter, more enjoyable competitive multiplayer modes.

Despite the shortcomings I found myself coming back to up my Aegis rank and see the potential power my Titan could have with each upgrade. It is an entertaining mode, but you find yourself gravitating back to the multiplayer to remind yourself what makes Titanfall so great in the first place.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Destiny Beta Impressions


The Destiny Beta is coming to a close and I will be honest...I played it sparingly. Not for lack of excitement or lack of interest in what was to come, but more so for two very concrete reasons:

Everything the Beta offered, I had seen before. The single player introductory mission, the PvP modes, the weapons, the supers, etc. Aside from a few additional weapons and armor, most of what I experienced through the Destiny 2 livestream was given here. Your character was decked out in purple gear, you were the capped at a level, there was nothing to do but grind for new weapons to try out and new armor to alter stats on...only for all of it to be deleted tomorrow.

The other reason...I was playing an outdated version of the game. The concerns that I and others had after initially getting into the beta with low super recharge time and grenade cooldown issues were addressed by stating that what we were playing was an old build [1]. Going from vanilla Destiny to what it is now was tweaks, both minor and major, and it made a drastic difference in overall accessibility and feel of the game. Knowing what I was playing was likely not going to be the end product made me less inclined to delve into it further.



The only real gain from the Beta was the sense of feel for how Destiny 2 was in comparison to Destiny 1...slower. This is both a good thing for PvP (kinda) and bad thing for PvE.

The whole appeal of the base combat in Destiny was charging a super and the satisfaction of mowing down an entire wave of enemies. You felt powerful, taking on swarms of Hive and Fallen a dozen at a time. Now enemies take much longer to bring down. I found myself fighting a shielded lieutenant in the campaign mission and got so bored chipping his health as he sat hovering in place that I just...left....I just walked right by him. He didn't mind at all, planting his fat self in place, firing in vain as I continued to the objective marker.

It was not all bad. The mission structure is much more involved this time around, with the opening mission featuring all the commanders you reported to previously fighting at your side and the obvious antagonist doing his due diligence in establishing himself as the end-game baddie you want to bring down. The highlight for me was not so much the pre-scripted scenes or environment but the moment in the mission where the game shifted from single to open multiplayer space in defending waves of enemies from the tower. The potential to open the game up for players who typically go it alone in these missions is huge. It gives the intended feeling of being part of something bigger and made the fighting that much better.


The slower pace on the flip side is good for PvP...kinda. Reducing the party size from 6v6 to 4v4 and increasing the TTK has the game switching from rushing shotguns to strategic play and communication. Outnumbered? You will likely lose. Random grenade kills? Not as prevalent in this one. The downside of this is the huge recovery time. Engaging in a 1v1 and winning will send you running and basically put you behind cover as you wait painfully for that shield bar to regenerate. The lowered super recharge rate and more concern for staying alive has shifted the game from beautiful chaos of big teams clashing to quick skirmishes where every cool down can save your life. Some like the toned down nature, others find it miserably slow.

The foundations for a great game are all there, Bungie just has to capitalize on it. We have been here before, as I remember joining Destiny 1 during the Crota DLC, and since that day the game has drastically undergone a ton of changes. Concerns of fans and outcry over issues are usually addressed, and given that Bungie had the same thought process that we did in terms of beta issues, if the concern is great enough they can make the changes necessary to make Destiny great again (cue Trump face). There is still a TON of content yet to be experienced, and this simple taste of what the game can bring gives potential. Let's just hope that potential is not wasted.


[1] -  Bungie.Net - This Week at Bungie 7/20/2017 - https://www.bungie.net/en/News/Article/46077/

Thursday, June 15, 2017

E3 2017 - The Games to Watch

BEST IN SHOW
Super Mario Odyssey
Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 27th, 2017



Nintendo somehow manages to steal the show with a single trailer. We were prepared for the world of New Donk City, and knew this game would be a complete step in a new direction for the franchise in terms of setting. We were not prepared for the zany trailer that made such an impact yesterday. A Mario game where you possess practically everything around you by throwing your hat onto the object. Such noticeable takeovers were taxi cabs, rocket ships, Goombas, and even a T-Rex. All the while, the game looks outstanding with a "Link Between Worlds" esque platforming sequence along a pillar, hat flinging combat, and a huge potential with possessing multiple entities. Tack on the fact that this title will be out at the end of this year and the gameplay trailer accomplished its goal of peaking interest across the board.


Dragonball Fighter Z
PS4 - Xbox One - PC
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: Early 2018


There have been a number of Dragonball Z fighting games, but none like what was showcased at Microsoft's press conference. Coming from the developer of Guilty Gear, this could be a potential competitive 3v3 fighter you will see more of at big league tourneys. Players will choose from the roster of fan favorites in 2D action, tagging in their partner when they choose and unleashing devastating meter combos to gain the upper hand. The game is visually incredible and the fighting looks fast and most of all precise. There is a polish not only to the look but overall fluidity of the combat.

The Last Night
PC - Xbox One
Developer: Odd Tales
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release Date: 2018


A standout for the Microsoft conference this year, The Last Night looks like the indie title to watch. This 2D sidescroller stood out with stunning visual aesthetic akin to Blade Runner meets Castlevania. Not much was revealed as of yet except that the game will feature elements of stealth, gunfights, and exploration.


Fortnite
PC - Xbox One - PS4
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Epic Games
Release Date: July 25th, 2017


First unveiled in 2011 Epic Games unveiled Fortnite during the Spike VGA. At the time, it was simply announcement of a concept, which led to six years of development effort before releasing the game in a playable state. What they have produced looks like splendid chaos of crafting buildings and holding off waves of enemies. Giving the player the ability to craft all the structures to intercept the swarming hordes of undead and giving each role a pivotal purpose in making it come to fruition looks like a co-op experience that can produce some truly fun moments.

Skull & Bones
PC - Xbox One - PS4
Developer: Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: Q3/Q4 2018




Assassin's Creed: Black Flag featured some entertaining ship battle mechanics, and Skull & Bones looks to expand upon that formula. Showcasing a 5v5 PvP environment where different ships have different capabilities, we saw potential for a seafaring strategy Battleship like game as teams competed to get the most loot and make it out alive. The game looked detailed and vibrant and gameplay looked similar to Black Flag as ships fired mortars, cannons, and rammed each in attempt to sink or board the opposing ship. Still a ways away in release date but the initial showing was fantastic.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
Switch
Developer: Nintendo/Ubisoft
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: August 29th, 2017


It sounds insane putting Rabbids with Mario and using an Xcom approach to battle, but it looks oddly entertaining.  The gameplay utilizes cover mechanics and turn based strategy as Mario and friends use their abilities to move and attack in sync with each other for combos. The terrain changes as the game goes on allowing you to flank or alter the setup of cover. It looks like a blast, and has the potential to be a huge release this year for the Switch.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Wolfenstein II (Multi Platform)- Never played Wolfenstein, but the humorous take and approach looks like a love letter to fans.
Lawbreakers (PC/PS4) - Twitch shooting at its finest and a release date of August! Looks fast as hell.
SW:Battlefront II (Multi Platform) - Vast improvement over the original, looks like much more content this time around and a lot of potential with space combat.
Yoshi/Kirby (Switch) - Looks like classic side scrolling action, both look like fun 4 player LAN experiences
Spiderman (PS4) - Insomniac can be trusted after that showcase, fast, gorgeous, and swinging looks real smooth.
Anthem (Multi Platform) - Exploration looks insanely satisfying, Bioware has big potential with this one, but will wait to see if the look will hold up across platforms.