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.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Tales of Symphonia #3 - Everyone Is An Angel

It's been a while since I last mentioned Tales of Symphonia but yes, I am still playing it. What were you expecting? It's an 80 hour JRPG and I have no time to play, this game is going to take me years to complete!

Actually, I thought I was getting close to the end. Story-wise it sort of gave me that feeling, but then I looked at my time played and saw I hadn't even crossed the 40 hour line. Guess I am only about half-way, though it feels crazy that I could expect more than double what I've already been through.

Then I watched a video of the place I am in because one of the puzzles was doing my head in (how unexpected). And in that video they had over 70 hours of game time, though the characters were the same level roughly as mine. How is that even possible? My first thought was that I must've missed a huge chunk of the game. Like is there a hidden continent of content somewhere that just flew under my radar? But how would you then explain the fact that our levels are the same?

I am thinking, hoping, that this particular let's player has just played it extremely slowly. I can't imagine how slow, because I have definitely not been rushing through content. Or at least not been trying to, since it's my first playthrough I have been playing things as they come and as I solve them, which is not very quickly usually. I also don't shy away from combat encounters as they are quite fun and I hate being under-leveled. 

I also don't want to check any other let's player or a walkthrough to see how far I am actually through the game yet. I want to go through this as un-spoiled as possible and have only been watching guides to get me through specific puzzles in the game. The dungeons have started becoming increasingly harsh in this department with some proper tedious puzzle segments. The kind where you go "heh, that was pretty cool. Now I never want to do that again".

I wasn't wrong about the twists and turns though. In true JRPG fashion the story just gets weirder and more convoluted as you go and at some point you start to wonder if they had even thought everything out from the start or just started to make things up half way. I can almost see the pitch meeting where the creators suggest a game with this and that story and the head boss goes "yeah but it needs 80 hours of content". Creator - "But the story is about 20 hours of content". Boss - "Yeah so make something up." Creator - "ok...".

I love the characters though and I also love how they're all well balanced and fun to use in combat (except Sheena, not too keen on her). You also definitely want Raine, the best healer, to be part of any group fighting a boss. There is love and loss and some deep themes but I sometimes feel like they could've been a much bigger part of the story in their own right rather than almost being glossed over or mentioned in the passing. There is a whole thing with Persea and Regal and you don't get to know enough about that at all. Sheena caused a catastrophe at her village of Mizuho which still haunts her and that isn't fully developed either. Maybe there are so many characters and trying to build depth to them all means none of them get enough. But also maybe this is where the other 40 hours of gameplay I presumably haven't gone through yet will come in and sort it.

In my previous post I made some story predictions, so let's see how right or wrong I was;

"Colette is turning less and less human with each seal that we destroy."
Not so much a prediction as an observation, but it turns out Colette was actually slowly turning in to an angel. Not only that, but into a lifeless body-vessel for the goddess Martel who was actually also a regular human (or half-elf turned angel?) at some point. Yeah I don't know either. But we've saved Colette from that fate, for now. Instead Colette has been struck with some sort of cruxis crystal poisoning, slowly turning into a crystal.

"Genis and Raine seem to be hiding the fact that they aren't real elves, for whatever reason."
Turns out they are actually half-elves. I guess they had to hide it because half-elves are the evil ones at the beginning of the game.

"Sheena, the character who started out by attacking us but has now joined forces with us, seems to be hinting that she is actually from another dimension (?)."
Sheena is in fact from Tethe'alla, the sister planet to Sylvarant where Lloyd and Colette come from. We later find out that Genis and Raine are also from Tethe'alla, and so are Zelos, Regal and Presea.

"Kratos the mercenary says he is only in it for the money, but is he really?"
Heh, no. Kratos is a half-elf angel who ventured with Mithos the summoner 4000 years ago and for reasons unknown or just not understood by me he was part of splitting the world in to their two current forms.

"it seems like both my birth parents were something special. I don't know what but I am sure to find out soon."
Nope, still don't have a clue. I know Lloyds father killed his mother because she was possessed by a Cruxis Crystal, but that's about it.

The story isn't a masterpiece that will stick with me forever, but the characters are very endearing. There is just no way not to love Zelos and his caricature womanizing (to the point where he can get items just from talking to random women in towns, very useful skill!). Kratos who is your on-again-off-again frenemy throughout the game and keeps you guessing as to his motivations. I also keep guessing who is my actual enemy in this game because first it was the Desians but then some of them were off-shoot Renegades and they were sort of on our side but then everyone turned out to be angels but they're also half-elves which is nothing like elves and... yeah, it gets really confusing really fast. There is no way I could write a synopsis that doesn't also take 80 hours to read.

The game is fun in all the right places though and I wouldn't mind spending another 40 hours with it. I can't imagine where they could possible take this story in another 40 hours but that just makes it more fun.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

You're right Illidan, I am not prepared

Hold up a minute. Burning Crusade is a thing? I guess we all saw this coming the moment they announced they were going to release Classic. I am sure we all went "ok then, I wonder if that means...?". Of course that is what was going to happen. Classic and TBC were very popular and there is no way they're not also releasing Wrath of the Lich King once they've started down this path.

Problem is, I am so not prepared. They only released Classic 1,5 years-ish ago! I don't even have a level 60 yet!

I was always hype about the possibility of TBC coming back, just like I was mad hype about them re-releasing Classic. And I have loved every second of Classic so far, which is half the reason it has taken me forever to get anywhere (that and unlike last time I played WoW I am making sure to divide my time to other games as well). I love the leveling experience and have multiple alts between 20-50. I am not in a rush to get to end game, at all.

Except now maybe. Because there is no way I will be able to stay away from TBC once it is released. And there is no way I am going to have time for Classic and TBC. And if they will be asking us for a separate fee for both there is also a very tiny chance I will even want to have two subscriptions, I just don't see that happening. 

So here I am, kinda feeling forced to move on to TBC. Which I am not, of course. I could just lounge around in Classic some more if I want to, but I wonder if anyone else will stick around with me? Or will finding groups be even harder? It's not overly difficult at the moment, but there are evenings when I just don't find a group I want and that might happen even more as players move over to TBC. 

Classic is fun because I find great people to do content with. I also enjoy questing on my own, but that is only because I am not really on my own. I can talk to people in guild chat or run across people questing in the same area. Maybe you group up for some harder quests and then you say your goodbyes. This is where Classic WoW has always excelled I find. If I knew I was in fact one of only very few people left on a server, that would definitely take a lot of the fun out of it for me because the only thing that is really left for me to explore and that makes the game still new and fresh is other people. I've already done the content a hundred times (literally). I've done every area, every dungeon, every quest, leveled every class at the very least once.

And yet I just don't feel anywhere near done enjoying Classic yet. I still want to get to end-game, there are still several instances and every raid that I haven't done (this time around). Most raids I didn't even get around to experience current-content the first time around, because I wasn't in a raiding guild and I don't recall PUG raids being anywhere near as common back then as they seem to be now. While I did do MC and ZG a handful of times before TBC was released, I never saw UBRS, BWL or Onyxia until after that. 

But I know most people probably
have been in end-content for a year now and maybe they are feeling done with it. I've heard it's difficult to find groups for PvP which might've otherwise bolstered end game. I heard that Blizzard intend to keep dedicated Classic servers running but I wonder how long they will do that if most people leave them. I don't know, maybe it is a good thing that I am sort of being ushered along since I seem to just loiter around and not even get to end game, but I can't help but feeling this will only mean I am going to miss Classic all over again (until they re-re-release it in another 15 years).

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Cyberpunk 2077 - 25 hour mark

Spoilers ahead! (Played on PS4)

At mid- December last year me, and a lot of other people, started playing the extremely highly anticipated game Cyberpunk 2077. I wrote down some thoughts on it after a few hours of gameplay; I thought Night City was fun to check out but didn't really feel "alive". I was unsure about the main quest and mostly stuck to doing side business. I hadn't really encountered any bugs or game breaking glitches. I felt combat lacked something that made it really interesting, but hoped more skills for my character and knowledge from my part would change that. I was worried I would find the game repetitive if that didn't happen.

So, some 20 hours down the line, have I changed my mind about anything regarding the game? Mostly no, but there are some things that have been positive surprises.

I am still a bit torn, or should I maybe say worried, about how I feel towards the game. When I am not playing it, I don't really have any feelings drawing me in to play it. It's not like how I felt about The Witcher 3, where I constantly wanted to play more to discover more adventure. So far I feel the main story is fairly meh and almost every character I have met is too. While I still think Night City is gorgeous and I actually really just walking around and taking in the scenery because there are fun little things to see and marvel at everywhere, all the people in it sort of break my immersion. Or maybe it is something about how the bad guys and side quests are all gathered up in little chunks around the map for you to deal with that makes it feel so planned out rather than natural and dynamic. 

An unwelcome sight

Over the 120+ hours I had on the Witcher 3 I never once thought "urgh, this kind of quest again" and the only enemy I got bored of were the dogs. I already feel like I've done only the same quest over and over in Cyberpunk 2077 and that's not even true, it just feels like it. Every enemy in Cyberpunk 2077 feels exactly the same because they are. In The Witcher 3 I fought everything from Drowners to Katakans to Alps to Giant Centipedes and even plants! In Cyberpunk the enemy is always yet another street thug (I guess I've seen a handful of drones as well).

In fact it reminds me so much of how I ended up feeling about Skyrim. After having played it for 65+ hours I realized I felt cheated by the game and all its little icons beckoning me to check what was around the corner. There was always the same thing around the corner! The same dungeon, the same enemies, the same loot. I fell for the urge to explore and continued to harbour the hope of something new and interesting continuously until I was almost angry at the game for having tricked me. 

The main story of Skyrim didn't interest me in the slightest either, and Cyberpunk has at least the upper hand in that regard. While I don't find the main story particularly compelling, I didn't really in The Witcher 3 either - it's adequate enough and has me mildly curious. My main drawing point so far is by far Johnny Silverhand, whom I really didn't believe I was going to like as much as I did. 

At least Cyberpunk 2077 doesn't have a really annoying companion ruining your life. Oh wait.

When Keanu Reeves first showed up on screen and I got to know who Johnny Silverhand is and how he is implemented in the game I was actually not too keen on the idea. But he quickly grew on me and now I miss him every time he's not on screen. It's kind of unfortunate because since he never shows up during any of the generic side quests, that's just another reason for me to avoid them.

I've got to hand it to them though, to me the whole concept of Johnny Silverhand is genius. A long dead terrorist-rebel who's stuck as a data-avatar in your brain? He's too cool for school and while I don't consider myself part of the Keanu Reeves fan-club I will acknowledge that he is probably the only one who could've pulled this off. I usually actually detest when they use actual actors in games, but this is one instance where the casting was absolutely perfect, nothing else would've had the same effect.

Combat has some fun points, but it still hasn't evolved much from me just being able to run in wild and crazy and just hold a shoot-out. I don't actually need to plan ahead or need to use a different tactic. I guess you could blame the fact that I've only ever tackled quests labeled "moderate" or lower, but "moderate" shouldn't be easy right? Maybe I should try some "high" threat quests and get back to you on whether combat required some more thinking or not. Right now I will occasionally essentially Nuzlocke myself to get some thrill out of the fights, because while there are a lot of interesting skills to be had, when you don't feel like you need to use them they lose a lot of their fun.

Game designers should ask themselves, what would Pokémon do?

You get completely drowned in loot like this is Diablo 4. I stopped caring about what I was picking up about 15 hours ago. I still pick up everything because the game tricks you into thinking that some of those things might be really useful. They almost never are, the only time you'll notice any major upgrades or differences are within the first five hours of gaming or if you do some certain quests that reward you with good legendaries. After every fight I've got about 20-30 inventory items to sort through, ranging from sunglasses, y-fronts and yet another assault rifle. I think there must be a better way to handle loot from how I am doing it now though... I will figure it out.

I've put most points into Quickhacking, Breach Control and Crafting, in that order. So I am what you could basically call a mage in this game. And it is quite powerful. I can take out entire squads of enemies by getting them to puke their guts out while being on fire, while I am hiding behind some trash can giggling. It's a fun concept and I know there are a dozen other ways you could handle a fight, but like I said you never feel like it's necessary anyway. I would've liked to be better at sneaking, but have yet to feel like the game is actually well designed towards this game style. Often I find some interesting alternate route after I've murdered everyone in a building already, and that is not for lacking of trying beforehand. 

Combat in some ways epitomizes what I might think is the main issue with Cyberpunk 2077, it is trying to bite off so very much that only some very core concepts work ok and when they try to come together they just don't. The world aesthetics are great, but characters are not. Combat skills are great, but combat is not. For everything cool about it there is still something empty and tedious in every smile I see and every gun shot I fire.

And yet there are a lot of things to like about Cyberpunk 2077. It's not a bad game, and yet it is. I really can't wrap my brain around exactly what my problem with it is, it's like a nice looking pair of trousers that are slightly uncomfortable. I still intend and want to see the story through, so I don't feel like I am done with it yet. But I really doubt this game will manage to get 120+ hours out of me like The Witcher 3 did, with ease. But you never know.

And also I still really can't stand the voice acting for female V.