Return to Bloodstained

If ever there was a bloodline for the metroidvania genre, this one would be a pureblood. Koji Igarashi is the person credited for building the genre, and his indie game really pushes that to the next level.

This is one of like 3 games I have every backed on Kickstarter. Iga building a metroidvania was about as sure a bet as the sun coming up. It had some bumps in development and was delayed a tad. The visuals in particular were overhauled. I like to point this fact out as much as possible, because the changes are spectacular.

The storyline itself is pure Iga, where there’s only one “true” ending, and multiple fake endings along the way. You likely don’t know they are failures until you see the credits, and then dig through the lore to see how to go further (the first Gebel fight is a perfect example of this). The good news is that you’re never locked into a failed state – Blasphemous has a key point where you can lock yourself out of the true ending, and the auto-save feature means you can’t revert.

The mechanics are all about throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks.

  • You need to take down bosses to unlock skills to unlock more of the game
  • Unlocking the endings requires specific skills to be used at specific times
  • Multiple optional bosses
  • A less-than-clear crafting process for equipment
  • An even-less-than-clear crafting process for food, that gives a 1 time stat boost
  • Dozens of weapon types, with attack moves
  • Dozens of “shards” which provide active or passive magic effects. Said shards can be upgraded by crafting and collecting more of the same type.
  • A manual save system, where you lose progress on death since the last save (which is ultra painful when farming shards)
  • A bunch of side quests
  • An actual leveling system based on experience points.
  • Multiple hidden areas and items
  • Bosses that can be killed without you taking damage, while at the same time being able to wipe the floor with you. This particular one is a staple of the genre, and taken to the next level with the “Souls” series.

To me, one of the defining features of the genre is both how obtuse and important the relationships between the systems are. If you play through without paying attention, you’re going to have a very hard time. If you read the lore and stats, and do as many side activities as possible, you’ll get way more enjoyment out of it.

Think about that for a minute. A game where the subsystems actually matter and are not simply separate activities? It’s a heck of a balancing act to run from a development perspective, as all the variable can be applied to different degrees based on how much the player has “done”.

I’d say I’m about halfway through the core storyline now, which in this genre means closer to 20% of the actual game. I’m finding myself smiling at the various bits and bobs throughout. That the boss AI is both punishing and rewarding. The joy of collecting a new shard, or the relief of finding a new save point when inches from death. Death here is not a frustration, just a chuckle and another attempt. It’s just plain fun, and given all the *waves hands at everything*, we can all use some of that.

Blasphemous Replay

I need me some metroidvania. There’s some hidden joy in the genre, where progress rewards progress. It’s an interesting genre, that only recently (say 5 years or so) has really come into it’s own. The defining feature today is that the game is 2D. If you think about it, the Link/Zelda series are a type of metroidvania, where character ability defines access to content (BotW excepted). Metroidvania eventually bleeded into the rogue-like genre, where progress is a mix of abilities & player skill (think Dead Cells or Hades).

What’s most impressive about the genre is how prolific it’s become. Metroidvanias don’t need a AAA studio development, they can deliver absolutely stunning content with a “small” team. I’d even argue that the smaller teams allow for greater innovation and risk taking, in order to differentiate from the others in the genre.

I’ve talked about Metroid Dread, where the game has high spots, but the experimentation with EMMI doesn’t really work for me. My kids have given it a shot, and they both hit the quit wall of EMMI, which is a real shame. Hollow Knight, by comparison, is astoundingly more difficult, yet the gradual increase of said difficulty comes across many hours of gameplay (honestly, if you’ve finished this game with the true ending, hats off).

Blasphemous is a strange one. On the one hand, it has all the pure essence of the genre. 2D, tough combat, game changing abilities, hidden secrets, alternative endings. On the other, it has a rather obtuse quest system and punishing health/death mechanic that fits a souls-like game. Understanding the mechanics of the game drastically change the player’s ability to succeed.

My first playthrough was close to 40 hours. If it tracked the number of deaths, it would be obscene. Heck, the first boss (well, I thought it was the first) took me 20 tries before realizing I could slide through it and the i-frames that came with. It took me another 20 hours to figure out how the dodge-attack worked properly. It was an eye opening experience of gameplay discovery, as much as it was content discovery.

A really fascinating part of the game is that actual ability increments are optional. Walking on clouds, stabbing roots, avoiding fall damage or poison… all require you to go out of your way to find them. You could, if you wanted to, complete the game with zero upgrades. You’d even be able to do get the “good” or “true” ending this way. I can’t imagine clearing Isidora this way, but it’s certainly feasible.

I had some time to fill in recent weeks and the Switch is awesome for pick up and play. I gave the game another go (3rd run) and this time it felt like a completely different game. An understanding of the mechanics, what abilities should be prioritized, and general patterns made a huge difference. I had some slowdowns in trying to go a quicker/harder route at the start, and some bad luck with Isidora, otherwise it was an incredibly smooth run. It was right up there with Hades in terms of enjoyment of the controlled chaos.

It helps that Blasphemous has had multiple content updates since launch, some quality of life, others being significant (boss rush, a “true” ending, a set of new bosses, NG+). Looking back after the credits, there’s a larger appreciation on what a small studio can deliver with today’s tools. And it’s giving me an itch for more of the genre…

MHR: Sunbreak – Content Patch 1

We’re short of 2 months since the launch of Sunbreak and the first major content patch is out. And it adds a lot, but summed into the following bits.

  • New monster variants (and their equipment)
    • Seething Bazelgeuse
    • Silver Rathalos
    • Gold Rathian
    • Lucent Nargacuga
  • Anomaly Investigations
  • Qurious Crafting

New Monsters

These are MR6 level challenges, so they come with a lot of HP and a lot of damage. Continuing the Sunbreak theme, all these monsters attack at crazy speeds, with long chains of attacks. Openings exist, but the camera angle and blast effects reward planning to a greater degree. It feels like the monsters have twice the HP of their normal counterparts.

The armor drops from these guys are elder-level, I do expect the meta to change a bit here, which is a good thing.

Anomaly Investigations

Anomaly Quests are still there, where you target a specific monster. Investigations are randomly generated and the list of available investigations increases as your Anomaly rank increases. A rank 11 monster can still show up in the rank 30 battles, it just has increased stats. Higher rank also has harder monsters show up.

The randomness is interesting. Where Quests are 1 monster at a time, Investigations can have multiple monsters, including Apex monsters for some reason. Apex Azuros was the stuff of nightmares in the base game, I can’t imagine encountering him with MR stats. The RNG aspect, and the fact you have like 20 Investigations to choose from at a time, mean you can avoid these very painful ones for a more “optimized” route.

Investigations give anomaly rewards (for rank 10 crafting) and other material to help with Qurious Crafting – or for talisman melding. There are now 3 ranks to track, HR, MR, and AR.

Qurious Crafting

Continuing the trend of additional customization, Qurious Crafting allows for additional modifications to weapons and armor. Using the AI drops, you “unlock” the ability to customize. Each item has a number of “slots” (you can increase this, to a given amount), and then add from a set of stats that take up a given number of slots.

For example, a longsword starts with 4 slots, and can go to 6. You can mix and match additional boosts, like +10 attack for 2 slots, or 5% affinity for 2. More rampage gem slots too. You can change them around if you want, for no cost, as long as they are unlocked. This is very similar to the Buddy skill customization system, just that there’s a material cost to unlock the bits.

Where talismans have a HUGE RNG factor, Qurious Crafting allows for targeted improvements. There’s a cost here, and frankly a substantial one if you are swapping between gear sets (HBG elemental pierce comes to mind). The net effect is that this system is the long-tail carrot to keep people playing.

To me, the game appears “feature complete” now, where any additional content patch is going to be just that, content and not systems. New monsters, subspecies (e.g. elemental versions), and powered-up versions (e.g. permanent enraged). Even quests too, for some interesting layered armor.

It’s going to take a while for the meta to reset, as the various Qurious Crafting unlocks will need to be tabulated. It’s crazy the amount of content here…

MHR: Sunbreak – End-Game

The game proper ends at Gaismagorm, then you reach the end-game which is mostly about boosting your MR rank to various heights to unlock new content.

  • 10 gives access to tier 1 Afflicted monsters (tougher versions)
  • 20 gives access to Wind Serpent Ibushi and 2* Afflicted monsters
  • 30 gives access to Narwa and 3* Afflicted monsters
  • 50 gives access to Furious Rajang (Always in phase 2/3) and 4* Afflicted monsters
  • 70 gives access to Valstrax
  • 100 gives access to Scorned Magnamalo (permanent enrage)

Increasing MR comes from completing any quest, and getting to MR30 is fairly easy. Past that, it can feel grindy, which is an issue for 2 reasons. I’m at 39 now.

First, you’re likely to be fully kitted out on your gear by this point due to “ease” of drops. A decent talisman from base Rise is going to be fine in Sunbreak, same with decorations. 4 slot decoration slots are not common, and the actual decorations aren’t terribly interesting (except for perhaps Bow/LBG/HBG). If you are hunting for mats, odds are it’s to kit out a different weapon set.

Second, the optimal path for increasing MR depends on if you are in multiplayer or solo. Multiplayer has a single quest that dumps trucks of experience for low risk. Single player, you’ve got a few options but if you need to meld, it’ll probably mean farming Gaismagorm with a LBG.

Afflicted Monsters

This is a bit like Apex monsters from the base game. The monsters hit nearly twice as hard, and have a new debuff (Bloodblight) which is a permanent DoT and vampire effect, rewarding aggressive gameplay. You can’t capture them, which adds some difficulty. There’s a shared drop pool across various types (fur, claws, etc..) that are used to craft rank 10 weapons. Breaking parts gives higher chance of collecting these items… and you want them.

Once you’ve got your items, not much reason to take on the difficulty these monsters pose. Maybe if they had a better increase in MR rank to compensate…

Follower Quests

For solo players, this is likely the best way to farm materials. Each monsters has a quest where you can bring followers along, who will heal/tank/damage the monster. Extremely effective for non-countering weapons. It helps that the AI is quite strong here.

This mode is like the total opposite of Rampages from Rise. Rampages were painful solo, and with some Apex monsters, a stupidly high difficulty curve. Follower quests give you multiplayer benefits (NPCs + their palicos) and some added randomness on the battles. If they could get the AI to man turrets, then maybe Rampages would make sense. An interesting experiment, that’s for sure!

Ibushi + Narwa

Isbushi is quite similar to his presence in Rise, with a couple more air moves. You only fight him, and in the smaller cavern. Nothing terribly complex.

Narwa though… holy heck. The first half of the fight (until the ridable monster shows up) is not terribly hard. Past that point, Narwa goes HAM and spams massive AE attacks. I would recommend that everyone enter here with 20+ lightning resistance, as it’s very simple to get carted on a double attack. It’s one of a few fights in Sunbreak where you always want to have a Wirebug ready to use. Where Rise could have you farm Narwa for talisman materials, it is absolutely not recommended here.

End Goal

Content drop 1 is due sometime in August. It will be interesting to see what comes in that in terms of balance/QoL changes. Aside from that, I don’t see much reason to move past MR50 right now. Maybe I can add a challenge to add another weapon type – Dual Blade elemental seems quite interesting.

I will point that this is still hours and hours of content, and way better than most games are able to release. Would be curious as to how this does compare to where Dauntless is now (also on Switch). Still highly recommended.

MHR:Sunbreak – Campaign Complete

Meaning I’m MR6 with a new cap of MR10.

Monster Hunter games have never been strong on the story front, simply hand waving to present a new set of monsters. You get progressively more difficult monsters and then end up against a mini-mountain to close it off. Narwa was the pinnacle in Rise, and Giasmagorm in Sunbreak. Completing that monster runs the credits and the “end game” begins.

The monster variety in Sunbreak is lesser than I had hoped. You will see every monster but Narwa and Ibushi during the campagin, with a new moveset. There’s a minor increment in challenge here. There are new subvariants, like Aurora Somnacanth (ice), which adds some spice I suppose. The “new” monsters are generally twists of existing types.

  • Hemitaur and Ceanataur are crabs. I don’t understand why there are 2 crabs. They are the first monsters you reach, which makes them easy fodder.
  • Gore Magala and Shagaru Magala are dragon-cats, in the same form as Barioth and Tigrex. They look amazing, but have near identical movesets.
  • Garangolm is a stone monkey. It develops elemental attacks on its fists when enraged. I rather like this one.
  • Lunagaron is an ice wolf. I expected his attacks to be faster.
  • Astalos is an electric drake. This guy is insanely annoying due to the constant stuns and very fast attacks. Fun in a masochistic way.
  • Seregios is a ninja drake. Seriously. He moves constantly and ninja kicks you around. Probably my favorite new monster.
  • Malzeno is a blood dragon. This guy is a fun challenge. He inflicts a blight that causes a DoT that is only countered by attacking him. Has a very large moveset that doesn’t allow safe spaces. The “pure dragon” fights in MH are always impressive.
  • Giasmagorm is the big boss that takes up a large platform. You have less room here than with Narwa, making ranged attacks extremely challenging. It feels like constant explosions everywhere, and some bad RNG can kill you outright. I have yet to figure out how to counter any of his attacks consistently.

There’s only one with a new signature move (Malzeno), which feels like a lost opportunity given the variety of options present here. That said, MH is famous for it’s constant updates and monster additions, so I’m not exactly terribly worried. We’re certainly going to see some death-dealing monsters soon enough.

I will say that the quest variety is a weird one after MR6. There are always some solo fights to tackle (more on this), but there are more group fights than I expected. 3 or 4 monsters are very common. The good news here is that these monsters all have less HP, as the total monster HP for a quest is softcapped. A quest with 3 monsters will have each monster at about 33% total HP as a result. This is less good in a larger map as you can’t capture monsters as easily (I end up killing them accidentally), but very good for arena quests as you can mount monsters in a quick chain for a ridiculous amount of damage.

The solo fights are a weird one. Sure, you want to run them to get the quest done, and potentially unlock something new. But given that every (it seems) monster has a follower quest as well, you are way better off going that route. Having 2 or more NPCs follow you into battle is a huge benefit that doesn’t need explanation.

One additional quirk present here that was also present in Rise is that the end game cycle is self-driven. You may chase some material for a decoration or two, but 3 runs of a monster is usually enough to craft any armor/weapon you want. The RNG is limited to Talismans, which while useful, are not as game breaking as weapons/armor. Raising your MR therefore is a question of wanting to craft as much stuff as possible, rather than much in terms of power increment.

Next step is to get to MR10 for the August content patch. I’m 3 pieces shy of the gear I want, which should mean 1 more Teostra run, and then a couple of Giasmagorm. Let’s see how that goes.

MH Rise – Sunbreak – Early Impressions

I had played a significant chunk of Monster Hunter Rise when it launched – it was the reason for buying a Switch actually. I covered a few months of content, up to Valstrax near the end of May. I stopped playing when the power curve started to tip sideways (and that farming Lazurite gems was pretty easy). I stand by my prior assessment, that Rise is a further simplification of World, to various degrees of success. The skill floor dropped significantly, while the addition of the wirebug dramatically increased the skill ceiling.

Sunbreak therefore compared to World’s Iceborne expansion, which added new climates, new monsters, and some skill rebalancing. At the early stages, Iceborne is more favorable, as the “new” is upfront, and the prior monsters take a backseat to a slew of new ones. For Sunbreak

  • There are 2 new environments. A smaller jungle map (fun, tight design) and a castle ruins map (slightly too large for my tastes, could have been 2 maps).
  • The first few hours are battles against existing or reskinned monsters. Garangolm is a much weaker version of Rajang. Lunagaroth is an interesting ice-wolf. The existing monsters all get new skill sets, which is nice to see given that the new patterns are important.
  • The new hub environment is a nice addition, where the measure between the item box, quest giver, and dango (food) is still only a few seconds.
  • Each weapon has a new set of silkbind moves, where most of them act as counters to attacks rather than additional attacks. This re-enforces Rise’s push for less aggressive playstyles, and allowing for a lower skill floor (aka “easier”).
  • There’s now the ability to swap silkbind moves while in battle, which opens up some tremendous situational agility. Some skilbinds are “builders” while others are “spenders”, and you used to have to choose between them for a total fight. Now you can have both, which for some weapons is a complete game changer. Skill ceiling just went up.
  • There are now follower missions, where up to 2 NPCs follow you in battle for specific solo-only fights. This dramatically speeds up farming runs. I should point the AI for these NPCs is really solid. They use traps and move strategically to lure monsters into them. Consider this another skill floor drop.
  • The difficulty curve at the start of the expansion is significant, as the practically “free” armor they hand out is 20%-100% better than what most hunters will have on hand. If you’re not using MR-rank armor, you’re likely to die in 2-3 hits. MR-rank weapons are even larger power increments.
  • Customization of Palico/Palamute are now present. You can swap skills, target specific builds, and increase the # of slots for skills. Prior to this, it was a slot machine RNG to get the “perfect roll”, which could only be done once after each fight. This is a huge QoL change, and allows for more testing of skills, given you don’t need to invest 50 levels of experience to see if it fits a build.
  • Weapons were rebalanced a bit, so that there’s slightly more parity between choices. If folks thought Longsword was OP, they didn’t try Heavy Bowgun. That felt like an automated sniper rifle. There’s now more drift between shots, slicing ammo and blast ammo took a damage hit.
  • Oh, Rampages are gone. I think that was an interesting experiment (tower defense of sorts) that had some good ideas but suffered from implementation challenges. It was a mode that only really worked in multiplayer, and then required a ton of coordination to rightly pull off.

I’ve yet to unlock Malzano, the titular monster for this expansion. I think I have 1 more rank to go. From what I’ve seen so far, this is a quality expansion that has a tight focus on quality of life changes rather than huge content updates. Then again, the MH model is monthly content updates which keeps you going for a long time. It’ll keep me entertained for a while still I am sure.

Gaming Whales

For those not familiar with the concept, a gaming “whale” is someone who spends an inordinate amount of money as compared to the average. These people are what drive the free-to-play gaming model, where cash stops exist. If you have 1000 players, you may have 5 whales who account for 90% of the income. It seems strange to most, but it’s quite common for people to spend $1000 or $10,000 on a game in a short period.

Whales exist for 2 main reasons. First, because the game itself is a slot machine and they are addicted to the mechanics. It’s an addiction and certainly predatory in that the design is focused on that aspect. No different than the rules that exist around a casino.

Second, and not necessarily separate, is the artificial social value. A virtual popularity contest if you will. The kicker here is that these contests only exist if there are both competitors and spectators. In the same vein as being a SuperBowl champion is absolutely meaningless without the context of opponents and spectators. Think about it… those champions don’t help the economy, science, society, or any other portion. It’s a lottery for the players, and a money-making machine for the owners. Whales are similar in this concept, in that they have the ability to buy their way to the “top”, but need there to be folks to defeat and then the accolades from folks recognizing that achievement.

There are a few variables here… in older games, players often recognized the amount of effort required to achieve a given goal (which is more in line with athletes of prior generations). WoW raiders used to just stand around with their gear, as it was quite difficult to acquire. Larger and less educated player bases may not recognize the effort and simply enjoy the results (akin to 2nd generation athletes, who’s success is “bought” through the 1st generation wealth/contacts).

Whales aren’t necessarily the issue. If a cash stop sold a hat for $500, then that’s what a whale will pay to be above the rest. Lockboxes are the issue as they focus on the first type of whale, where the money spent is done so through predatory methods, in line with a casino and the addict issue it presents. Keep the lockboxes, treat them as the gambling mechanics.

Diablo Immortal

Which is borderline click bait I suppose.

This is an interesting one to me, where Wyatt Chang’s infamous “do you guys not have phones?!” in that the game is exactly what was expected.

It is a well-polished action rpg, built specifically for smartphones with an underlying gatcha mechanic. There are hundreds of these games available, have been for years. I’ve played a fair chunk and always uninstalled when I hit the pay wall. And further, as with the genre, it’s primarily a reskin of an existing game and re-use of assets from the Diablo franchise. There is nothing special about this game, if you look at it from the context of mobile games in the genre before it.

Where people seem to be taking issue is that this is against everything that the Diablo franchise stood for, as a shining pinnacle of the genre with a 1 time purchase and hundreds of hours of content. Agreed, but that was in 2013. The last Starcraft 2 DLC was 2015. Everything launched since has been either with lootboxes or a monthly fee or game-store supported. Blizzard barely held the line with some level of integrity while Morhaime and Metzen were around and it all died when Kaplan left. In that regard, Diablo Immortal is again, exactly what Blizzard was going to launch and certainly makes you question their next Warcraft mobile game model.

Blizzard is a company being still being sued for harassments, with some insane allegations. They banned someone for supporting Hong Kong and fired everyone involved. They hired a woman to co-lead only to pay her less than her equal partner, in part leading her to quit in 3 months. They pulled every union-busting trick in the book against Raven. Hell, we’re not even at the 1 year mark of J Allen Brack quitting because of the non-stop rollercoaster.

I am not quite sure what people were expecting here. Diablo Immortal is exactly what I thought it was going to be. What did others?

Games as an Escape

The news often sucks, and it’s a self-feeding depression cycle about how things are getting worse. In many respects they are, and in many others they are improving. r/mademesmile is a decent dose of good news on a daily basis, and I try to make efforts to avoid any 24 hour news channel.

Games are one of my escapes. There’s a slew of them, many of them season dependent, but gaming is the type of thing that seems to work in nearly any circumstance. Escapes may be the wrong wording though… Sure it has me focus on something other than my daily toils, which is a sort of evasion, but it also allows me to set and accomplish goals, which is full of that lovely dopamine kick we all need.

Over time my gaming habits have changed. I still do have the need to binge from time to time, but the larger commitments in my life prevent that from being any actual habit. Instead it feels more like there are burst of gaming, followed by lulls. Picking the right game, for the right time is the kicker. I’m not a monogamous gamer by any stretch… I need to try different things and experiences. I may have a few firm call backs that are a sort of comfort food (FF14, DSP are in that bucket), but there’s always that drive for something a bit different. Vampire Survivors came out of nowhere, and can scratch that 15 minute itch without much planning. Valheim certainly sucked all the air in the room for over a month. Lego Star Wars is right up there with about 50 hours played trying to get as many bricks as I can. Looking at my various game libraries, there’s still plenty to work my way through.

I will say that the games that are more experimental are the ones that seem to stick the most – puzzlers in particular. Return of the Obra Dinn, What Remains of Edith Finch, Disco Elysium, 12 Minutes … they are less (if at all) about a score, and more about a particular journey. Games that encourage experimentation, in the space that you effectively have no “wrong” answers, just different perspectives.

I do still enjoy the more braindead activities in games, where it’s just cruise control. Not much different than most stuff on TV I guess, or any MCU movie. There are times where I simply want to be entertained, and you’ll get something more like Lost Ark, Hollow Knight, or Hades. They may have a technical requirements, but once you get the rhythm down, the rest is just following through.

Which I suppose cycles back to the title itself and the desire for a game to have some sort of conclusion, an actual escape from its confines. I am not in the Achiever Bartle-type.. I could care less about trophies, or world rankings. I define a set of goals, work towards them, and then when they are attained, move on. With hundreds of quality games coming out all the time, it makes little sense to focus on one for a super long tail when I could just take on another awesome experience.\

Give me a problem and the tools to solve it. I’ll be a happy man.

AAA Game Dev Math is Bonkers

Somehow, Outriders hit 3.5m players at launch and has didn’t turn a profit in by Dec 31st

I’m piling on the Square Enix mystery math tour here, but it’s frankly astounding at how poorly finances are managed in that company if millions of games are sold and it isn’t enough. A brand new IP… clearly competing against its own games (Marvel Avengers) in a looter/shooter genre is beyond baffling. It sheds some further light on why Square Enix sold off so many IPs last week… their financials are a mess.

I’ve been on the wrong side of a contract in the past, and in most of those cases its the small print that gets you in the end. There’s no word of lawyers in public, but one would have to assume that there are some interesting conversations being held in the backrooms. Not much different that Fallout: New Vegas missing the bonus payment by about 1% on Metacritic.

Stories like these make you wonder why anyone would want to be at a large dev studio, or try to make a deal with the devil” to get over the hump. Maybe it’s just a parachute to get out of the grind? Some crazy hope that you are going to be that exception? Blind faith? Perhaps it’s simply the lesser of evils.

Games are a weird microcosm of other pieces. They are a massive entertainment industry, nearly $120b worldwide. Money makes for some interesting choices…