Sep 302014

For the most part, Destiny‘s story is very bad. The game’s setting, a soft echo of Warhammer 40K where most of the absurd/fun bits have been excised and “Chaos” has been replaced with “Darkness”, is a major disappointment, but one that at this late date can’t really undergo significant change. What can, to some extent, be fixed, are the narratives that live in that world. Although it only has one real plot, Destiny has three different strands of story going on, none of which work especially well. Still, the game’s design makes some of them work better than others and it’s worth examining that as a way of assessing how the story might grow and improve.

The first story, the one the game is trying to push throughout its campaign, is that the player’s guardian is doing special and important things that are altering the balance of power in the system, and it is an unmitigated disaster. The story missions do not create any arc of conflict between the protagonist and any of the forces present in the system. The missions seem to exist only to enforce a structured tour of the solar system and the enemies living on its various terrestrial planets. The only thing resembling a unifying plot is the occasional appearance of a mysterious robot who seems to represent an additional force in the system separate from the Light of the Traveler or the various minions of the Darkness. However, “mysterious stranger semi-helps the hero for unexplained reasons” is barely passable as a side-plot; it’s appalling as the basis for a media project that’s supposed to have a decade-long lifespan.

Even if the game had a half-decent plot, it has no characters to breathe life into it. The protagonist is voiced in cutscenes as blandly as possible, presumably so the player can project eir own personality onto em, but the player is never given any means for conveying eir vision for the character to the game, not even something as simple as later Mass Effect‘s Paragon and Renegade events. The player can of course take up with various factions, but there’s nothing more to this than wearing an emblem, and nothing about choosing one faction precludes or even complicates shifting one’s support to another one. For whatever reason, the player cannot even take ownership of any space within the game — e has no home base to control or decorate, and personal customization options are limited to shaders by the infrequency of decent loot drops and the expense of upgrading good armor. Banal, expository dialogue and terrible voice direction rob Ghost, the main supporting character, of anything resembling a personality, and no other character exists for more than a couple of lines. The protagonist has no presence and nobody to play off of, so the story, such as it is, has no soul.

Having a plot and characters would not have prevented the story from ending up as a disappointment, however, because it represents a fundamental conflict between narrative and design. Destiny tries to give the player a typical FPS power fantasy and fails decisively because that storyline is embedded in a persistent, shared world. These characteristics mean that the player can have no real impact on the system. Killing the Winter Kell on Venus has no effect on the organization or presence of Fallen forces there, nor does killing Sepiks Prime affect the Fallen on Earth, nor do the events on the Moon or in the Black Garden have consequences for the Hive or the Vex. Rather than segregate players into different instances based on mission progress, everyone gets dumped into a single shared environment that must therefore remain constant regardless of the story they’ve been playing (this despite the game’s sharp gatekeeping with regard to character level). Destiny‘s weak single-player narrative has no hope of selling the idea that the player has done something important or noteworthy because its static world insists that nothing has changed.

So that disposes of the game’s plot, such as it is, but it doesn’t cover all of the game’s story. There are two other narratives embedded in Destiny that it conveys a little better, in part because they are better fits for a persistent, fairly static world.

The weaker of these is the story of the guardians protecting the last human city from the encroaching forces of the enemy. In terms of its core problems this story has a lot in common with the game’s explicit plot: the main players don’t actually exist in the game. Bungie has never had any talent for depicting societies outside the context of their militaries and it shows painfully here. What is humanity in Destiny, beyond a matte painting of haphazard buildings? Who are the Awoken, aside from a tiny group of people in a throne room? Even the quasi-military force lacks any personality and has little sense of shared purpose; its officers are nothing more than vending machines with a few completely disposable lines of dialogue and the Speaker has no actual wisdom to dispense. If the various human factions have any kind of philosophy they wish to live by they never share it in the game. Ultimately, there is no sense of what is being defended, which knocks a hole in this narrative well below the water line.

What keeps it afloat, barely, is the design of the game. Destiny does an indifferent job of incentivizing cooperative play; difficulty in missions and strikes seems to scale up in some non-obvious way based on the number and level of co-op players, making a fireteam seem less advantageous than it probably should be. Out in the open world where this scaling is inactive, however, players tend to informally and dynamically assist one another, especially during public events. Protecting a crashed warsat, taking on a Fallen walker, or preventing Vex sacrifices (and yes, even exploiting the infamous loot cave) encourage players to instantaneously form groups with a common cause. Even in this sense the angle is not sold perfectly: the public events lack variety, there are no human outposts to defend anywhere, and various bounties (quests) encourage selfish play in patrols, events, and strikes. Nonetheless, these moments of instant alliance are one of Destiny‘s key strengths and something that could be accentuated with little added content or tuning.

These leaves us with Destiny‘s best story, which is about the effort to understand the world. One of the few interesting things about the game’s setting is that the humans (and even the ghosts, who in principle should share some of the Traveler’s knowledge) seem to know very little about their enemies, or even their own past. A great deal of the game involves efforts to grab artifacts and information from old human installations, ancient human AI, and facilities belonging to alien races. Here, the absence of a current human society and characters isn’t a real impediment because it’s a story where the mysteries are central. The races as a whole, and the places where they are found, are the actual “characters” being encountered. This plays well with the evocative storytelling that Cameron Kunzelman identifies as one of the game’s strengths.

This is also a story that the mechanics tend to reinforce. After level 20, as mentioned previously, progression becomes a question of what armor the character possesses rather than what deeds e has performed. That concept stinks for defining a league of heroic paladins, but it’s an excellent system for a society of tomb raiders. Defining characters by the items they are able to pluck from the ruins of the past or the grasp of their enemies plays perfectly into Destiny‘s world, where that past and those enemies are known only by the artifacts that guardians retrieve from them.

Destiny could, of course, do more to sell this story. The choice, or need, to put the information the player ultimately retrieves in an online grimoire is a crippling blow to this narrative. Also the guardians don’t get to do much in pursuit of it besides shooting things and hoping loot falls out, and the absence of non-military humans (cryptarchs in the field) is an impediment. Patrol missions or public events more attuned to the ideas of this story could help sell it better, as could the addition of some gameplay elements more specifically attuned to solving puzzles and mysteries rather than just shooting everything.

Destiny‘s writing has been justly excoriated by most reviewers, but even with truly masterful plotting and dialogue, the power fantasy that story is selling would never really work in the context of the game’s static world. The more ambient stories of defense and acquisition, which do not rely on world dynamics and mesh well with the game’s systems, are better narrative focal points for the game that Bungie actually made. While it is too late to rebuild the core plot around these ideas, some relatively minor tweaks and additions could strengthen them to the point where they could carry the game and form a basis for future installments.

Of Loot and Caves

 Immersive Shooters, Role Playing Games  Comments Off on Of Loot and Caves
Sep 222014

In perhaps the biggest game of the year, one of the things players are spending a lot of time doing is shooting, for hours on end, into a cave. They’re not doing it for fun; I’ve tried it for just a few minutes and I can confirm, it’s incredibly boring. But, it’s also productive, in the sense that it gets players more of what they want, what they in fact need if they want to progress. So quickly, before it gets nerfed, gaze in awe upon the wonders of… The Loot Cave.

How does something like this happen? Well, it’s the result of RPG design elements that range from pedestrian to outright bad.

Let’s start with the pedestrian elements, which relate to world design and mob spawning mechanics. The Cosmodrome levels are a troubled design in that the world almost entirely lacks a structure that rationalizes the dispositions of enemy forces. Unlike the other worlds that are full of various installations for enemy races to defend, the earth areas are just a bunch of junk and ruins laying around all over the place. Fallen are camped out in some of these areas and Hive in others, but there are few details to explain why any group of enemies is in any particular place. The Cosmodrome, more than most other parts of the game, seem like an area that’s just there so players can shoot things.

However, as in every area of the game, the enemy forces are scattered thinly across the world, so as to provide ample safe spaces for pausing and zones for executing dynamic loading. If a player clears an area of targets, it can be quite a hike to the next place where there’s anything to shoot, and in Destiny, if there’s nothing to shoot there’s essentially nothing to do. The sparrow alleviates some of this, but presumably either playtesting or early design iterations demonstrated that this was insufficient, so Bungie came up with a very aggressive respawning schedule.

The video above is proof enough of this, but experience shows that the cave is the rule, not the exception. If you wipe a mob, their replacements will show up within a minute or less. It can get really absurd: at the entrance to Skywatch I have killed the tiny group of a captain and two vandals repeatedly just by ducking around a corner. There’s a complex on the moon I’ve never been able to really clear because emptying it out takes me far enough away from one of its spawn points that another group of vandals shows up immediately, and clearing them gives enough time for the servitor to return.

To provide a (thin) rationale for the appearance of reinforcements, every world has been dotted with tiny caves and mechanical rooms: dead ends that spawn hordes of enemies. Some specific thought and balancing has gone into these spawns. That’s evident from, for example, the way the mob composition changes when a character is close to the cave in the video above. Low-level characters (who might well be in this area) could be rushed and killed by the thralls without warning if they’re too close. The acolytes are more survivable in these circumstances. Thus, there’s an exclusion zone preventing thrall spawns when a player is nearby. Still, the reasoning behind distributing and spawning enemies in this way reflects some really basic and boring level construction.

So, the cave behaves the way it does because of pedestrian RPG design. Why do the players behave the way they do?

This gets into the outright bad design choices in Destiny, which are focused in the loot system but are a bit more comprehensive.

First, let’s talk about incentives. Why do the players want loot? Every RPG player in the history of ever has gathered loot and improved gear as much as possible, but Destiny makes equipment upgrades absolutely critical. After level 20, the only way to level up is to obtain gear with “light”. This means that progression is no longer a question of what the player does but what the player has. I think this is a questionable system for a number of reasons, but what’s relevant here is that the only way to improve a late-game character is to continue acquiring ever-more-powerful gear. Consequently one should expect level 20+ characters to obtain that gear in the most efficient way possible.

Unfortunately, enemies do not drop loot very frequently. Through most of the story content I would say I got a drop every 10 minutes or so, with large stretches of getting nothing. Drops tend to be streaky: on a second run through a story mission I got a cascade of loot, but patrolling Mars once I went half an hour without seeing anything (including a huge firefight in a Cabal base where only one kill even dropped ammo).

This pace is actually not so bad early in the game, when regular leveling ensures that almost everything found is better than what’s already equipped. It’s less tolerable at 20+. Even at level 20, I dismantle more than 9 in 10 drops immediately; this ratio can only get worse as I progress. Given the frequency with which engrams give weaker loot than their color suggests, the process of getting drops must get deeply dismal as time goes on.

Compounding this is the fact that drop frequency and quality doesn’t seem to scale with enemy level or strength. This is a general problem with the game: on my first patrol of the Cosmodrome I (at level 3) got into a fight with a level 7 dreg and eventually took him down for 20 experience, the same amount I would have gotten from a level 2 dreg. This being the case, why would I ever challenge myself that way?

Well, for loot maybe, but in terms of number and quality of drops that doesn’t scale either. Of the few blue engrams I’ve seen, almost all have been dropped from normal dregs of level 10 or below. Majors don’t reliably drop anything, and outside of public events the best I can remember seeing pop out of one was a green engram. I won’t positively state that there’s no loot scaling at all, because I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if I can wax something like 4 Vex majors and 2 Fallen ones in a firefight on Venus and not see so much as a heavy ammo drop then whatever scaling exists is not doing enough. I’m not particularly interested in the PvP, but anecdotally it seems that the drop distribution is depressing there as well.

In this context, the principle of efficiency suggests that the best thing to do is to kill many low-level enemies as rapidly as possible. In the video above the player runs past everything inside the building, as well he should, because taking the time to engage in those firefights is a waste. Most likely not one of those enemies would have dropped anything, and fighting them would take away time that he could be using to endlessly slaughter a stream of hapless mooks in hopes of the RNG coming up purple.

Destiny’s design puts every incentive on the side of doing boring things rather than interesting ones, because it refuses to reward the time and effort needed to do cool things. The Cosmodrome levels are pockmarked with deep caves containing fairly high-level Hive majors and I would never recommend anyone try to fight them because not only are they big bullet sponges but also it’s pointless to fight them in the context of a late-game leveling system that prioritizes loot over experience. Mars and Venus have interesting locations that I would never recommend anyone visit unless they had a specific bounty, because the more difficult enemies there require more time and resources to defeat, and offer not the slightest sliver of hope for better rewards than that sad little level-5 mob in the Cosmodrome.

Doubtless the Loot Cave will be nerfed in a future update: the respawn schedule will be dialed back, or its exclusion zone expanded, or some other kludge will be applied so that the sad spectacle of high-level characters taking potshots at a cave will cease. The underlying issues that give rise to it, however, are what Destiny’s designers really need to address. Destiny makes boring farming productive and interesting exploration and combat wasteful; player use of the loot cave is a positive and correct response to the presented incentives. Bungie’s pedestrian approach to level design and spawn dynamics made the Loot Cave possible. Their misguided approach to late-game progression and loot drops made it inevitable.

FIG 2015 Report

 Current Events  Comments Off on FIG 2015 Report
Sep 152014

Well, I made it to the Boston Festival of Indie Games again this year, and just as happened last year I basically got sucked into the show floor and never made it out. I got my hands on some interesting games though, and as a service to you, dear reader, I now report my experiences.

I love games that involve grappling and swinging, so I was immediately drawn to Mark of the Old Ones, which attempts to join this gameplay to the Lovecraftian themes that are not overtly racist. The player character is a little bundle of stuff that instantly reminded me of a koosh ball. Little strands can shoot off of the ball and stick to some surfaces, and doing this repeatedly is the only way to move around. The movement mechanics felt good, which doesn’t always happen in this sort of game, and some useful indicators helped make every movement situation a little more interpretable.  The game, which had successful Kickstarter and Greenlight campaigns, should be entering beta soon. I was told the whole game has been roughed out and most of the levels have been completed. Hopefully there’s time to add a little detail to the environments because at least the demo level I played felt a little spare. Still, I’m excited to see how this one turns out.

The other game I played with a spherical protagonist was Gemini, which appears to be the outgrowth of a student project at NYU. The player has control over a little ball of light here and can only move it left or right using controller triggers. The ball of light has a twin; moving while close to the twin increases altitude while moving far away causes the player’s ball to sink. In the level I played, the goal was to move upwards, activating light orbs, until the pair pierces the clouds into what looks like a new world. The controls were intuitive, the AI for the companion ball was well-designed, and with a big assist from the music the whole thing evolved a very zen feel. Under the circumstances, I felt the demo level was a touch too long and I will probably feel the same if the game just continues to hit that single note in different colors. If there’s a good emotional range, though, this level would probably be a good size.

Screenshot from Gemini

Screenshot from Gemini, from the website

A similar sort of zen approach informed GNOG, a sort of toy-game about interacting with giant monster heads. Certain features on each head are interactive, and they can be turned around to reveal an interactive interior. I enjoyed the demo, but something about it felt a little off. As it transpired, interactive points were either on the way to progress or were just dead ends. What the game could really have used were some kind of “side-quest”, clusters of 1-3 objects that worked together and made some interesting change to the environment that wasn’t necessarily productive but was interesting. As it was, everything either moved the level along or was just dead. The plan is to bring this one in about a year or so to PC and iOS, which will probably be the better fit. Some polish is needed here, but there’s a fair amount of promise.

The same could be said of Blood Alloy, which is a side-scrolling run-and-gun game that allows for some really amazing action. The demo that was available was basically just an arena level with waves of aggressive enemies, but it had plenty of space to show off the wall-running, shoot-and-slice action. What’s holding this back , and it’s admittedly something that was an outgrowth of the environment, is that the learning curve is clearly pretty steep. What the character can do is pretty awesome, but getting her to actually do it is perhaps overly complex, especially since the nature of the demo required the player to essentially figure out all the tricks right away. The aiming method for the gun was also not a great match for the controller, which made reticule movement too sluggish and sloppy, or the size of the enemies, which put too high a demand on precision. With a little tuning and polish, though, this could be a really impressive action game.

On the other end of the complexity spectrum, but sharing some similarities in aesthetic, was Unbroken, an endless runner hack-n-slash coming to iOS soon. The game had simple, solid controls similar to Punch Quest for attacking and blocking. Character development takes place between runs, which are quick, so this should make a decent idle-play title. I liked the pixel-art aesthetic and I’m looking forward to grabbing it when it comes out.

Airscape: The Fall of Gravity, starring a cute little octopus on an adventure through a world where the down direction is variable, also seemed fairly close to release. I got to play through some ground levels that involved some moderate-speed running and jumping, and some water levels that involved a somewhat tricky swimming mechanic. Cute as it looks, this seems like it will get pretty challenging.

Another cute-looking game I got my hands on was Treasure Adventure World, an open-world side-scroller about a kid with an awesome hook-hand and a bunch of different hats. The goal here is to make something like a Zelda game where acquiring new abilities opens up new areas for exploration and treasure hunting. The website says 2014 is the target but the game felt further out than that; a boss-fight seemed poorly balanced and glitched out after a character death. The early-game portion I demoed worked pretty well, however, and did some fun things with the character’s movement. I also appreciated the spirit of the game. This one can be pre-ordered at its website.

I managed to spend a little time with the cute-but-really-not-cute OBEY, a somewhat asymmetric king-of-the-hill game in which cute bunnies vie for control of a giant robot gun tower they can use to kill their cute bunny friends. This one is pretty far from release, and only some of the systems were implemented. Even so, as a sort of stealth game where I tried to crawl my bunny towards the tower I found it was pretty fun. Eventually the game will implement a control system that gives it its name, where the bunny in the tower will have the ability to command the other bunnies to do things for it in exchange for not being destroyed by a giant gun tower. This might be one to keep in mind for later.

Albino Lullaby screenshot, from the website

Albino Lullaby screenshot, from the website

The most unique-looking game I played was Albino Lullaby, a first-person horror game with a marker-drawn aesthetic. The demo level I played was mostly exploration, with some very light puzzle-solving and, later, some wonky stealth. The environment was, for the most part, really well made and achieved the sort of “creepy-horror” vibe the developers said they were going for. It also featured a really fascinating moment where a huge interior room was dramatically rearranged. So, despite the few rough patches I think this could be really interesting. The game is planned to have three episodes of which the first is expected to land in February. The game has an active Kickstarter to fund its marketing campaign, if you’re interested.

I got a good look at Tumbleweed Express, the most literal rail-shooter ever made, in that it is a game about a train from which you shoot things. The player has control of a turret in the train’s caboose, while cargo cars have automated turrets, giving the game something of a tower-defense feel. The game’s cel-shaded look and absurd enemies gave it something of a Borderlands vibe, and in the levels I observed the sheer number of enemies and general chaos made it feel almost like a shmup. The game has been a multi-year spare-time project of its creators, who currently have a Kickstarter to fund completion and an active Greenlight campaign going.

There were a couple of other wild west themed games on display, but I particularly liked Flamingo!, a Mexican-standoff strategy game. Only the multiplayer component has been implemented so far. In this mode, two players  have four gunmen (who can shoot from 1 to 4 times) to place on a randomized screen. If a gunman shoots a bank he gets money; if he shoots another gunman, he gets that gunman’s money. Whoever has the most money wins. It plays fast and the design is pretty tight. The developer I spoke to said they plan to implement a one-player “puzzle” mode and AI opponents as well. The scale here is small but I thought Flamingo! was very good at what it was trying to do.

I’ll close with two games that were entertaining twists on venerable ideas. Breaker’s Yard is a twin-stick shooter set in a vast junkyard, which features a unique dynamic weapons system. As he runs around the yard the player constantly picks up powerups of which he can hold two simultaneously. Some replace the base shot with drills or chainsaws, others cause 3-way shooting or wavy shots that cover more ground. It’s not exactly a revelation, but it’s good old-fashioned fun. Similarly, The Forgettable Dungeon is a fairly standard roguelike with a 3D pixel look following the aesthetic of 3D Dot Game Heroes. A similar kind of character customization also seems to be in the cards. It was a good bit easier than the typical roguelike, no doubt in part because of the 4-player cooperative play, but it still had a pretty hard final boss to face. Given the speed of the levels and the amount of fun that can be had flinging items (and each other) in all directions this might prove to be most fun in local co-op game.

Well, that’s most of what I managed to get my hands on, but by no means most of the games that were on display at FIG (I haven’t even dipped into the tabletop stuff!). If this keeps up I’m going to have to demand that they expand to two days next year.

(Sorry comments are closed because I don’t want to deal with 100 spam comments from people trying to sell glimmer).

Connor revisited

 Critique, Open World Action Games  Comments Off on Connor revisited
Sep 032014

I blame Daniel Day-Lewis. I watched Last of the Mohicans and got a hankering to play a game set in the Colonial frontier, one of many periods of history poorly covered by games. In fact, in a reasonably extensive library the only game that really addressed this setting was Assassin’s Creed III, a game that, to put it mildly, I did not like very much. Shorn of its only real virtue, the multiplayer component, I felt reasonably certain I would still hate the game virulently. I’ve given second chances to games I formally liked less, though, so I booted up some flintlock-and-tomahawk action. Spoiler alert—the game is still junk, for largely the same reasons I identified in my review. There is, perhaps, a bit of perverse genius in a game design that systematically expresses the Templar view of the world with the aim of infuriating the player, but it’s difficult to believe this was really the intention of a game that is so incoherent, stupid, and poorly made.

It may seem strange to talk about focus in an open-world game, especially one made by Ubisoft, but it’s worth remembering how very pared-down the original Assassin’s Creed was. That game didn’t even have money, and aside from the viewpoints and a few collectibles there was very little to do aside from story-oriented missions. Money and a loose sort of base development were innovations of Assassin’s Creed II, which kicked off a progressive expansion of both protagonist abilities and potential side-missions that teetered on the edge of real trouble in Revelations and tumbled right over the edge and shattered at the base of a cliff in III. We have hunting, and a homestead, and naval missions, and brotherhood development, and territory to capture, and fistfights to get into, and missions to acquire goods, and sewers to explore for some reason, and also, oh hey, these missions associated with Connor’s actual storyline, not to mention Desmond.

Most of this stuff is half-assed and little of it really fits into a coherent whole. It’s never clear why Connor builds his little homestead or even his brotherhood. He’s a grade-A heel and quickly disillusioned with the Patriots, so his desire to help out these (white) people who need letters and goods delivered feels unmotivated, at best. The hunting and fistfights at least fit his character and personality, but they also just exist off in their own little world without seriously playing into the game’s main storyline or themes. The naval missions are the only legitimately good part of the single-player experience, but I’ll be damned if I understand how they really fit in to the rest of it. As for the Desmond missions…

Ugh, Desmond. I have always hated him, and his only saving grace in this game is that he is actually less of a shithead than Connor. Also, Nolan North doesn’t shout all his lines the way Noah Watts does. I get that Connor is supposed to be seething with barely-suppressed rage, but since this only comes across in the voice acting and a few non-interactive scenes it’s kind of a failed depiction. As with so many open-world games, once an actual mission starts it’s time for helpful!Connor rather than the actual character that has been depicted for 10 hours.

This is not actually the game’s biggest narrative problem, and neither is its bizarre choice not to take the opportunity to free itself forever from the Animus and the horrible frame story that goes with it. Instead, the problem is a change in attitude. Assassin’s Creed, and especially the Ezio trilogy, had previously presented stories that seemingly intended to make history more interesting and exciting than it actually was. One got the impression that the developers had looked at the actual events and asked, “how can we make this more awesome?” That’s how we ended up with Leonardo’s creations coming to life and actually working.

Assassin’s Creed III seems to take the opposite approach: the developers seem to have had the desire to make the real history look as dumb as possible. The emblematic example of this is when Lance recreates Leonardo’s flying apparatus and it fails embarrassingly, but this attitude manifests throughout. I’m all for deconstructing the founding fathers, but Assassin’s Creed III goes out of its way to make these men look like bumbling fools. Thus, Benjamin Franklin shows up only to show off his lechery, Paul Revere is reduced to a goofy backseat driver, and Washington shows up as a bad general but not as a good politician (which even the game admits he was simultaneously). Sam Adams gets a more sympathetic showing, but disappears halfway through the story.

Maybe this is just what you should expect when you ask Canadians to make a game about the Revolutionary War. Still, it seems like the least interesting thing one could possibly do with the conflict, especially when one considers the number of key players belonging to “secret” societies, the intense debates over the proper nature (republic vs monarchy, federalism vs home rule) of the new government, and the personal conflicts (e.g. Jefferson v Hamilton) between the founding fathers themselves. Much fertile ground was ignored in favor of Revere riding double with Connor.

Even those who can ignore the poverty of the narrative shouldn’t forgive the game for being junk on a fundamental level. The addition of free-running in trees is neat, but hardly any salvation given that free-running in the cities is a dull chore thanks to discontinuous buildings, a failure to address climb-lock, and an overabundance of rooftop guards. The repetition of the exact same goddamn tree throughout the wilderness still grinds my gears, especially since it doesn’t include a safe leap of faith from the viewpoint, and of course one cannot mention the viewpoints without pointing out that finding all of them does not reveal all of the game’s absurdly bad map. That’s just one outcropping of the mountain of garbage that is the game’s hideous user interface, which seems to have been designed with the motto: obtuse, obscuring, obstructive.

At least this time a bug didn’t take out a whole district’s worth of assassin missions in New York, but the notoriety system was still thoroughly broken there. I also got to experience a cute bug in the forest where the game spawned something like 9 wolves in a row and then got stuck in combat mode because one of them clipped to the inside of a rock. Naturally this led to a desynch since Connor can leave no dead animal unskinned.

And there you have it. Years later and I still can’t forgive ACIII for being such an utterly dumb, shambolic pile of garbage. Sure, there’s some fun to be had running through the woods shooting deer or sailing on the ocean shooting boats, but the core of the experience is rotten, and it infects everything else. There is not one single aspect of this game that is well-designed, solidly coded, and reasonably well integrated into the whole. In retrospect, my 6/10 score may have been too generous.