Appreciation

Personal tint here.

On Tuesday morning, a good friend of mine lost his 18 year old son.  Just didn’t wake up.  Highly active, no pre-conditions, just gone.  There’s something about a child going before a parent that really hit me like a ton of bricks.  It’s always sad to hear, and to have it happen with a friend’s circle…

I had learned at about 8am and went through a busy day at work, though always at the back of my mind.  I got home and gave a big hug to my wife and kids, fully appreciative of the gift they provide by simply being there.  Supper came and went, and my brain decided it was time to start addressing the issue.  Hockey came to take that spot, mind, and by the time I got home it was time for bed.

It was one of those nights where you can clearly recall your dreams in the morning, or for days ahead.  It was not a good rest, nor should it have been.

Morning came and another set of hugs to get the day going.  Still not really able to focus much.

The blog post is part of my process to deal with the issue.  I’ll need to talk it through a bit with family and friends.  And be sure to support my friend in whatever way I can.

It sucks, even from the outside.  Give your loved ones a hug.  Everyone can use one.

Mass Effect

Uncharted 4 complete + Isey praise + sale = purchase.  Not sure how there was a sale, but it was there and I saved $20.

Uncharted 4

At last record I was about halfway done, which is now complete.  In nearly all respects it is a better game than its predecessors.  It is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the final island you visit feels like a themepark of action.  I am part of the PC cult, so console controls always feel loose to me, and that’s about my only gripe with the game.

Story-wise and writing, Naughty Dog is still champ in my books.  The relationship between Nate and Sam, or Nate and Elena is as real as anything I’ve ever experienced.  Everything flows extremely well from set-pieces to next, and the final battle looks like it’s straight out of a movie.

That’s 2 out of 3 games that hit in the 9/10 area.

Mass Effect

I played “after patch” where the facial animations/art were tweaked.  The game certainly looks different than YouTube videos, but it remains to be said that facial animations are a low point in this game.  I am of the belief that this is due to the same engine for non-humans as humans being used.  Turians, Krogan and Asari do not have facial ticks, or at least we don’t expect any.  We do expect it in humans, and it throws the visuals off.  As a general rule this doesn’t bug me, but when someone is telling me about their dead relative and how painful it is, with a straight face, it throws the event for a loop.

The writing is generally good, and there’s a lot of mood building.  I met two Angarans who complained about studying in Australia, which seemed quite odd to me, considering they are from another galaxy.  I’m 2 planets in (Eos and Voeld) and so far things make general sense.  Not so much purposeful sense, but non-conflicting sense.  Two examples from Voeld, some minor plot spoilers I guess.

First is the Yvera, a whale-like being that lives below the ice, and is revered by the Angara as the only history they were able to keep after the Scourge attack.  The game stresses this point numerous times, how it is unbelievable that these animals would be attacked.  After a bit of running around, you find a doctor who says “there’s a possibility these animals can help us recuperate faster after Kett attacks”.  Then you choose to let them continue the study or turn them in.  Nothing deeper, no proof.  Up to this point, every Angaran agreed that this act was treasonous, and now you have an ethical choice.

The second is related to the main story on Voeld.  After a lot of running around, you end up in a previously shielded cave and free some Angarans from laser cages.  You finally end up in a giant room with a computer in the middle.  This computer is an AI, who professes a self-defense position, while your own AI indicates that this other one is continuously lying.  Ok, I’m thinking this will be neat.  Before you can question it, one of the freed Angarans tries to touch it and starts getting zapped.  You are then presented with a choice of letting the AI live and killing the Angaran, or killing the AI.   Um…why those choices?

There are no links between any of these stories, and you can’t really deep dive on them before you’re given an apparently massive decision to make.  It feels like reading a short story that’s missing a quarter of the meat.  Lots of potential, just odd execution.  The good news is that there is a lot of content here, and a few missed chances doesn’t drag the others down.

The overall lore, codex, and story telling is solid.  Each piece seems to have some meaning in the world.  Small touches here and there make it feel alive.  Someone goes mad because they lost their family.  Another couple huddled for warmth.  It works.

Combat is ok.  Better than previous games, as it’s more action focused than RPG.  I’ve opted for a Biotic approach, with a strong pull/throw/singularity build.  It works really well against non-shielded opponents.  Big bad guys are harder to take down.  I can only use 3 abilities at any one time, which I dislike.  Why give me 25 options if I can only use 3?  Weapons feel weak in comparison, and I am unsure why headshots with sniper rifles are not more accurate/deadly.

I took down an Architect, which is like a Maw from ME1.  A giant robotic snake, with 3 tails.  It was a 20 minute fight, very hectic.  The dodge mechanic was used more than shooting, which while fun to start, becomes quite boring as it drags on.  It provided me with 4 remnant fragments, which relate to crafting, but no extra loot beyond that.  I guess that’s a good reward?

Overall, the game is quite engaging.  The main areas to nitpick are the animations and the story integration.  They remove me from the game when I encounter them, but it’s easy enough to move on from there.

I have some overall questions as to how the game will expand past this point.  It’s certainly an enjoyable game, and better than the general reviews have let on.  I can see myself playing to completion, and getting 100% viability on the various planets.  It’s fun, and really, that’s the entire purpose.

Early Access

I don’t like it.  More specifically, I think it’s a very dishonest practice, with limited consumer protection.  Anyone can name a dozen “games” that were in early access and that never delivered.

Kickstarter is something different.  You are not paying for an early version of the game, you are paying to help developers.  Early Access, the STEAM kind, is you paying to be an alpha/beta tester.  Landmark did this, collected oodles of money, and they took a sunset.  A large amount stay in early access for years.  In practical terms, the difference between pre-ordering and early access is that there’s a date on the former.  And I have a massive dislike for pre-orders.

I am going to harp on ME:4.  I know that Isey is in love with the game.  Metacritic does not share that attitude.  The difference here is that if you enjoy the story/lore, then you can look past the technical hurdles.  The fact that EA had a rather large patch to address the technical items, in a short time frame, is fairly indicative that they knew this was a problem beforehand.  How many games now have day 1 patches?  Or week 1?  That measure in gigs?

I played D3 on release.  I avoided SimCity like the plague.  I won’t buy any EA game on release day, or release week.  These are broken models.

I understand the marketing gimmicks of release windows.  I get that software development is hard, and only gets harder as you close in on due dates.  I also understand that a game that releases in a buggy format is remembered for that failure, while a game that is released late is remembered for working.

We gamers need to stop rewarding this horrible business practices.  We are so consumed with instant access to everything that we’ve lost the ability to wait for quality.  Being a tester is not a privilege that we should be paying for.  It’s a privilege that developers should be paying us, as we’re doing their jobs.  We need to spend our money on quality, rather than quantity, and reward ethical behavior.

Money is the only thing that makes this world go round.  Let’s use our wallets to get voices heard.

 

 

Uncharted 4 In

The 3rd and final game I picked up with the PS4 was Uncharted 4.  I have to say that 10gig network installs are a level of stupid I thought we had moved on from.  Horizon was the only game where the install was rather quick.  FF15 was 12gigs.  As a PC gamer for the past 5 years, I just let the install work itself out since I don’t buy disks.  I guess the disks themselves are just betas and the full game is downloaded afterwards.

Back on track.  Uncharted 4 plays quite similar to the previous games.  Lots of climbing, some nominal puzzles that require moving things, and enemies that can take an entire clip of ammo to drop.  Rare is the game that takes as much ammo as Uncharted.  The aiming controls are not as precise as Horizon, as there’s a noticeable spread and lack of accuracy with weapons.  It’s annoying to have a headshot lined up, only to miss because of RNG.

Two neat additions are better stealth controls (tall grass hides you) and a grapple hook to swing like Tarzan.  The former works most of the time, but can act a bit buggy.  The latter really opens up gameplay to make spaces a whole lot bigger.  Speaking of which, past Uncharted games had rather linear corridors, with a single path to traverse.  This game seems to have 2-4 different paths that branch out and give you a different experience.  It feels a lot more like Lara Croft’s open zones than I expected.

This particular game introduces a new character, Sam, as Nate’s brother.  Troy Baker is the voice behind the character, and I have to say that the banter between both is exceptionally well written.  It feels a lot like the way I would act with my brother (or sister for that matter).  The sarcasm, the jibes, the worry… it all works.

I’m at chapter 13 now, which is a return to the beginning of the game that started in media res.  The bad guy is unfortunately 1 dimensional, which is somewhat disappointing given previous bad guys in the series.  His lead aide is impressive though, and the South African accents throughout the game help to add some realism.

The plot itself feels like the Goonies, but with 3 characters.  You are literally chasing after a pirate, who hid their massive wealth in a cave system, and need to follow clues and deadly puzzles to get there.  All I’m missing now is a wishing well.

All told, it’s a well put together package.  The characters you interact with are solid.  The controls are ok.  The visuals and audio are above par.  The story is familiar but not trite.   I prefer it to Uncharted 3, but still hold the 2nd at a higher level.

The really good news in all of this is that I’m having fun.  And that is a hundred times more important than anything else.

 

FFXV Out

I tried.  This reminds me a lot of The Witcher 3, where I just cannot get into the game.  I’m getting old!

I mentioned before that the game had minimal instruction and that the various systems seems to serve no unified purpose.  I stand by that, more so now than before.

First, the world is small in content, but massive in scale.  There are wide swaths of nothing to do.  I rented a chocobo (more on that later) and ran for 15 minutes before finding the next settlement.  In the dark, managing to get lost in the field a bunch of times.  15 minutes of nothing.  No enemies, no loot, nothing to examine… just walking.  The scenery looked good, but there’s no gameplay.  I’ll concentrate on my last 2 play sessions.

I found the chocobo HQ of sorts, and they started assigning me quests.  The first one was to hunt a behemoth, a FF stable of large size.  I was level 19 at the time (not sure what the cap is) and thought this would be an interesting challenge.   First, it took me 10 minutes to realize where the entrance to his lair was, given that the map marker was at the incorrect location.  Once I entered, it was 5 minutes in a linear corridor with 1 minor fight on trash, nothing else of note.  I finally find the bugger, and I’m tasked with tailing him in the mist.  I can see the tail and just need to stay X amount of distance away.  For another 5 minutes.  There’s no hiding, no line of sight, just stay out of his range.  Once that part was done, I got to fight him proper.

Well, not really.  Instead, the game left some exploding barrels on the ground and instructed me to blow them up with fire magic when he was in range.  There are 3 issues here.

First, magic is considered a weapon.  You need to build it from materials.  It is entirely possible to run out of said materials, then you need to find a spawn point, collect more and get back to it.  Magic also has a cooldown, somewhere near 30 seconds, between uses.  The second issue is that these fire barrels require the monster to be next to them, and that only happens when he chases me.  So I have to be next to the barrels.  I mentioned that those barrels explode?  Yeah, they take off more than half my health.  And with a big demon next to me, I lost all my HP numerous times.  The third issue is targeting.  It is awful.  There were 6 spots to target on the behemoth and actually targeting a barrel felt impossible.  And if I missed, then there was 30 seconds wasted.  I ended up wining the fight, with 2 AI dead (full dead) and me with ~15% of max HP left, basically 3 hits from a game over.  Multiple systems at play, none of them working together, making for a massively frustrating experience and I turned off the game for the night.

The next session was bounty hunts.  These are small quests that ask you to kill a certain amount of enemies nearby.  Well, nearby can mean a 10 minute walk of nothing, but it’s nearby.  This particular mission was listed as level 12, and I was 22 at the time.  I had spent time upgrading my weapons and skills too, figuring I was “at part” for the power curve for this level.

And I was wrong.  I needed to kill 9 wolf-like creatures, who ran around like they were on crack.  Each took about 20-30 seconds of continuous damage to take down, while the other 8 were launching attacks at me.  I kept blocking and parrying, but that doesn’t really deal damage.  I used Glad’s AE attack too, at least to knock them back a bit.  I lost Ignis (he dies every 3rd fight it seems) and by the time the last wolf was down, I was left with 20% max HP.

I don’t get it.  I cannot find weapon/power upgrades beyond what I have.  I see no extra skills.  I’ve eaten food to get stronger.  I used 5-10 potions a fight.  I am getting continuously attacked by swarms of enemies and cannot get any consistent damage out.  My teammates are a few cards short of a deck when it comes to AI.  And I’m about 10 levels higher than my target.

 

I play games to de-stress and have fun.  I certainly like the adrenaline of a good fight, where I feel some level of control over what’s going on, and if things go sideways, I can adapt.  I cannot find that feeling in FF15.  I have no idea what’s going on in the story (king is dead, I need to move across the map).  There are massive empty spaces of nothing.  Combat controls are a bad mix of action and RPG.  I’m just not having any fun.  Time to move on.

 

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.