Boomtown and Batman

WB has a good problem on their hands.  They have the best action melee combat system on market.  Spider-man comes close, but it’s movement based rather than physical.

If you’ve ever played a Batman game, you know what I mean.  Rarely are fights ever 1:1, instead it’s Batman vs 5-10 different goons, with different abilities.  At easier difficulty levels, you can just use your fists and generally get through.  Harder difficulties really do turn you into a walking swiss army knife of combat options.  You’re shooting batarangs, rope pulls, stuns, air attacks, flash bombs and a slew of other options.  While there’s an ideal path for each enemy type, odds are you surrounded by multiple and just creating your own dance of death.

Even goons with guns can be taken down with the right tools.  The last game in the series went a bit overboard on that, as you can’t really take out an entire squad of armed foes with your hands.  Still, the model works and it’s extremely fulfilling.

Shadow of Mordor takes this up another notch, what with the possession skill.  Most fights are against 20+ enemies, and it’s really not possible to take them all down without turning the odds in your favor.  You end up just dodging all over the place, like you’re high on sugar pops.  Still taking down an army, effectively solo, is a heck of a feeling.  Throw in a boss (or 3) and it’s a great endorphin rush.

Which brings me to Mad Max.  Early fights start off with 3-5 goons.  Then you get people who run at you.  Then some with shields.  Then some with weapons.  Then PILES of enemies at once.  There’s a gradual increase of difficulty as you go through, and in nearly all cases, it is predicated on your use of the Parry and Dodge buttons.  Parry yellow, Dodge red.  You can “move cancel” almost everything but a killer blow (ironically), so that makes for some stream of combat.  But there’s really no movement involved here – you just wait for people to attack, and hope they are near a wall for what is the only “invincible” takedown that doesn’t require a consumable.

You don’t really get more tools (shiv, shotgun), but you do get some interesting skills to help offset the enemies.  You can reverse parry an attack, using the enemy’s weapon against them.  You can break shields.  You can quickly execute.  Almost all of them require you to play defensively.

It’s an interesting twist, and one that has some merit.  The Dark Souls model of opportunistic attacks is certainly sound.  Mad Max uses a different toolkit to push that concept, and for the most part, it works.

 

 

Mad Max

This one has been on my wishlist for a while now.  I heard some great things about it but I’d had enough open world games to play at the time.  I’m getting emails every day now about some game on sale, so I figured I’d get a deal and give it a go.

I am a fan of the film series.  That helps tremendously here, because the game makes next to no effort to explain the setting.  Not that we generally play these games for their story settings.  I’m not quite far in, but the bits and pieces that have been presented so far fit in really well with the world-as-seen-on-film.  Considering it came out around the time of the 4th film (which is frikkin’ amazing), the tie-in is obvious and probably in the top-3 I’ve ever played.

Open-world games walk a very tight line.  You want tons of things to do, but you want them to be meaningful.  Ubisoft put in character levels to help justify the crazy padding in the Assassin’s Creed series.  Mad Max has a lot of events, but it does a decent job in making them both varied and useful.  The base camps you’re clearing are all unique, peppered with some bosses.  There are secrets to find in each as well.  There are sniper nests / totems to take down, but they are mostly drive-bys and easy enough to manage.  The “discovery the world” points are hot air ballons, and rather than just push a button, you need to go through some minor (different) steps to get the balloon in the air.

The rough spots deal with scrap collection, which may or may not contain a piece of a useful recipe.  Means you only need to do a handful per mini-zone.  The absolute worst part is the minesweeping portion, which requires you to use a specific car and travel to the world without getting into any combat.

Given the setting, there’s a LOT of driving.  Thankfully it plays wonderfully.  Each vehicle plays differently, and your main ride has enough gizmos to make combat entertaining. There are some Death Races as well, which unlock different vehicles.  It’s ok to start, but really shines when you upgrade the ammo for your Shotgun and can take out enemies with ease.  The hunting of convoys is especially fun, as you need to take down 4-8 vehicles to get a hood ornament from the leader.  You end up doing a ton of laps around an area, using every advantage you can to survive.  Tons of fun.  It’s a really good travel system, making the world feel big without it feeling like it’s just big to impress.

Hand to hand combat is pretty much the Batman games, minus the crazy acrobatics.  So yeah, gold standard there.

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All the various activities help restore a local stronghold which provides boosts to your gameplay.  Either free healing, ammo, scrap (money) collection, or similar.  They also reduce the area’s threat, which unlocks upgrades for your car.  And raising your Legend status (character level) unless character upgrades.  So there’s some value in completing them, as much there is in doing the actual activity.

The downsides here are all nitpicky.  The minesweeping portion is horrible as you can only use 1 car, which has no upgrades, and you need to manually find the minefields.  Dodge and jump are realistic, meaning they don’t really move you that much.  It’s jarring and takes a fair amount of adjustment.  Collecting scrap I tedious (hold A to collect) and takes a stronghold upgrade to collect from destroyed vehicles.  But I am nitpicking here (except minesweeping, ugh).

I’ve unlocked the 2nd area (I think there are 4), I guess that makes it about 20% or so saying “complete”.  So more thoughts as I dig deeper.  What I’ve seen so far, yeah, I can see why this game was on many top 10 lists in 2015.  Probably would be in top 10 lists in 2020 too.

Control – Foundation DLC

If you haven’t played Control yet, you should.  It’s a GotY caliber experience.  The first playthrough is a sensory experience, as the House is weird as all hell.  Figuring out how all the pieces fit together is awesome, and throwing stuff with telekenitic powers does not get old.  Clearing it all, I was really hoping for some DLC to expand on it all.

The Jukebox runs came out near the holidays.  Timed arena combat with some OK loot.  It was OK, but since loot isn’t exactly a driver in Control, there wasn’t a whole lot to replay through.  Foundation is a true DLC, expanding on the lore, the enemies, and the skill sets.

You need to have completed the main game to get into this content.  As much for the fact the story won’t make any sense if you don’t, as for the fact that the new enemies are quite difficult.  I died way more in this DLC than the main game.  Enemies have more HP, deal more damage, and are much more evasive.  More challenge is good, and it doesn’t feel cheap.

Two new skills, though they don’t have huge impacts on combat.  You can create stone, which is mostly for reaching new areas.  It can be used to create spikes, but the enemies have to be lured to the location.  You can also destroy stone, used to access new areas and crafting mats.  Used in combat, this can destroy floors, plummeting people to their death.  Which is a neat way to kill the final boss in 2 shots.

There are some additional levels to skills, just stat boosts.  Some new mods that tweak gameplay – I added a +hp when hitting with Launch.  That seems almost mandatory given the new combat difficulty.  Compared to the base game, you’re going to be using different weapon types more often.  The sniper and launcher modes are very useful now.  The SMG and shotgun are still useless.

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It’s all 1 big zone, with 2 main environments to explore.  It’s more linear than the base game, and most of it is within tunnels.  They play with light/dark themes to add some stress to the game.  The TV sidequest in particular is done in pure darkness with a minor source of portable light.  The Film Camera sidequest is similar to the Ashtray maze, but due to the more precise platforming requirements, its a tad less fun than novel.

I won’t spoil the story.  The Board has issues, you get to read about how the House started, and some of the political bits.  I do wish there was more here though – Ash is a fascinating character.  It leaves enough breadcrumbs to sow some doubt as to how benevolent the Board is, which always struck me as odd in the base game.

The DLC as whole probably takes 4 hours to run though, side quests and all.  There’s 1 secret quest to collect some cat statues, and let me tell you that is one of the most obtuse puzzles I have ever seen.  One step is done in the complete dark – and I likely never would have found it without a reddit post.

The Foundation is a good DLC.  It’s more of Control, with a few minor tweaks.  It’s not an expansion.  I’d rather see a sequel than an expansion.  There are many veins that are present here.  For what it is, it works very well.  Highly recommended.

Darksiders Genesis

I’ve now played all the games in the Darksiders series, and I have to say it’s one of the more interesting ones out there.  The plot line deals with the 4 horsemen maintaining the balance between the forces of good and evil, with humans stuck somewhere in the middle.  Each game in the series emulates a particular genre, and focuses on a particular horseman.  For the most part, this works, but emulation is not replication.

The first game dealt with War and was in line with the Zelda series in terms of open world, unlocking skills, and world traversal.  It was the most puzzle focused of the series, and had the cleanest of plot lines.  Ironically, in terms of timelines, its the last one – setting the stage for all 4 horsemen to come out and play.

The second game dealt with Death and was a mashup of God of War’s combat with Diablo’s itemization.  Worked well enough, and the plot line really expanded on the world.

The third dealt with Fury and tried to be more like Dark Souls, but instead focused on parry attacks.  The world building was ok, Samael in particular was top notch, and the end scenario was unexpected given the character growth.  Looks amazing, but the gameplay got dry pretty quick.

Finally, the 4th game deals with Strife and is more in like with a twin-stick shooter (since Strife has guns).  Well, the game is actually a duo-game, since you can freely swap to War (melee focus) or play local coop.  There’s some exploring and puzzle work, and some backtracking if you want to unlock everything.  Even an arena mode to test your combat skills.

The only downside I have with this game is the locked in camera angle.  If you’ve played Diablo, you know that there are somethings that you simply cannot see due to the world geometry.  Which, fine in a 2D world (Diablo has no vertical portions).  Darksiders has a lot of vertical aspects, and some portions are really hard to figure out without trial and error.  Main game, no real issues.  Exploring the world, painful.  There’s one set of puzzles in the Void (SW portion) that requires accurate platform jumping and is so poorly executed that I’ve rarely been that frustrated.  We’re talking Tidus’ Chocobo Race in FFX levels of frustrating.  Thankfully, it only provides an achievement – entirely skippable.

The story line isn’t very good – you’re basically chasing Lucifer and aided by Samael along the way,  but never get to see behind the curtain as to why.  Meh.  The combat makes up for it, as it can be a ton of fun to take out wide piles of various enemies with your skills.  A fully upgrade Strife is a walking death dealer – and the arena really shows that off.  The bosses all have some interesting mechanics, though often pad the length with spawns of trash to clear.  Knowing when to dodge/parry is key to survive.

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The really interesting bit here is the skill orb system.  Enemies have a chance of dropping a skill orb, and the more orbs you get, the higher their level (up to 3).  There are ok skills and amazing skills.  +3% to special attacks is meh, but having chain explosions upon death of an enemy is like setting fireworks.  There’s a slotting mechanism too, where you only get the level bonus of the orb based on the slot.  So a level 3 orb in a level 1 slot only gets level 1 bonus.  Further, slots have a type (attack/wrath/health) which when matched with the right orb provides a % bonus to that stat.  That makes an insane difference.

By the end of the game I had a few decent skills, then I decided to clear out the arena levels (20 + 1 infinite).  Clearing that ended up maxing out most of my orbs so that by the time I was at the infinite stage, I felt like a god.  I really enjoyed the min/maxing portion – it didn’t feel tedious.  It would be something entirely for Diablo 4 to emulate this system – with some further refinement it would bridge the gap between Path of Exile’s massive tree and D3’s simplistic slotting.

The Darksiders series has never been a AAA series, and I am just fine with that.  Genesis does a solid job and providing non-stop fun, and that’s all that matters in the end.

MHW: Weird Little Nuggets

As part of my clearing of old quests, I paid a bit more attention to Palico gear and Tailraiders.  There’s something addictive about bars that keep growing after all.

My Vigorwasp has been maxed for a while now – the free heals and 1time free rez is great for breaking new grounds on monsters.  But if I want put damage, then there’s an odd mix with the Orchestra (tons of buffs) or the Meowlotov Cocktail (bombs, bombs, and more bombs).  The latter works best in a smaller area, especially with a stunned monster.  The former just works.   At least now I know, and it will give me a few more options as I hunt forward.  It’s nice to see how much those gadgets have improved since the base game (Plunderblade is arguably worse).  And the best way to get there is to just keep doing Arena battles.

Another bar that moved was the Tailraiders.  These used to max out at level 5, and frankly didn’t do all that much except some minor damage.  In some rare cases, they gave you some extra loot that you needed.  Hunting the Guiding Lands, these guys boost the Dragon ore collection process by about 15%, so it’s worth getting them.  But regular battles?

Sure enough, one hits level 6 and I get a notice that I can Pawswap.  This is a trading minigame where you get extra items (including cosmetics) from exchanging items with the Tailraiders.  It’s a mix between Pickers and a treasure hunt I guess.

Levels 7-10 now have the Tailraider drop loot when they die, use their gear more often, summon a second one when they die, and deal a stupid amount of damage.  And since the Iceborne expansion gives you a gadget that can summon them from anywhere, it’s a whole lot easier to find them.

Leveling them took a bit to figure out.  Attacking monsters certainly helps, but it’s limited to a portion of the bar at a time.  A neat trick instead is to use the Wide Range decoration (level 1 is fine) and chug a potion with them nearby.  See the green mist hit them, then turn to the Handler and check your rewards.   Combined with Free Meal (25% of not consuming the potion) and it should take less than 20 potions to max from 5 to 10.

Finally, Poogie.  You get this pig in the base game and he starts wandering around in Iceborne.  Was mostly just a thing to see.  Now though, there’s a super simple minigame to pet him.  If he likes you, carry him in your arms and wait for the controller to shake.  Put him down and he’ll dig for some pig cosmetics.  It’s both cute and absurd to see a pig dressed in a tutu.

Some weird little bits in MHW that I really wasn’t paying attention to… you know, cause of the giant laser shooting apes and all.  There’s a crazy amount of stuff in here.

Oh, and Anthem hit year 1 over the weekend.  Still has the Christmas lights up in town.  So there’s that.

MHW: Under the Covers

I’m actually going to start off with Dauntless to help set the stage.  The game is solid, if a bit on the shallow end.  You have a few weapon types, some rather simplistic combos (I’ll get to strikers), elemental attacks, slotted gems, and monster weaknesses/breaking parts.  Oh, and there’s some very rudimentary gathering for potions in game.  Behemoths have flat resistance/armor based on their level, and a strength/weakness to a particular element.  It helps to use their weakness, but due to the way weapon skills are balanced, it often is best to ignore it.

So let’s cover balance for a second.  All weapons (except strikers) have simple combos.  You need to know when to use them so as not to get hit, but they don’t necessarily chain into something larger.   Strikers though… they have an interesting buff mechanic where if you apply the buffs, your damage starts reaching crazy levels.  It’s a high skill ceiling weapon, and since it’s been around in late summer, has been leading almost every chart.  Combine that with a specific skill set to increase attack speed and critical hits… then it’s a walking death machine.  Cue calls for nerfs – when in reality it’s the other weapons that need a similar overhaul.  To be fair, this is only a concern when you’ve killed every single Behemoth, maxed out most of your gear, and are farming mastery levels.  Until that point, the game is a blast.

MH Weapons

There are 14 types, and each one is entirely viable for the entire game.  Speed runners with max level gear will likely end up with the Heavy Bow Gun due to some rather ridiculous boosts within, but it comes with some major defensive drawbacks.  Longswords provide a lot of damage, with some OK counter ability.  Charge Blades are opportunistic and can deal the highest single attacks in the game.  Hammers can chain ledge-jumps to easily stun almost every monster.  Insect Glaives keep you off the ground more almost the entire fight.

And each weapon comes with an upgrade path that is not simply “more numbers”.  They get more decoration slots, different critical values, different elemental attacks, more (or less) augment slots.  In specific cases, it will change the type of ammo you can use, the recoil from attacks, and the reload speed.

I’ll compare 2 Charge Blades to illustrate a point.

  • Deep Schnegel II – 900 dmg, 0% crit, 480 ice damage, power phials, level 10, 2+1 decos
  • Luna Eostre – 1044 dmg, 10% crit, 420 poison damage, impact phials, level 12, 2+2 decos

On paper, the Luna Eostre (LE) is better in almost every regard.  It does more base damage, it has a higher crit, it does poison (which deals lots of damage over time), it has impact phials (which can knock down a monster), is a higher level, and has better decoration slots.  If you had this weapon, honestly it would be pretty amazing.

But…

Deep Schnegel II (DS) is 2 levels lower, meaning it gets MORE upgrade options.  And there’s a particular armor set skill (Namielle’s 4 piece) that boosts elemental damage by 150, and with Ice Attack 6 (from a necklace) you’re looking at even higher.  Combined, that 480 ice damage climbs to over 1000.  Since elemental damage can’t crit, and isn’t impacted by wounded parts… you don’t need to aim as much as you would with the LE, and can therefore attack much faster.  The challenge here is that you will find some monsters that are immune to ice, so you’ll need to swap to another element.  It will absolutely demolish Shara.

And that only covers 1 weapon.  Heavy Bow Guns are even more complex due to ammo restrictions and play styles (sticky ammo for distance fighting, or spread ammo for close up), let alone the bit about reloading while ledge jumping, or the dodge evade increases.

And I haven’t even gotten into the various monster parts that have varying levels of defense/weakness… which can change during the course of battle too.

It feels like a rabbit hole.  The beauty of which is that this “hyper optimized” numbers game doesn’t at all detract from your personal playstyle.  Unless you’re doing something extremely wrong, you will always beat the clock to kill a monster.  And if you’re having fun that way, hell, all the more power to you.

 

Anthem – Wishlist

Right, we’re at the 1 year mark (-ish) and Anthem is due for a complete overhaul.  Might has well put down a wish list.

World

  • Flying works, but needs more vertical combat (not just hovering)
  • Remove the need for incessant loading screens, and the need to return to town to do 99% of the gameplay set up
  • Script the world so that there’s always something going on, and it’s clearly stated and accessible.  An alert for an open mission on the other side of the map that despawns by the time you get there sucks.
  • Have a “transport to player” button
  • If there’s going to be an overworld, it needs more people.

Combat

  • Enemies need tactics rather than just being bullet sponges
  • Mini-boss mechanics should be more than just “spawn a lot of grunts”
  • Find a way to sticky target, especially when fighting in very open spaces
  • Add variety to weapons so that there’s a clear tradeoff.  No one in their right mind uses a high ammo, low damage sniper rifle.
  • There should be weapon skills rather than just player skills.  An alternate fire more would go a long way (e.g. unload entire shotgun clip)
  • Address clipping / player hit box management
  • Set a TTK goal and manage to that number
  • Manage combat challenges under the rock/paper/scissors context rather than bullet/sponge

Players

  • Abilities should not come with stats, they should mostly be unlocked as you level up.
  • Add weapon/ability modifier drops (with no stats)
  • Add stat slots for gear, with a very rare chance of an item drop that increases rarity
  • Set floor/ceiling values for gear drops based on rarity, with priority rolls  (some of this is there now)
  • Put in a trial room so that players can test out builds
  • Clearly indicate synergy between abilities, above and beyond the primer/trigger concepts
  • Provide horizontal growth options through experience (e.g. faster movement speed, increased collection area, faster harvesting, increased defense)

Classes

  • Balance the classes so that they have 2-3 viable playstyles at max level
  • Ensure consistent scaling of abilities (e.g. % and not linear)
  • Add class-specific items with fixed stats.  There is nothing worse than triple+ RNG (the item you want, the rarity you want, the stats you want).

Gameplay

  • Add more difficulty tiers, and gates in order to access them (similar to the D3 difficulty structure)
  • Add timed runs with cosmetic rewards (not power) – including boss rush mode
  • Add drops that can be used to randomly acquire other items (e.g. shard gambling)
  • Test run group content for duration / complexity, so that there’s some parity between the content.  This avoids Maw runs.
  • Have a voting system at the end of a run that allows picking an MVP, with cosmetic currency
  • It’s going to be there –> daily login rewards + monthly cosmetic passs

 

There’s a few more I have on my list but this is long enough already.