By MajorMitch 7 Comments
Seeing as I have the month of May off, I’m going to shake things up and write not one, but two roundups this month. It’s a designated gaming month for me after all, which means I’ve been spending quite a bit of time catching up; if I saved it all for a single blog, it would be a lengthy one. Thus, here is my mid-month roundup for May, which covers the games I played during the first half of the month. Let’s get to it!
I've been working my way through Bloodborne these past few weeks, and currently find myself right at the end of the game. While I'm technically not quite done with it yet, I'm more than close enough to elaborate on it. The main thing that needs to be said up front is that I really like Bloodborne, and it's another fantastic game from the folks behind the Souls games. It should also be said that, yes, Bloodborne is very much like the Souls games in the ways that matter most. There are certainly differences, but they are incredibly subtle, and the high points of what made the Souls games great also make Bloodborne great. A meticulously designed world to explore, plenty of secrets and mysteries to discover, hard hitting combat, fairly robust RPG systems, and a stiff but rewarding challenge are once again the order of the day, and combine to make another wonderful action RPG.
I don't think I need to dive into all those details any further, seeing as this is the fourth game in this line; you know what this game is by now. As such, I'll focus more on the minor differences, but just keep in mind that they are indeed minor in the grand scheme of things. To me, the two most meaningful such changes are the combat and the character building aspects of Bloodborne. The combat has been altered to incentivise more fast-paced action, becoming more about dodging and countering than circle strafing and blocking. The lack of shields or heavy armor are the most obvious incentives for being more active in combat, but the way you recover lost health by quickly hitting enemies also encourages more aggressive play. That said, it's not like you can't still hang back if you want to, poking your head in for the occasional opportunistic attack before retreating once more. You can still be fairly passive in combat, the game simply doesn't give you as many tools to do so, and enemies are generally more aggressive as well. This all works in Bloodborne, however, because the controls are noticeably tighter than they were in previous games; the action here feels precise, and responsive. Once you get a feel for the timings, combat is an exhilarating flurry that's more satisfying than it’s been in the previous games, or at least the pure tactile feel of it is.
Along with the combat, the character building aspect feels different in Bloodborne. I would guess the impetus of the change is to support the stronger focus on pure action, but the result is really that there just aren't as many character building options to be found. We're down to six stats, two of which seem relatively useless from my experience (bloodtinge and arcane), there's not a big difference between armor sets, and there's no real magic or archery to be found. At least, not to the point where you could build a character around them. The classic heavily armored tank is also MIA, which means pretty much everyone is going to have a slightly different variant of a lighter, faster, melee focused character. The only real divergences are whether you focus more on strength or skill (dex), and which weapons you upgrade and primarily use. Fortunately the game does have a decent stable of different feeling weapons, and everyone should be able to experiment with them and find something that suits their style. But once you’ve found that weapon you like, well, that seems to be about it. And if you’re like me, and stick with your starting weapon the entire game (the hunter’s axe), there’s not really much character development going on. That may or may not be a bad thing, depending on how you look at it, but I do miss the more nuanced character building from the previous games. I considered that one of their stronger aspects, and Bloodborne loses that in its more focused, streamlined approach.
Almost all of Bloodborne’s changes seem to be aimed towards doing just that: making it more focused and streamlined. While I can bemoan the simpler character building, it surprisingly hasn’t lost much else in the process. In fact, I think the world and boss designs in particular are more or less on par with the best in the series. The only two things that seems less streamlined, and are among my biggest nit-picky gripes with the game, are the way it handles your healing items and leveling up. Having a set number of estus flasks that refilled at every bonfire worked perfectly in Dark Souls, but Bloodborne’s blood vials no longer refill automatically. On top of that, they don’t drop from enemies often later in the game, which means I’ve found myself tediously grinding for them regularly. I have absolutely no idea why they changed that aspect, which worked so well already. As for leveling up, the first Dark Souls is the only game in this line that let you level up directly at a bonfire. Bloodborne once again makes you warp back to the central hub area to level up, which needlessly forces you through two extra loading screens every time you do so. Those gripes aside, however, I’ve been having a blast with Bloodborne. It’s another intensely rewarding action RPG from From Software, and while it’s not my favorite one they’ve made, I still like it a lot better than most games out there right now. As far as I can tell I’m in the final area of the game, so unless I dive too deep into chalice dungeons, I should be wrapping it up shortly.
I don’t have much experience with classic “point-and-click” adventure games. I remember having a few of the Goosebumps games as a kid, and I’ve played some of the modern Telltale stuff, but when it comes to the Monkey Islands and Grim Fandangos of the world, I have essentially no experience. Those two games in particular are backlog items I’m keen to go back and visit, but in the meantime I decided it would be worth checking out a more modern entry from Tim Schafer himself. Regardless of the game’s history with Kickstarter, I was curious to see what a veteran of the genre would do with it in 2014-2015. And while I don’t have much direct experience myself for comparison, I would imagine Broken Age is a fairly faithful homage to the classic style. I played through the entire thing (that’s both acts without a break in between) within a few week span, and I really enjoyed its writing and characters, but found most of the “puzzles” to be fairly tedious and unsatisfying.
Fortunately, it is the writing and characters that primarily take center stage. Vella and Shay are two very different, but equally charming protagonists, and their stories intertwine in some interesting ways. I especially liked learning about the strange world they live in, and discovering what was really going on behind the scenes, with the most interesting moments occurring when their paths crossed. This happened most directly at the end of each act, but occurred in other, more subtle ways throughout. I also liked a lot of the characters you interact with along the way, and my conversations with them frequently made me laugh; there’s some really great writing in here. I also dug the look and tone of the game quite a bit. It all combined to make for a great narrative that I wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing, but alas, the act of playing it wasn’t quite up to par. At their best, interactions were fairly harmless, and involved walking around and talking to people or picking up/using items in fairly obvious ways. Not terribly exciting, but completely inoffensive. As the game went on, however, and the puzzles got more involved and more obtuse, they began to feel like a nuisance that merely obstructed the game’s better qualities. Often these required you to use or combine items in completely unintuitive ways, such that you’d have to tediously click on basically everything to figure it out (I may have resorted to a guide at times). Worse were the puzzles that, even when you knew the solution, were a pain to execute. Two in particular stand out: one involving a knot, the other involving guiding an NPC character around a damaged ship. Both of these caused minor headaches, and I’m glad I never have to see them again.
But that’s how adventure games go, right? As someone who’s not that well versed in the genre, that’s been my impression of the typical adventure game over the years. In which case, Broken Age is indeed an adventure game through and through. I’m certainly glad I played it, and my experience with Broken Age leaves me just as interested to check out a few other “classics” somewhere down the road. It may never be my favorite genre, but I’m willing to trudge through some tedium in favor of writing and characters as good as this. Broken Age also didn’t overstay its welcome, and I would imagine anyone with even a mild interest in such games would have a good time.
Pokemon Alpha Sapphire
I found myself deep down the Pokemon rabbit hole again these past two weeks, and while I don’t have the numbers to prove it, I’m pretty sure I spent more time on Pokemon Alpha Sapphire than anything else during that time. I’ve been training competitive Pokemon on and off since the Diamond/Pearl days, and I’ve had it in the back of my mind for some time now to update all of my scatter-shot and/or dated teams for the current “metagame”, so to speak. Therefore, I gave a serious re-examination to each and every Pokemon I’ve ever trained, and performed tweaks to almost all of them; in some cases this meant re-training them from scratch. I also reworked my team compositions, and trained a few brand new Pokemon to fill some holes. All in all, it was an incredibly involved and time-consuming process that could only reasonably be done during a break (the planning alone was an ordeal), but it was also somewhat cathartic. Now I have a large stable of modern, fighting fit Pokemon (even if they’re not all top tier), and I really look forward to seeing them in action. I’ve played a small handful of matches with them, and while it always takes a while to fully digest the results (nothing happens fast in Pokemon), the early signs seem positive. I’m particularly liking a new team spread that utilizes a hazing Skarmory with a set-up Volcarona, and I’m also excited to finally have a speed boosted Sharpedo in my ranks (on a different team). Because, you know, Sharpedo. Anyway, I hope to play more matches in the near future, and see how my new teams do. I’m sure I’ll find some more things to tweak here and there, but it feels good to have some fun and updated Pokemon.
The Other Stuff
- I picked up Evolve recently, and have played a handful of matches with some friends. There are some interesting mechanics at work here, and the balance between the monster and the hunters is pretty neat. The hunters really have to work together to survive, and the monster really has to exploit any weakness present on the hunter team. I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet and learning the ropes, and I also don’t feel like I’ve gotten the genuine Evolve experience yet; I’ve not played against someone who really know what they’re doing as the monster (it’s always been one of us, who generally play hunters). I’m looking forward to trying more though, and will have more to say once I do.
- I finally got around to playing another game of Civilization: Beyond Earth last week. I played one game right when it came out, but it’s been left untouched since, and I’ve had it in the back of my mind to revisit it. I finally got around to doing that, and tried out some different aspects of the game. I bumped up the difficulty, pursed different virtues and affinities, and focused more on combat than science, but my takeaways are much the same. Beyond Earth is a very fun Civ game, but it’s also so similar to Civ V that it feels like a mod as much as anything. Some of its tweaks are interesting (I like the way it handles unit upgrades in particular), but in the end I’d probably still get more out of playing the more fully featured Civ V instead. I have no idea if I’ll play much (if any) more Beyond Earth in the future.
- I picked up BoyBox! last week, and have played through the first few worlds. It’s been a really neat little puzzle game so far, with some really clever ideas. So far it does what all great puzzle games do, which is to introduce simple ideas, then end up getting a lot of mileage out of them. It’s been constantly introducing new things you can do with said abilities, and if the pacing keeps up like this, it could turn into something pretty special. I also really like the look and style of the game, and it’s been an awesome thing to just pick up and play here and there. I’m looking forward to more of it.
Looking Ahead to the Rest of May
As May continues, so does the gaming. Polishing off Bloodborne is right at the top of my to-do list in the near future, along with playing more Evolve, BoxBoy!, and of course Pokemon. I would also really like to get through The Evil Within while I’m on break, which should be doable. Otherwise I’ll be cherry picking some more items off the backlog here and there. And maybe I’ll consider plunging into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? Probably not yet, but you never know.