Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Bottom Line Episode 2

Episode 2 of The Bottom Line.
Huge thanks to Gavin Dunne for allowing me to use his song Welcome Home as our theme song. Find it here:
Also sorry for the sound quality on this one. Between crashes with Audacity, real life issues, and a blue screen of death, I struggled to find time to edit this episode, but I also wanted to get it out there.
Show Notes:
E3 Talk. It's long. Grab a drink and a snack.
Games we've been playing:
Ark: Survival Evolved.
Follow Tetris:
Read the Blog:
and watch me play:
Follow Caleb:
He also streams slideshows:

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Bottom Line Episode 1

Episode 1 of The Bottom Line.
Show notes:
Injustice 2 Announced. Trailer:
Watch Dogs 2 Announced. Trailer:
Battlefront 3 Fan Game “Galaxy in Turmoil” approved for sale on Steam:…be/1100-6440474/
Games we've been playing:
Dark Souls 3,
Warcraft Movie chat.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

The 2015 Wrap Up

Here we are again, with 2015 almost gone. I generally think this year has been a great year for gaming in general, with some really good games being released this year. For me, it saw a big change in how I approach games too. Trying not to buy into the hype of big games has been a great choice for me, as I generally feel more positive about games in general because of it because I don't get let down by an over hyped game.

It seems that I like to start with the bad and end on a high note however, so let's dive into some of the muck from this year. To start, the PC release of Batman Arkham Knight was so buggy that it was pulled from sale to be fixed. And when WB finally re-released it, it was still a steaming pile of bugs that meant they had to continue to offer refunds from all outlets. At the time, I called out WBIE for handing off the PC port to Iron Galaxy Studios, but news came out later than they knew about the issues well before the release, leading them to delay the release twice. WB has since said they are "modifying the internal review process for all of our games". I tell you what WB, I'll do it for you for free: if you know the game doesn't work, don't release it. Modification done.

I played Battlefront during the beta, and was left feeling underwhelmed by it. People have been saying it's just a Battlefield 4 re-skin, but that couldn't be further from the truth and if it was just BF4 with a Star Wars them, I would probably enjoy it a lot more. From an audio visual standpoint, the game is perfect, especially the audio. From a gameplay standpoint however, it feels like it's lacking something to really make it stand out. All of the blasters have a randomized element that negates a little bit of skill, and while the cards and unlock system makes it a little more balanced, I actually prefer the Battlefield style of unlocks. But the biggest thing stopping me from buying it is the outrageous price EA is asking for it. At $90, it feels like a poor deal for what is on offer, especially when you then have to buy a season pass for $60 to keep up with all the DLC maps that will be added to the game. I genuinely think that if the game was $40 for the base and $30 for the season pass, I'd probably have bought it at launch but for what you get, $150 does not feel worth it.

On to far more positive things. This year also saw Steam add a refund option. All I can say about this is that it was about time. For far too long developers had been able to drop any old broken, buggy, non-functioning piles of crap they called games onto steam and if you bought it, you were then stuck with this non functioning game. Going back to the Arkham games, Arkham Origins was released buggy too, and when asked if they were going to fix it, WB responded by saying they were "working hard on the upcoming story DLC" and that there were no plans to release another patch to address the issues players were reporting. With Arkham Knight, WB were quick to remove it from sale to stop the flood of refunds they were no doubt experiencing. I don't want to praise Steam too much for adding refunds, because it should have been there from the start, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

The standout surprise in 2015 for me has without a doubt been Rocket League. I heard nothing about the game until a day before release when a streamer I follow on Twitch was playing it. The idea of the game really impressed me, and it looked fun to play, so I bought it and gave it a go. For a game that I knew basically nothing about until I was actually playing it, Rocket League has really impressed me. As I mentioned in my top 10 list, I'm also really impressed by Psyonix and how they are releasing DLC, with only cars and cosmetics locked behind the paywall. All in all, Rocket League is brilliant game.

2015 has generally been great, and I've loved most of the game I played this year. But all good things come to an end, and I really hope that 2016 can be as good as 2015 has been. Roll on the new year!

As always,


Sunday, 6 December 2015

My Top 10 Games of 2015!

Wow where did that year go? It seems like yesterday I was deciding to call Shadow of Mordor my favourite game of 2014, and yet here we are in December again. Little change to my top 10 this year, I have decided to not do a worst games list, mainly because I want to maintain a positive vibe to my blog. I will however be talking about some of the games I was disappointed with in my 2015 wrap up, if that kind of thing is what you are looking for here. Now as usual, these are "my" top 10 games. That means the games here are the games that I've enjoyed this year, so games that I didn't play aren't included, regardless of how good they may or may not have been and what good things I've heard about them.

So without any further faffing about: onwards to my top 10 games of 2015!

No 10: The Sims 4

When it was released in 2014, the Sims 4 received a lot of criticism from long time fans of the series for being a step backwards from The Sims 3. I admit, I had some reservations about the changes made to the game. When you saw the list of features removed, it was large and seemed to point toward EA monetizing those things when added back into the game. However, despite the cut content, I really enjoyed my time early this year playing The Sims 4. The removal of the neighborhood "worlds" system had such a positive impact on both game performance and loading times that I don't even miss it any more. It still suffers from the same issue as The Sims 3 of having expensive expansion packs, meaning that you are basically paying for the game again every year. The gameplay is refined, and in my opinion, improved from the previous games. I certainly wouldn't rate it higher than 10th on this list, but it still deserves to be here.

No 9: WWE 2K15

Full disclosure: I'm a massive wrestling fan, and WWE 2K15's pc version could have literally been a nugget of poop in a game box and I'd still think it was the best thing since Shadow of Mordor. Luckily, the game is reasonably solid mechanically and very stable. It suffers a little from the "movie tie in" syndrome of relying a little too much on quick time events, there are physics bugs, the career mode's ending reeks of being rushed. Despite all of that, it's a wrestling game on PC! It can be modded! It even still has CM Punk in the game! Similar to how the Sims 4 can't be higher on the list, neither can WWE 2K15 because the only thing that puts it here is the fact that I'm a massive wrestling fan willing to overlook the games flaws to focus on the positives.

No 8: Prison Architect

Finally out of early access, Prison Architect is exactly what it sounds like: a game where you build a prison. A simulation lite game, the basic gameplay of Prison Architect is simple enough that building a basic prison is easy. Every prisoner has needs that have to be met, such as hunger, sleep and cleanliness. Being a prison, security is of course a concern with guards, dogs, and metal detectors being just some of the ways you can try to maintain the peace of your prison. Digging deeper into the game reveals systems that allow for reformation of prisoners, segregation of high, medium and low security risk prisoners, and even workshops to help make your prison some money. It's a great little game, and the time spent in early access has been well used to both refine the core concepts of the game, and also expand on them in ways that make sense.

No 7: Cities: Skylines

Cites: Skylines is what the 2013 SimCity should have been. Starting out on a plot of land about the same size as the plots in SimCity, C:S allows you to expand your area up to 8 times in the base game, and mods are out there that allow you to use all 25 available plots on each map to build a giant city. There's no need to focus your cities to one specific task like SimCity, as you have the room to build everything your city might need. I honestly haven't spent as much time with Cities: Skylines as I'd like to have spent, but there are pictures of some truly amazing cites out there and what I have played, I've really enjoyed. Worth a try if you like city building games.

No 6: Grand Theft Auto V

Two years. That's how long PC gamers had to wait for GTA5 to come to their platform of choice. Released on the Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2013, and then again on the Xbox One and PS4 in 2014, the long awaited PC port of the game was released in April 2015, and boy was it worth the wait. GTA5 is really, really fun when you have a group of friends all playing together, just playing around in the open world that Rockstar has created. Driving and flying is much better than the previous games, and combat is improved by the addition of a true first person mode to the PC version of the game. As I had already played the through the story on my 360, I went into GTA5 purely for the multiplayer, and when you are messing about in the world, it's a lot of fun. However, the big thing Rockstar advertised with GTA5 was heists, and I can't help but feel a bit let down by them. Essentially multi mission campaigns, heists have some crazy rewards, but were released buggy and in some cases were unable to be completed at all. All of the online lobbies are buggy and have crazy load time to get into the games. Eventually, my group of mates who were playing GTA5 gave up and moved back to other games. If the lobbies were more stable, I think GTA5 would be a brilliant release. That said, the single player is great and just driving around in the game is a lot of fun if you are into that kind of thing.

No 5: Blood Bowl 2

Blood Bowl is Warhammer Fantasy crossed with chess and american football. Teams of fantasy races such as orcs, elves and dwarves all play in a league to see just which race is the best at football. A turn based strategy game, Blood Bowl 2 takes the tabletop game, animates it and puts all the teams in your control. Being a tabletop game at heart, a lot of the game is based on random dice rolls, and Blood Bowl 2 takes a lot of the guess work out of the chance you have to succeed at a given roll, telling you the exact percentage you have to succeed at what you want to do. Being a game based around american football, the goal of each match is to score as many points as you can by running a player with the ball to the end zone. Being a Warhammer game, you can stop the other team from scoring by placing them in "tackle zones" or just beating them up. Most races are either agile, and good at passing and running the ball to the end zone, or strong and good at bashing up the other team until nothing can stop them getting to the end zone. The game is very easy to pick up, with the single player acting as an extended tutorial. Each match adds in more complex mechanics until you are playing proper Blood Bowl. I really enjoy Blood Bowl 2, and think it's well worth the buy, especially if you like turn based strategy games.

No 4: Rocket League

I wrote a review about Rocket League back in August, and since then the game has changed a lot, and all of it in good ways. First, they've been releasing small DLC packs that add in new vehicles and customizations. There has also been some new maps added for free, including the first of many "non-standard" maps, answering my only criticism of the game. Psyonix's approach to DLC has been refreshing, with each DLC patch only locking the vehicles and cosmetics behind the paywall, but allowing everyone to enjoy the new maps. Even without the DLC, the game is well worth the money they are asking. There's not a great deal to add to my review, so I'll finish this the same way. Rocket League is beautiful in how simple it is, yet how complex it can be. I highly recommend it!

No 3: Fallout 4

Another game that I reviewed recently, Fallout 4 is still the game that's eating up most of my spare gaming time at the moment. Having spent another 30 hours on the game, I've installed some mods to fix some issues that I've found (for example the radio station used to alert you if a settlement needs help has some obnoxious music that loops continually, and that's gone now). I've also beaten two of the possible endings for the game, and while I can see why some people have an issue with the "twist", I personally enjoyed the story. I'm still really enjoying the exploration of the world, meeting some new companions and factions out there in the wasteland. I've also come to realization about Fallout 4: it's in no way an RPG any more. It is however, a rock solid open world action game with RPG elements. The only thing holding it back from being higher in the list is the buggy state of the game at release. Yes it's a Bethesda game and bugs are expected, but I personally can't rate it any higher because of those bugs.

No 2: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

In my review of the Witcher 3, I flat out stated that it's my favorite RPG. I stand by that 100 percent. The world that you experience as the witcher Geralt feels so lived in. You can find notes that lead you to quests without ever talking to someone who sends you on them. The combat makes you feel like a fast moving, superhuman mutant who could take down dragons and wyverns. And as I stated in my review, the story telling is brilliant, with characters who aren't black and white "good" or "evil" characters, but rather shades of grey with flawed characters who have redeeming qualities that almost force you to overlook the bad ones. It's a brilliant world, and I love it. Fully deserving of the top spot on this list, it's only trumped by one thing: the sheer amount of enjoyment I got from my number one game.

No 1: Kerbal Space Program

Last year was the first time I'd ever done one of these top 10 lists, the first time I'd ever sat down to work out what I enjoyed the most and why. Last year, the choice was easy. Shadow of Mordor was hands down my favourite game of 2014. This year however, was a lot harder to decide. When I sat down to write the list, I thought the choice had been made ages ago during my review for The Witcher 3 where I called it my new favourite RPG. Fallout 4 during its honeymoon period had me convinced that I was going to name it the game of the year. But the more I think about it, Kerbal Space Program truly deserves the top spot in my list. On sheer playtime alone it was definitely my favourite game, but even more than that, I can't stop talking about it with other people.

Kerbal Space Program was the first game I ever wrote a review for back when I started up this blog in 2013. I had no intention of writing reviews at the time, and this blog was supposed to be more about current events in gaming and my thoughts on them. But then I was so excited by KSP that I had to write a short review of it. It's poorly written, very short and a prime example of how I feel my focus has changed for this blog. When it was fully released earlier this year, I was still playing KSP on the odd occasion, but the release got me focused on it again and I wrote another, more lengthy review of the game.

I can't help but feel that KSP is aimed at people, who just like me, built spaceships out of Lego instead of houses. Those of us who have always been interested in how mankind has been able to take metal, plastic and some fuel, combine those things into a rocket to send people to the moon or probes deep into space. It's a game that captures that sense of wonder and awe about space that I had at 10 years old, and allows me to feel it again at 26. And clearly I'm not alone in this, because KSP has one of the most passionate communities, one that is welcoming and friendly, willing to help out and teach you the ropes and even set you challenges to try and help you learn. I've said this in every review, but KSP even makes failure fun, and that it's not just because of the explosions, but also because you learn something. You learn that this design needs work, or even completely redone from the ground up.

And that's the point of the game: Kerbal Space Program makes learning about spaceflight fun. I've learnt more about spaceflight in 2 years of playing KSP than I ever did from watching documentaries, reading news articles or browsing Wikipedia. Concepts like delta-v, Hohmann transfers, aerobraking, lithobraking and all of the maneuvers required to efficiently fly in space are things I and many others would never have fully understood without playing this little indie game about green men trying to get into space. I could talk for hours about the many different missions I ran, the goals I set for myself and how I achieved them (or failed them in a blaze of glory), and I have done this with real life friends, who I'm sure won't be surprised by this choice when they read this. Kerbal Space Program will forever be in my top 10 games of all time, not just the top 10 of 2015.

So there it is, my top 10 games for 2015. Stay tuned to this blog for a big announcement regarding a little project that I'm working on that will be taking place right here! Consider this the announcement of the announcement. It's been a great year for gaming this year, and I'll be talking about that more in my 2015 Wrap Up coming soon. Until then, and as always,


Saturday, 21 November 2015

Fallout 4

Anyone who knows me in real life knows just how much I love Bethesda games. Something about their open worlds have shaped how much I enjoy open world games. I first started playing them when Oblivion was released, clocking up well over 600 hours on my XBox 360 (so completely unmodded Oblivion too!). I’m not too ashamed to say I’m a Bethesda fanboy, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt: Fallout 4 is a really fun game, wrapped up in a package with the usual Bethesda flaws.

For some reason, people like me are able to ignore the flaws that every single Bethesda game has and just get immersed in the giant worlds that they create. Fallout 4 is no exception. Exploring the irradiated wastelands of Boston with your trusty dog by your side is some of the most engaging gameplay I have had since The Witcher 3. Sure, the game’s physics are tied into the frame rate, and you have to edit an .ini file to turn off mouse smoothing, but I don’t care because I got to shoot a super mutant camp with long range artillery.

Gushing aside, F4’s core gameplay is much of the same from New Vegas and Fallout 3. You explore ancient buildings, scavenging what you can, fighting off the bandits and creatures of the wastelands that attack you. The biggest change to the base Fallout gameplay is the addition of Settlements. I can only assume the people at Bethesda were looking at all of the multiplayer survival games that allow base building when this system was thought up, and I think it really changes the whole feel of the game. Where previously you felt like a drifter, running from place to place but never making any part of the wasteland yours, now you can create settlements all across the map, making buildings and defences. You can use radio towers to attract settlers to join the settlements, commanding them to man towers, farm crops, or even run shops to make caps for you.

The settlement system also impacts the scavenging side of the gameplay. Previously I would only collect guns, ammo, stimpacks, and caps. Now, almost everything is useful, as junk items are broken down into their parts, and even unwanted weapons and armour can be scrapped for additional components. These components are used for crafting the parts used in settlements, or even upgrading your items to be better. Gone are the days of needing to repair weapons and armour after every fight (a change I welcome completely), instead replaced with upgrades to allow you to play the way you want. If you prefer long range then you can give your weapons scopes and long barrels to increase the range of them. Or for close encounters you have the option for reflex sights and silencers.

Combat is improved from New Vegas, and vastly improved from Fallout 3. All of the guns have functioning iron sights, and the developers have included a couple of different types of sights for those who prefer a particular type (reflex sights have a dot or circle option to give one example). The guns feel different enough, and even the look of the early game “pipe” weapons suit the scavenged style. As an example of how different weapons feel, the laser musket, a gun you get very early in the game, requires you to charge the weapon manually before you can even fire, but does massive damage. As I mentioned previously Bethesda have done a great job of trying to allow for different play styles with the different weapons, providing options via the modding system. Some people have criticised the game for becoming more of an FPS than an RPG, but I personally have enjoyed all aspects of the combat.

Armour now has individual parts, allowing you to mix and match pieces for maximum protection. If there is one complaint about armour in the game, it’s that the best armour in the game looks the worst, and the complete sets that look great have some of the worst stats. If you are playing in first person it’s not that big a deal, but you do see yourself more in Fallout 4 than any of the previous games. However, this isn’t the biggest change to the armour system in F4. Power armour is now a separate suit, treated almost like a vehicle that you get into and use until it’s out of power. 

You get your first set of power armour very early in the game, and can customise and upgrade it however you see fit. Customisation includes paintjobs, built in stealth boys and even a jetpack. The limiting factor to the power armour is the fusion cores they use for power. You will find these out in the wasteland scattered about, but at least in my travels I’ve only found 18 in about 35 hours of play. This gives the power armour a feeling of escalation. Were you just murdered by a deathclaw? Go back with your power armour and show him who’s boss! I personally like this system, as I never liked wearing power armour constantly in the older Fallout games. Along with that, going back to base to get your best weapons is something I appreciate. Power armour is also more common on enemies in higher level zones, and you can obtain many different versions of it that can all be individually customised and even given to followers to wear.

The world itself is always an interesting topic for open world games. I’ve never really liked the map size comparisons that occur whenever a new open world game is announced or released. My metric for how good the world in an open world game is has always been how much fun it is to explore and ‘live’ in that world, and Fallout 4 impresses me in that respect. Even 35 hours into the game I’m still seeing something new, and more importantly, interesting to explore. The settlements help a lot with that, as you can even just get lost into the act of building this base up for your fellow settlers, and then exploring the world for more materials to continue building that base. Along with this, the world also feels very alive. While exploring, you will often hear gunshots in the distance and if you head toward them, you’ll find some bandits harassing settlers, or super mutants attacking some soldiers. It’s little details like this that go a long way to making the world feel alive without you.

Graphically, the game has improved a lot from New Vegas. Gone is the green and brown tint they put over everything in the two previous games, in favour of bright colours, blue skies and god rays. Weather effects look fantastic, especially the thick fog that occasionally rolls in, making it hard to see what that shape in the distance is. The wasteland has never looked better. However, if there is one thing the game doesn’t do well, it’s run above 60 FPS. I personally have not had any issues, as I decided to keep vsync on after reading the reviews, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. There have been reports of any framerate higher than 60 causing issues with the physics of the game, including not being able to exit terminals or the lockpicking screen not coming up. Bethesda tying physics to framerate is not new, and was a big criticism of Skyrim as well.

Speaking of standard Bethesda game issues, there are also bugs aplenty. The game has never hard crashed for me, but I have had several cases where the gun models stopped rendering entirely, leaving my character standing there with his hands awkwardly outstretched. The menus occasionally bug out and won’t display, with the only way to fix that being to quit to desktop and return. Sure the bugs will eventually be fixed, if not by Bethesda, then by a modder. For some reason, gamers in general like to give Bethesda a pass on those bugs, but it’s a source of constant frustration that one of my favorite game companies continues to rely on modders to fix their games for free. If this was a Ubisoft or EA title, there would be riots. Along with the bugs, there are also reported performance issues with the aforementioned god rays on AMD graphics cards due to their tesselation issues (tip: turn them down to low. The difference in looks during gameplay is tiny and you get an immediate performance boost even on nVidia cards).

Now to the elephants in the room: skill trees and dialogue systems. If you’ve read anything about Fallout 4, you’ve probably read about the new skill tree and dialogue system, and maybe not in a positive light. Personally, I like the new skill system, and I am indifferent to the dialogue system. 

Let’s focus on skills for now. In previous fallout games, there were individual skills for every part of the game, and if you never improved that skill, you would never get better with that part of the game. So when you picked up a laser rifle, and had never improved Energy Weapons, your damage was reduced. At level up, you would get a number of skill points you could distribute into the different skills, as well as being able to select a perk every level in Fallout 3, or every 2 levels in New Vegas. In Fallout 4, they have scrapped skills entirely, in favour of using perks to progress your character. When you level up, you gain a single point that gain be used to either increase a special stat, or improve a specialized part of your character, such as improving damage with pistols by 20% or being able to pick better locks. I like the change, as it streamlines character progression, and allows you to immediately improve an aspect of your character without needing to be hyper focused on one particular thing. On the other hand, purists of the RPG side of Fallout may find the system too streamlined, causing them to consider it dumbed down. It’s a massive change to the way Fallout plays, but one I feel Bethesda have done correctly.

As for the dialogue tree, the biggest immediate change is that your character is fully voice acted now. While some people prefer the silent protagonist, I have always loved voiced characters, as I feel more like I am playing a character, rather than a camera with a gun. The other big change is the addition of a dialogue wheel instead of the selection screen previous Fallout games have used. On this change I am torn. On the one hand, the wheel uses a simple up for question, down for yes, left for calm, right for aggressive, meaning you can always play your character in a particular way. On the other, they never actually tell you that, and I only figured it out after about 20 hours of play. It’s very vague as to how your character might respond until you work that out. A simple change of colours for the buttons would have solved all those problems (green for yes, red for aggressive, blue for calm, yellow for question if we use the Xbox button colours for example). I can certainly see how people dislike the voiced protagonist and wheel, however it’s a very small bump to an otherwise solid game.

Fallout 4 is a massive game, and what I have typed here hasn't even touched on the main story at all, because in 35 hours, I've not progressed past the introductory quests for the story quest. I may look at writing a review of the story if I ever get around to completing it. I mentioned in the outset of this that I am a Bethesda fanboy. I want to say it again here, because I know I get blind to some of the more glaring issues with Bethesda games until the honeymoon period is over (like the menus in Skyrim until SkyUi came out). If there was some advice I might give, it’s this: if you haven’t already picked up Fallout 4, consider waiting until it’s on sale. I love the game, and I have no hesitation shouting that from the hilltops. However, I think time is still needed for this game to become truly amazing due to the bugs. If you are likely to want to push the game above 60 FPS, wait until a fix is found for the physics issues the game has (if a fix is even possible with how they have tied in the physics).

However, if that warning doesn’t stop you from wanting to play Fallout 4, then I highly recommend it! Come and live in the wasteland.

As always,


Friday, 6 November 2015

World of Warcraft: Legion - My Thoughts So Far

I completely missed most of the Blizzcon intro because it starts so early here in West Australia, so I only got to catch the tail end of the Warcraft Panel. However, MMO-Champion had the key points detailed in a post as usual, and reading through it some things jumped out at me. Here's my thoughts on what we know about Legion at this stage.

First of all, I'm an Illidan fanboy. I've detailed this before, and seeing him come back, especially after the hints last year at a redemption story for him, is a massive draw for me to the game. I'm interested in the prospect of playing as a Demon Hunter too, but will definitely reserve my judgement until I can actually try them out (double jumps sound cool though). The lore explanation for why the demon hunters are only the elvish races makes sense to me too: you are an Illiadari, one of Illidans followers captured by Maiev Shadowsong at the end of the Burning Crusade and locked away.

Artifact weapons are a big part of the Legion as well, and I have mixed feelings about them. Each spec in the game will get a weapon that is unique to them. For example, a Beast Mastery Hunter will get a gun, while a Marksmanship Hunter will get a bow. While the prospect of using these legendary weapons is cool, I'm not sure how they will handle it in a lore sense. Weapons like Ashbringer (the weapon that shatters Frostmourne in ICC) are important in the lore, and Ashbringer is currently used by Tirion Fordring. So how paladin players will get an Ashbringer, or really how players get any of the other Artifact weapons, is a question that needs to be answered carefully. Blizzard have also said they intend to not have weapon drops at all this expansion, and that the artifact weapons will be upgraded in a similar style to how the last two legendary questlines have worked, including visual customisations. If you want to have a look at the artifact weapons for each spec, click here.

On to something I'm a lot more apprehensive about: scaling zones. They intend for you to be able to quest in the zones Azsuna, Val'Sharah, Highmountain and Stormheim in any order and at any level, with all zones eventually leading you to Suramar at level 110. Using what they have learned from flex raids, Blizzard want the zones to scale to your level, with the idea being "if it takes 12 seconds to kill a boar at level 102, it will take 12 seconds when at level 106". Before I really started playing WoW, I played Guild Wars 2 a lot. For those of you who didn't play GW2, they have the player scale down to the zones level. So when you enter a level 32 zone, your character is now level 32. It's fun for a while, but I never got the feeling of progression that WoW gives when you can breeze through mobs in a zone that gave you trouble before. Again, I'm reserving judgement until I can play with it, but I hope that at level 110 there is some kind of buff to damage you do via better gear.

Dungeon content is going to be getting an overhaul in Legion. Blizzard have announced 10 new dungeons (though if all 10 are in the final release remains to be seen), with 5 of them being leveling dungeons and 5 endgame. Blizzard are making some bigger promises regarding dungeon content, saying they want them to all of them be viable as endgame content, instead of just one or two as has happened in the past. They are also introducing a new way to run challenge mode dungeons: the Challenger's Keystone. This item can be leveled up to gain access to harder content with better rewards, as well as introducing some different mechanics like enrages, bigger packs, or the party taking constant damage. They are intending for this system to complement or even replace raiding based on how you play with it, being true endgame content.

The last thing I want to talk about is the release date. Blizzard have the release date as "On or Before 21 September 2016". There has been some unhappiness about how far away this date is, and I agree with it in theory. If Legion was to release in September, that would be too far away in my opinion. However, I think a lot of people have missed the part that says "before". Beta has been announced as "soon after Blizzcon", and most beta's have been around 4 months. It's my hope they release it a lot sooner than September, with my ideal time being May. Here's hoping they get to release it a lot sooner than we expect.

I'm looking forward to Legion. Like most people there are things I like and things I don't, but I'm still generally positive about the games future. While they have been bleeding subscribers, I still think WoW is doing ok, and people are just burnt out on the game from playing it for 10 plus years. I'd like to play the beta, but we'll have to see how they handle the invites. Here's hoping I get in.

As always,


Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When I started playing The Witcher 3 I didn't expect to have a new favourite RPG. I like it so much that it's toppled Mass Effect 2 from that position in my list of favourite games. A brilliant melding of fantasy, action, story and character progression, The Witcher has completely changed how I look at characters and their stories in games. I'll preface everything else here by saying: I'm no where near the end of the game. With the move, being distracted by Rocket League, game crashes, and various other real life things happening over the last few months, I have not had as much time to sink into the game as I would normally like. Despite this, I do feel that I have a good enough hold on the game to write up my thoughts on it.

To begin, I confess that I never played the first Witcher game, and only briefly played the second. While I liked the concepts behind the second game, it never grabbed me like this one has. Perhaps that's something to do with the open world nature of Wild Hunt. In a time where everyone is talking about how the new Mad Max game is "just another open world game", The Witcher succeeds in being more than that in my mind. Everywhere you go throughout Temeria, there are interesting things to see, loot and fight, and the best part is that none of it feels forced, something most recent open world games fail to do.

You play as Geralt, the titular Witcher, a kind of monster hunter for hire. Not entirely human, Geralt has undergone witcher mutations, a series of procedures that greatly increase his agility, durability and stamina. Because of these mutations however, Geralt and his fellow witchers are regarded with disdain by the general population, occasionally drawing insults or even violent reactions when attention is drawn to them. However, when the townsfolk are attacked by monsters, they call upon the witchers to hunt down and kill them, usually with the secondary silver sword that witchers are known for carrying.

At a glance, the Witcher's combat could seem overly simple. You have a fast and heavy attack with a sword, some magical abilities called signs, and two different types of dodge (a roll and a sidestep) that move you different distances and have different recovery times. Combine this with the fact that enemies take off massive chunks of health, and combat will often turn into you using your superior agility to try and avoid damage, then dart back in to deal the killing blow. As you progress through the game however, you start to gain access to potions, oils that increase damage to certain enemy types, bombs with different effects and a crossbow that can help interrupt attacks, or bring flying enemies crashing down to earth, adding to the depth of the combat. The game does a fantastic job of making you feel powerful against normal human enemies or some monsters, but a lot weaker against the larger and more scary monsters.

At release, not everything was rosy for me with The Witcher 3. The game would hard crash after about 20 minutes of play, with no error messages or any indication as to what was causing the issue. I updated drivers, scoured the net for solutions, but nothing worked. However, CD Projekt RED has been very active with releasing patches, and finally the game is in a state where I feel I can recommend it to other people. On top of bug fixes, CD Projekt have also kept on top of feedback from players, going so far as to implement an optional alternate movement mode for people who originally found that Geralt's movements felt floaty and disconnected. They have done a great job of acting like a company that actually cares about the experience people have with their product, and implementing features that help with those experiences.

Not the kind of griffin found in high fantasy right?
The Witcher is a decidedly adult aimed game. Monsters are not "high fantasy" style, more of a dark faerie tale style, with everything looking as though it could kill you just by breathing on you. There is frequent gore, occasional nudity, and stories about themes that definitely aren't aimed at kids. That said, I mentioned in the outset that the Witcher has redefined how I think about story telling and characters in video games, especially when it comes to these themes, and I'd like to expand on that a little here: 

Warning: Spoilers for one story arc early in the game are ahead in the next paragraph. Skip ahead to avoid.

There is a character who initially appears to be nothing else but a drunk and a bully. When you meet them, his wife and daughter have disappeared, and there is some evidence that this character is involved. You eventually find that his drinking lead to an argument with his pregnant wife that got physical, leading to the miscarriage of his unborn child. At this stage you, as a player, can simply dismiss the character as nothing but an evil man and carry on. If you choose to progress through the storyline however, you get options in conversation with them to hear their side of the story. At no point does this character try to justify his bad actions, and he knows he has done wrong. He knows that his actions have lead to losing his wife and daughter, and he is making changes to try and fix his life. The game doesn't condone those actions, but still manages to discuss it in a way that is very mature and engages you with the characters. It lends an amazing level of humanity and depth to them, without making them simple one dimensional "hero or villain" characters. 

Everything about the characters in The Witcher shows a level of thought that I haven't really experienced in any other game. Characters are expressive, the voice acting is top notch, and the stories are varied. I find myself looking forward to conversations because I might learn something about characters that I didn't know before, something I've honestly never experienced with any game. It really does a fantastic job of immersing you in this fantasy world, making you feel as though you are the witcher Geralt. Choices you make can also come back to haunt you. Ridicule someone who has some sway in the community, and you might find yourself attacked in the street. Make a choice to go out of your way to rescue someone, and that persons relative might give you something as a reward because they want to.

The Witcher 3 is a huge game, and I haven't come close to touching on all aspects of the game in this post. Needless to say, I highly recommend it, even for the story telling alone. You can find it here on Steam, or here direct from CD Projekt on GOG

As always,