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

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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

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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

LTTP: Undertale

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“You should play Undertale.”

I’m not one to refuse indie game recommendations — especially ones that have a large fervour around it. I watched the first few minutes of GiantBomb’s Quick Look and noticed the high praise for the game’s soundtrack but that was it. I kept the game in the back of my head and as soon as I saw it go on sale on Steam, I took the plunge.

The early turn from charming to evidence of an underlying darkness with the introduction of Flowey piqued my interest. I was curious how this lost little girl was going to get out of this underground world filled with monsters. Who was Flowey? Was he the G-man of Undertale? Was he part of something more sinister? I had so many questions.

Undertale featured one of the more interesting turn based battle systems found in Japanese styled role playing games. I was able to ‘Fight’ or ‘Act’ with enemies, giving me the ability to deal damage and kill them or interact with them through gestures like petting, feeding or talking. It was immediately obvious that the ‘Act’ option was the more interesting of the two. Using the right actions or combination of actions placated the foe which would allow me to spare them. I tried my best to not kill anyone but I occasionally found myself stuck or lost patience with the mini games and struck down the foe.

Whenever it was the enemy’s turn, I was given the opportunity to avoid damage by manipulating a heart confined in a box. Dodging frogs, tears and other gibberish was amusing for the first couple of hours but I grew bored and annoyed by the process. Like the JRPGs Undertale was inspired by, random battles played a significant role. I could have fled battles but at the same time, I wanted to accumulate money for healing items.

There were quirky and interesting twists to those mini-games but I only ever wanted to play them once. Flexing, dodging sweat and arms for the third time in the span of 10 minutes erased any charm that was built up. I felt the first two thirds of my time with Undertale felt like a long drag and if it wasn’t for the stupendous soundtrack, I would have dreaded my time with the game even more.

The final third of Undertale was a barrage of quirky characters and twists to established video game mechanics. The final sequence culminated with fourth wall breaking mechanics which made me wonder if it would ever make its through the stricter console environment. I had long gave up trying to interact with the mini-games in any meaningful way so I summoned the determination that the game so frequently made reference to and brute forced my way to the final credits.

One of the reasons why I disliked the mini-games and random battles was because it got in the way of me exploring and finding clever bits of dialog throughout. I found those incidental lines of text humorous and incited more than a few chuckles and smiles.

Far and away, the most enjoyable aspect of Undertale was its soundtrack; it’s the only reason why I finished the game. I love it for its variety and its incredible ability to elevate any scene. Most of the songs were around short one to two minute in length but there was a precision an efficiency to its use that’s so often lost in today’s games.

I wish the visuals were as eloquent as the audio work. The main cast of characters exhibited the same qualities that I admired in the sound work but the backgrounds and other designs left me wanting. This feeling was especially strong after seeing some of the wonderful art and designs in the latter parts of the game.

There’s a lot to like in Undertale but most of it fell off for me because of poor pacing, repetition and uneven quality in many areas of the game. I enjoyed many individual moments but I cannot say I was fond of the journey. I can listen to the soundtrack from beginning to end for years to come but the very idea of having to play through another one of those mini-games makes me recoil with disgust. I would love to explore more of the underground and revisit the town of Snowdin and its many residents but just thinking about wandering through all those barren lands and random battles gives me pause. To me, Undertale is the very definition of an uneven experience with high highs and some very irritating lows.

Verdict:
It’s okay

Ratings Guide

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