Friday, November 27, 2015

The Witcher 3 is done, and The Old Hunters is too hard. Also, Chibi-Robo!  


Welcome back to Coffeecoloa, and happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Before getting to my usual game stuff, I just want to take a minute to express thanks for everything that I have - my wonderful family, a source of income, a warm place to live, enough food to eat… things like these aren’t a given, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have them. I mean, I know a lot of people who struggle in just getting by, and here I am, lucky enough to spend time playing videogames and writing about them… It's an absolute luxury to be sure, and I'm very aware of that. And I am thankful.

Anyway, I also hope that you have good things in your life, and I hope this holiday was a happy one for you. Now, on with the show!

>Witcher 3 The last time I talked about it, I was just getting back into it after deciding that Bethesda's latest was too boring to stick with, and in the time that's passed since then, I actually completed the game. It seemed like it was going to go on for infinity at times, but there actually is an end to the main storyline, and after wrapping up the entire game, I can say that I'm genuinely glad I came back to it.

Overall, I think the writing was outstanding… Probably the best writing in any game I played this year. Also, many of the quests were interesting and varied, and so much work was put into every aspect of the experience that it's just a monumental effort.

I also thought that the female characters were particularly well done, and I do think it's a great example of strong women in games. Although some people who played the previous Witcher titles said that the devs did quite poorly with their women (and maybe they did) they’ve clearly learned some lessons along the way because the ladies here are fantastic. They’re strong, they have their own motivations, they don't play second fiddle to Geralt, and they feel like well-rounded characters. Great stuff.

Of course, the game does have a few issues. The biggest one is that the pacing is a little insane. The main quest is incredibly long and takes the number of turns. A lot of interesting things happen -- and that's great -- but these days I find it hard to buy into the "urgency" of a main quest when a game takes so many detours. It was also a problem for me because so many of the sidequests were genuinely good, and I didn't want to miss any of them. I felt compelled to do as many as possible in order to avoid having any automatically fail by advancing the story. I realize that there are story events that had to happen in order to have the finale that the devs wanted, but I think it would have been possible to restructure the game and make it a little less arduous to get through.

It's also worth noting that the game takes a few weird stumbles at the end. @SparkyClarkson raised this issue in his second opinion at @Gamecritics, and I think he's absolutely on the money. The game rises to a crescendo with a fantastic battle at the Witcher home base, and rather than ending things there, there's still quite a bit left to do afterwards, except none of it is as compelling or as exciting as that battle. In fact, it even gets a little bit nonsensical, with a last-minute MacGuffin showing up to lead into some some quest stuff that just don't make a lot of sense.

Those are pretty forgivable things when looking at everything else the game gets right, though, and it gets a hell of a lot right. It's a fantastic experience from start to finish, and although it is a significant commitment of time, I do think it's one of the few games that is worth investing in despite how long it is. The developers have absolutely raised the bar when it comes to writing and worldbuilding, and we are now living in a post-Witcher world. Any developer wanting to cover the same territory really needs to bring it.

>Bloodborne: The Old Hunters While I plan on doing the Witcher DLC, I need to take a short break before pushing on, so I decided to drop back into Bloodborne and give the Old Hunters DLC a try.

To be fair, I'm not the biggest Bloodborne fan. The story is a mess to me, I think some of the systems don't work as well as they could, and I don’t think much of the aesthetics. The hunters look great, but the world is too monochromatic and too cluttered with garbage and statues and all sorts of stuff that just ends up being visual noise. So, while I’m definitely not one of the hardcore BB devotees, I am a Fromsoft fan and I was curious to see what they would bring to the table with this new expansion. Unfortunately, what it looks like they brought is an insane level of hardcore difficulty.

Look, I'm not the best player out there, but I think I can generally hold my own and I am quite experienced when it comes to Fromsoft and the Souls games. And besides, I got through Bloodborne by myself with only a few difficult spots here and there, so I thought I would be well-equipped to handle this, but the developers are trolling pretty hard… They've really jacked up the difficulty.

While there are a few brutal enemies (the shark giants in the Fishing Hamlet are a nightmare) and there are a few too many ‘GOT YA!’ moments for my taste, the bosses are the worst offenders. Many do a crazy amount of damage and they're just straight-up difficult to fight. My friend @MikeSuskie (in his review) says that there's no real trick to finding these bosses, the player just has to be good enough to beat them, and I think he's correct. Unfortunately, I think the devs have taken it a little too far this time.

As for the rest of it, well, it's just OK, I suppose. It's interesting that they put an absolute crap-ton of new weapons in this DLC (clearly in response to complaints that there weren’t enough things to choose from in the vanilla game) but it's ironic that in order to get these weapons, players have to be good enough to survive the areas where they are… 

which means they have to be high-level… 

which means they have to have already been through the game. 

Since leveling up weapons takes a lot of resources that aren't just laying around, most of the weapons people will find won't be any use unless they do a lot of farming, or start a new game in order to re-harvest resources. I’d love to try some of these new things out myself, but some of them I just can't equip because my stats aren't set up properly, and the rest are too low to do me any good. I ended up collecting them, putting them aside and using my old standbys. It seems like a missed opportunity here.

Also, a heads-up to anyone who did what I did and missed the first shortcut that leads back to the very first lamp in the Hunter’s Nightmare. I have no idea how in the world I missed it, but I did, and there’s a very important NPC which hangs out in that shortcut… He has quite a bit of information about the world and ends up giving the player a weapon at the end, so if you plan to play this DLC, make sure you talk to that person before moving on. He's at one end of the large bridge spanning the bloody river that's in the starting area. Once you see the giant flea monsters, go up to the bridge and go in the hallway at one end… He's down there.

Overall, I'm feeling pretty mixed about The Old Hunters. On the one hand, I want to keep supporting From as I've been a fan of theirs for a very, very long time. On the other hand, I don't think Bloodborne was that great, and this add-on feels like it's hard for the sake of being hard. I'm pretty sure that a lot of people who struggled to get through the main game will be absolutely destroyed by the level of difficulty here, and I just don't see the point of making it so crushing.

>Random Just a couple of quick notes before I wrap up… 

First, I want to give a shout out to Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash! on 3DS. I haven't heard many people talking about it, and the people who have talked about it don't seem to think very much of it, which is a shame. I'm a fan of the character, and I think that this is a pretty solid outing for him. It’s certainly better than the last game he was in. 

There are a few weird choices and it's not the sort of thing that you want to marathon for hours on end, but I think it's a lot better than people give it credit for, and it's really cute as well. If you're a fan, it's definitely worth picking up, and if you want some solid platforming action, this is a good one to check out.

Finally, I haven't fired my WiiU up for ages, but I've been pretty curious about Xenoblade Chronicles X, out on December 4, and while I’m not going to cover it for review, I am going to pick it up to see what it's all about. 

It looks like it has a Phantasy Star Online vibe to it, and I'm a sucker for anything with giant robots. Some reviewer friends who already have been through the game have told me that they think I'll hate it -- which is very likely possible -- but it sounds like an interesting project that warrants investigation… I'll have more to say on it later.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fallout 4? No, Witcher 3!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola! 

So, that Fallout 4, right??? 

Yeah, not so much. I have a copy of it here, and while I wouldn't say I was overly hyped for it before release, I'm definitely a Fallout fan... Fallout 3 was really good, and New Vegas was one of my all-time faves. I was in the market for more Fallout

Then I started playing it, and it lost me in a hurry

Real talk: the beginning is pretty awful. Events happen too quick for my taste, and the opening 'motivation' is cheap and distasteful. Once I got into the game proper, the writing was dull, the quests were dull, and the emphasis on crafting is something that I'm not really interested in at this point. The interface for building structures was abysmal, as well. 

My playtime is pretty limited these days, so picking up a bajillion pieces of junk and spending an hour trying to mod a random handgun or combing the wasteland for roofing materials just isn't what I want my focus on in a game of this type. I put about four hours into it, and then I shelved it. 

I really doubt I'm gonna come back to it anytime soon, but a side effect of being disappointed in Fallout 4 is that it lit a fire under me to return to The Witcher 3 to wrap it up. 

The last time I went riding with Geralt was around June or so, so it's been about six months, give or take. At the point where I quit, I had put in 60 hours and had made it to Skellige, but burnout was hitting me pretty hard. It was just way too much content, but ironically, it was content I didn't want to skip. The writing was great, the quests were interesting... It was physically impossible for me to not do them, but it's got to be one of the most content-heavy games I've ever played. 

There's. Just. So. Much. To. Get. Through. (And that's not even counting the map icons, monster quests, treasure hunts and all the other minor stuff!) Anyway, I decided the time was right so I fired it back up and... I had no friggin' idea what was going on. I mean,  Yennefer wanted me to do something that I didn't remember anything about, I lost the main plot thread, and I had forgotten most of the systems in the game. 

Putting the search for Ciri on hold, I fumbled around with the controls for a bit and decided to clean up some of the secondary quests that were left hanging as a warmup exercise. 

Thankfully, I got back into the groove pretty quick, and my time away from the game reminded me of why I liked it so much in the first place.  I'm glad I came back. 

That said, I wish the devs had structured the adventure a bit differently... It would be great to have more emphasis on the main quest and to have left most of the secondary stuff for after credits roll. 

A big problem for me was that I didn't know what quests would fail if I didn't do them, and their general quality is so high that major FOMO kept hitting me every time I felt like I needed to critpath it. Knowing that I could focus on the central plot without fear of losing content would have helped stave off exhaustion, for sure.

In any event, it's good to be back in The Witcher and I'm really hoping to close the book on it.  And hey, who knows... I may even pop for that DLC! 


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

4 guys, 1 Steam Machine - SFW  


Hey all, just a quick redirect tonight - A group of my friends got together to weigh in on the new Alienware Steam Machine. You can read my writeup on their thoughts over at @GameCritics right here.  I'll be back with a regular update next time.  Thanks!


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Playing Catch-Up!  


Welcome back to Coffeecola!

I’m currently between review assignments, so I’ve had some precious free time to play pretty much whatever I want without feeling guilty about it -- AKA, the best time of year!

So, what’s been on the docket?


>The Talos Principle: Deluxe Edition (PS4)

Despite hearing all the praise last year, this one kind of snuck up on me. I honestly didn’t expect to like it as much as I did.

While it’s very Portal-like in many ways, I really liked the different aesthetic of the game, and the writers did an outstanding job with it. The themes of humanity and free will were a great fit with the puzzle-based gameplay, and the world had an awesome atmosphere and style.

While I didn’t love some of the in-game text (the myths and historical writing found on PCs weren’t effective at all) Talos is one of the exceedingly rare instances where the existence of audio logs not only made sense, but actually did a great job of enhancing the story. Even better, the ending was both perfect and amazing, and it left me glowing with contentedness for the rest of the day.

In fact, the story is really what carried the day here. I think the game is too long by a third, and the final bunch of puzzles were exercises in frustration. If I hadn’t been so invested in seeing how things turned out, I’m certain I would have quit before the end. Thank god for GameFAQS, amirite?? Speaking of which, mega props to nomercyrider for his awesome FAQ. I used it and I am not ashamed.

Despite getting a bit burned out on it by the end, I am very, very glad that I pushed on through – it really was a wonderful experience overall.  I haven’t touched the Road to Gehenna DLC because I’m feeling pretty burned out on the puzzles right now, but I’m pretty sure I’ll give it a shot once some time has passed.


>Leo’s Fortune (PS4)

I have to say, when I saw this one pop up on PSN I wrote it off out-of-hand based on the screenshots, but I heard some positive things later on so I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad that I did.

I haven't been keeping up with mobile lately, but apparently this one was a successful mobile title that got ported. It doesn't really break new ground, but it's very focused on being a physics-based platformer, and it does what it does very well.

The main character is a big fuzzball who can puff himself up, and the developers have done a good job of designing levels which are a mix between straight-up platforming and puzzles which involve environmental manipulation.

I have to say, I also thought the story had a certain sort of magnetism. Although it was totally simple, it took a dark turn by the end and finished with a positive message that I didn't see coming. It could've used a little more story sprinkled throughout, but I appreciate what was there.


>Shovel Knight (3DS)

So, I first played this when it dropped last year, and I have to be honest, I didn't click with me. That retro vibe was pretty clear, but it just didn't seem to be doing anything that was interesting at the time, and I put it down pretty quick. Of course, it went on to receive so much praise and love that I couldn’t ignore it. I decided to give it a second chance and I finished it.

Now that I've done the main campaign, I definitely recognize it as a quality product and can appreciate what the developers were going for, although it never lit my world on fire.

I think that part of my apathy is that the visual design of Shovel Knight himself leaves a little bit to be desired… Something about it just doesn't pop for me, and his shovel feels underdeveloped. I mean, it could've basically been anything besides a shovel, so that feels like a gap needing to be filled there.

Anyway, don't get me wrong. It's definitely a good game and I'm glad that I came back to it, but… yeah. Probably not gonna end up on my ‘favorite 3DS games’ list.

Side note: the free Plague Knight DLC is pretty nuts. It’s basically a whole new campaign re-using some of the old levels, but the new character has all-new moves and different strategies. It feels a lot more technical and demanding than the vanilla content, so check it out if you need some of that.


>Sunset Overdrive, XBO

Now that I've got an Xbox One in the house, I've been trying to go back and see all of the games that caught my attention before I had access to one. This was at the top of the list.

Although I'm pretty tired of open world games, I do appreciate that the traversal in Sunset is fairly unusual and ends up lending it an energy that others have been lacking. Since the main character can grind/hang/wall run/bounce/air dash, getting from point A to point B is a lot more fun than simply crossing the city in standard open-world style. It reminds me of Crackdown a bit in that respect.

On the other hand, the missions haven't exactly been very interesting (I absolutely despise the base defense) and it feels like there's a little bit too much going on at times. Since the main character is a sitting duck when on the ground, having to constantly stay in motion while dodging things/targeting/managing crowds/working the camera leads to moments of pure overload, so it's probably a good thing that the save points are pretty generous.

Style-wise, I've seen a lot of people bounce hard off of it, but I found it to be genuinely humorous for the most part – some of the lines in the script are pretty sharp. It's definitely a little too "in-your-face" at times, but not horribly so given the irreverence at its core. I really like the female voice actress, so maybe that helps?

The things that I find more offputting are the different menus and "amps" that the game offers. These power-ups feel like an extra layer that I don't want on top of things, and it's presented in such a cluttered and busy fashion that I end up ignoring most of it. I wouldn't mind some streamlining in this area. Also, pausing when using the radial menu to change between weapons would be super welcome.

I'm just doing the main story missions and I’m happy to say that the game is going by pretty quickly -- I think I'm past the halfway point and not tired of it yet, which is a good sign. Dunno if I'll be up for any of the DLC once I roll credits, but it's been a thumbs up so far. It's not something that feels like a system seller, but it if you already have an Xbox one, then it’s recommended. 

Oh, and it's great to see Insominiac finally finding the fun again. They felt really lost when they were churning out those dreary Resistance titles, and as a fan of the studio, I had a hard time understanding where they were coming from and what they were going for. Sunset feels like a more logical progression for them and I'm glad to see that they've got some of their spark back.