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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sunset Overdrive Review - Embrace the Chaos

Sunset Overdrive
Score: 9.25 / 10
Xbox One
Developer: Insomniac Games
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Release Date: October 28th, 2014

  • Open world that encourages you to explore
  • Embraces the humor of the story in the gameplay
  • Movement is fluid and fast
  • Slew of collectibles, challenges, and missions to experience
  • Vast array of weaponry and customization 

  • Co op's anarchy makes it difficult to follow
  • Interruptions of necessary fort defense can halt the flow of the campaign

Sunset Overdrive is wonderful chaos. A Saturday morning cartoon for adults, reflected in its over the top one liners and frantic gameplay. A game that encourages destruction and variety, and punishes the conventional. From the gun play to the character customization, Sunset Overdrive will tailor to the inner anarchist in every respect.

So many elements of other titles are melded together into a single cohesion of destruction and mayhem. Take the scoring and soundtrack of Tony Hawk, the weaponry of Ratchet and Clank, and the characters of Borderlands and you have Sunset Overdrive in a nutshell. The world is your literal playground as you grind along rails firing explosive teddy bears at hulking monsters. Complete missions ranging from donning a triceratops head and mauling enemies to chugging cough medicine to infuse leeches to use on a LARPer. The absurd is glorified in this game, and it turns fetch quests and enemy clearing into something entertaining.

The basis of gameplay revolves around keeping up momentum combining traversal and combat. Your style meter builds as you shoot and move at the same time, encouraging you to stay in motion and mix up your weapons. This is eased by the simplicity of transitioning. It takes a little bit to get the hang of, but thanks to the number of traversals you can keep a combo up forever if you wish to; wall running, grinding rails, and bouncing on the tops of umbrellas or cars keeps you moving and harder to hit. These are littered throughout the world, promising a chain to each move you do. Treating the game like a traditional third person shooter is doable, but much less rewarding and much more dangerous in the possibility of getting hit once the number of enemies picks up.

The world is an open city with few limits, and the content offered is immense. Challenge icons testing your ability to perform set actions or speedy traversals, collectibles ranging from shoes dangling from power lines to toilet paper strewn across light poles, and side missions to earn extra cash are everywhere. Every corner of the map is utilized in some way shape or form, to the point that if I felt like setting off to a new location I was sure to find new collectibles or points of interest nearby. Towering power plants, amusement parks, and dog parks are just a few iconic areas you will grind across in your adventures.

You cannot have a serious plot with the tone of those game, and as such Insomniac has created a self referential comedy. You play a down on his/her luck sanitation worker, who escapes the madness of a viral outbreak created by an energy drink, Overcharge. With the help of the locals, you act as one of the last few survivors who seek to escape the city. Stellar voice work gives life to a plethora of unique individuals you will assist along the way, and cutscenes always promise a laugh. While the games emotional appeal and dire necessity of escaping the city is lacking, it meshes well with the carefree attitude of the game.

Every action you do will make you more powerful in some way by rewarding experience, cash, or overcharge to spend. The weapons for purchase range from grenade launchers to freeze bombs to automatic rifles, each with a unique twist or attribute that can be further augmented with amps like freezing bullets or enemies that explode in confetti. Likewise, cash can be spent on your visual aesthetic, offering scuba suits to pimp hats in customizing your character to your preferred post apocalyptic look. With customization for your epic ability that triggers on style level 3 to tailoring your overdrive perks for more automatic weapon damage, there is a wide array of options to not only tailor your look but lean toward your preferred play style to match.

Chaos Squad is the game's multiplayer component that matches you up with seven other players for mission based mayhem, culminating in a defense night similar to the campaign. The mode is exactly what it suggests, as weapons and enemies are flying everywhere. Missions across the city are pretty straight forward but offer varying rewards for the defense night. The chaos is a blast, but also so much that you can hardly gain a sense of what is going on; additionally most players have varying degree of weaponry and some can clear entire groups with a single shot of their high powered weapons.

Sunset Overdrive is a game I am sad I missed out on at launch, but glad I made a priority to play later. It is easy to pick up and harder to put down as missions, challenges, and collectibles beckon your call. The simplicity of the gameplay and plethora of customization opens up a wide potential of possibility and experimentation. The over the top humor and action is a blast, and the momentum never slows as the game presses forward. Random, frantic, and explosive; it is a game worthy of your time.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Pyre

PC  - PS4
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Supergiant Games
Release Date: 2017

Supergiant games promise a stellar soundtrack, unique visual asthetic, and satisfying top-down action; Pyre looks to deliver the same standard we have come to expect and more.

Pyre is a party based RPG game. Not much is known on gameplay at this time, but Supergiant's blog has revealed details on the actual story:

At the beginning of the game, your luck has almost run out when several masked wanderers find you and revive you from the brink. With your help, they seek to learn the truth about the Rites, a secretive competition through which the worthiest exiles can return home, absolved of their transgressions. As you journey across the Downside in the wanderers' custom blackwagon, you'll meet a variety of characters of all shapes and sizes, and learn what's in store for each of them should they prevail in the Rites. Your actions will determine who returns to glory, and who remains in exile to the end of their days.
Aside from the unique look of Pyre, the standout feature from the trailer is the main theme.  Transistor and Bastion both featured prominent soundtracks with tunes that stood out, and this title looks to promise more of the same quality.

The game boasts difficult choices, investment in rich characters, and arena style action. Given the success of Supergiant Games, this will be sure to be a game to keep on your wishlist. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Jump In! The Water is Fine!

I have been playing Sunset Overdrive for a solid 10 hours or so, progressing through the story and doing oddball side missions, but always avoiding the surrounding water. The game never told me I could drown or swim, I made that assumption myself. I stick to grinding rails, running on walls, and falling from 50 stories; but anything near the boats and the oceans I avoided.

It took a misstep in platforming for me to realize the game was made for you to traverse water as well. I was falling toward the blue abyss, certain of a respawn, when my character dipped under and bobbed back to the surface. You could even grind along the surface of the water itself. All this time, I had abstained from going near collectibles amidst the water until my platforming abilities furthered in progress, and it was all out of this pre-existing fear that I would have to respawn and start over.

Wait, I can skate on this?

The vast majority of the games I have played had programmed me to associate water with death.

Very few considered swimming viable. Grand Theft Auto was a prime example, as swimming would not be incorporated into the game until San Andreas. One slip off the balcony and boom, gone. Psychonauts? Dead. The first Assassin's Creed? Desynched. Red Dead Redemption? You Don' Drowned. Even Batman wants nothing to do with swimming as he immediately grapples away in the Arkham City entries.

That is not say in most games it feels unjustified. In Infamous, you avoided the water by choice because we all saw cartoons when toasters entered the picture near water. Additionally, if I am walking around in a suit of armor that weighs more than me on Halo or Dark Souls, it is expected that I should sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Swimming runs strong in my bloodline...kinda

There also was justification in the limitations of the hardware at the time. Animating a character model to swim is not a simple task, and could take a substantial amount of time, not to mention coding the action for the player and the AI. Additionally oceans and bodies of water acted as invisible walls in early gaming, big blue nothings to relay to the player, "Hey, stay over there, nothing fun this way."

That is not to say water was avoided entirely, but only when it was presented as an element to the particular level or mission. The more infamous of  Mario levels ,World 2-2, would became a staple as you hum along to the familiar tune, but you were thrust into the water immediately.  We all try to forget the Water Temple in OoT, but swimming was introduced as you plummeted in the first dungeon to the pool at the bottom of the Deku Tree. Each established clearly, "Okay, water is fine in this."

 Drink some water just...just don't get too close

Lately it has become hard to tell. Here are a list of recent games that result in death in deep water, some on the outskirts of stages, others with large bodies of water throughout:

Overwatch, Destiny, Halo V: Guardians, Batman: Arkham Knight, Tomb Raider (2013), Dragon's Dogma

Here are games that allow swimming in deep water:

Witcher III, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Ori and the Blind Forest, Just Cause 3, Fallout 4, Sunset Overdrive

Despite the trend of including swimming in recent games, the occasional variance snaps me back to my usual feeling. It is like the vast majority of early gaming had me avoid it, and the newer games are easing me back into the kiddie pool.

From now on, I suppose I will have to emulate the same tactic I do in real life; Dip a toe in and see if the water's fine.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ode to Albion

I remember revisiting Bowerstone after proving myself in the Arena, proud of the new gold I earned and eager to spend it on new armor and weapons in the shop. I strolled back into town and was greeted eagerly by the villagers. Cheers rang out as they shouted my title of Ranger, one I chose for myself based on my customization tailored to ranged combat. I pick a few new pieces of armor before visiting the local school and soaking in all the applause and praise from the children, striking a heroic pose before setting off to greater dangers.

That was the initial feeling of Fable that was sustained throughout three entries; taking the role of a powerful hero and laying influence on the world around you.

What made Fable standout for me was its world of Albion, and the overall charm that it possessed. A living, breathing world that continued even after my console was turned off., the dog is not for sale.

Albion was a world that never took itself too serious. A Monty Python-esque setting where the absurd was encouraged. Demon Doors barred your path to treasure in the demand of your character being too skinny, gnomes taunted you from high faced cliffs as you aimed to check them off of your collectibles, and local villagers made comments as I remain unmoved exclaiming, "You just gonna stand there like a lemon?" Humor was central to the world of Albion, and even amidst the tragedy your hero encountered, you could always expect a good laugh around the corner.

In the same respect, it held an array of creatures plucked from fairy tales. Litters of Hobbs would guard hidden treasures in damp caverns, lumbering earthen trolls would pop out of the ground and toss boulders at you, and even undead Hollow Men would rise from the grave to overwhelm you. There were unique takes on famous creatures of lore, from Balverines to Sentinels, and each felt more intimidating as the game progressed. You felt like part of the storybook as each fantasy themed creature sought to bar your path.

Albion was a world of heroes and villains, and the personalites you met along the way made a lasting impact. The domineering villainy of Jack of Blades and his ruthlessness in his quest for control, the mysterious Theresa's appearance in all three installments acting as narrator and guide to your journey, and the quick-witted Hero of Skill, Reaver whose morally questionable acts teeter him on the edge of villainy and heroism. There was a healthy mix of characters with noble intentions and those with ill conceived views of the world. Each was unique in look, tone, and overall impact. You were quick to pick favorites and even quicker to vow vengeance on those who did you wrong.

Daddy's gotta go get revenge, be back before dinner

The most outstanding aspect of Albion was the individuality of its impact. The world and the game, was what you made it. For me, it was playing the role of noble hero, opting to save villagers and help those in need in every decision. It was gaining a wife and child and settling them outside the city to have them run to greet me upon my return. For others it was breaking into every house and stealing, it was having a slaughterfest of town guards to see how big of a fine they could rack up, it was cross dressing and fighting bandits in the woods; what you got out of the game is what you put into it and the world of Albion was expansive enough to accommodate those desires.

Lionhead's recent closure had me ponder if I would ever venture into a newly envisioned Albion ever again. No, the Fable franchise was not the pinnacle of gaming excellence and there were promises unfulfilled; but the world of Albion and the playground the developers created was a joy to explore. There may never be another Fable title, but I rest easy knowing that my world in Fable III will always be there should I ever return to kick chickens, battle bandits, or just interact with the townsfolk.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Destiny's April Update Impressions

Destiny's latest update showcases how little changes can make a big difference. There are highs and lows to the update but after spending time with it this past week, I found myself invested in a game I left behind in December.

He is all talk, trust me

Malok, Pride of Oryx

This is an update and not an expansion, so if you are expecting the narrative of Taken will be sorely disappointed. The new quest has you venture to track down Malok, Pride of Oryx and capture him alive for the Prison of Elders. After a quest on the Dreadnaught and mission to kill Taken to track down Malok's location, you eventually are led to the new strike; The Blighted Chalice.

The new strike has some interesting features, but ultimately fell flat for me. You are planted back in the Hellmouth on the Moon to start, where you must fend off three waves of enemies to open a door with the husk that spawns upon completion of each wave. Continuing through the strike you fight through masses of Taken until you come to the final room with Malok, where he plans to create a nest of Taken and lead them on a full-scale assault on The Last City.

The boss spawns Taken at certain percentages and will switch between two tactics; using Axion Darts or Solar projectiles similar to Taken Knights. This leads to a strategy of ducking down into a hall, clearing said hall when Taken spawn, and pot shotting the adds and bosses until they go down.

Considering the previous strikes where you had much more interesting mechanics, this was a huge letdown. There is no real strategy beyond staying in a safe hallway and clearing it out when adds spawn. Compared to the complex and interesting bosses of King's Fall, this boss seemed like a glorified Omnigul.

Grind for more gear, yes?
Not Your Father's Prison

A feature ignored at the Taken King launch has now been revitalized. The Prison of Elders is a series of rooms with waves of enemies and objectives that culminate in a boss fight. Completion unlocks a chest boasting armor and weaponry, which thankfully, no longer requires a key.

While PoE level 41 is enjoyable, it is Challenge of Elders that you will seek to conquer for real gear. Every week, new bosses are shuffled in, and you must face three bosses in a row to complete the challenge. The bosses themselves, though varied, are a let down. They pale in comparison to the initial challenge Skolas presented, and usually require one or two tactics to overcome.

The hitch is the scoring, in which shuffled modifiers add another level of replay to the mode. For instance, this week was Grenade Kill Bonus – Grenade kills give significantly higher score. This tailored my gear and powers toward Discipline, recharging grenades and raining them down as fast as possible. There are also negative modifiers, one of which this week made enemies more resilient to stagger, adding a challenge to Cabal with shields. Your target is a team effort to 30,000 points, so having everyone work together in this facet, alters the play style a bit, and brings a new aspect every week.

 I've always wanted to look like Tron

This Little Light of Mine - Gear and Weapons

The biggest and most welcome change to Destiny is weapon infusion. The light level cap is at a new 335 from the previous 320. Typically getting a higher ranked weapon/armor infused into your own would take a few drops as it got progressively higher; I.E. getting a 330 rifle, fusing it to a lower light rifle I already like and it only bumping up to 327. Now the fusion is direct, 330 to 330, and fan favorites can be immediately put into your gear. It is a subtle, but welcome change that makes it all the more satisfying to get a piece of equipment you have been pining after for weeks.

Additionally, there are new armor sets that can be obtained through strikes, raids, and Sterling Treasures. A maximum of three of the new sets can be obtained each week until the reset, but those willing to pay, can ante up for Silver and buy dozens of these to unlock the new sets. This kills a lot of motivation for getting these treasures, as most have already gotten full sets after just one week. I prefer rewards that are earned, but Bungie saw it differently, and it is a direction I am not too keen on Destiny taking. Sure it starts at light level of 3, but it kills motivation for the sets and the satisfaction of actually earning a piece of armor from one of the raids.

The RNG is more plentiful, but less kind. If you have three characters and run King's Fall three times, switching your new higher light level weapons as you go, you will likely gain light pretty quickly. For everyone else, it is like hitting a brick wall with your head. Drops only occasionally go above your light level, most decrypted will be below your light level unless exotic or legendary. Despite playing a multitude of modes I still feel slightly slow in approaching the 335 cap. This could be looked at as prolonging the life of the update, but given the base content is the same, it feels like more of the grind.

Classic Crucible

Another area that gained subtle changes that helped in a big way was the Crucible. This is the mode I found myself diving back into more than anything else. Legendary drop rates occur more often, reputation gains have increased, and heavy ammo drops have been limited to one occurrence per match.

One of the bigger changes is starting a game with special ammo. Often you would have no sniper or shotgun rounds and had to chase down a supply drop to find ammo for those weapons. Now, you can immediately jump into sniping or close quarters play. Additionally, players can no longer retain this ammo during weapon swaps. This puts a close to anyone bouncing between shotty and snipers throughout the match. 

The disappointing factor is that weapons are continually shifting in power as Bungie attempts to level the field across the board. Bungie has nerfed preferred weapons so many times at this point, that it is becoming frustrating. The MIDA Multitool was a go-to sniper counter in Trails of Osiris, offering a stagger to counter enemy snipers. Instead of working it out, they nerfed not only MIDA but snipers as well, and lowering the ammo count of snipers for PvP purposes bleeds over into the PvE end-game where sniper fire is a go-to for damaging bosses.

Overall the new content felt lackluster, but the subtle changes and tweaks to the light system and gameplay are welcome. Bungie could have left Destiny in the dust after Taken King, but their continual efforts and refinement show a dedication to making the game lasting for both new and veteran players alike. With Iron Banner next week, I find myself once again tailoring my schedule to ready for a week of PvP in a game I swore I was finished playing, but keep coming back to...

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday Spotight - A Blind Legend

A Blind Legend
Developer: Dowino
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Release Date: April 7th, 2016

The unique take of this game is that you do not need a screen to play, just headphones. While the game was intended for the blind, many have picked this up recently to experience it for themselves.

You take the role of a blind swordsman guided by your daughter, and you must navigate and avoid the many traps that lie in the High Castle Kingdom, while confronting a multitude of enemies.

You use the arrow keys to move, shift and control to run/walk, and enter to draw your sword. While the hack and slash controls are all there, it is the 3D sound that carries it all. You can navigate the world by listening to the environment or call out to your daughter for assistance with spacebar.

While I usually highlight upcoming games, this one in particular offers a sensory experience you rarely see. I am eager to give it a try soon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In the Next God of War, I Want Kratos to Be the Target

Allow me to explain; Needless to say, Spoilers Ahead for those who have not played through the first three games.

Kratos has been the poster child anti-hero since the franchise's inception in 2005. By no means sympathetic, by no means merciful, just brutal and to the point. He does not consider himself a hero, nor are his actions reflective of someone we should care about; yet for three installments we controlled his quest for vengeance.

My sympathy and compassion for Kratos diminished as the franchise continued.

"I should have pressed 'O' faster"

In the first installment, I pitied and rooted for Kratos. A man who served the gods, setup by his own lust for power, ultimately destroying the family he loved without even knowing it. It was a sad fate, and his quest to kill the very deity who led to his state of torment was ambitious. Through the entire game, myself and the other Gods, were rooting for Kratos to come out on top. Sure he was not very sympathetic to that boat captain at the beginning, and his methods were fierce, but when everything is taken from you it made sense to rip the head off of a medusa and use it as a weapon. Even after defeating Ares, you felt a twinge of anger towards to Gods for using him as their puppet. Despite leading him astray their reward for Kratos of giving him the seat of Ares seemed like a solid resolution.

Then the second game threw a wrench in that pity. All that power and no real purpose went to Kratos's head, and despite warnings from Athena, his arrogance cost him his place in Olympus. You could argue that he was never truly over the trick of not wiping his memory of past events as promised in the first game or the bitterness of seeing senseless wars over the ages. Regardless, he cast anything he learned from the first game aside and went on a rampage. Even at the end of his mistake, Zeus offered him one final chance to return to his status and play by the rules. He ignored this, and it cost him all he created. Sure, Zeus is ruling with an iron fist and gave him a "my way or the highway" ultimatum to a person who cannot be dictated. 

 "I can't just use one shoe, Hermes, that's silly"

The only motivation Kratos had for killing Zeus at that point was the destruction of Sparta and his personal view that Olympus was useless. His family was already gone, his buddy Athena was having trouble vying for him, and all he had was a hatred of Zeus for crossing his path. The source of motivation flipped. Kratos, this once fearful god killer, was now on a killing spree to end Olympus. Not for anyone else, not for humanity as a whole, but for his own personal vengeance.

"Whatever", I said to myself, "Zeus crossed me. He wiped out my army. You do not do that to the first mortal to kill a god. Gaia just showed me how crazy he was to his own children. Let us go show him why he made a mistake." That became harder to justify when even at the end, with the potential to go back in time to save his family, he chooses to go back and beat the crap out of Zeus.

Then God of War 3 entered the fray and skewed my vision of Kratos further. Lesser of two evils kept me going, while he was not good, he was not nearly as absolute and evil as Zeus seemed. Yet, somewhere between ripping off Helios's head and slowly walking toward a limp Hermes whose leg I just amputated, I became jaded to Kratos entirely. The attempt to humanize him again with his care for Pandora and psyche trip with his family at the end did little to help me see this character's justification anymore. Knocking out Gods and flooding the world, blotting out the sun, bringing disease to the world; he showed no sign of remorse or sadness. Maybe Athena's promise of world without Gods helped him rest easier, but still...not a twinge of regret for the life lost.

You could argue all day about whether Kratos was the hero, there are dozens of blogs about it, which made the franchise that much more memorable. Everyone was morally gray, no true sides, just people getting power and using it as they wished.

After the Norse Gods, we take on the Avengers

God of War 4 is all but inevitable, and leaked art has confirmed a possibility of Norse Gods like Thor and Odin. Just putting Kratos toward these gods as a massacre tour 2016 would be interesting, but hard to form a motivation behind. The character has all the potential to carry it forward with his bitterness from constant betrayal from self seeking Gods and Titans to go on a deity killing spree. Perhaps he now seeks the destruction of all gods from the world? This would require delving into Egyptian, Roman, etc?

Instead, I would love a game in which Kratos has risen to power and must be stopped. All the ingredients are there from the previous games; the short fused temper, the lack of empathy, the little remorse at life that does not pertain to his own agenda. He could easily rise up as the villain we would love to take on and with a new protagonist it could be potentially great. Maybe one whose family was killed in a past Spartan conquest or destroyed by his actions from the third game. I see such potential with this premise and where the franchise could go.

All of the best villains started out good; Sephiroth, Darth Vader, and even Wheatly from Portal 2. There is something special about seeing the good of a character and the stark extremes they go to after traumatic events. It makes them memorable, it makes them justified. It makes them evil, but with good reason. Seeing Kratos's journey across three games, seeing the events he has had to push through, and seeing him come out from that unscathed would be unimaginable. I could see a much more cynical, destructive force emerging from the events of the trilogy.

Regardless of how it turns out I know I will be excited to see if Kratos even makes a return, though I really would love to go toe to toe with the god killer himself. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tracer Cosplay is on Point

Overwatch is still set for a May release, and the hype surrounding the shooter is palpable. It is made that much sweeter with this latest cosplay set.

Tasha is a Korean cosplay star and has done some stunning work before, but this latest set has caught the eye of many. The detail, the perfect posing, it all combines to create a stunning set.

You can see the complete set here. [1]

[1] - Kotaku - Oh Man, This Overwatch Cosplay -

Friday, April 8, 2016

Friday Spotlight: ABZÛ

Playstation 4 - PC
Developer: Giant Squid
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: 2016

At heart, Abzû is a swimming simulator but promises to hold so much more. Derived from the word ab (ocean) and zu (to know), Giant Squid's first major title will feature an underwater exploration and interaction with aquatic animals.

It is all about free roam and there is no Game Over screen. You can interact with the wildlife, catching rides with the turtles or stingrays, or simply swim into gigantic schools of fish. The diver also has a sonar ping to discover drones that you can repair and swim alongside, opening new pathways.

Most notably, there is the contrast of the oceans' elements in the stunning visual display. Brightly colored fish pop from the dark depths, and forests of seaweeds engulf the swimmer. The game is a visual marvel.

A subtle narrative is slowly peeled away as you explore, and the game is promising a memorable exploration under the deep blue sea.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

That Time the Power Went Out

Gamers have unlimited ways to play the games they love, but it requires a source that is not always so reliable; Electricity.

Be it standard maintenance, thunderstorms, or a charge cord left behind; one way or another you have found yourself in this situation. You want to play or finish playing a game to a certain checkpoint and you see the battery light flash or the power suddenly cut out. All that hard work, all that effort, gone in an instant. It can be devastating, and a commonly shared experience; but every person has one event that is very personal to them as the ultimate culmination of frustration.

My most memorable occurrence was during a game of Dead Rising.

There was a specific achievement in the game to kill the population of the town.
Keep in mind, I was not going after this achievement for the measly 20 Gamerscore, I was after the prize of it all; the Mega Man X-Buster in New Game+. Shooting zombies with Mega Man's weapon of choice? You better believe I would put in some effort for that!

Mind you, this game has a sort of "timer". You have three days game time to complete the specified events, that includes killing the 53,594 zombies in one go. When the timer ran out, it was game over. Needless to say there was only one real way to do it, using the truck in the tunnels to continuously run over infinitely spawning zombies.

It was tedious, it was repetitive, and it was dragging. This roughly took a day and a half of  Dead Rising's game world time (which equates to roughly two and half to three hours real world time) just running over zombies until you get close to the amount needed. I set out for this task with time to spare and clear weather, no chance of a power outage.

 "This would be easier if you would all just hold still"

I was at roughly the 45,000 mark, and had spent most of the afternoon just hopping into vehicle after vehicle running through hoards of undead. Victory was getting closer, just a few more laps and I would never have to do this again. My trigger finger was tired of holding down the accelerator, my eyes needed a break, but I was determined to see this through.

Then it happened.

In a blink, the lights went out, the air conditioner cut off, and the screen where my goal was once in sight, slunk into the black abyss of nothing.

I just sat there...staring blankly at the screen. All the effort, all the work, all the time plugged into that achievement. Gone. When the power returned some five minutes later, I took Dead Rising out and shelved it immediately, moving onto another game.

I would eventually sit down with it again and get the achievement, and I had fun using that item I worked so hard for; yet it felt tarnished by the horrible memory of all the time put into getting to that point. That was the first time a power outage had robbed me of so much effort. Graciously placed checkpoints and autosave have limited that problem recently, but this will always be the one moment where a power outage ruined so much time and effort.

I am interested to hear, what drained battery or blackout ruined a streak you had, tarnished a perfect run, or wiped your raid?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Confession: I Save Scum Too Often

I am a perfectionist when it comes to gaming.

If the absolute best situation can be achieved on an RPG or strategy game, I will work to make that happen. If I lose something that I could have kept in a game, or had a negative impact that I could have turned into a positive one, or could have saved someone if I did something differently; I cannot let it go. I am finding it more and more prevalent in my playthroughs lately.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown is a PC strategy game where every single decision you make can change the outcome of a situation. Do I prioritize building a new facility or building a new aircraft for air defense? Do I flank the enemy from unknown territory or do I double back and hold fast. One wrong move, and you could end up losing an entire squad or wasting time on a project that will provide little benefit.

The hitch to all this? The game autosaves after every move and I found myself reloading when things went wrong.
"It's like our commander knows something we don't..."

If a squad mate died by moving in on the enemy too soon or uncovered a more formidable enemy group that I was not prepared for, I found myself clicking that "Load Game" button to erase any error I may have caused. If my Interceptor failed to shoot down a UFO, when I could have used a Dodge consumable to take it down, I would go back to correct my error. I was a time traveling commander, capable of seeing the future and working a path to alter that future. No soldier should die. No mistakes should be made. Only after hours into the game did I stop and realize;

This is not how this is meant to be played, and I do this far too often.

I am living out the movie Live.Die.Repeat with every game I play. I was dying, starting over, moving to fix the problem, and slowing piecing together the optimum path.

Even in Fallout 4, a game fraught with open ended dialogue and missions that can have multiple outcomes, I found myself reloading a game if I failed to persuade or failed to save certain NPCs. I had in my mind the ideal outcome, and if my character failed to make that come to fruition than it was all for naught.

Turns out there is a term for people that do this; save scummers. It is debated that this is, in fact, cheating. You are changing the outcome of how something would have turned out with a few button presses. It is not invincibility, it is not the ability to glitch through walls, but it is a cheat nonetheless. You have flipped ahead to the page from your choose your own adventure book, but flipped back because you held your finger on the previous page and never took it off.

Negotiation...Dr. Who style

Why was I doing this so much lately? Are constant checkpoints littered throughout most major games spoiling me to the point of becoming accustomed to retrying a part over and over again? Is my OCD for everything to go correctly so bad that it had transferred to my favorite games as well?

No more, I told myself. Never again.

When I finally accepted this fact, I started a new game on X-Com, but this time I enabled Ironman mode, which prevents multiple saves and forces you to one file permanently. It was the anti-save scum and it is what I needed, because the game became an even more of an enjoyable experience. I was learning how to move throughout the fog of war, what items to prioritize in development, and how to be a better commander through my mistakes. This was the game as it was meant to be experienced, one of loss and frustration, but one in which victory was that much sweeter.

Nothing will be perfect the first time around, and striving to create those perfect scenarios to play out exactly as planned just takes away from the joy of playing altogether. Now I find myself analyzing those failures, looking at a list of dead soldiers and countries that left the X-Com project and vowing to do better next time.

While games like Dark Souls offer knowledge through failure by rinsing and repeating, it took X-Com to give me the ability to let things go.

Monday, March 7, 2016

To My Grandmother

I was a kid in elementary school when all of my friends began to get into a little game called Pokemon. It was in every issue of Nintendo Power, it was slammed in your face during cartoons, and it was getting bigger every day. Envious, I watched my friends playing this game on the way to school and brag about their latest catch at lunch. Sadly, my birthday was a long way off and Christmas was even farther.  I felt I would never get to play during the "hot streak" of its time, in that small one month window when everyone is just getting into the game itself.

On a trip to my Grandmother's house one weekend, I remember bragging about the game to her. I went over the different things you could do, showing her the game cover in the magazine, and the awesome world that you could explore. It was obviously pandering and she knew it, but she feigned interest nonetheless. My dad was quick to shut it down, as he should have, and I thought nothing of it.

A few days later there was a package in the mail addressed to myself and my brother. In his package, a brand new copy of Pokemon Blue. In mine, Pokemon Red.

I was in absolute shock. Here was this game I was yearning to play, and in that knowledge my Grandmother shelled out the sixty or so dollars so my brother and I would get to be a part of the hype. She was not a rich woman by any means, this obviously meant she had sacrificed something to bring this game to us.

I was on the phone, elated, and thanking her over and over again ignoring sentence structure and rambling off every synonym of thanks I could conjure. She laughed and said she hoped I enjoyed it before I slammed in fresh batteries and darted off to play.

I played that game all weekend. Curled up on a couch near a lamp I was catching new Pokemon, defeating each gym leader, and indulging in what would become the first game in one of the biggest franchises in video game history.

It was all thanks to her.

I reflected on that this past holiday, as I sat with her and shared that same laugh with my wife at my side.

I valued it more a week later, when I got a call that on Christmas Eve she had been rushed to the hospital with the signs of a stroke.

I held it close, as I received update after update of extended family arguing over what she would have wanted, as she was put on a ventilator with no acting will.

I cherish it, as I got the news that she was taken off of that ventilator today, and passed away shortly after its removal.

She did not just want to buy me something to spoil me back then, it was not an attempt to gain favor, a gesture expecting repayment. Instead, it was an encouragement. An encouragement to the imagination, the excitement that I held as a kid. She saw how much a simple video game could spark in a kid just by my small description and response that one weekend, and she wanted to keep that alive.

She succeeded in helping keep that alive.

I could go through a number of situations in which her selflessness was showcased, be it the expectant birthday card every single year even when she could barely write her name, to the huge smile that would greet me every holiday visit. A kindness that I would attempt to repay with my own cards and gifts to brighten her day.

I felt compelled to write something, anything concrete to her. A dedication of sorts; a thank you. For the years of unwavering generosity, infectious joy, and the ability to keep one grandchilds' dreams fueled with a simple act that would resonate for years to come.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Fallout 4 Review - Wasteland Woes

Score: 8.75 / 10
Fallout 4
PC - Xbox One - Playstation 4
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: November 10th, 2015

  • Huge amount of content and customization to explore
  • World is alive with random encounters and varying experiences
  • The settlement builder holds huge potential and adds a personal touch to the wasteland
  • Variety of locations can be a joy to explore and feel much more diverse in appearance
  • High replay value
  • Menus are a drag to navigate
  • Majority of situations are clearing an area and moving on to the next
  • Framerate issues for console when action gets tense

Gunfire rings off in the distance as an explosion shakes the ground; a fight is surely intensifying. I wander into a local building infested with Feral Ghouls literally climbing out of the woodwork. I target their legs, and bottleneck them in a hallway as my companion finishes them off from a distance. After clearing the building, I find plenty of useful items and ammunition, including the material I have been seeking to complete a new scope on my rifle. I leave the newly scavenged location and set off toward the skirmish to put a close to the continuing battle, as a platoon of Brotherhood soldiers drop in from the sky to accomplish the same goal.

...when was the last time we showered?

This is Fallout in a nutshell; an open world of possibilities, an endless stream of dangers and loot. Newly discovered locations beg to be explored, and the precious commodities you obtain can be used for a number of crafting and building options. It is a lottery of sorts; every locked container or open bookshelf containing a possible power up or crafting material you have sought for hours. You never know what you could encounter on the way to your next objective, and it is a world filled with stories you are begging to share with fellow players.

Fallout can be whatever game you wish it to be, and that is what has made the franchise so popular. If you wish to be the stealthy rogue with a heart of gold, your perks and equipment can be tailored for that playstyle. If you wish to be the melee brute that takes joy in ignoring social interaction and mashing bandits to pieces, Fallout gives you the tools. If you simply wish to spend hours upon hours building the ultimate settlement, fulfill your dreams. Fallout 4 excels at giving the player a virtual world to explore, destroy, or follow at your leisure.

 So many bullets, so little limbs to shoot...

Despite the open nature of the world around you, the story will mostly stick to a similar script for all involved. Every player will begin by emerging from the vault in search of vengeance for their murdered spouse and the whereabouts of their son. The journey to your son is, unfortunately...dull. It is a series of errands and "you help me, I help you" bargaining. Luckily the cast of characters you meet along the way are interesting enough to motivate your continued involvement, especially Nick Valentine's slick detective persona. The turning point, however, comes late game and has you questioning your own loyalties to each faction you meet along the way. A final decision had me thinking what would be best for the world around me, and ultimately had me hesitating to pull the trigger. I would have hoped for a bit more branching in the journey to that decision, but the lore of the world and the factions you befriend will soon have you favoring sides to take.

If you have played a Bethesda game, you will know the RPG drill as little is done to change the core experience. Your character can be built up with a number of stats, making them heavy in whatever attribute you choose ranging from the charismatic conversationalist to the super strong brute. After picking a few stats, every action contributes to the experience pool in leveling. This allows you to obtain certain perks that can boost you further in certain areas; either increasing your ability in science to craft specialty items or the damage output your sneak attacks can provide. The vast amount of perks and skills offer plenty of replay value in creation of a variety of vault dwellers and adding a personal touch to the gameplay.

 Do I want to go pew, or pew pew pew? Hmm....

Combat has a few slight tweaks, but nothing of substantial impact. You still utilize the VATS system to slow down time and target specific body parts of enemies to focus your fire. Enemies are much more prone to cover this time around, and prove to be much more cautious than previous installments than just standing in the open as you plug away at their health bar. The problem lies in the failure of fluidity. The game automatically dips you into cover, but it felt clunky and unpolished as I scrambled to keep limbs from poking out. Despite the ability to aim down sights and multitude of minor polish, compared to modern shooting games the flow and nature of combat felt a tad sluggish in switching between weapons or getting to an item I wished to use on a standard controller.

When not fighting, you will be scrounging every item in the game as a glorified hoarder for materials. Everything from armor to trash can be broken down or used to craft weapon mods, armor mods, or building materials for your settlement. This is both a good and bad thing, as the multitude of items you collect are a chore to navigate, especially on consoles. The mods you create however are a nice additional touch to each gun you obtain. Throwing on desired scopes, stocks, and attachments can outfit your weapon to churn out damage however you see fit, while also giving your armor new resistances or upgrades. Homestead buildings also require materials, and soon you will find yourself scouring for parts as you throw up turrets, defense towers, and massive structures to house your settlers.

Do not get me wrong, I loved my time in Fallout 4, and still plan on returning to the game for another play through. The issue lies in a failure to really try anything different in terms of approach. Throughout the game you are tasked with going to an area, clearing said area, and returning for a reward. I found there are few branching approaches to the missions I experienced aside from the occasional negotiation outcome. Soon enough the standard clearing area and searching through containers begins to wear on you.

I still have a lot of Fallout 4 to explore, but the similar nature of approach is starting to get to me. I enjoy expanding my homestead, expanding my characters' capabilities, and becoming an unstoppable force in the wasteland. It just feels like a bit of a grind, but one where I can find little moments to get me by.