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.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Overwatch Review - United We Stand

Score: 10 / 10
PC - Xbox One - Playstation 4
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Release Date: May 24th, 2016

  • Games are fast and easy to pick up and put down
  • Heroes are diverse and each one has huge personality
  • Loot boxes are welcome rewards for continued play
  • Play of the Game never gets old
  • Active medals for your performance help gauge your contribution
  • Highlight Reels are lost after exiting the game

Constantly during my games of Overwatch, my mind is at work. Who do they have on their team, what do we need on our team, is my performance working, should we push or defend? The mental game of tug of war in my head was playing out on the battlefield, as new Heroes presented new problems to overcome. The thrill of holding a payload inches from the objective, the satisfaction as you make the highlight reel for the play of the game, the feeling of accomplishment in fending off an opposing force; these feelings never lessened in the hundreds of games I played leading to this review. Overwatch has taken the simplest of gaming formulas and perfected it for one of the best multiplayer games in a long time.

The brilliance of Overwatch is its ability to prioritize the team over your self, and its encouragement for you to play with that in mind. Every Hero has a weakness of some sort to more than one Hero, meaning your continual barrage of attack will likely be countered by the enemy team. It does not matter how good you are with Tracer, if you run into a Roadhog or McCree, you are automatically at a disadvantage. Staying together is the only way to insure you have backup against these foes, and the constant game of rock, paper, scissors with the Heroes means going in with a healthy balance at the start will provide the greatest result. Even in the Hero selection screen you will see a tip of what your team is missing to better guide player choice.

Heroes share the core four roles to balance in a team, but each one is wildly different in play style to the last. If your team is lacking a damage dealer Tracer and Pharah are both in the Assault category, but Tracer is more of a poke damage player getting in and getting out, while Pharah is an AoE splash damage character that fires rockets from the skies. Torbjörn and Symmetra both act as builders, but his turret is more central and damaging and hers are more scattered and weak on their own. Every character houses two abilities and an ultimate ability that charges with in-game action, and the diversity and range offered promises that no matter the role you are required to fill in your team, there will be a Hero to match.

Your choice of Hero is a difficult one to make, thanks in part to some entertaining character design. The personality and quality of each character is reflected in their playstyle. Tracer is the poster child of Overwatch with her quirky attitude, it is easy to see why she is the speedster. Junkrat's maniacal cackle coincides well with his explosives, Zarya's bodybuilding strength reflects in her tanking, and Reaper's sinister presence compliments his flanking close quarters attack. There is so much life in every single character of this game, and the lore that is tucked away on each level gives only a glimpse into each of their origins.

Matches evolve as the game progresses on most maps, but you will likely be escorting a payload or fighting for a control point. Games play out as a veritable tug of war, as defenders respawn and scramble back to the front lines and attackers push to capture and hold a position. Each map has its own identity, be it the open streets and sets of Hollywood to the bright and sunny Ilios. There are areas where Lucio will shine in knocking players off, but others where Mercy has open paths to quickly burst to someone she must heal. No matter the map location, each feels unique and always offers branching pathways to really open up flanking and strategy. Plenty of games later, I am finding new items in the lobby rooms pertaining to its story, and new rooms and positions to set up for defense or utilize on attack.

The conclusion of the match showcases a plethora of stats to work off of, both personally and globally. The Play of the Game highlight reel is an absolute riot to witness the most intense moment of the game that you may have performed or been the victim of at some point. Additionally, four players are highlighted for their contributions ranging from most healing to most sentry turret kills. It is a fine way to give credit where credit is due to those who may have been healing in the background or shutting down ultimates all game.

Sound design is top notch and plays a pivotal role in the game itself. You learn the cues of incoming ultimates, cowering away as you hear McCree shout "It's High Noon" and pushing forward on Lucio's "Oh, Let's Break it Down" motif. Heavy footsteps means enemies nearby, the satisfying ping means a headshot was made, and the epic musical buildup as the clock winds down means the opposing team is sure to push for one last ditch effort. Even subtle hints when a player yells "turret destroyed" gives a cue that one big line of defense is gone without anyone uttering a word. Everything works in sync, and the attention to detail in something so easily overlooked is well appreciated.

Loot boxes are your reward for hard work and offer a plethora of customization. You can customize the line your Heroes spout, the victory pose they perform at the final shot of the team, and the skin used in battle. Everything gained from these boxes are simply cosmetic, and provide no real benefit to the characters as a whole besides a snazzy look or interesting highlight reel introduction. There is an option to purchase loot boxes, but the patient need not shell out anything additional.

The last time I awarded a game a perfect score was Uncharted 2. I had to ask myself the real cons of the game. You could complain the game is tailored to be played with friends and is tough on the solo player, you could complain about the lack of single player content, I could even gripe about the connection speed at times. But really, none of it was a big enough issue. No matter what little gripe I made, I want to go back and play. Even as I write this review I am figuring the hours I can spend with the game this weekend, I am looking into improving with Heroes I am weak in playing, and I am watching streams of other players to learn new approaches. The fascination and obsession with Overwatch is because for the first time since Team Fortress 2, I am hooked on a multiplayer game. I want to get better, I want to improve, and as the game ending screen fades away I find myself eager to improve the next match.