By ArbitraryWater 21 Comments
Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was a fairly low-key one for me this year, with surprisingly little in the realm of “eating a regrettable amount of turkey/stuffing/sweet potatoes/green beans/sparkling cider/pie” and more “Eating a Rueben at 11PM because I didn't stuff myself with turkey, then very much regretting it the next morning”. It's not all horrible indigestion though: I am now the semi-proud owner of a Wii U. Thanks to the power of that Best Buy black friday deal, I convinced/tricked my parents to get one for “The Family” as an early Christmas present (because we're all old now and there won't be any more magic or surprise until my older sisters start having kids), and thus I can know with confidence that I'll be able to play the worthwhile exclusives for that system during its lifetime and let it collect dust otherwise except when people want to play that chase game in Nintendo Land. But anyways, we're not here to talk about how Super Mario 3D World seems pretty cool, or how New Super Mario Bros U seems exactly like New Super Mario Bros/Wii/2. No, let's back up a bit, to like a week ago when I thought about writing a blog, but didn't. They shot lasers into my eyes like 3 weeks ago. It's going well.
XCOM: Enemy Within
The reason I abstained from writing an entire blog about the expansion to my GOTY of last year (though in retrospect, I'm half-convinced Dishonored should have won instead) is because I wondered how much I could write before just repeating what I wrote about the base game a year ago. This week, I figured that it doesn't matter because no one reads my old stuff past the week it goes on the community spotlight and this blog is really about Zelda anyways. As an expansion, Enemy Within is pretty much exactly what I wanted out of an expansion to Enemy Unknown, which is to say that it adds more variables and numbers to a game that was sort of lacking in them before. Don't get me wrong, I am fully behind Firaxis' modern re-imagining of the 1994 strategy classic (far more than I am behind Xenonauts, which seems to get an update to its alpha version roughly once every trillion years), but it was very much a game that relied on difficulty instead of complexity.
Enemy Within alleviates some of this by re-balancing the old skills and items, making the game generally harder (Thin Men are now legitimately frightening early on) and throwing in MEC Troopers and Gene Mods to compensate. I heavily invested in MECs during my playthrough, due to their uncanny ability to take and dish absurd amounts of damage, often over an area thanks to the presence of a flamethrower, grenade launcher and proximity mines. They aren't without their drawbacks though: Their inability to take cover means that they take a lot of hot plasma to the face, which they can't really mitigate early on (some of their later skills allow for some serious damage sponge potential). They're expensive, costing 50 Meld to build a level 1 suit, 200 to get it all the way to level 3, and their weapons use a ridiculous amount of ammo (a grand 2 normal shots or 3 overwatch shots before you buy the ammo capacity foundry upgrade). Gene mods are a lot less interesting, basically a handful of stat or situation boosts that can make your regular soldiers more dangerous and durable, though Memetic Skin (cloaked whenever you move into high cover) might be the most broken thing in the world if you use it right, especially with Snipers who treat all cover as high cover. Both require Meld, a resource found in most missions that is attached to a timer, which in turn forces you to play more aggressively than the notoriously boring move > overwatch party that comprised a lot of the strategy for the higher difficulties. It's a smart change in a game full of smart changes. The EXALT stuff, while very much optional, is also a nice change of pace when you're fighting waves of guys who are similarly equipped like your soldiers, often vying for control of a specific point or points.
Unfortunately, some of the more... fundamental problems I had with XCOM still remain. Both in this and in vanilla, there comes a point where the difficulty curve plateaus and it stops being interesting, around the time you are consistently able to equip your dudes with plasma weapons. This is something that even the appearance of Muton Elites, Sectopods and Ethereals for the last 15% of the game can't fix. The endgame is dull, perhaps as a counterbalance to how easily screwed you can get early on, and it's led me to believe the game is actually balanced for Ironman mode. The final mission is unchanged and about as abysmal as you may have remembered it being, putting the cherry of poor taste on top of a boring sundae. It doesn't entirely detract from how generally great the rest of the game is, but those last few hours are such a slog. Also, I finally saw the Slingshot DLC content, and it's weird as hell that they'd include a named unique character in a game with generic, customizable soldiers and the whole thing feels extraneous and out of place as a result. Even with these reservations, I'll issue this blanket statement: If you liked Enemy Unknown, you will like this expansion. If you didn't, this won't change your mind. Even now I'm severely tempted to start an Ironman classic playthrough with a bunch of second wave options turned on. But I won't, because I still have to write about:
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
I have a confession to make: I never finished A Link to the Past. I got it for the GBA back in Christmas of 2002, but I was too young (around 10 or 11) to make much of a dent in it. I think I got as far as... the first dark world dungeon, if I recall. At some point I lost that cartridge, though I do have it on my Wii's virtual console... which is super convenient since I just put away my Wii to set up the Wii U. Maybe I'll just get that data transfer done and play it that way. Why? Because after playing this, I need to play (and finish) a Link to the Past. Even remembering the little that I do of those first few dungeons and the light world, it's uncanny how much deja vu I had at times. A Link Between Worlds banks hard on nostalgia, but because of my ignorance I'm not entirely sure to what degree it does so, but I'm going to guess it skirts the line pretty closely between “Loving homage” and “Cynical play at your childhood”. Regardless, I didn't need a knowledge of the 22-year-old classic to enjoy what this 3DS incarnation has put forth.
In fact, I was surprised how much I really enjoyed this game. I've never been the world's biggest Zelda fan, I never beat Twilight Princess, I never touched Skyward Sword and my choice of favorite is still the very safe, rather boring option of Ocarina of Time. For all its old-school trappings, A Link Between Worlds is probably the most experimental the series has been since Majora's Mask, which I also feel the desire to finish despite the part where I've vocally stated my distaste for Majora's Mask (hell, I feel the desire to play through the entire series at this point). In focusing on nonlinear dungeon progression and keeping the item progression almost entirely separate from that, they've made a much more mercenary, freewheeling Zelda game that doesn't patronize the player and makes the side stuff a lot more interesting and useful. The mere act of exploring around the world is quite fun, since there are rupees (which, bucking the grand traditions of the series, actually have a use) and baby malamai (which you use to upgrade your items) everywhere. In fact, if you do nothing but the main path, you'll actually miss out on a not insignificant amount of content. Those puzzle challenge rooms that force you to use items in clever ways? So fantastic, and you'll need the money if you want to buy any of the items instead of just renting them (and you can't upgrade a rented item).
Said dungeons are universally well-designed, there are no boring/frustrating Water Temple equivalents, though they also seem shorter on average. In fact, I never got seriously stuck, given my knowledge that: Any given dungeon can only assume you have the item required to complete it and nothing else thanks to the rental system. That means that any puzzles you run into can only require that item, merging with the wall or otherwise messing with stuff you'd have regardless of which order you tackled the dungeon. That's not to say they don't find clever ways to use those items (au contrare, it means that they have to find clever ways to use those items as opposed to whatever the hell that top thing was in Twilight Princess), but my point is that I wouldn't have minded something a little more taxing, something a little crazier. The combat I have less issue with being easy (especially if you were like me and used the upgraded fire rod to incinerate whatever came in my way) because of the presence of Hero mode, as seems to be standard with the series now, though they should really just make it avaliable from the start instead of a New Game + sort of thing. Maybe Master Quest has spoiled me with its crazy, gloves-off style of design, but I think the proof in favor of ALBW is that I had to force myself to not finish it before we went off for Thanksgiving stuff, whereas I still haven't finished that Master Quest disk despite owning it for 2 years. These are still some prime examples of how to make a good Zelda dungeons and I won't have anyone saying anything different. Better than Oracle of Seasons, which is my most recent benchmark for the series. Oh right, I totally finished Oracle of Seasons. It's pretty good (it's not this, that's for sure) and somewhere between Saints Row IV (which I got for $15 off Amazon) and whatever the heck I have on this Wii U box I'll probably get around to playing my linked Oracle of Ages game as well. It still blows my mind that those games weren't actually made by Nintendo, or that they crammed that much game into a Gameboy Color cartridge. Oh, right, what were we talking about again? 3DS Games? Why would we talk about something relevant when I can wax about 10+ year old CRPGs instead?
According to my usage statistics, which I had never actually looked at before, (apparently I've played more Pokemon X in the past month than I have Fire Emblem since February, which scares me and oh hey I'd still be up for battling or whatevz.) It took me somewhere in the realm of 15 hours to beat A Link Between Worlds. I didn't get all of the heart containers or weapon upgrades, but I'd say I did my fair share of exploring and screwing around before deciding that any more completionism was unnecessary and made a beeline for the critical path. Your mileage may vary. Just remember that this game is still longer than Jade Empire. All in all, I think A Link Between Worlds will most certainly find a place on my Game of the Year list, which I thought was set in stone but between this, Super Mario 3D World and Saints Row, I cannot make that list for a while. Don't worry, the “Best Games of 2013 that didn't come out in 2013” and “Worst Games I played in 2013 that may or may not have come out in 2013” awards blogs are also mentally in the works. Looks like I'll have my work cut out for me this December. Good. I'll want to do something a bit crazy before I take that break from video games that I've been threatening to do. Have a (relevant) speedrun.
OH RIGHT. As an addendum, the Deadliest Warrior expansion to Chivalry is cray-crazy from the 3 straight hours that I played of it thanks to the added absurdity of Pirates fighting Ninjas fighting Samurai fighting Knights fighting Spartans fighting Vikings (because 6 team deathmatch is a thing). I'm still bad at Chivalry. Chivalry is still really dumb and great. We should play Chivalry together.