The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

I like role-playing games, I like feeling immersed and I like getting lost in worlds that other people create. I was excited to try Witcher 3 because it seemed to have the things I wanted in a fantasy game. I’ve been playing it for about three weeks now and I’m far from being done but I think I have a pretty good picture of what the game has to offer and I’m liking it, it’s not without its annoying flaws but it’s still a lot of fun.

Like I said earlier, I love exploring the worlds that game designers create. Especially worlds that have established lore with a certain amount of depth. I like worlds that I explore to have a bit of a variety in scenery. It gets tiring to see one type of landscape in a game that I’m going to be spending 50+ hours in. So far I’ve put in at least 30 or so hours into the Witcher and the majority of the landscape are forests and open plains. The area’s that aren’t those two things are few and far between. I understand the fact that the Witcher has an established lore based on Slavic mythology so the game designers can’t create strange fantasy worlds like Bethesda does with its Elder Scrolls series. What helps keep the environments less bland in the Witcher 3 is the fact that they’re vibrant and the landscape feels alive. You’ll find animals, people and monsters wandering around. The trees also sway in the wind that you can hear howling when the weather becomes stormy or blowing gently when the weather is calm.

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What’s sad is the amount of bugs I’ve encountered. They’re not game-breaking bugs that ruin your save or anything like that but little things that add up to become a major annoyance. In one instance I was talking with a herbalist who was telling me about a girl she was trying to help who was badly wounded in a monster attack. I (being the good Witcher that I am) offered to try and help her. As I turned to face the bed the girl was supposedly lying in, I found it empty. Puzzled, I looked around thinking there was a second bed, but found none. Suddenly the door to the herbalists home opens and the girl casually strolls to the bed, lies down and continues to writhe in pain. In another instance I was fighting monsters in the middle of nowhere and realized that I needed to sell some equipment to free up some space so I could continue hunting for treasure. I opened up my map and found the nearest town. When I got to the town I noticed something strange. I couldn’t speak to anyone. Not the merchant, not the innkeeper and not the blacksmith. It was in the evening so I assumed that it was past their work hours and so I meditated until morning. That didn’t help one bit. I just couldn’t speak to anyone. To make matters worse, when I went back to check on the blacksmith, he wasn’t at his forge where he was supposed to be. I rotated the camera around so I was facing away from it and I suddenly heard the familiar “clunk, clunk, clunk” sound of the blacksmith working, I rotated the camera around again and by some miracle he appeared at his forge. Having these two bugs overlap like that was frustrating and I had to quit my game and reload my save file which solved this particular problem. This next bugs that I came across made an impact on a small quest. While I was competing in the last of the horse races, my opponent magically disappeared into thin air when the countdown to race got to zero. This made the “race” easier, but it was incredibly frustrating to see this happen. But one of the most annoying bugs I’ve come across in the game is a bug that doesn’t allow you to start a certain side-quest. Thankfully it doesn’t seem like this particular side-quest is important, but the fact that I can’t start it just sucks. I’ve encountered plenty of other bugs playing Witcher 3, but they’re the typical bugs that you usually encounter in so many of these open world games: floating bodies, enemies stuck in walls, enemies falling through the floor and enemy loot disappearing, I’ve even had a treasure chest disappear and reappear after re-loading the game and finally, amusingly enough, it rains in-doors in some areas.

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With that out of the way, I’d like to discuss some of the Witcher 3’s finer points. There are three things that I think games like the Witcher need to get right. Quest variety, world building/NPC’s and lastly combat. It doesn’t matter if a game has interesting quests if the world is boring and uninteresting to explore (looking at you Fallout New Vegas). To truly be a great game, not only do the quests and the games world need to be interesting and fun, but you need to have a good combat system to tie the game together (This is where Skyrim did poorly). This is where the Witcher 3 shines. Most of the quests are interesting and even though you’ll still encounter a fetch-quest here and there, they’re uncommon. Besides the main quest, you have side-quests, Witcher contracts and treasure hunts. And besides those quest types you’ll also find questions marks scattered across the world map for you to discover. Exploring these question marks tend to get repetitive because there isn’t a great variety of things hidden behind them. You’ll come across hidden treasure, abandoned towns, a monster nest or a bandit camp. Going after this question marks can be fun for a few hours but not for an entire game. One of the highlights of the game are the side-quests. The stories that you uncover through them are quite entertaining and interesting, the Bloody Baron constantly gets mentioned and rightly so. That particular side-quest is unpredictable and mysterious. The choices you make playing through that side quest matter, effecting the quest in one way or another at some point.

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The environments you’ll be exploring in the game are massive. The first area the game introduces you too which is kind of “tutorial” area, is huge and filled with enough content to introduce you to all the various aspects of the game without getting boring. The area you go to after that is at least four times larger. The developers have done an amazing job at making the environments feel alive. There are a lot of games that have great looking environments. Having wildlife in open-world games is a norm now, but it’s the little details that make the environments come to life. There’s one aspect, an important one that I mentioned earlier that the Witcher 3 does differently than other games and that helps quite a bit and that’s the wind. You’ll be wandering through the environment, seeing the trees gently blowing in the wind, you’ll hear the breeze, it can actually be quite relaxing. Another aspect that helps make this world feel alive is the change you experience as the game goes on. Part of the games storyline involves a war between two empires and you’ll see the effect of war on the land. You’ll see a bridge being patrolled by a set of soldiers and you might come across that same bridge later in the game and find those same soldiers butchered and a camp nearby belonging to the soldiers of the opposing nation. This event wasn’t triggered by some quest or anything, it’s just war.

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The combat in the game is engaging and not very button mashy. You can successfully button mash against weak enemies, but most of the time you’ll have to get used to dodging, attacking and effectively using your spells to cast magic. Combat can get annoying at times due to the fact that there isn’t a easy and quick way of changing spells on the go while you’re in the middle of a battle. There is one method where you can change your spells while holding the block button, but it doesn’t work well when you have six spells to flip through, especially when you’re in the middle of combat. Some monster can’t be beaten through brute force, they require you to combine your spells and your physical attacks together. For instance to defeat a wraith, you need to cast a magical trap, lure it in and then you can cause some damage. If you attempt to fight a wraith without casting the trap you’ll either end up dying or end up using too many potions. When you fight a group of humans, you won’t be fighting them one at a time (like Assassins Creed), you’ll have two or three enemies charging at you. Some enemies, like spear wielding solders, can’t be beaten by attacking them head-on, you’ll need to dodge and time your attacks. This is what makes combat interesting, each enemy requires a different style of combat.

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The Witcher 3 is a great game, plagued with annoying little bugs. I definitely recommend it, as the pros outweigh the cons. The game is really long if you try to complete each side-quest, Witcher contract and treasure hunt and it’s decently long if you attempt to stick to the main quest (about 50 hours). I wouldn’t look any further if you’re looking for a new adventure to play.

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Tomb Raider or Lara Croft & a Series of Fortunate Events

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider has been part of our gaming culture for quite some time. The first game came out nearly twenty years ago. Since then the franchise has taken quite a nose dive in terms of quality.The majority of the games aren’t that good. Since then, Nathan Drake has taken over most of the treasure hunting and adventuring in the Uncharted franchise. No one has really cared about Lara Croft or Tomb Raider for the most part of 10 years, even though they still put out more than six games in that time. The only one that really made an impact was 2013’s reboot, Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Tomb Raider is a lot of fun, the game does the important things right. Controlling Lara is great, she moves in a very fluid and realistic way. If you jump off a high cliff or building she’ll stumble as she lands while continuing the forward momentum. Which in turns makes a large portion of the game a joy to play. Square Enix made a vital decision in creating an open world for the players to explore and run around in. Another important aspect of the game is the upgrading your skills and equipment. Some games shoehorn these role-playing aspects into their games, but with Tomb Raider it makes sense since you’re controlling a young Lara Croft who is growing with experience every time you do something new in the game.

For the most part, this game is great. But it relies too heavily on gimmicks that it constantly repeats throughout the game. For instance, every time it seems Lara is about to fall to her death she lands on that one wooden plank that somehow doesn’t fall apart, even though every other plank around it are getting ripped apart. I understand if it happens once, maybe twice, but I lost count on how many times Lara survives a deadly fall. It spoils the feeling of immersion. There has to be countless of ways Lara could escape a building or tomb other than miraculously surviving a deadly fall. Or in one instance, somehow finding a parachute in a plane (or was it a helicopter) that looked incredibly old and decrepit.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

Lara is 21 in this game, has never killed anyone before or used any weapons previously. Yet she somehow is able to beat seasoned warriors and mercenaries in one on one combat and in huge gun battles. I know this is a video game. I know this point might seem nit-picky to some people, but the developers made such a big fuss about Lara’s first kill and how it impacts her, yet 5 minutes later she’s killing with no remorse and with the efficiency of an elite soldier. By the end of the game she has killed hundreds. Which is probably more people than those mercenaries killed. I feel as though the developers missed a huge opportunity to make this game stand out, to make it more unique than Uncharted. Instead they took the easy route and turned Lara Croft into Rambo. Lara’s first kill means nothing if we don’t see her being negatively impacted by it.

But even with these issues it’s hard to deny that those segments where Lara some how survives aren’t fun. Those set pieces are entertaining. Fighting an onslaught of continuous enemies and gunning them down makes you feel like you achieved something by surviving. Getting a head shot with my bow and arrow on a guy who is zip lining down a cliff is incredibly satisfying. All these things I just complained about doesn’t take the fun out of the game, they just seem out of place in a game that tells the story of how Lara Croft came to be, how she became a bad ass. Instead of gradually building her up into that amazing adventurer, we find out she turns into a skilled killer and bad ass instantly after her first kill.

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

I still highly recommend this game. Microsoft did a great job securing exclusive rights for it because this new Tomb Raider has the potential to compete with the Uncharted franchise and more competition is a good thing. I also recommend reading this article on the original development of Tomb Raider and how it all fell apart for Core Design. Shows some insight on how hellish game development can be and how something with so much potential can be ruined.

So if you haven’t yet, grab this game, it’s worth it.

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Bloodstained Igavania

(some random ramblings about “Igavania” and Bloodstained: Right of the Night)

It’s been less than 24 hours since “Igavania” got started and while I was excited at first I’m not so sure anymore. The more I thought about this whole thing the more this whole Kickstarter thing rubbed me the wrong way. If I were an indie developer I would probably be discouraged about how these events played out. Koji Igarashi new game seems to have a lot of gaming “star power” pushing it, with the 8 hour stream that features Ergoraptor and Colin Moriarty not including all the well known dev’s pushing it on Twitter. The game got funded in less than 30 minutes and it stands at a little over one million dollars right now, breaking all stretch goals except the last two.

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96604819672297a658279ff19c1d35db_originalCan you guess which is Ayami’s art?

I have more issues with the game itself. The most obvious being the art direction. I complained about it at lengths on Twitter, but the concept art is not that good. Especially for an Igarashi Castlevania game. For those who don’t know, when you see good Castlevania art, that art was done by Ayami Kojima. So she started with Symphony of the Night, did art for the GBA Castlevania games and I believe the last one she did was The Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. They went with the horrible, typical manga style art for two DS games and then went with an artist who tried to go back to a darker, more gothic theme for Order of Ecclesia.

Then there’s the fact that the game is not going to be a 2D Castlevania game. It’s going to be a 2.5D game. Whoever convinced Iga to do a 2.5D game is an idiot. Part of the beauty of his Castlevania games were the intricate, beautiful 2D visuals. Dracula X Chronicles, the PSP 2.5D remake of the Blood of Rondo looks like crap, the original Blood of Rondo had a much more interesting and unique style of graphics. I’ve just never been a fan of 2.5D games. Mighty No. 9 is a game that’s gone 2.5D and the visuals for that game just aren’t upto par with the 2D Mega Man X games. The only 2.5D game in recent memory that was done well was the Strider.

Lastly, I think some of the tiers for the Kickstart are kind of pricey. It includes a $60 physical copy of the game, the problem I have with this is that this isn’t a AAA game for them to charge us AAA prices. $60 is already a steep price for games in general. At $100 it includes the physical copy of the game, a keychain, a slipcase, a strategy guide, a lapel pin, the soundtrack and your name in the credits. It just sounds like a bit much. But hey, they funded it so I guess I’m in the minority here.

I know this post is pretty negative but I’m still looking forward to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. I’m excited to see what Iga and his team put out and to see some gameplay footage some time in the future. Iga deserves all this attention he’s getting and it’s about time he gets some recognition. And whenever the game comes out, I’ll definitely be playing it.

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Striking Gold with Splatoon

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Earlier this week Nintendo announced the Splatoon Global Testfire, essentially a beta for everyone to try for an hour at specific times set by Nintendo. So instead of playing Monster Hunter with my friends last night, I was waiting patiently in-front of my Gamepad for the beta to start. It seems like I wasn’t the only one because once the beta started it felt like the majority of my Twitter feed was dedicated to the game. Nintendo basically made gamers, critics alike to schedule their lives around this one event so we can see what Splatoon is all about.

Nintendo really struck gold with the art direction and music that Splatoon is built around. If Nintendo can nail the single player mode than I think they have a new franchise on their hands. Considering Nintendo’s DLC plans for Splatoon the game might have an incredibly long life-span. It helps that the game is fucking fun. The rounds are short and quick and unless you have terrible team-mates, things can stay competitive till the very end. The beta featured 3 different maps, each map requires a slightly different strategy. Here’s where one of my complaints come in. You don’t know what map you’ll be playing when choosing which weapon you want to use. I’m not sure if this will be different in the main game, but knowing which map you’ll be playing can help determine which weapon you want to use. Not every weapon is effective in every map.

On the topic of weapons. A lot of people were using paint rollers online and have said the game isn’t balanced right because paint rollers seemed overpowered. I personally believe the paint rollers are a good newbie weapon, but it won’t be as effective once people play the game more. Each weapon has a secondary move/attack that can be effective against paint rollers, the Splattershot Jr. lets you can use bubble shields while the Splattershot lets you toss paint grenades. In the full game we’re also getting a bunch of equipment that will give players different stat boosts that I think will also help balance the game quite a bit. So I’m not really worried about one weapon dominating the rest.

So now we wait!

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Rom, The Vicious Spider Boss Fight

This was definitely my least favorite boss fight in Bloodborne. Took me the longest time to beat him, it was just pretty frustrating. Glad he’s done with!

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Bloodborne Darkbeast Paarl Boss Fight

Ugh.

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Forbidden Woods Done! Shadow of Yharnam Boss Fight Video

Snakes… lots of snakes, a creepy old man, some weird alien things, giant pigs and bosses that look like the Nazgûl/Ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings. I’m glad I’m finally done with the Forbidden Woods!

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Bloodborne: Vicar Amelia boss fight

I’m not sure how I survived this fight, I was only carrying 8 Blood Vials, wasted 5 of them in the first minute and used the last one by accident. Out of desperation I used Fire Paper, Fire Paper is an item that coats your weapon in fire. This turned out to be a good idea because Vicar Amelia has a weakness to fire. Ended up stunning her at the very end. I also used Poison Knives but they literally did nothing. The health regen mechanic also helped me, if it weren’t for that I definitely would have died.

I love Bloodborne.

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Bloodborne: Love, Hate, Death

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What I love about Bloodborne is that it feels like an adventure. The atmosphere in the game is so meticulously crafted. You don’t have a map so you’re never sure what to expect forcing you to rely on the senses to explore. As I was exploring and fighting through the streets of Yharnam I couldn’t help but feel stressed the majority of time, it was unnerving. I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Yes, the game can be creepy, but it wasn’t Silent Hill. I think part of it was the fact that you don’t have a shield in the game, you have nothing to hide behind so you’re forced to push forward, to be aggressive, and not to be defensive. It pushed me out of my element and It encouraged me to play in a style I’m not used too.

Bloodborne has a reputation on being a difficult game, which I think is unfair because that overshadows the other aspects that makes the experience a lot of fun. It’s true that the game is hard, but it doesn’t feel impossible, it’s challenging. Having patience comes a long way in Bloodborne. Every enemy has a “tell” for every one of their attacks, their moves are very choreographed. The boss fights are tough, but every boss has a specific gimmick. You’re brain will want you to deal as much damage as quickly as possible, but that will only get you killed. The game rewards players who don’t rush through areas, useful treasures aren’t the only things you’ll find, but equally as important are the shortcuts you’ll unlock that will help you get around much quicker.

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On the technical side of things, Bloodborne looks and sounds fantastic. The creatures you come across are incredibly creepy, gross and messed up. There’s nothing as hair raising as hearing the faint scrapping sound of a weapon being dragged by an enemy across the floor you yet can’t see getting louder, closer. The only real problem I have with the game are the loading times. In a game where death is prevalent, a 40 second loading time can be a nuisance especially when you just want to get back into the game after dying.

Now the problem isn’t that Bloodborne is too hard, the problem is that the major studios in the gaming industry are trying to cater to so many kinds of people that the majority of games are simply too easy, too simple. When a game is too easy you lose that sense of adventure. As much as I loved Dragon Age Inquisition it suffered from that problem. There were a lot of instances in Dragon Age were I would be shifting between feeling immersed and not. Making games easier and simplifying game mechanics isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it’s what helps bring in new gamers and it’s one of the reasons gaming has become such a popular hobby. The problem is that there isn’t any balance. A lot of developers rely on difficulty settings to try and please players looking for more of a challenge, but setting a game on hard is different than playing a game that was specifically designed to be challenging. The only thing higher difficulty settings do are usually increase the enemies health and maybe place more enemies. Most of the time it just makes the game feel cheap.

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I enjoyed playing the Dark Souls series, but I felt that they were slightly overrated. The games garnered a lot of praise and critics seemed to gloss over the negatives like the annoying and frustrating level designs and the vagueness of the basic core game play elements so you were either left to guess what things did or you were forced to go online to do some research. With Bloodborne it’s as though creator Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software learnt their lessons past games because the quality of Bloodborne really blows the previous Souls games away. It’s the first killer exclusive the Playstation 4 has gotten and probably the best exclusive when compared to what the Xbox One has to offer. Bloodborne is more accessible than Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, so if you’re looking for something different or something more challenging than the average game I would definitely recommend Bloodborne.

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The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

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The one thing that bothered me about Majora’s Mask was the 3-day time limit. I play games at a slow-pace, I enjoy taking my time, exploring as much as I can and taking in the environment. When I’m playing a game and it forces a time-limit on me for certain quests or challenges, I get annoyed, frustrated and feel like I’m missing out on certain things by rushing through as I try to get to the goal.

A few years ago I was able to download the N64 version of Majora’s Mask through the Wii’s Virtual Console but had a hard time getting into the game. It felt over-whelming and it was difficult to keep up with all the side-quests. If I was younger I would have loved the game, but now that I’m older and working, along with other responsibilities, this sort of game can be a burden.

So I was relieved when I read that the 3DS version of the game would be a little different. Besides the updated visuals, the game now features a notebook that keeps track of all the side-quests and rumors you come across and it also keeps track of the quests you’ve completed. You can also set alarms to remind you of time-specific moments that are critical to side-quests. Another useful feature that has been added is a song that Link can play that will move time ahead to any specific hour of your choice, which is extremely helpful when it comes to completing side-quests. The save-system has been beefed up too. In the original Majora’s Mask there were two ways to save. You either suspended the game or by reseting time and going back to the first day. In Majora’s Mask on the 3DS, there are save-points scattered across Termina that also serve as a quick-travel system.

I’ve only played a couple of hours and just completed the second dungeon, but I’m loving Majora’s Mask and I can see why it had such a strong cult following. Every character in the game feels alive, they all have schedules to keep. You can follow any person in the game and see what they do and listen in on their conversations. Each character has a unique personality. There are a lot of little stories to discover in Majora’s Mask, the side-quests are interesting to follow and aren’t simple fetch-quests. The main villain, Skull Kid isn’t just straight-up evil, his story is sad and the more you find out about him the more you feel sympathy.

Majora’s Mask is a great change of pace for the Zelda franchise, it’s nice to be doing something besides saving Zelda, Hyrule and fighting Ganondorf. So if you own a 3DS and need another great game to play, Majora’s Mask just might be it.

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