Rip and tear into some fun sequels

Rip and tear..into the Surge 2 - you've been tricked now you have to read the rest of this blog.
Rip and tear..into the Surge 2 - you've been tricked now you have to read the rest of this blog.

In the past few weeks I’ve been playing the sequels to two games I greatly enjoyed in the past few years which both incidentally involve the ripping and tearing of your foes in comically graphic ways. The two games in question - The Surge 2 and Doom Eternal. While very different in nature, I found that both games shared a lot of common traits of the proverbial sophomore slump. That isn’t to say I thought these were bad games. In fact I had a fair bit of fun with both of them. They just weren’t the sequels that I personally wanted.

The Surge is a game that I loudly champion when given the chance like a crazy man on a street corner while everyone gives me a wide berth, hurriedly passing by lest they catch anything from mere proximity. It’s a souls-like game with all the traditional trappings but also many unique and fun mechanics of it’s own. While I greatly enjoyed The Surge there were plenty of things I thought a potential sequel could do so much better. If only more people played this I thought! Well somewhat surprisingly the game did get a numbered sequel and after having played it I can safely say it was your typical case of bigger but not necessarily better. The original worked so well because of it’s clever way of interweaving the narrative into the gameplay. The fact alone that you start the game as not just your everyday Gordon Freeman, but someone bound to a wheelchair was a surprising little twist that I’ve never seen in a game before. There is something to be said about little flourishes that are inconsequential to the minute to minute gameplay, but add a great deal to the overall experience when you take a step back and look at the whole picture. You work in a factory so you get a powerful exo-skeleton. Your weapons are basically power tools very much like how Dead Space did it. Your enemies are other employees whose brain-chip got fried in the titular surge at the outset of the game. The levels are different areas of the factory which you must escape and your bosses are typically large industrial robots now gone rampant. It all just clicked.

We've upgraded to a full city in the sequel
We've upgraded to a full city in the sequel

The Surge 2 foregoes all this in favor of giving you more toys to play with. You’re now in a city and there are different factions you’ll inadvertently come to slaughter by the hundreds but the reasons for how and why aren’t as neatly buttoned up. Why do all the citizens of this city have extremely high grade industrial exo-skeletons? Where did they get all these flamethrowers and energized staffs with spinning saws? The city itself is more diverse than the very samey looking industrial corridors of the first game, but apparently the developer Deck 13 wasn’t up to the task of making it look actually interesting. At the outset of the story a plane with a nano virus crashes into Jericho City and after spending two months in a coma you awake in what looks like the aftermath of a nuclear fallout. Two months and the city is nearly in ruins, and this is BEFORE the nano virus properly activates. The repeating look of grey rubble is pervasive throughout your stay. It’s a cheap and easy way to not model an actual city, but it also means that despite this ostensibly much more interesting setting, you are actually just going through different biomes of devastation. The docks are rusty metal, the city is crumbling concrete and the sewers are darkened caves with the familiar sci-fi plating that spans Jericho from top to bottom. There is one park level that breaks away from the norm but even there you can’t shake the feeling of this limited asset re-use going on. The level design itself is quite clever with many twisting pathways and shortcuts that lead back to previous areas. But like I mentioned above, it seems to be more for the sake of more. There are so many shortcuts that half of them end up feelings absolutely superfluous. Oftentimes because everything still looks so very similar and without character, you’ll open up one of these shortcuts and not even recognize the area you’ve come from because unlike the Souls games there is very little instantly recognizable architecture to be found.

Pictured: Me ripping and tearing
Pictured: Me ripping and tearing

The combat which was excellent in the first game feels freshened up and faster in the second. Unfortunately a lot of the tougher enemy encounters revolve around a brand new directional parry mechanic. Parrying is a divisive tactic simply because you have to be actually really good at it to make it work, which is why a lot of people opt out favoring a more defensive strategy. A missed parry can have devastating effects and in a Souls like game this risk can be especially punishing. It doesn’t help that the parry here is tied to animation, which means it’s not just a split second button press. You need to anticipate both the incoming attack timing as well as your own characters physical response timing. These windows can feel wildly inconsistent across the varying enemies you encounter. There were some who I could parry 95% of the time with ease while others I struggled with to the very end. It’s a mechanic you could potentially ignore if not for the fact that nearly all the bosses in The Surge 2 require some form of parrying unless you want to really slug it out for a while. I should know because I was so bad at directional parries during my first major boss encounter that I decided to dance around him and take potshots when possible. After an incredibly long and ardous fight I felled the beast without engaging once with this essential risk-reward mechanic. Dozens of hours later I faced this same boss in NG+, now a lot more comfortable with bouncing attacks back at my enemies, and this boss was a breeze and much easier when tackled the way the developers intended. The big difference was not only the hours upon hours of practice I’ve had, but that my health and stamina pool both allowed me to engage the boss this way without it spelling certain doom if I messed up. At the beginning of the game you have so little health and limited amounts of healing that missing one of these attacks can literally lead to death. It’s scary. Now that I had a much bigger safety buffer, missing Little Johnny’s mechanical tentacle swipes cost me a tiny fraction of health compared ot my first encounter. Even if I got exceedingly sloppy I’d acquired an implant that gave me health back for sustained damage that let me easily build that green bar back up to full. During my final hours with the game I would parry quite often because I didn’t feel the danger of missing. I understood what the developers were going for, but I also saw how they were unable to perceive the shortcomings of this system for newcomers.

Those robots are kind of referenced in the lore..
Those robots are kind of referenced in the lore..

Which in a weird way brings me to Doom Eternal. The opinions on this game seem to sway in two polar opposites. Those who love it and those who feel at odds with the systems. At first I was leaning heavily into the latter. With time I’ve come to understand it’s mostly a case of a bad on-ramp. Eternal starts with all cylinders firing. There is a very short refresher course on what each button does and then the combat arenas begin in earnest. In no time at all the game introduces bigger enemies like the spidery Arachnotron and shows you their weak points to exploit. There is an overall very welcome transparency to the combat mechanics. Game director Hugo Martin even mentions in one interview or another that they didn’t really want the player to focus on puzzling out HOW to kill bad guys - they were going to show you exactly how to do it so you can go on have the fun experience of getting on with it. Yet many players felt constrained by these systems as if the game was actually limiting a lot of your options by forcing hard counters you needed to exploit. In turn many players that finished the game and loved it would argue that you don’t actually need to strictly adhere to everything the game tells you to do, that there is a lot of flexibility to the combat system and how you approach each enemy. This is true.. tt just takes a while to get there. At the outset you get a shotgun and a rifle and if you plan to survive you actually have to strictly adhere to the rules because you don’t have any other options. You’re not going to take out the flying Revenant with ease without taking out both his cannons with only the rifle and combat shotgun. You could lob a sticky grenade but it’s not ideal. This is a bit of a forced learning curve - the game is forcing you to do this knowing you have no other option in order to drill into the player the rock-paper-shotgun approach to combat. Later on I hardly ever bothered with this tedious scoping in because I would use my super shotgun and meathook right into a Revenants face. Similarly I stopped caring about a lot of traditional weak points opting out for weapons with higher firepower or knockback. The problem is you have to get there, and those possibilities all open up somewhere past the midpoint of the game. You’re fairly squishy throughout but especially so at the beginning. The first half of your demon slaying journey really feels quite frantic as you’re dancing around all these fiends with a limited arsenal. It’s a lot less fun and creative than the latter half of the experience where you get to choose how you want to engage the enemies and the “combat puzzle” becomes a lot more interesting with the additional puzzle pieces filling out the picture. You’ll annoyingly still take a beating from the most basic fodder types if you’re not careful, but getting out of bad situations is a lot easier as well.

The combat makes perfect sense when you look at it back from the perspective of a powered up beast you become by the end. There is actually a ton of freedom in how you tackle demons. Apart from the Marauder who forces your hand, you’re given so many options that there is always some way to make things work in your favor. So it’s understandable why a lot of folks get turned off early on when the game simply isn’t as fun. Having to run around wildly with just the combat shotgun in the first few levels doesn’t make you feel like a powerful demon slayer. The fact that you take so much damage from even the simplest imps similarly saps the power fantasy right out of Doom. And this is Doom after all. You’re meant to be an unstoppable power house but at best the Doom Marine feels like a glass cannon. Weapons and abilities should have been introduced much quicker so you can, as Hugo describes it, get quicker into the fun-zone.

By this point I was pretty tired of slaying
By this point I was pretty tired of slaying

That said, while the combat definitely picks up the further you go, I still don’t think this is a “perfect shooter” as some would say. Doom 2016 while slower had a lot more charm, a lot more character, and a smoother progression throughout. Eternal puts the pedal to the metal from the start and it unflinchingly stays in that high gear to the very end. The last act of the game starts to feel like a bit of a slog and the final boss quantifies this feeling by a hundred. If you weren’t feeling even a little tired of Doom, then that final encounter will try it’s hardest to wear you out. It’s not even a complicated or interesting challenge - you are presented with a towering meat bag that you have to dump copious amounts of ammo into, twice. You would maybe get some satisfaction from the absolute power fantasy of being able to use your insta-kill sword to your hearts delight if it weren’t for the length of the encounter. For the developer this was meant to be the final showcase of their really great damage tech that you’re witness to throughout the many hours of demon dismemberment. Perhaps they were a little too close to it all and forgot to take a step back to see that ultimately it wasn’t all that fun to play. Some other nitpicks is the level design which is now completely divorced from any sort of game-world reality and is just full on arcadey arenas with floating platforms and skulls throughout. It no longer feels like any one place but rather a collection of fighting pits. This was always the case with Doom but Eternal does nothing to mask it. The platforming while not ideal I didn’t really mind but the swimming sections with acid are all awful, not fun or creative in any way, and feel like someone lost a bet and they had to put them in somewhere. Thankfully much like the purple goop they show up very rarely. All the boss encounters are bad with maybe the exception of the Doom Hunter who becomes a regular enemy. The second to last boss is alright but homing rockets made the fight fairly trivial, but by that point of the game I welcomed the easy win. The lore, which I actually tried to study, is deep in the worst possible way and for all it’s wordiness is barely represented in the actual game. I kept waiting for some story twist, something, anything really.. but it’s very straightforward from start to finish. I can only imagine they will release the bridge between Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal as some sort of lost levels or worse yet DLC.

Not as complex but a heck of a lot of fun
Not as complex but a heck of a lot of fun

Yet despite all that there are those that love Eternal from start to finish. This made me wonder why someone would be so uncritical of these obvious shortcomings, and where have I seen this before? The answer is Devil May Cry 5. I’ve observed that there is a certain subset of players that simply love mechanics above all else. DMC5 was a game that some fans of the series loved and proclaimed the best character action title ever made. They didn’t see a problem with the level design being repetitious or the story, because those things don’t matter in light of the combat which they placed above all else. Doom Eternal is like that age old argument of DmC and DMC. While DmC might not be as nuanced as the canonical DMC entries, I found the overall package not only more compelling but also more inviting to play - in part because it wasn’t as complicated. People that love Doom Eternal love the combat and they will continue playing the game over and over because that is their main priority - mechanics, raw gameplaty. For those people I imagine there wasn’t a single second of the game that felt like a slog, because every new room, every new encounter, was another opportunity to engage in the fun of simply killing demons, and thats great. For those like myself that are never going to be that skilled or consumed with just gameplay, there needs to be more to fill out the corners and Eternal just doesn’t provide that. It’s one hell of a ride and I enjoyed large chunks of it, but ultimately it’s singular focus wore me out long before the credits rolled.


A few words about Final Fantasy XV (Royal Edition)

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As I wrote last month or so, FFXV had come to Game Pass so I decided to give it a shot as it had always piqued my interest, just never enough to actually put any money down. As part of my gaming Netflix? Why not.

I am not a big Final Fantasy fan. That is not to say I dislike the series, I simply have very little experience with it. My personal Final Fantasy timeline is rather short: I had played FF6/4 ages ago and really enjoyed it but due to some poor saving decisions I got stuck in a hard dungeon with no healing items and no matter how I tackled a particular boss encounter I was not able to progress and had to give up. Years later for whatever reason I purchased FF13 and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. As someone that was not well versed in JRPGs, the extremely linear nature of 13 lent itself really well to a relative newcomer. The story was convoluted but at least there was a codex so I was, for the most part, able to follow along. I also really enjoyed the bizarre role oriented combat. At times it felt like a battle of attrition more than anything else, but once again for someone that hadn’t played a whole lot of these in the past it was really cool and exciting.

That brings us to FF15, the third Final Fantasy I have ever played.

Eyes up here buddy!
Eyes up here buddy!

FF15 is really fascinating. There is so much happening here and a lot of it is handled in such odd ways that I would love to see a full documentary on the making of it. The gameplay had always intrigued me from the videos I saw with it’s stylized action and great visuals. At first blush it seems complicated and a lot to wrap your head around. With time though you come to realize that like most of FF15 a lot of it is very automated favoring style over substance. Combat has some strategy to it but it's all very surface level “attack from the back” or “exploit the elemental weakness” strategy, and most of the time combat encounters are a mess. You will typically face multiple enemies that all attack at the same time making any attempts at stylish character action weaving and split-second dodging a hopeless pipe dream. You are much better served by alternating between holding down the automatic evade button and then holding down the automatic attack button when appropriate, mixing in Blindsides, Warps and Counters. Once in a while you will get to do a summon although the mechanics and conditions required for this to happen are never quite explained and I ended up summoning maybe a total of 6 times throughout the entire game +postgame content (typically in battles that never even required the overkill of a summon). At the outset, even after going through the full tutorial, I didn't really get the battle mechanics and I can proudly say that by the end of my 35 hour run and several YouTube How-To videos later I was still none the wiser at how to gracefully make your way through combat encounters. I beat the game, maybe in spite of it, but I did finish it so maybe I was playing it right all along? There are a lot of systems at play and they’re all odd. Spellcasting for instance is relegated to a usable item that you craft with very finite uses instead of the mana based classic iteration. Each time you want to cast a spell you will need to craft an instance of it and even if you have the necessary ingredients the spell will not automatically repopulate upon depletion. Similarly awkward are the signature Royal Arms which you are tasked with collecting. These magical power weapons boost your stats and have unique movesets but they drain your health as you use them and will drain more health the more damage you deal - a truly baffling system of balancing power weapons if I’ve ever seen one. There is hardly any armor to be worn and the few outfits that do impact your stats come very late in the game. The Royal Edition comes with a variety of clothing options from the very start and also Magitek armor which as far as I can tell is like a Godmode built into the game? The armor blocks all damage and has enough power to easily take you through an entire dungeon. I guess it’s one of those DLC items that completely breaks the game and I ended up only using it once to finish a dungeon simply because I was getting tired of it.

Lunafreya is an important character - she is also in the game for about 15 min
Lunafreya is an important character - she is also in the game for about 15 min

Outside of combat there is plenty more weirdness to be found. Ostensibly FF15 is presented as this road-trip game, yet none of the systems support this style of gameplay. Camping out in the wilderness thanks to the odd experience banking system is actively discouraged as you lose out on experience multipliers that you can get when resting in towns. There are absolutely no benefits to camping or going out of your way to finding camping spots out in the wilderness. Each time you are ready to level it is far more efficient to travel to a town that has a 1.5x experience multiplier instead of using a campground that gives you nothing. Surprisingly there is quite a big world out there for you to explore when the game isn’t rushing you through narrative setpieces that lock you out of it. Like much of FF15 the world is really interesting from a skin deep aesthetic layer but there is little mechanical depth to it. Side quests are all very mundane and since travel is primarily conducted through the Regalia autopilot you are either sitting through loading screens during fast travel or sitting back as your car steadily makes its way to the quest destination. It is nearly Death Stranding levels of audacity to have the player sit through so much pointless travel with absolutely nothing to do. I guess the team was really proud of that world? Even a tiny gear-shifting minigame that would give you a speed boost would be enough to liven up the time wasted on travelling the countryside. But back to the topic of quests - the only worthwhile missions are the primary story Quests which offer bespoke and often very well produced set pieces. Everything else might as well have been churned out by a computer learning algorithm. The Royal Tombs which the game somewhat centers around are probably the worst offenders of the bunch and the most painfully boring, confusing and unimaginative dungeon designs I’ve seen in the past 10 years. Instead of each of the 13 Royal Arms having interesting, hand crafted mini-dungeons, they are instead a mess of identical right angle hallways that twist and turn to form a maze of identical passageways broken up by combat encounters every 30 seconds. The worst one (and I did them all) being a tower you can only enter at night that devolved quite quickly into room after room of spawning enemies linked by the most barebones of level design. The “puzzle” near the end consisting of moving blocks that animated ever so slowly. Worse yet you can’t save inside a dungeon so you are obligated to finish them out in one go (in my situation I was not about to trust the XB1X suspend feature). Normally OK but a few times I simply had to go somewhere and the dungeon was going on and on and I mean c’mon it’s not 1997 anymore just let me save inside the dungeon this is a quality of life thing more than anything.

Understanding the story is a struggle
Understanding the story is a struggle

But all of that pales in comparison to the absurdity of how they decided to go about telling the actual story of this game. FF15 is a nightmare of cross-media fragmentation to the point where the game by itself makes little sense until you go out of your way to study all available outside sources. There is a full movie I watched which sets up a bit of backstory and character motivations that are otherwise absolutely unclear if you just play the game. Apart from the movie there is a TV show, DLC mini-campaigns featuring each of your comrades in arms as well as a chapter dedicated to the big bad of the game AND if I’m not mistaken a novelisation. In a way it’s incredible. At the end of the day the story told is not even that complicated. This is a simple tale of someone getting wronged and then exacting revenge. It most certainly did not need to be spread out among several different types of media. This choice of course ruins the actual game as you constantly meet people who you should know from THE MOVIE or the SHOW and they are not introduced in any way. There are moments where you party members leave and then come back with huge scars and then say “you should see the other guy” - this is a literal quote from the game - and the story moves on. That particular even is probably elaborated on in one of the characters DLC episodes which I didn’t play. Why? What insane development plan ended up with this final outcome? Apparently the final area of the game had been “fixed” for the Royal Edition because it was somehow unfinished or broken before. I never played the original but I did look through some YouTube videos and they did in fact expand the final chapter quite a bit. Is it for the better? Ehh.. In the original you get back to Insomnia and then after a short trek face off against Ifrit (who had been corrupted by Ardyn but you would only know this if you played his DLC) and then you face Ardyn himself who tells you a few things that make no sense because the game never communicated any of the plot to the player in order for these final revelations to have any payoff. In the expanded version Insomnia is a small playable area that had been populated with some absolutely underwhelming quests like finding 10 batteries for Cindy in random places across the map. You also fight against a lot more bosses this time around. Most notably you fight the old kings whose tombs you visit and these encounters are actually pretty interesting if I knew more backstory about who these kings were. I didn’t.

Despite all this.. Alll in all.. I had a fun time. There are definitely moments in the game that feel very satisfying. The way weapons materialize from thin air never stops being cool. When you finally unlock the flying Regalia it is an awesome transformation and makes getting around the map actually almost fun. Combat is neat when it clicks or when you’re facing a limited number of enemies that allow you to see what is happening. Final Fantasy 15 is one of those sad games that could have been great if only it didn’t turn into such a mess. There is so much potential here that will probably never get a proper chance at being a real game. If anything it did make me excited for the FF7 remake which seems to be doing a lot of what FF15 did right and making it even better - like the combat. I’m happy to have experienced it even though I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a “good” game.


A few words about Hollow Knight

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While waiting for some big releases I've decided to dive back into Hollow Knight. This is a game that I have bought and played several hours of on the PC quite a long time ago but moved on to other games. That in itself is a warning sign, that I originally was not entrenched enough in the experience to keep going. Well it is also on Game Pass and I decided to give it another go starting from the very beginning.

Much has been said about the map system in Hollow Knight. This very much being a metroidvania, you would expect a classic map showing you where you've been, where you are at and what remains locked away from you - for the most part this is the case. The biggest point of contention has always been the rather odd decision to not have the player show up on the map unless you have a special badge equipped. These badges basically act as skill slots and you do have a finite amount to pin onto your bug-like character. So unless you have the Compass badge taking up a precious slot, you will see the map of the area but not have a player icon indicating where you actually are on the map which considering the twisty-and-turny nature of the maps in the game can become a problem. It's weird, but once you get the compass badge which is available from the very start of the game it's not a huge deal. What I do think is a big problem in Hollow Knight is direction.

In typical metroidvania fashion the game is very non-linear, but it does funnel you through your lack of abilities.. at the start. As you hit dead ends you tend to naturally gravitate towards the next logical location, but the map in the game is quite big so bouncing off areas can take a long time. Eventually you uncover many areas that go quite far in the "wrong" direction before you realize that this isn't the place where you should be going. The trial and error nature of finding out where to direct your adventure next is the biggest failing of this otherwise really well made game in my opinion. There was a point where I had defeated a boss and was shown a cutscene and given a cryptic clue on what to do next.. and I had no idea where to go. The map loomed giant in front of me. I explored far reaches of the bug kingdom, encountering locations and items that I was not yet prepared to handle because I had not unlocked skills and abilities found completely elsewhere. You see there is quite a lot of side content to explore. Plenty of passages will simply lead to health upgrades or new pins, bringing you trasure but ultimately ending in more dead progression-wise. Plenty of times I thought I was finally going in the right direction only to find that I was on an arduous errand of increasing my health all along. What doesn't help is the limited fast travel system.

The map is quite big
The map is quite big

In the bug kingdom you will encounter plenty of benches where you can save. You can never fast travel between these benches though. There is a Stag Station fast travel system, and these stations are not nearly plentiful enough to cover the entire kingdom. Plenty of times I had to make do with getting semi-close to where I needed to go and then have to hoof it on foot through multiple screens. For a game with such an incredibly vast map it is strange that your travel options are so limited. Then again, this is a complaint I've seen raised on forums only to get shouted down by numerous players stating that fast travel would "ruin" the experience. As I had recently posted a thread regarding the practice of boss run backs and learned that many people would rather suffer the inconvenience for the sake of immersion it is not all that surprising that the developers of Hollow Knight have not yielded to these complaints through the numerous patches and content updates over the years.

At this point in time I'm nearing the final boss fight and unlocked 90% of the map and it has becomes somewhat of a chore to finish out my remaining tasks. To do this I need to travel around the bug kingdom far and wide - mostly on foot. This, at this point in the game, is no longer as fun as it used to be. Traversing the dark, maze-like depths of Deepnest is quite frankly a pain. Having to go anywhere is a journey. I've enjoyed the game quite a bit and it is extremely well made but the travel has ceased to be exciting and is now busywork that I've begun to dread.

Hollow Knight is a great game that is a little too obscure for it's own good. When your main technique of signposting is simply letting players hit dead ends, you should present them with a faster way of getting around the map and trying new directions. When you're at the very bottom right corner of the kingdom, but you really need to be at the top left portion, it's a pain to travel there even with the use of the Stag Stations. I wish bench teleporting was a thing, but if it hasn't become a thing by now it never will. At the same time it is quite ironic that I'm complaining about travel time in this game, when I'm simultaneously anticipating Death Stranding knowing full well what type of experience I'm signing up for. I guess it's a matter of taste in the end.

Have you played Hollow Knight? What did you think of it?


I just beat Devil May Cry 5 and it's a mixed bag


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Devil Is in the Details

I've just finished this game after weeks of struggling with it and after having gotten to the end and dabbled with some of the post game stuff I'm really mixed on the whole affair. To clarify, by struggle, I mean forcing myself to actually sit down and play it. Of course there were also challenging sections in the game, but something about it just failed to grab me. On the surface DMC5 is exactly what I should want. As a fan of character action games it delivers butter smooth performance (on the XB1X) great visuals and an incredibly deep combat system. On the surface.. this seems like all you would want. Well, not exactly. More than ever I am now convinced the Devil May Cry series is basically a fighting game in disguise, and I'm terrible at fighting games. While character designs are great and some of the special effects are incredibly flashy, DMC5 struggles with it's levels. For hardcore fans this is not a thing at all. Because all you really want are fight arenas right? Much like a fighting game, the backdrop is not as important as the fight in the foreground and DMC5 takes this to heart. After about the midpoint I'd say they stop even pretending to design the levels - everything is a weirdly drab demon world with the same texture and minimal creativity. I'm not that hardcore, and I actually do appreciate and to some degree need actual level design. Something to keep you stimulated between the fights. Even DMC4 which was half a game and a convoluted mess of styles maintained some sort of aesthetic.. kinda.. There were castles, weird labs, a cowboy town? The levels changed, even if it was for only half the game. DMC5 is a bit of a drab city and then demon world. It is absolutely boring.

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Likewise I've never been able to fully get onboard with the DMC combat mechanics. Much like a Street Fighter, there are plenty of hidden techniques passed on from game to game that are generally not explained and weirdly enough, to a large degree expected of the player. Air juggling through jump cancels as the most basic example, or the fact that jumping up is a safer and preferred alternative to the built in dodge. I've never enjoyed the directional inputs much either. When the camera spins in a strange direction it's oftentimes hard to gauge which way is "back" to do your ground slam attack. For all the depth, and there is plenty, Dante is just a mess to play. Of course I've watched plenty of jaw-dropping videos of people seamlessly switching between all of his weapons and styles while not getting hit once and maintaining a triple SSS rank. I'm not sure what it takes to get to that level but after 20 "missions" of DMC5 I weirdly enough felt just as confused and unsure of how to actually approach combat encounters as I was when starting the game. I knew the moves, but the rules escape me. I can't seem to get a handle on how enemies will behave or how to properly break their armor.. Let me just say that Bayonetta is probably my favorite character action game and while I was never an absolute pro at it, I did feel competent and in control by the end of the game. I have rarely felt this way in DMC5 because I just can't grasp the systems for whatever reason and the game offers only surface level instructions on how to play it. I could dig through tons and tons of user tutorials on YouTube but that can't be the expectation?

Hardcore fans hate DmC and I get it. Ninja Theory did a great job of taking a franchise and modernizing it with a twist. DmC had an interesting take on a new story about the brothers, amazing level designs and a competent combat system. Tone differences aside, fans of Devil May Cry didn't really want or need those first two things. They are just getting in the way of the combat, which did not feature enough cancels and tricks to dig your teeth into. It was just a solid combat system that was fairly easy to get your head around, but it was the Mortal Kombat to a seasoned Street Fighter player.

People loved DMC5. Fans were greatly pleased with the return to form for the franchise. You had Dante! He had 4 different styles with a modifier for every weapon he got and there were a bunch of them.. and I'm happy for them. For me it felt like a very old game, with a very modern coat of paint. A lot of the menus, the way you checkpoint, the boss fights and level design were things from a decade ago and they didn't evolve one bit. The fighting is as good as ever if you liked the way it worked before, but everything around it is so incredibly boring and I found it hard to get engaged on any level. This incredibly bombastic game with some hilarious and amazingly choreographed cutscenes was so lackluster when you actually got to the gameplay. The V levels did not help things either as you stand and dodge attacks and hope your pets fight the right enemies while jamming on 4 buttons at the same time. I dunno, more than anything I continue to be perplexed by the franchise. I've never come across any other series that I wanted to like so much but I just didn't get it. I remember struggling with the combat in DMC4, coming back to it years later with DMC4:SE and now DMC5, and I still feel just as confused as to how you are actually supposed to dodge attacks or tackle bosses. It's a series that has made me question whether I even like the genre in the first place.


I just beat Quantum Break in 2019 and it was alright

You got your Control in my Quantum Break!
You got your Control in my Quantum Break!

Turns out Quantum Break is alright.

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I mean it's not great, don't get me wrong. This game certainly feels like an early launch title sort of deal. Even on an Xbox One X there were some weird performance issues, sound stutters, freezing of video in in-game cutscenes with audio continuing to play. I can't imagine how this ran on a base XB1 before a slew of patches hit - Remedy games being rather known for getting released in less than ideal states. I even watched all the TV show episodes, although they have apparently taken them down from whatever server they were on because the option to stream never worked (I watched them all on YouTube). Initially I had no desire to do this but then between I think Act 2 and 3 your character gets taken into custody and then after the episode, which I skipped, you're starting the game uncuffed, fully armed and next to your buddy Jesse Faden - Courtney Hope of Control fame voices one of your primary accomplices here which was a nice surprise! So I begrudgingly started watching the show thinking there was important stuff between the acts and surprise there really isn't. In a few instances you see how some character ended up where they did but thats about it. Still I kind of grew fond of how hokey and daytime TV it all was.

The most interesting thing about Quantum Break is how much of a template this game was for Control. Everything that Quantum Break did seems to have been ironed out and done better in Control - but you can see the connective tissue from one game to the next. You even have characters wearing techno-gadget-harnesses to stop them from an environmental hazard - in the case of QB it's the time stutters and Chronon Harnesses. There is a central mcguffin here that is holding everything together much like the Hedron-whatnot in Control. There is also a strong aesthetic centering around distortion as Jack Joyce will create ripples in the world as he shifts through it during a time stutter. It's really fascinating really to see this very commercial product from years ago get super ironed out but also became a little more niche in nature. Control shows so much more polish and complexity, but it's also not this blockbuster time travel romp with an obvious good guy/bad guy dynamic. Control is a lot more esoteric, elusive, artsy even. Thats not to say Quantum Break is extremely digestible - the time travel part of the story eats it's own tail so many times that I finally gave up trying to play catch it with what time we were at and why we needed to be 5 minutes before the future begins so that we can go to 10 minutes into the pasts present.. But it was a very shootery-shooter. It was a game very much of it's time while Control seems to be in a world completely of it's own.

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It's also amazing how much they evolved in terms of level design. Max Payne was all about back alleys and dingy streets of New York. Alan Wake was seemingly the same bit of forest for the entire game when you weren't dealing with the interesting set-pieces. Quantum Break seems to find any excuse to place you in some decrepit building - old warehouses, old abandoned homes, underground maintenance.. broken windows, brick walls and graffiti is the basic decor. To go from these drab and rather featureless corridor levels to the Oldest House is really admirable. What a step up for that team. While parts of Control are very much like a mundane office building, there is always something around the corner to make things interesting, and thats not mentioning the amazing set-piece moments and boss battles that warp reality in delightful ways.

Apart from general movement and structure, Control really nails down the collectible side of the game. Quantum Break has a TON of this stuff to read, but it is extremely dry, very long and often placed in locations where you have side characters constantly nagging you to get moving. These are typically e-mail exchanges and they can sometimes span several screen heights in length. I read a whole lot of it hoping to get a little more insight into the story and I'd say half of it was fairly interesting while the other half was kind of pointless - and let me reiterate, a lot of it is very long. Control on the other hand really does a great job of condensing these collectibles into bite size treats. You never feel like there is too much text on screen to get through. It's short, to the point, and most importantly interesting. Well OK some of the stuff in Control was also really dry, like some Altered Item descriptions that were just kind of not all that engaging, but for the most part it was all handled really well.

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The last thing I noticed was just how much Remedy love Alan Wake. Quantum Break is filled with Alan Wake references. There was a Night Springs show on a television ( yes they also have live action TV shows in-game ) there was a woman with clearly Alan Wake on screen playing the game, right down to her hands being on the WASD keys. Theres a lot of it, and only it. I saw no references to Max Payne anywhere weirdly enough.

It was an interesting trip down memory lane. I actually looked up Jeffs review for Quantum Break back when they did those regularly. Was surprised that he gave it that low of a score - seems like a decently average shooter with some interesting twists.

I'm not actually advocating anyone out there go out of their way to play Quantum Break. It's OK. I've often heard people say it's the worst Remedy game and not even worth playing. It's definitely worse than Max Payne.. but Alan Wake? I dunno. I certainly had more fun playing Quantum Break even if the story didn't really evolve as much as I hoped. But hey different strokes for different boats.

Either way, what I'm really trying to say here is that I'm stoked for that Control DLC.


The Surge is Dead Space and Dark Souls rolled into one and I'm all in

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It's the gaming drought and I've been looking for things to play. A lot of advertisements had recently sprung up about The Surge 2 showcasing some gameplay videos and a cinematic trailer - even our very own Giant Bomb gave it a shot on a UPF or something a while back. So I checked and it was on Game Pass - man I love Game Pass - so why not?

Turns out I really liked The Surge.


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Many years ago I remember getting a fairly bad game from GameStop and I knew someone working there so they told me they can exchange it for something else they had on hand at the moment. Anything was better than what I had (title of the game escapes me) and when I saw him the next day he handed me Dead Space which had just released at the time. Now I wasn't all that enthused - I don't like scary games and I enjoy survival horror even less. I vaguely recalled the advertising campaigns for Dead Space touting it had amazing sound design and was incredibly scary. The game sat on my shelf for a while until a friend came over that wanted to play it. I let him go at it and sat back watching - when he left that day after getting a few hours into it I knew that a) it looked amazing and b) I had to play it for myself. The amazing design and clever innovations in the already established survival horror genre were able to help me play this title that I would never give the time of day otherwise. Sure I still cringed at all the monster closets, but no longer was I repelled by having 2 bullets and slowly walking around, turning in place using tank controls and clumsily dispatching slow zombies. A great game is just a great game, no matter what genre it occupies.

Dead Souls

The Surge reminds me a lot of that time. A big difference is that I am already a fan of the Souls games, and Bloodborne is probably my favorite one-of-those, so I didn't need to force myself outside of my comfort zone. What the Surge does is take this existing formula and much like Dead Space did with survival horror all those years ago, it adds new systems and evolves some of the already established mechanics. More importantly it brought the Souls experience to a sci-fi setting which is very much my jam. Being in the future means that a lot of the things that were typically just fantasy magic mumbo jumbo all of a sudden have more or less logical explanations which actually goes a long way in increasing the immersion factor. Ironically it helps to ground the experience in some sort of reality which in a way helps you relate to whats going on around you. You're not walking through ruined castles or bogs, you're in the R&D department of a corporation where gross experiments were taking place. You're using a welding device attached to your exo-rig which increases your strength and speed so that you can work at an assembly line better. Your abilities are implants that draw power from your suit.. it's all very industrial and very cool. I even enjoyed the corporate PR you constantly encounter throughout the game, with a future Mark Zuckerberg letting you know how great Creo (the fictional corporation you work for) is both for you and for the world around you - without getting into spoilers you do get to meet this man and it's a really interesting encounter.

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Then of course there is the dismemberment. This system where you cut off the limbs of your enemies in order to get the gear they are wearing is extremely fun. Not only does it look cool, but it helps the combat not get stale. Very rarely was I ever just mashing my pneumatic drill at an enemy. Each encounter is a little different because enemies will have different weak spots and depending on the situation you might want to go for a faster kill or you might want to prolong the fight a bit to gain energy so you can engage a heal. The energy meter you gain through consecutive attacks adds that one extra layer of strategy to combat encounters in addition to simply managing your stamina which makes a world of difference.

Similarly I love the skills system in the form of implants that you can slot in and out at will. Everyone knows the pain of playing through a Dark Souls game, increasing a stat for 15 hours only to find the perfect sword.. that uses a completely different stat. You can use items to re-roll but it's kind of a pain. The Surge presents you with implants that have either passive or active buffs, and you can mix and match them at will as long as you have the energy to power them. You're never locked into one "build" because you can always switch things up. You can even stack a bunch of the same implant that gives you bonus experience for each kill and go farming for a while, then switch in all your implants for exploring an area and keep on truckin. A boss too difficult? Slap on a bunch of extra heals so that you can use a "flask" 12 times. The freedom to play as you wish and the many choices you have at your disposal is a wonderful change of pace from the typically enigmatic and static way the Souls games handle this. The Surge doesn't really obfuscate anything - there aren't any items that "might bring a wanderer luck" or something equally vague. It still manages to be interesting and a lot of fun while being absolutely transparent with it's systems and options. There are some fun things to discover on your own, like for instance there is an entire combo system that executes different moves depending on the sequence of attacks you choose. There is a special way to kill every boss that will reward you a better version of the boss weapon afterwards. It's just enough to be interesting but not too much to be a nuisance.

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Which is not to say that everything is great. The worst thing about the Surge is hands down their level design, which is a little drab and at times incredibly confusing. For all the cool innovation and awesome looking bosses and tech, the areas you traverse are quite boring, often looking very similar from zone to zone, always using the exact same maintenance corridors that twist and turn, going up and down until you no longer know where you are. While games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls were typically excellent about showing you the places that you're going to go to, so that once you get there you could kind of marvel how they cleverly tied everything together, in the Surge you go into these dark corridors that spit you out the other side and you have zero context for where you went or where you ended up. It's a real shame because it's the one element that really drags the entire experience down a whole notch.

If you have Game Pass, and are looking to kill some time until the next big thing comes out (this would be CONTROL next week) annnd you like the Souls games.. then hey check this out. At the time of release it got a somewhat lukewarm reception but I do think it's really doing a lot of interesting things with this new genre we got on our hands.


I've joined the brave and the few (Upgraded my PC)


Upgrading PC's is something I generally dislike doing. I've been building computers for years ever since my older brother got me into it. To this day I cringe when thinking of putting together those boxes in 1999 or so, with all the different compatibility errors and incredulous solutions like moving something a dimm slot over to get your whole setup to finally stop spitting out those ear mangling error codes. Those who bemoan Windows 10 should spend a week being forced to build anything under ME or 2000, what a nightmare.

As a child I wasn't a big console gamer because my parents despised video games professing them to be a huge waste of time (and they weren't wrong!), so naturally we never really had any in the house. This is partly why I have absolutely no fondness for Zelda, or Mario or a number of other classics held in high regard that I simply didn't get a chance to sit down with for any serious amount of time. Sure I played some console games in my youth - Contra quite literally changed my life and blew my mind the first time I saw it in action - but it was the PC that opened the doors to gaming for me under the thinly disguised veil of being an educational companion for schoolwork.

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When people talk about their childhood gaming moments in terms of Metroid or Link to the Past, I think of Stunts or Hexen. Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Rise of the Triad. Adventure titles like Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road or the more esoteric Bureau 13. Playing Prince of Persia at my friends house or collecting jewels in Commander Keen. I recall running a 25 ft long ethernet cable with my brother between our rooms so we could cooperatively stomp out the AI in StarCraft. Those were the golden days of gaming for me. That is when I fell in love with Fallout and Fallout 2, thinking I must be a huge fan of RPG's only to later painfully discover those games to be very unique gems in a vast pool of fantasy driven adventures with Dungeons and Dragons rulesets that confused and irritated me. It's where I spent hours crafting hospitals and dungeons, rollercoasters and flying fortresses in Stratosphere: Conquest of the Skies. Basically, great times that shaped how I think about games today. They were my Gerstmann callbacks, the titles that I think of when I mention "classic" gaming.

Alas with the love of PC Gaming came a price - keeping afloat on the ever changing tides of the hardware curve required capital. You had to steadily dump money into your machine or the tide was going to pull you away from the golden shores of high performance and into the sad, open waters of minimal specs where similar individuals paddled in place, watching those beautiful games back on shore get further and further from your reach. Back then it was a lot more dire to get left behind as many titles didn't just perform poorly, they would quite often refuse to run at all unless you met their lofty requirements. I'm not even sure how I did it as a young kid, but somehow I stayed afloat and continued to enjoy awesome graphics, nuanced gameplay and smooth performance, oftentimes looking down at console offerings with a bewildered ignorance: how could people play that stuff?

Just would not stop crashing..
Just would not stop crashing..

As the years went on a few things came together to form the perfect storm that changed my stance completely. First of all my patience in keeping up with the rat race started waning as college and two jobs began eating away every free moment I had and having to pay for the roof over my head as well as the food I ate cut drastically into my gaming budget. Second, PC games entered the blightful phase of shoddy ports that weren't optimized, had a ton of issues and continued to rob me of my free hours as I spent more time troubleshooting various crashes on Lycos than actually playing the games themselves (damn you Slave Zero!). The third nail in the coffin was that as PC game quality dwindled and innovation came to a standstill, console games started getting pretty darn good. The first console I bought after my Pegasus from the early 90's was a Playstation 1. One of the first games I played on it was Metal Gear Solid. Here was a game that felt every bit as nuanced as the PC titles I was used to, but on it's own terms. Let me show you the power of my mind, snarled Psycho Mantis and proceeded to make me burst out laughing. You know, these consoles are alright..

Fast forward to the 360 and I had all but completely abandoned the PC. The ease of buying a disc and simply playing the game was something I was able to sacrifice a lot of inherent computer fidelity for that I'd grown accustomed to over the years. My first FPS played with a controller instead of a mouse and keyboard - and over the years I had cut my teeth on Counter Strike and Battlefield 1942 with the trusty carpal tunnel inducing WASD setup - was BioShock, possibly the worst choice for such a drastic transition seeing as Rapture might be an incredibly atmospheric world, but the shooting was never the highlight of that franchise. Then came later games that continued to fuel my gaming needs and helping me become a proper console player. Dead Space, one of my favorite franchises to date showed me how great third person shooters could be. Modern Warfare showed me that console shooters had the potential to be fast and frantic. GRID and Dirt games showed me how fun a driving game could be with analog sticks instead of the tried and true clickity clackety turning on a keyboard.

Still pretty good?
Still pretty good?

I've always kept my PC moderately up to date so that when some exclusive came along I'd be able to give it a shot. Lately though, both pricing and ease of play has been shifting back towards computer games. One of the final straws was Hitman for me, a game I've grown to enjoy quite a bit. The load times and performance on the PS4 where I initially bought the Intro Pack played an incredibly detrimental role in my enjoyment of the product. Here is a game where I want to experiment, I want to test the boundaries, and in order to do that I need to load a save quite often - a painfully slow process on my base PS4. Dishonored 2, my favorite game of 2016, ran incredibly poorly at times with a chugging framerate that made me question how the game made it to market at times. The argument that "these games are optimized for the hardware so you have consistent performance" started to really ring hollow. More and more titles started coming out ridden with bugs, with poor performance, and overall issues that sometimes - like in the case of Skyrim on PS3 - simply never got resolved. My whole reason for switching to the console ecosystem started to fall apart, and now with the release of the PS4 PRO it has basically shattered to pieces. A better version of the same generation of consoles? Games that run better on one than the other? And these games have been already performing quite poorly as of late.. so am I to buy for another whole console simply to get back to that baseline performance? I just didn't know anymore.

So here we are!

It was time for another update, and when updating your PC why take half steps - you should always go full Gerstmann.

The Parts.
The Parts.

I combed through some forums, got up to speed on some new-aged terminology, and set out to build a whole new PC from the ground up.

Noise was one of my major complaints as my previous computer would sound like a jet engine when playing any game, thanks to the wonderful Radeon R9 card I had in there. The Noctua fan was overkill for my needs as I wasn't going to overclock to CPU just yet, but it ensures longevity for the time when I would want to crank up those cores. If I had an i6700 the processor choice would be a huge waste of money as the i7 line did little to innovate on their predecessor, but coming from an AMD based bulldozer cpu this was a great leap forward, and one of the best chips out on the market right now (as far as I could tell anyway!) I wanted to get G.Skill Tridents but there was a good deal on the Hyper X so I took the hit and got the slightly slower ram.

The videocard was obviously the most expensive but a good investment for years to come.

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I had no idea Power Supplies came in swanky pouches like this these days and it really made me laugh when I opened it up. It seemed like something a pimp might carry in the backseat of his cadillac for some reason. I was going to go with a Corsair power supply but Seasonic has a pretty great reputation and it offered both modular cable design and no-fan-spinning when working under load. Sadly it doesn't have the platinum rating as the original Corsair iHX I had chosen out, but Gold will do just as well in a pinch.

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The Noctua fan is a NH 14 model, and is quite big! Thankfully the chatter online was true in that installation of Austria's finest is incredibly simple, even for someone who hasn't touched modern coolers in years. (My previous build had the cooler already set on the CPU and the motherboard for which I was incredibly thankful)

Not this time though! This time I had to place the CPU into the socket myself and then attach this hunk of metal on top. In all honesty my hands got a little shaky as I fumbled to place the small square into the ASUS easy-snap-on-thing and then heard a rather unhealthy cracking noise as I closed the game firmly shut and bolted it down. If I messed things up it would be quite apparent later on..

I then proceeded to check out the latest and greatest techniques for applying thermal paste, a topic on which there is an endless amount of discussion raging on as we speak. Ultimately I settled on the tried and true 4-5mm bead in the very center. Should work just fine and a lot of people, including the fine folk at Noctua, recommend this method.


What I absolutely did not miss is the mess that comes along with building a PC, and how things can spiral out of control if you don't keep them in check. It's good form to cleanup as you go along, but having been out of the game for quite a while I let the habit slide and ended up with a mountain of parts, screws, boxes and plastic packets strewn all over the place. Also not being the young man I once was, despite taking precautions to work at a desk instead of hunched over the components on the ground, my back was still killing me after all was said and done.

It works!
It works!

But finish I did, and to my overwhelming joy Windows 10 handled the whole process smooth as butter. A quick verification of my installation that simply required me to log into my account and indicate that I had a "serious hardware change" recently and my Digital License smoothly transferred over. I know! I know! You should do a clean install upon changing hardware.. but listen, I'm tired and this works, so hey I'll cut some corners. Also this installation of windows is actually quite fresh, with nary a program on it apart from Steam and Photoshop. If driver conflicts arise I'll deal with them using the good ol' wipe method, but until then, I'm happy to just have things working.

PC is running smooth as silk and I can barely tell it's on when I'm simply surfing the web. Playing Hitman on all things Ultra wasn't honestly the life defining experience I thought it might be, but it's nice to not have to worry about detail settings for the foreseeable future.

Either way thanks for reading. I'm happy to have a fully upgraded and up to date computer once more. I'm ready to join the ranks of the worst PC snobs out there, being disgusted at games running under anything less than 120FPS and loudly proclaiming how I don't even know what a console is much less that I would actually own such a thing. (Of course secretly I'll be continuing to play Titanfall 2 on my PS4 and anticipating Horizon Zero Dawn in a month, because no matter how awesome it is to boast about your killer frames, it's a lot more awesome to simply play great games no matter where they appear..)


From First Light to Second Son - InFamous is surprisingly awesome

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As some of you may know, this month PS Plus offered First Light up for grabs, the stand alone DLC to InFamous: Second Son. Being a PS4 owner that had never played the base game I decided to give it a go; why not right? I ended up really disliking First Light for a variety of reasons. I didn’t think it looked great, the city felt drab and lifeless, the missions were boring and I disliked the character, her story and powers. Yet, something at the end of that DLC grabbed my attention. Suddenly the game became a little more set-piece story driven and a little less open world meandering. I had watched the first 15-20 minutes of Second Son online at some point and it reminded me of that. So I took a chance and bought Second Son on the cheap, and it’s a good thing I did because I absolutely loved it.

Second Son is a game that I think just went on it’s way after release. People said it looked great but I didn’t hear a lot of talk about how well it played. Some folk mentioned how the developers probably never even looked at what the map of Seattle actually looks like but that was about it. Well I’m here to tell you fellow bombers, the game is great.

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Just to get it out of the way, yes, Second Son looks absolutely gorgeous and is probably one of the best looking next gen games I’ve played on the PS4. The very opening of the game has you jumping around a beachside with beautiful sun rays streaming in, great water effects and detailed textures that are all a joy to behold. The particle effects on the different powers you use look spectacular and everything just seems crisp and clean like how ‘next gen’ games should all feel. Second Son also utilizes all the strengths of the new console. It is colorful, vibrant and makes use of the PS4’s bag of tricks including the touchpad and motion controls. In my personal opinion it is the game for showcasing the strengths and unique capabilities of the console.

But looks aren’t everything of course. One of the very first things that Second Son does extremely well is the way it loads up. When you launch the game from the XMB it loads directly into gameplay - a small thing but it’s literally mind blowing. You don’t have to X way your past 3 different title screens, logos or menus - you launch it and the first thing that loads up is your character in the gameworld, ready to go. More games should do this. In fact all games should do this.

But why am I so in love with Second Son when I absolutely disliked everything about First Light? Well it’s probably because Second Son did everything for me that First Light simply didn’t. In a recent thread about the DLC my main complaint was the Fetch, the protagonist of First Light, had a traversal power that completely trivialized the environment as it let you run around, up and down walls, without any challenge. All you did was hold a button and went. The city felt extremely barren as well and you mainly faced off against lookalike Dan Ryckert gang members that weren’t very exciting to fight. I realize that in large part my problems stemmed from the fact that I was playing a story filler DLC that is probably meant to be experienced after you beat the main game - after all the fanfare of exploring your powers and the the city is well over with. I didn’t get to experience the well paced exploration and as such was about the write the entire game off.

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Second Son does a great boy of steadily introducing you to not only all the powers but also the city itself. Throughout my entire playthrough I probably enjoyed the original smoke abilities the most. Not only do they look amazing but they offer just enough mobility to make traversal fun, without it being a completely mindless act of holding down the ‘go’ button. You have to look for vents, judge your jumps and double dash effectively to get around. It makes you feel powerful, but not omnipotent. There is mission early on that has you climbing the space needle which scratched the exact sort of itch I had. There you are, climbing this incredibly tall structure, aided by your powers but still presented with a challenge. Hanging on with one hand I look down and get a little nervous, the controller gets a little sweatier in my grip because I know one wrong move and I’m falling to my doom. It doesn’t matter that the game will just start me back up at a checkpoint, it’s the thrill of conquering this object that I get the most fun from.

The city also seems a lot more vibrant in the main game as well. There is a decent amount of activities that Delsin can engage in that feel more fleshed out than what was offered in First Light - which seemed tacked on at best. These are all typical side missions that help you take down each district by painting graffiti or destroying security cameras, but they all make sense within Delsins story while they felt weirdly superficial in Fetches.

Listen, I could go on but obviously it doesn’t take a genius to realize that a full game is going to offer a lot more diversity than a short piece of story DLC. I guess what I’m getting at here is that it’s January and not a lot of game are coming out. Some of you might be looking for something fun to play and enjoy open world experiences. I cannot recommend Second Son enough. It is probably the most fun I’ve had out of all these “next gen” games that promised us the moon and barely got off the ground. I think Second Son delivers everything with reasonable expectations - it looks great, it runs well, there are very short loading times, the story is pretty decent and the gameplay is fun, engaging and for the most part varied as you continue unlocking new abilities up to the very end boss battle. You can probably get this game on the cheap right now, so if you want, go ahead and give it a shot. Personally I think it really deserves a lot of praise for being a launch title that delivered way more than games that have had more time with the hardware.


Playing Assassins Creed 3 directly after Black Flag

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After finishing Black Flag, the thought of another Assassins Creed game, any AC game really, seemed like a prospect best left untouched for at least a few years. While the latest entry in the long running assassin series was a great game and a ton of fun, the repetitive nature of the inherent Creed game design wore me out completely by the conclusion of this swashbuckling themed adventure. As it stands though, new games were still months away and I had a copy of the much maligned Assassins Creed 3 sitting in my Uplay account, courtesy of a new Samsung SSD I had purchased several months prior. With much trepidation I finally caved in and decided to give the game a try, how bad could it be really?

The most interesting aspect of Assassins Creed 3 is how it’s a complete polar opposite to everything in Black Flag. Having played both in short succession it’s fascinating to observe how two very similar games play completely differently thanks to several key distinctions - and it’s this dichotomy observed within AC3 that ultimately drove me onward through a campaign I mostly didn’t care about and characters I felt no affection for.

Learning to crawl before you walk, again and again.

Right away the first major difference you notice is the pacing of these two games. Assassins Creed 3 takes a staggering 2-3 hours before you’re actually wearing assassin robes and are able to roam the land freely. The leadup intertwined with story exposition and basic tutorials is excruciatingly slow as you’re once again taught the very fundamental basics of the franchise. Understandably some people might choose this 5th game in the series as a perfect place to jump into the franchise, and naturally you can’t leave them in the dark about the inner workings of Assassins Creed - but to force everyone else who has played this series many times before to undergo the same slow paced and methodical tutorial on how to free run or do a leap of faith is tragic. More tragic still is that AC3 is a game that is drowning in systems and subsystems that aren’t even explained all that well, despite this entirely too long introductory phase. Many times over I desperately wanted to quit as I was forced to play hide and go seek, hunting mini games and an assortment of other side activities that could have been relegated until the world fully opens up.


In stark contrast, Black Flag handles this wonderfully. There is a small intro cinematic and you’re in it, you’re chasing a Templar and the game casually mentions that to chase him you have to free run without holding your hand too tightly. After the quick tutorial island that manages to distill the principles of free-running, synchronizing, leaps of faith, sneaking, foliage and the nuance of combat you’re off to explore the world. Black Flag does gate content through story progression, and you’re going to head directly to Havana in order to continue tutorializing, yet somehow this doesn’t feel as constrained and forced as it does in AC3. The game has fun with it, and you still retain a large degree of freedom in how you approach the subsequent missions up until you unlock your ship and the game really begins. In large part this is all made a lot more bearable because Edward is a lot more jovial than Connor, making your shared adventure that much more enjoyable.

Story beats

Assassins Creed 3 is incredibly serious. There is very little charm here that was so often found in the wacky side characters of games past. The stage is set against a backdrop of the Revolutionary War, liberty and freedom of the people taking center stage to relentlessly assault you in every cutscene: a theme that simultaneously reflects upon the struggle between colonists and the British empire in the foreground, as well as the ongoing struggle between assassins and templars in the background. Similarly Connor is an intense individual, lacking any sort of charm or charisma, mindlessly pursuing a singular goal with all the intensity and grace of a rabid dog. Worse yet for all the time spent on cementing Connors heritage as a native American, it hardly plays into the game at all, as he manages to ostracize himself from society all on his own with a complete lack of humor and confrontational attitude towards enemies and allies alike. In short it’s hard to like him as a protagonist, and in turn to care about his plight. Connor is similarly clueless as all previous assassins we’ve played before him, but it’s his childlike naivette that perseveres throughout the entire game which really hammers home the image of someone completely removed from the world around him.


Once again Edward is the complete opposite: cheerful, charming, at once likeable and motivated rather than obsessed. You’re not out for revenge, you’re not saving the world, Edward simply wants to get rich and as far as he’s concerned the templars and assassins can do as they please. Unlike Connor who quite literally befriends no one throughout the entire game apart from the old man, Edward meets and befriends a lot of people who ultimately end up coming to his aid in a time of need.


As mentioned earlier, Assassins Creed 3 drowns in it’s own systems that the game glosses over. Every activity, collectible and challenge from past entries and the proverbial kitchen sink had ended up on a design document and for better or worse all was dutifully implemented for Connors benefit. Surprisingly the only thing omitted were the animus fragments, which true to my theory of opposites make a return in Black Flag. AC3 is thick with side activities. From various “clubs” that act as fronts for classic challenges, to Liberation missions in cities, Forts, Naval combat, bar games, letter delivery, fact gathering - the whole nine yards. They are all held firmly back by the utterly terrible map which does little in helping you find anything you might be interested in finding even if it’s something as banal as a General Store. At the heart of it all is the completely baffling homestead that continues the tradition set by Assassins Creed 2 of owning a home base which you can progressively upgrade. While in all prior iterations this was simply done by throwing money at it, AC3 goes the distance by instead relegating all upgrades with dozens of missions which appear all over the world for you to seek out. Tied into the homestead are other known quantities like sending out caravans and crafting, all made needlessly complex and tied into having done the proper missions.


Black Flag takes a traditional approach to all of this. You have money? Buy upgrades. The menu’s were clear, the systems simple. In AC3 you wanted an upgrade? Well you had to explore the entire world hoping to stumble upon a chest with a recipe, then you had to make sure you did enough side missions for the homestead in order for your workers to be skilled enough to produce the parts you needed. Then you had to acquire additional parts by hunting, but the game didn’t tell you where you could find the animals you needed.. In Black Flag everything is very black and white: you want a bigger pouch, well you need 2 monkey skins, you can find monkeys on this island, go. It was easy, it wasn’t a hassle.

A world worth the trouble to explore

Assassins Creed 3 obviously was very centered around exploration. Almost nothing was marked on your map and oftentimes if you wanted anything extra you had to go into the frontier and run around looking for it. Fast Travel points were limited in cities and had to be found first to be used, and apart from conquered Forts I never found Fast Travel locations within the vast frontier to which I could warp to. The problem was that the world of AC3 just wasn’t fun to explore. I’ll admit that it was the first time I felt a forest was properly represented in a video game with tree’s growing thick and criss crossing to form various pathways for Connor to traverse - but all the areas were simply so large and often devoid of anything but the trees that running in this dense vegetation from mission to mission quickly became a chore. You’re able to summon a horse at any time but the less said about these magnificently idiotic creatures the better; you were usually better off on foot unless the road was a flat, paved, highway..


Sailing in Black Flag was fun. The open sea would appear an awfully boring place to traverse but something about the physics, the shanties and the occasional sea battle along the way to your destination made it really entertaining. When you tired of sailing, you had a plethora of Fast Travel locations to choose from in order to quicken your journey. Likewise islands were just the right size - big enough to have something to explore, but not so large as to test your patience when getting from one end to the other. It was the Frontier from AC3 delivered in bite size chunks.

Is Assassins Creed 3 a truly terrible game? Well yes and no. There were plenty of times when it simply bored me, where I was tempted to skip cutscenes with stiff dialog, where I would sigh with exaggeration seeing that I’d have to once again traverse half the map through thick snow that added zero gameplay opportunities and only served to slow my movement. Yet, somewhere near the home stretch, for a brief moment I did feel something akin to enjoyment and even a small stab of regret seeing all the side activities I left untouched. The very first real world mission that tasked Desmond with climbing a skyscraper under construction was actually really fun as I experienced an epiphany in that these steel girders and trusses I’m running through are quite literally a modern day concrete jungle.

It’s not an awful game, but it’s poorly paced, overburdened with poorly explained fluff and based on a story that fails to hold interest unless you’re a history buff happy to laugh at clever ways the game-plot was interwoven into actual history - like Charles Lee ordering a retreat at the Battle of Monmouth because he was a Templar opposed to Washington’s success.

Assassins Creed 3 is not a game I could honestly recommend to any fan of the series unless as a novelty. For those curious about the fate of Desmond, his story could be experienced through YouTube and one would be better off for it as it’s a long buildup to an abrupt finish. I can only hope that the changes in Black Flag were a direct result of fan complaints and a lucky coincidence as that gives me hope that whatever Assassins Creed 4 turns out to be, it will be a game worth playing.


Dragons Dogma and why you should really play it (Now on PC!)

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Jan 15, 2016 EDIT: This is my old blog but considering the game is now available on PC it's as relevant as ever. Go buy it, buy a copy for your friends, buy one for your mother, heck buy one for Pompidou!

One of the most underrated titles I have seen in a long time, and arguably one of the best RPG experiences of this generation - Dragons Dogma is a game that everyone should play. In my opinion it is a perfect blend of Skyrim and Dark Souls rolled into an action packed hybrid. The combat has weight to it like Dark Souls, but not as animation priority heavy which I thought made DS sluggish past a certain point. From the Skyrim side, it has a pretty large world to explore with unique locations and various quests, but I think it’s the exact opposite of what Patrick claimed - unlike Skyrim, the world of Dragons Dogma is filled with loot chests that reward exploration with worthwhile treasure. How many times did you explore a cave in Skyrim only to find a chest with 14 gold in it or the same exact sword with a pathetically weak elemental buff on it? Dragons Dogma has no generic loot. Every piece of equipment is unique. You won’t find 12 different versions of the same sword with different stats. Almost every single time I strayed from my quest to explore a nook or a side path I was rewarded with a chest that had something interesting in it. For the first time in ages I was fully engaged in exploring the world and not using any sort of fast travel.

Reasons why you should play Dragons Dogma:

Versatile class system

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Dragons Dogma has a very unique vocation (class) system. You earn regular levels that increase your stats like health, stamina, attack defense etc..but you also take on a role, or vocation, that ranks up independently and unlocks new skills and attacks for that particular vocation. You can switch vocations as often as you like - it is even encouraged as class specific passive buffs carry over. For instance, in the warrior vocation you can unlock a passive buff which greatly increases your strength, which will still be available for you to use when you switch over to the Assassin vocation. This allows for great versatility when creating your character and encourages experimentation within the many classes available.

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You are presented with a plethora of vocations to choose from, each specializing in distinctly unique forms of combat. There are three primary classes: fighter, strider and mage, which offshoot into hybrids and specializations. Fighters are your typical melee class with shield and sword, but you can also become a powerful Warrior or the magic wielding Mystic Knight - both of which use completely different weapons and attacks. Do you want to engage in melee combat, getting in up close and personal? The Fighter is an agile class that has numerous sword skills like dynamic home-in lunges, shield bashing or concentrated strikes. Feel like you want more power? The Warrior wields gigantic two handed weapons that send small enemies literally flying into the air and can stagger even larger foes. Want cool armor and melee combat but also a bit of magic? The Mystic Knight makes use of a magic shield and runes that both offer unique buffs and enchantments to you and your party as well as provide offensive magical attacks. Mage, Sorcerer, Assassin, Ranger, Strider, Magick Archer.. there is literally a vocation for every playstyle and you’re not locked into one for the entire game which is great in case you want to try something else down the road.

Engaging combat

Hang on tight
Hang on tight

The combat is simply amazing. Much like Dark Souls or Skyrim it relies on stamina but unlike either of those games it is fast paced and engaging. The skills you unlock are grandiose in animation and fun to execute. Melee classes have varied forms of lunges, spins, and focused attacks that let you dominate the battlefield. Mages possess spectacular offensive spells, one of my favorites being a literal meteor shower that rains down over the battlefield decimating anything standing in your path - double so impressive when two or more mages cast it simultaneously. When fighting human sized opponents there is great feedback for all your attacks. When a foe is armored or blocking, your weapon will bounce off with a loud clank leaving you open for attack. When your blade makes contact with flesh the opponent will stagger and enter stunlock as you rain down hit after hit on their hapless soon to be corpses. Slashing away at a helpless bandit never gets old.

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The real fun begins when you face larger enemies. If you thought fighting giants or even dragons was “epic” in Skyrim then just wait till you face those very same foes in Dragons Dogma. There is a very interesting grappling mechanic in place highly reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. While not always necessary to fell larger beast, it is advantageous to climb up and over them in order to get into position allowing you to strike at their weak spots for massive damage - like a cyclops eye for example. It is both exhilarating and plain fun to grab onto a raging manticore, trying to crawl up to it’s weak points as it thrashes about trying to shake you loose. In addition all of these creatures have different attack patterns and states. A cyclops can become enraged, swinging their giant club wildly about and will fall over stunned if you shoot at their feet or eyeball. Likewise a drake will circle you from above unless you shoot their wings to bring them crashing down. Just remember to not make the rookie mistake of clinging onto one of these flying beasts too long - unless you have enough stamina to cling on and force them to land, you'll fall a really long way down.

The companions

Playing Dragons Dogma you will never be alone. Joining you on this journey will be your very own Pawn, a special companion shaped and named as you see fit. You will get to choose their vocation and outfit them with equipment. They will learn alongside you and even offer hints along the way. In addition to your own companion, you can hire 2 more player created pawns from a special area called the Rift which allows you to browse player created pawns by level, Gamertag, vocation and so forth. Just like your own pawn, these are companions from other players games’ complete with their own equipment and behavior patterns. As you can hire out other pawns so can others hire out yours, a process through which they gain invaluable knowledge about quests and enemies you haven’t faced yet. You might employ the service of some pawns that completed quests that you haven’t which will prompt them to offer helpful advice along the way such as telling you which way to go when reaching a fork in the road, or giving you helpful hints when exploring dungeons.

The Rift
The Rift

The most exciting part is that these AI companions are not incredibly stupid. In fact I dare to say they are the most helpful computer controlled players I have ever encountered in a videogame. Support mages will buff your weapons with appropriate enemy debilitating magic and heal you in the middle of combat. Melee characters will draw aggro and hold down adversaries for you to deliver the final deadly blow. Sorcerers will rain down destructive spells that can bring down even the mightiest beasts in mere seconds. The pawns will also shout out enemy weaknesses, gather loot that you’ve missed, give you directions, or even bring fallen allies for you to revive. I was never frustrated or angry with my pawns and in fact owe them my life and a great many victories. Unlike other games, the brunt of the combat won’t always rest solely on your shoulders with these AI companions running around. Quite often I’d be busy trying to scale some large beast to hack at their weak point, when my mages would annihilate them with spells before I had a chance to even get in position. The entire pawn system is quite ingenious and something I've never seen anywhere before.

I could go on and on about how great this game is but in truth my reasons for wanting you to play it are rather selfish. I want everyone to get Dragons Dogma and play it because I want them to make another one. Because this game is so incredibly detailed and unique that it’s a crime that no one is talking about it.

As a final tease I’ll just say that while the story is largely enjoyable if not a little straightforward throughout the majority of the game, the final two hours go completely off the rails in this glorious way that only a Japanese developed title could - just when you think you’re done, there is literally two more hours of gameplay that just make your jaw drop.

Dragons Dogma, catch it!

Taken from Google the Dragons Dogma -> Dark Arisen change log:


-Various attacks and skills for all weapons have been rebalanced for all weapons.


-Made the Ur-Dragon corpse's collision boundary smaller so players can now pick up drop items more easily

-Undead enemies will now come out of the ground with higher defense stats (super armor mode)

-When Saurians die after being knocked down, they will now use a special death animation for when they are on the ground.

-Goblin Shamans will appear in the Witchwood.

-Eliminators will appear on the Tainted Mountain.

-Pyre Saurians will appear on the Tainted Mountain.

-Golden Knights and Silver Knights will appear in the Everfall (before the destruction of Gran Soren).

-Gorecyclopes (condemned type) will appear in the Shadow Fort.

-Living Armor will appear in the Catacombs.

-Wyverns (strong type) will appear at Bluemoon Tower.

-Wyrms (strong type) will appear at the Watergod's Altar.

-Drakes (strong type) will appear in the Everfall after the destruction of Gran Soren.


-Adjusted how often pawns will talk by spacing out less important lines; in effect, making them seem to talk less.

-Adjusted and balanced the equipment and skills of all of the high-level pawns that are available to a player when they're playing offline.

-Adjusted how much it costs to hire a pawn that is higher-leveled than yourself down to a more realistic scale.

-Added a Monthly ranking to the pawn's Top Ranked section.


-You will not gain Affinity with Assalam simply by talking to him anymore.

Items & Equipment

-Adjusted how much Ferrystones cost and how much they sell for. (Purchase price: 20000 >5000 | Sell price: 3500>1250)

-Adjusted how much Premium Rings and Premium Earrings cost. (Purchase price: 1,500,000>150,000 Rift Crystals | Purchase price 3,000,000>300,000 Rift Crystals)

-Tweaked stat increases for weapon upgrades (increases weaker upgrades, decreases ones that were too strong). Tweaks affect 68 different weapons.

-Dramatically increased base stats for 12 weapons obtainable by defeating the Dragon.

-Improved base stats for 10 Magick Bows


-A Portcrystal that allows players to return to Cassardis has been added just outside Cassardis's gate

-A character/warp point that allows players to travel between Bitterblack Isle and Cassardis has been added to Cassardis's pier.

-Added a removable Portcrystal to the following areas: The Gran Soren Everfall (before a certain plot point. . . .), The Shadow Fort, The Witchwood, Hillfigure Knoll.

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