Saturday, July 18

Batman: Arkham Knight Review (PS4): About a Batmobile



Batman: Arkham Asylum was a good game. It was also a good licensed game; which meant that people -- particularly people with an affinity for the Caped Crusader (like myself) -- may have been a little prone to hyperbole when discussing one of the better games of 2009. Still, there was no denying that it looked amazing, the punching and kicking felt appropriately hefty, and the boss fights did justice to the Rogues Gallery.

Fast forward to 2011, and Arkham City seemed to lack everything that made its predecessor a revelation. A large environment with a lot of dead space, featuring unlikeable interpretations of some of my favourite characters, and strung together by an absolute fizzer of a story. What stuck with me most, however, was the feeling that Bats had almost too many gadgets. I would often forget how to use or find the gadget I needed to progress. Compounding this was the near necessity of integrating gadget use into the previously enjoyable combat system. It was a big, forced, flop. 

Arkham Origins felt like more of the same, and it was the first game in the series I failed to complete. A similarly dreary environment, a painfully slow start, and the most powerfully frustrating boss fight I've endured in years was enough to force a premature exit. 

Why the history lesson? To give a little bit of enthusiast games press-style context, and to show that my expectations for the series followed a classic bell curve (low, high, low, lower). On the topic of the games press, I'd also witnessed a litany of complaints about the omnipresent Batmobile's role in Arkham Knight.

I was ready to have my expectations met. I was ready for another tedious stroll through Gotham.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed Arkham Knight. More than that, I actually liked the Batmobile-based combat sections.

Don't get me wrong, the game is far from the embarrassing hyperbole of "Next-level next-gen..." (yes, someone actually wrote that sentence). Much like Arkham City, Knight suffers from an overabundance of gadgetry. Worse still, some of the items in your inventory seem to have no use outside of cinematic sequences. Control of everything from the UI, to Batman himself, to the combat (mainly in the later stages), to the Batmobile is overly complicated. This is a feature-bloated romp that could've done with some editorial wrangling.

More troubling is the role of women in the video game version of Gotham. They exist to be saved or to be killed. They exist for titillation and motive. One of the game's many elaborate, multi-stage side quests exists solely for the purpose of rescuing one of the comic book's stronger women characters (by that I mean, she hasn't been immune to the damsel in distress trope, but she can kick buttocks) from a gruesome, explosive fate. The story as a whole is pretty unsatisfying and, much like the recent 'Death of the Family' arc, major punches end up being pulled.


Batman's motto of never killing bad dudes and dudettes is also mind-bogglingly adhered to through the Batmobile electrocuting people on impact, rather than crushing them. Moreover, the ragdoll physics produce some God-defying body crumpling.

Most of these are minor quibbles, but if you go in with lower expectations, I can guarantee you'll have fun with Bats this time around.

What I loved most about Arkham Knight was its near wholesale abandonment of boss fights. In Asylum they looked and played well, but in City it was all sizzle and no steak. This time around, the focus is primarily stealth (with a refreshing lack of insta-fail segments), and the usually satisfying one man army brawling.

As mentioned previously, the Batmobile also gets its fair share of the spotlight. Batmobile combat is super agile tank against more fallible, less agile tanks and I actually found myself going out of my way to shoot shit. The racing and tailing sections are less compelling, but by the end, I was still happy to press L1 and jump in that iconic hulk of an automobile.

One final note on the Batmobile: mixing up rooftop traversal with vehicle segments worked really well for mine, as I found it tedious grapnel(ugh) hooking, bashing X, and maintaining glide after a few hours in the last two sandbox affairs. I realise it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved me some Batmobile (unless the Riddler was involved).

I liked Arkham Knight. I'm pretty sure I won't revisit it, but I found it far more entertaining (and less tedious) than the last few iterations. This is a fitting end to the Arkham series, and well worth playing if you've previously enjoyed Rocksteady's brand of awkward stealth and solid fisticuffs.

Learning to walk again

Having conquered all of Destiny's Year One 'Moments of Triumph' and hoarding max level gear for two character classes was almost enough for me. Last night, after having helped a friend through a Prison of Elders run at level 32, I felt satisfied that there was nothing left for me to do.

When I woke up this morning though, I felt a renewed sense of longing to have a max level Hunter. The final piece of my Destiny puzzle was still yet to be placed.

After a few story missions it became painfully apparent that I had made a huge mistake. The Hunter should have been my second choice after the Warlock. The class is fun to play, and the Golden Gun super is infinitely more satisfying to use than the Titan's dome shield or Fists of Havoc (basically an Incredible Hulk-style ground pound).

What's also been humorous, if nothing else, has been witnessing the careless bravery of new Guardians taking on some of the game's early challenges. I was playing the Nexus strike on Venus, and more than once saw different players walking out of cover with an uncommon rocket launcher thinking they could topple Sekrion with a single shot.

Example scenario:

Teammate: [walks into the open] It me, bebe. [fires rocket]
Sekrion: [takes minimal damage, shreds player to death in seconds]
Me: lelz [revives fallen, courageous teammate]

Won't be long now before I can take my third Guardian into the endgame. I already have the coveted Celestial Nighthawk ready to plonk on her head too. What a time to be alive.


Image source: http://kotaku.com/destinys-newest-helmet-is-an-instant-boss-killer-1706354584

Tuesday, June 30

Her Story (iOS) Review: Her Benevolence


Some of my favourite games from my childhood used full motion video (FMV) to create some narrative context for fantastical violence. Crusader: No Remorse, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, and the original Command and Conquer are just some of the games that made "cinematic" a staple adjective in modern games writing. Looking back on the aforementioned examples though, it's hard to see these hammily acted scenes as anything other than kitschy. 

Her Story is anything but kitschy. 

I can't say much for fear of spoiling any revelations, but know that Viva Seifert, the sole subject of Her Story's multitude of film clips, puts on a chilling performance. Her efforts, coupled with a melancholic, unsettling score, had my heart racing long after shutting down the app. The clacking of a worn keyboard and humming of a monitor long past its prime serve as punctuation for short punches of powerful dialogue. 

I made the mistake of starting my playthrough in bed, late at night, just after receiving an SOS from a family member. I had an hour to kill before I was needed, and started searching through the 90s era database for clues as to what her story was really about. Within minutes I was hooked, and by the close of the first hour I was well and truly spooked. 

I hardly slept that night, and I didn't dare restart my investigation until daylight hours. The crazy thing is that your sole means of interaction across 2 hours is typing in search terms. Picking the right keywords brings up clips that provide additional vital clues. There'll be those who try and argue this isn't a game, but who would pay that any mind when the results are so compelling? 

My only complaint is that even after viewing the majority of the clips, I didn't get a satisfying resolution. I just heard some scary shit and had trouble sleeping for a couple of nights. I mean I know what happened, but there are loose ends that are killing me!

For me, in the Year of our Lord Luigi 2015, the sole measure of a game is whether or not it can pull my attention away from Destiny. Her Story is so captivating that I forgot about upgrading weapons and plundering vaults for days. Now go. Go pay the paltry price of admission, turn off the lights, and make sure your doors are locked tight. 

Monday, June 29

Three days left to live

Pill dick
Aggressively
Your drunk eyes are nice
Boyfriend points
Eat out
Fuck it's hot in here
Double dip
Alpha male
Big dog got top gunned

Sunday, June 28

Destiny: House of Wolves Review (PS4): House Rules


Author's note: This review is very jargon heavy, so I'd recommend reading my review of the base Destiny game first if you haven't done so already. 

Destiny and its first expansion, The Dark Below (TDB), made for an interesting beast. The single player campaign across both releases can be mowed through without much concern for strategy, and experiencing it again with subsequently-created characters creates a strong sense of tedium. It was only when modifiers were introduced -- that increase the damage dealt and received by elements and specific attacks, or require you to swap between weapons -- that Destiny shone, and shone brightly. The endgame, for the most part, was characterised by introducing difficulty and a hint of unpredictability to the same levels that I and countless others had played over and over again for months at a time.

Also grinding. 

Over time Bungie made some effort to ease the brutally stingy nature of the random number generator (RNGeezus) that doled out rewards at the close of single and multiplayer activities. It also opened up the Weekly Heroic strikes to matchmaking, which made it easier to earn currency to more quickly progress through the mid twenties (i.e. level 25-28). The Crucible (for those not in the know, multiplayer) still offered few worthwhile rewards unless the Iron Banner (ie. level advantage-enabled tournaments) was running.

I made and attained the personal goal of hitting the level cap before House of Wolves (HoW) was released, and also made the decision to hang up my Iron Regalia Boots until the expansion materialised. All up it meant there was roughly 3 weeks where I wasn't combing the familiar depths of our solar system for sweet, sweet treasure. It was a break I needed though, as the life of a lone wolf (ie. one who does not have Destiny-playing friends and doesn't consult LFG sites) Destiny player can feel unrewarding at times. 


HoW is literally and philosophically a game changer. Literally, in that there's a wealth of new content available for high level players. Philosophically, in that by transparently advertising rewards for completing certain feats and activities, I made more of an effort to find companions to tackle big game challenges. 

Heroic additions
First things first, the new single player missions are fun, quickly consumed, and great additions to the Daily Heroic rotation. You wouldn't go as far to say that the new missions add coherence to Destiny's narrative as a whole, but you get a mildly interesting standalone tale with some likeable, though utterly disposable, new characters. 

Experienced players will be mildly disappointed by the lack of new locations, but the inescapable feeling that HoW is like a set of mirror tracks isn't exactly an unpleasant one. Quick glimpses of locations that were previously barred to raid parties are reason enough to play through the new story missions, but there are some worthwhile rewards for players before modifiers are reintroduced. 

First and foremost is the new special weapon variety, the sidearm, which will make Call of Duty players feel right at home. TDB's quest weapon was powerful, but required a lot of grinding to make it into something worthwhile; Vestian Dynasty, however, is strong out of the box and useful in many situations. Additionally, Motes of Light are offered up far more often, meaning you'll have additional means to afford exotic gear from Xur on weekends. 

The new strike is a step above all those that came before it, and is a lot gentler in terms of level design. Not to say that it's a pushover in Nightfall or Weekly Heroic varieties, but it's designed to be enjoyed as opposed to endured. Frequent encounters with big enemies are a welcome change to the wave-based nature of previous strikes, and I've been more than happy to play through it repeatedly with both of my characters. 

In addition to scripted missions, every week you can pick up fresh Fallen bounties from the Reef social space. On completion, you'll not only gain a significant experience boost for new weapons and armour, you'll also get a chance to find Fallen treasure chests that contain ammo syntheses, engrams, and treasure keys for the Prison of Elders. 

Captivated by the Elders
Minor spoiler alert: finishing all of the new scripted PvE activities opens up the Prison of Elders (PoE) for Fireteams of 3. PoE, for those who enjoyed Gears of War or Halo, are your Horde and Firefight modes that pit a team of Guardians against 5 rounds of wave-based encounters and boss fights. Unfortunately, only the lowest tier of this activity is open to matchmaking; meaning that players wanting the high level gear offered as rewards for completing the harder difficulties are going to have to make friends (or acquaintances at the very least).


For my part, I finally downloaded a 'looking for group' (LFG) app to find teammates. It turns out there are a shitload of people wanting to play Destiny's many different activities at any point in time. The random teammates you acquire through LFG apps and sites aren't, from experience, the most dependable of companions, but they will try their damnedest to get the job done (as they're after the same loot you're yearning for). Over the last few weeks I've seen my friend list swell from just over 20, to more than 50, and I'm regularly invited to raid the Vault of Glass (never mind my success rate), and partake in other activities I've already completed many times over.    

PoE is a solid addition to the weekly schedule, and the 4 difficulty settings make for genuinely different experiences:
  • Level 28: a calm jog through manageable boss encounters and waves of standard enemies, with modifiers offering a gentle challenge. A PoE run at this difficulty takes slightly longer than a strike on a higher level playlist, but if you're packing a treasure key, the rewards can be significantly greater. For example, my first PoE chest contained a second Gjallahorn. 
  • Level 32: entirely doable, but some combinations of enemies and modifiers will require multiple attempts if your Fireteam is careless. The fifth wave is comprised of a boss fight that has some raid-like qualities. For example: Qodron, the Forever Eater, detains Guardians in a fashion similar to the Templar in the Vault of Glass.  
  • Level 34: as above, but extremely difficult if your fireteam is below the recommended level. Some modifier and enemy combinations can have you stumped for as long as an hour. Some boss fights are brutally difficult at this level. 
  • Level 35: thanks to some extremely talented players I met through a Kotaku Australia readers' Vault of Glass run (and a recent hot fix which nerfed the final boss), I was able to conquer one of the greatest challenges available in Destiny. Six waves await, and you'd be wasting your time if you were to attempt this without having first hit the level cap. The sixth wave pits you against the Kell of Kells, and features all the hallmarks of Bungie level design. It's thrilling, frustrating, and extremely satisfying. 
It's possible to hit the new level cap of 34 just by completing the Level 32 variety each week,  but if you want high level gear that buffs anything other than your strength stat, you'll need to save up some cores and have a gamble with Variks, the Fallen judge who oversees PoE. 

Knowing (for the most part) what weapons and armour are available for completing PoE runs at higher levels was the key reason for my becoming a more active Destiny player. It's also a welcome change to the seemingly arbitrary way that most players had to progress through the endgame. No more hoping for those raid boots to drop after beating bosses for the upteenth time. 

Just like your favourite band
What becomes apparent after you claim your first weapon from Variks, is that the new, high level weapons aren't as good as the gear you'll find in the raids from the base game and TDB. If you take a primary from the Vault of Glass, like Vision of Confluence as an example: a scout rifle that deals solar damage, and fires in full auto mode; "ascend" it to the highest attack level and you'll find it infinitely more useful than any of the legendary primaries you can earn from PoE or the Crucible. 

Ascending old weapons to the new attack stat cap is possible through use of Etheric Light for legendary weapons, or an additional Exotic Shard for older exotics. While older armour can also be ascended, there's more promise in the older items of weaponry I had locked up in my vault for months now. 

Destiny is a game that is battling with its brief history. New legendary weapons can be reforged at the Tower's Gunsmith, allowing you to try and "roll" for some better perks. None of the combinations I've seen so far come close to compensating for a lack of elemental damage, and some of the new perks seem almost useless to me. For example, why would I be interested in a rocket launcher that allows me to sprint faster after a kill, or a fusion rifle that that deals more damage when I'm airborne? This ability to have a mulligan with legendaries also makes these weapons seem 'legendary' by name only. The only exception to the above comes in the form of the sidearm, the new type of special weapon that I mentioned earlier. 

If you're interested in reading into this further, Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton gives a great overview of how the shiny new guns won't cut it against an old Felwinter's Lie or Two To The Morgue.  

The new exotic weapons are also interesting in that some appear to fuse weapon types, much like the Vex Mythoclast (a hybrid auto and fusion rifle). Queenbreaker's Bow is a cross between a sniper and a fusion rile, whereas the Lord of Wolves is a shotgun that fires like a pulse rifle. I've only managed to earn Lord of Wolves so far, but it truly earns the exotic slot (for those not in the know, you can only equip one exotic weapon at a time). It looks otherworldly in comparison to other shotguns, and its high impact and large magazine make it highly effective against packs of enemies. 

That being said, I'm still finding it hard to get away from my Gjallahorn and Ice Breaker, so while they have allure, the new exotic weapons face a similar struggle to their legendary counterparts.  

Spreading wealth at the top
The increased level cap has been reason enough for all Tower vendors to stock new armour at the previous high of 36 light. This means that anyone who found themselves #Forever29 or 31 will be able to hit level 32 after spending a few hundred marks.

Thanks to a friend who has recently started playing, however; it's interesting to note this change still hasn't helped the grind for players in the early twenties. The highest level you can hit with rare gear is still level 25, and you still need to hit rank 2 with Vanguard or Crucible before you can purchase legendary armour. This then makes levels 26 through 31 seem redundant, as you'll surpass them as soon as you rank up with the Vanguard, Crucible, or with the clans; provided you have enough marks, which you should because it's not like you can spend them beforehand anyway.

I'm still struggling to see why you'd want to increase your reputation with a clan unless you really like their aesthetic. Increasing your Vanguard or Crucible reputation level still grants engrams that can decode to clan gear, and perk rolls for these seem to be just as useless and/or arbitrary as those for non-clan armour and weapons. Clan armour is also sold at 36 light, so the path to the level cap works in exactly the same way.


The last thing worth noting is that HoW exotics already have the maximum light stat of 42, whereas older exotics acquired through engrams or bought via Xur still need to be upgraded. It's not a huge deal, but again there seems to be a penalty of sorts for working with older gear.

Feuding with friends
Big changes came to the Crucible with the launch of HoW. There's not only new maps and modes to play with; the Crucible is now offering more than a pittance if you enjoy playing against other players. Playing a match of the daily featured game type now grants an experience bonus, a small package of Motes of Light and Passage Coins (for the Trials of Osiris), and even has a high chance of granting a legendary weapon.

It was almost farcical (in the best way possible) how during the first running of the Iron Banner after HoW launched, players seemed to be getting legendary weapons after every second game. I amassed enough Passage Coins to buy each of the 'boons' for the Trials of Osiris several times over. This renewed sense of generosity has actually compelled me to play more PvP than I would outside of the Iron Banner tournament as well.

The new maps range from cramped and uncomfortable, to beautiful and spacious, but if you're only into playing Destiny for PvP, I'm not sure they'd be reason enough to take the plunge. No, that would likely come in the form of Trials of Osiris (ToO), a 3 versus 3 elimination mode that is run on weekends, and offers the chance to win some exclusive, Ancient Egyptian-themed gear.


I've played ToO with LFG randoms and known Destiny enthusiasts, and while more fun with people you know, it can be genuinely exciting either way. My only advice would be 'prepare to be Thorned', as almost every player you'll encounter through this mode is packing that exotic hand cannon thanks to its ability to poison targets.

ToO matches play out on the same map every time for a given week, and this has seen the development of some clever strategies. One of the funniest matches I played was against a group who camped at the starting point on 'Pantheon', a map from TDB. My Fireteam was wiped 4 times in a row when we tried to rush the platform they fortified, but we turned the tide once we pulled out our sniper rifles. 

That sense of panic that sets in when you're tied on match point (first to 5 wins) with your Fireteam downed is something new to the Crucible. It's something that I'd also argue is sorely needed. With almost all of Destiny's modes playing like CoD with double jumps, it's good to have something that feels different, with higher stakes too.

Feast fit for the House of Kings
Despite my complaints, this latest expansion for Destiny is well worth the price of admission. It makes the later stages of the end game far gentler, and provides a slew of challenges for any type of Destiny player.

The emerging challenge for Bungie will be making Destiny less of a grind for new players, whilst also honouring the time invested by long time enthusiasts. In the short term, my suggestion would be to remove the reputation rank requirement for buying legendary armour from Tower vendors, but other than that, Bungie needs to be a little more explicit in how to traverse the game post-campaign.

I know people who've played the game for more than forty hours who are still struggling to come to grips with the light system. You can have spectacular mysteries like the Vault of Glass and have players know how to progress, and I'm sure we'll get there by the time The Taken King comes along.

I don't see me hanging up my Starfire Protocol any time soon. I've still got to finish Crota's End on hard, and somehow find my way to Mercury. I still want to finish Crota's End on hard and somehow find my way to Mercury. For someone who used to jump from game to game on an almost daily basis, I'd argue that is an achievement. 

Saturday, June 27

Constance

You were not ready
Delicate creature
Torn asunder

You survived
Against all odds
Prolonged convalescence

You cherished family
Rejected all others
Trust hard earned

You were Mum's only daughter
Groomed frequently
Put a bow on it

You are loved
As much as blood
Be at peace now

Good dog


Sunday, May 31

Splatoon, and other things that shouldn't exist


I've been playing Destiny almost exclusively for the last 3 months. I might play the odd round of Hearthstone, or an old Virtual Console title as I wait for sleep to take me, but on the whole, it's fair to say I'm obsessed with my second life as a space magician (and my third life as an alien woman who can kick and shoulder charge intergalactic evil).

For 3 months I've played the same missions again, and again, and again, hoping for a chance at weapons and armour that people brag about (or secretly yearn for) on various forums. I have earned some items of so-called 'phat loot', and despite my expectation, finding Gjallahorn (and Vision of Confluence, and Monte Carlo, etc, etc) wasn't reason to down tools; if anything, it fuelled my desire to see more of this post-apocalyptic vision of Earth, and the galaxy surrounding it.

Destiny, as a shooter made by a time-tested developer, makes sense to exist and be enduringly popular in this day and age. While it isn't gory, it is certainly violent. People like violence in video games. People like space ships and visions of the future, be they positive or otherwise. I can accept that Destiny is thing in the year 2015.

Splatoon doesn't make sense. I don't know how it exists in a world where Call of Duties, and Batmans, and sexy Witchers shoot, bludgeon, and butcher everything within range. Destiny is colourful, but few shades of its palette are bright enough to match the neons that players splatter across skate parks and warehouses in Splatoon. Splatoon doesn't support functionality like voice chat, that most Destiny players use with a modicum of respect, but others use to mercilessly criticise any mistakes you might make. You don't need to attack your fellow players to win in Splatoon. I say again, no one has to die in Splatoon.

You can just paint. You can just equip a big paint roller and run. No one has to die.

I've won matches in Splatoon with a kill count under 5. I watch the mini map, not to detect enemies, but to discern where best to place my giant brush.

Splatoon is a miracle. A flawed, beautiful miracle.