Darksiders 3

Or rather, Dark Souls-lite.  I like the series, and the lore.  The entire concept of Revelations & the Four Horseman is ripe for plucking.  Feels more like a comic book in video game format.

The first game played like an homage to Ocarina of Time.  The second was pretty much a 3D ARPG.  This one feels more like QTE + Dark Souls.  I can’t really think of any other series where the game mechanics are practically re-written with each game.  For better or worse.

Saying QTE isn’t really fair.  Rather it’s reactive combat, where you must actively dodge (button press) in order to survive.  Point of fact, there are some bosses that can be beaten with just two buttons.  Regular enemies are similar, and the challenge therefore comes from the fact that a) their timing of attacks changes b) their attacks deal 50% of your hit points and c) there are multiple enemies on screen.  There are at least a dozen areas across the entire game that are exercises in frustration due to this.  I didn’t feel good about finally clearing them, but relief that it was done.

You get a refillable healing potion, and a set of weapons and skills that allow for some minor puzzle solving – maybe a half dozen or so.  It’s nice to have the variety, and some fights do become easier when you use one weapon type vs another.  I was partial to fire attacks with their DoT effect.  Water was nice too, with a damage shield and slow effect.  There’s a minor upgrade process included, where you need to head back to camp (or remember to).  Frankly, until really late in the game, it had no practical effect.  When I had more material to upgrade with, I was able to apply a significant life leech effect as well as a heal over time effect.  Massive improvement to the enjoyment of the game.

The zones themselves are interesting.  Cityscape, subway tunnels, floral, underwater, hell, and Mad Max-zone. They criss cross over themselves, so that you eventually unlock shortcuts throughout.  The Wrath zone in particular… the boss is a few feet away from the entrance but it takes 2 hours to unlock all the things to open his door.  I would have appreciated more puzzle solving rather than a labyrinth.  There’s no map, and everything is accessible.  I’m sure there are completionists that would find this fun, but it’s stupid easy to get lost.

For the wide majority of the game I was having fun – think it was around 15 hours to complete.  The last area (Wrath redux) was extremely tedious, primarily because it overlapped over itself so much, and enemies were stupidly overpowered as compared to previous zones.  I just started skipping as much of the combat as possible.  All the bosses were a decent challenge – Gluttony excepted, more deaths on this than the rest of the game combined.  The story was decent, with strong showing from a single demon (Abraxas) for all of 90 seconds.

Overall, a decent game and found at a good price pretty much everywhere.  There’s 1 horseman to go…  fingers crossed that game gets made.

Gamer Expectations

As I watch from my armchair, it bodes to say that gaming is undergoing yet another transformation.  Ubisoft’s recent news that PC overtook PS4 in terms of profits is a pretty solid indicator.  So let’s posit a few things first.

  • Building games takes resources.  The more complicated the game, the more resources.  AAA games = LOTS of resources
  • Always-online games cost resources to maintain (mostly people costs, but there’s some tech to it as well)
  • There’s still an abundance of “cut and paste” / budget games.  Feel free to browse Steam or either mobile app store.  Recycled content makes money (see Tasty on YouTube for an example).
  • The purchase price of games has been relatively stable for 30+ years, which makes them cheaper today than prior.  (e.g. FF3 was $60 in 1990, and plenty of games today are $60.  It should cost ~$105.)
  • Per item resource costs are much higher today.  Salary, benefits, tech.
  • Sum: It costs a TON of money to make games and traditional revenue models are not growing.

Many game developers are publicly traded companies, or they are owned by investment firms.  They are not bound by the concept of making good games, they need to make money.  So where’s the money?  Micro-transactions (MTX) of course.

The most profitable games on the planet are practically all $0 up front and entirely supported by MTX.  Mechanically, this is a superior method of draining wallets since there’s no ceiling to the amount of money someone will pay.  FF3 in 1990 cost $60 and only $60.  FF15 had 5 story DLC, 16 items, 4 item packs, and some extra bells and whistles.  Even Nintendo’s foray into mobile games has moved from the rather innocuous 1-time purchase of Super Mario Run to the gacha-model of Fire Emblem, or pay-per-turn of Dr Mario.

I am not a fan of MTX.  I understand why it exists – development of AAA games would simply not be possible without them.  They (or something similar) are here to stay.  The transformation in the game industry is not so much on game design (which the last 10 years has shown) but in the methods that allow for maximum monetization without being considered unethical.

Unethical monetization has a single outcome – regulation.  Oh, it doesn’t all of a sudden become ethical…it simply becomes both restricted and taxed.  The taxes bit… that’s where it gets fun.

Large cruise ships primarily serve the US.  None of them are actually based in the US, instead they are based in countries with low taxation.  Google and Apple may have massive offices in the US, but their financial headquarters are in Europe (which may change now that tax laws are taking effect).  The EU is changing the game, where the location of the transaction is where the tax gets applied and where restriction are applied.  Loot boxes are all but gone in Brussels for that reason.

Moving back to EA/Activision… they are sweating bullets that regulation doesn’t start hitting them on the transaction basis.  It is unlikely to take place in the US, as the lobbying and political system is much too intertwined.  But it will happen in other countries.  Considering how much money FIFA makes EA… and FIFA is 90% in the EU… doesn’t take a psychic to see where that is going.

This makes it an interesting time to watch the development scene.  The massive cash cow of loot boxes has an expiry date.  The monthly pass model seems more popular (ironic how subscriptions are back), and it’s a package with an expiry date.  I’m quite curious what other monetization tools will come to pass in the next few years.

Outer Wilds

I am on an indie kick recently, and woo boy are there some good ones.

Outer Wilds is about a month old and I’d be lying if I said I had paid much attention to it.  Really, the case for a ton of indie games as there are not enough sticks to shake.  This game is a real gem.

Combine exploration, puzzle solving, time travel, aliens, and a sweet set of art/music (Syp would love this) and you got yourself a game!  It’s like a combination of Witness, Return of Obra Dinn, Heaven’s Gate, Majora’s Mask and a few more bits and bobs.   Every nook and cranny here is placed with some purpose, and the brains behind the science/story really went into overdrive.

The premise is somewhat simple.  You’re part of a explorer race, trying to find some lost folks and determine the source of some odd signals.  That takes you (and your ship) across 5 planets to uncover the mysteries of a lost race.  Except against trope, this lost race isn’t really lost, and they act like you would act.  Each location you pick up some interesting clues that lead to other locations.  The locations themselves change with the passing of time – one may decay into a black hole, another may fill with sand.  This time gating mechanism either opens or closes puzzles to you, so there’s a lot of back and forth trips.

The core mechanic here is that each session lasts 22 minutes before the world ends and you restart anew.  All the puzzles reset, but you keep notes in your computer about what you discovered.  The final “steps” to complete the game are therefore done within 22 minutes (I think it took me 12, after a miserable failure) and theoretically you could complete the game on the first pass.  I could also theoretically win the lottery.

The sci-fi hook is quantum mechanics.  And the actual science version of it, not some fantasy kick.  Things both exist and don’t exist at the same time.  Things travel through time – or rather against time.  You even come equipped with a little camera robot that can travel through the various quantum nodes.  Yes, it sounds complicated but it’s a testament to the game how simple it become.

The downside to an open ended puzzle is that it’s quite probable you end up at a place where you are missing the hints to move through, or that you do get through and things make no sense past that point.  That does make the 2nd hour or so a bit of a head scratcher if you find yourself at a wall and nothing is working.  Take off, explore another world and a bunch of new clues will show up.  Things that didn’t make sense before will become second nature (like flying).  I was amazed at how effective I became at piloting through difficult terrain with 3D thruster; of course it took a dozen deaths by giant spacefish to learn.

Took me about 12 hours to get through the whole thing.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it goes into 2001: Space Odyssey territory.  It seemed a bit strange compared to the more aloof humor, but it does make you pause to consider.  Not too many game endings do that now days.

Outer Wilds is a solid recommendation.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

This is a thing.  A good thing.  An actual game that originated from Kickstarter no less.

There’s a phase in the Castlevania series where a wide left turn was taken and the game turned from linear adventure into exploration-mode.  Symphony of the Night triggered a few “sequels”, but truthfully it just generated an entirely new genre.  That eventually morphed into the open world / icon-palooza games we have today.

Bloodstained goes way back to the roots, and plays like a prettied up version of Symphony.  The controls are slow, the movements deliberate, the difficulty all over the place, the secrets fairly well hidden, the dialogue extra-expository, and the bosses entertaining.  Oh – and there’s crafting, quests, exploration, and collection building galore.

bloodstained-ritual-of-the-night-reflector-ray-1

No sharks, but there are lasers

What I find most interesting about this genre is the development planning required to provide a smooth experience.  Sure, you get through and get bigger numbers but the game mechanics change too.  You start off with basic weapons, then unlock some interesting spells.  More enemies, different spells get unlocked.  Craft some new gear.  You need to choose your loadout for fights.  Make some food that provides permanent stat buffs.  Farm a few enemies to upgrade spells.  Upgrade some spells in the shop, and they become passive effects.  You eventually have this massive list of permanent effects (+xp,+gold, +drops, +damage, +resist, +movement,….) and the game turns into this blur effect of speed runs.  And you don’t even realize it.

I cleared up to O.D., got all the shards, a fair chunk of food, and a good set of gear (Rheva Valar is just insane OP).  I’ve played with a ton of skills and found a loadout that makes me feel like a tornado of ginsu knives.  I still have a lot of stuff I want to test out – and there’s some extra content I should give a shot.

There’s a solid 10 hours to get to the good ending.  Another 5 or so to clear all the rest of the content.  Another 5-10 to complete all the collections.  Super recommended.

E3

I guess I should put something up relating to E3.  The general lack of posts (and I will state that my blog roll is down by a  large margin) seems to be more symptomatic of the medium than just me.  Always found late spring to be a tough time to write…weather is finally nice and I want to be on the lake.

Anyways, back to E3.

In 2019, we’re in a space where there are very few surprises left.  Aside from Keanu telling everyone they are breathtaking of course.  Dev cycles are admittedly longer.  There is minimal progress to be had on the graphical front (I still recall the PS3 tech demos).  Nearly everything is a sequel to something.  The last time we saw a risky AAA game that was actually good was Horizon: Zero Dawn in 2017.  There’s a fine line between sequel and a new coat of paint (*cough*Battlefield*cough*).

From all the hoopla, there are a few games that seem interesting.

  • Baldur’s Gate 3.  BG2 is the best RPG of all time… of ALL TIME!  Larian has done a smash job on Divinity, so this seems like a reasonable fit.  Finding the balance between mechanics and exploration/story is going to be key here.
  • Outer Worlds.  I have a soft-spot for sci-fi RPGs.  Been a long time since there was a good one (sorry Isey).  And I’ve rather enjoyed the long list of games from Obsidian.
  • Evil Genius 2.  One of my all-time favorite games.  Playing bad guys for comedic effect is always entertaining.  Will be interesting to see how this applies modern game practices.
  • Cyberpunk 2077.   Both the setting and the developer hit the right notes.  As long as the story structure is similar to the Witcher, I’ll be happy.  I have a serious dislike for Witcher combat mechanics.
  • Ghostwire Tokyo.  This seems more like a serious take on Ghostbusters.  The art style & setting seem interesting.  Hard to say no to a new IP from these devs too.
  • Gods & Monsters.  Zelda but in a greek setting.  Which in that case would be Kid Icarus without wings.  I rather like exploration games.
  • Marvel’s Avengers.  Honestly, I am more confused than much else. A co-op live service?  Did we not just do this dance with Gazillion Marvel Heroes?  Pretty please, let’s not have another Anthem.  The timing here seems even more off, given that Avengers just bookended.

Random Thoughts

  • There is a lot more talk about cross play, and generally this is doable if the game is also on PC
  • 120FPS on a console is a big deal.  Which frankly, means people are going to need better TVs.
  • More streaming service.
  • Ubisoft’s play for $16/month similar to EA’s service is a heck of a stretch.  That said, curious how many people still pay EA after the Anthem fun.
  • Since all this was pre-E3 it was entirely console focused.  PC only games and mobile games come later.
  • There is a general lack of indie games making the threads, but I would say this is more due to the fact that indie is almost entirely focused on PC launches first, then console later.
  • Bethesda.  What the heck is going on over there.  Thumbs up to the ESO success story after a horrible launch, but everything else feels like throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping something sticks.
  • There’s still Nintendo to show some stuff.  Guess it will relate to Metroid and new spec on the Swtich.  Indie games already have a good foothold here… maybe we see more.
  • E3 has to compete with the 24/7 news hype cycle.  When devs are paying Twitch streamers to promote their beta games… where does E3 fit?

Classic “Bugs”

The neat thing about nostalgia is that it’s tempered by emotions.  People rarely remember the mundane, but they will remember the things that caused an emotional reaction.  And over time, people tend to ignore the bad emotions and only recall the good ones.

In Classic, you may remember taking down Ragnaros the first time, but you likely don’t remember having to herd 40 people on-line, manage a bench, and continually farm for Tranq shot just to progress.

If you stopped playing WoW altogether, then your mindset is probably locked to the type of game when you left, mixed with some older bits.  If you’re still playing today, then there are some concepts in Classic that will seem archaic.

Seems a few times a week now, Blizzard is putting up posts about things “not being a bug” but actually reflective of Classic.  I find these hilarious.  The things that people take for granted today were 8+ years away in Classic.  Single viable specs.  Weapon skills.  Trainers.  Slow mounts.  Mounts not being able to swim.  Resistances.

The more recent one is a bit more technical.  Deals with combat stats.  I played a Rogue from day 1, and Rogues needed to attack from the back or else they would get parried to death.  Combined with the penalties for dual wielding, you needed the right stats to progress (ilvl wasn’t a thing).  Misses, lower crit changes, dodge… all that stuff needed to be factored in when taking down a boss.  That’s why most bosses were tank & spank, because people needed to be in static positions for most fights – and a player afflicted with Fear was a death sentence.

Honestly, I knew this but at the same time I had put it so far out of my mind that it was more or less forgotten.  (Side note, this is why reforging was both implemented and removed.)

I’m looking at Classic from the outside and really wondering how many people truly want to live in that game vs. are simply curious.  People may think they remember Classic, but as time goes by, they are going to discover more and more things that they purposefully put in the “do not remember” box.  Should be interesting to watch.

EA Play – June 7

Anthem hasn’t had any new info since April, making their entire roadmap obsolete.  Even their twitter feed is empty.  Reddit is still a salt mine though!  Last check, there was 1(!) Twitch streamer.

Apex Legends hasn’t had any updates in weeks, and has dropped off the play list like a rock.  I’m all for them avoiding the gaming crunch nightmare of Epic/Fortnite – but they certainly need something.

Jedi: Fallen Order is a nice tease.  Due in November, a few weeks before the new Star Wars movie comes out.  Of note, it’s entirely single player – run by Respawn, who specializes in multiplayer games (Titanfall and above mentioned Apex Legends).

From the outside, it seems like Anthem and Jedi:FO should have swapped between the developers… though everyone does deserve a chance at trying something new.

June 7

EA won’t be going to E3, but will instead hold a EA Play day just before the conference.  Certainly allows them to have much more control of the event.  No more press conferences, just some live streams (yay!)  And it does allow people to “reserve” gameplay sessions, rather than hour long queues (why people do this is beyond me).

Can’t say I’m expecting anything grand here.  Nearly all the good will that existed with Anthem was burnt away by an surprisingly inept leadership team.  The issues that exist in that game will take months to sort out, if at all.  Apex Legends is in no-man’s land right now – every patch seems to bring more headaches to the player base and time spent fixing major bugs is time not spent on content generation.

Jedi: Fallen Order will not be playable.  Maybe another cinematic, or a dev stream of some content.  Quite frankly, the time period after Order 66 and A New Hope is the least interesting to me.  No matter what happens the characters all have to die, and do so leading up to events around Yavin.  Sort of like how Starkiller was very poor on applicable-lore (force pull a Star Destroyer!?), and was more of wish fulfillment to play a force user in interesting locations.

E3

Which does beg the question on E3 as a whole.  For a very long time, it was the time of year where all the big news bits dropped.  In the age of Twitter, Twitch, and Reddit, companies can get new releases out to everyone within minutes.  Game announcements can happen a few weeks before launch.  PAX is nearly on-par, at least in terms of things people want to see.

As budgets get tighter, as the walls on micro-transactions/lootboxes start closing in, I’d expect large companies to start pulling back on the media events outside of their control.  Good news is that leaves a lot of room for the smaller folk to shine…