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?