Friday, December 11

Interstate Love Song

Dearest Carly,

Today we celebrate five years as a married couple. In the best possible way, I can't remember what life was like without you. Without you I imagine I'd be Destiny without an internet connection, Mario without Luigi, a book without a cover.

We've made the most of our move too. What many had called "brave", I simply thought of as common sense. Every year we returned to Melbourne, every year you shed tears as we left the hotel, every year we got to the airport too early. No more. We're finally home, and I feel all the happier for it.

Not to say that this year has been without challenges. I can't forget my troubles at home, even now, having withdrawn almost entirely. You still held me when I cried, when I felt useless, when I felt betrayed. I can never adequately repay you for your care and your patience. 

I'm not sure what the next year will bring. Be it mortgage stress, more responsibility at work, or more of the same, I'm grateful  I get to experience it with you.

I love you.

Tristan






Sunday, December 6

Badgers, art and body horror at Summertime Party



Last night I had the chance to meet up with a Destiny raid bro at Summertime Party, an event which showcased live music, video games and interpretive dance.

The non-nerdy aspects of the evening were pretty cool. Emma Donovan and the Putbacks played a quality set, as did the Sugar Fed Leopards. The DJs, Mz Rizk and Sovereign Trax, also managed to keep a small group of people dancing despite the crowd majority's preference to remain sedentary. I saw two of the dance acts: the first evoked memories of Tom Green's confrontational shame comedy (although I'm sure this was unintentional), while the second was a playfully-violent burlesque dance set to Ginuwine's Pony.

While my fireteam set the dance floor on fire, it was a shame that most of the attendees were keen to mean mug the night away. Still, the tunes were good, and the entertainment was vastly different to my usual Saturday night offerings (read: Destiny).

The video games on display were presented by Freeplay, Australia's longest-running independent games festival.

Push Me Pull You (PMPY) was the clear highlight. Projected high on a wall opposite a staircase where two sets of controls were set up, it was the gladiatorial centre of the night's proceedings. Imagine the listless wonder and mild body horror of the experimental Noby Noby Boy crossed with the excitement of team ball sports (sportsball, if you will). Teams of two must extend, shrink and wrap their way around a ball and drag it back to their side of the court to score. Stretching your collective body can allow you to hold the ball, but a smaller opponent push you to their side for a cheeky score.



The core mechanics are easy to pick up, and mish mash teams formed throughout the evening to try their hands at glory. I'd love to see this game more widely available, and I can even imagine how it would translate from two arcade sticks and four buttons to the ubiquitous console controller. (One player could control both sides of the team with bumpers and triggers used to expand and shrink.)

Would some of the magic be lost going from pair play to mano e mano? Absolutely, but local multiplayer is becoming less and less of a thing. If Halo can no longer support a couch full of players, then incoming indies must also embrace the realities of comparatively-soulless online multiplayer (particularly given PMPY could translate well).



Next up was Artners, a game controlled with a tangle of brushes, paint pots, and pads. Essentially, you have sixty seconds to fulfil a named commission. There's no winning or losing, just creating pictures that will, more often than not, resemble a a train map. I loved the urgency of producing art while the "art time remaining" chipped away. The peripherals were complex, and it's unlikely you'll see this outside of an exhibition setting, but it's well worth picking up a brush for.


Finally, there was Panoramical, reason for the best peripheral since Guitar Hero first graced the PlayStation 2 back in 2005. Using the open-shirted badger controller, you rub the animal's tummy and flick its switches(?) to produce changes in sound and vision. I found the majority of my time with the game disorienting, but a small sojourn to what can only be described as a laser rave planet was pretty cool.

While it was hard to get anything out of it myself, I had a laugh trying to explain how to play to the next group of enthusiastic players. I also feel that Nintendo needs to introduce nipple play to Amiibos or risk losing the whole Toys to Life market.

While the Freeplay offerings may only serve as distraction from my massive multiplayer online face shooting duties, Push Me Pull You is most definitely on my radar. Freeplay's Games in the Square events run through December (6-8pm, on 8, 15 and 22 December) at Melbourne's Federation Square, with PMPY available to play on 15 December. Make sure you check it out if you're in town.

Friday, December 4

Destiny: The Taken King reviewed: Your loot’s light shines across a hill of content

(Note: This post first appeared on games.on.net. Unfortunately, they're now offline, so I thought I'd save this one too.)


One thing becomes clear when you boot up Destiny following the release of The Taken King: you’re supposed to feel dread. That overwhelming sense of awe and discovery that was inspired by Year One’s theme has taken an ominous turn. The composition that once played while I was in orbit — one of my favourite pieces of video game music — has now been replaced by an arrangement that sounds just that little bit more sinister. There’s a change in mood here that starts with the soundtrack and permeates through the level design.
That being said, the latest chapter of the story has been brought to life by a small, but memorable cast of characters, many of whom had appeared from the beginning but have only now found their voice. Cayde-6, voiced by Firefly and Castle star Nathan Fillion is the primary quest-giver for the fight against Oryx. Fillion doesn’t just provide mission briefings, he’s the star of several cutscenes and also provides colourful mid mission dialogue.
Nolan North of Uncharted fame replaces the unfairly-maligned Peter Dinklage in the role of your Ghost. Both actors turn in stellar performances, and while the script isn’t written to elicit much of an emotional response, the added dramatic flavour makes it that little bit easier to complete a strike, story or patrol mission for the three hundredth time.

Web 2.0

With the arrival of Destiny‘s 2.0 patch, each chapter of the story has now been “questified”. Additionally, the amount of bounty slots (for tasks like ‘Kill 50 enemies with precision damage’) has been increased with the added ability to cash them in on the go. What this should’ve meant was less time travelling to and from the Tower and Reef social spaces; however, quest lines still require players to return, and their touch points crop up just as often as the requirement to turn in bounties in Year One.
If you’re more of a PvP player, this ends up working pretty well. If you’re more inclined to take on AI-controlled opponents, you’ll end up exposed to just as many pretty loading screens as you would have pre-patch. Not a game breaker, but a missed opportunity all the same.
Even after putting in a solid few days of questing, I’m still yet to see all The Taken King has to offer. The main line lasts longer than House of Wolves, and doesn’t rely on lengthy seek and destroy tasks like The Dark Below did. Destiny is getting bigger and better.
New story missions are open to any character at level 25 or greater, meaning that it’s possible to bypass earlier quest lines and move straight on to the more exciting, better-written stuff. While this is great for writers needing to meet a deadline (huehuehue), I imagine it would make a story already infamous for being poorly told all the more confusing. I have a Hunter that I got to level 33 in Year One by equipping high level gear I bought from Xur (the mysterious weekend vendor of all things exotic) and Variks (the warden of the Prison of Elders).
Without even beating the original lot of story missions, I can skip straight to a scene where a key character dies. Without this character, the events of each Year One quest line would make little sense at all, if I were to revisit them.

You’re the one for me

It’s a good thing then that the economy has been overhauled so that it makes playing with one character a viable option. Crucible (PvP) and Vanguard (PvE) marks, forms of in-game currency used to buy high-end gear from various vendors, have now been merged into a single form, Legendary marks. Legendary marks are still subject to caps like their predecessors, but the best gear is found out in the field in The Taken King, and it’s not just found in the new raid.
Rare, legendary, and exotic gear can all be rolled with high enough light scores for players to be able to traverse the end game. Previously, you needed to be able to run the raids (Prison of Elders, and Iron Banner) to have a hope of hitting the light cap, but now it’s been opened up. At first it was disorienting, because as a veteran player my instinct was to rock purple (legendary) and gold (exotic) exclusively. Given time though, my elitism gave way to me actually wanting to progress.
Changing the way players view and treat their equipment will go along way to remedy the old end game conundrum of everyone rocking exactly the same loadout. The Infusion system takes this even further, by allowing players to upgrade lower light gear. In a game where items define your character more than anything else, this is a much-needed addition.

The new rituals

The systems that define the Destiny experience wouldn’t be worth discussing if the core action wasn’t compelling. Thankfully, the new story missions and strikes are thrilling and varied additions to the growing rotation of activities that you’ll play ad infinitum in the hope of netting better gear. There’s a competent stealth mission, a boss fight reminiscent of Devil May Cry, and a wealth of teleporting bullet sponges.
I did find it curious that several story missions are written to contradict a central aspect of Year One mission design: you’re tasked with escaping invincible foes, dark rituals, and exploding space stations, rather than facing a wave-based boss fight and warping to orbit. “Escape from overwhelming enemy threat,” is a staple of FPS mission design, but it’s not something that’s ever been done in Destiny until now. While I welcome new types of objectives and experiences, the few chase sequences offer up little challenge, and they feel a bit jarring given the last year of mowing down each last alien down before heading home.
What works, however, is the return to spaces that had previously been the domain of raiders only. The Vault of Glass and Crota’s End open up sans puzzles for players who may have found the idea of teaming up with six friends and/or random players a little too daunting. This is great as these are some of the best examples of level design you’re likely to see with a gun in your hand. Yes, the enigmatic riddles that had players stumped are absent, but they’re visually striking locales with interesting stories to tell, and I’m glad they’ll be exposed to more guardians.

In good company

Speaking of raids, King’s Fall is visually distinct, and features even more mind-bending situations than its predecessors. I’d go as far to say that the platforming sections in the initial stages of the raid are some of the most visually stunning set pieces I’ve seen throughout a year of playing Destiny. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve sampled two of the boss fights and they are brutally difficult, and absolutely require communication and careful coordination to progress. Some of the solutions seem a little too abstract for my tastes, and it’s a fair bit stingier than those that came before it, but I recommend giving it a go all the same.
Four new strikes have been added for PvE enthusiasts, and the Taken have also been added to existing strikes in a bid to freshen up some of the more tired examples of bullet spongery from Year One. Sunless Cell is my favourite of the bunch, with a boss fight that takes place in near darkness. It’s a bog standard fight, but it looks amazing and is sure to elicit the odd squeal if you’re easily startled. Shield Brothers is easily the most enjoyable clash you’ll have with the Cabal, whereas Fallen S.A.B.E.R and Echo Chamber have extremely durable enemies overstaying their welcome.
Heroic and Nightfall strikes (the same coop missions with more difficulty modifiers) have been overhauled to respect your time just that little bit more. New strikes drop strike-specific gear. One of the more grindy aspects of Destiny‘s end game is becoming dangerously close to enjoyable.

Holding court

Last, but not least, is the Dreadnaught, the new explorable environment and ship that houses Oryx and his Taken and Hive armies. It’s easy to get lost in the network of caves, hidden platforms, and crashed spaceships, but the mysteries hiding within are sure to keep me spelunking in the months to come.
The Court of Oryx, a space within the ship where players can initiate public events (read: timed boss fights), is a stingy disappointment that has its secrets spoiled prematurely. You’re prompted with hints as you play through all but the highest tier of these encounters, and if you’re not the player that initiates the fight, don’t hope for anything but blue engrams.
Patrolling the Dreadnaught falls into a rhythm similar to that which you’d find on Earth, Venus, Mars or the moon. The key difference here is that, for the first few hours at least, the Dreadnaught doesn’t feel like yet another sandbox with endlessly spawning enemies: there is more to it than killing low level ads and searching for collectables.

A bridge between worlds

The new subclasses for the Titan, Warlock and Hunter classes have supers that cover the gaps in their respective arsenals. I didn’t get the chance to test them all, but the Warlock finally has a close quarters arc attack to churn out orbs in PvE, and rack up quick kills in PvP. I’ve seen Hunters offer effective support as Nightstalkers, and Titans burn through minions of the Darkness with the Hammer of Sol projectile attack.
There are quest lines to attain each of the new classes, and in the case of the Warlock Stormcaller, it becomes apparent that Bungie missed an opportunity in building up the subclasses that came before it. The Sunsinger can defy death, surely that would’ve made for a more interesting quest line than inFamous In Space. In any case, reports from fellow players indicate that the new digs are just as enjoyable for the other classes.

Sportsball

Each of the new classes seem built for use in the Crucible, Destiny’s PvP component, and the new Rift mode is the perfect playground for Hammers, Bows, and Palpatines. What other competitive multiplayer mode allows you to slam dunk a futuristic basketball while dodging gunfire? No takers? I thought not. The previously near-invisible Salvage mode has also risen to prominence, and is a great fit for the new maps.
PvP is still very much a tale of corridors, but I actually enjoy Rift and Salvage, as opposed to the Call of Duty with Superpowers that was Control (Domination) and Clash (TDM). Here’s hoping that the next time the Iron Banner flies, we’ll be offered the chance to dunk instead of corner camping.

Hill of content

As a veteran player, The Taken King offers everything I was looking for: hours worth of fetch quests, new playgrounds to explore alone and with friends/randos, and thousands of opportunities to pray to RNGesus. Best of all, strikes like Sunless Cell, and the King’s Fall raid have me feeling that the best is yet to come.
The price to confront Oryx is steep, but the additions to the weekly set of rituals that isDestiny are worthwhile and, for the most part, enjoyable. The return to experience levelling and the new quest system may appear to be geared towards recruiting new players, but there are plenty of challenges available to experienced guardians as well. If you love the grind, it’s time to crash the Dreadnaught.
The author purchased Destiny: The Taken King at their own expense.

Wednesday, December 2

Destiny: The Taken King gives life and takes over


(Note: This post first appeared on games.on.net. Unfortunately, they're offline as of 30 November, so I thought I'd rescue it.)
It’s strange to acknowledge my attachment to guns. Fictional guns, no less. This Tuesday night at 7pm, however, the moment I’d been dreading for about a month came to pass. My two most reliable tools got locked away in my vault in first person inventory space manager and MMO-lite, Destiny.
My Gjallahorn, the exotic (for those not in the know, the highest grade of rarity) rocket launcher that was key to undoing any end game enemy, was now ostensibly useless. An uncommon machine gun of the filthiest green was presented early on as a more powerful replacement. My Vision of Confluence, the lynchpin of loadouts that felled Crota, Atheon and Skolas, was now holding me back from cracking Destiny’s new missions and its latest mystery, the Light system.
The Light system was used in Year One to determine your character’s level after hitting the experience cap of level 20. Now, instead of being determined solely by your equipped armour, it now looks at everything your character wears, holds, or otherwise has fastened to them. The mystery is all the more vexing (haha! Destiny pun) now that you can earn experience again, up to the new cap of 40.
“This is going to hurt,” I said to myself as I stashed my redundant weapons. For Destiny, until now, was never about the characters, or the lore at large. It was about elusive loot, and the cruelty or, as was often the case with me, mercy doled out by a random number generator. Guns were adored more than quest givers, and they were written better than them too.
Until now that is.
Now, with the 2.0 update and a wealth of new missions, the focus is on the story. Everyone in the Tower is a lot more talkative, now that Dinklebot (RIP) is gone. Quests are being passed out faster than I can keep track of them, and after skipping from vendor to vendor, I find myself ready to care about Eris Morn, Cayde 6, and a whole bunch of others that had previously been consigned to giving brief thanks for retrieving items and/or turning in bounties as recently as two weeks ago.
Where the campaign from the last expansion, The House of Wolves, felt like a set of mirror tracks, the fight against Crota’s absent father Oryx offers up something never before seen inDestiny: life. The cast doesn’t just stand still and deliver lines of dialogue, they emote, they gesticulate, and rebel, and they act as more than glorified mailboxes.
destiny the taken king
Sure, the whole revenge plot that’s the crux (another pun!) of the single player experience, is unabashed in its silliness, it’s still more compelling than find the garden. You know, the black one that’s teeming with deathbots.
The new environment, the interior of Oryx’s Dreadnaught, appears to be packed with secrets, and has just enough variety in terms of the colour palette to be considered more than Crota’s End 2: Daddy Issues. I haven’t done too much exploring just yet, but once I get my Light shining I’ll be digging deeper.
I’ve fought hundreds of Taken (be prepared to hear and read that word a lot), and they’re not just garden variety Fallen, Hive, Vex and Cabal with twitchy animations. The enemies that Oryx repurposes are a lethal mix of the old and the new, and they’ve been injected throughout old activities, and the new campaign to catch veteran players off guard. Their attacks and abilities mimic some Guardian supers (like the Titan’s bubble shield, for example), while some are altogether new (like the Taken Captain’s very large, blinding projectile shot).
About five hours in and I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface. Even at level 40 (the return to experience levelling feels superfluous), I’m not ready for end game activities like Daily Heroic (higher difficulty level with damage modifiers) story missions, and can’t even imagine what a Nightfall strike (3 player coop missions) would be like at this point. I’ve got some shooting to do.
Copy of The Taken King purchased at the reviewer’s own expense.

Sunday, November 29

Fallout 4 Review (XB1): The revolution will be safe


Fallout 4 is safe. For a game about traversing a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it is so fucking safe.

Fallout 4 is also an ugly game. It doesn't look exactly like (or 'as bad as') Fallout 3, despite what the social media cesspit may have you believing, but the improvement is slight enough to be dismissed as "incremental." That being said, post-bombing Boston isn't a technical marvel, but in terms of concept, it's consistent and effective.

Fallout 4 looks dreadful, but it's supposed to. Dogs aren't supposed to clip up and down through closed elevator doors, but this is the price we pay for Bethesda's janky brand of open world adventuring. To be able to wander through an expanse rarely-rivalled in terms of sheer width and possibility, we need to expect the frequent stuttering of frame rates and V.A.T.S-engaged combatants.

The possibilities aren't quite endless, but they are worth enduring technical difficulties for. How many other games allow you to create a strong, sarcastic woman warrior who brings violent peace to scorched earth? How many other games allow players to work with a diverse cast, including people of colour and women; in leadership positions, no less? Very. Fucking. Few.


But this is what New Vegas did. This is what, to my fallible memory's recollection, Fallout 3 did to a lesser extent.

This is iteration, not innovation.

The attempts at innovation fall flat for anyone rocking anything other than a strength and intelligence-tuned S.P.E.C.I.A.L build. My luck and charisma build made difficult conversations a cinch, but it also barred me from engaging in weapon and armour modding (in any sort of meaningful way) for more than a day's worth of play.

The settlement building is just as poorly explained, and is obtuse as all get out. I purposefully abstained from completing the tutorial mission on the hunch that any friendly territories I acquired before that point would not be subject to invasion.

For more than 40 hours, and the duration of the main questline, this hypothesis proved true. Funnily enough, the second I fast travelled away from the setting for the ultimate action, I received notice that an outpost was under attack. I don't want to say this new system is unusable, as some creative (if not, puerile) players have already published some impressive creations; it's just a little too indecipherable for my tastes.

Another reason I'm failing to engage with these new features is that the barriers to entry in terms of raw resource requirements are set too high for characters who can't carry an abundance of junk that has no application outside of combat. If I want to have access to weapons that will (eventually) kill an array of deadly enemies, I can't carry 10 pounds of paint thinner, 50 fuses, and my entire arsenal.


Yes, inventory management is still a pain after nearly 20 years of Fallout games. I'd love to offer a solution (like, for instance, being able to send companions to nearby settlements a la Torchlight), but I'm sure the internet as a collective would not deem it worthy. For now, at least, I must continue to return to my home settlement and stuff a fabric suitcase with miniguns and power armour pieces. Don't y'all get between gamers and their fucked up notions of realism now.

The main quest line is home to one too many pointless twists, with inconsistent pacing and some choices that left me feeling indifferent. I don't want to go too far into it for fear of spoiling anything, but the choice of faction for me was obvious, as the two alternatives that I had (could've been three, but I didn't pursue the Minutemen quest chain) had some moustache-twirling, vaudevillian creeds by which I couldn't abide. That being said, my choice didn't result in the satisfying, life-affirming conclusion I was expecting. It wasn't abjectly apocalyptic, but it didn't give me the warm feeling I was hoping for.

As was the case with Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the best meat is in the off-cuts. A short sojourn to collect baseball collectibles for a fan who had no idea how the old game worked was far more enjoyable than the central revenge plot. The guy who wanted to experience every drug-induced high available was far more relatable than any of the Brotherhood of Steel lackeys I came across.

I could continue complaining, like say about the conversation system that leads to seemingly-random outcomes based on vague prompts, the transmisgonyst robot gag that is KL-E-0, or the near non-existent changes to V.A.T.S (or the the combat system as a whole, for that matter); but I'd be missing the point. Fallout 4 is a time sink, and for the most part, it's a sink that I and most other nerds are happy to piss into. War never changes, but Fallout does ever so slowly.

Saturday, September 26

Pets and pariahs

The Beautiful Sing
First Lady of Leeson pets
May your garden grow

The Grey Ghost, Kaylee
Vibrant, rebellious cat
Eternally small

Matriarch, Elaine
Ageless and always regal
Please sleep well, my Queen

Constance, the Fragile
Mother's most precious creature
In our hearts always

Carefree Millicent
Naturally peerless white
Grimey pariah

Cautious Adeline
Selfless, quiet, Addy Pie
Love and peace to you

Friday, September 25

Destiny: The Taken King reviewed

I got commissioned to review the latest expansion to Destiny, The Taken King for games.on.net. If you're interested in hearing my thoughts on Bungie's latest triumph, be sure to check out:

If you're not one for scrolling, you can also read my reviews of:

Tuesday, August 25

Volume: Trilogy

Volume

The staggering blow
The staggering blows
Every triumph met with defeats
Nothing is gained in this constant attrition
The number subtracted is always greater
No noise can be heard above the screaming
The maddening howl of consistent grief
I will love you forever
Can you hear me?


Volume II

I would rather not speak
I would not control the flow
The careless sound
I would only speak truth

My version of it is loud with blame
My version has lots of details
There'll be no chance to jump in
My version must be heard

You consider protesting
You know this requires energy
The silence is victory for me
You don't need us anymore

Your version is soft and pointed
Your version cuts and runs
Too bad it won't be played
Your version keeps you here

They know we will end
They sense broken trust
I know the damage irreparable 
They will have to meet us half way

Their version is not final 
Their version spans space and time
You know them better than I
Their version would take years to hear


VOLUME III

LETS TALK
YOU
ME
THE WHOLE FUCKING FAMILY
SETTLE DOWN
IF YOU CANT BE CIVIL
THEN WHATS THE POINT
HEAR ME OUT
NO LISTEN

Saturday, August 22

Listen to your heart

She presses against his face
That lost look in his eyes digitised
Immortalised in high definition 

I've seen that face at home
In other countries
It speaks of hurt
That you want to run
"You might as well rip my heart out"

You answer quickly
I can hear your shame bounce off her cheek
You'll return at once

"You might as well rip my heart out"
A lost vocation 
A locked shed
A set of keys
A single name on a policy

"You might as well rip my heart out"
Reminders of what's been taken
By disease and with the passage of time

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.

Saturday, April 11

Safety tips from Australian men

Watch your back
At night
Walking home from work
In broad daylight
At work

Watch your back
In parks
Move only in groups
These spaces aren't for you
Not ever

Watch your back
Exercising
Don't wear headphones
You'll never hear them coming
Your fault

Watch your back
At home
At any age
You're a target everywhere
Flip a coin

Sunday, March 29

Destiny Review (PS4): The cold, dark loneliness of space


I made the big mistake of playing the Destiny beta. I maxed out three characters, of each race, trialling each of the classes. For twenty hours, I grinded through the first few missions on Earth. I had fun at the time, but I was concerned that the lack of a coherent narrative and Peter Dinklage's failed attempts at humour would make for a dry final product.

First contact
I think it a mistake because that was about 15 hours that counted for nought when I logged in at launch. Worse still, playing through the, for lack of a better word, "campaign" is a genuine bore. Your first 15 hours of Destiny proper are mind-numbing. You're held back from the best game I've played in recent memory. You box with kid gloves and gain nothing, *nothing*, until you reach the end game.

Sure you can fight other players in the Crucible, take bounties (quests) for player versus enemy AI (PvE) and player versus player (PvP) modes, and even play co-op, but it feels like there's nothing at stake. If I could start a new Destiny character at level 20, I would.

I can't though, and I didn't bother to start again until I found some relatively-high level gear for the Titan class. That's because the arbitrary nature of progression in the end game can be sidestepped to an extent; and just as well too, because it took about two full days' worth of play to get to the point where a second character didn't seem like a colossal waste of time.

Scenery changes, but the action remains largely the same: travel to an area, interact with an object, defeat waves of enemies. Repeat. Every planet also has at least one Strike mission which matches you with two other players to partake in the same cycle with witnesses. Without the mad loot game that characterises the end game, these routs pose little in the way of excitement.

My second run through the campaign was an afterthought. When I was done playing the actual game (with my level 31 Warlock), I'd load up my second character and play through as much as I could bear. The low level game, again, is tedious and unrewarding. It still looks pretty, but the beautiful rehearsed dance of high level play always felt like it was too far off.

Destiny's planets are hollow and fenced off, and it's hard to understand why when you first start your journey. The threadbare story provides no motivation to push through. Even after reading a great many Grimoire cards (earned for hitting specific milestones, and accessible via developer, Bungie's website or the companion app), I'm none the wiser as to what is actually supposed to be happening in this intergalactic adventure. In hindsight, it doesn't matter, but it doesn't make the first leg of your travels any easier to endure.

If Destiny up to level 20 was all you got, I'd consign it to history as another high-profile developer fuck up. A Timesplitters-cum-Haze from the people who brought you Halo and Marathon. Thankfully, it gets a lot better. It blossoms into one of the most refined experiences I've had since repeated playthroughs of Final Fantasy VII on the PSone.

You are now watching the throne.

It gets better with time
"Time heals all wounds. You get better at anything with practice. It all just takes a little time." - That's 5 actual days worth of time playing Destiny talking there.

When you first hit level 20, you should notice that some of your equipped armour has a stat called 'Light'. Accumulating Light is how you progress in Destiny's end game. At first, it feels like a relentlessly cruel and random process. Actually, it always feels like that. Random Number Generator Geezus (RNGeezus) is a brutal deity, and I pray to her almost daily.

My initiation to the end game started with Daily Heroic story missions. These are the same PvE missions I'd already beaten, but now with modifiers that allow the action to escalate into something that is actually compelling.

I can still remember my first. A mission from Mars (the last of the four planets you'll visit in the campaign). Even played at the lowest (Heroic) difficulty level, it was unconscionably brutal. I was lulled into a false sense of security, ploughing through the enemies that dotted the way to the final encounter at a reasonable clip. Then the big boss man showed up. I died so many times, and so much faster than I was used to. It took hours for me to formulate a strategy to actually finish the fight. Instead of holding a position and taking cover when required, I was now required to move. To run. When I got swamped, I knew it was no longer an option to shoot my way out. I would cower. I would emerge when it was safe to shoot, to breathe. After two hours, I emerged victorious.

The rewards were meagre, and they continued to be for weeks. I was submerged in a sea of useless blue and green (rare and uncommon items respectively). For almost too long (my guess: 20 hours) I stayed at level 24.

Even though my progress was stalled across a few weeks, I returned nightly to play Daily Heroics and hope for better. I also started partaking in Strike playlists so I could burn through more PvE bounties and earn more opportunities to pray to RNGeezus. With the right team, Strikes are great fun; even when played in radio silence.

When the stakes are higher, and your opponents are more durable (and aggressive), shooting waves of aliens is infinitely more entertaining.

Heartbreak no longer guaranteed
Funnily enough, because it took so long for me to get a decent internet connection when I first moved to Melbourne, I didn't play Destiny for the time that RNGeezus was considered evil. Rare and Legendary Engrams (items that need to be taken to an NPC to be converted to gear) could yield utterly useless uncommon equipment. Now the colour reveals the bare minimum rarity of the item you'll receive (just don't always expect it to be for the class you're using). I can't imagine the heartbreak of purple turning to green.

I AM NOT WORTHY, RNGEEZUS!!!

I progressed, but not solely through the grace of RNGeezus. I completed enough matches (PvP and/or PvE) to earn currencies to be used at specific vendors, where I could buy legendary gear. Also, some of my engrams (read: a LOT of them) were converted into a currency which is only good with a vendor that only works weekends. Xur sold me the Starfire Protocol, an exotic (read: highest grade of rarity) piece of armour that finally compelled me to change to the second Warlock sub-class, the Sunsinger. I now began to explore my character, and that is when things got very interesting.

Sub-class specific abilities can be switched at will. The progression table is a fluid thing: nothing is permanent. I've now found a mix of abilities and gear that can be devastating in PvP, and entirely functional for Daily Heroic play. That being said, I'm still shy of the level cap, and that won't change without luck (or me spending hours at a time completing raids multiple times).

The Dance
Now properly equipped, Destiny is the most time effective game on the market. I know exactly how much time I need to invest to get what I want out of it.

Do I need upgrade materials for my gear? Daily Heroic for 15 minutes.
Do I want to farm for gear and not feel like the only intelligent life in the galaxy? Strike playlists or the Crucible for 20 minutes, or for as long as I'm willing to play.
Do I want to hit the level cap? Hours in the Vault of Glass, or competing in the Iron Banner (level advantage-enabled PvP).

The choice is mine. I can engage in the well-rehearsed dance of PvE, or yield to the chaos of competitive multiplayer.

It also feels distinct from other first person looters, like Borderlands, in that there is no aimless wondering in Destiny's end game. Yes, you are beholden to a random number generator if you go farming for loot, but I always feel like I can get what I need from a Destiny play session. I could play missions and Strikes at low difficulty levels, but why would I? That meaningless swim through fodder is kept to a minimum, and it's a big reason why I keep coming back.



Cheat codes
Do you remember sharing cheat codes with your friends back in school? Maybe asking them how to beat a certain boss fight, or how to beat a puzzle in an adventure game? As Brendan Keogh aptly pointed out, that's kind of what it's like to play a raid in Destiny.

The co-op missions (2 are available right now) can be played with up to 6 players, and they require a lot more than shooting. They require specific knowledge, and involve anything from jumping puzzles, to battling new and exclusive enemy types. I've made 2 attempts on the Vault of Glass, and each time I've been guided by contemporaries to achieve great things. I've been shown secret loot chests, and how to hide from Gorgons. I don't have the 3 hours needed to make it to the end, but it was still well worth the time.

Different people also have different approaches to the kind of tense combat situations you find in a Destiny raid, and it's fascinating to witness and take part in this violent logic. When taking on the Templar, the first group of players I ran with wanted to split into 2 squads and manage its deadly entourage. We never managed to succeed. The second group was led by a rowdy, undeniably brave teen who ordered:

"Oi, you fucks stay here and just fucken slam the cunt when I bring down his shield."

O captain, my captain.

Sadly, you can only play raids with "friends". There are forums where you can assemble a ragtag group of Guardians, but if you hang around in the Tower long enough or perform well in a strike, odds are you'll be invited by randoms to friend up and tag along for a run.

Weekly Nightfall strikes are also barred to friends, or otherwise arranged groups of players. Weekly Heroics, thankfully, have now been opened up to matchmaking, so there's now more avenues to earn higher level gear. They're by no means as satisfying as raids, but it's great to see more game types available to more casual players (that may sound ridiculous, but based on my reading, I'm pretty sure I'd fail to be considered a hardcore player).

So exotic
The final component of Destiny's end game is the Exotic Bounty, awarded when you complete the same standard PvE and PvP enough times (don't ask me how many, I was just excited to get one every couple of weeks). These multi stage quests are, in certain cases, ridiculous in what they ask of players. My first required me to, at one point, maintain a kill/death ratio above 1.0 for a number of matches. Later I needed to complete a Weekly Heroic or Nightfall, and this was before matchmaking was an option.

The best that I've completed (which, suitably, awards one of the less-favoured weapons) involves playing standard match types for extended periods. 25 strikes, 10000 points in the Crucible: stuff I'd normally do over the course of a week's play. Sure I needed to turn in some stages on the weekend, but apart from that, the only requirement is for me to play a game that I love. Easy.



Another castle
In December, The Dark Below offered up another raid, a higher level cap, new story missions, and by extension, more Daily and Weekly Heroics. There appeared to be some quirks at launch, particularly for those who got exotic gear before the expansion launched. Again, because of internet woes, I was forced into a sabbatical, so I managed to avoid any woes.

The expansion (again, need a better word) campaign, like that in the base game, took time to reach its potential. Later missions are gated behind some woeful search-and-destroy quests, and even require weekend work. The resulting Heroic Dailies are a worthwhile addition to the rotation though, so it was worth the pain.

Again, my first is a prominent memory. With the raised level cap, there's only one difficulty setting, and Dark Below Daily Heroics are damn near insurmountable for any characters below level 30 (the level cap for the base game). I was level 29 when I first tried to rescue Rasputin with Heroic modifiers enabled. For hours I ran up against a wall of high level Hive enemies. Finally, I managed to make it to the last stage of the wave based encounter, only to be tracked down and butchered when trying to hide and recover health. I gave up.

A week later. The same mission, one level higher. The difference was unbelievable. I triumphed with a single attempt.

That lingering itch
Destiny, for me, is the gift that keeps on giving. My golden shotgun, sliding from kill to cover. My grenades that burn with the brightness of a star, that track and stick to targets. My 20 minutes a day that result in everything I need. My beautiful desert patrol on a hoverbike, boosting and flipping from mission to mission. My triumphs over that which I previously thought impossible.

Destiny is exercise. It's a vanity project. It asks for a lot up front, but delivers well after you've paid up. 


Sunday, March 15

Double Dragon Neon Review (PS3): Hair Metal


"Why can't games just be fun anymore?" - Redundant Internet Dickhead.

This is near enough the quote I've read in numerous comments and forum posts across the web. Before GamerGate, before the Hitman: Absolution trailer, people (usually identifying as "gamers") have sought to trivialise gross sexism by pointing out that the transgression has occurred in a medium known for the frivolity of scoreboards, acrobatic plumbers, and any other number of tropes that are difficult to take seriously.

I start with this acknowledgement because apart from seriously questionable costume choices and historical sexism, Double Dragon Neon is a thoroughly enjoyable sidescrolling beat-'em up. If you can swallow the recycled damsel in distress pretext for the ensuing two and a half hours, and some super sexualised women combatants, you'll have fun.

The combat system uses the best parts of side scrolling brawlers and fighting games like Street Fighter Alpha 3. Traditional kicks and punches can be mixed up to wind opponents where you can then launch, juggle and throw. You can follow up with attacks on downed opponents, and even set up group attacks if you've managed to stun two enemies simultaneously. Rounding out the arsenal is super moves (which drain an energy bar), running attacks, and the ability to roll and duck to set up "Gleam": a status which grants a boost to your attack. The wealth of offensive options means that the action never gets stale.

Boss fights also allow for variation. Most involve pattern recognition so you can beat on big people and/or monsters without taking damage. One even incorporates platforming into the mix, and the result is stellar. There's a sense of humour to some of the enemy designs that's better executed here than in your average brawler.


The learning curve is almost flat until you reach the final boss fight. I was caught unawares by one of the few enemies that could juggle me. The amount of damage they could deal was also significantly greater than any foe I previously encountered, so I had to wrestle frustration and the urge to destroy my controller.

Messing around with tapes was how I overcame the final fight. Equipping different tapes allows you to experiment with super moves and fighting styles, which in turn determine the amount of health you have, and your ability to take and deal damage. I'd played the entire game with "Training Wheels" on, but switching to an attack-heavy style meant I spent less time avoiding deadly attacks.

Double Dragon Neon is, on one hand, charming with its relatively-deep fighting system and its overt, eighties-flavoured sense of humour. This charm is then periodically dispelled by scantily-clad women begging "Punish me!" as they expire. There's a line between nostalgia and sexism that is carelessly walked here, but in the end, it's very easy to recommend provided you know what you'll find.