LTTP: Firewatch (PC)

LTTP: Firewatch (PC)

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I spent a lot of time reading maps, exploring the surrounding wilderness and dealing with the usual public park happenings that would crop up. Rowdy teens? Illegal fireworks? Missing persons? They certainly made it feel like I was working in a giant public park. All these mundane activities were broken up with radio communiques with Delilah, a veteran lookout who acts as a guide at first but slowly develops into a companion for Henry.  

The dialog options gradually evolved from cordial and business like to flirtations. I’m supposed to believe Henry begins to fall for Delilah despite only hearing her voice on the radio. I bought it and believed the possibility of falling for someone in this manner but I wasn’t sympathetic to Henry’s emotional affair. I wasn’t convinced to even consider the flirtatious options. While Delilah sounded like a perfectly nice lady, time progressed in jump cuts and the slow build-up towards a connection was a bit too rapid for me to develop any emotional connection with her. I can see Henry growing that kind of relationship 60+ days into the job in the middle of nowhere but a couple of hours in real time on my couch? I wasn’t sold. 

The precarious nature of the Unity engine also struggled to keep me engaged. I was okay with not being able to run the game at 4K60 on a NVIDIA GeForce GTX1070; I was fine with settling with 1440p60. I was less forgiving of the minor hitching and game’s inability to maintain application focus with Steam Big Picture Mode. I wasn’t too keen on the handful of crashes I experienced either. I felt the entire game’s technological foundation was coming apart at the seams at times.  

I am enamored by Olly Moss’s art so when I heard there was going to be an entire game filled with his touch and style? I paid attention. But pretty scenery and art could only get me so far. What pushed me forward was Delilah and Henry’s conversations. What were they going to talk about next? By only sitting in on snapshots in time, enough loose ends and questions were raised along the way to entice me forward. I may not have bought into the idea of Henry abandoning his wife and falling for Delilah, but I was very curious to discover more about her and her experiences on this job.  

If Firewatch was supposed to make me think about my views on commitment and unconditional love then Camp Santo succeeded. If Firewatch was supposed to engross me in a situation where I’m supposed to develop a relationship with this woman on the radio then it’s a bit dicier. There were beautiful vistas to behold and a genuine believable person on the other side of the radio but unless a person can be convinced to ponder the topic of relationships and commitment, there’s not a whole lot to be gleaned from Firewatch. 

Ratings Guide

Verdict: 
I liked it

LTTP: Far Cry 4 (PS4)

LTTP: Far Cry 4 (PS4)

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LTTP or ‘late to the party’ pieces are opportunities for me to catch up and write about games I missed out on the first time around. They may contain spoilers.

I bought Far Cry 4 because of Giant Bomb’s praise. I am all too familiar with Ubisoft’s open world games including their Far Cry franchise — in fact it was Far Cry 2 that forever changed my perception of the French publisher’s open world games. I expected to climb towers to open up new areas. I expected countless collectibles and enough interlocking systems to occupy me for hours. But despite all that baggage (and for less than $15), I was willing to see what all the fuss was about.

I didn’t expect to be so enamoured with the protagonist, Pagan Min. He was charismatic, ruthless and well mannered dictator who served as my primary adversary during my time in the fictious nation of Kyrat. Since the player, Ajay Ghale, had no discernible personality to speak of, it was easy to find Pagan likeable. He reminded me of Joker which I’m sure was no accident by the clever people over at Ubisoft.

I wasn’t taken by any of the other featured characters in the game. They were all shitty people who did nothing but use Ajay Ghale for their own gains. Some were more transparent than others but they all wanted Ajay to do their errands and get his hands dirty. I was surprised Ajay didn’t end up winning over the Golden Path and ruling Kyrat for himself. Pagan Min was the only person who didn’t ask Ajay to do anything — in fact, all he did was ask Ajay to wait in a room and eat.

I didn’t listen to Pagan and the result was 30 hours of skinning animals, riding elephants, gliding through the air in wing suits and murdering hundreds of Pagan’s royal guard. The tools available to me was extensive. They went out of their way to include nearly every popular firearm found in a modern era Call of Duty title. Despite all the choices, I settled with a silenced Skorpion SMG, an M4 assault rifle, a handheld RPG like the one Arnold used in T2 and a bow and arrow.

I extended my stay in Kyrat by several hours by sticking with bow and arrow and challenging myself with long range silenced kills. I was fixated by the Rambo-like approach to liberating outposts. If I screwed up, I went in guns blazing but I tried to tackle stealthy situations with an arrow in the back.

I was most engaged with Far Cry 4 during the first dozen hours of the game when I was still hunting animals for their pelts. When I needed a specific pelt, I checked the map for their stomping ground, went there and scoped out the place in silence because if I stormed in, I could scare them off. I used my bow whenever it made sense to get clean kills and double the number of pelts I could recover. I felt challenged and immersed in these situations. Chasing down a wounded tiger that can quickly do a 180 and chase me down instead was more thrilling than dismantling the biggest fortress or outpost filled with armed guards.

The wildlife in Far Cry 4 were more terrifying than any human because they can strike from anywhere. I still looked up in the sky for an eagle any time I hear one shrieking in my vicinity. A pack of wolves, a wild boar or a tiger attacked me while I was lurking on the fringes of an outpost picking off unsuspecting guards. I lured them away from me by hurling a chunk of meat towards the outpost but sometimes it was just easier to take it out the pesky thing with my knife or bow.

I’ve been wondering why I enjoyed the interactions with the wildlife so much in Far Cry 4 and the answer is quite simple: it was short an sweet. It didn’t overstay its welcome and unlike the human NPCs in the world, there was a convincing believability to them. I was desensitized to the thrill of liberating outposts by the sixth one. The satisfaction of solving the radio tower became wore down to nothing more than a routine checkmark on the long list of things I could do in this world.

By the twentieth hour, Far Cry 4 had become a form of digital whittling for me. I played it for something to do to pass the time and occupy my hands. I had a long road ahead of me and I may have kept going with it if I didn’t double check the Trophy list. Turns out I didn’t need to collect every single thing and then I weened myself off in-game checklist and worked towards wrapping up my time with Far Cry 4 with a Platinum Trophy. I still haven’t gotten it yet because of the co-op requirements but I did check out the multiplayer offerings because of it.

There were interesting ideas hidden away in the multiplayer. I enjoyed how it was essentially two eras clashing with one another. The mighty assault rifle vs the bow & arrow and his trusty tiger. I may have actually enjoyed it if it wasn’t a lag filled mess with frequent host migrations.

Far Cry 4 was just as I imagined it would be. It didn’t really offend me in any way but it didn’t actually set my world on fire either. It was just there as a thing to fiddle with.

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Puzzles & Dragons: SMB Edition & Pokemon Picross

LTTP: Puzzles & Dragons: SMB Edition & Pokemon Picross

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No that’s not some kind of super combo back of Nintendo puzzle games. They’re two Nintendo published titles with free to play influences and mechanics.

Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition is actually two games in one. Puzzles & Dragons Z is the free-to-play Japanese mobile sensation stripped of its F2P annoyances and the Super Mario Bros. edition is as the name suggests: Puzzles & Dragons with a Mario flavor. The latter is apparently more user friendly for new comers like myself. I played that version.

Pokemon Picross is as straight forward as the name suggests: a Pokemon themed picture crossword game. It’s also completely free to play and equipped with the usual trappings of energy bars and currency to gather and unlock new areas.

I started Pokemon Picross first but was increasingly frustrated by the limitations. It was my first Picross title and so I was making mistakes and restarting puzzles frequently. I also wanted to accumulated Picrites to progress and unlock functionality early on but thanks to the energy restrictions, I was kept at bay.

Then Puzzles & Dragons went on sale and I decided to check it out after hearing the praise by Drew Scanlon of GiantBomb. Like him, I never played Puzzles & Dragons before and was curious.

Firstly, it turns out that I’ve played this kind of game before. Match 3 puzzle games like Puzzles & Dragons spawned many clones and I encountered one of them on FreeMyApps. I immediately saw the appeal of the game. The combos, the flashing colors and all the high damage numbers flying out was satisfying. All I had to do was manipulate a single orb, wave it around to setup other potential combos and then watch the resulting mayhem.

I enjoyed the collecting of monsters, powering them up by feeding weaker variations and evolving them with items. It was apparent that I needed to invest time in this area in order to make significant progress later on but there was something peculiar with the lack of item drops or collectible monsters early on. I thought the drop rate would start ramping up as I progressed but that wasn’t the case at all. No matter how many combos I was setting up, I hit a wall and needed to grind to level up my monsters. I was effectively done with Puzzles & Dragons at world five.

Even though my focus was on Puzzles & Dragons, I continued to check in and chip away at Pokemon Picross. I did the daily challenges and slowly upped my Picross game. Even though I was accumulating Picrites at an agonizingly slow rate, I felt I was making progress. I felt I was improving as a Picross player and working towards unlocking a new area.

Now, my opinion on both games have flipped. The game which I thought was going to be a fun romp without free to play mechanics turned into a meaningless grind and cutesy Picross title turned from aggressively frustrating to a nice little daily taste of puzzling. Perhaps I should approach Puzzles & Dragons with the same mindset as Pokemon Picross but why should I? It doesn’t have free to play mechanics impeding progress. I should be able to play as often as I want and make meaningful progress every time I do. Unfortunately that’s not the case and it’s the free to play riddled Pokemon Picross that I ultimately enjoy more.

Puzzles & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition Verdict:
I don’t like it

Pokemon Picross Verdict:
It’s okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

LTTP: Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

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I don’t know why I was compelled to finish Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. I finished it in approximately 60 hours and enjoyed – at most — a quarter of that. I played the majority of the game while watching sports or listening to podcasts; I just used to keep my hands busy.

My MMORPG experience consists of Guild Wars, small stints with a few Korean free to play online RPG equivalents and listening to enough World of Warcraft stories to last a lifetime. I haven’t experienced an MMORPG first hand but, by all accounts, Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is what I imagine an MMORPG would look like if it was taken offline.

Everything from the vast empty spaces, paper thin fetch quests, to the battle system and even the way the characters jump reminds me of an MMORPG.

By now it’s obvious that I use the term “MMORPG” as a derogatory term and I mean it. There is depth, complexities and joy within certain MMORPGs but there’s no denying that there’s a dearth of shallow experiences full of meaningless grinding.

Nintendo and Monolith pulled off quite the feat squeezing this huge open world into the New Nintendo 3DS. I was genuinely impressed with how big the world was and how well it ran considering the size. I braced for frequent slowdowns in the open world but was relieved to discover that wasn’t the case at all. The most severe performance issues arose when there were several large enemies on screen at once. Those moments occurred more than I would like but they were not game breakers.

Judging by the quality of the visuals, it’s obvious how Monolith and Nintendo managed to get the game to run as well as it did. I’m not kidding when I say it’s one of the ugliest games I’ve played in recent memory. The visuals did have a PlayStation era charm to them though. The character models were stylized enough to convey their intent but not quite enough to deliver the gravity of dire situations.

I was fascinated by the lore of Xenoblade Chronicles. Two titans frozen in battle with life flourishing on the surface of them after some time. What if the Earth was a living creature? The idea that I was traversing across the back or leg of the titan, Bionis, was an amazing spectacle. However by the time I made it across to the other titan, Mechonis, I was no longer wowed by this idea.

I was tired of running across giant expanses by foot. Fast traveling eased some of the boredom but only between known destinations. Every area was largely the same; it was vast, filled with blue orbs representing some nonsensically named collectible and full of the same handful of enemy types.

Every so often, I would encounter a town and the hopes for a break in monotony would be renewed. I slowly discovered that these towns fell into their own cycle of repetition as well. Outside of the big story beat, I expected numerous fetch quests and monster hunts. The reasons behind them were unsubstantial and did very little with regards to world building. I was better off tapping through the gibberish and just getting down to what I had to gather and moved on. Eventually, my quest log was filled with so much junk quests that I stopped tracking them down. If I happen to finish a quest, so be it. If I had to go back to town to turn it in? Who cares. I would have found or crafted a better reward by then anyways.

Early on, I found the cast of characters endearing but the more screen time each of them got, the less I liked them. The protagonist, Shulk, grew to be irritatingly selfish with his visions and worries. He had the power to see the future but for some reason he wouldn’t share what he witnessed despite others around him imploring he did so. I thought Reyn, Shulk’s hometown friend, would develop into more than just a meathead with good intentions. There were moments where characters like him and Sharla showed they were more than caricatures but those moments were too infrequent and were dwarfed by the blatant fan service.

Did I mentioned that I found the Moogle knock offs, the Nopons, annoying as well? I was particularly perturbed by their speech patterns and the party member, Riki’s, was undoubtedly the most irritating because he reminded me of Jar Jar Binks.

The threat based battle system was a surprise to me because I thought it would be the one aspect of the game that I would wear thin the quickest. I operated with the standard tank/healer/fighter lineup and stuck with it all the way through. I experimented with other setups but I was most content maneuvering Shulk for optimal attacks. I was waiting to see if this simple setup would fail me but it didn’t. I played the exact same way from beginning to end with just a small degree of variation in skills.

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D is a game of quantity; there’s a whole lot of stuff to do in this game. There are dozens upon dozens of checkboxes to tick off and a giant world to explore. But I didn’t want to do any of it because it wore out its welcome at least twice over. The world was huge but it was mainly empty space. There were a lot of quests but nearly every single one them were frivolous fetch quests.

Towards the end of the game, I entered a town with two rows of computer terminals. The town was uninhabited, overrun by rogue robots. There were no NPCs to interact with but there were the terminals. There was a store terminal which contained useless equipment. As for the other terminals? They dispensed the same set of quests that I’d been given for each and every town up to this point. I was literally being given quests by terminals. Even though there was context, it was like they had given up but it was also the very essence of everything I disliked about this game distilled into one town.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

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