Horizon Complete – FF15 Up Next

Lots.  I’ve spent lots of time in Horizon.  I’ve collected every statue, vantage point, cleared every bandit camp and corruption zone, explored every cauldron and every village, I’ve killed more robots that I could count…and I am very happy with that entire voyage.

The last quest is an interesting one and I’m not sure if it played out that way due to previous quests or not.  I was equipped with what essentially was a grenade launcher to take out a massive swarm of robots.  I took out Helis, one on one.  I then had a final fight against a Deathbringer, with minimal cover and plenty of additional enemies.  That was a super fun fight.  The final scene works and closes up the story really well.  Without getting into spoilers, the good guys win and you bring peace back to the land.  Typical.

Except… the post-credits scene throws logic out the window in order to set up a potential sequel.  Against character and against lore, a choice is made that goes against nearly everything that preceded.  People who are dead should stay dead (like the others who have died before them), and people who have ruined the world and atoned for it, should not double-down on ruining the world once more, especially when there’s an alternative way forward to reach the same underlying goal.

So aside from that 30 second cut scene, I stand impressed and happy.  It is my top candidate for game of the year…and we’re only 1/4 of the way in so far.

FF15

When I bought the PS4, I received Uncharted 4 and FF15 (used), so those are up next.  I know what to expect with Uncharted, but FF15 was an outlier.

First, games should not have 10 gig installs over the internet.  The heck.  Second, I did not expect to have an emo band as my main party out of the gate.  Third, there is a poor blend of action/arcade combat where defense is 90% non-visual.  If FF13 was “press A”, then FF15 is “press O”.  Finally, I am hoping this is a bug, but the random drop ships of 12+ enemies with guns, and spawning every 3 minutes, seems a bit much.

Ok, game proper now.  I’m about 4 hours in I guess, enough to have acquired the first 2 of 13 rare weapons.  Where FF13 was laser-focused for the first dozen hours, FF15 loses all focus within 5 minutes.  There are mini-quests everywhere.  Combat is ok, but the toolset is quite poor to start and clipping is beyond annoying, especially with groups of larger enemies.  The teleport function in combat is neat.  The main story seems to follow the traditional FF fare…you’re somebody, someone important dies, you become important, blah blah blah.

I truly do not understand half of the systems in the game.  I don’t understand the car (or its upgrades), I don’t get the differences between weapons (and their upgrades), I don’t understand character skills (cooking, photos, scavenging), I don’t get the point of bounty hunts…nothing is explained, just given out.  It gets marginally better as the story progresses, but there are large level swaths where I am more confused than anything.  One quest had me take out 5 cat-like beasts, 5 levels below me.  They tore me to shreds from physical damage, only for the afore-mentioned enemy drop ship to show up and clean house.  There’s no feedback to see what I did wrong, no way to really improve without information.  So it’s a continuous trial/error gameplay that is growing frustrating.

The world itself looks great, as to the various characters and enemies.  The music is solid.  There’s fishing, which is always a plus.

The game just feels like a bunch of random ideas thrown together without any purpose.  90% of my activities have nothing to do with the main quest line, and don’t appear to provide any benefit other than a higher character level.  FF15 was well reviewed, so I am clearly missing something.  Maybe it will get better over time.

Let’s Speculate – ME4

I have a soft spot for sci-fi, in particular the socio-psychological stuff.  Give me Clarke and Asimov any day.  I’ve read a pile and a half of books on space exploration and the impacts on people.  There’s a fairly solid foundation of possibilities when that topic comes up, as well as a whole lot of tropes.

Space, as it is, is immense.  It would take years to reach the next star, let alone the next viable solar system.  Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem series tackles that issue wonderfully.  The time to reach that space would be time-locked, where you would not progress but everything around you would.  Haldeman covers that in the Forever War.  You just have to look at the past 10 years of progress, to see that we grow at a near exponential rate.  People from the 1800s would consider us magicians.

And there’s Robinson’s Mars series (Clarke’s Rama series to some extent) on the effects on sending the brightest people you have to a remote area without direct supervision.  It doesn’t ever bode well.  The reason these people are trailblazers is exactly because they don’t follow the rules.

So when I read about Mass Effect’s “space colonization” plot line… I can’t help but shake my head.  It’s like a bad Star Trek (TOS) episode.

  • The trip takes 600 years and the expectation is that nothing changed (space telescopes!)
  • Of course they land on a planet with existing humanoid aliens
  • Of course the humanoids speak a language we can understand
  • Of course they are hostile
  • Of course there’s some “magic god race”
  • Of course some massive disaster that occurred
  • Of course the lead protagonist gets thrust into a god-like role early on
  • Of course everyone accepts this fact without question and without ensuring you’re qualified to do the work
  • Of course everyone wants to sleep with you

This is pulp fiction, not science fiction.  People are up in arms that the possibilities that this concept had were wasted.  So what?

I will compare to Horizon, given that it has some similarities.  Space isn’t the factor, but time certainly is.  You start as an outcast and only gain admittance so that you can prove them wrong and get answers.  You deny that you’re any kind of savior and are generally bitter than you’ve been given that mantle.  The previous generation has a logical growth of issue, decision, action – and you live with those repercussions.  The overall lore makes logical sense, given the data at hand.  Even though the plot revolves near entirely on gods in the machine, that is not the plot device.  Every decision/action is based on human choice.  There’s a logical flow to events.  It isn’t complex, and it doesn’t take large tangents, but it is cohesive.

I’m not upset that ME4 is taking this approach, not in the least.  Pulp fiction has it’s place. The irritant here is that expectations for Bioware games are higher.  People expect some level of “great” when playing the games, and expectations are always a challenge to meet.  If the game was made by anyone other than Bioware, I’m rather certain that there’d be half the fuss going on.  Maybe it’s just time to realize that the glory days of amazing games from that studio are long gone, and that they are aiming for breadth rather than depth.  Nothing wrong with that at all.

Horizons Highs and Lows

First, there are many more highs than lows.  There’s a reason that it’s the best selling PS4 game in a long time.

I’m about an hour’s worth of game left to complete the main story.  There’s a particular achievement I want, in order to try and get the platinum trophy, so I’m delaying that a bit in order to complete some side quests.  So I consider this the “long tail” of the game.  I’ve seen it and done it, then did it again.  And I’m going back for more.

Highs

  • The world building is solid.  Zones feels distinct and planned.  Towns/cities feel representative and have character.  The flowers/statues/vistas to collect make for some fun exploration.  Exploration just feels good, without the nitty gritty of continuous collection of crap (looking at you BioWare).
  • The underlying story is some solid sci-fi.  Borderline plausible, which is pretty eerie.  Most characters make sense – except Ted Faro.  He takes a turn that doesn’t make much sense.
  • Aloy is just plain awesome.  The writing is well done, Ashly Burke (HAWP!) does some fine voice work, the animations are solid, and the feeling of walking death grows continuously.  A character arc, who would have thunk?! One of my favorite leads in a long time.
  • Combat mechanics work.  All the weapons have a purpose and fit a particular style.  The bow feels like an improvement on Tomb Raider, which was the top notch.  Using 2 triggers to shoot just makes sense.  It is a great feeling to bring down a giant robot T-Rex.
  • The various enemy weak areas to exploit make for some strategic decisions.  Some parts are a pain in the butt to hit though.
  • The game is a continuous challenge.  Until 1 particular event.

Lows

  • The lip sync can feel like Ashley Simpson at times.  It’s distracting but at the same time not a killer since the “face to face” conversations are pretty minimal.
  • Stealth only works in tall grass or large rocks.  Trees provide no cover.  So you end up looking for a prime stalking location, and then all hell breaks loose.  I should note for bandit camps, stealth is the way to go by luring and silent strike each opponent.
  • Overriding robots doesn’t provide much value aside from a distraction as the enemy AI is pretty bad when converted.
  • 95% of all combat is about dodge rolling, slowing down time, sniping a piece of equipment, then dodging again.  It’s fun and intense but can wear after a while.
  • Fights against large enemies can feel draining when there are 4-5 more robots around.  Getting chain stunned is not fun.  I end up pulling enemies away in order to take them down.  Which I suppose is like real hunting…
  • The various sub-quest/errands don’t appear to have payoffs.  Clearing bandits camps doesn’t do much.  Corrupted zones either.  Hunting quests give you gear that you dramatically outclass by the time you get it.  It’s fun, but busy work.
  • Weapon modifications are so-so, with no real choice, just larger numbers.  Modifications on armor are useless (actually, all armor is useless with one exception).

They are smaller details that really only become apparent when you stare at it or take a step back for a while.  It may be busy work, but it’s fun in doses.  I wouldn’t clear corrupted areas all day for 2 days, but as I come across them it’s a fun challenge.

Now for the turning point.  After completing the second to last mission, you can get access to Ancient Armor.  Up until that point, the armor you get has marginal value.  A Thunderjaw will kill you in 3 hits instead of 2.  Ancient Armor makes you invulnerable to a LARGE chunk of damage (slightly over a health bar), and then takes 5 seconds to regenerate.  In practical terms, it changes the way you play the game.

There’s one corrupted area that has 5 Chargers and 1 Fire Bellowback.  A single Bellowback can kill you in a couple hits.  Combined with 5 Chargers stunning you, it’s a death trap.  The armor makes it almost a joke.  I meleed the Chargers to death, then took the Bellowback face to face and won.  I took down 3 Stalkers without using the bow.  It’s crazy.  Where before you were a glass cannon, after you get the armor you become a massive tank.

It’s not exactly god-mode, but it’s as close as I’ve come in any non-RPG.  The issue has nothing to do with power curve, that works.  It’s the defensive curve.  If regular armor had any appreciable effect, then the last piece wouldn’t seem so out of place.

I’m still having fun though, and I’m looking forward to the conclusion of the story.  Still very highly recommended.

 

Complexity and Fear

I am not a rocket scientist, or a brain surgeon.  I work in systems architecture, which is  fancy way of saying that I work in puzzles without pictures, and pieces of different sizes.  My job entails taking an idea, breaking it down into smaller chunks, finding or making things to accommodate those chunks, then bringing it all together.  I make things that are hard from the inside, look easy from the outside.

People, in general, are irrational.  They make knee jerk decisions, and the majority of the time it is based on fear.  Fear is a good emotion, it’s what’s kept us from being eaten by spiders and snakes and alligators.  But we don’t (generally speaking) have that problem anymore.  What we have now are taxes, people who are different than us, massively complex bureaucracies, and dozens of new inventions that connect us to each other without us understanding how.

It is a rather simple matter to explain to someone why a snake would bite you.  It’s also acting in fear and self-defense.  Trying to explain to someone where taxes go and what they do… that’s a challenge.  I had a gentleman ask me why his phone automatically recognized a caller that wasn’t in his contact list.  I had to explain to him that he had shared his LinkedIn and Facebook account, the other had done the same, and the system just linked them.  He immediately went back and set it all to private, then started diving into other applications he had used.  I’ve talked to my wife numerous times about online presence and the mindset of her students that simply cannot disconnect.  Without her experiencing that firsthand, and the insomnia and externalized self-worth that accompanies it, there’s no real empathy.

I read a lot of news, from various sources.  There are some articles that are good, most however are quite poor.  To reduce an argument to a single line, or a single idea… that’s unfair.  Even in this connected age, there is not enough material to fill in 24 hours of fear-mongering news.  Most of it has to be made up, spun up, and screamed about.  Apparently everyone is out to kill me, everyone who doesn’t agree with me should be locked in jail, I should be immune to all arguments, and I should never change my mind.

I do get the flipside.  Issues are complicated.  Like a giant house of cards, you can’t just take one piece on it’s own and remove it.  It’s being supported by, and supporting other pieces.  Ignorance is bliss and people don’t ever want to have a hand in the game.  That’s the worst part about fear.  The thing is, without that knowledge, it’s a slow death.  Everyone has a hand in the game, whether they realize it or not.  By sticking your head in the sand and pretending nothing is going on… there’s only one part of your body left to take advantage of.

I want my kids to grow up understanding that fear is a good thing, it’s a daily challenge. By facing that fear, by diving into it and understanding why it exists, we can make greater changes.  It will be hard going.  There will be failures.  Other people will try to pull them down.  But it won’t matter.  They will ask questions.  They will have sympathy to the plight of others.  They will have empathy to better understand why people act the way they do.  And they will grow smarter and stronger for it.

For that to happen, I have to be better.  We have to be better.

 

 

 

Horizon: Cauldron Hunting

In Horizon, Cauldrons are these mini-puzzle areas that you need to navigate in order to unlock the ability to “convert” larger robots to fight for you.  They follow a general pattern.

  • Finding the place, which is shown on the map but the entrance isn’t straightforward
  • Surviving the front door.  Each Cauldron has a patrol in front of it.  The last one I visited had 3 stalkers (giant invisible cats).
  • Work out the interior puzzles.  They are climbing and/or avoid patrol puzzles.
  • Um, avoid the above patrols.  You should be able to get to the last room without the need to kill anything.
  • Enter the final room and kill the local mini-patrol.
  • Kill the boss encounter.
  • Cleanse the Cauldron.
  • Leave without dying to the front door patrol.

The front door and last boss are the real challenges, mostly because you’ve probably never encountered that particular set of enemies before.  I don’t consider it spoilers to say that the enemy on the cover of the box is one of those bosses.

The Thunderjaw is impressive.  It’s pretty much a mechanical T-Rex, but with lasers, a mine launcher, fire breath and super speed.  Feels like I’m fighting Grimlock.

horizon_zero_dawn_aiming_at_thunderjaw1

 

This particular fight took about 40 minutes.  The successful run was under 2.

I have a particular arrow that is quite effective at shedding enemy armor and equipment.  The Thunderjaw has multiple things to remove.  2 mine launchers, radar, protective heart panels, shock panels, heat panels, 2 lasers beams on his head, his tail that takes 90% of your health, and finally his head protection.  When you take off a piece, the enemy changes strategies to attack you.  At first, he’s likely to stay at range and attack, but when you take those tools away, he charges non-stop and swings his tail.  Take the tail away and he seems to enrage.

I stripped every piece off the guy and that only dropped him to about 75% HP.  I threw hundreds of arrows into his weak spots, barely a dent.  I could never get his shock or fire canisters to explode, no matter how much I shot them.  Add to the fact that every physical hit I took was 75-90% of my HP pool, I was barely scrapping by with rolls everywhere.

Remember that camera issue from before?  Well a giant T-Rex that’s charging at you, and that you can’t see, that’s not much fun.

After more than 20 attempts, I decided to change strategies.  Some of the pieces that are knocked off can be used – in particular the min launchers.  The downside is that it takes forever to pick up the item and you move like molasses when you have it.  I took a practice run to figure out that – ah to hell with planning.

I died, and the next go, I simply shot off the launcher and stood next to it.  When he charged, I rolled, picked up the launcher, turned on slow-mo-mode, and shot the entire clip into the bugger.  I repeated the same steps with the other launcher.  I didn’t take a single hit.  It almost felt like a staged run.

I went from feeling like I was going to throw the controller in frustration to a perfect run.  There’s a certain feeling of euphoria that comes from those types of events. Having to keep trying different things until it just clicks. It’s moments like those that clearly show why I like games.  I’m going to remember this particular gaming event for a long time…

 

Horizon First Impressions

PS4 is all set up and good to go.  Relatively painless install, which was nice.  I picked up Horizon, Uncharted 4 (in the package deal), and a used FF15.  Horizon was the first kick at the can.  I even got to play a bit with my eldest daughter, who did a pretty good job navigating.

I’ll assume most people know what the game is about.  Futuristic pre-history, open world, robotic dinosaurs, tribes, and bows.  That sums it up somewhat well.

The game is stunning to play through, where I find myself just moving the camera to enjoy the scenery.  It’s also one of those games where if you can see it, you can likely get to it.  It starts off in a relatively small part, then you actually look at the map and the sheer size of it all is amazing.  I’m sure there are other games that are as big, but few that share the same scale on a single unified map.

Running around (or on a mount) is a lot of fun.  There always seems to be something to catch your eye and I find it difficult to stick to the beaten path.  The first large quest has your run something around 2000 distance to the next target.  If I had ran straight, it would have been under 10 minutes.  It took me something like 5 hours instead.  Animals to hunt, gear to craft, bandits to clear, flowers to find, statues to find, cauldrons to explore…there’s always something going on.

Cauldrons in particular feel like tombs from AC2, combined with some stealth combat.  They allow you to unlock converting more and more difficult robots.  Each follows a similar structure – move through a puzzle area, with a few enemies around to make life hard.  Then a final massive battle.  They allow you to explore the lore of the world, which seems very well integrated.  I’m always looking for more.

Voice and sound are all top notch.  The lip sync can be off a bit, but the voice acting itself is superb.  Aloy feels relateable.  Her banter and self-thoughts make sense.  Conversations are about more than the simple stuff.  It’s quite well done.

Combat though, I think that was the real genesis for this game.  The enemy robots all have specific weak spots.  Most of those spots are covered with armor.  Nearly all have a specific elemental weakness that provided an additional effect.  Burn the fuel tank, take off 50% of the HP.  Remove the generator and no more stealth.  Aside from Watchers (the simplest of robots), most can kill you in 3-4 hits.  Some are massive. The first fight against a Corruptor felt like the hardest fight in years.  Then I realized he’s only mid-range difficult.

Most combat games you can stick with a single weapon.  You might upgrade range and damage, but you stay with the same.  Maybe God of War is one where you’d swap between 2 or three weapons.  Here though, you have to swap.  Either you do 10 damage a shot on a 10,000 hp enemy, or: you swap weapons, detach the armor, swap weapons, shoot a fire arrow, swap weapons, stun the enemy, swap weapons and deal a killing blow.  It’s sounds like a lot, and at first it is.  Eventually you get the hang of all the various bits and combat flow.  You turn into some kind of super human archer, pulling off moves that would seem ridiculous an hour before.

Gear itself is upgraded, though only marginally.  My 15 dmg bow is now an 18 dmg bow and “very rare”.  Skill is the differentiator here, and that’s a lot of fun.  Input controls are solid, and you don’t have any lag between what you want and what happens.  It feels like there’s move cancellation, which is more important than if it’s there or not.  My only gripe is that the camera can be a challenge, especially on larger enemies.  In particular in the very hectic battles.

So far, I’m feeling like this game alone was worth the console purchase price.  It hits all the right notes.  Combat, exploration, story, growth.  Extremely impressed.

Randomness

Or perhaps a brain dump.

Health

About 2 weeks ago now, I took a puck to the side of the helmet.  It split open my temple and rattled my brain.  No stitches, lots of blood, some medical glue, and now I have another scar.  If that was the only impact, then it would be easy.

I suffered a mild concussion with the injury.  I took the following day off, then tried work.  That didn’t go so well.  Spent 2 days in a dark room and that had a rather dramatic impact on my brain functions.  See, concussion protocol dictates that you don’t do the following: exert yourself, read a book, stare at a screen/TV.  What sucks about that, is that they are the exact things that I do to de-stress.  I play hockey 3x a week, I workout 3x a week, I play games, and I work in front of a computer. Asking me to stop eating for 3 days would be easier.

I’ve cut down on as much as I could.  Gaming has been minimized.  Work – I make efforts to get away from the screen.  I haven’t played a hockey game in 2 weeks.  Workouts I still do mind you.  The difference is that hockey gets my heart rate to about 140, while lifting weights rarely has me break 110.  My resting rate is around 50.

Fitness

Related to above, taking time away from cardio work (hockey) and just plain being in recovery mode, has allowed me to make some progress in my fitness regime.  It took a month, but I finally received my weight lifting belt from Amazon, and it’s a beaut.  I don’t get dizzy lifting, and for those that do lift weights, you can relate to the “zen-ness” of it all.  The downside is that my body can only really take 90 minutes of it every other day.  Not having hockey around means that there’s more rest, and the progress between sessions has improved.

I’ve limited myself to a 225lbs squat, 25lbs chin-up and 25lbs dip.  I can physically do more, but I can’t play hockey 2-3x a week and keep pace.  The rest of the movements I can increase just fine.  Bench, row, press, and dead lift are all moving at a good pace.  I have numbers that I want to achieve before the summer and all of them are within reach – though the bench is going to be the hardest one.

In an interesting twist, my wife wants to share in the program.  I think she’s going to do great.  Plus having both parents do sessions on alternating days, means that the kids will see a daily dose of exercise from their parents.  Can’t get them started on body weight exercises soon enough!

Games

It’s only 1 post away, but I’ve put enough thought into it over the past few months.  I’ll be picking up the PS4 tonight.  I took Murph‘s suggestion to heart, scouring local ads for used games.  That’ll work out if I want a cheap version of Killzone or some other FPS.  The particulars that I want don’t seem to be on resale that much, or at a price point that seems worthwhile for a 1 hour drive.  I’ll find something that works…