Feb 062017
 

Summary: Campaign complete

Most Intriguing Idea: Playing as a unit, rather than an individual

Best Design Decision: Character-swapping in the first mission

Worst Design Decision: Stealth everywhere

Summary:

I was very excited by Battlefield 1‘s prologue mission. The mission activities themselves weren’t anything remarkable by Battlefield standards: hold this point, shoot these dudes, drive this tank. What set the scenario apart was that when I died I didn’t just reboot in the same body at a checkpoint. Instead, the person I was playing was dead, and I switched into the body of another guy in the same general vicinity. This seemed to me like an almost perfect way to capture the bloody action of World War I, and also to ground a shooter in the reality of war, rather than resorting to absurd “one man” heroics as the default. I couldn’t wait to play a full game like that, embodying the action of a full unit as they fought and died in the futility of a bloody, brutal, and unnecessary war.

Well, technically I could wait—am still waiting, in fact—because that’s not what Battlefield 1 turned out to be. It turned out to be a stealth game, and not a good one. Stealth missions and mission segments show up constantly throughout the campaign (one sub-story consists of nothing but), even when the focus is on tanks or planes. It’s rudimentary line-of-sight stuff with vision indicators and see-through-walls tagging. Uniquely, enemies can also see the player-character through walls, as happened when an enemy sniper saw me through a giant rock AND a tent. Naturally, whenever spotted by anyone, every enemy in the area however far away instantly knew my location no matter where I moved to.

Even the dogfighting doesn’t perk up the game. The controls felt too limited and the mission objectives were dull and rote; I found myself longing to play Wings again (maybe I’ll pick up the reboot). The only real respite from crap stealth and shoddy level design is a pair of raucous levels focusing on an Italian dude with a big gun. The whole campaign feels like a colossal misfire and outside of the prologue and the Italian missions I can’t think of one moment of it I’d ever consider playing again.

Verdict: Avoid

Feb 032017
 

Status: Campaign complete

Most Intriguing Idea: Evil people are right

Best Design Decision: Lock-on follow in the dogfighting segments

Worst Design Decision: Stealth missions

Summary:

Infinite Warfare is a dark, nihilistic game in which a hungry Earth that aims to exert authority over every world in the system and extract all their resources is “good” and the evil militaristic colonies are actually right about warfare. Nothing that happens in the game stands up to much scrutiny, least of all the story of its protagonist. Nick Reyes is somehow absurdly proficient at flying space jets and carrying out secret missions on space ships and fighting space wars with space guns, and also is the captain of a capital ship where he never spends any combat time on the bridge. Incredibly, nobody points out that this man, who kills literally thousands of enemy soldiers in a single day (the whole game takes place in one day!), is clearly Earth’s most valuable weapon and the most important mission objective at all times is to ensure his survival at any cost.

Reyes’ ridiculous talents allow the game to put together a few missions where he goes from his space fighter jet thing into ground combat or vice versa, but the advantages pale against how incredibly silly this plot point makes everything feel. The fact that the SDF or whoever the bad space colonists are continually get their asses handed to them in spectacular fashion by this one guy really makes them seem incompetent and silly as a threat. The former multiple-protagonists motif of previous Call of Duty games would have worked wonders in solving both the absurdity of Nick Reyes and the neutering of the enemy.

As far as the gameplay goes, it was kind of a yawn. I genuinely enjoyed the space dogfights for the most part, although those segments ground to a painful halt every time Nick had to take down a full-size ship. The space gunfights, alas, were not all that interesting or unique and the effort to implement an extra tactical layer with two distinct kinds of damage was a dud. None of the cool things that could and arguably should be going on in cool space fights ever really seemed to; guns didn’t impart momentum, gravity didn’t seem to fluctuate all that much based on location, in dogfights you couldn’t flip around backward to fire at the guy on your 6 without losing momentum. The stealth, thankfully rarely employed, was pretty much trash. I wouldn’t mind if Activision pushed out a game built around a more developed version of the dogfighting. As for the rest, Call of Duty would be better off returning to the 20th century.

Verdict: Not recommended

The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine

 Open World Action Games, Role Playing Games, Short Take  Comments Off on The Witcher 3: Blood & Wine
Aug 152016
 

Status: Complete

Most Intriguing Idea: Contrasting Geralt’s ideals directly with chivalry

Best Design Decision: Colors! Colors everywhere!

Worst Design Decision: Grandmaster gear

Summary:

If you notice nothing else about Blood and Wine, the final expansion for The Witcher 3, you will likely notice the colors. I had replayed the bulk of the main game before heading there and that experience really emphasized how washed-out the base game looks. Everything in the North seems ever so slightly gray, but nothing like that is happening in Toussaint. Beauclair is also the game’s best town, capturing to the fullest that Old World feeling of going around a corner and finding a delightful little square nobody but the locals seems to know about. This is definitely the most pleasant region of the game, and it suffers only a little from the game’s characteristic affliction of its regions being too large.

It’s a shame, then, that a lot of what happens here is pretty miserable. One of the biggest blunders is the “Grandmaster” Witcher gear upgrades that Geralt can find designs for. Unfortunately many of these require a major effort to find and a tremendous quantity of very expensive resources to craft. By the time one has gathered everything required, that gear will be too low-level (40, which is well beneath even the minimum level to finish the area’s main quest) to be relevant. I eventually made one set as a curiosity but it was not “worth it” in any sense, not even for the nigh-useless bonus applied for wearing multiple pieces. The alchemy system’s expansions are similarly pointless. None of the new monsters have any associated decoctions and the mutagen transmutation and dye-making allowed by the new formulae have no use. The additional “mutagens” added to the character page don’t do much to rescue the game’s worst system.

The quests, too, leave a lot to be desired. To its credit, Blood and Wine shows some dedication to giving the game’s isolated question marks more of a local story. From the “vintner contracts” for clearing would-be cellars, to the more detailed investigations that go with the “Big Feet to Fill” locations, to the epic fights at the Hanse bases and their associated peripheral sites, a significant proportion of these places now feel like a spot where something interesting is happening, not just a chest that fell out of the sky and a grave hag decided to guard. It is still not a good idea to try to frankenstein 13 or so of these story-lite encounters into a sidequest; I found that equally irritating here as when I encountered it in Saints Row IV.

The main questline in the region didn’t hold my attention at all. Its focus on vampires didn’t play into any of its potentially interesting ethical contrasts; the main game’s vampire-associated quest in Novigrad was more thematically interesting. The characters, with the exception of Regis, felt thinly conceived, and all were irritating gits though at least they were not as loathsome as the key players in Hearts of Stone. The quests also exerted a lot of control they didn’t do anything story-wise to deserve, especially in the back half where Geralt is whipped from one quest to another to another with no place for the player to opt out. A fun trip to a land of off-kilter recreations of fables aside, I didn’t find much to enjoy in these quests, and particularly disliked the final boss battle and its incredibly terrible checkpoint.

Still, I had a good bit of fun gallivanting about the region and beating knights at their own games. Anyone hungry to experience more of the life of a witcher will certainly not regret exploring Toussaint, but don’t get it expecting a miraculous reversal of the base game’s troubles.

Verdict: Cautiously recommended

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE

 Role Playing Games, Short Take  Comments Off on Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
Jul 182016
 

Status: Completed, true ending

Most Intriguing Idea: All the world’s a stage

Best Design Decision: Sessions

Worst Design Decision: Sessions

Summary:

The first read on the concept for Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE sounds simultaneously intriguing and absurd. The notoriously difficult Shin Megami Tensei approach to turn-based RPGs will combine with Fire Emblem, a classically tough strategy game with permadeath that has also recently become the newest iteration of making dolls kiss, as a turn-based RPG about #teens becoming pop idols in the Tokyo showbiz scene. One suspects that the whole thing was created on a napkin during the consumption of a hundred liters of sake, yet it turns out surprisingly well.

That’s not to say that I loved the story. The protagonist is overwhelmingly bland to the point that the other characters’ insistence that he’s important to their success feels like mockery. Localization aged up the characters, thankfully, but it also excised a plot point concerning gravure photography in a way that made a core character seem extremely stupid. The increased character ages were inadequate to disguise the fact that the sole white character is a fat jackass pedophile, but I can’t complain too much about this because I can find a positive white male character almost anywhere else I look. Even the coolest characters in this game are consistently dumb (the coolest, most standoffish character doesn’t know to eat, he faints because he forgets to eat, I can’t even). The story built around these characters mostly resonates, however, and if they seem to take the performing arts way too seriously, at least this makes sense in the context of the game.

The Fire Emblem contribution to the game mostly comes in terms of characters and lore: “mirages” that give the main characters their battle powers are characters drawn from the series and the backstory involves even more of the series’ history. The MegaTen influence is obvious in the names of most spells and yet another take on the Press Turn concept, the Session. Attacking an enemy’s elemental or weapon vulnerability allows other characters to jump in and add a free attack. Each character has certain kinds of attacks they can link to, and while this initially maxes out at two or three hits in a series, as the game goes on special attacks and the ability of the backup roster to join in mean that strings of 12 total hits or more are quite possible.

This is really cool but it also makes battles tend towards the boring. Most of the time, the player has nothing to do during a Session, and increasingly elaborate animations for these attacks can give late-game sessions a real “go make yourself a sandwich” feeling. Each character has a single weapon style, but up to three elemental attacks, and TMS allows the backups to swap into the on-field team cost free like in Final Fantasy X. This means that unless an enemy has no vulnerabilities or ones that are very hard to figure out, a Session is imminent on every turn. This leads to a lot of butt-kicking but very little tactical challenge. I got a game over exactly twice, once against the game’s only really tricky boss and once against a pack of “savage enemies” that were 10 levels above most of my party. This is pretty low for MegaTen. Slow battles that didn’t pose any risk turned combat into an irritant obstructing progress through the game’s tricksy dungeons, and it forced bosses towards “huge life bars and adds” rather than “strategically interesting”.

That said, I mostly enjoyed my time with this game and if you’ve got a WiiU you’re not going to see anything better this year.

Verdict: Recommended