The Outer Worlds PC Review

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I think Fallout 3 may be last Bethesda-style RPG that I enjoyed and will enjoy. I tried Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas which was so buggy on PC at launch that I effectively wrote it off. I didn’t much care for Skyrim either. I learned my lesson and didn’t bother with Fallout 4. I was tired of the treks across post-apocalyptic wastes and clunky action. I haven’t returned to one of those Bethesda-style action RPG in 7 years and was going to keep it that way until The Outer Worlds launched on Xbox Game Pass. I heard rumblings of it being Fallout meets Mass Effect and was intrigued.

Obsidian looked like they were on a quest to prove to the world that they could make a better version of one of those Bethesda-style action RPGs without the bugs and a strong narrative backbone. The space faring sci-fi setting was a departure from the Fallouts and Elder Scrolls of the Bethesda but anyone who’s familiar with Bethesda’s work will see past the aesthetic differences.

They made one of those games at a smaller and more manageable scale. It wasn’t a sprawling, detailed or intricate Bethesda’s behemoths but it was certainly lightyears ahead on the stability front. It also looked markedly better thanks to superb art and that Unreal Engine 4.0 magic.

The game makes a wonderful first impression filled with promise of adventure and good times. There were fun and humorous moments in dialog, hacked terminals, and combat. Then I landed in Monarch and — very much like its citizens — I was tired of it. I met with the new corporations and factions, heard their stories, and was bored of it all. The runaway capitalism schtick was no longer hitting its mark. Conspiracy theories seeped in to replace it but by the time I reached the jewel of the Halcyon colony, Byzantium, I was jaded and desperate to wrap up my time with this game.

Building my character was fun and motivated me to engage with the quests, combat, and exploration. I liked the perk system and the choice of accepting a flaw in favor of a perk point. I took the concussion flaw for an extra skill point after suffering repeated blows to the head. In retrospect, that hindered me a bit because I focused on expanding dialog and hacking options with a sprinkle of engineering and science on the side. I wanted to keep options open and was willing to forgo combat effectiveness for it.

The combat was serviceable. Tactical Time Dilation was an interesting take on Fallout’s V.A.T.S. It gave me the opportunity to slow down time, target weak spots, and inflict status effects such as blinding or crippling enemies. I could have finished the game without it but then I would have been forced to fight in real time and that wasn’t ideal considering my lack of investment in combat skills. A mixture of cheesy tactics and TTD took me far and I would argue that it may have taken me too far because I was melting against the likes of Universal Defense Logistics in the latter stages of the game. When I was looting UDL forces for better armor on the run up towards the end, I realized something had gone awry.

I probably could have avoided most of my deaths with judicious expenditures but I was stubborn and was willing to send my companions out as fodder. I am certain I would have changed my reckless ways if I had chosen a difficulty beyond “hard” where companion permadeath was enabled.

When I heard of the inclusion of companions and their quests, I immediately thought of Mass Effect 2. I misplaced my optimism for these companion quests because they were generally uninteresting and rote. I spent far too much time helping Parvati secure a date. Getting Vicar Max high in search of enlightenment was a letdown. And the others? Insurance fraud and wild goose chases. These quirky quests and tidbits were given too much limelight in the Outer Worlds. They may have contributed towards the ending I received but I didn’t like the pay offs.

The faction quests unlocked material change in the world and they offered insight to the political workings of the colony. Trying to find the balance of happiness for all parties was intriguing. Did Obsidian intentionally want me to prefer helping these corporations over my companions?

I came to The Outer Worlds with thoughts of Mass Effect mixed with a Bethesda-style action RPG. Instead, I got a Bethesda-style action RPG with a dash of Mass Effect flavoring. The first few hours of it was great but I felt all of it outstayed its welcome due to its limitations. I started to see familiar faces on new characters. I grew weary of the same talking heads with their tiresome tales of woe. It’s been 10 years since my last enjoyable foray into this style of RPG and unless there are drastic changes to the formula, it will be another 10 before I revisit it.

Verdict
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Dragon Quest VIII [3DS]

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I started Dragon Quest VIII on the Nintendo 3DS over a year ago – it may even be closer to two years at this point. It didn’t keep my attention like Dragon Quest VII. I visited a new town, move the plot forward a bit, and eventually put it on ice for a month or so before repeating the cycle again. It took the pending release of Dragon Quest XI for the Nintendo Switch before I got back on this horse and rode it towards the finish line.  

It was surprisingly easy to get back into the groove of things after each hiatus. The story was exceptionally simple to follow and didn’t require much of my attention. I felt the main story arch and side quests in this game paled in comparison to Dragon Quest VII. It was a far more intimate story from the outset which kept me engaged early on. Each new character’s introduction invigorated the story but it wasn’t long before everything began to wane. I didn’t expect the game to be filled with a large number of character introductions and backstories, but I expected something else to take the baton. I expected intriguing side quests and a strong main story to pick things up. Each new town or area gave the game a fleeting jolt of excitement but when there’s more hours left than content, the game felt like a struggle to wade through. 

Accelerated battle speeds and the use of A.I. Tactics made the game’s numerous combat encounters tolerable. I eventually over-leveled via Metal Slimes and lived in the veil of Holy Protection during the back third of the game but I generally didn’t care enough to involve myself in the battle system. A 50/50 mix of “Fight Wisely” and “Focus on Healing” took me through the final boss with relative ease. I felt like I was more of a party manager taking care of the strategic side of things and only involving myself when it was absolutely needed.  

Jessica’s outfit was ridiculous back in 2005 and it’s still ridiculous today. Her outfit was doubly stupid in the snowy mountains when everyone was shivering. It was blemish in an otherwise beautiful game. Toriyama’s art and cel-shaded technology was a marriage that stood the test of time; the game still looks great on the Nintendo 3DS. 

The voice acting was a big deal 14 years ago but it’s a slog today. Every spoken line of dialog was excessively slow and I ended up thumbing past much of it. I didn’t miss much. I really could have done without the “COR BLIMEY”. Bless them for trying to make it work with the Toriyama aesthetic though. 

A functioning day-night cycle with puzzles and events tied to the time of day made highlighted the fact that this feature must have been another technological advancement at the time. The handful of use cases were well done but contrived.  

The PlayStation 2 version of Dragon Quest VIII was the first game of this long running franchise that I ever laid hands-on. I barely scratched the surface of it before laying it down for more tantalizing games at the time. My journey throughout this Nintendo 3DS re-release was filled with similar diversions where other games easily drew me away. For all its charm and elegance, waning narrative hooks left me with too many natural departure points. The story started out strong but there just wasn’t enough worthwhile threads or beats to keep me going. I felt there were many charming novelties that elevated an otherwise middling JRPG.  

Verdict:
It was okay 

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Red Dead Redemption 2 (X1)

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I noticed a resemblance between Red Dead Redemption 2 and the Star Wars film prequels. Both were self-indulgent, meticulous, and comprehensive to a fault. Fortunately, unlike with George Lucas’ treatment of Star Wars, I felt Rockstar told their story remarkably well and stitched the two Red Dead games together in a compelling manner.

Exploring the events leading up to Dutch Van der Linde’s gang’s demise was worthwhile but I don’t know if they needed to tie up every loose end. They went out of their way to ensure every connective tissue between the two games were formed. They developed a few threads to the point where one could conceivably roll right into Red Dead Redemption without missing any pertinent information. They left very little to the imagination in those key areas.

Meticulous attention paid off for Rockstar’s world building. Fictitious 1898 America never looked better — on both macro and micro levels. These developers simulated the scent of living things for the sole purpose of a more realistic hunting experience for crying out loud. On top of a gorgeous weather and time of day systems, temperatures differed between areas of the map which required the game’s protagonists, Arthur Morgan and John Marston, to don the appropriate attire or face gameplay ramifications. They’re no longer content with including visible detail.

Differing aesthetics were one thing but different areas of the map yielded different populations, cultures, and languages. The sprawling city of St. Denis featured authentic and convincing Cantonese immigrants crossing paths with snooty French patrons looking to build more wealth in America.

Beyond cultural diversity, there were glimpses into the social and economical issues of the time. Racism, sexism, treatment of indigenous peoples, corporate manipulation, and climate change were just some of the topics and themes that permeated throughout. I didn’t feel they said anything radical for today’s standards but I imagine Dutch and Arthur’s progressive views were not so commonplace back then. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Dutch’s motives were not entirely selfless.

Arthur couldn’t afford to be entirely selfless either; he had to meet his own needs in order to survive. He had to hunt, cook, and eat so he wouldn’t waste away. He had to watch what he ate or he would find himself poisoned or overweight. Cigarettes, cigars, and bourbon helped restore the slow motion Dead Eye meter, but they were detrimental to his health. He had to manage his hygiene for the same reason. I could have left his hair and beard to grow into a shaggy mess but for amusing vanity reasons, I visited the barber and shaved often.

The cowboy simulation was just getting started.

On top of all of that, Arthur had to manage his horse’s grooming, dietary, mental, and emotional needs as well. I had to calm it down when it was spooked and show it love in order to develop a bond in order to pull off sick horse drifts. And if that wasn’t enough, I had to maintain my guns with gun oil or else risk wielding a weaker weapon.

Those were the more immediate needs that walked the line of tedium. There was also the semi-optional management of the gang’s camp. Thankfully, these were strictly optional and my neglect of those chores didn’t adversely affect the moment to moment gameplay. Since I was trying to steer Arthur Morgan towards the honorable side of life, I partook in some menial chores.

There was a lot to do in Red Dead Redemption 2 and that’s not counting the more entertaining aspects like the mini-games or theatrical shows. Dominoes? Poker? Silent films? French ladies doing the cancan? They were all there alongside the stranger missions.

I adored the stranger missions in Red Dead Redemption and I adored them just as much here. They brought interesting flavors to the world of Red Dead and I found myself beelining towards them before any other mission. Revisiting areas or choosing to avoid fast traveling often yielded something interesting. It took me a long, long time before I felt that I wrung out the fun from the world. Even now, I still have reasons to go back.

Rewarding exploration is tough to accomplish in itself but rewarding people watching and observation? Rockstar often ensured you got something from that too. There was a fair amount of optional fluff happening around Arthur’s life that wasn’t explicitly highlighted. Hanging out at the camp and checking in between missions provided morsels of entertainment. Stories and concerns of other gang members was shared with Arthur if he inquired. He would also witness altercations and conservations amongst the NPCs. All of these tidbits were optional and I respected that. I could safely ignore it all if I just cared about the shooty shooty bang bang part of this game.

I don’t know why any one would forgo all that world building in favor for the action though. Quite frankly, Red Dead Redemption 2’s moment to moment action wasn’t very good. It’s been years since I played Red Dead Redemption but I felt this prequel’s action was lifted from 2010 and polished up for 2018. It was serviceable then and it’s serviceable now. When the challenge came down to managing Dead Eye meter versus waves upon waves of cowpoke, I felt like I was just going through the motions. It was a noticeable step up from the chores around camp but still a bit of a chore.

Staying on main story mission scripts was the real challenge for me. I couldn’t looting everything — even during the “tense” shootout sequences. I often witnessed fellow NPC gang members die because I was looting. Considering how easily Arthur shrugged off bullets, it was really the only way to maintain urgency.

There were times when I kept to the heavily scripted missions. Towards the end, my dislike for Dutch and Micah grew to the point where I desperately wanted to shoot the two of them. I knew the game wasn’t going to allow me to create a time paradox but I gave it a desperate try. Like Arthur, I felt bound to script that didn’t make sense.

Sadie Adler was the highlight character of the game. She snuck onto the scene and became a driving force of action that I got behind. She followed her sense of justice and didn’t take gruff from anyone. She demonstrated a lot of emotional, mental, and physical strength that I admired.

I witnessed Dutch and Arthur evolve along with other minor characters throughout the game, but not of them were fleshed out as I hoped. Bill and Javier were loyal to Dutch until the very end but I couldn’t glean their motivations.

Fortunately, the common thread tying all the characters together were their superb performances. Rockstar Games were in their element here.

Technical performance concerns kept me waiting for the PC release ; I wanted to play this game at 60 FPS and I still do. With hindsight though, I’m glad I decided on the $20 Xbox One X version because I may have ended up capping the framerate at 30 FPS on the PC version regardless. My NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 with its measly Core i5 6600K would have felt short of my goals for the game. To my surprise, the Xbox One X performed admirably with a few unpleasant but tolerable spots. It was typically a smooth 30 FPS throughout the game with noticeable dips in taxing areas like St. Denis.

Even in the most ideal conditions, controlling Arthur was akin to moving a boat in water. It wasn’t unwieldy but it was certainly not meeting high benchmarks set by other third person shooters like Uncharted or Gears. In a game where you can offend people by bumping, let alone, with accidental punches to the face, these sluggish controls forced me to adapt to the game’s animation priority. Blitzing around a crowded St. Denis at full tilt required a high degree of finesse.

The music continued the Rockstar way of going full bore. Unlike with other areas, the music stood out unblemished in its execution. It was always there to set the mood without getting in the way. I didn’t notice how affecting it was until the back third of the game where things have begun to go awry.

Max Payne 3 showed what Rockstar Games can do in a confined space; an opulent game filled with spectacle, detail and ideas that few studios can even attempt. It took them a while, but Red Dead Redemption 2 finally reached that standard on an open world scale. That’s not easy. It’s not easy to reign in ambition and not overburden on details. While they and stumbled in some areas and obsessive in others, by and large, Red Dead Redemption 2 was a great experience.

Ratings Guide

Verdict:
I loved it

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Review

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Nintendo and Sega coming together to celebrate the Olympics during the heights of the Nintendo Wii and DS crazes yielded the very successful launch of an arcade sports franchise. It’s one of the most successful Nintendo exclusive franchises that I ignored until now. 

I’m a fan of Mario. I like the idea of Sonic. But I’m ambivalent to the Olympic Games. So it will take a bit more to convince me to check out one of these games. What sold me on Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was the title itself. The Summer Games were headed to Tokyo next year and having just spent a wonderful time there in 2018, I thought it would be fun to revisit it virtually. I also figured it would be another fun party title.

I didn’t play any more events with the fiancée since the preview but I sank a good half hour into the Football event. It’s been a long time since I played Mario Strikers so I feasted on this little tease of a high definition Mario football. There was just enough depth to draw me in and keep me wanting.

The Story Mode and Quick Play modes gave a brief introduction to each event. Most events were easy enough to pick up and play while others offered “Advanced” techniques to liven things up a bit. Table Tennis offered different shot choices. Football had through passes and chip shots. Then there were Dream Events which took events like skateboarding and karate and turned them into competitive multiplayer events. Skateboarding Dream Event was essentially transformed into a Mario Kart-lite with usuable items and rings to collect.

I enjoyed the idea of the Story Mode. I liked the idea of Tokyo 1964 Olympics being represented in a 8-bit and 16-bit 2D style while 3D renditions were used to depict the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Interspersed between the two eras were trivia facts of the two Olympic Games, Tokyo, and tidbits about Nintendo and Sega’s iconic characters. I haven’t kept up with Sonic’s growing cast of characters — I didn’t even know Dr. Eggman Nega existed — so this was a solid primer. I learned lots which was not something I predicted going in.

I expected the story to serve as a framework to facilitate Olympic events and it succeeded in that regard. What I didn’t expect was how dialog heavy those story moments were. The pace wasn’t as plodding as Puyo Puyo Tetris’ but the down time between events were often longer than the events themselves.

I never owned an NES before but I felt the 2D events were appropriate for that era of console hardware. Pattern recognition and quick reflexes served as the requisite skillsets for both the 2D and 3D events with the 3D events requiring analog fine tuning for some mini-games. However, since all games can be played with a single Joy-con, controller complexity was kept at a minimum.

Having visited Tokyo late last year and loving it. I found the interactive map and sightseeing filled me with nostalgia. Like the Olympic events themselves, I found Sega captured the spirit and essence of each location and attraction well. I was hoping check out the highest point of the Tokyo Skytree’s observatory but alas they only rendered the grounds surrounding it.

Rounding out the offerings is a multiplayer mode that I found difficult to find matches for prior to release. Splitting 24 events into their own separate multiplayer hoppers on top of having ranked and unranked of those modes cannot possibly be conducive to finding opponents. When I finally found a match (it was the Football event), it was a sluggish experience with unresponsive controls. Needless to say, but this game may be best experienced locally.

Technical issues cropped up during the skateboarding Dream Event as well but every other event performed as I hoped; silky smooth.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is a celebration of the Summer Olympics 2020 through the lenses of Tokyo, Sega, and Nintendo. It’s a collection of mini games that have will entertain not unlike a Mario Party title. I came away with it pleasantly surprised by the breadth on offer. The Olympic events themselves were well realized while other included mini-games like the Dream Events and Game Room games were iffy. I would love to see the Table Tennis, Rugby Sevens, and Football events flesh out more with more play options like tournaments but I know that’s a big ask. However, I figured asking for Sega to flex more of its arcade styled chops is never a bad thing.

Ratings Guide

Verdict:
I liked it

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