Friday, February 3, 2017

Three Shades of Hard Mode

I am currently playing three different games on their hardest difficulties. I have no idea why I started this, but I have come too far now. Glutton for punishment? Sure, we will go with that. Maybe I was tired of trudging through normal mode to only replay the game all over again.

Whatever the reason, I am finding that each of these games has had a different impact on me overall. Some kindle frustration, others incite strategy and new ways of thinking, but each has made their own impression in how I play and what I am experiencing.

The Trial and Error
Gears of War 4
Insane Solo-Mode Rundown:
  • Health much lower than normal, cover a necessity
  • You do not "go down" to be revived, you just die.
  • Fast grubs can two shot you with melee attacks
  • Drones are aggressive and rush with shotguns, capable of one-shotting
  • Enemies take much more damage to bring down.

The first and most frustrating is that of Gears of War 4's insane difficulty, in what I imagine purgatory must be like. Gears of War is a cover shooter; all about staying down, taking your shots, and using the environment to your advantage to flank the enemy.

Insane mode has changed that into a reserved game of peek a boo. Peeking out of cover can result in instant death from snipers or torque bows. Drones are much more aggressive, charging you out of cover and instantly killing you with a single bullet from shotguns. Many of the heavier weapons or pathways you could usually take have to be used sparingly, lest you die to a stray Juvie.

You will die to these...a lot

The main issue is with such high expectancy of death, the game does not feel particularly designed for this mode. There are segments with little to no cover, segments that felt like I was lucky in enemies not charging me over enemies that did charge me on occasion, or my AI distracted the enemy whereas sometimes the enemy booked it straight for me. In a mode where you are flushed out of cover continuously by grenades or flanking enemies, it can seem almost like a stroke of luck in some situations.

Bottom line, it is proving difficult, but viable. I get stuck on certain segments, but find walking away and trying again later proved to assist with any hangups. The game is one of the hardest of the series (the other three had their moments as well), but with enough patience and luck, I am already a few chapters away from completing the game.

The Unforgiving Tutor
Nightmare Mode Rundown:

  • Enemies deal far more damage than normal, one-shotting in most cases.
  • Enemies take much more damage to bring down.
  • Constant movement while firing is a requirement to live.
  • Healing items/armor have less value on pickup.

I started a fresh run for DOOM in lieu of new game plus in which you keep all of your upgrades to give a fresh experience to the mode. Mind you, I did not choose the absolute hardest difficulty of Ultra Nightmare, a mode in which the only caveat from Nightmare is permadeath where once you die you have to start all over again.

Where Gears 4 felt like strategy relying on a spring of luck, Doom felt like a lesson in how to play properly. If you stand still or strafe in a predictable pattern the game will be quick to punish you. Fluid combat is the name of the game, running and gunning without predictable movement and constant awareness of enemy position.


It started rough, with a lack of weaponry and armor, it was easy to be killed in a single shot. Once inventory expanded and upgrades were unlocked, the game become not only much more manageable, but much more enjoyable. Battles were tense, with hectic firing as knights closed the gap to smash you and weaving between fireballs from imps; I was having more fun than the Normal mode play through I experienced, preparing for big battles and scrounging for armor and health before trudging forward.

While Nightmare is proving fun, I do find that knocking it down to Ultra-Violent would be the prime way to first experience DOOM with tense battles without the early game death expectancy.

The Way to Play
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Death March Rundown:

  • Enemies have 80% more health, deal 230% more damage.
  • Health does not naturally regenerate and requires food/potions to replenish.
  • Being outnumbered usually results in a quick death.
  • Battle preparedness is necessary early game.
  • Even with leveling and gear, each fight can be a challenge.

In contrast to the previous two modes, one a lesson in pain and another a lesson in play, this mode feels like the prime example of a hard difficulty that I would recommend to experience The Witcher 3 as it was intended to be experienced.

Death march is all about planning effectively, and fighting efficiently. Minding your spacing, your positioning, and managing your gear as the game intends. Going up against a monster contract that will surely be a dangerous foe? Preparing your armor and gear at the blacksmith and drinking a few potions goes a long way in giving you the upper hand. Studying enemies, approaching each quest cautiously; I felt like a Witcher.

Weak to Quen, got that I doing homework?

I found myself having more fun than I did on normal mode, as each fight was more hectic than the last. Intimidating beasts felt more like a challenge, swarms of enemies more like a real danger, and one on one swordplay much more satisfying. Being an RPG, leveling and gearing up goes a long way in assisting the ease of it all, but it cannot assure smooth sailing in all situations.

The necessity of upkeeping gear, looking into the Bestiary for enemy weaknesses, and preparing for battle made Witcher 3 that much better. Out of the three games I am currently juggling, this is the hard difficulty that has made the biggest impact on my feelings toward the game. I feel like it was not only a challenge, but the way the game was meant to be played; carefully and with vested interest.

It was interesting to see how a simple thing like a difficulty change can drastically effect the impact a game can have, especially the contrast between games. Upping the difficulty can change some games entirely; it can make some games frustratingly satisfying to complete, and others improve your overall skill entirely. I love seeing how each game not only challenges your ability as a player but makes you approach situations differently than being on auto-pilot in normal mode.

You may not be one to suffer through tougher difficulties, and I do not blame you. Trial and error is common, and must be expected. But I do encourage you explore the tougher difficulties further, as it may end up changing your thoughts on a game entirely. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Three Games that Ruled My 2016

I will be upfront, there was not much time for video games this year; with a new marriage, job change, and new city there was a lot to tackle that kept me away from gaming. Which is difficult, because 2016 had plenty to offer; The Witness, Doom, Titanfall 2, Gears 4, Recore, etc. That being said, I kept it alive best I could with 2015 titles I was catching up on and big releases friends were playing.

3. Destiny: Rise of Iron

You could argue the many faults of Destiny, but for all it did wrong, my friends and I kept coming back for the sheer enjoyment of that shared frustration. The satisfying gunplay, the challenging raid encounters, and the subtle changes that improved the experience kept you coming back throughout the year. Bungie filed out a lot more updates after the lull period upon release of Taken King. Some were minor changes, others were major overhauls to loot and alleviating the grind.

Rise of Iron brought enough to bring many back for another trek for the Traveler. A raid that required strategy and coordination with unique boss encounters, new weapons and armor to grind for and customize, and even new PvP maps and modes. The latest winter event update even brought about changes to engram decryption and the SRL racing event.

Love it or hate it, Destiny made a mark on the gaming world. Despite all it did wrong, I found myself working to make my Titan an imposing force in PvE.

2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Seventy-eight hours logged into the world of Witcher 3. In that time I battled monsters three times my size, made difficult choices that were morally gray, and explored vast caverns and haunted ruins. I had crafted armor from materials that were looted from monsters and fallen foe, customized powers to work with my sword heavy play style, and played countless hours of the Gwent card game. The most incredible thing from all of this is that I had barely even scratched the surface of what this game has to offer.

Without a doubt, The Witcher 3 is the single greatest RPG I have played to date. CD Projekt Red crafted a game that not only offered a compelling story and characters, but satisfying swordplay and an immense world filled with activities and exploration. I knew I could have just as much fun riding around in the wild without a sense of direction than I could queuing up for a questline. The sidequests were enjoyable, and usually had just as much of an impact as the main story with tales of love, betrayal, and revenge.

With two expansions under its belt, Witcher 3 is one of the most expansive games I have played in recent memory. Whether I was engaged in a battle with a beast I was hunting down or simply standing over a high cliff looking out into the incredibly detailed world; I was having fun.

1. Overwatch

Team Fortress 2 was my bread and butter for multiplayer, and Overwatch is the first multiplayer game that truly matched or exceeded that experience. Fast paced gameplay that requires communication and adaptation to overcome a choke point. It is an insane experience where no matter what role you play, you feel like you are contributing to some end.

The strong personality of each character, the varying playstyles to match your preference, and the the ever evolving meta of strategy has me looking into reddit posts, studying different tactics, and even dare I say it...practicing. You can always improve, always do more, and the outlying potential gives that dangling carrot to come back for more.

The other plus is that this game is an ever evolving, ever changing experience. This year alone, it has not only added two additional characters to the roster, but brought about new game modes, new skins, new maps, and even changed old character loadouts to make them more useful.

Despite a handful of maps and modes, no two games are alike. It is this constant that keeps Overwatch at the top of the list for my favorite game of 2016, and one I will play well into 2017.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Spotlight - Yooka-Laylee

Xbox One - PS4 - PC - Wii-U
Developer: Playtonic Games
Publisher: Playtonic / Team 17
Release Date: 2017

Banjo-Kazooie lives on as one of the most incredible 3D platformers for its time. A game that was challenging, inventive, and had so much personality that you never knew what would await you in the next world.

That development team has mostly disbanded, but many have come together for this latest buddy duo, Yooka Laylee:

Taken from their website [1]:

"Across more than five vast and beautiful game worlds, Yooka and Laylee will use their arsenal of special moves to tackle a huge variety of puzzles and platforming challenges in search of Pagies, the golden bounty used to unlock - and expand - new playgrounds, each jammed to the gills with oddball characters and hulking bosses. The magical Pagies will assist the buddy-duo in their ultimate mission to thwart corporate creep Capital B and his devious scheme to absorb all the world's books...and convert them into pure profit."

The overall charm of the game comes not only from the nostalgic look of previous 3D platformers, but the perfectly tuned soundtrack thanks to returning veterans David Wise (Donkey Kong Country) and Grant Kirkhope (Banjo Kazooie).

The trailer alone showcases mine cart segments, fantasy themed worlds strewn with collectible items, and a slew of gameplay mechanics to conquer various obstacles.

Yooka-Laylee is a bright, promising throwback that will be sure to appease Banjo Kazooie fans and newcomers alike. The game is currently set to be released first quarter of 2017.

[1] - Yooka-Laylee - Official Website - 

Monday, November 7, 2016

I Still Have Not Finished Witcher 3

Fifty-five hours on record...that includes side missions, restarting a campaign after reaching the first real story act to play on a harder difficulty, hours of Gwent, hunting down Witcher armor, and generally exploring the world.

I am nowhere close to finishing this game.

Consistently I have put it down to venture off and play Overwatch with friends when new content came out, or return to Destiny for the Rise of Iron Expansion. With so many titles that have been released and will soon be released, there is only so much time I can devote toward a single game. 

This is actually not a bad thing, as Witcher 3 is a much more enjoyable game when played in an episodic manner. The sole focus of Witcher 3 is locating Ciri, Geralt's former pupil and key to the story. I have chased her across two cities now, scouring the streets, working with local gangs, and even confronting fabled witches just for a glimpse of what she had encountered along her journey. Ciri has been this enigma, my sole focus of the game, and I feel when I finally meet her it will be more in line with Geralts' feelings of seeing a long lost friend. 

'World's Best Hide and Seek Player 2016'

Open world games are easier to plop back into as well. I am able to get a handle on the controls and powers a lot better simply wandering the world completing the miscellaneous tasks like fighting tournaments and horse racing. 

Just imaging how much content is left, including the DLC content, I cannot imagine finishing this game before the end of the year. As I enter the Skellige islands, I feel as though I am reaching the home stretch, but I am in no rush to complete the game. There are bounties to fulfill, several rounds of Gwent to be played, and a ton of monster nests left to explore. 

Witcher 3 is a game that is meant to be sipped and enjoyed like a finely aged bourbon, not chugged like a light beer on game day.