Thursday, June 17, 2021

Field Report #28 - I Finally Made It Out

Yeah, I finally made it to Outlands. I am sure you've all been wondering, crying yourself to sleep every time you realized there wasn't a new post from me. Ok maybe a bit too much hyperbole.

Let's just say I panicked a little when TBC Classic was announced. I didn't feel anywhere near done with Classic WoW and I hadn't even gotten a character up to level 60 yet at that point. I had been taking my sweet time and that meant missing out on all the end game content of Classic WoW all over again (because that was pretty much what happened the first time around). 

I know I could've stayed around. I was also pretty sure few others would, regardless of what gaming news articles were trying to tell me. The ones who would were probably some really dedicated people that would demand more of me than I could offer. I required the general public to be around, and the general public were going to move on. And so I needed to as well, sheeple that I am.

It did help that I absolutely love TBC of course. I am hyped about it, I was always looking forward to it. Just not yet. But it's ok, here it is and I couldn't stop it. Now I needed to get a character to level 58 to enjoy it.

I did get my warlock to level 60 some week or so before the launch, but for some reason I really wasn't feeling it. I remembered TBC being where my love for tanking first started and I felt an urge to get back to that again. Too bad my warrior was only level 46 or so. I realized waiting for and tanking groups probably wasn't the fastest way to go at it, so I decided to respec. Again. It is getting costly now. 

But now I am a fury warrior and I started to hit questing, hard. I mean as hard as anyone could when you've got some 1,5-2 hours game time in the evening at best. It took me about two weeks but now I finally made level 58 and got to Outlands. For the time I am going to stick with fury so that I can quest somewhat decently, and hopefully tank decently enough as well. I tanked a few Zul'Farraks for which I was quite overleveled at the time, and other than that I've never actually tanked in dps spec before. It'll be an interesting experience.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption - Review

Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is not a good game, really. The characters are boring, the dialogue laughable. The story is cliché and the controls... oh sweet Vukodlak, the controls are way beyond redemption, if you pardon my pun.

I guess VTMR, as I am going to call it, has got to live in the shadow of its, supposedly, better sibling VTM: Bloodlines. I haven't played that one yet so I can't say, but I know the bar is pretty low. Before playing Redemption I had heard very little about it, whereas I seem to come across some Bloodlines reference every here and there. 

You actually start out as a human, Christof. It's the middle ages of Europe and you're a knight of the crusade battling evil. I knew my character was going to become a vampire before long because, A: I was playing a vampire game and B: you can see the character as a vampire on the cover art. You get hurt in battle and nursed back to health by a nun called Anezka at the local monastery. You immediately fall madly in love with this nun, though you are both vowed to celibacy, and this serves as the foundation for the entire story of VTMR. After the first dungeon which serves as a sort of learning experience you get turned into a vampire by one of the many clans in VTM - the brujah. I can't say I am well versed in VTM lore, but I know the clans differ quite a lot. In VTMR you don't get to choose which clan you belong to but you get to fight several of them.

Christof, who only speaks with "thy" and "thee" throughout the entire game, learns that his "beloved Anezka" has been turned into a ghoul by another faction of vampires. They also aim to raise some sort of mega-demon from hell to allow vampires to rule the earth once more. For some reason some vampires are against this. There is quite a lot of dialogue explaining all this in the game but things move around so quickly and the dialogue is quite tiresome it left my brain about as soon as I had read it. I realized it was all really just an excuse to get to slaughter some vampires and demons.

The quest log is ok but the map is absolutely useless.

Through events you will eventually get transported from the middle ages to "modern" times, i.e when the game was made around 2000. The end goal is of course to find and free your Anezka though it is unclear whether she actually wants to, and also to prevent the coming of the Vukodlak. The way to do this is by going through different dungeon-settings and whacking the heck out of the enemies. Even though the settings differ and give some nice variety, very little else does - they all play out exactly the same. Enter, go through a few levels, kill boss at the end. 

Between dungeons you will get the opportunity to sell your loot to buy new loot. There are swords, halberds, shotguns, rocket launchers and everything in-between. They're all pretty much equally bad, you end up either flailing your swords or flailing your pistols. That is if you can even get in position to attack in the first place, but more about that soon. You collect a "coterie" of fellow vampires who decide to join you for one reason or other, most extremely vague and along the lines of "because I feel like it". Some will swap out, and always without any warning and taking every piece of item they had in their inventory with them. I always reloaded at these points to strip them down naked, I've fought hard for those items!

There is a lot of dialogue, little of it interesting.

You also get the chance to skill up your characters. There are plenty of stats to choose from, and even more spells. It's hard to notice that up-ing my stats makes any difference in combat, other than that it allows me to cast new spells. What does having 20 more perception even do? Do I hit harder with 30 more strength? If that is the case I really can't tell. There is a plethora of magic schools to play around with and each school has a handful of different spells. Some seem to be absolutely useless, like subduing animals. There hardly are any animals in the game and they're all bad at fighting anyway. Other spells seemed absolutely mandatory, like having fire spells. Some enemies died from two fire spells or 25 flailings of my sword. I am sure I couldn't have beaten the game at all if I hadn't at least one character with fire spells. 

You gain new schools by leveling up or by finding books around the dungeons. Tough luck if you taught a character a school who then leaves your coterie. After the first time that happened I just ended up teaching my main character every book I came across, unless he knew it already. Spells are cast by using your "blood pool" and when you reach 0 you die. There are many ways to enhance your blood pool though, and many enemies to refill your blood pool from. Overall I think this system is interesting and works, or at least would work if it wasn't for other parts of the combat being broken (more about that soon).

You'll get items like poison and disease antidotes but I never ended up needing them.

The game is extremely linear, but so is Super Mario. It doesn't have to be a problem if other aspects of the game are either built around it or at least fun in their own respect. I often prefer games that offer some linearity since I like the sense of clear progression they often offer. And the dungeons aren't too bad. Like I said they're actually fairly varied, going through sewers, monasteries, caves, the secret Setite temple underneath a night club... Enemies are varied too, within the lore. You'll fight different kinds of vampires who throw a bunch of different skills your way, some way more annoying and devastating than others.

While a lot of aspects about VTMR are weak, they at least work decently. The main issue with VTMR however are the controls, and they are a pretty big issue. You'll spend more time fighting the controls when you enter combat than you will fighting the enemies. The main issue is probably that everything is controlled by clicking. You click where you walk and where you attack. This meant some times accidentally clicking innocent bystanders because I was actually trying to walk past them. That instantly had my entire coterie attack them which in turn had all the guards attack me and... reload. 

I can't even count the times this happened, leading me to target the wrong enemy or executing the wrong attack or just plain running to the wrong place. I can't count the times my coterie members stood in my way or thought I was standing in the way or decided to unload their bullets into a wall because an enemy was slightly obstructed. Sometimes I'd notice one of them was missing and find them way back just standing staring into a wall. I often decided to give my comrades ranged weapons just so they wouldn't get stuck somewhere or stand in my way. Trying to suck blood from an enemy I often accidentally clicked one of my friends standing in the way, leaving us both useless and exposed in the combat until I could cancel the skill. My character often struggled to walk through doorways if I didn't carefully click him around the door. It's a horrible mix of abysmal path-finding and terrible AI.

Even though you get many interesting skills, you can only equip six of them at any given time. I tried going into my spellbook mid-combat for some fights but targeting enemies was difficult enough without a huge inventory screen in the way. 

You can swap between characters at any time, and as soon as you let one of them go back to their AI they go full on stupid-mode again. It often felt like herding a bunch of crazy toddlers and the only reason I kept them around was to not feel so lonely... and also for cannon fodder.

The subject matter means spending a lot of time in the dark. I constantly had trouble seeing what was going on or where I was going.

All this meant I was save-scumming my way through this game and I feel zero shame. I had to reload so many times because my entire party died from standing in a poison cloud in some corner or run straight into sunlight like they've forgotten what they are. Or waste their blood pool on skills that are basically useless. It's fortunate then that it seems like my version was updated with the possibility to save at any time. I saw what seemed to be save spots in the game, hinting at a version where you could only save at certain areas in the game and honestly - the game would've been unplayable that way. You just die to unfair stuff way too often.

So how do I explain that I still spent over 20 hours with this game? I tortured myself all the way to the end after all, so it can't have been all bad, right? I guess even though there are a lot of unnecessary deaths and combat controls are about as smooth as a drunk refrigerator, with the help of save-scumming the game at least manages to have some sort of forward momentum that kept my interest throughout. Even with the horrible controls I can't really say that it's a difficult game and it would've been extremely easy with good combat controls so maybe that's one way to look at it. 

Yet I can't recommend anyone to play Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption. It won't offer you anything that another game doesn't do better, so unless you have an affinity for the VTM lore or a fetish for vampires I'd say it's better to go get some sunlight.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077 - PS4 Review

I've been ambivalent towards Cyberpunk 2077 since the first couple of hours of playing it. My expectations were just about as high as anyone else's, maybe especially since I had just played through the absolutely amazing The Witcher 3. And the more I played Cyberpunk the more I felt there was a lot of good things to be said about it, but also many things that just felt off. Around the 25 hour mark I still wasn't entirely sure if I was having fun or not, which of course isn't the best of grades.

Having finished it though I think I can put the finger on one of the main issues of Cyberpunk 2077 - and no I am actually not talking about the now infamous bugs and glitches, but I'll get to them too. The game suffers from a serious case of fluff-itis, or something I also call the Skyrim-syndrome. I spent over 60 hours in Skyrim before I realized it wasn't going to offer me much more than the same stupid enemies in the same boring locations. Fortunately it only took me about 25 hours to realize I was making the same mistake in Cyberpunk 2077. There is a big difference though, Cyberpunk actually also has a lot of really interesting bits buried within all that fluff. The important thing is to dig those bits out and not be lured off the road by enticing map markers that are just going to end up wasting your time doing the same repetitive stuff.

You can customize your character a lot, but rarely do you get to look at it.

In Cyberpunk 2077 you play as V, a character I had little love for. V isn't a silent protagonist, but also not a fleshed out character like Geralt, but rather something in-between that'll end up mostly annoying you with their own dialogue. While you have some control of what V will say in some situations, I too often ended up not agreeing with their style of saying it. Maybe the dialogue was just badly written, because V is definitely not the only character I felt was way more corny than cool. It's fortunate then that the other main character, Johnny Silverhand famously played by Keanu Reeves, ended up really working for me.

Maybe it was the concept of body-snatching more than Keanu Reeves himself. I don't actually think Reeves is a particularly good actor and I don't think he is in this game either. But he has a certain je ne sais quoi, a unique charm that worked perfectly for this character. The main plot starts a bit meandering, probably mostly because the only people around you are V and Jackie, a guy who although endearing doesn't get fleshed out enough to become interesting. But as Jackie leaves the scene, Johnny enters. Your brain. Literally.

It manages to be atmospheric and lifeless at the same time.

This is where I find Cyberpunk 2077 has one of its strengths. The main story, and many of the bigger side-quests, do some very interesting explorations of cyberpunk and sci-fi themes. It's so frustrating then when they're often only skin-deep and leave you wanting for more. One quest has you looking for the run-away subconscious of a taxi company run by a massive AI. After having rounded up all the different taxi cabs and having to listen to their different reasons for having left, I expected a lot more than the plain "thank you" I got. One side quest with a super popstar who has completely covered herself in chrome and going a bit bonkers also didn't really go anywhere. Or maybe they do, maybe I didn't do many enough of the side quests and these elements pop up again elsewhere?

Either way you're going to play Cyberpunk 2077, side quests or focusing on the main story, there is going to be a lot of combat. And it has potential. You are theoretically given the possibility to stealth, hack, punch or shoot your way through most combat situations. In reality though, the enemies are so boring I didn't want to spend more brainpower thinking about what to do than necessary. In the first half of the game I sprayed and prayed, in the second half of the game I quickhacked everything to death. Even though I could technically hack turrets, cameras and drones to do my bidding or stealth my way around, silently picking enemies off one by one and hiding them - none of these elements were well enough designed for me to want to use any of those paths. 

Finding the stealthy path, or staying out of enemy sight in any meaningful way, was way more hassle than it was fun. I also rarely found it neither necessary nor practical to use any other way than just rushing to get through an area. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, combat was almost never any challenge and thus felt more like a necessary evil to get to the more interesting story points. There were some fights that had me breathing heavy though and that I might remember for a while - a samurai boss somewhere in the middle of story mode and the final boss did prove a bit of a challenge and variety to an otherwise rather stale ordeal.

The game also has an obsession with cars. Anywhere you'll go, some random person will ring you up and offer some car or motorbike for what I considered a ridiculous price. I had no interest in this part of the game, and I have also never had any fondness for games like GTA - cruising around is just not my kind of thing. And maybe that is for the best since it seemed a lot of bugs happened while using vehicles. I almost always chose running from A to B, but some times it would turn out to be too far away. Getting in to a vehicle the first time I notice that the radio station play some absolutely banging tunes. How unfortunate that these are not available outside of vehicles! I would occasionally get into a car just so I could listen to some nice music, but quickly realized internet could serve me better. I do really recommend you check out the radio station music from Cyberpunk if you have an opportunity, because I almost didn't hear a single song I didn't enjoy.

Speaking of getting around - while Night City often feels completely lifeless, in other ways it was absolutely amazing. Often when I had to wait for something to trigger in the game, I chose to just walk around and slowly take in the surroundings. The city itself is meticulously built up, and it many ways it felt real. The people in it not so much. I still loved to just look around, peek in to nooks and walk up and down stairs to see where it would take me. Night City is like a postcard of a real city, it looks real when you look at it but you know you're not really there.

Filling these nooks and alleys are people that some times didn't load in with their faces on or cars that would get stuck in walls if I stood in their way. I won't be too mean about the bugginess though, in fact after 45 hours of game time I didn't encounter any game breaking ones and only a few weird ones. There were a few corpses that died in places where I couldn't loot them properly, and towards the end I had to backtrack a few corridors to shoot off a lost enemy because an item wouldn't trigger otherwise. There were items floating in the air here and there or people interacting with things that weren't there. Quite often audio tracks would play on top of each other, when I was having a conversation with someone and my phone rang for instance. But this was in no way a part of the game that bothered me or ruined my fun at any point.

The game wants to do so much and I wish they would've just focused on half of the stuff and made them really good instead. It's like they started out with a solid idea but just kept adding on top of it until all the good bits where all but buried. As it is now, most of it comes off as either half-baked or just not thought through. There are cars to collect, gangs to murder, psychos to find, fixers to help and a billion other things that scream for your attention. The main story is actually quite good, and worth playing through if you ask me. I probably would've had more fun with combat if it had been more focused and less of it. Now I definitely burned myself out on it in the first 20 hours of the game, and had little interest left for it when it bloomed out a bit towards the end. When you try to cater to everyone, you often end up catering to no one and the developers should've had the guts to stick to one vision or two instead of trying to include so many. Cyberpunk 2077 is proof yet again that most often, less is more.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Primordia - Review

Point and click adventure games have always been proof of my inner masochist. Why else would I keep trying these games when I know beforehand that I have little chance of getting through them "legitimately"? Nostalgia is probably the best answer. Watching my mom play games like The Dig, Myst, Riven and puzzler Safecracker as a kid are some of my best video game memories.

So paradoxically to me P&C games have simultaneously always been a sure way to failure and a sure way to comfort. I love them, but I honestly suck at them. I tell you this because in all fairness I am the last person who should ever review a P&C game. I probably can't give you much guidance on whether the core mechanic of the game, the puzzling, is well designed or not. I am bad at them either way! But maybe there are some things I can tell you about Primordia, I am definitely going to give it a try nonetheless.

It all starts out when you, playing as the robot Horatio Nullbuilt, gets robbed of your ships power core by some seemingly random robot-brute who shoots you and leaves you to rust. Fortunately you're fine, and with your trusty sidekick Crispin in tow you set off to get back what is yours. Starting the game my first thought was "omg I love that voice. Who is that voice? Do I know that voice? I need to know who does that voice!". Horatio is voiced by Logan Cunningham, famous for doing a lot of voicework for Supergiant Games, like Bastion and Transistor (and more recently the very well received Hades). It's great, I love it and I could listen to Logan/Horatio all day long. Horatio has a master/buddy relationship with Crispin that reminded me a lot of the one between the Nameless One and Morte (also voiced by great voice actors!) in Planescape Torment. Crispin is sarcastic and witty and Horatio is always almost done with his sh*t. It works and it's funny. The part with a finger and a nostril had me giggle, I'm sorry but that is just my kind of humour.

Horatio has a broken ship. Is it his ship? Who knows.

Game mechanics in P&C games have come a long way from the Monkey Islands and Maniac Mansions of 30 years ago. Gone is the verb wall, now you just either look at something or act on it. This isn't something new so I won't delve too deep in to it, let's just say I am very happy for it as I feel it allows for a lot more focus on the puzzles themselves.

So to the puzzles then, let's give it a shot. Of course I had to use a walkthrough for some parts of the game, but surprisingly few for being me. Primordia does a great job at putting puzzles in front of you that will make you feel smart when you get them, but never angry because you fail. Reading a walkthrough when playing P&C games I some times think "ah I would've never gotten that one anyway". Never with Primordia, every time I realized my problem was that I had forgotten about some information I had received earlier in the game or a location I had visited earlier in the game. I wish I had written stuff down sooner! No puzzle was annoying and I really enjoyed cracking the 16 digit code towards the end. There is a surprising amount of what seems like Red Herrings too, having me try to break codes with the help of a random shopping list for instance and spending way too much time with the Sad Robot. Either that or I just missed a lot of content. I didn't mind this either, the solution to a puzzle always ended up feeling clear, and my problem was paying attention.

Robots don't mind waiting for Godot.

The story of course escalates quickly from "trying to get my thing back" to something like "trying to find out what actually happened with humankind and saving robotkind". The post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting is right up my alley and you get just enough tidbits of information about the world around you to get a comprehensive idea and yet know absolutely nothing about anything. What happened to the humans? Who is Horatio really? Why did they take his power core?! Funny thing is, I again see similarities to Planescape Torment, where people you meet some times seem to know more about you than you do and you have in fact existed in several versions before this one (which is information you get from the start but don't think about until later). The game sort of sets up for plot twists without particularly delivering any, but I like that. This time we don't get to peek behind the curtain but we're left with questions and curiosity for more. That way the characters manage to stay in my mind for longer after I turn off the game.

The game might be fifty shades of brown but the pixels have a lot of charm. The environments do their job at conveying dereliction without getting me lost or confused. I only once had trouble locating something important in a screen and that one was definitely on me. The character designs are as varied as their personalities. You'll meet robots in dispute over guardianship, robots who rhyme, robots who wait for buses... The background music is suitably ambient and also apparently impossible to find on Youtube unfortunately. You can get it on composer Nathaniel Chambers Bandcamp though.

I still want a drink at that bar.

It's not a long game. With some help from my internet friends I finished it at just over 6 hours. I can't decide if I wish there was more or think that actually, that just means it doesn't outstay its welcome. I am definitely more curious about the world and the characters, but the game keeps the puzzling tight with rare need to run all over clicking everything and trying to combine anything with something, which I think is where a lot of P&C games bloat their game time, at least when I play them. Getting around the map is super quick and easy, the game helps you keep notes on some essential information and the puzzling is as logical as it is going to get in these kind of games. If you like P&C games there is really no reason not to try this out - come for the puzzles, stay for the story and characters. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Axiom Verge - Review

What makes a good metroidvania? Axiom Verge sure makes a very good stab at it and gets almost all the way for me.

Axiom Verge starts off promising. Your character handles well and the surroundings are great. It is clear that the Metroid series must've been a huge influence on AV not just in gameplay, but also in aesthetics. You'll run through similar off-world looking spacey half-creature-esque corridors and rooms with similar feeling and looking enemies. 

It doesn't shy away from being colorful.

The gameplay is pretty text-book metroidvania, the map even looks like something taken straight from the handheld Castlevanias. Not a problem for me, those games - like Circle of the Moon - are some of my absolute favorites and I am always on the lookout for something that can scratch the same itch since Konami doesn't seem interested in my money lately.

There is a huge arsenal of different weapons, some definitely more useful than others but there is some impressive inventiveness that's gone in to them. Your character also gains new skills along the way in true metroidvania fashion and I really have to give credit to these skills not always being what you expect. Running around the map you'll find areas where you think you need something like a high jump or flight ability, but in fact you get completely different and very fun to use skills, like a little drone. A lot of these skills also get built upon, where it does one thing when you first acquire it, it does several more things further into the game. 

The game also does an amazing job at blending the game world with your skills in an original way. When you start the game you see areas that look glitched. At first I wasn't sure if I had a wonky copy or if it was supposed to look like that, but I soon found it was part of the level design. Your character gets a world altering gun that doesn't just change the feature of certain areas of the game, but also how most enemies behave. Using the gun to alter the world around you becomes key to getting around and it's used in a way I would love to see further explored in other games.

Acquiring new skills and discovering new things on the map goes at a fairly well balanced pace for most of the game. For the first 80% of the game I am having a blast getting through areas and trying out new skills on places I've had to leave behind before, just as it should be in this genre. There is a point however when I had discovered what I assume is the majority of the map and I start looking for those few points here and there where I might've missed something. While the map isn't huge, getting from one area to the other side of the map still requires a fair time of just running through places you've passed many times before. It is fortunate that there are few enemies that are really annoying or hold you up, but this time sink still puts a massive wet cloth on the enjoyment of exploration. When you die you get teleported back to the last place you saved, and I some times used that as a sort of "fake" teleportation to quickly get me back to an area if it turned out I had gone down a dead end.

Though the bosses are quite easy they are fun and a nice change of pace as you run around. I definitely wish there were more of them and maybe also more to them. While they generally have several phases, most of it is "hit the sweet spot until it dies". These bosses just look like they hold more potential. On the other hand, they're used as story telling devices and not just put in there for the sake of it.

You'll meet things to talk to, but they don't make much sense.

While the story about you being a scientist who, in an experiment gone wrong, gets sent to an alternate reality/dimension/world to kill some mysterious enemy is a bit confusing and almost trying to be unnecessarily deep, it is still interesting and at least doesn't detract from the fun. The aesthetics with pulsating blobs and dead bodies lying around also add to the atmosphere, as does the music which is absolutely amazing. I never once tired of the tracks playing and the entire OST is definitely going into my "Great VGM" playlist.

The reward feedback loop teeters out significantly towards the end for me. This is a balance that all metroidvanias struggle with - what will entice the player to continue when there is little left to discover and a lot more time has to be invested to find it? This is especially true when I have very limited time to play in the first place, and I don't want to spend my precious evening game time on just running around looking for things. Maybe the early game spoils me too much, giving the endgame a hard time to keep the steam going?

The vast majority of the game is really fun though and well worth checking out if you're on the lookout for a metroidvania that manages to blend a classical style with some fresh ideas.