Things Games I Played These Past Two Years Did That I Liked: Matured 2018 & 2019 Gold Ed. (Taking Pre-Orders Now!)

Tala Moana, fellow community member! Yikes, 2018 was a really long year for me. Without getting too personal, and in no particular order, I visited my oldest friend on the literal other side of the world, bounced around Europe several times, quit my job, and moved countries. As one might expect, I didn’t have much time for playing games – but here’s what I have been playing anyway. I also started writing this in… September 2018? Now it’s November 2019 and good grief where did the time go? Oh right, it was spent on Path of Exile. Before we get to that, special congratulations to..!

Overwatch For Finally Shitting The Bed

In November 2018, a video was put up by a noted streamer and former Overwatch League player Seagull

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0lGo-HVVbE

In brief, his argument is that OW is no longer fun and that it’s become a chore to play. I found myself agreeing with him, but the stick that finally broke my back was when they added Ashe to the roster.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G8LbOecWGug

Ashe, in theory, should have been a welcome addition. She was not, both in terms of gameplay and narrative. Also, it was doubly pathetic that her appearance just happened to coincide with Red Dead Redemption 2’s release. I uninstalled the game in the New Year of 2019 prior to Baptiste and haven’t regretted it since.

I have little to no sympathy for what has happened and will happen to Blizzard and its franchises. Going into the various reasons why would take too much time, but the short version is Blizzard has hemorrhaged talent in recent years on top of its questionable-at-best business decisions (and not just regarding China). They did it to themselves – it ain’t the playerbase’s fault.

Yakuza 0 For Being Amazing And Definitely GOTY 2018

This game got me through the latter months of 2018. At the time I had just sold off my desktop computer, bought a relatively nice Dell XPS laptop, and needed something to try it out on. A friend had bought me Yakuza 0 so I gave it a whirl.

You ever miss the days of weird quirky JRPGs and wonder where those types of games disappeared to? Turns out they didn’t. It’s the Yakuza series, which isn’t so much a game, it’s about two dozen different games within one overarching “game”. My personal favorite? The telephone club’s quick time event.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIfgvLI0dlI

I put in 72 hours, sorta finished the Real Estate stuff, but I don’t think that accounts for even half of the game’s total content. Though it might drag a little in parts, I was thoroughly entertained. The main event, however, looms.

Path of Exile For – Holy Shit Just Play Path of Exile Would You?

What if I told you that there exists in the world a spiritual successor to both Final Fantasy X and Diablo II? What if I told you it didn’t have any math in the water minigames, had a better trading interface, and an altogether better story than either of the above? What if I told you this thing had major updates every three months that substantially increased its endgame longevity each time? And what if I told you that this thing is completely free to play?

Do not disregard Path of Exile just because it’s F2P. It is more than that, if you’ll allow me to explain as someone with… uhh…

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Look, I’ve played my fair share of seasons of Diablo 3, okay? I ain’t gonna boot it back up and type in /playtime to find out how much it was – it’s probably embarrassing. Still, I can firmly say that game utterly failed to be a proper sequel to its predecessor (and I destroyed my physical copy of Diablo 2 in university to stop myself from ruining my education). Is Diablo 3 enjoyable to play? Sure, but it quickly gets to a point where it’s brainless. Most seasons resulted in high-tier play revolving around three or four particular builds that have a high enough DPS and survivability to be able to run endgame content worth a damn. The seasonal cosmetic rewards were fine but it was never enough to keep coming back. At best, D3 is just a podcast/play while skyping a friend game – without that it is utterly interminable. Believe me, I tried to do it without anything else to distract me and I hated it. Grind up to level 70, and just piano key numbers 1 to 4 on your keyboard while listening to literally anything other than the game until you’ve had your fill – that’s Diablo 3. Yes the colors are pretty, but that simply wasn’t enough for me. Plus, I couldn’t even really tell you what happened in Diablo 3’s plot beyond “Diablo’s back, baby!” and everything after Act 2 feeling like a rushed disappointment.

So what does any of this have to do with Path of Exile?

If you build it, they will come. Grinding Gear Games built PoE, and I… fell in love? It was a confusing relationship at first. Here’s how I think most relationships with PoE develop:

  • First 10-20 hours: Wow this campaign is stupid hard after Act 5. Why do I keep dying so quickly? Why is global chat calling me terrible (Editor’s note: Global says FAR worse things than this – feel free to mute it). I linked a support gem on my witch’s arc spell, I should be doing great. What sort of crazy person plays this game on hardcore?
  • 20-100 hours: Alright let’s go with Oro’s flicker strike build. Oh god I think I might throw up. This labyrinth thing is no joke. I really don’t like these spikes and blades. Wait, why did I just die?
  • 100-200 hours: Alright my resists are capped. I’ve saved up and traded for my first corrupted six-link. This guide I’m following this league is solid. I can’t really afford gear that’s more than a few chaos orbs but I can make it to tier 10 maps easy and the endgame bosses are now in my sights. Wait, why did I just die?
  • 200-500 hours: Alright here’s my custom loot filter so I can actually see drops worth a damn, and here’s Path of Building on my desktop. Wait, why did I just die?
  • 500+ hours: ALRIGHT LET’S GET OUR SEXTANT ROTAS ON. WHO’S UP FOR SOME DELVE? LF TRIAL OF LINGERING PAIN. WAIT WTF JUST KILLED ME.

Now hold on a second, you read earlier that I compared this to Final Fantasy X – what’s all that about? An often remarked-upon point of derision for PoE is its somewhat impenetrable system of progression. In short, two main things can be leveled – your character and your skill gems. Unlike in other ARPGs, where you’d usually spend points on strength, intelligence, dexterity, etc. after leveling up, PoE works differently. When you ding, your character gets rewarded with a single point to spend on your passive skill tree which looks like this.

This is an example of a max level 100 passive skill layout
This is an example of a max level 100 passive skill layout

Feel free to interact with the actual thing in a web browser and mouse over a few things to get an idea what the passive tree does.

Each one of those nodes is a thing you can spend a passive skill point on and depending on which of the seven classes you start from, you start at a different position in the tree (in FFX, everyone was on the sphere grid but in different spots and with enough time you could have everyone learn every spell and skill).

I should stress that unlike FFX you are not trying to fill out all the nodes – that would:

a) be impossible, because you simply don’t earn enough passive points to even get remotely close, and even if it was then,

b) would probably result in a character that would have 1 health that would also probably self-combust immediately

The purpose of the passive tree is for you to plot a route along it that most suits what sort of character you’re going for. A lot of these passives aren’t just basic things like +10 to intelligence. Rather, most of the major keystone passives (and even some of the notables) will fundamentally alter your character’s playstyle. Generally speaking, your passive investment will then dictate what gear you ultimately decide to wear on your character. Your gear (weapons, armor, boots, jewelry – but no pants, strangely) has sockets, and can have up to six of them, and what do you do with sockets…?

Why you put skill gems in them, silly! PoE’s other principal system of progression are the absurd number of skill gems available. Generally, they also fall into two main camps. The first is active skills, which you cast (e.g. Fireball), the other is support skills, which you compliment your active skills with (e.g. Added Fire Damage) but if you thought the passive tree was complicated, I’d ask you to remain seated for a moment.

Alright let’s be real stupid and do a simple three-link gem setup. Take the Flame Dash skill gem, which is a blink-like spell that leaves a trail of flame as it moves us across terrain. Let’s add the Spell Totem Support gem to it. What does that do? Well, instead of us directly casting the spell and moving our character, we summon a usually stationary totem from the ground that casts the spell instead. Cool, I guess? Now let’s add Multiple Totems Support to that. Congratulations, you now have at least three totems instead of one, and your three totem pets are all flame dashing around through enemy mobs like absurd bumper cars. (Editor’s note: please avoid making a spell totem build that uses movements skills, it will be very dumb but if you want to see what it looks like, fine here’s a video).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6x8nX5h17kc

Did I mention that the number of linked skill gems can go up to six? What you’re seeing here isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

If the above is clear, then hopefully you have an idea of why I think PoE is such a worthy successor to Diablo II’s system of skill syncing. Do you pine for glass cannon javazons or enchantress sorcs of old? Do you want to make something just like a whirlwind barb that takes probably a half hour to kill endgame bosses but will never die? Do you want to fill the screen with poisonous exploding skeletons and let them do the work while you go and make coffee? All this and more awaits you in Path of Exile.

As for the campaign of PoE? It’s fine. It’s easy enough to just breeze past the story, but if you want to take notice you’re basically dealing with the past and current transgressions of power-mad thaumaturgists who for hundreds of years have been siphoning their power from a divinely-created beast that happens to be a mountain and then you come along and not only kill these asshats who should’ve been executed many times over but also deal with the beast itself. Whoops! Turns out that beast was actually keeping the Old Gods asleep – now go and clear up that mess.

The dark fantasy world of Wraeclast is interesting, although I’d argue the plot veers into “so everyone’s just really shitty, huh” too frequently, but there are moments and characters (their voice acting especially) that bring levity every now and again. Plus, given the origins of the studio (GGG are based out of New Zealand), there are hints of local myth and Maori legend that creep into what might otherwise be brushed off as a typical ARPG. I’d argue the story is at least several steps more compelling than “Uh oh, the bad guy’s loose… again”. Due to the game being a live service since 2013, the bosses kinda vary in quality. Recent patches have made older, early campaign fights far more compelling, but later bosses do not fuck around and require you to think and learn patterns to avoid being horribly murdered.

This game falls into that rare category of being one of those titles where getting used to its intricacies and learning the game itself is the reward, and each time you come back, it becomes something else. To go back to Diablo 3, the endgame of it was for me a dull repeat of roughly three basic loops. One loop gets cash, another loop gets materials for a recipe, and a third loop gets you chances at good gear drops – all of which you then spend to incrementally boost your character, and then you’d repeat that three-loop cycle to make numbers go up. Big whoop.

PoE’s endgame is borderline absurd with how much there is to do and how much they feed into each other. I’m not gonna say any single one is amazing – they’re sometimes not, but there’s just so much of it and so many ways to spend your time after the story is wrapped up that it’s all extremely compelling to at least give each of them a try if you get tired of doing just one. Wanna repeatedly grind through over a hundred semi-randomly generated areas based on tilesets from the campaign? Wanna hunt monsters to then make a super monster that you have to fight to then use to buff your gear? Wanna do some sort of time travel treasure hunt thing where you manipulate the layout of a temple to guarantee certain drops and make your own challenge out of it? Wanna escort a cart along a track deeper and deeper into a mine while fending off waves of enemies? Wanna craft items to then sell to other players? Wanna do Shadow of Mordor’s nemesis system? Wanna just sit in your hideout that you’ve completely redesigned like a doll’s house (but on fire) and flip currency for hours with other players to make a profit? Wanna just exit the game entirely and sit in front of Path of Building and theory craft a build of your own based around some utterly obscure setup that might just be severely broken and potentially even ruin the game for other players? I’m not even making up the last one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWyV0kIp5n4

Much like Warframe, and unlike other games in the live service model, the monetization isn’t complete garbage. Aside from you having to actually play the game to get there, nothing in terms of content is gated from the player and all of it is accessible– even for those who never spend money at all. What PoE sells are either cosmetics (I don’t bother with these but if you really want your dual wield daggers to drip blood while your head’s burning ghostly purple flames and your spells to be transformed into magic space balls, those options are all there in spades) and mainly quality of life through stash tabs. You start with four basic ones which may feel a little limiting but if you can get over hoarding pointless quantities of garbage, you’ll realize that four tabs is very sufficient to get through to endgame. Most importantly, PoE doesn’t sell “power” though it’s arguable that the ability to trade your own items (at least listing them on public sites) is sort of behind paying for a premium stash tab (but you can still search trade sites and message players that do have a premium stash tab). If you do decide to put some money in, bear in mind that once a month there are usually sales, so wait until one crops up to buy your stash tabs.

Another small caveat to note is much like any game in this genre, the equivalent of WoW gold farmers do exist and trade can sometimes be a price-fixed nightmare. Currency is only earned in game in the form of various orbs. Why these orbs have any worth at all is because they can be spent on improving or crafting your own powerful items, which you then use to go out and kill even more powerful monsters to get better orbs and so on. While there might be slight inflation, it’s somewhat rare for currency to be hoarded by regular players.

Look, this isn’t a beginner’s guide to Path of Exile. There are plenty of resources out there to help (look up Engineering Eternity on YouTube for some excellent guides) and the Giant Bomb Duder Guild will help out too if you are struggling with gear. Rather, this is me extolling the virtues of a game I had heard about on and off over the years but never quite took the leap until 2019.

Could I have spent my time and energy on other games? Of course I could have, and in fact did play a few other titles, but none of them kept me coming back anywhere nearly as frequently as Path of Exile has, which is why it’s my GOTY 2019. Happy Holidays and don’t forget to cap your resists.

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Things Games I Played This Year Did That I Liked: 2017 EX Vs. + Alpha Ed.

It's that time of the year again where some of us write lists and most of us never read them. Wahey!

How I imagine most of you
How I imagine most of you

Unlike in previous years, this is probably the first year where I played very few of the actual 2017 releases. We starting seeing this with Hitman in 2016 (which I played throughout the year), so it seems the life span of games - both independent releases and big budget titles - are only going to increase (the downside being you end up playing fewer games). Bad actors notwithstanding, I think this might be a good thing, but I also have a nightmare vision that we will all end up divided into a handful of camps only playing that game on that platform because said game has so many updates out the ass that it takes up all the hard drive space on said platform.

With that cheerful thought in mind, let’s get to it! In no particular order…

Overwatch For Staying Fresh And Actively Trying To Address Shitty Behavior

[If you’re nosy, here are my Overbuff stats: https://www.overbuff.com/players/pc/dudeglove-1892 ]

Over the course of 2017, Overwatch added three new characters (Orisa, Doomfist and Moira) to its diverse roster that impacted the overall meta of the game and kept things from going stale. There is now a solid highlight system to save your POTGs. Blizzard caved on their promise of saying they’d never do deathmatch, and brought in two really good deathmatch modes (team and free for all). Arcade and the make-your-own-mode Game Browser all got pumped up with new features. D.Va and Mercy got reworked, changing their play styles dramatically. Yes, Lucioball and Mei’s winter and capture the flag events are still garbage, but the four-person PvE events like Uprising and Junkenstein’s Revenge gave me an entertaining shooting gallery to get good with characters I might not otherwise use.

Yet probably most important of all is the fact that Overwatch’s developers are actively taking a stance against toxic behavior by vastly improving the report system (it should be on console now too) and going as far as banning high-profile top tier OW players (if you’re curious, look up names like xQc and Fuey500 to learn more). While I haven’t borne the brunt of the worst, I can definitely say it’s out there. Competitive Seasons 4 through 6 felt bad and there was a sense that the player base was suffering.

I still have issues with their borderline predatory lootbox system, but even after 250 hours, I’m still not done with Overwatch quite yet, and I am super curious as to how well the Overwatch League will do.

DOOM For Just Being Great (Except It’s A Storage Hog And Also Made Me Motion Sick)

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Last year’s DOOM is very good. I never touched anything outside the single player campaign and kinda wish it didn’t hog about 66 GB of hard drive space. As a follow up to me giving DOOM best OST last year, I thoroughly recommend watching Mick Gordon’s talk at GDC about it from this year.

The game’s a technical masterpiece on several fronts, but my only complaint is that I had to play it in short sessions as after about 40 minutes of ultraviolence, I legit started to feel motion sick. But everyone should play DOOM. And speaking of OSTs…

Cuphead For Best OST Of A Game I Haven’t Played Yet

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I got into the habit of listening to the crap out of game OSTs in recent years without ever touching the games themselves. I’ve said it once before – I’ll say it again: video game music is bananas and every year despite other things sometimes not improving, the music only keeps getting better. A STRONG runner up for this made-up award was Nier: Automata (Platinum Games have an excellent blog post explaining the technical details of how they did the 8-bit transitions), but Cuphead’s big band charm won me over.

If I have to pick a favorite, then it’s Dramatic Fanatic for its use of tap dancing as percussion.

Darksiders For Helping Me Get Over Pneumonia

War. War never fucking smiles once.
War. War never fucking smiles once.

Darksiders came out in 2010 and somehow a copy was in my Steam library. In December of 2017 I came down with a bacterial infection in my right lung. Darksiders requires next to zero thought to play. Pneumonia completely drains you of almost all your energy. This turned out to be a perfect combination and gave me something to do during coughing fits without having to think too hard.

Mostly how I feel about Darksiders after the fact
Mostly how I feel about Darksiders after the fact

Darksiders is basically Ocarina of Time, except you get a literal portal gun instead of a mirror shield and I’m shocked Valve or Nintendo haven't sued. Be warned – this is not a recommendation as this was still the time when PC ports were kind of ass. Several times the game straight up hard locked or crashed to desktop. Also, the plot is somewhat terrible and predictable, and the protagonist is unlikeable. All that aside, it’s a good “I am sick and need to not-be-bored but don't want to concentrate” game.

Universal Paperclips For Best Clicker

Act of clicking not pictured
Act of clicking not pictured

Did you play Universal Paperclips? Why didn’t you play Universal Paperclips? Stop what you’re doing right now and open this in a browser tab: http://www.decisionproblem.com/paperclips/index2.html

I will not spoil what happens other than to say it goes places.

Nioh for being 2017’s Most Soulsborne title

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I am roughly halfway through this game but boy. Plenty of games have used the well-documented Sengoku period as inspiration for a video game setting, but it seems very few thought a supernatural horror Dark Souls-like game based on it would work.

You literally fight walls in this game
You literally fight walls in this game

I really enjoy how well this game toes the line between outright camp and the severity of the conflict. Outside of the stamina-based combat, comparing it to Dark Souls is unfair – it feels closer to Resident Evil 4 in parts. Instead of an interconnected world, the game's mission-based and repeatable, so playtime feels snappier. It has a rewarding progression/challenge system based on basically doing anything like no-kill speed runs of levels. Your character is ludicrously customizable both in loadout and appearance. Grinding doesn’t seem to be a factor like Undeadburg of Dark Souls. Bosses aren’t necessarily a chore either, as the Guardian Spirit mechanic is basically a “Fuck this, I just want to keep moving” button. If games like Dark Souls felt too slow or too much in scale, you might enjoy Nioh’s more compact structure.

THERE'S EVEN A TALKING CAT
THERE'S EVEN A TALKING CAT

Crazy Taxi: Gazzilionaire For Most On-The-Nose Writing

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Crazy Taxi: Gazzilionaire is not just another clicker – much like Universal Paperclips, it is very much a statement about the world we live in. As someone who’s followed Uber’s (and other tech companies’) various disgusting scandals and rapacious capitalist behavior for the past four years, as well as first hand experience with the utter cluelessness of tech workers, don’t tell me games aren’t capable of social commentary. Here’s just a few samples:

Last, but not least...

XCOM 2: War Of The Chosen For Being 2017’s Dress-up Simulator of the Year

At least two of these suck
At least two of these suck

There are many differences between XCOM 2 and the War of the Chosen expansion DLC. The only one you should care about is the Photobooth mode.

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Do you remember playing with toys when you were a kid? Y’know, posing things and creating a scene in your mind’s eye and letting your imagination have Batman destroy a Lego town. Remember how fun that was? Did you know that shit's still fun as a so-called adult and that Firaxis basically made that into a video game in 2017?

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War of the Chosen is FULL of this. Yes, I know the skill system got overhauled, the new character classes are damn near broken, there’s more plates to spin yadda yadda but would you just look at the posters and fun memes only you find funny that you can make?

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That’s all I’ve got for this year, which was lighter than last time. Tune back in again in 2018 when I might have acquired a Switch and you will have a 2000 word screed to read about how Breath of the Wild is just Far Cry 2 and that you should play Far Cry 2 instead.

Happy Holidays!

2 Comments

Things Games I Played This Year Did That I Liked 2016 edition

This year felt way longer than it ought to have. I played a few games. I shan't be too negative, other than point out that I wasted at least 60 hours playing Fallout 4 that I won't get back.

A metaphor for this year, Nick
A metaphor for this year, Nick

As the old saying goes "if at first you don't succeed, play New Vegas instead". The winners(?) are

Overwatch for making me feel good about myself

Check out how rad I am with Reinhardt. No seriously.

But Reinhardt isn't my main. Lucio is. Check out someone who is not me playing Lucio

Wallrunning with Lucio is a lot of fun, because you can get places with that guy. Few joys in this world come close to flanking around the opposing team’s deathball in ways you didn’t think possible, and then booping their tank off a ledge with Lucio’s dubstep gun. Now if I could just get that “Floor is Lava” achievement…

The Witness for invoking the spirit of Phoenix Wright

FUCK ALL THESE PUZZLES
FUCK ALL THESE PUZZLES

Did you ever play Phoenix Wright or any of the Ace Attorney games? Oftentimes I had trouble figuring out the logic in those games, but more than once I’d go to bed, and then wake up the next day and go “Aha!” and then that would (sometimes) be the answer. I got a lot of that with The Witness, so much so that I'd rush to turn on the computer to check whether or not I was right (I wasn't). Favorite puzzles? Probably these ones, because it made me feel smart, even though the solution is RIGHT IN YOUR FACE.

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Brigador, Furi and DOOM for drowning out my coworkers

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It’s a little unfair or petty to say synth and electronica are out of fashion; it’s more that I’m fatigued with it. That said, Makeup & Vanity Set's efforts with Brigador are something worth listening to if you’re big on Carpenter-esque vibes.

Standout tracks for me are “March” and “Fatal Flaw”.

Meanwhile, the Game Bakers got Carpenter Brut to curate the soundtrack to their game Furi, which resulted in something worth plugging in your earholes.

I listened to far too much of “Make This Right” by French music person The Toxic Avenger.

Finally, my dream of an industrial NIN revival is finally making a comeback with Mick Gordon’s OST for DOOM.

Listen to Rip & Tear, listen to BFG Division, listen to Cyberdemon, listen to Mastermind, and stare your coworkers dead in the eye every time those tracks play. Then go and have lunch.

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[In all seriousness, I want to point out something about both Furi and Doom that I don’t think gets enough mention. Both games have coherent soundtracks, and both games also split up their songs into individual phrases or segments depending on what sort of action is going on. You hear this happening with every boss fight in Furi, where each stage of the boss fight is a phrase or a new part of a particular track that builds up to a crescendo, and you hear it in Doom which dynamically changes depending on what you are ripping and tearing. I have no idea how difficult it is to program for this sort of thing, but I imagine it’s pretty fucking hard.]

Diablo 3 for being an effective time killer but not that entertaining

AKA the "podcast game" category previously occupied by things like The Binding of Isaac. D3 has made a bunch of improvements since I last played well over a year ago. Completing challenges with a seasonal hero will give you daft cosmetic rewards like wings, pets or portraits; greater rifts are far easier to access now (there used to be some sort of blasted test you had to pass to get better greater rift keystones – now you just complete any regular rift and use keystones to open a greater rift, the difficulty of which you can increase the more you do), and some new cube recipes have been thrown in to further break the game and drive theory crafters nuts (in that you can now burn unique weapons, armor and accessories and equip up to three of those unique effects to any character). Do not play this game.

Dying Light: The Following for actually being entertaining

Wanna know how great Dying Light is? I hit this zombie runner so hard right in the goddamn head that they ragdolled back into a chair and sat down damn near perfectly.

This chair could have just been a box y'know, but they made it fit to humans just perfectly
This chair could have just been a box y'know, but they made it fit to humans just perfectly

Wanna know how great The Following DLC for Dying Light is? The developers put pictures of their cats on the walls in houses.

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I got a huge chunk of enjoyment out of Techland’s creation. The parkour from the main game is a lot of fun, but the Following DLC has the decency to stick in a decent plot (whereas the main game most certainly does not) which goes in a really messed up direction. Dying Light is not high art, it doesn’t break any new ground, but the whole thing is perfectly playable, the multiplayer component is competent and not all that broken, and I spent 60 hours on it without any regrets.

Witcher 3: Blood and Wine for being goooooooooooooooorgeous

There’s a lot to say about the Blood and Wine expansion, but I’ll just let Geralt’s face do it instead.

Proper gorge
Proper gorge

Superhot for breaking the fourth wall properly

Go forth and play Superhot then report back here.

Hacknet for making me recreate part of that one scene from The Matrix

So there’s a brief bit of a scene early on in The Matrix, where Keanu Reeves character is listening to Dissolved Girl by Massive Attack when he’s contacted by Trinity...

That short moment where Neo is half asleep, staring bleary eyed, listening to that song, scanning for some shred of info is what happened to me while playing Hacknet at about 2 AM during a Moscow summer. It nails the “Hollywood hacker” feel, and doesn’t require you to learn anything hard (at most it’s just typing about 10 different short commands). Complete the game and you are rewarded with… well, you just have to find out for yourself.

I am pumped that the Dimensions DLC (which was meant to drop in December) is coming in Spring.

Hitman for being the actual game of the year

THEY MOCAPPED PEOPLE DOING YOGA. THIS IS GREAT.
THEY MOCAPPED PEOPLE DOING YOGA. THIS IS GREAT.

I was a late comer to Blood Money (probably one of the best games of all time), fell in with that game real hard, and then got majorly bummed with what the then-team at IO Interactive were doing with follow up Absolution. When I heard about Hitman 2016, the news of which dropped around PAX in 2015 when next to NO ONE was paying ANY ATTENTION.

I was so surprised at what I saw, and how little traction that the game was getting, that I wrote in a forum post back then

Gone is the complete and utter toss about some gritty back story to Agent 47 or the ludicrous indulgence in grindhouse aesthetic that plagued the last one (among many other things) and instead have seemingly brought it back to Blood Money's style of "here's a sandbox murder puzzle, figure it out!" They give like five seconds of time to the instinct mechanic before immediately screaming "IT'S TOTALLY OPTIONAL".

In hindsight, given all that happened to IO after Absolution like the mea culpa letter from the developers, it's not a surprise to me that they wanted to manage expectations and keep it all low-key. Yet I’m glad to know that, about 16 months later, I wasn’t wrong in my initial hunch.

I mean, holy crap, they did it. They managed to not only make a worthy sequel to Blood Money, in that they kept the sense of humor and improved the gameplay loop, but they also managed to make it have a lasting, year-long appeal, which came in regular big drops in the forms of maps, and small drips in the form of elusive targets. Those who decided to “hold back” and “wait for the full release” missed the point. Hitman was the slow burn phenomenon of 2016 that never quite disappeared from the headlines, your youtube subs, or your twitter feed for longer than a week. It was both fun to play, and the ultimate water cooler (or forum) discussion game where you would compare strategies with other people - almost all of whom approach the game in their own sociopathic manner.

I do have knocks against it, which have been repeated elsewhere by the likes of Superbunnyhop…

...But one that isn’t mentioned enough is where’s my damn sniper rifle suitcase?

IO, please don't nickel and dime for this
IO, please don't nickel and dime for this

Last but not least, the Thing of This Year you’ve been waiting for…

Dark Souls 3 for perpetuating the nightmare that is Namco Bandai’s username censorship system

Here just a few examples I encountered

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And here’s Seigmeyer and Havel enjoying some jolly cooperation.

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Happy New Year!

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Things Games Of This Year Did That I Have Liked

Rather than a list of games in which I arbitrarily rank ten games in order of preference (why ten anyway? because we evolved ten fingers and thumbs?), here instead is a list of games in no particular order that came out this year and the things I liked about them. Be warned, spoilers ahead.

If you want my actual game of the year, it's Warframe, which I literally started in the first week of January and have put in about 650 hours, but it's less a game and more Space Ninja Farmville.

Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes sowing discord among my coworkers

The amazingly-produced quicklook thanks in large part to Drew and Jason setting up the cameras and capturing both ends of the gameplay completely sold this game on me (also, for the third time I want to applaud @drewbert and @unastrike for the work they did for it, it's almost certainly QL of the year). If you haven't watched the QL in question, go and watch it right now.

Good? Now go and give the folks over at Steel Crate Games 15 dollars for making a game that I regularly annoy my coworkers with. I look forward to playing this at home and irritating my family with it.

Life Is Strange giving my friend and I something interesting to talk about

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A large part of my year was spent debating the plot of Life Is Strange with a friend via email. We played the episodes as they came out, and exchanged predictions and posited quasi-philosophical theories about the direction of the plot. While LiS toys with metaphysics and time travel, I don't think it completely drowned itself or the player in it. Instead the game focuses on telling a story, and those with a sharp enough eye and ear probably have the antagonist figured out within the first ten minutes of the first episode.

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Seriously, the cues are all there in the dialog and character design, and while that's nothing special compared to other media, it's a something of an admirable leap forward for a video game to have a plot that doesn't do some variant of "a wizard did it" or rely on some magical macguffin or deus ex machina to close things out. Pretty much everything you see in episode 1 is with you until episode 5. I didn't see the twist coming, and by the end of episode 4 it came as a genuine shock who the primary antagonist turned out to be. The finale went just the right amount of weird and made enough callbacks to earlier episodes to not be nauseating or cheap either. Yes my plant died.

Bloodborne for realizing Lovecraft's nightmares

Ia! Ia! Chtulhu fhtagn! Except without all the uncomfortable racism and anti-Semitism of H.P. Lovecraft! I didn't play this game as I don't have a PS4, but the Souls community delivered in spades, with EpicNameBro providing a fairly solid playthrough:

…And the other Twitch and YouTube regulars showing off the joy of stupid invasions and frantic duels:

I'm a fan of the Cthulhu mythos, and I think you should absolutely go and read The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which Bloodborne is something of a huge nod to. However, Lovecraft's mythos has rarely gotten a fair shake in the video game world. Yes there have been nods in many other games like Half Life and Quake, but BB seems to be one of the rare few to give Lovecraft's work the due it deserves on all fronts, and holy shit those monster designs are gnarly. I'm genuinely curious – what monster designs this year have you seen that even come close to the messed up shit in Bloodborne?

WHAT ARE YOU
WHAT ARE YOU

Cities: Skylines' fake Twitter and creeper cam

#SHUTUP @TONY I KNOW YOU HAVE DEAD BODIES PILING UP NEXT DOOR MAYBE TRY PAYING TAXES FOR ALL THOSE PARKS

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It might not be obvious from the outset, but the fake twitter feed in Cities: Skylines lets you zoom straight to the person that tweeted out. More than once I'd catch myself locking on to a citizen who just tweeted out, just to see how they were getting about the cityscape I’d made. There was some sort of glee watching an old man strut across the numerous pedestrian sky bridges I'd created, or following a donut truck leave city limits after struggling to get through whatever nightmare gridlock I'd inadvertently created. Also, the After Dark expansion provided the best Neuromancer reference I’ve seen all year.

WHEN CAN I PUNCH DECK
WHEN CAN I PUNCH DECK

Downwell's ridiculously cute ending

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I played enough of this game (basically getting to the limbo section) before cheat engine-ing my way to, err… victory. At the very bottom of the well, after going through a ghost section, a water section, some weird limbo hell, and then fighting off a giant saarlac beast, you finally touch the bottom. Turns out the reason why your little jumpy person looks so mournful every time you start the game is because your kitten got stuck at the bottom and good grief the reunion is adorable. Video games’ll be alright, folks.

Galak-Z's moment-to-moment gameplay

I cannot fathom how people play this game on hard. Too many times I’ve been having a good run, only for things to go utterly sour in the space of about 15 seconds. There I am, shooting bouncy fire lasers around a corner like a cretin, only for a nearby floating zapper thing to suck away all my shields and the opposing faction to follow through and horribly murder me. Or I’m inside an asteroid and a stray shot accidentally sets off a chain reaction of all the space plant pod things exploding, and I die miserably.

But then there are the times when you manage to get the better of both your environment and the enemies, and the next thing you know you are dashing around the environment grabbing chunks of it to throw at people.

It's probably dead
It's probably dead

Witcher 3’s camera shots

Last year, Wolfenstein: The New Order was an unexpected gem not just in terms of being fun, but of having cutscenes and scripted sequences that made decent use of what cinema can do. Presumably you all remember the scene on the train?

It was utterly unexpected to see a game not only use basic tricks like matching scene transitions, but also use music and dialog well to effectively build tension.

This year, The Witcher 3 kinda blew me away to a similar degree, albeit for a slightly different reason. The game’s world is – putting it mildly – kinda dense, but its plot delivery was improved immensely in how dialog between characters was “shot”. NPC positions were done in such a way to, of all things, tell a story visually and not just beat you over the head with plot. It’s immensely clear that someone over at CDPR has an appreciation for film technique (or maybe has been watching Tony Zhou’s “Every Frame a Picture” YouTube channel a whole bunch) and the game is all the better for it.

Coupled with just some basic animations (they’re kinda canned and once you see them it’s difficult to unsee them the next time they appear), such as Geralt slumped in a seat

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Or crouching down to meet a troll eye-to-eye

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The game got a sense of life to proceedings that I just wasn’t expecting. If the Bloody Baron just stared at me dead in the eye like an unblinking Skyrim NPC, there’s no way I’d have played this game for over 100 hours.

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The Soundtracks for Hotline Miami 2 and Rocket League

I barely played Hotline Miami 2, but I spent way too much listening to its soundtrack:

Even though I didn’t get past the first couple of levels (it kinda starts off harder than the bonus missions of the first game), when Carpenter Brut’s stuff comes on, or Dust by MOON, or Remorse by Scattle, or Run by iamthekidyouknowwhatimean… it’s hard to not feel the old familiar urge to go and start killing things.

As for Rocket League, I didn’t play it at all. I only listened to the OST for the menu:

And watched some high level play:

I couldn’t help but feel the whole time that it was some sort of spiritual successor to Wipeout with the aesthetic and the sounds. Composer Mike Ault bills himself as an EDM music producer and seems to have a thing for female vocals, electronic pianos, house chord progression, and a solid beat throughout – and it works. If I ever get to drive a flying neon rocket car, I would probably put this on.

Fallout Shelter's utilitarianism for beginners

During E3 of this year I was in Nashville, TN. Why I was there had next to nothing to do with games, but Fallout Shelter had dropped at the time. In the downtime of what I was doing, and not really wanting to enjoy the muggy heat or the country music of America's south, I played Fallout Shelter almost constantly for about a week and discovered a slightly worrying thing about it: the game’s progression was tied to population count and – although it didn’t directly gate things – the dwellers’ happiness level determined how much resources you produced. Recalling my first year politics classes, I shuddered at the déjà vu – I realized what this system was, though I’m not entirely sure many other people did.

Utilitarianism at a very base level is that the “best” action one should take is the one that maximizes utility. Utility is whatever the thing is that gives the majority of the population the most "happiness" or pleasure (in the game’s case, it’s through the triumvirate of food, water, and power). Utilitarianism of this sort doesn’t work in the real world, because people are all different and have different desires – but in a video game world where the only desire is to procreate and gain more resources? It’s perfect. You don’t need to take into account alternate desires, because every NPC shares the same desire.

You can't actually have incest in the vault, don't worry
You can't actually have incest in the vault, don't worry

The realization that this was a somewhat morally-grotesque experiment in maximizing utility only came to me when the game’s daily challenge system turned out to be geared towards making me stretch my vault’s limits – specifically through forcibly breeding the most charismatic dwellers which led to a population explosion which the vault couldn’t sustain. I managed to cope with the first population boom, but the second population boom ended up being unsustainable, so to, ahem, maximize utility I ended up sending the most useless dwellers out to die in the wasteland where they couldn’t drain my resources. I’d revive them and bring them back if they managed to pick up something useful, but I littered the wasteland with a couple of dozen corpses.

Accurate
Accurate

I stopped playing the game after three weeks or so, around about the time Deathclaws got introduced, as it introduced a random and somewhat uncontrollable Fuck You element that I got fed up of dealing with. And it turns out that I was right in my prediction about Shelter – it was basically foreshadowing a bunch FO4’s stuff

MGSV’s Russian

So this is a rather personal one. Half my life has been spent occupied with the Russian language, and I’ve spent the past several years living and working in Russia. Almost all this time, the treatment of Russian in Anglo-American media has… let’s say, varied. There’s more than one blog post on this matter, but Jason Bourne’s passport in The Bourne Identity is certainly a prime example of how bad this can be…

Hello, my name is Ashchf lshtshfum
Hello, my name is Ashchf lshtshfum

…While the Russian heard in Avengers via Scarlett Johansson’s pronunciation is less than stellar:

There are myriad others to whine about – such as the infamous cocainum scene from Red Heat:

…But then out of completely unexpected quarters comes Metal Gear Solid V. This video isn’t mine, but here’s one of the “overhearing the conversation” things from an early mission in MGSV:

What’s particularly special about this (and many other moments in MGSV) is that the Russian delivery here is good. So good that I had to speak with some Russian friends who’d also played it. Turns out that the Russian is mostly on point, and the accent is only slightly off, which might have something to do with the fact that said Russian speakers in the game (Kostantin Lavysh, Adam Tsekhman, and Zack Sayenko to name a few) all seem to be folk who emigrated to the US from the former Soviet Union, and I’m pretty sure the VO work was principally done in California too.

The other major sticking point is that Russian/Soviet soldiers are nowhere near that polite or formal. I’ve met one or two folk from the Russian army, and at least one of them was extremely colorful in his use of language. The worst I heard in MGSV was maybe one or two euphemisms, as opposed to an entire stream of expletives.

That said, the MGS level of detail was still there, even in the Russian language. The Soviet radio chatter you’d hear after setting off an alarm was on point, in that the acronyms/abbreviations were correct, as well as most of the signage in Afghanistan, while the seemingly simple use of the Russian phonetic alphabet left me stunned. After nearly twenty years of seeing this language maligned by almost all other forms of media, either through ignorance or bad delivery (deliberate or otherwise), I found myself enchanted by an extremely solid performance – and it came from a Japanese video game company, which is almost nuts on a socio-political level, because Japanese and Russians are not exactly cool in their international relations (look up “Kuril Islands dispute” as an example).

I sincerely hope the other languages used in the game got treated just as well as the Russian. Quite a lot of this game was enormously disappointing, but given that the plot (if that’s what you could call it) revolves around language, I am delighted that the voice work had so much work put into it.

So there you have it. I’d have struggled to write a list like this about whatever happened in 2014. Happy holidays...

...and feel free to share what things games of this year did that you liked.

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Gamebomb.ru continues to be bonkers

So periodically I check in on Gamebomb.ru (you might remember them as the folks who "borrowed" the old design of the site pre-CBSi, and then proceeded to "borrow" Steve "Fobwashed" Kim's t-shirt design that made fun of the whole thing in the first place) to see what sort of mania they're up to. Somehow they're still in business (there's a big fat World of Tanks banner ad on the front page on my end, so they must be getting decent traffic), and they have about 2000 videos on their YouTube channel (mostly trailers), .

What caught my eye this time was that under their "Games" page they have a list of upcoming releases.

http://gamebomb.ru/games?sort=release

You don't really need to know Russian to understand what's posted there, but the following few things stood out:

- Half Life 3 will be released in 2024.

- 2018 will see the release of GTA VI (their wiki entry cites anonymous sources), Star Wars 1313 (which will apparently use the third version of Unreal engine, and not UE 4), along with Stalker 2, and Beyond Good & Evil 2.

- 2017 will see Shadows of Mordor 2, Shenmue 3, Last of Us 2, and something called "The Surge" by Deck 13.

Weirdly enough, "The Surge" is actually a thing. Deck 13 are the lot who you might remember who did Lords of the Fallen. It supposedly got mentioned at Gamescom in the summer.

http://www.polygon.com/2015/8/6/9108177/the-surge-deck-13-gamescom

The Surge is set some 60 to 70 years in the future, when the technology that humanity has come to depend upon has turned against it. Süß showed a single piece of concept art (above) of the post-devastation world in which The Surge takes place, where enhanced humans and inhuman creatures live among the ruins of a technologically gifted society.

Players will assume control of a survivor in that world, an ordinary man who wears a powerful, industrial-grade exoskeleton. It's not express built with military combat in mind, but that's where the game's crafting system and modular upgrades will come in, Süß said. Those systems will tie into The Surge's combat, which will allow players to target specific limbs of tech-enhanced enemies, lop them off and harvest their technology.

So it's cyperpunk-dystopic dark souls? Could be neat

Anyway, much like other sites, Gamebomb's equivalent off topic forum post count eclipses everything else (more than double their general discussion). The current pinned thread - and fastest way to get your ass banned - is "Пойдет ли GTA V" ("Will GTA V run?"). Apparently, much like Rorie has mentioned on here frequently, a lot of folk come onto the Gamebomb board asking for basic tech advice and posting their hardware set up so much that you will be insta-banned if you don't use the pinned thread.

Erm... that's it. I've had enough Gamebomb for this quarter.

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Some reflections ahead of Patrick's upcoming playthrough(s)

Hi I'm dudeglove, and I have a confession to make. It's not one I'm particularly proud of...

and 17 friends at least too
and 17 friends at least too

...but yes, that is 385 hours on that clock. It's my most- played game on Steam next to Team Fortress 2, although the amount of time I've spent on TF2 is negligible given shitty connections, waiting for maps to load/updates etc. Basically I don't think I've played a game quite so much in, well, ever. It even beats my Dark Souls time (console + PC combined), but I tend to obsessively look up stupid videos and crappy gifs about that game rather than actually play it.

SOLAIRE PLZ
SOLAIRE PLZ

For those who have absolutely no idea what the hell I'm talking about, The Binding of Isaac is a 4-way twin stick top down shooter with quasi-randomly generated (or "rogue-like") levels, the plot of which revolves around a naked child escaping from his abusive mother through a trapdoor into the basement where he defeats various ghastly enemies by shooting his own tears at them. Basically imagine if you took Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called It", laced it with references to Catholicism, and gave it a cartoony aesthetic and the same basic controls and gameplay as Smash TV, you'd end up with Binding of Isaac.

Initially it was a joke, but the more I think about it, there are actually a few parallels with Pelzer's book. Also fuck the Duke of Flies.
Initially it was a joke, but the more I think about it, there are actually a few parallels with Pelzer's book. Also fuck the Duke of Flies.

I don't think I've even spent that much time on any of the Final Fantasies (although also contestable because I vividly remember maxing out the clock on quite a few of them, which is at approximately the 255 hour mark). The thing is this: most of those 300 hours or so of Isaac? I barely remember any of them. Before the Wrath of the Lamb DLC emerged (and in my opinion, severely unbalanced the game, but more on that later), I had already spent about 150 hours on the damn thing, pretty much clearing the pre-DLC version of the game.

I took a hiatus after about 250 hours of playing, around about when I finally managed what I thought was "enough". By that I mean I had unlocked almost every item and character e.g. getting the D6 for Isaac via beating The Chest with Blue Baby is potentially the hardest, most final-est challenge the game can throw at you, with the exception of two achievements, which were beating The Womb and Sheol without getting hit once.

Astute readers may have noticed the "Platinum God!" achievement in the first image above. And yes, your subsequent internet deduction is correct: I did eventually resort to using Cheat Engine (the current tables out there are pretty solid, but be warned about using infinite item power excessively, it will crash the game) so that I could freeze the HP, as the Womb and Sheol achievements are just plain bullshit seeing as there are enemies whose attacks shoot through solid surfaces or they rush straight at you the moment you walk into a new room, or both. Outside of that, everything else in the game was done through legit means and occasionally looking up the wiki wondering what bullshit item from the DLC I'd just picked up did (again, more on that later).

With all that in mind, you're probably wondering what the actual appeal of Isaac is? Well, like a lot of games, it makes skillful use of Skinner box techniques, and completing the game "once" doesn't reward you with the full ending or anything even close to that. Each time you run through to killing Mom, more stuff gets added to the game - both in terms of items and new areas - even if you die on the way there. The main things that generate unlocks are:

  • beating certain bosses/Mom to open up deeper levels
  • using certain items enough times e.g. using several Tarot cards will unlock the "Deck of Cards" item, or collecting enough coins or using enough bombs on rocks
  • using certain characters to beat the game.
  • completing special challenges

Hell even dying enough times, or not picking up enough items results in unlocks. If you lump in the DLC, there are about 200 collectibles and six characters to unlock altogether, but it doesn't end there. Interestingly, and I thought this was a bit of a dick move on the game's part (but in hindsight made total sense), after your fourth or fifth successful run, the game immediately switches it up to hard mode, where enemies take more hits and move faster. By that point you're already "used" to the game, so mixing things up helps keeps you in a good spot for the next five playthroughs (at which point you start to encounter the "real" final bosses, such as battling your way through to Mom's Heart, Satan and... somebody else).

The real joy of this game for me lay in the fact that Isaac is one of the best time wasters out there. The reason I don't remember most of those 300 hours or so of Binding of Isaac is because I usually had the game windowed while watching GB quicklooks on the other side of my screen, or listened to podcasts or anything other than the game. After the first twenty hours or so, with no offense to Baranowsky (who did Super Meat Boy's excellent soundtrack as well), I switched off all audio. I'd entered that odd situation of wanting to watch and do two things at once, and Binding of Isaac was the right amount of distraction, but not distracting enough. It's a great game to play if you don't want to play what might be considered a proper "game". Its beauty lies in its initial simplicity and, well, all the random number generators determining the drops.

But where does it all go wrong?

The Wrath of the Lamb DLC, basically, which I was at first more than hyped for even though the weird-ass trailer didn't really resemble the game in any meaningful way.

The most dramatic changes brought in by WotL were:

  • New enemies/bosses
  • New level layouts
  • New items

Now straight off the bat, a lot of the new enemies felt like leftovers from the cutting room floor, both in terms of visuals and general AI behavior. To use fancy-pants design terminology, a lot of designs didn't "read" as well from a distance or at a glance. By that I mean their appearance was vague or indistinct in comparison to most of the other solid enemy designs. In terms of AI, some enemies, specifically the leaper-spider-head things, have borked jumping distances and for reasons I could never nail down in those 100 hours of Isaac DLC wanderings, their attacks always felt completely untelegraphed or unfair, which is exacerbated by the second point, while the "new" bosses were closer to remixed versions of existing bosses, and just had a few more deathbeams attached to them.

The new level layouts randomly give existing ones a "darker" version e.g. "the Basement" becomes "the Cellar", with the notable difference being cobwebs scattered everywhere that slow you (AND ONLY YOU) down, and with certain newer enemies (such as aforementioned shithead leapers) more likely to appear. Prior to the DLC, environmental hazards like spikes or fires affected both you and the enemy to the same degree, but not with cobwebs. At least Spelunky's cobwebs have the good grace to disappear after wading through them more than once. This goes against the previously established ethic Isaac had about various hazards. Worse still is that, not only are your shots affected by cobwebs, but also if you're flying, you still get slowed down which I really had to call bullshit on. Levels also now come in different versions, such as a "big" variant, or an "XL variant" (which has two bosses and ultimately counts as doing all of the basement/caverns/etc in one go.) or a "cursed" version, wherein the metroidvania worldmap is removed from the player HUD (but, really, if you have a pen and paper at hand, it's still easy to sketch out if you even need to).

Finally the new items added in a number of partially passive collectibles called "trinkets" which, much like some of the new regular items were either quite useless, or completely overpowered. The main difference is you can only hold onto one at a time (unless you pick up another item that increases trinket space). A relatively easy exploit is using the "bloody penny" in an arcade room, where you'll always find a blood bank machine and two things to waste coins on (both of which generate hearts/coins/bombs/keys). Using the blood bank machine hits you for half a heart of damage, but in return gives you some money. With the bloody penny equipped, any money you pick up has a chance to generate half-hearts to restore your health. With that money, you can then gamble on the machines to get a chance at even more hearts, until either the blood bank explodes, or the gambling devices explode/disappear as well. Regardless, by that point, even if you're not playing as Cain or have collected the luck foot, you will have accumulated so many hearts/coins/bombs/keys anyway that you're set for the rest of the game.

Now I'm not an Internet crazy person, I certainly know some people who could qualify, but I almost want to accuse the Isaac makers of fucking with the random number generators in the DLC specifically so that the new items would appear more often. When I said before that the new items were overpowered or useless, it's mostly because I was seeing them so goddamn frequently. The number of times I got the technology 2 + freeze effect combo in that time was suspicious at best, and the novelty wore off after the first couple of instances, because every enemy is stopped dead in its tracks by it. By the same token, I learned to avoid picking up the new Ipecac tear power-up (which looks too damn similar to the Chemical Burn power up - and one that's actually useful), because it just plain fucks up your shots by turning them into hard-to-aim lobbed explosives.

As a result, the DLC seemingly did two things at once - it made the game needlessly and unjustly frustrating, while at the same time trivialized the experience with a lot of the new items. Of course, you still needed to earn those items through the usual means mentioned above, but somewhere along the line it became less fun to do so, as the process had become watered down.

So where do we go from here?

Prattling on any more about Isaac will result in this post ending up as some sort of strategy guide, although I'm happy to give Klepek and anyone else whose read this far and is interested in playing some beginner's tips, which are:

  • There's always a secret room per level accessed by bombing the center of a wall. Secret rooms usually connect to 3 or even 4 rooms and usually contain coins, other times an item or a vending machine/beggar. If you are low on keys, but high on bombs, try bombing rooms adjacent to item rooms or shops in order to get access without having to spend keys.
  • Keys should be saved for item rooms first, shops second.
  • Tears have odd but very specific physics on them. You can't exactly "curve" or "aim" your shots per se (although some powerups can), but moving in a certain direction and firing at the right time allows you to get out of some hairy situations where you might need to take cover.
  • Be on the lookout for oddly-colored blocks. Bombing them usually drops soul hearts, or bombs, or coins, sometimes even a chest.
  • Bombs can be moved by your tears.
  • Most items have a cool down period that get recharged after a certain number of enemy encounters. Bear this in mind if you want to use something that lets you fly for the duration of one room, like for avoiding acid attacks on a floor during a boss fight for instance.

And most importantly

  • Play it without the DLC first.

If it gets you hooked, give the WotL DLC a try. Good luck with Binding of Isaac, Patrick!

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Player Agency Gone Wild, Or, Why You Should Play Dark Souls (And Why You Probably Shouldn't?)

Given Vinny's recent and (depending on time of viewing this blog) ongoing quasi-Endurance Run-esque Load Our Last Souls series of vids wherein he picks up where he left off from playing Dark Souls, which can basically be summarized with this bombcast extract...

...I feel as though it's time I should explain to any of you reading why Dark Souls is - at least for me - one of the best games I've ever played. To do so I will be primarily focusing on the user-generated content coming from the community From Software spawned. By that I mostly mean posting a bunch of YouTube videos with a few hundred words thrown in to appease the mods.

But... but... why write any of this? Because, well, Dark Souls is one of those rare titles that has somehow extended beyond a singular experience. The world that was crafted, which you can read about in great detail from the horse's mouth, courtesy of GB user @7force who went to a good deal of effort to translate from Japanese the Dark Souls Design Works Translation (which you can absolutely start reading here on the site!) - a frank group interview with several of the creative leads wherein they go into extensive detail about the characters/environment/mechanics and reveal a lot of stuff you might not necessarily see or hear from "bigger" titles (by that I mean the Call of Duties and Grand Theft Autos of this world).

What From Software had generated was something genuinely engaging, and the knock-on effect of this has resulted in an entire sub-culture emerging, populated by weird and wonderful individuals devoted to - at one end of the spectrum - either unraveling the mystery of Lordran and its medieval Valhalla setting...

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...or - at the other - breaking the fourth wall and fucking with other players.

No Caption Provided

Before reading any further, I highly suggest playing Dark Souls! Even though the Internet hammered away at it, resulting in 99.9% of the secrets being discovered and every element analyzed to several undeaths, there's still satisfaction to be had from the game. On face value, Dark Souls is ostensibly an adventure game with Dungeons & Dragons leanings. You are the Chosen Undead, whose task is to save the world. There are swords to swing, and demons and dragons to be slain in fantastical settings, but there is so much more. You've heard that it's a punishing game, and it is -

Poor Vinny :(
Poor Vinny :(

- but you learn from your mistakes and genuine satisfaction is derived from overcoming the various obstacles the game literally throws at you. In its latest incarnation on the PC, it can be bolstered (via DSFix and other mods) to look and play absolutely brilliantly in comparison to its console cousins.

Secondly, it might not be clear to some reading what's meant by the title of "Player Agency Gone Wild". What I mean by "player agency" is essentially the level of influence (or "agency") someone playing a game has on the game itself, and to an extent whether the game (or any other player involved) reacts accordingly. I fully realize that's a vague definition, and agency manifests itself in all sorts of ways, not to mention the fact that it varies from game to game. Some might describe it in other terms as "player choice" - no, that doesn't mean Mass Effect dialog option wheels - in the sense that a game with good agency will allow the player to approach and overcome certain scenarios in a variety of ways. Bear in mind not every game needs huge levels of agency either, it's more that the greater point surrounding it is whether or not a game has its foot firmly on the player's throat, limiting their every action and bottlenecking you down a critical path.

It's an extremely tricky balance, because shattering the illusion of agency is all too easy to do, and there are plenty of other staffers out there far more capable of debating the topic. To me, Dark Souls provides the player with what I would describe as the "right amount" of agency. At an extremely simple level, there is more than one way to get through the game, and the tools for doing so are almost always within reach - the rest is up to the skill of the player to find those tools and use them accordingly. For instance, you might feel slighted by the game for being brutally kicked off into a dark abyss by a giant skeleton like Vinny did, but you later realize that he's only got himself to blame for thinking he could simply waltz through.

Thirdly, it should be noted that, yes, some of this might verge into spoiler territory, but the things I've chosen hopefully won't ruin the entire experience. The list is by no means exhaustive either. Take it, perhaps, as an alternative introduction to those beginner threads. I'm not telling you how to play the game (no, you don't need the drake sword, seriously), I'm telling you why others have and continue to, and why you should (and perhaps probably shouldn't?). Dark Souls stands up as a glorious shining example that - holy crap - the real "worth" of video games doesn't lie in bullshit reactionary remarks to criticism like "Oh, it increases the brain's learning capacity" or nonsense about hand-eye coordination. Noooo... Dark Souls has been a font of inspiration for many to come together, to dig deeper, to create, and - in more than one case - to act like a gigantic douche. And I'm here to present you with proof.

Introduction: In Depth Interpretation

Before we delve into complete nonsense, it might be worth noting that VaatiVidya only started his channel after the PC version was released and in less than a year he's already hit more than 100k subs. Of course, he's not the only user involved with "lore" videos (there are others such as EpicNameBro heavily involved in generating content concerning the story of Dark Souls), but I rather enjoy Vaati's take on the fiction - scant as it is - more than the others. Maybe it's the level of production; maybe I just like the sound of his voice. One thing he delves into is the cut content of Dark Souls and through crafty use of mods allowing him control of camera angles and what not, weaves short machinimas out of things that never even made it into the final version.

And yes, if that's not enough for you, of course there are others who have simply posted videos trawling through the game files scraggling for every bit of content possible. Obviously.

Part 1: "Playing" The Game...

Somehow, Dark Souls has turned out to be a surprisingly popular game to stream via Twitch. The video above, part of Lobos Jr.'s "S&M Challenge" run (no, really, the rules are leather armor and whips only), shows off in the space of about 20 seconds what happens to probably every single person who's ever played this game at some point. Lobos has played this game so many ways. He has even played the game blindfolded

Pinwheel can't catch a break, ever, it seems.

Part 2: ...Then Breaking What You Thought Were The Rules

After a while of playing Dark Souls, you might get to a point where to you start to see time-saving short cuts here and there. And then you come across someone like Xskulled, who figures out the true limits of what can and can't be done in this game, then puts on a set of dumb equipment and starts leaping all over the place.

Or on a less showy note, vageta311 went to the trouble of perfectly demonstrating how to sequence-break your way through several points in the game.

So far these are just examples of players investigating the game's environment, we haven't even factored in other human beings yet.

Part 3: Fuck Environment, Let's PvP

One of the best features of Dark Souls is its multiplayer. Player vs Player comes in two basic forms. At one end you can be summoned and help a player defeat a boss. At the other end is invading someone else's world to prevent them from doing so, such as RedRosie invading Sen's Fortress with an obscenely large weapon and getting the jump on people in an already trying environment. It's cruel, really.

And pretty much anything in between goes. For example, players will intentionally act as fight club "hosts" and let invading red "phantoms" duel one another for everyone's amusement.

And yes, there are countless character builds that go way beyond simply wearing the same armor as one of the NPCs like Solaire. Honestly, what did you think would happen if you gave people like GrimDisaster the opportunity to play dress up as Greek Spartans? Pfft.

Then there are those rare few builds that have spawned a host of memes - the most famous of which is probably OnlyAfro's "GiantDad", which has become infamous as a sort of cookie-cutter PvP griefer build that regularly appears in other videos:

Again, all of what you've seen so far is the sort of basic thing that happens when you give filthy players the ability to do so, and we're not even at the best/worst part yet.

Part 4: Fuck PvP, Let's Use The Environment

So you want to PvP, sort of, but don't want to fight directly? Maybe it's time to put that Undead Rapport pyromancy spell to good use for once and turn the tide against invading phantoms who thought they had the upper hand?

Or maybe you're like Hugh G. Reaction and want to mod the PC version to make your character look like Sonic the Hedgehog and use the actual environment itself?

Forget dark magic; beware the elevators of Oolacile.

Part 5: Fuck It, Let's Do Both And Pretend To Actually Be The Game?

So perhaps you've sank hundreds of hours into the game, exhausted everything you get out of being summoned and dueling other players, what else is there for you to do? It seems pretty obvious that you should just become part of the game itself and pretend to either be an NPC in your own world...

...or invade other player's world's dressed up as certain NPCs and roleplay as them.

It's trolling, essentially, but it's a form of trolling that I can get behind. Or maybe you want to reenact a boss fight, except you don't have the equipment to do so? How's about a ganker's bootleg version of Ornstein & Smough in the forest instead?

Part 6: No Fuck AllThat, Let's Play Our Own Game Within A Game

Wait, you've really exhausted everything there is to do. Right? But you still want to play the game. So you think, fuck it, let's make up your own rules altogether. Enter PvP bingo, spearheaded by streaming players such as OroboroTheNinja.

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This is typical of what you might sometimes hear as "artificial difficulty" in regards to Dark Souls. Basically it means that players have gone through the game so much that - as you can see from the bingo sheet - they will actively create their own arbitrary challenges and/or limit themselves because, well, Dark Souls, I guess? Surely we've ran out of ways to play the game, right?

Parte Siete: ¡Has Muerto!

Nope.

Conclusion: "Why Are You Doing This?"

And then you embrace the darkest soul of all. Now before watching the final video, I want you to know that it is flat-out my favorite clip of all, because it symbolizes everything right about Dark Souls. I'm not sure I can fully parse into words what I mean by "right", but this last vid is, like, some sort of singularity. Behold the true power Dark Souls has on players.

What we think of initially as just another basic low-level invasion of the Undead Parish in a matter of seconds becomes something altogether different. We see the invader abusing what happens to the character animation when you hold two bows without arrows and alternating between R2/RT and L2/LT. We see hosts and white phantoms flailing against a naked bald invader who poses absolutely no threat, yet is somehow more annoying than anything else the game could ever throw at them. "Why are you doing this?" messages one player to the invader feebly. Is it even worth answering?

The invading Darkwraith phantom stalks one of his prey, already weary of his behavior, throughout the level, continuing the mocking dance and impeding their attempts to open up the portcullis. And then we see the greatest moment of all - the truest moment of agency this game affords the player on the host's part. What the final host chooses to do is no longer be party to any of this and willingly throws himself off a ledge. He no longer wishes to play according to the invader's rules, and crystallizes this by taking his own life, ending the Darkwraith's ability to terrorize his game. All to the tune of some obnoxious European electro-house music.

In all my years playing games, it's rare to come across such moments. Thanks for reading.

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28 Comments

I have posted over 5000 times...

...and this was my 5000th

stay classy
stay classy

Foolish, I know. I could have easily made this very blog post the 5000th, but that's, like, so 2009 (or whenever GB introduced the blog feature). And seriously? Five thousand? Bear in mind that doesn't take into account the number of times I've replied in PMs, meaning the true number is probably way higher than I'd care to admit.

Maybe 5000 isn't so bad over the course of two years. In that initial six month period boy did I lurk on the forums. I read all of your posts (not the blogs, mind, those things are so boring and self-righteous as shit). Tabs on firefox changed my life as I'd cycle through threads, hitting F5 and shift-clicking the shit out of the 10 newest topics on the main page, slowly but surely getting a glimpse of the bigger picture of the GB community. You know all those profile views you were getting? That was me, trawling through your earlier posts for nuggets of Internet gold.

And you what I saw? Of course you don't, which is why I'm going to tell you. You guys (and girls), really aren't all that bad. Sure some of you might over-react when some particular standout user periodically derails threads with wild remarks - and claim this place is worse than 4chan - but then a few months later you bemoan their absence once the mods finally ban his or her ass. You both hate the trolling yet feed off the flamebait at the same time. But don't worry, because another troll will always appear and that cycle will continue. Sometimes they start off on the wrong foot, but then the rest of the community sees the funny side and embraces their particular brand of internet goofery. Oftentimes they really are just plain dicks and no amount of @replies will ever change that.

That said, there is a decent sense of community here. Without pointing to any concrete examples - not that I would be allowed to - GB's forum goers are in general fairly good at self-policing. For instance:

- You're grsap, of grammer..punctiation & sytnax is definitely above average;

- A lot of you tend to get pissed when someone formats their posts in the most obnoxious way possible; and

- extremist remarks usually get shot down pretty quickly (although such discussions often devolve into name-calling or whatever, but the important thing is that the majority rails against such behavior, rather than foster it) i.e. overall you're not some crowd of far-rightwing illiterate skinheads

As a more general observation, almost everything outside of Off Topic & General Discussion is, like, super great. I was welcomed with open arms in the SSFIV forums and gleefully got my ass handed to me many times in private lobbies with fellow GBers. Advice, tactics, suggestions etc. all come through in a torrent if you ask for it. The number of How To... or stickied Guide threads on the sub forums is testament to this.

It's been a journey, folks, and one I hope doesn't end any time soon. Also, I'm still unconvinced that Brad isn't some sort of goddamned super troll; the whole "sucking at games" thing is a ruse, he probably gets some sort of sick gratification from the forum outrage. Anyway, here's to 5000 more.

TL;DR? You guys are pretty okay. Keep it up.

48 Comments

Deconstructing Dante Pt. II: E3 2011 Post-mortem

Big fat disclaimer: I wrote a blog http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/dudeglove/deconstructing-dante/30-78412/ a couple of months ago about the trailer for the latest entry to the Devil May Cry franchise. Taking the same approach as before, I have waited a bit for the uproar – if there even was one this time – from E3 2011 to die down.

So the following is a critique of the latest trailer in terms of gameplay and what I think the narrative might be. As I drone along I'll be referring to points from the previous blog.

Also second disclaimer:

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In other words, none of this is final, but it might be fun to take a stab at analysis, rather than resorting to ignorant remarks like "huh new dante is twilight fag derp" (you can find those on YouTube if you so desire).

Here’s the video in question, which I spent far too long attempting to screen grab. Needless to say, I'll be referencing it a lot throughout.

Okay go:

Enemies

The bad: In the previous titles the first enemies you come up against are stumbling/shifting slightly-disproportioned cannon fodder that only have melee attacks.

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Also, some big fat mini-boss dude charging Dante that, when dodged, probably stuns himself by slamming into a wall giving you a window of opportunity to fight back? Sigh.

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The good: While the design appears lazy, they appear to have given the cannon fodder enemies different weapons meaning Dante will probably have to mix it up rather than just mashing away. Also...

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Is that some sort of invisible concrete snake monster tearing up the streets? Count me in.

Environment

The bad: What? Old-European architecture and cobbled streets?

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Looks like someone played Bayonetta beforehand.

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Also, there's no footage of any platforming

The good: Oh ho! What's this we see in the cathedral section of the vid? Wide open spaces? Freely moving camera following the fighting up into the air ? You mean I'll be able to actually see what I'm attacking now instead of periodically getting fucked by some cheap attack off screen? IS THIS FEELING CALLED JOY?

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Yes, granted this might not apply throughout the whole game, but it's certainly better than the shitty castle corridors of old. Also, did that fat mini-boss actually slam into the door? And did Dante just impale one of those mannequins against a wall?

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Will the surroundings be more than just cosmetic and have a useful purpose for the player, as opposed to just some flat plane demarcated by invisible walls with occasional clipping issues that make no goddamn sense? Remember how Dante threw a car in the previous (albeit cinematic) trailer?

Weapons

The bad: The all purpose transforma-sword and the guns from the previous trailer are still present, but nothing else. Also, ask any gun aficionado and they tend to get annoyed by the representation of M1911 pistols in video games, because they're not actually that goddamn large at all.

The cover of previous Hitman games is looked down upon in particular. But hey, it looks cool... right? :|

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The good: I made comments before about how farcical some of the swords in previous installments looked. Nero having a goddamn engine attached to his Red Queen sword wasn't exactly... subtle.

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But look! Dante's new sword is fairly conservative in its standard appearance.

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Yes yes and yes. Less is more. Shiny bits and whatever aren't necessary. But the whole transforma-sword business... Well, maybe it will be some kind of Mega-man/Metroid thing. Dante crushes some boss and his sword absorbs them (not a new concept, of course), granting new abilities and the like. Or part of the inevitable upgrade system. From here lets go into...

Combat

The bad(ish): Most of Dante's classic moves are back on display.

He's still got his juggles with the pistol...

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...And the regular sword combo stuff.

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Not to mention DMC3 & 4's trickster-style air dash.

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But there's not much in the way of depth seen from other Capcom fighters and Bayonetta. By "depth" I mean dash cancels and various last second dodges/blocks (e.g. DMC3's Royal Guard style). Swiping away at the big groups all at once seems too God of War for my tastes...

The good:

...but all the same Dante seems to have more crowd control than previous titles both on the ground and in the air. Also, the Bayonetta-esque whip/grapple thing in mid air looks as though it will keep the combos going. No quick time events on display either... thank fuck.

That's all I want to say about the actual gameplay from the trailer. I'd like to turn to what kind of narrative the two trailers are teasing us with. There are several key moments in the clip at the start, where the walls have messages in blood smeared across them.

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Then, soon after, Dante's world goes from being this gray back drop with some folk milling around...

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...to all bright and colourful

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With this change, certain things happen that piqued my attention. For instance, this security camera on the arch?

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After the warp, it becomes some sort of CCTV monster.

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And then less subtle things happen, such as the invisible concrete snake thing tearing up the streets, buildings crashing together and all the pews in the cathedral suspended in mid-air that return to their initial positions after the fighting ends.

So what does all this mean? Well, bearing in mind the previous trailer where Dante (if it truly is Dante) is being interrogated - or rather "psycho-evaluation treatment" as the narrator puts it - and seemingly going through tortured violent flashbacks, I think that Dante is going through psychotic episodes. I have this nagging idea in my mind that Capcom is trying to tell us Dante is suffering from some kind of mental disorder. Heck, it could even be something as innocent as lucid dreaming than just plain old schizophrenia. Well, why pursue such a plot line?

How about this for a stretch of the imagination - Dante is no longer fighting the demons around him, but rather the demons inside him manifesting themselves in his warped waking dream-state. If they want to be really edgy, it could end up that Dante is going around actually killing normal people, as if he's somehow being tricked like Hercules was into murdering his own family, hence him locked up Saw/Guantanamo Bay-style in the previous trailer. Yes, the "It was all just a dream" idea is hackneyed, but at least it's something other than the previous titles' lines of "This dude wants divine power and it's up to you to stop him!" Or he might even be being conditioned to do so by the bunch of people whoever locked him up in the first trailer. For one it would explain the "What is your name? What is your name?" spiel from the Tokyo Game Show reveal.

But that's not why you're really here. You want to know about the hair.

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C'mon, people, the whole hair debacle was always going to get resolved by some plot device or gameplay element. In this case, Dante's hair drastically changes when he goes into what can only be assumed to be Devil Trigger mode in the trailer. Note that the surroundings around him become blurry and distorted as well, which I think backs up my psychotic dream theory. Don't forget that the previous trailer and other images have shown him to have a slight semblance of white hair on the crown of his head.

It's simple: over the course of the game, as Dante delves further and further into the dark recesses of his own mind and his powers increase, his hair colour changes accordingly. Capcom and Ninja Theory didn't show Dante with dark hair beforehand to piss you off - although some fanboys out there certainly did take it personal - they did it to build a base for the eventual plot.

...

I'm done for now. Overall, based on the two trailers, I can't find too much to viciously complain about in terms of gameplay, or the game in general. If anything, I'm genuinely positive about its upcoming release. The only thing missing currently in terms of plot is dialogue and extraneous characters - if there are any.

And one last thing you didn't see in the previous trailer:

The title formally revealed
The title formally revealed

Yep, it's a Devil May Cry game after all. Deal with it.

16 Comments
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