Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Better when it does less

It's never a good sign when a game does a blatant call back to its predecessor, in The Evil Within 2's case a boss rush of the first game's three main baddies, and the player's immediate reaction is this:

'Wow. Those monsters from the first game are much, much cooler looking than anything I have fought in this game. What's up with that?'

The Evil Within 2 does end strong. The final four hours of the game finally desert the larger areas for more linear levels, harkening back to the random haunted house rooms feel of the first game. And this more than anything else is the game's problem: it didn't add much to the first game and the new things it did try were not very good.

Oh well, it's still a horrorish title and I am not embarrassed to have played it. I am glad that when the Bethesda sale hit at the end of last year I threw money at Wolfenstein instead of this. This could be the last Evil Within title and I would not mourn its passing but I definitely want at least one more nazi killing adventure.

The keeper? I had no idea it had a name.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Focus!

It figures that as soon as I start piling on to a game it gets better. The Evil Within 2 is significantly better when it is being linear, when its scares are scripted and when it is focused on a specific bad guy. Grotesque art guy went down last night and was followed up by crazy baptist preacher guy whose areas finally look like something out of the first game.

How did all of these crazy people end up STEM anyway?

The first game did not let the 'everything is actually a simulation, think The Matrix, but smaller' cat out of the bag until the end of the game. That kept both Sebastian, the main character, and the player guessing as to what the hell was going on. This time everyone knows that it is a simulation gone haywire. One of the opening scenes is Sebastian sitting down in a tank of white fluid and being logged into STEM.

With the mystery removed so are most of the scares. It sounds ridiculous, especially because it is a game so of course  nothing is real, but knowing that the protagonist knows that nothing is real removes most of the tension. Yes, crazy shit is going down, but it is the result of a cascading failure of an elaborate simulation, not evil beasties from another dimension.

It is not as bad as I made it sound yesterday but I hesitate to call it a good game. One more night before the end, I think. If another rocket launcher drops from the sky in the final boss fight I will have a fit.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Not the right horrible

I just finished a great big, well constructed open world game with a variety of things to do and see layered on top of a interesting setting. And my reward? A horror game with open world-ish sections that are not interesting to look at or explore, filled with repetitive enemies that are too hard to fight, haphazardly slapped on top of a setting that is both familiar and boring.

Assassin's Creed Origins has ruined The Evil Within 2 for me. Not that it took much.

The Evil Within was basically a classic Resident Evil with the gore and camp turned up to 11. At the time it was exactly what Resident Evil had failed to deliver in years: a good time with a few scares, a few gross moments, and a plot that made precious little sense but was still amusing.  Since then Resident Evil VII happened, a game that was better than it had any right to be, so instead of aiming for that mark The Evil Within 2 takes a shot at being Silent Hill 1 or 2. The good Silent Hills. And it does not go well.

Calling The Evil Within 2 open world is being disingenuous. It just has some larger areas that can be freely explored. Take the word 'freely' with a grain of salt as exploration is hampered by bad stealth mechanics and bad shooting which makes the already difficult to dispatch enemies trials of both skill and patience. More than two zombie things is a serious problem and running away is not an option because the green goo they drop is required for leveling up skills.

I will admit that having just enough ammo to survive most encounters makes for a tense experience that fits well with this trying to be a horror game. The first title did this as well but I do not remember the combat being as inaccurate and clumsy. It's tense but not enjoyable, a relief when over but not looked forward to.

Think back with me to the parts of Silent Hill 1 and 2 that really, really worked: large areas with very limited visibility that obscured both where you were going and what you were fighting. The Evil Within 2 is all too happy to show you what you are facing and that clarity is never frightening.  It breaks its own illusion by being too excited to show off its tech. Does the weird camera monster that skulks along the ceiling while making distrubing, sexy sounds look cool? Of course, but there is no mystery, no room for imagination. What you see is all there is and then, unlike Silent Hill, you are forced to fight it.

There are bright moments. When the large areas are replaced with smaller, scripted locations I remember that the first game was not bad at all. The current antagonist murders people and then traps them in a cube of repeating time, forcing them to relive the moment of the gorey death over and over, forever. It looks cool and awful, just like it should. If there was more of that, more mood and less clumsy fighting with the last bullet in my gun, I would be having a better time.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Forced interlude

No podcast this week thanks to the relentlessness of real life and the unfair requirement to work for a living. We will be back next week with Blank Panther spoilers, an argument over the quality of Assassin's Creed Origins and perhaps the sad tale of how I have finally discarded an entire genre from my 'games to be played' list.

...

There is a non-zero chance that The Evil Within 2 is a bad game. Not everything needs an open world, least of all game whose combat is not good enough to give the player something to do in said open world besides scrounge for crafting components. That's not scary, that's annoying. If The Evil Within was an throwback to Resident Evil then Evil Within 2 is the same, but for the first Silent Hill.

Only without the fog, so you can see too much of the enemies, and combat that is required but just as bad. Hours one and two were not impressive. I will keep playing, but not forever.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

I played a lot of Blanka last night

It didn't go well. There were personal ultimatums, near tantrums, a whole lot of ugliness.

I am too old for this shit. On to Evil Within 2!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

I guess I am a romantic, after all

I was not expecting Assassin's Creed Origins to have another four hours left when I starting playing last night. It was time to finish the game and save it from other distractions (#BlankaChan) so I soldiered on. I have a few problems with the game's resolution and it is old enough that I am going to spoil the ending freely. Chance just started the game (and will never finish it) and Alex intends to purchase it, so to my podcasting partners, a general spoiler warning.

If Pikachu was a car

One of my original posts on Origins lauded Aya as a character. She's cool, she's collected, everyone loves her but only Bayek can get close and even he is left behind eventually. Part of her mystique is that you never actually play her. Yes, there is a ship battle sequence at the midpoint of the game where she it at the helm, but you never control her in combat. She is doing the same kind of missions as Bayek, successfully, but her actions are more in line with an actual assassin while Bayek can bull his way through any encounter.

Seriously, my Bayek had a flaming sword but the time I was done with him. Not much silent and stealthy about enemies screaming as they burn to death.

This changes in the last act. You take control of Aya and are immediately stripped of all of Bayek's cool shit. No eagle eye view that can track enemies. No shield that can block incoming projectiles. No more being deliciously over leveled and therefore careless and malevolent.

I understand precisely what the game is going for. Aya said it herself before heading off to Rome to kill Caesar (I warned you that there would be spoilers): she had been too careless with their killing and they needed to work from the shadows. This was part her bringing the hammer down on Bayek and part reminding the player that this is an Assassin's Creed game and you are going to play at least one level the way it is intend, damnit. Aya's approach to kill Caesar is a throwback to the first few games: stealth required, unforgiving of failure, death waiting if a mistake is made.

I get its point, I just didn't like it. I had spent damn near sixty hours buffing Bayek so I could roll the final boss is a very un-Assassin's Creed like manner and was denied. I will admit that it made sense, and that for some people it may even be refreshing, but my Bayek and I were let down.

Speaking of things going poory for Bayek...

He doesn't die, which is good, but his motivation in the final hours swings wildly between his own 'HE KILLED MY SON HE MUST DIE' and Aya's 'we must work from the shadows, whisper, whisper.' It doesn't work. If this were a movie I would blame it in reshoots or poor editing. In one scene, after all appears to be lost (Cleopatra has betrayed them, the final targets have escaped to Rome, Flavius has the apple of eden and is doing all sorts of evil shit with it) Bayek gives a rousing speech that yes, he had been wrongly motivated by revenge and was too quick to trust Cleopatra, but even the failure had a silver lining as it brought together a new group to fight the Order.

He uses the word 'creed' like a dozen times. It's painfully obvious where he is going with the speech.

Less than an hour later he is back in the 'RAWR KILL' mindset. Then he is angry with Aya for leaving for Rome. And then he is at peace with the two them splitting up as being together reminds them both of what they have lost. For all but the last act Bayek was ruthless but still quick to smile and help those who needed help. His personality was part of why exploring was so much fun. He was there as a guardian of Egypt, to help people, and when he discards that for the new creed it feels like too big of a change.

I would almost have preferred that he die as he was, holding on to the dream the he and Aya could return to Siwa and just be husband and wife again. To hear him say 'I am not longer a mejay. I am no longer a father or a husband. I am of the shadows.' was heartbreaking. I wanted the character to have a happy ending and he did not get it.

...they saved that for the DLC. Fuckers.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Closing in

The map is filled in. All but one side quest is complete. Every question mark has been explored, every activity completed, save for fighting the elephants, because again, fuck them. I think that I am just about ready to pass the point of no return and run through the final story quests in Assassin's Creed Origins. This is the most time I have spent on a game since Tales of Berseria. Before that was The Witcher 3, which Origins will not equal.

Before that was Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, whose play time topped one hundred hours, something that is likely to never happen again.

There are warts and I have mentioned them. To mediocre combat and the level cap I would like to add shitty rewards for long quests. Give me a weapon, not an outfit that doesn't do anything. The game has pulled this several times and each was more disappointing than the last.

But Bayek is the best protagonist in an Assassin's Creed game since Ezio and the game as a whole is second only to Black Flag in regards to be honestly enjoyable to play. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to beat sea shanties and Blackbeard and simple but enjoyable ship to ship combat, but Origins has certainly tried harder and had more success than Syndicate or Unity.

It even almost, almost, makes the overarching narrative of the impending end of the world that was stopped by Desmond, or was it, interesting. Origins steps right up to the line of a cool idea, that there is no proof that the character looking into the past via an animus is not him or herself just being looked into by someone a layer up, thus the 'nothing is true, everything is permitted' mantra of the Assassins, but it doesn't do anything with it. So close, still so much extraneous bullshit. It would be a better game without it.

Just let me be Bayek, mejay of Siwa. Let me wander the banks of the nile before hopping on my camel, taking a ride to Giza and spelunking the pyramids. Let me be the good guy and help the oppressed Egyptians and Greeks.

...

Speaking of oppression, I find it surprising that, if one were to follow nothing but but the story missions, the Romans would not be encountered. I did not run into them until I was filling out the map and holy cow, they are motherfuckers. The whitest people in the area are also the worst. This checks out.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Ubigame problem

The complaint that I am about to air is not unique to Assassin's Creed. It appears it most open world Ubisoft games, namely all of the Far Cry's and, if I remember correctly, both Watch Dogs games. There is more stuff to see than there is stuff to earn. And the problem's corollary: fuck level caps.

Assassin's Creed Origins caps Bayek at level 40. He still earns points for skills, albeit slowly, but he is done getting more powerful or gaining hit points. I hit this last night and, while I do not have all of the skills unlocked, I have all of the ones that I am going to use. My Bayek has peaked in power. The game graciously gave me a point of no return warning on a mission so I turned around and looked at the map. About half of it was still empty. The main game was in its final act and half of the world was unexplored.

In my opinion, as a person who plays open world games in a almost completionist manner (not quite 100%, because fuck those elephants, but pretty close) this is poor balance. Do not leave the player with nothing to do to their character when there is still hours and hours (and hours) of stuff to explore in the world. Exploration can be it own reward, I suppose, but it is even nicer when I get a cool sword for the trouble or a few hit points or something tangible for the effort.

This would be fixed most easily by removing the level cap. Allow the player to built Bayek into an over powered, straight up broken killing machine. Reward the player tangibly for taking the time to explore every corner and every cave and every tomb.

It is especially disheartening in Origins because the cap came so early, real estate wise. I do have around 44 hours in on the game but there is a lot of territory left to cover. My need to check all of the boxes will pull me through for a while but my other need to see numbers grow larger is going to be severely neglected.

...

Did the Egyptians use the work fuck? Cleopatra dropped an f-bomb and it sounded really weird.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Yes, I am still playing Origins.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. I am quite annoyed with myself for falling into a very 'Chamberlain' trap twice this week, wasting about an hour each time. Twice I have found optional war elephant bosses. These war elephants are definitely not to be fucked with but because of the rigid way in which I play open world games - open area, clean out area, move on - I felt compelled to get that check mark on the map icon stating that I had finished the area.

The first time it meant fighting two war elephants. It took about an hour of retries but I eventually did it and the reward was a bow that I still am not a high enough level to use. I should have retreated from the area and returned later with more health and higher damage weapons but no, I saw it so I had to do it.

Again, last night, I wandered into a war elephants pen. There was only one this time but this one is far more difficult than the first two. For three quarter of his health bar he attacks predictably but his pattern shifts so dramatically, so quickly at the tail end of his health bar that I had no idea what to do. The correct answer would have been to walk away, level up, and come back. NO! For forty five minutes I was stomped to paste beneath this bastard's feet. I never did beat him and this unchecked box is going to drive me crazy.

I may have a sickness. That sickness is called Assassin's Creed.


Chamberlain and Chance - The comfort of a good game

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Same old problems

After damn near forty hours of Assassin's Creed Origins I do need to level a few criticisms at it. Being fair and balanced in important, yes?

Complaint the first: who in their right mind mapped light attack to the right bumper and the heavy attack to the right trigger, then set the special attack to hitting both at the same time? Dodge us on X and guard is on the left bumper, which is fine, but the finger gymnastics required to pull off a special attack in the middle of a fight is olympic. It may be possible to remap the controls but I have gotten used to it in the same way one would get used to a pillow that is a little too flat or a lump in a mattress. It hurts but you are too lazy to do anything about it.

Complaint the second: why is Assassin's Creed still forcing the modern day nonsense into its story? No one, and I mean no one in the entire world, cares about it. For example: Bayek tracked two mercenaries that be believed drowned a little girl (the game actually showed the girl underwater, tied to a stone. It gets dark.) to a newly opened colosseum. He is refused entry without a sponsor and coincidentally runs into a fighter from his hometown of Siwa, an old friend that he does not fully trust. Bayek omits the part about tracking down child killing scum bags and joins up with her and the two of them kill a whole bunch of nobodies.

Bayek and Kensa are finally matched up against Bayek's targets with the express limit of not killing them, just hurting them. They win, Bayek interrogates one of the gladiators and finds that they did not actually kill the girl but one of the patrons of the colosseum, an old woman who just happens to be in the audience, did. Bayek leaves and Kensa is furious at him for not telling the truth.

The old woman, the crocodile, hides out in a giant granary compound north of the colosseum. Bayek finds her with a brand new bodyguard: Kensa. Ok, this should be interesting. I had no interest in killing Kensa so I separated the two, killed the crocodile, and then waited to see what would happen next. Kensa stopped, squared up to me to get ready for a fight, and...

...and the game dumps me out back into the real world. I do about two minutes of bullshit before returning to Egypt and the event is over. Kensa is nowhere to be found and would could have been an interesting moment was ruined.

That's the best I can muster. This game is really good and I do not think I will be done with it any time soon.

Monday, February 12, 2018

8 days until electric balls



Looks good. The ball animation is a little (ok, a lot) janky but it looks like he has a command throw, so all is forgiven. I am also going to assume that electricity is now a command instead of mashing punch because the same was done for Chun Li's kicks.

All in all, quite pleased. Give me his Dan costume from USFIV next.

...I really need to finish Assassin's Creed Origins before the 20th.

Update: electricity is still a mash. That sucks.

Friday, February 9, 2018

So I was busy last night


It had been a while. I kind of missed the pain.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The dream game

There has been little time to write this week. 500 miles in two days will do that. I suppose I could write at night, but that would take time away from Assassin's Creed Origins, a game that I am currently in love with.

I believe that I have made joke about the Ubi-game before, how they disparate properties are merging into one giant, open world full of things to collect. It dawned on me how to make this work. Prepare yourself.

It goes without saying that the 'real world' sections of Assassin's Creed games are stupid. I may very well have laughed when Desmond died a few years ago. Fix that by making the 'real world' Far Cry. When you are in the animus it is Assassin's Creed. When you step out of the animus it is Far Cry. Somewhere in there Watch Dogs shows up. I would never play anything else.


Chamberlain and Chance - Mostly awake

Monday, February 5, 2018

It could happen

There are many things that make Assassin's Creed Origins cool. Bayek is cool. He is on a mission of revenge and, when it was shown to him that this mission was incomplete, he declared that first he would eat, drink and make love and then he would get back to killing fools. He also looked Cleopatra dead in the eye after she offered herself to him (at the cost of being executed in the morning) and said that he was already pledged to another woman. That would be Aya, his wife.

Aya is also very, very cool.


I get the feeling that the player's perspective is going to shift to that of Aya at some point. She has all the connections, right up to and included the exiled leader of Egypt, Cleopatra. Bayek is just the muscle, the errand boy. Not that Aya needs protecting. She killed a man by stabbing him in the eyes through his mask.

Two Assassin's Creed games in a row with interesting female characters? So much for female characters being too expensive to code. Could Ubisoft be *gasp* learning from its mistakes?

Friday, February 2, 2018

A welcome return

It's. So. Big.

First, an addendum to the podcast: my initial reaction to Assassin's Creed: Origins lauded that fact that after three or so hours of play there was not a hint of the 'real world.' I was playing as a character in egypt, presumably the first assassin, and not playing as a boring character sitting in an animus who was remembering the interesting character. This was on Wednesday night.

Ten minutes after turning the game back on on Thursday night I was dumped out of Egypt into the real world. So much for that improvement.

Everything else, though? Everything else is better. The combat has moved from automatic and boring to mediocre and requiring attention. Collecting items and crafting is both important and streamlined. Getting caught on the corner of a wall and running up it no longer happens because sprinting is the default movement action and climbing requires a specific button be held down. Side missions are plentiful and *gasp* interesting. Every area discovered has a goal, be it kill the captain or collect a specific number of treasure chests or defeat a bad ass hippopotamus (all of these are real, by the way). The game is nice enough to tell the player what needs to be done and mark the area as complete when the task is finished.

The game is huge and densely packed with activities but it respects the player's time by giving appropriate information. Imagine that! It turns out that Ubisoft actually did some critical thinking between Syndicate and Origins. Taking more than year between sequels is a good thing!

I have just scratched the surface of Origins and it may very well veer into repetitive tasks in repeated areas. Until then, this is my gaming life. I must uncover all the question marks in Egypt, kill all the bad guys, skin all the crocodiles, and absolutely climb to the top of every tower I come across.