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Game Anatomy: Jump Kits

homepage-titanfall-franchise-hero.jpg.adapt.crop191x100.1200w

Copyright Respawn Entertainment and EA

Movement in first person shooters, outside of a handful of gimmicks, is largely what it has been since the first Call of Duty in the early 2000s.  It’s relatively slow, focusing on staying away from fire and linear.  It differs from the 90s era FPS games by being a bit slower and focusing on cover, as well as higher precision from weaponry.  While high level play may or may not reflect this, I wouldn’t know I don’t participate, Call of Duty was designed in mind with quick, rapid precise shots instead of rocket spam.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, mind, but it does create a very specific type of shooter, and it’s one of the reasons Call of Duty, as a series, was so much more linear as an experience than its predecessors like Quake or Doom, and one of the reasons why the most recent id Software games have been considered so successful.  However, what’s interesting is that the people that created this type of FPS movement were also the people to innovate upon it, and that’s where we get the Titanfall Jump Kits, devices that bring platforming to that really precise and deliberate sort of shooting, marrying them in ways that make for a very engaging and original type of gameplay.

Titanfall 2’s campaign is one of the best military first person shooters I’ve had the experience playing.  It’s not Doom 2016 or the New Order Wolfenstein games, but it’s a lot better than every other FPS that’s come out, period, since probably Modern Warfare 2.  A lot of that can be attributed to the Titans themselves.  The game feels very Battletech in its approach, but a lot more fun than any Battletech game I’ve ever played.  The Titans move really well, each loadout feels different and gives a different approach to gameplay, it’s very cool.  However, after a while, I found I was having a lot more fun just playing as Jack instead of being in the giant robot, and while normally this might be seen as a failure of the campaign, it actually winds up saving it.  The Titans are great, but the multiplayer, of  which the campaign unfortunately serves as something of an extended tutorial for, is designed for on foot combat with the Titan combat being a reward for success.  As such, the campaign requires that the player will need to get used to fighting on foot, so basing that “on foot” around using the Jump Kit was perfect.

The Jump Kit is simple.  It allows the player to double jump, run horizontally across vertical surfaces and jump off of walls, and yes, there is Strider-style triangle jumping.  The verticality here allows the player to explore more complex means of combat, and the game’s level design does a good job of facilitating it.  At first, they throw a handful of soldiers at the player with limited cover, then, to wean them off of relying heavily on cover, those enemy soldiers break the first rule of cover based shooters.  They flank the player and go around the cover, so the player has to keep moving.  After getting used to jumping over their heads and getting around them, the game starts to throw walls and enemies with more movement options themselves at the player.  Then they start adding in enemies with portal shield walls that move with them and then it goes on from there.  The game uses the obvious story element to work with this, the player is a rookie, and as the player gets better, it’s reflected in the story.  Very Mega Man X in design.  It’s a shame the story just sort of ends right when Jack, the main character gets to play with all of the toys, but that’s a different article.

What makes the Jump Kit shine, though, is that the movement allows for the player to find their own strategies for dealing with different packs of enemies, and gives the player a whole lot of power and agency without requiring too much work from the developers.  There are a lot of great things to say about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and it remains one of the best military FPS games of all time, but it’s design is very set piece based.  There’s a script the player is going to follow, and it’s an awesome script, but there’s a reason why the term “corridor shooter” went from being a more positive term for the still-being-named FPS genre than “Doom clone” to a derisive term for Call of Duty and the various rip offs.  There are a few options, but they’re mostly expected.  With the Jump Kit, there are tons of different ways to play out a fight, and none of them require a script from the designer.

It’s almost like an action game done in first person mode.  It doesn’t have the depth of, say, Baynetta or Neir: Automata, but that’s the same idea.  Throw enemies at the player, and have the player use their own kit and skill to deal with them as they see fit.  It makes for a different approach than a super shooter, like Halo, Doom or Wolfenstein or a military shooter like Call of Duty.  It’s fun and while it’s not exactly unique, it’s something that stands on its own.  Now, if only the campaign was more than 5 hours long.

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Marvel Television: Connecting Earth-199999

That’s a lot of nines.  The comics are easy.  Prime universe is 616 and the Ultimate Universe was 1610, which I always thought was a pretty clever reference to the prime universe, but TV and movies have to have six numbers.  Anyway, Marvel TV has gotten pretty bad lately.  I mean, I really liked Jessica Jones season 2, but other than that, the past few seasons of Marvel TV on Netflix just hasn’t been very good, and while it’s pretty easy to say that it’s all been a downhill fall since the glory days of the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, I don’t actually think that’s the issue.  If anything, I think that not only can the shows be improved, without massive cast changes, I think there have been signs of potential improvement in all of the bad shows.

One of the things that made both seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones good was that they distilled the essence of what made their comic book counterparts good.  Neither season of Daredevil was a direct adaption of any of his comic book stories, although perhaps the back half of season 2 leaned too heavily into the death and resurrection of Elektra, but did a good job of tying several of the best elements of beloved and acclaimed Daredevil stories into an interesting and original narrative.  It’s what the Marvel films have been doing for the past decade, with perhaps only one or two stumbles.  It was a low powered superhero story with engaging characters and interesting concepts that was firmly entrenched in the ideas of superheroics in a world of superheroics.  It was the same with Jessica Jones, even though Jessica Jones wasn’t a superhero story, both seasons respected the world they were in and used the setting of a superhero world to tell stories about interesting people within that world.  Luke Cage, Iron Fist and to a somewhat lesser extent, Defenders, doesn’t do this.  These shows tend to try to stand apart from the world they’re in, sometimes outright rejecting or insulting the setting within they’re working.

I’m not trying to argue that Luke Cage needs to be a superhero show, and that any deviation from 70’s era Heroes for Hire comics is heresy.  While I would love to see Luke go after Dr. Doom for $200 (real story, look it up), it’s not something we actually have to do.  In fact, having wholly original stories that could only exist within the context of the world built up in Earth-199999 is something that the Netflix shows should strive for.  What I am saying is that the shows need to stop treating the comics as nerdy little kid shit and start learning to work within the context of what they have.  Grounding Luke Cage as a protector of Harlem and using his powers to explore the ideas of the black experience and the consequences of power, privilege and helplessness is a great idea, but ignoring or slyly insulting the context in which the character exists does no favors to the show.  Luke is a superhero and he’s friends with other superheroes and he fought immortal, undead ninjas underneath the city near the bones of a dead dragon and lives in a city where a wizard came from space to get a necklace and had a knock down drag out brawl with Iron Man, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange.  The show doesn’t need to use all of those, acknowledge the Snappening (just set it before Infinity War, no problem) or even comment on them, but it shouldn’t insult the fact it exists within that context.

The other major issue that these shows have is that they’re very disparate.  The Netflix Heroes don’t need to cross over with the movies.  With the production rivalries between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television, that’s never going to happen, but even in a world where Ike Perlmutter and Jeph Loeb weren’t running Marvel TV, there wouldn’t be any reason for Captain America or Spider-Man to show up on the Punisher.  It’s totally fine for the TV heroes, and this includes the Agents of SHIELD I guess, to exist in their own corner dealing with smaller stuff.  One of the best themes of the first season Daredevil was that in a world where there were powerful people, Daredevil was there to clean up the smaller stuff.   Basically, it’s fine for the Defenders to deal with the small scale stuff.  However, that doesn’t mean they need to be so disconnected.  While each show should have their own collection of villains and supporting cast, larger scope across all of the shows would be a great way to make the shows feel more interconnected.  Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk would make for a great Sauron-like figure to tie things together, a larger scope villain connected to much of the goings on throughout New York, possibly not even directly connected.  Mariah Dillard doesn’t need to be a minion of Wilson Fisk, Hell, she could even be a dangerous rival, someone who threatens Fisk more than Matt or Danny ever could, but connecting them would make for great television, and when we get another season of the Defenders, it would make for a nice set up.

Consider how the first and third Avengers movies worked.  There’s a lot of commentary on how Marvel “built up” the movie by having the characters appear in their own films before the Avengers.  This is often used in contrast to Justice League and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice as proof about why those films are bad, but they’re bad on their own merits.  There is some truth to this, it helped the audience know what to expect going in, but what those movies did was have a sense of connectedness and continuity and did so by building on what was already there.  Sure, having Thanos appear in Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and be referenced in other films made great for Infinity War, what really worked was the character work laid in Ragnarok, Civil War, Winter Soldier, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy films as a means of building those up.  Avengers and Infinity War also did a good job of managing to stand on their own by making stuff like this clear, but the continuity did a good job of helping things along.

There are a lot of things that the Netfilx shows can do to improve.  I think adding a bit of continuity and following in the footsteps of Daredevil and Jessica Jones and not treating the universe as little kid shit to be ignored are the easiest things to do.  Also, Luke Cage season 2 was pretty awful, but that continuity managed to make Danny Rand seem almost like Iron Fist for the first time ever.  Seriously, other than the Daughters of the Dragon bar brawl with Colleen and Misty, the Heroes for Hire scene set to the Wu Tang Clan in Episode 10 was the best thing in the whole series.

Game Anatomy: Breath of the Wild Horses

It has been way too long since I had a chance to do one of these.  Part of it is that I’ve only been playing Final Fantasy games and World of Warcraft for the past couple of months, so I need to break away from RPGs.  I also need to play more Final Fantasy IX, because I really want to finish that.  I’m really liking it.  Anyway, enough blogging.

I have a stable full of horses in Breath of the Wild, but there’s one in particular that stands out to me.  Her name is Paladin, and she’s a white horse, and if the quest text is to believed, she’s a descendant of Princess Zelda’s horse.  I had to hunt her down, only knowing of her existence because a random stable hand told me a story about beautiful white horses, and I found her among a pack of other horses.  She was a gorgeous, tall horse with a blonde mane and she nearly threw me off when I came to find her.  When I found her, I immediately rode her back to the stable, and from then on, she was at my side.  When I fought the Dark Beast Ganon, it was her that rode with me.  When I traveled to the coldest parts of Hyrule, or rode up to the top of a mountain to fight a dragon of wisdom, she took me as far as she could go.  I love that horse.  She has great stats, some of the best of any horse that I have, but that’s not what made her special.  I found her, I tamed her, and she became my companion throughout the latter part of the game.

White-horse

Copyright Nintendo and Zelda Dungeon (https://www.zeldadungeon.net/wiki/White_Horse)

I have another horse who is almost as important.  His name is Warlock, and he’s the giant horse, descended, possibly, from Gannodorf’s black stallion, and the last of his kind.  He did throw me, several times, and one of those times, I wound up getting killed by a lynel because I couldn’t tame him.  He isn’t as graceful as Paladin, but when I absolutely need to mow down every single bokoblin that comes after me, I mount up Warlock and I take them down.

Paladin, though, was my main horse.  The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is possibly the most peopled Zelda game in the series.  It has more towns, more characters and stories than any other game in the series, but it’s fundamentally a lonely game.  Sure, Link can get a house (that might have just been his old house…) and hang out with all sorts of colorful characters, but Link spends the majority of his adventure alone.  No one goes with him and he comes from a completely different era and time.  The closest thing Link has to a friend or traveling companion throughout his journey are the spells granted to him by the spirits of his dead friends, and his memories of Zelda.  Link stands apart from everyone else on his journey in every sense of the word, physically, emotionally and in time as well.

In a lot of ways, it’s a melancholy sort of game because of this.  Link journeys through a vast kingdom, much of which lies in ruins because of his personal failure, and he comes from a world that almost no one remembers and he is forever disconnected from, and he does this alone.  This is where Paladin comes in.  When I found Paladin, I felt like I had a connection.  She can’t talk, Hell, I’m actually assuming Paladin is a “her” based solely on the fact Zelda’s horse was female, and she can’t really fight or do anything more than cart me around, but I have a connection to her more than any other horse in any other game I’ve ever played.  Shadowmere, Epona, Roach, none of them hold a candle to Paladin and this is due to a couple of reasons.

First, she’s my one companion.  This can be true of any horse in the game, I’m just using Paladin because Paladin was special to me.  The horse is the one thing you can take with you.  Purah isn’t going to leave her lab, and Impa and her family aren’t leaving Kakariko Village.  Your horse, though, is going to go with you no matter what.  Once the horse is tamed, they follow you anywhere, until you leave them at a stable or they die.  See, that’s the thing, the horses can die.  Any horse can die, even unique horses like the Giant Horse, and while Malanya can wish them back, the Horse God is way out in the boonies and it’s not cheap to bring them back.  As such, that means your horse, your loyal friend, needs to be protected.  I can ride Paladin into battle, or out of it, but an errant couple of guardian lasers can kill the poor girl easily.  Epona, in other games, can’t die, Roach doesn’t die and Shadowmere can reform in 10 in game days in Skyrim and is immortal in Oblivion.  Paladin can die.  Paladin is as mortal as I am, and that gives me a connection to her in a way that no other horse ever has.  She’s not a fantasy themed car or motorcycle, she’s a living being, and I have to protect her.

Even more, the horse isn’t simply given to the player.  It’s possible, if somewhat tedious, to play the whole game without a horse.  In order to have such a companion, the player has to seek one out, tame the horse, and then build a bond with the horse.  Sure, there’s the common Pokemon way of bonding with the horse, and that’s by riding it everywhere, but the real way to build trust with a horse is to feed them apples and carrots, ride with them all over the place and always, always give them pets whenever possible.  However, it’s the finding part that’s important.

To get a horse companion, the player has to sneak up, jump on and ride the horse like a bucking bronco tapping the run button over and over, and hoping that there’s enough stamina left over.  To do that, though, finding a horse is important too.  That makes the horse the player’s horse.  Even without an “official” quest to find a horse, like I had with Paladin, finding a horse is a quest all in of itself.  It’s the perfect kind of quest for a game like this, where the world is the player’s to explore in.  Very few things fit as well into the type of game that Breath of the Wild is more than the horses.

How to Not Announce a Game

I’ve said on multiple occasions that I try to stay positive here at Cluttered Mind.  It’s too easy to fall into the trap of becoming negative, and that can lead to cynicism about gaming, and I’ve been down that road before, it’s not fun.  Also, there are those that do the negative aspects much better than I ever can, so I’m not going to try and be Jim Sterling or anyone else.  That said, especially over the past couple of years, the video game industry has been really good at being really shitty about existing.  Gaming half the time feels more like a scam to get my money than a legitimate art form, and even seriously great games or good entries in storied series tend to have something scummy attached to them.  Lootboxes in Overwatch, that will not go away, or paid DLC that patches things that shouldn’t have been in the original game, among many other things.  E3 was this past week, and like every other E3 that’s ever been, there was a lot of shit, a lot of cool stuff and some stuff I’m really looking forward to (also Metal Wolf Chaos, which I think is all three), but then Bethesda announced Elder Scrolls Six with a single, thirty second trailer.  It almost seems like it was done as an assurance than any actual announcement of an existing game.

You ever killed a lich and a dragon on a mountaintop and then learned one of the great Words of Power?  I have.

Copyright Bethesda Softworks

They don’t even have a logo, it’s why I put a Skyrim picture there.  Look, I understand Bethesda’s plan about giving a mention to Elder Scrolls VI, especially considering all of the rumors surrounding the game’s existence.  Just out in the wild, I’ve run into people saying that Zenimax and Bethesda don’t want to compete with Elder Scrolls Online, or that ESO under performing led to a cancellation of the in development of Elder Scrolls VI, but those were all unsubstantiated stuff I picked up on forums and reddit, but that hasn’t stopped actual publications from legitimate sources from publishing actual rumors as news because there is nothing we know.  Even the widely regarded idea that it will take place in the Imperial province of Hammerfell is based entirely on guesswork from thirty seconds of footage.  Some stuff I’ve read go back years, because it’s been six and a half years since Skyrim came out, and when all Bethesda puts out in the Elder Scrolls series is an MMO and a bunch of ports of the last game, it’s hard to know if another game is coming out.  After all, it’s not like we’re going to see Warcraft 4 any time soon, thanks to the success of World of Warcraft.

So, letting the public know that there is a mainline, non MMORPG version of the Elder Scrolls series coming out, and saying so at the biggest gaming event of the year is great for them, but it does very little for the people who are genuinely interested in another game in the series.  If anything, such a simple announcement, with almost no fanfare and done as an attempt to get hopes and expectations up does nothing to actually help out the brand, but only serves to fan the flames of speculation.  This is especially true since Starfield, Bethesda’s newest IP (the first in 25 years apparently), is due out first, and that’s being aimed at the next generation of gaming hardware.  Elder Scrolls VI might not be out until 2020 or 2021, since we don’t even have an idea of when the next set of consoles are coming out.

Here’s the thing, Elder Scrolls is huge.  Like, crazy big.  There’s a reason that Skyrim gets ported to everything that exists, because it has sold 30 million copies.  That’s almost the entire population of California, although I would estimate a few million of those are rebuys, but it was still ridiculously successful back in 2011.  Those gigantic numbers are pretty much unheard of, and the game has become ubiquitous, so it means that there are tons and tons of fans, and even a thirty second trailer for a game is going to push a lot crazy speculation.  If the game doesn’t take place in Valenwood or feature this specific headcanon based on the assassination of Emperor Titus Mede II, people are going to get pissed.  Most of the people who are going to get mad are going to be the minority, they’re always a part of every fandom, but it’s going to be huge by comparison, simply because of the size of the series.

Already, with the announcement, the rumors are getting out of hand, both good and ill.  I’m not suggesting whether or not the game will be good, honestly, it’ll probably be all right provided they don’t try to make it like they did Fallout 4.  Still, it’s a bad way to announce something.

Anthem: Also Why I Hate Destiny

I’ve never actually played Destiny, so that title is a bit misleading, but I’m required to have a title, so I decided to put it up there.  Today was EA’s conference for E3, and there were a few things announced, like Battle Royale for Battlefield V (we knew that) a Jedi Knight game (with no other information beyond “can use a lightsaber and are a Jedi”) and we got a new trailer for Anthem.  It’s a cinematic trailer , with no new gameplay.

The premise is pretty simple, the last bastion of humanity is holed up in a single city, where elite super soldiers fight to protect the last vestiges of humanity and hopefully, one day, regain control over the world they once lived in.  It’s a lot like destiny.  There are mentions of gods (probably the progenitor humans), a bunch of monsters to fight, altered humans that have their own cultures and probably diverse enough biologies to be separate people.  The biggest difference, instead of being raised from the dead with space magic like in Destiny, in Anthem, everyone gets Iron Man suits.  Actually, in the trailer, one dude is Genji in his sentai armor, another lady is Iron Man and another dude is in a combination of the Hulkbuster and War Machine armors.  It looks like we, as players, will scrounge around an open world and fight big monsters in a less linear version of Borderlands, while sometimes hanging out with other players.  The story will “continue for years to come” so, don’t expect too much.

I could be totally wrong, it could be an indepth semi-multiplayer RPG with unique mechanics, that utilize the stuff they learned from Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda to create something unique.  A more story focused Diablo III kind of game, only you get to play as your own unique Iron Man.  However, based on what I’ve seen, I kind of doubt it.  I’m not even sure what the characters are, or who I’m playing as, and I’ve watched all of the media  related to Anthem so far.

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Copyright Bioware and Electronic Arts

When we first saw Mass Effect, we were introduced to Shepard and the world right away.  We know who we’re playing as, what we’re getting into and what’s going to happen.  It doesn’t spoil anything, like the Reapers or even Saren, but we know what’s going to happen.  Even the Dragon Age Inquisition trailer added more to what we were going to be doing than the Anthem trailer.  It doesn’t reveal that you’re playing as the Inquisitor or anything, but we do know that there’s a war, we see characters that we’re going to play and familiar face Morrigan pops up to explain some stuff about the world.  It’s easy to understand, digestible and makes sense.

Making a good, well crafted single player experience, or even a good story based multiplayer experience, though, is clearly not EA’s goal.  It hasn’t been for over 10 years, but it really seems like now, they want to put the nail in the coffin.  Obviously, players like multiplayer games, and they are easy to monetize, but it does make for a rather sad commentary that one of the largest video game publishers that owns some of the best single player RPG IPs aren’t interested interested in making them.  I mean, I love new games and new IPs, but Anthem doesn’t look at all like a new IP.  It looks like EA got mad that Destiny made a shit load of money, even though everyone in the world seems to hate it.

Then again, I went back to play World of Warcraft again, so what do I know?  We’ll see if I actually stop once I get my class mounts.

I know a lot of people were optimistic after God of War was so successful, selling over 5 million copies, that companies like EA would change course, or at least alter a bit to allow for more single player games, but I’m not.  The big companies aren’t interested in making good games.  They want to suck every penny from their player base as fast as they can, it’s why they’re so intent on forcing loot boxes into every game, it’s why they want to monetize everything, it’s why every game has a bunch of shitty DLC that costs almost as much as the game itself and they want you to buy that DLC when you buy the game, sight unseen.  This is, of course, assuming that the DLC even comes out.  EA has canceled DLC for upcoming games before.  Andromeda comes to mind, and, here’s a secret, Mass Effect Andromeda sold over a million copies.  It didn’t do as well as the original, and it probably didn’t hit 5 or 6 million, or whatever insane number is required to keep the game in production.

I guarantee we’ll see the same with Dragon Age, and it’ll be like this until they find some better way to squeeze all of the money they can out of single player RPGs, too.  Hell, they already did it with Dungeon Keeper.

Final Fantasy Challenge: Final Fantasy IX Part Two: Piece of Cake. I’m an Escape Artist

Vivi_Ornitier_character

Copyright Square Enix

War and death.  It’s actually kind of shocking how much violence this game has.  I remember when it came out, it was pitched as kind of a softer game compared to the more gritty and grounded VII and VIII.  There’s a war in VIII, and I guess Sephiroth burns down a town, but neither of them have anything on the destruction of Cleyra.  Like, it was some pretty impressive 2000s PlayStation 1 CGI, too, but watching Odin ride out of the heavens and just blow up the whole damn city was unlike anything I’ve really experienced in a Final Fantasy game.  Outside of, you know, Kefka destroying the world.  Look, I’m not saying it’s the worst thing I’ve seen a villain do in Final Fantasy, I’m saying it’s one of the most visually spectacular examples of destruction depicted in the series that I have seen.

I’ve said before that Final Fantasy IX doesn’t fuck around, and the sheer amount of death and destruction that is depicted on screen by the war is not what I was expecting.  I expected characters to die, I did not expect a man to be burned to death for trying to protect his children by a bunch of black mages.  It’s still a bit late era PlayStation 1 looking, sure, but it doesn’t stop it from being kind of shocking.  I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started this.  I knew that IX dealt with some heavy themes, but I didn’t think I was going to get into this.

The point I’m at now, I have almost all of the characters.  What’s interesting is how much time they’ve spent away from each other.  Even now, roughly halfway through what would be the second disc, I only have four the characters with me, and several have left or gone on their own adventures since.  Steiner and Freya are gone and I’ve been reunited with Quina after thinking they were pretty much dead.  I really like this, because while it does mean the party feels less cohesive now, the fact that each character has their own arcs that they have to do on their own, or away from the rest of the party, means that their bonds grow deeper when they come back to the group proper.  It’s a thing I really liked about Final Fantasy VI, and I like seeing it here.  I really hope I get to see what Freya, Beatrix and Steiner are up to, having, hopefully, gotten away from Queen Brahne.  I guess I still have Amarant and Eiko left to get on my team, now.

Freya is probably my favorite of the two new characters, so I’ll talk about Quina first.  I love the idea of blue magic, but in practice, I’ve always found it to be a gigantic pain in the ass.  I mean, I did kind of spam Big Guard throughout 90% of Final Fantasy VII, but that was pretty much all I used the Enemy Skill Materia for, because getting most of the good stuff required more work than was worth it.  Weakening enemies just enough and hoping Quina will be able to eat them is not very fun.  Worse, I don’t really like Quina.  There is always a mascot sort of character in Final Fantasy games (actually, I think this is the last time the mascot character is playable), and they’re always various kinds of annoying.  Quina is all right.  Her stilted manner of speech does a lot to convey her character (simple, alien and childish, but not stupid) and that’s nice, on paper.  In practice, they’re just sort of annoying, and I don’t know if they are going to add much to the story.  On the flipside, they hit like a truck right now and have a lot more hit points that Garnet and Vivi do, so I’ll take them.

On the other spectrum, Freya is great.  I have a weakness for characters who are driven to protect others (Basch, for example), but she also gets points for not being broody.  Her quest for her boyfriend, her sense of duty, all of these things really push her forward as a character and give her nice motivations.  I do like that she sort of serves as a mirror to Steiner, as they’re both kind of stuffy, Lawful Good types who are more connected to their duty than the people behind that duty.  What’s interesting is that their growth is going in opposite directions.  While Steiner is slowly learning to become his own person, Freya is learning to be less of a loner.  I really hope I get to see them play off of each other.  Originally, I was like “oh great, I finally have a martial character who doesn’t suck,” and while I’m not the biggest fan of Dragoons, I like how her mechanics work and she’s a cool character.  However, now that Steiner is getting some real development, and is becoming much less of a stupid one note joke, I’m kind of glad they’re both here.

Right now, my only complaint about the story is that while it is dark, it does seem like there was a mandate to make sure it didn’t get too “broody.”  There’s very little angst here, even when there should be.  Tons of people die, and the characters do feel bad, they’re not totally cut off, but it’s always in a “we’re going to swallow our sadness and move on, be heroes, grieve later” sort of way.  That’s not strictly accurate, but the game can make that impression at times.  The emotional weight on the players is fine, but it does seem like sometimes the emotional weight on the characters isn’t heavy enough.  I don’t want an overwrought scene where a character struggles with his own guilt over not being able protect a party member and they wind up giving the bad guy the evil macguffin, I just want them to linger perhaps a bit more.

Also, the skill system just means I don’t upgrade enough.  It’s weird, I’m not sure I like it.  I get that it’s trying to get away from over complexity after Junctioning (oh man, there’s a reason why I’m doing VIII second to last), but most of the time I’m equipping items less for their stats, and more for their skills, even if I don’t use the skills very much.  I’m also worried I’m going to have a bunch of skills by the end, and not enough points to use them effectively.  There’s a lot I have to say about that, but I want to make sure I know what I’m talking about.

Heart is the Best Power: God of War Review

god-of-war-key-art-01-ps4-us-01nov17

Copyright Sony Entertainment

God of War made me cry.  That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write or say unironically.  It wasn’t ugly crying I get when I finish reading the Gray Havens at the end of Return of the King, or even a lot of tears, but there were a few times I definitely got emotional playing God of War.  Like, God of War is a good game, yeah, but from a narrative perspective, it’s what studios like Naughty Dog or Ready At Dawn have been trying to make for over a decade and have never managed to succeed at: it’s a genuine story that directly integrates its gameplay, story and narrative writing into one succinct whole.  It does so without sacrificing the brutal gameplay and carnage the series is known for, and manages to do so while simultaneously making a statement on what violence is, and how it should and should not be used.

An indeterminate number of years after the end of God of War 3, God of War picks up with Kratos, pantheon slayer and formerly all-around irredeemable piece of shit, in the Norse realm of Midgard, mourning the death of his wife, building a funeral pyre with his son and going on one last hunting expedition with him, to make sure his son, Atraeus, is ready for the journey ahead.  The journey it turns out, is to take the ashes of Faye, Kratos’s wife, to the highest peak of all of the Nine Realms of Norse Mythology and spread her ashes.  It gets interrupted by a strange man with tattoos, who can’t feel pain, and can stand up to Kratos’s full godly wrath, and Kratos and his son get wrapped up in a twisted telling of the last bit of Norse mythology.

One of the things that makes God of War so good is that it is unapologetically a video game.  Unlike a lot of games that focus on narrative, God of War isn’t trying to be a low rent B-movie.  It’s not trying to hide its fantasy elements, or the fact that it’s a video game with tons of cool video game stuff.  It’s got bosses, multiple enemy types, combos and all sorts of cool RPG stats.  It’s not a particularly complex video game from a mechanical standpoint, but it doesn’t hide any of its video game elements.  Bosses have health bars with their names plastered all over the bottom of the screen, enemies have health bars, there are health pick ups, the game isn’t afraid to give the player button prompts when Kratos or Atraeus have to do something, and there are tons of optional fights and even a couple of Final Fantasy style super bosses.

It’s really refreshing to play a video game that actually utilizes the medium in order to tell a complex and interesting story.  There are, for instance, no actual cutscenes.  Much like Metal Gear Solid V, the entire game uses tracking shots and is shot entirely within the game engine.  Unlike Metal Gear Solid V, which has a whole bunch of different environments and requires a loading screen to transition between them, God of War is one single tracking shot, from pressing start to the stinger after the game.  The only time there’s a loading screen is when the player dies, or turns off the game.  Because there are no cutscenes, the game makes it feel like the player and Kratos (and Atraeus, somewhat) are directly connected.  When Kratos has to do something, the player is expected to use the action button, and when Atraeus is supposed to do something, the player needs to press the button that commands Atraeus.  It’s not done like a quick time event, either.  The game has done away with those, replacing pretty much every big time cutscene or set piece battle with the normal gameplay.

The game does not skimp in scale.  Much like every other game in the series, Kratos fights things that are several times larger than him, and each time, the game uses its normal combat system.  Sure, there are a couple of times where things like movement are controlled, such as fighting someone on the back of a dragon, but the actual fighting between Kratos and the boss uses the same system as before.  Kratos might not climb on the back of a mountain sized enemy like fighting Kronos in God of War 3, but there are still several giant enemies, and the game still figures in huge monsters Kratos has to jump onto to murder, while steering them into bad guys, just like every other game in the series.

Combat itself is great.  It steals liberally from Dark Souls, merging with the combat from the older games.  It’s fun, it has some depth, and there are definitely fights in this game that will pull out all of the stops to challenge the player.  The gameplay is not just here to service the plot, it’s fun in and of itself.  It may not be on the level of Devil May Cry 4, but what is, really?  Besides, that was all DMC 4 had going for it, this has so much more, plus its combat is a lot of fun.

About the only downside of the combat is probably that while the game doesn’t skimp on the size of bosses, it’s still not quite sure how to do giant monsters just yet.  The fight on the back of the dragon, for example, is a bit easy because of how much has to be scripted.  It lacks, for instance, the depth of combat and it doesn’t push the player as much as one of the optional Valkyrie fights, even the easy ones.  There’s a part in the game that takes place on the corpse of a jotun even larger than Kronos, but Kratos never gets to fight it.

Narratively is where this game shines.  It’s a very emotional game that really explores Kratos as a character.  By the end of the series, he had become a ridiculous self-parody; an irredeemable, awful piece of shit who was still hard to play as, even when going up against people who were objectively much worse than he was.  This Kratos is older, wiser, and perfectly aware of the darkness growing in his heart.  The game doesn’t shy away from how awful murdering Zeus was, even if Zeus was a heartless rapist bastard who totally had it coming.  To Kratos, the end scene of God of War 3, where he literally punches Zeus’s face into mush (a scene so violent I couldn’t look at it while I was doing it, and I hate Zeus), is a source or shame.  A shame so deep, it causes a rift between he and his son.

The growth of the development between Kratos and Atraeus is the real star here.  Kratos is so ashamed of himself, who he was as a person, that he wants to make sure Atraeus never becomes like him.  As such, he becomes distant, and that distance makes his son angry, and Kratos sees that same anger growing in him.  The game is all about this cycle, this mythological cycle of sons killing fathers, rising up and destroying what was before, just because of daddy issues.  Whats interesting, is the game gives the player, and Kratos himself, a vision as to just what he had become by the end of God of War 3.  While talking about the specifics go into some pretty specific spoilers, by showing Kratos just what he had become, it allows Kratos to actually grow as a person, and become something so much better.

There is a lot to discuss, but basically, the game is essentially a real game.  It’s what every studio has been trying to do for decades, and it does it not by sacrificing what makes the medium work, but by embracing it.  It’s fantasy, it’s a video game, and it’s got one of the best, most emotional stories I’ve seen come out this year.  Good job Sony Santa Monica.