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.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Breath of the Wild Has a Boss Problem

Breath of the Wild did a lot of new things right, but I could not shake the lackluster feeling the bosses left after conquering each divine beast. Even the final encounter with Calamity Ganon felt abrupt and overly simple. Something was missing and I could not put my finger on it. I went back to previous Zelda titles to try and find why these newer encounters seemed to lack the intensity the older bosses held and why I still have nostalgic memories of so many older bosses to this day.

-The Boss Build Up-

The boss room was your final test; An arena only unveiled once you stepped through an intimidating door sometimes requiring a special key used only for that room alone. Link would cautiously enter the room, door closing abruptly behind him, as he glanced at his surroundings he moved forward slowly to the center of the room. This left the player guessing as to what could possibly come out and surveying the environment where they would do battle.

Bosses keep their keys in the most obvious of chests...
We all remember the long climb up the stairs as the organ music got louder when approaching Ganondorf in Ocarina of Time, the feeling of the heavy chain and lock falling from the gargantuan door as you proceed through, and the uneasy suspense when you are given control to walk around an arena with no boss yet revealed.

In BoW, the boss room is part of the already accessible map from the start, and after a few of the divine beasts were completed, you got the pattern; Unlock all five terminals, return to the big terminal usually in the middle of the beast and activate it to start the fight, then fight some iteration of Ganon. There was no looming door, no sense of surprise in opening to a big intimidating domain, and no real sense of buildup to what you could face. Which brings me to the biggest gripe...

-Keep it Fresh-

Blights of Ganon are all you really tackle in BoW, save Calamity Ganon himself and one additional boss not featured in a dungeon. They each harness a different element, but you knew what to expect after two dungeons. I am in a lightning based dungeon, I will face a ThunderBlight Ganon, fire dungeon means FireBlight Ganon, etc.

Today you face a giant flaming Mike Wazowski chasing you down a corridor
Zelda bosses, unless unveiled in a trailer, were always a bit of a surprise in both look and approach. I never knew what waited beyond that initial build up besides something associated with the theme of the temple. Sure, if I was in a temple featuring ghosts I would expect a ghost, but nothing along the lines of Jalhalla from Wind Waker, an obese ghost that you must throw into a spike layered pillar who then breaks into tiny ghosts that run around like chickens.

You also had expectant appearance from franchise staples like Ghoma, but these usually had a hitch to them. Ghoma varied greatly in style; from his first terrifying appearance in Ocarina of Time, to his molten counterpart in Wind Waker, to Twilight Princess in which he was fully armored spider only damaged by massive statues around you. On some occasions the bosses morphed into something else entirely with Twinrova fusing together to battle you as a single entity, or Stallord turning into a chase up a tower using the Spinner. Bosses were interesting and always different than the last in both appearance and tactical approach.


-Now You Must Face the Puzzle Itself-

After working through a dungeon reflecting light and changing water levels, the boss always acted like one final puzzle. Rarely straight forward, you had to wait until a boss exposed a weak point and utilize your newly acquired gear to gain the advantage before wailing on them.

Kansas City Shuffle
The Gemesaur King in Link Between Worlds that required you to break his armor and relight the room torches when he frenzied around attacking in the dark, reflecting orbs back at Phantom Ganon in an intense game of energy ball tennis, or Trinexx's dueling heads in LttP in which the opposite element can damage the corresponding head. Needless to say running up and slashing usually got you nowhere, whereas observing openings or actions that coincide with the dungeon item you gained become moments of clarity in how you were to topple the imposing figure before you.

For the Blight Ganons, it usually boiled down to simply attacking. Everything usually did damage to the boss in some minimal way. You could still stun them by hitting them with an arrow in the right spot but the majority of the encounters went like this; Windblight Ganon? Shoot him with arrows. Waterblight Ganon? More arrows. Fireblight Ganon? Literally run up close and slash him. Thunderblight Ganon was the only of the four requiring timing and parries to overcome. Halfway through their healthbar each would frenzy and introduce some new mechanic to dodge but ultimately became far too simple to overcome. 

-It's a Great Big World Out There-

That is not to say Breath of the Wild did not have some enjoyable boss encounters, just not the ones within the actual divine beasts. It is something to say in a game when I have more fun fighting the overworld enemies than the actual bosses.
Time to battle the Gorignak
Climbing onto a Stone Talus and slicing away at its heart, battling Molduga while surfing on a shield being towed by a sand seal, and even rolling under a Hinox to get a few slashes in on its legs is a blast. Even the Lynels require a lot of preparation and timing to overcome with feelings of satisfaction that overshadowed anything I fought in the divine beasts.

There were a plethora of creatures from looming robotic Guardians to massive dragons that offered such potential for a memorable boss encounter. You could argue they were staying true to the story or it would not have made sense for Dodongo to overtake a giant robot, but surely the blights could have possessed entities that made for far more interesting battles than what was offered. 

__________________________________________

It is hard to fault Breath of the Wild for trying something new. I love how they opened the main world up to exploration, I enjoy the divine beast mechanics of moving one aspect of the temple to turn a dungeon on its head, and I even do not mind the new inventory system of throwaway weaponry; but the bosses are the main thing I look forward to when playing Legend of Zelda. When I think back to the first time I started attacking Koloktos with his own arm in Skyward Sword, the first time I was able to hookshot onto Argorok's back to slam him to the ground in Twilight, or growing ten times my size to battle Twinmold in Majora; those are memorable moments of satisfaction in both gameplay and visual appeal; a feeling I did not match in Breath of the Wild's boss encounters.

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
DOOM
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.

Goawaygoawaygoawaygoaway!

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 oil...am 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

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 - http://www.playtonicgames.com/games/yooka-laylee/