Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Final Fantasy XV: A Perfect Clusterfuck

I came in to the Final Fantasy series rather late. I started delving in to the series when I heard about the almost universal gamer love for FF7, so I decided to see what the fuss was about. I first played 10. That was a weird game, which I didn't particularly love. 10-2 was even weirder and I lasted perhaps an hour before I gave it up. I didn't play 12, although I hear it's pretty good and I've also heard it's getting a HD remake for the PS4 so I might delve in to that when it comes out in 2017.

Then came the big pile of steaming poop that was the 13 series. The characters were unlikable and I could not relate to them. It was a pile of hallways and boring combat. But I persisted and finished the game. Shitty story. I then played 13-2. Even worse story, which I did not complete. Perhaps I got a quarter of the way through. It was awful. I even played 13: Lightning Returns. Lasted an hour at most. Fuck that game.

Needless to say I came in to 15 with a fair amount of trepidation. Just to start off I'll give a quick summary of the plot of the beginning of the game. You play as Noctis, son of the King of Lucis, setting off on a roadtrip with his three best friends: Gladio, Ignis and Prompto. The four of them are headed to get Noctis married off to his betrothed Lunafreya The Oracle. And that's the start of the game. Off you go. Those who have seen the FF15 movie Kingsglaive will know what occurs within the first chapter of the game, but I hadn't seen the movie. I'm more interested in seeing it now and not just because I love the sound of Sean Bean's voice.

Ok so let's get in to the negatives first, because there are a lot of them. The small stuff first which is the bugs and graphical glitches. They're there and boy are they there. It's locked to 30fps on the PS4 and still there a frame rate drops. The controls are often unresponsive, so the phrase "but I hit the button" or "c'mon you bastard I'm hitting the damn button" were uttered more frequently that I would normally use them.

Also, I like to refer to this type of game as "open world" with the hand motions. It's not really an open world. Yeah it's a pretty big space, but the amount of invisible walls drives me crazy. The map isn't exactly clear either, showing possible paths that just don't exist in the game world. Even the driving is restrictive and so very very boring. I just make Ignis drive.

And oh god the most infuriating thing in the game is the combat, especially in tight spaces, wooded areas and dungeons. Trying to lock on the a particular enemy or body part is next to impossible when the camera whizzes around Noctis, constantly changing targets or putting trees in between the camera and the action, making it so very difficult to coordinate attacks effectively causing hair pulling, controller throwing, foot stomping acts of rage. My poor cats think I am mad at them as I suddenly rage whilst they are curled up next to me on the couch. Poor dears. I might have started to overfeed them just as an apology.

The crux of my experience with Final Fantasy 15 is this: I fucking love it. It looks beautiful, the music is amazing, the story is very anime but I was fully invested, the combat at it's best is a joy, and it's the best Final Fantasy experience I've had in my short history with the franchise. Running around the wilds on a chocobo, searching every possible corner of the world for new treasures and monsters to fight is great. I really love the fishing, which is not something I have enjoyed in other games. Pulling in a monster catch after spending 10 minutes winding it in on so very satisfying.

The story is, well, crazy. I am keeping this spoiler free, though I might writer a blog later about exactly how crazy it is later on, so all I can say right now is that it is very difficult to follow. I hadn't seen the Brotherhood anime nor the Kingsglaive movie so I missed a lot of the references made in the game. A lot of characters are introduced, given names and such, but don't last very long in the story, possibly only a scene or two. That being said, I felt invested in the story of the 4 friends. I may have teared up a few times during the game. Just a few, mind you.

This game is not for everyone. It is oh so flawed and yet I love it. There is no perfect game. If there is, I haven't played it. Of course a game can be perfect in your eye and mind and can do no wrong. Fan boys and girls world over will rage if you say anything negative about their favourite game. I am not that guy, I see flaws in all my favourite things and am willing to discuss them.

I don't know how to end this post. I am on a new medication and am feeling a little wonky myself so I'm just gonna shut up and go play Samuari Warriors 4 which is also a wonky, crazy, fun as hell game. Doesn't really have a narrative to write home about, but I do get to decimate thousands of enemies per map so...that certainly is a thing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tyranny: So who wants to be a baddie?

Tyranny is an odd game. I honestly don't know what to make of it. I think I like it? I certainly enjoyed the setting and the majority of the main story, but there are just some bits that detracted from it being a truly great game for me. It feels like it could have used just a bit more time in development, a bit more fleshing out, a bit more...something. I shall explain.

Tyranny is the new game by Obsidian Entertainment, creators of some of my favourite RPGs out there, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, Alpha Protocol (yes, I actually enjoyed that buggy mess of a game), Fallout: New Vegas, and Pillars of Eternity. Tyranny is certainly more like PoE than if only for it's use of engine and systems, but Obsidian have always been great story tellers. Tyranny is no exception in this regard.

You begin the game with the war already mostly won by the conquerors. Your character was part of the victorious army. During one of the best character creation sequences I have used, you go through a procedure called "The Conquest" where you choose the actions your character took during the first 3 years of war and occupation. This informs how various factions and NPCs view your character and changes various dialogues and actions you can perform in the game.

You're basically a bad guy. You can definitely develop your own code of honour, or even just go balls to the wall evil, all options are available to you. That is in part due to the dialogue system which reminiscent of older systems from Baldurs Gate and even as recent as Dragon Age Origins. Modern conversation systems are far more dumbed down, providing far less dialogue options (look at Bioware and Bethesda's more recent offerings). The amount of lore and history available to you is almost overwhelming, which I love. I adore delving in to the lore of new worlds and discovering new information and stories.

Delving in to a game of Rut, Marry. Slaughter with your companions.
Now. My biggest qualm with the game. After about 25/30 hours of exploring and fighting and conversing and reaching what I felt was barely scratching the surface of an epic and amazing experience, the game just ends. The third act is barely an hour long and makes all my effort feel for naught. It was a shock to my system. I was in absolute disbelief. I am still scratching my head over it. Is this just a short story experience for a full game price or is there upcoming dlc/expansions for it to complete the story? Either way, not happy about it.

Another small problem I have with the game is that I just don't care about the companions I'm offered. There's a cool mechanic where your Loyalty/Fear meter with each companion can give you extra skills in battle, but in terms of actually hanging out with them, I just don't care. I stuck through the entire campaign with the first 3 companions I received, and whilst I dabbled with the others I always went back to the originals. It's not that they were terrible characters, it's that their stories don't go anywhere. No companion quests, no loyalty missions, so what reason is there to care about them if all you need them for is to soak up and deal out damage in battle. Hell, one of your companions is a Beastwoman who deals crazy amounts of damage and jumps around like a...well...a beast in combat. Also one of the most annoying voice acted characters in a game I have ever played and hence I never wanted her in my party.

Tyranny is a very curious game. In terms of story and lore, what happens to you and how you influence the world is nothing short of amazing. It's just too short and ends just when things get really interesting. And I mean reeeeeeeally interesting. I feel that this was an opportunity lost. That being said, if there is dlc or expansions that expand or continue the story I'm totally in. Take me money. Just take it. I need more of this type of story telling in my life.

Yes, I realise how contradictory this "review" is. I don't really consider this a review. More of a spilling of my brain guts on a page in an attempt to sort out how I feel about this game. I love it. I hate it. I need more of it. I'm addicted. I'm an addict. Oh god I'm an addict.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Soundtracks that made a game better: Sleeping Dogs and Daptone Radio

Upon hearing of the death of Sharon Jones I began thinking about where I first heard her music. It was on the Daptone Radio station from the game Sleeping Dogs. Now I didn't really love Sleeping Dogs. I found it a bit of a repetitive mess and I don't think I ever got further than about half way through the game. However that game has had an immense impact on my life thanks to Daptone Radio.

I don't remember the other radio stations in Sleeping Dogs too well because once I tuned in to Daptone Radio I never tuned out. The acts that stood out to me were Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Charles Bradley, Menahan Street Band, and The Budos Band. I spent the majority of my time in Sleeping Dogs just driving around and listening to these songs that were just so soulful and joyful. Here's a few examples of the songs from the station:

I never considered myself much of a funk or soul fan. I certainly didn't dislike it but it was never something I sought out. I'm pretty much a metal and rock head. I love my heavy riffs. There are metal and alt rock radio stations in Sleeping Dogs, but whether it was due to my mood or something going on in my life they just weren't doing it for me. 

I will never consider Sleeping Dogs to be a great video game, but it will always hold a special place in my gaming library and my heart thanks to Daptone Radio. So thank you United Front Games and Square Enix for creating a soundtrack that introduced me to all new music that I will otherwise probably never would have sought out. 

RIP Sharon Jones. The world is a little less soulful now that you are gone. Much Love. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Shadow Warrior 2: Oh what a shame.

I loved the Shadow Warrior reboot in 2013. It was badass. The sword and gun play was fantastic and it felt like stepping back into the 90s realm of first person shooters. Just with prettier graphics.

Then Doom came along earlier this year. I haven't touched the multiplayer but oh my glorious squashed nuts it's a helluva shooter. Keep moving, keep shooting, monsters everywhere, keep moving keep shooting. Dare I say, as close to a perfect modern FPS that there is.

Needless to say I had high hopes for Shadow Warrior 2. Having played 2 hours or so I don't want to play any more. To play more would be an endeavour in futility and frustration. Why oh why is there a loot system? Why does it make me stop every minute or so to see if any of the shitty relics I've collected make my weapons any better? Why are the enemies such bullet sponges? WHYYYYYYYY

I don't expect any answers. I gather that the devs decided to go with a more Borderlands shooter loot fest but they got it oh so wrong. Shadow Warrior is about slicing and dicing and blowing shit up. Having to pause that to swap out shitty upgrades for another shitty upgrade breaks the flow of combat and the game.

Don't get me wrong. The first hour is great, the sword play is fantastic and the choice of weapons, all with their own animations, feel good. Then it just stops feeling good. It feels like a grind. It made me sad.

I guess I could hope for a patch to get rid of the relic loot system, but I somehow feel that would be asking too much. In the mean time I'll be playing Doom to get my fill of demon slaughter.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Civilization 6: Time Vampire

Sid Meier's Civilization 6 will suck the time out of you. If you have played any previous games in the franchise you already know this is going to happen. The latest installment is pretty damn good. It's not without it's flaws, but anyone who remembers playing  Civ 5 on initial release will discover a game that is good to play straight out of the box without needing 2 expansion packs to make it a good game.

Welcome to the German capital, an industrial powerhouse.
I will admit, I have struggled in Civ 6 thus far. My strategies are so fixed in Civ 5, having put over 2400 hours in it over that past 6 years, that they just don't work as well in 6. That's my problem, not the game itself since I early on I would ignore the advisers which really do help. I did somehow win a culture victory as the Kongo early on, since I was ignoring the scoreboard and just played. Yay me.

The game is utterly beautiful. I have seen complaints about the graphics being too cartoony, but that is not a big issue for me. I'm not looking for a realistic. This is a fantasy look at world history and the "cartoony" look is perfect for it. I mean when did the ancient Greeks ever go to war with Teddy Roosevelt's America? Fantasy.

Teddy is not happy with me.
The leader animations are great also. My personal favourite is Queen Victoria's nonchalant smile and shrug when you agree to a deal with her. Everyone's personality shines through, and they all have their own agendas. For example, Mvemba a Nzinga of the Kongo will get angry at you if you don't spread your religion to them. Sometimes these agendas can get confusing when leaders will denounce you for seemingly nothing. And with now a selection of 9 differing government ideologies, friends can turn to enemies in a single turn.

The world is mine and I will take it by force.
I like how culture points now go towards it's own civics tree, like science goes towards it's science tree. Earning civics rewards you with cards that can be used to fill out your government tree imparting differing bonuses. It means that in a game that 2 democracies can have differing civics imparting different bonuses. It's a much improved government system from Civ 5's culture policy trees.

Okay and now for the downers. There are a few bugs and AI issues. The AI, well, is kinda bad. Late game I am often using my Infantry to dominate warriors and archers. Whether that civ hasn't had the money or materials to upgrade their units or something else, I don't know.
Also, the AI is supremely good at getting their religions up early. If you want a religion you're gonna have to go for it right away, otherwise you'll more than likely miss out. And since one of the victory conditions is a religious victory, not having a religion means you can't go for it or deny other civs from that victory type.

I have also noticed a few UI bugs. There is a bug that will tell me that a unit needs orders but not centre on the unit I need to give orders to, meaning I have to go through my unit list to find the one that needs the orders. It's happened a few times and can halt the flow of the game. Also, not being able to see what bonuses the wonders impart once they are placed by just putting the mouse over, meaning I have to go to the civilopedia to recheck what it is doing for my city. And the final bug that I have particular issue with is that the game will often switch which unit I am trying to control by whizzing me across the map. It means that sometimes I will accidentally move a unit across the continent rather than attacking the unit right next to them. It's frustrating but I'm sure these things can be patched in the future.

If this is anything like Civilization 5, I am going to be playing this a lot. I am not a good civ player, it's just my go-to game. I am not the one to look to for overpowering strategies to win a single city science victory, I am the guy who just enjoys the experience.

And I love Sean Bean.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A rant about preordering games

Mafia 3 came out recently. There was a review embargo on the game, so there was no impartial information about the game prior to release. On PC, the game was capped at 30fps (frames per second) which, in this day and age, is unacceptable for a triple A title. Of course, the vitriol from Steam users and their subsequent negative reviews were hardly surprising.

But let's be honest, 2K already have your money. You preordered it, they have your money. They have license to release a sub-par game because they already have your money and consent. 2K, to be fair, have got on the front foot and are already in development of a patch to unlock higher frame rates, but for a game that has had a 4 year development cycle, couldn't this work have been done before release?

Did we forget about the No Man's Sky debacle so quickly?

Review embargoes are bad for consumers. We deserve to have full information before we purchase a product, not just the information that the developers and publishers want you to have. Remember the promises made by Hello Games for No Man's Sky?

Mafia 3, by all accounts, is not nearly as broken or full of empty promises that No Man's Sky had. But beyond the first couple of hours, the game devolves into repetition and monotony. I have not played the game despite my initial interest in it, having enjoyed Mafia 1 and 2 very much. Now that I have had time to read and watch reviews that have now come out I have made the decision that this game is a "wait until a sale" game.

I will admit that I have preordered Civ 6. There is a good reason for this; there has been a huge push by 2K to get the game in to the hands of popular youtubers, especially those who primarily play Civ 5. This gives consumers a great look at the new installment and gives them the information they need to make a decision on whether the game is for them or not. I love the Civilization series and I cannot wait until I can play more. Hell, I'm still playing Civ 5 to this day. I did not preorder until I had been
through quite a few videos and discussions online. There is a bunch of changes I am wary of but I felt the same way in the change over from civ 4 to 5.

Now, is this the exception that proves the rule? And ironically 2K is on both sides of it. Is it because they knew Mafia 3 isn't such a great game but they have more faith in Civilization 6? They have to make money either way. So build up the hype and don't release preview builds to convince people to preorder, or release preview builds and build hype through the existing fan base for your franchise.

I don't mean to direct it all at 2K, many other publishing companies do the same thing. My only advice is do as you see fit. Preordering is a personal choice, I personally don't preorder willy nilly. If I'm not sure about a game, I will wait. If I know I'm going to play it a whole bunch either way, I will preorder it. It's still bad for the gaming community at large, and publishers aren't going to stop trying to entice you with preorder bonuses regardless of whether the game is bad or not.

So who's preordered Red Dead Redemption 2 yet?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Why I play games: Something about story I think?

When I was 11 years old, my parents took my sister and I out of school for 3 months to travel around Europe before moving to live in England for a year. There was quite a bit of downtime during these travels and we didn't have much in the way of games to play.

I did, however, have a pack of cards and I played a lot of solitaire.
But solitaire on it's own, played over and over, can be a boring experience. So I created a meta game for it. It became a game of cricket.

Each round of solitaire represented a batsman's inning where the amount of cards in the top piles would determine their score. I cannot recall all the rules but I do remember creating a scorecard for each inning, writing it all down in a journal I had. There were penalties to the card deck for batsmen further down the batting order to represent their lesser batting skill, and I even had created a way to determine how the batsmen got out and to whom.

If I just wanted a time waster I could have just played solitaire on it's own. But I wanted more. I needed more. I needed to give the simple game of solitaire a narrative.

My earliest introduction to games was much earlier. My Dad was in to Dungeons and Dragons and would occasionally have his friends over to play. I would watch them creating stories about warriors, wizards and rogues, crawling through lost temples and dungeons, fighting evil monsters and loot galore. I do not remember specifics, but the whole concept of it fascinated me, and still does to this day.

My Dad also introduced me to video games. He played a game called "Tales of the Unknown, Volume 1: The Bard's Tale", a fantasy RPG created by Interplay and released in 1985. It wouldn't have been until about '88/'89 that I would have been aware of it but it fascinated me. I loved the party character creation, the dungeon crawling, the need to map everything by hand.

It was a love that I carried over for the first game my Dad ever bought me, which was "Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum", designed, developed and self published by Jon Van Caneghem in 1987. I recall the MS-DOS version of M&M1 came with a notepad for mapping the dungeons. I still hum the theme song to myself occasionally, something I'm doing right now as I write this.

I am losing track of the point I was trying to make. Thanks a lot, nostalgia.

I play games for narrative. There have been great strides in the way story is conveyed in video games. Games that come to mind are RPGs like The Witcher and Dragon Age series , traditional adventure games such as Life is Strange and Telltale's series of games, and so-called "Walking Simulators" like Gone Home and Firewatch. A game I played recently called Emily is Away, a short free-to-play game on Steam, which caught my attention with the way it delivered it's story through a simulated chat interface.

This doesn't mean that I necessarily play for the story created by the developer, I might just play to create my own narrative. I don't recall the stories of The Bard's Tale or M&M1, but I do recall the narratives I created for my dungeon crawlers. A good example of created narrative would be the Sid Meier's Civilization series. According to Steam I have put in over 2400 hours into Civ 5. That's 100 days of creating new narratives and histories for building my civilizations.

My two favourite board games at the moment are Betrayal at House on the Hill and Gloom. Both create new stories every time you play. I will go in to more depth with both at some stage in the future. However I will say that if you have a group of friends who enjoy playing board games and telling stories, those two games are well worth playing.

Don't get me wrong, there are video games out there where the best way to enjoy them is to switch off the brain and just play. I am currently playing Doom which is great just to jump in and smash a bunch of demons with ludicrous weapons. But I will always crave the next Witcher, the next Dragon Age, the next Civilization (not long for that bad boy).

Honestly I'm still waiting on Star Wars Knights of The Old Republic 3.

Please, Bioware, just do it.

Friday, October 7, 2016

I play games

Hi. My name is Dave and I play games.

I am going to blog about my experiences with games, both video and board.

I have not given myself a strict schedule to write to, but I will write when I feel I have something to write about. This is a pure opinion piece and nothing I say should be taken as fact. I will be talking about games I love, games I hate, and how my life has been impacted by my love of games.

Feel free to comment your own experiences, for I believe sharing is caring. Hopefully my first full blog piece will be up in the next couple of days. I am not a professional writer, I am barely an amateur one.

In the mean time, go play a game. Much Love.