Game Impressions Daily: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare (2)

Welcome to Game Impressions (It's kind of a lul) Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

So I unlocked all of the weapons in the knight class and obtained the veteran helment, for what its worth (not much, since you can't even see it). I can't say exactly why I keep playing Chivalry: the unlock system isn't particularly deep (kills for unlocks) and there is no tangible benefit to leveling up, not that any of that matters much next to the limited number of levels and the mostly uninteresting non-objective based modes. So why do I continue to play? My friends are probably part of it, but it can't be the whole story: I favor single player games and there have been plenty of times that I've moved on from the latest multiplayer offering long before my friends are done with it. Maybe it's the simplicity of the objectives: everyone is working towards the same goal so even with minimal teamwork, there is never any question as to what you are supposed to be doing. Perhaps its the unique gameplay that makes the playing field feel much more even than nearly any shooter could ever hope to do, or maybe bashing someone's skull in with an iron stick is just more satisfying than a head shot. Either way, I'm still playing the game, and consistently having a good time with it.
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Game Impressions Daily: Far Cry 3 (2)

Welcome to Game Impressions (Sorta) Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

Now that I've finally gotten around to doing story missions, I find that I'm treating them exactly the same way as side quests: as a way to unlock things. I reached the point where I had no more abilities to unlock and I really wanted to play with fire arrows. The solution to both: the story. I can honestly say that I have nearly no interest in what Ubisoft wants to say with Far Cry 3 beyond "Vaas is an awesome villain," but the missions themselves seem compitent enough, although they are unfortunately much more linear than the sidequests. Now that I have unlocked the next tier of skills and the beautifully chaotic fire arrows, I suspect that it may be some time before I attempt to tackle the next story beat.
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Game Impressions Daily: Spec Ops: The Line (2)

Welcome to Game Impressions (not really) Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

Expectedly, The Line was not a particularly long game so I managed to finish it up in two 3-4 hour stints. Much of what I had observed in the first half remained roughly true through the rest of the game: although saddled with mediocre mechanics the game design actively supports the twisted narrative excellently, as do the audio and visuals. One touch I quite liked was that the call-outs that your character makes for each kill change over the course of the game, going from calm and composed to viscous and aggressive as he becomes more and more unhinged. The story progresses in much the same way, making a violent downward spiral towards a rather shocking, but pointed conclusion. Without revealing too much, the questionable sanity of the protaganist is put front and center and the themes of personal accountibility and shifting responsibility, most notably seen before now in the imfamous "white phosphorus" scene, but exploerd throughout the game, are given their ultimate dues. The writing is very strong and while its certainly not pleasant, Spec Ops challenges and requires thoughfulness in a way that very few games have even attempted, and for that it absolutely deserves to be played, flaws and all.
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Game Impressions Daily: Spec Ops: The Line

Welcome to Game Impressions Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

Alright, so to start off: I know what I'm getting into with Spec Ops: The Line. I suspect that pretty much everyone playing the game nowadays kind of does. Does that mean that my experience will be diminished over those who got to play the game "pure," not knowing the depths that laid in store for them? I can't answer that question, but I can at least come at the game from the perspective of someone just waiting for shit to get crazy. Honestly, I didn't have to wait as long as I thought I would. Aside from the very "dudebro" on-rails helicopter sequence at the beginning, the game never feels like it's attempting COD-style spectacle, even to lull you into a false sense of security. Playing even an hour of The Line is enough to convince anyone that they're involved in something different. There's a sort of grim brutality to the gameplay: limited ammunition force you to close in to switch weapons or result to melee, enemies don't always die right away enabling you to finish them off, if you wish, in brutal fashion, and even a that even just a couple of hours in, the pile of corpses, both the ones that you see and the ones that you create, has grown to uncomfortable levels. Of course, the real reason that anyone is still talking about Spec Ops is the story. Pretty much right away, the tone and setting of the game help to set it apart from other brown shooters that have been released over the past several years. Sure, it takes place in a desert, but it takes place in Dubai, one of the most prosperous cities in the middle-east, now layed low by natural and, you quickly find out, man made disaster. The city, now cut off from the rest of the world, lends to the feeling of isolation, as if the two men that you learn to rely on in combat (through simple squad commands), are the only people in the world that you can trust. This is further emphasized during the short time I spend separated from them during one level. I suddenly felt trapped and easily surrounded by the enemy, almost overwhelmed, and a little bit frustrated: I think that was the point. The game design supports the story so well that its a shame that the mechanics don't fare better. The shooting and cover mechanics are competent and functional, very much in the style of Gears of War, and utterly bland. Weapons generally lack weight and impact and the vast majority of battles take place behind one or two pieces of cover each. You only really need to move when you run out of ammo, and when you do have to go for melee, the act feels so ineffective that I started to wonder if I could even kill an opponent with it.
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Game Impressions Daily: Torchlight II

Welcome to Game Impressions Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

A new year, a new game. Every year I try to start things off right by playing something that I haven't gotten the chance to play yet. This year, I have a lot of things to choose from, but because a bunch of my friends were over and we all had the game, we decided that Torchlight II would be that game. To the surprise of no one, Torchlight II shares an awful lot in common with it's predecessor, but more so. It's very much an incremental sequel: bigger world, more customization, better visuals, and and a host of other small improvements that make the game significantly, if unspectacularly, better than its predecessor. That is, with the exception of multiplayer which, while being the most obvious of features to add, is also the most important and far-reaching of the game's many improvements. Unfortunately, Torchlight II doesn't sport the amazingly seamless multiplayer integration that Diablo III had, on the other hand, it seems to do everything else right, up to and including not requiring an internet connection to play with people in the same house. The normal trappings of good click and loot multiplayer are all present: individual loot drops for each player (something Borderlands 2 neglected to have), scaling difficulty, randomized dungeons and over-worlds (complete with a handy "reroll world" option on the server screen if you want to replay old areas) and, of course, dancing. Because what's the point if you can't make your character look like an idiot. In all honesty, I don't think Torchlight II is anything I haven't seen before. And if I wasn't playing with my friends, I doubt that I would make it past the first few hours before thinking to myself "I've already played two of these in the past years (Diablo III, Borderlands 2), why bother with a third." But here I am, playing that third loot-based RPG of the past year, and liking it, because it gives me a chance to do something with my friends for the next few weeks/ months.
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Game Impressions Daily: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Something interesting happened on New Year's Eve. I had a few friends over, as I'm want to do on this special night once a year and while we waited for the ball to drop, we decided to amuse ourselves with some multiplayer gaming, another tradition. A few of us who had played Chivalry before started the game up and before long, we were joined by a fourth: someone who was interested in the game but wanted to see it in action first before taking the plunge. Then a funny thing happened: he started having fun right away. Don't get me wrong, Chivalry is a fun game, but its difficult and complicated enough that I had assumed that fun was something that only came about after some hours of practice (that was certainly the case with me), but here was one of my friends, having a blast right out of the tutorial. OK, I though, maybe he's an outlier, but a little while after that, he switched with someone else: another friend who hadn't played the game before. This time he didn't even have the benefit of the tutorial under his belt, so a little frustration would surely be in order along the learning curve. However, that was still not the case. He was lopping off heads and having as much fun as the rest of us as soon as he started playing. I'm not going to tell you that Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is the easiest game to get in to, both of the people I just talked about are avid shooter fans, but I think it may be a lot more accessible than I originally thought.

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Game Impressions Daily: Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

Chivalry feels like a game that in another time, another era, would have been a free mod, doted on by a small, fierce community and generally regarded by the general public as impenetrable. The thing is: in the modern world where such a niche game can be released commercially, almost everything that made those modifications so fascinating, exciting, and, yes, intimidating, is still very much present. Make no mistake, Chivalry is a difficult game to pick up: it actively punishes brashness and stupidity and you are likely to be both when you start playing (I am). You will probably spend large amounts of time not getting any kills and generally feeling pretty useless, even if the score says otherwise (it certainly doesn't help that the game completely obfuscates its scoring system. What makes Chivalry unique is just how quickly that frustration melts away the moment that warhammer explodes some dude's head. That's where I'm at after about 4 hours of play: mostly useless, often frustrated, and enthralled with chasing that moment of pure elation.
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Game Impressions Daily: Far Cry 3

Welcome to Game Impressions Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

What I see when I look at Far Cry 3 is a game that, above all else, wants to be fun. Of course, most games want to be fun, but the unflinching commitment that it shows to this core concept is absolutely fascinating to me. The simulation aspects of Far Cry 2 are not only gone, but completely forgotten: Far Cry 3 learns from its predecessor by discarding almost all of what made it unique, and in many cases, frustrating. You don't have disease to deal with, guns don't degenerate or jam, you can quick-travel at any time, there's a shop in every safe house, and the map is full-screen instead of something your character holds. Even beyond this, the new systems are made as simple and painless as possible: level-ups and crafting can be done anywhere, mods you add to your weapons will appear on the gun if you find it on the ground, you can mark enemies with your weapon and track them through walls, and nearby objects are automatically added to your map. Far Cry 3 seems like a much less interesting game than it's predecessor, but its fairly obvious that its a much better one as well. I only got to play for a few hours, but I've already fallen off the beaten path in a way that I only normally do with Bethesda games, and having a lot of fun just reacting to the crazy stuff that constantly happens around me.
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Game Impressions Daily: The Last Story

Welcome to Game Impressions Daily, a look at games and how our opinions of them change over time, even while in the midst of playing them.

The Wii is not something that I have spent a lot of time on in recent years: between the general lack of quality software (barring, of course, Nintendo and a few standout 3rd party titles) and the continuous mild frustration of the Wii remote, I have grown to the point where I generally don't want to play games on the system anymore. This year, though, there were two RPGs that caught my attention, although I'm just now getting around to them: Xenoblade Chronicles is one, the other is The Last Story. Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's latest feels familiar in some ways: The storytelling relies heavily on tropes (the mysterious girl knows nothing of the outside world, could she be a noble!?) and the visuals have the distinct look of a PS2-era JRPG, but beyond that, The Last Story reveals its unique nature.

While the story may be bathed in familiar territory, many of the characters are decidedly less routine: There's Mirania: the often-serious flower child whose speeches on nature and mankind's impact on the world is overshadowed by her utter obsession with her hobbies: food and books, or Lowell, the consummate ladies man and light-hearted scoundrel who's always good for a laugh, or Syrenne, who's love of drinking and fighting perfectly encapsulate the carefree nature of a good rogue: she's so much fun to be around that I'm a little disappointed when she doesn't show up in my party for the latest mission. Even some of the less notable characters have their moments: Yurick starts out pretty emo, but he gets some serious character development a several hours in and I'm enjoying seeing his character grow. Even Dagran, who starts off fulfilling the leader/ mentor trope, comes off later on as somewhat obsessive and maybe even a little sinister. Mind, these are all impressions from the first 8 or so hours of the game, so things are bound to develop as the game progresses further. The voice acting is the other aspect that really brings out the character in the game: most of the lines are well-delivered and it's refreshing not hearing the same voice actors that permeate almost all North American game productions. Kelly Wenham ends up stealing the show as the rough-and-tumble Syrenne, really bringing out the fun in her role that ends up being a lot of what makes that character so enjoyable.

Setting all of that aside, the true defining feature of The Last Story is its innovating and constantly surprising combat system. The basics aren't far off of what you would normally see in an action RPG: you have buttons for attack (turn off auto-attack in the menu as soon as the game starts) and dodge, simple npc commands, a basic cover mechanic, a way to lock on to enemies, and a special ability that draws enemy attention away from your compatriots. The controls themselves are slightly on the clunky side and take a little getting used to, but the real magic comes from the encounters themselves and the ways they enable you to utilize and exploit those built-in systems. It's incredibly satisfying to utilize these basic abilities to ambush your opponent, surround and attack them from all sides for extra damage, dissipate enemy and ally magic circles for different effects, or draw a huge group of swords away from your casters. The best battles, however, are the boss fights which are set up as combat puzzles that must be solved and executed on the fly. Utilizing all the techniques learned through regular combat as well as some lateral thinking is required to topple the game's biggest enemies. Even if the rest of the game was banal, the combat system alone would be enough to keep me interested in this game. Luckily, the interesting characters, lighthearted nature, equipment upgrades, dynamic economy, and sometimes beautiful graphics are also present to keep me from dropping this one anytime soon.
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Can the Best Game of the Year Barely be a Game?

The end of The Walking Dead has come, and its done about as much justice to the series as it possibly could have. The game finishes on the same straight path that it began on, with the illusion of player choice particularly strong throughout. You don't actually make a lot of decisions that affect the game, but you end up feeling like they do. That's why I don't think that Walking Dead would be nearly as much fun on a second playthrough, but for that first romp through the game, the effect is pretty staggering. The fact that choice is so limited sort of plays into one of the most interesting conundrums of the year: how does one rate the Walking Dead? In many ways, its without question the best game released all year. For my money, the writing, voice acting, and story stand head and shoulders above anything else released this year, and visuals, while technically simplistic, do a good job conveying the emotion needed to cary the story, even if the animation looks a bit stilted at times. However, and this could be important, in some ways The Walking Dead is barely a game at all. Beyond the dialog trees, all you have are a few simplistic puzzles and quick-time events. It may sound like a cop-out but enjoyment comes down to expectations: do you want a game or an experience, because as an experience, The Walking Dead places you at the center of a great story that you are free to become a part of, and in that respect, it works as well, if not better than any game ever has.
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