Friday, March 23, 2018

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus - Did Nazi Dat Coming

Score: 8.0 / 10
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
PC - Xbox One - Playstation 4 - Nintendo Switch
Developer: MachineGames
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: October 27th, 2017

  • A story that is both unpredictable and incredibly deep, even for those unfamiliar to first installment
  • Skill points allocate automatically based on your combat approach
  • Branching paths in story and maps beg replays or different tactics
  • Original Wolfenstein 3D available to play from start to finish
  • Stealth, although encouraged, is difficult to really pull off
  • Swapping weapons on the fly proves difficult on console
  • Side missions and hit contracts fail to provide much in terms of variety
Wolfenstein is a textbook example of how atmosphere and absurdity can make a basic shooter worth a play. No, it does not have the tightest controls to it, nor the best stealth mechanics, and the side missions left a lot to be desired; But for every frustrating death, it gave something in return; An over the top cutscene, a satisfying explosion of metal and sound, or a new weapon that wrecked an entire crew of Nazi soldiers.

The more you play New Colossus, the more you see the cracks, but the overall facade is still just blindingly fun chaos.

A drink off with a crazed preacher whilst under sniper fire

I never played the first installment, so I had no idea what to expect going in and this game picks up where its predecessor left off. A small highlight reel plays covering events of the last game before it asks you to make a choice between two people that I literally just met, but each one leads to a different timeline, two branching paths, which turns out to mainly be each one nets you a different heavy weapon. Regardless, you then begin as any game should...hiding from your abusive dad in the closet with your dog. This transitions to a ship under siege from Nazis, but you are recovering from the last game so you spend the entire first stage in a wheelchair and you are unable to climb stairs.

That is what makes this game so great. By the time you have an idea of where the story is going, especially with a mid-game scene where I was sure it was done, the game throws a left curve out of nowhere. It balances absurdity with heavy tones of racism, morality, and companionship. Coupled with that is a soundtrack akin to Doom of heavy rifts for intense shootouts and stellar voice work, New Colossus delivers an intensely satisfying look at a post-Nazi ruled world, one of anger and desperation.

While acting as your standard cover shooter, the game adapts to how you play automatically. No skill points, no levels, just naturally landing head shots boosts your shooting ability, sneaking and stealth kills lower your noise levels and increases speed while crouched. You do not even have to limit yourself to a gunslinger or a sneaky guy, you can be as chaotic or stealthy as you want and the game will shower you with encouragement to do so. By the endgame, I found myself focusing areas I did not level well to just further increase my overall kit.

You will die eventually...I just know it

There are a few staged shootouts and segments you have little control over, but the majority of the encounters have you enter a room only to get a ping of where a commander lies. These leaders can call reinforcements if alerted, and shower the room with baddies flanking you on all sides. Maps branch out with multiple paths, allowing you to choose vantage points to shoot from or stealthy pathways to take the commander out quietly. Halfway through the game you gain new abilities that allow you to reach high platforms, compress your body to fit in crawlspaces, or even smash through barriers, further opening up potential pathways.

The stealth, while a great way to play, is pretty difficult. There is no real radar, idea of line of sight, nothing beyond peaking around corners and a general map of the area. It takes some getting used to, but once you gain silenced weaponry you can usually predict guard pathways and move slow and steady to the finish. You will get caught a lot...sometimes for no reason at all...but on the higher difficulties I could usually find a way to get around and the checkpoint system is lenient enough to allow you to get right back into it if you are discovered.

You made this personal once you sounded the alarm

Combat is purely cover shooter based. Dual wielding offers a destructive means of mowing down enemies, but the AI is pretty predictable, mostly charging in head first to your location. Most of the strategy involved putting your back to the wall and picking them off as they come. I even found the commander would stop calling reinforcements after a few waves, which means I can play the waiting game and pick everyone off one by one. Heavy armored troops, fast moving robot dogs, and flying drones throw a few wrenches in the mix, but ultimately you can solve your problem by shoving a dual wielded shotgun in its face.

When you are not on a mission, you are back on your main ship which acts as a hub world where you can review collectibles scattered in each stage, talk to crewmates for small side missions, and even play the original Wolfenstein 3D in its entirety in the cafe. As you kill commanders you also gain codes that you can decrypt, unveiling small hit missions where you are tasked to locate and eliminate a target. These are usually very straightforward and once dead you just hit "Return to Ship" and no matter whats going on around you it's boop, back to the load screen. These missions eventually unlock a secret area only accessible by finishing all commanders but it proves to be hardly worth the effort.

Wolfenstein is a game that will appeal to your humanity one minute and dive into the absurd the next. It is not revolutionary by any means, and the difficulty with stealth or frustrating weapon swap wheel can damper things, but when you mow down a group of a Nazis with a laser or audition for Hitler...yeah that happens; it is easy to overlook the issues.  There is something for everyone here; a ton of collectibles tucked away in each stage, an insane difficulty level for die hards, and the retro Wolfenstein 3D was a nice touch to an altogether fun game. There are cracks in the facade but the big picture here is New Colossus is an explosive ride with a surprisingly deep narrative that is just fun to experience.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone - Review

The main game for Witcher 3 takes roughly fifty hours to complete, with more than 100 hours if you take your time and explore. After completing the main game, I had two DLC notifications sitting in my quest log that I could not bring myself to delve into just yet. I felt burnt out from the main game, and was ready to take a break. Recently, I brought myself back to explore the first of the two expansions, and was completely surprised by how well it all came together.

Hearts of Stone does a number of things that not only mixed up the expected combat, but provided a refreshing take on the series as a whole. New characters, new items, new areas; it all paved the way for a wonderfully written, intriguing approach that hooked me back in to Geralt's tale.

You will both hate and love this guy

The primary characters of Olgierd and the Master Mirror are way more interesting than anything the wild hunt had to offer. Olgierd has much more personality to him, an intriguing backstory of failed love, vengeful enemies, and the curse immortality has taken on his soul. On the other hand you have the Master Mirror, an all powerful mysterious entity, capable of bending the world to his will like a cunning genie, wording wishes and contracts to his terms. Geralt's interaction with them felt like it was ripped from the books, a fun tangle with blades and words as Geralt vents frustrations of being tied to Master Mirror's demands by an imprint and his sympathy to Olgierd's overall plight.

Despite the huge open world of Witcher 3 taking you to a slew of crypts, mountainsides, and large cities; Hearts of Stone still opens up to some interesting locales. Fighting a band of Ofieri on the sandy beach, tackling shadows in a painted realm, even chugging back drinks at a colorful wedding; each felt rich and unique in their own way. You do not have a stand alone area and will have to revisit a few cities for some quests, but the new locales keep it fresh.

Bob Ross was not the final boss, sadly

Quests are similar to Witcher 3 in base approach, offering a main objective with some branching paths in your choices. Standouts include using your body to let a ghost have fun at a wedding, assembling a team for a heist on an auction house, and investigating an abandoned mansions' occurrences. A few new enemies make their appearance, including arachnomorphs which prove to be much faster spiders that keep their distance and require the Yrden sign to trap.

Gameplay remains similar but boss encounters are much more satisfying. A giant frog boss leaping over your head, an undead caretaker that heals with every strike he lands against you, and a demonic specter that possesses multiple bodies are just a few of the challenges you must face. Encounters felt more thought out and involved beyond simply casting a Quen shield and hacking away. The difficulty was also ramped up considerably from the last time, as Death March became difficult again. This made for more interesting encounters that required more planning and effort to overcome.

Inventory used to boil down to getting a set of witcher gear and upgrading it, but the game does well in providing alternatives that were stronger than the sets I was currently running. Enchanting items also threw a new ability to unlock sockets for weapons and armor, making them on par with the powerful mastercrafted gear. Additionally, runes sitting in your inventory can be reworked to provide stat bonuses to your current gear, providing opportunities for new builds all around.

Monsters are way easier to deal with than hostage negotiations

For what it was, Hearts of Stone is more Witcher 3, but I say that loosely. It had a more interesting narrative, better boss encounters, and more involved missions than the base game. Compared to the size of the next installment Blood and Wine  (currently playing through) it pales in comparison in terms of scope, as you can knock this out in less than ten hours. But the antics of Geralt and new experiences kept me hooked to its satisfying conclusion.