I watched the Prequel trilogy for the first time in ages and had some thoughts.

So I finished watching the Prequel trilogy today. Yay! Good times. Somewhat.

...OK, so, The Phantom Menace. Let’s dive right in, ok? OK. The acting is really bad. It's been a long time and I don't remember ever noticing how bad the acting is here. This is a cast that should be able to perform far better than they do. Liam Neeson is in this fucking movie! That makes me think the problem wasn’t the actors but the directing. It’s bad. Real bad. Every line of dialog in this movie exists to point out the obvious or to explain away some contrivance that exists because George Lucas thought it would be cool. There are ways to weave a good story with “things you think are cool” and this ain’t it. This movie is the very definition of “plot points for the sake of something you thought was cool”. Roughly a third of the movie exists just for the purpose of getting young Darth Vader in the film. If you wanted to write a movie about young Darth Vader, then fucking write a movie about young Darth Vader. You could have stolen Hero With A Thousand Faces again and turned the entire thing on its head, thematically. Instead you wrote a political movie where the politics are bland and/or stupid.

...but still

George Lucas writes terrible dialog and awfully obvious contrivances, but he has a good sense of how to pace out a movie and a great sense of how to make a good action scene. And, most importantly, George Lucas is perfect at pacing out those action scenes. He knows when to start them, how to start them, how long they should go, how to escalate them, how to make them look really fucking good, and how to pull the camera back so that you can actually understand how the fight is moving along instead of zooming way in on their faces (lookin’ at you, Lord of the Rings). Where people are, who is doing what, that sort of thing. If any part of these movies hold up, it’s the cinematography and framing and such. I mean, I’m not a film expert, there’s a million things I could be missing here, but I thought it all looked great. It ain’t Ridley Scott, sure, but it’s still upper echelon action scenes as far as I’m concerned.

While we’re at it, John Williams’s score in all three movies is great, possibly a better score than the original trilogy, possibly the best score he’s ever done. Despite the stupid story beats, awful dialog, and unlikeable characters, every time John Williams wants me to feel something, I feel it. It’s good. It’s great. The score and the action are the two parts of this trilogy that are consistently, genuinely great and they float the whole trilogy.

...but anyway, why the hell does Qui-Gon bring Anakin along for the battle? Why on Earth wouldn’t he have asked the Jedi Council to hold him or something? Surely there’s someone around who can watch and feed the kid for like a week or two? Surely the Jedi Council would be interested enough in a kid with the highest (sigh) midichlorian count ever seen to keep the kid around?

And where did this prophecy come from anyway? Who made it? How are Star Wars prophecies made? Why does it hold such sway over the Council? George Lucas doesn’t seem to have cared, he just wanted it to be there. It doesn’t even need to be there for the plot to work, you could throw it out and lose nothing. NOTHING!

And how is Jedi Mind Tricking not a Sith skill? Listen, making Stormtroopers believe these aren’t the droids they’re looking for is fairly harmless, but tricking a leader to allow you to essentially steal their submarine thingy isn’t exactly appropriate for the goody two-shoes paragon-of-virtues monk order.

OK, look, if I keep questioning leaps of logic like this we’ll be here all day. I enjoyed The Phantom Menace. It’s a bad movie and you shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t. But I had fun. I enjoyed the bad parts for their badness and their good parts for their goodness, leaps of logic and third-rate JRPG level dialog be damned.

...actually, hold that latter bit. I need to save it for the next bit.

Attack of the Clones. Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. I know I have to every time it’s time to talk about this movie.

I didn’t like this movie when I was ten, I didn’t like it at all as a teenager, and I like it even less now. Anakin Skywalker is a shitty person. He’s a shitty dude! He’s that guy that thinks he’s the best thing in the world and when someone tells him that maybe he oughta look in the mirror he gets all pissy! He’s written like an angry twelve year old! He’s awful! And he’s a creepy bastard. There are a few scenes where Hayden Christensen has such a leering stare at Natalie Portman.

Most of this movie involves Anakin taking Senator Amidala to Naboo to protect her after an assassination attempt. Yes, Senator Amidala, no longer Queen because she reached her term limit... wait a second. She was fourteen in the first movie. And a queen. An elected queen. Queens aren’t elected, but more importantly, who the fuck elects a 14 year old!?

Anyway, look, you can sum up this subplot entirely at that fireplace scene. I don’t even need to expand on it. I’m not exactly a master of words, here, but how does someone write that, look at it, and go “yeah, this is good stuff!” Ugh.

But let’s talk about Obi-Wan for a moment. Obi-Wan is great. Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of the character is the hero I’d want to follow for an entire franchise. Charismatic, smart, likeable without being a roguish type. Great guy. The slight bit of detective Obi-Wan we get here is the best part of this whole movie, followed by chasing and fighting Jango Fett. That spaceship chase scene in the asteroid field is awesome and the best example of what I meant by George Lucas pacing an action scene. It’s slow at first, no music, Jango lays down these mines and right before they blow, all sound from the movie is drowned out and then they go BWAAAAAHHHH like a decade before Battlefield trailers were doing it. It looks great, it sounds great, I enjoyed it immensely, or perhaps I was merely enjoying the reprieve I got from the torturous “romance” scenes. Either way, it was good, best scene of the movie and one of my favorite action scenes from the prequels. It doesn’t get enough love, probably on account of being sandwiched between the worst writing and acting Star Wars has ever seen.

And finally, Revenge of the Sith, a movie I genuinely liked.

Listen, the dialog here is also bad. There’s some “romance” scenes between Anakin and Padme, but they’re short and there aren’t all that many of them. Those plot holes and leaps of logic and contrivances are all here and they’re all present throughout the movie...

...but also, it’s got the quippiest Obi-Wan of the whole trilogy. It’s got the most fun action scenes and the best meme content. It’s got the Darth Plagueis tale, which would be cringe-y if I didn’t believe that Ian McDiarmid wasn’t treating this whole thing as a try-not-to-laugh contest. It’s got the most consistent tone of the whole trilogy as well.

When it finally ends, when it shows Padme’s funeral procession, when Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Senator Organa are discussing what the hell they’re supposed to do now... it actually all felt tragic. Despite all the garbage dialog, stupid plot holes, and shitty Anakin being obviously awful, I cared about what was happening. Unlike The Phantom Menace, I didn’t walk away from it surprised at how much worse the acting felt. Unlike Attack of the Clones, I wasn’t diving into Discord and Reddit for the sake of my sanity. Revenge of the Sith kept my attention the whole time and in a good way.

None of these movies are good. I mean, Revenge has a lot of stuff I enjoyed in it, but I still hesitate to call it a good movie. They deserve a lot of the hate and ire they’ve received and if I had seen The Phantom Menace when I was in my twenties instead of when I was 9, I think I’d have hated it, too. But I have the power of nostalgia with me, and re-watching these movies didn’t totally break it. Perhaps someone twenty years from now will post a blog or something proclaiming that they still enjoy the Sequel trilogy despite all its flaws and I will read it, flabbergasted that anyone could enjoy that garbage. (I think I might actually hate The Last Jedi).

...anyway, I watched A New Hope last week so now that I’ve finished the prequels, I’m going to go watch the good Star Wars movies. I don’t think I need to write anything up on those, I watched them sometime last year and came out feeling like they do, indeed, hold up. Except for that god-awful musical number in Return of the Jedi. Gonna skip that. That can burn in hell.


Looking back at what I played in 2020

What I have written, here, is far too much about some of the video games I played and thought about the most this year. This isn’t necessarily a top ten, more of a “my video game year in review” sort of thing, because I wanted to write some things about some games that aren’t necessarily top ten material. And because, honestly, I didn’t feel like arbitrarily ranking a list of things I wanted to talk about.

Doom Eternal

If you’ve seen me post about this game, it’s almost certainly just me gushing about it. I played this game at launch and thought it incredible during my entire first play session. Never had I played a shooter that felt so fast and intense and smooth, I don’t think I’ve ever played anything where the combat just flowed so amazingly well and so perfectly. 90% of this game is balanced on a knife edge between making things incredibly difficult and cheating in the background such that the player always feels like they’re the one just barely making it through. Surely the forums will be awash with praise and awe just like last time, right?

Well… no.

The only reason Doom Eternal isn’t the most polarizing game of this year is because the most hyped game of the decade came out this year and it wasn’t quite what was hyped. Nobody expected its corny story to be any good, but it was somehow worse than expected. 2016’s story was either fun nonsense or generic sci-fi and, most importantly, it didn’t pretend like you cared. Nobody expected this much platforming either, something that I actually enjoyed a lot but most seem to think it’s an unwanted interruption at best and awful at worst.

But, most notably, nobody expected the game to lean into difficulty quite this much. I mean, I knew they were bumping up the higher-end difficulties, but goddamn they really demand a lot of any given player. Even Hurt Me Plenty has its moments. You are never not about to die – even at full health, you could be dead in five seconds if you make a wrong move. You must keep moving, you must be smart about how and where you move, you must be cognizant of where enemies are outside your field of view, you must prioritize targets, and you must juggle glory kills, chainsaws, and flamethrowers to keep your health, ammo, and armor up, because you’re never not going to be low on all three. If you loved Doom 2016 because you could get through the entire game on Ultra Violence using only the Super Shotgun, Rocket Launcher, and occasional BFG shell while running the same figure 8 around the battlefield… this game is either going to make you get better at playing fast-paced shooters or you’re really not going to like it. Meanwhile, if you thought Doom 2016 was too easy and its fights too short, then this is the game for you!

I must stop the praise there because I do think this game has some serious issues. Primarily, the Marauder. He’s all over the game’s later marketing and they filled the DLC full of Marauders and he’s just the worst. See, when you’re designing a game, you’ve gotta find a gameplay loop that’s fun, and then you’ve gotta build on that and add to it and change it up. What you shouldn’t do is shoot that gameplay loop in the foot. “Changing things up” doesn’t mean “introduce an enemy that breaks everything good about the combat”. Even when you know this guy’s pattern, even when you’ve got Ballista-Super Shotty-Ballista-Super Shotty combos downpat, he’s still just a fucking black spot on this game. And yet nobody seems to have told id, because he’s all over the DLC. Someone high up at id really has a hard-on for what Marauders bring to the table. I’m sorry to tell him that the Marauder is bad design.

(As an aside, if you don’t want to see those motherfucking shitbag ghost hounds, don’t shoot his shield. Only shoot after you see his green eyes. God, I hate this enemy).

“Bad design” also includes the purple slow down goop that appears in a few levels. This stuff appears and it’s like the developers were asking “well, what if Doomguy was in a wheelchair and couldn’t dodge?” I swear, there’s someone up there who thinks that “changing things up” means “destroying your core gameplay loop” and whoever this person is had way more control of the DLC than they should have. Fortunately, neither of these issues pop up all that often in the main campaign - the much-maligned Marauder appears only a handful of times and the purple goop is easy to work around.

However, for these reasons, I believe that id software has run out of what they can do with this design. I mean, I’d love for them to surprise me, but frankly I’d love for them to do something else even more. They’ve proven that they can make a game that’s beautiful and runs amazingly well, they’ve proven that they can make fast-paced first person combat awesome in ways that no one else has, but now I want them to try something entirely different. Give me a new big-budget shooter IP that stands out from the crowd and isn’t shackled by a nonsense story. Perhaps take the difficulty back a notch and instead explore new mechanics and concepts, rather than ones honed to a razor’s edge.

(Side note: Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal are not the only old school style shooters around these days. Dusk is flat-out amazing, Amid Evil is unique and has a lot of fans, and early access Prodeus is fantastic. If you didn’t like Eternal but still want some of that fast-paced shooter action, check one of these out!)

Subnautica/ Subnautica: Below Zero

Subnautica is one of my favorite games of all time, and my favorite since Metroid Prime. That’s incredible praise coming from me. This is one of those games that made me feel the same way about video games as I did when I was eleven, playing Metroid Prime for the first time in complete awe. You know how as an adult you might sometimes think you’ll never read a book or watch a movie or play a game that just catches your wonder and awe the same way you felt as a kid? You know how Dan Rykert starts the Breath of the Wild Quick Look, jumping up and down on screen, overjoyed that he got to play that game and loved every minute of it?

Well, that’s me and Subnautica. I still don’t know exactly what it is about this game that draws me in so much. It’s weird and wild and wonderful, full of beautiful underwater biomes and terrifying creatures and so much to see and do. It’s loaded with upgrades and new items and gizmos, all of which are designed to help your explore further out and deeper. You can spend hours fiddling about with your base, build up your Cyclops so that you don’t even really need a base, or go get in trouble with fish that have mandibles larger than you. I have spent 200 hours in this game this year, playing through it over and over, starting new games, building bases in different places, seeing how fast I could get a Cyclops, and trying and failing to overcome my fear of Reaper Leviathans. Play this game!

...unless you’ve got a low tolerance for technical issues and weird pacing.

Subnautica doesn’t perform well. There are things you can to make it better, but no matter what you try it’s going to have performance issues. Framerate drops are common, especially late in the game, but what I’m more bothered by is the pop-in. There’s a red grassy fields biome where the grass pops in all the time. It would be a gorgeous biome were it not for the awful pop-in. This issue is present throughout large areas of the game, too – low res textures get replaced by their proper counterparts five feet in front of you and vegetation that should be there comes in way later than it should. Unknown Worlds have made major strides in improving this game with a few updates over this year and it looks like they’re planning on doing at least a few more, but I doubt this game will ever run perfectly. Maybe the optimizations they’re making for that Switch port will fix the PC version properly, but I wouldn’t hold my breath

In the meantime, standalone expansion Below Zero performs much better – there’s far less pop-in, far better texture quality, and when there is pop-in it’s actually a fade-in effect in the distance, not immediate springing into existence right in front of your face. It’s still in Early Access, though, so I don’t have much more to say about it, other than that I think BZ has the potential to be the better game of the two but it just can’t replace that first-time experience I had with the original. I cannot recommend either of these games enough!

Pillars of Eternity 1 and 2

So this post might be a little complicated.

I played Pillars of Eternity when we went into lockdown and I had to work from home. I would wake up, eat breakfast, drink coffee, log in, and sit here for the next nine hours (remember, hour for lunch!) and then when it came time to log off, I’d just disconnect from my remote session and then be back at my desktop... at which point I’d fire up Pillars and spend the rest of the night playing that (barring time for preparing food and doing chores). This eventually took its toll on me, because human beings aren’t meant to stay largely in one room for months, but I didn’t really realize it and sort of mentally took it out on the game. Why did I keep playing? I don’t know, exactly! But I’d play it, hate the difficulty curve, hate the controls, hate anything I could think of, which is totally unfair because none of this game’s problems are that bad and some of those aren’t problems at all.

But I kept coming back for more until 90 hours had passed and I had finished the whole thing. Well, I got stuck on a boss in the DLC and didn’t finish that and there are several endgame sidequests that I didn’t finish. And by the end I bumped it down to easy because I just wanted to be done with it. Still, I don’t spend 90 hours in games that don’t appeal to me in some way, and I fully intend to replay this game now that I’m not spending literally all of my time at my desk. I remember always thinking the art was gorgeous, the dungeons were fun, the characters were interesting, the writing was great, and the world was amazing, and I’d like to play it again without feeling like I’m chained to my desk 24/7.

There are a few legitimate complaints I have, however, and I want to talk about them here.

Durance and the Grieving Mother have some of the most irritating dialog in the game. I don’t know if I want to rag on Durance’s writing too much because he’s supposed to sound like a half-mad priest that talks in circles. I found him to be pretty overwritten, some of his dialog needs a sharp editor with a sharper pair of scissors. Grieving Mother needs to go back to the drawing board, however. She also talks in half-mad circles, but she makes Durance’s writing look brisk in comparison. It’s just the worst long-winded nothing I think I might have ever come across in a video game. Her dialog is so long and so overwrought that by the end of whatever the fuck she was saying, I had completely missed the one line that meant anything. I wound up looking her up on a wiki just to see what her deal was. It’s kind of nothing. She’s got a tragic backstory presented in a unique way, which is great except again, could really use an editor. I was much more interested in Eder and Pallegina, characters who are more workman-like in their writing and more grounded in their personal stories, but who wind up being much more relatable and interesting.

I have no other problems with any of the game’s writing. I’m sure there’s some plot holes here and there and the game never really defines a Watcher’s abilities (it actually does - the Watcher’s primary ability is “fulfill whatever the plot needs”) but there’s a lot of great stuff here about souls, memories, gods, and how all of these intertwine and I think it’s all well-worth your time and money.

The other thing I want to talk about is how attributes are distributed among named characters, because ugh. So Obsidian approached this game with the mindset that they didn’t want anybody to min-max anything. They wanted every stat to be important to every class. They wanted people to balance out their stats to make, you know, a character, and not just the end result of numbers plugged into an Excel sheet. Unfortunately, what they succeeded in doing is making a set of attributes that are boring at best and frustrating at worst. Might may be the most important stat of the lot for any character. Might affects how effective you are with your skills. It affects how hard Eder swings his swords - fair enough, that’s what you’d expect such a skill to do - but it also affects how much Aloth’s fireballs hurt someone, how much Pallegina heals someone, or how much Durance’s buffs affect someone. Constitution is health, Dexterity is speed, Perception is accuracy, intellect is area of effect, and resolve is both the most-used speech check and the thing that soft-counters mental status effects (confused, dominated, that kind of thing). OK, with me so far? Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Pallegina is a Paladin. She needs to be pretty good at hitting things and pretty good at healing things and pretty good at buffing things - perhaps not the best at all three but good enough to be useful.

Pallegina has 12 Might. The one stat that affects all of the things she needs to be really good at is garbage. This wouldn’t be such a huge problem if you could stack effects from armor, but you can’t, which means that in the vanilla game the highest you can get her to is 14 Might and with the DLC that’s 15 Might. From 15, you can buff her to hit things and heal people enough, but at that point why wouldn’t you just take Durance to heal people and, I dunno, Eder to hit people? I like the character, but using her in combat was an exercise in frustration.

That goes for pretty much everyone else, too, but Pallegina is just the worst case. Everyone has a weakness or two, but because all stats are important, you need to shuffle equipment such that you’re making up for weaknesses instead of shuffling equipment such that everyone’s strengths are sharpened. I never got that moment where you do what feels like a gazillion damage against something, or that moment where you can heal a ton, or that moment where I felt like I had done a good job of speccing someone. I might just be bad at this game, or bad at CRPGs in general, but no matter what I researched or what I tried in game, I never could figure out why I didn’t feel like my characters were powerful enough. I was buffing, improving armor, changing things around, and I was able to get through fights but I always felt like I was doing something wrong and could never figure out what.

This is also the first CRPG I ever actually finished so maybe it was just me. I couldn’t tell you, though, and I couldn’t tell you where to go find that information. I just wish the game was better at explaining stuff to you. And a Dark Souls-like character sheet would be nice, where all of the numbers are available and clearly labeled in one big sheet, instead of a whole bunch of paragraphs that take a lot of words to explain what should be one or two sentences.

Anyway, I also played Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire!

I didn’t finish Deadfire. I spent fifty hours sailing around the ocean, exploring whatever towns I could find, talking to everyone, reading through everything, and generally wandering around the world. I played Deadfire after I started going back to work, so that bit where I was spending too long at a desk didn’t matter here. What did matter is that I loved what I played of Deadfire. Deadfire is gorgeous, for one. I mean, Pillars 1 looks great too but on some level it’s still the same forests and ruins you ran around in CRPGs of yesteryear, just with more particle effects and a fascination with the color purple. Here, though, things pop much better than they did in PoE1. I’m no artist, I can’t pinpoint exactly what this game’s doing to make things look so great all the time, but I can tell you that I was never not happy with what I was looking at. Out of all the isometric CRPGs we’ve had this past decade, I think POE 2 might be my favorite one to just soak in.

I played the game’s turn-based combat mode, because I was just tired of all the real-time with pause stuff of the first game. I think the game’s turn-based mode is pretty fun, but it also makes the game agonizingly long and I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t finish this one. It also makes casters completely overpowered, even though they have to wait a turn or two after casting for their spell to actually go off. Even still, I got a better grasp of combat this time around and I had a lot more fun with it.

I also really like the writing here. Is some of it overwrought? Yeah, maybe a little so, but never to the point of annoyance for me. It’s flowery enough to keep my interest and crystal-clear enough that I was never unsure of what was going on, and the goings-on were consistently more than enough to keep my interest. Pillars of Eternity 2 does have one major issue here, though - its main quest is one of those that strongly implies urgency to stop a world-ending calamity, but in reality you can and should take all the time you want. In fact, the game is at its best when you forget that there’s a main quest and just go role-playing as a noble pirate-assassin of the high seas. Yes, I am aware that’s an oxy-moron. No, I don’t care.

It’s still worth reiterating that I didn’t finish Pillars 2. Fifty hours is a long time for one game and by that point I had been playing a lot of isometric RPGs, so I burned out on the whole genre for a little while. Don’t do that.

...as an aside, so much of Pillars 2’s lore and worldbuilding relies on you having played and finished Pillars 1. I do strongly recommend the package to anyone with any interest in this stuff. If you’re playing on console, be warned that those versions are somewhat buggier than the PC version and load times range from “long” to “have another hobby on hand for transition areas” - you need an SSD for this game on console, and rotate between three or four saves instead of making a new one every time.

Baldur’s Gate and other Infinity Engine stuff

I didn’t actually finish Baldur’s Gate 1 either, but I did play a bunch of it.

Baldur’s Gate 1 is very definitely a first of its kind sort of thing. You’re not missing out on all that much if you totally skip it. In fact, what you are missing out on is a whole lot of lawnmowering away fog of war in what looks like the same rolling plains/forest that you lawnmowered out for the last area. You’re also missing out on the first few hours of basically having nothing to do in combat except select a character, select an enemy, and hope that your rolls are better than his rolls. You’re also missing out on THE game that made modern RPGs what they are. Knights of the Old Republic doesn’t exist without this game. Mass Effect doesn’t exist without this game. I’d argue that The Witcher 3 doesn’t exist without this game. The CRPG renaissance we’ve had over the past decade doesn’t exist without this game. Does that make it one of the greats? I don’t know. Does that make it worth playing? If only for academic interest, yes.

Baldur’s Gate is, at the end of the day, a game about wandering the wilds, picking up quests, doing those quests, and making your characters more powerful. In my experience, it is never more or less than that. It’s entertaining most of the time, mind-numbingly boring sometimes, and sometimes it’s just frustrating when you lose combat to a bad roll or you tried to write five spells to your spellbook and you failed the last one and then realized that you FORGOT TO SAVE BEFORE DOING ANY OF THIS!

But I still recommend trying BG1 first, especially if you’ve never played a CRPG. The original “Core Rules” difficulty on the Enhanced Editions is too much for a newbie, but the Normal difficulty is just right and has some more forgiving mechanics pushed in there for good measure. It’s simpler than Pillars of Eternity and doesn’t start getting complex until a decent ways in, which means you have more than enough time to actually figure things out and get your bearings straight before you start analyzing strategies and mechanics and such. There really aren’t any other choices for “baby’s first isometric CRPG” out there.

The real Infinity Engine classics are Baldur’s Gate 2, Icewind Dale, and Planescape Torment. I haven’t touch Planescape and thus won’t comment on it, other than to say that from my understanding it’s actually a very different game from its siblings.

Baldur’s Gate 2 is a game I played five or so hours of before deciding that I really do want to finish 1 and Siege of Dragonspear first. I just want to see this character’s entire journey through, from beginning to end. That said, just from the first few hours I can tell you that BG2 is obviously a more thoroughly-written, meatier game. You start at level 8 or so, with more than enough abilities to play around with right off the bat. Characters have more depth in the first dungeon than they do for the entirety of BG1, and you’re launched into the game with an engaging main villain to chase, a few objectives that are simple to understand but difficult to execute, and a huge city to explore. Do I know any more about the game than that? Not really. I know that the second chapter of the game is where the vast majority of content lies, so the pacing of this game is also off because you spend most of it sidequesting while Imoen lies chained up... somewhere.

Icewind Dale is the other Infinity Engine game I played a decent chunk of this year. I really like it! I... didn’t finish it, but hey, it’s kind of awesome! I didn’t finish it because I got into some bad habits. This game offers you a lot of items that need to be identified and I would just identify all of them as soon as I got them - which meant saving, writing identify spells to my spellbook, putting every item on my mage, resting and reloading until I rested without being interrupted by monsters, identifying everything, re-writing all of my other spells, saving, resting and reloading until I rested without being interrupted by monsters, done. That song and dance got very tiring! If I have any hint for prospective players of this game, it’s that you should buy the bag of holding ASAP and then put all of your identify items in there and just have an “identify session” whenever you get back to town or every so often.

Anyway, with that said, Icewind Dale is a dungeon crawler through-and-through. Do you like running through underground tunnels, ancient temples, evil snake-people lairs, and so on and so forth? How do you like cold, frigid, uncaring environments? What about when all of that is backed by a soundtrack by Jeremy Soule, of The Elder Scrolls fame? I love the atmosphere of this game. There’s not much in the way of story, it’s just you, the party (that you have to make yourself, so prepare to spend two hours rolling six characters!), and a lot of monster-slaying and treasure-finding to do. That’s it. If you find yourself wanting more of Baldur’s Gates’s CRPG combat, this is the game for you.

And I have little more to say about it, actually. It’s great, but it’s not the genre-defining games that BG1 and 2 were. It’s the combat of those games extracted and placed into a game that is almost entirely about killing things and it is very, very good at being that thing.

Let’s talk about something other than RPGs, shall we?

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

There’s not much I can say about these games that hasn’t already been said, so I should probably be brief here. I love all of these games, to some degree, even 4. I’ve played this collection for 202 hours this year according to Steam - that’s mostly multiplayer, but I finished several of the campaigns multiple times, by my lonesome and with friends. I played through Halo 2 on Legendary for the first time, which was a blast that I maybe don’t recommend if you’re not into bullshit insta-kill headshots from enemies you never could have spotted in time. I talked a lot about how Halo 2 is a master-class in worldbuilding, how it does such a great job of showing and not telling that a lot of RPGs could learn from, and speculated on the idea that the only reason the “good guys” won the Human-Covenant war is because Truth stabbed the Elites in the back because too many of them had been asking too many questions and the honor-bound warrior race didn’t take too kindly to that. I played through Halo 3 a bunch and remembered why it’s such an awesome game sprinkled with so many amazing moments - here’s TWO Scarabs for you to fight, surrounded by AI in helicopters and jeeps and tanks! But don’t pay too close attention to the friendly AI, they’re kinda dumb.

Anyway, look, I could spend forever gushing about these games, but everyone reading this already knows if they enjoy these games or not. This collection houses some of my favorite games to play and replay over and over again and I couldn’t be happier that they’re on PC now. Is the port perfect? Well, no, frankly, but I don’t think its minor issues should keep anyone interested from getting it.

Amid Evil

I imagine the people who like Amid Evil will look at my comments and feel the same way I do when I look at negativity surrounding Doom Eternal. Before we get started, Amid Evil is interesting enough and enough people really like this game that I do think it’s worth trying. I hesitate to call it a bad game, I just personally found myself disliking it.

In case you haven’t kept up with the classic shooter renaissance that’s been happening over the past few years (thanks Doom 2016 for kickstarting that!), Amid Evil is a more fantasy-oriented version of these games. Your weapons consist of a sword that throws out a blade, anime-style, every time you swing it, a staff that fires weak bullets that home in on things, a morning star that throws its spikes forward when you swing it, another staff that pulls planets from an alternate dimension and fires them like a rocket launcher (I want to reiterate that you are SHOOTING PLANETS AT THINGS), and several other things that I didn’t find quite as interesting.

This is all well and good, but most of the enemies in this game are some variation on “animated armor” There are differences and exceptions, but most of the AI behavior involves rushing at you Serious Sam style, and you also spend most of the game backpedaling Serious Sam style. Not always, but I felt like far too much of the game was this. Somehow, a game where every area has a different set of enemies feels like all the enemies are the same, and I don’t like Serious Sam.

I can, right off the top of my head, think of several exceptions to what I just said, but those exceptions don’t change the thoughts that I constantly had throughout the game - that despite all of the stuff in this game that’s awesome on paper, I found myself bored, even when things were difficult. I didn’t find the weapons satisfying (except the motherfucking planet launcher) or the enemies all that rewarding to fight. The latter half of the game got irritating, what with all of the thin ledges on which you are expected to perform 90’s-esque FPS combat without any hitscan weapons. Falling into the abyss because you had nowhere to dodge several incoming attacks isn’t all that fun. The final area devolves into Escher-esque twisting levels and portal puzzles that just suck, complete with hordes of enemies that I just didn’t like fighting. So I spent most of my time with this game bored or irritated, thinking of all the Dusk or Doom I could be playing.

I did keep playing, though, and almost finished the game before I decided I didn’t care to figure out how to proceed. I kept playing because this game is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Every area is this weird, ethereal plane of complete nonsense, but it’s drawn and laid out in a way that my eyes feasted upon for hours. I couldn’t stop looking at this game’s environments and its weird sprite weapon models. I kept playing because I wanted to see what kind of crazy-ass room I would be in next. They added ray-tracing to this game so whenever I do get a hold of another graphics card, I’ll probably replay this whole thing just to see what it looks like ray-traced.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Wasteland 3

Yes, we’re back to the RPGs, but I promise this will be short.

Pathfinder: Kingmaker is the adaptation of the Pathfinder tabletop RPG. And when I say “adaptation”, what I mean is that they wanted to make this game as close to the tabletop experience as possible. For better or worse, every design decision that went into this game seems to have been made with the thought “is this the closest we can get to the tabletop game” and not “does this make for a good video game”. I’m unsure if I can call this a “good” or “bad” video game, honestly - I’ve played several hours and restarted the game once but I don’t think I’ve played enough to fully form an opinion. But that’s not an invalid way to design a game - they weren’t going for mass appeal, they had an idea and they saw it through, and ultimately what I played of the game did play well. It’s just that some parts of it are weird in ways I would have to get used to, and some parts of it are loaded with traits and abilities that it would take me multiple playthroughs to parse.

Also, fun fact - this game has controller support on PC now and a turn based mode. More fun than both of those facts is that you can actually switch between turn based and real time with pause combat with the push of a button - no fuss, no muss, just click the icon on screen or click the right analog stick and now you’re in the other combat mode, at any time, even mid-combat!

Wasteland 3 is the precise opposite of Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Sure, you could still trace some kind of tabletop roots in this game, but this is a video game-ass video game and there’s nary a hide nor hair of design decisions made for the sake of adhering to some archaic ideas of what a CRPG should be or for the sake of sticking to some twenty year old tabletop game for people who think DnD isn’t complex enough. Instead, Wasteland 3 feels a lot more like a CRPG made for people who just want a good old relaxed turn-based adventure. Inventory is bottomless and shared among characters, speech checks are made against the party member with the best stat and not against the person in conversation, currency goes into a shared pool and isn’t held by one person, and combat is very X-Com like. You honestly can’t get more approachable than this game without shaving off some complexity.

Writing and story are great as well! I mean, not perfect, but whatever, I was interested in seeing what was happening and the game had a lot of momentum going for it.

However, the first time I played this game co-op with my brother and the Game Pass version suddenly wouldn’t load so we couldn’t keep that playthrough going. Second time I started it myself and got some ways through, but my brother got it and we started playing co-op again - which failed when we fired up Satisfactory and, uh, I’ll get to that game. If I had finished this game, I suspect it would be towards the top of this discussion, but alas, it is not. Sometimes shit happens.

Anyway, my point was that I think both of these games are worth playing, but their approaches to design are completely opposed to one another - Pathfinder: Kingmaker is about as complex as it could be, sometimes to a fault, and Wasteland 3 is about as approachable as it could be.

I’m done with RPGs in this blog. No, really, I am. Let’s get back to shooters

Black Mesa & Prodeus

There are two games that define first person shooters. Doom, for the “classic shooter” experience of running around a mazelike level at breakneck speeds, blasting tons of simple but effective enemies and finding secrets, switches, and keys to unlock more of the level; and Half-Life, for the “modern shooter” experience that slows the action down in favor of a more realistic, more narrative driven experience.

Black Mesa is the modern-day fan-remake of the original Half-Life and it’s real good. I’m not entirely sure if I want to declare Black Mesa better than the original Half-Life, but it’s up there. If it has any flaw, it’s that some of its puzzles could have been chopped out. This goes doubly-so for the Xen area of the game, which they somehow screwed up again. There’s an hour, maybe an hour and a half of great content in Xen and a whole lot of simple, boring puzzles that just make it take far too long. I also think the soldiers could use some difficulty tuning - they are extremely accurate and very quick to notice you, meaning you spend a lot of time popping out of cover and trying to deal with these soldiers from a good distance or with indirect attacks (e.g. splash damage from grenades). This isn’t an impossible game, but it’s certainly not an easy one. Do yourself a favor and turn on the auto-run option.

Prodeus is more Doom than Doom 2016. All right, look, I love Doom 2016 as much as the next guy, and that game definitely falls in the “classic shooter” genre, but it feels like its own thing. That’s great, I’m glad they didn’t just make 1993 Doom again, but if they had made Prodeus I think I’d be just as happy. Prodeus is in Early Access, sure, but holy hell does it deliver a fantastic first two hours. It’s very much original Doom, but with a modern graphics engine. It reminds me of those remakes of E1M1 done in Unreal Engine or whatever, the ones that look kind of amazing but never come out to a full remake because they’re just happy they got E1M1 working correctly. Levels here are massive without ever feeling overwhelming, they’re loaded with creativity and fun, and the guns look and feel so good. The game’s 3D models are all actually sprites - they have taken 3D models and turned them into sprites, much like Mortal Kombat and 90’s Blizzard games did, and it looks amazing. Amid Evil did the same thing and, as you may have already read, I also thought that game looked amazing.

As an aside, can we just never call these “boomer shooters” ever again? “Classic shooters” is a much better term. Boomers, if we’ll recall our history correctly, were the ones condemning Doom and other M rated games as the end of life as we know it.

Satisfactory and Factorio

OK. The final games on this list. I promise I’m done after this. Also I do understand the irony of complaining about level design overstaying its welcome and overwrought character dialog on a blog post that is, according to Google Docs, twelve pages long at this point, but bear with me for a short while.

Factorio is incredible. Satisfactory is also incredible. You should play both. I know, I know, some people look at this and go “nope, not for me”. And that’s fine, everyone has to make their own judgment call, but both of these games do such an exceptional job of starting you off so small and then slowly ramping up the complexity until suddenly you realize you’ve got a base that takes you a full minute to walk across and you’re only a portion of the way through the tech tree. That’s when you realize that you need to start figuring out how to optimize. That’s when you realize it’s 5AM on a worknight and you really shouldn’t miss that meeting today.


Satisfactory is almost certainly the friendlier of the two. It’s gorgeous, for one - Factorio looks like an overly complex Eastern European game from the early 2000’s that nobody played, while Satisfactoy looks like it came out in 2020 (it’s actually still in Early Access until sometime in 2022). Satisfactory’s 3D nature also demanded a somewhat simpler game, made up for by the fact that you’ve got an entire third dimension and because you can just look at your factory from anywhere. Information is simplified and easier-to-consume and - perhaps most importantly - hostile mobs only bother you while exploring, they don’t come and try to destroy your base and they never get bigger and more powerful. Still, there’s nothing quite like inspecting your handiwork up close and personal, from first person, or climbing atop a tower to look out at the enormous expanse you have bent to your own will (or, rather, Ficsit’s will, as this game tries to do the whole “satire on the evils of unchecked corporations” thing, though it isn’t in-your-face about it). Along with the first person view comes several more movement upgrades and abilities - apart from sprinting, sliding, jumping, and sprint-slide-jumping, you can get better weapons and jetpacks and better medkits for all that exploring you’re going to need to do for the later tech trees.

Factorio is the more cerebral of the two. Sure, it doesn’t look like as much, but its systems are more complicated, its machines become more and more complex, and there’s a ticking clock element to everything as you need to make sure your defenses are up and working so that when the bugs attack - and they will, soon - you can defend yourself against them. It’s largely the same game - describing Satisfactory as “3D Factorio” is amazingly accurate - but these changes in perspective, complexity, and stress from an ever-present threat make it a more challenging experience. Is it more rewarding, or a better game? I don’t know, frankly. I know that it’s just as addictive and fires off all the same pleasure centers of my brain, and I know that I highly recommend it to anyone, even if you think you won’t like it.

...oh wait. There was one more thing.


...or just watch Brad and Vinny play it, but I think you’re missing out if you just do that.

Also I appear to have broken a promise. Sorry, but I needed to mention this one last game.

This is the single most chill game I have ever played. I mean, sure, you can fall down a pit in a cave if you’re not careful, or you can go a little too far away from your oxygen supply, but both of those are easily avoided. In the meantime, you can play at any pace you desire, from the slow ambling of someone just now figuring out crafting games to the speedrunner-y type who is already going to another planet. Even if you’re not finding anything, just being here, in this game, is peaceful and relaxing and fun. Gameplay-wise, the only real complaint I have are the controls - you have to move, aim your camera, and do a bunch of mining, all separately, and I think it gets a little clunkier than it should sometimes.

One of the most interesting things about this game, besides how chill it all is, is the fact that everything in it is tactile. Except for the pause menu, every object in the game is a physical thing and not a number next to a label in a menu. This can help immensely with understanding exactly what you’re doing, even if functionally it’s precisely the same as moving something from the inventory menu to the smelter in Minecraft. This adherence to making everything tactile perhaps results in some additional clunkiness, but I don’t care. It all looks great and feels great and sounds great - there’s something about the sound of picking something up and slotting it into your backpack that’s really satisfying.

Much like Satisfactory and Factorio, I think the stuff they’re doing with the whole “survival crafting” genre here is super-interesting. It’s a genre that I became a lot more fond of than I thought I ever would this year. For most of the decade, Minecraft clones felt like they were devolving into Rust-like troll-a-thons, where you build a house and come back the next day to find it vandalized, with all your stuff gone and a nice little turd sitting in the floor in the middle of your dwelling. Subnautica, Astroneer, Satisfactory, and Factorio are all cut from a different cloth, sure, but they’re proof that there’s still a lot of great ideas to explore in this genre.


Anyway, that’s all folks! That’s a lot, I know. I really didn’t expect it to be this much. I expected to write something about Doom Eternal and how much I love Subnautica but, hey, it turns out I had a lot to say about a lot of things I played this year. On some level, I think all of these games are interesting and worth your consideration, even Amid Evil. I know it’s half a joke, but “it really is the best time to be playing video games.” There’s so much great stuff out there, with great ideas that are extremely well-executed, stuff that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to hoover all of your money at every available turn or be the only thing you ever play for the next six months. I didn’t even get to write about all of the other things I played, from Deep Rock Galactic and Vermintide 2 to Sunless Skies and Ori and the Will O The Wisps, but mostly because I just need to play more of those games before really delivering an opinion.

Here’s to a much better 2021! Y’all stay safe out there.


I played some Metroid Prime and wrote a bit about it

I finished one of my favorite games recently, Metroid Prime. I started writing a review for it, but instead wound up writing something that reads a lot more like a blog post (and a review would have just been five stars and me gushing). So here it is as a blog post.

There are several games that someone might consider “landmark titles” for the Gamecube. Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Resident Evil 4 are frequently cited as some of the system’s top games, and some of the best games ever made. 2002’s Metroid Prime is cited just as often as those three and, for me personally, it’s easily the best game for the system.

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Metroid Prime was the Metroid series’ leap into 3D. Many of the design decisions surrounding this game make plenty of sense now, sixteen years after its release, but beforehand it seemed like an oddity. Why on Earth would you want a traditionally atmospheric, exploration-focused game to be a first person shooter? If it’s a first person shooter, why is there a lock-on system that makes aiming trivial? Why does it move and control in such a weird, slow, kind of clunky manner? The answer is that it’s not really a first person shooter, at least not according to Retro Studios in the early 2000’s. They called it a first person action adventure sort of game. That description fits Metroid Prime much better than “first person shooter”, although mostly because the term “action adventure” is so vague. It’s essentially a different way of saying “Metroid Prime is a first person shooter, but not really like any other first person shooter”.

Genre definitions aside, Metroid Prime really is a weird game. You don’t aim with the second analog stick like you might expect – instead, you move forwards and backwards and turn left and right with the analog stick and hold L to strafe, much like classic Doom had strafe on a modifier key instead of dedicating left and right movement to strafe and turning left and right to different keys entirely. L also locks on to enemies, meaning that most combat in Metroid Prime consists of circle-strafing and cleverly putting cover between you and your enemy without losing a lock on. The jump button even turns into a Dark Souls-esque dash-out-of-the-way button if you’re locked on and moving. Over the years, I’ve heard a handful of complaints about this – I know that one Jeff Gerstmann has complained about the controls for Metroid Prime a few times over the years. But most people don’t seem to have a problem with them. For me – a frequent player of first person shooters on both controller and mouse – Metroid Prime’s controls fit like a glove. They work exceptionally well for everything that goes on in the game. The only real complaint I have is that manual aiming doesn’t work particularly well. You can hold R at any time and Samus Aran will put her hand on her gun and suddenly you can aim up or down, but you can’t move. Unfortunately, the game constantly pulls your aiming reticle back to its neutral position instead of just letting it sit wherever you move it, so shooting those war wasp nests while you’re being attacked by war wasps isn’t easy (among trying to hit other things in the game). Also, there’s a boss about three-quarters of the way through the game that you can’t lock on to. He’s extremely easy to cheese if you have enough missiles and an optional power-up called the Wave Buster, but otherwise players might have a hell of a time fighting him. This isn’t a problem in the Wii version of the game, where aiming and movement is more traditional, but it’s still a frustrating footnote when a mechanic that the rest of the game relies on is ripped out for one otherwise easy boss. Otherwise, the game’s controls do work extremely well and don’t even take that long to get used to, despite what you may think at first.

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Metroid Prime is, as you might have guessed from its name, a Metroidvania. One of only a few 3D Metroidvanias, depending on your interpretation of the term “Metroidvania”. However, the game’s world design comes across as more Ocarina of Time-esque than Metroid Prime’s 2D counterparts. There aren’t any towns or merchants or anything like that and every area can be considered its own distinct dungeon, as opposed to the big wide-open world in the middle of Ocarina/Wind Waker/Twilight Princess. Unlike Super Metroid, however, the world isn’t really interconnected. In Super Metroid/Fusion/Zero Mission, you don’t always need elevators to go between areas. All the areas are interconnected in ways that let you go around those elevators, especially when you’re fully powered up. You can get from Norfair to Crateria through Maridia, for instance, without touching an elevator. Metroid Prime isn’t like this. Every area is its own separate, distinct location, connected to other areas only through elevators – which means through loading screens. Which means that the developers could consider the design of each area without also having to consider the designs of the other areas. If you want the northern part of Chozo Ruins to connect to the southern part of Magmoor Caverns, you can just put an elevator in Chozo Ruins and you’re done. I don’t think this is a complaint, really, but it does make the game feel more like Zelda’s isolated dungeons than Super Metroid’s interconnected world. I don’t consider this a negative, for the record. Just a note on its design. I do wish that they would have found a way to make this world more interconnected, though. Might have made that hunt for endgame artifacts more interesting.

Each of those individual areas works very, very well, however. Much like Dark Souls, I don’t feel like I really need a map that often. Areas connect in ways that generally make sense, items are hidden but not so hidden that you’ll ever find yourself looking through a guide wondering how anyone ever finds this stuff without one, and there are frequently audio or visual hints that something worthwhile is nearby. Visually, each area looks great, although they mostly fall into the standard video game location tropes - there are some ancient ruins, a rainy jungle, an ice world, a lava world, a mine, and an endgame underground area full of weird orange goop and annoying enemies. Each of these areas looks fantastic, though, and the game in general has held up exceptionally well visually. And it even runs at sixty frames per second throughout, too!

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Apart from combat, one of the tools you’ll use most frequently is a “scan visor”, which you get from the beginning of the game and it’s never taken from you. You use it to gather information on basically anything – turn on the visor and anything nearby that’s scannable will have an icon over it. Enemies, devices, items, and bosses all have what are essentially compendium entries that you unlock by scanning them. They are frequently well-written and interesting without ever being overly long. You can also scan the logs of space pirates and read about their experiments, their clashes with you, and their plans for universal domination. OK, that last one is implied, not overt at all, but what is overt is the fact that these space pirates are just looking around Tallon IV for ways to make an unstoppable military force.

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Far more interesting are the logs left behind by the dead Chozo that once inhabited Tallon IV. The Chozo are sort of the Metroid “ancient race”, only they’re not all that ancient – the last traces of them left the galaxy not too long before the series starts. The ones that lived on Tallon IV moved there to get away from all their technology and busy lives and basically lived as a bunch of hippies. Their logs reveal that their creations and their technologies on Tallon IV were centered around living with nature, as opposed to pushing it away to make room for their Chozo-made things (even though the Chozo Ruins seems like it used to be a monolithic city and not at all a quaint, humble one-with-nature place, but I digress). As you progress in the game and read more and more of their logs, you get a better picture of how the radioactive substance “Phaazon” destroyed their way of life and their planet. Their spiritual, philosophical way of living was no match for the decaying ecosystem and ever-more violent creatures roaming around the place, and they eventually died out. Only, they kind of didn’t. As you get even further into the game and read more of these logs, it seems like their spirits were hanging around, and were even aware when the space pirates arrived and when you arrived. Their spirits hid the artifacts that kept the titular Metroid Prime itself at bay so that the space pirates couldn’t get to it, and they leave you hints about the artifact’s hiding places on some stone pillars. These spirits are slowly going mad, however, so by the end of the game the Chozo Ruins area is chock full of angry, crazy, powerful ghosts that are determined to wipe out you and the space pirates alike. This means that throughout the game, you read about the paradise these aliens lived in, then their downfall, then the tiny flicker of hope that they have, and eventually the madness that’s overcoming all of them. Kinda dark stuff, really, and not something that had much impact on me the first time I played this game as a kid. This stuff might sound kind of trite in 2018, since “apocalyptic logs” have been done to death and rarely make sense. But in 2002, it was still something of a fresh and interesting idea, especially on consoles where no one played System Shock 2.

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There’s not much else I have to say on the game, really. There’s almost nothing to complain about in this game. The game as a whole veers on the easy side and I wish the Hard mode was unlocked from the beginning (I played this on a modded Wii U so I could get HD output so I couldn’t use my old saves). The last third of the Meta-Ridley boss fight kinda sucks – he’s invulnerable unless he screams at you and he almost never screams at you so his last little bit of health takes forever to knock down, which is annoying when you consider that most of the boss fight is actually really cool and a lot of fun. I wish there was an RE4-esque quick turn around button, too. But these are all tiny nitpicks. There’s a ton of great stuff in this game and if you haven’t played it, go track down a copy and give it a shot. It’s well-worth your time!


So let’s talk about Horizon Zero Dawn for a minute, all right? All right.

I think that Horizon does some things right. The most obvious and most striking thing about it is that it’s downright gorgeous, and that’s coming from a guy who spends a lot of time playing PC games. Guerilla games have implemented some insane technical wizardry before, to make games like Killzone 2 and 3 look miles better than anything the competition could dream of, but this is something else. Breathtaking vistas are never more than a hike away, vegetation is plentiful and active and blows in the wind and moves whenever someone or something runs into it. Mechanical beasts with many moving, individual parts of their own populate these lands, providing both awe and fear to any player who hasn’t become an expert yet. And there’s no shortage of organic wildlife, either, though the biggest living animal you’ll ever shoot is a boar. All of this runs at a smooth, generally stable 30FPS on a slim PS4. I don’t know what resolution the base version of the game runs at, but every bit of this beautiful game is clear, largely unmuddied by aliasing or fog or texture pop-in. If you’re looking for a treat for your eyes, this is certainly a great candidate.

Looks aren’t the only thing Horizon: Zero Dawn does right. It’s also a lot of fun to just play. Aloy is a very responsive character – she can sprint, jump, roll out of the way, and slide with the best of them, and I have never felt like there was a noticeable delay in any of my actions. This smooth movement translates to combat really well – I never felt like I died because I couldn’t control things well enough. I was initially concerned that shooting only a bow-and-arrow for the entire game would be grating. Analog sticks, after all, aren’t generally so hot for aiming. Horizon is one of those games that proves that aiming can be good in console games, with just the right amount of auto-aiming and aim-assist to make your mechanical monster-slaying feel precise and accurate. If you ever feel like something’s too small or fast for you to hit, the game gives you some bullet-time to play with. It’s only a bit, but if you need a fast adjustment, it’s there and extremely easy to access. This all results in some gameplay that generally feels really good and often enough feels pretty great.

There are several ways in which the game falls apart to me. Most significantly, the story just doesn’t have any punch to it. When thinking about the story’s moving parts from a purely mechanical perspective, it all fits together well enough, and there are some elements that I’m generally interested in seeing through. For instance, I’ve only been through one ruin, but it was one of the highlights of the game for me so far, and it served to reinforce how much I’m interested in finding out what happened to the world. But it’s been difficult to maintain that level of interest when I have to put up with the Nora. The beginning of the game introduce the Nora as a representative of what civilization has become in this post-apocalypse. Aloy, the game’s protagonist, has lived her entire life as a Nora outcast alongside Rost, another Nora outcast. Nobody from the tribe will talk to a shunned outcast and Aloy has no idea why she’s an outcast. It seems like the Nora will outcast anyone for any crime, from violent murder (no problem with that) to even so much as visiting somewhere outside of the Nora’s sacred lands (you shun anyone who dares to have an interest in other groups? That sucks). The Nora Matriarchs see you talking to an outcast? You’re now outcast yourself. They catch wind that you went to an area called Devil’s Thirst? Say goodbye to the tribe! You were captured and dragged away from your homeland? Don’t even attempt to go back, the Matriarchs won’t accept an outcast. It’s annoying, and the Nora’s blind and superstitious fear of anything mechanical made them almost unbearable for me by the time I left their sacred land.

Fortunately, Aloy gets away from the Nora within the first ten hours of the game and you then start interacting with the Carja. In an attempt to make this succinct – the Carja used to be total dicks to everyone but they have a new king and are all really sorry and they just want to help everyone. It’s saying something that I find the Carja much more acceptable as people when they were bloodthirsty slavers and war-mongers just a few years before the game begins. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in more interesting characters, only more bearable ones. I haven’t made it much further into the story than this, but thus far Horizon is a clockwork story. It’s ticking along with perfect time, but it’s not really doing anything more memorable than that so far. I really would like at least one character to show up that I’m interested in, but no one really has any charisma thus far. Erend is OK, I guess, but I also had to look up his name just to type in this sentence if that tells you anything.

Let’s go back to gameplay mechanics, all right? The moment-to-moment gameplay feels good, sometimes great, as mentioned above. But the larger character progression doesn’t. And this is more a problem with the “all-game” that every AAA game is becoming. You know, how every single player game released by a major publisher these days is a psuedo-RPG, with leveling and gear and crafting and none of it really feels like it comes together well. The same holds true for Horizon, though to its credit it comes together better than most. You fight, you do quests, you level up, every level gets you some more health, and every level gets you another skill point to dump into another ability. I would like to see this game take the extra leap and become an RPG-proper, where I can dump points into Strength and Dexterity and Vitality and stuff like that. As it stands, I don’t feel like leveling up itself is a good measure of how strong Aloy has gotten. Level 19 Aloy doesn’t feel that much more powerful than Level 3 Aloy, aside from having more health. Instead, all improvements have come from crafting new packs for new items (for the love of God, either let me hold everything or give me a carry weight, I hate going “I can hold three potions and three traps and thirty “resources” and five modifications and three outfits and so on and so forth) and from buying new weapons.

One of the reasons a studio might decide to go with a “psuedo-RPG” approach to developing a character might be to simplify things a bit while still having some form of character growth. Part of a proper RPG, after all, is examining and developing stats so that you can grow a character in a specific direction. But Horizon throws a lot of stats at you anyway and they’re all in the gear you’re using. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but these stats are mostly represented by symbols that the game flat-out doesn’t explain. Seriously, where the fuck am I supposed to find a list of these symbols, and what do they mean? I can guess fire, ice, and electricity, that’s easy enough, but there’s one that looks like a hand and one that looks kinda like a broken heart. What do those mean and why should I care? Can I please, please just get a flat damage stat? And maybe also a range and fire rate stat? Those things would be extremely helpful in determining that this merchant is selling a better bow than the one I currently have. Yes, “damage – range – fire rate” are all extremely boilerplate stats to put on a weapon, but they are so damn common and so conventional because they’re so easy to understand and require virtually no explanation. If you want weapons that do different things then you can definitely add other stats. You could, for instance, have elemental weapons that don’t do as much damage but are more likely to catch guys on fire. These same complaints apply to armor, too, here called “outfits” which is probably a more accurate term. Every stats needs a more clear explanation and it’s nowhere to be found, outside of loading screen hints and looking them up on the internet.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game I’ve been enjoying. I don’t doubt that and neither should anyone who might read this. At the same time, nothing about it is really “clicking” with me. I want to like this game, and nothing about it is pushing me away enough for me to really stop playing. There’s a promise of something I might love somewhere in here, but if it’s there, it’s elusive, and I’m not a hundred percent sure it’s worth it. I plan on playing more of it. If I ever find the special something I’m looking for in this game and it pushes me to finish it, then I’ll post another blog or a review of it. Otherwise, these thoughts might wind up being my final thoughts on the game.

What about you guys? Did anyone else feel this way about the game and later find something that made it way better?


I watched all of Dragonball Z Kai and I have opinions

After getting into Dragonball Fighter Z, my little brother decided to buy all of Dragonball Z Kai. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have a blu-ray player at the moment – my parents are borrowing it – so I wound up borrowing the discs from him and found myself way into Dragonball Z. I have finished all 167 episodes of Kai and I have opinions.

It’s Still Pretty Good, You Guys

Dragonball Z is a whole hell of a lot of fun to watch! Even after all these years, watching the larger-than-life story of Goku and Co. hasn’t become any less enjoyable. It’s a ridiculous story, packed with characters that can blow up mountains at a whim and sense “power levels” from the other side of the universe. If that sounds cool to you, then Dragonball Z will probably be your jam. If the idea of two beings of immeasurable power fighting to the death underneath a darkening sky among geysers of lava sounds like a bunch of cheesy, overdramatic bullshit... well, you’re not wrong¸ and you also probably won’t really like DBZ.

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But it’s not just the crazy fights that make Dragonball Z so much fun. DBZ wouldn’t be anything without equally larger-than-life characters and the inherent comedy they bring about when on-screen. There’s a character named “Mr. Satan” who has become a world-famous martial artist in a world that loves fighting. Normally, the name “Mr. Satan” would be understandably offensive to some people, until you see crowds chanting his name as he steps into public view to give a rousing speech – the sheer audacity and absurdity of that makes it something special. The show in general brushes up against, for lack of a better term, “normal life” just often enough to make the contrast between Krillin cutting off space lizard Hitler’s tail and Krillin hanging around watching TV at Master Roshi’s funny and interesting. That sort of absurdity contrasted with something familiar is what makes this show for me, although the moments where the show goes full 100% absurd are also pure golden.

It’s worth noting that in the original version of this show, there’s an episode where Goku and Piccolo try to get driver’s licenses at Chi-Chi’s behest. Kai is the best version of this show as far as I’m concerned, but once you’ve finished the Frieza saga, it is well-worth taking the time to go track down that episode.

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Can I Talk About Something First?

I do want to talk about each individual arc a bit, but I don’t want this blog to end on a completely sour note so I need to interject this bit somewhere.

Dragonball Z has two problems that really don’t fly in 2018. You’ve probably already guessed what I’m talking about just by reading that sentence. Please don’t make the comments section a mess.

I need to bring up Mr. Popo’s appearance and Master Roshi’s perviness.

It doesn’t really matter what Mr. Popo was meant to be. What matters is what we’ve got. What we’ve got is a drawing that looks like a racist caricature. What we’ve got is a racist caricature stuck in eternal servitude, forever fated to cater to the whims of whatever being currently serves as Earth’s “guardian”. What we’ve got is a fat black character with giant lips who appears behind a window and scares the ever-living shit out of Bulma. And there’s really no way around it by the time of DBZ – the Lookout serves as a sort of home-base for the heroes and Mr Popo is known and loved by all the characters. He doesn’t actually appear all that much in Kai, but he is a key part of a handful of plot points and thus needs to exist. If you go back in and re-color him, as 4Kids attempted to do, it just looks absolutely terrible.

That said, outside of his appearance Mr. Popo isn’t actually all that bad. He is presented as pretty damn strong, able to hold two Super Saiyan kids back at once. He also shows signs of intelligence that most other characters don’t – he’s got a long and excellent memory and he brings up a few solutions to a few different problems for the protagonists. This doesn’t make his appearance OK, but I wasn’t personally bothered by Mr. Popo all that much.

The other thing I want to talk about doesn’t get brought up quite so much, but Master Roshi’s actions towards women didn’t sit well with me. I wish they had been removed from Kai entirely – they should have been, and it seems the Japanese agree with me.


And unlike Mr. Popo, every last one of these scenes could have been removed with zero impact to the story, or the animation, or anything.

The most audacious scene in the entire show comes in when a plane crashes and Master Roshi falls into Android 18’s lap, with 18’s outstretched arm catching her five or six year old daughter. Master Roshi pushes his head up, apologizes, and then proceeds to motorboat Android 18 and fondles her boob with the child watching. 18 throws him into the side of the plane. Five minutes later, he touches a sixteen year old girl’s breast.

This is not funny. It is not OK. It’s played for laughs in the show, sure, but this is unacceptable. I’m not particularly uptight on this sort of thing, generally. In Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward Elric falls in such a way that his hand lays on the breast of a woman he’s fighting. This is fine, because a) it was an accident, b) Ed is clearly embarassed by it, and c) the woman he’s fighting thinks it’s funny right before kicking him off of her. Here, we’ve got a pervy old man – who is otherwise presented as wise and old – purposefully doing unwelcome things to a woman. If you want to portray him as a wise old man who is also a bit of a perv, there are plenty of ways to do that without scenes like the above. You’ve already established that he’s a perv by noting that he hangs around a small house, on the beach, reading porn magazines and watching TV with a turtle and an anthropomorphic pig. It’s the most embarrassing part of a show where the final boss is an evil sentient piece of Dubble-Bubble.

It must be stressed that, over 167 episodes, you can count on one hand how often Master Roshi does this to someone. This doesn’t make it any more acceptable by stretch of the imagination, but if this is something that bothers you and you still want to watch DBZ, you won’t have to worry about it happening often, and almost all of it happens in the Buu saga.

Now that this is out of the way – and please, guys, don’t let the comments section become a cesspit of stupid comments about this subject and only this subject – let’s move on to some other stuff.

The Cell Saga Is Not Number One

Or two, or three, for that matter. I’d place it dead last.

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That isn’t to say that the Cell Saga doesn’t have its moments. I enjoyed it, just as much as I enjoyed every other saga. Vegeta’s pretty great here. He’s a sniveling, snarky bastard throughout, not even caring about his son, the future version of his son, or the woman he had a son with. He’s there to, in short, fuck somebody up, and fortunately there are a few characters that Vegeta’s desire to fight can be directed towards. He’s still a bad guy here. Sure, this is where he starts moving towards being a good guy, but he’s nowhere near there yet. And his pride gets Vegeta in trouble several times here – Android 18 breaks his arms when he tries and fails to fight her, and Cell knocks him completely out after he let Cell transform.

And you can’t really talk about cool moments in the Cell saga without talking about Trunks’s introduction. I remember seeing the last of the fight with Frieza and the first of the Cell Saga as a kid and everything that happens when he shows up is awesome. He just shows up and mops the floor with Frieza and King Cold in the most badass way possible. Future Trunks doesn’t really get to do a whole lot after that, other than be completely frustrated at all of the other Saiyans in the show. He, along with everyone else, gets totally outclassed way too quickly, as happens far too often in Dragonball Z.

But large parts of this saga were either baffling or boring. I don’t have a problem with Vegeta letting Cell power up, that’s fine, that’s a good fit for where his character was at. But I found myself wondering why everyone can’t just stop and think about the Androids for a second. Sure, 17 and 18 won in a fight against everybody at once, but the Androids didn’t attack first. Trunks attacked first. Fine, that doesn’t prove they aren’t bad guys, just that they were ignoring you until you tried to fight them. But then the Androids let everyone live, they even ensure that one guy can still walk so he can get senzu beans to all the others. Wait, what? Unrepentantly evil psychopaths generally do not ensure that their enemies are going to be OK! Future Trunks, what’s going on, why are the Androids in your time murderous dicks and the Androids in our time nothing more than super-powered joy-riding car-stealing shoplifting teenagers? They don’t kill or even harm anybody besides Dr. Gero and the heroes that attacked them. Kami even points this out and Piccolo doesn’t want to hear any of it, he just gets a power boost and gets into a fight with them. Again. Even after fighting Cell first. You’d think that an apology and a discussion about Cell over a few beers would go a long way towards keeping Cell from his full power, but nobody thinks of that.

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Also, Vegeta probably wouldn’t have any of that.

Much later in the same saga, we have Goku. Goku’s got a plan, right? Everyone seems to think he does and he kind of acts like he does, but he doesn’t tell anybody. His grand plan is to... send his nine year old son, who is apparently for some reason THE STRONGEST FIGHTER IN THE UNIVERSE, to fight the greatest threat in the entire universe.

Er... OK? Maybe tell your kid that this is the big plan before enacting it on him? Maybe that would have made the whole thing easier on him, especially when he’s getting stomped on by Cell and Piccolo rightly points out that he’s just a scared kid, despite all of the stuff he went through on Namek. And right before this, Goku even threw Cell a senzu bean because “he wants to see Gohan pushed to his limit”.


I thought the whole Gohan thing was pretty great as a kid, too, and a defining moment of the whole series for me back then. But these days, I didn’t think so highly of it. Even if I accept the above as a plot point, I’d be disappointed in the fact that little actually seems to happen in this fight. Gohan gets tossed around, gets angry, becomes a Super Saiyan 2, and tosses Cell around. Cell pukes up Android 18 and blows himself up at some point. The whole thing ends in a great big Kamehameha beam struggle and then done. Wrap it up and go home, let’s wish back everyone that Cell killed. It just all feels rather bland and boring, and Gohan’s “ooh, I’m so angry and can barely contain it, you better watch out!” thing doesn’t come across as badass anymore, it just comes across as an attitude that fits squarely into a bad nu-metal song.

This is nine year old Gohan going to A LEVEL BEYOND SUPER SAIYAN!
This is nine year old Gohan going to A LEVEL BEYOND SUPER SAIYAN!

Again, I overall enjoyed the Cell saga. Mr. Satan comes into play here and he’s pretty great most of the time. Vegeta’s character arc works really well here. Piccolo finally becomes a good guy without a doubt. But overall? I just wasn’t as entertained here.

The Majin Buu Saga Is At Once The Best And Worst That Dragonball Z Has To Offer

This might be the most difficult one to write about because I have such mixed feelings on it. There are parts of the Buu saga that I think are some of the best parts of Dragonball Z. The stretch of episodes from Gohan starting high school to Majin Buu getting freed is great. It’s probably one of my favorite stretches of Dragonball Z, so let’s talk about that for a bit, OK?

So seven years have passed since Gohan killed Cell. Gohan’s now a sixteen year old and his mother thinks he’ll be better off if he actually participates in society a little before going out into the real world. Which is understandable – after all, his only companions are his mother and his seven year old little brother, Goten, who remarkably acts like a seven year old instead of like an adult – I kept forgetting that Gohan’s supposed to be five years old on Namek. Anyway, this whole arc starts off with Gohan flying to school in Satan City on the Nimbus – he’s not flying himself because that might freak people out. Let that sit for a minute and then move on.

Most of the games call the above Gohan
Most of the games call the above Gohan "Teen Gohan" and this one "Adult Gohan", but here he's actually 16 years old.

Gohan’s adventures in high school don’t last long. We get a setup where he and a super-strong crime fighting girl named Videl, Satan’s daughter, have both taken a great-power-comes-great-responsibility attitude towards crime in Satan City and started fighting it. Only, Videl doesn’t know who Gohan is because he’s in his Great Saiyaman costume – a costume which everyone except Gohan finds lame as hell. And it’s great! Videl eventually figures out his identity and blackmails Gohan into teaching her how to fly and into participating in the upcoming World Martial Arts Tournament. But Videl has no idea what she’s in for and she winds up witnessing Goten, a seven year old, blow up a boulder with nothing but an outstretched palm and a thought. Things only get weirder for her as she learns more and more about Gohan and his friends, and she’s in constant bewilderment. This is what happens when you throw a relatively normal person into the cast of Dragonball Z and it’s all great stuff! We get precious little of it before things go off the rails, however.

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And go off the rails things do. In the World Martial Arts Tournament, a guy named Spopovich gets put into the ring with Videl and she gets savagely beaten in one of the most one-sided fights of the entire show. Spopovich won’t ring her out, either, he keeps her in the ring and standing so that he can continue wailing on her. By the end, she’s covered in bruises, blood, and broken bones, and it’s actually kind of unsettling. The only other time this show gets this unsettling is when Frieza does largely the same thing to Vegeta. The beginning of this fight marks the end of any hope I had for exploring Videl’s character some more, because after this she gets relegated to the same place that everyone else is – helpless side character. Shame, I really liked Videl. A few episodes after this, Android 18 gets her last time to shine as well, in a fight between her and a disguised Goten and Trunks, and later in a fight between her and Mr. Satan. And that’s where the brief glimmer of hope that female characters would be relevant went – down the drain, with Android 18 extorting money out of Mr. Satan and Videl in a hospital bed (she gets better soon, thanks senzu beans!).

Dragonball Z’s action ramps up again at a great pace. Vegeta, Goku, Gohan, and a new guy named Supreme Kai purposefully walk into a trap set up by the evil space wizard Babidi. Things spiral out of control and Babidi winds up bringing out Vegeta’s evil side again, pushing Goku and Vegeta into a fight that releases enough energy to awaken Majin Buu. I think this stretch of episodes is also some pretty great Dragonball – Dabura is a threatening enough villain, Babidi is an entertaining cackling madman, and the fights are better-animated than ever before. But there’s not a ton to really say about them. It’s well-paced shonen, with good fights, good villains, good character dynamics, and some nice plot twists to keep your attention.

And then Majin Buu himself is born. From here until Kid Buu shows up, you could convince me that Akira Toriyama was trying to just troll all of his fans, and when viewed from that angle, large parts of this are brilliant. Majin Buu starts off as a stupid being who can barely talk or think for himself, who is only interested in candy and can even turn people and things – including entire cities – into candy. It’s like Toriyama wanted this to be the most goofy and the most serious Dragonball arc, all at once. No episode passes without a gag or joke of some sort, and no episode passes without something awful happening to someone. It alternates between being really annoying and actually pretty funny, but by the time Fat Buu was taken out of the picture, I was more than ready to move on. Much like this blog post, the Majin Buu saga just feels like it takes forever to get through.

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When Super Buu shows up, everything gets worse. We’re still getting a few jokes every episode, but more and more of them come from Gotenks, the fusion of Goten and Trunks. If Toriyama wasn’t trolling before, he has to be now, right? That’s the only way that Gotenks’s character is justifiable. I don’t like Gotenks, and a whole hell of a lot of time is spent on him while Gohan’s off getting a power boost that takes an insanely long time for no reason other than yet another over-long gag. Did I laugh sometimes at Gotenks? Yeah. But far more often, I found myself looking at my phone or ignoring the show because I was just ready for this bit to be over and for Vegetto to show up. When that eventually happens, I started paying attention again, but the fight between Vegetto and Super Buu also kinda isn’t great. The animation is fine, but not anywhere near what we saw between Goku and Vegeta earlier, and the fight lasts forever. And it gets dragged out even more than it should be.

Kid Buu shows up and saves all of that. Kid Buu saved the end of this show for me – the show finds a focus here that it didn’t have before and excises most of the gag stuff and the arrogance without getting rid of it completely. Here is where Goku and Vegeta finally start taking this fight seriously and finally start trying to figure out how to get rid of Buu. Plans get made, intense fights are had, entire planets are turned into rubble, the animation quality gets a bump again, and it all looks and feels great and intense. It doesn’t last very long, only a few episodes, but I’d say it lasted precisely as long as it needed to.

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So what we’ve got are some of my favorite Dragonball Z episodes sandwiching the worst stretch of Dragonball Z out there, and in that “bad stretch” are a lot of actually-funny details and jokes surrounded by really annoying details and jokes. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the numerous plot inconsistencies in this arc, or how bad the Sumitomo score can be here, but this bit has gone on long enough and I want to talk about my favorite overall story arc.

The Frieza Saga Is Still One Hell Of A Thing

I’m going to just lump the Saiyan Saga and the Frieza Saga into one thing, because they kind of are (and I did the same things for the Android-Cell Sagas and the World Tournament-Buu Sagas).

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This is my favorite stuff out of the whole show. There were no moments throughout where I was not entertained or engaged in some way, apart from Bulma and Chi-Chi being irritating characters that don’t actually appear all that often. This is Dragonball at its best, escalating from “this guy can blow up a mountain, he’s pretty strong” to “everyone can blow up mountains with ease, now we’re fighting a guy that can blow up a planet”. It’s chock full of humor and jokes and silliness and ridiculousness at just the right moments, and seriousness and emotion and anger and pride at just their right moments.

The Saiyan Saga is neither particularly long nor terribly complicated, even by Dragonball standards, but it does do a great job of setting up everything else in the series. If you’ve been listening to All Systems Goku, you’ll know that Kai pretty much skips introducing or explaining characters like Yamcha, Tien, Chiaotzu, Puar, Oolong, and Master Roshi, which is kind of a shame but they honestly play such little parts past the Saiyan saga that it doesn’t matter all that much. We’re given enough to know that these guys were once Goku’s rivals and are now his friends, and then we see them get wiped out with ease, establishing that things are going to get way crazier than they’ve ever been. And that promise is delivered, with the fight between Vegeta and Goku being one of the craziest up to that point in Dragonball.

So then everyone shows up on Namek and we see people that even Vegeta fears. Frieza’s right and left hand men, Zarbon and Dodoria, are about equal to Vegeta and Frieza himself vastly outclasses everyone combined. Later, we get the Ginyu Force, and each of those guys are hammy enough to carry an entire 80’s cartoon on their own shoulders. And the only people representing the good guys are Gohan and Krillin. And Bulma, I guess, but she’s thankfully just hiding out somewhere, rarely appearing to complain about something. Vegeta has to figure out how to gather all of the dragonballs without alerting Frieza to his presence so he can get his wish for immortality, but he thinks he has all the time in the world. Krillin and Gohan have to dodge Frieza and Vegeta and they know that the dragonballs will stop working soon so they don’t actually have that much time. This makes for a great mixture where at least one character knows something that at least one other doesn’t, and where at least two things are happening at any given time. If somebody is starting to do something boring – like, say, just traveling, we can always cut to someone else doing something else. And it all works for making some fantastic tension. It’s not just awesome visuals, here, it’s really good storytelling, where everything balances on an extremely tight rope and one wrong move brings everything crashing down. And that does happen. Spectacularly. As soon as everything starts falling apart, the Ginyu Force arrives, forcing Vegeta to admit that he will need Krillin and Gohan’s help to even stand a chance of defeating them, without knowing that Goku will be there soon.

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Much like most of the fights in Dragonball Z, there’s not tons to talk about once Goku shows up. There’s fighting, and it’s all good stuff. However, by the time Goku shows up, you’re so invested in what’s going on that it makes the outcome and plot developments that much more interesting. They even find ways to make sure that the fighting isn’t just ye olde Dragonball punches and kicks and energy blasts, too, and when it is just that, there’s still something else going on somewhere to keep the audience invested in the plot.

All of this culminates in the fight against Frieza, which is pretty much the most iconic thing in Dragonball Z. Some people might complain that this fight lasts too long, and they’re not totally wrong. A few episode’s worth of stuff could have been chopped out, sure, and I wouldn’t have complained too much. Still, I have no complaints as it is. The Frieza fight slowly but surely escalates to a point where the planet is about to blow up, there are geysers of lava all over the place, the sky has darkened, and it feels like the end of everything. If I didn’t know there were more to the show, I’d assume they couldn’t go any crazier than this (Kid Buu does, but that’s much later in the show).

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I can’t give this part of the show enough praise. Thinking back to how much I enjoyed the first fifty or so episodes is what pulled me through some of the rougher patches later on. Does the show get this fun again? Sure! I’ve outlined above that I think this show goes to some great places even after this. But it’s never this consistently great again.

Wow, I Wrote A Lot More Than I Thought I Would

If you’ve read this far, thank you! Very much! I’ve spent the past month and some change thinking about this show when I wasn’t watching it, writing bits and pieces of this whole post down in different places, and just letting Dragonball Z churn around in my head whenever I could. I loved watching this show again, and I had to get something out. Turns out a lot to say. I think this might be the longest thing I have written out since college, actually!

I still don’t really know how to end all of this, so instead of continuing to ramble, I’ll cap this off with a spoiler-block’d bit on where you can watch Dragonball Z, because it’s actually kind of confusing.

The way I watched it, and the way I recommend watching it, is getting Seasons 1-4 of DBZ Kai and DBZ Kai: The Final Chapters Part 1-3 on DVD or Blu-Ray, total 167 episodes. If you didn’t know, the Kai version of the show cuts out all of the filler and the English version has a new and vastly superior dub. This is expensive and is a hell of a dive if you’ve never seen DBZ and don’t know if you like it, so I can understand if you don’t want to go this way.

The much cheaper method is to go to Funimation’s website and watch the original version there, complete with all of the filler, totaling 291 episodes. The English dub here isn’t complete garbage, but it’s definitely not as good as the Kai version. As a plus, it uses the original soundtrack, so you get Cha-La Head Cha-La as your opening! You can watch it ad-supported for free up through episode 10, but then you’ll have to pay for one of their subscriptions, which are around ten US bucks a month. I’m not sure of the exact price.

I haven’t seen any of the movies but I’m pretty sure most of them are non-canon. If you’re up for it, watch The History of Trunks after that character gets his introduction. You won’t be lost if you don’t watch it, but it does fill out some details about that character and it’s worthwhile if you just want to see more Future Trunks. Otherwise, I’d suggest not watching the movies until after watching the show.

There are other ways to watch this show. You could buy the orange box sets of the original version, for instance. You might come across arguments on the internet about the merits of the Ocean dub and the Faulconer soundtrack and so on and so forth. If you’re new to DBZ, just stick with one of the two things I’ve listed above.


Games I Think Were Pretty Good in the Year of our Lord 2015

All right! So! I wrote one of these and didn’t finish it and then I wrote another and scrapped it and wrote a third that was just a reflection on the year and I think it’s maybe too negative to really post as a GOTY thing, especially since 2015 was such a great year for games. This time, I'm just making a top five list. That said, I do want to mention some games that from this year that I'm not so hot on. It is spoiler'd, so if you want to skip it all, you can, but I played a few real disappointing games this year. 2015 was overall great, don't get me wrong, but as I was reflecting on this year, these games just wouldn't get out of my head.

First up, and the one I feel most strongly about: Rise of the Tomb Raider. It seems like everyone else likes this game a lot and I'm in that position where I feel like I played a completely different game. This is coming from someone who thought the 2013 game was one of the best games of that year - like second or third best. I would like to replay it at some point to see if that opinion holds up - it probably doesn't, but I seriously doubt my opinion will change enough to bring it as low as what I think of this year's Tomb Raider game.

Brad argued strongly that Rise of the Tomb Raider was a more full realization of what Crystal Dynamics wanted to do with Tomb Raider. That's where I completely disagree - this game feels very unfocused and unrefined. This sort of cinematic Uncharted-esque set-piece heavy linear game depends heavily on pacing to keep up momentum. What we get in Rise of the Tomb Raider is frequent breaks in pacing for you to explore some psuedo open-world area that's full of collectibles. You can't even move the cursor on the map without it locking onto a collectible, and most of them are completely useless. They all contribute XP to a skill system, but a lot of those skills are useless (an icon appears when you have a headshot lined up? Oh, really, I need to be told that I'm aiming at the head?) and/or stupid (you need a skill to make explosives from gas canisters?) The 2013 game wasn't without this problem, but it was a far lesser problem - that game felt well-paced unless you, specifically, pulled yourself off of the beaten path to go gather useless collectibles and solve side tombs. Even worse, the game often decides to put collectibles in your path when there are enemies all around. You might have Lara walk up to a document or something twenty feet from a bad guy and pick it up and start listening to an audiolog. They're totally out of place and should have been completely rethought.

There's also less to the story of this game, and what's here is a predictable, cheesy story full of bad voice acting and terrible dialogue. There's nothing at all that makes this game's story worthwhile. The first game's story doesn't deserve any awards either, but what's in Rise is just delivered terribly.

That's not to say that the game lacks likable qualities. When the game starts to feel focused, it has glimmers of brilliance - the challenge tombs are easily the best parts of the game and you're doing yourself a disservice if you play this game and don't seek out and finish all of the challenge tombs. It's a shame they're not better woven into the story. When the game becomes a linear Uncharted-like game, it still out-Uncharts Uncharted, and still looks pretty cool doing it. I think this game would work way better as a truly open world game, where you have to solve tombs and gather items to unlock things and move forward. No skills or XP or RPG stuff. Just you, your equipment, a bunch of ancient puzzles, occasional long-dormant creatures, maybe a T-Rex or something, and some bad guys here and there. I think Crystal Dynamics can do it, they've just got a lot of fat to cut off.

Halo 5 sucks. OK, it doesn't really suck, it's actually pretty OK, but I type that and then something in the back of my head just says "no, Halo 5 sucks". They try to add some new wrinkles to the gameplay and that's all right, I guess, but I don't think it's even the best that Halo's gameplay has ever been. The story in Rise of the Tomb Raider was at least consistent and understandable, even if it wasn't great. The story here makes Halo 4's story look like a consistent and well-told masterwork, and this is coming from someone who thinks the first three Halo games have some pretty good popcorn sci-fi stories (and ODST and Reach are no slouches, either). The multiplayer's pretty good, at least, but I used to play Halo campaigns over and over again. I still sometimes replay the old ones. This one? I can't see myself touching its campaign much again.

Props to 343 for sticking to 60FPS, though, and I don't mean that in a backhanded sort of way. The Master Chief Collection means that almost every other Halo game runs just as well, but I'm glad a AAA game that isn't a racing or fighting game or Call of Duty shipped with such a high framerate. Make this more common. Please, devs, make this more common.

I don't want to say much about Fallout 4, really. It's basically a Bethesda game where the usual strengths weren't all that strong and the usual (myriad) weaknesses were a fair bit weaker. I actually want to give it another shot at some point, just to see if my opinion changes, but I played fifteen hours of this game. I bought it, downloaded it, played it for seven hours, deleted it, redownloaded it, played it for eight more hours, then just gave up. I couldn't do it. Nothing ever clicked with me.

Ah! All right! Now that we have that done, let's talk about some games that I really enjoyed! This is not the list, just some games I want to mention two games that I really liked but didn't make the cut.

Axiom Verge is pretty good. Axiom Verge is... kinda just a worse version of Super Metroid. All right, look, I know that Jeff says that Axiom Verge constantly subverts your expectations when it comes to what it's doing, but I can't agree with that. Too often, it felt like Thomas Happ was playing Super Metroid, writing down what different items do in that game, and then figuring out ways to achieve the same thing in a different manner here. That's a commendable thing to do - Nintendo sure as hell aren't going to do it, even if they do release another Metroid game - but I don't think it subverts much of anything. Instead, we've got a game that wears its inspiration on its sleeve and it happens to be very, very good at emulating that inspiration and maybe adding a few minor elements into the mix. One thing I must mention, however, is the dash - I kept accidentally dashing no matter which controller I was using and that got annoying, especially when the dash button could have been assigned to a shoulder button and one of the shoulder button functions could have just been a weapon. But then I'm the guy that always puts dash on L in Mega Man X because that's where it makes the most sense, guys. In any case, Axiom Verge is a very well-designed Metroidvania with lots of nooks and crannies and items and weapons and gadgets, most of which are put to very good use.

Mad Max is not a great game! You could safely argue that it's actually a pretty bad game! But those car chases are pretty goddamn awesome and the visual style it has going on looks pretty goddamn good and some of the combat is pretty brutal (although it doesn't play well!) I spent a few weekends playing this and only this for hours in a row. And I don't feel bad about that. I enjoyed my time with it. I didn't finish it and don't want to return - I got my fill of this game in 20 hours - but I had a lot of fun with this game. I really, really want to see this team at Avalanche make a car combat game, one that is nothing but car combat, where your character is the car and you never get out of it. With what's on display here as far as car combat goes, it could easily be one of the most awesome games my inner 12 year old has ever experienced.

Just Cause 3 was pretty good but not quite as good as anyone had hoped, I guess. I just don't have much more to say about it than that. I didn't have any problems with the PC version, but I still wound up feeling like it had some of the same problems that Mad Max had without the strength of an insanely awesome car combat system. Instead, we've got an insanely awesome movement system paired with some pretty good stuff blowing up emergent action. Although, for whatever reason, Avalanche doesn't seem too keen on giving you unlimited rocket ammunition, or at least way more of it. That feels weird in a game where you can carry around unlimited C4 and tether helicopters to one another. Still, they seem to have a pretty good understanding of why people liked Just Cause 2 and they did their best to encourage players to play around with mechanics to do things in the most extravagant, action movie, impractical way possible, and when it works well - and it usually does - it's still a pretty great thrill.

All right, all right, I'll get to the bloody list already.

5) Destiny: The Taken King

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Full disclosure - I played Destiny for a little while on the PS3. Then I bought The Taken King on Xbox One. Then I played through Destiny again, and then through all of the DLC. Well, I haven't actually done much of The Taken King stuff, but the gameplay leading up to that has been extremely tight and extremely fun to participate in. Yeah, guys, I know, I haven't even seen the best stuff, but after a lot of time playing all of the previous stuff I had to take a break. I'm going to jump back in at some point and play some more, but what I did play was some of the most satisfying and involved shooting since... well, since Halo Reach. They have done an admirable job of making a console shooter that doesn't rely on cover and where aiming down sights is a something you do to get a better shot, not to make your weapon fire accurately enough to hit something five feet away. I had fun with vanilla Destiny, and I had even more fun playing through all of that content again only with a much better wrapper.

4) Pillars of Eternity.

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Yes, it's one of these. You know. A CRPG. Only it's not impenetrable.

This should be much higher. I only played thirteen hours of this game. I loved what I played, I think it does such a great job sucking in anybody who wants to participate with meaningful, deep, complex content (in terms of writing, world design, and gameplay) without also feeling like there's a high barrier to entry. Seriously, if you've ever wanted to play a Baldur's Gate-esque RPG but have been scared off by overly long tutorial dungeons (fuck you, Baldur's Gate 2) or combat systems that don't explain themselves at all, Pillars of Eternity should be in your Steam cart. Like, now. It's probably the best game released this year, but I can't justify putting it much higher on my personal list when I didn't play much more of it. I was knee deep in it and then stuff came up and I couldn't get back to it until the busy Q4 started to roll in and I just never found the time. That sucks.

3) Assassin's Creed Syndicate

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Variations on the cane sword are starting to become to me what the Kirkhammer is to Jason. And that's crazy.

This is a recent development. I played about two hours of Assassin's Creed II a few years ago and I thought it was boring. I've watched this series from the sidelines here and there, but never jumped in because of that. Black Flag looked interesting but I never bought it. I finally bought this one when I watched the Quick Look and thought "that cane looks pretty cool..." Evie does some messed up stuff to people with that cane. Seriously. The fighting animations might be some of the most brutal I've seen in a while. But even with that aside, the rest of the game is pretty great. Unlike Rise of the Tomb Raider or Mad Max, I don't feel like there's too much "icon barf", so simply opening the map doesn't feel overwhelming. I've found the stealth-y gameplay pretty intuitive and the combat, while basic, fun enough. It's a lot of fun to just run up to two Blighters, push Assassinate, and watch Evie cut one's throat, spin around and slice the other's throat, and do all of that in the span of maybe two seconds without really breaking out of a run. Sure, that's somewhat psychopathic, but our industry is built on controlling psychopathic superhereos with barely justifiable reasons for mass murder. I guess Jacob fits my playstyle a little more but Evie's a more interesting character.

Worth noting that I got a few hours into the story and then I spent the last, I dunno, ten or fifteen doing side missions and picking up collectibles. I don't know how the story turns out past getting the grapple hook, though I doubt it's anything particularly substantial. Also worth noting that, while this may be one of my favorite games of this year, I really can't see myself wanting to play one of these every year. If I had been playing these games since the beginning, I would be completely sick of them by now. Even if I had played every other one instead of every single one, I would have stopped before now. I'll probably play Black Flag at some point but I don't see myself becoming a fan of this series in general, just of this game. And cane swords.

2) Ori and the Blind Forest

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You can launch yourself on those little lightbulb things. That's just one of many platforming mechanics that the designers used to make extremely effective, satisfying levels.

I like Ori a lot more than Axiom Verge. People keep talking about how gorgeous this game is, but I don't think I've ever played a game that's a better example of why game developers should focus far more on performance. This game runs as smooth as butter and, as a result, the simple act of controlling Ori is a joy in and of itself. The platforming and level design of Ori and the Blind Forest are both no less stunning - the whole Metroidvania-ish world is better-paced, better-designed, and better-focused than anything in Axiom Verge. It's not without its problems - the story goes from another cutesy wordless indie platformer to the most sickeningly saccharine thing I've seen since the third fucking Santa Claus movie and the timed chase sequences go from a pretty awesome test of skills (the first one) to a frustrating, baldness-inducing set of movements that require lots of memorization and perfection and luck (the last one) - but simply playing this game and exploring its world was such a huge joy for me that neither of those things bring it down much at all.

1) The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt

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I have no comment. Or taste.

For a game that so many forum posts heralded as the obvious game of the year, I'm sure not seeing this game top many lists. There's a whole lot of "well, I like the scope of the game and it's pretty and that Bloody Baron questline sure is some of the best video game writing ever but I didn't want to play past that because Novigrad". Well, yes, chasing Dandelion drags on for far too long, but there's a ridiculous amount of other things for you to go do while you're doing that. The city of Novigrad is chock full of things to do and people to see. And the whole world of The Witcher 3 is like that, really - not only is the game overflowing with content, it's overflowing with quality content. All those question marks on your map? All of those have, at the very least, some little note or something that adds to the world, something more than just a collectible or some treasure. Even Contracts, which would have just been some grind-y monster hunt in any other game, have unexpected twists and turns to them that you probably didn't expect. This game is abundant in everything fantasy, from small short stories to the weird and quirky to epic sidequests about monsters and magic to sidequests dealing with fantasy politics to treasure hunting and dungeon diving - it really does have it all. The actual act of participating in all of these things has been a point of contention here and there, but for what it's worth, I usually had no problems with the movement and usually found the combat satisfying. With The Witcher 3, I found myself embroiled in a huge, cohesive, extremely well-built world with writing chops far beyond what any of its contemporaries (save maybe Pillars of Eternity) have achieved. As with Skyrim, I love exploring a good fantasy world, and this is an excellent one of those. I finished it once and got the best ending I could have asked for - and I'm leaving it installed, maybe to finish it again and delay playing some other 2016 game that probably deserves some of my time.

And there's my Game of the Year list! One last thing... well, it's not much of a thing, but there a few 2015 games that I own but haven't played yet.

Metal Gear Solid V on Xbox One - I'm kinda scared to start it up, considering all of the shit I've heard surrounding how Konami handles FOB stuff. I never want to engage in that. I can totally just never even touch it, right? And I'll still be able to get upgrades and new weapons and I won't get to the end of the game and feel left out because I didn't want to bother with Konami's shitty business practices? Also fuck Konami.

Life is Strange - I never have been a huge fan of games that are more extremely elaborate choose your own adventure movies than games (note that I don't mean that in a derogatory way - that's just not my thing), but I bought Life is Strange and now everyone is putting it on their lists and I want to give it a shot. I know so little about it, other than the fact that there's time travel involved.

Undertale - thought I'm starting to suspect I won't like this one much because it sounds like a bunch of random stuff all feeding into some theme of not killing things? Of the game giving you some obvious way to not kill something? I dunno, I'll play it. Maybe blog about it like a lot of the internet seems to have done.

Galak-Z was a game that I was super excited about and then it came out and it had problems and by the time it came out on PC, I was busy playing other games and didn't want to mess with it. I own it now, though, and apparently it has an arcade mode that makes it not a roguelike and that's pretty awesome!

Austin Walker made an impassioned case for Invisible Inc. and I'm going to own that game soon thanks to him. Maybe it didn't get it on top of the list, @austin_walker, but it did get on the list and you did get at least one more person to play it.


A Really Late Blog on My Gaming in 2014

Is the sixth of January really that late? I think I posted a GOTY thing last year or the year before way into January. Shouldn't Game of the Year stuff be done when the year is over anyway?

Justifying my procrastination aside, I'm not even doing a list this year. Well, there is a list, but it doesn't make up the majority of what I want to post about this year. It's just some stuff I wrote about some stuff that I really liked playing in 2014, whether it came out in 2014 or not. I tried to keep it in 2014 but I didn't play a ton of 2014 releases, mostly due to not having a job between when I finished college and when I got lucky and stumbled across something decent.

Anyway, here goes! Stuff I played in 2014. Let's kick it off with something that turned a decade old in 2014!

The “My Opinion Of This Used To Be Lower” Award Goes To… Halo 2!

So you spend about an hour and a half there and then go gallivanting across the universe again.
So you spend about an hour and a half there and then go gallivanting across the universe again.

I’m a Halo fan. I like all of the games to varying degrees. Halo 2 used to be one of those lower degrees, along with ODST. Earlier this year, I got the itch to play some Halo, so I played through all of the first game’s Anniversary edition – and then I played through all of the other first person Halo games (Wars and Spartan Assault aren’t included – I own Wars but never got into RTS’s and Spartan Assault looks like a subpar game).

Halo 2 still has some flaws. The first three levels are pretty stunning and actually quite excellent. The rest of the game never quite measures up to the first three levels – it doesn’t keep up that pace, it doesn’t keep up the interesting gameplay design, and some parts of it drag. But you know what Halo 2 does do well? Worldbuilding. Halo 1 introduces you to a single Halo ring in the middle of space and pits you against the Covenant and the Flood, and there isn’t really a singular antagonist. Guilty Spark kind of is, but he’s really just “the guy between you and destroying the actual bad thing”. Halo 2 not only gives the Covenant a face, but it also expands on their social hierarchy, gives you some a bit of insight into their government, and in general shows you a lot about them – and then upsets all of that to kick off a schism that separates the Elites from the Covenant. Keep in mind, this is only half of the game. About four hours, give or take an hour, are spent with the Arbiter and the Covenant side of things, and in that time we see so much about that side of the conflict, how it works, what its goals are. It’s not that these things are complicated, but they are shown to the audience very, very well, and not told to us with a lot of exposition. Master Chief’s side of this story is good, too, but it’s the Arbiter bits that I think make the Halo 2 campaign more memorable, and it’s mostly because of the Arbiter’s story. It helps that the Arbiter’s story in this game is actually a full-on story arc and not just a middle chapter with no real solid ground gained. Master Chief’s conclusion comes at the end of Halo 3, all of The Arbiter’s character arc is done here.

For the record, the rest of the Halo games are still pretty good, and I still think Halo 3 ODST is the least of them.

The “Game That You People Said Was Good For Some Reason” Award Goes To… Bravely Default!

No, this is not promotional artwork, this is an actual town in the game. And man, it looks great. I know it's pre-rendered, but even areas that aren't pre-rendered look really good.
No, this is not promotional artwork, this is an actual town in the game. And man, it looks great. I know it's pre-rendered, but even areas that aren't pre-rendered look really good.

OK, about that title, some people really like this game and that’s fine. I really, really wanted to like this game, but I can’t. It’s got a pretty bland and predictable story, and the only part that could be considered unpredictable requires you to essentially run through a Cliffnotes version of the game four times in a row. I knew about that before buying the game and said I’d be OK with it in the interest of good mechanics and… well, the mechanics here aren’t necessarily bad but they sure as hell ain’t no (insert Atlus’s entire 3DS output here). The “braving and defaulting” idea is great in theory but it mostly just means I’m braving four times for 250 damage each, rather than attacking once for 1000 damage, or something along those lines. Technically I’m going four turns in a row, but practically I never saw a reason to, and boss battles were never particularly hard. I just found the whole thing so blandly designed. Except for the art and visuals. Give credit where credit's due, this game looks absolutely fantastic. I would probably purchase a PC release just to play this game in a much higher resolution on a bigger screen. The game isn't overall bad, just disappointingly bland.

Consider the two Digital Devil Saga games runners-up, but those games have those SMT mechanics and those mechanics and the gameplay design using them are still pretty damn good.

The “Maybe Bravely Default Is Good But I Didn’t Think Much Of It Because I Was Comparing It To Giants” Award Goes To… Final Fantasy VI and Persona 4 Golden, Tied

...but FFVI still has better artwork than Bravely Default.
...but FFVI still has better artwork than Bravely Default.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know what Persona 4 is. I finished Golden earlier this year, after watching the entire ER and playing P3FES last year, and like seemingly everyone else I thought P4 was pretty great. At this point, it can easily be considered one of those JRPG greats that everyone who ever tries JRPGs needs to give some time to, right behind Chrono Trigger and FFVI. Some people think the dungeons in Persona 4 are boring, and that’s fine, but I’d be happy if they made an entire Persona game focused on dungeons. Wouldn’t that be great? They could even make it a tile-based throwback in the vein of Etrian Odyssey or something. Persona 4 Golden’s turn-based combat feels on-par with SMT Nocturne’s to me, in terms of balance and strategy. Bump P4 up to hard like I did and I wouldn’t blame you for saying that you think P4G’s boss fights are actually better than Nocturne’s, and that’s one hell of a feat. It does get a little too grindy at times and never make me go back to find a fucking key in your random dungeon, but P4’s combat remains satisfying and challenging throughout on Hard.

The “I Should Have Played More Of This” Award Goes To… Legend of Grimrock 2!

And it's much easier on the eyes, too!
And it's much easier on the eyes, too!

No, really, I should have. This game came out right around the time I got a full time job and my life started picking back up – not a good time to dive into a slow-paced very long atmospheric dungeon crawler. But what I’ve played shows that it’s a damn, damn, goddamn good one of those and you need to play it if you have even a passing interest in puzzles or RPG’s or good things. I also need to play it and I’ll get to it as soon as I finish messing with…

The “Game I Definitely Should Have Bought Instead Of Titanfall” Award Goes To… Dark Souls II

My brother called my character a
My brother called my character a "dumb atheist", which is totally fine by me

I’m still playing this game, I’m getting close to 20 hours in and I’m really enjoying it. Dark Souls I is the kind of game that I should love. Dark, oppressive, lonely atmosphere? Exploration? Remarkable difficulty? Not a particularly traditional story? Sounds a lot like Nocturne! I love Nocturne! And sounds a fair bit like Super Metroid, too! I love Super Metroid! But I never did. I could talk about why at length, but it basically boils down to me getting invaded. I don’t want any part of that, and the idea of another human being popping into my lonely game to stab me in the back sounds like the antithesis of why I care to play such games in the first place. I wound up buying Dark Souls II and putting the .exe behind a firewall so I'd never have to deal with the online stuff. Why didn't I think of that before?

Dark Souls II is pretty great. Personally, I think I've settled on using Vengarl's armor and a fully upgraded Greatsword for the rest of the game. I'd like to use the Smelter Demon's sword but a) not everything is weak to fire and b) the stuff to upgrade it is rare, so the regular-ass, notched, worn, old, Greatsword +10 is what I'm using. I also want to be fast, so I'm not using heavy armor at all. Instead, I've got 40 points in Vitality at the moment and a ring that raises my equip load, so I've still got a medium roll. As soon as I got enough strength to wield the Greatsword, I actually went naked for a few hours so I could keep a faster roll until I got my Vitality up enough to equip some real armor.

A side note - I thought you guys said this game was hard. I just got the King's Ring and I've only had trouble with The Pursuer and The Smelter Demon so far. I have finished off most other bosses in one, two, maybe three tries. I'm not trying to go "hey, I'm a badass!", but if there's one complaint I have about Dark Souls II, it's that a lot of bosses feel the same. Many of them feel like The Pursuer again. If I'm not dodging things the same way I dodged The Pursuer's attacks, I'm fighting bosses whose attacks take so long to wind up that I can go make a sandwich before I have to react. The eight and a half hours I played of Dark Souls 1 was way harder than anything I've come across here. Some regular enemies have given me trouble but not tons. It's not easy, certainly, but it's not brutally punishing either. Just be patient and pay attention to when you should hit.

The “Best Video Game Released in 2014” Award Goes To...

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If you’ve seen me post anything about Shovel Knight, it’s probably been associated with the phrase “best game released this year”. And it is. It’s so great. My first console was actually the SNES so I played the successors of the games that Shovel Knight was based on, so maybe my view is a little bit different? In any case, Shovel Knight pushed all the right nostalgia buttons without feeling like it was pandering to me with references and ideas from those older games. Instead, it took some things that worked, refined them greatly, and put them in a game that is designed and plays beautifully. It’s a must-play in my book. I just don't have any complaints about it whatsoever, and I don't really want to bore you with things you've heard about Shovel Knight elsewhere.

The “2nd Best Video Game Released in 2014” Award Goes To...

I'm glad I went searching for images because I totally forgot about this! Er, does anyone know when it's coming out? Also were you looking for something relevant?
I'm glad I went searching for images because I totally forgot about this! Er, does anyone know when it's coming out? Also were you looking for something relevant?

Basically a runner-up category because Wolfenstein The New Order stuck out to me almost as much as Shovel Knight this year. FPS games with good stories have become fairly common, which is surprising when considering how meatheaded the genre is often assumed to be. Wolfenstein The New Order takes the original FPS meathead and turns him into a human. He’s still a walking death machine, but he’s a walking death machine who seems like an OK guy, and sometimes you really could see him having a BBQ one sunny Saturday afternoon, with a few kids running around and a cold beer in his hand. This is completely at odds with practically every other war hero in every other video game, ever. And the game does this while still being silly and gory (though, frankly, I found the gory parts mild in comparison to some other shooters, but then I played Brutal Doom around this time).

It gets the gameplay right, too. It's more than just competent, it's a downright blast to just play Wolfenstein: The New Order.

My only real complaint with Wolfenstein is the moon level. You don't have much ammo with your regular weapons, so you're forced to use energy weapons. This would be fine if you didn't have to keep running back to the damn chargers on the wall - none of the weapons really hold all that much ammo, so you're chained to recharging it during a battle instead of the fun running and gunning you've been doing since the beginning of the game.

The “Best Mod I Messed With in 2014” Award Goes To… Brutal Doom

I can't find a picture that is a) representative of Brutal Doom and b) something that won't get me banned, so here's someone painting a room red instead. You pretty much do this anyway.

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Have you ever played a game where you can almost literally paint the walls red with blood? Would you like to make a place look like the lawnmower scene from Dead Alive/Brain Dead/whatever the fuck it’s called? Then have I got the mod for you!

I am not often bothered by gore in video games. It’s so fake and over the top, more so than most movies would ever even try to be. I played Brutal Doom for a few hours and walked away from it more than a little bothered, but then I came back to it. It started off disgusting, and it remained disgusting, but I was kinda fascinated at just how far SgtMarkIV had gone in this fairly popular Doom mod. I wound up finishing Doom 1 and 2 with the Brutal Doom mod and I still fire it up from time to time for what might be the most ridiculous gore I’ve ever seen in video games. God, it’s such a fucking mess.

The “Here’s A Fucking List Anyway” Bit

5. Titanfall – I probably won’t ever play Titanfall again. The number of people using the Smart Pistol just seems too high, and I was too frustrated the last time I played it to care. It feels like they nerfed the R101C so that it’s kinda useless against the Smart Pistol and nothing else feels useful against guys using the Smart Pistol. So now I’m running around trying to shoot guys who don’t even have to aim and that’s pretty frustrating, whereas before I could usually kill them just before they got a lock on me. But towards the beginning, when my complaints about the Smart Pistol weren’t so prevalent and I was running around, weaving between Titans, taking them out on foot, killing other pilots, mowing down dumb AI enemies – man, that was fun. And exhilarating. And tense. And exciting. If they make a Titanfall 2 and they remove the Smart Pistol, or nerf it to the point of uselessness, count me in.

4. Dragon Age Inquisition – This game isn’t good enough to change the minds of those people who were saying that this was Bioware’s “last chance”. It is good enough to make most of them grumble while they play it anyway, for God knows what reason. Full disclosure, I haven’t finished the game, I played about 25 hours and then gave it a break to play the next game on this list. Still, I bought this to run through magical fantasyland with some “dark” tendencies (read: not really dark, just fantasy-ass fantasy) and that’s exactly what I got. Huge, pretty, open areas, lots of stuff to do, some RPG stuff to mess with, crafting, etc... you know what? Dragon Age Inquisition is kind of overstuffed and nothing in it is stellar, but there is something in here for anybody who even remotely has an interest in open world RPG’s and I like a lot of the stuff in here, so count me in. It’s not stellar in any department but it’s pretty good in most and it’s basically crack-cocaine to anyone who wants or needs to do everything in an area before moving on.

3. Dark Souls 2 – I’ve described this one above

2. Wolfenstein: The New Order – again, described above.

1. Shovel Knight – So what if it’s “another indie platformer”? This game is proof that 2D platformers can still be relevant and good and fun and they need to remain a thing, so play it. Really. It’s so great.

Some Other Stuff

All of this is spoiler'd because this is actually a fairly long blog post and I don't want to make it seem longer, but there's more I want to write about!.

What did I miss?

Not so much "missed" as "haven't got around to playing much of yet".

I own Divinity, Transistor, Wasteland 2, The Banner Saga, Thief, and the PC release of Valkyria Chronicles, most of which I plan to play through at some point. Wasteland 2 is iffy. I feel like that game wastes a hell of a lot of time doing stuff. Can I fast travel to places I've already been? Can this lockpick be a "hit if I have the skill, miss if I don't" sort of thing? Can I have a medpack that heals everyone instead of waiting for some bar to fill up? I like the combat and the exploration and the setting and the writing is even pretty good but I don't really want to wait... and wait... and wait for seemingly trivial shit to happen. It's not much waiting in individual spurts, but you might spend ten minutes waiting for shit to happen for, say, thirty minutes of play. Or, well, that's what it felt like, I totally just pulled those numbers out of my ass.

The rest of that list consists of games that I'm generally interested in and I'll probably beat the ones that are twenty hours or less. The only game 2014 game I can think of right now that I don't own yet and still want to play is Alien Isolation. I may own South Park one day but, eh, I feel like I can live completely without South Park.

What am I doing in 2015?

Working! Moving out! Maybe finding a better job! Oh, gaming-wise. For January, I want to finish up Dark Souls II and play Resident Evil later in the month. I'd like to sandwich Splinter Cell Blacklist in between those two just to break up all of the darkness in both. To be fair, Dark Souls and Resident Evil have very different forms of "darkness", but they're both fairly grim in their own ways and I want to play something a little lighter. Never played a Splinter Cell game before, so Blacklist will be it if I manage to finish Dark Souls II before the 20th, which I probably will.

...oh, what's actually coming out in 2015 that I want to play? Nothing off the top of my head that I'm certain will come out this year. Persona 5 and Doom 4/The Doom/Doom 2015/whatever are both supposed to come out this year, but we haven't really seen much of either and I'll believe that Doom is out only when I'm holding it in my hands. The Witcher 3 is supposed to be coming out and it looks cool but I couldn't really get into The Witcher 1 or 2, as much as I tried with both.

Anyway, that's my 2014 year in gaming! I hope you enjoyed reading it, I hope 2015 is one of the best years this community has ever seen, and I hope 2015 has some way better games than 2014 did! Wait, you didn't think I was going to be the only guy writing up something about 2014 without mentioning how it kinda sorta wasn't so hot overall, did you?


A (Short) Defense of Skyrim

I have, for a long time, held Skyrim as my personal favorite game of the generation. To this day, it's a bit of a divisive game - some people claim it's pretty boring, some people strongly dislike its mechanics, etc. Of course those are valid opinions and I understand them, but I wanted to write down what I liked so much about the game. So I did. And I wasn't going to post it to Giantbomb, but after finishing it I thought I might go ahead and do just that. So, here it is.

I can’t sit here and tell you that Skyrim is a perfect game. Far from it. You even have good ground to stand on if you want to make a case for Skyrim as a bad game. I understand those reasons, I could elaborate on them myself in an article as long as this one if I so wished. Deep as they are, though, Skyrim’s flaws are easily ignored by me in favor of its world.

Skyrim is a place of rolling plains, shimmering ice caves, dark ruins, and great mountains. Scaling one of these mountains allows you to see a majestic vista below, full of trees, snow, plains, towns, cities, and other mountains off in the distance. Look up at night, and you’ll see an aurora borealis, a northern lights display that falls short only of the real thing. Wait until the morning and you can see the sun’s brilliance shine across those snow-capped mountains and you’ll find rays of its light shining through a tree’s leaves. On a grand scale, Skyrim is the most beautiful game I’ve ever seen. That I can be a part of this world, and I can go anywhere and do anything, only adds to that grandeur and that beauty.

Up close, Skyrim doesn’t lose any of its luster. Every plain, every mountain, every city, every cave, and every ruin has its own individuality. No single place in Skyrim is an exact repeat of another, save for perhaps the inns outside of cities that pockmark the landscape. Making a bee-line from one place to another is almost impossible as you stop to discover new places to visit and new dungeons to dive into. Towns and cities have many citizens walking about, talking with each other and going about their business. Go into Whiterun and you can hear characters chatter about the feud between two big families in the town, talk about the state that Skyrim is currently in, a woman complaining about her husband never leaving the Jarl’s palace, and more. Peek your nose into a dungeon and you’ll find various treasures, monsters and traps. If you’re lucky, you might find something that reveals a new quest or a new Shout or any other number of things that might catch your interest.

I am no Elder Scrolls lore expert, but a defense of this game cannot go by without some mention of the story and the lore. You can find books scattered about the world that tell you what kind of stories exist in Skyrim. These books encompass practically anything that can be placed between two covers, and there you’ll find plenty of information about gods, history, characters, and even details on how to, say, work a special forge near Whiterun. Outside of the written word, you can talk to practically anyone to hear opinions on Skyrim’s war, current events, gossip, and more.

The final detail I must describe is this game’s music. Previous Elder Scrolls games have had a largely triumphant soundtrack. Morrowind starts with triumph as you emerge from the boat in shackles and ragged clothes. Oblivion’s music tends to have an air of whimsy about it, especially some of the town tunes. Both of these soundtracks are great, but Skyrim’s gives a distinct feeling of bleakness. It is not a soundtrack without triumph, but it also isn’t one without sorrow. It’s largely made up of slower, deeper sounds that really help to deliver the world’s desperation.

And if you’ve made it this far, then here is where I must wrap all of this together. What makes Skyrim different from other RPG’s? After all, doesn’t practically every RPG have towns that try to give off a feeling of a living, breathing community? Can’t you talk to everyone in Dragon Age Origins? Doesn’t Just Cause 2 have some brilliant vistas of its own? Doesn’t The Witcher 2 have those small details? Yes, but none of these games come together quite like Skyrim does. There’s a certain atmosphere of bleakness and dark times in Skyrim that no other game I have ever played gives off, and it’s only compounded by the northern, harsh conditions that these people live in and the uneasy, constant threat of another war erupting. You can spend all your time diving in caves if you want to, but you would be ignoring the larger conflict sitting above ground. I’ll be the first to admit that actually participating in the conflict between the Stormcloaks and the Empire isn’t a great quest, but the talk that you hear from citizens surrounding it does so much to cement the world. The discussion of troubles and the harsh world that these people live in does just as much to tell you that, even without a war, there would be considerable issues to deal with. And yet these people keep living on, and Skyrim does a fantastic job of placing you among them.

In any other form of fiction, this would seem cliché, but Skyrim places you right in the thick of it and it does so in the best way I’ve ever seen. Are any of its parts perfect? No, but Skyrim gives off such an aesthetic brilliance and absolutely nails its bleak atmosphere and tone so well that I can’t help but forgive its inadequacies, and its high points appeal to my own specific interests so directly that I can’t help but call it my favorite game of this generation.


The Ten Best Games I Played This Year Are...

...well, first off, note the wording on that. There are some 2013 games on here, but when making a top ten of 2013 list I found myself including entries that I kinda didn't think were GOTY material. Good, yes, but there were way better games I played this year that I wanted to give more attention, so some of these are games that I finished for the first time this year but did not come out this year. And some I haven't even actually finished, I've just enjoyed what I've played so much that they belong.

For the record, I did play The Last of Us, and I did enjoy the story and the writing and the cutscenes a whole lot. But I didn't enjoy significant portions of the gameplay, and I have a hard time putting a game on an awards list when its actual gameplay has problems. It's definitely well-worth playing for the visuals, the story, the environment, tone, setting, atmosphere, and pretty much everything except gameplay.

So... here we go!

10) Grand Theft Auto V

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This dude was seriously considered for character of the year. And he won. I hate this guy.

I haven’t played much of the GTA series before. I’ve played a few hours of the fourth game and about half an hour of one of the PS2 games on my cousin’s PS2 a long time ago. And about five minutes of one of the PSP ones. And I haven’t really finished GTA V yet. Hell, I haven’t even quite made my way to the second heist yet, so maybe I haven’t made my way to the best parts yet. I haven’t made it partly because college tends to get in the way of long-ass games like this, and partly because I spent a lot of my time simply admiring the game world. I rarely pay attention to the environments in open-world games and couldn’t picture much of their worlds in my head, but for GTA V I can think of several places. And not big places that you’re constantly visiting, either, just something as simple as a pool in a backyard or some places in the northern parts of the map or some bit of the highway that I ran off while policemen were chasing me or the sewers that I spent two hours doing loop-de-loops around. It’s hardly perfect (surely Rockstar can afford someone who can write better console aiming code so you don’t have to default to a lock-on? And why does controlling planes and helicopters fucking suck?), but then few games this massive are. And here, the world is both massive and finely detailed and full of crazy, strange, weird, and worthwhile things to do.

9) Shin Megami Tensei IV

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Spoiler Alert: This is Lucifer, which makes SMT IV the stealth most sexist game of this year.

My opinions on this game have fluctuated quite a bit. I think I suffered from hyping myself up too much. Its predecessor, Nocturne, is brilliant and I loved every inch of that game. This one... not so much. Don’t get me wrong, it’s number nine for a reason, but that comes with the caveat that the story falls apart at every seam and the first and last five hours of the game are weirdly unbalanced in that the former is very hard and the latter is very easy. The middle thirty five hours or so of that game, though, are pretty great in both mechanics and atmosphere. The game does a really good job of showing you the oh-so-perfect, idealistic (or so it appears) upper world of Mikado and the chaotic, post-apocalyptic literal underworld of Tokyo. And the game also does a great job of presenting you with interesting demons, bosses, dungeons, and treasures to find. I’m currently on my second playthrough of this game and I’m completely disregarding the story. There’s no payoff there, but there’s tons of payoff in filling out my Demonic Compendium and fighting bosses and other demons and doing a lot of the sidequests that I didn’t do before.

8) Fire Emblem Awakening

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If you're one of those people that's squeamish when feet are shown, then this game is for you. No feet, whatsoever. Except maybe in those animated cutscenes, in which case nevermind.

This was the first turn-based strategy game that I ever really liked. I’ve tried X-Com and Disgaea since then but, really, this is the one that I’ve come back to a few times. Like a few other games on this list, I haven’t finished this one, but it’s not for lack of playtime. My 3DS says I’ve got 60 hours of this game logged, about 15 of which were actually my brother’s. I’ve just been doing all of the random encounters and working on the paralogues and marrying people off. The only real issue it has, for me, is the way it sometimes tosses new enemies into the battlefield, which sometimes feels a little cheap. It’s also an issue because I like picking the battlefield clean of enemies. But, hey, that’s not a big deal, especially considering how great the rest of the game is. Every character is given a personality, a unique name, and some dialogue; even though the characterizations are usually pretty thin, it’s enough to make you feel bad when one of them goes down. I played on Casual because I don’t like restarting my 3DS whenever someone died, but I still felt bad when someone went down just because I knew it was my bad playing that killed them. I also felt great when one of them succeeded or got really lucky, especially against a powerful enemy.

7) Tomb Raider

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You'll want to protect her, probably because it's the easiest job you'll ever have to do.

So the story is competent at best and there’s some dissonance between the way they want to portray Laura and yadda yadda yadda. Did you see the arrow that just went through that motherfucker’s head and caused him to do a backflip? Awesome! Oh, yeah, and solving tomb puzzles and whatnot to make a WW2-era shotgun upgrade into a modern shotgun is pretty goddamn game-y but then everything in this game is pretty game-y when you think about it. And that’s one of the things I loved about this game – it didn’t try to hide game-y parts in service of a narrative that I didn’t care about. It was proud to have campfires that you can fucking teleport between, specifically climbable walls, curiously hidden tombs, loads of collectibles, etc. And on top of that it was one of the best third person shooters I’ve played this generation. I like it because its gameplay was solid and it then built interesting set pieces on top of that, not because its gameplay merely worked well enough to get through all of the impressive set pieces. It’s Uncharted done right, and it’s damn good.

6) Final Fantasy XII

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Yes, it's true. This man has no dick.

Never thought I’d put this on an awards list. Neither the mechanics nor the world open up for about 8 hours. I played it off an on for an hour or two once or twice a year, for two years. And then, suddenly, the game becomes pretty big and you’re going places and you’re doing things and you’re progressing the story and, before you know it, you’ve got 30 hours invested into this game and you’re ready for more. I only started playing this in November and haven’t managed to quite finish it yet, but I’ve found myself very interested in the story and most of the characters and the gameplay. Sure, it plays itself some, but you’re really just setting up parameters that do what you would have done anyway. I can totally see why you wouldn’t like this game, but I really enjoy it.

Also, you have to roam around towns as Vaan, which becomes far more bearable when you just think of him as the go-getter while everyone else stops at the local Bar and Grill.

5) Persona 4 Golden

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Truly a masterpiece in writing.

You guys know. C’mon. I don’t even need to describe this game. I’ve seen all of the Endurance Run but haven’t finished the game myself, I’m about 25 hours in and in Rise’s dungeon. One thing I’ve noticed while playing this and P3FES is the super quick gameplay loop in which this game runs. You can pick it up and play it for fifteen minutes and get something done and it just feels a little satisfying every time. You’re not going to play it for an hour and not make any headway against a tough area of a game or feel like a level is too long. If you’re tired of the dungeon you’re in, Goho out of there and do a social link or two, then come back.

4) Persona 3 FES

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I don't know if Persona 3 wins the "most emo art online" award, but it must certainly be in the top ten, what with the main character looking like he puts Fall Out Boy on repeat, kids shooting themselves in the head, and an emotionless robot-girl who is in a vulnerable, helpless-looking position plastered all over approximately 3/4 of the official art for the game.

Well, I like this game for largely the same reasons that I like Persona 4, except I actually think the writing and story here is better. Not tons better, but I think it holds up a little better under scrutiny and doesn’t immediately make you question motivations and such in the last few hours of the game like P4 does. Persona 4’s dungeon crawling mechanics are better, but there are some really great fights in Persona 3 FES and the final boss was one of the most memorable in a long time.

3) Bioshock Infinite

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Pictured: Six month's salary of your average working class person.

This is, no joke, the only game that I finished twice this year. I can point out some problems with its gameplay, and many people have pointed out the issues with its story, but I don’t care. I was quite wrapped-up in its finale and was pretty satisfied by its ending, even after giving it some thought. It was something of a brain-bender and it’s got plenty of holes, but I don’t think that Ken Levine was looking to “plug the holes”. I think he was trying to give the story’s ideas and characters some conclusion to this whole thing, and in that I think he succeeded. Besides, like Jeff Gerstmann has said, anytime you deal with either time travel or dimension hopping you get logic holes and issues. Here, there are both.

I also get to slide on skyhooks in a city above the clouds and jump off and bash someone off the other side of the ledge with a skyhook, then send a flock of crows to take out a few dudes coming after me, then shoot any other dudes that are coming after me. So how is this game not fun again?

2) Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan

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Matt Rorie's anime alter-ego

OK, look. Wizardry-inspired dungeon crawlers aren’t very popular. But something about this particular game really struck me. It started out with a devilish grin derived from the stupidly hard (but very balanced) difficulty. Then it grew to a certain satisfaction from finding treasure boxes in the dungeon. Then I found that I’d finished drawing my first map and I felt even more satisfied with my amateur cartography skills. And then the game drew me even more in when I found that I had to lead gigantic, pissed-off bears to equally gigantic piles of logs so they would clear them out in their blind, ferocious, one-shot-my-entire-party anger (and then there’s something to be said for the satisfaction that comes from beating them using only auto-battle forty hours later). And then I managed to kill one of those FOE’s, incredibly over-leveled enemies that you often have to navigate around. Finally, I got to the first stratum’s boss, a massive red bear, and managed to take him down. And then I started to realize the crazy number of class and skill combinations I could have used to do that entire thing. The sheer number of skills you can mix and match to form tactics and strategies is pretty staggering, and that it’s all quite balanced makes the whole thing a very impressive mechanical achievement.

Make no mistake, though. This game is all mechanics, through and through. There’s no voiced dialogue, and not really a ton of dialogue considering the game’s length. There’s context given for why you’re doing what you’re doing, but just barely enough. The world is made up of square tiles that look the same. Sure, the game has an aesthetic and an art style, but that’s hardly relevant. I would play this game if its art consisted of nothing more than lines, because it would largely be the same game (though I’d rather keep the aesthetic, it’s not entirely pointless). And all of these mechanics are just extremely well-balanced. Difficult and brutal, but always fair. I don’t think I’ve ever been one-shotted, and I somehow almost always manage to escape from encounters with FOE’s if I accidentally fell into a fight with one. I do wish that the game’s leveling moved faster so that I could unlock more skills, and I do wish it didn’t take as much time to develop new party members, but those are pretty minor nitpicks. Etrian Odyssey is the best game I’ve played this year from a pure mechanics perspective.

Also the music is just plain awesome. All of it. I can't name any songs that I don't like hearing.

1) Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne

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I bet this game makes for some... ah... "interesting" cosplays.

So where do I start with this one? It’s pretty much the game that got me into dungeon crawlers in the first place. It’s not first person but it might as well be, with clearly marked tiles all over the place, damage floors, floors with holes in them, random encounters, insanely hard bosses, and not really a ton of story. Actually, more on story later.

I did claim that Etrian Odyssey had better mechanics, but I’d tell you that this was the better overall package. The press-turn system in Nocturne sounds like something that wouldn’t lend much depth, but in reality it’s what makes this game’s battle system. Essentially, when you hit an enemy’s weakness or get a critical hit, you get an extra turn. If you miss or hit something it deflects, then you lose a turn. The enemy is also under the same rules. It’s also a game of buffs – like the press-turns, this sounds like a trivial difference but in reality, learning and knowing the buffs and debuffs is absolutely crucial to every boss fight past Matador. Weaknesses, strengths, buffs, and press-turns all play into everything you do and it’s such a brilliant combination. It’s also more difficult than Etrian Odyssey, and sometimes unfairly so. And it has a far fewer number of skills, which is why I said that it’s slightly less impressive mechanically.

It has everything else in spades, though. Did you ever think that a JRPG could have a lonely, oppressive atmosphere in a post-apocalypse where only five humans are left alive? No? Well, this is it. It’s one of the darkest apocalypses I’ve ever seen and it’s chock full of tragedies and a lack of hope. Forget The Last of Us, that world is going to get back on its feet. This world? It’s dead. And that’s pretty much the point. You exist for the purpose of choosing a direction for a new world, or destroying the world altogether and leaving only a blank wasteland. The story is pretty minimalist. You’re only given what you need to know, and nothing more. But the way it’s presented, and the world you’re placed into, is so original and unique and weird and striking and downright awesome, from top to bottom. It quickly became one of my favorite games of all time and I’d say that you should give it a try if you ever wanted a new spin on the post-apocalypse.


Uncharted 3's Mediocrity And A Dilemma Between P3FES And P3P

Remember that blog I did a while back and said that I was going to try and make it a more regular occurrence in an attempt to start completing games? Well, here's part two of (hopefully) many! Still not sure when and how often I'll be able to do this but I'll eventually get the ball rollin'.

UNCHARTED 3 SPOILERS IN THE PLOT PARAGRAPH. You'll know it when you see it.

Uncharted 3

If you've ever heard me say anymore than half a sentence about the Uncharted series, then you know that I think it's a fairly mediocre third person shooter with some occasionally witty dialogue and some pretty graphics. And Uncharted 3 does... absolutely nothing to change my opinion.

So where should I start delivering my thoughts on this game? Well, what about the good stuff? It's technically astounding that this game runs on the PS3 at a generally good framerate. It's quite a pretty game for a console game, and it's just full of stuff to gawk at. Well, it is if you've never played a PC game. You're right, I'm going there. Compared to the PC games that I played for quite a while before suddenly jumping interests to JRPG's, none of this stuff really made me go “wow, that looks good”. It always came with that “for a console game” qualifier”. Back to good stuff – the set pieces are often very exciting and interesting, at least until you leap off a ledge you thought was the right one but wasn't because the game sometimes doesn't do a good job of directing you where you need to go when you're being chased/chasing someone. Or maybe until you try to make a jump but don't quite make it and think that you're supposed to go somewhere else, only to find out that the original jump was the right one and the game just decided to let you fall that time just to be a dick. Or maybe you weren't entirely sure which ledge to leap to because some look like they can be jumped on and some can't. All right, all right, I said mediocre and not bad! The dialogue is mostly well-written and good enough, and the characters are generally consistent and likable. Except... I'm kidding, there's nothing more to say on that front.

So what about the bad? Well, nothing really strikes me as actually-bad, just plain mediocre. The shooting controls (as compared to other console shooters, not the mouse) feel awkward and unrefined, for one. They're OK, but popping off headshots feels like an exercise in luck and frustration instead of honed skill and precision. Considering that some enemies have nutty amounts of health unless you put lead in their craniums, that can be quite frustrating. Lucky me, I played the game on Very Easy and didn't have this issue – but I know it's there! It's really not hard to tell that on higher difficulties, this game's balance is completely fucked. Shotgun dudes and riot shield dudes might just be “a bigger nuisance” on the lower difficulties but if they're anything like they were in Uncharted 2 – which I did beat on Normal – then they just feel cheap and unfair, not refined and well-balanced. The actual meat of this game's gameplay simply isn't very good.

I've already gone on for what I feel is too long, but there's one more thing I want to talk about – plot. The plot here is something of a mess. Threads are brought up and dropped without explanation on occasion. Talbot, the secondary bad guy, keeps disappearing in street corners and gets shot at least once without any repercussions, which is brought up several times but never resolved. Marlowe, the Big Bad, pulls a card that says “tower” out of Cutter's jacket and says something along the lines of “I knew this would happen! The cards say so!”, as if she had some way of predicting things, just before trying and failing to kill him. Some middle eastern guy who talks about a genie shows up to rescue Drake out of nowhere and is barely characterized. You spend the first half of the game with Nolan North, I'm-too-old knockoff Danny Glover, Niko Bellic, and that chick that got eaten in half in Pitch Black, and those latter two disappear completely for the last half of the game. It just feels like something that was cobbled together from notes and haphazardly thrown into some sort of sensical order. It's not without sense and I was never at a loss as to what the main plot thread was about, so as far as video game plots go you might even say it's a good baseline – but captivating fiction this is not.

Persona 3 FES vs Persona 3 Portable

Well, here I am stuck with a dilemma. I have had P3P for a long time but when I last started it, I dropped it in favor of something else. Two weeks ago, while playing Nocturne, I picked it back up and decided that I wanted to play it on the big screen in HD on the PS3. So, naturally, I bought it there, knowing that I would have at least one major issue with it.

The PSP version has a trimmed-down “real” world setting, where instead of running around and seeing people, you see a static image and move a cursor around it. It's essentially a very advanced image map. Sort of. In concept. Anyway, all you get for characters are static images and there are no anime cutscenes, two things that take a lot of personality away from the game after playing FES. I tried to go back for reasons that I will elaborate on in the next paragraph, and all I could think of was the aimless running in circles while I decided what to do next and seeing the surprisingly good animations for a PS2 game and then those little anime shorts and those crazy emoticons which added some character to the, uh, characters as well as the game. They do a fairly good job of delivering the story to you on the PSP but it's often obvious that this is not the way the game was originally meant to be played. Sometimes it's even hard to know exactly what's going on in certain scenes because the action itself is heard and not shown.

So why not play FES? Why would anyone pick the PSP version over the PS2 one? Because FES includes the completely baffling decision of not allowing you to control your entire party, at least not in the traditional JRPG menu way of “here's your characters skills, pick which one you want him to do”. Instead, you've got “tactics” that you can set – rather ill-defined tactics, I might add, and not really much in the way of customization – and this just doesn't make up for the ability to say “Main, do this; now Junpei, do this; now Mitsuru, don't freaking cast Marin Karin, Diarama Akihiko because he's nearly dead again.” It ends up in this scenario where you do one move and then you watch the rest of the game play out in front of you instead of doing anything yourself. The PSP version was completely rebalanced to allow Persona 4-style “control your whole party” to even out the visual novel-esque telling of the rest of the story and the fact that part of me wants to drop the 25 hours I've put into FES just to do this reveals how much I wish I could control my whole party. Now that I've said all this, I must be completely frank – the teammate AI generally does a good job of things and it generally helps me instead of hinders me – but “generally” here means “it occasionally screws up in a way that I never would have”. Not that I don't screw up but I have never knocked a game for my own screw-ups.

Do I recommend that you play Persona 3? Absolutely, without a doubt. It's original, it's interesting, and you should absolutely check it out when you've got the chance. I just think it's such a shame that a version that includes both full party control and the “real” world isn't available; you'll have to pick the issue that you would rather deal with, and to be honest I kind of wish I would have stuck with the PSP version. There's no turning back now, though, and I don't regret my time with FES.

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