Sekiro: Moosey Blogs Once.

First off, if you're worried about spoilers, there will be spoilers here. BUT, they'll be in the back half, and clearly contained within a marked and labeled SPOILER ZONE. Everything up to then I'll keep vague/about general game mechanics, or at most I would white out a boss's name.

I've been a fan of From Software's work for a while now. Maybe not as long as the people who played Demon's Souls back when it was new (my experience then being laughing at someone who said it wasn't that hard and then immediately died (but also Demon's Souls can be pretty easy if you know how to cheese it with magic)), but long enough. Given that, I was already pretty confident that I would enjoy Sekiro, but Sekiro still managed to, in many ways, exceed my expectations. Not every way, but enough of them that I think it's a phenomenal game, and one of my favorite From Software games yet.

More so than the Dark Souls games/Bloodborne, Sekiro is a game about dueling. It's a game about swords clashing against swords, about wearing down your opponents' strength (posture) before they can wear down yours, and it's a game about feeling like the raddest Shinobi who ever ninja'd. The very first time I deflected an enemy's attack and went straight into a deathblow, my jaw dropped. The combination of it all, the ringing clang of the swords, the sparks flying everywhere, the feeling of nailing it, and the animation of Sekiro driving his sword into that man's neck and seeing a fountain of blood (because this is a video game, where fountains of blood are good) splurt out, it told me what I needed to know about this game.

And that was: Sekiro is one of the coolest games I've ever played.

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Seriously, this game evokes a feeling of dueling like few, if any other games I've ever played had. In some ways it reminds me of fighting games, where it is so much about reading your opponent, trying to identify their next move, and do whatever you can to counter it. But, for me at least, even fighting games don't really convey the feeling this game does, because I never really feel like I can get the right level of challenge from them. If I'm against the AI, I think most games have two variations there: too easy and what feels like impossibly hard. And if I'm playing against humans, then it's either getting myself destroyed by impossibly hard players online, or I'm playing against one of the few people I know in real life who plays video games, and they haven't played as much as I have, so I have to go easy on them until they can figure out how to play the game.

Maybe a better comparison point would be the other hunters in Bloodborne. They're enemies that have the same mobility as the player, and use the same weapons and abilities, which makes them tough fights. Some of my favorite in the game, because they were really challenging, but super fun duels. And they felt special because they were about the only enemies in Bloodborne that didn't respawn.

Sekiro feels like those fights, but made into an entire game. Or, close to it, because even in Sekiro there are plenty of low level enemies that can be expelled via wailing on them with sword until they can be deathblown (via filling the enemy's posture bar, thus stunning them), or they run out of health (and even then they can still often be deathblown, which is useful with the upgrade that gives health back for deathblows). But even a lot of the regular enemies, the ones that do respawn, engaging them in head on fights feels like a duel to the death. A duel where one slip up can mean them getting in a critical hit, and Sekiro being left almost, or entirely dead.

And that's before getting into the minibosses. Enemies so tough they need to be deathblown twice, with special attacks and patterns that make them even trickier and more difficult than the rank and file foes. These can, especially early in the game, feel every bit as difficult as full on bosses from previous From games. You can't just wail on them with the sword and eke out victories, you really need to strategize, and use every trick in Sekiro's bag to win.

There's a lot of tricks in that bag, and just about all of them are useful. This isn't just a game about running up on enemies and fighting. Previous From games had "stealth" in the sense that you could walk up behind enemies and get back stabs for extra damage (usually a kill for weaker ones). But Sekiro has full on stealth mechanics, like crouching, or hiding in tall grass. It's not as fleshed out as in games totally dedicated to stealth or tactical espionage, both mechanically and in the overall design of the game, as it doesn't really feel like a game that can be played entirely stealthily.

But that stealth can be the deciding factor is some of the tougher fights. Early on, I encountered a courtyard, in which was a miniboss. A big samurai general, wearing armor to look imposing, and wielding a jumbo sword to boot. He wasn't alone, as all around the courtyard were other enemies. Some with guns, some swords, and one that was just a lookout, and would bang a metal pan to alert the rest. This miniboss on his own was tough enough, but with all the rest? Possible, but early on when I was still getting a feel for the game, it felt nigh-insurmountable.

That wolf has a headband.
That wolf has a headband.

So, I used the tricks outside raw combat. I sneaked around to take down whatever enemies I could, and crucially, I opened the fight against the miniboss with a stealth-deathblow. Right off the bat, that's half of his health gone, making the fight that much more manageable. Now it was a one on one fight, and a fight where I only had to whittle him down once, rather than twice.

(For those wondering, no, you can't do a stealth-deathblow on a miniboss, run away, hide, wait for them to return to normal, then do another stealth-deathblow. Minibosses get all their health back once they exit combat/searching for you.)

That feeling upon completing a tough fight like that, that feeling when I watch the final deathblow animation, and I feel myself exhale as I let the tension go, cleanse myself of the battle high, is just fantastic. It's a game built on fights like that, and it stayed thrilling and exciting throughout.

Stealth isn't the only trick, of course, because there's also the Shinobi Tools in Sekiro's prosthetic. Of course, any good video game prosthetic has to not only be as functional as an organic arm, it also needs cool gadgets, and Sekiro is no different. (I do think it's a bit of an odd trope, but if anyone knows of any games with realistic depictions of prosthetics (especially for player characters), let me know).

Anyway, some of the gadgets are very basic stuff, like throwing shuriken. Useful against certain enemies (they one-hit kill wolves and most other small-ish non-humans), or certain circumstances (knocking leaping enemies out of the air), but still straightforward. Some are still straightforward, but perhaps a bit comical conceptually, like a metal umbrella stored in his arm that can be extended and used as a huge shield. When I say huge, I mean he's literally crouching around holding up this umbrella that is about six feet in diameter, and it blocks all incoming attacks (except sweeps as it is an umbrella, after all).

Some get a little more fantastical (and feel free to skip over the whited out section if you don't want Shinobi tool SPOILERS). Like the Mist-Raven Feathers, which put Sekiro in a stance that allows him to warp away when getting hit, or the other magic feather one that can be used to turn enemies around mid fight (leaving them unaware of where you are, and thus making them stealth-killable again), or in some cases just makes them disappear altogether?? The game refers to that as "spiriting them away," which I guess must be a thing. I'd only ever heard of it from that movie (Spirited Away), which I've never actually seen.

But the important part is that from regular enemies to full on bosses, the Shinobi Tools are useful, and often feel like a vital key to success. In some cases there's an almost Megaman-style "weakness" that the fights are clearly designed around. One example (again, jump over if you're leary of having anything spoiled) is the bull miniboss. It's huge (even bigger than bigh cow), and charges around so fast that the other enemies in the enclosed space don't stand a chance against it. But with the firecrackers, which are specifically stated to have strong effects against animals, it makes the fight much more doable.

There's plenty of upgrades to get, some of which felt vital to me (like one that extends the time the firecrackers crackle), and some of which change fundamental aspects of the tools themselves. Like the spear (which I didn't use that much), its charge attack can completely change based on the upgrade, and I think that's really cool, especially given that there isn't that much room for play style customization otherwise.

Though, the Shinobi Tools do lead me to one of my (few) complaints with the game. They run on Spirit Emblems, which is fine, and I think overall that usually feels well balanced. Some are around the world to be picked up, and enemies occasionally drop them on death. The issue is that unlike the healing Gourd, it's possible to just run out, and that doesn't feel like a great addition to the game. You can buy more from the Idols (this game's Bonfire equivalent), and early on that's not too bad, but the price keeps going up, until eventually it peaks at 50 Sen (they start at 10), and it just feels like a needless money sink. I think the game would've been better if they refilled like the Gourd does. Just a little less time spent grinding for Emblems/money.

The most From Software line of dialog in the game.
The most From Software line of dialog in the game.

And the last major trick in the game's metaphorical bag (there's other moves and stuff that can be equipped, but that's just basic video game stuff) is resurrection. Shadows Die Twice, after all. Dying does not necessarily mean sitting through a load screen (thankfully Sekiro's are a lot shorter than say, Bloodborne's, or Dark Souls II's, which were long), and restarting at the last Idol. Upon death, except for death by falling (though falling isn't auto-death, it just does damage and resets you, unless that would be fatal damage), two options are presented. L1 to die, or R1 to resurrect. Resurrection uses up a charge, and gets Sekiro back on his feat, with half health, and ready to fight.

It's a neat addition, and it's balanced well enough that it can't just be used to brute force through the game (though I wouldn't be opposed to the game having an alternate option that expanded the resurrection uses, for example. I'm far from an expert on these things, but the game's difficulty/accessibility have been on The Discourse lately). It's there to give second chances, which is handy because most people are going to need them. I did. Frequently. There's also story ramifications behind resurrecting, but I'll save that for the SPOILER ZONE.

However, I think this game's inclusion of it, and seeing video of DOOM Eternal having straight up "extra lives" as power ups got me thinking about this. Lives are, in some cases, returning to video games, and I think that's interesting. Used to be, way back in the day, you started a game with a set amount of lives, and if you ran out, it was game over. Sometimes there would be Continues, but even then, some games you could run out of those too, and that would mean starting the entire game from the beginning. Of course, that's also come back in the form of rogue-like-light-likes, but that's a whole other discussion.

Moving from limited lives to infinite lives, and just restarting at checkpoints felt like such a freeing thing back when it started happening, but now it's going the other way again. Second lives as power ups, second chances, opportunities to keep the fight going, is a really interesting take on it, I think, and I wonder if games like Sekiro and DOOM Eternal (should the final game have it like in the footage shown thus far) might be a first wave of this becoming a bigger thing.

Either way, it's interesting.

Now, back to Sekiro, rather than my musings. Level design! Overall, I do like the layout of the levels, and I think their verticality work really well with the grappling hook. Sure, it's a lot more limited than something like Marvel's Spider-Man, or Just Cause, but compared to Dark Souls, it's incredibly freeing. But the issue is that I miss the shortcuts of games like Dark Souls I and Bloodborne. Sekiro is more the style of just placing lots of Idols throughout the world. Which I understand, that's certainly more convenient, but it doesn't have as many of the "oh wow this connects back to HERE" moments of those games. But there's still a couple of them, so I'd still put it above Dark Souls II in that regard, and the world does feel pretty cohesive, and well realized.

But probably my biggest issue with the game is the story. Not that it's bad, but I do think it suffers for being a bit more straightforward than previous From games. Or, rather, that what is gained isn't more interesting to me than the mysterious nature of them. Specifically it's the characters, I don't think most of them are really that interesting. There's some stuff that's neat, but that's really relegated more to the overarching lore than the specific characters or their motivations.

I think that's about all I can say about the story without getting into specifics, so mayhap this is time to go into FULL SPOILER MODE. If you're still playing the game, or haven't played it yet, don't click on the SPOILER thingy. I think I've made it clear that I really love the game, and it has some truly astonishing moments in it. One in particular, that may very well be Moment of the Year worthy, I'll get to in the SPOILERS below, because it's something I wouldn't dare even hint at, and potentially ruin for anyone. Just trust me, it's real good. And, if you still weren't sold on my loving the game, then know I love it enough that I plan on getting the Platinum. Nothing in there seems exceptionally difficult, or even difficult on the same level as something like Bloodborne's (curse that Defiled Dungeon). Just a little grindy to unlock all those skills and upgrades.

It's a great game, and I highly recommend it.

Now be prepared to enter...

THE SPOILER ZONE.

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Broadly, Sekiro is a game about immortality, and the cost of that immortality. In terms of raw mechanics, this is where the Dragonrot comes in. When it first happened, and the Sculptor was infected, I was freaking out. Given From's history, I fully expected this to be a serious thing I would be fretting over the entire game, as I managed my resurrection, only using it when really necessary, and trying to halt the spread of the disease. Then it spread to someone else, and another character found a way to cure it, using an item that I thought would be super rare, and then that was how it'd be managed.

Turns out it wasn't nearly as much of an issue as I feared, which I think ended up being a disappointment. Based on my experience in the game, after I accidentally wasted my first of the Dragonrot healing item, and found NPCs that sold it, I never had any trouble managing it. On top of that, so far as I can tell, Dragonrot can't even kill. I feel terrible talking to NPCs who have it, hearing them wheeze and cough, and apparently it prevents quests from completing, but it's always just one use of that item away from healing anyone and everyone with the Dragonrot.

I think, and I wish so much more could have been done with this. I get not wanting to inundate people with it, and maybe if it'd been too harsh all it would have done was just stop people from resurrecting (though I think regular dying can spread it too). It certainly got me to not resurrect a lot early on, which meant a lot of XP and money thrown away when I didn't get that Buddha dice roll to aid me. But as I played, I eventually realized the Dragonrot wasn't anything I seriously needed to worry about, and I think that undermines the game's story, which is very much about the Dragonrot being something to worry about.

Because the whole game is about the cost of immortality. The cost of Sekiro's is the Dragonrot spreading to those he interacts with. The cost of the Senpou Temple's immortality was killing a bunch of kids in the process of figuring it out, then having an awful/creepy giant centipede inside them. The cost of the Sacred Waters of the Ashina clan is...um...having your grandfather climb out of you and be the actual final boss fight? Okay, so maybe the game does still have some of that trademark From Software unclearness after all.

But also it has things like a single note mentioning a Second Mortal Blade, which at the time felt like a Big Deal, only to have that not be mentioned anywhere else, until Genichiro has it for the final fight against him. Maybe there's more about that elsewhere in the game, because I know there's other endings that will have more story stuff in them, and I'll do that along my path to the Platinum. But so far as the main path through the story goes, stuff like that felt underdeveloped. And not like the good, "ooh From games are mysterious." It felt like something tacked on just to explain why Genichiro had a special sword.

So, the story overall, not as good as I would have liked, but still not terrible. There were, however, things about the game that I absolutely need to mention, but were too spoilery to say above.

Like, that Guardian Ape fight. When I started the fight, I was a bit surprised that it only had one Deathblow indicator above the health bar, but I just ignored that, focused on the fight, and beat it on my first try. Which was so exhilarating, that I was just left there breathless, posing next to the Ape's body for a screenshot.

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Just standing there, feeling good, when-

THE APE STOOD UP AND GRABBED ITS OWN HEAD OFF THE GROUND.

The game got me. I was so astoundingly surprised, I still just love that moment so much. The game even did the "SHINOBI EXECUTION" thing! They sold it so well, and I fell for it. Of course I died, and it took me a fair number of attempts before I was able to actually win the whole fight.

But of course that wasn't the end of it either, because down in the Ashina Depths, the beheaded body was still alive, and not only that, but it called in a second, still living ape for backup! Which was surprising all around, though I beat that one in only two attempts. This time I was prepared, and was ready for it to get up again, so I was mashing R1 for that Deathblow (but also I briefly saw the indicator before the game gave me the rewards for the fight, but I was anticipating SOMETHING either way).

A thing that surprised me about Sekiro is how relatively little supernatural stuff there is in the game. I mean, outside the resurrection. Most of the enemies are just dudes with swords (or guns), monkeys (there's SO MANY monkeys!), or monkeys with swords (or guns). I was maybe not expecting it to be like Nioh, which is bursting with mythological creatures, oni, yokai, etc, but I was expecting more than there is.

But that has the effect of making the supernatural feel more, well, supernatural when it does show up. A bigh snake feels special in a game that doesn't have much of that. As do the weird blue fish people near the end when I got to that area. What's up with them? I mean, don't actually give me an answer, this is another case where I like the more old style From approach of just plopping me into this strange area, where I'm left to try to figure out what's going on, but only get little hints of it. I think they might be the "inhuman Okami warrior women" because they were weak to the Sabimaru poison, and there's text in there somewhere about the "inhuman Okami warrior women" being driven off by that.

And even though those enemies are just people with weapons, albeit different movesets, they look and feel alien compared to the rest of the game, and I really like that. I wish there were more moments like that in Sekiro. Moments that left me wondering what on Earth was going on. There were some, but not as many as say, Bloodborne. That's still my favorite From game, because of that world, that lore, etc. Sekiro is my favorite playing of the bunch, but Bloodborne still gets the edge in my mind.

There's so many monkeys.
There's so many monkeys.

Oh, one last story moment I want to mention, is a moment where Sekiro is given a choice, but you, the player, can only actually pick one of them. Literally, because one of the choices results in a prompt appearing that says something to the effect of, "You cannot break the Iron Code." Choices where you physically cannot actually choose one of them because of story reasons is great, and I like it a lot.

Though, another thing I wish was different around that part of the game, was the general castle area itself. The objective then is to get to the top of Ashina castle, and rescue Lord Kuro. Sekiro does that, then there's the choice, but afterward Kuro and Lady Emma use the top of the tower as their base, and do so with Lord Isshin just chilling nearby (when he isn't dressing up as a Tengu anyway). So, logically, I'd think that them hanging out in this castle without any worry makes them in charge of the castle, and with Sekiro working directly for Kuro, that should mean he can come and go from the castle as he pleases.

It would have been really cool if after that part, all the enemies in the castle become non-hostile. I get why they don't, but with the game changing enemies and stuff in that area, multiple times as the story progresses, they could've done that and still had those areas have a hostile element to them. Very late in the game there are a few soldiers that just sit around, looking defeated that you can lock on to, and presumably attack, but I didn't have it in me to attack them, so there was a tiny smidge of it.

Conversely there are NPCs who ask me to back them up, but then others in their faction still attack me, so... It's not consistent. And that's a bummer.

Then that leads to the worst boss in the game, The Demon of Hatred, which is not a fun fight. I had to look up a video to figure out how to dodge a couple of his attacks, but I did eventually beat him. I'm also glad I'll never have to do that again, and that's a bad feeling to have.

END OF SPOILER ZONE.

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So, I think that's about all I have to say about Sekiro. It is, again, a fantastic game. Not perfect, and it has some issues that have plagued From game's forever (frame rate stuff on console, sometimes the camera can get jumbled up), but I still loved it. It is a From Software game, but one that is different enough than Dark Souls to really stand on its own. And it's so good. From, really just, they are one of the best in the business, and Sekiro has left me incredibly excited for whatever they do next. Personally, I'm hoping for a mech game that makes me feel the same way that Sekiro does. But honestly, whatever they want to do next, I'm sure it'll be great.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

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Anthem: The True Successor to Destiny 1 (for better and mostly worse).

So, I played Anthem. Finished both the main story, and as of this writing, all the content in the game that isn't generic/infinitely repeating. Despite that, I have not hit the level cap. Though, I guess I didn't get all the collectibles, but I finished all the side mission lines (all three of them), did all the Strongholds, and I'm pretty sure I did about all the talking to NPCs that you can do in town.

I have some thoughts about the game. Which, honestly even just wording it that way makes it sound more passive aggressive and negative than I intend, because I enjoyed it. Overall. Despite its many issues.

Before I get into the game itself, I just want to quickly mention that on the day of release, I fully intended not to buy Anthem. It was only through being peer pressured the day before by a friend while we were playing Apex Legends (a great game), and sheer luck the day of that I bought it. Sometimes these things just happen and I can't really explain it.

Friend...
Friend...

But the game itself is, at its best, a lot of fun. The flying feels great, even with the overheating. That's one of the first things I see people complain about (and I have as well), but I feel like I've come around on it. Or, at least I understand why it isn't just infinite flight. Because if it was, everyone would be flying directly in a straight line from objective to objective, instead of doing anything at all in the world. Now, is skimming the tops of waterfalls and puddles the best solution to making people interact more with the environment when traveling from objective to objective? Probably not, but the more I played the more I understood why the overheating is the way it is, even if it probably could use a little tweaking. That, and those must be some extremely cold puddles if just skimming over them cools you down.

The world itself is at once beautiful and forgettable. It's interesting and generic. I mean, if you stop and look at it, it can be gorgeous, but so much of it just looks like jungles with some old stone structures that it blurs together. There's something to be said about cohesion in world design, but when that comes at the expense of it being memorable, I don't think that's a great trade off.

It doesn't help that the only times the game ever gives you an opportunity to stop and smell the roses are when it takes longer than it should to show the waypoint to the next objective. Whether at the start of the mission, or midway through after clearing a bunch of enemies, sometimes you just have to wait for the game to make those markers appear, or wait for a line of dialog to play. Is there supposed to be a thirty second pause between these characters responding? Almost certainly not. But aside from these (buggy) moments, it's always moving from spot to spot, killing enemies, or occasionally bringing things to other things and holding down a button to use a thing on a thing. Sometimes everyone needs to stand in a circle (which is clearly marked, at least) while a meter fills, which is a bit of a bummer when you're me and you prefer to play the mobile melee focused class that's all about zooming around the battlefield.

Or at least that's how I play it, with the abilities I have equipped. Swapping abilities is nothing new, it's certainly a mainstay of Destiny, though tying it to loot and locking it in before missions is certainly a choice. Was it a choice dictated by design, or by technical limitations? Who can say! But, again, as someone who went out of their way to play as much of the game using only melee abilities as I could (at least while playing the Interceptor), having moments like that where all I could do was shoot (unless the enemies got close enough) was not my favorite part of the game.

But I do generally love playing as the Interceptor. My biggest fear (outside of technical issues) about the game from what I played in the Alpha/Beta was that it was just going to play like a generic third person shooter where you used a jet pack to travel from one fight to the next. And it certainly can be played that way, but that feels like you'd be completely missing the point of the game. Unless you're using the Ranger Javelin, which is both the one I've spent the least time with in the game, and the one I think I like the least. That said, I don't think I really ever figured out how to properly play Colossus (the bigh one), so I dunno, I might be better with Ranger than that.

Anyway, the Interceptor is the closest thing to an all melee Javelin in the game. It's not quite there, because you still equip guns instead of swords (I wish I could equip swords or nunchucks), but it's very possible to get through most fights without firing guns once. With both the R1 and L1 abilities set to melee attacks (as opposed to stuff like throwing shuriken or grenades), no cool down on the melee ability, and a built in chain dash, it's possible to dart around cutting enemies into figurative pieces (it's a T rated game), and it's a ton of fun.

One of the abilities is a Mass Effect (2 onward) style warp to an enemy and smash into them move, and it's both great for covering large distances, and a lot of fun. My biggest complaint with this style of play is that melee and dodge are mapped to Triangle and Circle, which means my thumb is jumping back and forth between the face buttons and the right stick. Not a huge deal, but as this is a shooter with little in the way of auto-camera movement, it can lead to a lot of situations where I can't quite tell what's going on as well as I would like. If this game had, for example, equippable swords that put the melee attack on R2, and dashing on L2, I could keep my thumb on the stick much more often, and really feel like a ninja on the battlefield.

Or put another way, it's like Warframe but good. Which is rude, I don't actually mean that. But I have tried multiple times to get into Warframe, and it just feels too floaty and weightless for me to enjoy the combat. Anthem, on the other hand, has a fantastic sense of weight and momentum for all the Javelins, and it varies quite a lot. The nimble Interceptor feels so different from the hulking Colossus. And playing Storm (my second favorite) by hovering above, raining down ice, lightning, and bullets feels just as different. Aside from the guns themselves, it all feels really good too, at least when the framerate holds up and the lag holds down.

Here's a couple Gundam inspired-
Here's a couple Gundam inspired-
Javelin color schemes I made.
Javelin color schemes I made.

I dunno that holds down is really a phrase that makes any sense, but you know what I mean. Anthem is a game with many a technical issue. Sometimes it just a choppy framerate. Sometimes it's the game crashing as I try to load into a mission with a friend. I've even heard, numerous times from Giant Bomb at least, that sometimes those crashes can turn your console completely off, and potentially brick it? I haven't run into either of those, but if it's true it does make me a little leery to keep playing until they do some more fixes.

But if I was to really get into the things I dislike about Anthem, it goes a lot deeper than technical issues. Things like the restricted respawns. In Destiny, even in Dark Zones, self reviving is on a timer. I forget what it is off hand, but assuming your teammates survive, eventually you can revive on your own (unless you're in a super hard mission with an extra modifier, but that's not normally the case).

In Anthem, it's either wait five seconds to respawn (which if you're in the overworld can also mean respawning where the mission starts, which is a hassle), or you can't respawn until someone revives you. All you can do is just sit there and wait. You can't even open the menus and exit the mission if you've been waiting for five minutes watching the silhouettes of other players ostensibly fighting enemies in the distance, distinctly not coming to revive you. At least Destiny lets you move the camera to your teammates and watch them while you wait, never mind that it does a better job of letting you know when people are down with things like your ghost yelling "Guardian down!"

This wouldn't be as much of an issue if the game's difficulty was more consistent, and if certain bugs weren't prevalent. But first, the difficulty. The game has six difficulty settings, three of which are locked until you hit Level 30 (which I have not yet). Normal is, for the most part, a bit too easy for my taste. Hard, on the other hand, feels better. Still not perfect, but more challenging (thus more fun), and I believe it gives extra XP (maybe loot??).

Trouble is, there's a shocking number of enemies in this game that can just one hit kill you, even if you're at max health and shields. Or at least they could with the Interceptor, which I know, is the least armored Javelin. Still, no game should have enemies that are capable of attacks that come out of nowhere and kill instantly when you are at maximal health and shields. If these were massive, ultra attacks that were only used rarely, clearly telegraphed, and easy to dodge, I wouldn't mind. That sort of enemy/boss design is fun.

The titans in Anthem, are not. Oh, dear reader, if you have not played Anthem, allow me to share with you the bane of my existence in this game. The titan. Big boring looking rock men that have a variety of attacks that do way too much damage, and are way too hard to dodge. Never mind that titans are impervious to damage when their weak points are closed (even though I'm pretty sure I can cut at their ankles to do damage when the weak points on their arms and chests open).

Let me describe their attacks. Some like drawing up a big pillar of fire are okay in theory, but again I think I've been instantly killed by that before. Some, like it shooting out balls of fire (fire boylts) that home in on you, do a ton of damage, and then light you on fire (which does a ton of damage over time but won't actually kill you), are not. Even better, it'll just created an exploding fire ball right next to you, if you happen to be out of its line of sight and in cover as you're trying to, let's say revive someone. Or as someone is trying to revive me, and then my several minutes of waiting to be revived are met with an explosion that instantly kills both me and my reviver.

I don't have any titan screenshots, but just imagine that they're as fun to fight as this Javelin is well painted.
I don't have any titan screenshots, but just imagine that they're as fun to fight as this Javelin is well painted.

Then there's the rings of fire, which alternate between two heights, and travel outward, again, even through things like giant boulders that should provide cover. I imagine the idea is that you're supposed to jump over the lower rings and fall down before the higher ones get to you, but you don't fall down fast enough to actually do that. The rings themselves, along with the lasting fire damage kill you so fast that it's just so frustrating.

And on top of all that, this game has a bizarre bug where sometimes the amount of health you have just arbitrarily changes when you start a mission. Sometimes I'd play as a Storm and have ten blocks of health, sometimes only one. No, this was not just a glitch in the HUD. When I only had one, I was dying almost instantly. When I didn't, I was lasting a lot longer. What causes this issue? I have no idea. When will it be fixed? Also no idea.

I think this brings me to perhaps the most frustrating part of Anthem. I think Anthem, at its best, is a really fun game, and a game that I want to be able to keep playing for a long time. I'm a sucker for Destiny, but it's nice to have a similar sort of game that, in the midst of combat, feels really different. A nice change of pace. The problem is that while Destiny games will always have some odd quirks to complain about, at least (in my experience), they work.

Anthem does not always work right, and I don't know how long it'll be, if ever, until it does. As steep as the mountain Bungie needed to climb to fix Destiny (and then Destiny 2) was, this one feels even steeper. On top of all the technical issues, and the design issues, maybe the biggest hurdle in terms of Anthem as a Shlooter is the Shlooting is held back by boring loot.

Outside of terribly designed titans, the guns are the weakest part of the combat in Anthem. They're all just generic gun archetypes, and even as they tier up over the course of the game, they're literally the same exact gun but with better stats, and potentially more bonuses. Eventually Masterwork guns start appearing, and those have unique bonuses that sound cool, but apparently they're just the same guns in terms of the act of aiming and shooting.

I say apparently, because I never found any. I have a couple friends who have, and I think there's even Masterwork versions of abilities too. Which is neat. I guess.

I never found any.

The underwater areas can be especially striking visually, but the game does almost nothing with them.
The underwater areas can be especially striking visually, but the game does almost nothing with them.

One of the smartest things that Destiny 2 did with its campaign is that there's a couple moments where it lets you pick an Exotic. It's great because it feels like a meaningful reward, and because it demonstrates that even if most of the guns and armor in the game are repeats with different stats, there are unique ones in there. Unique in their appearance, in their stats, in how they work, and in the rad bonuses they have. It lets you know that there's cool stuff in there, and gives a taste of what's to come in the later parts of the game once you're in that endless grind.

But even if those cool unique weapons and abilities exist in current Anthem (which I doubt), the game never made that known. I wouldn't have even known Masterworks exist if I hadn't been told they do by friends. Though, the game not clearly stating things is a whole other issue, because I ran into a similar thing with the oft criticized section where you need to complete a bunch of challenges to open tombs. Had I not seen everyone complaining, I wouldn't have known to even look for the tombs. At some point in the story they did mention opening tombs, but I kept expecting to see a mission marker pointing to where they were when I got to that point in the game. Instead I happened to be going through the Options button menus and discovered the game tracks what overarching missions you have, and then I realized I needed to go into Free Play and find the tombs myself.

At least I had already done the majority of the challenges.

No Caption Provided

Speaking of, you can open the Cortex to track the Legionnaire Challenges. Something the game felt the need to remind me of frequently.

Not to just keep comparing Anthem to Destiny, but another place where Anthem is lacking is in the Stronghold department. They're basically Anthem's version of strikes, and they're pretty fun. More varied than the story missions, and a lot more varied in terms of level structure. I hadn't really thought about it until a friend pointed it out, but for a game all about flying, there's not a lot of verticality to the majority of the story missions. There is in some of the Strongholds, which helps make those stand out and feel more memorable. Only problem is there's only three of them in the game, and one of those is just a repeat of the final mission.

Not that I have anything opposed to replaying the final mission of the game, but it doesn't really help make the game feel like there's enough content in it.

Then there's the other part of the game, where you walk around town and talk to people. It's fine. I enjoyed the characters more than I expected. At least most of them. Matthias is terrible, and possibly the most I have ever disliked a character in a BioWare game. But not even "good" unlikable in the way that someone like Micah in Red Dead Redemption II was. That was a character specifically designed to be loathed. Whereas I get the impression BioWare thinks of Matthias more as a, "Oh, that scamp" type of jerk character, that people will enjoy, but no??? He's just terrible, and then they manage to make him even worse by splitting him into three separate characters and having each just be a concentration of his worst traits.

Please, BioWare, if you're going to kill anyone off, kill all three Matthiases off and then act like he was never there.

And the soundtrack is really good. It's strange in a way that I think fits the world they've created, and arguably strange in ways that the game itself isn't but clearly wants to be. I'm just saying, a world left unfinished by the gods, but with weird things that can reshape reality, there is so much potential for bizarre stuff, but the game almost never does anything with it. The most it does on a regular basis is have relics you need to silence, because if you don't...they just spawn enemies forever. But like, not even bizarre logic defying enemies, they're just big wolves and scorpions. But not even wolf scorpions.

And stuff like the Scar aren't explored like they should be. If all you did was play the game, you'd just think the Scar are dudes in suits that sometimes use robots or big turrets. But if you read the lore, you know that every Scar is actually thousands of tiny bugs taking the form of the "dominant" species on the planet (in this case, humans). That's such a cool concept for a race in a setting! The game does nothing with it!

Imagine if the Scar were shape shifting enemies and you never knew what you'd have to deal with next? Imagine if you could talk to them, and get cool stories from them, like in past BioWare games? But no, the only Scar who ever talks is just an evil voice in a side quest who wants to kill humans or something.

There is so much potential for cool stuff in the world they've created, and the game does almost nothing with the majority of it. There's plenty of talk of grand sounding concepts like Shapers, The Heart of Rage, and The Anthem of Creation, but it never comes off as evoking a grand world in the context of the game. Instead of comes off as BioWare throwing together words in the hopes that it sounds important, but never really doing enough to convey why it's important. And the result of that is that devoid of context of the actual game, reading and learning about the world they've created sounds really cool!

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But in the game itself? Just feels like filler to justify flying around and killing stuff.

Destiny 1 had a lot of problems around this too, but that was such a bright, colorful, and openly weird game that it was easier to give it a pass. Playing Destiny 1, in retrospect, felt like a strange dream. Like something that I only remember parts of because the rest faded away, but I want to remember the rest because this jarbled mess that I do remember is interesting.

Anthem feels like a story that was probably rushed, like a lot of the game feels.

I'm not sure what to feel about the game, now that I've written all this out. I like it. It's fun! But it's also a mess in just about every way that a game can be a mess. Even if I feel like I was peer pressured into buying it (Tom), I don't regret buying it, or playing it. I just hope they can make it better. The only question is, can they make it better enough, fast enough, to turn around the general feeling on the game?

In the case of both Destinies, it took a full year of updates, and a massive expansion to fix them. But Destiny had the advantage of feeling new and exciting, even if it wasn't actually the first Shlooter out there. Can Anthem hold on in the face of things like more Destiny 2 stuff?

All I can say is this: I bought Anthem about a week ago, and I'm looking forward to finally starting the Destiny 2 Annual Pass stuff this week.

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Moosey's SPOOOOOOOKY January! (Soma and RE(make)2)

It's that time of year again, when ghosts and ghouls, horrors and horribles, calamities and climate change wreak havoc and scare us all to our bones! (But seriously stay safe whether you're in sub-arctic temps in the US, surface of the sun temps in Australia, or whatever else wherever else).

But, in honor of this scariest of months, or more likely due to complete chance, I played a couple of capital S Spooky Games in January, and both of them I found to be well worth writing about, and for entirely different reasons! Just know that, since it's a few years old, I'll be getting into some legit SPOILERS for Soma, but I'll mark and hide that stuff as is needed. And some gameplay adjacent spoilers for the new Resident Evil 2, if you are worried about that and have somehow managed to stay away from the memes surrounding it (I really loved the game, so just go play it if you're interested).

Soma.

Soma's a game that I wish I played a lot sooner than I did. Not only that, but a game that I wish I had been able to go in completely fresh on. But, due to a lot of things around that game at launch, like seeing so many people complain about the 'running away from monsters' sequences, and reading that the PS4 version was a technical mess at launch (what with that being my only option), I waited on it. So in some ways, with the official addition of Safe Mode (that makes it impossible to die via monster attack), and I think better optimization on PS4 (still wasn't perfect, but nothing game ruining for me), I probably had a better moment to moment experience than I would have back in 2015.

On the flip side, I didn't stop myself from listening to discussion of the game on Giant Bomb's GOTY podcasts that year, and there were more than a few things from the game that came up in discussion. Austin and Vinny talking about how they stayed up super late huddled around a TV trying to finish the game in a hotel room did so much to make me REALLY want to play Soma. But, it also spoiled me on some key moments in the game, and that stuff was so striking that it stuck with me, even to just a few weeks ago when I started playing it.

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SPOILERS.

Stuff like the very nature of how things work in this world. Specifically minds, for lack of a better word. This one moment, that I remember them talking about, fairly late in the game, when Simon needs to "transfer" his mind from one body to another. And even knowing what was going to happen, it took the surprise off, but it was still such a horrifying moment when Simon realizes he wasn't "transferred" to another body, he was copied, and the previous Simon still existed.

And then the game gives you the choice to either leave that previous Simon there, alone, to wake back up hours later. Alone. In a facility that's slowly losing power and breaking down. Alone. At the bottom of the ocean. ALONE. Or, to kill him, and spare him of that. I went for the latter.

I could go on and on about so many different parts of the story, and why they're so good, even if they are frequently horrifying, but instead I'll narrow it down to two in particular.

The first one is the character Catherine. In a lot of ways, she's just the typical "talking voice that tells you what to do" video game character. And in a very literal way, she is just a talking voice, because after Simon meets her in her robot body, she gets transferred (copied) to an omnitool that Simon carries around for the rest of the game (though she's only conscious when plugged into a terminal).

At some point Simon asks her what it's like just being stuck in an omnitool, and though he expects her to be displeased, she doesn't mind it that much. If anything, after she mentions that she was never really comfortable in her original body, she seems like she prefers this new form, at least compared to that. That's not just a more interesting take on this than the expected "of course the original body is best," but as someone who has a whole host of discomforts with my body, I can relate!

I'm pretty sure over the years I've mentioned things like my chronic illness, my own "gender troubles" / being nonbinary (the nonbinary-ness is not a trouble, to be clear), and the passage of time only seems to make some things worse. The game never explicitly delves into anything like that, and I don't think there's enough in there to make a definitive case for anything other than Catherine being a character who wasn't entirely pleased with her original body. But even so, what's there is extremely relatable, and it's something that I would love to see explored further in a story more dedicated to that, rather than just a small part of this game's larger narrative.

Friend.
Friend.

And that brings me to the other thing that really stuck with me, the game's ending. Or, endings, perhaps more accurately. So, after something going wrong every single step of the way, Simon and Catherine are at the final stage of Catherine's grand plan to preserve what little is left of humanity after a comet destroyed the surface of the Earth: Launching a computer simulation, loaded with whatever scans of humans they could get, into space, where solar power will keep it running, hopefully, for millennia to come.

In typical, everything comes down to the literal last second storytelling, Catherine's and Simon's minds don't get transferred (copied) to the simulation until the rail gun launching the satellite into orbit is charging to launch, and in my head, I knew what was going to happen. I knew what they were going to do, because it's exactly what I would do if I was writing the ending of this game, and that still didn't make it any less of a punch to the gut.

The satellite launches...and unlike the last time Simon's mind was transferred (copied), this time the game's perspective stays with the old Simon, at the bottom of the sea, not in the simulation in space. Again, I knew it was coming, Catherine knew it was coming, but Simon, somehow, did not. And as frustrating as it was that he somehow didn't see it coming, I do still think it was enough within his character to make that reasonable storytelling wise, but what happens next is the coldest, most depressing thing in the entire game.

Everything around him breaks. At first when I was playing the game, I thought it was just random chance, though a brief glance at a fan wiki said that it was his yelling and swearing at Catherine that stressed her out so much that she caused an overload, which went through everything around her, and broke everything.

Except Simon, who was left alone. In the dark. At the bottom of the sea.

To wait until his battery runs out and he dies.

Roll credits.

But that's not actually the final ending of the game, because, in a rare moment of the game throwing its audience a bone, after credits, it switches to the other Simon. The one who made it onto the simulation, into what was supposed to be an ideal world. And, until the end of this bit, I was expecting the game to throw one last bit of misery in there. Was Simon the only one in this simulation? Was the simulation actually bad, somehow?

Thankfully not. He meets up with Catherine, and the two look across a stretch of water at a beautiful city, and the camera changes to show the satellite in space, floating along, just fine and dandy. For all the pain, misery, and horror, it worked.

Even if one Simon was left alone.

END OF SPOILERS.

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So, if you skipped over the spoiler section, suffice it to say that I think this game's story is incredibly strong, and unless you think a scary game might literally give you a heart attack (and I don't mean this as a joke, I'm sure it's happened at some point), or something else (the game is EXTREMELY dark (figuratively) and depressing), I really can't recommend it enough.

Just... play on Safe Mode. I did from the start, and I don't think you can change it midway through. For as good as this game is as a "walking simulator," and it's probably my favorite one that I've played (definitely my favorite story in one), the capital S Spooky Game part of this game seems like it...would not be so good. I'm just not a fan of the Amnesia style Spooky Game, for lack of a better word (though I've never played Amnesia itself). That style of game where you have no way at all to defend yourself, and your only recourse in the face of the game's enemies is to either run, or hide.

Now, elements of that style, in other games, I think can work splendidly. I think it worked the handful of times it was used in The Evil Within 2, and I think it works even better in, well, not to get ahead of myself, but in another game I played recently. But those are cases where the best parts are taken, modified in some ways, and aren't the only adversarial force in the game. Without going into details that probably just sounds like nonsense, but believe me when I say there's a meaningful difference between invincible enemies, and enemies you can't kill but can stun (despite that I don't think you could even do that in The Evil Within 2, but those sequences were so short/the stealth was so well designed in that game that it didn't bother me).

And so I recommend playing in Safe Mode. It doesn't remove the monsters from the game altogether, so if you wanted you could still play in that mode, and just pretend that the monsters could kill you. Still try to hide and sneak around them, but really, those are still the weakest parts of the game. I was still just trying to get through those as fast as I could, to get to the next story section. But at least I never got frustrated like I did in the past with something like Outlast, which I thought was a bad game all around.

However, Soma, is good. Play it if you haven't. It's dark and depressing, and maybe in this dark and depressing world, that's the last thing you need. Some days are like that for me too. But if you're down for that, this game gets the Moosey Seal of approval. For years I've meant to make a joke image of a seal (the animal) with that text on it, but I still haven't yet. Maybe someday...

Resident Evil 2 (2019).

What can I say, I like game toilets.
What can I say, I like game toilets.

If Soma was a game that I love for the story, but not the gameplay, then RE2 is the opposite. The story's fine, but it's mostly enjoyable because there's just enough cheese in the dialog that I can't tell how serious the game is taking itself, but the game part? It's the chef kissingest of chef kisses. I definitely consider myself a fair weather Resident Evil fan. I jumped on with 4 (loved it), really enjoyed 5 (despite it, in retrospect, being kinda racist (but that's a whole other discussion)), dabbled with some of the earlier games but they never clicked, and I played 6, enjoyed some small parts of it but found it overall to be just a mess. I didn't even bother playing 7, because the whole hick/hillbilly horror aesthetic turned me off so much.

But this remake of 2? It is, in so many ways, what I've always wanted survival horror games to be, but never actually realized because most of the "survival horror" games that I liked were really just spooky action games. RE4, Dead Space, etc. The Evil Within 2 was maybe the closest, and I could make an argument for Prey (2017) being at least survival horror adjacent, but really I liked those games because they were stealth games, with solid stealth mechanics.

Resident Evil 2 is a Survival Horror game, and it's incredible. It takes the world design ethos of those old games, but combines it with a modern look, controls, and seamlessness that makes it not just work, but honestly one of the most compelling games I've played in recent memory. Of course, maybe that's impacted by the last handful of games I've played being the sorts of things I often enjoy in spite of themselves (Assassin's Creed Odyssey/I'm midway into Yakuza Kiwami), but I'm definitely being sincere when I say a Survival Horror game has never clicked with me the way this game has.

The main problems I had with the old Resident Evil games were the ones that just about everyone who doesn't like those games had: The controls and the camera angles. I could at least appreciate the camera angles aesthetically, especially in the PS4 remaster of the GameCube remake of the PS1 original, but even that I felt like I was fighting the game more than the zombies or other critters. And the reason why the more action oriented "survival horror" games didn't click with me the way this game has is that they just give you so much ammo. I don't think there was ever a single encounter in RE4, or any of the Dead Space games where I was running low on ammo, so I had to just run. And again, The Evil Within 2 appeals to me in the way games like Metal Gear or Splinter Cell do, it just has zombies instead of generic military men as enemies.

And that's another thing, RE2 has the best zombies I've ever fought in a game, because they can stress me out in a way no zombie ever has before. But the differences with these zombies are so small, so subtle that it's hard to believe no big budget game has really thought of this before. The just move in the ways that an undead creature would move. They're erratic. They judder and lurch unpredictably. They don't just move in straight lines, giving you an easy target. They will just stand around if they don't know you're there, but once they do, they come after you. Even if you've managed to shoot off all their arms and legs (as this game has perhaps also the best dismemberment and flesh disfigurement in any game I've played (also shout out to videos games for getting me to praise dismemberment and flesh disfigurement)).

The other brilliant thing about these zombies is the uncertainty with how much it takes to "kill" them. Most games, and for good reason generally, there's a very set, consistent amount of damage needed to defeat enemies, even if those numbers aren't surfaced to the players. But in RE2, you could have to hit a zombie five or six times in the head to "kill" it, or you could get lucky and have its head explode after the first shot. But unless you get that lucky head explosion, it might just stand back up. It could be twenty minutes later when you're passing through the room again, or it might be seconds later as you're trying to pick something up nearby. As best as I can tell, there's no consistency to it, but this is the rare case where I think it works 100% in the game's favor.

And then there's him.

No, not this dodo, sorry.
No, not this dodo, sorry.

HIM.
HIM.

Mr. X.

As you just read, I have long been critical of the Amnesia or Outlast style of horror game, where you're hiding and running from an invincible enemy. Every time it devolves into trial and error bad stealth. So, then, why does Mr. X, an invincible enemy in a Survival Horror game work so well for me? I think part of it is the menace, both figurative and literal that follows him around. Aside from some scripted moments where the game cheats with Mr. X's location, he exists somewhere in the world, and he's loud. You can hear him clomping around from rooms away, and if your headphones are good enough (mine are probably borderline in this regard, but they're what I have), you can get a decent idea of where he is, or at least what direction he is.

That clomp clomp getting closer always gave me pause. "Is he coming? Should I just wait a minute for him to pass? What if he comes in here?" The audio design in the game is just so fantastic, and using it both to have an idea of when Mr. X is approaching, but also that being used to up the stress because Mr. X is approaching is just again, chef kiss level good.

Another thing I love about him, and I mean this genuinely, is that like the game as a whole, and really the era of Resident Evil this game is from, his design is just so silly. He's this enormous mountain of muscles, with this stoic grey face, and he wears this ridiculous giant trench coat and fedora. Or whatever kind of hat it is, it's hard to tell when I'm always running away from him (or I shot the hat off for the Trophy). But that mix of inherent, but still subtle cheese with the genuine stress this game can induce is something I just really love. And again, why this works for me, but the less silly more, "we're invoking the legitimate terror of being trapped with murderous hillbillies" vibe that what I've seen of RE7 has.

I really could just go on and on about Mr. X, and all the other enemy types, but I'll hold myself back, because I don't want to spoil any more than I have. I had never really played the original, not outside twenty or thirty minutes on a used copy of the N64 version. That was in a brief stint of after loving RE4 so much that I wanted to go back and experience some of the older games. The point being that I was able to go into this one about as close as fresh as I could have, at least while still knowing things about the greater Resident Evil lore, some of the bonus modes, etc.

I do have a few complaints with the game. I wish there were more differences between the Leon and Claire playthroughs. What I was hoping for was unrealistic, but I would have loved if each of them had a totally unique campaign. Instead, what we get is the same general campaign, aside from a sequence toward the middle that changes for each of them. In both cases that includes (very minor spoiler) a bit where you play as another character (different for Leon and Claire), and I think both of those are my least favorite sections of the game. And for different reasons, which I shan't spoil.

I get having the first playthrough of the game be roughly the same, but after I beat Leon's story, I unlocked a "2nd Story" option, which was also not as different as I hoped. It cut off some of the start of the original playthrough, introduced tougher enemies sooner, and remixed some of the bigger puzzles in interesting ways, but aside from that... It was just another playthrough of the same game. I don't know how much of the similarities between the playthroughs is due to a dedication to the original game, lack of resources (or relative lack, because the game has astoundingly good production values), or whatever. But if they do something like this again in the future, I'd really love if there were more concrete differences.

And honestly I just wish the game was longer. There is a part of me that wants to invoke the "is this game's length worth the cost," but I feel bad doing that, even though I know games are expensive, and the drive to spend money efficiently on them is real. Especially in these days, insert "in this economy" joke here. But really, I wish it was longer because it is such a great game that I could have just kept playing it if there was more. Even after beating the 2nd Story and getting the "true ending," I kinda want to start a fresh game, and go through the characters in the other order. Maybe even try it on Hardcore, though playing with limited ink ribbons, and no auto-saving sounds like even more of a nightmare.

I guess I could keep banging my head against the (unlockable) 4th Survivor mode, which on paper shouldn't be that hard. I watched a video of it online, and it only takes about ten minutes to complete if you know what you're doing. But somehow the person in the video manages to dodge and weave around enemies, and when I try to copy their moves, I get grabbed. I dunno, it isn't the sort of thing that I think plays to the game's strengths. RE2 is a game that moves back and forth between slow and methodical, and hurried, depending on the enemy situation. But this mode, even without a timer, just feels like I need to keep moving, but there's so many enemies, and no additional ammo or healing items to be found in the levels, and it just got frustrating.

Okay, full transparency: Between my writing this and posting it, I went and DID finish 4th Survivor mode. And I have to say, given how silly Tofu is, and how ripping the Tofu music it, it was worth it.

Love that chunks of Tofu get broken off as damage is taken.
Love that chunks of Tofu get broken off as damage is taken.

And that brings me to another issue I have with the game, which wasn't really a problem too much with the main game, but for whatever reason was here: The flashlight. It's fine when it's on, it illuminates enough to be useful, but not so much that it completely eliminates the darkness. There's no battery to worry about, but there's also no way to manually turn it on or off. It just turns on in areas marked by the devs, and turns off when you leave those. Most of the time, not a problem. But every once in a while there would be a room too dark to really see in, and the light wouldn't come on. And in 4th Survivor mode, it felt like that was in A LOT of rooms.

I ended up turning my brightness up, for just that mode. Can you blame me for wanting to leave it a little low to increase the spookiness in a Spooky Game?

But the game as a whole, I did truly love. And I'm interested to see what those DLC stories are like. I'm not expecting them to be especially long or anything, but I wonder how much of them will be reusing areas from the game, or if there's new places to explore.

And I'm excited for the future of Resident Evil, for the first time in...a long time, at least. I was going to say over a decade, but that's not true, because I was excited for how absurd and ridiculous RE6 looked before that came out. And RE5 was a decade ago, I was excited for that game, and oh no the endless march of time... But I do wonder what form RE8 will be. Probably more like 7, right? I keep hearing that there's different teams working on the RE games, and if the 7 team is making 8, that's what I would think. Not that I mind, in theory, it being first person, but that aesthetic and tone turned me off, whereas returning to classic RE cheese was exactly what I wanted from the series.

So if I have to wait a handful of years for whatever this team does next (RE3-make? An original spin-off set back in the 90s again? RE9?), that'll be fine. If it's as good as this was, it'll be worth the wait.

Thank you as always for reading!

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The Tenth Annual Moosies Holiday Awards Spectacular: X-TREME.

Another year has gone by. And 2018 sure was a year, wasn't? The world continues to feel like it's just falling apart, both figuratively, and literally (cough, Climate Change), but despite it all, and despite their best efforts, Video Games Still Exist.

I didn't write a ton of blogs in 2018, largely because I was so much more focused on my literary writing, which I could shill right now, but I doubt anyone would bother to read because it costs money, so I won't. But it wasn't just that, because, especially in hindsight, 2018 feels like a bit of an off year for games. Not a bad year, just off compared to the last three years, which I think were consistently stellar. We had Bloodborne, MGSV, The Witcher III, and Undertale in one year. DOOM, Overwatch, Uncharted 4, Dark Souls III, and of course Titanfall 2 the year after that. Then Before the Storm, Prey, NieR:Automata, and one of my absolute favorite games of all time, Breath of the Wild in 2017. Those weren't even all the hits from those years, just a selection of some of my favorites.

Looking back at 2018, while I see one game that really rises above all the rest, and I could see at some point even saying was another of my all time favorites (I need to let some time pass before I can make that judgment), the rest are, well, still great games, but they almost all feel like they come with some serious caveats. Which isn't to say previous Moosies Games of the Year/Top Ten Games of all time for me like Breath of the Wild or MGSV don't also have their flaws, they do. But compared to those last few years, 2018 feels like games with as many flaws as good points were the norm, not the exception.

Regardless of all that, this isn't just a regular Moosies.

This is... The Tenth Moosies.

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That's right, this is the tenth time I've decided to write up way more than I probably should about the games I played in a year, and because it's a special occasion, I did something very silly. And when I say very silly, I mean I made an "animated" gif in 4K that was probably way too big in file size to actually work on Giant Bomb. If that's the case, then sorry you missed out on the pristine, ultra crisp 4K logo, which I did as well because my old laptop has a 720P screen. But believe me, I thought it was really funny to be making such an absurdly high resolution for a logo you're going to look at once and never think about again.

Anyway, this preamble, in true fashion, went on too long, so here's the first part:

Last year's predictions, or perhaps more accurately in a lot of cases, corrections!

10th Annual Moosies Game of the Year Prediction: Red Dead Redemption II.

An interesting one, in retrospect. Was it correct? You'll just have to wait and see!

Red Dead Redemption II gets delayed to Fall 2018.

Of all the predictions I made about 2018, this was one of the easiest ones to get right, and it very much was.

Still no F-Zero. Somewhere a literal falcon dies of sadness over this.

While I can confirm that no new F-Zero game was announced, and in all likelihood a falcon did die during the course of the year, I cannot say it was because of this. So, I will classify this as half-true.

From Software's new game is Tenchu in name, but plays more like Dark Souls than anything else.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is definitely ninja/samurai themed, but it doesn't have the name, and what's been shown of it seems more action game focused than Dark Souls, so I think I have to say this one was more wrong than right.

EA learns nothing from this year [2017], and its games only have more microtransactions. Anthem's commercial failure because of them leads to BioWare's closing.

Based on 2018, it does seem like EA learned their lesson. I'd say they seemed committed to not do loot boxes in 2018, but I'm not really sure how many non-sports games they put out in 2018. Was it just Battlefield? Not counting EA Partners style stuff like A Way Out. Either way, they have made it sound like the only microtransactions in Anthem will be cosmetic, though if Overwatch has shown us anything, it's that those can be manipulative and bad too.

Anthem not being released in 2018 was probably something I should have seen coming, but it is what it is. I do still think that if it's a total flop, that's it for BioWare, and we'll be seeing Dragon Age IV developed by some other studio at EA, if it releases at all.

Many governments attempt to regulate loot boxes, but loopholes persist.

This is an interesting one. They were declared illegal in a couple countries in Europe, in The Netherlands and Belgium, from what I read. The UK declared them to be gambling, and even the FTC in the US is "investigating" them, though if any country were to end up being pro-loot box, it'd be modern day America, so I wouldn't expect anything from that.

So, I'd say maybe half right? I wouldn't exactly call two countries 'many.' But, like with EA seemingly learning a lesson from 2017's loot box extravaganza, 2018 felt like, at least in major new releases, a move away from loot boxes, if not because they decided to do something good for consumers, it was because they realized people were getting fed up with it, and that governments were going to be knocking on their doors soon.

I say that knowing plenty of games like Overwatch still, I'm sure, make plenty of money off them. So, who knows.

Yet another Death Stranding trailer, this time with actual game play. It just looks like MGSV, but strange and with chords.

It looks strange, that's for sure. Not so much like MGSV, in ways that are a bit refreshing, as I'm always up for games about traversing big environments that feel very empty (seriously, this will come up later in The Moosies), but also in ways that are perhaps worrying. I'm just saying, going from the best stealth game ever made to stealth in that that amounted to crouching next to some ghostly looking things is...well, I'm sure the game is still a ways off, and there's plenty of time for them to refine that stuff.

Destiny 2 has a big expansion that everyone loves, but it requires you own the bad ones, so I end up missing it out of spite, just like with Destiny 1.

So, they did pull that same stunt with Destiny 2 Forsaken, but I had already bought the expansions beforehand. And, after a while, they changed it so that stuff is included in Forsaken, which was better than how they handled that stuff in Destiny 1, at least. So, no, this prediction was not correct. Though, the make good of, "People who already bought the other expansions got a couple emotes" was, while a little nice, perhaps a little less than I would have preferred. But I guess I shouldn't complain, as I did play with those expansions for months before Forsaken, and I got them on sale.

Nintendo continues to make bizarre blunders, but sells exceptionally well.

Definitely selling very well, and while I suppose "blunder" isn't the right word, I do think Nintendo is getting a bit hubris-y with how they handle things. Things like having NES controller shaped Joy-cons that are only available *to purchase* if you're subscribed to the Switch's paid online service, which itself doesn't sound like it works well enough to be worth the money. Never mind how much they still charge for all controllers, or cardboard (yes I know that came with software too and I'm sure it took a lot of time and effort to produce all that, but still).

Shenmue III still not released.

Very easy to predict.

Vib-Ribbon and Spyro become the next PS1 games to get inexplicable PS4 remasters.

Half right, because of Spyro!

So, it is now time for awards! Same format as the last handful of years, with a top ten list interspersed with awards (or in one case, an "award") for games I couldn't find room for on the top ten list, weren't technically released in 2018 and I couldn't get out of my semantics hole and include them in a Game of the Year 2018 list, or in one case I wanted to reiterate how much I disliked it because it still baffles me that people liked it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself!

AWARDS! GAMES!

Best Game that I Didn't Finish in Time to Properly Judge if It Should Be on The Top Ten or Not: Assassin's Creed Odyssey.

This game has a capacity to look really good, but also I don't know that I figured out how to properly control the screenshot mode?
This game has a capacity to look really good, but also I don't know that I figured out how to properly control the screenshot mode?

I've played a lot of these games. Generally I enjoy them a lot, but after the mixed reception of Odyssey, I did the thing I have done with the last couple of these, and waited for a price drop. But, for one reason or another, I waited until I had written literally all of The Moosies this year to actually start playing the game.

"Surely," I told myself. "If I play even ten or so hours of this game, I won't enjoy it enough that I'll find myself thinking I should add a few paragraphs about the game."

And here I am, adding in some stuff about the game the day before I put The Moosies up.

It's fun. In a lot of ways, it's nonsense, and what I've seen of the story does not seem as compelling as Origins' story, not by a lot, but it's still enjoyable for what it is. And, while I do enjoy Kassandra for the buff sword lesbian that she is, I also don't think she has nearly the depth that Bayek had, if I'm just comparing this to the previous game.

But with the new abilities, and in some respects, the less this game seems dedicated to adhering to anything resembling realism (as the series often has in the past), I think I enjoy playing Odyssey more than Origins. That might change, given some of what I've heard about how grindy the game can feel to keep up with what levels are needed for story missions later on, and even 10 or so hours in, I do feel like a lot of the enemies are damage sponges, especially if they're a level or two above me.

The last two things I'll mention: I like the new bounty/mercenary system, specifically because I refuse to pay off the bounty at all, so it feels like I'm constantly being hounded by mercs. It almost evokes the same feeling as the Nemesis System from Shadow of Mordor, but given that these mercs never say anything outside of a few extremely generic lines like, "there she is," I have to fill in the blanks myself to give them anything resembling personality. Like, "Oh, there's the lady with the pet bear again," which, well, is not as memorable as having an orc yell at me about how I was a wimp for running away.

The other thing is that while I wouldn't call this game an amazing example of queer representation, I do like that I can be a buff sword lesbian. Big budget games are still woefully behind where they should be in terms of this sort of thing, and even smaller games that I tend to play are sorely lacking too. But maybe that's more on me for only playing the "smaller" games that make their way to consoles, which tend to really be closer to "medium" budget games these days, or exceptional for some reason or another. It's one of those things that may seem minor if it doesn't affect you, but it is so rare in bigger budget games that it's really disappointing, and conversely I end up making a bigger deal out of it when it does occur.

So, yes, shout out to the people who decided to do what honestly should be the bare minimum for this sort of game, and let the romance options in the game not be limited by gender (nothing wrong with lots of bi characters). And by including some openly queer characters in the game, even if they're side quest givers, and even if I've heard there's some...not so good stuff later on in the game with a queer character.

Plus, there's a very good bird.

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10. Monarchy Simulator of the Year: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom.

No, I will not give you any context for this screenshot. I will, however, say that in my head, this guy sounds like DMX Goomba.
No, I will not give you any context for this screenshot. I will, however, say that in my head, this guy sounds like DMX Goomba.

There was a moment the other week when a friend asked me if I would recommend she play Ni no Kuni II, and despite playing forty something hours of the game, and enjoying the majority of my time with it, when asked that sudden, blunt question, I couldn't help but hem, haw, and eventually say something along the lines of, "probably not."

It's a very charming, cute, often fun game filled with lovable characters, but it's saddled with a lot of archaic JRPG quest design, doesn't respect your time at all, is too easy in a way that hurts the otherwise enjoyable combat, and perhaps worst of all to me, the majority of the story is told through text boxes with no voiced lines, which can feel limp and lifeless compared to the spots with voice acting. Because the performances are really good, and they give the story an energy that really would have made the game so much more enjoyable.

And yet, despite its issues, I still enjoyed it. Despite it being a game where I probably spent as much of my time doing filler side quests to get people to join my kingdom as I did with the story, I still enjoyed the game, and came away from it feeling pretty happy about it overall. It's a heartwarming game about a kid who just wants to make the world a better place, a place where everyone, everywhere can live happily ever after. And yes, this kid is a catboy king who is friends with a president from a different universe, but despite the game's weird, probably unintentional theme of, "benevolent monarchy is the path to peace," I do think the intended themes of wanting to make things better for people are good, and it was nice to play something cute and uplifting.

It's also a really strange game that, despite being mostly fantasy, opens with President of the Anime States of America (not a quote from the game) being teleported to another universe after surviving a nuclear missile strike. And, along the journey to unite all the kingdoms of the world under the "Declaration of Interdependence" (the actual name), one of those kingdoms is basically a parable of Silicon Valley tech companies and how crunch is bad??? It's very strange, and there's cute robots, but it's weird and I like it.

The Higgledies are adorable and my friends.
The Higgledies are adorable and my friends.

Maybe that's Ni no Kuni II's actual problem. In trying to do too much, it spreads itself too thin, and it suffers for it. Yes, it has RTS-lite battles between your army (of course customizable, and with a rock-paper-scissors style set of weaknesses amongst troop types), but they're not that great. Sure, there's hundreds of side quests (there's a Trophy for completing 150), but most are as generic as can be. Yes, it has real time combat with combos using light and heavy attacks, and yes, the game (at least targets) 60 FPS to keep that combat feeling responsive...but the enemies never really require any sort of advanced combat skills, and turning the difficulty up to hard really only adjusts how much damage you give and take, so the combat was never as fun as it could've been. And it is a sprawling, epic (in the classical sense) story, but like I said, most of it is told through lifeless text boxes, so were it not for the writing at least having a sufficient amount of charm, I might not have wanted to see the game through to the end.

Don't get me wrong, I think Ni no Kuni II deserves to be on my Top 10, but it's definitely number 10. By the end, I was invested enough in the goings on of the story, and the characters, that I am happy I spent my time with the game. I think at its best, it's really good, charming, cute, and funny, but it has just enough issues that I can just see a better version of this game over the horizon, but that's a better version that we'll never have. And that's okay, because what we got was still pretty good.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom also wins:

  • Best intro cutscene.

  • Most overbearing music that is still good.

  • Best video game president.

  • Best dirigible.

  • Cutest art style.

  • Best generic line of dialog that plays occasionally over the written text in lieu of being properly voiced: Batu's "SNAKES ALIVE!"

Todd Howard Presents the Fallout Award for Most Disappointing Game of the Year: Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.

Kiryu deserved better.
Kiryu deserved better.

I like the Yakuza games. I think most of the ones I've played are pretty good, and while they all have their flaws (including rampant transphobia and sexism), for most of them, I'm able to acknowledge the flaws for what they are, but still enjoy the best parts of the game. Going on fun adventures with Kiryu and the gang, getting into hijinks, and beating up countless thugs and ne'er-do-wells is something that I've loved in the past, and something I will probably love again in the future, as I still have the remakes of 1 and 2 to play.

But Yakuza 6 is not any of those things. It's bad. It's bad by the standards of the series, and it's bad by any reasonable measure of video game quality. It's bad to play, at least for a large chunk of the game, because the mechanical changes make it a slower, more sluggish, more repetitive (due to the removal of stance changes), and less fun game. A game that is acknowledged to be sluggish and slow, as the most crucial upgrades in the game make Kiryu fight much faster, and it wasn't until I fully upgraded his speed that it felt close to the speed and fun of the previous games. And those upgrades, using the new leveling system are a pain too! There's now FIVE different types of XP, and I swear I spent more XP on things to get XP faster than on actual abilities or skill upgrades in the game.

So, it's a worse game to play, but surely the story-

NOPE!

This is the part that made me angry when I played the game months ago, and it's the part that still makes me angry now. Yakuza 6's story of trying to figure out who the father of Haruka's baby was not great to start (especially after I hated how her arc in 5 ended, her being in a coma almost all of this game was worse), but the greater mystery that leads into isn't interesting, and neither are any of the new characters in the game. And for a game that is supposed to be Kiryu's final chapter, focusing on a bunch of new, boring characters instead of going on one last adventure with old favorites like Majima or Akiyama (who gets more screen time than the others, I guess) is disappointing.

But really, the fact that the game just doubles down on the series' existing sexism, and ends with one of the most infuriating things I've ever seen in a game was just too much. Looking back, and I think this is the angriest a game has ever made me. The thing is that games almost never make me angry. Off the top of my head, the only other thing I can think of (not counting games being aggravating purely because they're too hard) is the ending of Fallout 4. And that was due to problems with that game and its illusion of player choice coming to a head with the factions.

Phew. Sorry about that, but I just needed one last opportunity to vent about how much I was disappointed with that game before 2018 ended, especially when GOTY season has brought out the Yakuza 6 likers and I just don't understand them. Anyway, excited for Judgment, I'm sure that'll be good, and won't be sexist and transphobic in ways that make me upset, but I'll look past because I'm weak willed and like beating up people in video games.

Being a fan of action oriented video games made in Japan can be extremely tiring when you're queer. And yet I just keep playing, and praising them.

9. Most Wrenching Game: Iconoclasts.

A robot helicopter, indicative of this game's creativity around its boss fights.
A robot helicopter, indicative of this game's creativity around its boss fights.

Of all the games that made it into my top ten, this one is perhaps the one that most surprises me. Not because of what it is, but because it's a game I had written off for months because the little bit of it that I saw didn't grab me, and when I played it, I feel like a large swathe of the game was kinda, frustrating, honestly. Not the whole game, I think most of it is still good, but enough of it was frustrating enough (mostly in level design around that big tower, and then the dark area after it) that I found myself almost wanting to stop playing.

But, for whatever reason, the story really got its hooks in me, and I'm still thinking about that game, weeks later. And yeah, I know, weeks aren't months, so who knows, maybe a month from now I'll have totally forgotten about the game, but I've certainly had bigger regrets in retrospect about my games of the year in the past, so that'd be nothing new.

It's hard to write about without just spoiling what happens, which I don't want to do. But this game's world, its characters, and the twists the story takes along the way are just fascinating, and it kept surprising me right up to the final boss, which really got me thinking about the nature of that universe in a way that usually only stuff like Dark Souls does.

Iconoclasts is a really cool game, that even with the parts of the game that I didn't care for, I think it's absolutely worth playing, and I went back and forth a lot about where it placed on this list. But, ultimately, even though part of me wanted to put it higher on the list, I felt strongly enough about everything to come that this was as high as it got.

Iconoclasts also wins:

  • Best Castletroid game.

  • Best new "world" (in the figurative sense which includes lore and stuff like that).

  • Best plot.

  • Most original music.

  • Most unique boss fights.

  • Best use of religion/the end of the world/climate change as a result of energy consumption/resource depletion as driving plot points and conflicts between characters and factions.

Anime Game of the Year: Dragon Ball FighterZ.

It's so perfect.
It's so perfect.

It's the year of our lord (Harambe) 2018, and I played a new Dragon Ball Z game. It's 2018 and I played a Dragon Ball Z game that's really good. A game that captures the aesthetic of the series so perfectly, both in the visuals on display, and in the way the action plays out. I can't tell you how many times while playing it, I, or someone I was playing with had some remark along the lines of, "this is extremely DBZ." In good ways, I mean!

The problem is that as fun as the fighting is against the AI at the right level, or against friends I know in real life who are about as good as I am at fighting games (which is to say not especially), that's kinda all it has going for it. The story mode is okay, but perhaps in a way that is too much like DBZ, it's too long, too drawn out, and too full of filler. But unlike DBZ, where the filler was often funny and charming, this is more like the episodes where all that happened was people charging up, and then they fought something weak and boring like a Saibaman, or in this case a Yamcha clone.

While there's a part of me that wanted to try to get good (as in good good) at the game, with it being a 3v3 tag game, and as hyper fast as it is, I just don't think I would have the chops to hold my own online. There's no saiyan that I might not give it another shot at some point in the future, but chances are it'll just be something I pop in for a fun few rounds every once in a while, and that'll be that.

Also Hercule/Mr. Satan isn't in it as anything other than a lobby avatar thingy. I couldn't justify putting it in the official Top 10 after such an obvious oversight. None of the existing DLC characters have interested me enough to spend money, but I would buy Mr. Hercule Satan.

8. (Blood)Thirstiest Game: Vampyr.

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Vampyr is a really interesting game. One part murky old London, one part menace, one part interesting game play mechanics that intertwine with the story and characters in interesting ways, and sadly, one part mediocre action game.

This game has a mood, and that mood is what people like me imagine London was like before the modern age (and by "modern age" I mean the 1980s and onward). Dark, miserable, dirty, and cool to look at because of all the neat old buildings being spooky in the fog and rain. And this game has a really great soundtrack just dripping with menace, and some genuinely good use of camera angling shots during cutscenes to really reinforce that mood throughout the story. You can tell I know what I'm talking about because I said camera angling.

And then, on top of that, this is a game where you can just straight up kill almost any NPC in the game! Sure, they might have an interesting side quest full of worthwhile dialog and story to do, but you could just kill 'em and drink their blood for more XP. Of course, you'd be losing out on XP by not doing the quest, but when you're a fledgling vampire, sometimes you just need to feed (though not really because there's a Trophy for finishing the game without feeding, but that's beside the point).

The way the music changes when you go to feed, it builds to such an ominous pitch, so oozing with evil that I just love it, love it so much. I kinda wish I fed more than I did in the game, as I tried to restrict myself to only people who really deserved it, and in the end that amounted to only three, if I recall.

Beyond the choices of what to do with the NPCs that aren't critical to the overall plot, there's choices to be made in the story that can actually have noticeable effects in the world. For example, I made a choice of how to deal with a rogue nurse that I thought was the smart course of action, only to find out the next day that I'd actually made a poor choice, and that part of London suffered for my blunder through the rest of the game. Not that I let the district fall into chaos, as it is possible to let entire swathes of London succumb to illness, and become truly lost, so I dedicated myself to making sure that didn't happen.

This game doesn't have quite the freedom, or level of choice to have a ton of cool moments like that, but it has just enough to really excite me. There were several moments in the game where I really had to stop and think, think for what felt like a couple minutes before I made a decision, because by that point I'd learned that the choices can have real impact, or at least real enough within their districts that I didn't want to screw up so badly again.

Me, trying to explain to you all that this game is good, actually.
Me, trying to explain to you all that this game is good, actually.

But, as much as I do genuinely, really love parts of this game, I think there's some things that hold it back. Now, you're probably thinking I mean the game play, because that's the thing I've most seen other people harp on, and I did mention that up front. While I do think that stuff is certainly weaker than it should be (I'm including technical issues like some crash and audio bugs along with it), it's actually not the thing keeping it from higher on the list. After all, I'm the person who gave my Game of the Year in 2010 to Deadly Premonition, which was a much worse game to play.

It's actually the game's ending. It didn't make me angry, but it completely falls flat. Vampyr's story is built around the mystery of how the main character became a vampire, who did it to him, and that spins off to another mystery surrounding the illnesses ravaging London, both natural (it takes place during the Spanish Influenza pandemic at the end of World War I) and supernatural. With the main character being a vampire doctor who specializes in blood transfusions, that's an incredible set up for a game, and for the vast majority of it, I think it is really great.

But it flubs up the landing. It relies far too heavily on a "vampire lore dump" right before the final boss, which wouldn't be too bad if said lore being dumped was interesting, but it's really not. Then there's the romantic relationship the game had been trying to impress upon the main character and someone else despite the two of them having zero romantic chemistry (though I feel that way about the majority of hetero relationships in the media, because the cis-hets are inherently boring at romance), which really added nothing of value to the story. Finally there's the reveal of a certain vampiric person of antiquity that perhaps has more impact if you're British, but it didn't for me, not even when that came with another lore dump at the very end of the game.

And perhaps it may seem like overkill to have something's ending lower its overall impact on me that much, but it really did in this case. As it is, I still really liked Vampyr, and given that it felt like a vast improvement over Remember Me in terms of the action game part (even with it still being mediocre at best), I'm excited for whatever this team has in store for us next. If that's Vampyr 2 (which I would play!) or something new, either way, I'm interested in this.

Vampyr also wins:

  • Best use of blood.

  • Game I most want to play again and see how my choices change things around the world because it feels like they actually would.

  • Most ominous music.

  • Best plant that I never found water to give to.

  • Best garbled eating noises.

  • Moodiest game.

Game I Want to Play the Most But Haven't: Ashen.

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Every year there's always games that I wanted to play, but never got around to. In some cases it's because the games didn't live up to expectations, so I waited for a price drop that never got to whatever arbitrary amount I decided it was worth (thanks capitalism). But in a lot of cases, I don't play games simply because I can't. I don't have a Switch, Xbox One, or a PC that can play anything reasonably advanced. And thus, I miss out on games like Ashen. And why did Ashen, a generic seeming from a distance Dark Souls clone get this award?

The moment I realized that I really need to play this game at some point was hearing Austin Walker talk about how Ashen's world changes over the course of time. How there's a town that starts as literally nothing, but as more people come, it gets bigger. It changes, and importantly, it changes on its own. There are games where you can build up a town (Fallout 4), command the construction and staffing of an offshore PMC base (MGSV), or be a part of an outlaw camp in some sort of cowboy game, but in the end stuff like that ends up giving me the opposite feeling that they're supposed to. In those cases the only actual agent of change in them is the player. A town doesn't feel like a real town if the only person who can actually build something is me. That's just a designated space for me to decorate as I wish, which is totally fine if that's what it's presented as, but most games don't.

So, that's a long winded way of saying stuff like that is really cool to me, and I wish more games had it. On top of that, Ashen just seems like a cool one of those games, and I hope to have the chance to play it someday. Hopefully a PS4 port comes some time soon-ish?

As an aside, I want to say this was actually a really good year for games I super want to play but didn't, as Into the Breach, Return of the Obra Dinn, The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate were all games I seriously considered writing about here, and I hope to play them all eventually. Consider them "Runners Up" for this "Prestigious" "Award."

7. Best Splatformer: Celeste.

I died A LOT, but I did eventually get all those strawberries.
I died A LOT, but I did eventually get all those strawberries.

Despite enjoying platform-y, jump around games a lot, I don't really play that many of them. But when I do, I (assuming they're good) tend to like them a lot, and Celeste is one of the best I've ever played. The design of the levels, and the feel of the jumping and navigating through the environments was always a complete treat, even after literally dozens or hundreds of deaths at the hands of the often brutally hard difficulty. Just getting through the levels to the end was, while challenging, not the real challenge of the game, as that was always relegated to collectible strawberries along the way, the hidden secret tapes that unlock devilish versions of the levels, and super hidden, often need to puzzle something out crystal heart dealies that unlock, well... Something.

But Celeste is also kind of a hard game to write about, because the story didn't stick with me over the months, at least not how I thought it would at the time, and...there really isn't much else to say about the game, without just pontificating about how much I like the jumping. That, and the soundtrack, which is good.

I know pixel-art platformers are so ubiquitous that people have been making jokes about them for forever at this point, but it really is one of the best ones that I've played.

Celeste also wins:

  • Best jumping and air dashing.

  • Best color changing hair.

  • Fruitiest Game. Wait, are strawberries fruit? There's probably berries. They do have berry right in the name. Hold on.

  • Berriest Game.

  • Wait, no, Wikipedia says it's a fruit, so yes, Fruitiest Game.

  • Best Music to already have remixes in the game itself.

Best Use of Time Travel: The Gardens Between.

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I played this game on a whim (by which I mean I got a free code), and it's a fun little puzzling game built around time manipulation, specifically in moving time back and forth as two kids move through the levels, and interacting with key things that either don't move along with the normal flow of time, or move in their own separate timeline. It's less complicated than I made it sound, trust me. Fun in ways that when it was over, I felt myself wishing there was more, because even at its trickiest, it still felt like the game was only scratching the surface of what was possible.

As such, it's a neat little game, but a bit too trifling to get onto the list. Still, very cool game.

6. Best First Chapter and/or Demo for a Larger Game (Hopefully) Coming in the Future: DeltaRune Chapter 1 (??).

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With it being three years since the release of Undertale, and from what I knew, not a peep from Toby Fox about what he'd been working on, it was certainly a surprise to one day realize he stealth released a follow up. Okay, he hinted there would be something the day before, but I wasn't expecting a full game (or first chapter??), and not for free! And Undertale itself was such a surprising thing, something I loved so much it came closer than just about anything else that year to toppling MGSV from my Number One spot, which, if you know anything about me, you know my MGS obsession basically made MGSV impossible to dethrone.

But what about DeltaRune? Does it live up to Undertale? Yes and no. In some ways, it feels like a better made game. The art is more detailed, and I think generally better looking than Undertale's. There's more to the combat, and more depth to the combat puzzle solving. The weakest part of Undertale was the combat, because it was boring and not worth engaging in purely to attack enemies (which also leads to the not best ending), and the puzzles of winning fights without killing the enemies were fun the first time...but not really after that, once you knew what to do. This doesn't completely solve those problems, but there's just enough here on top to make it a more compelling combat system.

The story and the new characters are really good too! Just as charming and wonderful as they were in Undertale. Susie, Ralsei, and Lancer were all funny and goofy in the ways that I expect from a Toby Fox production, it was a fun little romp to go on, and I would love to spend more time with these characters, and more time in that world. DeltaRune is just enough to feel like it can stand on its own, but it still left me wanting more, in both a good and bad way.

I guess that's where my "issue" with DeltaRune comes from. It feels like a first chapter in a bigger story. A first chapter that was good enough to get basically to the halfway point of my top ten, but it doesn't have nearly the impact that Undertale had for me. And it was never going to, because again, as Toby Fox said, it's a first chapter. And a first chapter that is, for better or worse, more of the same. Not exactly the same, but the same style, same sorts of jokes, and same sensibilities that on paper work just as well as they did in Undertale. But some things just don't have the same impact the second time around.

But I do really, sincerely want to see what happens next. So, hopefully Toby Fox can do what he needs to (which sounds like hiring some more people, from the letter he put out after the game) to finish the story, because it'd be a shame if we never got any more of it.

DeltaRune also wins:

  • Best goofballs (basically everyone).

  • Funniest game.

  • Game where I most want to hug the main cast because they seem like they need hugs.

Best Car Crashing and Smashing: OnRush.

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I don't play much in the way of games where all you do is drive vehicles, largely because these days most of the noteworthy ones skew too far toward realism. Even the Forza Horizon games, which I know quite a few of my friends this year got into the fourth one, just don't look like they would scratch the particular itch I have for driving cars at high speed.

And part of that itch is that when the cars smash into things, I want to see them get messed up. OnRush doesn't go as far as the all time great, Burnout Paradise, but it's one of the closest I've seen in the years since, and I like it.

Plus it helps that OnRush is a fast, fun game. But there isn't really too much to it besides just driving and smashing, so it didn't grab me nearly enough to get much more than this brief-ish mention here. Worth taking for a spin, though.

INTERMISSION.

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5. Swingingest Game: Marvel's Spider-Man.

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Over my life, I've long had a "list" of dream games that I've always wanted. There was never an actual, written list, but I knew what the games I wanted were. Over time, a lot of them got made, sometimes literally, as Batman Arkham Asylum was the Batman game I always wanted, and sometimes a little less literally, like when Mass Effect filled in for the Star Trek game I always wanted. But one game on the list seemed like it was never going to come, but then it did.

Marvel's Spider-Man is the Spider-Man game of my dreams, and it's rad. The dream of swinging through the city, flipping, spinning, and moving with so much grace and precision as I soar above the packed streets below just feels so, so good, and that alone might've been enough to satisfy me. But not only did Insomniac get the swinging perfect, they also devised a combat system that while certainly not wholly original, still conveys that feeling of being Spider-Man as he flips around, using his agility, and ingenuity to knock out foes across the city.

But what really makes this game truly memorable are the story, and the characters. Sure, you could boil the story down and say it's just another Spider-Man story. But it's a really good one of those. Watching Peter struggle to balance his life as Spider-Man, his day job, and his relationships with his loved ones (mostly Mary Jane), and it's just a really touching, nice game in so many ways. Plus it even has a little origin story for Miles Morales thrown in as a bonus...though after seeing Spider-Verse, I have to say the Miles in this game isn't as good. But hey, it's hard to compete with the best Spider-Thing ever made, huh?

(Okay I know this is about games, but Spider-Verse wins Movie of the Year, go see it!!)

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That story also helps keep the momentum moving, and keeps the game interesting, because as much as the swinging kept me from ever wanting to use the fast travel beyond the requisite number needed to get the Platinum (which I got), and as fun as the combat is...the game is pretty repetitive. Lots of games are, it's hard, if not nigh impossible to make a game of this scale and not have there be some amount of repetition. But even in the story missions, most of them boil down to some variant on either beating up a bunch of dudes, or sneaking around as Mary Jane or Miles. And those stealth missions were, aside from one or two exceptions, not great.

But on the whole, this game was great. And, as much as I love it, and as much as I wanted to put it as high as I could on this list, the way things worked it, Number Five was all it got. Sorry Spidey, hopefully in the sequel you can have a little more variety and get higher up!

Marvel's Spider-Man also wins:

  • Best collectibles - Peter's lifetime supply of free backpacks.

  • Best traversal.

  • Best sunsets.

  • Most realistic traffic I've seen in a game.

  • Best interacting with random pedestrians.

  • Most cosmetic suits that I barely ever used because I was the one person that liked the look of the suit made for this game more than the others, aside from the cel-shaded one, but that stuck out too much from the aesthetic of the rest of the game.

  • Most Pride flags in a AAA game, which is really more of an indictment on the lack of LGBT+ representation in games (cause this game sure is hetero in the actual characters).

  • Best representation of what it's like to be an adult in this modern age (a complete mess who has no control over their life).

  • Most unintentionally pro-surveillance state via evil corporation game.

Best Remaster/Remake: Shadow of the Colossus.

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Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favorite games of all time, and I think now, one of the best games ever made. That last part was always a bit dubious to me, because, frankly, the original PS2 version of the game was a mess. I try not to harp on frame rates, but when a game regularly drops down to 15 frames per second, and during the moments when the action is at its peak, it's kind of an issue.

Regardless, I still adored the game despite that back on the PS2, and I also loved the cleaned up remaster on PS3. It was that same game again, just cleaner, sharper, a much smoother/playable frame rate, and with some subtle changes here and there to give it a more cohesive, consistent look.

But it still looked like an up-rezzed PS2 game, which is fine, but it wasn't the visual showpiece that the PS4 version is. And sure, I know this version has its detractors. Maybe 15 years from now we'll be waiting for a PS6 remake because this one looks dated too. If that's the case, then I'll eat my words if the PS3 version still has its visual appeal (which don't get me wrong, I still like the look of that version too).

I'm sure I'll be just as wowed then as I am now, because this is my favorite version of the game, I think it has a haunting beauty that the game has always had, just rendered in a new way.

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Visuals aside, it's the same game. Because of that, as much as it holds a place in my heart that it'll never leave, I couldn't really put it on my top ten. Even if I did, I wouldn't know where to put it. It's an all time classic, so do I put it at number one? But it's a game I've probably finished five times at this point, I know it more or less like the back of my hand, and as much as I love it, it maybe doesn't hold up to so many repeat plays because most of the Colossi are trivial to beat when you know what to do, so does that get it lower down?

And so, it gets this Award instead, and its chance to be honored by these "Prestigious" Awards. An all time classic, all shined up for the modern age. If only I had a Pro so I could play it at 60 FPS, aka, four times what it would drop down to originally.

4. Besting Hunting Game: Monster Hunter World.

I could sit here making jokes about being taken aback by how much I loved a Monster Hunter game, but that seems rude to a bunch of older games that I've never played, so instead I'll focus on this one, and how fun it is.

A lot of bigger budget, AAA games don't really have great boss fights these days. Part of that comes down to many of those sorts of games not really being suited to scenarios that lend themselves to boss fights. Or at most what passes for a "boss" is a helicopter, or a big tank. I'm not saying those can't be fun or engaging encounters, but they're just not the same. Not unless it's like a robot helicopter, or something a bit more original like that.

Monster Hunter World is a game all about boss fights. The game doesn't call them that, but each hunt is basically a boss fight. Long ones too, almost always in multiple stages, even if I'm kind of counting the first part of tracking down the monsters to be the first stage. But these monsters are so incredibly realized, animated, so full of life, and most importantly, so fun to fight that this game never stopped being thrilling, even after I'd spent 150+ hours with it. Even that deep into the game, I was still encountering new surprises, new ways for monsters to interact with the world to mess with me, and vice versa. And new ways for monsters to screw with myself and the monster I'm actually hunting.

Bazelgeuse. That theme music as it swoops in, dropping explosive scales from the sky before it lands, and starts shooting fire at me. If you've gotten that far in the game, I don't blame you if I've given you flashbacks to hunts gone horribly, horribly wrong. But for me, I love Bazelgeuse, because it's an incredible wild card that can show up almost anywhere, and at almost any time. A needed (fiery) breath late in the game, because even if I was still finding new stuff very late into the game, that doesn't mean a lot of it hadn't been repeating for quite a while.

Friend...
Friend...

And it's an incredible game to play with friends, at least once you've navigated the byzantine methods of teaming up. For a game that gets so much right with how it's played, the fact that getting into games with friends is such a hassle is a bummer. But, conversely it is a testament to how good the game is that it was worth putting up with as much as I did, even if ultimately I spent most of the game on my own.

It's been a while since I played it regularly, but the game is still getting updated, and with news of a big expansion coming in the fall of 2019, I'm excited! I want more monsters to hunt, and I can't wait to hunt them. Let's go out to this new world, and bend it to our will as we reap the land of all its resources, and slaughter all the animals, and... Oh, well, I guess when you put it that way it sounds kinda bad, huh?

At least it's still fun.

Monster Hunter World also wins:

  • Coolest environmental interactions.

  • Cutest anthropomorphic cat friends.

  • Best pig.

  • Best repeatable cutscene: Sending Palicos on missions.

  • Best cooking scenes/food.

  • Most weapon variety.

  • Best hunting music.

  • Game to best make me okay with the slaughter of animals that while certainly capable of being deadly because they are large predators, are also wild animals that were just minding their own business.

  • Least good understanding of what dragons and wyverns actually are because this game classifies an electric unicorn as a dragon.

  • Best monsters: Anjanath, Rathalos/Rathian, Odogaron, Bazelgeuse, Nergigante.

Expansion that Most Improved a Game: Destiny 2 Forsaken.

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I like Destiny 2. I liked it last year when it was new, because it was a fun game that didn't completely burn me out within two months like the first one did, and it had a coherent, if forgettable story. But, it still had a long way to go, and a lot of room for improvement. Thankfully, Forsaken was what I was waiting and hoping for.

It's honestly everything you could ask for in a good expansion. Multiple new areas to roam about, both of which look really cool and are just good areas by any measure. The new story stuff is not only good, it's better than what was in the base game, and also surprising because it's really a two part story. The first being an old fashioned revenge tale (including the best (only good) Cayde has ever been), and the second...high space fantasy?? It's a weird twist, but it fits with the lore, and it's cool! On top of all that, there's a whole new mode that mixes team based PvE with PvP, and the endless loot grind is fun, aside from a couple bizarrely slow spots, it moves at a pace that feels just about right.

I'm not sure that I'm necessarily as excited for the future of this particular game over 2019 as I am with Monster Hunter World, because I feel like they've intimated that all we're getting over that time is not so story focused stuff. Which, I'm sure I'll still buy the Expansion Pass at some point, but I won't be excited about it like I was for Forsaken.

3. Best Reminder of the Astounding Amount of Labor and Work that Goes into the Production of Video Games and also How that Labor is Exploited but ALSO the Game Had Gorgeous Vistas and I Liked the Characters, Aside from that One Jerk Micah Who I Swear I Hate Even More than Huey From MGSV, Which if You've Played MGSV but Not RDR II You Probably Don't Believe Me, But Believe Me, He's Worse: Red Dead Redemption II.

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Much like my thoughts on the game itself, Red Dead Redemption II feels conflicted. At once, it wants to be a sprawling open world western epic. It has this astoundingly large, gorgeously rendered world, full of people that feel real enough, wildlife that behaves like how you'd expect it to, and it's just such a breathtaking world to explore. I took literally hundreds of screenshots during the course of the game. Over 400, I think. I was just so wowed, and loved moseying through the world so much.

But, the game also wants to tell this story, a story about the end of the west, one man's journey as it ends, his story of redemption as he decides what's most important to him, and changes his life accordingly. And this story, at its best, is incredibly touching, and spoke to me in some bizarrely specific ways, which I detailed in my VERY SPOILER HEAVY BLOG.

The problem is that the story they want to tell, and the game they made around it don't mesh. They don't mesh in ways that they never could, and they don't mesh in ways that players could screw up if they don't feel like playing along with that redemption arc that was so key to Arthur's journey for me, and instead they just do a lot of nonsense, or go around on murder sprees between each mission.

And so I'm left conflicted. There's an incredible, amazing game in here, but it's a much shorter, more focused story than Rockstar was ever going to be willing to tell. There's a great, 20 hour game hidden amongst dozens and dozens of hours of needless side missions, and large swathes of the story that should have been cut entirely.

I know that doesn't sound like it should be my Number 3 game of the year, and yet, the game spoke to me. Not literally, I didn't hallucinate. Arthur's journey worked so incredibly well for me that I needed to put it on this list, and pretty high up too. As much as this game feels like the ultimate example of 2018, where there's ample amounts of bad to go along with anything good, the good parts are still some of the best of the year. A game with mountainous highs, and lows that feel like you're trudging through a swamp. But not literally, because the swamps in the game are really moody, especially at night. Genuinely spooky.

I just wish the whole game had been as good. It could've been an all time favorite of mine, and instead we're left with a bloated mess that doesn't know what it wants to be, and a lot of what it wants to be suffers from sluggish shooting, and overly linear mission design.

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And that's not even getting into all the labor hubbub around the game, which I don't have anything new to say on, but I also don't feel right saying anything positive about the game without adding it on. I'll just say that the games industry has a long way to go in terms of crunch, compensation for people other than the execs, etc.

If all this reads like it shouldn't have been as high as Number 3, know that it was originally Number 2, but the more I thought about it, I realized I had to bump it down one. But, even if I didn't do a perfect job conveying just how much I enjoyed the story, I feel confident I found the right place for it, for me.

Red Dead Redemption II also wins:

  • Best dog petting.

  • Best horse petting.

  • Best dogs and horses.

  • True Successor of Deadly Premonition Award for Best Facial Hair that Grows Over Time.

  • Best fishing.

  • Best vistas.

  • Best game to mosey and wander around.

  • Best map included with a physical version of a game.

  • Best in game secret that got me to call a friend over voice chat and then use that PS4 feature I forgot existed where I sent video of what I was playing to him directly to get hints about how to solve a puzzle (okay it was the only one but this was a neat thing I'd thought I would mention).

Best Rogue-Like-Lite Experience: Prey Mooncrash.

Stuck on the moon. Shapeshifting aliens all around, could be anywhere, could be anything.

Need to get off the Moon, and back to Earth.

Head to Moonworks. Maybe there's an escape pod there...

No dice.

Not only that, but everything's broken, water flooding some areas, exposed wiring making that a hazard, and no Gloo Gun to get around it easily... But some Gloo grenades. So, I get past that, and come across someone else, who didn't make it, but had a ludicrous plan scribbled on a note... Load a cargo container with some food, water, and radiation medicine for the voyage, then get shot out of the Mass Driver back to Earth.

A long shot, but better than dealing with the Typhon.

So, I set about exploring, and finding what supplies I can. I know there's plenty of food and water in the crew quarters, but that's a long way away, so I explore around where I can. Dealing with enemies however I can, and using my jest booster just...a bit...too...much...

Fuel runs out, and I plummet...

CRACK.

Leg broken. Every step I take, an unsettling, moist CRUNCH runs up my legs, and my spine. I can't run, can barely jump.

But I don't give up, even as time runs low, and the enemies only get stronger.

I keep searching, and eventually get all the supplies I need.

But still that leg.

Then, wait, a bone repair kit! My leg, fixed!

So, I head up to the top of the tower, to activate the Mass Driver... there's enemies all around. But by now, I've found plenty of ammo, so even if the fight leaves me close to death, I still end up on top, and turn on the Driver...which only leaves me about a minute to escape.

Good thing I fixed the leg.

I dash down, this time making sure not to break anything, and escape the Moon with just seconds left.

And that, was a dramatic retelling of my first time escaping the Moon via the Mass Driver. I may have embellished a few things, and left out some details, but that's just one cool story about what happened in my time with Mooncrash, an expansion so good that it would have easily gotten onto my top ten had it been released as a standalone game. It's a remarkable piece of content that, even if it got too easy by the end, was a tense, amazing thing, and definitely one of my favorite things that I played all year.

2. Multiplayer Game of the Year/Game that Did Not Have Ten Games Better Than It Release This Year: A Way Out.

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Back in 2010 Deadly Premonition, a game that in many respects was very bad, was my Game of the Year. This was due in large part to the game's story having such a big impact on me, but a fair amount of it was everything that happened around that game. Watching two separate and complete playthroughs of it on Giant Bomb, and more importantly, playing through the whole thing with a close friend of mine... Even if at some point I couldn't wait any more, finished it without him, and then had to just watch as he finished it a few months later. Look, I wanted to see how it ended!

I think, with that being the second ever Moosies, and the first Moosies on Giant Bomb (we do not speak of where The Moosies was before then), it set a precedent for what I really value in games. Not just the stories they tell, the characters they have, or things like that. But my life experiences around the game, whether those are simple, or more complicated.

And in the case of A Way Out, a co-op only game, it was built right into the core design. Because, as it would turn out, I played through this game with that very same person I played Deadly Premonition with. Back then, we were both still in college, and were in close enough proximity that we could hang out pretty much whenever we wanted. Not that we did super often, because we were both busy with our own college stuff, and this friend in particular is the sort of person to always have a hundred different things going at once, and I have no idea how he managed it all.

But now, he's moved out of state, and we're pretty much limited to the occasional chat online. So, when A Way Out was released, I knew I had to play it with someone, because it looked like the sort of cheesy, yet full of heart game that I had to play. It's had a very mixed reaction, but it seemed like something I would enjoy. And, as I looked amongst my friends for someone like minded enough to play it with, one person came to mind...never mind that he was the first one to say yes.

We had an absolute blast. I'm under no illusion that A Way Out is an incredible game, nor do I blame or necessarily disagree with anyone who disliked it. But if you're playing it with the right person, it's a really fun romp filled with sequences that are tense and make really great use of the co-operative nature of the game. It's also chock full of nonsense like a part where you can play off brand Connect Four in the lobby of a hospital where you're supposed to be visiting the wife of one of the two protagonists after she's given birth. But hey, the baby can wait, there's a game to play, wheelchairs to balance yourselves in, a moon landing to watch... Speaking of, Larry, if you're reading this (and you should be), we need to load the game back up, I've read there's an Easter Egg relating to that moon landing...

I'd be remiss if I didn't say anything directly about the story between Vincent and Leo, as they learn to work together, go on increasingly ludicrous adventures, and well, I won't spoil how it ends, but it took me completely by surprise, and I'm pretty sure it did my friend to some extent too. And like I said, I know it's cheesy, and you really have to be into/willing to look past non-American actors doing their best to sound American, but not really nailing it to enjoy some parts of this game. But if you can, it's a really fun game, and its heavy reliance on co-op, and creative uses of it make it pretty unlike just about anything else I've played. And, without a doubt, one of my absolute favorite games of the year.

A Way Out also wins:

  • Best cooperating with a real person.

  • Best minigames.

  • Best legitimately cool feature: Only one person needs to actually own the game to play it online in co-op.

  • Ship of the year: Leo + Vincent (not that I do it myself because they each are in existing relationships, but also if you do I don't blame you because sometimes these things happen to people, but I think both of them love their wives enough to not cheat on them).

  • Top Ten Anime Betrayals.

The Moosies 2018 "Retro" Game of the Year: Hollow Knight.

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Hype can do a lot of things to your expectations. Sometimes it can make them go sky high, but sometimes when I see so many people saying so many surely hyperbolic things about something, it actually has an opposite effect on me. I end up thinking there's no way it can be as good as they say. Some noteworthy examples from the last few years include Mad Max Fury Road, Breath of the Wild, Into the Spider-Verse, and Hollow Knight here.

But here's the thing, given these examples, maybe I should rethink how that happens to me, because every time it actually has been as good at it was cracked up to be.

Hollow Knight is, and I do not use this word lightly, but it's approaching masterpiece levels of how good it is. It's not just an incredible Metroidvania game, it's my favorite Metroidvania. It's not just a game that cribs from Dark Souls, this is the best game to take inspiration from the From Software games that I've played yet, and by a lot too. It's a game that not only has an incredible mood, tone, and sense of place backed up by a beautiful, yet ominous art style, it has a great world to back it up. And again, I'm using "world" in the lore sense of the word. I've yet to actually go and watch any lore videos, because I kept telling myself I would beat the secret "actual final boss" first, but I never got around to that.

It's a tough game too, and I do have some nitpicks here and there. Stuff like the Dark Souls style needing to recollect your money after dying, or the pin system feeling like I spent the majority of the game with pins equipped for mundane yet critical feeling things to me like a faster run speed. And given some of those pins can create fun and cool ways to play the game that sound substantially different from the norm, I think it's disappointing that I felt the need to play with what I feel like should have just been how the game played to begin with. Faster run speed, less time between dodges, just basic "feel" things like that.

And there's my obligatory "complaint" paragraph out of the way. Perhaps the highest praise I could give this game is that it reminds me of Bloodborne. There's a lot of surface level comparisons to be made, in the same way as Dark Souls, but I mean on a deeper level. These are both games that, on a world/lore department, are operating on multiple levels in ways that I just cannot express in words how much I love. As much as I want to just start rambling about the lore, or at least what of it I was able to piece together in my time with the game, I also know there's still people reading this who haven't played the game. I don't want to be the one to spoil anything for you.

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I could keep going on, and fall into a hole of just describing how much I love every little area of the game... Just like the time I fell into a hole and wound up in The Deepnest, which is such a fantastic area. I know some people don't like it, but they don't like it because it's creepy as hell, and hard, which is why I love it. It's this labyrinthine series of tunnels clogged with spiderwebs, full of dead ends, spikes, creatures that won't hesitate to kill you, and might not be as dead as you think after you defeat them...

Perhaps it's too early to be saying things like this, since I only played the game a couple months ago, but Hollow Knight is a game that I think will, at some point, be regarded as an all time classic. I'm not sure I'm ready to call it a "top ten of all time for me," especially given at this point I probably already have twenty or thirty games in that top "ten," but believe me when I say Hollow Knight is worth your time. Had this game been released this year, it would have been the only game to give me serious, actual pause about what my Number 1 game of the year is.

But, before I get to that, I need to briefly mention a few other older games I played this year. Hyper Light Drifter was a great game, and one I thought was a shoe-in for this for months, and it would've won otherwise, or been on my top ten the year it released had I played it then. Specter Knight (which counts since it was released as a standalone game) was also great, and for more story focused games, Tacoma and 2064: Read Only Memories were both memorable and worthwhile times.

And now, time for...

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1. 2018 Moosies Game of the Year, AKA The Tenth Annual Moosies Game of the Year Awards Celebration Game of the Year, AKA The Moosies X-TREME Video Game of the Year: God of War.

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And yet here we are, and I still remember how I felt when Kratos and Atreus finally made it to the mountain at the end of God of War. Their incredible journey, finally at an end, and so was mine with them. I'd grown so attached to the duo, both to Kratos, who learned to open his heart again, and to Atreus, who grew a lot, learned so much about the world, and so much about how to be a good person. Which, Kratos certainly learned along the way too. And I know it sounds super corny when I lay it out like that, but it works. It works, and it works better than in just about any game I've ever played.

That feeling I felt at the end of the game was a mix of things. Part of it was sadness. Sad that it was over, or soon to be. Sad I was soon to run out of things to do with these characters I'd grown so close to. Sad I would have to see them go, and wait years before even getting a hint of seeing them again.

But I also felt as happy as I did sad. Kratos and Atreus start the game both, in their own ways, just so naïve, and emotionally fragile, or even broken over the loss of Faye. Both in different ways, but they're both as affected by it, even if they don't admit it, or realize it. And seeing them both grow and change over the journey just hit me like few games ever have, and even all these months later, like I said, I can still feel exactly how I did in that moment.

Even if God of War was just that, it still probably would have been an easy pick for my game of the year. One issue aside with the handling of a certain character near the end of the game, and the game's overall lack of women characters (not counting the optional Valkyrie boss fights, there's only one), the story was more than enough to have this game stick with me for months and months later.

Not only does God of War have infinitely more emotional resonance than I thought the series ever could, and way more than most games do, it's also a fantastic action game (the best the series ever has been), with just enough openness and a world just big enough to feel big, and allow for it to feel like a sprawling adventure. But it's not an open world game in the sense of what they've come to be known as, and it doesn't fall into the same pitfalls that those so often do.

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And this world changes over time, as the central lake lowers. Or, at least, it has a big change midway into the game, revealing all new areas, and showing just how well laid out everything is that it makes the lake feel full of fresh new areas to explore, and yet all the old areas are not only still there, but interconnected with the new ones! The game only does this once, but it's an incredible trick, and it's something I'd love to see more games try to do in the future.

I could go on and on. I could write paragraphs just about how The Leviathan Axe is one of the best weapons ever put in a video game, and how recalling it was just as fun at the end of the game as it was at the start. I could detail how that motif of those first three notes throughout the soundtrack just works so well at conveying Kratos, and I don't know how to write about music, but it's great. I could go on about how it's not just the most visually detailed game I've ever played, but it has a great art style, and beautiful vision for what this version of Norse Fantasy is. At least in the visuals, because it's appropriately dark for the source material, but without swaying into the grimedgy-ness of the series' past.

I love this game. It's incredible, and over the course of the year, there was never any doubt that it was my game of the year.

God of War also wins:

  • "BOY!" of the year: Atreus.

  • Big Bo Presents Year of the Bow Bow of the Year: Atreus' magic bow.

  • Best musical motif.

  • Best weapon: Leviathan Axe.

  • Best snake.

  • Best storytelling dismembered head.

  • Most needless amount of loot/upgrading that was my only real complaint with the game part of the game.

  • Best boat.

Thank you for taking the time to read all this, or if you just skimmed through to the end, well, consider giving the whole thing a read if you have the time. 2018 was an interesting year for games, with many that were great in a lot of ways, but also deeply flawed in others. And here's hoping that 2019 is another great year for games, because it'll certainly be another disaster of a tire fire for world events, as the world spirals into Climate Change doom.

But on a less dire note, here's some predictions for 2019 in Video Games!

Predictions!

11th Annual Moosies 2019 Game of the Year: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

Given my affinity for From Software's games over the years since Dark Souls, it's not hard to predict that I'll enjoy this game (assuming it's good). But will it be Game of the Year? Only time will tell!

Sony, attaining new levels of hubris, announces the PlayStation 5, featuring the Perfect Cell Processor. With that, it has full backwards compatibility with PS3 games, but not PS4 games. Costs far too much money.

All signs seem to be pointing to 2020 as the year for new consoles, which I think realistically means also the year for announcing new consoles, especially considering Sony won't be at E3. But on the off chance they do announce the PS5 in 2019, I want to be prepared with this entirely plausible prediction.

So far as the rest, well, I only hope that Sony has learned from the PS3, and that even if they are at peak hubris (which they are), they don't mess up too badly. I've bought all my games (aside from Nintendo exclusives) on PS4 this generation, and if they don't get backwards compatibility right with PS5, that would be very disappointing!

Despite the fact that everyone else seems to think The Last of Us Part II is coming in 2019, it doesn't.

I really don't know where this assumption came from. Have they said they're targeting 2019? Even if they are, this game screams of "delayed to spring 2020" in that case. I still think this is more likely to be a PS5 launch game, or perhaps a cross gen release timed with the PS5 launch.

Nintendo puts out the New Nintendo Switch XL, which is a bigger, more expensive Switch. Does not drop the price on the existing model. Everyone else buys one (including those who already had a switch), but I still hold out because they're expensive.

I still do, sincerely want a Switch, but they're just too dang expensive for what's going to end up being a thing I play five Nintendo published games on over its lifespan, and never use its primary gimmick (portability). And given that it continues to be wildly successful in sales, I don't really see Nintendo doing anything to court people like me who want to save some money. At least not in 2019.

EA, those bastards, announce the Mass Effect Trilogy for Switch, but still don't remaster those games for PS4.

Under the category of, "things that could get me to give in and buy a Switch."

Microsoft, in their continuing attempts to get people to care about the Xbox brand, starts giving Xbox Ones out literally for free.

And even then it doesn't work.

Tired of waiting for another game, Captain Falcon decides to leave this galaxy, and find peace amongst the stars. Meanwhile, Nintendo officially announces that rumored Star Fox racing game, and Falcon has a brief twinge of pain as he looks back in the direction of the Solar System, before he continues onward on his journey.

Sony not being at E3 turns out to be a ruse when Phil Spencer tears his Xbox shirt off on stage to reveal a PlayStation shirt underneath. Then Jack Tretton and some cronies storm the stage to announce his return.

Self explanatory, I think.

Metroid Prime 4 shown off, has some bizarre control scheme that is needlessly gimmicky, makes the game worse, and is not accessible to people with disabilities. There's no option to change it.

I actually think this one is real.

EA cancels that Respawn developed Star Wars game that they haven't even shown a logo for yet.

Same.

Half-Life 3 announced as a card pack for Artifact.

Thank you for reading, and while I can't commit to regularly writing blogs in 2019, I do hope you enjoy whatever it is that I manage to get out there, and I hope you all have as good a 2019 as is physically possible.

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Outlaws, Self-Reflection, and Illness. [SPOILERS]

Red Dead Redemption II is, as you might have heard, a big game. I finished it, and while there is a part of me that would like to do a deep dive into every last thought I had about the game, I'm not going to subject you to that. Instead, here's something about the parts of the game that spoke to me the most, and I suspect will stick with me the longest.

That said, there will be SPOILERS. If you haven't finished the game, just stop reading. I'm not even bothering with the SPOILER hiding tech here, because that's all it's going to be.

You've been warned! Don't pass beyond this picture of Arthur petting a dog if you don't want spoilers!

You can also pet the horses, but I took over 400 screenshots, so I only grabbed a handful and didn't think ahead, so no horsey petting, sorry. Also I named my first horse
You can also pet the horses, but I took over 400 screenshots, so I only grabbed a handful and didn't think ahead, so no horsey petting, sorry. Also I named my first horse "Horsey." My second was Ed, and my third (the one I stuck with to the end) was Spot because she had lots of spots.

SPOILERS!

A thing I don't talk about much online (especially here, given the months between my blogs) is my health. I've been living with a chronic illness, Crohn's Disease, for years, and while it's mostly manageable, it also kinda sucks most of the time. But, one thing it had led me to thinking about within the last month or so, which was a bit rougher for my health than usual, was different ways that games could incorporate things like chronic illness into their core design.

Mechanically, I mean, not just in the story. For example, I played Hyper Light Drifter earlier this year, and as this link details, that game was inspired by a real life disease. That's cool and all, and I think Hyper Light Drifter is a great game, but aside from a few scripted moments where the main character coughs up some blood, it really doesn't manifest itself in the actual game play.

So, flash forward to Red Dead Redemption II, a game that took me weeks of playing hours every day to finish. I was certainly enjoying it well enough, more for the story and moody long stretches of riding through the wilderness (which I love, sincerely) than the combat, which is fine in short bursts, but not amazing. I was making my way through the game, enjoying it, but starting to wonder what, if anything the game is actually working toward, or building to.

Then Arthur starts coughing. At first it's just a little, but it keeps getting worse, until eventually I'm about to get to a story mission, and he just collapses in the street. And, after someone helps him to a doctor, he gets the bad news. Arthur has tuberculosis.

He's dying.

Now, let me be one hundred percent clear before what I say what it's pretty clear I'm working toward: I know tuberculosis and Crohn's are completely different things, both in what part of the body they affect, and more importantly with how bad they can be (ie, Crohn's isn't killing me).

Not only was this a really interesting turn in the story, the illness actually affects the game. Sure, the biggest effects are in cutscenes, like his worst coughing fits, or when he passes out, but you feel the effects of the disease killing him for the rest of the game. That 20% extra drain on the Health and Stamina Cores won't go away, no matter what you do.

But the part that really, really hit me as something I feel like I deal with is the occasional effect where Arthur coughs up the food he tries to eat, and it has limited effect. If there is anything in this game that I can relate to entirely, it's troubles around eating stuff, and feeling like it's actually helping me as a human being. But also feeling tired all the time because my figurative Stamina drains at a faster rate than it did back when I was healthy is such a relatable thing.

And like with my health in real life, as distressing as it was initially, eventually I got used to it. Got used to eating more in game when Arthur was healthy, used to sleeping more to keep the cores up when the eating wasn't really working. Got used to Arthur being underweight, because there really seemed like I couldn't eat enough to get him back up again (I know I've lost a lot of weight in an unhealthy manner in real life too).

There's no cure, so it's just something Arthur needs to adapt to, and live around. Live with.

Screenshots don't do it justice, but between the vistas, the lighting, and the sky, this game is gorgeous at times.
Screenshots don't do it justice, but between the vistas, the lighting, and the sky, this game is gorgeous at times.

If you played this game and thought those (admittedly minor overall) debuffs were annoying, and are in generally good health, all I can say is that I hope you stay healthy for as long as possible.

It's a weird thing to write about. Post diagnosis RDR II becomes a game about a dying man, trying to make some sense of the time he has left, and that's a strange thing to relate to. Especially when, like I said, I'm not dying. Even if on my worst days, it starts to feel like I'm going down that path.

As a slightly comical aside, I was developing a bit of a cough on the day I got to the part where Arthur was diagnosed, which was certainly a THING. But I've yet to cough up any blood, so it's nothing to worry about.

The thing that makes Red Dead Redemption II as a whole work for me, and I mean really work, and not just be a mediocre action game with a pretty world to mosey through, is Arthur's journey, as he grows and changes in ways that I certainly don't remember from any other Rockstar game. As he tries to help his outlaw buddies, especially as more of them don't make it out alive. As he learns to live with this disease that, unlike every other problem in his life, he can't solve by either overpowering it, or running away from it. As he goes from thinking of Dutch as a father figure, to being disgusted with what Dutch has become (or what he always was, and Arthur never realized). And as Arthur comes to peace with the life he's lived, and tries to use the time he has left to help the people who do have futures, even he doesn't.

I know "guy who thinks he's bad but really has a heart of gold" is far from the most original thing on the planet, but I think it's exceptionally well done here. And don't get me wrong, Arthur certainly does some bad things in the game. But even then, the point generally seems to be that it's wrong, and he realizes that over time. That's the whole arc of the Strauss debt collection missions, which start with Arthur beating up a helpless man dying from tuberculosis, and end with Arthur not only absolving the debts of the last few people, but also giving some of them more (debt free) money to help them on there way.

Especially with the family of that dying man that Arthur caught tuberculosis from.

But, while I love Arthur's journey through the game, I feel like this leads to my biggest issue with the story. Chapter 6, more so than the rest of the game, feels like it is building to something. Rifts form in the camp, with Dutch, Micah, Bill, Javier and some others on one side, and Arthur, the Marstons, Sadie, and Charles on the other. The cracks are forming in Dutch's facade, and plans are getting made behind his back on both sides of the rift, even if the game only shows it from Arthur's side.

And, it builds to something. After Dutch starts leaving people like Arthur and John for dead, Arthur and them decide that enough is enough, and they plan to do something about it. But before they can, Micah, the dirtiest rat that ever was, turns out to have been working with the Pinkertons ever since they got back from the game's (rather odd, and probably should have been cut for brevity's sake) excursion to the fictional island of Guarma. Not only that, but he led the Pinkertons back to camp, all hell breaks loose, and Arthur, with even his horse dying (a legitimately sad scene, and Arthur stopping to be with the horse one last time as it passed was extremely touching), makes his final stand, holding the law off so John can escape.

He dies.

The game jumps forward "some years," and now John Marston, star of Red Dead Redemption I, is the playable character. A "twist" I'd been wondering if this game would pull since before it came out, given the previous game ends with John dying, and the game finishing with his son, Jack.

Even if the previous game hadn't already done this, I would still think this is the game's biggest misstep in terms of the events of the story. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's bad, per se (though it definitely goes on too long, especially with the initial ranching bits), and I think the ending it eventually comes to is really good. But I also think this game would be better if Arthur had grabbed that gun, killed Micah on that mountain, and credits rolled after Arthur passed.

Instead, what we get are hours of ranching (again harking back to the end hours of RDR I), house building, and some admittedly good and fun moments with the best of the surviving characters from the old gang (Sadie, Charles, and John's family). And Uncle, but he's decent comic relief at moments, because I feel like we all have an uncle who is exactly like Uncle. I do.

But all that said, I would be lying through my teeth (typing fingers?) if I didn't say that the final mission up in the mountains, killing my way to Micah, wasn't one of the best things I've done in a game in a while. There is a part of me that thinks actually the more "mature, emotional growth" path of the story would've been for John to have moved on, to say, "No Sadie, I don't need revenge. I've given up that life. I've got a family now."

But on the other hand, Micah is the Worst Garbage Person in this game, and I wanted to kill him, so yeah, I like the ending as it is.

True to form, despite not liking fishing at all in real life, or having any interest in playing games strictly about fishing, I fished a lot in this game, and enjoyed it.
True to form, despite not liking fishing at all in real life, or having any interest in playing games strictly about fishing, I fished a lot in this game, and enjoyed it.

Rockstar, perhaps in retrospect and perhaps unintentionally, has long been great at writing characters that are total pieces of garbage and truly unlikeable. This wasn't really put to huge use in this game, where the majority of the cast are, to some extent, likable. Unlike some past games, where looking back on it, characters like Trevor and even Michael in GTA V were kinda miserable scumbags. But so far as the gang in RDR II goes, aside from Micah, they're all pretty likable. Bill's an ass, and Dutch turns out to be garbage in the end (which the game takes one final moment to reiterate at the very end, which I like), but even he, with his charisma, puts on the charm for most of the game. That's kind of the point about the gang.

But Micah? I haven't hated a character in a game this much since Huey in MGSV, and I would even go so far as to say Micah's worse. But worse in ways that are clearly intentional, and the point I'm trying to make is that so far as games making me want to dump every bullet I can into someone in slow motion, this game did that exceptionally.

And then let me do it.

So where does that leave me with RDR II? Overall I really enjoyed the game, and I think its best parts are exceptionally strong. I loved the characters that were supposed to be loved, and hated the ones that were supposed to be hated. I loved going out to the bar with Lenny and getting comically drunk. I loved making Arthur go from begrudgingly helping people like his ex-girlfriend, to being the sort of person who helps people not for money, but because it's the right thing to do.

I love exploring the world. I keep seeing people complain about how there's so little to do out in the world, but that's part of what I like about it. I will never stop saying this until the day I die, but I love games that are willing to put you in big, open spaces with nothing, or next to nothing to do in them. It reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, in a way, and that's enough for me. Incredible, unthinkable amounts of time were put into crafting this world, into every last, tiny detail, and I get a real, true joy out of just moseying around, taking it all in. It's like hiking in nature, but without having to deal with bugs, or getting tired after an hour because I'm out of shape and chronically ill.

But, that detail, and I know we're all sick of reading things about this, but I'd feel bad if I didn't at least mention all the crunch that we know went into this game. I don't have anything new to add, so I'll just say that I think the parts of this game that I love the most would've been just as good a few years from now, so I certainly am in favor of games taking longer to make if less (or no) crunch means longer development time. I'm sure it isn't as simple as I'm making it sound, but you get what I mean.

Overall, I think RDR II is a really good game, but I think a version of this game with tighter controls, a bit peppier walk speed, and a lot of excess cut from the story would be a truly great game. As it is, I don't blame anyone who doesn't like how slow it is, or loses interest and stops playing because it takes so long to get to the really interesting stuff. But, for me, I loved a lot of it, and I think it'll stick with me for a while. Certainly in ways that no other Rockstar game has, I hope. All those have aged really poorly, for me, and I hope this doesn't follow suit.

But I'll miss, ya, Arthur. You were a good guy.

Thanks for reading.

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Spider-Man, yet more Destiny 2, and more!

It's been a couple months, and I'm back! I've been very busy working on a thing, which I may have more to say about at the end of this blog (assuming I don't get in trouble with the mods for shilling a thing), so keep reading to find out more!

Regardless, I've been playing games, and I have words to say about them!

Marvel's Spider-Man.

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Despite the fact that the box of the game only has the Marvel logo, followed by the name Spider-Man, thus making the official title incongruous with what's on the box, in the game, etc, I had a fantastic time with this game. It is, in so many ways, the Spider-Man game I've wanted ever since I was a kid, but never got because in my childishly stubborn ways, I refused to see that first batch of Spider-Man movies in the theater, or have anything to do with them/the games based on them. (And when I did eventually see the first one on TV, I felt justified because I thought it was terrible (the second one is much better, though)).

ANYWAY, I got sidetracked. Everyone knows what the shtick is with Spider-Man games. "How's the swinging?" "Is the swinging good?" "Okay, but what about the swinging?" And of course the swinging is incredible. The visual fidelity on display as Spider-Man swings from building to building, spinning and twirling above city streets (funded by Sony's seemingly bottomless pockets for their published games (I just hope Insomniac's/whatever support studios' working conditions aren't terrible even if they were well paid)) is often breathtaking. Like, literally so. It looks incredible, and it feels just about as perfect as I can imagine swinging in a game feeling. If you get going just right, it is absolutely one of the being "feeling" games I've played in...maybe ever.

The combat, while not as perfectly honed as the swinging, is also a lot of fun, and I think crucially, it's less Batman-y than I expected it to be based on what I'd seen. It has the two button takedown thing from those games, but otherwise it feels enough like its own thing. Don't get me wrong, I love the Arkham games, and I do think Spider-Man's combat could be tightened up a little more, to better match those (and it probably will be for the sequel), but I still had lots of fun with it over the game, even if it's ultimately repetitive in the sense that the game leans on combat encounters a lot.

But, if I had to put my finger on the one thing that really makes this game work for me, it's the story and the characters. More so the characters, I'd say, because if you really want to nitpick the story, it's kind of just another Spider-Man story, only with a Mad-Libs rearrangement of a few things. Peter Parker is a lab assistant for Dr. Octavius instead of a photojournalist, Norman Osborn is the obviously corrupt but no one can prove it Mayor, etc.

The things that make it work are the characters. The writing, performances, and that (again exorbitantly well produced) level of polish that we've come to expect from Sony published games all come together make a really engaging experience. I mean, I'm about as central to the target audience of this game as you can be, as I've been a big Spider-Man fan since a kid (never mind when I was on the outs with the franchise in my teen years), so of course I'm extremely receptive to what this game is doing.

But it's not just that it's a game about Spider-Man doing Spider-Man things, at least in terms of the story, it's (as clichéd as this sounds to say about a superhero story), it's really about the man behind the mask, and his friends and family. Aunt May isn't just an old lady who occasionally gives Peter some sage advice about life, she works at a homeless shelter because wants to do what she can to make New York City a better place. Mary Jane isn't just a love interest and a damsel in distress, she's a woman on a mission, who often feels like Spider-Man is getting in her way as he learns not to be overly protective of her. And Miles Morales isn't just a throwaway cameo, though of the (mild spoilers I guess?) three playable characters in the game, he is the one that I think deserved a little more screen time (which I am sure he'll get in the sequel).

And that brings me to something about the game that I simultaneously really like, but also I think is the weakest part of the overall game. The part that I like is that (again mild spoilers if you haven't followed the game at all (in which case just play it, or at least stop reading this until you are able to)) Spider-Man isn't the only playable character. Miles and (especially) Mary Jane have quite a few missions where they are the focus. As much as I love Spider-Man as a concept, he is still a cis-het white dude, and having a little more diversity in a big budget game like this is welcome, even if there's still obviously much further it could go in that regard (there's no queer characters, for example (unless Miles is gay in the sequel, which, hey, why not?)).

Let Spider-Man be queer, you cowards!
Let Spider-Man be queer, you cowards!

And on paper, sequences playing as characters without super powers in a game all about super powers could be a nice change of pace. In a couple instances, it is. The first Mary Jane mission, which opens with MJ tricking someone into letting her into a museum after hours is fun. At least at first, when it's about looking at old artifacts, and MJ playing it cool whilst tricking the person there. It's a little less fun when it turns into a rote stealth game.

That ends up being the problem with the MJ and Miles segments. Outside of the Grand Central Station mission (more on that in a moment), they're just not fun. They're not terrible, and they're never difficult enough, or long enough to ruin the game. And load times after getting caught are short enough that it never got frustrating. But all that said, as someone who loves stealth games, and games with stealth elements, this is not great stealth.

That one mission though, is pretty cool. I'll hide it under spoilers if you haven't gotten to that part of the game yet. So, this mission (like the museum one) starts with MJ in a not stealth situation, and allows for some fun walking around, and looking at neat stuff on exhibit around the station. But, of course that doesn't last, as soon some villainous sorts come in, and take everyone hostage. MJ, of course, manages to sneak off, and gets in touch with Spider-Man, who quickly gets to the scene.

But rather than switch to Spider-Man, the game stays with MJ, who now gets the 'ability' to tell Spider-Man when to take out the enemies, the idea being that they need to coordinate so the rest of the enemies don't get alerted (and thus they keep the hostages safe). In terms of stealth game design, it's nothing spectacular, but in terms of what happens on screen, it's very funny. You hit the button, then some web shoots in from off screen, and the enemy gets pulled up to the ceiling. There's several different animations, and it's one of those things that feels like it's pulled straight out of a comical scene in a Spider-Man movie, and I loved it. And when I was getting toward the end of the mission, I looked up (as Grand Central Station has a very high ceiling), and saw about ten or fifteen dudes still dangling from the ceiling, which got a hearty laugh out of me.

Though, actually maybe the biggest misstep of Spider-Man is that while it seems to recognize that modern media should have diverse casts, it also seems a little unaware of the general state of the modern world when it comes to police, and surveillance. I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting this to be some extremely leftist game that was anti-cops, and I think the "Spider-Cop" bit between Spider-Man and Yuri is funny enough on its own.

The part that stood out to me, even before people really started digging into this stuff with a depth beyond what I am here, is where Spider-Man helps the police fix their surveillance system around the city. You know, the one created and installed by the unambiguously evil Oscorp. Yet, the game never takes the time to actually say anything about surveillance, and it just feels like such an oversight to me.

We live in a world where corporations are trying to sap us of every last piece of information about our lives that they can, so they can sell things to us, which is also a world that, at least in the US, feels increasingly like a police state. A world where actual surveillance systems a lot like this are actually being installed in actual cities. Never mind that the invasion of privacy is bad enough on its own, but that it's in the hands of the police, who (at least in the US) get away with murder, and abuse, and well, it makes the game feel out of touch. I have no idea how much of that is because the people at Insomniac didn't think about these things (for whatever reason), of if it was because of pressure from Sony/Marvel/Disney to not be 'controversial,' I have no idea. Probably a mix of things.

And honestly, I'm fine with stories where the protagonist does something wrong (in this case helping the police spy on people in an effort to "combat crime") so long as the story then makes it clear that this was wrong, and the protagonist learns from the experience.

This isn't that. And it feels weird to me, because (without spoiling anything), things happen later in the game that puts Spider-Man in a position where he is, somewhat explicitly, saying that fascism is bad. So, I dunno, feels like maybe some wires got crossed, maybe something got cut from the game for any number of reasons, who can say. But I really would have preferred the game either had some other explanation for the towers to unlock the map, or if there was some sort of comeuppance/lesson learned from doing that.

Rest in Peace, Solidus.
Rest in Peace, Solidus.

But, my thoughts on this game's unaware politics aside (don't @ me in the comments, I have my beliefs and am never in the mood for 'debate'), I do think Spider-Man is a really great game. Not perfect, as there's certainly room for improvement in many aspects, but it honestly is a dream game for me, and I'm extremely hopeful for what I hope will be an even better sequel. I'm sure the DLC will be good too, but with that coming this year, I cannot imagine it being a substantial departure from what we already have. I'd expect more combat, and maybe some stealth sequences played as Black Cat.

Destiny 2: Forsaken.

Ah, Destiny 2. While you may have started in a somewhat odd state, with a much more coherent story than the first game, but with a less compelling end game for weirdos like me to endlessly grind. While you may have taken the same exact trajectory with the DLC as the first game, even to the point of replacing an actor with Nolan North (leading to a situation with North talking to himself), you've finally gotten to where you should be.

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Destiny 2 is...good.

Forsaken is absolutely the best Destiny 2 expansion, by a light year, and from what I've heard from people who played the expansions for the first game, probably the best expansion Destiny the franchise has had to date. It's pretty much everything I would want out of a Destiny 2 expansion. The story missions are really good, both as first person shooter missions, and by Destiny 2 storytelling standards. Which, I worded that in a way that probably makes it sound bad, but it's good. Just not like, going to win any awards for story, that sort of thing.

And, not only has it added a new patrol zone, it added TWO new patrol zones! They're both sizable, and good! The second one, The Dreaming City, is particularly good, especially in its visual design, and the new things it does. Specifically, it changes over time. I'm not sure exactly what is going to cause the changes over time, but the first change was sparked by the first group to complete the new Raid (a Raid I will likely, sadly, never see due my regular Destiny group being unable to get enough people together). Don't get me wrong, when I say it changes, I don't mean that suddenly it's a completely different zone. I mean that, as it changes, it seems like how Taken the zone is will change. As of the last time I was in there, it was getting pretty Taken.

If you don't know what I mean by Taken in that context, don't worry about it, it's a Destiny lore thing. But speaking of that, for maybe the first time since Destiny's release in 2014...I think I'm starting to get into the lore of this franchise. I always enjoyed playing these games because they're fun shooters, and I understood as much as I could (which was not easy in the first game) to at least have some semblance of a clue, but I never really cared about the lore. Like, about the nature of things like the Awoken, or The Taken, or what's up with dragons. Because there are dragons in Destiny. Or, at least there used to be, because...well, that's getting deeper into it than I am prepared to do right now.

Not only that, but the more surface level storytelling is better than it was in original Destiny 2. I know I make a big deal out of pointing out the coherency of Destiny 2's story in relation to the first game, but outside of that, it didn't really have a memorable story. I think that game opens really strongly, but it kinda peters out, and leans a bit too heavily on a not great sense of humor, and not great jokes from Cayde.

Even Cayde, who I often found annoying in the base game, is suddenly good now. Most of it is because his writing has finally found the right tone for that character, but honestly I think part of it is him being recast with Nolan North. I know North is still trying to sound like Fillion, but I think I still like his take on the character a bit more.

Too bad this happened right as they kill the character off, huh?

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Outside of getting into nitpicks I could complain about, the last new addition in Forsaken I have things to say about is the new Gambit mode. For those unaware, it's a mode that is both against AI controlled enemies, and enemy players. The setup is that two teams of four are sent into identical but separate arenas, where they fight waves of enemies. The enemies drop Motes of Darkness, which are stockpiled. If you put in enough at once, you can summon an enemy to prevent the other team from spending their Motes, and there's varying levels of that based on how many you put in at once. Once a team hits 75 motes, a Primeval is summoned, and the round ends when one team defeats their Primeval.

But, the other wrinkle is the portal that leads to the other team's arena. It opens at specific points in the match (I forget when, but it's based on Motes stockpiled), and then opens regularly once the Primeval is summoned. One player runs through the portal, and then their objective is to kill the other team. And with an extra shield, the invader gets a bit of an advantage.

The only problem with Gambit, at the moment at least, is there's a bit of a balance issue. Specifically, and normally I'm not the sort to mention a weapon being unbalanced in a game, but Bungie needs to do something about Sleeper Simulant. As best as I can tell, it's a one hit kill no matter where the shot hits, and that's overpowered. I already don't like being one hit sniped out of nowhere, and that's bad enough when it requires a headshot (and thus fairly precise aim).

Outside of that, I've been having fun with Gambit, as I have with all of Forsaken, honestly. There's definitely been some moments where the Endless Grind felt like I was just spinning my wheels and making no progress, but even then the core game play was fun enough to keep me going. It's fun, and if nothing else, it's something to do whilst listening to podcasts, and I seem to have an ever replenishing supply of those to consume.

But, speaking of Destiny lore, and Gambit, some of the things The Drifter (the NPC who runs Gambit) says about the Darkness, and killing other Guardians in that mode... It's kinda making think Destiny 3 might let you use Darkness instead of Light. Which, again, I'm sure makes no sense out of context, but it would explain why it's still a Power Level in Destiny 2, instead of a Light Level like the first game...

Forsaken is good. I dunno if it's good enough to lure back in people who haven't played the game since launch, at least not when it still requires people to own the previous two expansions. That was the thing that kept me away from The Taken King in Destiny 1, as back then I hadn't been roped back into buying both of the lackluster expansions like I did this time (at least I got them on sale). Okay, Warmind was decent, but the Mercury one was not good.

Last thing I'll say, is that while I do not think this will happen, nor do I have any real reason to think it would happen for this game at least, but I wish Destiny 2 had some sort of cross console/PC play. I really feel like if it did, I'd be able to get enough people together to actually do one of the Raids. And now that Sony is finally starting to loosen its grip on this stuff (though I suppose they'd been letting it happen with PC on some games for a while), maybe it could spread to something like this? Maybe Destiny 3? Who knows.

The Gardens Between.

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A bit of a tonal shift between the Endless Grind of Destiny 2 and an indie game that could probably be finished in a single sitting like this, huh? Anyway, this was a neat little game about moving time around to solve environmental puzzles, and I had a good time with it. It's kinda hard to describe in text form, so I'm not even going to try. Go watch the Quick Look if you have no idea what this game is.

It's neat, but I wish it was longer. There's some really cool puzzles, that lead to some great "aha" moments, but the game ends right around the time it starts to feel like the puzzles are really coming into their own. But, I suppose in some ways it's better to be left wanting more, than left feeling like it went on way too long, huh?

Burnout Paradise Remastered

Ah, Burnout Paradise. The best racing game ever made? The best racing game ever made. Even, after all these years, this game is just such an absolute joy to play. I don't really think that this game was that remastered, aside from maybe a boost in resolution, so that aspect of the package is perhaps a bit disappointing. As are some things, like all the menus and stuff being exactly the same, when maybe something like the ability to set custom waypoints on the map would have been welcome. I suppose that's why I waited a few months for it to go down in price before buying it.

Regardless, the core of this game is still just stellar. Stellar enough that I actually got the Platinum Trophy this time, which I didn't do on the original version (though I came close, I think). Which is not to say I got every single Trophy for the game, because this Remastered version splits all the "DLC" Trophies from the original game into separate things.

Anyway, it's still great. It's the same game it was all those years ago, but that was enough for me. It's just good to cruise around Paradise City again.

Anything else?

Nothing that I really have more than a couple sentences to say about. I did play a couple matches of the Soul Calibur VI beta, which was...not amazing. I'm not sure if it was the lag inherent with it only having online matches available, or something about the game itself, but it felt kind of rigid. Granted, I haven't played a Soul Calibur game in about a decade (around when IV came out), but my memory of these games (at least II and IV) is that they're very fluid games. That they have a natural flow to them that is very easy to get into, and get going. This, conversely, again, I don't know how to describe it other than rigid. Hopefully that was just lag, though I dunno... I'm probably not going to buy the game anyway, at least not at launch. I don't know anyone who lives near me to play games like this with anymore, and if the online is going to feel bad, I won't want to play that.

And I think that might be it for stuff I've played since the last time I wrote. I mean, not counting things like playing the occasional matches of Titanfall 2, or Overwatch. Or some nondescript PS+ games that didn't really grab me, or (since October's came out since I started writing this blog) I haven't spent enough time with to discuss. I know there's a slew of indie Metroidvanias I'd like to play out there, never mind Yakuza Kiwami 2, or even Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Which, I'll be honest, I haven't heard great things about the latest Tomb Raider, but once it gets cheap enough, I'll probably play it, and not feel like it was a waste of time. And Assassin's Creed Odyssey is this week. Still unsure if I want to go get that now, or wait for a price drop.

And, of course, at the end of the month, it's cowboy time...yee haw.

Also something that happened since I wrote the majority of this blog is that, there was a certain game from 2010 that I had a hankering to play again. One of the best games of last generation, one that I really just felt the need to experience again, and to do it before I got caught up in the big game coming at the end of the month. A sprawling epic that's really stuck with me over the years, something that honestly hasn't been matched in the years since its release...

I am, naturally, referring to Mass Effect 2. It's still great, y'all. The PS3 version (the one I had easiest access to), maybe not so much. But I'll not let that deter me. At least not while EA still won't remaster it...

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That's it for games, but as I said at the top, I've been working on something for, honestly, over a year at this point. Bit of a longer term, bigger writing project. Longtime readers may remember that in years past, I tried my hand at some book writing, and I'm happy to announce that my return to the scene is now.

So, my latest, and I think greatest book, 'Crashe' is available now on Itch and Amazon. It's a queer cyberpunk story, and I would be thrilled if people read it. Now, it is a little on the long side, because I couldn't afford to pay an actual editor (I'm slightly joking, but it is long), but I think anyone who likes fun stories will enjoy it.

And, mods, if this strays too far into 'advertising' and I broke forum rules, just send me a PM, and I'll cut this from the blog.

So, links!

Itch: https://mooseymcman.itch.io/crashe (You can download a PDF of the first chapter free too).

Amazon (US): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HXJ1KZX

Amazon (Canada): https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B07HXJ1KZX

Amazon (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07HXJ1KZX

It's available in a variety of other regions as well, and if you read it and like it, let me know! If you don't, or don't like it, that's fine. Don't be surprised if this hunk of the blog is gone by the time you get back anyway, haha.

So, that's it for this time. Thank you for reading, and an even bigger thanks if you buy the book! Dunno when I'll be back. I certainly would like to write more about games now that I'm in a lull between my bigger writing projects, but I can't really do that if I don't play anything new. So, we'll see! I will, at least, do my best to have The Moosies around the usual Game of the Year time. I haven't played ten games released in 2018 yet this year, so we'll see if I've accomplished that by then!

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Have a good day!

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When the Moon hits your Eye like a big Pizza Pie, that's a Mooncrash.

When Prey's DLC, Mooncrash, was announced (and simultaneously released) at E3 this year, I was a bit skeptical. After all the teases about the moon, I was really excited for more Prey. I loved Prey last year, and as more time has passed, I only find myself thinking more fondly of it. But the thing I loved most about Prey was the universe, the lore, story, themes, characters, etc. Actually playing Prey was fun, but the idea of turning Prey into a rogue-like-lite was a real head-scratch moment for me. What I wanted was more story, more time spent in those intricately designed levels, piecing together what happened.

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My experience with Mooncrash ended up pretty different from what I expected. Not only was there actually just enough new story to get me hooked all over again, but it turned out it was that rogue-like-lite structure that made playing Mooncrash compelling enough that even as I'm typing this, I've got an itch to go in and play some more.

Thinking back on Prey as a whole after playing Mooncrash, and while people like to talk about how it's an immersive sim (which it is!), but it's really more of a survival horror game than anything else. Yes, I know, game genres are a mess, more now than ever before. But systems built around scrounging for ammo, health items, etc, while trying to avoid or outwit big spooky space monsters is a perfect fit for the rogue-like-lite mold, and I'm surprised I hadn't realized that sooner. Or not, I'm not a game developer, after all.

But before I go on, give me a moment to attempt to explain the quirks of Mooncrash, because even after hearing people try to explain it, I didn't really get it until playing it myself. Mooncrash is a game about a simulation, in which the main objective is to escape from the moon. Five times. In a single run. If that didn't confuse you, then let me say that I, at least, was a bit confused by what Mooncrash considers "a run." There's five playable characters (only one unlocked at the start), and a single, full run consists of an escape attempt with each. When there are no characters left (either through escapes or death), the simulation resets, and a new run begins. There's also an option to reset the simulation at any time, which is handy for trying to do something with a specific character, or for situations that seem like there's no hope for success (but more on that later).

And because this is a rogue-like-lite, and not a rogue-like, there are persistent upgrades. Like original Prey (2017), there are Neuromods used to unlock and upgrade passive and active abilities, and those carry over on each character. On top of that, fabrication plans found in game not only unlock access to the fabricators for crafting, they also give access to those items when starting a new escape attempt with a character. Not for free, those are at the expense of the simulation points attained through playing the game (everything from killing enemies, to escaping, finding dead crew members, and even picking up fabrication plans themselves).

So, in short: character unlocks, upgrades, and new items to buy between characters carry over between runs. Inside a run itself, the state of the world stays the same between characters, except for any changes you make, and the enemies getting harder over time. But when the simulation resets, the world can change. One time an area might be fine, but the next there's a massive water leak and exposed wiring, which leads to a lot of electric damage. Or maybe the power is out, or maybe my favorite shortcut tunnel is caved in, or any number of other things, never mind enemy and item placement changes. Some things, like dead bodies are always the same, and sometimes (especially near the start) those bodies always have the same items, but for the most part, what they have on them has some level of variation from run to run.

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Okay, I dunno that I actually did any better a job of explaining it. Trust me when I say that if you play it, a few runs in you'll get it. And I think that if you liked playing Prey, and want more of that, this is absolutely worth playing. But very specifically you have to want more Prey, but harder. Harder, and requiring a lot more thinking on your feet than Prey originally asked for.

Main Prey is a game that allows for a tactic I find hard to resist: Save scumming. The ability to save and reload saves anywhere, at any time is incredibly powerful. If a scenario seems like I might die, then I just save, and if I die, I either retry, or find another approach. There's no save scumming in Mooncrash. If you die, that character is dead for that run. But it isn't just about dying or not. True save scumming is when you reload a save to get through a scenario perfectly. That meant there weren't a lot of instances in Prey where I was in a truly awful state, and having to scrap together weird approaches to things just to survive.

That sort of scenario happened to me all the time in Mooncrash, at least at first. Plenty of scenarios where I'd wind up with 20 health (the amount the game regenerates without any healing items), and a "trauma" (newly added status affects) to boot. Nothing like being almost dead, and having broken bones preventing me from sprinting, or hemorrhaging blood that doesn't do any damage...unless I jump, or sprint. These situations in which everything went wrong right up until the part where I managed to survive are things I never experienced in main Prey. Video games have, over the decades, trained me to want to do things as optimally as I can, and because of that I would find it hard to let myself get into a state like that when the game lets me reload saves.

So in other words, the thing I was most leery about in Mooncrash actually ended up being one of the keys to why it worked so well for me. Weird how professional game designers who have been doing this sort of thing for years know more about what actually makes their game good than me, some goof who writes this stuff because I have far too much free time on my hands.

Another key element is that the characters all play differently from each other. I looked over what I wrote about Prey last year, and one of my biggest complaints was that the game not so-subtly encourages you to not use the Typhon powers. And, in my time with the game after that blog, I found that getting those powers didn't really enhance my enjoyment of playing the game as much as I hoped. There was a lot of similarity in the powers (several that are just elemental variations on targeting a spot and making a small explosion), and the game didn't do much to really show how best to use them.

And while Mooncrash certainly leaves a lot of things up to the player to figure out (in a good way), the abilities that each character has access to are pretty smartly designed. Both narratively (ie, the test subject has a lot of Typhon powers, but the security chief has none), and in terms of making each character feel unique, and fun to play. I never found a use in the main game for the power that creates a vortex thing that gets an enemy stuck up in the air. But when I was scrambling around in Mooncrash, and trying things out because I had no other option, I figured out how to make it useful. And that specific power also came in handy for getting that character up into some spaces he couldn't otherwise reach.

There are some things I wish I could tweak about the powers across characters. Joan, the engineer, is the only one that gets the ability to upgrade her inventory, and the number of chipsets (more passive bonuses) she can have equipped at once. The inventory was less of a factor (due to something I'll get to in a bit), but the limited chipsets for all the other characters meant I ended up relying on just a few specific ones, rather than experimenting. The ones that did things like increased resistance to traumas, or more efficient psi power (the meter that governs abilities) were a lot more useful, a lot more of the time, than most of the others.

Joan can also summon turrets, and they all have cute names.
Joan can also summon turrets, and they all have cute names.

On top of the game play differences, each character has their own story objective, which is unlocked by escaping with that character in a specific way (and similar things are required to unlock the characters in the first place). Because there are (so far as I know) only five different ways to escape the moon, and the game is pretty clear about which method is the ideal for which character, it creates this extra layer of strategy where if I want to get everyone off the moon in a single run, I need to do the right thing with each one. For example, there's one method that only Riley Yu (cousin of the Yus from the main game) can use, so obviously I want to do that with her, rather than taking the escape pod. And on top of that, there's one specific escape method that requires multiple characters to set up for someone else, meaning even the order of the characters is important.

These different escape methods can have their own stories attached to them too, whether that's built into the game (like Riley's), or something that I concocted in my head after a particularly memorable run. Like the first time I got security chief Bhatia to escape with the Mass Driver, which is basically a cannon that shoots cargo containers off the moon, and to Earth. The first step of escaping that way is to collect enough food, non-alcoholic beverages, and anti-radiation medicine to survive the trip. The Mass Driver itself is located in the Moonworks area, which is largely for mining. On this run, there was some of the flooding and exposed wiring (okay, it's more than exposed wiring, but I think it's funny to word it that way) I mentioned earlier. Now, the ideal way to deal with that is to use a Gloo cannon to shoot the exposed wiring, and repair it (only Joan can).

I didn't have a Gloo cannon. And so, the first leg of this journey was a mix of trying to use what I could to stop or avoid the electricity (involving Gloo grenades, which I had mixed success with (I'm bad at aiming my throws)). I made it to the necessary container, and was scouring around for supplies, when...I fell from too high a height, and even with his pseudo-jetpack, I managed to break his legs. So there I was, unable to sprint, barely able to jump, and having to listen to some really disturbing bone crunching sounds, all while trying to avoid electrified water. Seriously, games rarely make me cringe, but those broken bone sounds are bad. I mean, they're extremely well done, but also bad.

However! Through a lot of care, and some luck, I managed to find a skeletal repair kit, the supplies I needed, and I was able to complete the escape. It was a mess, and I only barely got through, but I did it, and it was great.

The problem with the escapes, or at least some of them, is that while the initial escape can have great moments like that, there are ways to negate all of the challenge. Joan's suggested method (though anyone can use it) is to escape on the shuttle. Getting to the shuttle the first time was easy enough, but once there, I realized Joan didn't know how to pilot it, so the main challenge became finding the person who did (their corpse, at least), taking their Neuromod (while having to spend a Neuromod point to unlock the pilot skill), and then make it back to the shuttle.

But then the next time I played as Joan, I realized she still had the pilot ability. So all I had to do was get to the shuttle and leave. Now, of course getting to the shuttle can have its own problems, especially if the power isn't working in that part of the station, but it made that method of escape fundamentally easy in a way it wasn't before. It became an expected part of my runs, rather than a challenge. Which was good in a way, because it sure helped when I got all five out in a single run. But that was a challenge I only had once, as opposed to something like the Mass Driver, where I need to get those supplies and make the last minute dash every time.

The Harvesters are basically big vacuum bots with menacing voices.
The Harvesters are basically big vacuum bots with menacing voices.

And I feel like this is as good a segue as I'm going to get to the thing that actually breaks Mooncrash. Now, I don't mean breaks as in it's no longer fun. I mean breaks in the video game sense, where it might be too useful. Fairly early in my runs, I unlocked a MULE Operator, which is a robot buddy I could use for extra inventory space. At first I didn't even remember to use it, but after a while I got into the habit of it, but then I noticed something. Any items I put in there with one character would stay in the MULE when I switched to another. The didn't stay after the simulation reset (which would definitely be overpowered), but it was enough.

Instead of feeling like I needed to be careful with what I took, so other characters would have things to find through the areas, I could horde everything I wanted, and right before I escaped, just put all the good stuff into the MULE for the next one. There was no reason to not just take every gun I found, because I could keep the good ones, and recycle the rest for crafting materials. Sure, Mooncrash added weapon degradation, but a good run order with Joan around the middle to repair the weapons meant they stayed in working order long enough to negate that problem.

That, and the ability to buy lots of things, like the cures for the various status ailments, or medkits between characters, and send them onward without having to re-buy them each time if they weren't used meant I was rarely in situations where I didn't have what I needed to deal with the traumas. There were still things that could go wrong, unexpected problems to deal with, or enemies that just got the better of me, but overall, it became a situation where I was gaming it to the point where it lost some of the fun.

I was even able to circumvent the mechanic that Mooncrash uses to prevent players from taking too long. Over the course of a run, a corruption meter fills, and each time it levels up, enemies become more prevalent, and more difficult. I believe once it maxes out after level 5, the simulation crashes, but I never let that happen. That was because one of the items in Mooncrash is a glowing hourglass that drains some of the meter. It can't be use to reduce the corruption level from, for example, level 2 back to level 1, but it can prevent level 2 from going up to level 3. There was one instance where the game had started the sound effects and whatnot for it leveling up, but I used an hourglass before it could finish, and I stalled that off.

Like all the other items you can find in game, it can be fabricated in game, or purchased between characters. Meaning that if you find enough materials in a run, or just spend enough points (and I had hundreds of thousands of points by the end (one of these hourglasses costs 2,500)), you could prevent the meter from ever filling. Usually I didn't exploit this until corruption level 3. At that point the enemies are still pretty manageable, and the meter fills slowly enough that it didn't have time to sneak up on me (it fills faster on the lower levels).

So, again in summary, the ability to transfer items between characters, and to basically permanently stall the corruption meter removes a lot of the difficulty from the game. Now, obviously you don't have to do any of that. But, like I was saying earlier, it's hard not to manipulate these systems after all these years of playing games.

Now, back to the good parts of Mooncrash: The story objectives. If my main fear about Mooncrash was that it being perma-death-y would be bad, my second fear was that it wouldn't have any story in it. And while it doesn't have as much story as main Prey, nor as good overall, there's definitely just enough here to scratch that itch. Since it's told between five characters, and dished out in a relatively slow manner, it's got a great feeling of piecing everything together. I'm not going to spoil any of it, but I like it. I do think Riley's story objective wasn't great, because it was more of a tutorial on how to use a thing (which to be fair, I hadn't realized on my own) than a story. But on the other hand, her story feels like it's attached to her specific escape, so it's still there.

This guy! Get his original voice back!
This guy! Get his original voice back!

My biggest story complaint is that the guy who voiced Alex Yu in main Prey (Benedict Wong) didn't return for Mooncrash. I know there's only a handful of lines compared to the main game, and the sound-alike is close enough that a lot of people probably wouldn't notice, especially if they haven't played the game in a year, but I found it disappointing. I guess he was too busy being in Infinity War, huh? As a side note, I checked his Wikipedia page during this, and apparently he was in a completely unrelated TV show named Prey? I've never heard of it before, and it was probably bad, but still a funny coincidence!

But now back to issues I had, and I'll try to be quick. The first, is with the technical side of Prey. Prey has always had tech issues, whether they were game breaking bugs at launch, PS4 specific input latency (that I waited until it was patched before I played), long load times on consoles, or just framerate in general, it's got issues. At this point if you have a good PC I'm sure it's fine, but I don't. While I think the framerate is probably less stuttery than it was before (but I don't know, all I know is I only notice it sometimes during hectic fights), and the load times are just as long, the game seems to be worse at loading textures in.

Or at the very least, I ran into a lot of instances, especially with my later runs when I was really booking it through the levels, where textures took a long time to load. To the point where it was reminding me of Unreal Engine games back in the early days of the 360, but worse. It doesn't make the game unplayable, and once they load it's not really a problem, but it's pretty annoying. I'd like to think that at this point in a console generation, for a DLC in a game that came out the year before, they'd have figured out a better way to get that all optimized.

But again, I'm not a game developer. I have no idea. Hopefully it'll get patched to make that better.

On the other hand, an issue that does, somewhat literally, make the game unplayable is, well, you can't keep playing it after finishing Mooncrash. At least not without starting a new save. See, there is a story above the simulation about the moon stuff in Mooncrash. And the objective in that story is for the character (Peter) to see the stories of each character in the simulation and (I think but I'm not sure) have at least one run where all five escape. Once this happens, well, I won't spoil what follows, but if you load the save after watching the credits, it loads you back in after the ending sequence begins, when you can't access the simulation any more.

In retrospect, what I should have done was download my save from the cloud so I could keep going, and just not ever do the story objective for that last character. But I didn't think of that until I was writing this out, and thus all I can do in Mooncrash now is start a new save. That would still be some fun, but losing characters unlocks, all my Neuromods, and progress toward the simulation being harder (certain things, like the power being out, don't show up at first) would be a bummer. Hopefully they patch it!

Anyway, Mooncrash is probably one of the best experiences I've had all year with a game. Like, if this had been a standalone game instead of a DLC for a game from last year, it would definitely be high on my top ten list for the end of the year. While I do think you really shouldn't play Mooncrash without having played Prey, and thus I understand the logic behind why it's DLC and not its own thing, also I wish it was its own game. If only so I could be lazy and not have to put my Prey disc in to play it. It's great, and if you have any interest at all in playing more Prey, and the permadeath doesn't scare you off, I can't recommend Mooncrash enough. Just, you know, play it on PC if you can. I try not to let technical problems get in the way of my fun, but when I was just starting Mooncrash, died in literally the second room, and had to sit through the long loading screens again... It was a bit much.

Also you can have a pet mimic with a fun hat. What else could you ask for?

My only complaint is that I can't pet the Pet Mimic.
My only complaint is that I can't pet the Pet Mimic.

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Moosey's Summer Catch Up!

In continuing this year's trend, it has been months since the last time I posted anything here, so here I am with a blog that is simultaneously too long, and yet covers too many games to go in depth enough on any one of them to be a good read! And I think it's only fitting that I start this with the most stellar of quality games that I've played in those last couple months.

For those who might want to skip past certain segments, this blog includes: Beyond: Two Souls, The Surge, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, Celeste, Metal Gear Survive (somehow, but not that much), Hyper Light Drifter, XCOM 2, Absolver, Destiny 2 expansions, and finally some very timely thoughts on E3 and games coming out in the rest of the year.

Beyond: Two Souls.

A lot has been said about David Cage, and the studio he works at, Quantic Dream. Especially lately. But I don't have anything to add to that, aside from the fact that I played this game when it was free on PlayStation Plus, I've managed to never pay for any of David Cage's games in my life, and that trend will most certainly continue as I find myself hoping Sony will stop bankrolling Cage's fiascoes and supporting that (allegedly (almost certainly)) toxic work environment.

But what about Beyond: Two Souls? It's a mess. Aside from the performances of the recognizable people like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe that were somehow tricked into being in this game, there's not really anything especially good in it. It's a game that at its best, is accidentally funny, but at its worst runs face first into hackneyed racial stereotypes, sexist tropes, generally nonsensical storytelling, and inconsistent game mechanics/illusions of choice.

Rather than try to analyze, or seriously criticize this game (because I have much better ones to dedicate this space to), I'm simply going to list some bullet points of the more absurd things I remember from the game. I guess I'll put it in a SPOILERS block, if you really care, but also don't play this game. It's really not worth your time unless you're like me, and enjoy things for their badness. Especially don't pay for it and support creeps like David Cage. Anyway, I digress.

  • During a flashback, Ellen Page's character (whose name I have already forgotten) is working for the CIA on a sneaking mission in Somalia (?), during which she helps a child soldier, but then ends up killing his father (maybe brother).

  • Related: I played the PS4 version, which has two options for the order in which the events take place. I think it's telling that the "Remixed Mode" places events in chronological order. I opted for the original order, and that only made it feel that much more nonsensical.

  • At another point she is hiding from the law amongst some homeless people, and ends up helping a homeless woman give birth.

  • Some time after that, while still on the run, she encounters a family living on a ranch in the desert. They're Indigenous People, of the Diné. At first I cringed, expecting it to get really racist because of David Cage's writing, but briefly, ever so briefly, I thought that maybe, maybe it wouldn't. At the very least, since it seemed like every character in the game was face-scanned from the person playing the character, they had cast actual Indigenous People to play the roles. And again, for a few minutes, I thought it might not get racist.

  • Then ancient evil spirits attacked the house in the middle of the night, and that arc of the game became a quest to find some ancient relics and seal the evil spirits away.

  • Not only are Ellen Page and her ghost friend the ones that help drive off the evil spirits, Ellen also manages to get the old grandma who hasn't spoken in decades to speak again.

  • The game features both a totally unnecessary shower scene (that Ellen Page almost sued over the studio rendering her entire body despite the game not showing anything beyond what you could see in a shampoo commercial), and (at least one) part where some guys try to sexually assault Ellen Page (Ellen, if you're reading this (I know, a high likelihood), I'm sorry I keep just referring to your character with your real name). Because David Cage.

  • Speaking of feeling sorry for Ellen Page, the game tries repeatedly to force hetero relationships onto her character, and while I can't remember if Beyond released before she came out or not, I definitely noticed the game's distinct lack of any queer romance options. That, and despite going against the romance options at every turn (including an actually intentionally funny bit where you can use the ghost to ruin a date), I think there's some wonky dialog in there that just assumes you had gone with the romance anyway.

  • At some point Ellen Page ends up working with the CIA again, and goes on a mission to stop some unnamed nation (probably supposed to be China or North Korea) from unleashing more evil spirits onto the world through an underwater ghost portal.

  • Then Willem Dafoe captures his (dead) wife and daughter in some sort of ghost capture machine, and tries to destroy the containment thing around the big ghost portal. His goal being to let all the ghosts free from the ghost realm, even though that would probably destroy the planet.

  • Also Ellen Page's ghost friend ends up being her dead twin brother, who died in childbirth and turned into a ghost forever tethered to her.

  • The game ends with a cliffhanger leaving it open for a sequel with what looks like a post apocalyptic ghost world, but we all know that game's never going to happen.

Also there was horse riding in one bit.
Also there was horse riding in one bit.

All that said, I think I still liked it more than Heavy Rain. No, I'm not going to replay Heavy Rain now that it's free on PS+ too. I redeemed it. I have access to it. But I'm not putting myself through that again. I don't care if I enjoyed it at the time, there were a lot of things I used to enjoy that I don't now. That game doesn't even have the benefit of decent acting like Beyond does. Conversely, it does have laughable acting, so...

Thankfully I have other things to play instead.

The Surge.

Remember The Surge? It came out last year, and was the second "Souls-Like" game from Deck 13, the first being Lords of the Fallen. That game was okay, but between technical issues, and it just feeling like the most generic of generic fantasy games, there wasn't really anything memorable or interesting about it. But The Surge, on the other hand, is pretty good!

If you're wondering how I came about playing The Surge, the answer is that I happened to be online (which is spotty given my usual routine of being constantly online all day every day) one day when the complete edition with the DLC was accidentally made free on PS+. But, unlike Beyond, which is not a game worth spending money on, I actually feel a little bad about not having spent money on The Surge.

Anyway, The Surge's spin on the Souls-Like formula is that it's set in and around this future factory, where all the workers have exoskeleton things (painfully) bolted into their regular skeletons, and it is onto this "EXO" that main character Warren (who is about as interesting as the name Warren would suggest, but at least I remembered it) equips new weapons and armor. And to get those weapons and armor, Warren doesn't just find them lying around, he needs to get them from enemies. He does this by physically cutting them off.

Targeting specific body parts to weaken them, and then cutting them off to get the armor (or blueprints to craft them and the parts with which to craft) is an extremely "this only makes sense in a video game" sentence, but fun in practice. There's also armored and unarmored parts on enemies, meaning there's strategy in deciding whether to focus on trying to get specific parts for crafting, or focusing on areas that do more damage to defeat the enemy quicker. It can get pretty tough too, so there's good reason to want to focus just on doing damage. On the flipside, I ended up using early game armor through the whole game, and just upgrading it. So far as I can tell, everything can be upgraded the same number of times, so early game stuff is presumably as useful as anything found late game. I used a fire sword that I think was from a DLC pack through most of the game too.

And like any good Souls-Like, the areas are labyrinthine in design, featuring a myriad of shortcuts, little hidey-holes with things to find, and plenty of tough enemies to fight. There are loading screens between areas (and even inside the final one at the end), but the level design itself is generally pretty good. The very final area got to be a bit much, but otherwise I had a lot of fun through the game.

I will say that the game doesn't have as much variety to the enemy designs as it probably should. There's a few robots/flying drones, but aside from those (and the bosses), all the enemies are just other people with EXOs. Which is not to say they all fight the same, because they often fight differently, but at least visually, they blur together. And that happens really early in the game, too.

The DLC is very good.
The DLC is very good.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the DLC area is set in a corporate theme park, which is extremely good. The setting is extremely good, at least, the DLC itself I would say is pretty good, like the rest of the game. Just in terms of level design, that sort of stuff.

And it integrates itself into the main story in ways that are both pretty good, but also kinda not so good? It's weird because there's a train station in the second area of the game that leads to the DLC, and playing it around then (like I did) fits in with the story really well, but then that's only the first half of the DLC. After a while, the NPC in the DLC says to go find a person back in the main game, who was the next story thing I was after anyway. He made it sound like finding and talking to her would also be tied into the DLC somehow, but there wasn't any mention of any of that until quite a bit after that section, when the DLC guy called up Warren again. It just felt weird, and like something might have broken at first. But I found some other people online who had also been confused by that, so I guess it was just an oversight in the DLC design.

That said, it was still a really good piece of DLC, and fighting animatronic candy bars and evil robot cats in a theme park built by a corporation to keep its employees from going on actual vacations was good. Speaking of, the game doesn't really do anything revolutionary or new with this stuff, but I do think their dystopic corporate future where climate change is ravaging the Earth is pretty well realized, and the satiric stuff around it (like said theme park, and the occasional "motivational videos" that play through the game) are well done too. At least compared to the previous game they made.

Conversely, I do think the game had a big missed opportunity story wise. When the game opens, Warren is taking a train to the big corporation for his first day on the job. During the ride, the camera is positioned behind Warren's seat, and all you can see are his head and shoulders. After a minute or two, the train comes to a halt, and it's revealed that Warren is in a wheelchair. Later on there's stuff in the game that indicates the corporation was specifically recruiting people with disabilities like that, the idea being that their EXOs could help them regain full mobility.

The problem is that as soon as Warren gets the EXO, everything goes wrong, and the game proper begins. Zero time is spent on Warren adjusting to the EXO, being able to walk again, or really anything like that at all. It just has him able to perfectly walk, run, and dodge like a pro. I'm not saying the game needed to have 45 minutes of him slowly learning how to use it, but unless I missed something, there isn't even any dialog about it. It really felt like wheelchair bit existed only for that intro, and then was promptly forgotten.

Which isn't completely true, because in the DLC there are some audio logs from Warren and his girlfriend that range from one time when they visited the corporate theme park for fun, to being about Warren wanting a job at the theme park so he could be able to walk again. Now, I don't understand why they were strewn about the theme park, but I'm pretty sure that's still the only real reference to the wheelchair past the intro.

Aside from that, I thought The Surge was pretty good. Good enough that I'm kinda looking forward to The Surge 2. The Surge was a big enough improvement over Lords of the Fallen in basically every single way that I'm legitimately excited. If they can keep improving their work that much from game to game, I think it could be something really great. Maybe just get a more interesting protagonist next time. Nothing against Warren, he's just, you know, a generic video game protagonist.

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The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.

Part of me wants to be snarky and say, "More like the MEDIOCRE Adventures of Captain Spirit," but that wouldn't be true to how I actually felt about it. This is a harder one to exactly put my finger on. This isn't like Beyond, where it was a bad game that I got enjoyment out of laughing at how ridiculous it was. But it's also not like The Surge, where I just had a good time with it. I didn't enjoy Captain Spirit, but not because it's bad.

I'm just going to activate SPOILER MODE now, because it's a short game.

So, Captain Spirit is about a kid living with an abusive parent. And, to be clear, I didn't have abusive parents. But when I play game with dialog choices, and those sorts of things, I almost always want to explore every option I can. Typically the only reason I wouldn't would be if the game's writing/story was bad enough that I just didn't care. And I have pretty low standards (so long as it isn't anything offensive), so it takes a lot to achieve that.

Captain Spirit isn't that. I ended up in situations where I didn't want to do certain things because I was worried something bad was going to happen to the kid. I was worried that if I interrupted the dad's game, he was going to hit the kid, or something. There's options to go rummaging around in the father's room, and I was getting upset at the kid for not covering his tracks better (or the game not giving the options to do that), because I was worried something was going to happen if the dad found out.

The game made me actively worried about this kid's wellbeing, and it did that with only a handful of lines of dialog between the two characters.

There's plenty of side things to do, but ultimately it's a short game, and it ends when the kid has to wake the dad up. And I just knew, just knew something bad was going to happen. It wasn't as bad as I worried, but still. I don't know how to feel about this game. Clearly it was effective at getting a reaction out of me. I feel bad for the kid! But did I like it? Not really! I really don't know that I have it in me to play a whole game about this kid, and living with this dad.

Which brings me to the fact that Captain Spirit is basically just a demo for Life is Strange 2. Life is Strange certainly dealt in heavy subjects, arguably heavier than child abuse (such as suicide), but those weren't the upfront things that game was sold on. Life is Strange was sold as a teen drama with time travel, which is what it mostly was. While I do think it's probably good that they're going in a different direction with this, rather than more teen drama, I think I've had enough already. Especially since Life is Strange seems content to never let the main characters be happy in the end. If they don't let the teen lesbians be happy, they're probably not going to let the kid be happy either.

I dunno. I'm sure plenty of people will play Captain Spirit/Life is Strange 2, and go on and on about how important of a game it is for dealing in the issues it does. Maybe I'll watch a playthrough online. But even then, probably not.

Also, final thing: Captain Spirit (and surely also Life is Strange 2) should probably have some more apparent content warnings on it. I could absolutely see someone watching the E3 trailer, thinking this was just some cutesy thing, then playing it and having it do a lot of harm because they lived through similar experiences, or anything of the sort. Captain Spirit doesn't even have an ESRB rating, for crying out loud! I didn't realize they could get away with that for "demos." That, or the PSN page for the game hasn't been updated, at least. Anyway, you get my point.

Celeste.

Here's my stats screen from when I finished the story, so you can see how good I was at dying.
Here's my stats screen from when I finished the story, so you can see how good I was at dying.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, here's a game that deals in a serious subject that I quite enjoyed. Though, I feel like anxiety is a more common, less tricky thing to handle in a game, but that probably has more to do with my having anxiety troubles of my own, and thus feeling more confident on how to actually discuss that (this game does a pretty decent job of it!). Because while the story in Celeste is good, the real star is the platforming, which is great! Honestly, I don't really have that much to actually say about Celeste, other than it's a great platformer that I highly recommend playing. I know there's a lot of options out there for pixel art indie platformers, but Celeste is honestly one of the best ones of those that I've played. Maybe the best. Maybe.

The main path through most of the levels is doable enough that I think just about anyone could get through it (especially with the accessibility stuff to make it easier (though those options are a bit more hidden than they should be)), and there's plenty of collectibles and harder versions of levels to provide that "Indie Precision Platformer Challenge." Speaking of, I should get back to those B-Sides eventually. I got through, I think five or six of them? I remember the last one I tried had something up front that was immediately hard enough that I just felt like taking a break, and that was several weeks ago.

The music's real good too.

Metal Gear Survive?

Here's the character I made.
Here's the character I made.

Okay, I should say, I only played a free trial of this, one weekend when that was a thing. I don't really know how far I got into it, but it was...better than I expected? I...sort of enjoyed it? I mean, it wasn't great, and I heard it gets hard later on, which would probably sap a lot of said enjoyment out, but what I played...Well, if it got cheap enough, I might...

Hyper Light Drifter.

I really should have played this game sooner. I'm not sure why I didn't just buy it when it was new, but I do know that I got into this state of mind where I kept not buying it because I was waiting for the price to go down. Even though I was sure I wouldn't feel bad about paying the full price ($20), I just didn't want to pay that, and then have it go on sale the next week. You know? It's a bad line of thinking, I know, but it kept me from buying the game for a full two years.

Anyway, it's a great game. It's great at evoking a very specific sort of melancholic mood with its world, the music, etc. But it's also a really good action game, with challenging but fun combat. There's one ability that sends enemies backward, and it can be used to bonk them into others, or walls, and it does damage to boot. One of my favorite things that not enough games do is have the ability to knock enemies into each other, and have that be an effective strategy. Mirror's Edge Catalyst did it, and that was my favorite thing about the combat there. MGSV sort of does it with the CQC combos, but that's a lot more scripted. Anyway, Hyper Light Drifter's combat is fun beyond knocking enemies into each other, but that's a thing I like.

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I feel like I've seen some people compare this game to A Link to the Past, but that's not a fair comparison because Hyper Light Drifter has fun combat, and reasonable checkpoints that didn't lead to me needing to save state my way through the game out of obligation because it's "the best Zelda game" and I felt a need to finish it. No, you're venting about how people's nostalgia is blinding them.

I didn't like the map, though. It doesn't show exactly where the Drifter is in any area, just a generic icon that it changes when you pass through loading spots. It made trying to find hidden collectibles and the like a lot more of a chore than it should have been. Which isn't to say I didn't still enjoy combing the world for hidden stuff, but it would have been nice if the game did a better job of A. Letting me know exactly where I was, and B. Letting me know if I had already gotten everything from an area.

It's worth playing, if you haven't yet! It definitely took me a bit to get into a groove with it. If you do play it, make sure the first upgrade you get is the Chain Dash. That's the thing that makes the whole game work. At least mechanically, the ambiance of the world works on its own.

Oh, and it has a button dedicated to sitting down, which is extremely relatable.

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XCOM 2.

Long time readers with memories that are too good for their own good might remember that, years ago, I played the previous XCOM game when that was on PS+. Well, it's happened again, only this time, I had a lot more fun.

Part of that is because I went into XCOM 2 knowing it was going to be hard, so I just set the difficulty to the easiest setting (Rookie) from the start. Did playing on easy let me blow through most of the missions? Yes. Did I miss out on the "true" XCOM experience by not having soldiers dying left and right? Probably. But did I enjoy my time with this game and end up happy I played it? Absolutely.

Playing on easy isn't the only reason I enjoyed this a lot more than the previous XCOM. It also helps that 2 just seems like a better game. It felt like it has better enemy variety to me, though maybe still not quite enough for as long as the game is. And sadly, I didn't play with the Chosen expansion, because $40 felt like a lot to pay when I was only giving the game a shot because it was free. I think it did go on sale since then, but it's way too soon for me to start a new campaign. Never mind that with the technical issues already present in the game, I really doubt that tacking that much more on helps.

My best squad with their very good procedural nicknames. Sadly I could only fit six in a squad, because I have another healer specialist who was also extremely good throughout the campaign.
My best squad with their very good procedural nicknames. Sadly I could only fit six in a squad, because I have another healer specialist who was also extremely good throughout the campaign.

It also has much better character customization, including the ability to change soldiers' gender, so I no longer had squads of all dudes except for one lady, which is what I remember happening in XCOM 1. So instead I ended up playing most of the game with squads of either all ladies, or just one dude. Which I thought was funny, though by the end I ended up with two dudes on my A Team.

And beyond the cosmetic customization, I like the classes better in this game. The rangers, with their swords are really fun, especially with some of the later abilities. The specialists, with their gremlin drones, that can focus on hacking or healing, are incredibly useful! I focused more on healing for most of the game, because even on easy I still wound up in situations with people almost dead a lot, but the hacking stuff later on is extremely good too. The grenadiers and snipers are a bit more straightforward, but also super useful. I've heard there are also psionic characters, but I never built the lab to get them, because I was so focused on other stuff in the early game that I didn't have the resources, and by the end game, it didn't feel like it'd be worth it. Or, at least that I wouldn't have the time to level up any psychic characters enough to be useful.

While it's still nothing exceptional, I do think this game is a step up in terms of story and voice acting, at least from XCOM 1. That helps, even if it is spread a bit thin through the length of the campaign. Which is probably my biggest complaint with the game. I'm sure a more optimal playthrough would have gotten through the campaign faster, but I was ready for the game to be over a fair amount before it actually was.

I know I was saying I missed out on the "true" experience by playing on easy, but I did still come fairly close to game over-ing. The thing that XCOM is working against in the game is this Avatar Project meter, that goes up or down depending on if the aliens are making progress, or if XCOM is destroying facilities/taking other actions to stall them. I wasn't too worried at first, but then it jumped up really high, so I spent a few hours of the game really working to bring it down, and it stayed around the halfway point for a good chunk of the campaign. Then I got complacent, and spent more of my time just getting supplies so I could upgrade things. Before I knew it, not only was the meter high, it filled! I was afraid that was the end, but then the game gave me 24 days to do anything at all to bring it down, and I was able to destroy a facility before it was too late.

After that, I was able to keep it under control, and I refocused on trying to finish the story stuff, so I could complete the game. Which I did! The final mission has a fun gimmick centered around a goofy pun, which I quite liked.

Another thing that helped me enjoy this game more than XCOM 1 was that I approached it with a different mindset. After months of watching Austin Walker and Rob Zacny stream XCOM 2 (with the Chosen expansion), and specifically seeing Austin roleplay characters instead of just picking the abilities that seemed to be the most useful, I decided to roleplay mine too. Maybe not to the extent that I headcanoned one to be the son of Odin, but more than I usually do in games with procedurally created characters.

For example, in the first mission after the tutorial, one of my soldiers got mind-controlled. Which, I gotta say, the game (set to the EASIEST DIFFICULTY) mind controlling one of my characters immediately after the tutorial seemed really rough at first. But, as I was trying to take out the Sectoid mind controlling my character, I realized that my ranger, Jane (later nicknamed "Crash") Kelly, had a better chance of taking it out with her sword than her gun. So, she went in with the sword, and the alien was slain in a single hit (I forget if it had already been damaged or if it was a crit (being on easy helped)). So, even though at first glance the stealthier ranger abilities seemed more useful, there was no way "Crash" (as I came to know her) would be anything but a Blademaster. I did pick one of the non-Blademaster abilities at some point, because being able to move after a kill seemed more in character than the auto-sword attack if an enemy gets to close, but again, that's just roleplaying.

It's cool that the title screen incorporates custom characters.
It's cool that the title screen incorporates custom characters.

I didn't run into too many moments worth mentioning like that through the campaign, but I had enough that I was able to project my headcanon onto the characters, which I never did with the previous XCOM. It was fun! And, I did think it was perhaps fitting that on the very final mission of the campaign, "Crash" herself got mind-controlled, and the rest of the squad came together to rescue her before anything bad happened.

All that said, the game does have issues, both technical, and design wise. While I don't think this PS4 port is as bad as I remember the PS3 port of XCOM 1 being, it's still not great. Load times are long throughout the game (I timed one once, and it was over a minute and forty seconds), and the framerate gets bogged down too, but mostly in the more urban levels, with buildings and stuff around. That, and sometimes there are long, awkward pauses before the aliens take their moves, and just weird little things like that throughout the game. None of it enough to ruin it (though it did crash on me once), but enough to probably dissuade me from ever buying that DLC and playing it again.

And the design issues. I went back and re-read what I wrote five years ago about the previous XCOM (but don't go do that, my writing was worse then), and it turns out, I still have the same issues with how far soldiers can see. It's too short! And on top of that, XCOM 2 introduces a concealment mechanic, which is neat, but flawed. The idea being that on most (but not all) missions, the squad is sent in stealthily. The aliens don't know they're coming, and that can be used to set up ambushes, which is rad.

There's a couple issues, though. The extremely small distance that most soldiers can see leads to situations where I accidentally moved just one square too far, and got seen by some aliens that were standing right out in the open, but I had no idea they were there. That then breaks concealment for the whole squad (unless specific soldiers have an ability that doesn't break it for them). I get that the developers don't want players knowing exactly where everything is at all times, but I still think this is too much.

It also leads to bizarre situations where I was able to game it to make for much easier fights. For example, while still in concealment, I'd come across an enemy squad, and while in the process of either setting up an ambush, or trying to skirt around them, I'd run into another group, usually of tougher enemies. Now, if I started a fight right then, I'd deal with both groups. But if I just moved the one soldier who saw the other group back, sometimes even just back a single square, then that other group would be shrouded in the fog of war, and I could deal with the first group of enemies alone. Of course if the other enemy group was patrolling, they could happen upon my squad during the fight, but more often than not, when this happened, I just managed to deal with the enemies separately, even when realistically there couldn't have been more than a hundred feet between them.

And then there's the nature of concealment itself, which doesn't adhere to what I usually think of when it comes to video game stealth logic. See, in most stealth games, if you get seen, but then deal with whoever saw you (or escape), you then go back into stealth, and the enemies don't know where you are. Certain soldiers (rangers, mostly) can get the ability to re-enter concealment (once per mission), but otherwise, once you've been spotted, stealth is over for the mission. Now, all I'm saying is that if I can game enemy AI by staying back a few feet, I should be able to re-enter concealment, because clearly the enemies don't know my squad is there until they come into sight. It's not like the aliens send out an alert to every enemy in the mission, because if they did, then my other trick wouldn't work. Maybe the whole squad being able to go back into concealment would be overpowered, but the way it is in the game, it just doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense.

But hey, it's a game! And it didn't ruin the game for me. Just something that I took a bit of an issue with. Overall, I enjoyed my time with XCOM 2. To the point where I've kinda got this itch to play more tactical games. Weirdly enough, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the first one that comes to mind. Especially with that game having more bespoke levels, and not having the overarching thing to manage in between missions like XCOM 2 does. Something a little more laid back in that regard sounds appealing to me. Plus, it has Luigi.

Too bad I don't have a Switch. Anyone want to give me $300? (I'm joking (sadly)).

Absolver.

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This is another weird one to wrap my head around. I'm pretty sure I finished the game, but the fact that I can't quite be sure is testament to that enough. Absolver is a game that I spent hours wandering around, feeling lost almost the entire time, during which I beat up a bunch of people, and eventually fought what seemed to be a final boss. Then an NPC gave me a cloak, told me to keep training, and the game put me back at the start.

Is there more to the game than that? I'm really confused. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it! I think the combat is a lot of fun. I'm sure I didn't even scratch the surface with the amount of customization of the attacks, but I enjoyed it enough that I'd want to do more of it. But just wandering around the same areas I already wandered feels...weird.

There's also some sort of currency I never got any of through the game? And a shop that sells stuff and I never had anything to buy the stuff with, and I'm just so confused.

By default it's also an online game, with other players just wandering around as well. I think I played about ten minutes of the game online total, in two separate instances. In both cases, the only other players I encountered just kept attacking me, so I put the game in offline mode. This game was hard enough without having other players to deal with.

It's a weird game. But at least the punching and kicking are good. Music is too.

Destiny 2 Expansions.

Well, it happened. The Expansion Pass was on sale, and I bought it. Frankly, I don't think either of the current expansions (Curse of Osiris and Warmind) are great. Warmind is okay, but Curse of Osiris is pretty bad, overall. So, getting both for the price of one was, well, not the worst thing I've ever bought.

The saving grace of this, and the reason I bought it in the first place, is that it's got me playing Destiny 2 with my friends again. And while I suspect me saying this publicly will result in jinxing myself, we've gotten into a good groove of playing it one afternoon each week, and it's fun. Just enough to goof around and slowly make the numbers go higher, but not enough to burn out on the game. That's about all I have to say on the current state of Destiny 2, which brings me to...

Very Timely Thoughts on E3.

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I didn't get around to posting a bunch of goofy predictions about E3 like I kinda of wanted to, which is probably just as well because even the serious ones would've been wrong. Still no F-Zero, which didn't surprise me, but left me sad nonetheless. Neither was there Splinter Cell, which after all the leaks, did surprise me. Maybe next year?

But in terms of good surprises, Cyberpunk 2077 is definitely the thing I left (figuratively, I wasn't there, obviously) E3 most excited about. That was definitely the slickest, best trailer, and everything I heard about the demo shown privately sounds rad as heck. Though, as much as I love The Witcher II & III, I would be lying if I wasn't just a smidge leery about some aspects of Cyberpunk 2077.

Specifically, as good as the writing can be (and often is) in The Witcher III, that game isn't always great with women. I had a friend (who I haven't spoken with in a long time, and if you're reading this, we should catch up!) who once described it well. If I recall, she said there's only one woman in the game who is A. Not reliant on Geralt to get everything done for her, and B. Not sexualized in her design (also that woman isn't Ciri, whose shirt is weirdly unbuttoned in the middle). Given things like, the demo they showed involving rescuing a naked woman, and cyberpunk (lower case c, as in the genre) as a whole having a lot of issues around gender stuff, I dunno. Hopefully the game won't play into sexist tropes too much. Or at all.

And then, you know me, being queer and all that, it's a bit disheartening that at least at the moment, the character creator is very binary in terms of gender choice. Maybe by the time the game is out in the year 2077, it'll have more options for that stuff, and the game will have plenty of well written queer characters in general. Because, if you assume that in the real world these sorts of things are only going to get more accepted and commonplace (they should!) as time goes on, then by the 2070s I'd hope that sort of stuff would be so common that no one would bat an eyelash at it.

But I'll be honest, I'm not setting my expectations too high. I don't want to end up disappointed by an otherwise cool game because I let myself expect too much from cis-het developers. Which is sadly might also be true of the real world.

Conversely, a game I'm excited for specifically because of who is involved in the writing, is Dying Light 2. That Chris Avellone guy has written on some games I really like (New Vegas and 2017 Prey come to mind), so that alone has my interest. That, and Dying Light being a mostly fun game, outside of its bad story. Was not expecting to leave E3 with that one of the games I'm most excited for.

And then there's Death Stranding. I guess, I really had three different reactions to three aspects of the trailer. The first is that I was really into the "walking simulator" part of it. There is something that I love about games that are willing to put you in really big, wide open spaces with nothing in them. Very few games do it (Shadow of the Colossus being the best example), and different though it obviously is, that part of the trailer had that same vibe to it. And I am absolutely down for traversing those environments.

The second reaction was to the story aspect, which... I dunno. That game appears strange in a lot of ways, which I'm fine with, I wouldn't expect anything else from Kojima Productions. But it's not really the sort of strange that I liked about MGS. That was a franchise that was simultaneously dedicated to a certain level of "military realism," Cold War-esque (and sometimes literally Cold War era) spying, and just complete nonsense. That juxtaposition of the attempt at realism while also being dedicated to weirdness is one of the things I love most about MGS. One minute someone is talking about the dangers of lost nuclear waste, and the next he's breaking the fourth wall about the back of the case the game came in. Death Stranding, on the other hand, just seems like a weird fever dream, and I worry that Kojima's need to cast friends and women he has crushes on will get in the way of whatever story they're trying to tell.

The third is to the, I guess, stealth-horror part at the very end of the trailer. Now, you know me, I love stealth games. I have very specifically loved the stealth games that Kojima and crew have worked on over the years. But what I saw in that trailer, of Norman Reedus crouch walking around ghosts out in the open while covering his mouth... Let's just say I hope that's really, really early stuff, and the final game will have a lot more than that going on. I'm fine with stealth in survival horror style games, when it's done well. That's why I liked The Evil Within 2 so much last year. But when it's done wrong, it can really drag down a game, and I hope that doesn't end up being the case with Death Stranding.

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There's a variety of other games in the coming years that I got excited for, but not really enough to say anything about. In terms of closer releases, I'm still so excited for Spider-Man. Between the MCU finally making consistently good movies with Spider-Man (well, at least Civil War and Homecoming, I have some issues with Infinity War), this game, and the Multiverse animated movie coming this year (featuring Nic Cage as Noir Spider-Man!!!), it's never been a better time to be a Spider-Man fan. Spider-Fan.

That, and finally being able to play an Assassin's Creed game as an easily flustered lesbian are what I'm excited for this year.

Actually, that's not quite true, because the Destiny 2 Forsaken Expansion looks really good! Thus completing the Destiny cycle of, "Game releases, leaves a lot of people disappointed, then the first expansion is bad, the second is better but still not great, and finally the expansion a full year after release makes the game into the thing people wanted from the start." It's coming full circle. If only it wasn't the same week as Spider-Man. Capitalism is bad.

Also, I'm predicting here and now that either Cayde isn't actually dead, or they find a way to bring him back by the end of the expansion.

Oh, and that DLC for Prey. I should play that. It looks neat, aside from the perma-death-y stuff.

Okay, I think I've gone and rambled on long enough. Sorry I haven't been keeping up with posting stuff here, but it is what it is. Hopefully I can muster up something to write about at least Spider-Man once that's out. We'll see!

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Yakuza 6: A Frustrating Finale.

I know I usually try to be coy, or come up with clever names for these, but I figured I would just get to the point with this one. Especially after seeing so much praise for 6 (if anyone has a link to some actual criticism of the game (not just 4/5 reviews or fluff on "how good a dad" Kiryu is), let me know because I haven't seen any), I found myself profoundly disappointed. Especially because this is what the developers are claiming is the final (new) game starring the Dragon of Dojima himself, Kazuma Kiryu.

And to be clear, this will have some spoilers for both the end of Yakuza 5, and some stuff from the early parts of Yakuza 6. Then, later on there's spoilers for the end of the game, and that will be in a spoiler thing. But I figure if you are into these games enough to worry about spoilers, you've probably already played/are playing 6. That said, as disappointed as I am in this game, if you are a longtime fan of the series and haven't played yet, probably just stop reading here and go play the game yourself. I feel like I'm an outlier in my take on the game (though I'm baffled about the people who loved it), so I don't know.

At least the cats are cute.
At least the cats are cute.

Yakuza 6 picks up right where Yakuza 5 left off. Kiryu is badly wounded from the final boss of that game, Haruka had just announced her retirement from being an idol (something I strongly criticized a couple years ago), and the Tojo Clan is in disarray. After a short recap of that stuff (and to be fair, the game technically starts with a tutorial fight set later on, but then flashes back to that), the story really begins with Kiryu in the hospital, and making the first questionable decision of the game.

When faced with the choice between "hire a good lawyer" and "go to prison to take the fall for the Yakuza clan he hasn't been a part of for years," he decides that even though he runs an orphanage without the help of any other adults, he would be better off in prison. The idea being that otherwise he'd draw too much attention to the orphanage. And while I guess there is something resembling a logic to it, and he had already been letting the orphans run the place themselves in 5, at least in that game Kiryu had been sending them money to run the place. I'm sure Japanese prisons are different from US ones in a great deal of ways, but I'm pretty confident there wouldn't have been a way for Kiryu to keep funding the orphanage. And even beyond all that, it's hard for me to look at a decision like that and think anything other than Kiryu is just trying to hide from his problems until they blow over.

Haruka, meanwhile, discovers that even though she abandoned her dream to spend more time with her fellow orphans, the media was still keen on assassinating her character, so she comes to the same conclusion as Kiryu, and runs away, though at least not to prison. And being the oldest of the bunch, that meant the orphanage was run by no one but young teens for the three years Kiryu was in prison.

This is when it gets to the thing that actually ruins Yakuza 6 for me. Upon getting out of prison, Kiryu returns to the orphanage to find everything in order (I guess letting orphans run it wasn't so bad after all), except that Haruka is missing. So, Kiryu goes to the only place in Japan that anyone ever goes in this series, which is that one tiny square of Tokyo called Kamurocho. Here is where he learns that Haruka was hit by a car, is now in a coma, and was a clutching a baby when the car hit. And Kiryu embarks on his adventure to figure out who hit her, why she was hit, and who the father of the baby is.

And I hate it. I already hated that in Yakuza 5, a game explicitly about following one's dreams, Haruka's entire arc was to give up on her dream because like most women in this series, she felt most at home at, well, home. Now that she's old enough to be an adult, that's come full circle and she's become a mom. But not even an actual mom, just a mom plot device to force Kiryu to have to take care of a baby, which only amounts to having to repeat a bad minigame to calm the baby while running around a small town looking for milk.

It's especially frustrating that after seeing nothing but praise for this game, and seeing people (rightfully) criticize God of War for having the wife be dead, and never directly seen or heard from, that I haven't seen a single person complain about how Haruka is in a coma for the vast majority of this game. Yes, I realize it's not the same thing because Haruka does appear (brief though it is) at the start, and eventually wake up. And even when she does wake up, it's not like she suddenly gains a vast amount of agency in the story. She still exists just to be something the men fight over. But between that, and the story in general, I just feel like I played a different Yakuza 6 from the one I've seen people talk about.

Nothing in this game's story did anything for me. The closest I got to really enjoying it was seeing some of the antics of what has to be the most slapdash, half-assed Yakuza family in history. Even that didn't last, because they had to get involved in the quest to find Haruto's (the baby) real father (the reveal of who it is I saw coming a mile away, even if I preferred my original prediction that the baby wasn't actually Haruka's). To be honest, I liked them better when they were just comic relief, and not a serious part of the story.

But for real, it felt like it wasn't until I was over halfway into the story that it started to pick up at all, and even when it did, I just couldn't bring myself to care. It's just the same sneaky back-stabbing politicking between criminal syndicates that the series always has, but without a memorable cast to propel the action along. The game tries to make a big deal out of the events taking place, and I'm sure some of them (like 'The "Secret" of Onomichi,' a late game McGuffin) are more meaningful for the Japanese audience the game was written for. But again, when the new characters don't feel like they're worth caring about, I couldn't bring myself to get invested in the plot.

I can never get enough of the giant cones.
I can never get enough of the giant cones.

Most of my favorite characters from the previous games are nowhere to be seen, outside of brief appearances. Majima, Saejima, even Daigo might as well not even be in the game, for how little they are. Even Akiyama, who shows up a few times, has far less screen time than the new characters, who just...aren't great. Outside of those aforementioned knuckleheads, the new characters aren't likable at all. They're not even villainous or interesting enough to be the "good" kind of unlikable.

Even Kiryu just feels like he's Kiryu doing the same Kiryu thing he has been doing for the last few games, outside of 0. When he was one of four or five playable characters, that was fine because he didn't need to carry an entire game on his own. But that shtick just doesn't cut it anymore. Honestly, 6 has helped me realize that Kiryu doesn't really have that much depth as a character. He's just this generic stalwart of what's right, and he just wants to help his family, which is fine, but...boring. At least in 0 he had actual character growth, where he went from just another Yakuza into the Dragon.

But back to Haruka, and how this game really just continues to treat women the way the series pretty much always has. They're not active players in the story so much as just plot devices for the men to care (or not care) about. Haruka is in her coma, and Kiyomi (the one other woman relevant to the story) is there to babysit Haruto while Kiryu is out beating up people. Oh, and don't forget about Kiyomi's tragic back story (spoilers, I guess) about her abusive husband (who is vying for control of the Tojo Clan) who she had to run away from, and in the process abandoned her actual child to life with him. And also don't forget that she basically just stops showing up in the story once that back story is revealed, because women have no place in this series if they can't be either a McGuffin, or have some tragedy to either take part in, or relay to the men. SPOILERS: When she does show up again, it's only because she's been kidnapped, used to force the men to fight each other, then "killed" (of course she was fine) to again, just get the men riled up.

(In retrospect, while I loved 0 last year, thinking about this is making me rethink Makoto's role in that game's story, and I'm suddenly finding a lot of similar issues I wish I'd thought more about back then.)

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that just like (what feels like) every other game in the series, trans women exist only to be the punchline of a "joke." Though at least this time the woman was correctly gendered, and there wasn't any violence involved. But Kiryu's visible discomfort at being near a trans woman was still played for "laughs," as I'm sure the physical design of the character was (you can surely imagine how this series would represent a trans woman stereotype without me going into details). Of course that's all assuming this was the only LGBT related "joke" in the game, and there wasn't anything else I missed, which is...possible.

So, I've complained about as much as I can without getting into SPOILERS for the ending, so let this be your warning.

Reminiscing of a better time, and a better game, in karaoke. Miss you, Nishiki.
Reminiscing of a better time, and a better game, in karaoke. Miss you, Nishiki.

In the end, Kiryu and his cohorts are in a big brawl against the bad guys (a brawl that felt pretty tame compared to the ending of 0), and even though Kiryu wins the fight, he still ends up getting shot several times, but all in the gut. You know, the sort of thing that in real life would probably mean someone was dead, but in this series, did not seem like enough to kill the Dragon of Dojima (never mind that he could take more shots like that in game play). But the game still makes a big deal out of him seeming like he's dying, and the people around (including Haruka, who once she woke up really just serves as a damsel in distress for this final scene) get in close, trying to help, or at least hear his final words. And this is where I started to get actually mad at the game.

"Yuta... and Haruto... Make them... happy."

Those are the final words that Kiryu has to say for Haruka. Not "I love you," not "I hope you live a good life," no, the final words that Kiryu has for his adopted daughter, who (despite his habit of trying to run and hide from the orphanage) he'd been raising for over a decade...are to make the men in her life happy. Granted, one of them was her baby, but that didn't make it any less frustrating to me.

And then, after a flashback where it shows Kiryu writing a letter, with the initial implication that it's for Haruka, and contains all the thoughtful stuff he should have been saying to her as he was "dying," it turns out it was actually for Daigo Dojima. You know, because as he's preparing for a "suicide mission," of course he'd write something for the head of a Yakuza clan that he really had little to do with from Yakuza 3 onward, and not the adopted daughter who had just awoken from a coma. Sure, part of it was that he wanted to prevent a costly war of vengeance over his death, but that didn't need to include all the "I thought of myself as your father" stuff for Daigo, and no attempt at a touching moment like that between him and the character closest to being an actual child of his.

Anyway, the game then goes to show all the various characters going on with their lives after the "death" of Kiryu, with Akiyama being the only one who doesn't believe he's actually dead. But Date insists he saw the body, which is then followed by a flashback showing that, no, of course Kiryu isn't actually dead. He just faked his death because he thought that would be best for everyone.

You know, because after hiding in prison for three years, and seeing that resulted in Haruka running off on her own, having a baby, and accidentally getting involved in this big conflict between the Yakuza and Triads, his plan at the end of the game was to fake his death and just keep running from the people he cared about.

And if that isn't a frustrating lack of character growth, or compassion for what other characters care about, then I don't know what is. After playing four other games where I liked Kiryu, this just made me disappointed. Disappointed not only that the game portrays him being selfish and cowardly as some noble sacrifice, not only that he had zero character growth over the course of his final game, but that the game couldn't even commit to killing him.

If they had actually killed him, it still wouldn't have been the happy ending I wanted, but at least I would have to give them credit for having the guts to actually go through with it. But instead, they took this weak middle ground where it would be very easy to bring him back in the future. I know they've already shown the guy who is the new lead for the series (which in itself is disappointing, because I know I'd rather Akiyama or Majima get their own game), but I still wouldn't count out them doing a game called "The Dragon Returns," or something.

I also say all this because even with all my dislike for this game's story, I know if they made a game starring Majima or Akiyama (and it was localized), I would still buy it. But this new guy? Well, let's just say my faith in their ability to write decent new stories is pretty well broken at this point. (I say, wording it that way so I have an out if I play Kiwami 2 this summer, in the hopes that I can use that to leave this series on a better note than this (but given the word I heard about Kiwami 1 not being great, I'm not holding my breath here).

Anyway, I can't really overstate how disappointed this game really made me. I was feeling bummed out pretty much all day after I saw that ending. Part of me wanted to take the disc out then and there, and never play the game again, but I still had side content to do, and you know...

At least the combat is still fun, eventually.
At least the combat is still fun, eventually.

Okay, but I know what you're thinking: Even if the story is disappointing, at least the game play is still fun, right? Well, that's a bit more complicated. Ultimately, yes, I do think the combat is still fun, but it takes too long for it to really get good, and even then still isn't as deep as it was in 0. Yakuza 6, it turns out, is the first time there's been a serious and substantial change in the tech around which the Yakuza games are made since Yakuza 3. 3, 4, 5, 0, Kiwami (which I didn't play after reading it wasn't great/had plenty of transmisogyny), and all the spin-offs I didn't play were ultimately all designed as PS3 games, and generally all felt the same (aside from maybe the zombie one, but I didn't play that).

Yakuza 6 is the first one built for PS4, and as such it has a variety of new innovations that only the PS4 can handle. Like being able to enter stores without loading. If that sounds sarcastic, it's because while it's a welcome change, stuff like that feels like it should have been possible back in Yakuza 3. It also allows for a greater level of detail possible in the design of the cities than ever before, which is nice, but comes at a cost.

I'm not the sort of person to complain about anti-aliasing, and in fact, I'd be willing to bet that in all the years I've been writing these blogs, this is the first time I've ever felt the need to mention it, but the aliasing in Yakuza 6 is terrible. I mean, so bad that there were cutscenes where I was supposed to be focused on the characters (really, the subtitles at the bottom since I don't know Japanese), but I couldn't keep my eyes off the horribly aliased objects in the background. Power lines, buildings, cars, just about everything. There's spots in the game where it looks like almost the whole screen is just a mess of aliasing, and on top of that, there's bad screen tearing in some areas too. It's especially noticeable in the first person mode. After 0, which sure, still "looked like a PS3 game," but ran well and I don't remember having issues like this, it feels like more harm than good has been done to the visual side of the game.

And, I feel the same way about the changes made to the combat. I was already worried going into the game, knowing that after three games of multiple protagonists that this was going back to just one. I became even more worried when I learned Kiryu was only going to have one fighting style, as opposed to the three for 0 (four, if you count the secret one you had to grind for (which involved going through the terrible transmisogyny of that game, which is why I didn't)).

All that aside, the combat is on the surface the same as ever, but in that nebulous "feel," not quite the same. The older games, for better or worse, felt very rigid in their combat. Rigid in the sense that every time you did the same combo, the moves came out in exactly the same, snappy way. 6, on the other hand, in motion, looks a lot more fluid. I don't know if that's just because there's more and newer animations, or if there's some sort of dynamic animating going on (the game sure likes to use the word "dynamic" in the descriptions for some of the moves, at least).

If this looks like nonsense, just imagine 15 other enemies crowding around as well.
If this looks like nonsense, just imagine 15 other enemies crowding around as well.

I don't know how much of it is fundamental changes made to the combat, and how much was the need to upgrade Kiryu's attack speed, but the opening hours of the game are a slog any time Kiryu gets into a fight. By the time I fully upgraded the speed of Kiryu's attacks, it got to a point where it felt pretty much good as it did in 0, but still not quite there. Maybe that slower speed was supposed to represent Kiryu being rusty from being in prison, but honestly I would have preferred less of that, and not made the opening hours feel like such a drag.

And the way Heat works has changed too. There's much less of an emphasis on getting enemies into specific situations, and then hitting Triangle to do a special move that drains part of the Heat gauge. That still exists, but now it feels like the thing to do is wait for the Heat to max out (now represented by orbs instead of meters), then hit R2 to go Kaio-ken, which speeds up and increases the power of Kiryu's attacks. It also opens up a lot more Heat Actions that simply aren't available normally. It's not the worst thing in the world, but I just don't enjoy what it's done to the flow of fights compared to the previous games.

It does, however, lead to my favorite thing about the combat in 6. Ending combos with Triangle in Heat mode will zoom in on the enemy's face while Kiryu's fist or foot smashes into it, and seeing the faces contort while the game prompts you to mash Triangle, only to then send the enemy flying is fantastic. More than anything else in the game, it demonstrates the raw power of the Dragon of Dojima, and it's cool as heck to look at. I wish there was more stuff like that. Maybe involving weapons? Which, weapons aren't nearly as much of a thing in this game as the past ones. Not that I ever got super into using them, not counting Majima's baseball bat fighting style, but it still feels a bit lacking in that regard.

Speaking of the fights themselves, like walking into buildings, they're a lot more seamless than before. That's good, and another thing I mostly like is the increased amount of physics on the enemies. Sending enemies flying after a big hit has long been in the series, but it's never felt as rag-dolly as it does here, and if there's anything I love, it's wonky physics on bodies in games. Seeing someone fly ten feet into the air, for no reason, after falling to the ground is certainly immersion breaking, but in the way that I can't help but enjoy.

There's also a heavy emphasis on knocking enemies into other enemies as a means of both crowd control, and doing damage. The old throw of the past is replaced with Kiryu spinning someone around, which knocks everyone back. It's cool, but sometimes it can make fights kind of a mess, where everyone gets knocked out at once, or most of the enemies are still technically conscious, but in a stunned state on the ground. At which point it tends to be either kicking them out, or waiting for them to stand up, because I found trying to grab enemies on the ground to be hit or miss with it actually working. And toward the end of the game, so many enemies are thrown at Kiryu (who often has some allies with him) at once, in tight enough spaces that it gets hard to tell what's going on, which was frustrating.

Anyway, the combat is ultimately still fun enough that it kept me going through the disappointing story. But really my biggest gripe with the changes to the game play systems are around the leveling. Yakuzas 3 through 5 (and I assume the first two) all leveled like regular games, and 0 had Kiryu and Majima spending money directly to unlock abilities on skill trees (which I really liked). 6 is back to XP, but in a baffling move, it has five different types of XP. Yes, FIVE. I think the idea was that these different types of XP represent different things Kiryu has to work on. Strength, speed, etc. The problem is that almost all of the things to be unlocked require multiple types of XP, and most of those require ALL of them, which just makes the splitting of XP into categories seem meaningless. Actually, more frustrating than meaningless, because Kiryu doesn't get XP for all five categories at the same rate.

There's XP from fighting, from completing story missions, sub stories, eating (which you can't do infinitely because Kiryu has a stomach that can get full (you can spend XP to increase his stomach capacity and the rate at which he digests the food (for better or worse, there's no need for him to use the toilet ever)), going to the gym, just about everything gives some amount of XP. But the things that happen the most in the game, like fighting, only give some of the XP types. And those other two types ended up being the bottleneck that slowed my progress toward unlocking things, especially later in the game. By the end of the game I had thousands of XP for three of the types, in a couple cases I literally hit the cap on how much XP can be had for them (9999), and I could barely get enough of the other two to keep unlocking anything.

On top of all these types of XP, and different ways to get it, over the course of the game it felt like I spent more XP getting abilities to get XP faster than I did on new abilities, or even on improving Kiryu's core stats (which only go up like, two points at a time, making any individual upgrade feel meaningless). Over the last few years, I've been feeling myself getting tired with these sorts of incremental, individually insignificant upgrades in games (something I recently felt a bit of with the runes in God of War), but this game has to be one of the worst examples in recent memory. It's just so much busywork, and the end result is just that the regular enemies are so weak that when I do come across a slightly tough boss, I'm paying so little attention to not getting hit that I don't realize I need to be careful until half my health is gone.

Unlocking new moves, stuff like that is fine. This just feels like busywork for the sake of having busywork. And it's frustrating in a game where I just want to have a good time being up lowlifes and criminals, not checking the stomach meter every five minutes and running to a restaurant to maximize what to eat.

There's still a part of me that never wants to let go of Kamurocho.
There's still a part of me that never wants to let go of Kamurocho.

One thing that I do think the game gets right (mostly) is feeling like these are places that could actually exist. When I first started the game, I thought having to hold X to run everywhere, and running out of breath was going to be a hassle. And, at times it still is. But the answer (aside from upgrading stamina, which I did) ended up being that I didn't mind just...walking. Most of the time, I just strolled through the game at a lackadaisical pace, taking in the sights, and feeling like I was walking through the streets of Kamurocho and Onomichi. It's relaxing...even if half the time Kiryu just gets jumped by thugs.

It's still not perfect, though. The first person mode is great for getting really immersed, but the game does nothing outside of the minimap to show where things are in the world, which means either having this big, intrusive map, or turning it off and trying to go on memory. I can do that in broad strokes, at least for Kamurocho, which is still mostly unchanged after all these years (for better and worse). But I ended up keeping the minimap on, because the alternative just meant I was pausing the game to check the map way more often. It allows for setting a waypoint that shows on the minimap, but I would have liked if that at least appeared in the world, or if the game had any sort of a less intrusive way to show where things are.

I often see people praise these games for having small, but dense areas, rather than huge, sprawling worlds, and while I generally agree, I also think these are too small. This is the same Kamurocho I've been wandering since Yakuza 3, and presumably the same Kamurocho from the first two as well. Of course 3 was the first one to not have loads and camera cuts just walking down the street, which would have been a meaningful change, but that doesn't change that it's the same layout.

Yes, that can feel good at times, because it feels like I'm returning to an old haunt. Going back to a place that might look a little different at first glance, but still feels like home. But it can be just as disappointing, when I'm back and it feels like the only ways it's truly changed are ways that make it smaller. I don't mean that it feels smaller, I mean that it's literally smaller. Granted, it's ultimately only a few streets, but there's parts of Kamurocho from the older games that are just blocked off in Yakuza 6. Still on the map, but there's construction going on, I guess, so no going there. That, and it's still a bummer to have the edges of the playable areas just have big red things pop up if you try to go any further.

Onomichi, as pleasant as it is, is even smaller, and has even less to do in it. It was nice to walk around for an hour, but after that, I just wished for more. It stopped feeling like a real town I was visiting, and felt like a small level in a video game. Sure, one with lots of detail, but not enough to actually feel alive. And even within these small spaces, there's too many fenced, or gated off areas that are simply inaccessible. The areas wouldn't even need to be physically larger if there was a lot more going on in the spaces. Sure, there's a handful of places that can be entered, but there's far more that can't. I'm not saying Kiryu should be able to barge into every person's apartment, but what if there was a way onto every roof of the game? What if the sewers weren't just one spot that Kiryu goes to for the story, and were big enough that they might as well be their own level? I know things like this are often more limited by resources, and even tech, but that won't stop me from thinking about what this game should have, and probably could have been.

I dunno. I really wanted, and expected to have a great time with Yakuza 6. I've truly loved these games in the past, even when they had issues. And while nothing in 6 reaches the lowest lows of the awful transmisogyny in 0, nothing in it approaches the highest highs of that game, or any of the other great moments in the others. It even felt like it was struggling to meet the averages of them most of the time.

Ono Michio is the highlight of the entire game.
Ono Michio is the highlight of the entire game.

Even the sub stories aren't up to par. The ones where Kiryu dresses up as Onomichi's mascot Ono Michio stand out as the best in 6, but most of them just aren't that memorable. A whole branch of them just seem to be built around the joke that Kiryu is old and isn't familiar with technology. There's multiple sub stories about people trying to scam Kiryu out of money over the phone, for example. Again, they're not really bad so much as they just feel...average. There are a couple that call back to things from Yakuza 0, and even feature returning characters from that game, even if they look like they've aged twice as much as Kiryu has over the same period of time. But, again, doing a quest involving the same cult from 0 didn't feel novel, it just felt like they were rehashing the same story, for anyone who might not have played 0.

I don't want to call the game bad, because as much as I griped, I did come around on the combat, and there were brief moments, like a fistfight in a burning building where everything clicked, and it started to feel like the Yakuza games that I know and love. But looking back on everything I've written, I have to at least admit this is my by far least favorite of the series. In time, I'll probably find my lack of wanting to call it bad because of how much I've loved previous games diminish as I get some distance from the game. Don't be surprised if by the end of the year, when I'm doing my GOTY stuff, that I say I should rename my "Todd Howard Presents the Fallout 4 Award for Most Disappointing Game," because I feel like that's the trajectory I'm going to have with this game.

And given it's Kiryu's last new game, that's a bummer.

I'm reminded of, how last year, after loving so much of 0, I didn't want to play Kiwami, and burn out on a sub-par Yakuza game. Except now, after playing a sub-par Yakuza game, I'm hoping that Kiwami 2 is really good, so I can play that, and leave the series on a better note.

Here's to hoping.

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Of Gods and Boys (spoilers).

"All I remember is what I have lost."

God of War III ends with Kratos having finally achieved his vengeance, and in doing so, seemingly destroyed the world, or at least Greece. At the time I found this ending, in which Kratos finally realizes that all he's done is destroy, and attempts to kill the one thing he hasn't yet, himself, to be fitting for the series. In the eight years since playing God of War III, this ending morphed in my head into something that it isn't, and never was. I remembered the parts I liked, and forgot about all the hokey stuff with Athena wanting the literal manifestation of Hope from Kratos, forgot about the game using a young woman (Pandora) as a shameless stand-in for Kratos' dead daughter, forgot how violent that game as a whole is, not just toward literal monsters, or gods, but to people in general. All I remembered was the part where Kratos realized he had done harm, and tried to kill himself.

I'm glad I went and rewatched that ending, and a few choice clips from other parts of GoW III to refresh myself on that game. It's only helped to reinforce how stark the differences are between that, those games in general, and the new one. GoW III attempts to end with Kratos realizing his wrongs, but it was too little, too late. Especially considering that 2 (two) prequels were released after that. Only one of which I played because I had a PSP, and was bound and determined to play every noteworthy release for that thing, so I wouldn't have spent all that money just to play Peace Walker. I, as did many, had my fill, or more than my fill.

I know this is a spoiler-y blog, but I'm trying to keep any pictures spoiler free.
I know this is a spoiler-y blog, but I'm trying to keep any pictures spoiler free.

But the new God of War starts with that idea from the end of GoW III: Kratos realizing the wrongs he's committed. And just like the end of III, where Kratos' response was to run away from those wrongs by killing himself, the new game begins with the premise that Kratos survived, and if he couldn't figuratively run from his past, he would do so literally. And north he went, until he wound up in fantasy Scandinavia (or Iceland, if the occasional use of the Icelandic language is any indication). After settling down with Faye, who sounds like every bit the warrior Kratos is (just without the blood lust), building a log cabin in the forest, and starting a family, Kratos was finally given a second chance to be the best family man he could.

So of course he squandered it by brooding in the woods instead of helping raise his son. Then, God of War begins, not with any of the bombast of the previous games. No giant monster to slay, no leading an army of titans up Mount Olympus. It begins with Kratos chopping down a tree for firewood; to build a funeral pyre for Faye. Faye is never heard from or seen directly, but the impact she left is felt throughout the game. Kratos, a god who never had the maturity or desire to use his powers responsibly, is lost without her. And Atreus, just a boy, has to deal with not only the loss of his mother, but now only having a man who seemed more interested in anything else as his caretaker, and only companion in a cold world.

Faye left them with just one wish: That they spread her ashes from the highest peak in all the realms. And though Kratos would probably rather sulk in the woods, he knows he can't deny her that wish, but also knows the journey will be long and perilous. So he says that he needs to see if Atreus is ready for that journey, even though he knows he himself is not. And after a hunt that turned into a fight with a troll, Kratos says Atreus isn't ready, and they return home, only to have their home intruded by a stranger with the power of a god. After this man wouldn't leave, Kratos resorts to his old ways, and after a long fight, snaps the stranger's neck, leaving him for dead. Left with no choice, and knowing neither he nor the boy are ready, they set off for the mountain.

And what follows is a game that left a much bigger impact on me than I expected. So much bigger than I ever thought was possible for a God of War game that I almost can't believe it. It made me care about Kratos, not as a god, but as a person. Caring about Atreus is one thing, he's just a kid doing his best, in the way that all kids who want their parents to love them do. But Kratos? The character who was the living embodiment of every sophomoric power fantasy in the book? The one whose defining characteristic was not only his violence, but the absurd lengths his violence went to?

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Really, the thing that made me empathize with Kratos is that I can relate to him. Not to the violence, at least not directly. I enjoyed the violence of the previous games as much as anyone. I remember mashing buttons to tear Helios' head from his body, and loving the detail of the bits of flesh and bone left dangling. I remember loving the pun of turning him into a literal headlight, and frankly part of me still does enjoy that because I love word play. Like Kratos, I never really stopped to think about how cruel and needless his violence often was, because they were "just video games." My only criticism back then was that I thought the sex minigames were crass, and immature.

I'm obviously not a god, or a murderer. I'm not even a father, which is definitely the thing that has gotten a lot of people's attention around the game. No, I relate to him because I've spent the last few years of my life hiding from my own problems. I know I've never done anything even a thousandth as bad as Kratos. That doesn't mean I still don't torture myself over the mean things I've said and done to people I used to care about; the people who used to care about me. Former friends I haven't seen or heard from in years, specifically because of my mistakes. Family I'm distant with, and know I should be better about reconnecting with, while I still can. Hiding behind the shield of my "health problems," when really I'm just afraid of the world, all the while knowing I should be doing something to move my life forward.

And yet I don't, despite knowing I should be better.

"You must be better than me."

God of War knows that people do bad things, make mistakes. We all have. I have. And over the course of the game, Kratos realizes he can't run or hide from his past forever. All he wants is impart one lesson onto his son. "Be better."

He doesn't just tell his son that, and continue to be the monster he once was. I mean, yes, he still kills a lot in this game. It is a big budget action game, after all, of course he's still going to rip and tear his way through countless monsters and undead (there's a Trophy for killing one thousand).The combat is deeper and more fun than ever before, and the primary weapon, The Leviathan Axe, is one of my favorite weapons in any game I've ever played (video games being about the only context in which "favorite weapon" is a thing I could ever seriously say). But this isn't the Kratos who took pleasure in brutalizing anyone he could, or even the Kratos that sees killing as the only option. Yes, he tried to kill the stranger at the start of the game, and one other god (in self defense) midway through, but by the end, he does his best to show mercy. To give his enemy a chance to be better.

And yes, when Baldur (the stranger from the start) does not take his chance to be better, Kratos steps in and actually kills him, but only to save someone else's life.

I copied 249 screenshots for this game off my PS4.
I copied 249 screenshots for this game off my PS4.

Kratos wouldn't have striven to be better himself were it not for Atreus. For all his faults, and all his inability to show it early in the game, Kratos truly does love his son, and want what's best for him. Or, at least what he thinks is best. It takes a resurgence, worse than before, of Atreus' illness for Kratos to really show it, and realize how far he is willing to go to save his son. The illness and its cause is a little contrived, but I'm willing to overlook that in a world of gods and dragons, when the emotional part works. Seeing Kratos finally, honestly put someone else ahead of himself was touching.

Atreus, right at that age between the blissful years of childhood innocence, and the moody years of teen angst. Just a boy wanting to prove himself to his father, and do right by the world, even when Kratos scoffs at anything that won't directly benefit himself, or the boy. And he spends most of the game doing his best, being kind, and pushing his father to help others when they're in need.

That is, until he learns he's a god. His initial reaction was almost adorable. "Does that mean I can turn into an animal?" The sort of cute question only a kid would ask. But, as the story continues, despite Kratos' repeated mentions of how all gods do is take care of themselves, and take it out on everyone else, Atreus lets it go to his head. First just a few comments, then he begins showing complete disrespect for the friendly dwarven blacksmith Sindri, and eventually this even manifests itself in the game play. For a chunk of the game, Atreus starts disregarding what Kratos says, and sometimes even what I, the player, was telling him to do. Things like casting magic summons when I didn't tell him to.

That part of Atreus' arc really stuck with me because it's a good example of just how easily, and how quickly power, or even just the idea of power can change people. Nothing actually changed with Atreus. There's moments in the game where he gets new abilities, like the magic summons, or different arrow types, but this wasn't one of them. Simply the idea of being a god changed Atreus' way of thinking, and definitely for the worse. Until he finally realizes it, and like Kratos kept trying to impress upon him, he did all he could to be better, not just in order to complete their quest, but in life as a whole.

Ultimately, Faye's wish to have her ashes spread had as much to do with her realizing that journey was what Kratos and Atreus needed, as much as it was for her to return to her home, one last time. While it is a bummer that she's never directly seen or heard in the game (though I could certainly see an argument where that's intentional to make the players feel her absence), she had the foresight to realize what her son and husband needed to be better than they were. I'm just sad she didn't live to see that day.

Maybe she's due for a cameo in Valhalla in the sequel? I'd play a whole game starring her, honestly.

A family can be a grumpy god, reanimated head, and a boy just doing his best.
A family can be a grumpy god, reanimated head, and a boy just doing his best.

If there's any message to be taken from God of War, it's that we all need to be better than we are, and better than those that came before us. We might not live in a land of petty gods, where the undead and monsters roam the realms, but it can sure feel like it at times. And if Kratos could find it in himself to change, and be better, then I think we all can.

We need to.

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